Licking poverty “unlikely“

Estrella Torres

Sharp disparities in incomes, education and health, combined with unrelenting civil strife in parts of Visayas and Mindanao, make it very unlikely for the Philippines to attain key targets set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a public administration expert said on Monday.

Prof. Leonor Briones, coconvenor of the Social Watch Philippines, said the MDGs’ target of a 50-percent reduction of extreme poverty in the Philippines between 1990 and 2015 may likely be achieved in the National Capital Region but many areas, especially conflict-stricken provinces in Mindanao, will be left out.

Briones, a former national treasurer, is also a department head at the University of the Philippines’ National Center for Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG).

Many parts of Bicol will also be left behind because progress is uneven, Briones said in her paper delivered at a forum sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme. She said out of the 79 provinces in the country, only 40 will most likely achieve the MDG target by reducing poverty rates by half.

The MDGs are a set of eight time-bound targets that seek to address problems of extreme poverty and hunger, to curb infant mortality and incidence of major diseases, improve access to education and health care, and promote peace-building and conflict prevention by 2015.

Briones said: “Countries like the Philippines have wide disparities in poverty levels. While the Philippines will likely meet the MDG targets on poverty at the national level, 39 of 70 provinces will not actually reach these targets because national figures are pulled up by the urban centers.”

The paper was presented at Monday’s national forum of key experts on public administration that seek policy reforms in local governance to achieve the MDGs.

The forum is part of the UNDP’s “10 to 10” campaign on local governance reforms.

Among the 15 poorest provinces in the country, Briones said only Romblon, Ifugao and Agusan del Sur are likely to achieve the poverty-reduction target of the MDG.

The poorest provinces with deteriorating poverty situation include Sulu, Masbate, Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Camarines Norte, Lanao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Misamis Occidental, Bohol, Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque and Sarangani.

Another area of great disparity in achieving MDG targets is the access to education of Filipino children—the programs often bypass the poor, indigenous peoples and Muslim children.

Briones said the poorest areas with the biggest number of dropouts are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Central Mindanao, Western Mindanao, Bicol and Central Visayas. The ARMM continues to grapple with peace and order eight years after the government signed a peace agreement with the main Moro rebel group; Central and Western Mindanao are both beset by problems of rebellion and of terrorism. The children with limited access to education are mostly located in the remote, rural and poor areas, indigenous and Muslim areas, the conflict zones and depressed urban communities.

Briones said that while nationally, the target of reducing mortality of children under-5 will likely be met, some regions that suffer problems of terrorism, conflict and rebellion will lag behind. These include all areas of Mindanao, Bicol and Western Visayas.

Compounding the situation is the glaring malnutrition in many areas of Bicol, which suffered a 37-percent incidence of malnutrition (the highest) in 2001, nearly twice compared to National Capital Region.

Other poor raters in terms of reducing malnutrition are Masbate, Sorsogon, Antique, Negros Occidental, Biliran, Northern Samar, Northern and Southern Mindanao and Caraga.