#OccupyBulacan and the anarchy in housing and urban development

10pandi

Photo from Kadamay

When the urban poor group Kadamay (Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap) led the occupation of idle housing units in a government relocation site in Pandi, Bulacan last week, President Rodrigo Duterte called the action “anarchy”. He even threatened them with eviction.

Latest report says that the urban poor families – numbering about 5,000 people – have already occupied six government housing sites in Pandi and in San Jose del Monte, also in Bulacan.

But if there’s anarchy in this situation, it is not the occupation by the poor of some 4,000 houses that have been left empty for years. It is the flawed, profit-driven public housing program and government’s continuing neglect of the chronic housing crisis that have brought about anarchy in housing production and meeting the needs of the poor and homeless.

These housing units have been unused not because of lack of demand. According to the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), the housing backlog as of December 2016 is pegged at 2.02 million units. From this backlog, the total housing needs is expected to swell to almost 6.80 million units by 2022, growing annually by more than 796,000.

Meanwhile, there are more than 1.50 million informal settler families (ISFs) nationwide, of whom 39% are concentrated in Metro Manila, based on government’s latest data.

The actual figures are much higher of course considering how official poverty data understate the real extent of poverty. A September 2016 survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), for instance, estimates that 36% of Metro Manila’s population count themselves as poor. That’s equivalent to around 4.64 million urban poor in the capital alone.

Amid such a huge (and growing) housing backlog and enormous number (official count or otherwise) of urban poor who need decent shelter, there are idle housing units like those in Bulacan. The National Housing Authority (NHA) said that the there are about 52,341 idle housing units as of last year.

This is the anarchy that Duterte should be concerned with, one that raises the question of not only bureaucratic inefficiency and neglect, but more fundamentally, of state policy and social justice.

The anarchy is actually not just in the housing program but also in the overall urban development plan of government, implemented mainly through public-private partnership (PPP), that is biased against the poor and skewed towards oligarchic interests.

To illustrate, profit-oriented infrastructure development in urban centers via PPP such as the construction of mega business districts often leads to the blatant marginalization of poor communities from access to basic social and economic services. Government promotes these projects with its neoliberal bias of allocating public lands not based on the social and development needs of the people but on the most commercially profitable use of urban lands.

One example is the Php65-billion Quezon City Business District (QCBD), a 2009 joint venture between the NHA and Ayala Land Inc. for 10 years. QCBD is touted as the country’s “first transit-oriented, mixed-use business district” and will include, among others, the construction of 45 towers over 29 hectares of property.

The project covers an area where the Ayala group already has established business interests such as the Trinoma Mall and LRT-1. Thousands of urban poor settlers in the area have already been dislocated, with more to come. The NHA estimates that the QCBD will displace over 15,000 families. Even the public Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), which mainly serves poor children, has been under threat of dislocation by the QCBD.

Development of urban infrastructure under PPP does not only burden the public with exorbitant user fees, state guarantees, tax incentives, etc. but even compromises the usefulness of the infrastructure itself as projects are designed not for public interest but to meet the specific and narrow business interests of the private project proponents.

This is illustrated, for example, by the controversy on the common station of the LRT-1 PPP project. The Ayala group, which is part of the consortium that won the said project, wanted to build the common station – that will link LRT-1 with MRT-3 – in front of its own Trinoma Mall even if it undermines the access and convenience of commuters, on top of additional costs that the public will shoulder.

Turned over to profit-seeking business interests, infrastructure development has become anarchic instead of being planned and coordinated within a pro-people urban development framework. This has resulted to the dismal state of public housing, transportation system, public utilities, and other key economic and social infrastructure.

It is the State that Duterte now represents that brought anarchy to the urban poor. The Occupy Bulacan, on the other hand, is an organized political action by the poor to expose and challenge this anarchy and to assert the legitimate people’s right to shelter and development. ###

Poverty trends

Original photo from www.solarnews.ph

Original photo from www.solarnews.ph

In its latest survey, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) said that the number of Filipino households that consider themselves poor has slightly declined to 53% in the first quarter of 2014 from 55% in the last quarter of 2013. The Aquino administration was quick to point out that the SWS findings mirror the official poverty data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Two days before Labor Day, the PSA released the Annual Poverty Indicator Survey (APIS) which reported that the number of Filipinos considered poor based on their average income fell to 24.9% in first semester of 2013 from 27.9% in the same period in 2012.

The presentation of these two surveys, released one week apart, depicts a picture of an improving poverty situation. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) described the findings as a “remarkable improvement” in poverty and credited the “strong economic growth” and “government investments in social development programs”. But their manner of presentation is misleading. First, a two or three point decline in poverty is hardly a remarkable improvement especially when one considers government’s claim of rapid economic growth and massive expansion in conditional cash transfer (CCT) funds. Second, comparing poverty figures on a quarterly or semestral basis tends to hide long-term trends, which provides a more useful and accurate appreciation of poverty’s general direction.

Indeed, if one is to look at poverty figures since the Aquino administration took over, what can be seen is the indisputable trend of worsening poverty and living condition. I have been compiling the quarterly surveys of SWS on self-rated poverty, involuntary hunger and adult unemployment from 2010 to their latest available reports. The trends, based on the latest results, are summed up below:

  • From 2010 to 2014 (first quarter), the number of Filipino families that consider themselves poor is growing by 700,000 a year (or 3.5 million Filipinos annually at 5 members per family)
  • From 2010 to 2013, the number of Filipino families that experience hunger is increasing by 200,000 a year (or 1 million Filipinos annually)
  • From 2010 to 2013, the number of jobless Filipino workers is expanding by 500,000 a year

The annual averages are presented in the following charts:

Poverty:

SWS poverty, hunger, joblessness | 2010-2014

Hunger

SWS hunger

Joblessness

SWS joblessness

Meanwhile, even government’s own APIS does not illustrate a substantial improvement in poverty, pegged at 19.7% of families in 2012 (full-year); 20.5% in 2009; and 21% in 2006. Even worse is how government measures poverty – a person with P52.75 a day is not counted as poor. Such amount approximates the World Bank’s $1.25 per person a day poverty standard, which is being criticised by experts as being too low and artificial. (For instance, read here

But who needs an expert when common sense tells us that P52 could not afford decent living? Using P100 to P125 per person a day as standard, IBON Foundation estimated that the number of poor Filipinos could reach 56 to 66 million, or about 60-70% of the population.

If government’s economic managers could not even correctly count the number of poor and properly interpret poverty trends, how can the people expect the Aquino administration to address the country’s worsening poverty, much less end its structural roots? ###

 

Economy in 2012: Rising joblessness, poverty amid Aquino admin’s claims of growth

Joblessness, poverty and hunger are reaching record highs under the Aquino administration amid claims of growing economy

Joblessness, poverty and hunger are reaching record highs under the Aquino administration amid claims of growing economy (Photo from www.flickr.com)

In 2012, the dominant theme peddled by the Aquino administration was “good governance is good economics”. The main propaganda line of Malacañang is that the “daang matuwid” (straight path) has created a favorable environment for economic growth that is inclusive. From being the sick man of Asia, the country now brims with vitality, declared President Benigno Aquino III in his State of the Nation Address (Sona).

To the uncritical, such assertions would seem hard to doubt. For one, the national accounts do show rosy numbers. The Philippines is beating expectations and has been one of the supposed few bright spots amid a gloomy world economy. International banks, local and foreign investors, credit rating agencies and multilateral financial institutions are one in saying that the prospects are indeed upbeat for the country. There are even claims that we are the new tiger in the region, joining the likes of Singapore and South Korea.

Good news for big business

After growing by 7.1% in the third quarter, way above the market’s media forecast of 5.4%, the gross domestic product (GDP) has now expanded by 6.5% for the year. The strong third quarter performance prompted economic managers to revise upwards their 2012 full year GDP growth projection with the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) claiming that the GDP will likely grow by 7% this year, well beyond the earlier official forecast of 5-6 percent. Many share the same optimism like the World Bank which also raised its projection to 6% from the previous 4.2 percent.

Meanwhile, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) upgraded the credit rating of the Philippines from “stable” to “positive” following the GDP report which put the country on track to make investment grade by next year. Officials say this means lower borrowing cost for government and lower cost for doing business in the Philippines. Prior to the S&P upgrade, the country has already posted eight credit rating upgrades since 2010. These developments continued to feed optimism in the market with trading at the Philippine Stock Exchange posting 38 record highs this year, making it one of the most vibrant equities market worldwide.

Other economic data, as culled by the Christmas Day Inquirer editorial, also seem encouraging. In the first nine months of the year and amid the global crisis, exports grew by 7.2% and foreign direct investments (FDI) by 40% compared to the same period in 2011. Consequently, as of November, the country has an all-time high of $84.1 billion in gross international reserves (GIR) and a balance of payments (BOP) surplus of $2 billion, five times its value during the same month last year.

The country’s big business groups share government’s high optimism, citing the so-called good economic fundamentals in 2012 that can lead to a “super-year” in 2013. They see more opportunities to further boost profits with the anticipated investment grade rating, the implementation of public-private partnership (PPP) projects and the upcoming midterm elections.

Big business, of course, has every reason to be upbeat. High GDP growth, robust stock market and favorable credit rating all reflect not the state of the ordinary people but of how lucrative the economy is for the moneyed few. Further, past and present policies of privatization and deregulation have allowed them to monopolize and greatly profit (through generous perks, incessant hikes in rates and user fees, and exploitation of workers) from key economic activities including public utilities and infrastructure development.  This small group of the super-rich has seen their wealth balloon in recent years. In 2009, the Forbes magazine reported that the 40 richest Filipinos had a combined wealth of $22.4 billion and in 2011, the amount more than doubled to $47.43 billion. The economy is growing but that’s good news only for big business.

Hard realities

Because amid the purportedly stellar growth of the economy, series of credit rating upgrades, streak of stock market highs and favorable reviews by banks, fund managers and investors are the hard realities of rising joblessness, worsening hunger and deteriorating poverty. Social indicators which are most vital to the people have been deteriorating in the past three years amid the record-high profits and wealth of elite families, high investor confidence and positive market sentiment.

Official unemployment rate as measured by the National Statistics Office (NSO) averaged 7% in 2011 and 2012 from 7.3% in 2010. We are supposed to be the second fastest growing economy in the region just behind China but the official jobless rates of our neighbors are much lower. Thailand’s is 0.7%; Singapore, 2.1%; Malaysia, 3%; South Korea, 3.8%; China, 4%; and Taiwan, 4.2 percent. To be sure, like in the Philippines, these official unemployment figures understate the true extent of domestic joblessness in the respective countries. But we cite them for the simple comparison of official data on the labor markets in the region. (Data on Asian countries are as of first quarter 2012 as compiled by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas or BSP. During the same period, our official unemployment rate was 7.2 percent.)

And we have not even looked at the quality of available jobs. A quick peek at the NSO’s preliminary October 2012 Labor Force Survey shows that underemployed workers – those who are employed but are still looking for additional work – numbered 7.2 million; self-employed without any paid employee, 10.7 million; and unpaid family workers, 4.1 million. That’s easily 22 million out of the reported 37.7 million employed workers (more than 58%) with disputable quality of jobs.

Then for wage and salary workers, there’s the issue of extremely low pay amid a very high cost of living (made even worse by Aquino’s enforcement of the two-tier wage system which imposes a floor wage that is even lower than the minimum wage) as well as job insecurity amid widespread labor contractualization. The last time the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) issued its estimate of family living wage (which could approximate the amount needed by a regular family to live decently) it pegged it at ₱917 per day as of September 2008 in Metro Manila. More than four years later, Metro Manila’s daily minimum wage is still a measly ₱419-456.

To have an idea of how massive job scarcity in the Philippines could be, we may refer to the regular surveys of the Social Weather Stations (SWS). In 2010, 22.5% of Filipino workers said they were jobless which increased to 23.6% in 2011. This year, it ballooned to 30.1 percent. In absolute terms, there were about 9.5 million unemployed workers in 2010 and 2011; this year, it climbed to 12.1 million workers. In Aquino’s first three years in power, the number of workers who said that they were jobless increased by 2.6 million based on SWS surveys.  (Results of SWS surveys cited in this article all refer to annual averages.)

With the economy not producing enough jobs and livelihood opportunities even as wages become even more depressed, poverty and consequently hunger have been at their worst. Again using the SWS surveys, 47.5% of Filipino families considered themselves poor in 2010. Since then, the percentage has steadily climbed to 49.3% in 2011 and 51% this year. There are now around 10.3 million families who consider themselves poor, up from 9.9 million in 2011 and 8.9 million two years ago. Thus, in the first half of Aquino’s term, the number of poor families ballooned by 1.4 million. This means that some 7 million Filipinos have been added to the number of poor in the past three years. Note that between 2009 and 2012, the budget for the controversial conditional cash transfer (CCT) program swelled from just ₱5 billion to ₱39.4 billion (a whopping 688% increase) but apparently failing to make a dent on poverty.

Hunger incidence, still as surveyed by the SWS, follows the same path. In 2010, the percentage of families who reported to have experienced hunger was at 19.1 percent. It climbed to 19.9% the next year and to 21.1% this year. In absolute figures, there were 3.6 million hungry families in 2010; 4 million in 2011; and 4.3 million in 2012. Under Aquino, the number of Filipino families who experience hunger has so far grown by 700,000 or about 3.5 million people as measured by the SWS.

ph economy in 2012 - table

Continue reading here

Sona 2012: Aquino’s failure to ease poverty and provide social services

Deceptive. How can the CCT ease poverty when the program’s beneficiaries are being driven away by big business? (Photo from Bulatlat.com)

Part III: Reviewing Aquino’s “Social Contract” and performance

Read Part I: On job creation here

Read Part II: How the rich is getting (scandalously) richer here

Two of the most important commitments Aquino made in his so-called Social Contract are the provision of social services, specifically education and health; and poverty reduction. To review, Aquino promised to make education the central strategy for investing in the people, reducing poverty and building national competitiveness. He also vowed to advance and protect public health as a key measure of good governance and not as a tool for political patronage. Finally, he pledged to reorient Arroyo’s anti-poverty programs that instill a dole-out mentality to well-considered programs that build capacity and create opportunity among the poor and marginalized.

In the run-up to the President’s third Sona, Malacañang has been pretty aggressive in its propaganda on how the administration is supposedly addressing the basic needs of the people. The new budget proposal of government for 2013, for instance, is being packaged as empowering the marginalized, with significant increases in the allocation for basic social services and bigger conditional cash transfer (CCT) budget. Government has also been advertising economic growth as inclusive, with the supposed benefits being felt by everyone.

Gradual improvement?

The administration’s propaganda is being propped up by what it makes appear as favorable results of recent SWS surveys on poverty and hunger. In its second quarter survey, the SWS reported that the number of families who consider themselves poor dropped to 10.3 million or 51% of the total from 11.1 million or 55% in the first quarter. During the same period, the number of families who experience involuntary hunger declined to 3.8 million or 18.4% from 4.8 million or 23.8 percent.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda was quick to credit the administration for this, claiming that the improvement was due to “programs on inclusive growth, education, public health and anti-corruption”. Another Malacañang mouthpiece, Secretary Ricky Carandang, credited the CCT program for the “gradual improvement”.

Steady deterioration

But what trends show is not gradual improvement but steady deterioration in poverty and hunger under the Aquino administration. In 2010, poverty averaged 48% among Filipino families; it then went up to 49% in 2011 and this year is averaging 53% (including the last SWS survey). Likewise, hunger steadily increased from 19% (2010) to 20% (2011) and to 21% (2012). In the last nine SWS quarterly surveys, which cover the Aquino presidency, poverty breached the 50%-mark and hunger breached the 20%-mark in five of the nine quarters. Also, hunger under Aquino is now twice the level during the Estrada administration due to the accumulated impact of flawed economic programs and policies, which failed to address poverty and hunger.

Such steady deterioration in poverty and hunger is happening amid the massive expansion in the coverage of and spending for the ballyhooed CCT program of the Aquino administration. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of CCT beneficiaries ballooned from 594,356 households to more than 3 million (or an enormous 407% increase); the national budget for CCT during the same period also swelled from ₱5 billion to ₱39.4 billion (or a whopping 688% hike). CCT is not only failing to make a dent in poverty and hunger, it is also helpless in even slowing down their further worsening.

Stand-alone

Despite repeated statements by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the agency in-charge of the program, that the CCT is not a stand-alone initiative and is being complemented by longer-term and sustainable poverty alleviation interventions, the truth is the CCT is the only program of government to supposedly fight poverty. Aside from providing direct but temporary cash assistance, the conditionalities imposed by the CCT on beneficiaries are also purportedly meant to improve the basic health and education situation in the country. To continue receiving the maximum ₱1,400 a month, a beneficiary-household’s children and pregnant women must attend health centers and posts to get regular preventive health checkups and immunizations. Children must also enroll in schools and attend more than 85% of school classes.

But a look at measurable indicators, like those being monitored by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) on Philippine social development commitments to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), would show that the country continues to fail to attend to the most basic health and education needs of the people. In particular, it is failing in reducing the maternal mortality rate, reducing the prevalence of underweight children under five years old, increasing the completion rate in elementary level, increasing the enrollment rate in secondary level, and improving the results of achievement tests in the elementary and secondary levels, among others.

The reason is that while the Aquino administration intends to instantly improve the coverage of public health and education in the country through the CCT, it does little to ensure the sustained and greater access of the poor to these services. While government is hyping the supposed increases in the budget allocation for basic social services in the past two years, as well as in its 2013 budget proposal, in reality the urgent social services needs of the people remain largely unaddressed and resources allotted remain significantly insufficient.

Neglecting health

Under the 2012 budget, for instance, allocations for 23 state-owned specialty and regular hospitals nationwide were pinned to their 2011 levels despite growing requirements while those which increased their operation and maintenance funds were still unable to recover the huge cuts they had in the past. Further, the Coalition on Health Budget Increase (CBHI) also reported that the state subsidy to indigent patients for confinement or use of specialized equipment has been completely scrapped by the administration.

Another major initiative of government to supposedly improve access to health and complement the CCT is universal healthcare through the country’s national health insurance program (NHIP) being implemented by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth). This year, Philhealth saw its budget jump by 244% from its 2011 level and in the 2013 budget proposal, it will receive ₱12.6 billion, or almost ₱600 million bigger than its 2012 budget. But as pointed out by the CBHI, Philhealth does not ensure affordable and accessible health services since it is restricted by a budget ceiling for particular health and illness. In addition, the acute need for medicine, supplies and equipment in public hospitals forces beneficiaries to shoulder the expenses for such needs while those in far flung areas, where majority of the poor live, could hardly find Philhealth-accredited hospitals.

Further, the total budget proposed for the Department of Health (DOH) next year is only ₱56.8 billion. Although ₱11 billion higher than its 2012 budget, the said allocation is just a fraction of the ₱243.5 billion that the sector needs to cover the costs of public health care delivery system, health human resource maintenance and development, and preventive and public health programs and promotion, based on initial estimates by the Health Alliance for Democracy (Head).

Insufficient education facilities

The same thing is true with basic education, which despite the seemingly large increases in budget allotment still remains wanting in resources. Estimates by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said government needs to allocate ₱96.5 billion to meet basic inputs for education such as classrooms, chairs, textbooks and water and sanitation facilities. As of School Year 2011-2012, the estimated gross shortages of classrooms reached almost 153,000; school seats, more than 13,000; textbooks, almost 96,000; sanitation facilities, more than 151,000; as well as teachers, almost 104,000, according to the Department of Education (DepEd). But in the 2013 budget proposal of Aquino, allocation for basic educational facilities is pegged at only ₱25.3 billion, which despite increasing by almost ₱9 billion from its current budget is still a meager amount compared to the estimated actual and urgent needs of the sector.

Worse, the DepEd has decided to push through with its controversial K+12 program despite strong public opposition. The program will add two more years to the country’s basic formal education that is presently a 10-year program. Among other impacts, the K+12 program means additional costs for poor families while further stretching the already tight budget for public education. All this means that children of CCT beneficiaries are not assured of completing basic education (which the DepEd prolonged under the K+12 scheme nor accessing quality education (due to perennial shortages in public school facilities and teachers that the national budget could not cover).

The lack of sufficient budget for education and health is being used by the Aquino administration and its allies to justify PPP initiatives in the said sectors such as the proposed corporatization of 26 public hospitals and PPP contracts to build 10,000 to 30,000 classrooms. But this further contradicts the stated objectives of CCT to improve access to health and education as fees tend to rise with private contractors passing the full costs to the public, on top of their own profits.

Displacing the poor

The deception of the CCT is further exposed by government’s treatment of urban poor communities, where many of the beneficiaries live. Because of its centerpiece economic program, the PPP, large areas of urban poor settlements are being demolished or in several cases, set on fire. Peasant, fisherfolk and indigenous communities, who are the poorest of the poor, are also being physically and economically displaced by PPP and mining, energy, plantation and other destructive projects that the Aquino administration has been promoting. How can the CCT ease poverty when the program’s beneficiaries are being driven away by big business?

In the National Capital Region (NCR) alone, the Demolition Watch reported that some 16,000 families in 20 urban poor communities have already been displaced in the first two years of the Aquino administration. The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) – NCR said that the region hosts some 14 large PPP projects, including business districts and parks, port privatization, etc. which could displace as much as 1.4 million poor families.

Aggravating the condition of the urban poor is, like in the case of health and housing, state budget on housing is utterly lacking. Despite the seemingly huge increase in the housing budget for 2013 – from ₱6.1 billion to ₱16.13 (excluding the housing bduget for military and police personnel) – the amount still pales in comparison with the estimated requirement of ₱69 billion for the country to meet a portion of its 3.6 million housing backlog and at least be at par with the housing spending of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, based on preliminary calculations by think tank Ibon Foundation.

Right to decent living standard

Aquino has been massively expanding the scope and budget of the CCT despite the fact that it is not clearly contributing to sustained poverty reduction, not to mention that it is funded by $805 million in growing foreign debt from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) that has long been debilitating the economy and depriving the poor of much needed social services. One of the biggest reasons why government could not provide adequate education, health, housing and other basic services is because public resources are being siphoned off by debt servicing, which under Aquino has already reached an all-time high of more than ₱60 billion a month.

Access to health and education, and the right to a decent standard of living including the provision of adequate shelter are basic human rights. This means that the government must work towards the creation of an environment that makes freedom from hunger and poverty, and universal access to social services possible, which includes reliable and sufficient livelihood opportunities for all families and the allocation of adequate resources for quality public schools, hospitals, health facilities, and housing services.

Requiring some poor Filipino families to send their children to school and health centers so that they can access CCT money promotes a dole-out mentality and is a distortion of the concept of human rights. It also distorts human right to health and education and to a decent standard of living by creating temporary access for a targeted portion of poor families while using the conditional cash grants as a smokescreen for the defective policies that push an increasing number of Filipinos to hunger, ignorance, and poverty such as the PPP and other programs that benefit only the rich. (End)

Economic growth not creating jobs, excluding the poor

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% (Photo from BusinessWorld/AFP)

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.

Exaggerated gains

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.

Above expectations

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.

What jobs?

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.

Miserable living

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. #

Silverio Compound: A fight for the right to live

(Video by Tudla Productions)

The Silverio Compound demolition in Parañaque City was the most brutal in recent memory, leaving at least one dead and some 36 hurt, mostly by gunshot wounds. Some 33 residents and protesters were also arrested, including seven minors and two women. Twenty-nine of them were eventually charged with resistance and disobedience to a person in authority and disturbance of public order. While some of the wounded were brought to various hospitals, many others refused to seek proper medical attention out of fear of being arrested or simply due to lack of money.

Negotiations

On April 23, residents blocked certain portions of Silverio Compound as early as 5 a.m. The main barricade was set up at Purok 4, which fronts the SM Hypermart. By 7 AM, five 6×6 trucks each carrying 30 to 40 policemen from the Parañaque City Civil Disturbance Management Unit (CDMU) along with two fire trucks began arriving in the area. They were backed by several members of the police’s Special Weapons and Tactics unit (SWAT) who were armed with high-powered assault rifles. By around 7:30 AM, many residents had already occupied Sucat Road, which was meant to cause traffic and delay the demolition. A demolition team of some 50 men arrived at about 8 a.m.

Initial findings of the emergency fact-finding mission (FFM) conducted by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) several hours after the bloody incident show that members of the CDMU provoked the violent confrontation. Prior to the hostility, leaders of the residents and local politicians Cong. Edwin Olivarez, former Cong. Ed Zialcita, and Councilor Eric Olivarez were negotiating with the police (talks began at around 9 a.m.) to suspend the demolition as the Silverio compound is the subject of a pending court case. The CDMU, on the other hand, was asking the protesters to free up a portion of the road to let vehicles pass.

Gun shots

Despite ongoing negotiations to suspend the demolition and willingness of residents to heed the police’s request to allow traffic flow, the CDMU prepared to turn toward the direction of the protesters at past 10 a.m. Witnesses also said they saw men secure the local politicians, which indicated that the police was getting ready to move. Thinking that the CDMU was about to disperse them, the residents started to hurl stones at the police. Eventually, the police responded by firing teargas toward the direction of the protesters. Accounts claimed that the police fired more than 10 teargas canisters.

The CDMU and SWAT members were forced to backtrack a bit but moments later, gun shots were heard, apparently fired by the police, sporadic at first and then in succession. The string of gun shots forced protesters to back down and run away while the CDMU and SWAT teams advanced and began arresting people. One person – later identified as 21-year old Arnel Leonor, a resident of Silverio Compound – was seen lying on the pavement, with what appeared to be a fatal gunshot wound in the head. He was brought to a hospital by the police many minutes later but was declared dead on arrival.

Violations galore

The atrocities committed by the police did not end in the indiscriminate shooting of the residents that killed Leonor and wounded others. Many of those who were already apprehended or subdued were still assaulted by the angry police. They were truncheoned, punched, kicked and slapped at whim by the arresting officers. These were captured by the media who were covering the incident. Worse, the arrests were arbitrary; the police picked up anyone they wanted. Some of those arrested and assaulted by the police were mere onlookers. They said they did not run away because they did not participate in the protest and thus thought will not be arrested, much less assaulted by members of the CDMU.

Arbitrary house-to-house searches were also carried out by the police to look for more people to pick up. Witnesses claimed that some police officers again fired their guns during these house searches. The demolition team, meanwhile, pushed through with the demolition of several stalls and houses.

Private profits over public housing

This bloody incident could have been prevented had Mayor Florencio Bernabe respected the original agreement between Silverio Compound residents and former Mayor Joey Marquez that the entire 9.7-hectare property will be used for socialized housing. This means that the 28,000 families occupying the property will just amortize the land to the Parañaque City government. It was Marquez who, in 2003, initiated the expropriation proceedings by virtue of an ordinance against Silverio Compound’s private owner Magdiwang Realty Corp. But Bernabe changed the plan, reduced the size for socialized housing to 3 hectares, and pushed for the construction of 32 medium-rise condos that can only accommodate some 1,900 families.

Bernabe is pushing for a public-private partnership (PPP) project for Silverio Compound, eyeing big developers including SM Development Corp. (SMDC) to build the medium-rise buildings and other infrastructures in the area. The remaining 6.7 hectares of the property will also be devoted for commercial development in a bid to entice private investors in the city. Clearly, this is a case of the local government prioritizing private profits over the people’s basic right to shelter.

Impunity

The blatant disregard for human rights displayed by the police involved in the incident speaks volume of how deep the culture of impunity has been ingrained among our law enforcers and security forces. To end this culture of impunity, those who are involved, directly and indirectly, and not only members of the SWAT and CDMU but even police and civilian officials, in the tragic Silverio Compound demolition must be held liable.

What is alarming is that recent developments point to the regrettable possibility of a whitewash. National officials, for instance, are now seemingly conditioning the public mind that Leonor could have died from a bullet fired by one of the protesters. Supposedly, one of those arrested tested positive for gunpowder. Only an independent probe of the incident, including a re-autopsy of Leonor’s body by an independent party, could provide a more credible finding.

There is no doubt that the police used excessive force in enforcing the demolition order. Their abuses have been well-documented by media outfits who covered the incident and their identities could be easily established. Bernabe, on the other hand, clearly abused his power in insisting to implement the demolition. There are more than enough grounds to immediately make these people accountable.

Call for support

While the residents of Silverio Compound remain undaunted by oppression and brutality, they need all the support that they can muster to ensure that justice will be served. At the same time, they also need assistance – medical, legal, etc. – to help them cope with the tragedy inflicted on them by institutions that are supposed to uphold their rights and promote their interests.

The people of Silverio Compound, like those in other urban poor communities who have been dislocated or threatened by PPP projects that only profit the few, are fighting not only for their homes but for their right to live as human beings. All those who value this very fundamental human right could not allow them to fail. (end)

Written for Paninindigan, Bayan’s official publication (click here)

Who’s afraid of Occupy Mendiola?

Manila police violently disperse protesters trying to camp out at Mendiola Bridge to protest Aquino's anti-people economic policies (Photo by Bullit Marquez/AP)

Noynoy is. Malacañang security officials and the local police have made Mendiola a no camp out zone. Since December 6, Manila anti-riot police have been violently frustrating attempts by activists to set up camp at the historic bridge leading to Malacañang. Several youth protesters were arrested and injured in clashes with the police. At least five protest leaders were charged with sedition.

The last time rallies at Mendiola were banned and considered seditious, the illegitimate President, Mrs. Gloria Arroyo, was desperately clinging on to power and suppressing protests at every turn.

(Video of the violent dispersal, shot by Mayday Multimedia Philippines, here

Unusual

But President Benigno S. Aquino III is not fighting for political survival unlike his despised predecessor. In fact, he continues to enjoy high approval and trust ratings, according to the latest Pulse Asia survey. Thus, to some, it is puzzling how government is responding to the camp out protest. It is indeed quite uncharacteristic for a regime that supposedly has wide public support to be so insecure about a peaceful assembly.

Police officials insist that their intel work indicates something unusual about the camp out. Their claims, however, are as preposterous as the fantastical “put the little girl to sleep”. Manila police officials, for instance, say they think the protesters plan to encircle Malacañang in a seditious act of toppling the government. This explains the repeated statements by police officials that the camp out is inciting to sedition. The police’s intel sources, by the way, are the media advisories and Facebook posts of camp out organizers and participants.

Message

The student and youth organizations which initiated what the mainstream media have described as the Philippine version of the “Occupy Wall Street” actually have a simple message, objective, and aim. The message is that the political and economic system favors the rich and exploits the poor. The objective is to concretize this message by raising urgent issues – the budget cuts in education, rising prices, lack of jobs, landlessness, etc. The camp out aims to mobilize more people around these issues and struggle for genuine change.

Malacañang will not admit but what it worries is this: If the camp out will succeed, it will help weaken the plan of the Aquino clique to forever ride on the strong anti-Arroyo sentiment to sustain its legitimacy and wide public support. It will help the public see that the more fundamental contradiction is not Aquino versus Arroyo. No matter how noisy this conflict has been, the main contradiction remains between the exploited great majority of the people and the exploiting minority that both Aquino and Arroyo represent.

Pro-elite

Government has dismissed early on an Occupy movement gaining ground in the Philippines. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in October that there is no basis for a similar movement as the administration is “siding with the poorest of the poor”. Government, he said, strives for “inclusive growth”.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. In its December 6 editorial, the Philippine Daily Inquirer noted that the combined income of the richest 1% of the families (185,000) is equivalent to the poorest 30% (5.5 million). Aquino, like Arroyo, belongs to this 1% that monopolizes the country’s wealth.

Economic policies favor the ruling elite to which both Aquino and Arroyo belong. They use political power to prevent the redistribution of social wealth and accumulate more. The most glaring example is the Hacienda Luisita, which has been controlled by the family of the landlord President for more than half a century through deception and violence. Today, Aquino wants compensation from farmers his family has exploited to the hilt for decades before they can get the lands they have always owned.

To intensify

It will not always take the form of an Occupy or camp out, but objective conditions indicate that social unrest certainly will intensify. Long-term trends in social indicators show a worsening crisis that is the result of decades of flawed, pro-elite economic policy making.

Let us take a look, for instance, at the historical results of the surveys of the Social Weather Stations (SWS). From less than 10% in hunger incidence in the late 1990s, the portion of families that go hungry has jumped to more than 19% this year. Poverty remains unacceptably high at more than 54% this decade although it has declined from 61% during second half of the 1980s. From less than 10% in the last decade, unemployment has doubled to almost 20% in the 2000s.

Meanwhile, in the countryside, landlessness continues to worsen. Using official data from the last Census of Agriculture in 2002, farms not owned by tillers comprised almost 53% of the total number of farms. In the 1991 census, it was a smaller 42 percent. A similar trend is observed in terms of total area of farms. During the same period, the share of farms not owned by tillers deteriorated from 33% to 49 percent.

Symbols

The camp out is by no means the be-all and end-all in exposing Aquino and the deep-seated crisis of our backward politics and economy. But winning the “battle for Mendiola” is also crucial in terms of the symbolisms that occupying the bridge represents. First is the assertion of our democratic rights as Mendiola has long been a symbol of the people’s struggle against tyranny. Second is amid the global crisis, occupying a public space has become a powerful symbol in many countries to show the people’s disgust with the prevailing system that benefits only the few.

At any rate, the camp out is still a victory for the organizers. The police, through brutal force, may have succeeded in preventing the protesters from physically setting up their camp at Mendiola. But the activists succeeded in making the public see the current government’s low tolerance to mass actions for social justice, which is characteristic of elite, undemocratic governance. #