Sep 192014
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2008-05-02 04:47
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #1050/01 1230447
O 020447Z MAY 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Hunger and Poverty Worsen in the Philippines

REF: A) Manila 0367, B) Manila 0838


¶1. (U) Summary: Recently-released Philippine government statistics
indicate poverty increased in 2006 to engulf a third of the
population. There has been little progress in reducing poverty or
addressing the uneven distribution of incomes. The recent surge in
the price of rice will push even more Filipinos into poverty. The
government will have to balance any food subsidy or hunger
alleviation programs against its ambitious fiscal goals. Measures
needed to fight poverty include a macroeconomic and policy reforms
conducive to economic growth, investment, and job creation;
population policies; improved infrastructure, education, and health
care; and reforms in the agricultural sector to bring about higher
productivity. End Summary.

Poverty and Hunger Increase Between 2003 and 2006
——————————————— —-

¶2. (U) According to the Philippine government’s recently released
2006 poverty statistics — generated every three years from the
Family Income and Expenditures Surveys (FIES) — the ratio of
families with insufficient income to meet basic needs increased from
24.4% to nearly 27% of total families between 2003 and 2006. The
ratio of poor Filipinos unable to afford basic food and non-food
requirements increased to a third of the population (or 3.8 million
more poor Filipinos than in 2003). Moreover, the number of poor
families and Filipinos below the government estimate of incomes
needed to meet even basic food requirements (i.e., the “subsistence
poor”) also expanded, to 11% of total families and 14.6% of the

——————————————— ———-
Selected Poverty Statistics
——————————————— ———-
2003 2006 In % Millions
—- —- —- ——–

Poverty Incidence (%)
Families 24.4 26.9
Population 30.0 32.9

Number of Poor (Millions)
Families 4.0 4.7 17.5 0.7
Individuals 23.8 27.6 16.0 3.8

Subsistence Incidence (%)
Families 10.2 11.0
Population 13.5 14.6

Number of Subsistence
Poor (Millions)
Families 1.7 1.9 11.8 0.2
Individual 10.8 12.2 13.0 1.4
——————————————— ———-
Source: National Statistical Coordination Board

¶3. (U) Government officials noted that their estimates of incomes
required to meet minimum food and non-food requirements grew at a
faster pace (22%) than average household incomes (16%) between 2003
and 2006. They cited high fuel prices, transportation costs,
increased tax burdens, and weather disturbances between 2005 and
2006 as major factors behind the higher poverty rates.

No Progress Over Past Decade

¶4. (U) Except for a brief decline in the poverty ratios between the
2000 and 2003 surveys, government statistics indicate that there has
been no real progress in reducing Philippine poverty rates over the
past decade. The official 2006 poverty ratios were little improved
from 1997. Moreover, the modest overall improvement in the poverty
ratios between 1997 and 2006 failed to translate to nominal declines
in the number of poor families and Filipinos — which increased by
700,000 and 2.6 million, respectively, from 1997.

¶5. (U) Other non-government sources of poverty statistics suggest
that poverty in the country may be more severe than the official

MANILA 00001050 002 OF 004

data indicate. The World Bank estimates that about 43% of the
Philippine population live below the $2/day international poverty
line (compare, for example, with 25% for Thailand). According to
quarterly surveys on self-rated poverty conducted by the
Philippines’ foremost private social survey institute (Social
Weather Stations), an average 18% of families experienced hunger and
50% of families considered themselves poor, in 2007.

Inequitable Income Distribution Has Persisted

¶6. (U) The Philippines’ Gini coefficient, which measures inequality
of income, improved almost imperceptibly from 0.460 in 2003 to 0.458
in 2006. (Note: A measure of income distribution, the value of the
coefficient ranges from 0 or perfect equality, to 1 or perfect
inequality. Lower values indicate more equal distribution of
income.) Since 1985, the value for the Philippines — also
published every three years — has fluctuated within a narrow band
of 0.445 (recorded in 1988) and 0.487 (recorded in 1997). High
income disparity has persisted during the last two decades.
According to the 2006 survey, the richest 30% of families earned
nearly two-thirds of total incomes, while the poorest 30% shared
barely 9%. The total income accruing to the richest 10% of families
was close to 20 times the total income shared by the poorest 10% of

More than 50% of Families Chronic or Transient Poor
——————————————— ——

¶7. (U) Economists who studied the 1997, 2000, and 2003 official
poverty data in detail found that roughly 22% of families were
“chronic poor” (i.e., falling below the government-estimated poverty
thresholds in each of the three periods) and another 32% “transient
poor” (i.e., moved into and/or out of poverty). This may explain
the perception on the part of more than half of Filipinos that they
are poor. Although they may not fit any of the definitions of the
poor today, they have in the past and expect to do so again in the

Narrow Middle Class, Large Low Income Class

¶8. (U) According to the latest available estimates by the
government’s National Statistical Coordination Board, the agency
that generates the official poverty statistics, the Filipino middle
class comprised 19.9% of total families during 2003, down from 23%
in 1997. On the other hand, the ratio of low income families grew
from 76.6% in 1997 to 79.9% in 2003. High income families comprised
a small share (less than 0.5%) of all families. Although not all
“low income” families are necessarily “poor” when measured against
the government’s poverty thresholds, their predominance indicates
the vulnerability of many Filipino families to poverty.

¶9. (U) Officials estimate that families of Filipinos working
overseas comprise 5%-6% of Philippine families. About half of
these families fall in the middle-income segment; most of the other
half falls in the low income group.

Large Disparities across Regions and Provinces
——————————————— –

¶10. (U) Underlying the national-level poverty figures are
persistently large disparities among regions and provinces. In
2006, for example, the National Capital Region (Metro Manila)
registered a 10.4% poverty incidence among its population while the
worst-off region (the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) posted a
62% poverty rate. The ten least poor provinces during 2006 were all
located on Luzon Island, while six of the ten worst off-provinces
were in Mindanao (with poverty incidence of the population highest
at nearly 80% for the Muslim province of Tawi-Tawi). Overall, 47%
of Mindanao’s population subsisted below government-established
poverty thresholds, much higher than Luzon’s 28% poverty ratio.

Economic Growth Necessary…

¶11. (U) Economists have proven quantitatively the correlation
between economic growth and poverty alleviation. In the
Philippines, real growth of GDP per capita has been slower than in
neighboring countries. The Philippines has not been able to sustain
economic growth rates significantly higher than population growth.

MANILA 00001050 003 OF 004

¶12. (SBU) According to the government’s latest census, the
Philippine population grew by 2.04% annually between 2000 and 2007,
lower than the 2.3% rate recorded in the 1990’s but still markedly
higher than in most Southeast Asian countries (including 0.8%, 1.3%,
and 1.4% for Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, respectively). The
ongoing global food crisis (Ref B) has sparked worries about the
Philippines’ ability to feed its rapidly growing population and
revived debates over population policy. However, the issue remains
particularly contentious in this predominantly Catholic country.

¶13. (SBU) Although there have been improvements in recent years,
real per capita GDP growth averaged barely 1% from 1980-2007. By
most estimates, the Philippines needs to sustain real GDP growth of
at least 7%-8% per year to achieve more significant progress in
poverty reduction. However, even sustaining the three-decade high
7.3% GDP expansion achieved in 2007 (only a little more than 5%
growth in real per capita terms) is unlikely (Ref A).

…But Not Sufficient

¶14. (SBU) While economic expansion is essential for higher incomes,
poverty alleviation in the Philippines has been less responsive to
income growth than in many developing economies. The country’s
“growth elasticity” — the ratio of the rate of poverty reduction to
the rate of income growth — is roughly half those of China,
Indonesia, and Thailand’s. In other developing countries, there has
been a very strong connection between poverty reduction and rural
development, infrastructure (particularly roads, transport, and
power), and education and health — unfortunately, all areas where
the Philippines has severely under-invested.

¶15. (U) The need to improve rural incomes and boost the
productivity of the agricultural sector — which employs nearly 40%
of the Philippine work force in the generation of only 17% of GDP —
has been receiving much attention due to the ongoing global food
crisis. Roughly two-thirds of workers supporting the poorest 30% of
Philippine families are employed in the agricultural sector.

Political Economy of Poverty

¶16. (SBU) The Philippine economy suffers from low competitiveness
and high corruption, resulting in one of the lowest investment rates
in the region and hampering sustained high growth and job creation.
Implementation of reforms to liberalize the Philippine economy and
promote greater competition has been limited by strong resistance
from vested interests. The significant convergence between economic
and political power supports an entrenched economic elite. High
levels of corruption affect the predictability of the policy regime,
put in question the enforceability of contracts, and constrain
constrained the delivery of vital infrastructure and social services
necessary for more growth and for pro-poor policies.

¶17. (SBU) The Philippines Congress is currently debating another
extension to the country’s 40-year-long process of agrarian reform
that has resulted in a nation of small, unproductive landholdings.
Limited in their ability to transfer their property rights, land
reform beneficiaries are unable to access commercial credit, with
many forced to borrow from informal lenders at usurious rates.
Remaining large agricultural landholders have no incentive to invest
in property which is still subject to expropriation. A
non-functional land titling system means that most small landowners
and agrarian reform beneficiaries in particular, do not have clear
title to their land, further discouraging investments in the rural
sector and making it difficult for small borrowers to access credit
from formal credit institutions.

Global Food Crisis Expected to Worsen Hunger/Poverty
——————————————— ——-

¶18. (U) Surging rice and food prices will inevitably push even more
Filipinos into hunger and poverty and international experts have
already warned that the Philippines likely will be among the hardest
hit in the region by soaring prices of food grains. Food carries a
heavy weight (50%) in the Philippine consumer price basket and rice,
in turn, makes up about a quarter of food expenditures. Food
expenses eat up even more of the budgets of the country’s 30%
poorest families – 60%-70%. Rice is especially critical for the
more than 12 million Filipinos already subsisting below
government-estimated food thresholds who depend mainly on the staple
for daily sustenance.

MANILA 00001050 004 OF 004


¶19. (SBU) The reforms necessary to combat poverty in the
Philippines are widely agreed upon by economists, development
professionals and international financial institutions. However,
they have proven incredibly difficult to implement in the face of
deeply entrenched interests and a political system controlled by
those interests. Our continuing policy reform and advocacy efforts
focus on issues which we assess to be ripe for change and are
implemented by working with Philippine institutions to build a
consensus and lobby for that change. This is slow, difficult work,
but is the only way we see of reducing poverty here.




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