Archive for the ‘poverty’ Category

Govt’s stimulus package mere gimmick–IBON

February 14, 2009

By Rommel C. Lontayao, Reporter

The Palace said the allocation for the economic stimulus package is not an old measure contrary to the statements of the independent think tank Ibon Foundation.

Ibon on Friday said in a statement that the government’s P330-billion stimulus package is a “mere spin” of “existing allocations . . . to create the impression that something is being done to address the crisis.”

“These ‘stimulus’ funds are already there even before the recent descent into crisis . . . There is very little to indicate that . . . government is pouring any substantially new efforts to deal with the economic downturn,” said IBON research head Sonny Africa.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Anthony Golez belied the statement, saying the current stimulus package is a genuine allocation intended to finance infrastructure projects and create jobs.

Golez said that besides providing assistance to the marginalized sector, the package is also expected to create three million jobs this year on top of the regular job-generation programs of various government agencies.

The reported stimulus plan, which opposition Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño calls a “simulation package,” includes the P160-billion increase in the 2009 national budget, the P100-billion off-budget infrastructure fund, the P40-billion corporate and individual tax breaks, and alternative livelihood programs, among others.

Africa said that contrary to what government officials claim, the P1.4-trillion budget for 2009 is not a pump-priming budget, and actually is the smallest share of government spending to the GDP (gross domestic product) since 1986.

“The tepidness of the supposed pump-priming is also apparent if the effects of inflation are taken into consideration. In real terms, total non-debt spending in 2009 is only an 8.6-percent increase from the year before,” he explained.

He further said that the tax relief, which refers to foregone revenues from reducing the corporate income tax to 30 percent from 35 percent, is actually already part of the reformed value-added tax law of 2005 and exemptions from withholding tax for those earning P200,000 or less annually.

The research group head also pointed out that the P100-billion infrastructure stimulus package required the Government Service and Insurance System, Development Bank of the Philippines and LandBank to commit P50 billion with the private sector shouldering the other P50 billion.

“All these imply that the administration is not really taking additional measures in the face of the crisis, and leaves the majority of poor Filipinos on their own,” Africa said.

“If it wants the public to believe that it is taking serious steps to address the crisis, it should at the very least preserve current jobs in the public and private sectors, restore real per capita social services spending to at least 1997 levels, free public resources by stopping debt payments, and remove the value-added tax on petroleum products, among others,” he opined.

The economic resiliency plan was announced by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) early this year.

It is intended to upgrade infrastructure and capital stock and expand social protection. NEDA said the plan aims to save and create jobs, protect the poorest of the poor, returning overseas Filipino workers and workers in export industries, ensure low and stable prices to support consumer spending, and enhance competitiveness in preparation for the rebound of the global market.

Golez said the allocation of P330 billion for the economic stimulus package is intended to blunt the impact of the global economic meltdown on the poor and out-of-school youth.
–With Angelo S. Samonte(ManilaTimes)

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200,000 Pinoys face layoffs But government looking to hire 60,500 in 2009

February 14, 2009

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) on Friday predicted that between 40,000 and 200,000 Filipinos would be laid off from work this year because of the global economic crisis.

“That’s the range for the whole year, a big range. Definitely, it will raise the unemployment rate,” said Dennis Arroyo, the chief of the authority’s national planning and policy staff. He pointed out, though, that the unemployment rate would not reach 10 percent.

No massive job losses face those working in the government, however.

On the contrary, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., said also on Friday, the government would hire a total of 60,500 state workers this year.

Arroyo said the expected adverse impact of the job losses in the private sector is already being addressed by the Department of Labor Employment by shifting overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from host countries with weak demand to those with a strong one.

“The Middle East countries are responding to the crisis by pump-priming and spending on infrastructure projects,” he added. “That would [offset] OFW unemployment in construction. There are also new markets in Guam, New Zealand and Australia.”

Arroyo said he is optimistic that the 2009 gross domestic product (GDP) would not fall below the low-end target of 3.7 percent for 2009. GDP is the total value of goods and services produced in a country in a year.

Last year, the economy grew 4.6 percent from the previous year’s 7.2 percent.

“The crisis began in September and hit hard in October, November and December. Hence, the fourth quarter of 2008 was already in the crisis era. Yet, the economy still grew by 4.5 percent,” Arroyo said.

He added that the 2009 GDP target range of 3.7 percent to 4.7 percent assumed merchandise export growth of 1 percent to 3 percent. Arroyo said that in the fourth quarter of last year, export growth was at negative 9.2 percent.

“One would have expected the economy to post growth lower than 3.7 percent. But what happened was that manufacturing for the domestic market compensated for the drop in exports,” he added. Manufacturing growth accelerated to 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007. It was buoyed by food manufacturing, beverage, chemicals and chemical products.

Winners and losers

Arroyo said that he expects fertilizer and fuel prices to go down, a possibility that would boost agriculture, forestry and fisheries, in particular.

Mining projects would be delayed because of “hesitance to invest” under the global crisis.

Manufacturing, according to Arroyo, would be dragged by exports but eventually would shift to the domestic economy. There also would be a big public-construction push, positive response from private construction, power-sector reforms and expansion of water-service areas.

The services sector, Arroyo said, would see lower fuel prices in 2009 than in 2008 that would spur the transport, communication and storage subsector.

“Lower inflation will boost retail trade but there will be an overhang of weaker consumer confidence because of the crisis,” he added. For the finance subsector, banks would be healthy but the stock market and insurance industry would still be weak.

Funds for mass hiring

In assuring job stability in the government sector, Budget Secretary Andaya pointed to “mass hiring” there and funds “for that purpose have already been earmarked in the 2009 national budget.”

“While the economic crunch had resulted in mass layoffs in the private sector, it is not true in the public sphere,” he said.

Andaya made the assurance in reaction to concerns aired by Courage, a public-sector union, that the rationalization plan of the government would displace a significant number of government workers.

Countering Courage, Andaya cited the budget of the Department of Education that alone allows for the hiring of 10,000 teachers and another 2,000 non-teaching personnel this year.

“This [recruitment] will bring the number of teaching and non-teaching personnel of the department to 506,000,” he said.

Andaya added that funds have been earmarked too for the hiring of 500 jail guards for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and the Bureau of Corrections.

Jobs in demand

Also, around 3,000 policemen will also be recruited this year to strengthen the Philippine National Police under the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Andaya said that under the recently announced Nurses Assigned in Rural Areas (NARS) program, 5,000 nurses would be employed to serve in far-flung villages.

He added that around P2 billion in the 2009 budget has been allocated for the government reforestration program, which authorizes the hiring of 40,000 workers for the program and energy projects as well.

Besides the money given to the Education department, Andaya said that state colleges and universities had been authorized to hire additional academic personnel under their respective charters.

“All of these [jobs] are aimed at cushioning the effect of the global economic crunch on the private sector, which had no choice but to cut down the number of employees because of the financial slowdown,” he added.

The Budget secretary said that these government vacancies had been allocated funds. Earlier, Malacañang said it plans to order government agencies to set aside 1.5 percent of their maintenance and operating expenses, estimated to be at P7 billion, for the hiring of 180,000 casual employees for six months.

Andaya clarified that a plan to abolish redundant positions in the government had been advanced not only because of the cost of maintaining such but to improve service delivery by cutting red tape through systems and reorganization.

State employees affected by the rationalization will not include professionals, such as policemen, teachers, doctors, midwives and firemen, he said.

The implementation of the plan will be democratic, consultative and non-coercive, all part of creating a “smarter government,” Andaya added.
–Darwin G. Amojelar And Angelo S. Samonte(ManilaTimes)

Workers picket DOLE, SSS P12-B fund release, lay offs protested

February 11, 2009

By Marjorie Gorospe
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 12:21:00 02/11/2009

Filed Under: Protest

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) Some 100 workers from the provinces of Cavite and Laguna picketed the Department of Labor and Employment Wednesday against the massive lay-offs, which employers have blamed on the global financial crisis.

Earlier in the day, a smaller number of protesters went to the Social Security System office in Quezon City to protest the decision of its president Romulo Neri to release P12.5 billion of SSS funds as aid to the government to ease the impact of the economic crunch.

Hermy Marasigan, spokesman of the Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (United Workers of Southern Tagalog, Pamatnig-KMU), said that multinational companies in the region have been using the “financial crisis” as an excuse to fire their employees without due process.

Marasigan said there would be upcoming movements from the workers of Southern Tagalog against the unjust lay offs by these companies and the continuous corruption in government.

“This is a loss of job security for workers in the region,” Marasigan said in Filipino during the protest in DOLE.

Meanwhile, Joel Palacios, SSS spokesman, said that the protesters’ accusation was “speculative” since the release of the P12.5 billion has not yet been approved.

Palacio said certain criteria have to be met before the money could be released and used as potential investment.

“It is our duty to protect that [money] and make it grow,” Palacio added.

12,500 laid off at PEZA zones

February 11, 2009

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 18:34:00 02/11/2009

Filed Under: Unemployment, World Financial Crisis

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) Some 12,500 workers have been laid off at Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) zones since October, PEZA Director General Lilia de Lima said.

Some companies at the zones have shortened workweeks from seven days to six and workdays from three eight-hour shifts to two, De Lima said.

“They’re adapting shorter work hours so that they can hold on to their people, because it is difficult and costly to train” new personnel, she said.

On the other hand, the PEZA has approved applications of 560 companies to set up factories in PEZA zones, De Lima said.

“They’re now starting to create. They’re also starting to hire,” she said. “I want also to emphasize that some companies are also expanding: medical instrumentation, disposable syringes.”

Employment at PEZA zones was up 2.54 percent last year said.

Regarding US-based chipmaker Intel Corp., which announced last month that it would close down its Philippine plant and lay off the last thousand or so of its workers, De Lima said an Intel sister company, Numonyx, had hired 600 former Intel employees and would hire 400 more.(PDI)

CBCP president backs calls for job summit

January 31, 2009

A top Catholic cleric called yesterday for an employment summit to tackle the reported massive layoff of workers in the economic zones.

Speaking over Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas, Archbishop of Jaro, Iloilo Angel Lagdameo, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president, said unemployment is a “serious problem” that the government must address.

“Well, it (unemployment) is a serious problem… that’s why the government must lead the discussion on how to help those Filipinos who will be losing their jobs (because of the global financial crisis),” he said.

“If the problem can be solved through a summit then they should push through with it…”

Earlier, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez said the government must initiate the employment summit, especially now that the number of workers being displaced due to the global economic crisis continues to increase.

Iniguez, who heads the CBCP’s committee on public affairs, said although the government is implementing measures like employment facilitations and livelihood assistance to the workers, it is important that a summit between the government and the labor sector be held for the government to hear the workers’ side.

The Church is willing to help resolve the looming unemployment problem, he added.

Some multinational companies in the Philippines have closed down, while others have scaled back their operations in the country.

A labor official earlier predicted that about 250,000 workers nationwide are likely to lose their jobs in the next six months due to the global financial crisis.

The Department of Labor and Employment has reported that 30,000 workers have been displaced since December, and that the figure could reach 35,000 by month’s end.

Government won’t stop layoffs

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque ruled out yesterday the possibility of government imposing a “no retrenchment” policy.

“We are looking at measures to address the ill effects of the economic crisis, but we cannot enforce a no retrenchment policy because we cannot force employers from continuing with their operations if they do not have the capacity to do it,” he said.

Roque said the government has already granted a tax break for minimum wage earners and additional exemptions in their income tax returns for those receiving more than the minimum wage.

The Department of Trade and Industry is also reviewing the possibility of regulating the prices of rice and other essential commodities, he added.

Roque said concerned government agencies are discussing a proposal to suspend the implementation of the planned rationalization program.

“We are discussing if we could delay the rationalization program because of the economic crisis,” he said.

Meanwhile, Roque said commercial firms must adopt flexible working arrangements to cope with the financial crisis.

“Employers and workers should consider adopting such arrangements as a better alternative rather than outright termination of the workers’ services and total closure of their establishment,” he said.

Roque said flexible work schedules allow reduction of business costs while saving jobs and maintaining competitiveness and productivity in industries.

However, the adoption of the “compressed workweek” scheme should be voluntary and must have the consent of both employers and workers, he added.

Roque said the employer must notify the DOLE Regional Office in the workplace before adopting any flexible work arrangements.

DOLE Regional Offices are instructed to visit establishments wishing to adopt flexible work arrangements to validate whether it is in accordance with the DOLE advisory, he added.

Under the CWW scheme, normal workweek is reduced to less than six days but the total number of 48 work hours per week shall remain.

The normal workday is increased to more than eight hours but not to exceed 12 hours, without corresponding overtime premium.

However, implementation of reduced workdays must not exceed six months.

Meanwhile, Roque said he will set up “Help Desks” in the different regions nationwide to facilitate the delivery of assistance and services to displaced workers.

The help desks shall serve as a one-stop center bringing the delivery of DOLE programs and services closer to local and overseas Filipino workers who have been adversely affected by the global crisis, he added.

The Desks shall be comprised of personnel from OWWA, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Bureau of Local Employment, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

The DOLE Regional Directors shall oversee the operations of the help desks.

On the other hand, Roque called for a united response to the effects of the financial crisis on employment.

Speaking before the participants of the Multi-Sectoral Conference on the Global Financial Crisis, Roque said, a united effort is essential to effectively mitigate the impact of global financial crisis.

“Assistance and intervention for some 33,000 affected workers who have begun to experience shorter working hours, along with the more than 40,000 workers displaced by the global economic crisis are urgent,” he said. – Helen Flores, Mayen Jaymalin(PhilStar)

1,900 Cordillera workers displaced by financial crisis

January 29, 2009

Retrenched workers properly compensated, DoLE says

By DEXTER A. SEE

BAGUIO CITY – At least 1,900 workers at different companies in the Cordillera comprised the first batch of employees displaced by the global financial crisis, it was reported.

But despite this bleak development, lawyer Ana Dione, regional director of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) in the Cordillera, said the region is in a good position to face the crisis because the mass layoff taking place in other regions is not happening in companies in the economic zone here.

While the Texas Instruments Philippines (TIP) retrenched over 500 workers last year and bared plans to lay off another batch of workers this year, Dione said the future is still bright for the TIP as it has already started to operate even on a medium level.

She said this is an indication that orders for electronic chips are still being placed with the firm.

Furthermore, Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) officials informed DoLE that they expect investors to consider Baguio City as one of the areas where they can invest even with the global financial crisis.

The PEZA officials noted the increase in business process out-sourcing operations in the city.

Out of the 1,900 affected workers in the region, 1,376 are partially displaced as they are still holding on to their jobs but on a rotation or reduced-time scheme, which is authorized by the labor department to prevent mass layoff.

The other affected workers are considered totally displaced because they are no longer connected to the companies which had earlier employed them.

Dione said several industries in the region which were the initial victims of the global crisis included manufacturing, service, electronics, and mining.

Nevertheless, she said, DoLE made sure that the retrenched workers were properly compensated by their employers.

What is significant, Dione said, is that the labor sector is now inquiring from DoLE about the programs and projects of the national government for the development of skills or livelihood that would enable the workers to augment their meager income.

A concrete example cited by the Cordillera DoLE official is the labor union of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co. which had requested the labor department to re-train the mine workers on skills that could be used to generate income or livelihood.

The labor official said DoLE is providing emergency employment assistance as well as training to workers in the region who are interested in developing skills and knowledge that could make them productive amidst the global financial crisis.(MB)

Unemployed seen rising to 11M

January 28, 2009

BY REGINA BENGCO

THERE were 10.7 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos last year, the research group IBON Foundation said yesterday.

The number is likely to increase to at least 11 million based on the assumption that the labor force increases by 915,000 every year and that only 500,000 jobs are created. This means the number of jobless Filipinos increases by 415,000 yearly, IBON said.

The group said the figure could be higher as the employment situation is already “far worse” than the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis when unemployment rate averaged 10 percent in 1998-1999 compared to nearly 11 percent in 2008.

It said the Philippines’ condition could be likened to the global slowdown in 2000, which was also caused by US financial and economic troubles, when unemployment rose to 3.7 million in 2001.

“There is strong reason to believe that the Philippine economy will again go in these directions or even worse, as the current global economic financial turmoil is not just deeper and farther-reaching but will also last for much longer,” it said.

IBON said job creation under the Arroyo administration since 2001 has been “tepid” and its policies have not been able to create enough jobs for Filipinos.

It recommended “radical change” in the government’s economic policies such as increasing public spending for social services, removing the value-added tax on oil products, and freeing public resources by stopping debt payments.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the Cabinet is looking at a better response to job losses of some Filipino workers because of the global recession. He said President Arroyo will look at other job opportunities for displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) when she goes to Switzerland, Italy and Bahrain at the end of the month.

Dureza said proposals such as giving emergency allowance to displaced workers has been the subject of further discussions by government’s economic managers.

“We always say that we can never tell what is going to happen in the future but we have been strengthening ourselves, preparing for any eventuality,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said his department will implement at least 3,500 projects to create around some 130,000 jobs.

Among these projects are goat raising and dispersing, construction of farm-to-market roads, rehabilitation of irrigation systems, and production of organic fertilizers.

The projects are yet to be finalized in July. No time-frame has been set for implementation. — With Angela Lopez de Leon(Malaya)

IBON: RP Effectively Enters Recession

January 24, 2009

Written by IBON Media
Friday, 16 January 2009
Even as the administration continues to deny that the global economic turmoil will push the country into a deeper crisis, independent think-tank IBON Foundation today said that the Philippines has effectively started to enter a recession. Speaking at the IBON Birdtalk yearend briefing, IBON research head Sonny Africa said that the economic growth in 2008 has already fallen by nearly three percentage points, and adverse trends in joblessness, falling real incomes, and worsening poverty will deepen this year.

“To indicate a recession in the Philippines, two consecutive quarters of decline or negative growth in real gross domestic product do not have to happen,” Africa explained. “This rule of thumb is particularly inapplicable in the Philippines given its chronic crisis and where even positive growth rates can be accompanied by high and rising unemployment, falling incomes, increasing poverty and deteriorating welfare.”

It is expected that GDP growth in 2009 will be half or even less than in 2007 which would be the slowest since at least 2001. While government projects optimistically high rates, these are still adjusted downwards virtually every time new figures are released. The sluggish growth in the coming period will likely see the country returning to the low growth path of the 1990s.

There are also alarming trends when looking at national income from the expenditure side, said Africa. Growth in personal consumption expenditure in the first three quarters of 2008 of 4.6% is a steep drop from the same period in the year and threatens to make the full year figure the lowest since 2002. The consumption slowdown is worrisome for an economy with such a large population that, for lack of incomes, is already underconsuming as it is, he said. Government consumption expenditure slowed even more drastically to 4 % as it grapples with its unresolved fiscal crisis and belying claims that it is pump-priming the economy.

The marked slowdown in investments in fixed capital formation, to 4.4% in the first three quarters of 2008 from 13.5% in 2007, is also ominous in foreshadowing deteriorating productive capacity in the period to come, he said. This expenditure item covers durable equipment and construction. There was also a notable drop in exports growth from to 2.4% in the first three quarters of 2008 from 6.1% in 2007 – reflecting just the global slowdown since the start of the year and not yet even the sharp turn for the worse after September 2008. Growth in total merchandise exports was just 0.4% with negative growth and outright contractions in the most significant export items: semiconductors fell 3.8%, finished electrical machinery fell 23.2%, and garments fell 4.9 percent.

These are the signs of a frail Philippine economy poorly equipped to deal with crisis: a narrowing productive base for generating jobs and incomes, weakening ability to consume and even invest, limited political will to substantially pump-prime, and undue dependence on exports and remittances, said Africa. “The risk is real that the downturn that started to worsen in the last half of 2008 is the beginning of another long period of stagnation and recession,” he said. (end)

Gov’t Urged To Take More Active Steps To Address Job Losses, Economic Slowdown

January 24, 2009

Written by IBON Media
Monday, 12 January 2009
‘Contingency Package’ Insufficient Amid Crisis

The government has yet to take real steps to address the adverse effects of the global crisis on the local economy, said research group IBON Foundation.
In an attempt to downplay the economy’s problems and insist on imaginary “sound fundamentals”, the administration calls its efforts a mere “resiliency” or “contingency” plan. However, this eventual package is inadequate, places the burden of adjusting to the crisis on the people, and borders on mere public relations gimmickry, said IBON research head Sonny Africa.

So far, the administration has not really introduced new and additional measures, and has merely engaged in ineffectual exercises to give the impression that something is being done, he said. The labor department has allegedly prepared “alternative” livelihood programs and loans for retrenched workers and displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). However, if the administration is really capable of creating domestic jobs and livelihood to begin with, then this is something that should have been done for the over 4 million jobless Filipinos even before the recent descent into crisis, said Africa.

At best, the administration has showcased pockets of success, even as these efforts do not reach the majority. For example, an additional P5 billion was allocated for the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino program, which will double the number of beneficiaries from 320,000 households to 640,000 households. However, the 2006 FIES show that 8.7 million families or the poorest half of the country’s families have incomes of less than P8,300 per month. The program thus reaches less than 4% of just these families even assuming, given the weaknesses of the government bureaucracy such as corruption, that the money will even reach them.

The administration’s continuing denial of the economy’s deep-seated problems contributes to its inability to deal with the crisis, said Africa. As it is, the poor are being left on their own to deal with their long-standing problems. But it is possible to immediately arrest the slowdown in economic activity and mitigate the worsening of joblessness, incomes and poverty by taking more active measures to care for people’s welfare.

Some of these measures include giving sufficient attention to health, education, social welfare and emergency support, and taking substantial steps to develop the domestic economy and make it less vulnerable to external shocks in the future, he said. (end)

Filipinos Seen To Pay More Taxes In 2009

January 24, 2009

Written by IBON Media
As government fails to resolve its fiscal crisis in 2008 and faces a severe deficit problem, the prospect of more burdensome taxes and shrunken social services looms in 2009, says research group IBON Foundation.
The Philippine government, like last year, will scramble to raise revenues in the quickest way possible. This deficit scenario has nothing to do with the global crisis and is due to the government’s poor revenue performance and distorted spending priorities.

Increasing the tax burden on the people is crucial for the Arroyo government. Last year, oil price increases have resulted in a de facto new tax burden of over P19 billion– or the oil price-induced “windfall” gain in tax revenues– bringing RVAT take on oil up to around P80 billion for the whole year.

This year, the administration is aiming to put an additional tax burden of P12-25 billion through a uniform excise tax on tobacco and alcohol products, or the so-called sin taxes. It is also possible that the “rationalization” of fiscal incentives, by restricting tax- and duty-free incentives to exporters and big-ticket investors, will effectively add to the tax burden of domestically-oriented Filipino small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

In 2008, the administration has failed to improve revenue collection, where total revenue growth of 8.1% in the January-August 2008 period has been even slower than nominal year-on-year growth in gross national product (GNP) of 12.5% in the first semester. This is far short of the 13.5% rate, without privatization, targeted for 2008.

It is also not far from the 8.2% average annual revenue growth rate in the pre-VAT period 2000-2004. This implies that there has been virtually no improvement in revenue efficiency and that increased revenues have been due largely to the imposition of the regressive VAT and one-shot privatization.

The government is not addressing the most important sources of deficit pressures (i.e. revenues undermined by corruption and liberalization, unproductive debt service, etc.) and stubbornly continues to target a balanced budget at the expense of heavier burden for the Filipino majority. (end)

Not an Empowering Government

January 20, 2009

(Conclusion)

Although calls for greater people participation in governance and development are commonly heard and even “recognized” by the Leonardia administration, in reality, its programs and projects rarely involved, if any at all, the people’s meaningful participation.

BY KARL G. OMBION
SPECIAL REPORT

(Bulatlat.com)

Although calls for greater people participation in governance and development are commonly heard and even “recognized” by the Leonardia administration, in reality, its programs and projects rarely involved, if any at all, the people’s meaningful participation.

All available data show that in most, if not all of the city’s programs and projects, such as health, education, agriculture, fisheries, housing and population, and infrastructure, the people are treated as mere beneficiaries, and have never been allowed to take part in the planning and execution process.

There have been opportunities for the local government to experiment on the participatory approach to development, as in the case of the city’s planning system, flood problem, fishery, housing, transport, vendors, social delinquency and criminality, and even child labor concerns. But instead of drawing the participation of various communities and people’s organizations, the government relies on its executive assistants and staff who not only lack the proper orientation and commitment but also often count their services in terms of the 8 a.m.-5 p.m. official duty and the incentives being offered.

Worse, most of these problems are often viewed mainly as legal and financial in nature, so, if no one complains, or there is no budget allocation, there is no government response – or if there is, at all, it is meager.

Over time, this mindset of top-level officials has been carried down the line, and has become an “accepted culture” in the bureaucracy.

There is a cliché among development managers that any development, be it urban or rural, or both, is only as good as the people who design and implement it.

That means a good development program may end up useless if the implementers did it poorly, or in their individual way, without enabling the people as the main actors and ultimate beneficiaries of development.

On the other hand, a poor development program may deliver surprisingly good results if the actors did it according to their actual grasp and judgment of the changing conditions. But even this will likely be unsustainable.

In a number of evaluations of development projects involving NGOs and LGUs, it had always been a common finding that the chief reason for its failure is the wastage of millions of valuable money and the implementers’ lack of determination, creativity, objectivity and foresight, teamwork, and sense of mission.

In most cases, development programs collapsed because they did not embody the objective needs and aspirations of the people. A major reason for this is that the NGOs and LGUs who managed the program did not enable the people to participate from the planning process to the actual implementation and re-planning.

It cannot be denied though that there are also some government agencies which have well-laid out vision and mission statements, goals, strategies and programs. But because the key people running these institutions have standpoints that do not fit with these goals, or are motivated by self-interests and careerism, and their practices guided by sectarian, patronage and profit politics than commitment to public good – their programs ended in hogwash.

If there were development programs and projects that continue to be implemented despite their negative impact on the people, it is because some LGUs are compelled to pursue these for showcasing, funding purposes, employment and payment of political debts, or use these as milking cows.

Bloated Bureaucracy and Misplaced Priorities

The Leonardia administration bureaucracy is probably one of the most bloated class A city, with misplaced priorities, in the country.

It has 2,652 personnel as of 2008, of which 1,646 are permanent personnel, 1,006 are plantilla casuals or with non-permanent items, and 14 political appointees acting as the Mayor’s executive assistants, with each heading a cluster of divisions.

There are also an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 contractuals and job orders regularly hired for specific services.

In terms of deployment by office, the City Mayor’s Office has a total of 448 employees.

This is followed by City Engineer’s Office (301), Department of Public Services (241), Socio–Economic Services Unit (203), City Health Office (199), City Treasurer’s Office (186), General Services Office (170), Bacolod Traffic Authority Office (146), and SP/Legislative Offices (115);

City Social Services Department (86), Veterinary and Slaughterhouse Office (76), Office of Building Official and City Accountant with 50 each, City Assessor’s Office (43), City Library, City Planning Development Office and Civil Registry with 35 each, City Schools Superintendent (33), Department of Agriculture (31), Bacolod City Council (25), City Population Office (23), Budget Office (21), Human Resources Department (17), Cooperative and Livelihood (13), DILG (11), MIT/Computer (9), City Tourism (5), and City Prosecutor and Register of Deeds with three each.

Overall, 448 are in the Mayor’s office, while 962 are in various administrative support offices, or a total of 1,410 occupying administrative positions. A total of 1,242 are in various social support services, but offices involved in direct social services have only 602 employees.

Comparatively, 55 percent of the City Hall’s regular employees are in administrative offices and 25 percent are in support offices. Only 20 percent are in direct social services.

Data further show that of the total number of employees, 60 percent are civil service personnel, while 40 percent were hired on qualifications other than merit and fitness, as the law requires – in other words, political protégés who failed to meet the qualification standards prescribed for government positions.

All these suggest that political patronage is decisive in the appointment of non-career officials occupying executive positions and a bigger number of casuals.

According to former CSC (Civil Service Commission) chairman Karina David, this is a clear abuse of authority and attributable to the “worsening politicization” and “unprofessional behavior” of the government bureaucracy in general.

A Government of Dynasty, Patrons and Crooks

The stories and reports about “pamilya incorporada”, political patrons, crooks, and liars in the Leonardia bureaucracy are not without basis. They have caused the loss of millions in people’s money, which could have otherwise been directed to economic relief for the majority of Bacolodnons who are wallowing in miserable conditions.

The Commission on Audit (CoA) Region VI has, since 2005, issued countless Official Observation Reports admonishing the Mayor and city officials to account for sundry questionable expenses; for donations for flood and other calamity-prone areas; huge amounts of unliquidated cash advances, loans, travel expenses, issued with questionable processes; questionable purchases of supplies, equipment, and property. The CoA repeatedly reminded city officials almost every year to follow strictly accounting and auditing standards.

Alleged scams and irregularities have not ceased to hound the Leonardia administration. Among the most pronounced and badly-criticized are the 11 Ombudsman cases involving the allegedly overpriced and illegal P395-million construction of the new government center; the multimillion-peso Grade 3 textbooks scam; the multimillion-peso computer sets project scam; the unexplained P262-million traveling and related expenses in 2005; the huge and unexplained P18.9-million personnel cash advances as of November 2007; the P72.6-million cash advances for fuel and gasoline expenses in 2007; the unexplained P68 million in the city’s reforestation project in 2005 and average of P28 million spent in the same program from 2006 to 2007; the P10-million overprice in the bidding for 10 six-wheeler dumptrucks from Manila-based Commercial Motors Corporation in 2007-2008; the P4-million rental of 10 dumptrucks in March 2008; the questionable P4 million in fuel expenses from P10 M fund for dredging project in Barangay Banago in November 2007; and the unauthorized donation of P4 million to the Silver Maskara Festival Organization Inc. in September 2007.

Other on-going transactions clouded with irregularities are the Sangguniang Panglunsod’s approval of P23.4 million for the purchase of the Lopez-owned six-hectare dumpsite in Barangay Feliza at P360 per square meter, when there are other offers at P100 to P150 per square meter only and when the DENR has already issued an evaluation report that the Lopez property is not suitable for use as a dumpsite and is highly hazardous to the community.

There are also the highly questionable appropriation of P50 million for the purchase of fixtures and furniture for the new government center and awarding of a contract to a questionable bidder; the Sangguniang Panglunsod appropriation of P7 million for the new government center’s electric connection to Transco, when the NEA (National Electrification Administration) and Transco have not yet approved the city’s connection proposal.

There are also the proposed repeal of City Ordinance 321 as justification for the removal of the 20-percent ceiling on personnel component of city’s projects; the amendment of city’s Revenue Code to give more powers to the city government to impose higher taxes.

Besides these, there are the reported overpriced construction of the city’s boxing ring under the auspices of the newly organized Association of Bacolod Amateur Boxers; arbitrary disbursement of millions in Pagcor (Philippines Amusements and Gaming Corporation) funds by the executive office; and the suspected inflow of dirty money from STL (small-town lottery) and other big time gambling operators into the city coffers.

Some of Leonardia’s officials are also facing individual administrative and criminal suits for cases of irregularities, unprofessionalism, unethical practices and cheating.

All the alleged scams wracking the Leonardia have deep roots in the culture of patronage, nepotism and clientele-ism practiced by past city administrations, and the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of Philippine economic and political structures.

Indeed, power breeds corruption, and corruption anesthesizes.

Political or bureaucratic power enables them to ransack public funds and inflate the ill-gotten private wealth that they already possess. Corruption helps increase the power of Leonardia and his officials, and renders the poor Bacolodnons more marginalized economically, socially, and politically.

The poor governance and scams that plague the Leonardia administration exacerbated by the paralysis of internal and external institutional mechanisms against graft and corruption are what make it rotten to the core.

Toward a Democratic Governance

At the rate by which the present administration is losing its credibility, one begins to ask whether a reshuffling, or re-districting of the city, or even a shift in the form of government from unitary to federal, is enough to cure the cancer that afflicts the infrastructures of the Leonardia governance.

The way the Leonardia administration stands now, does not augur well for the general public. It even projects a weak, fractious, anti-people and anti-development administration.

Bereft of visions and programs that address the people’s welfare and democratic interests, they subvert the elections through manipulation, disinformation and the spreading of more myths; and run the bureaucracy like the extension of the private businesses of the Leonardia family and patrons.

The Leonardia administration however does not seem to understand that the people are smarter than they are made to appear – they are always able to sort out the grain from the chaff.

A local political leader recently said, “Let them (the city politicians and their apologists) wallow into believing that Bacolodnons will always go for the thieves in the city government.”

Movements for political and economic reforms are growing in various corners of the city and the province – involving the marginalized folks, business, professionals, state employees, the church, NGOs, and other groups and individuals that believe in a different kind of governance.

It is now becoming clearer in various circles that governance is about who wields political power. Political power should be in the hands of the people.

A truly democratic governance is far from the present realities but it is already taking shape amid the present contradictions.

The city government has still some well-meaning officials and people who are willing to give it another try especially with more push from political figures, sectors and groups who value their stake in the on-going reconfiguration of power.

In due time, democratic governance will emerge with the people bound by one vision, one mission, common goals and strategies, working as one despite divergence in ideas, adoptive to changing conditions, and with a political leadership that is able to unite divergent political forces in a common march towards real and lasting development and peace.

How this can be translated into a common and doable agenda is something that has to be defined and worked out by the major stakeholders and facilitators of change.

A change in city administration in 2010 may cause some improvements. But how significant and beneficial to the people this change will be remains to be seen. ((Bulatlat.com))

Notes:

1_COA 2005, 2006 and 2007 annual audit reports, http://www.coa.gov.ph
2_ Good Governance: The Political Solution to Socio-economic malaise, ESCAP, December 2008
3_ Korten and Siy; Transforming a Bureaucracy: The Experience of National Irrigation
Administration;1989
4_ Larkin; Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society; Introduction; Epilogue; 2001
5_ Jeremy Seabrook: Victims of Development; 1993; pp 7-19, 21-26
6_ Bacolod City Comprehensive Land Use Development Plan; 2000-2010
7_ State of the City Address of Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia; 2007
8_ Selected Interviews; 2007-2008
9_ News Clippings; Visayan Daily Star; Sun Star Bacolod; Negros Daily Bulletin; Negros Times;
Agila 2006-2008
10_ Eduardo, et al., Victor ; Ombudsman Cases against Bacolod City Officials on Government
Center; 2007; 2008
11_ Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG); Selected Articles; 2007-2008

A Glimpse of Urban Poverty and Other Basic Problems in Bacolod City

January 20, 2009

(Second of three parts)

The lack of jobs, unstable income, and decent housing, as well as high crime rates – problems exacerbated by the city government’s lack of a pro-people development paradigm – are just among the manifestations that Bacolod is unlikely to grow as a “humane city”.

BY KARL G. OMBION
SPECIAL REPORT

(Bulatlat.com)

The capital of Negros sugarlandia has recently been praised in Manila-based Money Sense magazine as the country’s most livable city, with the article citing as main bases the costs of living, accessibility to basic services, and peace and order situation.

Aside from this, city officials have also boasted of the numerous awards garnered by the city, among them accolades for supposedly being the most business-friendly city and the most developed IT (information technology) center in Region VI.

An assessment however of the basic social and economic facts in the city show a different trend, and seem to prove only the long-standing critique of social scientists and progressive organizations that the leadership of the region’s capital city has failed to address its own internal economic and political problems, aside from failing to alter the prevailing feudal and semi-feudal conditions spurred by the region’s mono-crop, sugar-based economy.

The lack of jobs, unstable income, and decent housing, as well as the high crime rates – problems exacerbated by the city government’s lack of a pro-people development paradigm – are just among the manifestations that Bacolod is unlikely to grow as a “humane city”.

Rampant “Squatting”

Data provided by the Bacolod Housing Authority (BHA) revealed that half of Bacolod’s estimated 41,610 households are considered as “squatters”, or those families not owning lots and houses or are living in “extreme danger zones”, and without stable jobs and income.

According to the BHA, the number could have soared to as much as 60 to 65 percent of the city’s population as the 39,921 listed as “squatters” were still lifted from 1997 database of the city. “If we consider the 1.38 percent annual population growth rate of the city and the pattern and rate of migration from Negros rural areas to Bacolod, the figure of 39,921 “squatters” is already understated as the number of squatters most probably have gone higher considering the city’s present population of 499,497,” the BHA said.

The city officials are thinking of buying 30-60 hectares of land to accommodate the existing over 1,000 “squatters” with pending court cases as well as those likely to be ejected anytime soon, and to around 200 waitlisted household relocatees with pending orders of demolition.

The city’s existing relocation sites in Barangay (village) Handumanan, Fortune town; in Brgy. Estefania, and in Vista Alegre in Brgy. Granada are already filled up and any move to allow more entry of relocatees in the said sites might only cause more troubles to the city and the “squatters”.

But even this would not be enough because the number of “squatters” continues to grow while the jobs available are so far inadequate.

The leaders and representatives of various urban poor associations in Bacolod recently reiterated their demand for an immediate moratorium on all demolitions and ejections while the city government has yet to settle the demands of urban poor for on-site development, or guarantee the provision of viable and sustainable relocation sites for all the affected communities and groups.

In an urban poor conference initiated by the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), Negros chapter and its allied organizations led by Bayan Muna, which was held recently at the Redemptorist Convent hall, four workshop groups expressed collective alarm and condemnation over the wave of forced demolitions the city government has carried out the past months, leaving hundreds families scampering for temporary shelters.

Amalia Perez, Kadamay-Negros chairperson, said, “The city government has violated the Philippine Constitution, the Geneva Conventions on the Rights of Peoples, and the Urban Development Housing Act, due to its failure to provide relocation sites and the attendant support services to demolished communities, and also in carrying out violent and inhumane demolitions of houses and ejection of urban poor.

“Right now, more than 4,000 households have notices of demolition and pending court cases of demolition and ejection, and unless the city government orders a moratorium or strikes an agreement with court judges for a moratorium, there would be more homeless persons in the coming months.”

The workshop groups further tackled issues like actual income capacity of urban poor households and their experiences with various housing schemes carried out and partnered by the city government like the Community Mortgage Program (CMP), Miscellaneous Sales (MS), Direct Purchase (DP), Gawad Kalinga (GK). They all concluded that the city government’s housing program is oppressive and anti-urban poor.

“It is clear that the city government has designed its housing schemes with bias for the elites, business, expats, tourists, as shown by its expensive and exorbitant housing units,” Juanito Tanalgo of KAISAHAN, an alliance of local neighborhood associations, said in the local language.

“We could hardly even meet our daily food needs, and they still want to hog tie us with high mortgaging fees and other charges for the housing unit,” he added.

Bacolod Councilor Jocelle Batapa-Sigue aptly said that the huge number of “squatters”, “jobless”, and odd jobbers” in the city reflects the inability of the city government to provide adequate employment and support systems to its people.

“The acute corruption in the city government also exacerbates the failure to provide adequate and sustainable basic services to the urban poor; it’s in fact stealing something that belongs to the people,” she said.

Joblessness.

Official city and labor statistics processed by the author revealed that of the city’s total labor force of 228,000 as of 2007, 74 percent have no stable jobs and incomes and the rate is still growing. The rate of employment is a mere 26 percent and economic trends show that prospects are not getting any better.

Of the 74 percent, 43 percent or 98,700 are underemployed or odd jobbers, while the majority are either self-employed or working in family-based small businesses. Thirty-one percent or 70,664 are unemployed or continue to look for employment.

Only 26 percent or 58,636 are employed as regulars, probationary and under renewable job contracts, or with clear employer-employee relationships. Majority of this section of the workforce are covered by the city’s estimated 21,000 registered businesses as of end-2007.

Of the employed, 30,028 are in general and professional services, i.e. schools, government offices, the communication and transportation sector, and other utility services.

Around 22,854 are in agri-aqua farms, e.g. rice, sugar, fishing, fishponds, vegetables, orchards and coconut plantations.

Commerce and trade accounts for 3,554 of the employed, while processing/manufacturing accounts for 2,200.

The level of unemployment conditions in the city is not surprising given the city government’s slow job generation vis-a-vis the rapid population growth and migration rate.

In fact, this condition is similar to that of all other cities and town centers in Negros.

The city government’s stress on the service sector is problematic because it is the sector with the most unstable employment, while the agriculture sector which still constitutes the biggest resources and labor reserves of the city remain largely neglected.

The city has 16,945 hectares of land, of which 9,101 hectares or 53.7 percent are devoted to agriculture; unless the city does something to address this reality, it can never achieve an all-around development.

It is a must for the city to re-orient its thrust toward spurring growth with jobs and development with equity, or it will be saddled with growing unemployment and population in the long run.

The region’s seasonal, mono-crop, sugar-based economy that serves as the bastion of surplus labor and causes the continuous urban migration to escape widespread and worsening poverty and hunger in the rural areas is another factor to be blamed.

Dole-out social services.

The Leonardia administration reported that from June 2005 to June 2007, the city spent P68 million (P32 million in 2005-2006 and P36 million in 2006-2007) in various social services.

A scrutiny of CSSD (City Social Services Department) projects, however, reveals that most of these “services” were dole-outs: relief services, one-time trainings, meetings and conferences, and printing and publications of materials.

More revealing is the fact that CSSD services went mostly to constituents of the political forces and allies of the Mayor and others in the city leadership. Thus the problem of effectively measuring the impact of these services arose.

Class A city with no hospital.

The Leonardia administration has until now failed to set up a hospital of its own, and is relying for almost everything on its excessively undermanned, poorly equipped City Health Office, which is housed in a small building.

The City Health Office has been catering mainly to first-aid and primary cases, while the rest, especially major medical cases are referred to the Bacolod-based Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital (CLMMRH), or profit-seeking private hospitals.

According to CLMMRH official sources, 75-80 percent of its patients are from Bacolod City, but support from the city government is quite minimal: a few dozen nurses and midwives, and half a dozen doctors rendering part time services.

Ironically, many ask, where do the millions being allocated yearly for health concerns by the city, and the millions more in donations from various local and international humanitarian foundations go? An accounting of the funds is being asked but no report has been made public yet.

What is even more ironic is the fact that the city government has been spending millions on salaries of 199 City Health Office personnel whose presence is hardly felt even in the city’s most depressed and disease-stricken barangays.

Crime surge.

No less than the Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce, Inc. had once noted the crime surge in the city, pointing to the rising incidence of holdups, robberies, and numerous petty crimes such as snatching in the capital city.

MBCCI vice-president for external affairs Oscar Zayco noted in one media interview that a crime against persons and property have surged in recent months with incidents averaging three to four times a week.

Bacolod City Police Director S/Supt. Ronilo Quebrar also admitted that criminals in the city have not only increased and become more daring in carrying out their illegal activities, but seem to find it easier to stage their crimes.

He attributed the problem though to the city’s lack of police personnel. The city’s police force numbers only 473, thus amounting to a ratio of one policeman for every 1,189 citizens. He said the ideal ratio for a big city like Bacolod is 1:500.

Zayco also believes that the lack in the police force is not the main reason but the grinding poverty stalking the whole sugarlandia, which causes the increase in the rate of rural-urban migration and thus the commission of all sorts of crimes.

“As the city grows without much employment to offer, thousands of people flowing in supposedly to find ‘greener pastures’ here end up engaging in illegal activities just to survive; the city of Bacolod has become a mixture of ‘highly mobile and transient’ people which makes it harder for urban authorities to monitor and control the population,” Zayco noted. (Bulatlat.com)

Hunger stalks remote Samar villages

January 19, 2009

By Joey A. Gabieta
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:54:00 01/18/2009

Filed Under: Poverty, Food

TACLOBAN CITY, Philipines—Hunger now stalks over 7,000 residents of two island-barangays of Guiuan, Eastern Samar as food supplies could no longer reach them due to continuous rains and strong winds.

The historic island of Homonhon and of Suluan Island has become isolated as travel to the town proper for food has become impossible because of the bad weather, according to Guiuan Mayor Annaliz Kwan.

“I really feel hopeless. I want to help our people there but could not do anything except to pray for the weather condition to improve so we can deliver food to our people there who have been suffering for a week now,” Kwan said in a telephone interview Saturday.

Suluan and Homonhon are the farthest island-barangays of Guiuan, located within the Pacific Ocean area with a combined population of more than 7,000.

The town mayor said that sailing to the two island barangays (villages) under the prevailing weather condition would be extremely risky. “The waves there are so high which is very dangerous for ordinary or small pump boats to travel,” she said.

She said the only way to deliver food to the two islands would be by air but the town has no means to do it.

CBCP Head: Poverty can be overcome by acts of justice, honesty, charity

December 31, 2008

MANILA, December 30, 2008─While the Church helps the poor live decent lives through its social action programs funded from charitable contributions, government agencies must do likewise with funds allotted for poverty alleviation, as directed by acts of justice, honesty, compassion and charity, the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said.

In his New Year’s message Jaro Archbishop and CBCP president Angel Lagdameo made a stinging rebuke on the government’s failure to address the plight of the poor saying that the their miserable condition is not natural but man-made.

“The extreme poverty of the poorest of the poor is neither natural nor normal: it is man-made and can be overcome or eradicated by acts of justice, honesty, compassion and charity,” said Lagdameo.

He said it is unfortunate that although God’s blessings are unlimited and countless, they become limited through selfishness, injustice and corruption.

“God’s countless blessings have been and are obstructed or hindered from reaching their respective targets,” Lagdameo lamented

The CBCP president cited studies done showing how graft and corruption had defrauded the poor of basic services.

“The realities: according to one study, for every 100 pesos of our national budget, 40 pesos go to debt servicing, 15 pesos for education, 1 peso and 40 centavos for health services, and only 18 centavos for housing. For every 100 pesos, sadly 43 pesos and 42 centavos become the object of greed, fraud, plunder and corruption. Recently it was said that the 23 million “poorest of the poor” have increased to 27 million, most of whom are victims of their neighbors’ greed,” Lagdameo said.

The prelate reiterated what Pope Benedict XVI said on Christmas Day, that “it is GREED that destroys the world and its peace, unbridled and criminal greed of individuals and institutions. The evil effects of greed are worse and more widespread than the evils of war.”

But Lagdameo conceded that even amidst human negativities, accidents, dehumanizing poverty and broken promises, still people have many countless blessings to be happy and thankful about.

“With God hope springs eternal,” he said.

A better year for the poor?

The prelate said only the future can tell if 2009 will be a better year for the “poorest of the poor” while issuing a challenge on what everyone can do to become agents of hope for them.

“Will the New Year 2009 be a better year for the “poorest of the poor” because they are better looked after by Society, the Church and Government? In 2009, will someone be less poor, less hungry, better educated, because of what I shall have done?” asked the prelate.

Lagdameo explained the reason for rejoicing at any time especially during Christmas season is not due to what has been done for or received from others.

“The fundamental reason for our rejoicing always is that in Jesus Christ, God and Man, God has become “God with us-Emmanuel,” in the midst of many human negativities…and broken promises,” he said. (Pinky Barrientos, FSP)

In the Miserable Depths of Poverty

December 28, 2008

As 2008 nears its end, many Filipinos conclude that their dire plight got unbearably worse this year. More and more urban poor families speak with anguish about their impoverished state while adamantly stressing the need for “radical change”.

BY JEFFREY OCAMPO
YEAREND REPORT – URBAN POOR

(Bulatlat.com)

A new year is commencing. Looking back at the year almost gone by, the urban poor see the bleak path they struggled to travel on. The year 2008 is just the same as the past years, only worse, they say. They have been constantly pushed beyond the margins of humane living, always in danger of losing their homes and livelihood. Politically, they have been further silenced as cases of “repression” among their ranks remain. Neglected by the state, they demand the abolition of the prevailing system.

The urban poor population of the country has now hit 30 million based on data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB). A considerable percentage of them reside in the slums of Metro Manila. The number of urban poor families is significant considering that the population of the country is 89 million.

According to the document Lagutin ang Tanikala ng Kahirapan (Break the Chain of Poverty) prepared by the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay or Mutual Help Association of the Poor), workers and “semi-proletarians” (workers doing seasonal odd jobs) comprise the urban poor population. They “suffer from extreme poverty” caused by the lack of gainful employment. They make a living out of their dismal wages and meager earnings, which fall way too short compared to the soaring cost of living in and outside Metro Manila.

Based on the study of the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), a family of six (the size of the average Filipino family) needs, at the very least, P858 ($17.96 at the Dec. 12 exchange rate of $1:P47.78) everyday for food and other expenses. In the National Capital Region, an average worker earns only P345.00-P382.00 ($7.22-7.99) while workers in other regions earn less.


Children collect garbage in a slum area in Tondo Manila. (Photo by Aubrey Makilan)

Worse is the case of vendors, drivers of pedicabs, tricycles and other modes of transportation, workers in dumpsites and other semi-proletarians. For instance, scavengers in the dumpsite of Payatas who collect garbage which can still be of use like pet bottles, iron and papers, earn only P150 ($3.14) or less a day after working for nine hours. Aling Julieta, an ambulant vendor along España Street in Sampaloc, Manila, earns the same amount for working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, schoolchildren in urban poor communities comprise a significant number in the alarming number of drop-outs in primary and secondary schools. Most of them have to stop going to school to work and help their parents augment their meager family income.

While most of the urban poor reside in far-off relocation sites, tenement houses and communities around industrial areas, some end up living in “dangerous areas” like dumpsites, bridges, along railroad tracks and river banks where social services are beyond their reach. Diseases like dengue, hepatitis and tuberculosis are prevalent among the urban poor as health and sanitation conditions in these areas are bad.

They experience extreme hunger and destitution, which drive some of them into committing anti-social activities, from petty to more serious crimes.

Most of them came from different provinces during the latter part of the 1940s. Their farmlands were grabbed and they were forced to evacuate to the cities in search of employment. During the second half of the 1940s, thousands of people from the countryside occupied the shorelines of Tondo, riverside of Pasig and areas of Intramuros.

The urban poor numbered less than 100,000 in 1956, 2.5 million in 1996 and now they number 30 million.

Hunger and destitution

This year, multitudes of Filipinos experienced “extreme hunger” based on the studies of various groups. According to the research conducted by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), an alarming number of Filipino families had to skip meals simply because they cannot afford to eat three times a day. Conchita Orande, a resident of Payatas, lamentably confesses that in her lifetime, her family had never skipped a meal until the past few months when they often had to miss dinner because they had no money. Some prolong their sleep and wake up late so they can combine their breakfast and lunch, said the group.

Meanwhile, according to the Third Quarter 2008 Survey of the Social Weather Station (SWS), an estimated 3.3 million families experienced “involuntary hunger” in the period August-October this year.

Likewise, the survey conducted by IBON Foundation last April showed that more and more Filipinos find it difficult to buy food and other basic commodities.

Health is at the bottom of the urban poor’s list of priorities, says Dr. Geneve Rivera of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD). Since the purchasing power of the peso is low and inflation is high, they put food and other immediate expenses first on their list. Their nutritional needs are neglected since what their earnings can afford are unhealthy foods like noodles and cheap canned and dried goods, Rivera further said. Some even resort to eating “pagpag” (leftovers recycled though boiling and re-cooking) as is done in the slum areas of Tondo and Payatas.

Diseases that can be easily cured are rampant among the urban poor since they are unable to address their health needs, according to HEAD.

The meager budget that the health sector receives annually makes it difficult for the Department of Health (DoH) and public medical institutions like the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to extend medical assistance to the urban poor.

Homes and livelihood in danger

Demolitions of homes and areas of livelihood of the urban poor were also rampant throughout 2008.

Kadamay and other local urban poor groups hold the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) responsible for these. With operations deemed as “illegal demolitions”, often involving violence, congressmen have been compelled to question the MMDA’s authority to conduct demolitions. Several congressmen have supported House Resolution No. 487, seeking an inquiry on the legality of demolitions conducted by the MMDA.

HR 708, meanwhile, seeks an investigation on the human rights violations allegedly committed by the MMDA during their operations.

In the past few years, clashes between sidewalk vendors and the MMDA in different areas in Metro Manila have become rather common. In the first half of the year, demolitions at the Philcoa Wet and Dry Market, Culiat Bridge and Balintawak Market in Quezon City, Levi Mariano Avenue in Taguig City, and at the Quinta Market were carried out by the MMDA. The MMDA allegedly carried out these operations without notices of demolition. More demolitions of the urban poor’s areas of livelihood happened throughout the second half of the year.

The urban poor’s homes also face actual demolitions or threats of demolitions throughout the country.

In Cagayan de Oro City, at least 15,000 families will be affected when the plan to turn the Cagayan de Oro River into a tourist attraction is implemented. In Kawit, Cavite, 50 houses of urban poor families were demolished while those in the coastlines of Bacoor, Noveleta and Cavite cities face threats of demolition because of the planned extension of the R-1 Expressway. In Davao City, the city government plans to demolish several structures including homes of the urban poor.

In Metro Manila, there are reported cases of demolition of urban poor homes along the Pasig River and in Project 4 in Quezon City. Threats of demolition in Sitio San Roque, San Isidro, Brgy. Central at Pinyahan District in Quezon City also abound as the implementation of the plan for a Quezon City Central Business District (QC-CBD) progresses. The expansion of University of the Philippines (UP)-Ayala Corporation Techno Hub also threatens the homes in surrounding barangays such as the Old Capitol Site and San Vicente.

Urban militarization

Meanwhile, residents of urban poor communities see urban militarization as a problem rather than a blessing. Elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reportedly have been seen in different areas of Metro Manila such as Baseco and Delpan in Tondo, Manila, Dagat-Dagatan in Caloocan City, and in Old Balara and Pansol in Quezon City.

The AFP reasons out that the military deployment is meant to lessen the crimes and “maintain peace and order” within these areas. Kadamay, however, argues that this move by the AFP may be a ploy to put community-based progressive organizations, which fight for the rights of the urban poor for shelter and livelihood, under surveillance. This, as seen by the group, is an assault on the democratic right of the urban poor to freely organize themselves.

Worse is the case in the provinces, according to Kadamay, where their members have become victims of “brazen political persecution.” The vice-chaiperson of the group’s chapter in Tacloban City, Charlie Solayao, was shot dead by a masked assassin riding a motorcycle in 2007. Meanwhile, another member of the group in Southern Tagalog was included in the list of 72 activists in the region who were slapped with trumped-up multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder cases last October.


Urban poor shanties in Baseco, Tondo, Manila. (Photo by Dabet Castañeda)

“Radical change”

According to Carmen Deunida, former spokesperson of Kadamay, what the country needs now is “radical change in the time of worsening crisis and hunger among the urban poor.” She further stated that “it is not enough to depend on legal processes to acquire social justice and development (for) the urban poor.”

The group, along with other urban poor organizations in different parts of Metro Manila, people’s organization and progressive partylist groups, held the Lakbayan ng Maralita para sa Radikal na Pagbabago (Caravan of the Poor for Radical Change) last Dec. 1 and 2 to collectively defend their rights and call for the ouster of President Arroyo.

The Arroyo administration, while claiming that the country’s economy is progressing under the “strong republic”, has done nothing to resolve the issue of worsening poverty, they said.

“Radical change” of society, to Kadamay, means “replacing the old system with a new one that would implement national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform.”

Kadamay said that the suffering of the urban poor would continue under the system wherein “a few benefit from the people’s labor.”

The lives of the urban poor worsened in 2008. But they still look forward to better years to come when the impoverished people finally free themselves from the miserable depths of poverty.

Hunger hits record high–SWS

December 24, 2008

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:07:00 12/23/2008

Filed Under: Opinion surveys

MANILA, Philippines—An estimated 4.3 million households experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months as hunger hit a new record-high at 23.7 percent, according to the latest survey by the private polling firm Social Weather Stations.

“The latest hunger record is 11 points above the 10-year average of 12.6 percent,” SWS said in a statement released Monday.

The latest figure has surpassed the previous record-high of 21.5 percent registered in September 2007, it added.

Hunger has been in double-digits for over four years. The hunger average for 2008 is 18.5 percent, higher than the 2007 average of 17.9 percent, SWS noted.

The Fourth Quarter 2008 Social Weather Survey also found that an estimated 3.3 million families (18.5 percent) experienced “moderate hunger” or those who experienced hunger “only once” or “a few times” over the last three months—another record-high and up from 15.2 percent (2.7 million families) in September.

Severe hunger, on the other hand, defined as experiencing hunger “often” or “always,” was at 5.2 percent (940,000 families), up from 3.2 percent (580,000 families) in September. The current rate is two points above the 10-year average severe hunger rate of 3.3 percent, SWS said.

Severe hunger

The survey asked respondents specifically about involuntary hunger, or hunger due to lack of anything to eat.

Across areas, Mindanao now has the highest proportion of households experiencing hunger at 33.7 percent, (1.4 million families) a new record-high for the area. Overall hunger rose by 15 points in the area, from 18.3 percent in September to 33.7 percent in December.

Moderate hunger in Mindanao was at 27.7 percent, up by nearly 12 percentage points from 16 percent in September, while severe hunger in the area was at 6 percent, up by about 4 percentage points from 2.3 percent in September.

Meanwhile, overall hunger rates were at a record-high in Metro Manila (23.3 percent or 570,000 families), Visayas (20.7 percent or 750,000 families) and in Luzon outside Metro Manila (20 percent or 1.6 million families).

Moderate hunger also rose in other areas—by 7 points in the Visayas (from 11.3 percent to 18 percent) and by 3 points in Metro Manila (15 percent to 18.3 percent). On the other hand, it declined by 2 points in the Balance of Luzon (from 16.5 percent to 14 percent).

“In all areas, the latest moderate hunger rates remain higher than their 10-year averages,” SWS said. In Metro Manila, the 10-year average for moderate hunger is 8.5 percent; in the Balance of Luzon, 9.1 percent; in Visayas, 8.9 percent; and in Mindanao, 10.2 percent.

Meanwhile, severe hunger rose by about 3 points in the Balance of Luzon (from 3.5 percent to 6 percent, also a new record-high), and by 2 points in the Visayas (from 0.3 percent to 2.7 percent). However, it declined in Metro Manila by 3 percentage points (from 8 percent to 5 percent). Kate Pedroso, Inquirer Research

Study says rice subsidy program punishes poor

December 20, 2008

MANILA (AFP) – The Philippine government’s mammoth rice subsidy program hurts the poor people it is supposed to helping, according to a study published yesterday.

The report called for reforms to the program, which ate up 2.5 percent of the 2008 gross domestic product and turned the monopoly rice importer National Food Authority (NFA) into the largest loss-making state firm.

The NFA has a mandate to provide low prices of the cereal, provide price support to rice farmers and smooth out price swings mainly by the “untargeted transfer of cheap, mostly imported rice to households” of the world’s biggest rice-importing nation.

But Shikha Jha, of the by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and Aashish Mehta, of the University of California, found that between 1996 and 2003, Filipinos bought rice at prices that were “almost twice as high” as world prices.

This was because the state barred private rice imports and then the NFA imported “less than that required to maintain the target price, which is set below the world price,” the report found.

While a larger segment of the poor bought subsidized NFA rice than the better off, this was due mainly to the promotion of an “inferior quality of rice” which the wealthier also bought to feed their “domestic helpers and pets,”  it added.

NFA rice imports and price subsidies were ramped up significantly this year due to soaring prices, with first-half imports rising nearly four-fold to 858 million dollars, the study said.

The World Bank announced this week that it had lent Manila 200 million dollars to support the government’s increased food subsidy program to the poor amid a global financial crisis.

The study said the 167 billion-peso (3.6 billion-dollar) subsidy program had been a drain on government coffers — it buys rice from local farmers at a nine percent premium to the market price, and sells rice to consumers at prices 18 percent cheaper than commercial rice.

Every dollar of rice subsidy transferred to consumers costs the government about 2.2 dollars, the study estimated, a benefit-cost ratio that it said doubled to 4.4 dollars per dollar of subsidy because of diversion to the regular rice market.

The study found the subsidy was poorly targeted, with Manila receiving about 25 percent, the same as the entire southern region of Mindanao, which has the Philippines’ highest incidence of poverty.

While the NFA subsidy program “is an important safety net in the Philippines,” the study said its actual scope was tiny, reaching “only about 16 percent of the population” in a country where two in five people live on two dollars a day or less.(MindanaoTimes)

Mula US hanggang RP: Krisis sa balikat ng bayan

October 21, 2008

Ilang-Ilang D. Quijano

KAHIT ipinasa ng Kongreso ng US ang $700 Bilyong piyansa para sa nagbagsakang higanteng mga bangko at institusyong pampinansiya sa US, naniniwala ang mga eksperto sa ekonomiya na magtatagal ang pandaigdigang krisis pang-ekonomiya. Isinalba, pansamantala, ang mga “haligi ng kapitalismo.” Pero pinangangambahang magdurusa – sa kagyat at pangmatagalan – ang mga mamamayan hindi lamang ng US kundi ng mundo, kabilang ng Pilipinas.

Pinuri ni Pang. Arroyo ang bailout o Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 na pinirmahan ni US Pres. George W. Bush noong Oktubre 3. Aniya’y unang hakbang ito sa “mahabang daan” patungo sa pagnormalisa ng mga merkadong pinansiyal. Inudyok niya ang mga mamamayan na “manatili sa landas” habang inaasikaso ng kanyang administrasyon ang mga hakbang para mapangalagaan ang ekonomiya ng bansa.

Pero hindi nagiging matapat ang administrasyong Arroyo sa mga epekto sa mga mamamayan ng tinataguriang “pinakamatinding krisis ng sistemang kapitalismo” sa loob ng 80 taon. Ang inilatag ding mga plano ng kanyang pangkat pang-ekonomiya ay hindi batayang mga repormang pang-ekonomiya, kundi “mala-Bush” na mga solusyong ikalulugi ng mga mamamayan para sa ganansiya ng mga dati nang nakikinabang sa sistema.

Nawala ‘na parang bula’

Positibo si Sek. Margarito Teves ng DoF (Department of Finance) na makatutulong ang bailout para maiwasan ang pandaigdigang resesyon na pinangangambahan maging ng IMF (International Monetary Fund). Ayon sa IMF, may 25 porsiyentong tsansa na bumaba sa tatlong porsiyento ang tantos ng paglago (growth rate) ng pandaigdigang ekonomiya sa 2008 at 2009 o katumbas ng resesyon.

Gayunpaman, ayon kay Paul Quintos, ekonomista at executive director ng Eiler (Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research), pumasok man sa pandaigdigang resesyon o hindi, tiyak ang “pagbagal ng produksiyon, paglaki ng disempleyo, pagtumal ng pamilihan, at pagtindi ng kahirapan ng mga mamamayan.”

Dulot ang pagkabangkarote ng tatlo sa limang pinakamalaking bangko sa pamumuhunan – Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, at Merrill Lynch – ng pagputok ng artipisyal na bula sa real estate. Para lumobo ang halaga ng pag-aaring pampinansiya ng US at makapag-engganyo ng pagkonsumo, nag-alok ang malalaking bangko ng US ng mababang interes sa mga pautang sa pabahay. Inengganyong mangutang maging ang maliliit lamang ang kita batay sa pinalobong halaga ng isinanglang mga bahay nila (tinatawag na subprime mortgages). Pero nakapako naman ang sahod kaya’t nabigong makapagbayad ang karamihan simula noong 2006.

Unti-unting nalugi ang mga bangko at institusyong pampinansiya di lamang sa US kundi sa buong daigdig na sumugal sa di-kontroladong ispekulasyon. Noong Setyembre 30, naganap sa 30 bansa ang pinakamatarik na pagbagsak ng stock market sa kasaysayan. Sa tantiya ng IMF, aabot sa US$ 945-B ang halaga ng pagkalugi at pagbagsak ng halaga ng mga pag-aari sa US (asset write-downs). Sa iba pang pagtantiya, ayon kay Quintos, maaaring umabot sa $30 Trilyon ang kabuuang halagang “mawawala nang parang bula” sa buong daigdig dahil sa yumanig na krisis.

Malawakang tanggalan

Pagyayabang noong una ni Nestor Espenilla, deputy governor ng Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, di-gaanong apektado sa krisis ang lokal na merkadong pinansiyal. Umano’y isang porsiyento lamang ng buong sistema ng pagbabangko sa Pilipinas ang US$ 386 Milyon na exposure sa Lehman Brothers ng pitong bangko at kaya ng mga itong tumindig sa sariling mga paa.

Pero sa press briefing sa Malakanyang kamakailan, sinabi ni Sek. Ralph Recto ng National Economic Development Authority na magiging mas matumal kaysa inaasahan ang buong takbo ng ekonomiya. Mula sa growth target sa GDP na 5.5 hanggang 6.4 porsiyento ngayong taon, naging 4.4 hanggang 4.9 porsiyento na lamang. Ibig sabihin, mas malalim at malawak ang mga epekto sa lokal na ekonomiya ng pandaigdigang krisis pampinansiya kaysa nais aminin ng administrasyong Arroyo.

Noong Agosto 2007 nang unang pumutok ang krisis sa subprime ng US, nawala ang P2-T na halaga-sa-papel ng sapi sa Philippine Stock Exchange, ayon kay Quintos. Sinabi rin niyang bumaba nang 12.3 porsiyento ang lakas ng piso laban sa dolyar ngayong taon at posibleng sumadsad muli sa P50 kada dolyar.

Higit pa sa negatibong epekto sa stock exchange at exchange rate ang inaasahang pagtumal sa pagpasok sa bansa ng dayuhang kapital at pagliit ng merkado para sa iniluluwas na mga produkto at serbisyo sa US. Paliwanag ni Quintos, “pinakamalalang maaapektuhan ng krisis ang mga bansang atrasado [gaya ng Pilipinas] na mahigpit na nakatali sa neokolonyal na relasyong pangkalakalan sa US.”

May 16 porsiyento ng kabuuang eksport ng Pilipinas ang napupunta sa US habang 70 porsiyento ang di-direktang napupunta dito sa pamamagitan ng ibang mga bansang Asya kung saan binubuo (ina-assemble) ang mga kasangkapan bago i-eksport din sa US, ayon sa datos ng Ibon Foundation. Dahil sa mas mahigpit na pagkokonsumo doon, inaasahang liliit ang US$ 9.4-B na direktang kinita mula sa mga eksport sa US noong 2007.

Inaasahan ding tutumal ang mga dayuhang pamumuhunan mula sa US sa pagmamanupaktura, BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), at serbisyong pampinansiya. May 20 porsiyento ito ng kabuuang FDI (foreign direct investment). Mula sa mga merkado sa US ang halos 90 porsiyento ng kita ng BPO na nakasentro sa mga call center.

Ipinagmamalaki pa naman ng administrasyong Arroyo na numero unong tagalikha ng trabaho ang mga Export Processing Zones at BPO. Pero pagsasara ng maliliit na negosyo at malawakang tanggalan ang nakaamba sa mga ito at iba pang apektadong industriya. Mula Hulyo 2007 (hudyat ng krisis sa subprime sa US) hanggang Hulyo 2008 na lamang, 125,000 manggagawa sa pagmamanupaktura ang tinanggal sa trabaho—inaasahang tataas ang bilang nila. Inaasahang apektado rin ang mga ahente ng call center na karamiha’y nasa National Capital Region.

Maging ang pagluwas ng mga OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker), inaasahang babagal. Sa buong mundo, ayon sa International Labor Organization, tinatayang limang milyong manggagawa ang mawawalan ng trabaho dahil sa pagtumal ng pandaigdigang ekonomiya. Noong nakaraang buwan, 159,000 manggagawa ang natanggal sa trabaho sa US—na ngayo’y makikipag-agawan pa ng oportunidad sa mga OFW at iba pang migrante doon.

“Malilimitahan ang bilang ng mga Pilipinong makakahanap ng trabaho sa ibang bansa, ” ani Quintos. Mangangahulugan umano ito ng mas kaunting remitans at mas matamlay ding konsumo sa Pilipinas dahil sa laki ng papel ng remitans sa lokal na ekonomiya.

Solusyon nga ba?

Umaasa ang administrasyong Bush na sasapat ang mahigit US$ 1.3-T inilaan nito para maisalba ang ekonomiya ng US mula sa pagkabangkarote ng malalaking institusyong pampinansiya. Bukod sa US$700-B bailout, naglagak ito ng US$ 29-B para bilhin ang Bear Stearns, US$ 200-B para isalba ang dalawang pinakamalaking nagpapautang sa pabahay na Freddie Mac at Fannie Mae, US$ 85-B para bilhin ang mayoryang kontrol ng papalubog na American Investment Group, at US$ 180-B para pasiglahin ang merkadong pinansiyal.

Umaani ng batikos ang administrasyong Bush dahil sa halip na parusahan ang “kasakiman” (greed) ng mga ispekulador, ginamit pa ang buwis ng mga mamamamayan para sagipin ang mga ito. Gaya ng kung paano, ayon sa Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan), ginamit ni Pangulong Arroyo ang VAT (Value-Added Tax) para pagtakpan ang palpak na mga polisyang pang-ekonomiya na nagdulot ng piskal na krisis noon. Ngayon, dagdag-buwis at iba pang pampasigla sa ekonomiya (fiscal stimulus) pa rin ang panukala ng administrasyong Arroyo para manatiling nakalutang ang ekonomiya ng bansa sa gitna ng pandaigdigang krisis pampinansiya.

Nanawagan si Teves sa Kongreso na ipasa ng Kongreso ang P1.4-T pambansang badyet na may nakalaang P147.5-B para sa imprastruktura. Ayon kay Recto, “Ang mantra ng Neda ay infra, infra, infra para mapaunlad ang growth rate ng ekonomiya.”

Gayunpaman, nasa depensiba ang gobyernong Arroyo sa paggastos ng pondo para sa imprastruktura na kilalang napupunta lamang sa korupsiyon. Kaya napilitan si House Espiker Prospero Nograles kamakailan na ihayag na hindi gagamitin ang pondo ng mga pulitiko para sa 2010 halalan, kasabay ng pagtatayo ng komite na magmomonitor nito. Tinitingnan naman ni Quintos na “pansamantala” ang epekto ng ganitong pampasigla sa ekonomiya.

Tinutulak din ng DoF ang mga panukalang batas para sa rasyunalisasyon ng insentibo sa buwis ng mga kompanya (fiscal incentives) at buwis sa sigarilyo at alkohol (sin taxes). Inaasahang kikita ng P10-B ang gobyerno sa una, at P12-B hanggang P25-B sa huli. Para pa rin sa dagdag-kita, agresibo nang ibinebenta ng gobyerno ang Petron Corp. at Philippine National Oil Corp. sa minimithing halagang P41-B.

Pero ayon kay Quintos, pabibilisin lamang nito ang pribatisasyon ng pinakamahahalagang asset ng gobyerno na ikadurusa rin ng mga mamamayan sa anyo ng mas mataas na presyo ng langis. Ibig sabihin din ng desididong tutok ng administrasyong Arroyo na pataasin ang kita ng gobyerno, malayong alisin nito ang VAT.

Repormang kailangan

Ngunit ayon sa Ibon Foundation, mas lalong nagiging makabuluhan ang panawagan at paglaban ng mga mamamayan para sa kagyat na lunas mula sa hagupit ng pandaigdigang krisis pampinansiya. Kabilang dito ang pag-alis sa VAT at P125 dagdag-na-sahod ng mga manggagawa.

Lalo pa at inaasahan umanong lumipat ang ispekulatibong kapital sa pangangalakal ng mga komoditi (commodities futures trading) gaya ng langis, mineral, at produktong pang-agrikultura na magtutulak pataas ng presyo ng pagkain at enerhiya. Ngayon pa lamang, dalawang-katlo (2/3) ng populasyon ng mundo ang dumaranas ng double-digit inflation at nasasadlak lalo sa kahirapan. Sa Pilipinas, 2.3 milyon ang nadaragdag sa mahihirap tuwing tataas nang 10 porsiyento ang presyo ng pagkain, ayon sa Asian Development Bank.

Sa halip na sa imprastruktura, bayad-utang, at sa militar mapunta ang kalakhan ng pambansang badyet sa susunod na taon, inirekomenda rin ng Ibon Foundation na ilagak ito sa kritikal na mga serbisyong sosyal na nakakatanggap lamang ng maliit na porsiyento gaya ng kalusugan (2.5 porsiyento), edukasyon (14.5 porsiyento), at pabahay (0.4 porsiyento).

Sinabi naman ni Quintos na ang pangmatagalang mga solusyon sa krisis ay ang “pagbasura sa mga patakarang neo-liberal,” “pagpapatupad ng tunay na repormang agraryo,” at “komprehensibong pambansang industriyalisasyon” na magpoprotekta sa Pilipinas mula sa mga kombulsyon sa sistemang kapitalista na pinaghaharian ng US.

Hanggang mailugar ang mga ito, babalikatin ng mga Pilipino, kasama ng iba pang mamamayan ng mundo, ang krisis ng kapitalismo na nagpapatuloy at tumitindi.(PinoyWeekly)

Pangasinan is Region I’s poorest province

October 6, 2008

BELIEVE IT OR NOT

MABINI– If you think Pangasinan is the most affluent and productive province, think again!

Pangasinan may be the biggest in terms of land area and population within the Ilocos Region, but it remains the poorest province in the entire region.

Based on the family threshold survey conducted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in 2006, the province, one of the top rice producers, is fact, among the 20 poorest provinces in the country.

The results of the survey, called the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES), was the basis of DSWD in identifying the towns of Mabini, Bolinao, Urbiztondo and Aguilar as among the poorest of the poor and should benefit from the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino (PPP).

Marlyn Peralta, assistant regional director of DSWD in Region 1, explained that the PPP is a poverty reduction strategy that provides grants to extremely poor households to improve their health, nutrition and education particularly of children aged zero to 14.

The program targets 300,000 households throughout the country.

These beneficiary-households will receive cash grants of P6,000 a year or P500 per month per household for health and nutrition expenses; and P3,000 for one school year or 10 months of P300 per month per child for their educational expenses.

The educational expenses are limited up to the third child of school age per family.

Peralta said DSWD is just starting the PPP in the four Pangasinan municipalities but she expressed hope that this will also be expanded in others towns of the other provinces in the region.

The PPP is being undertaken in coordination with the Department of Education, Department of Health and the local government units

Peralta said other agencies are being encouraged to get involved in the program since it takes a holistic approach to conquer poverty.—LM (SundayPunch)

A Day in the Life of a Jeepney Driver

September 27, 2008

Jeepney drivers work long days and endure a lot of difficulties in their struggle to eke out a daily living. At the end of the day, however, their earnings are far from enough to afford basic necessities.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat

Sa maghapon
Ang buhay ay pamamasada
Tinitiis
Usok at init ng makina
At pag kulang pa ang kita
Kailangan pang umarangkada

Ganyan ang buhay-jeepney driver
Sa buong araw na kayod
Mga tuhod ay nanlalambot
‘Yan ang buhay-jeepney driver
Sa buong araw na pasada
“Jingle” lang ang pahinga
‘Yan ang buhay-jeepney driver
Pag may konti nang kita
Pwede nang pumarada

– Noel Cabangon, “Jeepney Driver”

These lines definitely apply to the case of Mang Vito Pulmon, who plies the route from Project 3 in Quezon City to Quirino Avenue in Manila and back.

A typical day for Mang Vito begins at around 6 a.m., when he does his first round trip along his route. He has to complete five such round trips everyday to be able to take home some money for his family.

This routine of his has not changed for the last few years, despite the recent rollbacks in prices of petroleum products.

Diesel prices last month came close to P55 ($1.23 at the August 2008 average exchange rate of $1:P44.88) as a result of a series of oil price hikes starting last January.

Oil firms have claimed that the frequent spikes in the prices of their products are offshoots of their supposed need to recover losses from the jumps in world oil prices. World crude prices increased at a seemingly uncontrollable pace with projections that it would hit $200 per barrel. But these peaked at $147 per barrel before going down steadily. Mainstream analysts claimed that diminishing oil reserves, weather disturbances, and geopolitical factors such as the impending war between the US and Iran caused prices to rise; although some attribute it to a speculation frenzy in the oil futures market, especially after the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US when hedge fund managers lost millions of dollars.

In the Philippines, oil companies have implemented a total of seven rollbacks since last August. These rollbacks have brought down prices by P8.50 a liter for gasoline and P6.50 for diesel.

World crude prices in the oil futures market first hit the $100/barrel mark in January this year, while its spot price was around $92.93. The local pump price of unleaded gasoline in January was at P44.45 per liter and diesel at P38.45. World crude prices in the futures market hit $103/barrel in February and $110/barrel in March, with spot prices reaching $93.51 in February and $99.32 in March. Local pump prices in February and March ranged from P43.96 to P46.46 for unleaded gasoline and from P36.94 to P39.44 for diesel.

Brent crude oil for October delivery last traded at $99.43 and light, sweet crude at New York Mercantile Exchange at $101.74. Spot prices range between $93.06, for oil from the Urals, to $104.04 for Louisiana sweet oil. Local pump prices now range from P51.25-52.85/liter for unleaded gasoline, and P48.95-51.09/liter for diesel.

The current range of pump prices for unleaded gasoline and diesel is visibly still above the monthly averages for the period January-March 2008, bolstering the claims of drivers and militant organizations that the current oil price rollbacks are not enough.

“Hindi nararamdaman ng drayber y’ong rollback. Dapat, mas malaki ang ibaba ng presyo ng langis. Ang mahal-mahal ng langis, sa gasolinahan lang napupunta y’ong kita namin” (Drivers cannot feel the supposed benefits from the rollbacks. Oil prices should be reduced more. Petroleum products are so expensive that our earnings mostly go to the gasoline stations), Mang Vito said.

Sweating it out

I accompanied him one day last week for a few round trips along his route and got first-hand insight into what Mang Vito and other jeepney drivers have to go through everyday to eke out a living.

A trip from Project 3 to Quirino Avenue takes between 2 ½ to three hours on days when traffic is moderate. When traffic is heavy, Mang Vito said, it could take up to four hours.

It was very humid when we went on that trip, like it was going to rain anytime. But it did not rain. The weather was like that throughout the day.

On days like that it is an ordeal to be stuck in considerably heavy traffic, like what happened to us several times on E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City, as well as on Espana Street in Manila which seem to be perennial traffic hotspots. As Mang Vito himself describes it, “masakit y’ong init” (the heat hurts).

The prolonged exposure to the sun’s heat comes on top of having to endure the high temperatures from the jeepney’s engine.

On rainy days, Mang Vito says, at least you don’t have to endure the excruciating heat. But a different problem arises. “Pag bumaha, hindi ka na makabiyahe” (When it floods, you can go on with your trip anymore), he says. And there are many flood-prone areas along his route.

There are many other things that a jeepney driver has to endure. Often he has to endure the grumbling of his stomach because he has to postpone his meals and his snacks until he completes a round trip along his route (it was over two hours past normal lunchtime, for instance, when we were able to have our lunch). With that also comes the fact that he often has to postpone relieving himself, sometimes by one hour or more: for some drivers, the alternative would be to stop somewhere along the route and relieve themselves on their vehicles’ wheels. Apart from that, drivers who ply Metro Manila routes have to deal daily with the dust and smoke that famously loom over the streets of the metropolis.

It would be late evening by the time Mang Vito completes his fourth round trip. By that time, he would have enough only to pay his boundary fee and make a return on what he spent throughout the day for diesel (he spends some P300 on diesel for every round trip). He has to make another round trip so he could earn a little money to take home to his wife and child.

Measly earnings

At the end of the arduous day – which, for Mang Vito, lasts up to 12 midnight or thereabouts – he gets to take home approximately P300 ($6.44 at the exchange rate of $1=P46.555). That is less than what minimum wage earners make in just eight hours of work. (Bulatlat.com)

Kapag pinapatay na ng desperadang ina ang kanyang naghihirap na mga anak

September 24, 2008

Rolando B. Tolentino

Headline ito sa Inquirer. Isang ina sa Laguna, hindi mapagkasya ang kinikita ng asawang manggagawa sa konstruksiyon, kumuha ng boteng likidong panlinis ng banyo. Binigyan ng tig-isang kutsarita ang mga anak, matapos ay siya mismo ang uminom ng likido.

Baon pa sa utang ang mag-asawa. Sa coverage sa balita sa TV, nilalangaw na ang mga bangkay. Ang panayam ay nagtampok sa kapitbahay na nagsabing “Di niya dapat ginawa iyon.” Na may panghuhusga sa “mabuting ina” mode ng inang naglagay sa kanyang mga kamay ng kapalaran ng kanyang mga anak.

Sinasabing ang isa sa pinakamasakit para sa magulang ay makitang salat ang kanyang mga anak. Nagugutom, walang gamit sa eskuwelahan, tinutukso sa komunidad. Sumagi sa isip ko na ito ang tunay na polisiya sa reproductive health – may pagpipilian ang mga magulang, maging ang mga kabataan sa pagtataya sa kanilang kinabukasan. Na kung may mapapagpilian, marami nga siguro ang hindi na magluluwal ng napakaraming anak na mamumuhay lamang sa kasalatan sa mundong ibabaw.

Pero hindi lamang ito ang isyu. Ang isyu rin na matagal nang binabanggit ay ang karumal-dumal na nagawa ng rehimen ni Gloria Arroyo na tumatampok ang pagkilos tungo sa paghihikahos na katapusan ng mga abang lagay ng kanyang mamamayan. Nauna na ang isang batang babae na nagpatiwakal dahil nahihiyang manghingi ng pambili ng project sa eskuwela sa kanyang amang maliit ang kita.

Dalawang buwan lamang, isang bata ang namatay dahil inulam ang vetsin. Ang dapat pampalasa lamang sa ulam ay naging mismong ulam na. May iba pa palang gamit sa vetsin. Si Mang Pandoy, ang poster boy ng paghihikahos ng naunang rehimen, ay namatay na lamang na di makaahon-ahon ang pamilya sa paghihirap.

Ito ang kabilang pisngi ng karahasan sa bansa. Sa isang pisngi, ang sistematikong pulitikal na pagpaslang at sapilitang pagkawala, pinakamatingkad sa maikling panahon sa lahat ng pagkapangulo sa kasaysayan ng bansa. At ito ngang kabiyak, ang mga taong nagpapatiwakal, kundi man umaakyat ng higanteng billboard o pagdami ng bilang ng taong-grasa sa lansangan, dahil hindi makaagapay sa sustenidong pagkalubog sa kahirapan.

Sa kasaysayan ng mga nagpapatiwakal dahil sa kahirapan, itong kaso ng ina at ng kanyang tatlong anak ang pinakamasahol. Sasabihin ng mga maldito, bakit nakabili ng panlinis sa banyo? Sana ay ipinangbili na lamang ng pagkain. Pero dahil nga nakita ang halaga ng likido kaya nga ito piniling bilhin laban sa iba pang pangangailangan.

Sa aking imahinasyon, walang pagtatangi o pag-iimbot ang naganap. Nakita ng ina na wala na namang makain, tulad ng maraming umagang nagigising ito at walang maipakain sa mga anak. Nahihiya na ito sa kapitbahay, mahaba na ang utang sa tindahan at sa iba pang mga tao. Ayaw nang maging pabigat pa.

Isang araw, tulad lamang ng pangkaraniwang mga araw, nakita niya ang kasalatan ng buhay sa kanyang tahanan. Nakita niya ang botelya sa banyo, at isa-isang sinubuan ang mga anak na hindi naman nagdalawang-isip na inumin ang likido. Isa-isa o malamang, sabay-sabay silang nagkumbulsyon hanggang sa mawalan ng buhay.

Ang kakatwa sa inang ito, ang nagawa ng pagiging desperado sa kahirapan (na parang oxymoron di ba? paano ka magiging desperada kung ang kawalan ng pagpipilian at magagawa dulot ng kahirapan ay isa ng malaking desperasyon) ay bigla niyang nakita ang katotohanan hinggil sa kanilang abang lagay –wala nang magagawa pa, at kaysa araw-araw na magdusa sa kasalatan, bakit patatagalin pa, ano ang laban ng na-etsapuwera sa sistematikong pag-eestsapuwera ng estado?

At biglang bumuhos ang donasyong pagkain sa lamay ng mag-iina. Naalaala ko ang isang South Asian na kuwento hinggil sa batang may kapatid na naghihingalo dahil may malubhang sakit. Tinanong niya ang kanyang ina kung mamamatay na ba ito. Laking gulat ng ina, at nagtanong kung bakit nito naitanong. Ang sagot ng bata, dahil bigla silang dadalhan ng pagkain ng kapitbahay.

Ang dulot ng desperasyon sa kahirapan ay ang realisasyon sa katotohanan – wala nang magagawa pa ang naghihirap na kahit sila magpursigi, nananatiling salat; wala nang maasahan pa sa gobyerno; at wala nang ibang paraan para wakasan ang desperasyong ito.

Nagsimula nang lumaganap ang malagim na yugto ng mga inang inilalagay sa mga kamay ang dinustang buhay ng kanyang mga anak. (PinoyWeekly)

Planned Transfer of Home for Aged Opposed

September 17, 2008

Employees and caregivers of Golden Acres Home for the Aged oppose the planned transfer of the facility to Tanay—a town in Rizal province—which is 57 kilometers from Manila, saying that it would only endanger the health and well-being of the elderly, and their own jobs as well.

NOEL SALES BARCELONA
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 32, September 14-20, 2008

The supposed noble intentions of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in planning the transfer of the Golden Acres (GA) Home for the Aged facility to Tanay, Rizal—57 kilometers south of Manila, purportedly for “health considerations” of their clients—were refuted by the caregivers and employees of the said facility.

Currently, the GA facility is found in a one-hectare land in Barangay (village) Bago Bantay in Quezon City, just behind SM North Edsa, a shopping and leisure mall owned and operated by the SM Holdings, Inc., the company of banking and shopping magnate Henry Sy Sr.

For 39 years, Brgy. Bago Bantay was the home of the GA, which now houses 231 poor and abandoned elderly, ages 60 years old and above. Most of them are already sickly and some of them are bedridden, according to GA employees.

Supposedly because of this, the DSWD management decided on Sept. 26, 2007 to transfer the facility to a three-hectare land, near Camp Mateo M. Capinpin—the home of the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Division.

They blamed the pollution in Metro Manila and the overcrowding of the facility for the deteriorating health conditions of the elderly clients.

Social Welfare Assistant Secretary for Luzon Parisya H. Taradji said that the Tanay environment is more conducive to restoring the health of the elderly.

The DSWD had released P180 million (US$3,850,390.92) to fund the construction of the new buildings and boarding houses for the staff and their clients, minus the equipment, Director Marcelo Nicomedes J. Nicomedes, a member of the Technical Working Group created by the DSWD to plan, facilitate and execute the GA transfer, told Bulatlat.

More harm than good

However, the lush-green, pollution-free environment, that the town of Tanay offers for the elderly and for the employees as well, is not tempting at all, said Ramon Felipe E. Loza, president of the Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines’ (Sweap).

Sweap is the association of all the workers of the DSWD from all over the country.

“Our clients are already sickly and the 57-kilometer, three hour ride needed for the transfer would not be good for them,” Loza said in an interview.

Besides, the transfer would entail additional costs for the employees, therefore, would have an adverse effect in their meager wages, he said.

Based on a study released by the Sweap, which is a member of Courage, the cost of transportation alone from Manila to the planned facility is around P100-P200 (US$2.14-$4.28) per day, which is equivalent to one-third of the net salary of a rank-and-file employee of the GA.

“In the current location of the facility in Quezon City, they only spend a small amount for their fare to and from the GA facility and they are able to go home to their families everyday. But in Tanay, it would be impossible. Aside from being separated from their families, the daily travel would adversely affect their performance as workers,” Loza explained.

Because of this, may GA workers may end up being laid off.

In addition, Loza told Bulatlat that even the families and friends of the clients will be affected by the transfer. “The distance will prevent them from visiting their loved ones,” he said.

Transfer could be bad for the clients’ health—expert

On the issue of “transfer for the health considerations of clients”, Sweap’s own study showed that this has no basis. Loza said that the common ailments of residents such as skin diseases, heart problems and hypertension are not pollution-related – contrary to what is claimed by the DWSD.

Another study, presented by Nicamil K. Sanchez, an Academic Fellow of the University of Oxford Post-graduate Studies on Gerontology and Geriatics and a registered social worker himself, showed that the transfer would also cause ill-health for the elderly.

Although Sanchez did not disregard pollution as part of the causes of the deteriorating health of the elderly, he said social isolation could lead to more serious diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Social isolation has already been shown to be linked with dementia and Alzheimer’s; and loneliness doesn’t only have an emotional but a physical impact as well,” Sanchez explained.

He added that, since most of the donors are from Metro-Manila, there could also be an effect on the financial status of the GA.

Furthermore, Loza and the Sweap members told Bulatlat that there are no hospitals and other health-related services available in the area, which the DSWD management quickly refuted.

One of the directors of DSWD said that there is a hospital nearby, the Camp Mateo M. Capinpin General Hospital, which is inside the camp and which serves mostly wounded soldiers.

A social worker who used to work for GA told this reporter that apart from having only one nearby hospital where the elderly can be treated, the area on which the new GA facility stands is a frequent scene of encounters between the military and the New People’s Army.

Transfer: for profit, not for service

Loza said that the real reason for the GA transfer is profit. The government, he said, expects to earn from the sale of the Quezon City land on which the GA now stands.

When asked about the possibility of corruption in the selling of the one-hectare land in Quezon City, Loza refused to comment but said it would also be possible.

Sweap fears that the transfer will also deprive the abandoned and neglected senior citizens of Metro Manila of the precious services that the facility provides.

“Considering Metro Manila is the most populated region in the country, the pulling out of the GA from Metro-Manila is synonymous to the Department’s abandonment of its mandate and international commitment relative to the welfare of senior citizens,” a Sweap position paper stated.

Meanwhile, Asst. Sec. Florita R. Villar suggested that more studies about the possible effects of the transfer would be conducted but told Sweap members to welcome change.

“Maybe, the new Tanay facility can be a new haven for our clients. We mustn’t be close-minded about development,” she said.

Villar also said that the TWG must also conduct further studies about the health conditions of the elderly, plus a survey of employees to be able to do what is necessary.

“We must have the complete list of employees who are ready to be transferred in Tanay and those who are not. Even among our clients, we must know who is fit for transfer and who’s not,” she furthered.

“The real intent of the transfer is the privatization of the prime land where the GA is,” Loza concluded. Bulatlat

Farmers Hit NFA for Rice Price Hike

September 17, 2008

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas criticized the National Food Authority for increasing rice prices at a time when the poor could hardly cope with the crisis. The KMP said that the NFA’s move to limit access to the P18.25 per kilo rice is nothing more than a price hike.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 32, September 14-20, 2008

Various groups have opposed the Arroyo government’s limited distribution of the P18.25 ($0.389 at an exchange rate of $1=P46.86) per kilogram of rice from the National Food Authority (NFA).

In a statement posted at its website, the NFA said that starting this month, they would sell the P18.25 per kilogram of rice only at Tindahan Natin (TN) outlets, and available only to those with Family Access Cards (FAC).

The rice allocation of the TN outlets would be based on the number of FAC beneficiaries in the area computed at a two-kilogram allotment per family per day.

Each TN outlet may identify 250 FAC beneficiaries, said the NFA. With 1,426 outlets in Metro Manila, the NFA said the scheme would serve 356, 500 families.

NFA Administrator Jessup P. Navarro said that with this move, the low-income group and underprivileged sector ‘gets the assurance of optimizing the benefits from the rice subsidies and other hunger mitigating programs of the government.’

“We can specifically focus our distribution efforts of the affordable rice to families who really need assistance from the government,” he added.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-Philippine Peasant Movement) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-New Patriotic Alliance) deemed otherwise.

Bayan said such move would marginalize millions of families who are also poor.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) distributed FACs to approximately 280,000 families.

Arnold Padilla, Bayan public information officer asked, “How about those whose monthly income is less than P10,000 ($213.40) , which according to the government itself is the current amount needed in Metro Manila to be considered not poor?” Padilla asked.

Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary general said, “It is very obvious that the government doesn’t treat the minimum wage earner as poor, those earning P382 ($8.15) a day.” He said that a P5, 000 ($106.70) monthly income, which is the maximum income for a family to avail of the FAC, is equivalent to only P208 ($4.438) per day.

Price hike

Padilla added that these poor families would be forced to purchase the P25 ($0.53) per kilo rice, which is also subsidized by the NFA but is still hardly affordable to the poor.

The NFA sells three kinds of rice: NFA rice for P18.25 ($0.389) a kilo, NFA commercial rice for P25 ($0.53) a kilo, and premium NFA rice for P30 ($0.64) a kilo. Only the NFA commercial and premium rice can now be sold in public markets.

The KMP considered the move as a price hike, from P18.25 ($0.389) per kg to P25 ($0.53) per kg, plain and simple.

Cutting down on consumption

Dionisio Bindoy, a driver residing at Bgy 178 in Camarin, Caloocan said he has been forced to buy rice at P30 ($0.64) per kilo. He said that even the P25 ($0.53) NFA rice is not of good quality.

Earning only P6,000 ($128) per month, Dionisio said that they only eat three kilos of rice per week. He lives with his wife and two daughters. Sometimes, they would eat kamote (sweet potato) as substitute to rice. He planted kamote in their backyard.

Meanwhile, Jun Cera buys the P25 ($0.53) NFA rice. He tried to get a family access card but the DSWD said they had reached their limit. “Maraming di nabigyan. Ang nabigyan pa nga, iyong ibang may kakayanang bumili ng bigas, mga kamag-anak ng DSWD at ng mga taga-barangay.” (Many have not been given cards. Some of the beneficiaries have the capacity to buy rice, they are relatives of DSWD personnel and of barangay officials.)

He and his wife work as vendors, earning P300 ($6.40) per day. They live in Litex, Commonwealth. All of their three children are in grade school.

riceDati, dalawang kilo ng bigas isang araw. Ngayon, isa’t kalahati na lang,” (We used to consume two kilos of rice per day. These days, we only eat one and a half kilo) said Cera.
He said they just eat rice cakes for breakfast. They also have to reduce the quantity of their viand.

Cera said that these are difficult times. His children walk their way to school to save money. He said they walk for more than one kilometer every day. They also do not have any allowance or food when going to school.

“The government is really pushing through its murderous design of starving the Filipino people,” said Marbella.

Importation

The KMP also criticized the continued importation of rice.

Fines Cosico, NFA grains operations officer, said rice importation is prescribed by the agreements under the World Trade Organization (WTO).

According to the Performance of Philippine Agriculture (January to June 2008) by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, palay (rice grain) production was up by 5.84 percent.

Estimated stock inventory of the NFA as of July 2008 shows that 929,337 metric tons (MT) of rice are imported as against 1,255 MT of locally-produced rice and 28,304 MT of palay.

Based on the NFA’s 2008 Rice/Palay National Supply and Demand Analysis, the NFA would import 971, 145 MT of rice from July to December.

Cosico said that the NFA has started buying clean and dry palay at P17 ($0.36) per kilo. Farmers who sell at least 50 kilograms are given P1,800 ($38.41) as subsidy for fertilizer. But Cosico admitted the subsidy is not sustainable.

The KMP believes that the NFA should procure more locally-produced palay instead of importing more rice.

Bayan reiterated its demand to impose price controls on rice, dismantle the rice cartel, and strengthen the role of the NFA in the whole rice sector to ensure that affordable rice is available to the people especially the poor.

The group also emphasized that the long-term solution to the rice crisis is the reversal of globalization policies on agriculture and the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program that would allow Filipino farmers to produce food for domestic requirements well as other needs of the economy. Bulatlat

Pump Prices Still Above Normal Levels

September 17, 2008

Even as world crude prices have gone down to approximately their January 2008 levels, current pump prices are still above the averages for the period January-March 2008.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 32, September 14-20, 2008

Press Sec. Jesus Dureza said, in a press conference Sept. 12, that the recent rollback in oil prices by P2 to P3 is a “big argument against those who are shouting deregulation;” although the Press Secretary might have meant “regulation” as militant groups are calling for the scrapping of the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act and for the regulation of oil prices.

Demands for the repeal of the 12 percent value-added tax (VAT) on petroleum products and the scrapping of the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act have intensified during the first half of the year amid a series of oil price hikes starting last January. Oil price hikes severely affected the prices of commodities, as petroleum products are used in the production and transportation of goods.

Oil firms have claimed that the frequent spikes in the prices of their products are offshoots of their supposed need to recover losses from the jumps in world oil prices. World crude prices increased at a seeming uncontrollable pace with projections that it would hit $200 per barrel. But they peaked at $147 per barrel before they went down steadily. Mainstream analysts claimed that diminishing oil reserves, weather disturbances, and geopolitical factors such as the impending war between the US and Iran caused prices to rise; although some attribute it to a speculation frenzy in the oil futures market, especially after the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US when hedge fund managers lost millions of dollars.

In the Philippines, oil companies have implemented a total of seven rollbacks since last August. These rollbacks have brought down prices by P8.50 ($0.18 at the Sept. 12 exchange rate of $1:P46.86) a liter for gasoline and P6.50 ($0.14) for diesel.

But according to Arnold Padilla of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan’s (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) Public Information Department, oil companies should have implemented bigger rollbacks in the prices of their products, considering that crude oil prices in the world market have gone back to the level they were at during the first quarter of 2008.

The following table, based on data from the Department of Energy (DoE), show the monthly average retail prices of diesel and gasoline from December last year to August this year:

Monthly Average Retail Prices of Unleaded Gasoline and Diesel
(December 2007-August 2008)

Average retail price

as of

Unleaded

(P/liter)

Diesel

(P/liter)

23 Aug 2008

55.96

54.94

30 Jul 2008

60.46

60.02

30 Jun 2008

59.46

52.44

27 May 2008

51.96

44.94

30 Apr 2008

47.96

40.94

31 Mar 2008

46.46

39.44

26 Feb 2008

43.96

36.94

29 Jan 2008

44.45

38.45

26 Dec 2007

44.45

38.45

Source: Department of Energy

World crude prices in the oil futures market first hit the $100/barrel mark in January this year, while its spot price was around $92.93. The local pump price of unleaded gasoline in January was at P44.45 ($0.948) per liter and diesel at P38.45 ($0.82). World crude prices in the futures market hit $103/barrel in February and $110/barrel in March, with spot prices reaching $93.51 in February and $99.32 in March. Local pump prices in February and March ranged from P43.96 to P46.46 ($0.938 to $0.99) for unleaded gasoline and from P36.94 to P39.44 ($0.788 to $0.84) for diesel.

Brent crude oil for October delivery last traded at $99.43 and light, sweet crude at New York Mercantile Exchange at $101.74. Spot prices range between $93.06, for oil from the Urals, to $104.04 for Louisiana sweet oil. Local pump prices now range from P51.25-52.85 ($1.09-1.13)/liter for unleaded gasoline, and P48.95-51.09 ($1.04-1.09)/liter for diesel.

The current range of pump prices for unleaded gasoline and diesel is visibly still above the monthly averages for the period January-March 2008, bolstering the claims of drivers and militant organizations that the current oil price rollbacks are not enough.

“Clearly, oil price slides in the world market do not automatically translate into proportionate rollbacks in the local market,” Padilla said in an interview.

“This happens because the oil industry is deregulated,” Padilla pointed out.

The downstream oil industry was deregulated in April 1996, upon the passage of Republic Act No. 8180. Two years later, RA 8180 would be replaced with RA 8479, which eliminated the first law’s provisions on tariff differential, stocking of inventories, and predatory pricing.

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was a senator in 1995-1998, authored RA 8479 among other laws paving the way for the Philippines’ entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework.

Arguments for regulation

Under deregulation, the Philippines has been suffering from more frequent oil price hikes than during the pre-deregulation period. The increased frequency of oil price hikes under the deregulated environment contributed greatly to bringing prices of petroleum products to their present exorbitant levels.

Padilla also said that the deregulation of the oil industry has made the Philippines more vulnerable to the effects of speculation in the world market.

Last June, four market analysts testified at a US Senate hearing, that speculation accounted for 30 percent of world oil prices.

Michael Masters of Masters Capital Management said that if the US Congress passed a law limiting speculation, the price of oil would drop closer to marginal price of $65/75/barrel. Fadel Gheit of Oppenheimer & Co., Edward Krapels of Energy Security Analysis, and Roger Diwan of PFC Energy Consultants agreed with Masters.

“Record oil prices are inflated by speculation and not justified by market fundamentals,” Gheit said. “Based on supply and demand fundamentals, crude-oil prices should not be above $60 per barrel.”

The $60 to $65 per barrel range was the average price of crude oil from 2005-2007.

Padilla said that regulation would protect the people both from the effects of speculation in the world market and local oil companies’ profiteering because any increase would have to be approved by the government. Another proposal being put forward by militant groups is centralized procurement of oil.

“With centralized procurement, it is the government that is in charge of importing our oil requirements,” Padilla said. “The government thus can enter into bilateral agreements in which both parties agree not to be affected by speculation,” he explained.

“Also, with centralized procurement, the government would have a sense of the actual costs of oil, unlike the situation right now in which we cannot tell the real costs,” he added. “The government can therefore call the oil companies to task if they peg their prices way above the costs of importing oil.” Bulatlat

Long Way To Go Before Aid Can Truly Help Poor

September 4, 2008

Written by IBON Media
As donors and stakeholders meet this week at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Ghana, a network of Philippine civil society groups on aid says it is still a long way before the world’s poor can truly benefit from foreign aid.
According to Dr Giovanni Tapang, Convenor of AidWatch Philippines and chair of the Council for People’s Development and Governance, aid has yet to be truly effective in delivering real progress for many of the world’s poor despite the signing of the Paris Declaration in which donors and governments pledge on making aid actually work for development.

Citing the 2008 Reality of Aid Report on Aid Effectiveness, Tapang said that after three years of implementing the Paris Declaration, donors and recipient governments have only achieved the following, among others:

•           Less than a third of all bilateral official development assistance (ODA) since 2003 has been available for programs where for which developing country partners can set their own priorities.
•           From 2000 to 2006, only 28% of new aid money was channelled to assist developing countries in poverty reduction and meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Tapang said that one of the reasons for the poor performance is the failure of donors and governments to recognize that aid can be effective when there is democratic ownership of aid and that people’s rights are respected and prioritized in the aid process.

Even as the Paris Declaration commits governments to ensure that there is stronger ownership of aid by poor countries, the way it is measured is based on World Bank standards, and places too much emphasis on donor requirements. Tapang also said that the continuing practice of donors of imposing policy conditionalities on their aid to developing countries has prevented communities to assert their right to development.

AidWatch is calling for new ways to measure ownership which would recognize that the aid process must be driven by affected citizens and not by donors or the World Bank. Together with other civil society groups participating in Ghana, it also strongly recommends that donors and governments agree on an Accra Agenda of Action. This agenda is expected to set in motion ambitious initiatives over the next two years to deepen the commitments of all aid players to aid reform beyond the Paris Declaration.

“We believe that aid can help the poor but only if leaders in Accra agree on concrete actions to improve the transparency of both donors and developing country governments, to end the policy conditions donors attached to aid, and to end the practice of using aid to promote donor economic and foreign policy interests,” said Tapang. (end)

AidWatch Philippines is a national network of grassroots-based non-government groups working on ODA issues in the country. It has over 150 members in more than 50 provinces nationwide, including 10 national networks, and regional formations.

AidWatch Philippines aims to deepen relationships and develop various levels of collaboration between NGOs on aid-related issues and concerns. It also looks forward to constructive engagement with official government and donor agencies on the basis of fundamental development principles.

Scavenging at the Felisa Dumpsite

September 2, 2008

BY ROBERT OWEN BAYOG
Contributed to Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 30, August 31 – September 6, 2008

dumpsite

Dumpsite 2

Dumpsite 3

PROBING THE GROUND. Like a water diviner, a scavenger scans the ground, stick in hand, looking for things that can be sold.

THE SCAVENGER. A pair of boots, pants worn for days on end, a stick and sack. These are the essentials in the hunt for “valuables” in heaps of garbage.

GAZING at an approaching dump truck, a scavenger waits for the opportunity.

dumpsite

dumpsite

VISIONS OF A BYGONE ERA. This is but a glimpse of the past. Back to the days when people earn a living by scrounging in a hill of garbage. That is if the government’s pronouncements that we are now progressing into the new millenium. But no, this is the dumps

WHERE CAN YOU FIND HONESTY? Is it in the dumps like this where people get to eat the hard way, braving the stench or down the Pasig River where the halls of a hallowed Palace stench?

dumpsite

dumpsite7

dumpsite

THIS MOUND IS MINE, the garbage truck gave this to me. A scavenger claims the top of the garbage pile that was just unloaded by a DPS truck.

GARBAGE, GARBAGE everywhere and no relief in sight yet for these scavengers who daily have to contend with the stench but without it they cannot ease the rumblings of their stomachs.

DECONSTRUCTING THE CITY. A posh restaurant’s take out styro, an empty biscuits’ plastic pack, detergent containers, the remains of what used to be junk food. These are part of the city’s daily garbage.

dumpsite

dumpsite

dumpsite

HE’S NOT A ROBBER, he’s my brother. Hooded and ready to pounce, this scavenger awaits his turn.

MUSCLES RIPPLING, this scavenger could have been well an Olympiad what with his speed, power and efficiency in combing through the garbage. He is content, however, with hurdling the daily obstacles of life.

THE TRUCK COMETH. Nowhere in the world is a dump truck more welcome than here in barangay Felisa where the dumps teem with life.

dumpsite

dumpsite

WITH SICKLES RAISED, these scavengers would like to have first pickings at the garbage even before these are dumped.

UNLOADING VALUABLE CARGO. Stinking for many but valuable for some. A DPS cargo truck unloading garbage at the dump site.

Cordi women leaders attest to hunger situation

August 27, 2008

BAGUIO CITY — “How are we going to feed our children?” This is the question an ordinary mother in the Cordillera region raises.

In the latest Innabuyog Regional Council Meeting on August 15-16, 2008, hunger was seen looming for ordinary Cordillera women.

The urgent issue that the Regional Council discussed is hunger and poverty. According to Innabuyog Chairperson Vernie Yocogan-Diano, Cordillera women play a big role in the food assurance of their families and communities—from ensuring the traditional seeds to the planting and harvesting and finding remedies along with their husbands, to ensure food on the family table and other basic needs like education and health.

Difficult times

“With intensifying hunger and poverty not just in rural but also in urban areas, Cordillera women are in in more difficult times searching for food resources. The subsistence agricultural production, which used to be sustainable and self-sufficient is taken over by cash economy. Families have to produce cash for commodities and other needs like education and health,” said Diano.

Diano also said with the concoction of the economic crisis, imperialist plunder, militarization and even climate change, food and livelihood are becoming scarce in the region making Cordillera indigenous women search for alternative ways to provide for their families.

Other members of the council confirmed that rice cropping and vegetable farming entail high inputs. Expensive fertilizers and pesticides, high rent of equipment and land, and even expensive transport for products leave them with almost nothing. Imported vegetables and rice flooding local market displace local produce.

Localized rice crisis

Manang Appol explained that rice harvest in Mompolia, Hingyon in Ifugao used to suffice but now, what they would keep for their own consumption, they now sell in the market to have the much needed cash.

They sell the native rice from P50 a kilo or a bit higher depending on the quality to enable them to buy NFA rice, which they buy for P25 a kilo. Supply is limited to three to five kilos and a family has to spend almost a day queueing.

Even professionals are seen in long queues in the town centers for the cheaper NFA rice. Commercial rice now sells at P37 or more.

With the dire need for cash to cope with the economic crisis, traditional food sources are now grown and harvested for the market.

Diano said it is also evident that with today’s economic inflation affecting the prices of commodities and services, the Cordillerans are now faced with the challenge to earn even more than what was supposed to be enough.

In 2007, Cordillera was namong provinces with highest malnutrition rates in the country. All over Cordillera, children are noted to lack the necessary nutritional support.

“Worse, efforts from the government such as feeding and medical programs to the Cordilleran children are inefficient, unsustainable and only serve as showcase for the government’s hunger mitigation program,” added Diano.

Mining and militarization

The Innabuyog RC meeting also showed that mining and militarization in areas like Abra, Kalinga and Apayao also contribute to the worsening hunger situation of Cordillera women and children.

According to Diano, the Lepanto mines continue to poison agricultural and food resources in Mankayan, Benguet, Ilocos and Abra. Land and river poisonong, siltation and erosion are seen to happen in areas where mining exploration is being conducted like Baay-Licuan in Abra, Kalinga and Apayao.

Support systems

Initially, Innabuyog leaders view the seed and fertilizer subsidy as benefiting more the seed and fertilizer traders more than the ordinary or poor farmer. According to them discount coupons are not available to all poor farmers and so far the Department of Agriculture (DA) has indicated a limit on the supply that is discounted.

The women leaders believe that the market-driven support could hardly be sustained by the poor farmers. They said it would also be a source of corruption in he government and ultimately the agricultural supply business would be the beneficiary and not the poor farmers.

The leaders also identified other problems they face like unemployment and the economic dislocation or out-migration of residents due to militarization especially in areas applied for mining projects.

Innabuyog, through support institutions like the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC), monitor and hold action research discussions on the prevailing hunger and poverty of indigenous women in the Cordillera.

The yearly Regional Council meeting of Innabuyog gathers its leaders from the different provinces and sectors of the Cordillera Region. They meet for updates, analysis and action planning to respond to the current situation of ordinary indigenous women in the region. # Innabuyog Release

Fighting for Land, a Decent Income, for their Lives and their Livelihood – the Daily Struggles of Farmers of Negros

August 21, 2008

A government ad extolling farmers as heroes for providing food for our tables has been airing regularly on television.  It also describes what the government is supposedly doing to support Filipino farmers.  But the farmers of Guihulngan, Negors Oriental tell a different story: of fighting for their land, higher wages and farm gate prices, and fighting for their lives and their livelihood as they confront daily harassments and threats from the military, and the impending operations of mining corporations.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 28, August 17-23, 2008

GUIHULNGAN, Negros Oriental – The intensified operations of several units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) here, purportedly to crush communist rebels, have not stopped farmers to fight for their livelihood.

Since the latter part of 2007, the Central Command (CenCom) of the AFP declared Negros as its priority area in its counter-insurgency campaign. The CenCom specifically identified Central Negros, which includes Guihulngan, La Libertad, Vallehermoso and Canlaon in Negros Oriental and Magallon, Isabela, La Castallena, Himamaylan and Binalbagan in Negros Occidental.

Operating in the area are the 303rd Infantry Brigade (IB) and 302nd Infantry Brigade, under which are four infantry battalions 11th IB, 61st IB, 15th IB and 79th IB.  Reinforcing them are special elite forces of the 1st Scout Ranger (SR) Battalion and two Division Reconnaissance Companies (DRC).

Two more companies of the 12th IB supervising more than 2,000 elements of Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and almost two platoons of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) also augment the AFP in its operations. The RPA-ABB is a splinter group of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has signed a peace agreement with the government.

Elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP), specifically the Regional Mobile Group (RMG)-Region 6 and the Provincial Mobile Groups (PMG) complement the AFP’s operations.

Death threats, harassment

But state security forces are not only conducting operations against the NPA, the Kapunongan Alang sa Ugma sa Gagmay’ng Mag-uuma sa Oriental Negros (Kaugmaon-Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas) said civilians, including their peasant members, have become targets of harassment.

Erwin SabijonIn an interview, Erwin Sabijon, chairperson of Kaugmaon, disclosed that their organization has been affected by militarization. He said the military has issued death threats to their barangay (village) leaders. “Some of our members fear for their safety,” Sabijon said in Cebuano.

Sabijon said that out of the 33 barangays in Guihulngan, Kaugmaon has 27 chapters.

Sabijon replaced Emilia Quirante as Kaugmaon chair. Quirante has been detained since March 2007 for trumped-up charges of child abuse and rebellion.

He himself has been subjected to various forms of harassment. For many months now, he said he could not go home because the military has been looking for him.

The harassment, Sabijon related, started as early as 2004. A certain Lt. Angcog summoned him to go to the barangay hall of Bgy. Mani-ak; the soldiers then were occupying the said hall. Angcog told him that he is included in the military’s order of battle. “He showed me the list,” said Sabijon.

When the soldiers tried to get his bag, he told them, “You don’t have a search warrant. I am not a criminal.” That day, he went away alive.

But Sabijon said attempts on his life continue. Sometime in 2007, Sabijon said two soldiers disguised themselves as farmers and stayed near their house. Cautious, Sabijon took another way out of the place. The next day, a neighbour told him, “There were two soldiers waiting for you. It’s good they did not chance upon you.”

On July 22, after attending the second day of the three-day dialogue with Guihulngan City Mayor Ernesto Reyes on the rice crisis, Sabijon and his colleagues rode in a tricycle on their way home. A private car hit their tricycle. Witnesses said that the car went inside the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). Another witness said that the car was parked inside the compound of the Mayor’s office before the incident happened.

The next day, Sabijon went to the public market. A man came to him, hit him on the side with a 45-calibre pistol and went away.

In another incident, Sabijon was speaking in a rally in Guihulngan City. He was talking about landlessness as the number one problem of the farmers. A soldier told him, “Dong, may lupa ka. Nakahanda na ang libingan mo!” (Man, you have land. Your graveyard is waiting for you.)

In May this year, Sabijon, together with more than a hundred farmers were on their way to the city on board a government dump truck. They were stopped at a military checkpoint at Bgy. Hilaitan. One of the soldiers told him, “Why are you rallying against the government when you are using a government vehicle?” Sabijon replied in Cebuano, “It is ours. We are taxpayers. Even your underwear is our property. We pay for your salary.”

The soldiers unlocked the safety of their high-powered rifles. They pointed their guns at Sabijon but did not fire. The farmers were not able to pass through the checkpoint and opted to stay in the barangay hall until the morning of the next day.

In Bgy. Linantuyan, Sabijon said Kaugmaon members are routinely being summoned by the military and interrogated for two hours. He said that Kaugmaon members are being forced them to confess that they are members of the NPA. Sabijon said that their denial or admission, however, would mean the same thing for the military whose mind is set that they are members of the NPA.

Fighting for their livelihood

Kaugmaon maintained that the upsurge in the number of troops operating in their areas has greatly affected the economic life of the farmers. Many of the leaders could no longer work in the field.

But Sabijon said their organization is not totally paralyzed. “The military cannot claim that it has successfully crushed our organization,” said Sabijon.

Their campaign for land reform continues, Sabijon said. He cited the campaigns for the increase in farm gate prices of corn, banana, coffee and coconut and for the increase in salary of sugar workers.

He said that sugar workers are paid P45 ($0.99 at an exchange rate of $1=P45.31) for 12 hours of work per day by Mayor Reyes. They have no benefits.

Kaugmaon was able to lobby for a higher salary for sugar workers at the Buenavista plantation owned by William Antepuesto. From P50 ($1.10) per day for clearing or preparation of the land, sugar workers are now paid P70 ($1.54). From P80 to P100 ($1.76 to $2.207) for plowing, it was increased to P120 ($2.648) per day.  The P100 ($2.207) per ton payment sugar workers get for the cutting of the sugarcane has been increased to P150 to P200 per day ($3.10 to $4.41).

The wholesale price of banana, which used to be P0.60 ($0.01) per piece is now pegged at P0.70 ($0.015).

Sabijon said that while the increases are minimal, these mean a lot to farmers.

Sabijon related that they are also campaigning for a shift to organic farming. Chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides are expensive. He said that they pay P2,700 to P3,000 ($59.59 to $66.21) for every sack of fertilizer.

He said they still have so much work to do to alleviate the plight of farmers. Landlessness, he said, remains the number one problem with 1:4 sharing of landlords and peasants. “The farmers pay for everything.”

Mining

Sabijon also talked about their campaign against the entry of mining corporations in Guihulngan. They have formed the Guihulngan Anti-Mining Alliance.

There is a pending application for Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) by Philmet (formerly Western Mining Corporation) for extracting copper and gold covering 88,000 hectares spread over 14 towns including Guihulngan.

The Tañon Strait on the coastal part of the City is under exploratory drilling by the Japan Exploration Company (JAPEX).

The Geograce Corporation, the director of which is former presidential spokesperson Mike T. Defensor, also has a mining project in Ayungon, four towns away from Guihulngan. According to the Geograce website, the Ayungon Project is a 4,717 hectare porphyry copper-gold prospect on the island of Negros, Philippines. The southeastern part of Negros Island is found to have positive indications of precious (gold and silver), base metals (copper, lead, zinc) and other metallic mineralization.

Sabijon deemed that the intensified military operations are aimed to pave the way for mining activities in the province.

Sabijon said he attended a dialogue with the City Council last July. He registered anew their group’s opposition to large-scale mining operations.

He said that while Vice Mayor Caesar Macalua has supported their stance, Mayor Ernesto Reyes has been silent on the issue. Members of the City Council have different views.

Sabijon said that foreign mining corporations are the only ones to benefit. Farmers will be dislocated, he said. “Foreign companies process raw materials from our country and sell these to us as finished products,” he explained.

Survival

Sabijon said there is no other way but to fight for their survival.

He said that while they can choose not to fight and live somewhere else, they are bound to face the same problems.

He said that only through collective effort can they be able to surmount the challenges ahead. “Wala nang atrasan,” (There’s no turning back.) Sabijon said smiling. Bulatlat

KASAMA TK lambasts Nasser, Call for moratorium on land conversion

August 15, 2008

Southern Tagalog tillers belonging to the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA TK) lambasted Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman for snobbing their scheduled dialogue Thursday afternoon.

They vowed that they will not return home until the DAR top man face them.

“Farmers from Tibig in Silang, Cavite, Hacienda Yulo in Canlubang, Laguna, Macabud in Rodriguez, Rizal and Hacienda Fule in Alaminos, Laguna and Sto. Tomas, Batangas were supposed to hold a dialogue with DAR officials (Thursday) but as had previously happened, we were told that Pangandaman would not be able to meet with us,” the group said in Filipino.

At least 50 KASAMA-TK members has been camping out since Monday outside the DAR office. They want Pangandaman to suspend all land conversion orders in compliance with an earlier order from President Arroyo to freeze all such conversions for at least two years until the end of her term.

Kasama TK said Hacienda Yulo (7,100 hectares), Hacienda Zobel in Calatagan, Batangas (12,000 hectares), the 2,400-hectare Macabud, Rizal watershed are being claimed by Bantay Kalikasan and the Lopez family; while Hacienda Fule (97 hectares) and the Locsin property (2,000 hectares) in Puerto Galera are set to be developed by the Zobel-Ayala group.

“The farmers in Hacienda Fule are being driven out because they plan to convert this into an eco-tourism site while the Yulo and Ayala families want to turn Hacienda Yulo into a golf course. The Macabud watershed has been demolished eight times since 2004,” Kasama TK spokesperson Imelda Lacandazo said in Filipino.

“Itigil na ang pagpapalit-gamit ng lupang sakahan, ibalik na sa mga magsasaka. Hindi kami aalis sa DAR hanggang hindi kami hinaharap ng mga opisyal nito,” they stressed.

The group also made a symbolic planting of rice outside the DAR gates, forming a mold that would remind Pangandaman what it is all about: “LUPA.”

Survey Says…!

August 13, 2008

The Arroyo government is running out of excuses as one survey after another shows the deteriorating state of the economy and the quality of life of the Filipino people.

BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
ANALYSIS
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 27, August 10-16, 2008

The Arroyo government is ranting over the results of recent surveys: from the Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showing that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s satisfactory rating plunged to -38, to the Pulse Asia survey showing that 40 percent of the people do not believe in the truthfulness of the state of the nation address, while 46 percent are undecided.  But the most damning surveys are the ones on hunger by the SWS, which showed that an increasing number of people have experienced severe hunger, 4.2 percent or 760,000 families, and that overall hunger statistics showing 2.9 million Filipino families experiencing involuntary hunger are still above the ten-year average; and the July survey of Pulse Asia showing that 75 percent of Filipinos feel that their life is worse off now than a year before, 64 percent being pessimistic about their personal circumstances, and 86 percent saying that the national economy has worsened in the last three years.

The Arroyo government brushed aside the president’s unsatisfactory rating by saying that it has made unpopular but necessary decisions.  It ignored the survey regarding the credibility of the SONA and merely pleaded for people to listen.  It responded to the results of the hunger survey by blaming the international market for the spike in oil and food prices; and saying that it has been distributing subsidies to help the poor to tide it over under these difficult times.

But the government began to complain when the results of the latest survey of Pulse Asia was released.  The survey conducted from July 1-14 revealed that 66 percent or two in every three households are spending less on food to be able to make their budget fit for their daily needs. Of these, 24 percent has been reducing their rice consumption and spending while 55 percent has been limiting their expenditures on other food items.

Press Sec. Jesus Dureza said he was not convinced that the 1,200 respondents represent the feelings of 80 million Filipinos.  If survey and statistical standards do not apply then we might as well forget what we learned in college.

The results of the Pulse Asia survey are not surprising  Contrary to Malacañang’s claims, the results of the survey may even be conservative.

World Bank computes the percentage of the food budget to income at 50 to 70 percent.  Based on the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) of the National Statistics Office, 80 percent of Filipino families are struggling to survive on P284.33 ($6.41 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.34) a day; and with an average family size of five, this translates into 68.2 million Filipinos subsisting on P56.87 ($1.28) a day.  If these families allot 70 percent of their income to food, that means P 39.809 ($0.897) is budgeted per person for three meals.  Only P17.06 ($0.38) is left for transportation and other expenses such as communications, clothing and footwear, education, personal care items, fuel, light, water, and rent. The P17.06 ($0.38) budget for these is only enough for a four-kilometer jeepney ride back and forth.

Even if we take the results of the FIES, which concluded that only 42.6 percent of the family income is allocated for food, it would still not be enough.  If only 42.6 percent of the family’s income or a meager P121 ($2.728) is, on the average, spent on food for five people then P 163 ($3.676) per day or P4,890 ($110.28) per month is budgeted for transportation and communications, clothing and footwear, education, personal care, fuel, light, and water, and rent.  More or less one half of this would already be eaten up by expenses for transportation alone, that is, if all the five members of the family do not travel beyond four kilometers from their house.  If the workplace of the parents and the school of the children are beyond four kilometers, all the remaining budget of the family would be spent for transport fare.

With the skyrocketing prices of basic goods and services and the free falling of the real income of families, the only item left for the 80 percent of the population to scrimp on is food as too little is already allotted for other essentials.

But the people are scrimping on food that is already insufficient.  The P39.809  ($0.897) per person for three meals is only about P13.26 ($0.30) per meal.  Even food prepared from “pagpag” (literally to dust off) or recycled left-over food retrieved from waste bins costs P10 ($0.225) already in urban poor communities. It is worse if only P121 ($2.728) per day is spent on food, if we are to base the computation on the results of the FIES, which claims that only 42.6 percent on the average is allotted for food.  This translates to a meager P24.20 ($0.545) per person per day or P 8 ($0.18) per person per meal.  What the FIES did is to average the food expenditures of all Filipino families.  But as one’s income decreases, the percentage of income spent on food increases.

The justification that there is nothing the government can do because the spike in prices is international in nature is a falsehood.  Even the World Bank, the main promoter of globalization and the “free market” said in a study entitled, “The Impact of Food Inflation on Urban Poverty and its Monetary Cost: Some Back-of-the Envelope Calculations”, that “The relationship between international and domestic food prices is country-specific. The transmission of high world prices to domestic prices depends on the depth of international markets for different commodities, countries’ exchange rates variations against the US dollar during the period, the degree of openness of the different economies  and domestic policies in response to the shock. Domestic relative food prices are affected by inflation of non-food prices, which also varies by country.”

Of course, what the World Bank is not saying is that the more open an economy is, and the more dependent it is on imports, the greater is the country’s vulnerability to increases in prices in the international market. That is why the Philippines, which is highly dependent on imports of oil and rice, among other things, is being rocked by the spike in international prices of these commodities. Nevertheless, the World Bank admits that domestic policies impact on local prices. This belies the claim of the Arroyo government that it is not to blame for the spike in prices and that it has been making necessary, though unpopular decisions.

The truth is the Arroyo government is running out of excuses as one survey after another shows the deteriorating state of the economy and the quality of life of the Filipino people. Bulatlat

Two-year old Hospitalized after Eating Rice with MSG as Viand

August 13, 2008

While the island of Negros is known as the land of sugar, many of its people are suffering from hunger and poverty. A two-year old boy ate the meal prepared by his sister, rice with monosodium glutamate or MSG, because there was no salt. After a few hours, he was rushed to a hospital and has been confined for more than a week now. This is a glimpse of the situation of hunger in the island.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 27, August 10-16, 2008

BACOLOD CITY – For lack of anything to eat, a two-year old boy ingested monosodium glutamate or MSG. He has been confined at the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Hospital since then.

On July 29, Ryan, not his real name, was with his three siblings in their home in Bgy. Makiling, Sagay, Negros Occidental. Both of their parents were out selling ice cream sticks for a living. The eldest son, 12 years old, was also out salvaging scrap metal to sell to augment the family income.

It was lunch time and the eldest sister aged nine prepared food. They had rice but there was no salt available; the girl used MSG as substitute.

A few hours after eating, Ryan got dizzy and eventually passed out.

Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Hospital In an interview, Jennylyn Labajo, Ryan’s mother, related that they brought Ryan to the Bato District Hospital. The next day, their son was transferred to the Corazon Montelibano Memorial Hospital. The boy is confined at the Surgery-Pediatrics Section of the hospital.

Ryan’s doctor was not available for interview. The label on his bed indicates that he ingested MSG and also suffers from rabies.

His mother told Bulatlat that the boy was bitten by a dog a day before he ingested MSG.

Jennylyn said she had no choice but to leave her children at home so she could help his husband earn a living. She earns P70 ($1.578 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.34) a day while her husband earns P100 ($2.25) from selling ice cream sticks. During rainy season, their combined income is smaller.

Jennylyn related that they pay P200 ($4.51) for monthly rent. Their former house was destroyed by the last typhoon. They also cannot afford to send their children to school. Her five children have not yet been registered.

Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary general of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) said that MSG ingestion could affect a child’s kidney and liver.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, more than 2.5 grams of MSG may cause headache, muscle tightness, numbness/tingling, general weakness, and flushing.

In an article posted by the worldhealthcenter.net, Dr. George J Georgiou and Barbara Karafokas of DaVinci Natural Health Centre, Larnaca, Cyprus said that MSG is toxic to humans and that over 25 percent of the world’s population suffers from adverse reactions from MSG.

The same article states that neuroscientists believe that the young and the elderly are most at risk from MSG. “In the young, the blood-brain barrier is not fully developed, exposing the brain to increased levels of MSG that has entered the bloodstream. The elderly are at increased risk because the blood-brain barrier can be damaged by aging, by disease processes, or by injury, including hypertension, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and stroke.”

Hunger, malnutrition

Ryan’s case is just a glimpse on the extent of hunger and malnutrition in the country.

According to government data, Negros registers an annual rate of 8.89 percent in malnutrition.

The latest Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showed that the total hunger in the Visayas rose to 19.7 percent. Severe hunger is pegged at 3.3 percent. Bulatlat

Indigenous Peoples: More Marginalized, Impoverished Under GMA

August 13, 2008

The Philippines’ indigenous peoples – who comprise some 15 percent of the population and who are among the country’s poorest – have become more marginalized and impoverished under this government.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES WATCH
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 27, August 10-16, 2008

When Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo delivered her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 28, there was one man in the House of Representatives gallery who, upon being acknowledged, stood up. He was wearing a G-string, his tribe’s traditional male attire, and for a moment he threatened to upstage the Malacañang occupant.

That man is Rosario Camma, the overall chieftain of the Bugkalot tribe of Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, and Aurora. He is also the mayor of Nagtipunan, Quirino.

Arroyo cited him as one of the country’s local heroes. She credited him for his supposed work at improving his tribe’s livelihood following the release of their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), which covers 100,000 hectares.

“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,” Arroyo said. “Mabuhay (Long live), Chief!”

Himpad Mangumalas, a member of North-Central Mindanao’s Higaonon tribe and the spokesperson of the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayang Pilipino (KAMP or National Federation of Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines), said Camma was merely used by the Arroyo government for its propaganda purposes. “Mrs. Arroyo just used him so she could look good, so she could have something to show that would make her look like she is doing something to improve the lot of the indigenous peoples,” he said in an interview.

Mangumalas recounted his encounter with Camma in a recent congressional hearing. “He is one of the pro-mining mayors, one of those who really work hard so that prospective mining projects in his area could push through,” Mangumalas shared.

“Development” aggression

The KAMP spokesperson finds it regrettable that a pro-mining mayor could be declared as one of the country’s local heroes, because large-scale mining, he says, has been and continues to be the biggest problem facing indigenous peoples’ communities. He says mining – that is, the large-scale mining conducted by multinational corporations – has led to the destruction of resources in indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands – and, in the worst cases, has led to displacement.

Data gathered by KAMP show that of the 24 “priority mining areas” marked by the Arroyo administration, 18 are in indigenous peoples’ territories. Ten of these, Mangumalas said, are in Mindanao; the rest are in Palawan, the Mindoro provinces, the Cordillera region, and the provinces of Quezon and Rizal.

Aside from corporate mining, another major issue that directly affecting indigenous peoples is the construction of large dams and other energy projects, mostly funded by multilateral institutions like the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). A document submitted by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Monitor (IPR-Monitor), the Tebtebba Foundation, and the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Link (PIPLinks) to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)* earlier this year, “The Human Rights Situation of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines,” states that “seven ‘priority’ large dams are to be built in locations that will directly affect indigenous communities.”

Mangumalas, meanwhile, cited the construction of the Sibulan Hydro-Electric Power Plant within the territory of Davao del Sur’s Bagobo tribe as one of the major energy projects adversely affecting indigenous communities.

“Development” aggression also takes the form of big agri-business projects, the creation of industrial zones, and so-called “eco-tourism,” among others. One major eco-tourism project cited by Mangumalas is the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEP), which he said “has seized some land from Aeta communities.”

The document submitted by IPR-Monitor, Tebtebba Foundation, and PIPLinks describes the effects of development aggression thus:

“The widespread implementation of extractive industries and other development projects in indigenous territories without their consent is violating their collective rights and is worsening their marginalized situation… Their adverse impact (includes) the destruction of livelihoods, the environment, land, resources and properties and has also caused conflicts, divisions and the erosion of indigenous socio-political systems.”

Indigenous peoples’ rights

The enactment of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 was supposed to serve the purpose of protecting indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination, economic and social well-being, and cultural integrity. The IPRA, in particular, includes several provisions on the protection of ancestral domain and land rights, as well as the requirement of indigenous communities’ free and prior informed consent (FPIC) for any project to be implemented within their territories, particularly those which may affect them adversely.

Shortly after its enactment, the IPRA’s constitutionality was challenged before the Supreme Court. In 2000, the High Tribunal – then led by Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. – ruled in favor of the IPRA but affirmed the State’s “prior right” over natural resources while giving indigenous peoples stewardship “rights” over their land and resources.

Meanwhile there are laws that run contrary to indigenous peoples’ rights. The Mining Act of 1995 allows 100-percent ownership of land even in indigenous areas, paving the way for displacements. The National Integrated Protected Area Systems (NIPAS) imposes restrictions on indigenous communities in their own territories. The Forestry Code of the Philippines declares lands with 18-percent slope as “public lands” – making many indigenous peoples “squatters in their own land,” as the document submitted by IPR-Monitor, Tebtebba Foundation, and PIPLinks to the UPR puts it.

Militarization and killings

Mangumalas said that the destructive effects of what he described as “pseudo-development projects” are aggravated by militarization. Militarization, he said, facilitates the implementation of “development” projects that adversely affect indigenous communities. “The military are normally used to quell any sign of local opposition,” he said.

“The entry of these so-called development programs is facilitated by military deployment and operations,” he explained. “The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) even resorts to recruitment for paramilitary troops from among IP civilians, just to ‘secure’ the current government’s economic targets in the rural areas,” he said.

In not a few cases, militarization in furtherance of “development” projects have led to the killings of indigenous people who have dared to resist for the sake of preserving their way of life.

KAMP has documented a total of 130 indigenous people killed since 2001 – when Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising. Thirty-six of them are massacre victims, Mangumalas said, while eight are leaders of indigenous communities.

“Most of these killings happened in Mindanao, where there are a lot of ‘development’ projects,” Mangumalas said. “Several of these killings also occurred in Cordillera, where there are many large-scale mining projects.”

Struggle

The Philippines’ indigenous peoples – who comprise some 15 percent of the population and who are among the country’s poorest – have become more marginalized and impoverished under the Arroyo administration, Mangumalas said. He said this leaves them no choice but to unite with other sectors pushing for Arroyo’s removal from office.

“We are not saying that her removal would immediately change things,” he said. “But that could pave the way for changing things, for the improvement of the lot of indigenous peoples and the rest of the population.” Bulatlat

*The UPR is a new mechanism that was established under General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) on March 15, 2006. The said resolution provides that the UNHRC shall “undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs; such a mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies…” BULATLAT.COM

Diskuwento pang-empleyado, mapanlinlang –KMU

August 10, 2008

Jean Campos

MAPANLINLANG ang pinakabagong iskema ng gobyernong Arroyo para diumano’y maging abot-kaya sa mga empleyado ang batayang mga bilihin.

Inilunsad ng DoLE (Department of Labor and Employment), NWPC (National Wages and Productivity Commission), at DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) ang “Diskuwento: Presyong Pang-empleyado” noong Agosto1. Sa pagkuha ng diskuwento, kailangan lamang ipakita ng mga empleyadong interesado ang ID ng kanilang kumpanya sa ilang piling lugar na mapagkukunan ng diskuwento. Mabibigyan sila ng “buyer’s voucher” para makabili ng nagkakahalagang P1,500 na mga produktong may diskuwento.

May 20 kompanya sa pagmamanupaktura ang pumayag na magbigay ng diskuwento. Nakatakda ang pamimigay ng mga voucher sa Lawton, Manila sa Agosto 15, Muntinlupa City sa Setyembre 1, at Valenzuela City sa Setyembre 15.

Pero ayon kay Prestoline Suyat, tagapagsalita ng KMU, “Nagkakamali ang DoLE, NWPC, at DTI kung iniisip nilang may natitira pang P1,500 sa suweldo ng mga manggagawa tuwing kalagitnaan at katapusan ng buwan….Ang pinakaproblema sa ngayon ng mga mangggagawa ay ang di sapat na sahod na pumipigil sa kanilang makabili ng mga pangunahing bilihin para sa kanilang mga pamilya.”

Ipinaliwanag pa ni Suyat na bukod sa instant noodles at NFA rice, ang ilang produkto na may diskwento ay hindi malimit gamitin ng ordinaryong mga mamamayan. Malapit na rin umanong masira ang ilan sa mga ito.

“Ipinapakita lamang dito na hindi ang mga mamamayan ang tinutulungan ng gobyerno kundi ang sumusuporta sa kanyang mga may-ari ng mga produkto,” ani Suyat.

Nanawagan ang KMU ng pagsasabatas ng P125 dagdag-na-sahod para maibsan ang epekto sa mga manggagawa ng tumataas na presyo ng batayang mga bilihin.(PinoyWeekly)

‘Salceda: You ain’t seen nuttin’ yet’

August 7, 2008

BY ASHZEL HACHERO

ALBAY Gov. Joel Salceda, former economic adviser of President Arroyo, yesterday said the country has not yet seen the worst of inflation, saying it could reach 12.9 percent in October, from July’s 17-year-high of 12.2 percent

“No matter where I look, the inflation rate will continue to rise and might even reach 12.9 percent by October. It will definitely peak by October,” Salceda said in an interview on the sidelines of the launching of the UN Millennium Development Goals-Fund Joint Program on Climate Change at Edsa Shangri-La Hotel Mandaluyong.

Salceda said that the inflation rate could even go as high as 14 percent but for the government’s rice subsidy program for poor families funded by windfall revenues from the expanded value added tax.

The Arroyo government has allocated P32 billion for rice subsidies alone and another P13 billion for rice and other agricultural production.

Last month’s inflation was the highest since December 1991 when it stood at 13.2 percent. Inflation was 2.6 percent a year ago.

The NSO said that the inflation rate for food alone climbed to 18.6 percent in July from 17.4 percent in June.

Higher year-on-year inflation was posted by rice at 50 percent in July from 43.0 percent in June; corn, 40.6 percent from 34.3 percent; cereal preparations, 17.6 percent from 16.6 percent; fruits and vegetables, 13.8 percent from 12.5 percent; and miscellaneous foods, 8.9 percent from 8.3 percent.

Salceda said the country should brace for double-digit inflation until the first quarter of next year when the effects of the government’s efforts to address rising prices will start to be felt.

“We should expect the double-digit rate to last probably until April 2009,” the governor said.

He said that by July next year, he sees the inflation tapering to 5.7 to 6 percent.

He said the country is not alone in Asia facing rising prices.

“To those who criticize the government for this development, I say take a look at Vietnam where the inflation rate at 26.4 percent is more than double what we are facing,” Salceda said.(Malaya)

2 of 3 households eating, spending less, says Pulse Asia

August 7, 2008

BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR

TWO in every three households or about 66 percent of Filipino households are now consuming less food or spending less to cope with rising prices, a Pulse Asia survey from July 1 to 14 showed.

The results of the survey, which covered 1,200 respondents nationwide, show an increase of 22 percentage points over the March 2008 figure of 44 percent.

Reduced food consumption and spending was more pronounced in the Visayas (75 percent), Luzon (70 percent), and Mindanao (61 percent) than in Metro Manila (47 percent).

The Pulse Asia survey results came at the heels of the government’s report that the inflation rate in July reached a 17-year high of 12.2 percent. The June figure was 11.4 percent.

The survey also showed 24 percent are cutting back on their rice consumption or spending, while 55 percent said they are reducing expenditures on other food items.

More Filipinos are also cutting back on their spending for transportation or fuel (32 percent) which is five percentage points higher than in March (19 percent), and on liquefied petroleum gas (31 percent) which is 1 percentage lower than in the first quarter.

Filipinos also spent less for electricity (53 percent in July and 59 percent in March), cellphone loads (22 percent from 28 percent), water (18 percent from 28 percent), education (14 percent from 16 percent) and medicines and other health needs (13 percent from 21 percent).

About 3 percent said their spending on house rentals remained the same.

Eighteen percent said they have started to spend less for recreation like watching movies, eating out, vacations and similar outings.

One percent said they have cut down on other expenditures while 1 percent said they have not changed the way they were spending in the last three quarters.

Asked how the rising prices of commodities affected their families, 26 percent said they reduced their consumption of other products and services apart from food and education, while 23 percent said they cut back on food consumption.

Others said they were forced to find additional sources of income (19 percent), borrow money (11 percent), reduce their savings (10 percent), pawned or sold valuables (3 percent), ask help from relatives (3 percent), stop a child or family member from schooling (1 percent), and transfer their child from a private to public school (0.3 percent).

Three percent, however, said the increasing prices did not affect their household much as their income could handle high inflation.

Due to the high inflation, about 530,000 households or about 3 percent said at least one or more of their family members went without food for at least a whole day in the month preceding the survey, because they had no money to buy food (89 percent), no food could be bought (6 percent), were not feeling well (3 percent) or they were on diet (2 percent).

Presidential management Staff director general Cerge Remonde said Malacañang views the survey results “with very serious concern.”

“That is why the President is hastening the implementation of the national social welfare program so that government can help the poorest of the poor,” he said.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said he was not convinced that the 1,200 respondents could well represent the situation of the 80 million Filipinos.

He said they do not need a survey to know that the rising prices of the commodities, especially fuel, are taking a toll on the people.

He added that the government acknowledged the high 12.2 percent inflation rate and is doing all it can to address it.

Dureza has questioned earlier Pulse Survey results as he said questions were framed in such a way that would elicit negative answers.(Malaya)

Poverty in Mindanao is state-initiated – Gabriela solon

August 6, 2008

“Terrorism in Mindanao is state-initiated, therefore, it follows that poverty in Mindanao is also caused by the Arroyo government.”

This was the statement of Gabriela women’s party representative Luzviminda Ilagan, following President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s claim during the state of the nation address (SONA) that her administration’s failure to alleviate poverty in Mindanao is due to the endless conflict in the Philippines’ second largest island.

“The state-declared ‘war on terror’ supposedly aimed to maintain peace in Mindanao turned out to be a ‘war of terror’ intended to protect the US and Arroyo’s financial and political interests. She deployed members of the military even in conflict-free areas to silence the people who oppose her so-called development projects,” the solon from Davao said.

The massive military operations in the southern part of the Philippines effectively displaced thousands of families, who, for fear for their lives chose to leave their homes and their sources of livelihood behind. Small farmers have complained that in eking a living, they are constantly starting all over again.

Mindanao, the food basket of the Philippines, was reported to have six out of the ten poorest provinces in the country and has the highest incidence of hunger in the nation. The food crisis, which pegged the price of rice at an all-time high of 50 pesos per kilo, increased the number of people who can not meet their daily food needs to 64 percent this year from 62 percent in 2007. The rate of malnutrition among children also rose, especially in ARMM were it reached 35 percent from 31 percent in 1995, as children were forced to skip meals.

But according to Ilagan, the conflict and therefore poverty in Mindanao is not endless. If only the government will pursue negotiations on domain claims and respect the rights of the people living in ancestral lands, there is a chance to resolve the enduring conflict in the area.

“It is the government which quashes any hope of peace in Mindanao. Arroyo’s on-and-off peace talks and anti-terror policy are being used to bail her out of a sagging popularity due to her failure to resolve economic and political crises in the country,” Ilagan said.

The progressive solon also suggested that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) push through with the elections, as postponement will benefit no one but the Arroyo administration, because it will extend the terms of her political allies in Mindanao.#

For Reference:

Rep. Luz C. Ilagan 0920-9213221

Abby Valenzuela (Public Information Officer) 0915-7639619

Corruption thrives in RP courtesy of gov’t officials

August 6, 2008

MANILA, August 4, 2008—Corruption thrives in Philippine government because many of its officials ignore or even engage in it.

This was the consensus of several Church, civil society and government leaders who participated in a conference on corruption at the Communication Foundation for Asia (CFA), July 26-27.

It was a fallow-up of a similar conference a month earlier convened by the Cebu-based Dilaab Foundation, according to a CFA statement.

CFA is a Catholic media center that is spearheading accountability and transparency in public and private sectors, besides educating people to use media for development.

The “Dear Peace” exhibit showcases the creative output and peace aspirations of young Christian and Muslim students who participated in the Peace Camp conducted by the CFA last May 2006 in Taytay, Rizal.
It was upon Museo ng Maynila’s invitation that CFA agreed to mount the Dear Peace exhibit for the Tertulia event. Tertulia is originally a Spanish word for social gatherings that serve as informal platforms for literary and artistic interaction or for sharing expertise and knowledge.

Even if government officials realize the social degradation resulting from corruption, they are reluctant to confront it. Many of them are being elected due to campaign contributions from jueteng lords, drug lords and other unscrupulous patrons, it was pointed out.

Their staying in power is dependent on bribes from the same sources. The former president Joseph Estrada plunder case was cited as proof that even the highest government position can be tainted when malefactors demand payback for their financial support.

Ordinary citizens partake of this unholy partnership when they sell their votes during elections. Or when they fail to probe deeply to check whether candidates have questionable connections.

Part of the solution to corruption may be the election of candidates whose qualifications include a demonstrated commitment against corruption.

The participants were in concurrence that the 2010 election would be the tipping point. They intend to scan the field and scout for alternative candidates who would be better candidates than the usual “presidentiables” and “senatoriables.”
They also agreed to bring together efforts at voters’ education, which they said was a natural complement of anti-corruption. Especially targeted are young voters, who make up the majority of both the electorate and the national population. (Santosh Digal)(CBCPNews)

Carmelite priest decries gov’t failure to address hunger

August 6, 2008

MANILA, August 4, 2008─The many proofs of good governance and good economy that peppered President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s State of the Nation address last July 28 are far from the truth according to the story of a Carmelite priest.

Fr. Jerry Sabado, O. Carm said the government is responsible in taking care of lives, nourishment and other basic needs of the Filipino children and the Filipino people as a whole.

“But penury, hunger and inhuman living conditions—that’s all that this government can give to the Filipino people,” lamented the priest.

Sabado said that days before Arroyo’s SONA, children in Payatas went hungry. And it was the same, days after the “historical” speech of the chief executive inside the Batasang Pambansa.

“In our church in Payatas, a child lined for the Holy Communion. But the problem is, he [was] not older than seven years old. The child cried when I told him, he [was] not allowed to take the Holy Host because he [has not taken yet] his First Communion. He cried and cried, begging me, saying ‘Father, sige na po! Gutum na gutom na po ako. Gusto ko po ng tinapay’,” narrated Sabado, a priest of the Order of Carmelite and a member of Kasimbayan (Kapatirang Simbahan para sa Bayan) and Promotion of Church Peoples Response (PCPR) in statement sent to CBCP News a day after the 8th SONA last July 28.

The priest said he was moved by the scene. Then he continued his story:

“Last Monday, July 21, there was a huge fire in Pandacan. Some of the victims were Aglipayans. Two children died, unable to escape the fiery blaze, while the mother [was] in [a] long line, waiting for her turn to buy some kilos of NFA (National Food Authority) rice. Not so long ago, there [were] siblings that have died also in the fire, here in Payatas, while their parents [were] working—scavenging in the huge piles of garbage.”

“A small bread can bring a lot of joy to that small boy. How many breads, bags of rice and other food items can be bought and distributed to millions of our poor kababayans, by billions of pesos that were stolen and planned to be stolen by this government?,” asked Sabado.

“There is no moral basis for anyone to remain in power, especially those in the highest position, if their positions are being used to make themselves rich, while the people are impoverishing and dying because of hunger,” added Sabado.

“As a church that promotes life, it is righteous for the Church to join the people in condemning, in the strongest terms, the plundering of people’s money and the abuse of power of those who is in authority,” said Sabado.

He declared it is an un-Christian to remain silent in the face of ongoing corruption, and it is not right for Church leaders to explicitly support Arroyo.

“Gloria is riding over the pro-Life position of the Church, it is rightful that the Church be in front, in condemning the policies and programs of a corrupt president, who’s number one in destroying and in depriving life and dignity to the millions of Filipinos,” said the priest.

He added that as ordinary church people, like any ordinary Filipino, they can feel the impoverished state of the country.

“We will not close our eyes on the immorality of this government. We are with you in fighting and in making the Arroyo government accountable, who untiringly looting the country’s chest and economy and continuously suppressing and massacring the people. On that note, hand in hand, let’s call for her resignation,” Sabado said.

High percentage living in poverty

According to the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS), 59 percent of the Filipino families, or 10.9 million people, say they are poor. This was nine (9) points higher than of last year, where the self-rated poverty had only recorded 50 percent.

Meanwhile, Pulse Asia, Inc., said that 66 percent of the Filipino population—or two out of three Filipinos—said that the Philippine economy have worsened, much worse than of 2005.

Still, the International Labor Organization (ILO) says that majority of the Filipinos still live for less than US$2 a day.

What is more saddening, before the SONA, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said more than 11 million children are malnourished.

Poverty due to corruption

In the 2007 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International, the Philippines ranked 131, meaning that people perceive there is rampant corruption happening inside the government.

Earlier, in the height of investigation of the controversial national broadband network (NBN) deal with the Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Company Limited or ZTE, a Chinese company, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a strong Pastoral Statement—Seeking Truth, Restoring Integrity—condemning “the continuing culture of corruption from the top to the bottom of our social and political ladder” and urging the “President and all the branches of government to take the lead in combating corruption wherever it is found.” (Noel Sales Barcelona)(CBCPNews)

Poor Pays 90% of VAT on Power, Oil – Expert

August 5, 2008

Using government data, Ramon Ramirez, electrical engineer and spokesperson of People Opposed to Warrantless Electricity Rates, revealed that the poor pays for 90 percent of the VAT on oil and power.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 26, August 3-9, 2008

The poor and the middle class who probably expected that some measure of relief would be announced by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 28 may have been disappointed. A substantial portion of President Arroyo’s SONA was devoted to defending the administration’s insistence in retaining the value-added tax (VAT) on oil and power.

Arroyo said, “Kapag ibinasura ang VAT sa langis at kuryente, ang mas makikinabang ay ang mga may kaya na kumukonsumo ng 84 porsyento ng langis at 90 porsyento 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.” (If the VAT on oil and power is scrapped, the well-to-do who consume 84 percent of oil and 90 percent of power will benefit while the poor who stand to lose P80 billion [$1,808,931,599 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.225] for programs funded by VAT will suffer.)

However, government data belie her claim that the rich pay 84 to 90 percent of the VAT.

Power

Electrical engineer Ramon Ramirez, spokesperson of People Opposed to Warrantless Electricity Rates (Power) and convenor of Agham (Science and Technology for the People) said, “It is not the well-to-do but the majority of the people, which includes the poor, who pay 90 percent of the VAT on power, directly and indirectly.”

Data from the Department of Energy (link – http://www.doe.gov.ph/EP/Powerstat.htm ) show that in 2007, electricity sales by sectors were as follows:

pie graph

Ramirez said that while the industrial and commercial sectors consumed 62.4 percent of the electricity, the companies promptly passed on the VAT on power to the buyers of their products and services — the consumers, which include the poor and the vast majority of the people.
He maintained, “Thus, the consumers themselves, not the owners of the companies, ultimately paid the VAT on power.”

Ramirez said that the 3.4 percent consumed by street lighting, public buildings and the like and the VAT paid for them came from the people’s taxes. “Therefore, the VAT on the total of the three items, 66 percent, was paid indirectly by the people, not the rich,” he said.

Analyzing the data from Meralco’s latest breakdown of residential consumers, Ramirez said that the well-to-do who are presumably consuming more than 500 kilowatt-hour per month consumed only 28 percent of the total power delivered to homes, or 28 percent of the 34.11 percent in residential sales. This amounts to a mere 9.55 percent of the total power consumed.

Ramirez said that this means that relative to the nationwide power consumption in the DOE data, only about 10 percent of the VAT on power were paid for by the well-to-do and the rich.

Oil

Based on various government data, millions of poor people who directly consume petroleum products pay millions of VAT daily.

Daily, hundreds of thousands of jeepney drivers pay P67.95 million ($1,536,527 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.225) in VAT and tricycle drivers, P14.12 million ($319,292), for the fuel they consume. Thousands of fishermen using motorized bancas pay a total of P8.85 million ($200,113) in VAT per fishing trip.

More than nine million kerosene users pay P218.32 million ($4,936,673) for VAT per month. Kerosene is used primarily by the poor for cooking and lighting.

Estimated VAT Paid Daily/Monthly by Consumers of Petroleum Products

Ave. cost

Jan-July 2008

VAT

No. of direct consumers

Average

consumption

Total VAT Paid

Daily/Monthly

Diesel – P44.23/liter

P5.31

426, 572 jeepney drivers

30 liters/day

P67, 952, 920

Gas – P50.55/liter

P6.07

581,578 tricycle drivers

4 liters/day

P14, 120, 714

P6.07

177,000 fishermen with bancas

7.5 L /fishing trip

P8,057, 925

11-kg cylinder LPG – P587.57

P70.51

8.6 million households

1 tank/month

P606, 386,000

Kerosene –

P46.15/liter *

P5.53

9.4 million

households

4.2 L/month

P218, 324,400.00

* As of May 2008 only

Source of basic data: Oil Price Watch Department of Energy <http://www.doe.gov.ph/OPM/Oilmonitor.htm > , Land Transportation Office 2007 report, National Statistics Office 2004 Household Energy Consumption Survey, Piston, Pamalakaya

Based on the above data covering the period January to July 2008, the poor directly paid around P20.55 billion ($464,669,304) in VAT.

Estimated VAT Paid Directly by Poor Consumers, January to July 2008

Estimated Total VAT Paid

Jeepney drivers

P14,270,113,116

Tricycle drivers

P 2,965,349,906

Fishermen

P1,692,164,250

Kerosene users

P 1,528,270,800

TOTAL

P20,555,898,122

Added to this, taxpayers, including minimum wage earners, also pay for the oil consumption of government offices and government-owned and-controlled corporations (GOCCs).

Data from the Commission on Audit’s (COA) 2006 Annual Financial Report of the National Government show that the government spent P2.82 billion ($63,764,838) for gasoline, oil and other lubricants expenses.

The COA report shows that the top spenders of gasoline, oil and lubricants were the Department of National Defense and the Department of Interior and Local Government with P83 million ($3,670,675,000) and P63 million ($2,786,175,000), respectively.

The average retail price of gasoline then was P39.41 ($0.89) per liter and diesel, P34.46 ($0.779) per liter. Assuming that the consumption is constant, the 28 percent increase in the prices of petroleum products from 2006 to 2008 would mean that the government would spend P3.61 billion ($81,628,038) for the same items this year. From this amount, the 12 percent VAT shouldered by the taxpayers would be P379 million ($8,569,813).

Based on the Projected Oil Demand by Sector taken from the Philippine Energy Plan of 2006, below is the projected oil consumption in 2007:

A.1.2a Projected Oil Demand By Sector.xls


barrels in millions

Percentage

Power Generation

12.389

10.7

Residential

11.292

9.7

Transport

66.487

57.2

Industrial

17.212

14.8

Commercial

5.986

5.2

Agriculture

2.861

2.5

Total

116.227

100.0

Based on the above data, Ramirez noted that excluding the transport sector, the public pays 42.8 percent of the VAT on oil. He explained that the VAT on power generation is passed on to consumers as part of the generation charge. Ramirez said that factory owners and businessmen who comprise the industrial and commercial sectors also pass on the VAT to consumers. Oil consumption by residential and agriculture sectors is also paid for by the public.

Considering that the rich pays for only 10 percent of the total consumption of electricity, it may be concluded that they would shoulder only 10 percent of the oil consumption for power generation and of residences. And while the rich shares in paying for the oil consumption of industrial and commercial establishments as consumers, it is highly improbable that they, who constitute only around 5 to 10 percent of the population, would consume 84 percent of the products of commercial establishments even as they corner 35.9 percent of the total income.

Ramirez said, “This data alone already refutes Arroyo’s claim of 84 percent share by the rich.”

The breakdown of the projected oil consumption of the transport sector, which constitutes 57.2 percent of the total is as follows:

Cars

751,092

13.6%

Utility vehicles (UV)

1,602,619

29.0%

Sports utility vehicles (SUV)

192,991

3.5%

Truck

281,261

5.1%

Buses

30,159

0.5%

Motorcycles and tricycles (MC/TC)

2,647,574

47.9%

Trailer

24,356

0.4%

TOTAL:

5,530,052

100%

Source: Land Transportation Office (LTO) statistics

Ramirez said that of the above, the VAT on oil used by trucks, buses, trailers, tricycles is eventually and indirectly paid for by the public, since these are passed on to them as matter of business operating practice.

In 2001, the LTO statistics show that the government owns 4,089 cars and 1,255 sports utility vehicles (SUVs). This means that private car owners comprise less than 16 percent of the transport sector.

Thus, the estimated share of the rich in the VAT on oil is only 9.15 percent. In other words, 90.85 percent of the public directly and indirectly pays for the VAT on oil.

Shortchanged

In a separate statement, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) revealed that the national government may have collected as much as P1.8 billion ($40,700,966) in VAT from Meralco’s lifeline customers alone. The amount, according to Bayan, is P1 billion pesos ($22,611,644) more than the actual subsidy given.

Lifeline users are those consuming 100 kilowatt hour or less per month. The government gave a one-time P500 ($11.30) power subsidy for lifeline customers last month. For 1.7 million Meralco lifeline customers, the government spent P852 million ($19,265,121) for the one-time subsidies, Bayan said.

In her SONA, however, Arroyo said her government allocated P2 billion ($45,223,289) as power subsidy for four million poor Filipinos.

Bayan estimated that for 32 months, 50kWh-consumers paid a total of P470 ($10.627) each in VAT; 70kWh paid a total of P970 ($21.93); and those who consume 100kWh paid a total of P1,830 ($41.379) each in VAT.

Ramirez said, “Only a fraction of the collected VAT is doled out to the poor as subsidies under the signboard “Katas ng VAT para sa mahirap.” (VAT Revenues for the Poor)

In a statement, independent think tank IBON Foundation said that so far, only P9.3 billion ($210,288,298) or just half of the estimated P18.6 billion ($420,576,596) in windfall RVAT revenues is going to subsidies. This leaves another P9.3 billion ($210,288,298) unaccounted for inasmuch as another P2 billion ($45,289,223) in “subsidies” that had been hyped are merely loans that still have to be repaid.

It added that the administration’s “Katas ng VAT” is “a pretense to cover up how the largest part of reformed value-added tax (RVAT) revenues do not go to social programs but rather to paying off debt, militarism and political patronage to prop up Arroyo’s unprecedented unpopular rule.”

The independent think tank also criticized the Arroyo government for making it appear that the share going to social programs is larger than reality. IBON cited the Department of Finance report in 2006 stating that 30 percent or P23.5 billion ($531,373,657) of additional RVAT revenues went to social and infrastructure expenditures. However, the actual amount that went to social services was just P8.4 billion ($189,937,817) or only 11 percent of RVAT revenues.

IBON said further, “In contrast, the administration still insists, in the face of the people’s worsening problems, on allotting some 24 percent of the national budget to interest payments on debt.”

The government is paying P634 billion ($14,335,782,928) in total debt service in 2008 covering interest and principal payments.

Correct math

IBON said that the so-called pro-poor subsidies also do not have any lasting effect for the people who suffer record joblessness, rising prices and worsening poverty.

Ramirez asserted, “Correct math on hard data tells us that the people are better helped by removing the VAT on oil and power, and with the bonus that they have their dignity intact.” Bulatlat

Workers, urban poor skip meals and sleep longer to cope with crisis

August 4, 2008

Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR)
Rm. 702 Culmat Building 127 E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue, Brgy. Mariana, Quezon City
Telefax: 632.4110256 email address:
ctuhr.manila@ gmail.com,
Website:
www.ctuhr.org


Workers, urban poor skip meals and sleep longer to cope with crisis
by the CTUHR team

Rosa, 55, is a garment worker in Taytay, Rizal for almost ten years now. The company implements a quota basis which forces her to work for more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to reach the minimum quota. In total she receives around 2,000P (US$ 43.94) during pay day, which she will use to pay previous debts, house rent, water, and electricity bills. Because she only has 300P (US$ 6.59) left for food, she will have to reduce its quality and quantity, or borrow some money from illegal five-six operators.

Rosa’s plight is not rare anymore. The worsening economic crisis, as obviously shown in continuous rise in prices of commodities like fuel and rice, forces workers and urban population to develop ingenious means of subsistence and to tighten their belts further.

Of course, the Arroyo government may delight of the poor’s creativity. In fact, it is Malacanang advice to cope with surging prices while government is raking in billions of revenues from the very price hike that punishes the poor. Whilst the poor must be commended with how they continue to survive and refused to be robbed completely of their dignity, their plight should shame those who profit from their poverty.

The stories below are from direct interviews with workers from different factories and urban poor communities. Every account strikes similarities and echoes the same situation that every one of us was systematically placed into.

Skipping Meals

The soaring price of rice and other basic foods have resulted in reducing, if not the quality, the quantity of meals or food intake.

For example, Ruth, Rosa’s fellow garment worker, told us that her family is eating breakfast and lunch at the same time (also widely known as “brunch”) to avoid more expenses. Ruth is a casual worker and receives only 110P (US$ 2.42) daily wage, 177P (US$ 3.89) below the mandated minimum wage in Region 4.

Nanay Mildy, 60, an urban poor resident in Intramuros, Manila, has similar story. She told us that her family is now used to prolonging sleeps during daytime and wake-up past breakfast late in the morning.

These families, like most, are eating only 2 meals a day, not simply because they want to save money, but because they simply could not afford the standard three meals a day.

Teofilo Galalo, 55, is a regular worker in Reliance Farm Inc., a small scale piggery in Novaliches industrial belt. He has been working there for almost 27 years now. He receives 336P (US$ 7.38) daily wage. He allots 186P (US$ 4.09) for food everyday which will be shared by eight members of the family. This is far way below the 862P (US$ 18.94) daily food allowance needed for a family of six according to National Productivity Wage Commission (NPWC).

At the time of this writing, commercial rice in Metro Manila is around 35-40P (US$ .77-.88) per kilogram, while in other regions it has already reached 52P (US$ 1.14) per kilogram. Many had already shifted to either 25P (US$ .55) per kilogram NFA commercial rice, or to 18.50P (US$ .41) per kilogram NFA rice, for others who can withstand its soap-like taste. But even if their palettes refuse, the stark reality that they don’t have choice makes the soap-like NFA rice delectable.

Walk to work

The soaring prices of petroleum products also created significant coping techniques among the workers.

Renilyn Tubay, 19, works in Unity Packaging, a factory with 50 workers which produces boxes for medicines and skin applications. Women workers receive only 281P (US$ 6.17) everyday for eight hours of work, while men receive 331P (US$ 7.27). The discriminating disparity between salaries in effect means more burdens for Renilyn compared to male counterparts. Minimum wage in Metro Manila is pegged at 382P (US$ 8.39) per day.

As a result of insufficient salary, Renilyn started to walk everyday to save her travel expenses. She needs to wake up at 6am to reach workplace at 8am.

Celine Castillo, 32, is also suffering distress because of continuous oil price hikes. Though she doesn’t work, she had to do all the budgeting for the family and necessary adjustments.

Her husband works in Rebisco Company which produces Hanzel, Rebisco Crackers, Marie Choco Sandwich, etc. Out of 2,900 total workforces, only 1,900 are regular workers. According to Celine, she now shifted to charcoal or uling in cooking instead of the usual LPG tank. Two sacks of uling are enough for a month which costs up to 300P (US$ 6.59). She saves 350P (US$ 7.69) at most.

At the time of this writing, gasoline is at 61P (US$ 1.34) per liter, diesel at 54P (US$ 1.19) per liter, while a regular LPG tank is at 650P (US$ 14.28).

Dropping out

Education was deemed before by poor families as the best way to break the chains of poverty. However, in the present time crisis, schooling became very luxurious and unsustainable.

For example, Ruth, 32, also a garment worker in Taytay, Rizal, failed to enroll her eldest son, a second year college student in University of Rizal System (URS) Taytay campus. They were forced to spend enrollment budget for food. “Life was very hard… we need more income and so I want my children to look for work,” she said in Filipino.

Even the International Labor Organization (ILO) expressed its worries over the decline in the enrollment rate in schools from 96.77% in 2000-2001 to 83.22% in 2006-2007. (PDI, 19 June 2008). Decline in enrollment will logically increase child labor, a condition that ILO and the trade union movement wanted eliminated.

Extra-income

Economic crisis have gripped the workers too much. For workers, performing well inside a factory is not enough to sustain a decent, simple life. They have to exhaust all means to generate more income outside working hours.

Direct-selling seems to benefit a lot from wage pegging and consistent price hikes. Workers that we had interviewed told us that they sell Avon, Natasha, DXN, and other products to create more money to augment financial needs.

Jose Campilos, 20, works as taga-igib ng tubig in an urban poor community in Intramuros, Manila. His work does not have a regular salary. It depends upon the need for water in the neighborhood and how much they want to pay him. He acquires 50-100P (US$ 1.1-2.2) everyday. He also do laundry services sometimes, he receives 100-200P (US$ 2.2-4.4) per labada. But due to high prices, he also collects plastic bottles and tin cans by night.

Celine, aside from saving money by using uling, also sells embotido to her neighbors in the afternoon. While Ruth do laundry services during Sundays in exchange of money or food.

Doles and subsidy to the poor will not address the problem

Despite the worsening crisis that had succumbed workers in suffering and pain, Ms Gloria Arroyo has remained deaf if not living in hallucinations. Her posters bearing her picture beaming in Ramdam ang Kaunlaran (Progress is ubiquitous) continues to hang in major buildings, highways and bombard TV advertisements.

Another poster says `Labanan ang Kahirapan’ (Fight Poverty) fill the MRT stations. And the only thing that Arroyo government does is to hand doles and subsidy to poor consumers of electricity while benefiting from a windfall of revenues. The government collects P52 billion in revenues and expecting another P18 billion more due to weekly increase in fuel prices as a result of 12% VAT on fuel. The collection is needed, as Malacanang says, because it allots P2 billion in subsidy for the poor. Where the remaining goes, is a big question.

A big section of the population wants the VAT removed and the oil deregulation law that allows companies to increase oil prices anytime they want, scrapped. Arroyo government refuses stubbornly, the way it refuses the demand for a legislated 125P across-the board, nationwide wage increase (US$ 2.75). Instead, tried to deceive the people and create good public image by using temporary and artificial solutions.

The 2 billion peso, for example, allotted budget to give 500P (US$ 10.98) allowance to some 400,000 low electricity consumers is not just temporary but it encourages people to depend and expect that some more charity will come from the government. It reduces the poor to beg, depriving them of their dignity, while the government smiles handing crumbs and a pack of rice from the money it gets from the poor through VAT.

Few days ago, the government ordered a fare hike under the pretext of giving drivers, jeepney drivers particularly some relief from high cost of fuel. The poor, mostly workers are the jeepney passengers. Whilst it is understandable to uplift the drivers, the fare hike will come from the very pockets of the workers, who have been denied of the substantial wage increase. This government insulted the workers with 10-20P (US$ .22-.44) wage hike, an amount that is just enough to buy 2 packs of instant noodles, loaded with sodium and MSG.

The government won’t repeal 12% e-vat, legislate and implement 125P wage increase. It stands to benefit from them, unless, thousands of workers and the poor again fill the streets to demand not only the VAT repeal, but removal of the government which reduces its people into beggars. When that day happens, the poor will have more reasons to smile, even to laugh.#


————————————————————————-
The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) is an independent NGO based in Quezon city, Philippines, engaged in documentation & monitoring of human rights violations committed against workers. It conducts research, information and supports advocacy campaign for workers’ rights promotion and protection. For more information, call or fax:632.4110256
or visit
www.ctuhr.org

Most corrupt government, most impoverished year

August 3, 2008

By TONGTONGAN TI UMILI – CORDILLERA PEOPLES ALLIANCE

Social unrest is rapidly deepening, triggered by unhampered and striking increases in oil prices and basic commodities. The rice problem is still burdening the people and social services have become inaccessible. While the people grumble in economic distress, the GMA regime takes comfort in conscious blindness. GMA escapes the crisis with impunity like what she has always done with her grave cases of corruption and human rights violations.


E-VAT ROBS. With 12% on top of the cost of prime commodities, the poor are in the losing end because they have to share most of their hard-earned income to the government coffers that is often emptied into the pockets of grafters in the name of pro-poor projects. Photo by Myko Franco Chiong/NORDIS

Oil prices have increased 20 times, from January to July 2008. Oil companies implemented weekly increases of P1.50 per liter of diesel in June; P2 in July 5 and in July 19 the highest at P3 increase per liter.

This scenario does not stop as oil companies invoke their under-recovery excuse despite accumulation of billions of profits last year as tabulated (see table).

Striking oil price increases brought about by global speculations of oil cartels demonstrated the extreme vulnerability of the nation due to deregulation. Due to this globalization policy, oil companies are implementing these increases – like vultures brazenly attacking the already impoverished motorists and consumers.

The Expanded Value Added Tax (E-VAT) on oil products also adds up to the burden. As oil prices continue to rise and so does the VAT in oil products. Removing the VAT on petroleum could immediately bring down the pump prices of diesel by more than P6 a liter and gasoline by more than P7 a liter, yet GMA still ignores this valid proposition. Even the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has directly questioned the E-VAT.

Access denied

The Filipino people are feeling the ‘domino effect’ of oil price hikes. Everything is going up – fare, food, goods and services. Even the double-digit inflation rate is evident of the sharp increases in prices. As prices soar, these basic commodities and services are becoming too inaccessible.


Photo by Cye Reyes/NORDIS

Education and health services fall down in the rank of priorities of the impoverished Filipinos. At the start of the school year, tuition fee increases have become too expensive robbing the youth of the right to education.

Similarly, the unresolved rice problem continues to rob the Filipino people of access to this staple food. In interior Mindanao, the price of commercial rice even reached P50 – P100 per kilo – a big irony for an agricultural country. This crisis has resulted in intense hunger for the poor Filipinos.


Photo by Myko Franco Chiong/NORDIS

In particular, indigenous peoples suffer twice from the political and economic crisis due to the systematic violations of their collective human rights. Corporate interests in connivance with the State increasingly drive indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands as they plunder the country’s resources.

Imperialist plunder

GMA has virtually offered the Cordillera for imperialist plunder while calling it “development”—66% of the total Cordillera land of 1.8 million hectares is applied for with various mining applications, and five of government’s 23 priority mining areas are located in the Cordillera, with flashpoint areas in the provinces of Kalinga, Abra, Benguet and Apayao.

The government, the military and the mining companies involved violate the indigenous communities’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Government has responded to community opposition to destructive projects by heavily militarizing indigenous territories resulting to massive violations of individual and collective rights and even extra-judicial killings, such as in Baay-Licuan and Tubo in Abra. GMA’s 2007 SONA further defined the Cordillera for extractive industries and a resource base with her Northern Luzon Growth Quadrangle.

A year after, with more ancestral territories opened to large mines and collective rights of IPs blatantly violated, ethnocide has only worsened further marginalizing indigenous peoples.

However, the GMA regime is too numb and consciously blind to see the real state of the nation. She may have dole-out subsidies like the one-time electricity subsidy, oil subsidy, jeepney conversion to LPG, fertilizer subsidy and educational loans, but the funding for such also came from the E-VAT, paid by the end-consumers.

These subsidies are also temporary, aimed at appeasing the people to avert another uprising but not in resolving the root of the crisis. She is not also scrapping the E-VAT on oil and power and still deaf in the calls to reverse the globalization policy.

Impunity

While the people withstand the worst of hunger and poverty, the GMA regime escapes corruption with impunity. This year, Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy survey ranked the Philippines, as the most corrupt economy among thirteen (13) countries and territories across Asia. In October last year, Pulse Asia Survey ranked GMA as the most corrupt president in the Philippines.

Who will forget the NBN-ZTE, the PIATCO-NAIA Terminal 3, Fertilizer Scam, Jose Pedal, Poll Automation, Diosdado Macapagal Highway and other grand corruption cases? Who will forget the cases that the people directly filed against the president, the first family and their allies?


Police disperses the protest of students at Manision House during GMA’s visit last March in Baguio City. Photo by Noel Godinez/NORDIS (click here for more photos of the dispersal)

Impunity also describes the human rights situation in the country. The campaign of this fascist regime to cripple progressive organizations and her critiques has resulted to more than 1,000 victims of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances from 2001-2008. Anti-GMA protesters face harassments and violent dispersals while leaders of progressive organizations are facing trumped-up charges.

Corrupt and fascist

Indeed, what we have is a corrupt and fascist regime, distant and consciously blind of the people’s misery.

The state of the nation serves as a fertile ground for the people’s legitimate uprising. In times of crisis, political maturity and participation should happen. In times of crisis, the call for immediate economic relief and meaningful social change shall reverberate.

Hunger should not be limited to the physical aspect. The people shall transform this towards the hunger for change. GMA’s stay in power means more economic hardship, more corruption and violations of people’s rights. Her ouster is evidently necessary! #(NorDis)

Napocor seeking another round of power-rate hikes

August 2, 2008

By Euan Paulo C. Añonuevo, Reporter

CONSUMERS should brace for new round of increases in electricity bills after state-owned National Power Corp. (Napocor) filed another petition before the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) seeking to raise its generation and foreign exchange charges for its Luzon customers.

Among Napocor’s biggest clients is Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), which distributes electricity to 70 percent of the Luzon grid.

Napocor recently filed for its 10th Generation Rate Adjustment Mechanism (GRAM) and 9th Incremental Currency Exchange Rate Adjustment (ICERA) applications. The GRAM and ICERA are components of the Deferred Accounting Adjustments (DAA) in Napocor’s power rates, as required by the ERC.

Collectively, these filings, if approved, will result in an increase of P0.1821 per kilowatt-hour in Luzon and P0.4533 per kilowatt-hour in the Visayas. In Mindanao, any adjustment will result in a decrease of P0.3625 per kilowatt-hour.

The said petitions are aimed at allowing Napocor to recover the incremental fuel, foreign exchange rate fluctuation and other costs arising from its reliance on independent power producers to augment supply. The state-owned company incurred these costs from January 2007 to April 2008.

These applications come on the heels of a recent ERC order approving the 9th GRAM and 8th ICERA of a P0.7116 per kilowatt-hour and P0.0246 per kilowatt-hour reduction in Luzon and Mindanao, respectively, and an increase of P0.1591 per kilowatt-hour in the Visayas.

Should the new applications be approved by the regulator, the 10th GRAM and 9th ICERA will replace the existing 9th GRAM and 8th ICERA in Napocor’s DAA billing components.

Earlier, Napocor said that power rates will remain stable until 2009 despite a separate application—filed June 3, 2008—to adjust its basic generation rate by P0.3700 per kilowatt-hour.

The state-owned company had said the petition to adjust its basic generation rates is in line with the privatization of a number of its cheap-running power plants such as its hydro and coal facilities.

Cyril Del Callar, Napocor president, said that any adjustment in the company’s basic rate will likely be tempered by it’s pending GRAM and ICERA petitions, adding its rate will hover at the current P3.3567 per kilowatt-hour in Luzon, P2.9934 per kilowatt-hour in the Visayas, and P2.6695 per kilowatt-hour in Mindanao, for the remainder of this year.(ManilaTimes)

Raw-material prices to stay high, push inflation

August 2, 2008

Non-oil commodity prices are expected to stay high and help push Philippine inflation above official targets for 2008 and 2009, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said on Friday.

“Second-round effects have set in, as evident in the surge in core inflation, and a rise in inflation expectations has been perceptible from surveys . . . “ the central bank said in a quarterly report.

It added that headline inflation rose to 9.7 percent in the three months to June, compared to 5.6 percent in the first three months of the year.

Core inflation, which excludes specific food and energy items, picked up to 6.2 percent from 4.1 percent.

“The latest assessment is that inflation could settle above the 2008 and 2009 targets,” the central bank said.

Last week, its Governor Amando Tetangco estimated average inflation for 2008 would be about 9 percent to 11 percent and 6 percent to 8 percent in 2009.

Inflation rose to 11.4 percent in June, the highest level in 14 years, due to rising food and energy prices.

Over the past two months, the central bank has raised its key interest rates by 75 basis points to try and dampen the price rises.

The report said “the global non-oil commodity price hikes appear prolonged and are expected to take longer to unwind.”

It added, however, that it expected oil prices to eventually soften as a global economic slow-down trims demand.
— AFP(ManilaTimes)

29M bata ‘walang pag-unlad’

July 31, 2008

Ilang-Ilang Quijano

WALANG pag-unlad ang 29 milyong bata sa Pilipinas dahil sa kapalpakan sa panunungkulan ni Pangulong Arroyo, ayon sa mga grupong tagapagtaguyod ng karapatang pang-bata.

Sa “State of the Nation ‘s Children Address” na inorganisa ng Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns noong Hunyo 25, sinabi ng grupo na milyun-milyong bata ang malnourished, may sakit, o namamatay dahil sa matinding gutom.

“Sa mga maralitang komunidad, dahil sa mataas na presyo ng bilihin at kawalang-trabaho, kumakain na lang ang mga bata ng balinghoy o saging sa umaga,” ayon kay Alphonse Rivera, tagapagsalita ng Salinlahi.

Idinagdag ng Salinlahi na 90,000 batang Pilipino ang iniiwan kada buwan ng 3,000 Pilipino na nangingibang-bansa kada araw. “Masakit sa bata ang mawalay sa magulang. Bulnerable sila sa pang-aabuso at karahasan,” ani Rivera.

Mula 2001 hanggang 2006, may 215, 233 bata din umano ang biktima ng mga paglabag sa karapatang pantao. Karamihan ang sapilitang lumikas dahil sa militarisasyon. May 106 bata naman ang naulila o naging saksi sa ekstrahudisyal na pagpaslang sa kanilang magulang.

Sinabi naman ni Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan na hindi natupad ni Arroyo ang pangako nitong mas abot-kayang edukasyon para mga batang Pilipino sa kanyang State of the Nation Address noong 2001.

Tatlong bata mula sa Payatas ang ginamit ng Pangulo noon na halimbawa.

“Pitong taon na ang nakakaraan, pero hindi nakakapasok ang isa sa 10 bata, naghihiraman ang dalawa o tatlong sa isang teksbuk, at 60 hanggang 75 bata ang nagkaklasrum sa ilalim ng puno ng mangga,” ani Ilagan.

Sa ulat umano na isinumite ng gobyerno sa Geneva Convention on the Rights of the Child, lumalabas na bumaba pa nga ang ginagastos ng gobyerno para sa edukasyon.

Noong 2008, nasa P2,000 na lamang ang ginagastos ng gobyerno para sa isang tao, mas mababa ng 14% kumpara noong 1998.

Para makamura…

July 31, 2008

Ofelia Beltran

TUWING pauwi ako galing Batasan Pambansa, dumadaan ako sa talipapa para mamili ng pang-ulam. Biyernes noon, kaya maaga akong umuwi. Mahaba ang pila ng mga tao para sa bigas.

Sa mga pamamalengke ko, marami akong nasasagap na kuwento. Isa na rito itong narinig kong pag-uusap sa pagitan ng dalawang taong pumipila ng bigas ng NFA (National Food Authority) sa Batasan Road, pababa sa Banaba, San Mateo, Rizal. Ito ang pag-uusap nila:

Mrs. (1): Sobrang init! Kung hindi ko lang inaalala ang kakainin naming mag-iina para sa apat na araw, hindi talaga ako pipila dito para makabili ng murang bigas.

Mrs (2): Ako nga, pumila sa Bayad Center para magbayad ng Meralco. Pagkatapos doon, pumila naman ako sa Land Bank sa Batasan para makuha ko ’yung subsidy ni Gloria na P500.

At para matiyak kong di ako maubusan ng bigas, maaga pa pinapila ko ang aking anak dito sa bilihan ng bigas ng NFA, habang naghihintay ako ng refund mula sa bangko. ’Yung P500 kasi ang pambayad ko ng bigas para sa apat na araw na konsumo namin at pambili ng aming ulam.

Mrs (1): Grabe ka pala! tatlong pila ang ginagawa mo.

Mrs. (2): Oo nga eh. Inutang ko pa nga sa kapitbahay ’yung pambayad sa Meralco. Sobrang mahal kasi ng mga bayarin. Tapos, pagkain pa namin, baon ng mga anak ko, bayarin sa eskuwela. Hay naku…..

(Iniwan ko na sila sa kanilang pagkukuwentuhan. Maya-maya, gumawi ako sa bilihan ng mga isda at baboy katabi ng bilihan ng mga gulay, sibuyas, bawang. Nandoon na si Mrs (2) at nakikinig sa paliwanag ng mag-iisda kung bakit biglang tumaas ang presyo ng isda at baboy).

Mag-iisda: Alam niyo, manang, sobra ho ang itinaas ng presyo ng isdang tabang ngayon lalo na ang mga karne dahil sa lumubog na barko sa Romblon na may kargang “Indusulfan.” Kaya, ipina-ban ang pagkain ng isda galing dagat.

Mrs (2): Magkano na lang kasi itong perang hawak ko pambili ng ulam namin. Hindi na kakayaning makabili ng isda. Mga rekado pa at mantika. Teka, ano ba ’yang “Indusulfan”?

Mag-iisda: ’Yun daw po yung nai-ban na ng Africa na insecticides para sa pananim. Naibebenta sa ibang bansa nang mas mura kahit ipinagbawal na ang paggamit dahil nakakalason ito.

(Nagpaliwanag pa ang mag-iisda tungkol sa mataas na presyo ng langis at krudo. Mahal itong nabibili sa international market kaya napakamahal din ngayon ng gasolina at marami pang iba. Ang narinig ko na lang sa Mrs (2) . . . . . .)

Mrs (2): Ano kaya kung “Indosulfan” na lang ang bilhin ko?

(Pakiwari ko, mas tumimo sa isip ni Mrs (2) ang murang indusulfan na nakakalason).

Si Ofelia Beltran ay anak ng yumaong dakilang lider-mangggawa na si Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran. Kagawad siya ng Anakpawis Party-list.

Editorial Cartoon: Yes, Ramdam ang Kaunlaran!

July 30, 2008

See them clapping…

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)

Women’s Front: Asian Women asserts “food over gold”

July 26, 2008

By INNABUYOG-GABRIELA

Over the years, large-scale corporate mining has caused tremendous damage to the food resources of rural communities putting indigenous and peasant women in more difficult hunger and human rights situation. Large mining has caused irreversible damage to the environment — defacing mountains, caused desertification and heavy siltation, damage of water resources and agricultural lands. Yet, most governments all over the world continue to support the mining industry, opt for the interest of mining transnationals over peoples’ rights to resources and the environment.

The Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) is a network of women organizations and individuals in the Asia Pacific region that promotes women’s human rights in the face of globalization, militarization and fundamentalism. Particularly, its Task Force on Women and Environment launched the “Food Over Gold” campaign in 2005 as part of APWLD’s food sovereignty campaign.

The Task Force WEN, convened by Vernie Yocogan- Diano of Innabuyog aims to highlight the impact of mining to women and food sovereignty given the heightened aggressiveness of mining corporations since the World Bank called for the liberalization of the mining industry in the early 90’s. In the previous years, WEN has organized some forums regarding women and mining and mining fact-finding missions. These forums served as venues for effectively analyzing the impact of mining on food sovereignty, on women’s rights as a whole and in the light of human security laws enforced by governments in the Asia-Pacific. In the light of the world’s outcry against climate change and global warming, the Task Force on Women and Environment of APWLD will also concretize its work to respond to this concern.

APWLD’s Task Force WEN held a study session on women and mining in Asia on 17-20 July 2008 in Baguio City to strengthen its resolve for women’s food sovereignty over the destruction of environment at the Igorot Lodge, Asian Institute Management Conference Centre, Club John Hay, Baguio City. Participants came from women’s organizations from Cambodia, India, Thailand, Philippines, Mongolia, Korea and Indonesia to discuss on the international trends in mining, mining and food sovereignty, mining and indigenous women, mining and militarization and the health issues that goes with mining. The study session also looked into the opportunities where women in Asia can bring their collective voice for actions, both in the local, national and international arena. #(NorDis)

Why 3 Oxfam offices are pooling resources for Mindanao

July 23, 2008

Romy B. Elusfa/MindaNews
Sunday, 20 July 2008 09:59
var sburl8618 = window.location.href; var sbtitle8618 = document.title;var sbtitle8618=encodeURIComponent(“Why 3 Oxfam offices are pooling resources for Mindanao”); var sburl8618=decodeURI(“http://www.mindanews.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=4767&#8221;); sburl8618=sburl8618.replace(/amp;/g, “”);sburl8618=encodeURIComponent(sburl8618);DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/19 July) — “An alarming proportion” of poverty and violent conflict confronting the tri-people of Mindanao is a major factor that made three Overseas Development Agencies conglomerate and focus their peace and development efforts in only three regions of Mindanao.

Felipe Ramiro Jr., Joint Oxfam Mindanao program coordinator said that while Oxfam has already worked in peace building efforts before in partnership with organizations like the Bantay Ceasefire, they are now looking at “scaling up the different peace initiatives towards a more integrated approach towards peace-building.” Ramiro said they poured in the bulk of their funds to Mindanao because “poverty is greatest in Mindanao and is exacerbated by conflicts.”

According to a briefing paper of the Joint Oxfam Program (JOP) presented during the launch at the Apo View hotel here on July 16, between 1988 and 2006, “poverty has increased at alarming proportions” in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM,) Southwestern Mindanao (Region 12) and Caraga (Region 13).”

In a study, JOP, which pooled together the resources and efforts of Oxfam Great Britain (OGB), Oxfam Hong Kong (OHK) and Oxfam Novib ON), noted that “the poverty incidence rate for households was registered as highest in 2003 in Caraga (47.1%), and ARMM (45.4%), nearly double the national average of 24.4%.  On top of this, ARMM and Region 12 had experienced continuing episodes of armed conflict, resulting in huge humanitarian and economic losses. Needless to say, women suffered more than men from poverty and carried the burden of male-dominated decisions and actions in times of war.”

Caraga comprises the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte and the cities therein; ARMM comprises Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and the towns within Shariff Kabunsuan province. The Supreme Court has recently ruled that Section 19 in RA 9054 which allowed the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly to create new provinces and cities is unconstitutional as only Congress has that power.

Region 12 comprises South Cotabato, Sarangani, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and the cities of Cotabato,

“Despite its natural endowments,” JOP said “Mindanao could not afford decent livelihood for its residents” because the “majority of the poor (two for every three) are found in rural areas, subsisting on agriculture.”

JOP deduced from its study that “locals in the countryside compete more now compared to any other time, for finite land resources, prompting among others, the problem of landlessness. Many women in agriculture are reported landless, rendering unpaid labor.”

Half of Mindanao’s four million hectares of farm lands is reportedly planted to rice and corn with the largest granaries located in Region 12.  Yet, small rice and corn farmers complain of losses because of the high cost of production dependent on chemical-based inputs, the study said.

Compounding the peasants’ problems, JOP said that “these farmers have to confront new challenges triggered by climate change like long periods of drought usually followed by infestation,” not counting the “massive conversion of rice and corn lands into high-value commercial crops like banana, pineapple and asparagus.”

Other high-potential cash crops like abaca, coffee, mango and rubber remain largely underdeveloped because “small farmer-to-market linkages remain practically absent.  The coffee sector demonstrates this clearly,” the JOP study shows.

While Mindanao produces about three-fourths of national coffee output, coffee hectarage in Caraga has dramatically declined by 40% between 2000 and 2003. “Farmers have no incentives to continue growing coffee,” said the JOP documents which formed part of the briefing paper at the launch participated in by around over 50 representatives of Civil Society Organizations.

Meanwhile, abaca maintains its dismal yield per hectare of less than 1 MT per hectare.  Most of the abaca farms located in ARMM and Caraga, covering “16,262 hectares or 55% of Mindanao’s total, remain stagnant.”

Municipal fishery, JOP’s study showed, is characterized by “low return on investments, leaving eight out of 10 municipal fishers in Mindanao poor as of 2006.  Only 16% of the total national fisheries output (almost one million MT of fishes and other marine products as of 2001), could be attributed to this sector.

Compounding the problem is illegal logging, the study showed. “Dependent to Mindanao’s vast forest resources bear the brunt today of many years of illegal logging, rampant largely in Caraga.”

The study cited Agusan del Sur, the poorest of five provinces in Caraga, where 76% of the land area is classified as forest, only 2.4% is considered today as old growth forest.

Unfortunately, the “logging” mentality pervades most people and “even community-based groups” have been awarded with tree plantation contracts, which the study said has “canceled out sustainable forest management and agro-forestry as viable strategies to meet the income needs of upland dwellers.”

Against this depressing outlook for rural livelihoods in Mindanao, the JOP says “the national government’s response regrettably fails to inspire.”

It mentioned that the Arroyo administration, in June 2004, included in its 10-point national program the development of two million hectares for agribusiness, with Mindanao singled out to be the main agro-forestry and export zone. “This brings to fore the issue of food security,” JOP said while noting the “aggressive push of late by government for bio-fuels signaled further reduction of the area planted to food crops in the region.”

The study showed that the government’s “unfinished business in agrarian reform” and its promotion of mining have also added more blows against the small farmers.

The land reform program “conveniently excluded private agriculture lands 50 hectares and above” while having multiple tenurial instruments also led to “competing claims to land.”

It noted P.D. 705 (Revised Forestry Code of 1975), an “outmoded” law, as government’s mantle,  “even though new policy settings such as the NIPAS Act of 1992 and the IPRA of 1997 exist.”

“As a final strike, the government heavily promotes mining to attract foreign investments in the Philippines, most especially in Caraga.  Of the 10 primary mining sites prioritized by government, five are in Caraga.  Generous incentives have been introduced such as faster processing of applications and liberalizing the certification criteria and procedures to entice interest in mining.  Ultimately, what this suggests is that government is relentless to spur economic growth, even without due consideration for equity and the environment. Sadly, in scenarios like this, the poor, most especially women and children, will be affected the most,” the study said.

An important concluding note in the study stressed on the “effects of the delay on the completion of the peace process in Mindanao, something that the Arroyo administration also committed to do in 2004.  Past violent conflicts occurred at great cost and in the economic sense alone, the loss has been pegged at 10-billion pesos from 1975 to 2002.”

The nearly 11-year old peace talks between the government and the MILF Moro Islamic Liberation Front has yet to resume after it was stalled December last year.

Henk Peters, program officer of ON and Frank Elvey of OHK still could not provide a figure on how much they would spend for their joint project in Mindanao, though they said that the bulk of their $6-million fund for the country would be spent in Southern Philippines. Elvey said “it is not a fixed but developing amount” and Peters added that “we will still try to mobilize additional funds from others. We are giving more attention now than we did before to Mindanao.”

Peters said their program includes advocacy work that their partner organizations may undertake to “try to influence government to come up with policies that are more responsive to the needs of the poor.”

The focus of the policy advocacy, Ramiro said would be “towards agriculture. I guess it is important to ensure access of Lumads to their lands so they will be able to come up with viable plans on developing their ancestral domain.” (Romy B. Elusfa/MindaNews)

More families suffering from hunger, says SWS

July 22, 2008

BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR

MORE Filipino families reported experiencing hunger during the second quarter of the year, a survey of the Social Weather Stations showed.

Malacañang officials said this was a result of increasing prices of fuel and food in the world market.

The SWS survey from June 27 to 30 showed that families experiencing hunger rose to 16.3 percent (about 2.9 million families) in the second quarter as against the 15.7 percent who claimed to have experienced involuntary hunger in the first quarter survey of March.

Families who said they experienced “severe” hunger, or those who experienced it “Often” or “Always” in the last three months, also rose to 4.2 percent (760,000 families) in June from 3.2 percent in March while those who claimed total hunger in the last three months rose by 0.6 points between March and June, or to 16.3 percent from 15.7 percent.

Those who experienced moderate hunger on “Only Once” or “A Few Times,” dropped to 12.1 percent in June from 12.5 percent in March.

Incidence of hunger was worse in the Visayas region, increasing 7.4 from 12.3 percent in March to 19.7 percent in June, followed by the National Capital Region (15.7 percent to 22 percent).

There was a slight improvement in the hunger incidence in Mindanao (18 percent in March and 17.7 percent in June), and in the rest of Luzon, or 16 percent in March and 12.3 percent in June.

Incidents of severe hunger in Mindanao and the rest of Luzon worsened from 2.7 percent and 3.7 percent in March respectively, to 4.3 percent and 4 percent in June.

Total Hunger was worse in Metro Manila with 22 percent (from 15.7 percent) followed by the Visayas with 19.7 percent (from 12.3 percent), Mindanao with 17.7 percent (18 percent) and the rest of Luzon with 12.3 percent (from 16 percent).

Families experiencing severe hunger was worse in Metro Manila with 6 percent (from 5.3 percent), followed by Mindanao with 4.3 percent (from 2.7 percent), the rest of Luzon with 4 percent (from 3.7 percent), and Visayas with 3.3 percent (from 1.3 percent).

Moderate hunger was also worse in the Visayas (16. 3 percent from 11 percent), followed by Metro Manila with (16 percent from 10.3 percent), Mindanao (13.3 percent from 15.3 percent) and the rest of Luzon, with 8.3 percent from 12.3 percent.

GLOBAL CRISES BLAMED

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the increases in hunger incidence especially in Metro Manila were influenced by the global crises on food and fuel.

Dureza said the slight improvement in other areas especially Mindanao, despite the global problem on food and the armed conflict in some parts of the island, “is very indicative of a positive result” from what government is doing to address challenges in Mindanao.

At the House, the rising hunger index prompted Manila Rep. Benny Abante to revive calls for the government to consider scrapping the value-added tax on oil and petroleum products.

He said even President Arroyo’s latest promise to distribute another P4 billion VAT windfall in various forms of dole-outs to the poor would hardly make a dent on the problem.

“Subsidies might address the problem for a day or two. It’s, at best, a fleeting relief to a long-term headache. This is why I am renewing the call to Malacañang to cancel or even just suspend the VAT on electricity and power. This will provide immediate and wider help to our poor countrymen,” Abante said.

He called on fellow lawmakers to support his bill proposing higher taxes on liquor and cigarettes to cover part of revenues that the government will lose from the cancellation or suspension of VAT.

‘TELL THE TRUTH’

Social Watch Philippines, the Philippine chapter of the international group Social Watch, called on Arroyo to start effectively managing the country’s finances instead of providing short-term solutions such as subsidies.

She can start by being truthful about the state of the Philippine economy and the plight of the Filipino people, said Leonor Briones, SWP lead convenor and former national treasurer.

“PGMA said that she fulfilled her promises in solving hunger and poverty by achieving 90 percent rice self-sufficiency from 2001-2007, 4,000 farm to market roads, and 146,117 new irrigation systems. Yet, data from National Statistics Coordinating Board reveal that 12.2 million Filipinos are food-poor and 27.6 million are below the poverty threshold,” Briones said.

“Moreover, the President said that she fulfilled her promise of creating 9 million jobs from 2001 to 2008. Yet, data from the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics show that unemployment rate is now at 8 percent with 2.9 million jobless people. A total of 168 million net jobs were lost since April last year,” she added. – With Peter Tabingo(Malaya)