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Aquino's CCT program fails to target 'poorest of the poor'

July 1, 2011 5:17pm
In his first year in office, President Benigno Aquino III boasted of signing the two millionth beneficiary of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, his administration's flagship anti-poverty measure.

"Apat na araw mula ngayon, sasaksihan ko po mismo ang paglagda ng ika-dalawang milyong benepisyaryo ng CCT. Uulitin ko lang po, two million na po ang na-i-enroll natin sa CCT pagdating ng July 4," Aquino said in a speech marking the occasion of his first year in office.

But several months into the accelerated implementation of the CCT scheme, also known as the "Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program," is Aquino's "magic bullet" against poverty reaching its intended beneficiaries and attaining its goals?

Under the P21-billion CCT program, indigent household-beneficiaries would receive a monthly stipend of up to P1,400, provided they meet certain conditions.

Piloted in 2008 by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the CCT program went from granting cash transfers to some 1 million families in end-2009 to more than 2 million as of June 2011. [See: WB approves loan for RP's conditional cash transfer]

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According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), households eligible for the program are:
  • Residents of the poorest municipalities based on 2003 estimates by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB)

  • Those whose economic condition is equal to or below the provincial poverty threshold

  • Households that have children 0-14 years old and/or have a pregnant woman at the time of assessment

  • And those that agree to meet other conditions specific in the program.

But data culled by GMA News Research revealed that while the program was successful in reaching out to regions with high poverty incidence, a number of "really poor" municipalities in other provinces remain outside the CCT coverage.

The poverty-CCT gap — which measures the difference between the number of poor families in the region and the number of CCT beneficiary families in the area — revealed that some provinces with large estimated numbers of poor families have "low coverage" under the program.

Of all the provinces, Cebu registered the highest poverty-CCT gap where 160,236 poor families are not currently covered by the CCT.

This was followed by Nueva Ecija (100,852), Negros Occidental (95,637), Pangasinan (94,449), Albay (75,984) and Bohol (74,527).

In 2009, a total of 213,162 poor families were reported to have come from Cebu, the highest among all provinces.

Data also showed that 14 out of the 20 provinces with the lowest CCT coverage are also among the top provinces with the highest number of poor families.

Not all the poor are covered

Of the three main islands of the Philippines, Mindanao has the lion's share of CCT beneficiary families at about 48 percent, with Luzon following at around 30 percent.

Among the regions, meanwhile, two stand out in terms of percentage-share of CCT beneficiary families: Bicol Region and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Each of the two regions comprises about 11 percent of the beneficiaries equivalent to about 250,000 families per region.

These two regions — combined — make up more than a fifth of the total CCT beneficiaries, now pegged at about 2.1 million.

Despite Bicol’s high coverage where 65 percent of poor families are CCT beneficiaries, two provinces in the region registered a high poverty-CCT gap: Albay (75,984) and Camarines Sur (43,969).

"Not all the poor are covered," said Prof. Leonor Briones of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance.

Briones reiterated that while the program may have correctly identified the poor regions in the country, some "really poor" municipalities were not accounted for.

"Hindi na kasi nakikita na within a province, there are packets of poor families na posibleng hindi ma-cover," she pointed out. "Isipin mo kasi laging may mga specific parameters, at ‘yung hindi pasok dun, kahit mahirap na mahirap, hindi sila mako-cover."

Under the program, beneficiary families are required to:
  • Bring their children ages 0-5 to the health center to receive regular preventive health check ups and vaccines

  • Bring their children ages 3-5 to day care or pre-school classes at least 85 percent of the time

  • Enroll their children ages 6-14 in elementary or high school and ensure they attend classes 85 percent of the time

  • Bring their children ages 6-14 to the health center to receive deworming pills twice a year

  • Make pregnant women avail themselves of pre- and post-natal care and give birth attended by a trained health professional

  • Attend monthly family development sessions.

"This only means there are still things to be done," Briones noted. "Hindi kasi pwedeng CCT ang 'star program' pero specific sectors lang ang nakikinabang."

Meeting specific goals

Despite the disparity in the coverage of the CCT, research data showed that in the program's two specific goals meant to address the United Nation's (UN) Millenium Development Goals (MDG), the measure seems to have been able to successfully target problem areas in the country.

According to the latest progress report on the MDG, the country has a "low probability" of attaining the goal of universal primary education for all.

Moreover, the latest UN and Asian Development Bank report noted that the country's progress toward this goal is "regressing."

Data showed, however, that most provinces with the lowest completion rate (as of school year 2008 to 2009) also have the highest number of CCT beneficiaries.

The completion rate is the percentage of Grade 1 pupils who finish Grade 6.

These provinces include Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Sulu, all of which are in Mindanao with the last three in the ARMM.

Similarly, the CCT program was able to successfully target regions with the highest maternal mortality rate.

Improving maternal health also forms part of the MDG and that of the CCT goals. Latest National Economic Development Authority and UN-ADB reports show that it is "highly likely" that the country will not achieve this goal in time for the 2015 deadline set by the MDG.

Of the nine regions in the country with the highest maternal mortality rate in 2006, five are among those with the highest number of CCT beneficiaries.

These include Region 8 (Eastern Visayas), Region 9 (Zamboanga del Norte), Region 2 (Cagayan Valley), ARRM and Region 5 (Bicol).

Despite CCT’s nobel goals…

DSWD said it plans to expand coverage of the CCT to 2.3 million by end-2011, with an additional P2 billion budget well on its way.

To date, 81.2 percent of the target families were already registered under the program.

Despite the noble goals of the program, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman admitted that the cash grants are not enough to meet the needs of poor families.

"Ang 1,400 hindi makakatawid sa lahat ng pangangailangan [ng mga pamilya]," Soliman said in an interview on GMA News TV's "News to Go."

"Ito ay makakatulong lalung-lalo na sa usapin ng pagkain, pero marami pang pangangailangan ang isang pamilya na hindi matutugunan," she added.

According to latest survey by pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS), some three million households have had nothing to eat at least once in the last three months.

The numbers, however, are about 25 percent lower than in the previous survey in March and a turnaround from the increases registered in the last three quarters.

Soliman emphasized that the CCT is not meant to address short-term problems.

"Medium- and long-term na epekto ang ating nilalayon kasi namumuhunan tayo sa kinabukasan ng bata," she said.

A 'magic bullet'

Still, analysts are divided regarding the development impact of the cash grants, saying it is not a solution to the country's decades-long problems.

"Halata mo na stop-gap measure ito," said political analyst Prof. Ramon Casiple. "Hindi ito pwedeng magtagal, at hindi ito magkakaroon ng malaking impact sa overall poverty situation."

Economist Prof. Solita Monsod, on the other hand, maintained that the President deserves praise for this program.

"One of the areas na talagang he did well on is his attempt — 'yung kanyang attempt to try to help the poor," Monsod said.

"Itong proyektong ito is about as close as we can get to what is called a 'magic bullet' in development," she added. — with GMA News Research/RSJ/VS, GMA News
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