Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

President Noynoy Aquino’s expanded Conditional Cash Transfer program is an unimaginative program to solve the country’s intergenerational poverty. Giving subsidies to the poor isn’t wrong but it shouldn’t be in the form of insulting dole-outs. Isn’t it pathetic how the obscene distribution of petty cash is being presented as an innovative fulfillment of Pnoy’s overrated people-oriented and pro-poor development agenda?

Pnoy’s CCT (dis)empowers the poor in many ways: It inevitably creates a false hope among the poorest of the poor that the nominal increase in their monthly incomes is a cure-all to their deprivation; it directly promotes feudal gender stereotypes since it narrowly equates women empowerment with greater participation of mothers in the administrative implementation of the program; it inexcusably widens inequality in society because of the utter failure of the program planners to consider the dynamics of varying cost of living in the regions and rural-urban disparity.

The government has repeatedly claimed that the CCT is an investment in human capital and a necessary intervention to help the children and poor. In reality, however, it’s a wise but insincere political investment for the 2013 and 2016 elections. Pnoy’s political operators are probably aware that cash giving is an effective electoral tactic that can mobilize the support of the desperate poor and other ‘fundamental nobodies’ in society.

But the poor’s visible enthusiasm in supporting the CCT should be seen in the context of their situation which progressive educator Paulo Freire described as an “everlasting present of hopelessness and resignation.” Freire added that the poor who are “tired and anesthetized, (and) in need of everything, (are) easy prey for aid-and-assistance policies that further immerse them in a mind-narrowing daily existence.”

Instead of mocking the poor, we should encourage them to resist oppression including policies that weaken their fighting resolve. Freire emphasized that “one of the main differences between assistance policies and those that assist without “assistencializing” is that the former insist on the suggestion that the great big problem with the oppressed lies in deficiencies of nature; the latter, on the other hand, underscores the importance of the social, the economic, and the political: in sum, power.” The CCT is the latest sophisticated weapon of the ruling party in seducing the poor to ignore power and class struggle.

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The CCT places the poor under constant state surveillance or monitoring. From selection, accreditation, compliance, and up to the last day of the program, the poor must sacrifice their privacy. They must welcome the CCT implementers who are deployed by the state to investigate and confirm if the poor are really poor and if they are complying with the program conditionalities. It normalizes the intrusion of the state into the private lives of citizens; and maybe the intended effect is to force the latter to submission and reject radical politics. The desire is to influence the behavior of the vulnerable poor and dominate their thinking. Through the CCT seminars (non-attendance could mean expulsion from the program), the reactionary state hopes to prevent the poor from imagining that it’s still possible to attain complete liberation from poverty through revolutionary action.

For the first time in Philippine history, the state is now able to identify the precise location of the poorest of the poor. Its enhanced targeting system which can detect the presence of potential CCT beneficiaries (or victims) in every village in the country mirrors the efficiency and capability of the precision smart bombs of the U.S. military. The CCT it seems is a social welfare program which functions like a militarized operation.

The CCT inventory in the hands of a welfare state will improve the delivery of basic social services; but it becomes a deadly political and even military hit list in the hands of a state ruled by oligarchs and puppets. Beware of Third World governments that use deceptive and World Bank-designed programs like the CCT because their real intent is to liquidate the fighting poor.

What if we reverse the framework of the CCT registration system? Instead of aggressively registering the poor, we identify the richest families in every town. Today, we know that Concepcion in Tarlac has 663 poor families but maybe through a reverse CCT we will be able to identify the number and location of the richest landlords there. After we register the richest families in Makati, maybe we can persuade them to help the CCT-determined 2,204 poor families residing in the same city. But this remains a wishful thinking for now since only a revolutionary government can have the political will and motivation to devise and implement a program that seeks to disturb the quiet and anonymous lives of the mega rich.

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The CCT accomplishment report contains a reference to the number of families which were delisted from the program. As of last month, about 155,944 households have been removed from the list of CCT beneficiaries. The agency recorded 203 fraudulent acts, 3,643 inclusion errors, 436 duplicates, and 150,000 families which failed to attend the CCT seminars and assemblies. Curiously, 61 families were removed from the program because they were ‘no longer poor.’ There were also individuals who opted out of the program.

The unusual high number of delisted households highlights the inherently politicized character of the CCT selection process. More than the unwelcome meddling of porky politicians, the flaw in the registration process could lead to the possible exclusion of the legitimate poor from being enrolled in the program. What will happen to the CCT drop-outs? After being expelled from the CCT, are they still eligible to participate in other social welfare programs? What about the poor who suddenly became non-poor? Their situation is quite strange: they are still poor, but they don’t deserve to be included in the CCT because they are not very poor.

Because of the arbitrariness of the selection process, the CCT could trigger a vicious competition in the grassroots. As local governments vie for a bigger share of grants, the higher allocation of some towns or provinces could be questioned. The poor will outdo each other in trying to prove that they are poorer than others. Animosity could erupt between the delisted and the CCT enrollees.

By publishing the number of delisted beneficiaries, the agency seeks to prove its commitment to transparency and the rejection of partisan political influence. But the numbers also refer to the structural defect of the program. The number of inclusion errors is insignificant but its existence reflects the anti-poor bias of the CCT.

Who are the people who had been initially included but now excluded from the CCT? Not the privileged few or members of the affluent society but the poor, the moderately poor, the former poor. Duplicate registration is the least of the sins committed by the poor but it seems that it’s enough to deprive them of the chance to benefit and take part in poverty reduction schemes.

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Former Prime Minister Cesar Virata once said that 90 percent of the wealth of the country is in the hands of 10 percent of the population. If Robin Hood were alive today, he would have robbed the 10 percent rich and distribute the loot to the 90 percent poor. Definitely, Pnoy’s CCT doesn’t subscribe to the Robin Hood principle.

The cash transfer won’t reverse and disrupt the unequal distribution of wealth and power in the country. In spite of the CCT, the rich will continue to accumulate more money at the expense of the poor. The sad fact is that the CCT is merely a tool to hide the continuing greedy appropriation of society’s wealth by a few individuals, families, and corporations.

The government is ready and willing to expand the CCT since it seeks to distract the attention of the poor from revolutionary politics. The government, in truth, is afraid of its own people. Here lies the difference between a reactionary state and the revolutionary struggle of the people. The state prefers docile victims who can be rescued through the CCT while the revolution seeks to transform the victims into active and fighting subjects of History.

Related articles:

Freire and pedagogy
Poverty and elections
Thermal scanning and politics

3 Responses to “Pnoy’s Pantawid Pamilya Program”

  1. I get your point but the obsession to a revolution is not going to make a difference at this point in time. What other options do we have? I, for one, find Pnoy incompetent at times. During the 2007 elections, I was one with the kabataan party list. But a revolution, I think, isn’t going to help uplift the plight of many. The few elite who have been handed down the luxury of being rich are not to be blamed, those who has risen from rags to riches are not to be blamed, the poor are not to be blamed. This blame game and could’ve would’ve should’ve game isn’t something that would move the country forward. We have analysts to do this for us, on the other hand, people in the legislation, people that were elected and put in position by us are depended on to find a solution not mere analysis. Mr. Palatino, I trust that you can come up with something better than a revolution, after all, what revolution has done more good than harm in the history of the world? My two cents, no offense meant.

    marielle Lazaro

  2. […] Part 1: My critique of President Noynoy Aquino’s Pantawid Pamilya Program […]

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