Bernardo M. Villegas
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Priority Needs of the Poor

           The Metro Manila Mothers Survey conducted by the SEED Institute from December 19, 2011 to January 17, 2012 has come out with very valuable information about consumer behavior among the C, D, and E income households that provides significant guides to consumer companies targeting the "bottom of the pyramid" and social entrepreneurs developing products and services that are priority needs of the more than 80 per cent of the population that belong to these income groups.  The research was conducted in three phases:  (1)  Census of mothers (December 9 to 23, 2011) with 575 respondents from different parts of Metro Manila, the objective of which was to establish demographic tendencies; (2) Free tracking study (January 7 to 10, 2012); and (3) Second tracking study (January 14 to 17, 2012).  Two tracking studies were conducted to accommodate questions common to both tracks and some questions unique to each study.  Both tracking studies had a representative sample base of 600 from all barangays of Metro Manila.  Respondent specified should be the mother handling the family budget in each household.  Socio-economic distribution was roughly 25% class C, 50% class D and 25% class E.

          Average monthly expenses for all respondents amount to P 12,433, broken down into Food from Market (P 5,876); Food from Grocery (P 884); Rent (P 2,606) which applies to only 39% of respondents; Electricity (P 1,219);  Water (P525); LPG-Gasul (P 504); Bath soap/Shampoo and oral care (P452); and Laundry soap/bleach and other household items (P367).   Monthly expenses for Class C total P17,424; Class D, P11,720; and Class E, P9,272. In addition to these household expenses, the following expenses were reported by varying numbers of mothers as regular monthly expenditures:  education, clothing, outsourced laundry, daily allowance for breadwinner, daily allowance for children going to school, loan payments, remittance to relatives in the provinces, gasoline and other expenses related to owning a vehicle.  A significant number of mothers also reported regular monthly expenditures for the following items:  cellular phone load, telephone landlines, cable telegraph, internet, essential medicines for ailments, health products like vitamins, and grooming/beauty parlor.  A smaller percentage (less than 10%) reported regular expenditures on extraordinary items such as gambling (lotto, bingo), "vice products" (cigarettes, liquor), outdoor recreation (malls, etc.), condoms or pills, and amortization payments for homes or vehicles.

    The diversity of consumer items reported by the respondent mothers confirms the hypothesis that low-income households in the Philippines by sheer numbers constitute a sufficiently large domestic market for all types of consumer goods that are designed to fit their respective cash flow positions.  No wonder some of the largest businesses in the country cater to the mass market in such sectors as beverages; processed food products; fast food franchises; electric, water and telecom utilities; and pharmaceutical and health products and services. Some innovative business organizations are perfecting the educational models developed by such large private universities as the University of the East and the Far Eastern University in offering post-secondary degree programs that can render the graduates employable at the least cost possible.  An outstanding example is the PHINMA group that has acquired private universities in key regions outside of Metro Manila.  In the area of health services, a group to watch is the Metro Pacific group that is purchasing hospitals in key cities both within and outside of the National Capital Region.

          Another valuable piece of information that resulted from the Metro Manila Mothers Survey is the answer to the question about the top three wishes each mother would like to direct to the Government to help improve  their standard of living.  This is a perfect application of the social principle called subsidiarity.  The households have done everything in their power and capacity to provide for their basic necessities through their own enterprise and hard work.  Now, they want the Government to supplement their own efforts in areas that go beyond their individual capacities.  This is where the State is subsidiary to the primary responsibility of private individuals to provide for themselves.  Among the top wishes are the provision of regular jobs, microcredit and microenterprise support, scholarship support for their children, socialized housing, subsidized prices for primary food items, free hospitalization, medicine and vitamins for their children,  Cash Transfer Account, subsidized rates for electricity and water, free business seminars, lower price for gasoline and transport.   A smaller number of mothers mentioned the following wishes from the Government: cheap mobile clinics with X-rays and CT scans for pregnant women; free food in schools for students; more rolling stores with cheaper rice, sugar, coffee, soap, snack food items; inexpensive herbal medicines; more open park and other recreational facilities for free; improved roads; and legalized jueteng.

          What is very striking is that there was no mention in the wish list of having access to free condoms and other contraceptives.  This is especially meaningful considering that the purchase of these items is part of the expenditures of a small percentage of  these low-income households and that  all the respondents were mothers, who theoretically should be the ones most concerned about avoiding unwanted pregnancies.  These social classes are obviously aware of the existence and uses of contraceptives. The fact that they do not include them in their "wish list" from the Government is an indication that   the very limited budget of the Government is better spent on many more priority needs than in contraceptives if we are going to follow the wishes of the lower-income households.

     I think that business associations like the Makati Business Club, the Management Association of the Philippines and the FINEX  should take with a grain of salt some of the surveys they cite purporting to show that the poor are clamoring for free access to contraceptives.  The poor have enough common sense to realize that the budget of the Government is always limited and that there are other priority expenditures as enumerated in the findings of the Metro Manila Survey.  With all due respect to those who report on surveys showing that there is a big demand for free artificial contraceptives among poor families, I maintain that such surveys are usually funded by international organizations that have an agenda to introduce birth control to the Philippines.  This is obvious from the recent declaration of both the United Nations and the World Bank that had the temerity to publicly interfere in Philippine politics by expressing their support for the RH Bill.  Talk about cultural imperialism!  In contrast with the survey technique used by the SEED Institute which allowed the respondents to prepare their so-called wish list in a completely free wheeling or unaided way, many of the surveys whose findings purportedly support the RH Bill literally put words into the mouths of the respondents by auto-suggestion.    I would, therefore, advise business organizations to be more circumspect in taking these pro-RH Bill findings as gospel truth. As a long-standing member of the Makati Business Club, I must declare my dissent from the support for the RH Bill that this prestigious organization co-signed with other business groups.  Those interested in obtaining primary data from the Manila Mothers Survey of SEED Institute may contact joelcaballa@gmail.com.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.