Sustaining Reforms Amid the Pandemic?

By: Joy Aceron*

With 4.4 million households as beneficiaries, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) is the biggest social protection program of the government. Sustained across three (3) administrations (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Noynoy Aquino and Rodrigo Duterte), with its ambitious poverty reduction and participatory reform agenda withstanding three transitions, the program’s resilience is worth looking into and learning from.

This COVID-19 pandemic, the 4Ps delivery system has fared well in bringing needed assistance to poor Filipinos. Assistance through the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) has reached 4Ps beneficiaries faster and with less issues compared to non-4Ps beneficiaries (see page 6 of G-Watch report). The institutionalization of the program as a result of the passage of Republic Act 11310 or the 4Ps Law has ensured that the 4.4 million households benefitting from 4Ps receive their regular payouts amid challenges and uncertainties of the pandemic.

Last week, a monograph was launched that tells the story behind the passage of the 4Ps Law. Titled Iisang Pangarap: Ang Kwento ng ng Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pamilyang Pantawid, the monograph attributes the passage of the 4Ps Law to the dreams and efforts of the organization of 4Ps beneficiaries.

Launched in November 2016, the Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pamilyang Pantawid (SNPP) is composed of 4Ps beneficiaries all over the country who organized themselves and campaigned for the passage of the 4Ps Law, mainly in response to threats of the discontinuation of the program. It was also formed to help ensure that poverty reduction programs of the government truly respond to the needs and issues of the Filipino poor.

The 40-page monograph starts with an introduction of 4Ps and what it aims to achieve. The paper’s description of 4Ps is generally optimistic and positive, excluding discussion on the problems, issues and/ or critiques on 4Ps. The program design of 4Ps is described by the paper in such a way that people’s participation is front and center to 4Ps, which is a good framing for the focus of the paper. Aside from being a poverty reduction program, 4Ps include various citizen engagement and participatory reforms such as the Family Development Sessions, Youth Development Sessions, a grievance redress system (GRS) and a multi-sectoral advisory committee.

The paper's account of the formation of SNPP shows that the organization is formed from the ground-up through demand-driven and citizen-initiated/ -led approach. It shares that the initiators belong to an organization that was supportive of former President Noynoy Aquino’s Daang Matuwid.

According to the paper, SNPP’s campaign involved organizing from the ground of 4Ps beneficiaries, engagement with national government (DSWD and Congress), and use of social media for public information and advocacy campaigns. The paper gives an optimistic take on the role of social media or information communication technology in the organizing and campaigns of SNPP. 

The monograph also shares various initiatives of SNPP ranging from policy engagement to relief operations that are generally constructive, but also tackling issues that are critical of the current government (e.g., the drug war). There could be more details in the strategies, approaches and actions taken or being taken by SNPP that can still be discovered/ expounded. The monograph did not delve on SNPP’s engagement at the international, sub-national and local levels, though given their initiatives shared in the paper, it is likely that there would also be engagement or involvement of SNPP and their partners in these levels.

The last part provides a recap of the earlier parts and testimonies of SNPP members on the benefits of 4Ps. While the final part started pointing out the richness of the experience of SNPP as a source of lessons for social movements, the paper could have spent more time on the analysis of what worked when how for whom and with whom. Such analysis could be useful for other similar initiatives. 

For example, one interesting question is why this particular experience worked in sustaining a participatory reform program, while organizing by civil society to sustain Bottom-up-Budgeting (BUB) —another national poverty reduction/ participatory reform program under the Aquino administration —did not work. One angle worth contemplating is how 4Ps' individualized/ private benefits have become a powerful motivation or incentive for the beneficiaries of 4Ps to ensure that the program continues. This is something lacking in BuB. Not only were the benefits delayed in BuB, it also delivered collectivized/ public or group benefits.  (See

Also, while the paper shared how SNPP helped their members cope with the challenges of the pandemic, there could still be more discussion on whether the 4Ps’ citizen engagement reforms have been sustained.

The monograph could have also situated the significance of the experience of SNPP in the broader social movements or citizen action and on international discourse on conditional cash transfer (CCT). This is likely the first organization of CCT beneficiaries in the world organized to ensure the sustainability of the program and to continue claim-making by beneficiaries. CCT has become a popular poverty reduction program adopted by governments all over the world. One critical question on CCT is whether it is politically empowering to its beneficiaries. The experience of SNPP shows that it can be —if the CCT beneficiaries are organized from the ground-up into an independent organization. 

While the paper shares the positive effects of SNPP and 4Ps on SNPP members, the impact of SNPP outside 4Ps is yet to be seen. While the SNPP has become truly empowering for its members, whether SNPP members would be able to check and hold government accountable for its performance on 4Ps and other poverty reduction efforts and whether the SNPP will be effective in ensuring that 4Ps remains beneficial (and not harmful) to the country are yet to be seen. For instance, what if targeted social protection program is really problematic, and universal social program is the way to go —what will be SNPP's take on this policy issue that is very relevant to them? 

Overall, it is a good progress that an account on SNPP experience and the 4Ps has already been written. The paper is a good starting point for those keenly observing and studying SNPP and a good addition to those studying 4Ps and CCT. In particular, it is also a good material for those looking into the angle of people’s participation in social protection programs. It somehow broadens the literature on that to include demand-driven, from-the-ground up involvement of citizens. This complements the materials on the supply-driven or top-down citizen engagement features of poverty reduction and social protection programs that have been the main focus of more studies. 

With the significance of 4Ps in facilitating assistance to the poor during this COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines, the story of SNPP in playing an active part in sustaining the reform program that serves them is a source not only of lessons but of inspiration.


*Joy Aceron is convenor-director of G-Watch ( and research fellow-adviser at Accountability Research Center (