Thursday, August 23, 2007

MDG mid-term review: Missing the target

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The Philippines is “off the track”, it’s too soon to celebrate and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

2007 is midway the 15-year-long process of achieving the so-called MDGs targeted by the United Nations but the Philippines is still way off the expected results.

Social Watch Philippines gathered civil society groups last Aug. 15 and 16 to do a mid-term review of the MDGs and came up with conclusions and suggestions.

Among them: Government is “missing and messing up the MDG targets” and citizens should therefore help monitor government performance and push for an alternative budget for the MDGs.

The Philippines is one of 189 countries that signed in 2000 the Millennium Declaration and covenant to attain the MDGs by 2015. The MDGs refer to the eight goals and 18 targets that the international community committed to attain in 15 years.

The eight goals are 1)eradicate extreme poverty and hunger 2)achieve universal primary education, 3) promote gender equality, 4) reduce child mortality, 5) improve maternal health, 6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, 7) ensure environmental sustainability, and 8) develop a global partnership for development.

After presentations by civil society groups working in different regions, Social Watch challenged government pronouncements that the Philippines is on track with majority of the MDGs. The government, Social Watch said, had admitted that the goals with low probability of being achieved are in universal primary education for both participation and survival, maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and access to reproductive health. The government had also admitted problems in financing, regional disparities, advocacy, localization and monitoring.

Social Watch concluded that with the way things are, and judging from MDG performance in the last seven years, most of the goals will not be fully met

It cited the 2006 report of UN-ESCAP, UNDP and ADB that showed that the Philippines was “failing further behind” in relation to countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Social Watch International ranks the Philippines as “very low” in the Basic Capabilities Index (BCI) on a global scale. BCI is based on three indicators, namely, percent of children reaching Grade 5, under-5 mortality, and percentage of birth attended by health personnel.

Minar Pimple, deputy director of the UN’s Asia Millennium Campaign, said that globally poverty has been reduced. The number of very poor which used to be 1.25 billion has been reduced to 980 million. Pimple came to attend the Social Watch convention where civil society groups from different regions shared how the MDGs are faring on the ground.

Social Watch convenor and professor Leonor Briones raised questions on the reliability of data presented by the government. Briones, who once headed the Bureau of Treasury, pointed out that national data do not reflect the situation in the regions. “There is disparity between national data and regional data,” she said. “Averages are a poor measure.”

She cited the example of Makati City which could pull up the averages even while the ethnic minorities remain very poor.

Citing key indicators in education such as “participation rate and cohort survival rate”, Social Watch noted that these are going down in the elementary and secondary levels. Drop-out rates are rising and the number of out-of-school youth is among the highest in Asia, higher than Indonesia and Vietnam. The Philippines, Social Watch added, rates very poorly in performance scores in Math when compared with other countries.
Inequality is more serious than mere poverty, Social Watch pointed out. The claims that poverty has been reduced in the Philippines, Briones said, is only in terms of national totals which do not reflect reality. National totals are pulled up by the few relatively rich regions.

The Gini Coefficient which is used to measure inequality shows that inequality in the Philippines remains high. Social Watch cited the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey that showed that only two percent of the total number of families earn more than P500,000 a year, and only 10 families control 52.5 percent of the total market capitalization.

While the Philippines is supposed to have a sound environmental policy, translating these policies into actual programs and allocating the needed resources have been problematic. Social Watch noted inconsistencies in governance characterized by a high turnover of environment secretaries.

Briones said that among the MDG goals, environmental sustainability remained the least funded at less than one percent of the total budget.

Social Watch criticized the government’s overemphasis on the so-called “super regions”, which was evident in Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s recent State of the Nation Address (Sona).

“For the past seven years,” Social Watch said, “the Sonas which are the bases for budget priorities, hardly noticed the MDGs. Attention has been focused on the super regions these past two years while the poor are lagging behind in the ‘un-super’ regions.”

Seven years to go and there is still hope for the Philippines to get near the targets. There is need for more civil society groups (forget the incorrigible politicians) to get involved on the ground. There are NGOs that spend so much time, effort and money on political protests and propaganda while the poor they claim to defend continue to languish.

This I need to say out loud: Time also for some of these civil society groups to look into themselves and how they spend the funds entrusted to them by their funders.