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Philippines

Poor Filipinos hope for better life under new president

Despite recent economic progress, a quarter of the country's population are impoverished

Eloisa Lopez and Joe Torres, Manila

Eloisa Lopez and Joe Torres, Manila

Published: May 11, 2016 08:52 AM GMT

Updated: May 11, 2016 09:01 AM GMT

Poor Filipinos hope for better life under new president

A group of urban poor dwellers in Manila call on president-elect Rodrigo Duterte to stop the demolition of their homes. (Photo courtesy of Kadamay)

As polling precincts closed May 9, Agnes Santos, who waited for hours under the heat of the sun during the Philippines' national elections, could only sigh with relief.

"My only hope is that the next president can give my child a better future," says the 27-year-old mother who cradled her 7-month old child as she queued for her turn to vote.

Santos' pregnancy was not planned. "I was unprepared. I regret that it happened when I was not ready financially and emotionally," she explains.

Her boyfriend of six years is also unemployed. Like thousands of other jobless Filipinos, Santos and her boyfriend have to cope with hard times.

Despite the government's claim of rapid economic growth over the past few years, unemployment remains a persistent problem for the Philippines' 100 million plus people.

Asia's largest Catholic country still has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the ASEAN region.

Each year, 700,000 fresh college graduates, like Santos, add to the swelling of numbers of the country's unemployed.

In 2015, the unemployment rate was at 6.5 percent, while the country's underemployment rate is at 17.8 percent. Underemployed workers are those employed who "express the desire to have additional hours of work in their present job."

 

Trying to survive

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Without any source of income, Santos and her child survive with the help of her parents. Her family's small store and her father's income as an overseas contract worker provide food on the table.

"Until my boyfriend and I get a stable job, I will have to live under my parents' roof," says Santos.

With an uncertainty future, Santos hopes that she will be able to work once her baby does not need to be breastfed. Santos says she couldn't just wait for her jobless boyfriend to sustain their young family.

"As much as I want my baby to grow up with a father, I cannot let her see us constantly fighting over our situation," she says. "I will have to cut our ties."

The young mother plans to work as an encoder in an online casino where her cousin is currently employed. The cousin earns US$341 a month, much higher than the US$250 Santos brought home monthly when she worked as a store cashier.

"At this point, I'll grab any opportunity that comes my way," she says. "I have already lost hope in pursuing my passion. I am now focused on giving my baby a good life."

Despite six years of stable economic growth, one in four Filipinos still live on less than US$1.30 a day.

A Filipino family needs at least US$195 a month to eat, according to government statistics.

The same statistics show that as President Benigno Aquino leaves office June 30, some 26 percent of the country's population will remain poor.

 

 

The Philippines' presumptive president, Rodrigo Duterte, addresses a crowd in Manila before his election. (Photo by Joe Torres)

 

Hope for the poor

With the election of Rodrigo Duterte, a longtime mayor in the southern region of Mindanao, people like Santos hope that they will finally be uplifted from poverty.

"The test of good government is not whether we can add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we can provide for those who have so little," Duterte said during his campaign.

The country's business community vowed to support the new president who is known for incendiary statements that fueled voters' anger to vote against the administration's candidate.

"We welcome the clear mandate given our new leaders by our people ... and we stand ready to be an active and participative partner of government in ensuring sustainable and inclusive growth that benefits not just a select few but all Filipinos," read a statement by the Makati Business Club.

"The Philippines remains in a special spot with numerous positive forces converging in our favor," the influential business group said in a statement after Duterte came out the clear winner in the election.

 

Changing the system

A group of slum dwellers, however, challenged the president-elect to make good on his promises.

The Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap or Kadamay, a national alliance of urban poor groups, have expressed disappointment over what they describe as "the lack of discourse on the plight of millions of informal settlers."

"Our disappointment is only offset by our demand for the issues of the urban poor and development to be addressed," says Gloria Arellano, Kadamay chairwoman.

She says urban poor Filipinos long for jobs, wages, housing, on-site development, and an end to violent demolitions of slums and commercialized housing in relocation sites.

"At present we are worried about the state of demolitions nationwide after the election period," Arellano says.

While Kadamay is not hopeful that Duterte will live up to his promises, Arellano made it clear that "ultimately, the people themselves will make the changes that need to be done."

"It is possible that Duterte can prove himself to be left. But a revolution resides in ordinary people, not a president, changing the system," says Arellano.

For Santos, talk about "change is coming", Duterte's campaign slogan, does not mean anything.

"My only hope is for the new president not to forget those who voted him into office, the poor," she says.

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