5.9M Filipinos no longer poor in 2018

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Fewer Filipinos were considered poor as of end-2018, with latest government data showing 5.9 million citizens lifted out of poverty.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 6) — More Filipinos were lifted out of poverty in 2018, with the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reporting a decline in the number of poor families.

Some 5.9 million Filipinos were no longer considered poor in 2018, as poverty incidence declined to 16.6 percent from 23.3 percent in 2015, the PSA said Friday.

Still, this meant 17.6 million Filipinos, or about 3 million families, did not earn enough to buy their basic food and non-food needs. Some 800,000 families also remained "food poor," who are unable to raise the money needed to buy the right amount of food. The PSA set the poverty threshold at ₱10,727 per month on average, which is deemed enough to support a family of five in 2018. Of the amount, monthly food costs are pegged at ₱7,528.

The income gap, which measures the inequality between the rich and poor also narrowed to 21.8 percent from 25.1 percent four years ago.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said the latest figures show "significant progress," and puts the Philippines on track to meet its target to trim the poverty to 14 percent by the end of the Duterte administration in 2022. The Sustainable Development Goal to remove extreme poverty by 2030 is also attainable so far.

"The sustained implementation, expansion, and enhancement of the government’s social assistance programs provided additional income to the poorest sectors of the society," NEDA Officer-in-Charge and Undersecretary Adoracion Navarro said in a Friday briefing.

She cited cash transfers under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, the unconditional cash transfers from the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law which took effect that year, and the Pantawid Pasada program. However, Navarro said she will recommend "tighter monitoring" for the release of cash aid.

Poverty reduction was a trend across island groups, with the biggest drop recorded in the Visayas. The highest poverty incidence rate was tallied in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao at 61.3 percent, defying the downward trend as locals reeled from surging food prices.

Last year saw inflation surge to a 10-year high led by a spike in rice prices. However, the PSA said rising incomes even among poor families and improving labor market conditions helped offset the impact of inflation. Annual salaries went up by 22.8 percent to average ₱156,114, the PSA added.

Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Sulu remained in the "poorest" cluster. The NEDA said peace-building activities like the creation of the Bangsamoro region would help boost poverty reduction efforts.

Poverty incidence was also high in the Zamboanga Peninsula (32.7 percent), and Eastern Visayas (30.9 percent).

Metro Manila tallied the lowest share of poor Filipinos, accounting for just 2.3 percent of residents. Targeted reforms to address stunted growth among children, increased family planning, and reducing teenage pregnancy would also lessen dependency and "budget constraints" among families, NEDA said.