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Aquino’s anti-corruption, poverty reduction programs get an unlikely boost in Congress

By DAVID CASUCO

LOS ANGELES – President Benigno Simeon Aquino III finds a very unlikely ally in Congress. The guy is extremely intelligent and corruption is not in his vocabulary. He is Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello.

Bello, a brilliant academician and human rights activist who is noted for his anti-establishment attitude, decided to ally with the administration because the vision of his party complements with what Aquino wants to accomplish on corruption and poverty reduction.

“It is for these reasons that we ( at Akbayan) decided ‘this is the president that we can support’,” said Bello. “The people’s support for this administration is quite high.” He said he still hopes the president can fulfill its “walang mahirap kapag walang corrupt’ campaign mantra.

Rep. Walden Bello

Bello, who chairs the Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs in Congress, was in town to have a close encounter with the eleven Filipino workers who reportedly were victims of illegal labor trafficking. He told the Fil-Am media that he has nothing to report on his investigation at this time because he has encountered only one of them, so far.

But he had a lot to say about the government and its anti-corruption and poverty alleviation programs.

At the Pulong Bayan held at the Rizal Hall of the Philippine Consulate General, Bello admitted that the anti-corruption campaign got off to a shaky takeoff. He said that when the president established the Truth Commission to ferret out people associated with irregularities of the past administration, the Supreme Court stepped in and rendered it unconstitutional.

“But we finally took off, we have stabilized, and I think we will have a soft landing in a form of an impeachment. In a few years we will see prosecutions of corrupt officials,” Bello said. (As this story is being written, Mercy Gutierrez resigned from her post as Ombudsman). It goes without saying that with a new Ombudsman there will be no more impediments for the government to go after the corrupt personalities associated with the past administration.”

The second major agenda, which is the poverty reduction, was launched in 2008 with four pilot areas in Agusan del Sur, Misamis Occidental, Pasay City, and Caloocan City.

Recent study has it that the Philippines’ poverty rate seems to have increased between 2003 and 2006, this despite the continuous economic growth posted by economic indicators over the years, including last year when it had a 0.9 percent gain. The Philippines was among the few countries that managed to remain afloat despite the global economic meltdown.

The sustained growth notwithstanding, the Philippines failed to take a bite at the poverty incidence rate. Bello said NSO statistics released recently showed that the number of the poor in Phl stands at 26.5 in February 2011. It is surprisingly slightly higher compared to the 26.4 in 2006.

Meanwhile, the SWS survey reports that what the Philippines has, right now, is 51 percent of Filipinos rate themselves as poor, up 49 percent last November. The same survey indicated that one out of every three Filipinos wants to get out of the country; and that over 20 percent of the Philippines workforce are stationed abroad.

“The challenge is very great,” said Bello. “But you have to give this administration a chance. It is barely one year old.”

The chance that Bello counts on is the ongoing poverty reduction program called the conditional cash transfer (CCT). What is seeks to achieve is break the poverty trap by providing immediate relief (transfers) and incentives for investments in health and education.

What it does is give cash to poor households chosen through an objective poverty targeting mechanism. The poor family will be able to avail of the program on condition that it limits to no more than three children and that their children go to school and use preventive health care.

“It is not a doleout, it is not free money. It is money given conditionally,” said Bello. “The $37-a month cash stipend will be given to families only if they agree to put their children in school and not pull them out, and subject them to regular health screenings. And that is why it is a conditional cash transfer.”

Bello said an estimated 1.4 million families had been integrated into the CCT program by the middle of this year. If successful, the program will cover one million more poor households.â– 

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