More than 40 per cent of the Philippines 76.5 million inhabitants are living below the poverty line, a report by the Commission on Population said yesterday. Tomas Osias, executive directors of the commission also warned that country's rapid population growth could also stifle whatever economic gains the country would be able to achieve in the coming years.

The country's population growth rate is presently at 2.36 per cent. "Social conditions might become more difficult," the commission warned in a statement. Poverty is most prevalent in southern Philippines where a 30-year-old Muslim separatist war had ravaged the economy.

"Today, if 40 per cent of the current population is poor, then are an estimated 30.6 million individuals or 6.12 million families who are poor," the commission said. Living below the poverty line means not being able to live on three meals a day and not being able to attend to basic needs like education and shelter.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has made the eradication of poverty a major thrust of her administration. During her national address on Monday, she identified concerns such as livelihood and shelter as a major concern of government in the next 10 years as she called on Filipinos "to do their part," in achieving progress.

The Philippine economy is presently reeling after a battering from one political crisis to another since last year. Dr Dante B. Canlas, socio-economic planning secretary and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director-general, nevertheless sees a promising year for the national economy in the coming years.

According to Canlas, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will expand by 3.8-4.3 per cent, with industry growing by 4.0-4.5 per cent and services by 4.2-4.6 per cent for year 2001 alone. This optimism is reflected by the chief executive officers (CEOs) of multinational companies based in the Philippines who believe that the economy would undergo slow but steady improvement under Arroyo's watch.

A quarterly survey for the period ending June, 2001, of 62 top multinational executives by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Philippines show increasing investor confidence in the Arroyo government.