Aquino's Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program as a stratagem to alleviate poverty is not freedom from but a shackle that locks up the Filipino people t

Aquino's Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program as a stratagem to alleviate poverty is not freedom from but a shackle that locks up the Filipino people to abject poverty

Patnubay de Guia
NDF-Southern Tagalog Region
July 4, 2011

To have a president whom the poor and the Filipino people, in general, have pin their trust and hope upon and expect to tackle social problems that long beset the country in depth, it is unfortunate that poverty alleviation is regarded superficially. That President Aquino is not serious to alleviate, if not eradicate poverty, is evident through the extended and expanded implementation of Cash Conditional Transfer (CCT) Program dubbed as Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or widely known by the poor as 4Ps.

Piloted on January 2008 in Agusan del Sur, Misamis Occidental, Pasay City and Caloocan City, each with 1,500-targeted households, the 4Ps program expanded and covered one (1) million household beneficiaries by 2010. In the 2011 national budget, CCT has a staggering outlay of P21.2 billion and has a 4.3 million target beneficiaries.

As a flagship anti-poverty program of the Aquino administration, 4Ps is defined as "a poverty reduction and social development strategy of the national government that provides conditional cash grants to extremely poor households to improve their health, nutrition and education particularly of children aged 0-14." Under certain conditionality like an 85% attendance rate per month of school children and regular attendance of mothers to "family development sessions" among others, poor families receive conditional cash grants worth P500.00 a month for health and nutrition expenses and P300 per child per month for educational expenses covering a maximum of three children per household.

But contrary to what the government wants the people to believe in, cash grants under the 4Ps program are not free. It is made up of US$405 million loan from the World Bank (WB) and US$400 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). A total borrowing amounting to US$805 million from these international finance institutions is an additional burden for the Filipino people as the money devoted for loan repayment comes from the tax levied on the people themselves.

The Katipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), an urban poor-based people's organization, stated that the 4Ps is a "deceitful program since the government even has to borrow US$400 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to fund the program." IBON, a research-education-information and advocacy organization, referring to the 4Ps program insightfully notes that, "This debt-driven and unsustainable social protection program provides temporary relief but cannot replace the long-term benefit of stable jobs and decent incomes. The targeted 4.3 million beneficiaries are few compared to the some 65 million poor Filipinos. Meanwhile the government is paying Php1 for every Php4 in cash given out, and is paying US$5 for every US$4 in foreign loans taken out. These CCTs are unsustainable, expensive and relief without reform." The 4Ps program, thus, reinforces, not breaks, the inter-generational cycle of poverty among the Filipino people.

In addition, going through with the program makes the country vulnerable to the dictates of the WB and ADB that grant loans embedded in unjust and unfavorable terms. Along with economic underdevelopment, subservience to foreign economic interests is precisely where poverty and hunger in the country take root. Rather than focusing on sustainable and equitable approach toward developing domestic economy, the Aquino administration relies on foreign investments and foreign markets evident on its declaration that it will pursue as many free trade agreements as possible, deepen and broaden privatization through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), and stick to the neoliberal socio-economic policy frameworks like those of previous regimes' that further marginalize millions of Filipino families for it is mainly concerned in laying grounds conducive and profitable for big and foreign businesses rather than the well-being of the people.

The year 2009 marks the launch of the 4Ps program in Taytay, Palawan. Commencing with surveys which the people didn't know what was about, residents were called to attend assemblies in their respective communities and told that they were the chosen 4Ps beneficiaries. Right then and there they took an Oath of Commitment to the program they literally knew nothing of.

At the outset, the 4Ps program in the town of Taytay, Palawan is comprised of 21 groups with more than 700 beneficiaries. At present, it only has 680 beneficiaries. Moreover, the guidelines for selecting beneficiaries are ambiguous and confusing to the villagers. Many beneficiaries in the town are not really poor but are chosen anyway just because they have "connections" with the local government. There are even beneficiaries that hold office in the municipality or spouses of government employees that don't deserve to receive cash grants if the guidelines for selecting beneficiaries under the 4Ps program are strictly observed.

The actual implementation of 4Ps in Palawan proves to be anomalous. In particular, there are 32 4Ps beneficiaries in Sitio Arado II, Taytay, but only 12 receive conditional cash grants. The obligations and the conditionality under the program are also not clear to the beneficiaries. They are just compelled to sign on and pay for the photocopying expenses of papers that are monthly delivered in the City of Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan.

Beneficiaries in Barangay Poblacion, Taytay, Palawan find themselves in a similar situation. Beneficiries do not receive cash grants regularly. The only information they get about the status of the program is that there is no more budget for it. The story goes that the money allocated for the 4Ps have already been used up so the people have to wait whensoever the cash grants materialize, take last year, for instance, when they did not receive any cash grants for six consecutive months.

These cases are not isolated. In Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, the 4ps program is widely implemented among the indigenous peoples. Beneficiaries receive cash grants in varying quantity. Their ideas regarding the conditionality of the program are also not clear since they only flock to the town to get the cash grants or attend seminars when the barangay council or sityo leaders order them to do so.

Moreover, many beneficiaries don't know what the 4Ps stand for. Some interpret 4Ps as "for peace". This manifests that the program itself is quite apart from the indigenous people -- an indifferent program in itself that leaves them at the mercy of an apparitional, reactionary government they hardly know and hardly ever recognizes that they, too, as humans exist.

But how far the Aquino administration goes toward deceiving the people is beyond measure. Construed as an anti-poverty program, the 4Ps is actually part of and in line with Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) which is an integral component of the latest counter-insurgency program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines dubbed as Internal Peace and Security Program-Bayanihan. Under COPD, AFP troops harass communities that are suspected as NPA areas; investigate and interrogate residents; and threaten civilians who resisted being recruited into the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit. Justified by the AFP as a venue to address the problems and grievances aired by the people, COPD make use of the 4Ps program to deceive the people and divert the attention of the members of progressive organizations by mandating them to attend family development sessions and community assemblies; smoothing the way for their intelligence and psy-war operations against the revolutionary movement.

The Southern Tagalog Region has numerous experiences where the 4Ps related activities are deliberately scheduled in sync with the progressive organizations campaigns and activities. On April 4, 2011, when a Fact Finding Mission was conducted in Taytay, Palawan the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) called for a Community Assembly for the final enlistment of the 4Ps beneficiaries in the town. On April 13, 2011, DSWD conducted an assembly for the 4Ps beneficiaries in the town of Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro that was synchronized with the Mangyan Festival Cultural Caravan. Mangyan Festival is an annual activity organized by the Mangyans themselves, the indigenous peoples of Mindoro, as a way to celebrate their culture, foster solidarity among themselves and with other sectors and strengthen their struggle towards self-determination. But to further obstruct the celebration of Mangyan Festival, another community assembly was conducted in the town of Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro on April 15, 2011 which marks the first day of the festival. These cunning maneuverings resulted to limited delegation or members not being able to represent their respective peoples organizations to the above-mentioned activities.

The 4Ps, as implemented in the provinces of the Southern Tagalog Region and throughout the nation, in general, hardly empowers the people, much less liberate them from poverty. It does not bring significant changes to the lives of Filipino families but merely demeans their inherent worth as human beings to mere mendicants. Not only that, it also robs them of their power and palliate their strength to bring about changes into their lives through their own active and collective efforts as it treats them as separate, passive entities that have to contend with and try out development on limited conditional cash grants.

It also serves as a tool for political patronage from the highest to the lowest level of governance as well as venues for massive graft and corruptions. Even though the government devises safeguards in monitoring the operations of the program and give the lie to the notions of 4Ps' positive effects on Filipino families, factual accounts at the grassroots level tell otherwise.

Taking into account the Aquino administration's platform of government under its economic program that states, "from government anti-poverty programs that instill a dole-out mentality to well-considered programs that build capacity and create opportunity among the poor and the marginalized in the country," the 4Ps program miserably contradicts this long-drawn-out empty rhetoric.

The people deserve more than selective, palliative and dole-out interventions. For unless the root of poverty are addressed and as long as the same rotten system prevails, anti-poverty reduction program like the 4Ps will not alleviate, much more eradicate poverty in the country. It only serves as shackles that lock up the people to abject and perpetual poverty.

To truly address the issue of economic underdevelopment and eradicate poverty and hunger, it is imperative for any nation to build its own national capital for industrialization, build a strong industrial base, implement a thorough land reform program that will strike deep at the roots of feudal power and land monopoly, develop agriculture through mechanization, develop science and technology and an increasing pool of scientists and experts to enhance and increase productivity, and empower the people through various political organs of people's democracy and overthrow the current exploitative and oppressive system through revolution and people's war.