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Left-behind sectors seek progress against social inequality

Government urged to address inequality as deadline for MDGs draws near

Three years before the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Philippines is still experiencing inequalities that have the most impact on ‘left-behind sectors.’ This was the statement of basic sector representatives at a recent forum on social equity and justice organized by the UN Civil Society Advisory Committee, its co-convenor Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and the UN Millennium Campaign.

Dubbed as ‘Voices,’ it featured marginalized and vulnerable segments of society such as indigenous peoples, fisherfolk and farmers, women, the informal sector, even ‘LGBTs’ or lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

“We raise our voices to demand equal access to the basic human right to health, education, housing, food, employment, participation in governance and end all forms of discrimination based on class, ethnicity, and people’s sexual orientation and gender identity,” said the representatives.

Citing data from government and non-government organizations, these sectors further reported that as the “economy grows, so does inequality.” In their “Declaration of VOICES,” these sectors urged the government to bring them to the center of development agenda and also called for policies and programs on redistribution of resources from the rich to the poor.

“Hunger and poverty, they root from social injustice,” said Raul Socrates Banzuela of Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA). He recalls the Sumilao farmers’ story of struggle for land reform. “It was a 20-year struggle; it took two hunger strikes and a long-distance march. It also took two lives,” Banzuela said.

According to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 5.9 percent in the second quarter of 2012, supported by growth in the services and industry sectors, household final consumption expenditure, and capital formation. Despite this, social inequality remains prevalent with the current “deep divide between the rich and the poor”.

“The pursuit of inclusive growth presents quite a daunting challenge. Despite the growth in recent years, incidence of poverty has not been reduced,” said Rosemarie Edillon, NEDA National Planning and Policy staff. “From 2003, poverty incidence even increased. This implies that the benefits of growth did not reach the poor and some even experienced a deterioration in their incomes,” she explained.

Stereotypes and representations that result in discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity were also among the issues raised. “We have the right to be governed rightly and there must be people’s participation at all levels,” said Maica Lagman of Rainbow Rights Project. “And that’s what we also ask—to be included in the discussions.”

“Multiple burdens”
Inequality may come in the form of exclusion due to ethnicity, exclusion due to sexual orientation and gender identity, health inequality, exclusion from work, or due to climate vulnerability, among others, says economist and researcher Ma. Teresa Diokno-Pascual. “We have what we call the ‘pobre identity’, categorized as ‘Never Poor’, ‘Poor Before’, ‘Poor At Times’, and  ‘Always Poor’”, Diokno-Pascual cited.

According to the study, those who are ‘Poor at Times’ are mostly in Mindanao and Luzon, did not go to high school, with 45% of income coming from agriculture, and for four percent, at least one family member is an overseas Filipino worker (OFW). The ‘Always Poor’, on the other hand, are mostly from ARMM, Caraga, and Zamboanga, did not go to high school, majority in agriculture, with 56% of income from agriculture, and for seven percent, at least one family member is an OFW.

Veronica Villavicencio of PILIPINA cited the “multiple burdens” being experienced by women, including violence, risk and vulnerability, lack of protection and security, and injustice. “They always say that here in the Philippines, the women sector has greater voice. But when it comes to formal process, in forming councils and important policies and decisions, it seems that the voice of the women gradually decreases,” Villavicencio said.

Speaking on behalf of the rural and urban poor sector, Rebecca Miranda of DALUYONG focused on health conditions. “The current condition of rural women when it comes to health is primarily on budget. We know that health services and social services agencies for the residents are still devolved for this matter. So when we go to the communities, access to basic health services is minimal,” Miranda said.

Isagani Serrano, president of PRRM, cited that as of July 2012, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) per 100,000 live births increased to 221 from 95 in 2010 and 97 in 2011. Moreover, proportions of births attended by skilled health personnel remains short of the 100% target, achieving slow progress from 58.8 in 1990 to 74.3 in 2009.

The Philippines is one of the 189 countries that signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000. “We need to accelerate efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, but as we do this we must also make sure that no sector is left behind,” said Cynthia Arce, National MDG Campaign and Advocacy Specialist of the UN Millennium Campaign.

“For inclusive growth, we should promote linkages between and among sectors, provide the infrastructure necessary for the linkages, and make sure that the quantity and quality of human capital is adequate for the needs of the productive sectors,” said Edillon. “We are committed to meet this challenge.”

The government’s fourth MDG report states the country was on track in MDG 1 (reducing hunger, poverty), MDG 3 (gender equality), MDG 4 (reducing child mortality), MDG 6 (combating TB and malaria) and MDG 7 (ensuring environmental sustainability). However, the country is lagging on MDG 2 (universal primary education, MDG 5 (improving maternal health), and MDG 6 (combating HIV and AIDS).

About the United Nations Millennium Campaign
The UN Millennium Campaign was established by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2002 in order to support citizen participation in the achieving the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by 189 world leaders from rich and poor countries, as part of the Millennium Declaration which was signed in 2000.

Since 2002 we have worked with UN partners and key global constituencies, such as civil society, parliamentarians, faith groups and youth to inspire people from around the world to take action for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Now the Campaign advocates for increased efforts to effectively promote greater support for the MDGs, as it is more critical than ever that they remain a priority in the political and public agenda. We work underlining their impact and that they continue to be a sound and worthwhile investment for all in the fight against global poverty.

Additionally, the UN Millennium Campaign is engaged in the post-2015 process.