The Long View: Nitty-gritty, compared with GDP

Nitty-gritty, compared with GDP
By Manuel L. Quezon III

Let me begin by correcting three errors inadvertently made in my previous column. The first two are that the first-quarter 2004 gross domestic product (GDP) growth figure was eventually adjusted from 6.4 percent to 7.15 percent while the second-quarter 2004 GDP growth figure was eventually adjusted from 6.2 percent to 7.10 percent (not vice-versa as I’d written). Third, the 7.3 percent figure I erroneously stated as the (upwardly) revised first quarter GDP figure is actually the GDP growth for the first six months of 2007, which is the average of the 7.1 percent for the first quarter (first three months) and the 7.5 percent for second quarter (second three months) GDP growth figures. The first quarter GDP growth figure of 6.9 percent was revised upwards to 7.1 percent.

And something a reader from the business community pointed out in response to my last column: “The problem … is that the method of computing GDP was changed in 2004. The National Statistical Coordinating Board (NSCB, which presented the numbers) does not know if [the GDP] claim can be substantiated.”

Now let me move on to figures that hit closer to home than the GDP. The definitions of what is needed to survive, and the cost of minimum survival, are arrived at after intricate, scientific calculation. But apply those calculations in the real world, and you realize how even that may be far from the reality of many Filipinos. This is how we get a grip on self-rated hunger in the surveys, which drives our officials nuts. The thing is a lot more of us want the luxury of living to eat, rather than merely eating to live.

Take a look at the regional menu for the National Capital Region (Metro Manila) developed by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
This menu was used as part of the computation of the latest food and poverty threshold. From the paper “Issues in Estimating the Poverty Line” by P. David and D.S. Maligalig, here’s a description of how the menu is arrived at: “The one-day menu is formulated from local food consumption patterns to satisfy 100 percent of the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for energy and protein, as well as 80 percent of the RDAs for the other nutrients and vitamins… The RDAs for energy and protein, which vary according to age, sex and body weight, are on the average 2,000 kilocalories and 50 grams per person, respectively. Prices from various price surveys of the National Statistics Office (NSO) and the Bureau of Agriculture Statistics (BAS) are used to determine the cost of the one-day menu.”

The menu quoted in the paper is as follows. Breakfast: tomato omelet; fried rice; coffee (for adults) or milk (children). Lunch: fried galunggong; munggo guisado with small shrimp and malunggay leaves; boiled rice; latundan banana. Dinner: pork adobo; pechay guisado; boiled rice. To make these dishes, these are the FNRI’s calculations, per person, in terms of ingredients. All weights after the ingredients or items, are in grams (and for the heck of it, I’ve added my own comparisons in parentheses).

Rice, white, ordinary 350 (2 cups of rice a day); pan de sal, 50 (P2 pan de sal usually weighs 35 grams per piece; although officially, “Pinoy pan de sal” supposedly weighs 25 grams at P1 per piece); sugar, white, 15 (just a little more than one little package of Sunflower brand Haw Flakes 12.5 grams); margarine, 5; cooking oil, 20 (the weight of one Magnolia Cheezee spread sachet); milk, filled or evap, 33; egg, chicken, 23 (a little less in weight than a regular 3-cracker package of Skyflakes, 25 grams); small shrimps, 15 (slightly over 2 pieces of Hershey’s Chocolate strawberry-flavored candy at 7 grams each); galunggong, 49; pork, liver, 5; pork, liempo , 15 (imagine a cube of pork the size of a P5 coin)

Munggo, green 10 (the weight of one packet of Shakey’s hot sauce); tomatoes, 30; pechay, native, 32; malunggay leaves, 18; banana, latundan, 68; Vinegar, coconut, 5; onion, 6 (slightly less than a pack of Aji-no-moto Guinisa Flavor Mix, 7 grams); garlic, 1; toyo, 5; salt, 6; coffee, soluble 1 (one-sixth of an instant sachet). Try weighing these items at home and see.

This list meets “the minimum income/expenditure required for a family/individual to meet basic food needs, which satisfies the nutritional requirements for economically necessary and socially desirable physical activities.” It would cost a family of five P4,920 to cook the menu listed above, multiplied five times and multiplied further by the days of the month. Last year, the amount was P4,151 monthly, or P137 per person daily.

Non-food basic needs come next. As determined by government statisticians, they include the following: clothing and footwear; fuel, light and water; housing maintenance and other minor repairs; rent; medical care; education; transportation and communications; non-durable furnishings; household operations; and personal care and other items. These add up to P3,334 a month for a family of five.

So the NSCB says, “Filipino families living in NCR comprising of five members should have earned a monthly income of P8,254 to be able to sustain their families’ minimum basic food and non-food needs. Of the P8,254 monthly income, P4,920 (60 percent of the poverty threshold) should have been allocated for basic food needs and P3,334 (40 percent of the poverty threshold) to basic non-food needs of the family.” Last year, the poverty threshold was P6,211 for a family of five per month (or P204 daily).

To go back to that menu and the portions. They are scientifically impeccable. But are they practicable? For some, such a menu would be a dream, for others, a scandal. For you, the reader, definitely a useful benchmark.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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