Palace: Poverty could’ve been worse

Palace: Poverty could’ve been worse
By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang Monday admitted that the problem of poverty and hunger remained a challenge to the Arroyo administration but added that it could have been “even worse” had the government not acted to cushion the world financial crisis last year.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Gary Olivar was reacting to a statement by Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, an economic adviser to the President, that the rich got richer in the past nine years of the Arroyo administration while self-rated hunger almost doubled from 11.4 percent in 2000 to 20.3 percent in 2009.

Olivar said this was “perhaps the only major sore spot in a sea of good news about the President’s economic legacy,” but added that there were various ways that one could “put this trend in proper context.”

In a statement he read at his regular press briefing, Olivar said, “It is possible—sometimes even inevitable—to have more growth with more income inequity—the latter being the source of more hunger” but not the other way around.

“In other words, had we not avoided the recession last year or grown more slowly than we actually did, our problems with hunger and inequity would likely be even worse,” he said.

Olivar also pointed out that surveys on self-rated poverty had “gradually declined over the years from nearly 74 percent of households toward the end of the Marcos years, through a lower 62 percent in 2001 at the start of the Arroyo term, and more sharply down to only 46 percent by the last quarter of 2009.”

He said President Arroyo had implemented many programs to help the poor—from conditional cash transfers to cheaper rice and medicines to scholarships.

Olivar underscored Salceda’s figures showing that only one-third of the P3.1 trillion in net profits of the top 100 companies was reinvested.

“How much of the two-thirds of that amount that was pocketed as dividends found their way through the charity of the privately wealthy into the lives of the needy and hungry among us?” Olivar said.

“These questions bear answering in the event many of those same businessmen go around complaining about how government isn’t doing enough about poverty and hunger,” he said.

Olivar continued: “Perhaps the most productive way to address this issue is to frame it as part of the continuing agenda for national economic development—one that we hope the next administration will take up as a priority, building upon the worthwhile initiatives already started by the current leadership.”

Salcedo had said “the oligarchies were just too sturdy” to allow overall economic growth to trickle down to the poor. However, he also lamented that the state was too weak to take stronger measures because of opposition charges that Ms Arroyo had cheated in the last election.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.