First published by The Philippine Online Chronicles
For the Aquino administration, the past week has been all good news. First, the impeachment it initiated against Renato Corona ended in its favor, with the Senate convicting 20-3 the former Chief Justice. Second, first quarter data showed that the economy grew by 6.4%, which officials said is the second highest in Asia behind China.
As expected, Malacañang was quick to squeeze brownie points from the two developments. In a speech, President Benigno Aquino III hailed the conviction as proof that change can be achieved under his administration. The economic growth, meanwhile, was pledged to be more “inclusive” and will benefit everyone.
In both cases, however, it appears that Aquino is exaggerating the gains for the people. The ouster of Corona, while widely seen as positive for anti-corruption efforts, is also tainted by the political and economic agenda of the Aquino administration. Valid concerns on the Supreme Court (SC) undermining its earlier decision on Hacienda Luisita, for instance, are being raised. A subservient Judiciary has also put the ruling Liberal Party (LP) in a better position to consolidate and perpetuate its reign.
The same overstatement of gains for common folks is true with regards to the reported expansion in the economy. Trends on joblessness, poverty and hunger don’t support government’s claim of robust and inclusive growth.
The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) called the 6.4% growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of the year “above expectations”. It was higher than the 5-6% full-year target of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and the 4.8% forecast of most analysts. Even more remarkable was that the growth was attained amid a deteriorating global economy. And as mentioned, it’s number two in the region after China.
This, said the NSCB, put the economy to a “rousing start” after a lackluster performance in 2011 when GDP grew by 4.9 percent. Main growth drivers during the quarter were the services sector (8.5%) and industry (4.9%) while agriculture posted anemic growth (1%). On the expenditure side, growth was pushed by the 24% increase in government spending.
Economic growth is often dismissed as meaningless due to lack of tangible gains for the people, especially the poor. Not this latest growth, if we were to believe government claims. New Neda head Arsenio Balisacan said that the quarterly growth produced some 1.1 million jobs, which bodes well for the Aquino administration’s efforts to cut poverty.
It was not clear where Balisacan got his 1.1 million jobs created by the 6.3% GDP growth. The latest jobs data from the National Statistics Office (NSO) refer to the January 2012 survey, which showed 37.39 million employed workers. That’s 1.1 million higher than the January 2011 survey of 36.29 million workers.
Misleading the public
If the Neda chief was referring to these NSO data, then he is misleading the public. A comparison of the January surveys does not capture the number of jobs created in the first quarter. Comparing the number of workers between January and April this year (the next survey round) would have been more appropriate.
Further, the number of jobs actually fell by 1.16 million between the January and October 2011 surveys of the NSO. This means that the first quarter growth should have produced at least 2 million additional jobs for Balisacan’s claim of 1 million jobs created to be true.
Worst performing President
Truth is, like in the past, the economic expansion during the quarter failed to generate jobs. In fact, the period even saw the number of jobless balloon by more than 4 million, based on surveys done by the Social Weather Stations (SWS). In its March 2012 survey, the SWS reported that a record high 34.4% were jobless, equivalent to about 13.8 million workers. In its December 2011 survey, unemployment was pegged at 24% or about 9.7 million workers.
Aquino is the worst performing President in terms of job creation. Adult unemployment under him, using SWS surveys, is averaging 26.8% compared to Arroyo’s 19.6%; Estrada’s 9.2%; and Ramos’s 10.3 percent.
Because growth is not creating long-term and sustainable livelihood opportunities, living conditions have continued to deteriorate. Again using SWS surveys, poverty worsened to 55% in March from 45% in December. That translates to around 2 million families (from 9.1 million to 11.1 million) added to the number of poor during the quarter when the economy was supposedly growing by 6.4 percent.
Poverty in the country has been chronic and even the drastically expanded conditional cash transfer (CCT) program under Aquino is not mitigating it. On the contrary, poverty has been alarmingly on an uptrend in recent SWS surveys. Before Aquino took over, poverty was pegged at 43% and has since steadily climbed. It breached the 50% mark in four of the last eight quarters and is now at its highest since September 2008.
Hunger also rose to an all-time high 23.8% of families in the first quarter of the year. The number of families that experienced involuntary hunger reached 4.8 million in March from December’s 4.5 million (22.5%). The average incidence of hunger under Aquino (20.9%) is more than double that of the level under Estrada (10%) and significantly higher than Arroyo (14.1%).
Excluding the poor
Inclusive growth is the favorite mantra of Aquino when talking about his plans for the economy, such as in his speech during the Asian Development Bank (ADB) meeting in Manila last month. It is the central theme of his Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016. But the policies he promotes in the PDP, under the tutelage of foreign creditors like the ADB, are the same policies that have long been excluding the poor.
His centerpiece program, the public-private partnership (PPP), for instance, is harming the poor twice. First, physically through brutal demolition to accommodate PPP projects. Second, economically through prohibitive rates in toll, power, fares, water, hospital fees, tuition and others.
Also, because the path is towards privatization, Aquino is spending less on social services and more on debt servicing so government can borrow more to fund its PPP initiatives. Credit rating agencies like Aquino more than Arroyo not because of his supposed anti-corruption reforms but because he is a better payor. Since taking over, Aquino has been paying creditors P60.37 billion a month compared to Arroyo’s P48.18 billion.
Growth for the elite
While excluding the poor, Aquino’s programs greatly benefit the rich including his relatives and cronies such as Danding Cojuangco, Manny Pangilinan, the Lopezes, Ayalas, Aboitizes and others who are expanding their business interests by bagging large PPP contracts. These elite families and their foreign partners also rake profits from the economy under Aquino’s policies of low wages, contractualization, liberalization and deregulation.
Last year, these billionaires saw their wealth expand tremendously even when the economy slowed down. The 40 richest Filipinos posted a collective $34 billion in net worth in 2011, more than $11 billion bigger than 2010’s $22.8 billion.
The economy did grow by 6.4% but not for everyone. #