Aquino's antipoverty programme programme 'can't keep up with inflation'

Aquino's antipoverty programme programme 'can't keep up with inflation'

MANILA, Philippines-Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman has admitted that the Aquino administration's flagship antipoverty programme is not enough to help the poor cope with high food prices.

Soliman said the monthly allowance from the conditional cash transfer (CCT) programme, also called the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, has been devalued by inflation that its beneficiaries could not cope with the rapid increase in food prices.

"We need to take drastic measures to address food security, not just production but accessibility. Even if we produce enough [food], they can't afford it," Soliman said in a news conference Friday when asked about the official poverty data.

The poverty incidence went up during the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013, from 24.6 per cent to 25.8 per cent, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) reported recently.

The Neda attributed the worsening poverty to "very high food prices," especially of the staple food rice, and the devastation wrought by Supertyphoon "Yolanda" in Eastern Visayas in November 2013.

Because of the CCT, the Department of Social Welfare and Development's budget has dramatically increased.

In 2014, it was given an P83-billion budget, "but even the subsidy was not enough," Soliman said.

She said the maximum monthly allowance of P1,400 (S$43) that could be given to a household was based on 2008 prices, and inflation had reduced its real value to P800.

"What we're providing is the minimum to be able to address poverty," Soliman said.

Although the programme failed to make a dent in poverty reduction, Soliman has continued to defend the CCT, saying its effects could not be seen immediately.

Under the CCT, a monthly allowance is given to poor households to keep their children in school and to regularly bring young children and pregnant mothers to undergo checkups in health centres.

Nearly 4.1 million households are covered by the programme.

"If there's no CCT, we will be worse-off," Soliman said.

State auditors have pointed out several problems in the CCT, such as unpaid cash disbursements, double entries, data errors, delayed cash releases and liquidation issues.

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