CAMARINES SUR- It’s 9 a.m. and the Balaquaio couple has barely taken a break from working. Elpidio and Corazon have been thatching nipa leaves since 5, but they are not yet halfway through their day. They have a lot of work to do: piles of leaves are on almost every corner of the house, covering almost the entire floor.
|A woman collects rocks from a road construction for use in her home. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com
Their 7-year-old daughter arrives from school at 11, then immediately joins her parents. Her school assignments can wait.
Like most of their neighbors in this village called Pagao in Bombon, Camarines Sur, life for the Balaquiao family revolves around making roofs out of nipa leaves. Together, the family earns P300 at most when their finished products get sold—just enough for their needs, especially food.
But it’s not always a good day. Sometimes they do not have buyers and have no income, and so they are forced to borrow from their neighbors or just sleep with hunger.
Although it’s tiring, the family says they’re used to this life.
“But I want a better life for my children,” Corazon says, still focused on thatching. “I want them to finish school so they can have work someday and would no longer have to do this.”
None of Elpidio and Corazon’s five children finished school. They are hoping their youngest would make it. They’re trying hard, although their life has hardly improved through the years.
Theirs is a condition shared by many residents in the province, if official government statistics are to be believed.
Increase in poverty incidence
Every three years, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) releases the Philippines’ poverty statistics. The agency computes poverty incidence in provinces based on household incomes and the prices of basic goods in the area, such as food and clothing. Households whose incomes are below prevailing prices are considered poor.
From 2003 to 2009, when the latest study was released, poverty incidence in Camarines Sur increased. From 38.3 percent in 2003, it slightly went down to 36.6 percent in 2006. But In 2009, 38.7 percent of the population were poor.
|A fisherman paddles in Lake Buhi for the day's catch. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com
“The people’s income may not have matched the increase in prices there,” says Dir. Bernadeth Balamban, division chief at the NSCB.
“As prices increase, incomes must also increase so that when you compare them to the poverty threshold, they keep up.”
In the 2003 and 2009 studies, Camarines Sur was in the poorest cluster.
‘Poverty has decreased’
“It’s true,” Gov. LRay Villafuerte says of poverty in the province. “But poverty has been reduced. I’m proud to say that we were able to reduce poverty in Camarines Sur.”
Villafuerte says the tourism industry boomed under his term, and that he has created thousands of jobs. Camarines Sur’s first call center, located near the provincial capitol, was built during his term.
|A boy uses recycled containers to fetch water in Tiga. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com
Whether poverty incidence has indeed been reduced will be known when a new NSCB study is released this year.
But many residents, especially in the less developed areas, want more: better livelihood, more income to enable them to keep up with the demands of everyday life and get out of poverty.
“I hope we get to have a better, decent source of living. Our lives have always been like this, always poor,” says Marivic Sales, a resident.
And they couldn’t care less about their feuding politicians. Some believe, for instance, that whoever wins as governor between the Villafuerte patriarch and his grandson, the same family would rule the province.
Still, people look forward to this year’s elections and continue to hope that things would be better, and that their lives would change.
Amid the mudslinging, politicians going around to woo them, and all sorts of political noise as the elections draw near, people care more about how to survive the next day.