Philippines unveils new plan to fight persistent poverty

Philippines unveils new plan to fight persistent poverty

MANILA - The Philippines Monday announced plans to spend more on infrastructure and introduce other reforms to try to lift millions out of poverty.

The revised Philippine Development Plan sets more ambitious economic targets to address persistent concerns that poor Filipinos are not enjoying the benefits of the country's recent dramatic economic growth.

Among the new targets is the lowering of the poverty incidence from 25.2 percent of the population in 2012 to 16.6 percent by 2016, economic officials said.

"It does not mean that we can do nothing but wait until the benefits of economic expansion 'trickle down' to the poor," Socio-economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in an introduction to the revised plan.

Despite economic growth of more than seven percent in recent years - among the highest rates in Asia - unemployment has remained high while the rate of poverty has barely fallen.

"Simply stated, the gains have yet to materialise into actual, tangible improvements in the lives of the majority of the people," the report said.

Under the revised plan, the economy is expected to grow by 7.5 to 8.5 percent annually by 2016 compared to the original target of 7.6 percent set in 2010 when President Benigno Aquino took office.

Chief among the poverty-fighting measures is an increase in infrastructure spending to five percent of gross domestic product by 2016, compared to the 2013 level of less than three percent.

This will include reconstruction efforts after Super Typhoon Haiyan and a killer earthquake left thousands dead and devastated large areas in the central Philippines last year, said Emmanuel Esguerra, deputy director of the National Economic Development Authority.

These reforms in turn will improve the connections between urban centres where growth has been concentrated and the poverty-stricken rural areas where the majority of the country's 100 million people live, the plan said.

The country's crumbling infrastructure has long been cited by businessmen and economists as one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity, raising transport and power costs, keeping regions mired in underdevelopment and discouraging investors.

Critics charge that only a few sectors are enjoying the benefits of the country's economic growth while many Filipinos have not been touched by it.

Balisacan last month had expressed doubt about the feasibility of reducing the incidence of poverty to 16.6 percent by 2016.

He said at the time the poverty rate was now forecast to be 18-20 percent by 2016, partly due to last year's natural disasters.

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