On paper and in public speeches, the poor always get top priority in the Philippines.
But long after their votes have been cast and counted, politicians have shaken their hands, and cameras no longer click away, the poor return to the lowest rung of the social ladder, forgotten by mainstream society. Once in a while, they are remembered when natural disasters strike, a dumpsite collapses, or freak accidents occur and snatch them by the numbers and a top official pays a surprise visit to their dead.
In the province of Davao del Norte, the poor have been given a face as well as a voice to air their unmet needs. The provincial government adopted the Minimum Basic Needs (MBN) approach to strategically eradicate poverty.
“The MBN is our pro-poor development blueprint, and it does not just pay lip service,” says Governor Rodolfo del Rosario, who launched the program.
The program uses a survey methodology to identify what constituents see as their most basic needs to lead a quality life. Once these are listed and ranked, the provincial government implements policies and programs, which focus on meeting the priority needs. Surveys are conducted face to face, questionnaires are simple to answer, and results are validated.
Considering that Davao del Norte is not a small place, conducting surveys poses various challenges. As of 2001, the poll has already covered 48 barangays. Not surprisingly, the list was long. The 2001 survey revealed that the top ten unmet needs were related to poor income. Many families earn below the threshold level of P36,000 a year.
Other problems identified were: unemployment, lack of education, lack of access to potable water, absence of a compost pit, low number of livestock being raised, inability of children to get pre-school education in day care centers, having households without backyards, lack of toilets, and inability of couples to practice family planning.
Armed with this information, the provincial government hit the ground running and crafted policies that will fulfill these needs. Apart from providing livelihood projects to raise household incomes, barangays were required to make sure the program would be sustained. An Administrative Order created the Provincial Technical Working Group that was given its own coordinator and budget.
The provincial government also urged municipalities to help each other and share resources. It adopted the “big brother-small brother” approach, which enabled big municipalities to help smaller ones in meeting the basic needs of residents.
The provincial government laid down strict standards to ensure the success of the MBN program. For one, it does not release funds to a barangay or municipality until an accomplishment report has been made and validated. Governor del Rosario says he does not hold any illusions nor raise his constituents’ expectations that all their needs will be met during his term.
“Once we have met all the needs on the top ten list, we will conduct another survey to find out which ones are still unmet. We will not stop doing so until we have totally eradicated poverty,” he vows.