Secretary of Socioeconomic Planning, The Philippines 
68th United Nations General Assembly Side Event on
“Multidimensional Poverty and Multidimensional Measurement of the Post-2015 Development Agenda”
24 September 2013, New York City

For this week, we are gathered here, from all over the world, to talk about our progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. After all, we are expected to make an accounting in about two years’ time. As we know, the MDGs number eight (8) in all and these are, in turn, translated into 48 indicator targets. And we have been reporting on our progress corresponding to each indicator target, almost as if these are unrelated. I would not even be surprised if our strategies to meet the MDGs follow a silo approach. In fact, we may have encouraged this practice by not specifying a multidimensional poverty target.

In the Philippines, our strategy to reduce poverty is being challenged by the data we have on poverty. Despite a respectable economic growth during the past dozen years, especially during the past three years when the economy grew over 6% a year, official poverty headcount, based on income data, remained virtually unchanged at about one-fourth of the population.

My own research on multidimensional poverty in 2011, using the Alkire-Foster methodology, tells me that poverty, as characterized by simultaneous deprivation of certain poverty dimensions, has in fact responded favorably to economic growth. Moreover, the finding is quite robust to assumptions about poverty norms on the dimensions of poverty, as well as on household surveys used for the construction of multidimensional poverty.

From a policy perspective, the contrasting results matter a lot! The first result suggests that economic growth did not reach the poor and that the quality of life for the poor did not significantly improve even as we increased the coverage of our conditional cash transfer program and implemented wide-ranging governance reforms. This has led many sectors and observers, including many in government, to call for an alternative strategy for development. In contrast, the second result demonstrates that quality of life did improve, as evidenced by the declining trend in acute deprivation. That in fact, economic growth resulted in improved access to services and facilities and encouraged asset build up and even human capital improvements among the “multidimensionally” poor. This tells me, as a policymaker, that multidimensional poverty measurement is highly relevant and extremely useful for our efforts to substantially reduce poverty in the Philippines and, I believe, elsewhere.

Hence, we strongly support the push for the inclusion of multidimensional poverty measures in the menu of performance indicators for post-2015 development agenda. In particular, the summary MPI should be considered as an extremely useful complement to income poverty based on, say, US$1.25 per person per day poverty line.

We support the call for data revolution. As yet, despite the tremendous improvement in information technology and the international community’s zeal to “accelerate MDG progress,” there is a dearth of data that can be used to measure multidimensional poverty. Moreover, nationally representative data that can be robustly compared across countries is also lacking. Rectifying this matter amounts to only adding a few questions to our regular household surveys, although the challenge can be greater for the least developed countries. What is needed is a political resolve at the national, regional, and international levels to invest in good-quality data critical for informing policy decisions and monitoring progress in poverty reduction.