Archive for July 28th, 2008

SONA 2008: Full Text

July 28, 2008

STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS OF PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO DURING THE 2ND REGULAR SESSION OF THE 14TH CONGRESS OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, 28 July 2008

Thank you, Speaker Nograles. Senate President Villar. Senators and Representatives. Vice President de Castro, President Ramos, Chief Justice Puno, members of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen:

I address you today at a crucial moment in world history.

Just a few months ago, we ended 2007 with the strongest economic growth in a generation. Inflation was low, the peso strong and a million new jobs were created. We were all looking to a better, brighter future.

Because tough choices were made, kumikilos na ang bayan sa wakas. Malapit na sana tayo sa pagbalanse ng budget. We were retiring debts in great amounts, reducing the drag on our country’s development, habang namumuhunan sa taong bayan.

Biglang-bigla, nabaligtad ang ekonomiya ng mundo. Ang pagtalon ng presyo ng langis at pagkain ay nagbunsod ng pandaigdigan krisis, the worst since the Great Depression and the end of World War II. Some blame speculators moving billions of dollars from subprime mortgages to commodities like fuel and food. Others point of the very real surge in demand as millions of Chinese and Indians move up to the middle class.

Whatever the reasons, we are on a roller coaster ride of oil price hikes, high food prices and looming economic recession in the US and other markets. Uncertainty has moved like a terrible tsunami around the globe, wiping away gains, erasing progress.

This is a complex time that defies simple and easy solutions. For starters, it is hard to identify villains, unlike in the 1997 financial crisis. Everyone seems to be a victim, rich countries and poor, though certainly some can take more punishment than others.

To address these global challenges, we must go on building and buttressing bridges to allies around the world: to bring in the rice to feed our people, investments to create jobs; and to keep the peace and maintain stability in our country and the rest of the world. Yet even as we reach out to those who need, and who may need us, we strive for greater self-reliance.

Because tough choices were made, the global crisis did not catch us helpless and unprepared. Through foresight, grit and political will, we built a shield around our country that has slowed down and somewhat softened the worst effects of the global crisis. We have the money to care for our people and pay for food when there are shortages; for fuel despite price spikes.

Neither we nor anyone else in the world expected this day to come so soon but we prepared for it. For the guts not to flinch in the face of tough choices, I thank God. For the wisdom to recognize how needed you are, I thank, you Congress. For footing the bill, I thank the taxpayers.

The result has been, on the one hand, ito ang nakasalba sa bayan; and, on the other, more unpopularity for myself in the opinion polls. Yet, even unfriendly polls show self-rated poverty down to its 20-year low in 2007.

My responsibility as President is to take care to solve the problems we are facing now and to provide a vision and direction for how our nation should advance in the future.

Many in this great hall live privileged lives and exert great influence in public affairs. I am accessible to you, but I spend time every day with the underprivileged and under represented who cannot get a grip on their lives in the daily, all-consuming struggle to make ends meet.

Nag-aalala ako para sa naka-aawang maybahay na pasan ang pananagutan para sa buong pamilya. Nag-aalala ako para sa magsasakang nasa unang hanay ng pambansang produksyon ng pagkain ngunit nagsisikap pakanin ang pamilya. I care for hardworking students soon to graduate and wanting to see hope of good job and a career prospect here at home.

Nag-aalala ako para sa 41-year old na padre de pamilya na di araw-araw ang trabaho, at nag-aabala sa asawa at tatlong anak, at dapat bigyan ng higit pang pagkakakitaan at dangal. I care for our teachers who gave the greatest gift we ever received – a good education – still trying to pass on the same gift to succeeding generations. I care for our OFWs, famed for their skill, integrity and untiring labor, who send home their pay as the only way to touch loved ones so far away. Nagpupugay ako ngayon sa kanilang mga karaniwang Pilipino.

My critics say this is fiction, along with other facts and figures I cite today. I call it heroism though they don’t need our praise. Each is already a hero to those who matter most, their families.

I said this is a global crisis where everyone is a victim. But only few can afford to avoid, or pay to delay, the worst effects.

Many more have nothing to protect them from the immediate blunt force trauma of the global crisis. Tulad ninyo, nag-aalala ako para sa kanila. Ito ang mga taong bayan na dapat samahan natin. Not only because of their sacrifices for our country but because they are our countrymen.

How do we solve these many complex challenges?

Sa kanilang kalagayan, the answer must be special care and attention in this great hour of need.

First, we must have a targeted strategy with set of precise prescriptions to ease the price challenges we are facing.

Second, food self-sufficiency; less energy dependence; greater self-reliance in our attitude as a people and in our posture as a nation.

Third, short-term relief cannot be at the expense of long term reforms. These reforms will benefit not just the next generation of Filipinos, but the next President as well.

Napakahalaga ang Value Added Tax sa pagharap sa mga hamong ito.

Itong programa ang sagot sa mga problemang namana natin.

Una, mabawasan ang ating mga utang and shore up our fiscal independence.

Pangalawa, higit na pamumuhunan para mamamayan at imprastraktura.

Pangatlo, sapat na pondo para sa mga programang pangmasa.

Thus, the infrastructure links programmed for the our poorest provinces like Northern Samar: Lao-ang-Lapinig-Arteche, right now ay maputik, San Isidro-Lope de Vega; the rehabilitation of Maharlika in Samar.

Take VAT away and you and I abdicate our responsibility as leaders and pull the rug from under our present and future progress, which may be compromised by the global crisis.

Lalong lumakas ang tiwala ng mga investor dahil sa VAT. Mula P56.50 kada dolyar, lumakas ang piso hanggang P40.20 bago bumalik sa P44 dahil sa mga pabigat ng pangdaigdigang ekonomiya. Kung alisin ang VAT, hihina ang kumpiyansa ng negosyo, lalong tataas ang interes, lalong bababa ang piso, lalong mamahal ang bilihin.

Kapag ibinasura ang VAT sa langis at kuryente, ang mas makikinabang ay ang mga may kaya na kumukonsumo ng 84% ng langis at 90% ng kuryente habang mas masasaktan ang mahihirap na mawawalan ng P80 billion para sa mga programang pinopondohan ngayon ng VAT. Take away VAT and we strip our people of the means to ride out the world food and energy crisis.

We have come too far and made too many sacrifices to turn back now on fiscal reforms. Leadership is not about doing the first easy thing that comes to mind; it is about doing what is necessary, however hard.

The government has persevered, without flip-flops, in its much-criticized but irreplaceable policies, including oil and power VAT and oil deregulation.

Patuloy na gagamitin ng pamahalaan ang lumalago nating yaman upang tulungan ang mga pamilyang naghihirap sa taas ng bilihin at hampas ng bagyo, habang nagpupundar upang sanggahan ang bayan sa mga krisis sa hinaharap.

Para sa mga namamasada at namamasahe sa dyip, sinusugpo natin ang kotong at colorum upang mapataas ang kita ng mga tsuper. Si Federico Alvarez kumikita ng P200 a day sa kaniyang rutang Cubao-Rosario. Tinaas ito ng anti-kotong, anti-colorum ngayon P500 na ang kita niya. Iyan ang paraan kung paano napananatili ang dagdag-pasahe sa piso lamang. Halaga lang ng isang text.

Texting is a way of life. I asked the telecoms to cut the cost of messages between networks. They responded. It is now down to 50 centavos.

Noong Hunyo, nagpalabas tayo ng apat na bilyong piso mula sa VAT sa langis-dalawang bilyong pambayad ng koryente ng apat na milyong mahihirap, isang bilyon para college scholarship o pautang sa 70,000 na estudyanteng maralita; kalahating bilyong pautang upang palitan ng mas matipid na LPG, CNG o biofuel ang motor ng libu-libong jeepney; at kalahating bilyong pampalit sa fluorescent sa mga pampublikong lugar.

Kung mapapalitan ng fluorescent ang lahat ng bumbilya, makatitipid tayo ng lampas P2 billion.

Sa sunod na katas ng VAT, may P1 billion na pambayad ng kuryente ng mahihirap; kalahating bilyon para sa matatandang di sakop ng SSS o GSIS; kalahating bilyong kapital para sa pamilya ng mga namamasada; kalahating bilyon upang mapataas ang kakayahan at equipment ng mga munting ospital sa mga lalawigan. At para sa mga kalamidad, angkop na halaga.

We released P1 billion for the victims of typhoon Frank. We support a supplemental Western Visayas calamity budget from VAT proceeds, as a tribute to the likes of Rodney Berdin, age 13, of Barangay Rombang, Belison, Antique, who saved his mother, brother and sister from the raging waters of Sibalom River.

Mula sa buwang ito, wala nang income tax ang sumusweldo ng P200,000 o mas mababa sa isang taon – P12 billion na bawas-buwis para sa maralita at middle class. Maraming salamat, Congress.

Ngayong may P32 na commercial rice, natugunan na natin ang problema sa pagkain sa kasalukuyan. Nagtagumpay tayo dahil sa pagtutulungan ng buong bayan sa pagsasaka, bantay-presyo at paghihigpit sa price manipulation, sa masipag na pamumuno ni Artie Yap.

Sa mga LGU at religious groups na tumutulong dalhin ang NFA rice sa mahihirap, maraming salamat sa inyo.

Dahil sa subsidy, NFA rice is among the region’s cheapest. While we can take some comfort that our situation is better than many other nations, there is no substitute for solving the problem of rice and fuel here at home. In doing so, let us be honest and clear eyed – there has been a fundamental shift in global economics. The price of food and fuel will likely remain high. Nothing will be easy; the government cannot solve these problems over night. But, we can work to ease the near-term pain while investing in long-term solutions.

Since 2001, new irrigation systems for 146,000 hectares, including Malmar in Maguindanao and North Cotabato, Lower Agusan, Casecnan and Aulo in Nueva Ecija, Abulog-Apayao in Cagayan and Apayao, Addalam in Quirino and Isabela, among others, and the restoration of old systems on another 980,000 hectares have increased our nation’s irrigated land to a historic 1.5 million hectares.

Edwin Bandila, 48 years old, of Ugalingan, Carmen, North Cotabato, cultivated one hectare and harvested 35 cavans. Thirteen years na ginawa iyong Malmar. In my first State of the Nation Address, sabi ko kung hindi matapos iyon sa Setyembre ay kakanselahin ko ang kontrata, papapasukin ko ang engineering brigade, natapos nila. With Malamar, now he cultivates five hectares and produces 97 cavans per hectare. Mabuhay, Edwin! VAT will complete the San Roque-Agno River project.

The Land Bank has quadrupled loans for farmers and fisherfolk. That is fact not fiction. Check it. For more effective credit utilization, I instructed DA to revitalize farmers cooperatives.

We are providing seeds at subsidized prices to help our farmers.

Incremental Malampaya national revenues of P4 billion will go to our rice self-sufficiency program.

Rice production since 2000 increased an average of 4.07% a year, twice the population growth rate. By promoting natural planning and female education, we have curbed population growth to 2.04% during our administration, down from the 2.36 in the 1990′s, when artificial birth control was pushed. Our campaign spreads awareness of responsible parenthood regarding birth spacing. Long years of pushing contraceptives made it synonymous to family planning. Therefore informed choice should mean letting more couples, who are mostly Catholics, know about natural family planning.

From 1978 to 1981, nag-export tayo ng bigas. Hindi tumagal. But let’s not be too hard on ourselves. Panahon pa ng Kastila bumibili na tayo ng bigas sa labas. While we may know how to grow rice well, topography doesn’t always cooperate.

Nature did not gift us with a mighty Mekong like Thailand and Vietnam, with their vast and naturally fertile plains. Nature instead put our islands ahead of our neighbours in the path of typhoons from the Pacific. So, we import 10% of the rice we consume.

To meet the challenge of today, we will feed our people now, not later, and help them get through these hard times. To meet the challenges of tomorrow, we must become more self-reliant, self-sufficient and independent, relying on ourselves more than on the world.

Now we come to the future of agrarian reform.

There are those who say it is a failure, that our rice importations prove it. There are those who say it is a success-if only because anything is better than nothing. Indeed, people are happier owning the land they work, no matter what the difficulties.

Sa SONA noong 2001, sinabi ko, bawat taon, mamamahagi tayo ng dalawang daang libong ektarya sa reporma sa lupa: 100,000 hectares of private farmland and 100,000 of public farmland, including ancestral domains. Di hamak mahigit sa target ang naipamahagi natin sa nakaraang pitong taon: 854,000 hectares of private farmland, 797,000 of public farmland, and Certificates of Ancestral Domain for 525,000 hectares. Including, over a 100,000 hectares for Bugkalots in Quirino, Aurora, and Nueva Vizcaya. After the release of their CADT, Rosario Camma, Bugkalot chieftain, and now mayor of Nagtipunan, helped his 15,000-member tribe develop irrigation, plant vegetables and corn and achieve food sufficiency. Mabuhay, Chief!

Agrarian reform should not merely subdivide misery, it must raise living standards. Ownership raises the farmer from his but productivity will keep him on his feet.

Sinimula ng aking ama ang land reform noong 1963. Upang mabuo ito, the extension of CARP with reforms is top priority. I will continue to do all I can for the rural as well as urban poor. Ayaw natin na paglaya ng tenant sa landlord, mapapasa-ilalim naman sa usurero. Former tenants must be empowered to become agribusinessmen by allowing their land to be used as collateral.

Dapat mapalaya ng reporma sa lupa ang magsasaka sa pagiging alipin sa iba. Dapat bigyan ang magsasaka ng dangal bilang taong malaya at di hawak ninuman. We must curb the recklessness that gives land without the means to make it productive and bites off more than beneficiaries can chew.

At the same time, I want the rackets out of agrarian reform: the threats to take and therefore undervalue land, the conspiracies to overvalue it.

Be with me on this. There must be a path where justice and progress converge. Let us find it before Christmas. Dapat nating linisin ang landas para sa mga ibig magpursige sa pagsasaka, taglay ang pananalig na ang lupa ay sasagip sa atin sa huli kung gamitin natin ito nang maayos.

Along with massive rice production, we are cutting costs through more efficient transport. For our farm-to-market roads, we released P6 billion in 2007.

On our nautical highways. RORO boats carried 33 million metric tons of cargo and 31 million passengers in 2007. We have built 39 RORO ports during our administration, 12 more are slated to start within the next two years. In 2003, we inaugurated the Western Nautical Highway from Batangas through Mindoro, Panay and Negros to Mindanao. This year we launched the Central Nautical Highway from Bicol mainland, through Masbate, Cebu, Bohol and Camiguin to Mindanao mainland. These developments strengthen our competitiveness.

Leading multinational company Nestle cut transport costs and offset higher milk prices abroad. Salamat, RORO. Transport costs have become so reasonable for bakeries like Gardenia, a loaf of its bread in Iloilo is priced the same as in Laguna and Manila. Salamat muli sa RORO.

To the many LGUs who have stopped collecting fees from cargo vehicles, maraming, maraming salamat.

We are repaving airports that are useful for agriculture, like Zamboanga City Airport.

Producing rice and moving it cheaper addresses the supply side of our rice needs. On the demand side, we are boosting the people’s buying power.

Ginagawa nating labor-intensive ang paggawa at pag-ayos ng kalsada at patubig. Noong SONA ng 2001, naglunsad tayo sa NCR ng patrabaho para sa 20,000 na out of school youth, na tinawag OYSTER. Ngayon, mahigit 20,000 ang ineempleyo ng OYSTER sa buong bansa. In disaster-stricken areas, we have a cash-for-work program.

In training, 7.74 million took technical and vocational courses over the last seven years, double the number in the previous 14 years. In 2007 alone, 1.7 million graduated. Among them are Jessica Barlomento now in Hanjin as supply officer, Shenve Catana, Marie Grace Comendador, and Marlyn Tusi, lady welders, congratulations.

In microfinance, loans have reached P102 billion or 30 times more than the P3 billion we started with in 2001, with a 98% repayment record, congratulations! Major lenders include the Land Bank with P69 billion, the Peoples’ Credit and Finance Corporation P8 billion, the National Livelihood Support Fund P3 billion, DBP P1 billion and the DSWD’s SEA-K P800 million. For partnering with us to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit, thank you, Go Negosyo and Joey Concepcion.

Upland development benefits farmers through agro-forestry initiatives. Rubber is especially strong in Zamboanga Sibugay and North Cotabato. Victoria Mindoro, 56 years old, used to earn P5,000 a month as farmer and factory worker. Now she owns 10 hectares in the Goodyear Agrarian Reform Community in Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay, she earns P10,000 a week. With one hectare, Pedro and Concordia Faviolas of Makilala, North Cotabato, they sent their six children to college, bought two more hectares, and earn P15,000 a month. Congratulations!

Jatropha estates are starting in 900 hectares in and around Tamlang Valley in Negros Oriental; 200 in CamSur; 300 in GenSan, 500 in Fort Magsaysay near the Cordero Dam and 700 in Samar, among others.

In our 2006 SONA, our food baskets were identified as North Luzon and Mindanao.

The sad irony of Mindanao as food basket is that it has some of the highest hunger in our nation. It has large fields of high productivity, yet also six of our ten poorest provinces.

The prime reason is the endless Mindanao conflict. A comprehensive peace has eluded us for half a century. But last night, differences on the tough issue of ancestral domain were resolved. Yes, there are political dynamics among the people of Mindanao. Let us sort them out with the utmost sobriety, patience and restraint. I ask Congress to act on the legislative and political reforms that will lead to a just and lasting peace during our term of office.

The demands of decency and compassion urge dialogue. Better talk than fight, if nothing of sovereign value is anyway lost. Dialogue has achieved more than confrontation in many parts of the world. This was the message of the recent World Conference in Madrid organized by the King of Saudi Arabia, and the universal message of the Pope in Sydney.

Pope Benedict’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est reminds us: “There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love for neighbour is indispensable.”

Pinagsasama-sama natin ang mga programa ng DSWD, DOH, GSIS, SSS at iba pang lumalaban sa kahirapan sa isang National Social Welfare Program para proteksyonan ang pinaka-mahihirap mula sa pandaigdigang krisis, and to help those whose earnings are limited by illness, disability, loss of job, age and so on-through livelihood projects, microfinance, skills and technology transfer, emergency and temporary employment, pension funds, food aid and cash subsidies, child nutrition and adult health care, medical missions, salary loans, insurance, housing programs, educational and other savings schemes, and now cheaper medicine-Thanks to Congress.

The World Bank says that in Brazil, the income of the poorest 10% has grown 9% per year versus the 3% for the higher income levels due in large part to their family stipend program linking welfare checks to school attendance. We have introduced a similar program, Pantawid Pamilya.

Employers have funded the two increases in SSS benefits since 2005. Thank you, employers for paying the premiums.

GSIS pensions have been indexed to inflation and have increased every year since 2001. Its salary loan availments have increased from two months equivalent to 10 months, the highest of any system public or private-while repayments have been stretched out.

Pag-Ibig housing loans increased from P3.82 billion in 2001 to P22.6 billion in 2007. This year it experienced an 84% increase in the first four months alone. Super heating na. Dapat dagdagan ng GSIS at buksan muli ng SSS ang pautang sa pabahay. I ask Congress to pass a bill allowing SSS to do housing loans beyond the present 10% limitation.

Bago ako naging Pangulo, isa’t kalahating milyong maralita lamang ang may health insurance. Noong 2001, sabi natin, dadagdagan pa ng kalahating milyon. Sa taong iyon, mahigit isang milyon ang nabigyan natin. Ngayon, 65 milyong Pilipino na ang may health insurance, mahigit doble ng 2000, kasama ang labinlimang milyong maralita. Philhealth has paid P100 billion for hospitalization. The indigent beneficiaries largely come from West and Central Visayas, Central Luzon, and Ilocos. Patuloy nating palalawakin itong napaka-importanted programa, lalo na sa Tawi-Tawi, Zambo Norte, Maguindanao, Apayao, Dinagat, Lanao Sur, Northern Samar, Masbate, Abra and Misamis Occidental. Lalo na sa kanilang mga magsasaka at mangingisda.

In these provinces and in Agusan Sur, Kalinga, Surigao Sur and calamity-stricken areas, we will launch a massive school feeding program at P10 per child every school day.

Bukod sa libreng edukasyon sa elementarya at high school, nadoble ang pondo para sa mga college scholarships, while private high school scholarship funds from the government have quadrupled.

I have started reforming and clustering the programs of the DepEd, CHED and TESDA.

As with fiscal and food challenges, the global energy crunch demands better and more focused resource mobilization, conservation and management.

Government agencies are reducing their energy and fuel bills by 10%, emulating Texas Instruments and Philippine Stock Exchange who did it last year. Congratulations, Justice Vitug and Francis Lim.

To reduce power system losses, we count on government regulators and also on EPIRA amendments.

We are successful in increasing energy self-sufficiency-56%, the highest in our history. We promote natural gas and biofuel; geothermal fields, among the world’s largest; windmills like those in Ilocos and Batanes; and the solar cells lighting many communities in Mindanao. The new Galoc oil field can produce 17,000-22,000 barrels per day, 1/12 of our crude consumption.

The Renewable Energy Bill has passed the House. Thank you, Congressmen.

Our costly commodity imports like oil and rice should be offset by hard commodities exports like primary products, and soft ones like tourism and cyberservices, at which only India beats us.

Our P 350 million training partnership with the private sector should qualify 60,000 for call centers, medical transcription, animation and software development, which have a projected demand of one million workers generating $13 billion by 2010.

International finance agrees with our progress. Credit rating agencies have kept their positive or stable outlook on the country. Our world competitiveness ranking rose five notches. Congratulations to us.

We are sticking to, and widening, the fiscal reforms that have earned us their respect.

To our investors, thank you for your valuable role in our development. I invite you to invest not only in factories and services, but in profitable infrastructure, following the formula for the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway.

I ask business and civil society to continue to work for a socially equitable, economically viable balance of interests. Mining companies should ensure that host communities benefit substantively from their investments, and with no environmental damage from operations.

Our administration enacted the Solid Waste Management Act, Wildlife Act, Protection of Plant Varieties, Clean Water Act, Biofuels Act and various laws declaring protected areas.

For reforestation, for next year we have budgeted P2 billion. Not only do forests enhance the beauty of the land, they mitigate climate change, a key factor in increasing the frequency and intensity of typhoons and costing the country 0.5% of the GDP.

We have set up over 100 marine and fish sanctuaries since 2001. In the whaleshark sanctuary of Donsol, Sorsogon, Alan Amanse, 40-year-old college undergraduate and father of two, was earning P100 a day from fishing and driving a tricycle. Now as whaleshark-watching officer, he is earns P1,000 a day, ten times his former income.

For clean water, so important to health, there is P500 million this year and P1.5 billion for next year.

From just one sanitary landfill in 2001, we now have 21, with another 18 in the works.

We launched the Zero Basura Olympics to clear our communities of trash. Rather than more money, all that is needed is for each citizen to keep home and workplace clean, and for garbage officials to stop squabbling.

Our investments also include essential ways to strengthen our institutions of governance in order to fight the decades-old scourge of corruption. I will continue to fight this battle every single day. While others are happy with headlines through accusation without evidence and privilege speeches without accountability, we have allocated more than P3 billion – the largest anti-graft fund in our history – for real evidence gathering and vigorous prosecution.

From its dismal past record, the Ombudsman’s conviction rate has increased 500%. Lifestyle checks, never seriously implemented before our time, have led to the dismissal and/or criminal prosecution of dozens of corrupt officials.

I recently met with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US agency that provides grants to countries based on governance. They have commended our gains, contributed P1 billion to our fight against graft, and declared us eligible for more grants. Thank you!

Last September, we created the Procurement Transparency Group in the DBM and linked it with business, academe, and the Church, to deter or catch anomalies in government contracts.

On my instruction, the BIR and Customs established similar government-civil society tie-ups for information gathering and tax evasion and smuggling monitoring.

More advanced corruption practices require a commensurate advances in legislative responses. Colleagues in Congress, we need a more stringent Anti-Graft Act.

Sa pagmahal ng bilihin, hirap na ang mamimili – tapos, dadayain pa. Dapat itong mahinto. Hinihiling ko sa Kongreso na magpasa ng Consumer Bill of Rights laban sa price gouging, false advertising at iba pang gawain kontra sa mamimili.

I call on all our government workers at the national and local levels to be more responsive and accountable to the people. Panahon ito ng pagsubok. Kung saan kayang tumulong at dapat tumulong ang pamahalaan, we must be there with a helping hand. Where government can contribute nothing useful, stay away. Let’s be more helpful, more courteous, more quick.

Kaakibat ng ating mga adhikain ang tuloy na pagkalinga sa kapakanan ng bawat Pilipino. Iisa ang ating pangarap – maunlad at mapayapang lipunan, kung saan ang magandang kinabukasan ay hindi pangarap lamang, bagkus natutupad.

Sama-sama tayo sa tungkuling ito. May papel na gagampanan ang bawat mamamayan, negosyante, pinunong bayan at simbahan, sampu ng mga nasa lalawigan.

We are three branches but one government. We have our disagreements; we each have hopes, and ambitions that drive and divide us, be they personal, ethnic, religious and cultural. But we are one nation with one fate.

As your President, I care too much about this nation to let anyone stand in the way of our people’s wellbeing. Hindi ko papayagang humadlang ang sinuman sa pag-unlad at pagsagana ng taong bayan. I will let no one – and no one’s political plans – threaten our nation’s survival.

Our country and our people have never failed to be there for us. We must be there for them now.

Maraming salamat. Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat.

Editorial Cartoon: SONA 2008

July 28, 2008

Nothing said.

Arroyo: ‘I will let no one threaten our nation’s survival’

July 28, 2008

3 strategies bared to solve ‘complex changes’

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 17:01:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The global food and oil crisis notwithstanding, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has assured Filipinos that the nation would survive, as she spelled out her administration’s programs and how revenues from the expanded value added tax would help tide the country over.

This year’s State of the Nation’s Address was Arroyo’s eighth since she assumed post in 2001.

Arroyo rallied the public, Congress, and the judiciary to work with her for the people, stressing that she will not let the political ambitions of some to get in the way of her desire for the nation.

“As your President, I will let no one — and no one’s political plans — get in the way of the well-being of the people. I will let no one hinder our people’s progress and prosperity. I will let no one threaten our nation’s survival. This is my commitment,” she said in her speech.

“Our country and our people have never failed to be there for us. Let us be there for them. Now,” she added.

Arroyo said global challenges confronted the country with the surge in oil and food prices. But she added that “because tough choices were made, the global crisis did not catch us helpless and unprepared.”

She laid down three strategies to solve “many complex challenges.”

“First, we must have a targeted strategy and set of precise
prescriptions to ease the price challenge we are facing; second, food self-sufficiency, less energy dependence, greater self-reliance in our attitude as a people and in our posturing as a nation; and third, short-term relief cannot be at the expense of long-term efforts. These reforms will benefit not just the next generation of Filipinos, but the next President as well,” she said.

She said that the 12-percent VAT, which many sectors want scrapped, has a very crucial role to play in meeting these strategies.

“Itong programa ay sagot sa mga problemang namana natin [This program is the answer to the problems we have inherited],” she said.

“Una, mababawasan ang ating mga utang [First, our debts will be reduced] and shore up our fiscal independence; pangalawa, higit na pamumuhunan para sa imprastraktura
at taong bayan [second, more investments for infrastructure and our people]; panghuli, sapat na pondo sa mga programang pang-masa [and last, enough funds for pro-poor programs],”she said.

“Take VAT away and you and will abdicate our responsibility as leaders and pull the rug from under our present and future progress, which may be compromised by the global crisis,” she said.

She said her administration has persevered and has been “without flip-flops” despite the “much criticized but necessary policies” on oil and VAT and oil deregulation.

Editorial Cartoon: SONA 2008: Lubog!

July 28, 2008

Palubog na!

Activists move toward QC church after agreement with cops

July 28, 2008

By Abigail Kwok, Katherine Evangelista
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 09:25:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 3) Thousands of left-wing activists began moving toward St. Peter’s church on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City early Monday afternoon following negotiations with police who had earlier blocked them from the previously agreed rally site.

Earlier, the protesters accused police of not honoring their word after the activists were prevented from the designated rally site 100 meters from the church to deliver what they call the “people’s state of the nation address” to counter the report President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be giving before the joint session of Congress later Monday afternoon.

The protesters had been stopped in front of the Ever Gotesco Mall, just before the church.

But after negotiations between protest leaders and authorities, the police backed away and set up another barricade in front of the church, which is near the Batasang Pambansa, where Arroyo will deliver her speech.

“Hindi sila [police] tumutupad sa usapan [They are not complying with the agreement],” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance) secretary general
Renato Reyes said earlier.

He said they were thinking of filing charges against Director Geary Barias, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office.

Reyes said they expect around 10,000 people to join the protest demanding for a wage increase, oil price rollbacks, and the ouster of Arroyo but police estimated the crowd at 7,000.

Earlier on Monday, the protesters asked Arroyo to stop lying.

Aside from calling for the President’s ouster, groups want Arroyo to tell the truth. And the truth, said Bayan, is that the Arroyo government is “fooling” the people.

Militant groups marched to the rally area carrying a 21-foot effigy of Arroyo “abandoning” the country, symbolized by a sinking ship, inspired by the capsizing of the MV Princess of the Stars last June.

Militant groups called on Arroyo to stop the “festival of lies,” and to bring “immediate economic relief to the country.”

Youth groups also staged classroom walkouts and headed to Tandang Sora before heading to Commonwealth Avenue. Participating schools include University of the Philippines, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, Adamson University, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, Miriam College, and Arellano University, among others.

Cities across the country have also vowed to participate in the protest.

Reyes said mass actions have already started in Baguio City, Southern Tagalog, Bicol and Caraga regions, and the cities of Cebu, Davao and Bacolod.

In Cebu, members of Bayan are expected to gather at Fuente Osmeña Circle before marching towards the Gaisano Mall. In Davao, protesters will march towards Rizal Park and will a hold a protest action followed by a concert.

Protest actions in US, Canada, and Australia have also been set, said Reyes.

Regional transport strikes are set on Tuesday in the Bicol provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon.

Youths slam decline in education subsidy

July 28, 2008

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:46:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Did you know that the Arroyo Administration spends only P12 on every public school student per day—or P2 less than what it allots for the purchase of an M-16 rifle bullet.

That, militants say, is the sad truth about government priorities.

“The truth is, government subsidy to education has been on a consistent decline since [President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] came to power in 2001,” the League of Filipino Students and the Anakbayan youth group said in a joint statement Sunday.

“In 2001, government spent a measly 3.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product on education. The amount, which already falls short of the United Nations prescription of a minimum 6 percent of the GDP, dropped to 2.4 percent,” they said.

For LFS and Anakbayan leaders Vencer Crisostomo and Ken Ramos, “a bleak future has become the legacy of the Arroyo administration.”

Crisostomo, Ramos and other leaders of left-leaning youth organizations are to raise the issue in Monday’s protest rallies to coincide with Ms Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address.

“For the past seven years, education has become less accessible to Filipino students as a result of the rising cost of tuition and other school fees. Besides the worsening crisis in the education sector, we also face rising food and fuel prices, bringing along with them the cost of other basic commodities,” Crisostomo and Ramos said in the statement.

They said that since 2001, the national average tuition rate had risen by almost 70 percent.

“In the National Capital Region, it has risen by 118.53 percent,” they said.

“But it is not only rising tuition and school fees that students have to cope up with. Students and their parents have to bear the brunt of the economic crisis,” they added.

Thus, it is no longer a surprise that more and more students are dropping out of school each year, they said. Jerry E. Esplanada(PDI)

PUP suspends classes in college level

July 28, 2008

MANILA, Philippines—The Polytechnic University of the Philippines early Monday announced the suspension of classes in the collegiate level, a radio report said.

School officials said the class suspension was announced in order for students to hear the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a dzMM report said.

On Sunday, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said in a text message that due to “enhanced monsoon rains,” elementary and high school classes for Monday have been suspended in 13 provinces in Luzon, including Metro Manila.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council ordered the suspension of classes for both the elementary and high school levels in the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union, Benguet, Mountain Province, Pangasinan, Zambales, Bataan, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, and Metro Manila.

The NDCC made it clear that the suspension of classes in these regions was not related in any way to the President’s SONA, the dzMM said in another report. With a report from Katherine Evangelista, INQUIRER.net

================================

My Take:

Wow!  This government is so desperate they will do anything just to have an audience to their SONA.

Theres The Rub: State of the nation

July 28, 2008

By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:07:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines – Pulse Asia says only one out of 10 Filipinos still believes GMA’s Sonas are truthful. That is because since January 2001, she has told the following truths in her Sonas:
Well, maybe this, on Dec. 30, 2002:

“If I were to run, it will require a major political effort on my part. But since I’m among the principal figures in the divisive national events for the last two or three years, my political efforts can only result in never-ending divisiveness.

“In view of (this), I have decided not to run for President during the election of 2004.”

But that wasn’t a Sona, that was a sana.

How Arroyo fared in previous SONAs

July 28, 2008

By Inquirer Research
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:41:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has made a number of promises in her State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs). How did some of the promises fare?

• Increased investments in physical, intellectual, legal and security infrastructure to increase business confidence

The 2008 budget allocated nearly P200 billion for public sector infrastructure, up from P185.67 billion in 2007.

According to Presidential Management Staff Secretary Cerge Remonde, 20 of the 149 priority infrastructure projects mentioned in the 2006 and 2007 SONAs have been completed.

The launch of the Central Nautical Highway in April brought to 17 the total number of ports interconnected to the Ro-Ro (roll-on, roll-off) Highway System.

Still, business confidence was down to its lowest level in more than two years by May, according to a survey by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, due to skyrocketing food and fuel prices.

• One million jobs

National Economic and Development Authority data show that from the 978,000 jobs created in 2004, the figure dropped to 699,000 in 2005 and to 486,000 in 2006.

In 2007, the number of jobs created likely reached at least one million. In January to October 2007, at least 767,000 jobs were generated.

But figures from the National Statistics Office released in June show that employment went down from 33.7 million in April 2007 to 33.5 million in April this year.

The unemployment rate was likewise up between April 2007 and April 2008—from 7.4 percent to 8 percent.

• More funding for investments in a stronger and wider social safety net, including cheap medicine, affordable housing and quality education, among others.

Last month, Ms Arroyo signed Republic Act No. 9502, or the “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008.”

In April, she inaugurated the 11,000th Botika ng Barangay. BnBs have reportedly served 25 million Filipinos through half-priced medicine.

The Department of Education has reported the construction of some 15,000 classrooms, the creation of some 4,000 principal and head teacher items, and the creation of more than 16,000 new teacher items in 2007.

But school buildings in typhoon-ravaged areas still needed repair: Over 600 destroyed and over 1,000 damaged classrooms in Pangasinan by Typhoon “Cosme” and at least 100 school buildings in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao damaged by Typhoon “Frank.”

But a report by the National Statistical Coordination Board said primary school enrollment was only at 83 percent at the end of school year 2006-07.

While Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said that 2007-08 enrollment was at 85 percent, this was still lower than the 90 percent registered in 2002-03.

In fact, primary school enrollment has been decreasing since then—88.74 percent in 2003-04, 87.11 percent in 2004-05, and 84.44 percent in 2005-06.

In 2007, Pag-Ibig president Romero Quimbo said the housing provident fund had allotted P21 billion for housing loans. But it ended up lending an all-time high of P23.5 billion, up by 42.5 percent from the new loans released in 2006.

In April 2008, the Pag-Ibig Fund earmarked a record P30 billion for new low-cost housing loans to meet an expected boom in demand due to a low-interest-rate regime in 2008.

• A stop to human rights abuses

At the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in April, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s report on the Philippine situation was reportedly applauded by member-countries.

But while the number of rights abuses and extra-judicial killings has gone down, the government is still being criticized for not effectively prosecuting the perpetrators.

High-profile cases of disappearances (Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño) have yet to be resolved.

Police are also accused of summarily executing three men suspected of involvement in the massacre in May of 10 people in a Laguna branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.

• Computerization of elections

In February, the Department of Budget and Management released more than P867 million for the computerization of the August elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

On July 22, a mock election was held to test the automated voting and counting systems that were installed. But on the same day, Ms Arroyo endorsed the postponement of the ARMM elections in deference to the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

• Investing in peace in Mindanao and in efforts to crush terrorism

Informal talks between the MILF and the government have bogged down on disagreements over an earlier “breakthrough” agreement to create an ancestral homeland for some three million Moros in Mindanao. The MILF blamed the government for the collapse of the talks.

Last year, powerful explosions ripped through passenger buses owned by Weena Bus Co. and Yellow Bus Lines in Mindanao, killing and wounding passengers.

The al-Khobar Gang, allegedly connected to the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf, was reportedly behind the bombings. The same group was also tagged as the gang behind a deadly explosion earlier this year outside Philbest Canning Corp. in General Santos City.

Last month, ABS-CBN reporter Ces Drilon and her two cameramen were kidnapped in Sulu by gunmen believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf.

Surveys by Social Weather Stations show that hunger in Mindanao was at 17.7 percent in June 2008, and ranged from 17.7 percent to 22.7 percent in 2007.

Severe hunger—which refers to households who experienced involuntary hunger “often” or “always” in the three months preceding the survey—was at 4.3 percent in Mindanao in June 2008, and reached as high as 5.3 percent in December 2007.

As of March, the percentage of households in Mindanao considering themselves “mahirap” (poor) was at 59 percent. In 2007, self-rated poverty in Mindanao ranged from 49 percent to 68 percent, according to SWS.

Arroyo’s SONA to focus on poor

July 28, 2008

Main thrust: Nat’l social welfare program

By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:37:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Even as she faces the nation as the most unpopular Chief Executive since 1986, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will try to convey herself as a caring and confident leader when she delivers her penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.

In her eighth SONA, the President will be mainly speaking about her national social welfare program that she has set up to help the poor cope with rising food and fuel costs.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Ms Arroyo would like to show that as President, “she is undertaking programs for the poor. That as a mother of the nation, she cares.”

Ermita, who joined Ms Arroyo in going over her SONA speech on Saturday, said the President was determined to follow the course she had plotted for herself until 2010 when her term ends.

“And even if there are surveys against her popularity, she is confident she’ll be able to push the programs for the poor,” the executive secretary said.

Ms Arroyo will also be talking about the promises she has kept and will be reporting achievements that she has “personally verified,” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said.

Dureza noted the inspections made by the President on infrastructure and other projects the past months. “That’s why she has been here, there and everywhere,” he said in a phone interview.

On the eve of her SONA, Ms Arroyo went to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija to inspect one of the biggest nurseries for jatropha (tuba-tuba) that the Philippine National Oil Co. had set up. The oil from the jatropha plant is a biofuel.

This was in keeping with her call in her SONA last year for jatropha production as an energy source to reduce the country’s dependence on imported crude oil.

After going through over 20 drafts in the last three weeks, Ms Arroyo put the final touches to her speech in the early hours of Sunday after a 13-hour meeting that included at some point Vice President Noli de Castro and her senior Cabinet members.

‘Mami’ and ‘siopao’

Pleased with the outcome, the President “graciously” thanked Palace officials and staff members when they ended their last session at 1 a.m. Sunday with a meal of mami and siopao.

Cerge Remonde, Presidential Management Staff chief, said Ms Arroyo made it a point to limit her speech to 10 pages. “Long enough to cover the bare essentials but short enough to excite the imagination,” he said.

Remonde said the President would also talk about the energy and food crisis and tell the nation what her administration “has done” and plans to do to help alleviate the situation.

The main thrust will be her national social welfare program, which Ms Arroyo created last month to consolidate all pro-poor programs of government agencies. She entrusted to Romulo Neri, newly designated Social Security System administrator, the task of coordinating the programs.

Ermita and Remonde said the President would also speak about the relevance of the 12-percent value-added tax (VAT) in financing the pro-poor programs of her administration.

The executive secretary said Ms Arroyo would make reference to the P8-billion fund from the VAT windfall that she had either released or earmarked for pro-poor programs.

Catholic bishops want the VAT reviewed as it pushes up the cost of goods and services, adversely affecting the poor. The bishops claim that doles to the poor from the VAT proceeds are encouraging dependency.

“The President will also be talking about infrastructure projects that have helped enhanced our food production,” Ermita said.

He cited the roll-on, roll-off (Ro-Ro) program that facilitated the movement of food and goods across the country and helped keep food costs lower, and the construction of dams that in turn irrigate the country’s rice lands.

The President will also tell the nation about the following issues:

• What her administration intends to do as she tries to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which expires at the end of the year.

• Her unchanging position on population control. She plans to continue promoting natural family planning methods in keeping with the policy of the Catholic Church.

• Her efforts to continue pursuing peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.

• The problem of corruption and her plan to ask Congress for tougher laws against it.

• Faces of some of the more successful programs in health, education, agriculture and microfinance.

• Heroes during Typhoon “Frank” (international codename: Fengshen) and other disasters.

Mobilizations start for ‘People’s SONA’

July 28, 2008

Stop lying to the public, militants urge Arroyo

By Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 09:25:00 07/28/2008

MANILA, Philippines – As militant groups prepare for the massive rally at Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Monday afternoon to counter President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s opening speech in Congress, groups want to send one message clear to Arroyo: stop lying.

Aside from calling for the President’s ouster, groups want Arroyo to tell the truth, and the truth, said the group Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, New Patriotic Alliance), was that the Arroyo government was “fooling” the people.

As of posting time, around 15,000 protesters from various militant groups led by Bayan have started marching from Tandang Sora toward Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. Groups were expected to arrive at the rally site at around 10 a.m., where they would hold a program until the President would deliver her address.

Groups marched to the rally area carrying the 21-foot effigy of Arroyo “abandoning” the country, symbolized by a sinking ship, inspired by the capsizing of the MV Princess of the Stars last June.

Militant groups called on Arroyo to stop the “festival of lies,” and to bring “immediate economic relief to the country.”

Youth groups also staged classroom walkouts and headed to Tandang Sora before heading to Commonwealth Avenue. Participating schools include University of the Philippines, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas, Adamson University, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, Miriam College, and Arellano University, among others.

Cities across the country have also vowed to participate in the protest.

Reyes said mass actions have already started in Baguio City, Southern Tagalog, Bicol and Caraga regions, and the cities of Cebu, Davao and Bacolod.

In Cebu, members of Bayan are expected to gather at Fuente Osmena Circle before marching towards the Gaisano Mall. In Davao, protesters will march towards Rizal Park and will a hold a protest action followed by a concert.

Protest actions in US, Canada, and Australia have also been set, said Reyes.

Regional transport strikes are set on Tuesday in the Bicol provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon.

In a statement, Reyes said claims that the value-added tax (VAT) had benefited the poor was nothing but a “blatant lie.”

“Before Arroyo sings praises to the VAT during her SONA, we urge everyone to take a look at the hard facts that the government is not telling us. The Arroyo government is taking more from the poor than it is giving back,” Reyes said.

On Friday, Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde said the President would reiterate anew how the VAT had been essential in funding the government’s pro-poor projects during her address.

But in its recent study, Bayan said the VAT collections obtained from electricity have been bigger than what was being distributed through subsidies.

“Meralco has an estimated 1.7 million lifeline users. The government will spend P852 million for the one-time subsidies for Meralco lifeliners. But the national government may have collected as much as P1.8 billion in VAT from Meralco’s lifeline customers alone or one billion pesos more than the actual subsidy given,” Reyes said.

The group studied the monthly electric bills and rate schedules of Meralco lifeline consumers over a 32-month period. Findings from the group revealed that the subsidies came from the lifeline consumers themselves, with the government earning extra.

“Facts are stubborn things, and with these data, we can see that the government has been fooling the people into thinking that they benefited from the VAT. The bitter truth is that lifeline consumers have been paying more in terms of VAT than they are getting in terms of subsidies,” said Reyes.

The group also scoffed at the supposed “social welfare programs,” which Arroyo would focus on during her speech.

“Arroyo is responsible for plunging millions of Filipinos deeper into poverty through such policies as depressed wages, high taxes and the deregulation of vital industries such as oil and power. She is responsible for aggravating rural poverty by her failure to implement genuine land reform. From the government’s own reckoning, about a third of the population live below the poverty line,” Reyes said.

Meanwhile, Akbayan partylist Representative Rissa Hontiveros has vowed to boycott the President’s speech, saying Arroyo will be delivering a speech likened to “instant noodles.”

“Instant noodles – flavorful, cheap, but nutrition-wise empty – have become the staple food for millions of Filipinos. This summarizes the economic achievement of the Arroyo administration. This also symbolizes the failure of the government’s anti-poverty programs,” Hontiveros said.

The lawmaker said she expected nothing but “empty boasts and promises” from Arroyo, because “as in the previous SONAs, it would be too much to expect anything substantial beyond the projects that she would commit to deliver for her allies in Congress.”

Hontiveros also called on Arroyo to tell the truth and to come up with practical solutions to the economic crisis.

“The solutions to the economic crisis requires political will. It entails hurting her own cronies, a matter that she is not willing to risk due to persistent questions on her legitimacy,” she added.

(PDI)

Wishlist for the SONA

July 28, 2008

By DAVAO TODAY

Davao Today asks people on the streets about what they expect from the President’s state of the nation address on Monday, and in return, got a wish list of what people think government should do to alleviate their plight.

What do you think the government should address in her state of the nation address on Monday?

“She should address urgently the skyrocketing prices of oil, which bring 23 million Filipinos going hungry for every P1 increase in prices. It will affect not only the poor (they have already suffered enough) but also the middle class. These subsidies that GMA is talking about – the lifeline subsidy, rice subsidy, etc. – are mere palliatives. We want GMA to suspend the ad valorem tax and the expanded value-added tax of 12 percent because these taxes have worsened the suffering of the poor.

We want GMA to be accountable for the P7.3 billion that government lost to corruption ($2M President Diosdad Macapagal Avenue, Free Port, Agri Fertilizer, Swine Scam, Telepono sa Barangay, among others). This amount does not include yet the P329 million ZTE deal.

We want the prosecution of personalities involved in questionable government deals, like Jocjoc Bolante, Nani Perez, among others. Millions of Filipinos are going hungry while GMA and her officials squander the people’s money.

We want GMA to prioritize urgent economic bills such as the 125-peso across-the-board wage increase bill, the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law and the implementation of Price Control Act of 1992.”
–Jeppie Ramada, regional secretary- general , Bagong Alyansang Makabayan

“GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) should be serious and decisive in resolving the crisis and not just give band-aid solutions. She should shift her priorities to agricultural development and should provide support to farmers to ensure affordable prices of rice.”
–Franchie Buhayan, secretary- general, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap

“GMA should address the people’s poor living conditions. She must answer first the rising prices of products including that of fuel. The cost of fare now is very high. My child couldn’t go to school anymore because I could no longer afford to send her to school. Our money is just enough to buy NFA rice. Every time we buy NFA rice at the store, we tell each other that we will not vote for Gloria again. If she runs in 2010, no one will believe her anymore.

We are worried that if she remains the President, we will start eating bran (tahup) instead of rice, because of the increasing prices.

If we get sick, we don’t have money for medicines. Living conditions were even better during Erap’s and Marcos’ time. She keeps ignoring the increase of prices. She’s just making herself rich. Poverty is not caused by God anymore but by the government. It’s the poor, not the businessmen, who suffer the most. Some can’t even eat thrice a day. Some would only drink coffee in the morning, while others combine their breakfast and lunch.”
– Gilda Sotero, 54, balut vendor in Sandawa

“She should tackle the increasing prices of commodities. Prices are already high. Fuel is only one of them. We hope she would pull down the prices of fuel because that is the reason the prices of goods and other products keep increasing. The food should be the most important. The prices of rice are very high and that is what people buy everyday. Then, there’s also the problem of the increasing cost of fare and school supplies for our students. Arroyo should address them. “
– Rommel Quiamco, barber in Ponciano street

“I do not know anything about SONA. I open my store at 7 am and I go home at 11 pm. Sorry, I
know nothing about that.”
–Edna Anghel, vendor in Ponciano street

“President Arroyo should focus on the economy. She should address the country’s crises, the salaries and wages of the employees and the workers; the fuel problem; the peace and order situation; and the rice problem. I hope that we will not import rice from other countries anymore, and start exporting rice, instead.”
–Myrna Dalodo-Ortiz, councilor, Davao City third district

“The President should address our problem on fuel because it has a domino effect. If the price of gasoline increases, the prices of basic commodities like rice and other staple goods will automatically increase.”
–Jose Louie Villafuerte, councilor, Davao City third district

“Sana lifting value added tax on fuel, increase taxes on tobacco products and liquor and subsidize rice for the poorest of the poor. All must be done immediately!”
–Tomas Monteverde IV, councilor, Davao City second district

“Since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has just approved the amendment on the tax exemptions to low earners, the President should ensure that it will be implemented. It is good news to our poor workers.”
– Edgar Ibuyan, councilor, Davao City first district

“Talk on corruption in government. What happened to the implementation of agriculture modernization law to increase production and food supply? We are now net importer of most commodities. No production increase due to Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Jobs and poverty reduction. She should step down after her term.”
– Angel Puentespina, president, Davao Tourism Association

“The crises on oil and rice must be addressed. Increase the salaries and calamity funds, more jobs for the Filipinos, housing projects for the poor, fight against corruption.”
- Jocelyn Gumpad-Joson, CPA-MBA; Accountancy Professor, Ateneo de Davao University and Holy Cross of Davao College

“Solutions to the high inflation and food prices, police impunity, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), energy crises, expanded Value Added Tax, oil, food security vis-à-vis CARP and agricultural support vis-à-vis renewable energy a.k.a. ethanol; and peace.”
– Valeriano Clamonte Jr, Social Science Professor, University of the Philippines in Mindanao

“First on the list for me should be finding a solution on the oil problem. I agree with what the church said that the P500 power subsidy could only make more people dependent. They should have used the money for a more concrete, long-term plan. Then the rice shortage pa talaga, dami na kasi lupa na dapat pwede sanang taniman ng palay which were converted to other use.”
- Linda Mae Bosquit, RN, professor/nurse licensure exam review lecturer, St. Louis Review Center

“A few weeks back in a published article, a World Bank report cited the Philippines as the most corrupt country in East Asia! This is a grave concern of every Filipino.

Biblically, the love of money is the root of all evils. But it is equally true that the lack of money produces more evil. If the money intended for government projects to alleviate the plight of the poor is drained down the corruption funnel into the private coffers of greedy politicians, we’ll certainly expect more crimes to happen. Corruption is a crime and the type of crime that begets more crimes.

This I believe should be one of the major concerns, if not the primary one, that must be addressed in the upcoming SONA. “
— Rev. Edwin P. Santos, Doctor of Ministry in Missions Founder, Voice of God Church (VOGC), Inc.

“I hope she will solve the ZTE issue, the political killings, the continuing poverty and the high prices of rice.”
– Rev. Ariel Baladjay, UCCP conference minister

“She should address poverty issues, because it has been a lingering problem in the Philippines. That should be the primary thing the government should tackle. There is rise in the prices of fuel and rice. We cannot control it. Everybody experiences it. We, in the police are lucky because the President check on us. We have a cheque, although it’s not so substantial. Maybe other government agencies should also have some kind of subsidies like what we are having. How can you cope with the rising prices of basic commodities if your salary remains the same? All of us clamor for an increase in salary so the government should address that. But where would the government get the money?”
– police chiefiInspector Alden Delvo, San Pedro police station

“Land for the landless. Landlessness is responsible for widespread poverty. If the middle class is already affected by the current food crisis, what must the poor be eating? Arroyo should address the people’s issue of landlessness and address people’s needs for food, shelter and education. Recent surveys showed more children are dropping out of school this year.”
– Sister Luz Mallo, Missionaries of the Assumption

“The current wages simply aren’t commensurate to the increasing prices of basic commodities, particularly rice and oil. Since the President claims to be an economist and the country’s problem are mostly economic-based, she should figure out a solution. “
– Atty. Faye Risonar

Davao workers press for the legislated 125-peso across the board wage increase

July 28, 2008

DAVAO CITY – Edwin Fernandez works as a forklift operator in Davao Goldstar Hardware in Lanang — the biggest hardware store in the city.

As a regular worker in the last two years, he works there from Monday to Saturday, and occasionally on Sundays, when a ship arrives from Luzon, carrying the supplies, like steel and cement, that his company ordered.

Rizaldo Protacio, a worker for the cargo handling facility Filipinas Port Services, Inc., says his salary could hardly support his family because of the rising prices of commodities. Port workers like him only have work when a ship arrives from Luzon. Ships loaded with sacks of flour, cement or fertilizer stay for 13 days, at the most; while ships loaded with steel stay for at least two days. Protacio says he only get to work 2-13 days a month. In other days, he had to find other means to support his family. (davaotoday.com photo by Jonald Mahinay)

But Fernandez, 37, said his 280-peso take-home pay for an eight hour work each day is not enough for his family’s expenses. He’s married with three kids, aged 10, six and two.

Fernandez said he spends 205-pesos, or 73.21 per cent of what he earns, on food. He also spends 30 pesos for his transportation from Tibungco where he lives to his workplace in Lanang and back. His two children–one is in Grade One, the other in Grade Four—needs P20 for fare to school each day.

His family consumes one-and-a-half kilo rice, which costs as much as P60, each day. The family’s viand consists mostly of fried salmon fish, which costs as much as 80 pesos. His youngest, a two-year-old child, consumes 178-peso worth of milk per week or 25 pesos a day.

They live in a household with no electricity. They only spend five pesos for gas for an overnight use of light. They don’t use gas stove for cooking. They get supplies of oling (coal) from the waste materials of the Davao Central Chemical Corporation plant nearby.

Of the 280-pesos take-home pay, only 20-pesos is left each day for his family’s other needs like medicines, clothing and utilities. But the amount is negligible since other contributions, such as the Social Security System, Pag-ibig and Philhealth, are being deducted from his salary each payday. The company also deducts 150 pesos each week for the company’s cash bond—the sum of which they will receive by the end of the year as their 13-month pay.

On top of these, Fernandez has to pay 730 pesos per month for their lot mortgage and 150 pesos for the family’s monthly water consumption.

“We have to look for ways so we can eat,” Fernandez said. “We even make suman (rice pudding) from our pigs’ feeds (milled rice hull) for our merienda.” His family raises hogs as additional source of income.

He said relatives hand the family a little supply of rice occasionally.

“If they don’t support us, I don’t know what will happen to my family. My salary is not enough for our needs,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez is not alone.

Noel Bongalon, 34, and Rizaldo Protacio, 29, both forklift operators at Filipinas Port Services (Filport) in Sta. Ana wharf said their 278-peso take-home pay is not enough for their daily expenses.

Bongalon said his family spends more or less 500 pesos per day for their needs. He is married with four children, aged 12, nine, one and three months. Protacio also said his salary could hardly support his wife and two children, aged one and seven months.

Bongalon and Protacio work as regulars in Filport for at least nine years now. As workers, they only earn something when a ship arrives 2-13 days every month. If no ship arrives, they look for other means to sustain their needs. They go fishing in the nearby wharf and sell their catch in the market. Sometimes, they vend fruits for a living.

According to the June 2008 statistics of the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), a family of six—the average household member of a regular Filipino family—in the Davao region, needs 760 pesos a day to live decently.

But the current minimum wage in the region is only 265 pesos–short of 495 pesos for a family’s living wage per day.

Workers have been demanding for an increase in the minimum wage to make ends meet.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement) has been pushing for the 125-peso legislated wage hike since 1999. A family’s living wage back then was still 379.51 pesos ($9.71 at the year’s average exchange rate of $1:P39.09), or 196-peso short of the minimum wage of 184 pesos.

As the country reels from the 11.04 percent inflation rate and the continuous increase in the prices of rice and other basic commodities today, the workers need a meaningful wage increase through the 125-peso legislated wage hike, said Elmer Labog, KMU National Chairperson.

Although the amount is not enough to raise minimum wages to the level of decent living, it would at least provide relief to the workers, said Robert Lausa, KMU spokesperson in Southern Mindanao.

House Bill (HB) 1722, filed by the late Anakpawis partylist representative Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran, aims to increase by 125 pesos the daily income of the workers in the private sector across the country.

Even if this House Bill is approved, the daily wage in Davao will reach 390 pesos only—or 370 pesos short of the family’s living wage in the region.

But Fernandez said he is supporting the call for the 125-peso legislated wage hike.

“Although it is still not enough, it would be a big relief for me and my family, and the families of workers nationwide,” Fernandez said.

Joel Maglunsod, Anakpawis partylist consultant, said workers need a legislated wage increase because they all suffer from the incessant increase in the prices of basic goods and commodities.

Maglunsod’s group Anakpawis and the KMU do not favor any wage increase through the Regional Tripartite and Wage Board (RTWB).

“Any increase given to the workers through the RTWPB does not give justice to the workers’ demands,” he said.

Maglunsod said that even if the call for the 125-peso increase won’t be approved, any amount will do as long as it is “across the board, across the country, and through legislation.”

“That would be a big victory for our workers,” he said.

Maglunsod said the workers’ demand for a wage increase is legitimate. But he cautioned the workers that they cannot rely on Congress to pass that bill.

He said the workers should be united in pushing the lawmakers to approve the bill. “If public clamor for wage legislation is very strong, lawmakers would be pressured to heed the workers’ demand.”

He urged workers to lobby for the legislated wage increase in the district level. He said that the city council of Davao City and the provincial board in Compostela Valley Province had passed a resolution supporting the workers’ call for 125-peso legislated wage increase. He also urged workers to join protest actions for the wage hike.

Anakpawis and KMU are also pushing for House Bill 1962 for the 3,000-peso across the board increase for government employees’ monthly pay. (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com)

Peace talks between the government and NDF dims, says Esperon

July 28, 2008

Davao City- Peace talks with the Communist rebels is getting dim as government continues to insist on a ceasefire as a precondition of the peace talks while the rebel group pressures the government to drop it from European Union terror list.

Presidential Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, said the government still insists on a ceasefire before the holding of the peace talks so that the rebels can prove that they are not terrorists, after all.

“Peace talks cannot go on if rebels continue to burn buses and telecommunication towers,” he said. “It’s difficult if you just go to the negotiation table without a ceasefire.”

He also said that removing the rebel group from the list of terrorist organizations is something the government cannot do because the Philippines cannot dictate on other countries like Europe to drop off the NPA from the foreign terrorists list.

The Oslo-brokered talks between the government and the National Democratic Front were stalled after members of the NDF panel walked out of the negotiations in 2004 to protest the groups’ inclusion in the EU terror list.

Esperon said the government is still exploring ways to resume peace talks with the rebel group. Should the rebels stay firm in their conditions, it would really be hard, he said.

In a statement, the NDF blamed the government for putting up more obstacles for the resumption of the talks. The group said the government’s insistence on a ceasefire and the inclusion of the CPP/NPA in the terror list violated the agreement signed at The Hague, Netherlands between the government and the NDF.

“In demanding for a ceasefire as a precondition to the peace talks, the Arroyo regime violates The Hague Joint Declaration which requires that the peace negotiations address the roots of the armed conflict with social, economic, political and constitutional reforms,” said Luis Jalandoni, chairperson of the NDF negotiating panel. “The declaration said that no precondition whatsoever shall be imposed by one side on the other,” he said.

The NDF also cited the illegal “suspension” of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig); various human rights violations, including the persecution, murder, arrest and enforced disappearance of NDF consultants; and the refusal of the government to indemnify human rights victims under the Marcos regime, among the obstacles of the peace talks.

“It is the obligation of the government to comply with the agreements it has signed with the NDF, otherwise, it blocks the way for the resumption of the formal talks,” said Jalandoni.

The statement said that the Norwegian government facilitated informal talks between the NDF and the government in May this year to find ways for the peace talks to resume amidst all obstacles. But the NDF was disappointed at the results.

Esperon said that in the absence of the peace talks, government taps the Local Peace Security Assembly to entice the rebels to go back to the folds of the law.

The absence of peace talks also increased rebels’ offensives, which recently included the raid of municipal station in Banaybanay, Davao Oriental; the burning of a Davao Oriental cell site; the attack against the 3rd Special Forces Battalion-Philippine Army in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley; the attack against the Asares and JBMC mining firms in Mt. Diwata, Monkayo, Compostela Valley and the raid of police station in Dapa, Surigao del Norte in a span of two weeks.

Concerns over recent NPA attacks in the region and in other parts of Mindanao alarmed the business sector, particularly the members of Mindanao Business Council, who vowed to support all peace efforts of the government.

Esperon was in Davao in a forum at the Mindanao Economic Development Council where he also discussed the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (Grace S. Uddin/ davaotoday.com)

Filipinos end up paying more, instead of paying less, for ODAs

July 28, 2008

DAVAO CITY–Filipinos ended up paying more, instead of benefiting from, the Official Development Assistance (ODAs) that rich donor countries pour into the country each year, according to an analyst from the think tank Ibon Philippines.

Sonny Africa, research head of Ibon Philippines, said that six decades of ODAs in the Philippines failed to address poverty and social inequality because they are carried out based on the agenda of donor countries, not on the genuine needs of the poor.

He cited as example the US$3 billion foreign aid for Philippine health sector reforms that the country received from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank in the last decade.

Africa said that this foreign aid has been tied down with conditions to privatize the health sector, so that Filipinos ended up paying for the higher cost for hospitalization and health benefits now compared to the years before the reforms were implemented.

“As a result (of the health sector reforms), health services have been drastically reduced and government funding for health benefits has been halved,” Africa said. “(The foreign aid) has not improved the Philippine health system,” he said, “It has eroded it. Healthcare and medicine is becoming beyond the reach of ordinary Filipinos.”

He also said that the same case is happening to the power sector, which received some US$2.8 billion to US$3 billion in aid since the 1980s. “Power rates have increased six to eight times, hence,” Africa pointed out.

Ibon Philippines was among the AidsWatch network that gathered in Davao to review the impact of ODAs in the Philippines, and determine whether or not they’ve been “effective” in addressing poverty and social inequity.

AidsWatch monitors the compliance of the Paris Declaration, signed by big foreign donors in 2005, to improve delivery of foreign aid to the developing world, by encouraging the participation of host communities.

Mindanao civic groups attending the gathering here are batting for an overhaul of the country’s foreign aid system to give affected communities a direct hand and a greater voice in choosing the kind of aids relevant to them.

AidWatch Philippines, a network of non government organizations, pointed out that civil society groups have often been left out in these foreign aid programs, which are usually coursed through traditional government sources that are open for corruption.

“ODA is a public trust that must serve the collective good,” the AidsWatch unity statement read. “Aid will only be developmental if it is consistent with the principle of respect for human rights, democratic ownership of the development process, equity in growth and development, among others.”

The group demanded the removal of policy conditions tied with foreign aid, increase in grant aid and an increase in aid for rural development, social services, gender, human rights and environment.

But the group also demanded for greater transparency and accountability in the negotiation, design and implementation of aid programs and projects, greater public participation and a greater CSO involvement in ODAs.

“They should stop treating CSOs as subcontractors for ODA projects,” said Africa. (Germelina Lacorte/davaotoday.com)

Bishops say SONA should focus on population policy too

July 28, 2008

MANILA, July 26, 2008— Reaffirming the government’s stand on the population control issue should be one of the focuses of President Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, the Catholic bishops’ leadership said.

CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life chairman Archbishop Paciano Aniceto said Arroyo should uphold her stand on natural family planning.

“I hope the President reaffirm her stand that life is sacred and that the foundation of a strong republic is a strong family…which is also the foundation of the whole civilization,” he said.

Aniceto made the statement to reporters at the sidelines of the prayer rally for the 40th anniversary celebration of the Humanae Vitae at the University of Santo Tomas parade ground in Manila yesterday.

The Pampanga archbishop noted Arroyo assured the bishops many times that she will only be supporting the use of natural birth control methods to curb the country’s growing population.

He said the President also “promised” them that she will be pushing for natural for family planning method in her SONA.

Asked what they will do next in case she goes against her assurances, the prelate said they will just continue to remind her that “she is a Catholic.”

Arroyo had met recently with several bishops to hear their position on the reproductive health bills pending in Congress.

She said she has asked the leaders of the :Lower House to meet with the Catholic Church leaders to discuss the measure.

CBCP head Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said the bishops are hopeful the lawmakers to “rethink” their position of supporting the “anti-life” bills.

“Ang amin lang sinasabi ay sana magkaroon sila ng paghuhunusdili at, tayo, bawat isa meron panahon at meron naman chance na magbago ng kanilang saloobin at magbago ng kanilang kaisipan at damdamin sa kalooban ng Panginoong Diyos,” Lagdameo said.

ECFL executive secretary Fr. Melvin Castro hopes the ongoing debate on the controversial bill will somehow give the public a chance to examine the measure.

“Nakakatuwa kasi maaring merong hindi naga-agree sa Church sa kanyang position pero the mere fact na napagde-debatihan ito ngayon ay magandang way para maging aware yung ating mamamayan sa ganitong partikular isyu,” Castro said.

The prayer rally gathered an estimated 12,000 pro-lifers coming from all walks of life, police officials said.

Aside from Lagdameo and Aniceto, other bishops present in the rally were Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Tarlac Bishop Florentino Cinense, Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, Gumaca Bishop Buenaventura Famadico, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arquelles, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, San Fernando auxiliary Bishop Roberto Mallari , Balanga Bishop Socrates Villegas, Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, Manila auxiliary Bishop Bernardino Cortez, Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias and Cabanatuan Bishop Sofronio Bancud.

Some politicians who also made their presence felt were Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, former Manila mayor Lito Atienza, former senator Francisco Tatad, Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Paranaque Representatives Roilo Golez and Eduardo Zialcita, Manila Representative Tricia Bonoan David and even boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao.

Among the groups that participated in the gathering were the Couples for Christ, Buhay party-list, Human Life International–Asia, Pro-Life Philippines, Christ’s Family Mission Movement, Catholic Women’s League and the Knights of Columbus along with several other representatives of various dioceses. (Roy Lagarde)(CBCPNews)


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