COVID-19, Labor & employment, Poverty

Among ASEAN countries, income woes most severe, economic aid most lacking in PH

Photo: George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Among all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the impact of the pandemic on incomes is worst in the Philippines. The even more dreadful news is that the Duterte administration is providing the least resources for economic aid to support affected workers and other vulnerable sectors.

Based on a recent survey by the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), 67% of Filipino households saw their income drop by more than 25% due to the pandemic. Indonesia ranked second with 64% of households and Malaysia, the lowest, with 40 percent. The ADBI study was published in March 2021.

Further breaking down the data, more Filipino households also suffered the steepest declines in income during the pandemic than any of our ASEAN neighbors. About 21% of Filipino households had their income fall by more than 75 percent. Three countries (Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand) had 11% of their households experience such decline in incomes during the pandemic; Vietnam posted the lowest with four percent. Similarly, an income decline of more than 50% was felt by 41% of Filipino households; Indonesia is a far second with 27% of households while Vietnam recorded the lowest with 15 percent.

The ADBI survey also noted that in the ASEAN overall, the income class of household on average is not related to the likelihood of experiencing a decline in income. This suggests that the pandemic affects the income of all households regardless of their economic status before the pandemic. But the trend is different in the Philippines where households in the lower-income classes are more likely to have income declines than those in the upper-income classes. This means that the fall in income in the Philippines described above was a phenomenon mainly felt by the poorer households.

Consequently, the Philippines also ranked first in the region in terms of households that experience financial difficulty during the pandemic. About 85% of Filipino households indicated in the ADBI survey that they were having financial difficulty; Indonesia followed with 84% while Myanmar ranked the lowest at 27 percent. 

Obviously, the poorer the household, the greater the likelihood of financial difficulty during the pandemic. This however is more felt in the Philippines than in any other countries in the region. In ASEAN overall, the average difference in the likelihood to get into financial difficulty between the richest group and the poorest group is 20 percentage points. But in the Philippines, the difference is a huge 40 percentage points, the worst in the region. 

More than half of Filipino households or 51.8% said that if they lose all of their income sources, their resources to cover daily needs could only last up to two weeks. It is the second worst to Indonesia which had a staggering 86.6% of households saying that their resources will not last for more than two weeks. About 73.2% of households in the Philippines will not last beyond a month; 87.3% will not last beyond three months.

These numbers summarize the economic hardship experienced by millions of households when lockdowns are implemented. The ADBI study illustrates how such suffering is more severe for poor households in the Philippines compared to other ASEAN countries. 

According to government data, 9.1 million workers lost their job between March 2020 and February 2021. Of this number, 2.2 million remain jobless up to this day, adding to the current number of unemployed which stands at 4.2 million based on official data. 

The actual extent of unemployment could be much widespread than what government numbers show. For instance, based on surveys of the Social Weather Stations (SWS), the number of jobless adults averaged 21.2 million in 2020. In 2019, the average was 9.3 million which indicates that the number of jobless swelled by 11.9 million during the pandemic. 

Nonetheless, latest available official unemployment data again show the Philippines as the most impacted by the pandemic. As of February 2021, the unemployment rate among Filipino workers is pegged at 8.8% and was at 8.7% in January. In Indonesia, unemployment rate is at 7.1% (August 2020); Malaysia, 4.8% (December); Vietnam, 2.5% (December); and Thailand, 1.9% (December).

With the reimposition of lockdowns, Filipino households face more miseries. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) said that lockdowns cost PHP 700 million to PHP 2.1 billion in lost wages every day. Government economic managers also expect unemployment rate to remain at almost twice the pre-pandemic levels up to 2022. 

Sadly, the Philippine government also allocates the scantiest resources for economic support to those impacted by the pandemic. Based on the COVID-19 policy tracker of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Duterte administration’s fiscal package for vulnerable individuals and groups is equivalent to 3.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The package includes cash aid program for low-income households and social protection measures for vulnerable workers, including displaced and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

In contrast, Thailand’s package of support for its workers, farmers, and other vulnerable sectors, including subsidies for daily household needs like water and electricity is about 9.6% of its GDP. Indonesia allotted an equivalent of 4.4% of its GDP for assistance schemes to its low-income households, for unemployment benefits and tax relief. Malaysia’s stimulus package is around 4.3% of its GDP, intended for cash transfers to low-income households, wage subsidies, electricity subsidies, etc. Even Vietnam allocated a higher 3.6% of its GDP for cash transfers, deferred tax payments, etc.

Duterte, in a leaked memo, instructed all government media platforms “to carry regular updates about the world data on COVID-19, specifically to convey to the public that the Philippines is faring better than many countries in addressing the pandemic”. The order is an attempt to counter the widespread criticism on government’s inadequate response to the crisis, but it merely further exposed Duterte’s incompetence. 

Because no matter how government spins the data, the deteriorating situation on the ground confirms what the numbers show – that the Philippines has among the worst levels and suffers the gravest impacts of the pandemic; and that government response is among the most inadequate and failed. ###

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Poverty

Counting the poor, measuring poverty

SWS poverty

Just before the Holy Week break, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the country’s poverty incidence dropped to 16.1% of families in the first half of 2018 from 22.2% during the same period in 2015. Among individuals, the poverty incidence fell to 21% from 27.6 percent. This supposedly means that the Duterte administration is on track to meet its target of lifting one million Filipinos from poverty every year.

Absurdly low threshold

Expectedly, government’s claim of improved poverty situation has been met with strong criticisms, not to mention ridicule, from various sectors. The biggest flak remains the absurdly low threshold that the PSA continues to use to count the number of poor Filipinos. For the first half of 2018, the poverty threshold was pegged at Php10,481 per month, which for government represents the minimum amount that a family of five needs to be considered not poor.

That threshold translates to a measly sum of Php69.87 per person per day. As state statisticians try in vain to defend the methodology that produced their preposterous poverty threshold, the simple challenge from the incredulous public is for government officials to live off Php70 a day.

Malacañang officials did not accept the challenge, and instead argued that poverty is a matter of lifestyle. “Depende sa lifestyle nung kumakain. Kasi kapag tanungin mo iyon mahirap, sabihin niya, asin lang. Magdidildil kami ng asin, nakakakain na kami,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo was quoted as saying when asked if a family can survive on the PSA threshold.

And there’s the rub. For government, poverty is an issue of lifestyle, not based on any reasonable or acceptable standard of income and consumption, and of access to adequate social services such as health, education and shelter. If a household can survive on salt, then Php70 for each of the family members must be enough.

But the idea of measuring poverty is not simply to count how many are poor. Ultimately, it is about ensuring, as a matter of policy, that people achieve a decent living to become not poor. Decent living thus is not an issue of lifestyle but creating, among other things, enough economic opportunities and a conducive social environment for people to afford life’s basic necessities and achieve a certain level of comfort in a sustainable way. Any poverty threshold should be set based on such standard and principle.

Need for higher standards

At the global level, there are already many studies that attempt to define the quality and quantity of decent living. These efforts are in response to the deemed inadequacy of existing global standards in measuring poverty such as World Bank’s US$1.90 per capita poverty threshold (the International Poverty Line or IPL) based on 2011 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). In macroeconomic theory, PPP compares different countries’ currencies through a “basket of goods” approach.

In Philippine peso, a US$1.90 PPP poverty line translates to an even lower threshold of Php40.20 in 2015, according to World Bank calculations. The PSA’s annual per capita poverty threshold in 2015 (full-year) was Php21,753 or Php59.60 per day.

Much like the PSA, World Bank is widely criticized for systematically understating the extent of global poverty by using a low poverty line. Partially acknowledging the criticisms, World Bank for the first time presented alternative and higher poverty lines (i.e., at US$3.20 per day for lower-middle income countries such as the Philippines and at US$5.50 per day for upper-middle income countries) in its latest (2018) annual global poverty report.

But the adjustments still fall way short in depicting a more realistic picture of poverty. For instance, World Bank standard of US$3.20 PPP poverty line for the Philippines as a lower-middle income country translates to just about Php67.80 in 2015.

Nonetheless, the magnitude of poverty among the population increases significantly even with insignificant increases in the poverty line. To illustrate, 21.93 million Filipinos fell below the PSA poverty threshold of Php59.60 in 2015. With an additional eight pesos to match World Bank’s new poverty line for countries like the Philippines (i.e., Php67.80 in 2015), the number of poor swells by almost six million to 27.5 million Filipinos.

Imagine then the impact of a truly meaningful upward adjustment in poverty lines in terms of measuring the real magnitude of poverty. Just by way of illustrating this point, look at the number of poor people worldwide using World Bank’s poverty lines for low-income countries (i.e., US$1.90) and upper-middle income countries (i.e., US$5.50). At US$1.90, the number of poor people in 2015 by World Bank calculations was only 10% of global population (736 million people); but at US$5.50, poverty incidence rises to 46% of global population (almost 3.4 billion people).

Cost of decent living

So, what should be the higher standard with which to measure if Filipinos are poor or not? Concretely, how much is the cost decent living? Duterte’s economic managers apparently know that current official poverty threshold does not allow a family to afford a life out of poverty, much less a decent living.

Remember when the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) came under fire last year for reportedly claiming that Php10,000 is enough budget for a family of five to survive? The ruckus forced Duterte’s socioeconomic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia to give an estimate on how much a family would actually need to live decently – i.e., Php42,000 a month.

Pernia, of course, would later clarify that the Php42,000 is “not official NEDA figures” and was just “top of mind”, aware of the implications on government’s wage policy. But that amount was not pulled out of thin air. The NEDA chief said he came up with the figure based on the assumption that there are two people working in the family and each earns at least Php21,000 a month. It approximates the average family monthly income of about Php23,000, based on the latest (2017) Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS) of the PSA.

Using Php21,000 to Php23,000 as proxy for the cost of decent living, how do Filipino families measure up in terms of income? Based on the 2017 APIS, 70% of Filipino families are earning below Php22,500 a month. Put another way, seven out of every 10 Filipino families fail to meet the “cost of decent living”. This is a far cry from the two out of every 10 families that the PSA counts as poor.

Other ways of measuring poverty

Family income is actually just one aspect of measuring poverty. Decent living is only completely achieved if a family has sufficient access to basic services such as education, housing, health, utilities, transportation, etc. as well as provision for rest and recreation and savings for emergency expenses. While a substantial income will allow a family to meet most of these basic needs, availability of infrastructure and provision of state support is also equally crucial.

As a consequence of lack of sufficient income and of an even greater lack of public investments, a significant portion of Filipino families are deprived of these basic services. According to the 2017 APIS, 33% of those in school age (i.e., 3 to 24 years old) from all families are not attending school; 39.8% of them cited high cost of education or financial concern and need to look for work as reasons for not attending school. Also, only 10.9% of all family members finished college while only 19.5% finished high school. For the poorest 30% of families, only 1.9% finished college and 15.4% finished high school.

Almost half (49.4%) of Filipino families do not have access to individual or household taps (i.e., piped into dwelling) and get their water from unsafe sources including public taps, wells, springs, etc. About 78% of the poorest 30% of families get their water from sources other than individual or household taps. Meanwhile, 95.4% of all families do not have access to pipe/sewer system; for the poorest 30%, 97.8% do not have access to such sanitation facility. Some 35.8% of all families have houses (i.e., walls) built from light and salvaged materials; for the poorest 30%, it is at 61.1 percent.

Aside from these indicators of access to and deprivation of basic needs, another way of measuring poverty is to ask the people if they feel they are poor such as the regular self-rated poverty survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS). In its latest quarterly survey (Dec 16-19, 2018), SWS reported that 50% of Filipino families consider themselves poor. That’s equivalent to an estimated 11.6 million poor families.

The SWS itself pointed out that the results of its self-rated poverty surveys are consistent with the easing trend in poverty (but obviously not in terms of scale) indicated in the official PSA survey (i.e. comparing the first half of 2015 to the first half of 2018). But looking at the trend between the two periods actually shows a deteriorating poverty situation that could only be explained by the policies Duterte implemented which directly impacted people’s income such as the TRAIN Law and the high inflation it triggered.

Using SWS self-rated poverty surveys, poverty appears to be worsening under President Duterte. In the first half of 2016 (or the immediate period before Duterte assumed power), there was an estimated average of 10.4 million families that count themselves as poor. The number declined to 9.7 million families in the second half of 2016 but climbed to 10.6 million families in full year 2017 (or average of the four SWS quarterly surveys) and further to 11.2 million in full year 2018.

Thus, based on these estimates, the number of poor families that consider themselves poor increased by an estimated 800,000 under the Duterte administration – from 10.4 million in first half 2016 to 11.2 million in 2018.

That’s equivalent to about four million additional poor people. Instead of lifting one million people out of poverty annually based on its target, the Duterte administration apparently is pushing almost two million people to poverty every year. ###

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Consumer issues, Economy, Poverty

The curious case of NEDA’s Php10,000

NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) did not say that a family of five could live decently with Php10,000 a month, according to Rappler’s “Fact-Check”. End of debate?

Actually no. While NEDA may not have directly referred to the Php10,000 as enough for decent living, the whole issue is what the amount of Php10,000 represents.

That “hypothetical” amount – the budget of an average Filipino family, said NEDA – was in fact based on the official poverty threshold fora family of five (i.e., Php9,140 as of first semester 2015, latest official data).

The PSA (Philippine Statistics Authority) defines poverty threshold this way:

“Food threshold is the minimum income required to meet basic food needs and satisfy the nutritional requirements set by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) to ensure that one remains economically and socially productive. Poverty threshold is a similar concept, expanded to include basic non-food needs such as clothing, housing, transportation, health, and education expenses).”

For the government, that is around Php10,000.

And there lies the problem. Using the ridiculously low poverty threshold as reference to show that the impact of high inflation and the TRAIN law on ordinary households is tolerable highlights the basic flaw of government’s appreciation of the true extent of poverty in general and of the impact soaring prices and regressive taxes in particular. #

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Fiscal issues, Oil deregulation, Poverty

Bangis ng buwis sa langis

Alam ba ninyong mula nang i-deregulate ang industriya ng langis sa bansa at patawan ng mga dagdag na buwis, apat hanggang limang ulit na mas mabilis ang pagtaas ng presyo ng diesel at gasolina kumpara sa bilis ng pagtaas ng minimum wage ng mga manggagawa?

Pero para kay President Duterte at mga alipores n’yang neoliberal, hindi pa sapat ang kalbaryong ito ng mamamayan.

Dobleng-dagok pa ang hinaharap natin ngayong linggo sa taas-presyo ng mga produktong petrolyo.

Unang dagok – muling nagtaas ng presyo ang mga kumpanya ng langis dahil pa rin daw sa galaw ng presyo sa world market. Sa lumabas na report sa media, nasa 80 centavos per liter ang OPH (oil price hike) sa gasolina, 55 centavos sa diesel, at 55 centavos sa kerosene.

Deregulated ang industriya ng langis sa bansa. Awtomatiko ang pagbabago sa presyo linggo-linggo sa mga gasolinahan para raw i-reflect ang galaw ng presyo sa world market. Ito ang ikatlong sunod na linggo ng OPH sa pagsisimula ng “ma-Digong bagong” taon natin.

Pangalawang dagok – inaasahang ipatutupad na ngayong linggo ang excise tax sa langis sa ilalim ng TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion). Sa naunang pahayag ng DOE (Department of Energy), nasa Php2.97 per liter ang OPH sa gasolina, Php2.80 sa diesel, at Php3.30 sa kerosene – kasama ang 12% VAT (value-added tax).

Ibig sabihin, aabot ang big time OPH sa Php3.77 per liter sa gasolina; Php3.35 sa diesel; at Php3.85 sa kerosene sa pinagsamang impact ng TRAIN at deregulasyon.

Kung tutuusin, doble ang kubra ng gobyerno sa langis dahil sa TRAIN. Pasok sa kwenta ng VAT sa presyo ng langis ang excise tax (at iba pang buwis) sa iniimport na petrolyo. Dahil itataas ng TRAIN ang excise tax, tataas din ang koleksyon mula sa VAT sa langis. Syempre pa, lahat ng ito ay papasanin ng publiko.

Napakabigat nito lalo na para sa mahihirap nating kababayan na direktang tatamaan ang kabuhayan. Halimbawa, sa isang iglap, ang gastos sa langis ng isang tsuper ng jeep ay lolobo nang lampas Php100 sa maghapong pasada (batay sa konsumo na 30 liters ng diesel). Ang gastos ng mangingisda sa balikang byahe sa laot ay tataas nang halos Php38 (sa konsumo na 10 liters ng gasolina).

Pambili na sana ito ng isa hanggang tatlong kilo ng bigas (Php27 per kilo na regular NFA rice o Php37 na regular commercial rice) pero kukunin pa ng gobyerno sa mga pamilyang hindi na nga halos makahinga sa pagsisikip ng sinturon.

Pero ang bad news pa, karugtong ng OPH ang pagtaas ng iba pang bayarin. Sa leeg na yata ng mahihirap gustong ilagay ng pamahalaan ang pinahigpit na sinturon. Samantala, ang mga super yaman, may discount pa para sa kanilang luho sa ilalim ng TRAIN.

Bago pa ang TRAIN ni Digong, matagal na tayong pinahihirapan ng deregulasyon at ng buwis sa langis. Nagsimula ang deregulasyon noong 1996. Kung ikukumpara ang kanilang real prices (adjusted for inflation) ngayon at noong simula ng deregulasyon, lampas-doble na ang presyo ng gasolina at diesel.

Ang estimated increase ng real price ng diesel sa pagitan ng 1996 at 2018 ay nasa 131% habang sa gasolina naman ay 118 percent. Sa parehong panahon, ang real wage ng mga minimum na sahurang manggagawa sa Metro Manila ay lumaki lamang ng 27 percent.

Pumatong sa halos lingguhang OPH sa deregulasyon ang mga pabigat na buwis gaya ng naunang excise tax na ipinataw sa mga produktong petrolyo noong 1996; ang 12% VAT (value-added tax) noong 2005; at ngayong taon, itong dagdag na excise tax dahil sa TRAIN. (Tingnan ang chart sa taas)

Sabi dati, “matira matibay”. Pero sa ilalim ni Digong at ng kanyang mabangis na buwis sa langis, “matira mayaman”. #

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Human rights, Poverty

#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. ###

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Economy, Labor & employment, Poverty, SONA 2014

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? ###

 

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Economy, Governance, Labor & employment, Poverty

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

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Poverty, SONA 2012

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)

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Economy, Poverty

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. #

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Economy, Human rights, Poverty

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)

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