Marcos targets village industries as key to Philippine prosperity

Raising bullfrogs for export as food . . . earthworm farming . . . the making of bamboo chaise longues. These are part of a highly touted government effort to boost employment and put more money in the pockets of the rural and urban poor in the Philippines.

Called KKK for Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran (movement for livelihood and progress), the social and economic development program is designed to improve the lot of the poor through cottage industries and small agricultural projects at the village level.

In the brass band-style of Filipino politics, the regime of President Ferdinand E. Marcos trumpets the program as an elixir for eradicating poverty that taps the creative spirit of the Filipino people.

In a keynote address to the fifth session of the National Assembly Jan. 18, for example, the President Marcos sounded the call for the KKK as the centerpiece of his efforts to stimulate small-scale and medium-scale industries throughout the country.

What distinguishes the KKK from other economic development efforts in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia, government officials contend, is that it is two parts private initiative and one part government aid. Millions of pesos are being funneled into rural areas as start-up capital for everything from fish farms to goat raising. The money is to be used to create self-supporting enterprises that will generate long-term jobs and produce goods for export.

Targeted for aid under the KKK are some of the more impoverished groups, including fishermen, landless farmers, and urban slum dwellers. The program calls for transforming the nation's 42,000 barangays (villages) into ''self-reliant, productive'' communities. Employment-generating projects are to be launched in livestock, forestry, cottage industries, fisheries, waste recycling (such as using wood chips), and construction.

For the first two years, the government earmarked $240 million (2 billion pesos) for the project. An estimated $300 million will be made available in 1983 .

The funds are funneled to local banks, to be given out as low-interest loans. Two-thirds of projects are said to be in remote rural areas.

There's plenty of need for such a development program. Despite the country's leapfrogging growth rate over the past decade - GNP grew an average 6 percent a year - the World Bank estimates that 40 percent of the 50 million Filipino people live below the poverty level.

Close to one-third of the work force lacks full-time employment. And the yawning gap between rich and poor is growing.

The communist New People's Army has been successfully exploiting this economic hardship. The Maoist group has been picking up recruits in depressed rural areas of the archipelago, a problem probably in the minds of Marcos's economic planners when they launched the KKK program in August 1981.

Critics, however, shrug off the program as a mammoth pork-barrel project aimed at extending Marcos's political power base. That it is being coordinated by the Ministry of Human Settlements, headed by the powerful First Lady, Imelda Marcos, has done little to dispel that notion.

''In theory it could be a very good idea to get money to the grass roots,'' a Western diplomat says. ''In practice, it is not being implemented in the right way. A lot of the money goes into officials' pockets.''

Less partisan observers argue it will take several years to gauge the actual impact of the program.

The World Bank, in a recent report, noted that the program's success in boosting employment will depend in part on how much more credit it makes available for the poor than existing loan programs.

Even if only part of the money trickles down to rural villagers, some argue, it may be enough to help bump along the lumbering economy. ''It is going to give money to some of the poor, even if for political reasons,'' says Bernardo Villegas of the Center for Research and Communication, a private think tank.

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