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Question: To what extent do Philippine government’s efforts to advance people's

empowerment and participation failed or succeed, as compared to those that are

implemented in other country of your choice? What would you suggest to improve the

Empowerment and Participation in the context of poverty reduction: the

Philippine and Malaysian experience

People from all walks of life often have difficult choices to make—but for some
the range of options is more restricted than for others. In remote villages and urban
communities, many women, men, and children have limited choices available to them,
resulting in a daily struggle to simply survive. The socio-economically underprivileged
people in particular have limited employment opportunities, little voice in decision
making over locally available resources, often lack basic services, have limited recourse
to state-sponsored systems of justice, and are rarely able to exercise the right to hold
their representatives accountable. These people suffer from inequality in terms of the
power they have to change their lives and escape poverty.

In order to overcome this grim scenario, international development agencies,

governments and the civil society have put emphasis on the significance of
empowerment. Empowerment objectives appear with increasing frequency in the policy
documents issued by governments, especially strategy papers dealing with poverty

To assess the failure and the success of the Philippine government’s efforts to
advance people's empowerment and participation comparing it to those implemented in
other country, case studies of poverty reduction strategies of both the Philippines and
Malaysia will be used.

People participation in the Philippines began after the “People Power” uprising in
the year 1986. With the enactment of the Local Government Code, through the
devolution of power, people’s participation in all levels of decision-making was effected.
Powers, resources, authority, and responsibilities were transferred from the national to
local government—thus transferring matters of fiscal management and governance to
local governments.

Included in the stipulations of the Local Government Code, was the significance it
attributed to local development planning. The local development planning body was
composed of local development council members, non-government organization
members, and people’s organization. Participatory approaches in local development
planning ushered in innovative approaches by local NGOs-POs in engaging LGUs to
prioritize people-identified development projects (Villarin, 1999).

According to VIllarin, apart from participation in the development planning that

the government granted to the people, there were also other venues for people
participation. One of which is the direct system of legislation through the local initiative

and referendum. Said system allowed local electorate to amend, revoke, and enact
ordinances and resolutions. People’s participation was further enhanced with the
mandated representation of NGOs-POs in local special bodies. This body was entitled
to draft, discuss and recommend policies to LGUs. Public consultations were also called
to secure consent from people whether or not a particular project shall be allowed to
push through.

According to Ludeking and Williams (2010), community participation, community

management and government enablement applied practically and in combination
generate assets, increase access to basic services, and improve collaboration between
public authorities. In the Philippines, efforts to eliminate poverty started as early as the
end of World War II. The most comprehensive strategy pursued in development
planning is the Basic Human needs approach started in the late 70s and into the 80s
which aimed to alleviate the poor conditions of the Filipino people. Successive
administration introduced the following: the “Tulong sa Tao” program of the Aquino
administration, launched in 1987 through Executive Order No. 158, aimed at reducing
poverty through the creation of employment opportunities for “low income municipalities”
and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Shelzig 2005), Social Reform
Agenda (SRA)--a package of government interventions organized around “flagship
programs” for the country's twenty “poorest” provinces of the Ramos administration
(Balisacan 1998), the “Lingap para sa mahihirap” which involved the identification of
the one hundred poorest families in each province and city to which a package of
assistance, including livelihood development, price support for staple foods, medical
assistance, socialized housing, and a rural waterworks system, has been provided by
the Estrada administration (Ibid.), and the most recent, that of the Arroyo administration,

Developed by the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), Kapit Bisig Laban

sa Kahirapan (KALAHI) was a national strategy for reducing poverty in the country by
the Arroyo administration. It was launched in 2001 and was anchored on the Millennium
Term Development Plan (2001-2004) which uses the convergence of resources,
programs and projects, and stakeholder and sectors as key ingredient for poverty
reduction. It has five (5) core strategies based on the redistribution of economic
opportunities and empowerment of the poor, to ensure the delivery of social services to
vulnerable sectors. This includes (1) accelerated asset reform wherein the poor are
provided with the opportunity to own land or lot through agrarian reform, urban land
reform and ancestral domain, (2) improved access to human development
services wherein recipients are provided with a decent way of living through enhanced
access to basic services such as education, health and sanitation, electrification, water
and housing, (3) provision of employment and livelihood opportunities providing the
poor with employment opportunities, micro credit and assistance in micro enterprise
development, (4) security from violence and social protection to provide vulnerable
sectors with safety nets as protection from all forms of discrimination and the severe
impact of man-made and natural disasters, and (5) institutionalized and strengthened
participation, especially of the basic sectors, in governance which will provide the poor
with venues for participation in decision-making and management processes (Bautista,


In terms of strategies, KALAHI basically subscribes to the “convergence”

approach earlier propagated in the Social Reform Agenda (SRA), as it formally
recognizes the need for “joint programming, implementation, and monitoring among
national and local agencies, civil society sectors and people’s organizations in the poor
communities.” It also sustains the principle of “focused targeting” as it considers the
need to deliver services to the “poorest municipalities and barangays” (Ibid.).

According to Bautista (2010), structurally, the KALAHI is operationally managed

by a composite team from four agencies such as the Presidential Commission for the
Urban Poor (PCUP), the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Interior and Local
Government (DILG) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD),
under the coordination of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). Other
agencies also participate in providing services to the poor communities such as the:
Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Trade and Industry
(DTI), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Housing Urban and Development
Coordinating Council (HUDCC), Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), National
Food Authority (NFA), National Youth Commission (NYC), Philippine Charity
Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority
(TESDA), Philippine Credit Finance Corporation (PCFC), Philippine Information Agency
(PIA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). In rural areas, such agencies are being
tapped as: Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DAR),
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and National Commission
on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

Pilot-testing of the KALAHI Program targets 30 urban poor barangays in seven

cities and three municipalities, all in the National Capital Region which were identified
with the assistance of the PCUP. Initial implementation entailed distribution of
Kahilingan Sheets among members of the community who participated in the public
forum, to disclose the urgent problems of the locality. Eventually, some localities applied
the Minimum Basic Needs (MBN) Information System Information System. However,
coverage of the families had not been done in a systematic way, according to one key
information since those who were available were the ones targeted to answer the MBN
forms, rather than saturating all the households like what is normally undertaken in
localities covered by the Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services
(CIDSS) (Ibid.).

On the other hand, Malaysia as a country of comparison being a multi-racial

country, managed to drastically reduce the incidence of poverty and lessen income
inequality while achieving rapid economic growth and maintaining racial harmony. It has
formulated a range of policies and plans to guide the management of national
development during the 1970-2000. These consisted of core national policies; long-
term, medium-term, annual, and special development plans; sector and industry-specific
master plans.

Among these plans however, the core policies were considered to be the most
important. These core policies included the New Economic Policy (1970-1990), and the
National Development Policy (1991-2000). These two abovementioned national policies
were based on a philosophy of growth with equitable distribution. The policies saw
national unity as the goal of development and the two-pronged strategy to achieve it (1)
the eradication of poverty and (2) the restructuring of society.

According to a case study conducted by the Malaysia Prime Minister Department

(2004), Malaysia formulated the NEP to deal with four major challenges facing the
nation at that time: (1) creating a united nation from amongst a diverse population of
many races, religions and culture, (2) lessening and, in time, eradicating poverty (3)
correcting the economic imbalance among the main racial groups so that each could
enjoy a more equitable share in the benefits of economic growth, (4) expanding the
economy at a continuous and rapid rate.

Similar to the KALAHI project of the Arroyo administration, the NEP and the NDP
incorporated in its main objectives the significance of the participation of the community
in achieving the goals of the project. Its institutional framework was broad-based,
capturing within its ambit, public sector organizations (ministries, departments and
statutory authorities) as well as private sector institutions, academia, NGO’s and others.
The public sector component of the framework was also multi-tiered, incorporating
federal, state and local-level organizations. These features has resulted to a
participative and interactive process that allowed a broad range of viewpoints to be
expressed and considered which was believed to have created a broader acceptance of
plans that were formulated thereby facilitating their implementation.

In the implementation stage, all ministries and their respective departments and
statutory authorities, were involved in implementing national development policies and
plan. State and local governments, NGOs and foundations receiving Government funds
also complemented federal policies and plans in implementing their programs, and the
private sector also contributed through their business activities in the achievement of a
major component of development policy.

In its formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation stage, there was a

single body in-charge to perform their designated functions. This includes,
representatives from major political parties, industry groups, academia, NGOs, and
distinguished individuals. All others were free to submit written views to the body
thereby covering a broader spectrum of Malaysians.

In most researches made to assess poverty reduction strategies by countries in

Asia, the most successful ones are those of Malaysia. As of today, Malaysia has been
one of the richest countries in Asia. Upon the introduction of the NEP, national wealth
increased five times from 1970 to 1995. Replaced by the NDP in the 1990s, per capita
gross domestic product more than doubled in 1975 to 2003. The incidence of poverty
has declined steadily over the years (Chee, 2010).

In the Philippines however, despite the significance the government has
attributed to community participation in governance and in poverty reduction, according
to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) in its 2006 statistics,
approximately 24 out of 100 Pinoy families did not earn enough in 2003 to satisfy their
basic food and non-food requirements. In terms of population on the other hand, 30 out
of 100 Filipinos in 2003 had income short of minimum cost of satisfying the basic
requirements which is a slight improvement from 2000 which 33 out of 100 Filipinos had
income below poverty threshold.

Despite the fact that the government

It is a fact that the Philippines like Malaysia, prioritized poverty reduction in its
policies for development, however, despite the Philippine government granting its
people complete participation after Martial Law, said principle was only observed in
black and white. What only transpired during said decades only provided Filipinos with
the feeling of “your decision matters” instead of “letting them do something for
themselves”. Community participation and empowerment in the context of poverty
reduction in the Philippines was only put to life during the Arroyo administration in its
KALAHI project. Unlike the Philippines, community participation and empowerment in
the context of poverty reduction in Malaysia has been embedded in its programs for
poverty reduction when it first introduced the NEP way back in the 1970s.

Community participation and empowerment in the poverty reduction strategies of

both the Philippines and Malaysia has been incorporated in its objectives, strategies
and methods. The only difference between the two is the kind of political culture
characterizing their governments. In Malaysia for instance, evident in the success of
pursuing its public policy against poverty, government officials have been driven by a
political will to fulfil their functions as members of a body chosen by the people who
pursue the common good. In the Philippines however, despite the Local Government
Code granting the right to Filipinos to participate in governance, the fact that politics in
the Philippines is characterized by principle of gains and people exist to fulfil their self-
interests, success in the pursuits for poverty elimination in the country is far from

The fact that community participation in the context of poverty reduction efforts in
the country appeared insignificant and objectives, strategies, and methods employed in
these programs produced unfavourable results; problems encountered by these
programs can be resolved through eliminating these constraints. These programs for
poverty reduction are in fact embedded with principles which if applied would make
these programs a success. However, these principles are all in paper—what has been
written is different from what is practised. In this context, real community participation is
necessary. People, who are recipients of poverty reduction projects, should agree and
accept the contents of the projects and help in its drafting, approval, implementation and
monitoring stage. It is true that the government, in its efforts to reduce poverty in the
country, depends on the support of international organizations for funding, however, the

fact that people in the government are driven by their selfish interests, being granted
with the authority to disburse funds for public use, they have been disbursing funds for
their personal use. The sole solution to this age-old problem lies on the electorate. It is
our responsibility to choose the people who will decide in our behalf and live up to a
standard of a good government, as Abraham Lincoln puts it, the government of the
people, by the people, and for the people.