Business World, 29 October 2012


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) formed the core of the United Nations Millennium Declaration signed in September 2000 by 191 member countries, including the Philippines. There are eight such goals with specific targets and indicators totaling 50. These relate to: (i) poverty, unemployment, and hunger; (ii) universal primary education; (iii) gender equality and women empowerment; (iv) child mortality; (v) maternal health; (vi) HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; (vii) environmental sustainability; and (viii) global partnership for development.

Most of the MDGs have quantitative targets to be achieved by 2015 from baseline indicators as of the early 1990s. With barely three years to go before the milestone, it is timely – nay, urgent – that we check how much progress our country has made toward these goals. Earlier evaluations suggest that achievements were falling short of a number of targets. The most recent review still does not inspire confidence and optimism. Which can be an additional source of international embarrassment for our country as it would suggest a seeming lack of seriousness about international commitments, such as those made at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (June 1992) and at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt (September 1994).

A year after Cairo, the UN convened the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace in Beijing, China (September 1995). While these three international conferences appear to be on different areas of concern, the issues discussed and the commitments made are actually inextricably intertwined and are at the heart of the MDGs.

First, the good news is that with respect to MDG 8 (global partnership for development), we’re doing pretty well on all three indicators, and relatively alright in regard to MDG 7 (environmental sustainability), except for two indicators, namely, the “number of species threatened with extinction” and “proportion of families with access to secure tenure”.

Second, we have made fair progress toward MDG 3 (gender equality and women empowerment) and MDG 4 (infant and child mortality reduction). However, concerning MDG 6 (combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases) the performance is distinctly mixed, with HIV/AIDS cases sharply rising of late and tuberculosis incidence and death rates remaining high; on the other hand, both “detection and cure of tuberculosis cases” are near their targets, and malaria death rates have dropped to near zero.

Third, the bad news is that we continue to perform poorly in regard to MDG 5, with  maternal mortality ratio (MMR) appreciably rising instead of falling toward target, as well as contraceptive prevalence rate and “proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel” that are way off their respective marks. Incidentally, the increase in MMR is further compounded by rising teenage pregnancies that can contribute some more to MMR. The other sad news is the low probability that MDG 2 (universal primarily education) will be met.

The last, but certainly not the least, disturbing news is that MDG 1 (reduce poverty to half or 16.6%) is unlikely to be met, with poverty incidence starting at 33.1 percent in 1991, dropping glacially to 26.5 percent in 2009 – though the government strangely puts a “medium probability” on meeting the target! In addition, employment performance and hunger eradication vis-à-vis their respective targets are not promising.

In sum, the Philippines’ overall score on the MDGs is starkly uneven and certainly downbeat vis-à-vis our progressive Asian neighbors. This can be explained by bad governance (particularly during the previous administration), weak economic growth, high wealth and income inequality, and rapid population growth (or high fertility especially among the poor).

Population pervades practically all the MDG concerns. In particular, it permeates and directly impacts maternal mortality, primary education, and poverty – precisely the MDGs for which we are badly lagging behind.

The way forward seems clear. Besides an unequivocal population policy, the country needs to improve governance, speed up economic growth that is inclusive (i.e., poverty- and inequality-reducing growth) through a more attractive investment climate. Which principally comprises simple and transparent regulatory system (that also reduces rent-seeking and corruption), the rule of law (including contract enforcement), and modernized infrastructure.

The importance of population policy cannot be overemphasized, given that it has been overdue for too long, as acutely exemplified by the RH bill that continues to hang in the balance in Congress. Such a policy has immediate, short-term, and long-term benefits, as experienced by our now-better-off Asian neighbors. To illustrate: the immediate benefits include reduction in maternal mortality and induced abortions due to unwanted/unplanned pregnancies, as well as proper pre- and post-natal care; the short- to medium-term advantages comprise reduced pressure on education and heathcare systems, as well as on infrastructure, and lower unemployment; and the long-term benefits include accelerated economic growth due to better educated and more productive labor force, improved food self-sufficiency, sustained poverty reduction, and less stress on the environment.

It was estimated by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies some three years back that the financial resources required to achieve the MDGs were on the order of 2-3 percent of GDP. However, this did not reckon the time lags entailed in approvals, budgeting, biddings, and fund releases (inside lags), as well as the time needed for projects to hit the ground and eventuate in real impacts (outside lags). This merely suggests that the sense of urgency and action, which have been missing, need to come into play to palpably improve performance.