The ongoing pandemic has manifested its polarizing effects on Filipinos’ socioeconomic standing, as it pushed more than 4 million individuals deeper into poverty, while lifting some 800,000 out of economic hardships.
According to recent Philippine Statistics Authority reports on official poverty statistics and causes of death, 4,300,000 Filipinos, or about 861,300 families, sank below the poverty threshold in regions which saw over 90% of COVID-19-related deaths as of September 2021.
On the other hand, five regions which were least affected by the contagion, or those with 8.1% of deaths in 2021, saw 809,500 Filipinos, or some 161,900 families, improve their living conditions, according to the same report.
Bulk of families elevated from poverty live in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), as provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan raised 121,000 out of economic strain. However, poverty rose for 28,300 families in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
In Lanao del Sur, poverty reduction was at 57%: from 68% of families, to 11%, which vastly improved the quality of living for more than 500,000 Filipinos there from 2018 to 2021. The province transitioned from having the highest number of poor families three years ago, to the ninth with the least number.
“The rate of poverty reduction is nothing short of spectacular in Lanao del Sur, as this occurred during a combined national health and economic crisis,” Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) Executive Director Juan A. Perez III commented. “The fact that the province is in a region least affected by COVID-19 contributed greatly to the outcome.” Undersecretary Perez also noted that the poverty threshold in BARMM increased by only P527.00 in the last three years starting in 2018, compared with the national average at P1,860.00.
According to him, the figures indicate that “the said region’s economy was least affected by the economic downturn which occurred in COVID-19-affected regions, as it had the least improvement in the last three years.”
The POPCOM chief also noted that Sulu now holds the record for having the largest percentage of families at 71.9%, or 111,200, living below the poverty threshold. However, in terms of absolute numbers, the province of Cebu has the most number of poor families at 276,900; followed by Negros Occidental (166,000); Camarines Sur (152,300); Pangasinan (138,600); Bulacan (132,000); and Zamboanga del Norte (131,200).
Meanwhile, regional economies with the most number of pandemic-plagued areas also showed increases in their poverty threshold—well above their poverty levels in 2018—and exhibited the collateral effects of the pandemic. Those which reflected increases in poverty threshold above their 2018 poverty levels, as well as their COVID-19-related deaths from January to September 2021, are as follows: Central Luzon (+ P3,250; 9,001 deaths), Ilocos: (+ P2,633; 1,891 deaths), National Capital Region: (+ P2,523; 14,218 deaths), Central Visayas: (+ P2,450; 1,622 deaths), Cagayan Valley (+ P2,044; 1,824 deaths), CALABARZON: (+ P1,935; 10,386 deaths), and Bicol: (+ P1,898; 1,141 deaths).
“Families in Central Luzon were most affected by the increase in the poverty threshold, with an additional 190,900 or 46%, who became poorer in the last three years,” Usec. Perez added. “The increase of poverty was also felt in Central Visayas, as 173,500 families languished below the poverty threshold in three years.”
As he commended the local government units of BARMM and Lanao del Sur for liberating their families from the clutches of economic hardships, Perez believes that both regions may hold the key on how others can devise ways in dealing with the compounded economic and health crises through further studies.
“Prospects for the reduction of poverty in the next few years hinge on our actions in containing COVID-19 in the most affected regions,” he concluded.