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Philippines vows to cut poverty

MANILA, February 9, 2011 (AFP) – The Philippines said Wednesday it aimed to lift eight million people out of poverty within four years, after fresh data showed economic growth over the past decade had mostly benefited the rich.

Economic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga said the government of President Benigno Aquino hoped to cut the number of people living on a dollar a day or less to 16 percent of the population by 2015.

“We will try to bring it down to 16 percent. This will be admittedly difficult but we will try,” Paderanga said at an economic forum attended by senior government officials.

His comments came after the government released results on Tuesday of a 2009 survey showing that poverty in the Philippines worsened over the past decade despite constant economic growth over that time.

Just over 23 million Filipinos — or 26.5 percent of the population — survived on 46.14 pesos (1.04 dollars) a day or less, according to the survey.

This was up slightly from 24.9 percent in 2003.

A reduction in the poverty rate to 16 percent would mean roughly eight million had been lifted above the threshold of a dollar-a-day.

Paderanga and other cabinet members told the forum that economic growth over the past decade had not been evenly spread.

“Some sectors of the population were simply unable to participate in this (growth) and were left behind,” Paderanga said, echoing criticism of former president Gloria Arroyo, who was in office from 2001 until last year.

She had pointed to high economic growth rates — an annual average of 4.7 percent over the past decade — as one of her administration’s achievements.

But the new government led by Aquino has said she did too little to ensure economic expansion helped the poor.

Among the measures aimed at helping the poor is a Brazilian-style conditional cash transfer programme that will give 21 billion pesos (483.7 million dollars) to poor families this year, Paderanga said.

The hand-outs are dependent on the recipients going to school and getting health checks.

Central bank governor Amando Tetangco told the same forum on Wednesday the government was also promoting microfinance programmes.

He said 200 banks were now providing small loans to 700,000 entrepreneurs so they could start their own businesses.

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