|News Features - Press Releases|
|Written by Ana Marie Pamintuan|
|Friday, 27 July 2012 04:24|
At the tender age of 11, Norman Bolandrina lost his mother, who died while giving birth to her fifth child.
The boy from Maongon in Masbate soon found himself the head of a family, with an infant and three other younger siblings. Their father abandoned them shortly after their mother’s death.
Norman vowed to keep what was left of his family together, resisting attempts to have anyone put up for adoption. He took on any job that came his way in the hardscrabble villages of Masbate.
When the children’s hut was destroyed in a storm, neighbors took pity on the children and pitched in, bayanihan style, to build a new one.
Neighbors also put Norman in touch with local coordinators of the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, also known as the 4Ps or the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.
Instead of insisting that the children be separated and placed in foster homes, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) made an exception and allowed Norman to continue as household head and keep the family intact. He was also approved as a CCT beneficiary.
Now 14, Norman is featured in a video on what the CCT has done for him and his siblings, in terms of education, health care and the day-to-day requirements for survival.
The video was prepared by the DSWD with assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), a partner in the cash transfer program.
The CCT, whose thrust is beating back poverty by paying the poor, was a success in easing poverty in Brazil and Mexico. The program, supported with enthusiasm by the World Bank, continues to draw skepticism and flak in this country.
Much of the criticism focuses on Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman. The controversial Soliman, who has yet to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, has found it necessary to keep denying that she has any political ambitions and is using the CCT for an early campaign.
Visiting our office the other night, she repeated the denial. “I’m not running and I will not run – not next year and not in 2016,” she told us. “The Liberal Party is not drafting me. I will run in the ovals, in the fun run.”
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Only time will tell if she is telling the truth.
Many of the critics are politicians who for the longest time have used government resources as if these were their own, and want to continue doing so while at the same time preventing others from enjoying the same privilege.
World Bank officials have told me since the start of the CCT, during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, that the WB would pull out its support for the program immediately if it senses that the program is being used by anyone for political purposes.
The World Bank is involved in identifying the poorest households that qualify for the CCT, in monitoring the progress of the program, and in keeping it out of the hands of politicians. Beneficiaries get their cash assistance from banks and ATMs rather than individuals.
It’s understandable that there are politicians who see nothing good about a program that weakens the long-entrenched system of patronage, which feeds political power in this country.
With the midterm elections approaching, politicians who insist on taking credit for the CCT can pose a problem for the DSWD and its implementing partners. CCT “municipal links” or coordinators have been ordered to keep out faces and names of public officials – President Aquino’s included – from information materials including streamers about the program.
Apart from the elections, 2013 is a landmark year for the CCT: the first batch of beneficiaries will be “graduating” from the program.
Beneficiaries can receive cash transfers for a maximum of only five years. I have interviewed several CCT beneficiaries in the poorest neighborhoods of Pasay City and other areas in Metro Manila and I saw how a monthly cash handout, in exchange for keeping kids in school and getting regular medical checkups, could empower a household and raise hopes for a better future.
Today, all three million CCT beneficiaries can use their 4Ps ID card for PhilHealth coverage.
By the end of 2013, 321,000 households will “graduate” from the CCT. By 2014, the program is expected to end, after having served a target 5.2 million people.
The next challenge is how to wean beneficiaries from the regular assistance and make them self-reliant.
After five years of conditional cash-outs, will the beneficiaries be ready to be on their own?
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“We want to make sure that they are in a self-reliant mode,” Soliman told STAR editors.
Today the DSWD is launching in Albay and Sorsogon in Bicol a micro enterprise program for CCT beneficiaries. Together with the Farmers’ Community Development Foundation International, the government will provide each beneficiary seeds for a small vegetable garden, a tree seedling, and a pair of chickens to start an egg-laying backyard enterprise. A common garden for all CCT beneficiaries in a community, producing one commercial crop, will also be set up.
A micro financing program is being developed for community-driven enterprises for CCT graduates. The DSWD is also linking up with other agencies for employment of CCT beneficiaries – in reforestation, for example, or in restoring the rice terraces in Batan, Ifugao.
Soliman said a “modified CCT” would also be launched next month, with families living in the streets and nomadic Badjaos as the target beneficiaries.
So far, 700 street families have been identified in Metro Manila for coverage, which will include cash-outs of about P2,000 to rent a clustered dwelling for several families. The old “Guapotels” may be refurbished for this purpose. A budget of P121 million has been realigned for the project in Metro Manila. It may be expanded to Davao, Cebu, Iloilo and possibly Baguio.
After temporary housing for six months, the beneficiaries will be given permanent housing with employment opportunities. As in the original CCT, certain conditions must be met to remain in the program.
Soliman seems ready for more criticism.
“It’s a very misunderstood program,” she told us. “They said the best articulators are the beneficiaries themselves.”
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By Ana Marie Pamintuan
(reposted from The Philippine Star, July 27, 2012)