Poverty with prosperity
By Cielito F. Habito
Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 12, 2018 at 5:28 am

Outside the National Capital Region or Metro Manila, the Calabarzon region—comprising the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon—is the most economically dynamic in the country. Its average income of P158,012 in 2017 ranks second only to Metro Manila’s P465,691. It accounts for one-sixth (16.8 percent) of the country’s GDP, even as it accounts for only one-seventh (14 percent) of overall population, and an even smaller share (5.7 percent) of total land area. Last year, its economy grew as fast as the national economy did, by 6.7 percent. By these indicators, Calabarzon appears to be blessed with more than its proportionate share of the economy’s blessings.

There are even more signs of Calabarzon’s favored status. With its bustling industrial zones particularly in Cavite, Batangas and Laguna provinces, it is our most industrialized region, with industry accounting for nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of its total regional output. It hosts the most industrial activity, accounting for nearly one-third of total industrial output in the country. This is almost equivalent to the combined industrial shares of Metro Manila and Central Luzon, the next two largest contributors to our total industrial output. Its manufacturing firms span heavy industries, producing large prefabricated steel structures like offshore oil rigs, coal and gas power plants, aerospace and auto parts manufacturing, and auto assembly, on to light industries producing food products (buko pie, puto) and garments.

Even as the agriculture, fishing and forestry (AFF) sector accounts for a tiny 5.1 percent of its output, Calabarzon is actually the second largest contributor (one-tenth) to AFF output nationwide. This indicates how naturally endowed the region is relative to other parts of the country. It also has the largest working age population among the regions (10.2 million), exceeding that of Metro Manila by a million, including large numbers of migrants from other regions attracted by the job opportunities therein.

Herein lies the region’s predicament. It also has among the highest unemployment rates in the country, at 6.3 percent, well exceeding the national unemployment rate of 5.4 percent as of last July. It would seem that too many immigrants are attracted by the seeming abundant job opportunities in the region, much more than could actually be accommodated.

Even more remarkable is how data on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) show a disproportionately higher proportion of the Calabarzon population leaving the country to work overseas. While the region accounts for only one-seventh (14 percent) of the country’s population, it contributed more than a fifth (21 percent) of all OFWs who left within 2012-2017. These OFWs made up 2.3 percent of the entire country’s population, yet comprised 3.3 percent of the Calabarzon population.

There seems to be a paradox here, where the region with seemingly the most and best employment opportunities due to a high degree of industrialization has a much greater exodus of workers going overseas. Does this mean that much poverty remains in the region, driving more of its people out to seek their fortunes overseas?

With its high level of industrialization and high per capita income relative to the rest of the country, only 6.7 percent of Calabarzon residents are classified as poor, the lowest percentage outside of Metro Manila. However, this low regional average conceals two things.

One, Calabarzon actually ranks eighth among our 18 regions in terms of number of poor population, with 1.3 million poor (as of 2015 data). Its poverty percentage may be small, but its poverty prevalence is large. Second, 34 out of 142 towns and cities in Calabarzon have a higher percentage of poor population than the national average of 21.6 percent, according to official data. All but two of these are in Quezon province, with the worst off being the farthest-flung towns in Quezon, especially in Polillo Island and the Bondoc Peninsula. The benefits of industrialization have yet to reach such areas.

Even a seemingly prosperous region, then, has much work to do to make sure that, as they say, the rising tide lifts all boats.

cielito.habito@gmail.com

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