Commentary: CCT at work
By Bong Pedalino
Maasin City (6 December) -- The latest development on the heavily scrutinized P 21 billion budget for the conditional cash transfer (CCT) that was part of the 2011 national appropriation was that it breezed through without cuts from both the Lower House and the Senate despite heated, impassioned debate.
The overall budget itself, it was reported, went over both houses of Congress sans deductions, so all eyes are now in the bicameral conference committee, otherwise known as the "third Congress" for good or ill, whether it will be a walk in the park for both the 2011 outlay and the CCT, or a steep climb.
At any rate, the expectation was that before the year is over, a new budget shall have been signed by the President, and whether the CCT will be intact or not no one can exactly tell.
In the midst of wild speculation or plain doubts that the CCT, also known as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), will ever live up to its promise on pushing a dent on widespread poverty, or will end up on wrong pockets, here is a real story which illustrates that the CCT, as applied in the field, has worked.
A popular survey firm conducted spot checks on the program in three towns of Northern Samar -- Mondragon, Pambujan, and Palapag -- early this year to see if indeed it was carried out in form and substance, in intent and spirit, to a random sampling of CCT grantees: 760 households and 1,703 child beneficiaries.
The results were revealing, inspiring, and rewarding enough to merit enhancement of the program.
"In general, the CCT in Northern Samar is successful," wrote Social Weather Station (SWS) boss Mahar Mangahas in his November 27, 2010 column in the Inquirer. "The grantees are truly poor. They receive the cash grants regularly, and appreciate them very much. P 800.00 per month for families with one child, and up to P 1,400.00 per month for those with three children, are small by middle-class standards but quite meaningful to the poor.
"But Northern Samar, unfortunately, has only one Land Bank branch. CCT grantees need to go to the capital, Catarman, to collect money by ATM or over-the-counter, with an average waiting time of over two hours."
Mangahas said the DSWD had pledged to look for efficient ways of giving out the cash.
To make a long story short, it was found out that compliance for school attendance is high as validated by school records (a minimum of 85% attendance in school is required), while for health conditions it was good, but required improvement, since not all kids were dewormed and fully immunized.
Monitoring was at its best, as demonstrated by an organized system of keeping records among parent-leaders (who are grantees themselves), and actual interface among teachers and health workers with the beneficiaries -- an added work load for these public servants without corresponding pay.
Now if this is not heroic, I don't know what this is.
Mangahas' column was actually a sharing of his experience in attending a public forum sponsored by the UP School of Economics on the CCT in which he was one of the panelists and resource persons because of the spot check his polling company made.
"I ended by commenting on the common yet unfair allegation that CCT cash is only wasted on drinking and gambling by the children's supposed lazy fathers," he said by way of a closing statement.
He added: "Based on considerable experience with cross-country surveys, I can assert that we Filipinos are average members of humanity, with vices and virtues present among us, men as well as women, in roughly the same degree as among other peoples.
"Those who, in the absence of scientific data, start from the premise that Filipinos are culturally handicapped are, in my opinion, suffering from an inferiority complex if they are Filipinos, or from a superiority complex if they are foreigners."
The moral of this story? A hope that CCT skeptics may just change their mind, and let this expanded anti-poverty initiative change minds, hearts, and lives forever.
LOCAL FRONT: Four towns in Southern Leyte province are direct beneficiaries of the CCT program, involving 2,199 beneficiaries, according to Edna Dator of the provincial DSWD office. I asked her in our phone interview if the fathers of these households had no work, or had off-on work, Dator said the specific criteria were listed in the guide for enumerators who personally went out into the towns of Saint Bernard, Pintuyan, Bontoc, and Tomas Oppus. Indeed, our wish is that the fathers, whether they are working or "stand-by", are responsible enough and take the cash grants as the family's augmentation income which must be spent as prudently as possible and not treat it as a manna from out of the blue.
ODDLY YOURS: Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1286) was credited as the one who originated the idea of putting up a Nativity or Manger scene -- we call it "Belen" here in the Philippines -- during Christmastime. In the year 1223, St. Francis reportedly asked a friend to put up a belen in a dark, little cave in Greccio, Italy. "I want to depict the birth of the child in Bethlehem in a way that we may see all He lacked," he was quoted as telling his friend. In the Greccio cave today, a small plaque reads: "In this chapel, Francis laid Christ in the Crib." But before he entered the religious life, St. Francis' name was actually Francesco de Bernadone. He was a soldier by profession and, worse, he was reputed as a playboy son of a wealthy, rich Italian cloth merchant. In spite of it all, he threw off his inheritance, his riches, and chose to live a life of poverty, prayer, and in helping indigents. He founded the Franciscan Order. (PIA-Southern Leyte) [top]