Poverty Data: Too Late to Make a Difference

August 20, 2022

Let me ask you a question, Reader. As a voter, wouldn’t you like to have known, BEFORE the last elections, how poverty in your province or city was handled by your politicians seeking reelection? Wouldn’t you have liked to compare your area with other areas? You must admit that it would have provided hard evidence and helped make an informed choice. 


The data IS available. It’s in the Family Income and Expenditures Survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) triennially, the last one was conducted in 2021. We can check Poverty estimates in the country and compare the performances between province and highly urbanized city (HUC). These estimates give us data comparisons over 2015, 2018, and 2021. But the data was released six days ago.* After the elections. Too late.


The national poverty data has been given great attention: 2.3 million more individuals and 500,000 more Filipino families plunged into poverty between 2018 and 2021.  That means 19.99 million Filipinos (18.1% of the population), or 3.5 million families (or 13.2% of Filipino families) are poor in 2021.  But where are these Filipinos? Where are the families?


The answer can be found in the data of the province and highly urbanized cities (HUCs).  And Reader, it shows that 20 of 81 provinces managed to decrease family poverty incidence significantly through the pandemic! These should be our role models


But during the same period, 26 provinces saw a significant increase in poverty incidence. The immediate question should be:  what factors contributed to these different provincial performances?  Could it be that one of them is governance? Or the presence of dynasties?  


The data also tell us that neighbors can behave very differently. For example, Camarines Sur, Lanao Norte, Surigao Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, and Samar allowed poverty to rise, while immediately adjacent areas like Camarines Norte, Lanao Sur, Surigao Norte, Zamboanga Sur, and E and N Samar successfully and significantly reduced it. What can be the reason behind the disparity?


How did the city of San Juan, or the province of Batanes manage to eradicate poverty (family poverty incidence is ZERO?  Because that’s a secret that every barangay and city and province wants to know. 


And more importantly, if you as voters saw how your provinces and HUCs compared with others, would you be influenced by such performances?  This last question unfortunately cannot be answered because PSA released the information too late. 


Let’s compare the performance of highly urbanized cities. 


We’ll start with NCR/METRO MANILA

There are 34 HUCs in the Philippines, of which 17 are in the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila). In the NCR, three cities: Manila, Mandaluyong, and San Juan, registered decreases in poverty between 2018 and 2021!** San Juan, by the way showed zero poverty in 2018. Good for Mayor Francis Zamora.

Meanwhile, seven cities: Marikina, Pasig, Q.C., Caloocan, Navotas, Pasay and Pateros (a municipality) registered slight increases in poverty – though, again, the changes are not statistically significant. 


In a pandemic, these 10 cities managed to keep poverty at bay. How did they and their leaders accomplish this? This is, by the way, no mean feat. 


The same cannot be said, however, of the  other seven cities in Metro Manila. Family poverty incidence in Malabon, Las Pinas and Mandaluyong more than doubled (x2), Valenzuela’s tripled (x3), Makati ‘s quadrupled (x4), Paranaque’s quintupled (x5), and Taguig’s nonupled (x9! I had to look that up). And these changes were all statistically significant. Should eyebrows not be raised?


It is worth mentioning that the Metro Manila poverty figures are relatively small, ranging from San Juan’s zero to Taguig’s 4.5.*** But my point is: isn’t this information about the performance of cities and mayors with respect to poverty reduction vital to a voter? If only for comparison purposes? And if the leaders of an area know that their performance with respect to this matter could make or break their chances for reelection, wouldn’t they try much harder? 


Let us continue examining the treasure trove of information that the PSA gathered, albeit too late to help voters in their choices, and therefore unable to act as a spur for political executives.


What about the seventeen HUCs OUTSIDE METRO MANILA? 

Well, five managed to decrease their poverty levels despite the pandemic – the cities of Baguio, Iligan, Zamboanga, General Santos, and Davao, although only in Zamboanga City was the decrease significantly different from zero.

Who was this Mayor of Zamboanga who managed to reduce her city’s family poverty significantly in spite of the pandemic? I had to look it up. It turns out that the Mayor was Beng Climaco. Ahah! A woman! Pity that this information came out only after the elections, because she ran unsuccessfully for Congress (she had reached the term limit for Mayor). Maybe, it would have helped.


Now for the REGIONS and PROVINCES.

The PSA data show that of the Philippines’ 17 Regions, three – CAR, Region XI (Davao Region) and the ARMM/BARMM— were able to significantly decrease poverty despite the pandemic. Congratulations. Six of the Regions showed no significant changes in poverty – in II (Cagayan), VIII (E. Visayas), IX (Zamboanga Peninsula) and XII (SOCCSKSARGEN) the downward trends in poverty were not significantly different from zero, while in V(Bicol) and XIII (Caraga) the poverty trends were upward, but insignificant. At least they held their own.


In the other 8 regions, however – NCR, I (Ilocos), III (Central Luzon), IV-A (CALABARZON), MIMAROPA, VI (W. Visayas), VII (C. Visayas) and X (N. Mindanao) all showed statistically significant increases in family poverty. Should doubts be cast on the qualities of their leaders?


But hold on a minute. Not all of the provinces within a particular region moved the same way. In CAR, for example Abra showed an increase in poverty (not significant), where everyone else showed marked(significant) declines. In Ilocandia, Ilocos Norte managed to hold its own (it showed an insignificant decline), while as its neighbors showed large increases in poverty.


Pampanga and Tarlac also did not share in the significant family poverty incidence increase of Central Luzon. Bulacan, on the other hand, turned in a noticeably poor anti-poverty performance – its family poverty incidence more than doubled, the largest change among Central Luzon provinces.


In CALABARZON, Batangas also went against the tide of its regional counterparts. Amid the increases in poverty all around it (except for Rizal, which managed to keep poverty at bay), Batangas showed a significant decline in poverty. Good for Batangas, and for Rizal, too.


In the Bicol Region, Camarines Sur showed marked increase in poverty, while Camarines Norte decreased its poverty significantly.


In Central Visayas, Siquijor was the sweet note: Its poverty decrease was in marked contrast to the poverty increases in Cebu and Bohol. Cebu’s family poverty incidence more than doubled, and it is more than what it was in 2015. And so on.


Special mention must be made of Lanao del Sur, which managed to decrease its family poverty from 64% in 2018 to 7% in 2021. It doesn’t look like a typo.


The governors of provinces where poverty decreased significantly should be congratulated, while those whose poverty increased significantly should be – thrown out? Just for fun, I made two tables below listing  these provinces and their governors, and show exactly how the voters, absent this information, treated their political leaders. Notice that while the governors who fought the good fight against poverty were rewarded; but alas, so were the governors who performed poorly (no pun intended). That may be because their constituents did not realize how poorly (no pun intended) they performed. No data was available.


Reader, if you want more information of this kind, go to PSA, Preliminary 2021 Full Year Official Poverty Statistics Publication 15 August 2022. Read to your heart’s content. Compare and contrast. Though my daughter says that someone like her without an economics background will not easily go through a report like that, I hope this summary  convinces you that information like these would have been very useful to the voters in the last elections. The assumption of course is that government policy and institutions have a lot to do with poverty results. 


And PSA, please. Release these data in a more timely fashion—that is to say, before elections, not after.


*  Data from the FIES is the basis of the Preliminary 2021 Full Year Poverty Statistics, released on 15 August 2022. This can be accessed here: https://psa.gov.ph/content/proportion-poor-filipinos-was-recorded-181-percent-2021 The FIES 2021 has not been released.

** Sadly, the changes, were not significantly different from zero (statistically speaking).

*** In 2018, the range was from Makati’s 0.2% to Caloocan’s 3.1%.

Table 1: Provinces Showing Significant Decreases in Poverty in 2021 from 2018, Governors and their 2022 Election Status:

Table 2. Provinces Showing Significant Increase in Poverty from 2018 to 2021, Governors and their 2022 Election Status

As I See It

The Official Blog of Winnie Monsod

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