Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hunger incidence and PHL economic growth

Editorial

The latest Social Weather Stations survey report, on the poll conducted on March 10 to 13, shows an increase in the number of families claiming they experienced “involuntary hunger”— hunger that they could not assuage because they had nothing to eat.

The increase brings the number of hunger-afflicted households to 23.8 percent, equivalent to about 4.8 million families or about 24 million persons at the average 5 persons per family. In the survey in December last year only 22.5 percent said they had experienced involuntary hunger, equivalent to 4.5 million families. This means that in the space of three months 300,000 more families became very poor to the point of experiencing hunger.

SWS—which as usual did the survey for Business World and gave that publication first shot at publishing the results—said hunger incidence has been above 20 percent in the past three quarters. These March survey results exceed the previous record high of 23.7 percent recorded based on the December 2008 survey.

There is “moderate” and “severe hunger.” The “moderate” category includes those who claimed to have experienced hunger “only once” or “a few times” and those who did not state the frequency of the hunger they experienced. The “severe” category refers to those who said they experienced hunger “often” or “always.”

Moderate hunger saw a 0.3-point increase to 18 percent (equivalent to about 3.7 million families) from 17.7 percent (equivalent to about 3.6 million families) in December 2011.

Severe hunger had a 1.1-point increase to a near record-high of 5.8 percent (about 1.2 million families) from 4.7 percent (about 955,000 families) last December. The new count is just below the 6.0 percent record high in March 2001.

Calamities blamed
Aquino administration officials blamed calamities, among them tropical storm Sendong that devastated parts of Mindanao and the Visayas last December.
We only partly agree.

For this new increase in hunger-incidence statistics is not surprising after SWS reported last week that its survey—the same March 10-13 opinion poll from which these latest hunger report is based — showed that self-rated poverty had increase to 55 percent of all Filipino families, up from only 45 percent recorded in December last year.

The survey also found that 45 percent or an estimated 9.1 million families considered themselves poor in terms of food, nine points up from the 36 percent or estimated 7.2 million recorded in the previous quarter.

The reason there has been little improvement in poverty-eradication is the administration’s policy to anchor its governance on the elimination of corruption as the way to eliminate poverty. The present regime put such great store in the axiom “good governance is good economics” to the point of not giving as much importance to policies that would create more jobs (and therefore reduce the number of unemployed).

We have been suggesting that the Aquino government change gears and pay more attention to creating a robust economy. And consider the new paradigm that a robust economy is a great deterrent to graft and corruption. We do not suggest that the administration cancel its “Matuwid na Daan” anti-corruption policy. We only urge the President and his Cabinet to give economic productivity and job creation more of their time, energy and government resources.

Heed the advice of IMF and ADB
At the recently concluded 45th ADB annual meeting, the thousands of international bankers and finance gurus who came as delegates, heard optimistic forecasts for the Philippine economy from Philippine officials. President Aquino based his optimism about our country’s economic growth prospects in the coming months and years on his belief that “Corruption is over.”

ADB itself has forecasted a gross domestic product (GDP) of 6.9 percent for Asia and Pacific in 2012, and 7.3 percent in 2013. These rates are healthy relative to the sick rates of the EU countries and the United States.

But the Philippines lags behind its fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), having grown only 3.7 percent in 2011, down by half of its magnificent 7-plus percent GDP growth in 2010. Our growth will at best be 5 to 6 percent this year.

ADB laments the poverty in Asia which it says is caused by the rising gross inequality.

Inequality in incomes and opportunities is among the worst in the world in our country.

Inequality would decline somehow if our economy had been robust enough to create more jobs and gave families higher incomes and purchasing power. But the Aquino administration decided to curtail spending in its first year and only this year began to spend for infrastructure and other big-ticket employment-multiplier projects. And the vaunted PPP (Public-Private Partnership) projects that the President said in his State of the Nation Address would bring about the economic take off have not materialized.

Foreign investments in PPP projects have not poured in. We got $1.7 billion in foreign direct investments (FDI) in 2010. This is a pittance compared with the FDI Singapore got ($38.6 billion). Indonesia got $13.3 billion and Thailand $6.3 billion.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) deputy managing director Naoyuki Shinohara praised the Aquino administration for having worked hard and accomplishing successes, including the P1.9 billion PPP to build the Daang Hari-South Luzon Expressway link that the government awarded last December to the Ayala Corporation.

But there are nine PPP projects that were supposed to have been launched in 2011. There is no news of when these would become realities.

Mr. Shinohara said something that we have been urging the Aquino Cabinet to consider. He said, “When I talk about governance, I’m not taking about anticorruption but governance in general, which includes policy-making, the fiscal structure, supervision of state institutions, risk management of state institutions, all these things.”

All these things are what will diminish poverty, hunger-incidence and corruption too.

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