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MANILA, Philippines - Despite the government's efforts to improve the lives of Filipinos in the countryside, in the first 6 months

of 2012 there were 15 provinces & 1 city that have over 40% of their population living below the poverty threshold. The 1st Semester 2012 Poverty Statistics released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) on Tuesday, April 23, showed that most of the poorest provinces are located in Mindanao while the least poor were located mainly in Luzon. Below is a map showing the poverty incidence -- a percentage of the region's population -- nationwide.

"The regions with the lowest poverty incidence in the first semester of 2006, 2009, and 2012 continue to be the National Capital Region, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon. As of the first semester 2012, ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) consistently figured in the bottom poorest cluster of the regions with a poverty incidence among families between 42% and 47% in the first semesters of 2006, 2009, and 2012," said NSCB Secretary General Jose Ramon Albert. (READ: Self-rated poverty levels surge in Mindanao - survey) The 15 poorest provinces in the country in the first 6 months of 2012 were:                Lanao del Sur - 68.9% Apayao - 59.8% Eastern Samar - 59.4% Maguindanao - 57.8% Zamboanga del Norte - 50.3% Davao Oriental - 48% Ifugao - 47.5% Sarangani - 46.5% Negros Oriental - 45.3% Masbate - 44.2% North Cotabato - 43.9% Northern Samar - 43.7% Bukidnon - 43.3% Lanao del Norte - 42.5% Sultan Kudarat - 41.6%

Cotabato City, which is a chartered city (hence is not tracked in the figures for Maguindanao province), figured among the poorest areas at 41.5%. READ: ‘Kung walang corrupt, bakit sobrang mahirap ang Samar?’ In contrast, the least poor provinces in the first semester were:  2nd district of NCR (Mandaluyong, Marikina, Pasig, Quezon City, San Juan) 3.1%  4th (Las Pinas, Makati, Muntinlupa, Paranaque, Pasay City, Pateros, Taguig) and 1st (City of Manila) districts of NCR - 3.8%  Cavite - 4.1%  Benguet - 4.3%  3rd district of NCR (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela) - 4.9%  Laguna - 6.3%

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Pampanga - 6.4% Bulacan - 6.7% Bataan - 7.3% Rizal - 7.6% Ilocos Norte - 11%

Who is poor? The government considers a Filipino family poor if monthly earnings are less than the poverty threshold. In the 1st semester of 2012, poverty threshold for a family of 5 was at P5,458 per month to meet basic food needs. (READ: How much does a family need to stay out of poverty?) The same family required only P1,681 in 2006 and P2,042 in 2009 to leave the ranks of the poor. If non-food needs -- such as clothing, housing, transportation, health, and education expenses, and others -- are added to the threshold, cut off in 2012 went up to P7,821 earnings a month. Natural disasters like typhoons kept many poor Filipinos below the poverty line. NSCB's Albert said disasters were "a threat to development." The government conducts poverty surveys every 3 years. CCT not enough? The NSCB said the implementation of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, the flagship anti-poverty effort of the Aquino government, was not able to significantly improve the income inequality in the country in the first semester 2012. One of the reasons cited for this is that the CCT budget allocated for the period accounted for only 25% of the amount needed to eradicate poverty. The NSCB estimates the total cost of poverty eradication, exclusive of targeting costs, is P79.7 billion for the first semester of 2012. The CCT budget was only P39.4 billion for the fullyear 2012. Income inequality The income divide between the have's and have-not's remain wide, the data showed.

"We observe that the bottom 20% of families have a share of about 6% of the total national income, whereas, the upper 20% of income distribution, have a share of nearly 50% of total national income," Albert said. "The total income of the top 20% of Pinoy families, in other words, is approximately 8 times of the total income of the bottom 20% of Filipino families in the first semester of 2006, 2009, and 2012," he added. The NSCB explained that income gap measures the amount of income required by the poor in order to get out of poverty, in relation to the poverty threshold itself. This may be used as a hypothetical benchmark for the amount needed to eradicate poverty as a whole, assuming expenses are focused solely on assistance rather than on targeting costs such as operations and implementation. -