, Facts First review government view of poverty

CHEERS TO and Facts First which both discussed and challenged the recent Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) report and drew the line on poverty where it matters most: food. The two accounts questioned government’s assessment and calculation of poverty thresholds by consulting sources who criticized both as unrealistic.’s Kurt Dela Peña cited the PSA report released last August 15 and the amount of PHP 8,379 as the food threshold for a family of five in 2021 – anyone who spends more than PHP 18.62 per meal is not poor. 

The article detailed what the amount can buy for one person: “two pieces of pandesal, a cup of coffee, and a glass of milk for breakfast; a cup of rice, a viand of vegetables or 50 grams of meat or fish for lunch; and a cup of rice, powdered broth, and a viand of vegetables for dinner.” included graphs of data from the PSA that showed the increase in poverty incidence – from the 17.67 million in 2018 to the 19.99 million Filipinos in 2021 – citing the rise of two percentage points in a span of three years. 

To counter government calculations, Dela Peña interviewed Filipinos who regarded themselves as poor, even if the government says they are not. One source said the income from seasonal construction jobs that her husband gets takes them above the poverty threshold from time to time, but in general, the family earnings still mostly go to food expenses. Other interviewees said they have very little left for non-food expenses. Dela Peña added that the 6.4 inflation rate in July has made it harder for Filipinos  to provide for their needs. cited Ibon Foundation’s comment that government’s way of counting the poor is unrealistic, due to the use of “low standards:” The think tank said in its website that the food or subsistence threshold “is based on minimalist nutrition needs that are costed too low and with too little variety.” The think tank added that many poor Filipinos are also left out of the data. Sonny Africa, executive director of Ibon Foundation, talked about the government’s changing its figures on poverty because of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) that gave a PHP 7000-increase in cash aid to its members. But the program, as pointed out by Rosario de Guzman, research head of Ibon, does not compensate for other anti-poor policies. 

Christian Esguerra in Facts First also invited Africa for a 41-minute interview. Esguerra wasted no time to get to the point: how realistic the government’s definition of poverty was. Africa referred to the methodology of PSA’s computation, referring to constant “multipliers” in the formula that do not take into account the rising prices of goods due to inflation. 

Africa also emphasized that the poverty line is a crucial element in policy-making, as several decisions of government agencies rely on it, including the setting of wages and allocations for social protection. He added that while the PSA computation adheres to a scientific process, the government ultimately needs to make political choices. If the people are invisible in the calculations, then policies will not address the root causes of their poverty. 

The two reports directly question the validity of government calculations about what constitutes poverty. It is easy enough to calculate how little PHP18.62 can buy. Their discussions also raise other issues about anti-poor policies such as wage depression and the quality of jobs in the country. 

Poverty is so visible at this time and journalists should explore the many ways that poverty is everyone’s problem. It helps the public understand how problems can be compounded by policies which treat poor people as mere numbers. and Facts First provided welcome examples in demonstrating that poverty cannot be dismissed simply as a two-digit figure.