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. #


Aquino overstating gains from Corona conviction to hide own agenda

Aquino’s claim that the conviction of Corona proved that genuine change can be achieved is exaggerating the gains of the people from the impeachment trial. The road towards real reforms that will truly benefit our people remains obstructed by the narrow and self-serving economic and political agenda of those who wield power. (Photo from

President Benigno Aquino III, in his official statement, described the gains from the conviction of Renato Corona this way: “Ang pinakamalaking handog ng paglilitis na ito: Muli po nating napatunayan na posible palang makamit ang pagbabago. Posible palang magkaroon ng justice, at hindi puro “just-tiis” ang litanya sa ating bansa. Napatunayan nating mangingibabaw ang katotohanan, laban sa pagkukubli; mananaig ang tapat, laban sa tiwali; at magtatagumpay ang tama, laban sa mali.”

Aquino is overstating the people’s gains from the conviction of Corona. Obviously, he is doing so to conceal his own agenda in pushing for the ouster of the former Chief Justice from the Supreme Court (SC).

Contrary to Aquino’s declaration, the guilty verdict could not be simply translated as the triumph of justice over injustice or the victory of the righteous over the corrupt. For all their “daang matuwid” rhetoric, Aquino and his Liberal Party (LP) have their own selfish political and economic agenda in the conviction of Corona.

LP reign

One is control over the Judiciary. For every faction of the ruling elite that comes to Malacañang, the first important task is to consolidate its political power. From the onset, Aquino and the ruling LP have displayed control over the House of Representatives (HoR), proof of which were the swift impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in September 2010 and Corona in December 2011. (Gutierrez resigned in April 2011 even before the impeachment trial at the Senate could begin.) Another Arroyo appointee, SC Justice Mariano del Castillo, is also facing impeachment at the HoR. After an overwhelming 20-3 conviction of Corona, it appears that even the Senate is also heavily influenced by the Executive.

With Corona now out of the SC, Aquino can appoint his own choice of Chief Justice. The chilling effect of the ouster of Corona and the pending impeachment of del Castillo on other members of the High Court, particularly the appointees of Arroyo, ensures effective control by the President over the Judiciary. Right now, Aquino has three appointees in the SC – Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

It is important for Aquino and the LP to make certain that the Supreme Court will toe Malacañang’s line for a variety of reasons. Politically, the biggest reason is the continuity of the LP reign when Aquino’s term expires in 2016. As noted by columnist Rigoberto Tiglao, key to this is the presidential ambition of LP chief Mar Roxas, who ran but lost as Aquino’s running mate in the last polls.

Roxas has filed an electoral protest against Vice President Jejomar Binay before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), which is also the SC. To boost his chances of clinching the presidency in 2016, Roxas needs a much high profile role, so don’t be surprised if we soon find him sitting as the second highest official of the land.

The PET is now being chaired by acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who founded the notorious “The Firm”, which serves as Roxas’ counsel in his poll protest. Corona had identified Carpio, who had also wanted to become Chief Justice but was ignored by Arroyo in favor of Corona, and The Firm as one of the forces behind his impeachment.

Hacienda Luisita

Meanwhile, for Aquino, the ouster of Corona is sweet revenge for the latter’s role in the SC decision to dismantle the Hacienda Luisita. With the clear message sent to SC members by the removal of Corona, there is a very real risk that the High Court might soon undermine the favorable ruling obtained by the Luisita farmers and farmworkers.

Of particular concern is the possibility of reversing the decision of the SC to peg the payment at 1989 valuation and not the 2006 level being sought by the family of the President. Aquino himself has expressed publicly that his family deserves “just compensation” for Hacienda Luisita.

Note that when the SC decided the issue on just compensation, the result was a very close 8-6 in favor of the 1989 valuation. Note that among the six Justices that sided with Aquino’s family were Aquino’s appointees (Sereno, Reyes and Bernabe) plus del Castillo, who as mentioned is facing impeachment at the HoR.

Incidentally, since the impeachment complaint was filed against him in February, del Castillo has already voted twice in favor of Aquino. One is on just compensation in relation to Hacienda Luisita. The other is on the issue of Corona’s dollar accounts, where the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the Senate from examining the said accounts. Del Castillo along with Aquino’s appointees (except Reyes) and Carpio voted against the TRO.

Bungling cases vs. Gloria

In his speech, Aquino recalled the context of the impeachment complaint against Corona: “Alam na po natin ang malalim na pinagsamahan nila ni Ginang Arroyo. Simula pa lang kinuwestyon na natin ang kanyang midnight appointment dahil sa pananaw na labag ito sa Saligang Batas… Sa paglaon po, naging malinaw sa atin na imbis na siya mismong dapat nagbibigay-linaw sa batas, ang siyang nagpapalabo nito.”

Aquino claimed that had the ousted Chief Magistrate succeeded in allowing Arroyo to flee last year, the former President and now Pampanga congresswoman will just wait out the prescriptive period on the filing of charges against her to expire. It will be remembered that Arroyo tried to go abroad supposedly to seek medical treatment but was prevented by Department of Justice (DOJ), which also ignored the SC TRO on its travel ban.

But Aquino should be reminded that that it was his administration’s failure to promptly file the necessary cases against Arroyo that opened up opportunities for Arroyo’s scheme to leave the country. For more than 500 days, not a single case was filed by the Aquino administration. And when it was forced by the aborted escape of Arroyo, it lodged the weakest case – electoral sabotage in relation to the 2007 polls.

Now, there is even a danger that the court hearing this case will grant Arroyo’s petition to file bail after government prosecutors admitted that two key witnesses were supposedly missing. One of the missing is said to be the “star witness” who can pin down the former President. This is yet another indication how the Aquino administration is bungling the cases against Arroyo.

Questionable sincerity

Aquino’s sincerity to really go after Arroyo, her family and allies for plunder, electoral sabotage and human rights abuses has been questioned repeatedly. And despite the conviction of Corona, such doubt remains considering how the Aquino administration has been handling the issue of Arroyo’s accountability.

During the impeachment trial, for instance, the LP-led prosecution team diluted the issue of Corona’s collusion with Arroyo and focused on pounding the questionable Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) of Corona, which in the process also underscored the two-facedness of Senator Franklin Drilon, Congressman Niel Tupas and the rest of the noisy LP stalwarts who spearheaded the impeachment campaign.

Meanwhile, Aquino has remained mum on the issue of the anomalous 2004 elections (the “Hello Garci” scandal), where Arroyo’s role was more prominent. It has not filed any case on the atrocious human rights violations committed in the name of Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), the notorious military campaign of the Arroyo regime. It has not filed any case on the various corruption cases involving the Arroyo camp such as the botched $329-million NBN-ZTE deal.

Towards genuine change?

Aquino’s claim that the conviction of Corona proved that genuine change can be achieved is exaggerating the gains of the people from the impeachment trial. The road towards real reforms that will truly benefit our people remains obstructed by the narrow and self-serving economic and political agenda of those who wield power.

The guilty verdict does not in any way automatically assure that Arroyo and her cabal will be punished for their numerous crimes against the Filipino people in the nine and a half years that they held power. It does not in any way mean that systemic graft and corruption in the bureaucracy that have been draining the country of much needed resources for economic development and provision of social services will finally end.

It does not mean that the judiciary has been totally cleansed of crooks in robes that would merit the return of public trust in our courts. The poor still remain disadvantaged under the flawed justice system, which will continue to favor the rich and powerful even after Corona’s conviction. Sa presinto pa rin magpapaliwanag ang mahihirap at magpapalusot pa rin ang mayayaman.

Genuine and deep-seated reforms, to be sure, are not done overnight. Certainly, the ouster of Corona does not immediately translate to the political and economic changes that the people have long been aspiring and fighting for. But it is important to put the conviction of Corona in the proper perspective and reject the illusion and lies being peddled by Aquino and his spin doctors.

Thus, we need to be vigilant more than ever to ensure that whatever little victory the people earned from the conviction of Corona will surely translate to more meaningful gains for the people, including the conviction of Arroyo herself. With equal watchfulness, we must also keep an eye on and resist every step of the Aquino clique to consolidate its control over the bureaucracy for self-serving political and economic ends. #


Aquino could not hide worsening economic crisis and poverty behind Corona impeachment trial

Anti-Arroyo groups trooped to the Senate on the opening day of Corona's impeachment trial.

Cause-oriented groups yesterday (Jan. 16) marked the opening of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Renato Corona with a mass action near the Senate. Among those present was political satirist Mae Paner who came as Jus-tiis Juana Change (see video below). Activists deem the conviction of Corona a positive step in making Mrs. Gloria Arroyo accountable for her many abuses. But they are also warning against a possible scheme by President Benigno S. Aquino III to control the judiciary for selfish political and economic ends.

It is important to note that the ongoing impeachment trial of Corona is also happening amid a very real threat of global recession. Given the amount of national attention that is being devoted to this historic trial, which could last for several months, there are valid fears that the country might be caught flatfooted when the impact of the global economic contraction kicks in. But beyond government’s and the media’s apparent preoccupation with Corona’s impeachment trial, there are more fundamental reasons why we should be anxious. For one, the Aquino administration has not put in place an emergency program to ease the blow of the looming recession, much less reorient the economy to substantially address its external vulnerabilities.

(For more discussion on the latest economic situation and global prospects, read here and here)

Meanwhile, the people continue to be impoverished by the defective policies of deregulation and privatization. We greeted the New Year with fresh hikes in deregulated oil prices and privatized water rates. More increases are forthcoming in the costs of petroleum, toll, transportation, power, etc. Social services for the poor like health, education, and housing continue to be undermined with insufficient allocations in the 2012 budget, which as usual prioritized debt servicing as well as the public-private partnership (PPP) program. Violent demolitions of urban poor communities (such as in Corazon de Jesus in San Juan) amid lack of sustainable relocation, and the privatization and commercialization of public schools and hospitals further aggravate the plight of the people. The youth-led Mendiola campout last month tried to highlight these economic issues and engage the Aquino administration but was aggressively suppressed by security forces.

In a paper entitled “It’s the economy, student”, Arroyo also tried to draw attention to the deteriorating economic situation under her successor, claiming that Aquino squandered the supposed gains achieved by the economy during her nine-year reign. But reading the paper, the only accurate assertion made by Arroyo is when she said that Aquino “has simply not replaced my legacy with new ideas and actions of his own”. Indeed, Aquino merely continued Arroyo’s anti-people and anti-development legacy of heavy dependence on exports and foreign capital and markets; high prices and depressed wages; lack of social services and privatization; unemployment, job insecurity, and labor export; indebtedness and debt servicing; lack of genuine land reform; dole-outs, etc. that deepen the poverty of our people and backwardness of the economy.

(Read more on the economic legacy of Gloria Arroyo here)

Amid all this, there are legitimate concerns that the impeachment trial will just be used by Malacañang to distract the public and conceal its inability, or unwillingness, to address the pressing economic issues facing the people. It does not help that the degree of coverage that mainstream media is giving the trial tends to displace many important issues such as developments in the global economy, its impact on the country, what government intends to do about it, etc.

But while the mainstream media tend to focus more on the impeachment trial, an overwhelming portion of the population continues to feel strongly about the economy. The latest (Nov. 2011) Pulse Asia survey on the state of the economy shows that 8 out of 10 Filipinos feel that the economy either did not improve or deteriorated compared to the previous year. The said survey also indicates that economic issues remain the biggest source of the people’s disenchantment with Aquino, and the more bad news for the government is that this trend is worsening. Those who feel that the economy deteriorated more than doubled from 16% (Oct. 2010) to 38 percent (Nov. 2011). The disapproval rating of Aquino in terms of reducing poverty worsened from 21% in May 2011 to 36% in November 2011; on job creation (from 11 to 21%); on prices/inflation (from 21 to 37%); and on wage hike (14 to 25%).

Indeed, as much as the people long to make Arroyo and her minions accountable for their many crimes, the Aquino administration could not hope that the public would be forever distracted by the ongoing impeachment trial. Unless real reforms are implemented soon, even the conviction of Corona and Arroyo could not bail out the weakening popularity and legitimacy of the Aquino administration. #