16 February 2019
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is about to leave office with 26.3 percent of his fellow Filipinos still living in poverty. Photo: AFP
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is about to leave office with 26.3 percent of his fellow Filipinos still living in poverty. Photo: AFP

Aquino’s record on poverty taints legacy

Despite his solid accomplishments in improving the economy and minimizing corruption, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has struggled to reduce the country’s poverty.

With his six-year term set to end in June, and the constitution barring him from seeking re-election, Aquino faces the sad reality that 26.3 percent of his fellow Filipinos are still poor, the same level when he took office in 2010, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing government data.

“Aquino didn’t meet our needs,” said Shirley Rala, one of the capital Manila’s estimated four million slum dwellers. “I’m hoping the new president can do more.”

It could not be said, however, that the president did not try.

Aquino significantly boosted spending on health and education, but analysts said it would take years before such efforts bear tangible fruit.

“Unfortunately, this long-term approach was never going to be useful for winning this year’s elections,” Joel Rocamora, head of the country’s anti-poverty commission, was quoted as saying.

In the economic arena, the Philippines has seen unprecedented gains. 

Gross domestic product grew by an average 6.2 percent a year while foreign investment and tourist arrivals reached record highs, the newspaper said.

Credit rating agencies have upgraded the country’s ratings in view of the administration’s prudent fiscal management and anti-corruption efforts.

The nation’s top 10 conglomerates more than doubled annual sales to US$44 billion between 2010 and 2015, while their profits rose by half to around US$4 billion, the report said.

The net worth of the 40 richest Filipinos more than tripled in that period to US$71.4 billion, according to Forbes.

But that has reinforced the perception among the masses that the country’s progress is only benefiting the wealthy.

As a result, the administration candidate in the May 9 presidential election, Mar Roxas, is lagging behind in the polls.

Rodrigo Duterte, the mayor of the southern city of Davao who has vowed to wipe out criminality to boost the economy and reduce poverty, has surged in the latest polls.

The other leading candidates in the May 9 polls, Sen. Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay, have also campaigned on the platform of inclusive growth.

Aquino has acknowledged his shortcomings in the fight against poverty.

“Somewhere about the middle of the term, we were surprised that the poverty numbers were not moving as fast as we had hoped,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

That is why, he said, his administration invested “a huge amount in social services”.

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