The open-walled Octagon building of Calabanga is a constant venue of people on the move. Poor and deprived residents of the town’s different barangays pour in mass on a scheduled day, converge, queue on long hours, and associate with the assigned personnel of the LGU/DSWD for paperworks. They are prospective beneficiaries of the national government’s conditional cash grants program.
The program used to be president Arroyo’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program or 4Ps. Now the Aquino administration has continued to implement it. A question hangs in our mind whether it will define the government’s strategic approach to solving the social blight of poverty in the country.
The program’s implementation enrolled the Philippines to the rank of countries which grant residents of wellfare cash, kind-of, albeit, conditional, limited and very minuscule. But certainly, the P21 billion that has been allotted for the 4Ps in the 2011 budget is more than something when we consider that the government is cash strapped. In 2010, the budget was P10 billion.
Multilateral financial institutions which look up to the program with optimistic views include the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. They of course loaned the fund for this financial outing.
Zeroing on the target beneficiaries, of the absolutely poor, is essential to the program’s integrity and survival. There is the nagging need to insulate the list of beneficiaries from constraints and influence by the local power brokers, which include the levels from the barangay chairmans and up, cannot be overlooked. The need to regularly monitor the situation of the families and their compliance with the minimum conditions of the cash grant is necessary and a major concern.
Launched in 2008, the conditional cash transfer program gives conditional cash grants to indigent families who have children ages 14 years old and below. A P500 monthly cash grant is given for health and nutrition expenses while P300 monthly cash grant is given per child for educational expenses.
Only a maximum of 3 children per household are allowed to receive allowance, for a maximum total of P1,400 a month. As a condition, the beneficiaries are required to send their children to school, and the mothers must go for regular prenatal or postnatal care.
An April 2010 study conducted by the non-stock non-profit government institution Philippine Institute for Development Studies shows that conditional cash transfers in the Philippines has affected school attendance rate of 7% of total number of poor households nationwide or 18% of total number of poor households in the target provinces in the country. (Ed’s note: The study and result may have a bias in favor of the government).
DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman earlier said the program has led to more consistency and less absenteeism for the children-beneficiaries who go to school. She added the children-beneficiaries have become healthier because of better food and the immunization they get from health centers.
These pronouncement must be substantiated by actual facts and numbers though. Not mere suppositions to sweet coat the program. The government has yet to prove that the conditional cash grants were received by the intended beneficiaries. Despite receiving P10 billion (Year 2010) for the project, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has yet to report on the progress of the program beneficiaries.
Also last year, the National Economic Development Authority Director-General Cayetano Paderanga said he will coordinate with the DSWD to better monitor the conditional cash transfer project.
Many of us has accepted that poverty is a part of the stark everyday life. It has been with us for such a long time and through many generations. More than many occasions we blame the poor (actually unwilling victims) for being lazy and irresponsible. Taking into account that they are, do we have to crucify the children for the failure of their parents? Our society do not give equal access to opportunities to everyone as the wide chasm of deprivation separates the haves and the have none. The rich have more avenues to explore and continue amassing wealth while the poor waddle in their impoverished state for generations to come.