Protecting 'Pantawid Pamilya' from 'epals'
Now that the campaign season has officially started, I can’t help but worry about a well-meaning government program most in danger of being abused and politicized: the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, otherwise known as “4Ps.”
Many of you will have heard about it: not only is 4Ps the current administration’s flagship antipoverty program, it is also arguably the largest antipoverty program ever undertaken in the country owing to its massive scope and funding.
From its pilot tests in 2007, the number of family beneficiaries from 4Ps has since ballooned by 640% to 3,843,502 families in January 2013, while its annual budget allocation has since grown at an even larger rate of 884% to P44.25 billion in 2013. What’s more, such colossal growth occurred in just under 6 years.
Conditional cash transfers
How did 4Ps grow so large and in so short a period? What’s so special about 4Ps that the government took great lengths to avail of mega-loans for what seems to be a mere doleout?
The 4Ps initiative is really just the Philippine version of a type of antipoverty program called conditional cash transfers (or CCTs). First implemented in the mid-1990s in Latin America, CCTs are cash and non-cash benefits given to very poor families in exchange for certain actions like ensuring that their kids regularly go to school and undergo regular health checkups.
The goal of CCTs is to motivate parents to engage in critical investments in their kids’ education and health to improve their chances of escaping poverty — not so much for the benefit of the parents but more for their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. CCTs thus ultimately aim to break the vicious cycle of poverty across generations.
To achieve this, our own government’s 4Ps provides for two grants: A health grant of P6,000 per household per year meant for health and nutrition expenses and an education grant of P3,000 per child aged 3-14 per school year (for a maximum of 3 children).
Such grants can last for at most 5 years as long as certain conditionalities are met, namely: mothers’ availing of pre- and post-natal care; mothers’ seeking help from a trained professional during childbirth; regular preventive health checkups, vaccinations, and deworming for children; and children’s enrollment in the government’s basic education system with attendance rates of no less than 85%.
One might ask: what’s up with all these conditionalities? Aren’t unconditional cash transfers simpler and just as effective?
On the one hand, CCTs do entail considerable administrative and operational costs to monitor the poor’s compliance (not to mention the costs of identifying who the poorest of the poor are).
On the other hand, the conditionalities of CCTs ensure that the poor will commit to making investments in their children they would otherwise not undertake (or, if they do, not at a socially optimal degree). This is in contrast with unconditional transfers where the benefits might largely be spent to satisfy present needs rather than future needs. Amid the hardships of life, CCTs provide the poor with that extra nudge they need to secure the future well-being of their children.
Such conditionalities have indeed led to the success and popularity of CCTs as an antipoverty program around the world. The better health and education poor kids enjoy from CCTs give them a greater fighting chance in life and an opportunity to earn higher lifetime earnings. Although hardly a panacea, the early successes of CCTs have led one development expert to exclaim that “[CCTs] are as close as you can come to a magic bullet in development.”
Early reviews of the Philippines’ own 4Ps program have also shown encouraging results, especially in improving school attendance among children aged 6-14. However, with issues such as leakages and the shortness of the transfers’ duration, much will still have to be addressed before 4Ps reaches its full potential.
Politics of cash transfers
While the government is working out long-term improvements in the implementation and evaluation of 4Ps, it also needs to protect the program’s integrity in the short run, especially in the upcoming 2013 elections.
Like a pile of raw, juicy meat attracting a swarm of flies, the billions of pesos flowing into the hands of the 4Ps beneficiaries will surely attract the attention of politicians (especially local ones) seeking to be elected. There are at least 3 reasons to believe why this will be the case.
First, as exemplified by the proliferation of politicians’ names and faces on waiting sheds, multipurpose buildings, and sports complexes, many politicians view themselves as “patrons” who, through their influence and benevolence, provide their constituents with goods and services in exchange for loyalty and support come election time. While some of this patronage politics has evidently diminished in more progressive areas, it still largely characterizes power relations in many rural areas.
Since CCTs are administered primarily at the local level, it is possible (however unlikely) that incumbents will exercise some of their power to manipulate the flow of CCT funds, primarily by adding or deleting names from the roster of beneficiaries depending on who support or don’t support them.
Second, even without deliberate manipulation, CCTs unintentionally aid incumbents’ hold on power. To see why, note that CCT beneficiaries are unevenly distributed across the country. In fact, the present targeting system tends to concentrate benefits among families living in “pockets” of poverty (i.e., places where poverty incidence is high). Thus, it is likely that incumbents are more popular and harder to remove from office in areas where there is a concentration of CCT beneficiaries than in areas with no such concentration.
In other words, political challengers in CCT-intensive areas may have a much harder time being elected in office (even if they are young, vibrant, and innovative) simply because incumbents are able to enjoy leverage in having CCTs distributed under their leadership and during their term of office. Unless changes are made in the way CCT beneficiaries are distributed geographically, 4Ps may even make it difficult to abolish political dynasties in the long run.
Finally, the pro-incumbent effects of CCTs are well known and have been documented by various studies around the world. One paper studied the electoral impact of Familias en Acción, a large-scale CCT program in Colombia. The study found that an increase in the proportion of beneficiaries in an area not only resulted in a greater likelihood of beneficiaries casting a ballot; it also led to a greater likelihood of them voting for the incumbent party under whose leadership Familias was expanded.
Yet another study looked into Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, the largest CCT program in the world. Much of its size is credited to former President Lula da Silva, who had allocated billions into the program during his first term. The study found that it was not only the beneficiaries of Bolsa Familia who had a greater likelihood of voting for Lula’s government in 2006, but also their friends or mere acquaintances. It is no wonder that Lula’s re-election in 2006 is partly attributed to the wide political support borne by his Bolsa Familia program.
This knowledge of the pro-incumbent effects of CCTs may, in fact, give a clue as to the relative ease with which our own lawmakers passed the massive budget allocations for 4Ps in the run-up to this year’s elections.
Keeping an eye out
Every election year heralds the return of the epals: attention-grabbing politicians who have mastered the art of indiscriminately plastering their names and faces onto public areas. For vivid examples of the limitless creativity (and absurdity) of these epals’ gimmicks during the campaign season, one need only visit sites like The Professional Heckler or EpalWatch.com.
Given this style of local campaigning, the government’s 4Ps initiative (what with its massive funds) will surely not go unnoticed and untouched. In fact some politicians have already reportedly threatened to use 4Ps as a tool to reward supporters and punish non-supporters. In response, the DSWD has recently launched its own Anti-Epal campaign seeking to inform 4Ps beneficiaries of their rights and the program’s mechanics regarding inclusion and exclusion.
Many studies have shown that well-crafted and well-implemented CCTs can work. But the benefits usually take a long time to manifest since CCTs are really not about reducing poverty now but reducing poverty in the future. The country’s own 4Ps initiative is still in its infancy, and its success will inevitably hinge on its being protected from political abuse especially in the upcoming elections.
Fortunately, we now have at our disposal many potent tools (especially social media) with which we can help keep the opportunistic predators of 4Ps at bay. - Rappler.com
The author is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of the Philippines School of Economics. His views are entirely his own and do not in any way reflect the views of his affiliations.