The Philippines: align pork barrel to MDGs says Briones

Source: Business Mirror

“Stop making highways that lead to nowhere and waiting sheds waiting for no one” said former national treasurer and lead convenor of Social Watch in The Philippines, Prof. Leonor Briones, who advised lawmakers to align their pork barrel (goverment funds allocated to legislators for local projects) to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that eradicate hunger and poverty in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

She said the cash-strapped administration of President Aquino, hitting a budget deficit of P300 billion this year, faces “tough challenges” of funding programs to fulfill the MDGs that address hunger and poverty.

Briones, convener of the Social Watch Philippines, a nongovernment organization (NGOs) that monitors the government performance in fulfilling MDGs, said each member of the House of Representatives will get an average of P70 million as pork-barrel, while senators will receive pork barrel of P200 million each.

So far, only Rep. Erin Tañada of Quezon province has pledged to allocate P10 million of his pork-barrel allocation to MDG programs, said Briones.

“Most of the pork-barrel funds go to construction of highways that lead to nowhere, waiting sheds waiting for no one, basketball courts that do not really address poverty situation among their constituencies,” said Briones at the UN launch of the “Stand Up, Take Action” campaign that pushes for achievement of MDGs held on Wednesday in Makati City.

Other sources of funds to help achieve the MDGs include the P1-billion travel allocation for President Aquino, which, if stashed, could help fund social and health programs.

Briones also said funds for MDGs should also be sourced from state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) and a portion of the revenues from the motor-vehicles users charges of the Department of Transportation and Communications.

Briones cautioned the Aquino administration against imposing additional taxes, saying this would aggravate the situation of the poor.

“Governments facing a bloated budget deficit always resort to imposing new taxes to raise revenues. I’d like to caution the Aquino administration against doing this as it would directly affect the poor,” she said.

She pointed out, “It’s going to be difficult for the government as meeting the MDGs require massive resources, yet we’re facing a bloated budget deficit.”

UN member-countries will gather next month at the New York headquarters to review their respective performance in fulfilling the MDGs which they signed in 2000, seeking eight time-bound goals, led by halving global poverty incidence by 2015.

The MDGs seek to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and promote global partnership for development.

UN resident coordinator Jacqueline Badcock said the Philippines faces difficulty in achieving goal 1 of the MDG that seeks to eradicate poverty. She said poverty incidence has even risen from 30 percent in 2003 to 33 percent in 2006 as the population increased from 80 million to 86 million.

“The Philippines should now be at the tailend of achieving the MDG goals,” said Badcock, but since the country was hit by fierce typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, and flashfloods last year, major setbacks have derailed the progress made in addressing poverty.

The UN review on the Philippines’ performance on MDGs said the country has been lagging in MDG 1 that seeks to eradicate poverty, MDG 2 that promotes universal access to primary education, MDG 5 that improves maternal health and MDG 6 that combats HIV/AIDS and malaria.

The UN said poverty incidence in the Philippines is a rural problem, noting that 70 percent of the poor live in rural areas. At least 62 percent of the poor work in agriculture and 56 percent are self-employed.

Poverty in the Philippines also showed stark inequality, with 60 percent of the impoverished in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and only 7 percent in Metro Manila. The highest poverty incidence rate of 90 percent is in Zamboanga del Norte.

The UN report also noted problems in providing access to primary education as 5.2 million Filipino school-age children are still not in school. While 53 percent of these school-age children are not enrolled in Grade 1, the majority usually drop out after reaching Grade 1.

Conflict-stricken Sulu province in Mindanao has the smallest percentage of children enrolled in public schools at 62 percent.

The Philippines also faces difficulty meeting MDG 5 on improving maternal health, as 54 percent of pregnancies (1.9 million women) are unplanned. The lack of access to reproductive-health services causes 11 mothers to die every day due to pregnancy-related causes.

The UN also raised concern on the high incidence of HIV cases with 126 new cases reported in 2009, the highest since 1984.


In Photo: From left, UN resident coordinator Dr. Jaqueline Badcock, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and UP Prof. and Social Watch coconvenor Leonor Briones grace the ceremonial Millennium Development Goal Achievement Countdown by civil-society organizations, government and UN representatives on Wednesday. (Nonie Reyes)


Other press coverage:

Local focus pushed for MDGs
BusinessWorld Online

What RP needs to do to achieve poverty goal by 2015
By Karen Flores,

Philippines: Aquino told not to take pork barrel hostage
By Jonathan L. Mayuga, Business Mirror, May 2010