At a recent forum on the Pantawid Pamilyang
Pilipino Program (or 4Ps) held at the Philippine Institute for Development
Studies, experts from different government agencies and academic institutions
discussed the rationale and the feasibility of extending and expanding the
Under the management of Department of Social and
Welfare Development (DSWD), the 4Ps is widely known to be the lynchpin of the
government’s anti-poverty efforts. One of its key interventions is the provision
of small cash transfers to mothers, as long as they commit to investing in their
children, such as by ensuring their children go to school, as well as get
deworming, vaccination and regular health check-ups to name a few other aspects
of the program. 4Ps operates in 79 provinces covering 1484 municipalities and
143 key cities in all 17 regions nationwide.
As of June 2013, the program covered almost 4
million households. The planned extension of the 4Ps program will include an
additional 2 million children to the current 8.5 million in the program. A
special emphasis will be placed on providing additional support to children from
poor families who would like to go to high school.
Yet, even as the budget for 4Ps is set to
increase, some people seem impatient about its pay-off, which most assume will
be immediate—such as reducing the number of poor and hungry people in the
country. Several opposition politicians have even resorted to calling the
government program a “dole-out”. And some question the size of the allocations
dedicated to the 4Ps. Their typical argument is that there are better
alternative uses for these funds.
At that forum, I argued otherwise—noting that the
4Ps program is and continues to be a good investment. Here’s why.
First, the 4Ps is NOT the only program in the
anti-poverty strategy of the government, yet it’s quite possibly the most
important component. The reason is that this program attacks one of the root
causes of poverty—weak education, health and other human development
characteristics that disadvantage a poor person.
No amount of job creation will employ and lift
out of poverty millions of under-skilled and unhealthy citizens. No business
would get into such an enterprise, and no government can sustain economic growth
and job creation on such a weak foundation. Therefore, human capital build-up
is, first and foremost, the key ingredient in the strategy.
What is often poorly understood about the 4Ps
program is that it’s less focused on adults, and more focused on the next
generation. The economic pay-off from these investments, therefore, will take
some years to fully manifest—in the form of more educated and healthy citizens
and more productive workers.
If we are serious about poverty reduction (and
dare I say, poverty eradication), investing in children is where we should
really begin. Otherwise, a never ending stream of people with weak education and
health will add to the ranks of the poor.
Of course, human capital is not enough. Access to
the other factors of production and growth will also need to dramatically
improve for the vast majority of the population—such as through microfinance and
lending to SMEs (improving access to capital); and true agrarian reform (access
Preparing for the country’s youth
According to the United Nations, our country is
expected to reach its peak number of young people by around 2040-2050, roughly
25-30 years from today (see Figure 1). This means the brunt of our future labor
force is comprised of infants already being born today—and their future
capabilities depend heavily on the policy choices we make.
4Ps can help ensure that the majority of our
young people do not fall through the cracks. For every 1.8 to 2 million children
born every year in the Philippines, at least about one-third (or up to six
hundred thousand) are born to poor families according to some estimates. Because
of 4Ps, children will grow up to be educated, healthy, and productive members of
Philippine society, contributing to the country’s economic competitiveness in
the longer term. Therefore, the 4Ps is not merely a matter of charity for poor
children as far as the country is concerned—our long run economic growth depends
in large part on how successfully we equip our future citizens and workers to
Nevertheless, the 4Ps prepares future workers;
but it does not in itself create jobs. It is imperative that more jobs are
created and more entrepreneurship encouraged in order to spur economic
development that is inclusive for the vast majority of the youth.
Philippine Youth (Aged 15-24), 1950-2100 (In Millions)
Source: UN Population Division (World Population
Prospects: The 2010 Revision).
Fueling economic and political transformation
Improved human capital will definitely be useful for improving wages and
productivity—but it could also help sustain “matuwid na daan”. This is possible
if a strong social protection system underpinned by 4Ps truly “emancipates” over
4 million poor families from patronage politics.
Patronage has become a way of life for many of our citizens, because the
conditions of poverty force our people to seek help. And before 4Ps, poor
families typically only had the local political patron as their main option.
Table 1 provides a tongue-in-cheek outline of the major differences between
professionally managed and evidence-based social protection vs. patronage
As I noted in another Rappler article on reforming pork barrel politics, politicians are not the only
ones addicted to pork—poor families actively seek the support of politicians,
and they will continue to do so unless a proper social protection system is able
to help poor and low income families mitigate risks and empower them in a
systematic, fair, and evidence-based manner.
The 4Ps contains key accountabilities in helping
the poor to break free from the poverty trap—it is targeted at the poorest
households (and not merely political allies); the cash support is less than what
is necessary to be technically non-poor but enough to matter for child
investments (so it is specifically designed to mitigate the risk of dependency);
and beneficiaries (typically the cash is given to mothers) are required to
deliver on conditions that are linked to investing in children (and not merely
conditioned on voting for the patron).
On top of all this, the 4Ps is among only a small
number of government programs that are actually evaluated for their impact. In
fact, the impact evaluation evidence suggests that the design of the 4Ps seems
to successfully mitigate any possible dependency effects—poor families actually
further increase child investments, over and above the cash transfer itself.
These are all good reasons to continue to expand
and improve the program. Killing this program will bring us back to the previous
status quo: no evaluation; poorly targeted; riddled with leakages (so that non
poor people also benefit, and far less reaches the poor); and likely to be
dominated by patronage politics.
The author is Associate Professor of
Economics at the Asian Institute of Management and Executive Director of the AIM
Policy Center. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily
represent those of the institution. Questions and comments could be addressed to
email@example.com. – Rappler.com
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