MANILA, Philippines – A ranking United Nations official and former vice president of Costa Rica has hailed the Philippine government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for its conditional cash transfer program (CCT).
Rebeca Grynspan, undersecretary general and associate administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), expressed her support for the CCT program, stressing its importance in breaking the cycle of poverty.
Grynspan, former vice president of Costa Rica, said the CCT, also known as Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), can demonstrate success in breaking the “intergenerational cycle of poverty.”
She said the CCT should not be judged in the short term but after ten years of implementation.
Grynspan expressed her appreciation to the CCT program during a recent meeting with Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman.
Grynspan said the main purpose of the CCT program was to avoid sacrificing the future of poor children, which is why it is critical to support the program.
She stressed the return on investment from a CCT program will materialize only until after its beneficiaries finish schooling.
Incentives are therefore important to ensure that completion materializes, she added.
Soliman, for her part, agreed and emphasized the CCT program opens opportunities for children of poor families as they are given a “fighting chance” to change their destiny and break away from poverty.
Grynspan however pointed out that for the meantime, parents of poor families should learn how to fend for themselves and provide opportunities for employment.
She batted for school feeding which for her has been wrongly perceived.
“It is not just about feeding per se, it has a higher purpose of providing an incentive for poor children to stay in school,” Grynspan explained.
Grynspan said when she was vice president of Costa Rica from 1994 to 1998, the country’s school feeding program provided food twice – breakfast and lunch – resulting in higher attendance.
Soliman said the feeding program would be a good companion to the Pantawid Pamilya.
The Pantawid Pamilya provides conditional cash grants to poor households to improve their health, nutrition and education, particularly of children aged zero to 14.
Beneficiaries receive the cash grants of a maximum of P1,400 per month (P500/month for health plus P900/month/per child with a maximum of three children per household for education) for five years as long as the conditions are complied with.
In 2007, Pantawid Pamilya was piloted in Metro Manila and in four other municipalities. A year after, the coverage for its first phase roll-out was increased to 28 provinces which included the 20 poorest provinces in the country based on the 2006 Official Poverty Statistics
As of Oct. 2, 2013, the program is being implemented in all 1,627 cities and municipalities in 79 provinces in all 17 regions of the country.
The registered households have reached 3,927,555 or 103.35 percent of the 3,809,769 target households for 2013.
President Aquino has already announced approval for the expansion of the program to include children 14 to 18 years old in CCT beneficiary families to allow them to finish high school.
The DSWD is forecasting about 2.2 million children to be covered by the expansion from among the current 3.9 million family-beneficiaries covered by the flagship poverty alleviation program of the Aquino administration.
The expansion is seen to require additional funding of a whopping P10 billion.
It was learned that under the expansion, a family-beneficiary stands to get an additional P500 per child aged 14 to 18 years old.
The CCT currently covers eight million children aged three to 14 years, composed of 6.3 million children in elementary school and pre-school and 1.7 million in high school.
A family-beneficiary currently gets P300 per child aged 3 to 14 years old who goes to school and posts a minimum attendance rate of 85 percent.
If expanded to cover 14- to 18-year-old children, the DSWD projects total coverage to hit 10.2 million in the 1,627 cities and municipalities all over the country covered by the entire CCT program.
Grynspan, when told of the proposed expansion to high-school aged children, agreed to the plan and said it would give more advantage to poor children.
She added a portion of the CCT funds can be placed in individual savings of children as an incentive to complete high school. This scheme would make the child look forward to the financial means to pursue either a vocational course or other forms of higher learning.
Grynspan also underlined the importance of disseminating the results of the evaluation of a CCT program.
This is the only way to convince the public that the program is worthwhile and that it is well managed, she said.
An advocate of human development, Grynspan has worked to focus global attention on addressing inequality, building social cohesion, empowering women and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
She urged for nutrition for early childhood development including newborns, a concern where she said many countries have weakened. Grynspan pointed that the zero to two-year period is critical because of its incredible effect on child development.
“Encourage mothers to breastfeed until at least six months and provide alternative sources of nutrition thereafter,” she said.
When informed that the Philippines was lagging behind the MDG to improve maternal health, Grynspan suggested a package of interventions to reduce maternal mortality plus early childhood development would be very effective in addressing both the reduction of maternal and child mortalities.
Early last week, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Philippines said it was already seeing initial positive gains being made by the CCT program to reduce poverty and disparity focusing on children.
Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Philippines country representative, said the early “positive developments” were attributed to the CCT program in connection with its goals of improving child health and school attendance and participation. He described the gains as “impressive.”
Hozumi said the positive gains could be seen in the figures of the impact evaluation study on the Philippines’ CCT program in 2012 conducted by the DSWD, the World Bank, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the Asian Development Bank, where substantial initial gains were noted on Pantawid Pamilya beneficiary areas. –Rainier Allan Ronda (The Philippine Star)