Poverty Revisited

In This Our Journey

NESTOR MANIEBO PESTELOS

Reality, says Pope Francis, is better than mere ideas. He used this idea to justify why he junked his written notes to just speak from the heart, as he put it, in one of his memorable homilies while in the country two weeks ago. Now that the euphoria of Pope Francis’ visit to the country is about to fade, although his dominant presence remains memorable by labels heaped on him, such as the Rockstar Pope, Cool Pope or People’s Pope, it is best to put some of his ideas in local context. Hence, let us try to revisit the reality of poverty here in Bohol in response to the ideas of the good Pope.

Preaching to the multitude about the need to walk, eat, work and live with the poor will tug the heart’s strings, but the reality is that such admonitions, which the poor and rich alike have been hearing from time immemorial, will amount to nothing if not coupled with a cohesive, multi-level response. Poverty is a complex social phenomenon and it requires, as development planners know, relevant policies, comprehensive and effective plans and programs, as well as self-transformation on the part of both the haves and have-nots, the elites and the downtrodden.

In brief, the war against poverty needs the equivalent of a Bible as guide and a resolute army of combatants with the correct strategy to execute. Otherwise, we will just go around in circles and end up as all victims and penitents in a holy war of attrition and despair. It is to the credit of the government, civil society and the people of the province that at the start of the decade, while we felt humbled by being ranked as among the country’s poorest 20 provinces, Bohol has registered eventually significant gains in this series of spirited campaigns against high levels of deprivation at all fronts to merit abolition of its poverty reduction management office. Subsequently, the Provincial Government of Boholannounced victory over armed insurgency, rooted no doubt in poverty and social inequality, at the beginning of a new decade.

Instead of indulging in self-praises and complacency, it is time to retrace our steps and make sure we are still on the right track in addressing the scourge of poverty considered as the main source of sufferings for millions of people on the planet and breeds other social ills which prevent the full flowering of civilization and God’s kingdom on earth. It is time to heed the Pope’s words and combat resolutely what he termed as “scandalous inequality” in our midst.

In our province, as in other provinces, geographic remoteness is a cause of inequality. As early as 2000, our planners at provincial and municipal/city levels were guided, or supposed to be guided, by the findings of a study cited in the 2003-2015 Bohol Framework on Poverty Reduction, used as guide by all participating agencies and entities, which described the “poverty landscapes” of the province.

As indicated in scooping studies previously undertaken with AusAid assistance, the highest incidence of poverty is found: a) in the many small islands and coastal areas located mostly around the northern half of Bohol; and b) in the upland and watershed communities in the interior part of the province.

The small island-coastal zone: Based on the area-focused scooping studies conducted in 2001 under AusAid assistance, this “poverty landscape” has the following features:

  • all 59 small islands have a population of 61,613, while the 294 coastal barangays have 370,710 people or a total population of 432,323 or 38% of total Bohol population (1,137,268);
  • 30 of these small islands and islets are in northwestern Bohol belonging to 59 barangays;
  • the occupants of these islands are primarily fisherfolks whose resource base lies mostly in the country’s only double reef area, in the Danajon bank area, considered as a seriously degraded marine resource;
  • large families, more than the national and provincial average;
  • the people in this small-island coastal zone have limited access to health services and medicines;
  • the schools have inadequate basic facilities and observed to be overcrowded;
  • fresh water is scarce, with rainwater as source for washing, and drinking water is supplied by mainland or larger islands;
  • very thin topsoil, if it is present at all, often affected by salt intrusion and suited mainly for growing coconut;
  • most of these islands have mangrove forests, some of which are man-made; and
  • there are fewer livelihood options in this area.

Upland communities: The upland communities have approximately a population of 176,657, representing 16% of total population. Small-scale farming units abound with low productivity in the uplands. These communities have poor access to health services and medicines, but have relatively better access to schools compared to small islands. Due to the condition of feeder roads, motorbikes for hire are the principal means of transport. There is still remaining good forest cover in most of the uplands. The northern uplands have more natural sources of water than those in the south.

Watershed Communities: Bohol has three major watersheds (Loboc, Wahig-Inabanga and Abatan) composed of 112 barangays with a population of 107,766, representing 9% of the total population. These geographic areas are also characterized by high poverty incidence. Since they cross political boundaries, watersheds present unique administrative, bio-physical and social complexities.

Specific Poverty Groups

The Provincial Government has also identified the following as specific poverty groups and, hence, they require priority attention in terms of supportive policies and project interventions:

Farm/non-farm laborers:Their task environment is characterized by labor seasonality. They are paid low wages on account of abundant labor supply vis-à-vis demand, and their low level of skills. They are exposed to hazards, e.g. stone-crushing. This target group has limited options for non-agricultural employment.

Tenant and/or part-time farmers: They have small farm size. Their farm productivity is low due to limited and poor quality irrigation, low value crops, poor soil, and inadequate technical inputs. They pay high interest rates for loans from informal sources. Being tenants, they have no incentives nor motivation to improve their assets. They incur high production costs. This target group is highly vulnerable to weather changes.

Marginal and/or part-time fishers: They experience declining fish catch due to degraded marine habitats, intrusion of commercial fishing, destructive methods and overfishing. Municipal waters have not been delineated to indicate their resource base. They have inadequate skills for basic livelihood and limited options for non-fishing employment especially for those in small islands. Poor enforcement of local fishing ordinances affects their livelihood.

Disadvantaged groups (unemployed, scavengers, single mothers, children and the elderly, disabled and sick members of poor households, out-of-school youth):They have few opportunities resulting from limited skills, low education attainment, and difficult access to capital. Their poor health put them at a grave disadvantage vis-à-vis other population groups.

The year 2015 ends the pursuit of the 15-year development agenda mandated by the UN to reduce by half poverty incidence globally. Now is indeed the time to revisit poverty in the province and ask the question whether or not the configuration of poverty landscapes and the characteristics of target poverty groups have changed for the better, whether or not the Government and its development have reached remote communities and the disadvantaged families and groups with adequate information and services to lift them out of severe deprivation and despair.

Guided by aspirations articulated by Pope Francis to address poverty, let us proceed to look back andsee how we can formulate a new cohesive response to end inequality in this our province.

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