Human Development in the Philippines

Executive Summary | View and Download Report

The Philippines is slowly emerging from the social ruins caused by decades if economic mismanagement and political dictatorship. The government can now afford to think about national goals and expand on them, suggesting that new opportunities besides mere survival may now indeed be open.

The question, however is whether the people have genuine choices. How can they tell whether the programs and policies taken ostensibly in their behalf will actually contribute to their welfare? What does welfare mean, after all?

The concept of human development has been advanced precisely to answer these similar questions. Human development is the process of enabling people to have wider choices. It means expanding those capabilities that enable them to live a full life as human beings. Its most important dimensions are a person’s physical survival, health, level of knowledge, livelihood or income, and political freedom. These are the minimum basic needs that must be fulfilled.

In assessing any measure, the people must ask fundamental questions: Has it helped us and our children to live more secure and healthier lives? Does it allow us to learn more about what is going on in our community and society?

What is needed is not simply growth but a radical change in the nature of growth: toward more use of labor, less penalties to agriculture and industries related to agriculture, and a greater emphasis on regional development.

Does it make us more productive and permit us to earn better incomes or livelihood? Does it increase our community’s political influence over its leaders? Does it expand the role of people and their organizations in choosing, implementing , and overseeing projects?

The Philippines has, historically, had a headstart in public education and health. Therefore, it performs relatively well on literacy, educational attainment, and longevity when compared with other countries. More recently, however, the country has simple been living off its historical capital and reputation. Pressed, on the one hand, by budgetary limits and, on the other, by the need to serve a rapidly growing population, the quality of public education has declined. Access to high school and college education especially quality education, most of which is provided by private schools distributed quite unequally. Similarly, the provision of public health and sanitation services has met with difficulties because of recessions and a drift in budgetary priorities for health. As a result, government priorities in the health program have become misplaced, emphasizing tertiary rather then primary health care, cure rather than prevention. For all this, the services of doctors and health personnel failed to reach the rural area. In addition, the family planning program has only recently been revived and has much to catch up with. Malnutrition among children continues to be high for lower income groups. The health situation is now being complicated by the devolution of health activities to local governments without proper consideration given to financing.

It is in incomes, however, where the country has most noticeably lagged behind. Because of the debt crisis, the 1980s must be given up as a lost decade. The brief recovery from 1987-90 was followed by a recession in 1991, from which the country is still recovering. The effects of the debt crisis have not been fully overcome. The conversion of guaranteed foreign debt into internal public debt means that the government is now in a fiscal bind. Public resources are eaten up by debt service payments (see Table 20). Therefore, government cannot undertake bold initiatives, especially in infrastructure and social services, for fear that its indebtedness may expand further. The unrealism of past IMF fiscal and monetary targets as well as dogmatic adherence to these has contributed to the failure of recoveries.

There are more ominous signs for the long term. Because the problem of macroeconomic financing is unsolved, many programs seeking to promote deep-going structural reforms and to arrest the erosion of the country’s competitiveness simply lack credibility. These are jeopardized by public resistance , or are implemented under circumstances that ensure the least success. Without a consensus on a competitive exchange rate, for example, programs to reduce tariffs are bound to lead import surges, which will lead to ultimate resistance. The social safety nets that will build confidence in such measures are not in place.

Viewed from within, poor growth performance means that poverty has remained high and the poor have grown in absolute number (see Table 12 ). But even slow growth has not prevented the rich from increasing their share of income, whether in periods of boom or bust. Inequality in income has increased, and recent economic growth has benefited mostly the highly urban areas.

Poverty can be relieved if the average income can get going. But as experience shows, if the future merely repeats past patterns of growth, then the poor are unlikely to benefit. What is needed is not simply growth but a radical change in the nature of growth: toward more use of labor, less penalties to agriculture and industries related to agriculture, and a greater emphasis on regional development.

The environment suffers in both periods of economic growth and failure. When economic growth occurs, it is built on an unsustainable extraction and use of resources (e.g. denuded forests and polluted streams). But when it fails, poverty and population growth make unsupportable demands on the environment. Publice response to the magnitude and urgency of the environmental crisis is lackluster. This is reflected in the scarcity of research and information and in the lack of political will to address the crisis that threatens the various ecosystems.

The most complex and contentious are of human development is the political sphere. Ideally, people should participate as far as possible in running their own affairs and take a direct hand in selecting their representatives. Elections that guarantee the right of suffrage, opportunities for election, and implementation of results are indispensable, though sufficient, requirements.

Compared to some richer countries, the Philippines is more politically developed. But although formal institutions of democracy and channels for people’s participation exist, there are formidable obstacles to genuine people’s participation. Among these are the political dominance of a socio-economic elite, the absence of genuine party-politics and an uninformed, intimidated, or dependent electorate. These factors trivialize the electoral system and rob it of its potential as an instrument of change.

Besides voting in elections, people can and should participate in governance in other ways. People’s organizations (POs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) are important channels of participation on a sustained and regular basis: through lobbying and protest to change policies, direct implementation of their own programs and projects, and monitoring those of the government.

By providing for the participation of POs and NGOs, the Local Government Code, its defects notwithstanding, is a potentially powerful channel for regular people’s participation if it can overcome the resistance and suspicion of local political leaders.

Initially, POs and NGOs have been concerned with stressing their autonomy and diffrentiating their activities from those of the government. Lobbying and protest have been their most visible,if negative, forms of “participation.” The many alternative programs they have implemented will remain limited in scope and ultimately unsustainable unless supported by larger policy changes.the efforts of POs and NGOs must be supported by government, either because the latter has become responsive enough to desire cooperation,or because the former have won a measure of political power. Hence,the importance for POs and NGOs to combine electoral politics with extra-parliamentary activities and program implementation cannot be overemphasized. In a word, what the present period calls for is a “mainstreaming” of all development efforts.

Several observations can be drawn: First, it is important to resume growth in income. But this growth must be of a different kind, one whose benefits are more equitably distributed across various sectors and regions of the country. Second, the extreme disparity in access to education, health,and nutrition is primarily related to equity in income. To some extent, this means that if the goal of improving income is achieved, some of the problems in health and education will take care of themselves.

Not all problems in human development may be solved by attaining rapid economic growth. Many marginal sectors will remain ill-equipped in terms of education, skills, social and economic infrastructure to participate in and benefit from even rapid growth. The inequality in human development has a distinctly geographical dimension, even more than that based on gender. The South, especially Regions IX, X, XI, and XII, has been historically underserved by government, and this shows the statistics. These regions can be ranked among those with low levels of human development. Basically, however, little will change unless policies change; and for this to occur, the country’s politics must change toward more participation, involving especially the marginalized sectors in making decisions that affect them.

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Errata Foreword, The Research Team and Acknowledgement
Contents, List of Tables, Figures, Appendices and Boxes
Executive Summary and Recommendations
Chapter 1 – The Meaning of Human Development
Chapter 2 – The State of Income
Chapter 3 – The State of Human Capital
Chapter 4 – The State of Environment
Chapter 5 – Human Development and People’s Participation in Government
Chapter 6 – Participation Outside Elections