Duh. Really? NO, let’s not let this piece of HEADLINE grabbing, but totally unsurprising news pass without a serious post on the matter. Over the past few weeks several things have prompted me to write this post, so bear with me, read through it if you’re interested, and ponder. Particularly since it is national elections next week, and oddly, the last time I wrote about poverty was before the last Presidential elections three years ago. That post, garnered a stunning 40,000+ page views and is one of the most “liked” posts on this blog… It was also read by several Presidential candidates and their staff/advisors, tens of thousands of voters, got the interest of several multinational agencies, development banks, and educated professionals who don’t normally frequent this blog. If you haven’t read that old post, read it first here, before continuing with this post.
A new Family Income & Expenditure Survey (FIES) was done in 2012, but full results won’t be released for a while (and aren’t as readily accessible on the net, as they were previously). But news made headlines a few days ago when officials (with early dibs on the data/results of the survey) were quoted as saying that the percentage of Filipinos below the poverty line remained the same for the last six years, despite positive growth in the economy. The percentage is the same, but because population growth is rapid, the number of poor has actually grown. The startling conclusion is that despite robust annual growth in GDP for the past 6 years, none of that has trickled down to the nation’s poorest citizens. That DESPITE a PHP40 billion cash dole out program to the poorest families, that in theory should have reduced the number of families falling below the poverty line by half a million families! My long-running survey on IQ’s was prompted by an article I read that the average IQ of the Philippines is quite low, at 86. This wasn’t really a surprise though, given the state of our public school education, here. I recently watched a heart-wrenching and rather sad documentary on four Filipino teachers’ journey working as OFW’s in the Baltimore public school system, called “The Learning”. If you haven’t seen it, make a point to see it. But the final push that triggered my curiosity/anger was a request from Jessica Soho’s Kapuso Mo staff to cook a meal for PHP180 that was nutritionally complete and met the minimum caloric needs of a person. It was to be a “challenge” of sorts, with other cooks/chefs/food professionals invited to participate. I agreed, honestly thinking it was a meal for a family of five. Then they called back and said, no, it’s PHP180 for THREE meals for a family of five including breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was stunned, but challenged. Unfortunately, at the last minute they cancelled the filming, as the crew couldn’t make both Cebu and a previous commitment in Bohol. The episode aired last night, and I didn’t see it. But it really got me, and my office colleagues thinking. Why PHP180?
The Philippine government claims that you are NOT POOR (that’s poor or “dirt”/extremely poor) if you manage to put PHP180 or more worth of food on the table for your family of five every day. And that you can get 2,000+ calories and a nutritionally balanced diet on that amount. Counting ALL OTHER expenses, for rent, transport, etc, the daily figure is roughly PHP250 per day, or roughly PHP7,500 per month. Roughly 28% of the the Filipino population falls below this poverty line. And lest you underappreciate the magnitude of numbers, that means close to 27 MILLION citizens are living in “poverty”. But wait, what does poverty mean, how do we define it? Our definition of poverty is roughly PHP50 per person or US$1.25 a day, nearly exactly the figure that The World Bank uses as its global measure of who is poor or not. SURPRISINGLY, global poverty HAS declined rather dramatically over the past few decades (this actually was a revelation for me), with a notable exception in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. And NOT in the Philippines for the last six years. But a HUGE portion of poverty reduction has come in China, with a billion plus population, and it’s early to throw this out there, but some folks have made a strong argument that China, with its one child policy (ergo smaller planned families) combined with rapid economic growth for 20+ years in a row has done far, far better in the reduction of the ranks of poverty, than India, where population growth is still high but they likewise have had some good economic growth numbers for the past decade or so. The conclusion being that population growth does indeed have something to do with poverty amelioration… but more on that later. If you are just as incredulous as I am about the PHP180 budget for food for five people per day, and say you arbitrarily increased that figure to say PHP300 per day, or roughly PHP20 per meal per person (that’s the minimum budget I use for a feeding program we sponsor), then a shocking 60-70% of all Filipino citizens would fall below that threshold. That’s 60-70 MILLION citizens would be eating LESS than that amount/value of food on a daily basis. Good grief. Take a pause, and think again, 60-70 million FILIPINOS eating less than PHP20 worth of food at breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day of their lives. That’s the cost of a can of diet coke OR two sticks of banana cue OR 100 grams of ground pork OR half a kilo of rice OR 1.5 fresh coconuts OR 2 small galunggong… And in theory, that amount must include your gas, charcoal or firewood, the depreciation on your cooking unit and utensils, the dishes you eat off, the soap to wash them, etc. Good frigging grief.
And food is estimated to make up 60% of a poor person’s basket of minimum goods, so about PHP120 or so is allocated to the “poor family” for transport, housing, clothing, soap, electricity, school expenses, etc. And no, tobacco, liquor and lotto tickets aren’t even included there. So basically, let’s just cut the crap and say while the “philippine (and global) poverty threshold” says 28% of our citizens are poor, the reality is that some 50-60-70% of the population is probably a far more accurate take on who is “poor or dirt poor or extremely poor”. Here is a great presentation by Leland de la Cruz of Ateneo that says it clearly, and note the last slide that shows what people say they feel are “poor”… roughly 50+% self-rate themselves in that category. Forget a “decent life”… we are talking about minimal subsistence. And if you go back to my old post on poverty, where my personal take on a decent lower middle class life was defined as income of PHP50,000 per month for a family of five, then only 6-7% of the Philippine population would make that threshold, and 94% would be living below it!
From my old post:
“How much does it take to lead a decent, but probably “lower-middle class” existence? This is just my personal opinion, but for a family of 5, including several younger children, this is MY ESTIMATE of what is needed to lead a lower middle-class existence:
Food and related expenses (5 people x 3 meals a day x 30 days x P50) = P22,500
Shelter (either rent or amortization and upkeep and all utilities of an owned property) = P10,000
Transport/Telecoms (commute to work, no car, possibly motorcycle, load, phones) = P4,000
Education (1 out of 3 kids in modest private school, others in public school, uniforms, books, etc.) = P5,000
Clothing, Personal Hygiene, Other Expenses = P3,000
Medical/Health/Emergency Expenses = P2,000
Other miscellaneous Expenses = P3,000
TOTAL MONTHLY EXPENSES = P50,000 for a family of 5.”
So what does the government consider to be the food that someone just above the poverty threshold is eating and living on with a minimum monthly income of say PHP7,800 or so? See this link, which has a great video and a photo of the suggested breakfast, lunch and dinner. And note the comparison from 2003 to 2012 in side by side photos. Basically, not only is the menu quite sparse, but the actual definition of poor has been tweaked with the effect that it seems improvements in the levels of poverty have occurred. The bottom line, today? Yes, you can eat meals for PHP12 per person per meal per day, but is that sufficient to say you are NO LONGER POOR? I asked our five commissary chefs to come up with meals, and frankly, the best we could do was a bit of sardines, some eggs, lots of veggies, soups with hardly any protein or flavoring in them assuming no msg laden cubes were used, instant noodles, rice in abundance, hardly any fats, etc. So you may not be “poor” by global and Philippine government definition, but geez, you can’t even really say that’s a lower middle class existence, no?
Let’s not beat around the bush, here is the reality:
1. The government sets a “poverty threshold” of say PHP7,800 total income as being the minimum required to escape “poverty” for a family of five. If you use that threshold, then 28% are considered “poor or severely poor”.
2. If, for the sake of intelligent, logical, rational argument, you just tweak that “threshold” to a more reasonable PHP15,000 or so, then some 60-70% of the population would fall below the poverty line.
3. If you are talking “decent existence” and a sort of self-styled “lower-middle class” description, at say PHP50,000 per month for a family of 5, then 94% of the population falls below that. Yikes.
4. Ergo, you would conclude, that the Philippine population in general, is quite POOR. VERY DARNED POOR. Yes, actually ranked 121 out of 181 countries, and that’s using PPP (Purchasing Power Parity). That’s below the Congo, and just above Iraq, Nicaragua and India!
5. Add to that, the extremely sorry state of public and private education, the appalling national test scores, the declining percentage of school age students attending classes, the average size of classes at say what? 50-60 students per teacher? And say 2-3 shifts of students per classroom per day…
6. The incredibly sorry state of malnutrition of our young (some saying 30% of all children from 0-5 years of age are slightly to severely malnourished), whose brains will likely be permanently damaged, and no amount of effort later on will correct this crucial deficiency in intellectual capacity…
6. The declining BUT still rapid population growth rate at 1.87% places us 66th out of say 200 countries, and only behind the most explosive population growth rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and a few other smaller countries, and because we are at practically 100 million people base figure already…
Population Growth Rates, neighboring countries:
And surprise, surprise, which country has had the slowest relative economic growth rates over the past 10 years?
7. The fact that we are the 12th MOST POPULOUS NATION on earth! And that despite incredible migration of our citizens to other countries in the past 30 years…
8. The relative absence of foreign direct investment into the very crucial areas of manufacturing, agriculture and other key areas, rather than the consumption/service based growth we have experienced. FDI’s into the Philippines are but a small fraction of what Indonesia and Thailand get annually…
9. The lack of jobs, the incredibly high incidence of unemployment and underemployment… And btw, I do NOT BELIEVE that the UNEMPLOYMENT rate in the Philippines is just 7%. I don’t know how they define the rate, nor how they collect the statistics, but based on anecdotal evidence, I have to guess that the unemployment/underemployment rate has to be closer to say 30-40% of the working population of the country…
10. The massive brain drain and diaspora of some of our finest, most aggressive, most intelligent, most risk-taking countrymen who seek a better life in other countries (and who I cannot fault in any way possible for wanting that for their families)…
I could go on, but it’s beyond depressing. But rather than get depressed, get ANGRY! DO SOMETHING!!! The poverty metric is but one tiny tip of a humongously important and potentially deadly poverty/population/education/employment time bomb, whose implications are staggering. We cannot stand by and watch this just unfold, as though we have no ability to change the downward spiral or inevitable path before us…
But first, a reality check. Read this New York Times article on poverty reduction, here. And if you have the time, watch this youtube video of Melinda Gates talking about contraception and birth control and giving people the choice and the access, it is worth watching in its entirety. And read this link, to a CNN article on the difference between China and India and poverty reduction. Thanks to reader RM for sending me these links. Get a Diet Coke, a bag of chips, take a deep breath, and keep reading if you managed to make it this far down…
Before you vote for your senators and other government officials, think good and hard about the following questions:
1. Do they, or have they, exhibited any capacity to understand the issues above, and have they done anything about it?
2. Have they talked at length about any of these critical issues, and have they brought up intelligent solutions or fragments of solutions to overcome these issues? Can they handle a live debate with questions such as these thrown at them?
3. How do they wish to define the term poverty? And are they cognizant of the current state of the Philippine population? What about malnutrition? Other than some mouthed off platitudes at campaign stops?
4. Will they be able to craft, support, shepherd laws/bills/legislation that will help in the solution of of the problems facing our country?
5. What kind of education have they obtained, but more importantly, what will they do for the state of Philippine education? What strategies will they actually employ in the next six years to improve education?
6. Where do they stand on the issue of choice with respect to birth control, family planning, maternal health? Did they, or did the NOT support the passage of the RH Bill? Do they believe the Philippines is overpopulated, just perfectly populated or underpopulated?
7. What are they willing to do to bring the population growth rate down, to educate our youth regarding these issues, and to make the access to birth control more readily available to those who can’t afford it?
8. How will they attract huge increases in FDI or foreign direct investments, into the sectors of manufacturing and agriculture, on the magnitude of say 5-10 times the current levels of FDI? How do we de-emphasize the emphasis on call center jobs, shipping off service labor, etc. rather than more manufacturing and agricultural jobs with lots of local content, economic ripple effects, etc.
9. How do we keep our nation’s best, entice them to stay, reward them and more than that, start to attract many of those who have left to come back home to contribute to nation building?
And that’s just a few of the questions or concerns. Are they honest, is their heart in the right place? Will they hold up to the rigors and demands of the office? Will they be able to handle equally important issues around infrastructure, the judiciary, etc.?
FRANKLY, Mrs. MM’s and my personal list of senators to vote for is a measly 6 names. We have added another 6 names just to make sure other more horrific candidates hopefully don’t win. Pathetic. So our hopes aren’t pinned on the senators and government officials, we hope they will do their best, but EACH and EVERY ONE of us needs to do our part.
Posts such as this one incite some vitriol from those who aren’t on the same wavelength as me, or who feel threatened by discussions such as this. I have often been challenged through comments, private emails, etc. telling me I am full of feces, and that I can’t point to anything I myself have done to justify my writing why others should do more or that we should expect more. So let me enumerate some of the things I/we have done, and I agree it isn’t enough, not considering how dire the situation seems to be. But it is illustrative, and even if we didn’t do this, I still see no reason why I can’t publish my opinion on the issues at hand. But on matters close to our heart:
EDUCATION. Mrs. MM and I helped set up two private but non-profit schools. They are at the highest echelons of what you might call elitist, with the goals of teaching and developing future leaders of this country who have a better understanding of the key issues, who truly want to give back. Yes, many of the students are from the “privileged” classes, however you define them, but at least we are trying to raise them to be cognizant and responsible of their ability to effect change. Over the past 10 years, several thousand students have gone through these schools. And we offer full and partial ride scholarships for those who are unable to cover the tuition fees. MM and Mrs. MM provided funds, but more importantly, thousands of man hours of our time, to help these schools establish themselves. And we did this with about two dozen other committed parents, who each contributed what they could in brain power or money. In addition to that, Mrs. MM have personally or through our family enterprises, contributed to several public schools, either for library or book related issues, renovating classrooms, teacher training, tree planting, sports facilities, etc. These are modest sums, but in retrospect, not that modest at all. They represent a substantial portion of our resources. Finally, despite having only ONE CHILD, we have supported at least a dozen and half students through private schools over the years, from elementary to college, and while many of these kids are offspring of staff or people we know, others were relative strangers. So we have one child, and we helped 18+ others finish their schooling.
POVERTY/HUNGER. Nearly 200,000+ full meals to undernourished public school children over the past 6 years. What started out as a little kernel of an idea, that the Teen was first involved in, turned into a marketmanila sponsored effort, and while contributions from readers covered some of these meals, larger donors like Mamou, family, friends and personal funds covered the rest, and without much fanfare, we consistently provided the meals to hundreds of public school students over the past 6 years. And this year was the last year we will pursue the program, for several reasons. But 200,000+ meals is no joke.
DECENT EMPLOYMENT. In the past 3 years, what started as a bit of a lark, with an intention of providing increased employment opportunities, Zubuchon now employs nearly 200 employees from zero. But what I am most proud off is that they are paid above minimum wage, key personnel share in the profits, they have full benefits and more, receive salaries that get them up to the top 15% of the Philippine population, and we have still managed to stay afloat! If you don’t think this is an achievement, I challenge you all to ask the next waiter or server you come across at a restaurant, particularly a non-Mall restaurant, if they are being paid above minimum wage, if they are contractual or permanent, if they have SSS and other coverage, etc. and if they receive the service charge collected. We have interviewed several hundred applicants for jobs and in their PREVIOUS employment, many at well known companies, they were receiving far less than legally mandated wages, and simply sucking it up or they would be unemployed. So here’s my personal challenge to senatorial candidates and government officials… why don’t you CHECK if companies are paying the right wages? It’s so darned easy to do, and so many appear to be in non-compliance with this. Some folks say we are a bit more expensive at Zubuchon, but I say, we treat our staff with dignity and pay better than most, we have good working conditions, we follow most laws, we have all health clearances, government licenses, etc. AND THAT COSTS MONEY. The public, you and me cannot look the other way and seek cheaper services, if people’s rights are being sacrified or abused. That’s not right. You want to talk FAIR TRADE? Think good and hard about that the next time you eat out. There are some folks I know who really take this to heart, and run their small businesses with heart, but they are few and far between. Besides the restaurant, we have real estate business, and there too we try to employ decently. And to think, I/we are officially “retired”…
BIRTH CONTROL/FAMILY PLANNING. Friends of ours snigger when I relay episodes of my most recent voluntary “birth control” talks or seminars. But I do them every few months for staff on a voluntary basis. I make condoms readily available for FREE, and encourage staff to do whatever they do, but to do it safely and without the risk of pregnancy if that outcome is unplanned or unwanted. I am not always successful, but over the years, I know I have made even a teeny weeny impact. My seminars start out with this question. “How much do you think you will need to raise a child from birth through college if they attend public schools, have decent nourishment, a home over their heads, and can attend school and buy the materials necessary for a decent life?” The answer is roughly PHP2 million pesos today. If you don’t think you are going to earn that, or have it put away, then in a sense, you are bringing a child into this world already handicapped at providing him/her with the most basic of needs. Don’t children have a right to a decent life? But even more controversial, on the idiotic claim that providing birth control promotes promiscuity, I can tell you from overseeing hundreds of employees, that MOST staff from 19 to 29 years have already produced offspring, are majority (say 70-80%) unmarried either civilly or in church, and many of them have already gone onto second or third relationships, etc. In other words, THEY ARE PROMISCUOUS already, and I won’t make a judgment call on that, just that if they want to, they need to engage in safer sex, period. Wake up folks, THIS IS THE REALITY. And even more shocking, some reports suggest that there are up to 400,000 ILLEGAL ABORTIONS in the Philippines per year (90’s data), a staggering statistic that needs no more elaboration.
Yes, I agree, these are really small things… But imagine if 10,000 people did the same? What if 20,000 people managed to start businesses that provided decent employment to 200 people (and who flow-through to 1,000 citizens), that would mean 4 million decent jobs, and flow through to 20 million citizens! Or if 30,000 people and organizations provided 50,000 meals per year for malnourished children, that would be 1.5 billion meals, enough to feed 1.37 million people EVERY DAY three full meals for the entire year! Or what if we took the time to counsel 100 people a year about their CHOICES with respect to birth control, and what responsible parenting might entail, what impact would 50,000 of us doing that have every year? There’s a part of me that wonders if providing 200,000 meals to malnourished children was a smarter use of funds than say providing a million condoms or the equivalent in other birth control methods. So it isn’t impossible, but the task is MONUMENTAL. If we all did our part, then maybe, just maybe we would see our prospects turn around in our lifetimes. But drastic steps are necessary. Population and birth control needs to be on the agenda. Education needs to be on the agenda. Decent and better and broader employment needs to be on the agenda. And that’s just a tip of the iceberg…
THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP.