Terminate 4Ps? But what’s the alternative?
Resurgent contributor Fermin Adriano takes a second look at the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program amid increasing calls for its abolition.
 
A recent media report revealed that the Commission on Audit (COA) is set to conduct an audit review of the “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” (better known as “4Ps”) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to determine whether its implementation was attended by corruption.   Many of the program’s detractors had already made that conclusion about the program despite little knowledge of it and further add the argument that it promotes a “dole out” mentality among poor Filipinos.  Thus, their ready solution is to terminate 4Ps.  
 
But before doing so, it would be best to pause and understand what 4Ps is, what it is trying to do, and what it really accomplished.
   
What is 4Ps?
 
4Ps is the flagship social protection cum poverty alleviation measure of the previous government which thankfully is continued by the current administration. Patterned after the conditional cash transfers (CCTs) developed and implemented in countries like Brazil, Mexico and Turkey , the program provides cash grants to the extremely poor and most vulnerable households on the condition that they keep their children of ages 0 to 18 years healthy and attend school regularly while pregnant women avail of maternal health services.
 
Provision of the cash grants to eligible beneficiaries is contingent on children being enrolled in school and maintaining an attendance of at least 85 percent of class days every month.  Additionally, children aged 5 and below must get regular preventive health checkups and vaccines while those aged 6 to 14 must receive deworming pills twice a year.  Pregnant women beneficiaries must avail themselves of pre- and postnatal care, while parents are required to attend family development sessions, which include topics on responsible parenting, health and nutrition. 
 
Beneficiaries of the program were selected applying a two-stage process. First, through a geographic targeting that identifies the poorest municipalities on the basis of the poverty incidence that applied the official provincial poverty threshold.  And second, through the proxy means test (PMT) method. The PMT predicts household income using observable and verifiable variables that are highly correlated with income. Eligible beneficiaries are indigent households with children of schooling age (0-18 years) and pregnant mothers.   The information management system that identifies who and where the poor are nationwide is referred to as the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR, or Listahanan). 
 
Objectives of 4Ps
 
4Ps plays three key roles in the government’s development agenda: First, the conditionalities attached to the cash grants enable the poor and vulnerable households to build and invest on the human capital resources of their children and the youth.  This is intended to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty at household and national levels.  Inter-generational transmission of poverty is experienced by the poorest of the poor because they have no means to send their children to school to get proper education to improve their skills and find better employment opportunities. There are around 20 million Filipinos belonging to this category.   
 
Second, providing the 4Ps beneficiaries with stable and reliable financial support secures a safety net for the poor, preventing them from sliding further to a more impoverished state.  This accounts for the hefty reduction of poverty incidence from the period from around 25 percent in 2012 down to 21 percent in 2015 in the previous administration.  That is around a million Filipinos out of extreme poverty!   
 
And third, 4Ps has also been instrumental in helping the country fulfill its commitments under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of eradicating poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health care.
 
Coverage
 
There are about 5 million households or more than 15 million beneficiaries of 4Ps.   They are scattered in more than 41,000 barangays in around 144 cities and 1,500 municipalities in 80 provinces and 16 regions of the country.   In 2016, the program had been allocated a budget of around P62 billion.  Undeniably, no government poverty alleviation program, past and present, has reached this implementation scope and magnitude.  
How corruption can happen
 
There are four ways by which corruption can occur in the implementation of 4Ps.  One is through inclusion of ineligible beneficiaries to the list of beneficiaries particularly by local politicians who want to reward their supporters.  Two is by fiddling with the compliance verification system (CVS) to show that beneficiaries are complying with the conditionalities of the program when in fact they are not.  For this to successfully happen, there is usually collusion that occurs between beneficiaries and the parent-leaders/municipal link officers/teachers.   Three is by substituting another individual as beneficiary during the payout perpetrated in connivance with local officials. And four is by local officials demanding a cut from cash payouts of the beneficiaries.  
 
The first was addressed by a more rigorous targeting system through the “Listahanan”.  The second was through continual monitoring and spot-checking of on-the-ground implementation by a team from DSWD national.  The third was remedied through the introduction and use of biometric technology wherein actual photos and fingerprints of beneficiaries are stored and used as a verification tool when payouts are made.  And the fourth was the administration of actual  payouts by DSWD or its agents and the use of automatic teller machine (ATM).  
 
Evaluation Results
 
4Ps had undergone two waves of large-scale evaluation assessments and a number of targeted evaluation studies, using sophisticated econometric and statistical techniques, conducted by economists and professors at the UP School of Economics, Philippine Institute of Development Studies, and by highly reputable independent consultants.  These evaluation studies yielded the following conclusions:  
 
(i) increased enrolment among poor young children of ages 3-11 years old with a high 98 percent enrolment for primary-aged kids (6-11 years old); 
(ii) increased attendance among 6-17 years old but no impact on enrolment of these older kids;
(iii) improved nutritional status of poor babies (6-36 months) showing a 10 percent reduction in severe stunting; 
(iv) increased use of maternal and child health services by pregnant and lactating women; 
(v) enhanced investments to meet health and education needs of poor children; 
(vi) reduced expenditures on vices like alcohol consumption; 
(vii) spurred growth of the local economy due to cash grants leading to increased demand for basic local goods and services by the poor beneficiaries; and 
(viii) (viii) reduced poverty incidence. 
 
4Ps versus other poverty reduction programs
 
No anti-poverty programs in the past such as the agrarian reform program, Lingap sa Mahirap, rice subsidy program through the NFA, free irrigation, coconut re-planting, subsidized farm credit, etc. had achieved the same success as that of 4Ps.   Most of these previous anti-poverty programs failed because of absence of a robust beneficiary targeting system (they benefited not the poorest of the poor but the relatively well-off farmers), too much leeway for local politicians to determine who should be assisted, weak monitoring and evaluation system that should have provided relevant and timely feedback to management, and poor implementation capacity of assigned agency.
 
What is the alternative?
 
But supposed 4Ps is terminated, what will be the replacement program?  Ostensibly, it will be political suicide to suddenly abandon nearly 5 million poor households or more than 15 million poor individuals who are currently benefiting from the program.  Experiences of other countries that similarly implemented CCTs  (i.e., 4Ps in the Philippines) and had a regime change show that their leaders merely re-branded or repackaged the program to enhance its ownership by the new political administration.  In the absence of a viable alternative, perhaps this is the most pragmatic way to proceed given the proven accomplishments of 4Ps.  
 
(Fermin D. Adriano, Ph.D. serves as Professorial Lecturer at UP Los Banos’ College of Public Administration, teaching development studies at its PhD course program.)