Philippines 'off track' on MDGs



Ahead of the release late this month of the official report to the United Nations on how the country is faring in its implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) midway to the 2015 deadline, civil-society organizations are already saying that the government is “off target” particularly in achieving the most crucial goals.

NGO leaders who gathered last week for anational consultation on the midterm review of the MDGs, say the government isoff track in five of the eight goals: poverty and hunger reduction, achievinguniversal primary education, reducing child mortality, improving maternalhealth, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

The Millennium Declaration was signed in 2000 by 190 countries whichcommitted themselves to reaching eight goals and 18 targets by 2015. The goalsare: (1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, (2) achieve universal primaryeducation, (3) promote gender equality, (4) reduce child mortality, (5) improvematernal health, (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, (7) ensureenvironmental sustainability, and (8) develop a global partnership fordevelopment.

Despite the government’s assurance of progress toward meeting the MDGs, theysay the prospects for reaching many of the goals are not good, pointing to thecountry’s performance for the past seven years. They also cite a study thatshows the Philippines “falling further behind” compared to countries in Asiaand the Pacific.

Social Watch Philippines even ranks the country as “very low” — at 77thamong 161 countries — in its own Basic Capabilities Index, a way of looking atthe poverty situation not based on income. The BCI uses three indicators —percentage of children reaching grade 5, under 5 mortality, and attended birth— to depict what Social Watch calls as a “more reliable” picture of thesocial security of the population, particularly with regard to health status andbasic educational performance.

“Missing on these three BCI indicators renders government’s claims of MDGachievements insignificant,” says Isagani Serrano, Social Watch co-convenor.

Social Watch identifies education and health-related goals as the mostthreatened. In education, it notes that all key indicators — from theparticipation rate to cohort survival rate for both elementary and secondaryeducation– are all going down. The country’s out-of-school rates are alsonow among the highest in Asia. Even the National Economic and DevelopmentAuthority (NEDA) acknowledges the erratic trend in the cohort survival rate andthe increase in the dropout rate.

Access to primary education is in fact far from universal, having declined from96.8 percent in 2000 to 84.4 percent in 2006.

“The main reason why progress on the MDGs remains unsatisfactory is becausethe government is not fully committed to it,” says Professor Leonor Briones,Social Watch convenor, citing the financing gaps that has been an “intractableproblem since the start of the MDGs.”

It was only last year that the Department of Budget and Management providedspecific allocations to the MDGs in the national budget, adds Briones.

Social Watch’s assessment of where the Philippines really stands in terms ofthe MDGs directly challenges the government’s “excessive claims about growthand the resulting improvement in the quality of life of Filipinos.”

NEDA reports that the country is on track in reducing child mortality, as therehas been a decline in the under-5 mortality rate (per 1,000 children) from 80 in1990 to 32 in 2006, and from an infant mortality rate of 57 down to 24 duringthe same period. Social Watch however points out that infant mortality rates“remain inordinately high, compared with other countries in Asia.”

And while the government is on track in achieving Goal 6 (combating HIV andAIDS, malaria, and other diseases), NEDA reports that halting and reversing theincidence of HIV and AIDS is not quite evident.

Both NEDA and Social Watch agree that the country is lagging behind in improvingmaternal health (Goal 6). The maternal mortality ratio was 162 in 2006 and isnot decreasing nearly fast enough to reach the 2015 target of 52. The slowdecline in reducing maternal mortality ratio may be traced to inadequate accessto reproductive health services, says NEDA. Only 50.6 percent of women hadaccess to reproductive health care in 2006, a long way off from the 100-percenttarget in 2015.

But on Goal 7, Social Watch says environmental sustainability remains the leastfunded at less than one percent of the total budget. But despite this, thegovernment seems to be faring well, as NEDA reports it is on track on providingbetter access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities.

Addressing poverty and inequality

Doubts have also been cast on NEDA’s figures on Goal 1 where the governmentreports a high probability of attaining the targets on eradicating extremepoverty and hunger by 2015. But Social Watch says “poverty statistics aredoubtful because of the underestimated poverty thresholds; lack of comparabilityand inconsistency of estimates because of changes in (survey)methodologies…and exclusion of families without official and permanentresidence the poor who live under bridges, road islands, and alongthe streets.”

Of government’s supposed “pro-poor” growth agenda, Dr. Maria Racelis ofthe Institute for Philippine Culture says, “(It) trusts that economic growthwill trickle down to help the poor even though government policies in pursuit ofgrowth have continued to marginalize them, particularly through forceddisplacements.”

Citing government’s current actions in threatening 390,000 families along thePasig River and other waterways with ejection without relocation assistance,Racelis points out how these exemplify the insensitivity of the current systemto the needs and rights of the poor.

Briones says the lack of leadership in achieving the MDGs has been shown clearlyin the past state of the nation addresses, where the President has been harpingon the “super” regions.

“The super-regions are already super,” bemoans Briones, “but there aremany more regions that aren’t super. Since the poor are mostly in these‘un-super’ regions, especially Mindanao, these regions need to beprioritized in order to address inequality.”

Briones explains that the NEDA statistics are blind to inequality: Makati,Quezon City and some other cities pull up the national averages a lot so thatthese figures fail to capture the reality of poverty in rural provinces.

The way forward, counsels Racelis, is through political reform and an end totraditional politics. “Good governance characterized by citizen participation,transparency and accountability will go a long way in achieving MDG goals.”