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Speeches & Transcripts May 30, 2018

The Philippines Can Overcome Poverty

Opening Remarks by Mara K. Warwick, Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand

at the launch of Making Growth Work for the Poor: A Poverty Assessment for the Philippines

As Prepared for Delivery


I am pleased to welcome you to today’s media briefing on the Philippines Poverty Assessment report, entitled “Making Growth Work for the Poor: A Poverty Assessment for the Philippines.”

The Report has two important stories to tell. The first story is inspiring. And gives everyone hope: The Philippines can overcome poverty!

The reason for this optimism is that from 2006 to 2015, robust economic growth helped the poverty rate in the Philippines to fall by 5 percentage points. Hence, poverty declined from 26.6 percent in 2006 to 21.6 percent in 2015. The contributing factors for this decline in poverty were the expansion of jobs outside agriculture, government transfers, in particular to qualified poor families through the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and remittances.

School enrollment has notably increased in recent years, with universal and mandatory kindergarten as well as two years of senior high school added to the education cycles. Pro-poor policies and changes to health insurance coverage have resulted in increased use of health services. Access to clean water and sanitation and electricity has improved. Social safety nets were expanded to cover most of the poor.

All these developments give us hope that poverty can be overcome. It is not at all insurmountable.

But here is the second story, an equally important one: The Philippines needs to do more to end poverty. 

While poverty has declined, there are still about 22 million poor Filipinos, as of 2015. These poor families most often live in rural areas with limited access to quality schools, health centers, and safe drinking water, not to mention, roads and transportation that will help them go to their jobs or bring their produce to market.

Some poor families live in areas scarred by conflict or prone to natural disasters. Conflict can force families to move far away from their homes. Disasters can knock down families that are struggling to climb the economic ladder.

Poor families are most often trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. They usually have many children, an average of 5 per family. Pregnant mothers face high risk: every day, 5 Filipina women die in childbirth or due to other causes related to pregnancy.

In a poor family of 5 children, 2 will likely be stunted, a visible sign of malnutrition. Children who remain malnourished in the first 1000 days of their lives do not fully develop the neural connections in their brains, making them unable to reach their full potential, even as adults.  

Just half the children in the poor households will enroll in lower secondary school. Even those who do enroll may learn little due to malnourishment and poor quality of instruction. As a result, when they grow up, their chances of getting a well-paying job are slim.

So the Philippines has experienced success in reducing poverty. But there are  remaining challenges, What can we all do together to end poverty?

How can we unlock this trap and make growth work for the poor?  How can one family break from the path of poverty so the future generations have a better life than their parents or grandparents?

I want to highlight a few particular points.

The number one priority is creating more and better jobs, to offer opportunity for the poor to lift themselves out of poverty.

Since two out of five of the country’s poor are in Mindanao, unlocking Mindanao’s potential is critical in bringing down poverty in the entire country.

In addition, tackling the country’s severe stunting crisis will require an all hands-on-deck effort, starting with maternal health and focusing health interventions on the “first 1000 days” of life.

And creating opportunities for children means also ensuring that the poor attend school and that the schools they attend foster learning.

Many of these policy suggestions align well with the Government’s long-term vision -- the AmBisyon 2040 and the Philippine Development Plan 2017–2022, which aims to transform the country into a prosperous middle-class society.

In closing, I would like to repeat the message:  With solid economic fundamentals, the Philippines can overcome poverty.  It is important to break the cycle of inequitable investment in human capital, making the pattern of growth more inclusive and creating opportunities for more and better jobs.

The World Bank believes that, together, with various stakeholders, we can take concrete actions to end poverty in the Philippines.

Before I close, let me add one remark. The Poverty Assessment is an analytical report – we have delved into the data and information that’s available on poverty to come up with an up-to-date and sound analytical basis for policy making. It is a foundational piece and more work will be done by us and others to really take the recommendations and to work in more detail on how to do that -- what needs to change in the Philippines in order to address the problems in a more focused way and how to carry these  forward. Our team will also explain during the Q and A session that there will also be other follow up work by the World Bank, by government, and others to take these recommendations to the policy realm.

Thank you very much and may we all have a very fruitful discussion today.

Maraming Salamat Po! [Thank you very much!]



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