Press Conference on the 2012 First Semester Poverty Statistics
NSCB, Makati City
23 April 2013
Members of the media, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. 

As reported by the NSCB, the poverty incidence during the first semester of 2012 was slightly lower than it was in the first semester of 2009, that is, from 28.6 percent to 27.9 percent. This is the first time that we are coming out with semestral statistics on poverty, and this effort is in line with our objective to come up with timely and reliable data that will effectively guide policy and program design on poverty reduction. Initially, we had wanted these statistics to be released in January, but there were understandably some conceptual issues that first had to be settled before the results could be released. And for this, I would like to express our appreciation to the Technical Committee on Poverty Statistics, the NSCB Technical Secretariat and the NSO who provided the relevant background work to thresh out these said issues. 

Poverty incidence declined between the first semester of 2009 and 2012, and, although only slightly, this result was not uniformly observed across the regions, nor across the provinces. Poverty incidence declined substantially in Cagayan Valley (27.8 to 25.0), MIMAROPA (39.1 to 37.2), Bicol (45.4 to 43.3), Western Visayas (34.2 to 31.7), Central Visayas (37.2 to 33.6), Zamboanga Peninsula (48.1 to 42.8), and CARAGA (51.8 to 42.0). A slight decrease in poverty incidence can be observed in Central Luzon (15.8 to 15.6); while we observed almost the same, or slightly higher incidence in Metro Manila (5.3 to 5.4), Cordillera Administrative Region (28.6 to 28.7), and CALABARZON (14.3 to 14.3). Substantial increases in poverty incidence, however, were observed in the ARMM (49.7 to 52.9), particularly in the provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and in SOCCSKARGEN (38.9 to 45.8), particularly in North Cotabato and Cotabato City. Slight increases were observed in regions Eastern Visayas (43.8 to 45.4), Northern Mindanao (42.1 to 43.1), and Davao Region (33.4 to 34.5). 

After we have seen the second quarter 2012 GDP figures, we somehow anticipated these results. While the economy grew by 5.9 percent, which was later revised to 6.0 percent, in the second quarter 2012, we noted that the agriculture sector growth had been slow-moving with a contraction in the fishery sector. Upon observing these results, we took this up with the Economic Cluster and, as a result, the DBM initiated a Disbursement Acceleration Program Part 2. Agencies were asked to identify which projects could be implemented immediately, particularly those that would be implemented outside the NCR and across the regions. Hence, there had been many public works that were undertaken during the second half of 2012. The PPP Center also did its part, working double time to roll out a number of projects before the year ended. All these, while observing fiscal prudence. We think that this was the reason for the build-up of confidence and, thankfully, the private sector followed cue during the latter half of 2012. This had also been the reason why we instructed the NSCB to reduce the time lag in reporting these very important indicators so that we could implement timely responses from different sectors. 

Although this first semester result on poverty incidence is not the dramatic result we wanted, we remain hopeful that, with the timely measures we are now implementing, the next rounds of poverty statistics will give much better results that will reflect the government’s massive investment in human development and poverty reduction, which understandably needs time to take full effect. 

Laying down the possible reasons behind these results as well as the steps to address them, we must note that the problems of the agriculture sector at the time were varied. Some were seasonal, like in sugar; some were externally driven or were in response to declining world prices like in coffee; but some were structural, like in fisheries; and some were due to diseases like in mango and seaweeds. Of course, in the end, we know that if the farmers had other sources of income, then these temporary problems need not be so marked. This is the reason why we are taking a more holistic approach and have subsumed agriculture development under the broader umbrella of rural development. The main indicator of success is not volume of production, but the incomes of farmers. 

Visible under-employment in agriculture is a persistent problem that always comes up in labor survey results. This means that agriculture sector workers work less than 40 hours a week, perhaps because there is not much demand for labor in their areas; and they are looking for additional work, possibly because the wages they receive are not enough to meet their needs. This problem will now be addressed by one of the components of the Action Plan for Employment Generation being crafted by the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cluster. If the problem of visible under-employment in agriculture is addressed, then incomes of farmers would increase, poverty incidence would decrease, and we would not be compromising food security in the country. 

Although we cannot control the incidence of disasters and natural calamities, and we had quite a few in 2012, we can mitigate its negative impact. If we can forecast the likelihood of the onset of the event, we can predict the areas that could be affected. Project NOAH of DOST and the various maps drawn up by the MGB have come in handy in the latter part of 2012. What remains to be done is to design a protocol to fully utilize this technology, as well as the institutional response mechanism. 

Problems with peace and security played a substantial role in the increased poverty incidence in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato and Cotabato City. The past incidences of armed conflict instilled fear and retained the perception of uncertainty that reduced economic activity in the area. This is the reason why we have not faltered in our pursuit for lasting peace in the region. We have accomplished a milestone with the signing of the Framework Agreement towards the latter part of 2012. There is still a lot of ground to cover, and we rally behind the peace negotiators on both sides, so that finally, we can deliver on our shared aspirations to the peoples of the Land of Promise. 

Finally, the problem of poverty requires a comprehensive, multi-pronged, multi-sectoral solution involving many stakeholders. We are making use of the current effort to update the Philippine Development Plan to effect this solution. This was a directive from the President himself, and it requires the participation of all government agencies, all levels of government, private sector, civil society and others. The poverty results reported to us recently demonstrate the diversity, not only of existing geo-economic conditions across regions, but also the different responses to policies on growth and development. For this reason, the updated PDP will explicitly consider the regional dimension in crafting the strategies for development. 

We are serious about the fight against poverty and we are mindful of our commitments to the MDG, but most especially, the Social Contract of the President with the Filipino people. As a researcher of development, I know that these problems take some time to be resolved. But now that I wear a government hat and join my fellow public servants here in forwarding the inclusive development agenda, I cannot help but be impatient about delivering results. Let me reiterate, that with the various programs and projects we have put in place and with the help of everyone, most especially those in government and business, we remain hopeful that the next round of results on poverty incidence would show substantial improvement. 

Once again, we would like to thank the statistical community. We wholly appreciate these timely releases of statistics. We look forward to receiving the next set of data soon so we can study them very carefully and promptly develop an Action Plan to address the issues drawn out by these statistics. 

Maraming salamat po. A pleasant day to everyone.