Measuring the quality of life of Filipinos

The author is part of the Management Collective Member of Action for
Economic Reforms, an independent policy analysis and advocacy
organization focusing macroeconomic and governance issues.

One of the most difficult challenges in the fight against poverty is
the task of locating the poor. This challenge is felt nationally and is
even more apparent at the level of provinces and municipalities across
the country. In reality, there is very little information about the
poverty situation at the subnational level. Such information gaps can
result to poor targeting and defective planning.

To respond to this challenge, Action for Economic Reforms (AER) has
developed an alternative measure of poverty and human capability. This
measure, referred to as the Quality of Life Index, or QLI, is a
composite index that uses a capability-based approach in measuring
accomplishment in human development. The measure focuses on the outcome
of the development process rather than on the means to achieve such
outcome. It excludes income and other means variables in the
computation of the composite index.

The Quality of Life Index captures three basic dimensions of human
capability: the capability to be well nourished; the capability for
healthy and safe reproduction; and the capability to be educated and be
knowledgeable. The index is computed based on the following indicators:
under-five nutrition; births attended by trained health personnel; and
cohort survival rate in elementary school. These component indicators
serve as proxy measures of basic human capabilities.

The comparative advantage of using the Quality of Life Index lies in
the convenience of generating the index and its applicability even at
the local level. The index is a cost-effective indicator. It can be
generated without resorting to household surveys that are often too
costly and well beyond the capacity of local government units to
undertake on a regular basis. Time series analysis can easily be
presented using the index to facilitate a longer term monitoring of the
poverty situation. Statistical tests found the index to be strongly
correlated with other poverty measures, thus making it a good
alternative where no other indicator is available.

In its recently launched book, The 2001 Report, Social Watch
Philippines presented the latest (1999) Quality of Life Indices for
Philippine provinces. The presentation shows very interesting results
and provides important leads in tracking poverty across the country.

The difficult life experienced by Filipinos during the past decade is
well reflected in the aggregate QLI figures for the Philippines.
Nationally, the QLI increased only marginally from .671 to .689 for the
period 1991 to 1999. The index actually slid back in 1994 before
experiencing a modest increase in 1997. The index was virtually
stagnant from 1997 to 1999. Over time, attended births showed a gradual
steady improvement while elementary cohort survival rate was virtually
stagnant. The improvement in attended births, however, had been
partially offset by the consistent deterioration of the nutrition
status of under-five children.

Across provinces, the QLI scores for 1999 range from a low of .479 to a
high of .908. As expected, Luzon dominated the list of high-performing
provinces. Surprisingly, the relatively remote Batanes topped the list,
while two other island provinces (Siquijor and Camiguin) joined the
list of top performers, surpassing most of the income-rich provinces of
Luzon. Batanes topped the list in nearly all categories and has been
consistently in the number-one slot since 1991. On the other hand, the
income-poor provinces of Mindanao, along with the poor provinces of
Eastern and Western Visayas and Southern Luzon, registered the lowest
QLI scores.

Immediately, one concludes that income determines quality of life. The
statistics, however, noted that income alone does not guarantee
improvement in the quality of life. For example, there are middle- and
even poor-income provinces such as Siquijor, Camiguin, Misamis
Oriental, Bohol, Nueva Vizcaya and Mountain Province that scored
relatively high in QLI. The implication of this is that even poor
households can have better quality of life by improving access to
critical services such as health, education, livelihood support, and
transportation.

Provinces such as Davao Oriental, North Samar, Maguindanao, Masbate,
and Sulu can be classified as the poorest in terms of income and
capabilities and, therefore, need immediate attention. Critical
intervention is needed particularly on services that were found to be
significant determinants of well-being, as measured by the QLI. These
services and infrastructures are roads, transportation, farm access,
electricity, housing, water, sanitary facilities, schools with adequate
books and teachers and health facilities with adequate health
personnel.

The Quality of Life Index is not a replacement of the existing income
and poverty measures, but a complementary statistic that can be
particularly useful in tracking poverty at the local level. The index
can prove effective in identifying priority areas for development work
and human capital investment. It can fill in critical information gaps,
and thus help in poverty analysis, policy formulation and programming.
The QLI also serves as an effective advocacy tool as it underscores the
importance of human development and makes it a priority concern in
development work.

Top and Bottom Provinces in QLI Rating (1999)

Top Provinces QLI Bottom Provinces QLI
1. Batanes 0.908 69. Biliran 0.549
2. Bataan 0.862 70. Bukidnon 0.543
3. Siquijor 0.855 71. North Cotabato 0.541
4. Cavite 0.844 72. Masbate 0.523
5. Ilocos Norte 0.828 73. Northern Samar 0.530
6. Pampanga 0.823 74. Occidental Mindoro 0.522
7. Bulacan 0.820 75. Basilan 0.514
8. Benguet 0.810 76. Sarangani 0.506
9. Nueva Ecija 0.803 77. Sulu 0.493
10. Batangas 0.802 78. Maguindanao 0.479
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