The Philippines is well on track to meeting its ambitious target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2040 as the national government pursues its strategy of massive infrastructure upgrades and expanded human capital development programs. Within this strategy, the government is making unprecedented investments in national and local infrastructure, health and education, and is undertaking landmark economic and fiscal reforms designed to remove constraints to inclusive growth. The results are in the most recent numbers: the lowest poverty incidence and unemployment level in decades and record-low self-rated poverty scores. More people are finding jobs, the jobseekers of the future are given the opportunity to enjoy free tuition in public colleges and universities, and families who cannot find adequate means are given multiple measures of social protection, through cash grants and other forms of assistance.
Ambisyon Natin 2040, a collective, long-term vision for the country for the next 20 years, guides this aggressive drive for poverty reduction. The aspiration of Ambisyon Natin 2040 is for all Filipinos to enjoy a stable and comfortable life, secure in the knowledge that they have enough for their daily needs and unexpected expenses, as well as can plan and prepare for their children’s future.
Official data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) suggest that Filipinos are poised to meet their medium-term poverty incidence target ahead of schedule.
From 2015 to 2018, around 5.9 million Filipinos lifted themselves out of poverty after the population ratio of individuals who were considered poor significantly declined to 16.6 percent from 23.3 percent in 2015.
With an average yearly reduction pace of 2.23 percentage points, the country’s poverty rate is now just slightly above President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s goal of 14 percent by the time his term ends in 2022.
The latest figures released by the PSA showed that the Duterte administration has made significant progress toward ensuring the poorest sectors of society are receiving the needed support from the government.
Still, there are 17.6 million Filipinos who do not earn enough to buy their basic food and other needs, thus more targeted reforms aimed at reducing poverty need to be implemented.
Reforms have already been put in place by the government to improve the lives of all Filipinos such as tax reform, ‘Build, Build, Build,’ rice tariffication, free state tertiary education, as well as cash subsidy programs.
Over the next few weeks, the government is expected to disburse P2.34 billion in larger fuel subsidies to legitimate public utility jeepney (PUJ) franchise holders, under Pantawid Pasada Program, a two-year measure under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN Law designed to benefit PUJ operators and drivers by providing fuel subsidies to offset additional excise taxes on fuel mostly shouldered by high-income households. The Department of Transportation, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board and Land Bank of Philippines will be releasing at least P20,000 each to around 114,000 eligible beneficiaries.
In addition to the fuel subsidy, the Rice Farmer Financial Assistance Program (RFFAP) was launched earlier this week. About 1,000 farmers in Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija received cash cards bearing the P5,000 aid under the RFFAP last Monday. The Department of Agriculture has forged an agreement with Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) for the disbursement of P3-billion in RFFAP grants to 600,000 smallholder rice farmers.
With the passage of higher excise taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and e-cigarettes this year, the country is also closer to having a fully-implemented universal health care (UHC) program. This is especially vital as UHC can protect the most vulnerable households from falling deeper into poverty when a member of the family gets sick. By making sin products less affordable, these households, especially the youth, are protected from lifestyle choices that could endanger their health and productivity.
Aside from UHC, the government has also implemented Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education. Together, these reforms make the Philippines better prepared to reap the benefits of our demographic dividend, during which over the next few decades, working-aged Filipinos will comprise the largest share of the population in stark contrast to the ageing populations of Japan and other countries in the region.
Moving forward, the government has vowed to sustain, if not further enhance, the strategies already put in place to meet the country’s vision to end poverty by 2040.
This article was published in Manila Bulletin on December 25, 2019.
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