The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (Bridging Program for the Filipino Family) is a national initiative that serves as the Philippine government’s flagship program in its campaign against poverty and hunger in the country. The program is modeled after the conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs implemented in Brazil (Bolsa Familia) and Mexico (Oportunidades), a model which provides aid to poor families by supplementing low household incomes.
Under the program, household beneficiaries receive 500 pesos ($10 USD) per month and 300 pesos ($5 USD) per child every month for the duration of the academic year. For households with three children, cash grants can amount to as much as 15,000 pesos ($300 USD) annually.
Household eligibility is determined through the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction, which locates the poorest municipalities in the country. Households in municipalities with a poverty incidence rate higher than 50 percent are automatically put on a list for eligibility assessment, while other households who may be eligible can apply for assessment. Local representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development assess the economic situation of the household by obtaining information on home facilities and assets, the education and livelihood of the household head and the household’s income.
To stay eligible for the transfer payments, households must spend a portion of these grants on pre-natal and post-natal care for pregnant women, regular checkups and vaccines for children aged 0-5 and bi-annual deworming pills for children aged 6-14. They must also have an 85 percent monthly attendance rate for children subsidized by the program and attend family development sessions, which involve discussions on responsible parenting and health.
The program has done wonders for the poor in the country, especially for households from the country’s 16 poorest provinces. In these provinces, most of which are in the southern island group of Mindanao, 37 percent of families were reported to be hungry due to insufficient income or unemployment. Most of the areas in Mindanao are also marked by civil unrest, where almost no opportunity for stable employment is available. In the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), half of the population lives below the country’s poverty line, earning just over 30 pesos ($.60 USD) a day. 58 percent of households were reported to be unable to access or acquire food.
With these rates of poverty and hunger incidence, the former Aquino administration made it a point to make the poorest provinces its priority areas for rapid development and investment. As of August 2015, a vast number of Pantawid beneficiaries are from ARMM, with 448,757 people enrolled in the region (around 10 percent of active beneficiaries). The rest of Mindanao has around one million beneficiaries, while 20 of the 25 top Pantawid beneficiary provinces were on Aquino’s list of priority areas.
Almost a decade after the program started, the Pantawid has grown from a startup welfare project to the third largest CCT program globally, with 4,353,597 active beneficiaries. It has done well in its effort to diminish poverty rates in the Philippines. The 2013 Annual Poverty Indicator Survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that the national poverty rate of 25 percent could have increased by 2 percent without the program, while the extreme poverty rate would have risen 1.4 percent without the Pantawid’s benefits.
The same report reveals that the poverty gap index—the gap between incomes of poor families and the national average—fell by 61 centavos per peso cash grant just five years after the program’s onset.
Several domestic and international organizations have expressed their praise of the Pantawid. A study by Dr. Anticeto Orbeta and Dr. Vicente Paqueo of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies suggests that besides the benefits of additional household income, the Pantawid has actually increased the desire for work in household heads and has increased school participation and performance in children aged 5-14.
Such is the trust of the World Bank in the long-term success of the Pantawid that in early 2016, it bestowed upon the Philippine government a 21-billion-peso ($43 million USD) loan to be allotted to the program.
Incumbent president Rodrigo Duterte, a staunch enemy of his predecessor Aquino, has reinforced his commitment to the program. During his presidential campaign last year, Duterte promised to give one sack of rice to each Pantawid beneficiary household. His government is now working towards giving 600 pesos worth of rice allowances on top of the original cash grant allotment.
The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program is the first of its kind. Many anti-poverty initiatives have failed to produce the desired results, and almost none have united leaders from all political fronts to root for its success. Despite the great divisiveness that has characterized contemporary Philippine politics, all agree that the eradication of poverty and hunger is something to work towards, and that the campaign to do so should be a top priority.
– Bella Suansing