Human development index highlights inequality, slow pace of progress

29 Jul 2013

The Human Development Index (HDI) of provinces in the Philippines over the period from 1997-2009 as analyzed in the 2012/2013 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) launched today highlights the inequality and disparity across regions in the country and the slow pace of development.

Human development, as defined by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is a process of enlarging people's choices. For people to lead better lives, they must be able to enjoy a healthy and long-lasting existence measured by life expectancy at birth; have access to knowledge in its different expressions measured by basic enrollment ratios and literacy rate; have the material resources for a decent standard of living measured by income; and freely participate in community life and collective affairs.   The Aquino administration supports human development as demonstrated by a cabinet cluster on human development and poverty reduction.

The HDI is a summary measure of human development, computed using the average achievement in the three basic dimensions: a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living. Ideally, the HDI should be close to 1. It is motivated by the principle that income alone cannot faithfully reflect the basic dimensions of human development. Income is a means toward human development, not an end.

HDI rankings of provinces

The 2012/2013 PHDR shows that provinces with the highest HDI levels are all in Luzon and 9 out of 10 provinces with the lowest HDI levels are in Mindanao. On the average, the HDI of the top 10 provinces is twice that of the bottom 10. In 1997, the top 10 provinces were Batanes (0.822), Rizal (0.772), Benguet (0.721), Laguna (0.710), Cavite (0.690), Batangas (0.665), Bataan (0.662), Bulacan (0.657), Pampanga (0.650), and Zambales (0.629). In 2009, the list of top provinces remained almost the same except for two changes. The top ranked province was Benguet with an HDI of 0.849, followed by Batanes (0.789), Rizal (0.734), Cavite (0.709), Bulacan (0.699), Bataan (0.698), Laguna (0.695), two new entrants, Nueva Vizcaya (0.678) and Ilocos Norte (0.641), and Pampanga (0.634).

The bottom 10 provinces in 1997 had HDIs comparable to countries in the global HDR with low human development. These were Mt. Province (0.411), Siquijor (0.407), Sarangani (0.378), Agusan del Sur (0.369), Romblon (0.363), Northern Samar (0.357), Bohol (0.354), Masbate (0.340), Eastern Samar (0.338), and Sulu (0.318). 

Bottom 10

For 2009, a different set of provinces was found at the bottom. These were Lanao del Sur (0.416), Masbate (0.406), Zamboanga del Norte (0.384), Sarangani (0.371), Davao Oriental (0.356), Agusan del Sur (0.354), Zamboanga Sibugay (0.353); Tawi-Tawi (0.310), Maguindanao (0.300), and Sulu (0.266).

With the exception of Masbate, all the provinces in the bottom 10 are in Mindanao. Basilan is the only Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) province that is not in the bottom 10. Lanao del Sur, Tawi-tawi, Maguindano and Sulu are in the bottom 10, of which the latter three (3) are ranked the lowest.

Most of the 10 lowest-ranked provinces are conflict-ridden. Previous PHDRs have consistently shown that the bottom 10 provinces in almost every aspect of human development are also the most conflict-ridden ones. The 2005 PHDR that dealt with ‘Peace, Human Security and Human Development’ concluded that “deprivation and injustice, rather than hardship alone, lie at the heart of armed conflict.  As human insecurity increases from armed conflict, people turn away from those social and productive activities that could have facilitated the development of their human potential. Lives are destroyed, families and communities torn apart, cultures decline, and investment is foregone or deflected. Development in the immediate area stagnates and, through spillovers, the entire region and perhaps the entire country is affected.”

Both sets of provinces at the bottom in 1997 and 2009 showed very poor performance in the income component of the HDI even as their health and education components can be considered of medium-level achievement. Sulu’s HDI of 0.266 was almost as bad as those of the African countries of Niger (0.261), Democratic Republic of Congo (0.239), and Zimbabwe (0.140), which are ranked lowest in human development in the world. The HDI values of Philippine provinces traversed almost the entire range of HDI values found in the global HDRs.

Gainers and losers

Half of all provinces saw their rank worsen in 2009. Forty (40) provinces went through a virtuous cycle of progress while 27 experienced the opposite undergoing a vicious cycle. Sulu was the only province that did not change ranks, only because it was the bottom province in 1997 and still was in 2009. The rest of the provinces saw their HDI rank improve over the 12 years covered by the analysis. 51 out of 79 provinces are in the medium human development range. The HDR classifies human development ranges into very high, high, medium and low.

Over the same period from 1997-2009 the most improved provinces in human development are Benguet, Biliran, Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya, Catanduanes, Quirino, South Cotabato, Aurora, Bohol and Eastern Samar. The largest losers are Davao Oriental, Maguindanao, Batangas, Zamboanga del Norte, Quezon, Basilan, Laguna, Rizal, Tawi-tawi and Batanes.


Overall, the HDI of the Philippines is 0.654 where average life expectancy is 69 years; mean years of schooling is 8.9 years; expected years of schooling is 11.7 years; and gross national income (GNI) per capita is US$3,752. La Union has the highest life expectancy among all provinces at 76.4 years, which is 22.8 years greater than the bottom province of Tawi-Tawi with 53.6 years. On average, adults in the top 5 province have 10.1 years of schooling, 73% more than adults in the bottom 5 provinces; Sulu has 4.6 years of schooling. Children in Benguet are expected to attain about four (4) more years of schooling in adulthood, on average, compared to their counterparts in Mindanao. On average, the real per capita purchasing power of a top 5-province is almost three (3) times more that of a bottom-5 province.  

Inequality-adjusted HDI

When adjusted for inequality, the Philippines loses about 20% of its HDI. The inequality adjusted-HDI (IHDI) equals HDI where there is no inequality across people but is less that the HDI as inequality rises. The IHDI captures the uneven distribution of human development across a population.

Fifty of the 80 provinces incurred at least a 50 percent loss in HDI due to inequalities while the rest of the provinces had losses of almost a quarter of the HDI values. According to the 2012/2013 PHDR, this clearly shows the gravity of the inequality in the Philippines.

The 10 provinces with the largest losses were Sulu (declining by 77.8 percent), Maguindanao (74.4 percent), Tawi-Tawi (73.5 percent), Zamboanga Sibugay (73.5 percent), Agusan del Sur (70.4 percent), Davao Oriental (69.0 percent), Sarangani (68.7 percent), Zamboanga del Norte (68.6 percent), Lanao del Sur (66.5 percent), and Masbate (65.6 percent). Many of these provinces had very low HDIs to begin with and the added presence of inequalities was an aggravating factor.

The 10 provinces with the smallest losses in their HDI values due to inequalities were Ilocos Norte (decreasing by 43.7 percent), Pampanga (43.0 percent), Nueva Vizcaya (41.5 percent), Bataan (39.4 percent), Laguna (38.4 percent), Bulacan (37.9 percent), Cavite (36.7 percent), Rizal (35.8 percent), Batanes (29.4 percent), and Benguet (26.9 percent). Most these provinces also had some of the highest HDI levels.

Slow pace of development

While a slow but steady improvement is evident in indicators of human development for the country as a whole, this masks the highly variable performance among provinces throughout the period.

Global economic crises, such as those which engulfed the country in 1997-2008 and 2008-2009 are crucial factors explaining the larger trend, although the record also illustrates how improvements in non-income measures of human development can occur notwithstanding conjunctural variations in income. More important, however, is the sometimes volatile fluctuations in the human development indicators in some provinces. 

Especially worrisome are the prospects for provinces that have some of the lowest HDIs to begin with, but which in addition are locked in the vicious circle of falling incomes and falling health and education outcomes (Agusan del Sur, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Zamboanga Sibugay).

The long view also reveals rises and falls in the achievements of even erstwhile high-achievers in human development. The reasons for this can be varied, but a possible reason illustrates a point made in the PHDR’s theme chapter: mobility and migration can change the composition of a locality’s population in many ways.

Without foresight and adequate preparation, in-migration into a highly developed area can ultimately create problems in health, education, and even incomes e.g., through congestion, pollution, and the emergence of slums. On the other hand, outmigration of the skilled, educated, and youthful will certainly erode the record of the areas they leave behind.

Between 1980 and 2011, the pace of human development in the Philippines has been respectable but slow relative to the average of medium-HDI countries and countries in East Asia and the Pacific. Over the period,  China (101) and Thailand (103) overtook the Philippines. In 2013 global HDR, the Philippines is ranked 114th out of 187 countries. Among its comparators in Asia, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Cambodia and Laos are ranked below the Philippines but all are in the medium-human development range. Malaysia has entered the high-human development range and is ranked 64th.

Medium human-development countries have an HDI of at least 0.698. This ranking however has still a long way to go compared to those achieved by the 10 top-ranked countries of Norway, Australia, U.S., Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan.

Drivers of HDI results

What has driven these human development results? The 2012/2013 PHDR says that the income index had greatly contributed to these results compared to life expectancy and education indices which were not significantly different from the group average.

The PHDR notes that the period of analysis from 1997-2009 covers two (2) global financial and economic crises and the El Niño weather disturbance that underscores the impact of external shocks on human development in a country like the Philippines. Likewise, it points out the need for central or national policies to be sensitive to differing vulnerabilities of provinces to external shocks, thus emphasizing the importance of social protection and public safety nets.

Among the policy challenges, therefore, says the PHDR is for national institutions to incorporate analytical as well as policy approaches that take into account the unequal effects of macroeconomic policies at the subnational levels. A further need is for better delineation of authority among local units themselves, to facilitate effective decision-making with a larger scope that takes externalities and cross-boundary problems into account. “The nature of economic governance at the local level and its responsiveness to changes in macroeconomic signals needs to be better understood if volatility of incomes is to be minimized and income insecurity is reduced.”

What is clear is that the depth, variety, and implications of such local experiences can be adequately understood and addressed only by the political authorities and communities directly concerned. The collation and computation of a subnational series of the HDI and other indicators underscores the continuing advocacy to link achievements in human development with geographical political responsibility. 

This returns to the theme chapter’s message: under current arrangements, there is no effective political authority or responsibility for monitoring and understanding the record of human development at a comprehensive geographic scale, namely at the level of a province with all its cities and farms, all its leading and lagging areas, its entire population engaged in all types of economic activities, and its entire health and education delivery system. 

The PHDR was prepared by the Human Development Network (HDN), an independent team of experts who explore major issues of national concern, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  The theme of this report is “Geography and Human Development.”


More Information

ABOUT THIS REPORT: The 2012/13 PHDR is the 7th in a series of national human development reports (NHDRs) that have advocated the use of concepts and indicators of human development as a counterpoint to traditional measures like per capita income in development policy-making and practice. The first Philippine HDR came out in 1994 with the theme, "Human Development and People's Participation in Governance". Since this maiden issue, the human development framework has been applied to specific themes such as Gender (1997); Education (2000); Employment (2002); Peace and Human Security (2005); and Institutions and Politics (2009). This has gained for the PHDR a reputation of factually based, insightful and well-written analyses not just in the Philippines but also in the community of nations.

The Human Development Network (HDN) Foundation, Inc. is a nonstock, nonprofit organization whose mission is to propagate and mainstream the concept of sustainable human development through research and advocacy. It is the main partner of the UNDP in the conduct of dialogue and discussions among relevant groups and individuals pertaining to the major findings and conclusions of the yearly global human development reports in the Philippine context. The HDN, through the auspices of the UNDP, facilitates the preparation of the national version of the Human Development Report (HDR). For more info on the HDN:

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the UN’s global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. We are on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners.    The annual global Human Development Report (HDR) commissioned by UNDP, focuses the global debate on key development issues, providing new measurement tools, innovative analysis and often-controversial policy proposals. The global Report’s analytical framework and inclusive approach carry over into regional and national HDRs. For more info on UNDP: http://www.undp.org

 The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) is the policy-making and coordinating agency on statistical matters in the Philippines created under Executive Order No. 121 of January 30, 1987). Its objective is to develop an orderly Philippine Statistical System (PSS) that is capable of providing timely, accurate, relevant, and useful data for the government and the public for planning and decision-making. It also promotes the independence, objectivity, integrity, relevance and responsiveness of the PSS. In 2012, the HDN revived its collaboration with the NSCB on estimating the Human Development Index (HDI). This is to realize the institutions’ shared goal of mainstreaming the HDI by coming up with only one HDI estimate every three years and institutionalizing the HDI methodology for succeeding PHDRs. For more info on NSCB: