I participated in the South-South Learning on Conditional Cash Transfers workshop held at ADB Headquarters, 16-19 April 2013 that was organized in cooperation with Inter-American Development Bank. The workshop aimed to enhance understanding of policy makers from developing countries in Asia and the Pacific about lessons learned from the use of CCT programs in Latin America and Caribbean. CCT programs for social protection and human development have gained interest in the Asia and the Pacific region. Delegates from Bangladesh, Cambodia, People’s Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Republic of Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam participated. Workshop topics and discussion on CCTs are covered in an excellent blog by ADB’s Michelle Domingo-Palacpac.
The workshop consisted of three days of plenary sessions at ADB Headquarters and one day field visit to two communities in the Philippines where the CCT nationwide program, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program is being implemented. Pantawid Pamiliya is a human development and social assistance program of the national government (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and development partners ADB, World Bank, and Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), launched in 2008 that invests in the health and education of poor households, particularly of children aged 0-14 years old, and aims to reach a target of 4.3 million poor households by 2016. Pantawid Pamiliya is by far the largest poverty reduction and social development program the Philippine government has ever conceived. Approximately Php 120 billion have been allocated to the program to date. As of 10 October 2012, the program has 3,086,427 household beneficiaries in 1,400 cities and municipalities in 79 provinces in all 17 regions nationwide.
Patterned after the conditional cash transfer scheme implemented in other developing countries, Pantawid Pamilya provides cash grants to beneficiaries provided that they comply with a set of conditions. The conditions include: ante- and post-natal care; regular preventive health check-ups, deworming, and vaccines for children; regular attendance at school for children; and attendance at monthly Family Development Sessions (FDS) aimed to instill knowledge, skills, and values for parent beneficiaries.
The field visit to Santa Maria and Pandi in Bulacan province (around 40km northeast of Manila) to learn about the program firsthand and interact with the beneficiaries and program administrators was enriching. The beneficiaries shared their personal stories on how blessed they felt to be a part of Pantawid Pamiliya. Many parents previously were overburdened with worry on raising a family and not earning enough money to support their children. What little parents earned from odd jobs was only sufficient for daily expenses—their children frequently fell ill due to insufficient food and vitamins causing them to miss school. But this all changed for the better under Pantawid Pamiliya.
Parent Leader Marilyn Montecillo of Santa Maria praised the program, “through the FDS, I gained self-confidence and felt like I had formal education. The FDS also helped me broaden my perspective in life and taught me how to relate with others. I am no longer afraid to go places and be lost.” Her 15-year-old daughter Chatrina Bianca G. Ramos, winner of several academic accolades while enrolled in the program, and participant in the 2012 National Children’s Congress in Manila attended by 500 children beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilya, shared, “I am very thankful because I am one of the fortunate youth to be part of the Program, which guides and supports us in our educational and health needs…I am aware that I might not by next year, I may not be a beneficiary anymore considering that I am already 15 years old and an incoming third year high school student. However, if I, or other children, will be given the chance to graduate from high school, we will give our best to finish high school with flying colors.”
The age limit increase beyond age 14 to ensure that children finish high school was also a common concern raised in focus group discussions with beneficiaries. However, Chaudhury and Okamura (2012) found that there was no impact of Pantawid Pamilya on increasing enrollment for the older age cohorts between 2008 and 2011. Similar results have been demonstrated by Ruiz et al. (2013) and suggest that older children do not go to school due to lack of personal interest and need to work. The opportunity cost of going to school instead of working to augment family income can be addressed if livelihood opportunities are made available to the family that allows older children to go to school. Meanwhile, current grants may be insufficient to meet the higher cost of high school education, so the program could be revised to a tiered grant scheme akin to other CCT programs.
Focus group discussions allowed exchange of praise for Pantawid Pamiliya and also brought to bear three other issues. First, family beneficiaries receive the grant for at most five years if they comply with the conditionalities. This maximum five years support may mean that a child who was six years old at the time that the family first received the benefit may only complete Grade 5 by the time the family exits from the program. If the program seeks not only to improve school attendance but improve at least elementary school graduation rates, then coverage could be extended to address the fact that some 23% of 14-year-old students are still in elementary school when they should be in high school (Ruiz et al 2013).
Second, since community health volunteers have been mandated to take on additional activities under Pantawid Pamiliya, health administrators stressed that there is insufficient, if any, allowance for transport or equipment for their outreach and verification work, which is above and beyond the terms of their original job description. Currently, designated project staff is provided such allowance but not frontline community health workers. Addressing this concern may increase health care service delivery coordination efforts and desired health outcomes that the program aims to improve.
Third and last, parent beneficiaries shared that they especially find FDS on entrepreneurship of enormous value and expressed interest for a wider range of sessions on skills training so that they could diversify other means of earning livelihoods.
Overall, Pantawid Pamiliya is on track to achieve its objectives of promoting investments in the health and education of children while providing immediate financial support to poor families as highlighted in a recent impact evaluation by Chaudhury et al. (2013) funded by AusAID in coordination with DSWD, World Bank, and ADB.