Philippines Family Planning

Good news: two of every 1,000 previously poor Filipino families have risen above poverty from 2006 to 2009. Bad news: the total number of poor Filipinos rose by almost a million in the same period.

According to the latest poverty statistics released by the National Statistical Coordination Board, poverty incidence among families (or the ratio of poor families against total number of families) in the Philippines dipped slightly to 20.9 percent in 2009, from 21.1 percent in 2006.

The number of poor families, on the other hand, rose by 185,000, totaling 3.86 million; in 2006, the magnitude of poor families was 3.67 million.

The numbers may seem contradictory, but they are actually not, government statisticians say.

What the figures mean is that, while some families were able to improve their lot and rise above the poverty line, the ranks of the poor continues to swell because the total number of Filipino families increased.

Moreover, the families that remained poor also saw an increase in the number of their family members.

It's a pattern that government statisticians are already accustomed to.

"Familiar naman tayo ‘di ba na poorer families have more children," NSCB Secretary-General Romulo Virola told Newsbreak.

There is a link between poverty and number of family members, a recent World Bank report said. It observed that like many other countries, nearly half of households in the Philippines with seven or more members lived below the poverty line in 2006.

The report further observed that more than half of households with three of more children were poor, and nearly two-thirds of poor households had three or more children.

The National Statistics Office projected a population growth of 92 million in 2009, or an increase of 6 million from 86 million in 2006, the last time the NSCB made a poverty report.

This appears to coincide with the rising magnitude of poverty in the country. The number of poor Filipinos jumped to 23.1 million in 2009—an increase of almost a million—from 2006 figures (22.2 million).

Poverty incidence against the total population also rose to 26.5 percent in 2009 from 26.4 percent in 2006.

Cash transfers

The continuing increase in the magnitude of poverty in the country makes it harder for the Aquino administration to meet the target of reducing poverty by half by 2015 under the United Nations backed Millennium Development Goal.

"The probability of halving poverty has gone down. We are eight years behind our target of achieving the MDGs," socioeconomic planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga said.

The Philippines continues to lag behind its neighbors Vietnam and Indonesia in reducing its poverty. Vietnam posted a poverty incidence rate of 14.5 percent in 2008, while Indonesia's poverty incidence rate in 2009 is 14.2 percent.

The Aquino administration's primary program to address the poverty menace is the conditional cash transfer program.

First implemented during the Arroyo administration, Aquino significantly increased the budget for this program to P29.2 billion from P1.2 billion in 2008.

Currently being administered by the social welfare department, poor families that become recipients of the conditional cash transfer could get subsidies of up to P1,400 monthly provided the follow certain conditionalities.

The amount is broken down to P500 as health and nutrition grant and P300 for the education of up to 3 children aged 0 to 14 years.

But clearly more needs to be done.

Social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman acknowledges that the program needs to be modified in the light of new poverty statistics.

"We would have to do another pencil-pushing with NSCB, because the current recipients have been selected using the 2006 [poverty statistics] data," she said.

One of the conditions the beneficiaries should meet, according to Soliman, is to attend family development sessions where responsible parenthood is discussed.

"Modern and natural family planning programs are presented as options, but we don't include abortion," she said.

Apart from these, the Aquino administration, has yet to unveil any significant programs or moves towards curbing population growth.

President Benigno Aquino III has also withdrawn his support for the Responsible Parenthood bill, which promotes the use of artificial contraception among families.

Aquino has endorsed the passage of the said RH bill during the 2010 presidential elections.

The bill was based on the reproductive health bill, which was condemned in 2010 by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. The CBCP only promotes natural family planning.

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