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Information improves lives in the Philippines

April 14, 2011

Communities in the Philippines are enjoying benefits made possible by accurate, current information about their living conditions: job training programs for youth in Pasay City, Metro Manila; new water and sanitation facilities in Margosatubig, Zamboanga del Sur province; small loans for family businesses in the province of Marinduque; schools for teen drop-outs — 98% of 13- to 16-year-olds — in barangay Pange of Siayan, the Philippines’ poorest village; daycare centres; footbridges to connect isolated villages to roads and markets; telemedicine programs; school food programs; subsidized health care.

These are just a few of the concrete measures taken to improve lives in thousands of villages, municipalities, and provinces in the Philippines. The goal: reduce poverty. The means: provide the most needed services to the neediest families.

Setting priorities

But how do you determine what and whom to prioritize? In more than 17,000 barangays (villages) in 667 municipalities and 41 cities of 59 provinces throughout the Philippines, a community-based poverty monitoring system (CBMS) provides the answers. Designed in 1994 by researchers at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies in Manila, with IDRC support, the system makes it possible to accurately diagnose the extent of poverty in communities and its causes, not just in terms of income, but of a number of factors that determine well-being — child and maternal mortality, for instance, access to water, sanitary facilities and to education, adequate housing, security. And it does so for every household in the community.

“CBMS can capture almost all the basic data that we need,” says Jose Antonio N. Carrion, governor of the Province of Marinduque. “Without a reliable source of data, local planners opted to shoot an arrow and hit few or none of all eligible targets. With CBMS we now have disaggregated data so that we can easily target and identify who are the poor, where are the poor, and why are they poor.”

Communities are key

The key to CBMS’ success is the involvement of local communities in collecting and validating the data — and holding government officials to account in how public funds are used to solve the problems identified.

Governor Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar explains that “now, it is the people who decide on the kind of projects that will be funded and implemented in their barangays and those that will serve the cause of poverty alleviation the most. It takes the route of ‘from the people to the people.’ This is the embodiment of empowerment among the grassroots. It is no longer us, the local government unit leaders, who decide for them.”

With accurate up-to-date information, local governments have been able to get the most impact from their meagre resources. The information also helped them attract many other donors to fund critical programs. The cost of gathering this invaluable information: $1.50 per household.

Local to national to global spread

From two pilot sites in Palawan in 1998, the monitoring system has spread, thanks in large part to the full support of the Philippine government. In fact, the 2004–2010 national development plan calls for the monitoring system to be carried out in each of the country’s 42,000 barangays by the end of 2010.

CBMS has now spread to 14 other countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. “This could herald a dramatic turnaround from traditional development planning and project formulation to a more evidence-based policy on social programs,” says CBMS network leader Celia Reyes of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies.

Excerpt from keynote address by the Honourable Domingo F. Panganiban, Secretary and Lead Convenor of the Philippines' National Anti-Poverty Commission, at the 6th CBMS National Conference, Manila, December 9, 2009:

"New times call for new ideas and fresh approaches. And of the new technologies available to government today, CBMS is among the most promising...because it gives us a great opportunity to do better — to accomplish more, give new strength to our common cause while ensuring the efficient use of our precious resources."

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