Attaining the MDGs: Are we really on track?

Leonor Magtolis Briones


Last August 15-16, forty-two national networks of civil society organizations met in Quezon City to assess the government's Philippines Mid-term Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs.) They also considered the alternative assessment of Social Watch.

The business of governance

Last August 15-16, forty-two national networks of civil society organizations met in Quezon City to assess the government's Philippines Mid-term Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs.) They also considered the alternative assessment of Social Watch.

The eight goals are as follows: (1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote gender equality; (4) reduce child mortality; (5) improve maternal health;(6) combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; (7) ensure environmental sustainability; and (8) develop a global partnership for development.

The following is the statement of civil society organizations which raises serious questions on whether the MDG goals will be attained or not:

"Are we on track with the goals? The government says that the Philippines is on track with majority of the MDG targets. However, it admits that the areas of concern with low probability of being achieved are in universal primary education for both participation and survival, maternal mortality ratio (MMR); and access to reproductive health. It also admits that major challenges are financing, regional disparities, advocacy, localization and monitoring.

In contrast, Social Watch emphasizes that most of the goals will not be fully met, judging from MDG performance for the past seven years. The 2006 report of UN-ESCAP, UNDP, and ADB shows that the Philippines is falling further behind in relation to countries in Asia and the Pacific. Social Watch International ranks the Philippines as very low in the Basic Capabilities Index or (BCI) on a global scale. The BCI is based on three indicators: percent of children reaching Grade 5, Under-5 mortality, and percentage of births attended by health personnel.

Education: the most threatened goal. Social Watch notes that all key indicators, e.g. participation rate and cohort survival rate are all going down for elementary and secondary education. The drop out rates are also rising. Out-of-school rates in the country are now among the highest in Asia-higher even than Indonesia and Vietnam. Even more alarming, the quality of education remains poor and is further deteriorating. The Philippines rates very poorly in performance scores for Math, compared to other Asian countries.

Poverty and inequality. Social Watch has consistently pointed out that the Philippines does not only have a serious poverty problem. Even more serious is the problem of inequality. Even as claims are made that poverty is being reduced, this is in terms of national totals. A large number of geographical regions are still mired in deep poverty. The national totals are pulled up by a few rich regions.

The Gini Coefficient which measures inequality, remains high. According to the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) 2% of the total number of families (281,000) earn more than P500,000 a year while 52.5% of total market capitalization is controlled by the country's top 10 families.

Environmental Insecurity. While the Philippines has a sound policy environment, translating this to actual programs and allocating the needed resources is problematic. Social Watch has noted inconsistencies in governance characterized by high turn over of the position of DENR Secretary; conflicting dual role of DENR as protector of the environment and franchiser of exploiters of natural resources and politicization of key positions.

Among the MDG goals, environmental sustainability remains the least funded at less than 1% of the total budget.

Civil society organizations assisting the poor who live along Pasig river and other waterways have pointed out that more than 390,000 families are in danger of being ejected without relocation. They are demanding participation in the decision making processes which directly affect their sense of security and well being.

Indigenous people who have traveled from Mindanao to attend the Social Watch consultation complain that their way of life is threatened by mining and massive destruction of natural resources.

Health and gender concerns. Social Watch has pointed out time and again that our infant mortality and maternal mortality rates remain inordinately high, compared with other countries in Asia. It has also been noted that health expenditures for goals in health and gender are largely donor-driven, subject to conditionality and donor priorities. The Philippines is still threatened with diseases which should have been wiped out fifty years ago, like tuberculosis, malaria and other dreaded diseases.

Other issues Concerns have been expressed about the role of LGUs in attaining the MDGs and the need to monitor their budgets. For the OFWs, a plea was made for reduction of cost of remittances, and incentives for investment.

CALLS. The main reason why progress on the MDGs remain unsatisfactory is because the government is not fully committed to it. Direction and focus needs to come from the highest political leadership.

The call is for political reform which will do away with traditional political practices which divert needed financial resources to the undeserving and distorts government priorities. Good governance characterized by citizen participation, transparency and accountability will go a long way in achieving MDG goals.

The final call is for support for effective citizens' monitoring of government performance as well as for the alternative budget for MDGs.

In other words, government needs to put its money where its mouth is."

Ms. Leonor Briones is a former National Treasurer of the Republic of the Philippines. She is currently teaching at the University of the Philippines' National College of Public Administration and Governance. She is also a co-convenor of Social Watch Philippines. She also writes a column for the Business Mirror.