A London-based research firm has projected that the Philippines will be the 26th largest economy in the world (rising from its current 45th position) by the year 2025. But the same organization could not make any good predictions for the number of the country’s population that will benefit from such economic growth.
Unlike in its neighboring countries, the level of poverty in the Philippines has steadily increased over the last three years, even as it declined dramatically to 26.9% in 2009 from 33.1% in 1991. In 2012, the number of Filipinos living in extreme poverty was 27.9% – a one percent increase from 2009. The government’s plan to eradicate poverty by 2016 is a predictable failure because this year the poverty level is already estimated to be at 29.2% (a 1.3% increase from the 2012 level, according to preliminary census reports).
These statistics are foreboding since the World Bank reports that the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped in every other developing country in the world. Making matters worse, there are an unacceptably large number of Filipinos living precariously close to extreme poverty.
What is extreme poverty?
The Philippine’s National Statistics Coordinating Board (NSCB) reports that to escape extreme poverty, a family of five needed an income of PhP1,681 ($39) per month in 2006, PhP2,042 ($47.50) per month in 2009, and PhP4,100 ($95) per month in 2012. The same NSCB report states that to avoid extreme poverty this year, a family of five would need a monthly income of PhP5,458 ($126.90) per month just for food, and an income of PhP7,821 ($181.90) per month for both food and other necessities such as clothing. None of these income figures allow for housing.
Today’s minimum wage in the Philippines is PhP451 ($10) per day for work in non-agricultural industries and PhP414 ($9.20) per day for work in all other sectors of the economy. At PhP451 per day, a Filipino worker would earn about PhP10,824 ($251.75) per month – placing a family of five above the extreme poverty level but by no means into a comfortable life.
Because of wage theft among small business operators, an estimated 30% of the Filipino work force is reported to be paid way below the minimum wage. Exacerbating the situation, unemployment in the country is 6.5% (this year, per the Philippine government’s National Statistics Office).
Other reasons the level of extreme poverty is exceptionally high in the Philippines are given by the Asian Development Bank and include weakness in employment generation and the quality of jobs generated, failure to develop the agricultural sector of the economy, high inflation rates during economic crises, and high levels of population growth. As of the 2014 census, the Philippine population stood at 100 million people (increasing threefold in the last 40 years).
In addition to the Asian Development Bank analysis, poverty and extreme poverty in the Philippines is spurred by the insensitivity of the government to the needs of the people. Public service is practically nil – very young children roam the streets begging, people flock to the cities to make a living, and ill-compensated civil servants add to the difficulties of the poor by fleecing them.
Government officials – from the lowest civil servant to the highest ranking official of the country – are mostly concerned with and focused on their own welfare and those of their family and friends. Charities are generally scams.
But there is hope for the Filipino people. Hope.