Notwithstanding the 21-billion peso (492.9 million U.S. dollars) cash dole out program of the government of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III for poverty alleviation, the number of Filipino households that have experienced hunger during the last three months has increased.
A survey conducted exclusively by the Social Weather Stations for the BusinessWorld, a leading business daily here, showed that there was a sharp increase in the number of families without food in the main island of Luzon but has declined in the rest of the country.
The poll conducted from Sept. 4-7 showed that one in five households -- 21.5 percent or an estimated 4.3 million families nationwide -- experienced having nothing to eat in the last three months.
This was up from the four-year low of 15.1 percent recorded in June and a point worse than the 20.5 percent recorded in March.
The latest hunger figure -- 7.5 points above the 13-year average of 14 percent -- is the worst so far for the Aquino government but is still below the record 24 percent hit in December 2009 during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Some analysts said that the result of the survey only showed that the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the administration has not been effective in the eradication of hunger, particularly among schoolchildren, which is its main objective.
But Secretary Corazon Soliman of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) blamed recent typhoons and higher oil prices for the respondents' hunger claims, and said the government was working to address the issue especially since more typhoons hit Luzon just after the survey period.
The moderate and severe hunger components of the overall score worsened, with the former up nearly five points to 18 percent or 3. 6 million families and the latter gaining 1.5 points to 3.5 percent of 713,000 families. Both were also above the 13-year averages.
"Moderate" refers to experiencing having nothing to eat "only once" or "a few times" in the last three months, while "severe" involves going hungry "often" or "always."
Overall hunger climbed sharply in Luzon, hitting a record 28.3 percent or 2.5 million families from the previous 9.7 percent. The previous peak of 25 percent was hit in March this year.
Overall hunger was also 10 points up in Metro Manila to 23 percent or 647,000 families.
The increase in Luzon and Metro Manila was offset by 8.7-point decline in Mindanao to 13 percent or 620,000 families and a slightly smaller 5.7-point improvement in the Visayas to 15.3 percent or 587,000 families.
The survey showed that severe hunger was highest in Metro Manila, rising by 4.6 points to 6.3 percent, the highest since the 7.3 percent recorded in December 2009 and 2.8 points above the 13- year average of 3.5 percent.
Secretary Soliman said the government response has been to run the cash-for-work program and early recovery work.
"We are augmenting this...and we are doing a massive feeding of hot meals through the National Nutrition Council [in areas] where hunger is high," Soliman said.
As for Metro Manila, which was less affected by the typhoons, Soliman said the "perception of hunger" was due to the fuel price increases and its effect on food costs.
"I think it's the food prices because the increase of gasoline.. . but at the same time that this was happening we were expanding the conditional cash transfer and the rice subsidy was being provided for," she said.
Soliman claimed that for in long-term, the Aquino administration's human development cluster was looking to set up a more responsive targeting system.
Despite the survey results, officials of the Aquino administration are confident that the CCT program would effectively solve the hunger problem in the country in the long- term.
According to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who called on President Aquino in Malacanang Thursday, was impressed with the CCT.
Abad said that Zoellick saw the CCT program as "a big push for poverty reduction" in the Philippines and could be the biggest CCT program in the region.
Zoellick was also impressed that in a short time, the Aquino administration was able to cover a lot of poor Filipinos under the program.
From the 800,000 beneficiaries when the Aquino government took over in June last year, the CCT now covers 2.23 million Filipinos as of September this year.
Presidential Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said that the Philippines is now negotiating for a 100 million U.S. dollars of loan from the World Bank to partly fund the CCT. The amount is expected to cover an additional of 300,000 families.
Next year, the CCT program, which is patterned after that of Mexico and Brazil, has a total outlay of 39 billion pesos (915.49 million dollars) to be included in the DSWD budget.