No one left behind

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on April 25, 2011

A decade has come and gone since world leaders vowed to end extreme poverty by 2015 at the Millennium Summit. Leaders adopted an eight-point program—Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—meant to alleviate poverty, improve health and education, and empower women. Much progress has been made. But a staggering number of Filipinos have yet to feel the effects of this ambitious program, and their numbers may be increasing.

In a recent Social Weather Stations survey 36% of respondents said their lives had worsened in the last 12 months. Social Watch Philippines says those left behind are mostly in rural areas, are female and jobless, or underemployed. They are perennially hungry, vulnerable and are likely to live in strife-torn areas of Mindanao. By faith they are most frequently Muslim. Many belong to indigenous peoples’ groups that have long been un-empowered and unable to lift themselves up from poverty.

Their representatives recently urged lawmakers to accelerate MDG progress in a forum entitled “Engaging Legislators in Breaking through to MDG Achievement: The Final 5 Years.” The forum was organized by the MDG Achievement Fund (MDG-F) and the House of Representatives Special Committee on MDGs. Its objective was to attempt to accomplish in five years, what hasn’t happened in 10.

“This is the challenge of leadership for legislators—what can we do to reduce extreme poverty,” Deputy House Speaker Jesus Crispin Remulla said, addressing the sectoral representatives. “We are open to what you wish to tell us,” he said, while noting that just 16 legislators—less than six percent of the 285 members of the House of Representatives—attended the forum.

Layla Saad, MDG-F Secretariat program officer, said “Political will is one of the factors that contribute to the achievement of the MDGs” and alleviate economic exclusion. Last year, MDG-F identified instances of exclusion in a series of talks with nine “left-behind” sectors.

“Despite aggregate economic growth the past ten years, these sectors have persisted, even multiplying in numbers. Clearly, they have been left behind on the track to development,” Dr. Jacqueline Badcock, United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator to the Philippines, said.

Women are at risk. The FGD results showed that women are among the most vulnerable. In developing countries like the Philippines, women comprise the majority of informal workers that struggle because of a lack of capital, insufficient income, and absence of alternative or sustainable sources of livelihood.

Youth education and employment. A growing number of Filipinos between the ages of 15 and 24 quit school to work and help support their parents and young siblings. One 17-year-old told MDG-F researchers, “For me the most important thing is to have a stable, permanent job so I can save my family from poverty.” A young, 18-year-old woman said, “Because times are so hard, everything is so expensive and there are so many things to pay for, it is more important for us to work (than go to school).”

Small-scale, resource-dependent workers. The Philippines’ resource-dependent economy is significantly affected by natural disasters and climate extremes. Two of the largest sectors in the country, agriculture and fishery, are among the poorest. Small-scale fisherfolk like Virgilo Bonahos of Zamboanga del Norte are struggling. He has three children and no steady source of livelihood.

“Fishermen are becoming poorer and poorer,” he said, with pirates and illegal fishing threatening their survival. Adapting to the impact of climate change is also a daunting challenge. “These days, the tides are extremely high or low. The water is either too hot or too cold.” Because of these challenges, Bonahos hopes to learn to make a living through other means, such as aquaculture or farming.

Displaced Moro people. Noraida Abdullah Karim of Community and Family Services International called for an “enabling policy environment” that will address the needs of internally displaced persons particularly in Mindanao. Displaced Moro people are extremely vulnerable because they lack capital to fund livelihood efforts and are denied access to quality education and health services. They face the persistent threat of armed conflict.

“Many of us who were relocated and resettled in other areas are deprived of basic social services,” Karim said. Persistent armed conflict and sluggish economic development make the chances of achieving the MDGs in deeply rural Mindanao almost nonexistent.

No one left behind. Nevertheless, “with five years remaining, we will shift our focus to strategies that will allow us to break through and accelerate the pace of MDG achievement,” Dr. Badcock vowed. She called on Congress to take steps to meaningfully combat poverty, leaving no Filipino behind. “Beyond the numbers we ask you instead to see the faces and hear the voices of those who were excluded,” Dr. Badcock said.

Why? Because no country can truly prosper when it fails to provide access to opportunity.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)


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