Fact Check: Poverty in the Philippines is artificial – Bal Falcone

by Richard Bautista

Baldomero “Bal” Falcone is a Filipino business consultant and politician currently running as a senatorial candidate in the May 2013 elections under the newly accredited Democratic Party of the Philippines (DPP). He has a Master’s Degree in philosophy in San Carlos University in Cebu and in Business Management in Asian Institute of Management.[1]

 In the Harapan 2013 Senatorial Debates hosted by Linda Jumilla on ANC, Falcone claimed that he is the only “poor” candidate in the 2013 senatorial election and helping the poorest of the poor is one of the main programs of his movement if given a chance in the Senate.

Falcone also said that poverty in the Philippines is artificial and man-made and the Philippines is a country that is rich in natural resources.

When he was asked by one of the students from University of the Philippines about his plans for the youth, Falcone asserted that he would want to cut down the number of years in school and teach the students how to be business minded or teach entrepreneurship instead.

Falcone also plans to make an inventory of the squatter families in Metro Manila, relocate them in Botolan, Zambales, and provide houses and lots with 200 sq. m. and houses with 50 sq. m.

The Facts: Is the Philippines not poor?

Combating the poverty in the Philippines has been one of the recurring stories that we regularly hear from the aspiring politicians in every election. So, if this is the recurring topic during the campaign period, maybe poverty is really visible and being experienced by Filipinos?

But Falcone argues that the Philippines is not a poor country and that poverty is only man-made. Let us first define the meaning of “man-made”. Some references define it as, “made by human beings rather than occurring naturally” or in one word it means – artificial. Studies over the past decades assert that poverty remains the most critical social problem in the country that needs to be addressed. Philippines’ poverty line marks a per capita income of 16,841 Peso a year. According to the data from the National Statistical Coordination Board, more than one-quarter (26.5%) of the population falls below the poverty line in 2009. This figure is a much lower figure as compared to the 33.1% in 1991.[2]

Poverty and inequality in the Philippines remains a daunting challenge for political leaders and the administrative system. In the past four decades, the proportion of households living below the official poverty line has declined slowly and unevenly and poverty reduction has been much slower than in neighboring countries such as the People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Economic growth has gone through boom and bust cycles, and recent episodes of moderate economic expansion have had limited impact on the poor. Great inequality across income brackets, regions, and sectors, as well as unmanaged population growth, are considered some of the key factors constraining poverty reduction efforts.

Based on the development literature, the main causes of poverty in the country include the following[3]:

  • Inadequate education system
  • Weakness in employment generation and the quality of jobs generated;
  • Failure to fully develop the agriculture sector;
  • High inflation during crisis periods;
  • High levels of population growth;
  • High and persistent levels of inequality (incomes and assets), which dampen the positive impacts of economic expansion; and recurrent shocks and exposure to risks such as economic crisis, conflicts, natural disasters, and “environmental poverty.”

Do these causes fall within the definition of Falcone of “man made”? One can argue that all these reasons will involve people and actions made by men. But we don’t know if Falcone agrees with these reasons because he does not discuss the causes of poverty.

The Philippine government has clearly demonstrated an “anti-poverty paradigm” over the past three decades. We know that from the time that humankind first invented the wheel, poverty and inequality have marked nearly all human societies and civilizations. But while the general reality seems indisputable, this has never meant that poverty and inequality has been understood in an unchanging fashion across different communities and histories. In fact, a cursory examination at the Philippine government’s own conceptions of poverty and poverty reduction since 1986 is deeply instructive.[4]

In addition, there are other dimensions of poverty in the Philippines that need to be included in an ant-poverty program. The proportion of the poor in the total population remains high, having declined only modestly during the 1980s. However, average incomes of the poor have risen, leaving them better off, and income disparities among the poor have declined noticeably since the early 1960s. In 1991, 37 percent of households lived below an adjusted official poverty line, and 21 percent earned incomes insufficient for subsistence (i.e., less than the official food poverty line). But since much of the population lives close to the poverty line, measurements of poverty incidence are strongly affected by small adjustments in the poverty line.

Poverty is worse in rural areas (with 53 percent of families below the poverty line) because economic opportunities have been scarce. But the urban poor (who are 23 percent of urban families) suffer especially from the low quality of life induced by environmental pollution, congestion, and violence. As long as job growth remains higher in urban areas, migration from rural to urban areas will continually reinforce the ranks of the urban poor. Elderly and female headed households do not suffer high rates of poverty in the Philippines, in striking contrast to other developing countries, because households tend to be extended, with multiple income earners. The poor everywhere suffer from the declining quality of primary education. In rural areas, access to education and to health is limited severely by poor roads and other physical infrastructure.[5]

Unfortunately, the causes and dimensions of poverty are not discussed or presented by Falcone. Worse his roadmap to fight poverty is limited to “securitization”. What is his position on asset reform (land reform)? Investing in social services like education, health and nutrition? Population management? Increasing infrastructure? Agricultural modernization?

With all these information about the status of the country, will the Philippines not fall under those countries that can be considered poor? And given the chance that Falcone wins a seat in the Senate he could perhaps start considering that poverty is not only created by man but also by natural disaster; that poverty levels vary greatly by regions; that poverty levels are strongly linked to educational attainment; the poor have large families, with six or more members; and there is a weak local government capacity for implementing poverty reduction programs.[6]

On the other hand, Falcone argues that the Philippines is not a poor country due to the abundance of natural resources. But why does the Philippines remain poor despite of natural resources? Perhaps corruption is one of the answers? Or maybe we actually do not have the rich natural resources Falcone was referring to because of competing uses for land for agriculture, human settlements, and commercial establishments that resulted in massive land conversion?

Clearly, Falcone’s claim that the Philippines is not a poor country goes against the empirical data and analysis over the past decade.

Finally, while Falcone’s proposal to teach Filipino’s to be entrepreneurs is laudable, his proposal to reduce the number of years in school does not only contradict the K-12 program but also runs counter to the reality that we need to educate more Filipinos as a poverty reduction strategy.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldomero_Falcone

[2] Leland Joseph R. Dela Cruz, 2009 Philippine Poverty, 9 February 2011, http://www.slideshare.net/ldelacruz/poverty-situationer-2011-8294418 (accessed February 15, 2012).

[3] http://www.adb.org/publications/poverty-philippines-causes-constraints-and-opportunities

[4] http://www.philaid.org/continuity-and-change-in-philippine-anti-poverty-paradigms-1986-2010/

[5] http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/1995/11/13/000009265_3961019141900/Rendered/PDF/multi0page.pdf

[6] Ibid

Share this: