Can Social Protection Weaken Clientelism? Considering Conditional Cash Transfers as Political Reform in the Philippines

Arun Ranga Swamy


Since poverty is often believed to be a root cause of clientelism, government policies to reduce poverty should also help to reduce clientelism. However, scholars studying clientelism are more likely to view social policy as a potential resource for clientelist politicians. This article examines this paradox in the Philippine context by offering a general framework to identify when social welfare policies are likely to reduce clientelism, and by applying this framework to the Philippines, focusing on the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino conditional cash transfer programme, or Pantawid. I argue that the policies that are most likely to undercut clientelism are universal social protection policies that provide poor families with security, although these are the least acceptable to middle-class taxpayers. This is exemplified by the Philippines, which has tended to introduce social policies that increase the scope for clientelism by making discretionary allocation more likely, rather than policies that offer income security to the poor. The Pantawid programme attempts to overcome these problems by introducing a centralised targeting mechanism to identify beneficiaries and by guaranteeing the benefit to all eligible families, but like all conditional cash transfer programs falls short of guaranteed and universal social protection.

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