Has gov’t come to terms with jobless growth, poverty?

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Last week, reacting to the result of a Social Weather Station survey showing that joblessness had risen to 27.5% in the last quarter of 2013, President Aquino convened a full Cabinet meeting, which he rarely calls. An “action plan for poverty reduction” was tackled, reportedly for almost eight hours.

Judging from the post-meeting media briefing, given by Arsenio M. Balisacan, National Economic and Development Authority director-general, the P-Noy government appeared to have grudgingly come to terms with the intractable problems of “jobless growth” and endemic poverty.

The sobering assessment, in sum: Despite the relatively high level of economic performance (GDP growth around 7%) touted as the second highest in Asia next to China’s, the P-Noy government will not have substantially reduced the high levels of poverty and unemployment-underemployment incidence when it ends its six-year term in June 2016.

In fact, Balisacan projected that a “major reduction” in the country’s poverty incidence may be attained — through sustained economic growth — in the next 10 or, he hastened to add, “even better” in 20 years.

His projection reflected the finding of a research-study, done by the state-funded Philippine Institute for Development Studies, that the country will not meet its target, under the UN Millennium Development Goals, to reduce poverty incidence by half, from 33.2% in 1991 to 16.6%, by 2016.

The target, the PIDS study says, may be achieved only by 2025.

At best, Balisacan surmised, poverty incidence can be reduced to 20-23% in 2015 and further to 18-20% by 2016.

For the failure to meet the MDG target, Balisacan blamed the fact that from 1994 to 2009 the poverty level hardly changed. He described that period as a “lost decade” for poverty reduction but didn’t provide details.

Since 2009, he pointed out, poverty incidence declined modestly from 27% to 25.2% in 2012.

Some progressive economists and social scientists have attributed endemic poverty to the failure of successive governments to sustain the economic-growth momentum in the mid-1950s to early 1960s — when the country was considered as next to Japan in terms of development. Specifically, they underscore the twin failures to industrialize and to carry out thoroughgoing agrarian reform.

What of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of 1988, supposedly a landmark social legislation to address poverty and injustice in the rural areas and designated as the Cory government’s “centerpiece program”?

(The CARP has been amended and its term extended. The current extension “with reforms” expires in June 2014 without completing its land-acquisition-and-distribution target, and is proposed to be further extended. However, an alternative bill for Genuine Agrarian Reform, which calls for land distribution free of charge to its beneficiaries, is currently undergoing public hearing in the House of Representatives).

The CARP and its five-year CARPer extension (with P150-billion appropriation) have been heavily criticized and deemed as failures, for several reasons. Chief of the reasons, owing to many exemptions from coverage and faulty implementation, is the failure to eradicate land concentration in the hands of a few rich families and pervasive landlessness among the peasants.

Presenting another critical perspective on the CARP, touching on the quality of life of the supposed beneficiaries, is a discussion paper written by Dr. Raul V. Fabella of the UP School of Economics. It cites a survey in 2011 among agrarian reform communities showing that 54% — yes, more than half! — of households fell below the poverty line.

Juxtaposed with the 2009 Family Income and Expenditure Survey data showing 35% of farming families generally lived below the poverty line, the paper points out, the 54% meant that CARP beneficiaries had become poorer.

I haven’t read the Fabella paper. But Boo Chanco’s column piece in the Philippine STAR (Feb. 17, 2014) dwelt on it substantially, with an acerbic title, “CARP: Redistributing poverty!” Boo quoted the paper, thus:

“As a program for land asset equity, (CARP) shall have accomplished 99% of its target, a whopper of a success for a government program. As a program to advance the economic welfare of farmers, it has accomplished the opposite of its stated goals.” In boldface, Boo quoted further:

“CARP and CARPER ha(ve) created a new class of people: the landed poor.”

Back to Balisacan. After reviewing the P-Noy government performance in the last three years — characterized by continuing “jobless growth” (relatively high GDP growth rate without corresponding job generation) — the NEDA director-general said a sharper connection could be made between economic growth and poverty reduction.

Acknowledging that the poorest families in the countryside have been left behind and that the “constraints” they face must be directly addressed, he declared:

“We are going to look at specific geography, specific provinces and cities where the poor are… look at the circumstances of those areas and sectors and we will tailor-fit the interventions that will matter most to the poor.”

Balisacan also acknowledged that for the poor to move out of poverty, they need to have “quality jobs.”

However, this will take time because, he stressed, “we need to get the private sector to believe in us, so that they could invest in places where quality jobs can be created.” He cited manufacturing, agribusiness, logistics and infrastructure, and tourism.

But, can the P-Noy government hack it?

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
February 22, 2014

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