The recent discussions on this matter have reminded me of how heartwarming it is to see people fighting for a common cause, to digest what they read piece by piece, and seeing how this all fits in the current government agenda–the implications, repercussions, and so on and so forth. In fact, I personally get disappointed in myself for being “too busy” with my own personal conundrums that I fail to involve myself in public discourse in so many occasions. It really IS high time we exercise our capacity to think critically for ourselves and for others.

However, as readers (and I am calling out particularly to those who had the privilege of education), it is equally important that we also exercise our due responsibility to think outside the confines of what we decide to digest. As people who have endured the painstaking ordeal of conducting research in whatever capacity (be it in school, work, or the in-between), we have due responsibility to not just limit ourselves to what is already being shown. I’d like to believe that we can think and decide for ourselves in matters of high importance–that we can do better than just follow through with the prevailing mindset, especially when other perspectives or contexts exist whose exclusion from the discussion can hinder a better understanding of the matter at hand.

This morning, the GMA Network published a video and news article citing the National Economic and Development Authority (or NEDA) as saying that a monthly budget of PhP10k will suffice for a family of five to live decently. This was reported to have been said in the press briefing on the May 2018 inflation rate that happened this Tuesday.

Today, I am reminded of the importance of public discourse. I applaud those who were bothered and taken aback by the news and also those who have shown criticism towards the statements. This shows logic and empathy, among others. I am also reminded however of how much passion people have to give away—too much in fact that in some occasions we tend to act on impulse, denigrate, and throw harsh, unwarranted derogatory statements in the process.

The same article shows the breakdown of this budget. It gives due attention specifically to the allocation of PhP 3,834 as being deemed enough for food and non-alcoholic beverages. It also quotes Usec. Edillion as saying that the budget does not make one poor. She mentioned in verbatim, “Siguro fifth level ka na nun. Hindi ka poor. Kasi ang poor, mababa ang poverty line.” In layman’s terms, what she is possibly trying to say is that the budget does not make one necessarily poor (or technically speaking, falling below the poverty line), but rather possibly just part of the 5th decile. This means somewhere in the middle if we are to group the surveyed families in ten equal groups based on per capita income. The richest decile would represent the families belonging to the highest ten percent in terms of per capita income, while the poorest decile would represent the families in the lowest ten percent.

Like many others, I find the statement and budget absurd. It does not take rocket science just to share in with the sentiment that the budget is clearly not enough. However, I also find the article suspicious. For what is supposed to be a commentary on the issue, I expected a lengthy discussion on the specific source/study behind the figures, the background/context of the statement released by the undersecretary, as well as the assumptions found therein, among others. Clearly, a 4-sentence article accompanied by a video that shows how a family can divide the food budget is far from being capable of giving a good overview and analysis.

As I read the news this morning, I found the figures odd (even shared these with a couple of others who approached me for my comment on the issue as they waited for NEDA’s statement) as they were incongruent with earlier findings from the Philippine Statistics Authority (or PSA), whose data is what NEDA usually refers to in many occasions. The PSA is the country’s go-to in primary data collection in the Philippines and is also one of the many attached agencies under NEDA. I know this because I have handled PSA data many times before, and have also worked in NEDA a while back.

Comparing the 2015 PSA report with the budget mentioned in the news, one can already see the inconsistency. Yes, the report dates back to three years ago, but with inflation, one can see how a family with a PhP10k budget per month might already fall under the poverty line of PhP 9,140/month. A different situation presents itself for the case of food where PSA data reveals that a family of five needs at least PhP 6,365 for this particular budget item alone. This definitely presents a huge gap from the amount of PhP 3,834, which was mentioned in the news as a “decent” amount.

Hours later, NEDA clarified its position on the matter. The Rappler article provides good coverage on this as found here.

The undersecretary clarified that she did not state in any part of the briefing that PhP10k/month was enough for a Filipino family to live a decent life. She went on to clarify that the given figure was just a hypothetical amount for a minimum wage worker that they provided to show to the press how the current inflation rate would affect that budget, including its allocation per expense item. The budget allocation shown in the GMA news was what they forecast to be the change in the typical budget allocation provided originally in the 2015 Family Income and Expenditure Survey. It should be noted that this survey makes use of sampling weights (or “adjusted raising factors” as PSA calls them). They apply these to the data obtained from the sampled households in order to derive realistic estimates for the entire population.

Also interesting how the actual video of the press briefing shows the undersecretary making no mention of that purported controversial statement (see copy below).

More than anything, I believe this incident teaches us the beauty of taking our time to deliberate and ponder. It is one thing to be concerned, critical, and expressive, but another to be opinionated, rash, and uncivilized.

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