Anti-Poverty Programs

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Anti-Poverty Programs

Pia C. Bennagen

Poverty is one of the perennial problems that all administrations in the Philippines had to deal with. Many a president has attempted to lower the poverty incidence and lessen the gap between rich and poor. While there have been gains along the way, these have been few and far between. In the 1990s, poverty alleviation became one of the buzzwords of the Ramos and Estrada administrations. The key anti-poverty program was articulated through the Social Reform Agenda (SRA), which brought about the creation of the Social Reform Council (SRC). In 1998, the SRA was institutionalized through the signing into law of Republic Act 8425 or the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act. Among other things, this law abolished the SRC and created in its stead the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).
The basic concern of this case study is to examine the nature, extent, and impact of civil society participation in both the SRC and NAPC. The end in view is to generate lessons from experiences of various basic sector groups which may be useful to both government and non-government entities. It is hoped that by looking into the government-basic sector engagement within the context of these two poverty alleviation bodies, a better understanding of the dynamics between government on the one hand and civil society on the other hand can be gained. While this case study focuses on the SRC and NAPC, its basic unit of analysis is civil society or, more specifically, the basic sectors.1 Therefore, this is not an attempt to evaluate the performance of the SRC and NAPC. Also, while mention will be made of the various programs undertaken by these two bodies, it is not the concern of this paper to assess the effectiveness and viability of these programs. More particularly, this study seeks to address the following questions:

  1. What are the Social Reform Agenda, Social Reform Council, R.A. 8425, and National Anti-Poverty Commission, and where does civil society figure in all these?

  2. What is the nature and extent of civil society participation in the SRC and NAPC?

  3. What is the impact of civil society participation in the SRC and NAPC?

  4. What is the nature of government-basic sector relations within the SRC and NAPC?

  5. What lessons about civil society and government-civil society relations can be drawn from the experiences of the SRC and NAPC?

Data for this case study were obtained from various sources. A survey of related literature was done. Official and non-governmental sources were examined. Key sources of information were interviews with government officials and civil society individuals who were involved in the SRC and are involved in the NAPC. Data was also obtained from three roundtable discussions organized in part by the author for the Social Development (SDA) Program of the Center for Integrative and Development Studies (CIDS) of the University of the Philippines.

This case study argues that while the SRC and NAPC provided opportunities for basic sector participation in the governance of poverty at the national and local levels, the impact of such participation has been quite limited. Due to some constraints and challenges arising from the inclusion of civil society actors in the process of governance, the impact of civil society participation in the SRC and NAPC has not been maximized. Nevertheless, in the case of the NAPC, despite the frustrations expressed by basic sector representatives, they do recognize that the NAPC is one of the mechanisms by which the basic sectors can significantly contribute to poverty alleviation in the Philippines. And because the NAPC was an institution that the basic sectors struggled for, they have indicated their willingness to continue this struggle to realize their goal of alleviating the plight of the marginalized sectors of society.
The Social Reform Agenda (SRA) and the Social Reform Council (SRC)
During the Ramos administration, several consultations were conducted, primarily by the National Unification Commission (NUC), at the provincial, regional, and national levels as part of the peace process. One of the recurring themes in these consultations was the direct link between the high incidence of poverty and the presence of conflict. As such, real peace was viewed as not merely the absence of war. In the Philippine context, peace cannot be achieved without dealing with the problem of poverty.
The SRA, adopted on 17 June 1994, was one of the products of these consultations. Access to quality services, asset reform, and institution-building and participation in governance were the three pillars of the SRA. With this three-point agenda, the SRA was to serve as the Ramos administration’s platform policy towards the goal of alleviating the plight of the country’s poor and marginalized sectors. More particularly, the SRA identified nine flagship programs geared towards meeting the needs of the basic sectors. The flagship programs were: (1) agricultural development: (2) fisheries and aquatic resources conservation, management, and development; (3) protection of ancestral domains; (4) workers’ welfare and protection; (5) socialized housing; (6) comprehensive integrated delivery of social services; (7) institution-building and effective participation in governance; (8) credit; and (9) livelihood programs. In turn, these programs were to be implemented using several key strategies that include the following: (1) energizing and reorienting the bureaucracy to effectively address the social reform concerns of the basic sectors; (2) encouraging, developing, and institutionalizing concrete mechanisms for basic sector, non-government and peoples’ organization (NGO-PO), church, and business sector participation, on both local and national levels, in the whole process of governance; (3) synchronizing, systematizing, and integrating all social reform policy and program initiatives of government to optimize the use of limited resources and benefits; (4) mobilizing all possible internal and external resources to sustain the gains derived from these reforms; and (5) assistance by local governments in the implementation, institutionalization, and localization of the SRA.2
To ensure the proper implementation of the various SRA commitments, the SRC was established through Executive Order 203, issued by former President Ramos in September 1994.3 Aside from this key responsibility, the SRA was also tasked to approve a master plan to operationalize the SRA framework, ensure compliance and consistency by all government entities in the operationalization of the SRA, review and resolve issues and concerns related to the SRA, and determine all necessary interventions to ensure the successful implementation of the SRA. A secretariat was also created to provide administrative and staff support needed for the effective implementation of the SRA.4
Aside from involving the whole gamut of government departments and agencies, the SRA and SRC also saw the active participation of the basic sectors. In the context of the SRA, the basic sectors referred to are the farmers and landless rural workers, fisherfolks, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, workers in the formal labor sectors, women, children, persons with disabilities, and youth. One of the implementing guidelines of the SRA mandated the participation and representation of these sectors in the SRC.
R.A. 8425 and the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC)
R.A. 8425 was one of the flagship bills under the SRA. Although it was signed into law by former President Ramos on 11 December 1997, it took effect only during the first month of President Estrada’s term. Otherwise known as the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act, R.A. 8425 provided for the adoption and integration of the SRA in the NAPC action agenda. Thus, the NAPC also uses the multi-dimensional approach to poverty by recognizing the social economic, ecological, and governance aspects of the problem. The law also identified the basic sectors that are the targets of the government’s poverty alleviation drive and these are the farmers-peasants, artisanal fisherfolks, workers in the formal sector and migrant workers, workers in the informal sector, indigenous peoples and cultural communities, women, the differently-abled, senior citizens, victims of calamities and disasters, youth and students, children, and urban poor.5
In creating the NAPC, R.A. 8425 abolished the SRC, the Presidential Commission to Fight Poverty (PCFP) and the Presidential Council for Countryside Development (PCCD). This is to streamline the government’s poverty alleviation processes and mechanisms and to avoid redundancy among agencies and instrumentalities. The NAPC is tasked by law to:

  1. Coordinate with different national and local government agencies and the private sector to assure full implementation of all social reform and poverty alleviation programs;

  2. Coordinate with local government units (LGUs) in the formulation of social reform and poverty alleviation programs for their respective areas in conformity with the National Anti-Poverty Action Agenda;

  3. Recommend policy and other measures to ensure the responsive implementation of the commitments under the SRA;

  4. Ensure meaningful representation and active participation of the basic sectors;

  5. Oversee, monitor, and recommend measures to ensure the effective formulation, implementation, and evaluation of policies, programs, and resource allocation and management of social reform and poverty alleviation programs;

  6. Advocate for the mobilization of funds by the national and local governments for financial social reform and poverty alleviation programs and capability-building activities of POs; and

  7. Provide financial and non-financial incentives to LGUs with counterpart resources for the implementation of social reform and poverty alleviation programs.6

The main program that the NAPC is pursuing is the Erap Para sa Mahihirap Program (EPMP) or the Poverty Eradication Program (PEP).7 The key objective of this program is to eradicate absolute and relative poverty in the Philippines. In his second State of the Nation Address, President Estrada declared that:

My vision is not just the alleviation of poverty but its ultimate eradication. Alleviation is temporary. Eradication is permanent. Alleviation is limited. Eradication is total. The proper response to the problem of poverty is not superficial treatment but total structural change ... My vision is to drive poverty away from the center and into the periphery of our concerns, to make it a marginal rather than a mainstream problem.8
The President’s vision is to be realized through the EPMP which consists of five major components: (1) food security; (2) modernization of agriculture and fisheries within the context of sustainable development; (3) low-cost mass housing; (4) protection for the poor against crime and violence; and (5) active participation of the LGUs in the implementation of the program. The main unit with which the NAPC is concerned is the Filipino Family, which is considered as the basic indicator unit under the PEP. For instance, under the Lingap Para sa Mahihirap Program, the 100 poorest families in the country’s 78 provinces and 83 cities will be identified and used as indicators to determine whether the program is effective.9 The success of the program is dependent on its ability to produce a multiplier effect, whereby the identification of the 100 poorest families will result not only in the upliftment of the welfare of these identified families but also in the betterment of the conditions of an estimated 10 million Filipinos.10 As part of the PEP, the NAPC also handles the disposition of the Lingap Para sa Mahihirap Program Fund, worth 2.5 billion pesos, for 1999. This amount is broken down as follows: (1) 500 million pesos for Food, Nutrition, and Medical Assistance under the Department of Health; (2) 500 million pesos for Livelihood Development under the Cooperative Development Agency; (3) 500 million pesos for Socialized Housing under the National Housing Authority; (4) 300 million pesos for Rural Waterworks System under the Local Water Utilities Administration; (5) 300 million pesos for Protective Services for Children and Youth under the Department of Social Welfare and Development; and (6) 400 million pesos for Price Support for Rice and Corn under the National Food Authority.11
On Basic Sector Participation and Government-Basic Sector Relations in the SRC and the NAPC
A. The SRC Experience of the Basic Sectors
The SRA recognized the important contribution that the basic sectors have to make towards winning the fight against poverty. As such, it sought to institutionalize basic sector participation in the various SRA commitments and in the SRC. However, the participation of the basic sectors in the SRA was already evident even before the adoption of the SRA and creation of the SRC. It has been observed that the basic sectors played a pivotal role in pushing the government to pursue a social reform policy and were actively involved in the consultations that led to the creation of the SRA. To a certain extent, it can even be said that the SRA was government’s response to the demands of the basic sectors.12 For its part, government also acknowledged the contributions of the basic sectors as it identified the Basic Sectors’ Agenda — a consolidation of the outcomes of several consultations organized by the non-government sector — as one of the bases of the SRA. Moreover, non-government and peoples’ organizations (NGOs and POs), along with professional groups, business, executive departments, congress, and local governments, also participated in the People’s Economic Summit of 8 September 1993 which resulted in the adoption of the Social pact for Empowered Economic Development (SPEED), one of the precursors of the SRA.13 Hence, from the very beginning, civil society individuals and organizations participated in the processes that led to the formulation of the SRA and the creation of the SRC.
Within the SRC, basic sector representatives were appointed to sit as council members alongside executive department secretaries, presidents of leagues of local government, and other government officials. The basic sector representatives were chosen by the basic sectors themselves and were appointed by the President. (Please refer to Appendix A for a complete list of the members of the SRC.) The basic sectors established a Basic Sector Counterpart Council (BSCC) which served as the national coordinating mechanism for all the NGOs and POs involved in the SRC. The BSCC served as the arena for consolidating sectoral positions, especially in preparation with meetings with government agencies. In addition, a National Sectoral Caucus was formed as a venue for consolidating the positions of the different sectors in order to complement the efforts of the BSCC. A PO-NGO Counterpart Secretariat was also created, based at the National Peace Conference (NPC), to provide technical and administrative support for the basic sector representatives and the BSCC. Likewise, the Counterpart Secretariat was responsible for coordinating and communicating with the sectors, technical persons, and regional and provincial focal persons.14
The importance of civil society participation in the implementation of the SRA Convergence Policy was also recognized. According to the implementing guidelines, civil society organizations are the partners of government and are valuable because of their track record in community work, especially in working with the poor. As such, “it shall be the fundamental principles of the SRA Convergence Policy to encourage the meaningful participation of organizations in achieving the goals of this policy, in the areas of both decision-making and implementation, while respecting their autonomy as private organizations (underscoring supplied)”.15 But beyond the Convergence Policy, the SRA, in general, is based on the recognition that the government and the basic sectors can, and must, interface at all levels. This interfacing occurred through mechanisms such as sectoral representation in various government bodies and processes at all levels, genuine consultation and coordination processes, and interfacing with the SRA PO-NGO Counterpart Council.16 The SRA is, therefore, anchored on the active involvement of civil society and on the partnership between civil society and government.
A concrete example of civil society’s impact on the SRC and SRA was the fact that the most important of the basic sectors’ agenda — asset reform — founds its way into the final document that came out of the People Empowerment Caucus of June 1994 and which eventually led to the creation of the SRA. Asset reform has to do with the distribution of resources in an equitable manner with the aim of providing the sustainable foundation for the upliftment of the lives of the marginalized sectors of society. The importance of asset reform lies in the premise that only through the wide-ranging redistribution of assets can the poor have access to secure livelihoods and to their rightful share to the benefits of economic growth and development.17 Asset reform was at the heart of the basic sectors’ agenda, and to see it articulated in the SRA was a victory of some sorts for the basic sectors.18 During the 1996 National Anti-Poverty Summit (NAPS), referred to as the “mother of all summits”, there was another opportunity for government and civil society to work on a common anti-poverty agenda. NGOs and POs engaged the government both on the floor and outside the caucus halls. At the end of the summit, it was estimated that about 80% of the basic sectors’ agenda was accepted by government. In 1997, things took a turn for the worse when political, ideological, and personal differences entered the picture and resulted in strained government-civil society relations.
At this point, the NPC, a multisectoral citizens’ assembly composed of more than 500 POs, national sectoral federations, cause-oriented groups, cooperatives, church-based organizations, peace formations, peace zones, and peace advocates,19 came up with a very critical assessment of the SRA. Entitled “Social Reform or Social Aggression”, the assessment was an articulation of the NPC’s threat to disengage from government. Due to their frustration with the way things were going within the SRC, the NPC was already thinking of withdrawing from the process. However, there was no consensus among all civil society actors on whether to continue engaging government. Before things got out of hand, election fever set in and the SRC had to take a back seat.20
As regards problems, there were some initial difficulties regarding the definition and identification of the basic sectors and the process by which these representatives were to be selected. When these problems were overcome, the next hurdle was the uneven quality of participation among the basic sector representatives. While some basic sector representatives took their responsibilities seriously, others were very lax in the performance of their duties. Some representatives conducted meetings with their respective constituencies in order to work out their sectoral agenda while the others failed to consistently touch base with the organizations in their sectors. Consequently, the interests of some sectors were better represented in the SRC as compared to others. In addition, there were some sectors which were represented but which did not have any flagship programs initially (e.g., senior citizens). On the whole, these problems reflected the poor state and lack of organization of the basic sectors at the time that the SRC was established.21
Along with the weak state of some basic sectors, there was also the reluctance or inability n the part of some government officials to engage civil society. One observer noted that there was poor information dissemination on the SRA within the government itself, particularly during the early years of the SRA and SRC. What aggravated the situation was the lack of coordination among the different government agencies that were to serve as flagship champions. With respect to the partnership between government and the basic sectors, some flagship champions did not hold regular meetings with their basic sector counterparts (e.g., DA for the farmers and the fisherfolks and the HUDCC for the urban poor). The frustration on the part of the basic sectors was reinforced by the departure of some government officials whom they perceived to be their allies (e.g., Director Guillermo Morales of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and General Manager Roberto Balao of the National Housing Authority) in their advocacy work for their sectoral agendas. Thus, the resistance on the part of some government officials and the exit of certain officials who were sympathetic to the basic sectors’ cause led to the view that the “grand narrative that is the Social Reform Agenda appears to remain an empty promise and plain rhetoric of the Ramos government unless otherwise resolutely acted upon by government’s key players”.22 Based on these observations, one can conclude that the problems that arose during the period 1994-1996 can be attributed in part to the weaknesses of both government and the basic sectors.
Despite all the birthing pains and difficulties associated with the early years of the SRA and SRC, the basic sectors did gain from their engagement with the government. While these gains may be more symbolic than real, they are still considered by the basic sectors as important. The gains included the following:

  1. The SRA was able to articulate the principles of social reform at the highest levels of government. Moreover, the SRA also highlighted the importance of two of the basic sectors’ key concerns — asset reform and popular participation.

  2. Basic sector participation in the highest levels of government was recognized. Basic sector representation in government became part of the consultative processes that were very much a part of the Ramos administration. An important aspect of popular participation was the appointment of basic sector representatives to the SRC — representatives who were tasked to articulate the interests and demands of their respective constituencies.

  3. The SRA contributed to the strengthening of civil society players and structures as it provided avenues for the coordination of action and public representation on national issues. Furthermore, the SRA served as a mechanism for the coordination of cross-sectoral advocacy on basic sector issues.

  4. The localization of social reform action plans became an important aspect of advocacy for civil society. This enabled the basic sectors to strengthen their ties with local governments and form partnership with them in the local implementation of asset reforms for the marginalized sectors.

  5. The various laws23 that were signed by former President Ramos towards the end of his term improved the policy baseline for social reform for the Estrada administration. These laws provide a good starting point for the government in its struggle against poverty and may contribute to the institutionalization of anti-poverty initiatives and social reform in the government. However, good laws do not automatically translate to the attainment of goals. The next step now is to ensure the effective implementation of these laws and improve laws that are already in place.24

Since most of the gains of the SRA were symbolic in nature, the NPC identified several issues that the Estrada administration must address if it is to prove its seriousness in pursuing social reform. First, the government must refocus the SRA away from the MBN approach and towards the goal of asset reform. For the NPC, the lack of emphasis given to asset reform can be interpreted as “a regression in the government’s understanding of social reform and a dilution of its commitment to equity reform”.25 Second, there is an immediate need to strengthen the government’s institutional capacity to address anti-poverty issues. For instance, before government-basic sector partnerships can be institutionalized, government agencies tasked with fostering and supporting such partnerships must first undergo reorientation to sensitize them to the nature and dynamics of the basic sectors. Third, the government’s initiatives with respect to civil society must be better integrated and harmonized. The government has to be consistent in its pronouncements and actions on people’s participation in governance at all levels of the decision-making process. Fourth, even as civil society participates in the affairs of government, the latter must continue to recognize the integrity and respect the autonomy of the former. Fifth, public resources need to be fully harnessed for social reform programs. One means by which the government’s commitment to social reform can be measured is through funding agencies that are willing and able to allocate for poverty alleviation programs. And sixth, the government must recognize and address the actual and potential conflicts between its social reform commitments and the economic policies that it continues to pursue. According to this argument, the conceptual framework of the SRA is distinct and separate from the Ramos administration’s economic reform agenda and because of the non-integration of the SRA into the framework for economic development, there have been incoherence and contradictions in the government’s development policies.26 It may be that because of its liberalization, deregulation, and privatization policies, the government is the one which undermines the interests of the basic sectors.27

B. The NAPC Experience of the Basic Sectors
The NAPC is a government body anchored on the partnership between government and civil society. The underlying philosophy of the NAPC is that people’s participation in governance is a vital element in the pursuit towards change within government. In particular, as an agent of change, the basic sectors can positively affect the delivery of services to the poor, not necessarily by delivering the services themselves but more importantly by awakening the government bureaucracy to the need for more competent and efficient service delivery.28 Within the NAPC, the roles and functions of the basic sectors are as follows:

  1. Serve as the consultative and coordinative body that shall interface and interact with government agencies in the implementation of anti-poverty policies, programs, and resource commitments;

  2. Ensure the broad participation of various basic sectors in various mechanisms of the PEP;

  3. Flesh out the different anti-poverty program and project components of the EPMP for the basic sectors and the geographic areas for implementation, together with the concerned government agencies;

  4. Recommend to the NAPC necessary policies and other interventions to ensure the successful implementation of the EPMP;

  5. Develop and formulate with their respective sectors a minimum “do-able”29 sectoral agenda;

  6. Adopt their respective mechanisms, as well as coordinative and consultative structures, consistent with the principles of R.A. 8425 and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR);

  7. Ensure that their respective operations centers will be responsible, efficient, and effective in addressing the concerns of their respective sectors;

  8. Follow through the commitments of the government to their respective sectors; and

  9. Identify and implement the sectoral commitments to their respective sectors.30

Under R.A. 8425, each basic sector representative has a three-year term of office. A National Basic Sector Assembly (NBSA), composed of 15 representatives from each of the 14 basic sectors, is responsible for drawing up the general agenda of the basic sectors. In addition, there is the National Basic Sector Forum (NBSF), composed of the 14 basic sector commissioners and two alternates per basic sector. The NBSF serves as a venue for discussing and consolidating cross-sectoral agenda and concerns. Each basic sector also has its own sectoral assembly and council. The basic sectors have come up with principles of engagement that guide their interaction with their lead agencies in particular and government in general. These principles include the following:

  1. The representation and participation of the basic sectors in government shall be a partnership based on equality, autonomy, transparency, and mutual respect. The appointment and inclusion in the government structure of the basic sector representatives shall not diminish their representation as essentially basic sector, private sector, or civil society.

  2. The basic sector operates on the principle of maximum participation in all arenas open for engagement in poverty eradication.

  3. The basic sector must ensure that equality in rank in relating with government agencies shall be observed within the framework of the NAPC.

  4. The basic sector shall exercise critical partnership in policy-making in the determination of priorities and in agenda-setting with the government. It shall be consulted and involved in the formulation and determination of policies and programs that directly affect them and their sectors.

  5. Social contracts shall be forged between concerned government agencies and the basic sectors.

  6. The basic sector shall observe the principle of maximum participation of civil society based on the principle of inclusivity and not exclusivity. This implies reaching out and broadening participation of all sectoral organizations that are willing to work with the NAPC.31

As was the case with the SRC, the NAPC also consists of two sectors — the government and the basic sectors. The NAPC government is composed of 11 department secretaries and heads of government agencies, presidents of the four Leagues of Local Government Units (LGUs), and the chairs of the Peoples’ Credit and Finance Corporation (PCFC) and the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP). On the other hand, there are 14 basic sector representatives that sit in the NAPC. (Please refer to Appendix B for a complete list of the members of the NAPC.) Each basic sector is matched with a government unit as part of the NAPC’s inter-agency networking mechanism. The following is the initial team-up between the basic sectors and government lead agencies:

  1. Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) — Farmers and Landless Rural Workers

  2. Department of Agriculture (DA) — Fisherfolks

  3. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) — Indigenous Peoples

  4. Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) — Workers in the Formal Labor Sector and Migrant Workers

  5. DOLE— Workers in the Informal labor Sector

  6. Department of Budget and Management (DBM) — Women

  7. Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (DECS) — Youth and Students

  8. Department of Health (DOH) — Persons with Disabilities

  9. Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) — Victims of Disasters and Calamities

  10. Department of Finance (DOF) — Senior Citizens

  11. National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) — Non-Government Organizations

  12. Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) — Children

  13. People’s Credit and Finance Corporation (PCFC) — Cooperatives

  14. Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP) — Urban Poor

The basic sectors have had some gains such as the finalization of the basic sector structures and organizational guidelines, the preparation of basic sector work plans, and the conduct of discussions between lead agencies and the basic sectors.32 However, for the most part, the basic sectors’ experience in the NAPC has been frustrating. From the very start, the NAPC has been rocked by controversies. A big source of problems was the selection process by which the sectoral representatives are to be chosen and appointed. While the law provides that it is the basic sectors which should choose their representatives from among themselves, President Estrada issued a presidential directive which allowed the direct nomination of candidates. Hence, not all basic sector representatives were elected by their respective sectors. The case of the women’s sector illustrates this problem. The women’s sector general assembly already elected representatives to their basic sector council. The three candidates obtaining the most votes were designated as commissioner and as alternates. However, due to the intervention of outsiders, the other members of the council were removed and replaced by non-elected members or members who lost in the earlier elections.33 This incident which was replicated in other sectors led to the marginalization of some civil society organizations and resulted in divisiveness within certain sectors. The conflict even led some marginalized groups to file a case with the Supreme Court requesting that President Estrada be barred from directly appointing NAPC basic sector representatives.34 Due to these problems, the degree and quality of basic sector representation in the NAPC has been questioned. Concerns regarding the legitimacy and accountability of non-elected council members were also raised. This has led to the perception that the NAPC is a highly politicized government agency, and this politicization has prevented it from doing its work efficiently and effectively. Politicking has also diverted the NAPC’s attention from its fundamental concerns and reasons for being — poverty alleviation and uplifting the welfare of the basic sectors.

Another problematic area has to do with the basic sectors’ participation, or lack of it, in the Lingap Para sa Mahihirap Program. This program has been allotted a budget of 2.5 billion pesos for the current year to be used for funding programs geared towards satisfying the minimum basic needs of poor and disadvantaged Filipinos. The basic sectors have had reservations about the program since its launching. One reason for these reservations is the fact that the basic sectors were never part of the conceptualization of the program. By the time the basic sectors had organized themselves and were inside the NAPC, the program was already in place. Consequently, their participation was limited to the validation and monitoring processes. Unfortunately, the basic sectors are the first to admit that they do not have the technical capabilities to perform these tasks. And so, amid criticisms of the program, the basic sectors are reluctant to defend the program because they were not part of its formulation.35 But even as the basic sectors continue to be critical of the program, they also see it as a mechanism by which they can get budgetary support for their action agenda. Because of this, the Lingap Para sa Mahihirap Program poses a dilemma for the basic sectors. While reservations about the program remain, the basic sectors are lobbying for the reinstatement of the program in the Year 2000 budget. One condition that they are insisting on, however, is for the basic sectors to be given a more extensive role in defining the substance of the program.36
A third area of concern for the basic sectors is the partnership between them and the government lead agencies. While this system of matching the basic sectors with their respective government lead agencies facilitates working relations between the two sectors, the unfortunate thing is that the process has been a tedious one of bargaining between government and the basic sectors. Agencies and departments such as the DBM, NEDA, DOF, and PCFC have been reluctant to serve as a lead agency primarily because they are oversight and coordinative institutions and not implementing agencies.37 For instance, the women’s sector, which is matched with the DBM, has had difficulty coming to terms with its lead agency due to reluctance on the part of the latter to serve as a partner of a basic sector. In addition, each lead agency is tasked to assist its basic sector partner in setting up an operation base within the premises of the lead agency.38 Due to these difficulties, questions have arisen regarding government’s sincerity and its commitment to the poor and marginalized sectors of society. Once again, there have been setbacks regarding this matter.
On the whole, the basic sectors are cognizant of opportunities that the NAPC presents them. However, at present, the basic sectors are not clear where the NAPC policies and directives are coming from. The entire process has been confusing for them because they have found it difficult to pinpoint accountability and responsibility. In addition, the basic sectors lament the reality that the NAPC Secretariat has been unable to provide the necessary technical support for the basic sectors. This is the reason why the basic sectors are pushing for the strengthening of the Secretariat. The basic sectors have also expressed frustration with the absence of interactive activities between them and the government sector. All these problems led Commissioner Nemenzo to comment that the basic sectors sense that the government is not taking them and the anti-poverty movement seriously. This main concern now is to ensure that the basic sectors get the attention of President Estrada.39 For someone who ran and won on the slogan “Erap Para sa Mahihirap”, the perception of most people is that he is not living up to expectations. The basic sectors are taking it upon themselves to hold the government accountable for all its electoral promises.
C. Government-Basic Sector Relations in the SRC and NAPC
At times, the working relations between the government and basic sectors was smooth but, as in the case of the SRC, such relations often became strained because of a lack of consensus and other disagreements between the two parties. In the SRC, one of the sources of tension between the government and basic sectors had to do with the perceived priority accorded to certain SRA programs. While government pursued the MBN approach, the basic sectors wanted to redirect the emphasis towards asset reform. According to Ms. Quintos-Deles, the basic sectors were not against the MBN approach per se as they also recognized its utility, particularly as an instrument for pushing local anti-poverty initiatives. What they resisted was the priority accorded to the MBN, as a result of which it was being treated as if it were the sole commitment under the SRA. Moreover, the problem with the MBN approach is that it is too welfare-oriented. What the basic sectors are arguing is that the MBN is not the SRA.40
Another source of tension was the perceived meddling of government in the affairs of the basic sectors. This was evident in the selection of basic sector representatives to the NAPC. While the original IRR stipulated that the basic sectors are responsible for electing their respective representatives to the NAPC, a directive from President Estrada allowed direct nominations. This meant that someone who does not have the support of the basic sectors can become a commissioner, and in fact, several did become commissioners through direct nominations. This led to some to question the representativeness and legitimacy of the NAPC. Due to this and other problems, there are reports that some basic sectors no longer have a quorum due to the resignation of some of their members. This has crippled the work of some basic sectors within the NAPC.

The transition from the SRC to the NAPC also proved to be tension-filled. From a rational point of view, the most logical thing to do would have been to build on the achievements of the SRC and to fill in the gaps resulting from the body’s shortcomings. However, given the personalistic attitude that Filipinos have towards politics, it was to be expected that when the new administration assumed office, the programs of the old administration would face any of the following fate — renaming, overhauling, or complete abolition. The SRC was not immune to this. Part of the reason why the SRC was abolished was because R.A. 8425 called for the fusion of the SRC, PCFP, and PCCD into a new body to be called the NAPC. But beyond the restructuring that was called for by law, the transition also resulted in what may be called as a “changing of the guards”. One of the main NGO coalitions that played a major role in the SRA — the NPC — was “eased out” of the NAPC. While there are still some NPC members who are sitting in the NAPC basic sector councils, the organization as a whole is no longer involved in the current administration’s anti-poverty programs. Furthermore, there is a sense within the NPC that there is no opening available to them in order to influence the Lingap Program and thus, the NAPC is no longer a meaningful venue for trying to do policy advocacy work. Be that as it may, they continue to make use of other venues such as Congress, the local government units (LGUs), the media, and the streets in order to pursue their anti-poverty agenda. And they are still involved in some interface work with the government as some members of NPC participated in the making of the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) for 1998-2004. But with respect to the NAPC per se, the NPC feels that it is a waste of time to try and penetrate the NAPC which is now perceived as being controlled by groups close to the incumbent.41 In a statement by the NPC, it criticized the process by which the NAPC was convened under the Estrada administration:

... [T]he formation of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) was long delayed, with the process overcome with heavy political maneuverings, as evidenced by three versions of its implementing rules and regulations. It was convened as a body only in late April, a full ten months into the administration's term. Many of the basic sector representatives who sit in the NAPC have been hand-picked by the Office of the President in violation of the processes upholding the principles of constituency, transparency, and principled engagement which legitimate NGOs and POs had sought to uphold.42
Differences between the basic sectors and government, which are sometimes viewed as inherent in the relationship and therefore difficult to ignore and do away with, have led to various challenges. These include the following:

  1. Reluctance on the part of some government officials to treat civil society actors as equals and partners in development as reflected in part in the difficulty of establishing equal partnerships between lead agencies and the basic sectors assigned to them;43

  2. The lack of technical capabilities, skills, and resources of the basic sectors (e.g., research skills, comprehension of the more technical aspects of policy-making, familiarity with the workings of government, and human and financial resources);

  3. The weak state of networking and constituency-building within some basic sectors and the divisions between organizations within a particular sector, which has further led to the perception that the NAPC is an exclusive agency that is open only to the participation of groups that supported the present administration during the 1998 national elections;

  4. The perception that the government is not taking the basic sectors seriously;44 and

  5. The difficulty faced by the basic sectors in coming up with their own sectoral poverty alleviation agenda and pushing government to incorporate such agenda into national anti-poverty programs and policies.

On a more positive note, when there are no tensions between the government and basic sectors and the working relations are relatively smooth, they are able to come up with substantial achievements. For example, the documents that were produced during the People Empowerment Caucus of 17 June 1994 can, according to Ms. Quintos-Deles, be said to be co-owned by government and civil society. This implies that both sectors were able to agree on a common stand on the issue and consolidate their views into a single document that was acceptable to all stakeholders.45 The SRA itself was the product of a multisectoral approach and a decision-making process that involved both government and non-government actors working together. Even the implementation phase of the SRA saw the collaboration between the basic sectors and their respective flagship champions.46 Other gains of collaborative efforts between government and civil society include the exchange of information and viewpoints, making each party more familiar with the workings of the other and thereby allowing them to better adjust to their partners, and making the policy process more participatory, albeit procedurally and not necessarily substantively. As regards the NAPC, it is still too early to tell whether government-basic sector partnership will result in the reduction of absolute and relative poverty. At this point, suffice it to say that if the problems that the NAPC are currently facing are not resolved soon, realizing its objectives by the end of the Estrada administration will be short of impossible.

As regards assessing the impact of basic sector participation on the reduction of poverty incidence, this is a methodologically complex undertaking. First, it is difficult to distinguish between the impact of basic sector activities and that of government. This arises from the fact that within NAPC, government and the basic sectors are supposed to be working in tandem and not on their own. Second, even while the basic sectors may find their agenda reflected in the program agenda implemented by their lead agencies, one cannot give sole credit to the basic sectors (or to the government as the case may be) for the benefits resulting from those programs. And third, the lag between the time a policy is proposed to the time it is actually implemented and until the time that outcomes become visible and measurable must be considered. The fight against poverty is a long-term one. Thus, even if there is a reduction in poverty incidence from one year to another (e.g., between 1998 to 1999), it is difficult to claim that this reduction can be attributed directly to the efforts of the government during the previous year. It may have been because of programs that were put in place earlier than that (e.g., programs that were implemented under a different administration). In the final analysis, should an administration succeed in achieving its articulated goals, then one should credit this not so much to the government or the basic sectors per se but to the concerted efforts of government and civil society in general and also to the policy initiatives that were put in place by its predecessors.

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