As extended lockdown begins: Gov’t response stalled, stingy despite millions of Filipinos in need

by IBON Media

At the end of the original month-long lockdown period and on the first day of its extension, research group IBON said that the government is still failing to give millions of poor and vulnerable Filipinos the socioeconomic relief they need.

Poor households have struggled to survive four weeks of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and will only endure greater difficulties during the two-week extension.

The Duterte administration needs to let go of its burdensome bureaucratic requirements, increase funding, and expedite getting help to all families in need, said the group.

The Duterte administration released the third report on its COVID-19 response as required under the Bayanihan Heal as One Act or Republic Act (RA) 11469 which granted Pres. Duterte emergency powers.

IBON said that millions of Filipinos are still not getting relief despite these emergency powers, even measured against the administration’s already low targets.

The group noted that no additional beneficiaries were given emergency subsidies since the 3.7 million reported last week.

This is only one-fifth or 21% of the 18 million low-income families targeted by the government.

They also only received an average of Php4,391 which is barely half the maximum Php8,000 the government promised.

Meanwhile, the number of workers and informal earners that received financial assistance has increased but this is still way below the millions of displaced workers and informal earners as per IBON estimates.

IBON said that the number of workers assisted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) increased by only 79,553 to 167, 491, which is just 1.7% of 10.7 million workers.

The number of informal workers assisted went up by only 62,152 to 118,086, or only 2.3% of 5.2 million non-agricultural informal earners.

Emergency subsidies were also provided to 40,418 drivers at Php8,000 each through a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Land Transportation and Franchising Board (LTFRB) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP).

But this is just 9% of the 435,000 drivers targeted for assistance under the MOA, said the group.

IBON also noted that some farmers have finally received cash assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The agency reported giving Php5,000 each in unconditional cash transfers to 319,489 farmer beneficiaries.

However, this is only 3.3% of the IBON-estimated 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk needing assistance.

IBON said that the unambitious targets as well as snail-paced and measly socioeconomic response into the fifth week of lockdown only affirms government’s continued indifference and negligence, especially towards the poorest and most vulnerable.

More and more Filipino families will be pushed into deeper poverty under the COVID-19 lockdown if government does not speed up and significantly expand socioeconomic relief and response to reach all those needing assistance, said the group. #

Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Less than 1/3 of 18M beneficiaries reached: Gov’t should expedite socioecon response under extended lockdown

by IBON Media

Nearly four weeks into the government’s military lockdown and especially with the two-week extension, research group IBON said that emergency relief measures are still too slow and too small.

The group said that millions of poor and vulnerable families are facing unnecessary difficulty in meeting their basic needs under the lockdown. The government needs to show greater political will and do away with bureaucratic obstacles to relief efforts.

The Duterte administration recently declared the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) of the entire Luzon island until April 30. This is supposed to help contain the spread of COVID-19 as well as give government more time to beef up its public health response and prepare for a post-lockdown scenario.

IBON pointed out however that government socioeconomic relief efforts are snail-paced and inadequate.

The group said that if the administration remains indifferent and does not step up its response, the difficult situation of millions of vulnerable families will worsen under the extended lockdown.

IBON estimates 14.5 million dislocated workers and informal earners, and up to 7.5 million low-income families are vulnerable to shocks to their livelihood just in Luzon.

The government acknowledged that the poorest 18 million households in the country need assistance.

Based on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s most recent report to Congress, the group noted that only Php26.3 billion has been spent on COVID-19 response so far.

This is just 9.6% of its supposed Php275 billion budget for dealing with the pandemic.

IBON interpreted budget items in the president’s report as detailing plans for the Php275 billion response.

For socioeconomic relief, only the following was reported spent: Php63 million (55.3%) of Php114 million allocated for emergency packs, and Php22.7 billion (14.7%) of Php154.8 billion for cash transfers, financial assistance and pensions.

IBON said that millions of poor households, workers and informal earners have yet to be assisted. Only 190,217 food packs were distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The group noted that the president’s report confusingly mentioned cash transfers to 3.7 million “beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” and also to 1.2 million “Conditional Cash Transfer beneficiaries of the DSWD”.

In any case, this is at most 20-27% of government’s targeted 18 million beneficiaries.

They reportedly received an average of Php4,400-5,000 each in cash and non-cash subsidies under the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP).

There was no report of financial assistance given to indigent senior citizens.

Only 88,388 workers received Php5,000 in financial assistance under the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

This is just 0.8% of 10.7 million workers in formal establishments nationwide. Only 55,934 informal workers became work-for-pay beneficiaries of DOLE’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) programs and received financial assistance (at an average of Php3,121 each).

This is just 1% of up to 5.2 million non-agricultural informal earners nationwide.

Meanwhile, 357,614 farmers and fisherfolk supposedly received financial assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA) but no figures were provided.

This is just 3.7% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk.

IBON said that the government should waste no time in ensuring the socioeconomic needs of the poorest and most vulnerable Filipinos who are increasingly challenged to cope with the extended lockdown.

The government can immediately implement urgent socioeconomic interventions such as substantial provision of emergency relief packages, unconditional cash transfers, wage subsidiesand financial assistance, among others, said the group. #

(Kodao reposts IBON.org articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.)

Duterte report shows govt COVID-19 response is insufficient, insensitive

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that that the Duterte administration’s first official report on COVID-19 efforts only underscored just how government response to the worst public health crisis the country has ever faced is slow, insufficient, and insensitive.

The group said that the report failed to show clearly what the government’s plan is and even just what is being done.

Pres. Duterte submitted to Congress the first official report on COVID-19 response efforts. These weekly reports are required under the Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and are supposed to monitor how the emergency powers granted to the president are utilized. 

The reports should include all response actions carried out by the president in the preceding week, as well as an accounting of the funds used for these. The report submitted, however, covered efforts since the start of the military lockdown.

IBON said that it is now the third week of the lockdown, and the report exposed how government efforts are slow, insufficient and leave out much-needed measures particularly towards bolstering the health sector and urgent socioeconomic relief.

It also showed government’s insensitivity to overwhelmed and unprotected health workers, and millions of Filipinos left with little or no means to meet their families’ basic needs during the lockdown.

As of Tuesday, March 31, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 2,084 with 88 dead from 138 cases and 12 dead as of March 15.

Undermanned and overburdened hospitals strain health workers and unduly exposed them to COVID-19. The Philippine Medical Association has already reported 17 doctors dying while battling the virus.

The government has already acknowledged the poorest 18 million households in the country needing assistance.

Meanwhile, IBON estimates 14.5 million dislocated workers and informal earners, and up to 7.5 million low-income families vulnerable to shocks to their livelihood just in Luzon.

IBON said that government measures to bolster health response and protection for health workers are severely lacking. The report only mentioned the Bureau of Customs (BOC) releasing just 48 boxes of personal protective equipment (PPE), six ventilators, and 97,600 test kits.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) produced 500,000 face masks.

The group noted that the report did not mention such critical tasks like increasing the number of health workers and mass testing. It did not include giving any additional hazard pay, setting up isolation or quarantine facilities, and medical assistance for indigent patients.

Apart from mentioning six ventilators, nothing else was said about expanding facilities and equipment for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, said the group.

With regard to socioeconomic relief measures, IBON said that this is coming down in trickles if at all to the most vulnerable Filipino families. Based on the report, the group noted that of the 18 million households that government acknowledged as needing assistance: only 0.04% (6,314 beneficiaries) received cash, food, and non-food aid from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), while only 1.1% received 194,467 food packs prepared for maybe two to three days.

There was also no mention of emergency support for the 5.6 million senior citizens nationwide.

Meanwhile, millions of Filipinos whose livelihoods and earnings have been affected are also neglected.

IBON noted that only 8,641 or just 0.08% of the up to 10.7 million affected workers nationwide received Php5,000 in COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) financial assistance under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Only 51,293 or just 1% of up to 5.2 million affected informal earners nationwide became beneficiaries of DOLE’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) work-for-pay programs.

However, there was no report of any financial assistance given by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk.

IBON said that the lack of or minimal efforts on COVID-19 crisis shown in Pres. Duterte’s first official report bodes ill for the country. It only reflects the disorganized, confusing and chaotic government response so far.

The group said that the pandemic in the country can be contained and overcome if the government replaces its militarist population control-biased approach.

Its measures should instead prioritize virus tracking and surveillance, substantially build the public health system, and address the socioeconomic needs of the population, especially the most vulnerable.

Immediate steps can include health interventions such as mass testing and monitoring, and substantial provision of PPE and other support for health frontliners. Urgent socioeconomic interventions can include the immediate and substantial provision of emergency relief packages, unconditional cash transfers, wage subsidies, and financial assistance, among others, said the group. #

(Kodao reposts IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.)

The shady side of POGOs

by Jose Lorenzo Lim

Walking around the Taft area one night, I thought I was in an extension of Chinatown. A drove of Chinese nationals exited a condominium, heading towards some big white vans. They didn’t look like part of a tour group since they were millennials with only their phones attached to them. On the sides of the vans were the logos of a company, “GenX Sports”.

When I got home, I searched the net about “GenX Sports” and found that it was a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to operate in the country. These Chinese nationals were POGO workers. But isn’t gambling illegal in China? Not necessarily.

The real deal

When the communist party of China took charge in 1949, they made gambling illegal. Fast forward to today though, the Chinese participate in the state-run welfare lottery set up in 1987 and the sport lottery established in 1994. Tickets can be bought at outlets starting at two yuan with a jackpot capped at 10 million yuan.

If Chinese mainlanders want to participate in other forms of gambling, they have the choice to either fly to Macao or Hong Kong or just set up a virtual private network (VPN) to participate in online gambling sites which are run in the Philippines.

In 2019, however, China imposed stricter policies on online gambling in Macao where most offshore gambling by mainlanders is done. Hence, operators sought to set up online gambling elsewhere, like in Cambodia and the Philippines, which both have lax online gambling policies. In a hearing of the House Committee on Games and Amusements last December 2019, PAGCOR reported licensing 62 POGO operators, up from the 57 reported in September 2019. Of the 62 licensed POGO operators, 49 are operating, 13 are non-operating, and 10 are said to be paying taxes to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

With the increase of operators setting up shop in the Philippines, you would think the government is milking the POGO phenomenon by generating lots of revenue through taxes. But it turns out that this isn’t the case. Out of the Php50 billion in revenues expected from POGOs, only Php5 billion or just 10% of these revenues have been remitted to the government.

Aside from the non-remittance of taxes, there has been alleged proliferation of prostitution and sex trafficking in connection with the POGO industry. Sex dens were recently raided by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) with POGO workers reportedly serving as the clientele. Sex workers have been rescued from these dens with some said to have been located in luxury hotels and condos in Pasay City.

New level of shady

Another aspect of POGOs is abuse and forced labor of workers. In a Senate hearing to investigate illegal activities in the POGO industry, a Taiwanese national said that she was abused and held against her will by her employers. Her employer would occasionally namedrop a “powerful” man in the government – Michael Yang – who is said to be supporting POGOs.

The most prominent Michael Yang in the Philippine government is the Chinese national who served as Duterte’s former economic adviser. Objectively speaking, Philippine presidents hiring foreign economic advisers has been done before. Former president Gloria Arroyo once hired an American consultancy firm for US$75,000 a month. Moreover, the advisers encourage investments from the country they come from. The American consultancy firm Arroyo hired targeted American investors. As Duterte’s economic adviser, Michael Yang may have benefited by targeting Chinese investors for his business.

But who is Michael Yang? Yang is a businessman in Davao who set up shop in the bustling city through DCLA. DCLA is a mall with various discounted items similar to 168 mall in Divisoria. This is how Duterte got to know Yang. Yang was put into the spotlight after Eduardo Acierto, a former member of the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG), accused him of having links to the Johnson Chua drug syndicate. As a friend of Yang’s, this also linked President Duterte to the drug trade. Acierto said that Yang, known for his alias “Dragon” owing to the supposed tattoo on his shoulder and arm (see photo), was allegedly involved in “facilitating drug shipments”. Duterte, in one of his speeches, even said that Michael Yang is close to former Chinese ambassador Zhao Jian Hua, whom Yang often accommodated at his residence in Davao.

Photo taken from the Facebook account of a certain “Micheal Yang“. (Through IBON)

Yang has other businesses such as Fu De Sheng in China that has a Philippine counterpart called Philippines Full Win Group of Companies Incorporated.  It offers services such as property leasing, processing of work and tourist visas, logistics, and international trading. Is it merely coincidental then that Full Win’s services seem beneficial to POGOs? Or does he himself own a POGO?

Michael Yang together with Duterte is a whole new level of shady. Not only does Yang have alleged links to the drug trade, he has also been accused of abusing POGO workers.

Isn’t it weird that we absorbed offshore gambling operations here in the Philippines but in return we only got reports of criminality and non-remittance of taxes? Do the benefits of POGOs outweigh its costs? Probably not. #

(JOSE LORENZO LIM is a researcher at IBON Foundation. His research topics include Build, Build, Build, the oil industry, and social services. Prior to IBON, he served as Editor-in-Chief of the UPLB Perspective for the academic year 2016-2017. When not in the office, Jose Lorenzo enjoys writing with his fountain pens and trying out new ink.)

(Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.)

Wake me up before you POGO

By Jose Lorenzo Lim

The BPO (business process outsourcing) industry was booming in the early 2000s where it helped revive the Philippine economy. In terms of revenues, BPOs registered a revenue growth rate of 43% in the period of 2005-2009 (annual average). The government has relied on the BPO industry for economic growth but even that is slowing down as seen in the decline of BPO investments in the country.

The slowdown may be attributed to other countries offering better incentives for BPOs such as tax cuts. The IBPAP (Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines) stated that the cost of operating Philippine BPOs is more expensive than India by 17 percent. IBPAP estimates that the BPO industry will mature in 2022. 

A 2012 report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has raised concerns on the BPO industry saying that it was the fastest growing sector from 2005 to 2012 but only took in one percent of the labor force.

But now, the government seems to be replacing BPOs with Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) as the future of the services sector.

The POGO matrix

POGOs are online gambling companies set up in the country but catering to mainland Chinese gamblers. To be a licensed POGO, one must apply for a license at the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR). Operators can either be a Philippine-based or a foreign-based operator.

A Philippine-based operator has to present a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) registration to acquire a license, while a foreign-based operator would need to partner with a local gaming agent from the Philippines. Aside from other documentary requirements the application fee for a POGO can range from US$120,000 to US$500,000. This needs to be renewed every three years wherein the same fee is still paid.  The local agent of the foreign-based operator also pays an application fee of around US$60,000.

Aside from the POGO itself, service providers also need to be licensed. These provide customer relations, live studio and streaming, gaming software/platform, IT support, and strategic support services to POGOs. Depending on what kind they are, service providers also have to register with PAGCOR with application fees ranging from US$30,000 to US$150,000.

There are currently 58 POGO operators registered with PAGCOR and 218 service providers. Preliminary data from PAGCOR reports 87,054 POGO employees in the country as of September 2019. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), using data from various government agencies, reports 108,914 POGO employees in the country.

The government earns a lot from application fees paid by POGOs, service providers, and even the local gaming agents. They also earn from license fees and bond fees for POGOs.

Big revenues

In 2018, PAGCOR took in Php6 billion from POGOs through licensing fees and royalties and this is expected to increase to Php8 billion by the end of 2019. The BIR also reported that they collected Php579 million-worth of taxes from POGO employees in 2018. This tripled to Php1.8 billion in collected taxes from January to September 2019.

POGOs also contribute to the rising real estate prices of office spaces. Data from PAGCOR reveals that POGOs are mainly located in Makati and Pasay. Service providers are also mainly located in condominium units in these cities. A typical POGO operation needs 64 square meters (sq m) of space which is typical of condominiums.

Leechiu Property Consultants (LPC) revealed in a report that in the last four years, the cost of condominium units near the Manila Bay area increased by 80% from the buying range of Php90,400/sq m – Php340,500 /sq m to Php113,000/sq m – Php432,000/sq m. This is in line with the growing trend of POGOs being located in Makati and Pasay. 

POGOs also made up the biggest part or 38% of Metro Manila’s office space demand as of third quarter in 2019, overtaking for the first time the IT-BPM (Information Technology and Business Process Management) industry’s demand at just 30 percent. In 2018, IT-BPM office space demand comprised 36% of transactions, while POGOs followed at 24 percent.

With the slowing down of BPO investments and even overseas Filipino workers (OFW) purchases of condominium units, POGOs are boosting the slowing services sector as well as the real estate sector. Because of this contribution to economic growth, the government does not seem intent on stopping their operations. This is despite the controversies surrounding POGOs such as money laundering, kidnapping incidents and employing mostly Chinese citizens, and of course, gambling being a parasitic economic activity.

The Chinese government has already asked the Philippines to stop the licensing of all POGO operations due to possible illegal activities. PAGCOR, however, has only suspended the issuance of new licenses while continuing existing licenses and renewals. This call from the Chinese government is a hypocrisy. China has banned gambling in its shores, but operators only moved out of China and went to countries offering better incentives. China still benefits from POGO operations due to employment opportunities for its thousands of citizens who have low educational attainment and cannot find work.  Chinese citizens finding employment in the Philippines is better for the Xi Jin Ping government since people’s dissatisfaction could destabilize its rule.

Meanwhile, a POGO Tax Bill has already been approved by the House Means and Ways committee and awaits deliberation. The bill will only slightly increase the annual gross corporate income tax of POGOs from a miniscule 2 to 5 percent. It will also enforce that POGO employees pay 25% in personal income taxes. If passed, the POGO Tax Bill is claimed to increase the country’s gross domestic product by 1.2-1.5 percent.

Little help to PH jobs

There has been a lot of talk about Chinese workers in the Philippines, especially those working for POGOs.  Majority of those employed under POGOs are in service providers that mainly work in customer service. Because most POGO clients are Chinese gamblers, proficiency in Mandarin is required. Of the 87,054 POGO employees reported by PAGCOR, 71.5% are Chinese, 16.6% are Filipinos, 2.6% are Vietnamese, and the rest are various other nationalities. 

Government monitoring and data on the extent and profile of POGO workers appears to be limited, as seen by the varying employment figures of PAGCOR and the BIR. But various reports indicate that most Chinese POGO workers come from far-flung Chinese villages. With no other employment opportunities in Beijing, they enter POGOs and are sent to the Philippines to work. Some even lack the proper documents to work in the country. 

There are also accounts of several Chinese workers staying in cramped condominium units. In some cases, as many as eight workers stay in one 24 sq m-sized condominium unit and have to sleep in shifts.  Moreover, there are reports of Chinese nationals operating small shops inside condominiums, such as small eateries that cater to Chinese POGO workers.

Rousing the economy

Decades of neoliberal policies have weakened the Philippine economy to the point of being overly service oriented while agriculture and manufacturing – productive sectors needed for sustained national development and job creation – are left behind. 

POGOs may have temporarily made up for slowing BPO investments but once POGOs slow down, what comes next? It is turning out to be another service-oriented – and even foreign-catering – industry that brings temporary and minimal benefits to the country. That is unless the government prioritizes and develops Filipino consumer, intermediate and capital good industries. The government can protect our local industries rather than open up the country to foreign companies.

Upholding an independent foreign policy is also important if we want to attain genuine economic development. The Philippines can adapt to changes in the global economy by shifting to domestic demand-driven growth. But unless government overhauls its programs and policies to prioritize domestic industries and agriculture and the people’s welfare, the same failed neoliberal policies will be perpetuated. The Philippine economy and Filipinos will remain vulnerable and dependent on big business interests and the vagaries of the global market. #

(The author is a researcher at IBON Foundation. His research topics include Build, Build, Build, the oil industry, and social services. Prior to IBON, he served as Editor-in-Chief of the UPLB Perspective for the academic year 2016-2017. When not in the office, Jose Lorenzo enjoys writing with his fountain pens and trying out new ink.

Farmers lose Php85 billion during first year: Peasant livelihoods destroyed, food insecurity worsened by rice liberalization

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that rice liberalization has undermined the livelihoods of millions of farmers and most likely even pushed many into bankruptcy. It will only worsen the country’s food insecurity, the group said, as already seen with record high rice imports.

Enacted one year ago, the Rice Liberalization Law or Republic Act (RA) 11203 removed quantitative restrictions on rice importation and replaced this with 35% tariff on rice imports from the region and higher from elsewhere. The law was justified as the solution to high rice prices in 2018. Tariffs from the rice imports were also supposed to fund programs to make Filipino rice farmers competitive, eventually increasing their incomes.

IBON said however that the influx of record rice imports has devastated farmers’ livelihoods. The Philippines imported a record 3.2 million metric tons (MMT) of rice in 2019, surpassing the previous record of 2.4 MMT of rice imports in 2008 by 40 percent. That was the first time that the Philippines gained the dubious distinction of being the world’s biggest rice importer.

Huge rice imports caused palay farmgate prices to plummet, said IBON. The price of palay fell by 22.4% from Php20.14 per kilogram (/kg) in end-December 2018 to Php15.63/kg in the same period in 2019, said the group. Some major rice producing provinces such as Nueva Ecija, Isabela, and Laguna even reported palay prices as low as Php7/kg and Php10/kg.

IBON estimates that rice farmers in aggregate suffered a total income loss of Php84.8 billion in 2019 due to the catastrophic drop in palay farmgate prices. This is equivalent to an average income loss of some Php35,328 per rice farmer.

Farmers groups have reported that as many as 200,000 farmers were forced to stop planting rice due to income losses. Also, at least 3,000 of the country’s some 10,000 rice mills reportedly closed down due to the increase in rice imports.

IBON said that the widespread disruption of rice producers is intentional and the result of free market forces being unleashed on the country’s backward agriculture. The group assailed the economic managers for using high rice prices to justify pushing marginal and so-called unproductive farmers and millers into bankruptcy.

IBON said that the country’s food insecurity is getting worse under the Duterte administration especially because of the low government priority given to domestic agriculture including the rice industry. The country’s rice importation grew from the equivalent of around 5% of total rice production in 2016 at the start of the Duterte administration to 26% of total rice production in 2019. Unprecedented rice imports are exposing the country’s inability to produce sufficient quantities of its staple food, said the group.

IBON said that the rice liberalization policy is another indication of government’s long-time neglect and disregard of local rice production and agriculture in general. The group said that the government should not pit rice farmers and rice consumers against each other. Farmers and consumers have a common interest in the protection and strengthening of the domestic rice industry towards rice self-sufficiency. #

IBON files historic first red-tagging complaint with Ombudsman against Parlade, Badoy, Esperon

By IBON Media

Research group IBON will file an administrative complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday to hold government officials accountable for red-tagging the institution and many other activists, individuals and groups.

This is believed to be the first case of red-tagging filed against any government official in the country’s history.

Through co-complainants IBON Executive Director Sonny Africa and IBON Board of Trustees Chairperson Bishop Solito Toquero, an administrative complaint will be filed against former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deputy chief-of-staff for civil-military operations and now Southern Luzon Command chief Major General Antonio Parlade, Jr, Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

IBON is asking the Ombudsman to hold respondents Parlade, Badoy and Esperon answerable for their malicious abuse of authority and negligent performance of duties as public officials.

IBON is also asking that they be punished for conduct that is grossly disregardful of the public interest, unprofessional, unjust and insincere, politically biased, unresponsive to the public, distorting nationalism and patriotism, and undemocratic.

The group’s complaint is grounded on The Ombudsman Act of 1989 (Republic Act No. 6770) and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Republic Act No. 6713).

This is also after requesting the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the matter and participating in the CHR’s subsequent inquiry.

IBON said that the complaint was written after a year of constant vilification of it by the respondents.

The most recent, mentioned in the complaint, is when Usec. Badoy called IBON a communist front on the One News program ‘The Chiefs’ in end-January.

This was after IBON Research Head Rosario Guzman fact-checked the PCOO’s ‘Duterte Legacy’ information materials. Gen. Parlade meanwhile spent the first week of February in Australia calling out IBON for supposed terrorist financing.

The complaint enumerates numerous slanderous statements, interviews, articles, and speeches in 2019 and the first weeks of 2020 where Badoy, Parlade, and Esperon red-tagged IBON.

This visibly started in March 2019 when Badoy and Parlade had a press briefing in Malacañang Palace about their February 2019 red-tagging road show in Europe to vilify IBON and other activists and organizations.

They maliciously and publicly accused IBON of “fabricated reports” for the United Nations and European Union and “[radicalizing] students as young as seven years old to eventually become (Communist) cadres”.

Also in March, Esperon named IBON as among Philippine non-government organizations (NGOs) supported by the Belgian government that “act as legal fronts for the CPP-NPA”

The complaint points out that IBON formally wrote the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and National Security Council (NSC), as well as had a meeting with the latter, to ask for the so-called evidence for the allegations.

However, despite repeated requests, the AFP and NSC have refused to provide anything while purportedly showing these to media, diplomats, government agencies, and even private sector groups.

In the complaint, IBON underscores how the government’s crackdown on progressive groups heightened following the issuance of Executive Order No. 70 (EO 70) in December 2018 creating the National Task Force to End Local Communism and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). All the respondents are ex-officio members of the NTF-ELCAC.

IBON’s complaint points out how the NTF-ELCAC has launched “a rabid vilification campaign against members of civil society by arbitrarily and unjustly branding them as fronts of the CPP-NPA, which have been declared as “terrorists” by the President.

The CHR, on the Sunday before IBON’s filing of the complaint, also called out EO 70 as using counterinsurgency to justify attacks on human rights defenders and activists.

IBON maintains that it is nothing more than a SEC-registered foundation that publishes its socio-political-economic analysis for all the public to see.

“Its researches enjoy a reputation of being independent, evidence-based, and credible. It is because of this reputation that its researches on social justice, real economic development, environmental sustainability and democracy, among many others, are widely used by various non-government and people’s organizations in pursuit of their own advocacy work,” read the group’s complaint. #

The PCOO’s disinformation must be stopped

by IBON Media

The Duterte administration’s persistent red-baiting of IBON and other groups instead of addressing the issues raised is an affront to the public. The public deserves the truth and to be informed about the issues that matter to them the most. Instead, the government is red-baiting critical voices to silence opposition and to hide the real situation of the country.

IBON Research Head Rosario Guzman and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy were recently guests on One News’ ‘The Chiefs’ to discuss the administration’s Duterte Legacy campaign. IBON presented data questioning the accomplishments claimed by the PCOO. Instead of addressing the PCOO’s apparent disinformation, Usec. Badoy responded by linking IBON to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP). She pressed the point and only relented when the hosts reminded her to stay on topic.

Usec. Badoy’s behavior is symptomatic of the administration’s wholesale attacks on independent groups. It is being done to hide the worsening economic situation, prevent the radical reforms needed to develop the country, and promote its self-serving agenda. Under the pretext of ending the armed Communist rebellion, the Duterte administration cast its net wide and is attacking every group that is critical of its anti-people economic policies and authoritarianism.

The Duterte administration has been most systematic and vicious in attacking those it sees as the greatest threats to its oppressive rule. The government vilifies, harasses, fabricates charges against, and illegally arrests critics and opposition. Human rights defenders have already been violently attacked and even killed under this administration. Usec. Badoy mentioned on the show that she is part of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Since its creation in 2018, the NTF-ELCAC and its security apparatus has been implicated in the surge in human rights violations in the country.

President Duterte with PCOO secretary Martin Andanar and Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo. (Malacañan photo)

The PCOO is at the forefront of the government’s disinformation campaign to deceive and manipulate the public. For this, its budget has been increased substantially to Php1.7 billion in 2020 from an average of Php1.1 billion under the previous Aquino administration. The 55% larger budget of the PCOO is only going to promote falsehoods on an even wider scale.

IBON has been explaining economic issues to the public for 41 years. The Duterte administration is attacking IBON because we advocate an economy that upholds the people’s interests most of all. As with activists and other groups, we are undeterred and will continue to support the efforts of the people’s movement to reclaim the economy from the elites that have taken it over.

We will also be taking measures to show that we do not condone the people’s money being used for a self-serving political agenda. The PCOO, including USec. Badoy, is just among many who need to be put in their place. #

(Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.)

Real Duterte Legacy: Three years of slow growth sign of failing gov’t econ policies

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that the economy is on its third year of slowing growth under the Duterte administration, and the slowest in eight years. This shows that government’s market-oriented policies are failing and its claimed economic gains are myths, said the group.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported 5.9% annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) for 2019, missing government’s revised target of 6-7% growth for the year. Government attributed this to the delayed 2019 budget and election ban on infrastructure in the first half of 2019 and slowing agriculture due to weather-related factors like El Niño.

IBON countered government’s claim that the budget delay and ban on infrastructure pulled back growth last year, noting that the economy was already slowing prior to this. From 6.9% in 2016, the country’s growth in GDP slowed to 6.7% in 2017 and 6.2% in 2018. The 5.9% in 2019 marks the third year of economic slowdown under the Duterte administration. This is also the slowest growth in eight years or since the 3.7% in 2011, the group said.

IBON said that the economic slowdown is really due to the lack of strong foundation in agriculture and Filipino industry – made worse by government’s faulty market-oriented policies.

Growth in the agriculture sector dropped from 4% in 2017 to 0.9% in 2018, then slightly increased to 1.5% in 2019, the group said. Yet government continues its neglect and low prioritization of agriculture as reflected in the national budget. Agriculture’s share in the 2020 budget is just 3.5% – the lowest since 2004 at 3.3 percent.

Meanwhile, growth in manufacturing drastically declined from 8.4% in 2017 to 4.9% in 2018 and just 3.8% in 2019. The group said this is because domestic consumption and exports have weakened amid a protracted crisis and increasing protectionism in the global economy. Manufacturing is low value-added and overly dependent on foreign capital and technology, and produces for the world market.

IBON said that instead, government has relied on temporary external factors to drive growth, but these are weakening. For instance, overseas remittances are growing at a slower rate, decreasing from 5% in 2016 to 4.3% in 2017 and 3.1% in 2018. This rose to 4.6% in the first ten months of 2019 but is not likely to surpass the 2016 growth rate. Growth in exports are also falling from 19.7% to 13.4% in 2018 and just 3.2% in 2019.

The consumer spending and real estate booms that for a time fueled growth are also losing steam. Household consumption registered 7.1% growth in 2016 but dropped to 5.9% in 2017, 5.6% in 2018 and slightly grew to 5.8% in 2019. Real, estate, renting and business activities decreased from 8.9% growth in 2016 to 7.4% in 2017, 4.8% in 2018, and further fell to 3.7% in 2019.

IBON said that government has been attempting to boost a lackluster economy through more government spending and its infrastructure program. But this was not enough to stimulate growth. For instance, construction drastically fell from 14.9% growth in 2018 to just 7.7% in 2019.

IBON said that the country’s economic situation will worsen as long as government pushes policies that favor big business interests. It should admit its failure and take on real reforms needed to strengthen and develop agriculture and domestic industries and turn around the country’s flagging economy, the group said. #

(Kodao re-posts IBON reports as part of a content-sharing agreement.)

Amid Taal disaster, ‘Duterte Legacy’ disinformation campaign launched

by IBON Media

Research group IBON hit Malacañang’s launching of the ‘Duterte Legacy’ campaign while relief operations are still ongoing for tens of thousands of families displaced by the present eruption of Taal volcano. The campaign is not just rife with disinformation, said the group, but also insensitive politicking for the still distant 2022 elections.

Organized by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), the Duterte Legacy Campaign was launched by Malacañang at the Philippine International Convention Center barely a week after Taal volcano erupted. Cabinet officials showcased the Duterte administration’s accomplishments in three “key pillars”: peace and order, infrastructure development, and poverty alleviation.

IBON executive director Sonny Africa criticized the launch for its insensitivity. “The government pleaded lack of relief funds and asked the public for support,” Africa said, “but here comes the PCOO using its bloated propaganda budget for presidential self-promotion conspicuously in anticipation of the 2022 elections.” The PCOO budget which averaged Php1.1 billion a year in 2011-2016 has greatly increased under the Duterte administration to Php1.7 billion for 2020.

Africa said that the PCOO campaign is only the latest disinformation effort of the administration. “The Duterte Legacy Campaign is deceiving the public about the real state of the economy with its selective and misleading presentation of figures.”

The PCOO claims 4.2 million jobs generated through ‘Build, Build, Build’ to hype its impact. Africa said this is an exaggeration though and points out, for instance, that this is even more than the 4.15 million total employed in the construction sector in 2019 reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). There is so much double-counting that the number is virtually made up, he stressed.

The 4.5% unemployment rate is meanwhile disingenuous because the figure is only for the October 2019 labor force survey round. The PCOO would be more honest, he said, if they cited the higher 5.1% unemployment rate for the whole year which is already available from the PSA. Africa also said that the supposed 5.9 million Filipinos being lifted from poverty is only because a very low and unrealistic poverty line of Php71 was used to compute this.

IBON pointed out that the Philippine economy is in worse shape because of the unreformed neoliberal policies of the Duterte administration. The group noted that: growth has been slowing since the start of the administration to just 5.8% in the first three quarters of 2019; agriculture grew weakly at just 1.5% and manufacturing slowed to 3.7%. The group also cited government debt bloating to Php7.9 trillion; regressive tax reforms eating away at the incomes of the poorest 60% of the population; high real unemployment at 4.7 million; and more than 12 million families trying to survive on Php132 or less per person per day. #

(This article is being reprinted by Kodao as part of a content-sharing agreement with IBON.)