By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY, Mar. 24 (PNA) -– While the government’s statistical body is saying that Bicol has significantly improved its economy based on latest surveys, another agency says the region contributes the highest percentage of poor to the country’s population.
According to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) in its latest regional economic situationer, Bicol’s economy — fueled by industry with agriculture, forestry, fishing and services recording accelerated growths — grew by 7.1 percent in 2012, nearly four times faster than its pace in previous years.
It also said that the 2012 full year official poverty statistics in the country listed Bicol’s poverty incidence to be down from 48 percent in 1991 to only 32.3 percent in two visits in July 2012 and January 2013 conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO) for its Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES).
This means that in a span of 21 years, the region achieved an economic growth rate of over 15 percent and was able to strip itself of the tag “second poorest,” next to the war-torn Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) among the country’s 17 regions.
It was during the first half of 2012 when the NSCB, for the first time, released poverty estimates by semester in view of the urgent need for release of more timely statistics that it declared Bicol out of the cellar in poverty rankings and placed it on the seventh, from fourth in 2006 and 2009 and second years back.
It used the Annual Poverty Indicator Survey (APIS) as determinant of this ranking wherein Bicol has overtaken Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Central Visayas and Caraga regions.
Among the population under this improved ranking, the statistical board placed around 43 poor for every 100 Bicolanos during the first semester of 2012, or about two poor persons less than the previous number in 2009.
The regional office of National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), on the other hand, said Bicol ranked number one in the percentage share of the poor population from among all the country’s regions.
In its recent report to the Regional Development Council (RDC) chaired by Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, NEDA said Bicol contributed some 2.3 million or 9.8 percent to the country’s 23.8 million poor populations as of last year, to top the list of the poorest region in terms of population share.
This means that about one of 10 poor people in the country comes from Bicol, a region rich in mineral and marine resources and well-visited eco-tourism destinations distributed among its six provinces, seven cities and 107 municipalities.
Of these provinces, two made it to the top 10 nationwide with the highest share in the poor population — Camarines Sur,3.3 percent and ranked No. 3 and Albay, No.10.
NEDA said that of the total of 2,276,848 poor residents in Bicol, 771,984 are in Camarines Sur and 511,636 come from Albay.
Salceda was quick to react on this by asking: “Where are these poor Albayanos? We want to locate them so that immediate and proper attention is directed by the provincial government.”
He said on Monday that a provincial task force has been created to find them.
Nationwide, Cebu has the highest share of 4.2 percent and Negros Occidental follows closely with 4.0 percent.
Fourth placers after Camarines Sur are Leyte and North Cotabato with an equal share of 3.0 percent in the country’s poor population; Lanao del Sur, fifth with 2.9 percent; Bukidnon, sixth, 2.8 percent; Negros Oriental, seventh, 2.7 percent; Zamboanga del Sur and Pangasinan, eighth, 2.5 percent each; Davao del Sur, Iloilo and Maguindanao, ninth, with 2.4 percent each; and Zamboanga del Norte joined Albay in the 10th spot with, 2.2 each.
Masbate, one of the two island provinces of Bicol landed on the 11th place, with 1.9-percent share in the poor population nationwide.
In the regional ranking, NEDA said the Western and Central Visayas came second to Bicol with their uniform 8.8-percent poor population shares, followed by SOCCSKSARGEN (Region XII), with 8.0 percent; Caraga Region, 7.9 percent; and Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), 7.8 percent.
Region IV-A or the Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (CALABARZON) area ranked No. 6, with 6.0 percent; Regions IX (Zamboanga Peninsula) and XI (Davao Region), seventh, with 5.9 percent each; Central Luzon (Region III), eighth, 5.8 percent; CARAGA, ninth, 4.2 percent; and Regions I (Ilocos), IV-B (Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan-Antique), 10th, with 3.7 percent shares each.
The National Capital Region (Metro Manila) and Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) registered the lowest in shares to the country’s poor population with 1.9 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.
On Bicol’s topping the rate of poor population share, NEDA acting Regional director Luis Banua explained that although the regional economy grew by 7.1 percent as surveyed in 2012-2013, its gains are yet to trickle down to the masses.
There is still a need to come up with more investments to create jobs in the region for these economic gains to be felt by Bicolanos under the poverty line, given that employment with good pay remains the easiest way to break out from poverty, according to Banua.
Joblessness nurtures poverty while the creation of more high-paying jobs should be the end result of investments in agriculture, industry and services — especially in Bicol, he said.
Latest report on unemployment situation in Bicol released by the NSCB said that more Bicolanos were out of job in January, this year as employment rate dropped to 92.5 percent compared to 94.2 percent in the same period last year.
Unemployment rate was placed at 7.5 percent, 1.7 percentage points higher than the January 2013 level, based on the latest round of the Labor Force Survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority-NSO, the NSCB added. (PNA)