Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 29 October 2016


The latest poverty statistics, covering 2015, have to be a jewel in whatever crown of achievements former President Benigno Aquino III can claim for his six years in office. The slow decrease in poverty from 2009 to 2012, a period shared equally with his predecessor, was a sore point for Aquino, whose battle cry was inclusive growth. The growth was outstanding, but the inclusiveness seemed to be a failure.

To be fair, the 0.8-percent drop in poverty from 2009 to 2012 (20.5 percent to 19.7 percent of families) was at least slightly better than the performance from 2006 to 2009, which was all of a 0.5-percent drop, but there was really no statistically significant difference between the two figures.

But the 2015 figures showed an impressive, and statistically significant, drop in poverty from 2012—from 19.7 percent to 16.5 percent for families, and from 25.2 percent to 21.6 percent for population (the larger percentages for the population are an indicator that the poor families have a larger family size). What do these mean? Very simply, in the latest 3-year period, the number of people who were poor dropped by 1.8 million. And considering that population was growing during that period, that can be a feather in the cap, or a jewel in the crown, of the P-Noy administration.

And please, let us not attribute the achievement wholly to the conditional cash transfer (CCT)  program of the Aquino administration, which then-President Gloria Arroyo started, and which President Duterte is continuing, although there is danger that this administration will spoil the program by giving it too much. This idea of giving a rice allowance to poor families is a recipe for disaster—a bureaucratic nightmare, and a great come-on for corruption.

The CCT, which is aimed at breaking the intergenerational transfer of poverty, is long-term, and its effects are just starting to be felt now (when more poor children graduate from grade school and high school, and where there is every effort to get them through college). So the Duterte administration should see an even greater reduction in poverty. I have been on the advisory board of the CCT since its inception, and I must congratulate Dinky Soliman (P-Noy’s social welfare secretary) for a job well done, as well as to Espy Cabral (Arroyo’s social welfare secretary) for a job well started.

This is not to say that the drop in poverty from 2012 to 2015 was the largest drop ever. Family poverty dropped from 36.5 percent to 29.8 percent between 1985 and 1988, and again from 27.3 to 20.5 from 1994 to 1997 (I am using Arsenio Balisacan estimates). Those are larger drops than 2012-2015.  But still, congratulations are in order.

For those who think (moi included, many times) that the Duterte administration will be an unmitigated disaster because of his frequent gaffes—I call them gaffes, because they may really be unintentional blunders—let me cite what I think he has done right: 1) He has kept alive the agrarian reform program and is wholeheartedly backing the policy moves of his agrarian reform secretary, including reversing the spurious conversion of thousands of hectares of land (the farmers love him); 2) he has given new life to the term “responsible mining,” and has fully supported his environment secretary in protecting the environment and the people who are victims of the negative externalities of mining, against the mining elite; and 3) he has taken the side of the fisherfolk, although I still haven’t heard that the fish pens in Laguna lake have been dismantled, as he promised.

In short, every time there is an issue involving poor against rich, he has so far chosen to side with the poor. That makes up for many shortcomings.

Is he a communist? I have been assured by someone close to him that he is not. Moreover, if siding with the poor is being a communist, then we need more of him.

But as to misogyny, no one has come to his defense. That, we have to fight. Sen. Leila de Lima is his first victim. I think Vice President Leni Robredo may be the next.