A Poverty Resource Hub of Focus on the Global South Philippines

In the Midst of Multiple Burdens

In the Midst of Multiple Burdens

Jan 14, 2012

In the Midst of Multiple Burdens

By Cess Celestino

The most recent data of the National Statistical Coordination Board on Women and Men in the Philippines (March 2010) records that the percentage of poor Filipino women is at 30.1%, showing that there are millions of women all over the country that scrimp on extreme levels in order to makes ends meet.

With these declining social conditions, the women of the Philippines are forced to persistently swim through these rough tides despite being adversely affected by these crises that practically rob them of basic resources that they need in order to live decently.

Prices of cereals have gone up to P175.8 in February 2011—P1.50 higher than in January 2011 and P2.60 more than its prevailing price exactly one year prior. Meanwhile, the price of rice also increased—fromP173.2 in February 2010, the current prevailing price of rice is now P175.4. Prices of all other food commodity groups have also risen. Prevailing market prices of corn, cereal preparations, dairy, eggs, fish, fruits and vegetables, meat and other miscellaneous foods have jacked up in varying degrees, with fruits and vegetables garnering the biggest price hike of a whopping P18.80 in just one year.

The NSCB states that their “latest poverty data indicate that a Filipino needed Php974 in 2009 to meet his/her monthly food needs and Php1,403 to stay out of poverty.” And given the meager amount of salary that a low income worker earns in a month, one must wonder how the average Filipina is able to manage her budget. The Department of Labor and Employment recorded the minimum wage rate as only P404 a day for non-agriculture industries and P367 for agricultural jobs in NCR. Yet the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao has it even worse—their minimum wage is pegged at only P222 a day for both non-agriculture and agriculture sectors, the lowest rate among all the regions in the country.

Clearly, the constant increase in food prices—alongside continuous price hikes in other basic necessities—is making it even more tremendously difficult for women to provide for themselves and for their families.

Climate Change
Yet aside from food, Filipinos in general have also been exposed, especially in recent years, to harsh environmental conditions that include extreme weather events that have been occurring more frequently over the past decade. These include raging typhoons, which result in flooding, landslides, and severe damages not only to shelter but also to sources of income as they gravely affect agricultural resources and marine life.

The Philippines has barely recovered from the property and resource damage of Ondoy in 2009, yet Mindanao, Eastern Visayas and Southern Tagalog have again been experiencing widespread flooding and landslides in the first quarter of 2011, which led to a number of casualties, including about 40 fatalities because of drowning or of being buried alive. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMC) also reported that the estimated amount of damages on agriculture, infrastructure and private properties reached P898.2M—an alarming figure that will certainly make a dent on the industries of the affected regions, and which will distress the personal life of the Filipina and her family again.

Yet there exists a spark of hope in dealing with the continuous advents of natural disasters in the country. The NDRMC is actually a group mandated by the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, which aims to address climate change by curbing nationwide disaster-risk through improved policies and policy implementation. Furthermore, the Philippine Climate Change Act of 2009 created the Climate Change Commission under the Office of the President for the purpose of lessening carbon emissions in hopes of reducing the harmful impacts of climate change on the country.

However, judging from the example of these recent tragic events, the existence of these protective measures does not eradicate the fact that the effects of climate change on Filipino women and children are ever more pressing and burdensome.

One of the main reasons that continually put women at a disadvantage is the lack of representation in government, which is necessary in putting forward policies and laws that would protect the rights and interests of Filipino women. Most recent statistics from the National Statistical Coordination Board on the public life of both sexes show that only 23.2 percent of elective positions in government are occupied by women. Even political seats in senate, congress and in local government units are significantly dominated by males.

Even recent efforts to advance women’s rights to access health services crafted specifically to respond to female needs and situations have proven to be contentious and controversial, because of some sensitive provisions that the Catholic Church and its affiliated advocacy groups have found problematic and in conflict with their cultural or religious beliefs. The Reproductive Health Bill (RA 5043), however, seeks to promote gender equality and women empowerment in health and population development. Recent calls for support on the bill have centered on the “pro-chance” stance that is promoted by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquiel, a proponent of the RH bill, who stated that the bill is more than just a matter of giving women a choice to protect her own body but of giving women and their families as well of a chance at a better life. Yet despite the public clamor for its ratification, as exhibited by the widely-supported International Women’s Day March last March 8, 2011, the bill still remains in limbo—making it seem like the government is not yet ready for such a development in gender equality.

However, the new administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III (P-Noy) has been showing signs of openness to accommodate advancements in pro-women policies. The President has expressed support for this cause, stating in various public functions that one of the focal points of his administration is addressing the gender gap by promoting women empowerment.

P-Noy has shown through his government’s efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals that the government is indeed committed to creating equal opportunity for men and women and to improving reproductive and maternal health by further refining the RH Bill. Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang even said that the administration remained firm in advocating responsible parenthood and modern family planning, despite the rally organized by the Catholic Church and other groups against the bill last March 25,  which was attended by an estimated 40,000 participants.

Regardless of the outcome, however, it is evident that these public discussions on protecting women’s rights and on bridging the gap between men and women in the health sector is a positive sign that will hopefully bear fruits favorable to the state of women in the Philippines.

Economic Policies
Another ray of hope may be found in statistical data recording some progress in Philippine economy. The NSCB announced that the Philippines managed to overcome the challenges posed by the El Niño phenomenon and the diminished government spending during the second semester of 2010.  The NSCB reported that domestic economy skyrocketed to 7.3 percent in 2010 from 1.1 percent in 2009—the highest annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in the post Marcos era.

The annual Gross National Product (GNP) growth rate was also recorded to have reached 7.2 percent, significantly higher than the previous years. This growth was ushered in by “record growth rates of foreign trade and election related stimuli that combined for a record first semester growth, followed by the peaceful conduct of the national elections and the renewed trust in government,” explained the NSCB. In terms of poverty, the agency also reported that one out of 100 families was lifted out of poverty according to the latest official poverty data.

Great news, it would seem. However, the average Filipino family has yet to feel the positive effects of this ‘sizzling’ economic growth rate, as commodity prices constantly rise and as other issues of poverty continue to afflict the country. Most recent records show that the average annual income of Filipino families is only P129, 000 in year 2009. The magnitude of poor families increased by about 185,000 from 2006 to 2009, and the magnitude of poor population also rose by almost 970,000 in the same years. Of the current total population, 26.5 percent are also said to still be living in poverty, and the poverty incidence among families in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao is at 20.9 percent, with the highest concentration in Mindanao, specifically in Zamboanga del Norte.

These dismal poverty figures may have changed slightly since 2009 upon the onset of a new administration, but they do not cover the naked truth that these economic achievements may not be trickling down to the average Filipina and her family, giving women all over the country an increasingly heavier burden year after year.

(Published in Focus on the Philippines March 2011: http://focusweb.org/philippines/fop-articles/articles/499-in-the-midst-of-multiple-burdens)

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