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Finance & Innovation

Inside the Philippines’ plan to pull 10 million people out of poverty

Kai Lehmann

The Philippines incoming president, Rodrigo Duterte, is trying to end poverty for up to 10 million people during his term — or 35 percent of the country’s poor.

It’s an ambitious goal for a country with a lackluster history of fighting poverty. Compared to its neighbors, the country has lagged on this front. Its neighbor to the North, China, has lifted 800 million people out of poverty since 1978, basically setting the all-time record.

Poor Filipinos have not benefited from similarly aggressive government action. Extreme poverty still afflicts 18.4 million Filipinos, and others are affected by milder versions.

A weak education system, poor infrastructure, weak jobs programs, inconsistent healthcare, corruption and other factors have all contributed to this.

Duterte says that his poverty-alleviation program will be focused in rural areas, where families have generally languished without assistance.

In the first year, the administration wants to spend $21.5 billion —a third of the country’s budget — on small to mid-range infrastructure projects like roads and schools that can be quickly built and put to use.

The schools will help to close generational cycles of poverty. Most poor families in the country are headed by people without even an elementary school education.

Numerous studies show that education greatly improves a child’s potential in life. This is especially true for girls who are most likely to be pulled from school at an early age.

Roads will allow farmers to better access markets where they can sell their goods and earn an income.

The government will also try to expand reproductive health measures to reduce the average family size, freeing up household budgets and giving women greater independence.

Duterte is fortunate that the outgoing government was able to foster strong growth in urban areas, leading to an annual economic growth rate of 6.2% over the past 6 years.

His government wants to build on these accomplishments by better spreading the prosperity.

Right now, this is all just rhetoric. Duterte has already been criticized for his bluster and who knows if these plans will be fully and equitably carried out.

A lot has to go right for millions to be alleviated of poverty. But any ambitious policy has to start somewhere.