EDITORIAL: Bicol, the Poor
IF the poverty incidence estimates released in the first quarter of 2012 by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NCSB) would be the basis, anyone could say that nothing much happened in the Bicol Region when it comes to easing the plight of the poor despite the record boom in tourism and ongoing anti-poverty programs by the national government.
NCSB estimates that Bicol, along with Cordillera Administrative Region, Eastern Visayas, and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, remains one of the poorest regions in the country, with several towns in Camarines Sur and Albay having alarming poverty incidence rates.
In Camarines Sur, the towns of Garchitorena, Siruma, Caramoan, Del Gallego, Tinambac, and Balatan all have poverty incidence rates of 50 percent and above.
In fact, Garchitorena tops the list of the poorest towns in the region with 59 percent- poverty incidence. It means six in every 10 families in the coastal municipality are living below the poverty line. It means majority of the families in fourth district town are living on less than P231 a day, the minimum income that can sustain a family of five in the country daily.
In Albay, the mining town of Rapu-Rapu has the highest poverty incidence rate at 58.6, followed by landlocked Jovellar at 52.7, and the seaport town of Pio Duran at 51.3.
Surprisingly, only one town in Masbate—San Pascual in Burias Island– has over 50 percent-poverty incidence despite the longtime identity of the island province as the “millstone” of Bicol due to high poverty incidence rate and perceived political violence.
Masbate City, in fact, has a poverty incidence of only 28.9, lower than that of Legazpi City, which also has a relatively low poverty incidence at 30.7 percent.
Masbate, however, still needs some fixing, with the towns of Claveria, Esperanza, Cawayan, Milagros, Palanas, and Placer having more than 40 percent-poverty incidence rates. It is worth noticing that the town of Aroroy still has 45.5-poverty incidence rate. Aroroy sits on top of the largest gold mine in the country.
Sorsogon also fares better. Sorsogon City has a poverty incidence rate of only 27.6. But the plight of Donsol town mars the state of the province. Despite the tourism boom brought by the presence of whale sharks in its waters, Donsol languishes on a poverty incidence rate of 47.3.
The capital towns of Daet in Camarines Norte and Virac in Catanduanes have poverty incidence rates of 21 and 22.7, respectively, the lowest rates in the region. But Capalonga town pulls Camarines Norte with poverty incidence of 48.2 percent. Caramoran, Catanduanes balances the bright spot that is Virac with a 49.7 percent-poverty incidence.
Despite the gains of Sorsogon, Catanduanes, and Camarines Norte in poverty reduction, that Bicol remains poor glares, and this truth is worsened by the fact that the poverty threshold used by the NCSB is higher than that used by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
As a result, the extent of poverty in the region broadens when it is the turn of the DSWD to define and classify who is poor and who is not.
To be fair, provincial governments have scrambled to allay the direct and indirect effects of poverty in the region.
The provincial government of Camarines Sur, for instance, has implemented nutritional and educational programs, some of which have been named even after Gov. Luis Raymund Villafuerte and his son Miguel.
In Camarines Norte, multi-services caravans that bring the services of the capitol to far-flung villages are done regularly.
In Albay, several ongoing projects, including the establishment of Bicol International Airport, are expected to create jobs that could raise incomes of families not just in the province but in the region as a whole.
But immediate and direct solutions to combat poverty are scarce in the level of local governments in Bicol.
Worse, even the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the Aquino administration, which is meant to temporarily alleviate poverty by offering cash assistance to the poor on the condition that they would avail of the basic services of the government, is not serving its purpose in the region, with reports of fraudulent lists of beneficiaries and of beneficiaries falling victim to loan sharks in the end.
Certainly, the task of lifting Bicol from the pits of poverty, so to speak, takes time and is a shared responsibility. Nobody monopolizes the iniquity of commission and omission in governance. At some point, even the poor people who do nothing to ease their situations share the guilt.
But the guilt becomes pronounced when leaders choose to divide a province and create fiefdoms over creation of jobs, when leaders prefer bickering over putting food on the table of the hungry, when leaders can air silly infomercials but cannot spend time to know the concerns of the farmers and the fishers, when leaders can stage beauty contests and grandiose festivals but not town hall meetings and barangay sorties.
And the guilt becomes more pronounced when the people choose to empower these leaders every election and drown themselves deeper into poverty.