Do you ever wonder what life would be like if our country got out of the grinding poverty pit and marched into wealth and prosperity? I do. Back in the day, when I was working with an international organization, I attended a global conference at an Asian country where we had participants from 82 different countries. One of my colleagues had asked me casually, “ This country (where our global conference was held) is a bit more progressive than your country, right?” I laughed and nodded in agreement. But inwardly, I cringed, wondering where we had gone astray or if we could ever move past being a “Third World Country” or the more politically correct “Developing Country” economic ranking.
A look at the numbers show that “22 Million Filipinos or one-fifth of the country’s population still live below the national poverty line. Despite the generally good economic performance of the country, poverty remains high and the pace of poverty reduction has been slow,” (World Bank, Making Growth Work for the Poor: a Poverty Assessment of the Philippines, World Bank Manila, 2018)
The study points to a slight reduction where “21.6% of Filipinos live below the poverty line in 2015 compared to 26.6% in 2006. The Philippine population in 2006 stood at 87 million and rose to 102 million in 2015. Thus, in 2006, about 23 million Filipinos lived below the poverty line compared to 22 million in 2015. Over a nine year period covering 2006-2015, nothing had really changed to improve the economic lives of Filipinos. The present 2018 population of the country stands at 106 million. Assuming 20% of the population live below the poverty line, that is still a high number: 21 million people.” Hence, poverty remains a challenge for the country.
An Asian Development Bank publication on Poverty in the Philippines pointed to several causes of poverty in the country: slow economic growth for the last 40 years, high population growth, low employment generation, failure to develop the agricultural sector, high and persistent levels of economic inequality, recurrent calamities and conflicts. There are many more, including too much pre-occupation in dirty politics.
It seems this poverty trend will continue unless an honest-to-goodness governance will gain a firm foothold in this country. It is a blessing that Filipinos are resilient in the face of difficulties. Many anchor their hope for better lives for themselves and their families on working abroad. This has been the trend since the 1980s. These Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) are the ones propping up the Philippine economy for so long. These modern day “heroes” are mostly workers in the health care field. Most of them are working as caregivers, nurses, physical therapists or doctors-turned-nurses to earn more income abroad. Due to the greying population issue in most First World countries and lack of health care help, demand for health care workers have continued. Others who are not medically trained end up in the services and construction fields. We have Filipinos working almost anywhere in the world – a diaspora of sorts.
For many, this arrangement has become like a bittersweet pill to swallow. Financially, the OFWs are able to generate more income for families back home from their dollar remittances but the separation has taken its toll on family relationships, resulting in alienation, broken families and their effects on children. With some families, the social cost may have outweighed the economic benefits.
While overseas foreign remittances have been a significant help in keeping our country’s integrity intact, this situation cannot continue for long.
Government has to do something to solve our economic problems by creating a positive and lucrative landscape for career opportunities, ensuring quality education and training, developing the agriculture and manufacturing sector and narrowing the economic inequality gap. Agriculture and manufacturing should be the driver of the economy.
Now that the election season has begun, candidates for elective positions from the local to the national level must think of ways and doable ideas to address the number one problem in our localities and in our country: wipe out the spectre of poverty.