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Gov't challenge: Meeting MDGs by 2015
Friday, 29 August 2008 00:00

MANILA, Philippines - Economists and former government officials are divided on the ways the Philippines can achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets, a set of measurement that focuses on eight targets by 2015.

In their presentations at the annual meeting of National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) at the Manila Hotel on Wednesday, the presenters admitted there is little time left for the country to comply with the targets and there is little data to work on to find an appropriate solution.

For instance, Raul Fabella, a professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman School of Economics, said there is little data to reflect the effect of the microinitiatives of nongovernment organizations on poverty eradication, such as those groups that promote microfinance and microenterprise in the villages.

“There is a good deal of disagreement about whether the effect really gives positive impact on poverty eradication,” Fabella said, adding that there is a void on the effect of micro projects on poverty incidence.

 

Most of the agencies in the country only track poverty incidence every three years, which, according to economists, is not enough to work on, he said.

Fabella, who compared the various initiatives of other countries to hit the MDG targets of the United Nations, said time is running out for the Philippines and suggested that the government implement drastic moves that directly affect the poor, and funds should come from taxes.

MDG’s eight targets are: halve poverty and hunger incidence, achieve universal primary education, gender equality and women empowerment, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, control malaria and HIV/AIDS, and ensure environmental sustainability in 2015.

Fabella said the government should implement programs such as conditional cash transfers to the poorest of the poor, as done during the Arroyo administration, instead of fund-draining activities like the rice subsidies coursed through the National Food Authority.

Fabella believes that inflation is not a significant factor in poverty incidence, an issue that Social Weather Stations Inc. (SWS) president Mahar Mangahas disputed.

“With our own staff [in SWS], I can see that inflation in the Philippines is the easiest way to boost up poverty. All you have to do is let go of the inflationary controls and have the double-digit inflation, immediately poverty will have to be detected,” Mangahas said during the open forum.

SWS regularly releases data on involuntary hunger incidence in the country.

Mangahas, however, also believes there is only one study, conducted by Claire Dennis Mapa, director for research at the UP Diliman School of Statistics, which shows poverty is highly correlated with involuntary hunger.

“We need econometric modelling on poverty and it should be done on a quarterly [basis].”

Meanwhile, former Health secretary Jaime Galvez Tan said at the rate the Philippines is going, the country will not achieve its MDG targets by 2015.

Tan, now a professor at UP Manila and who works for many nonprofit groups, urged scientists, in his keynote address at the NAST scientific meeting, to carefully study the areas in the country most likely to miss the MDG targets. These include the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; Mimaropa or Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan; Eastern Visayas or in Samar, Biliran, Leyte; Bicol region; and Zamboanga Peninsula.

Tan said these areas, if not given proper attention by the authorities, may pull down the entire performance of the country.

“Since we have a new government, I challenge the policymakers and the scientists to determine why there is still poverty incidence in these areas,” he said, adding that the causes may be a mixture of several factors, such as the sheer isolation of the places, governance issues and availability of infrastructure and health services.

Since last year NAST has taken an active role in studying the country performance in meeting the MDGs.

 
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