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Govt stinginess worsens Filipinos’ suffering and PH economic collapse

Govt stinginess worsens Filipinos’ suffering and PH economic collapse

November 10, 2020

by IBON Media & Communications

The -11.5% growth, or contraction, in gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter, confirms that the Philippines is on its way to becoming the worst performing economy in Southeast Asia in 2020. The economy is saddled by the Duterte administration’s refusal to spend on aid for Filipino families and support for small businesses so needed amid the pandemic.

A fiscal response commensurate to the crisis at hand is critical but the economic managers are tying the government’s hands. The government package’s demand-side effort is grossly insufficient and even undermines its supply-side measures.

The Php3 trillion in government spending in the first three quarters of 2020 is only a 15.1% increase from the same period the year before. While this is larger than the 5.5% year-on-year increase in the same period in 2019, it is still much less than the corresponding 23.6% increase in 2018.

It remains to be seen how much more spending the administration can manage in the fourth quarter of 2020. The Bayanihan 2 law is supposedly the government’s main response to COVID in the remaining months of the year.

However, as of the president’s last report to Congress at the start of November, it appears that at most just Php28.4 billion has been spent so far. With only a little over a month left in the law’s effectivity, this is just 20.3% of Bayanihan 2’s Php140 billion in appropriations and just 17.1% of its Php165.5 billion including its standby fund. The report mentioned Php76.2 billion in allotments and releases which appears relatively large.

However, the same report did not mention any actual disbursements in major items especially for aid or support to small businesses or agriculture. These items with allotments released but not reported spent include: Php6 billion for the social amelioration program (SAP); Php13.1 billion for the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) programs; Php9.5 billion for public utility vehicle (PUV) programs; and Php12.1 billion for the agriculture stimulus package. While there is supposedly Php8.1 billion for small businesses, only Php893 million worth of loans were reported.

There is also little real stimulus in the proposed 2021 budget. The proposed Php4.51 trillion budget is a 9.9% increase from the 2020 budget. This is however smaller than the 13.6% increase in the programmed 2020 budget from the year before, and even smaller than the historical annual average 11.1% increase in the national budget over the 35 years of the post-Marcos era. The Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) actually projects an even smaller 5.3% increase in 2022 which will be less than half the historical average.

The DBCC initially projected the economy to have -5.5% growth in 2020. To achieve this, GDP will have to grow an impossible 6.6% in the last quarter of the year which is all the more impossible with the administration refusing to give meaningful aid to millions of distressed families and small businesses including in the country’s vast informal sector.

Additional direct cash assistance to households is already pitifully small under Bayanihan 2 and virtually non-existent in the proposed 2021 budget. The record joblessness and collapse in family incomes because of the government’s poor COVID response compels much larger support to alleviate wide and deep suffering.

The economic managers also keep insisting that the CREATE law’s corporate income tax cuts will most of all benefit micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). This is untrue. Large taxpayers account for an overwhelming 72% of all corporate collections as of 2019 which means that large firms will be the biggest beneficiaries of CREATE. Moreover, many MSMEs are also unregistered and in the informal sector so will not really benefit from any tax cuts under CREATE.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the economy to contract with -8.3% GDP growth in 2020. This is the worst GDP performance in the region with other countries either contracting less or even registering positive growth: Thailand (-7.1%), Malaysia (-6%), Cambodia (-2.8%), Indonesia (-1.5%), Singapore (-6%), Brunei (0.1%), Lao PDR (0.2%), Vietnam (1.6%), and Myanmar (2%).

Even the IMF’s projected 7.4% GDP growth rebound in 2021 will still not be enough to bring the economy back to its level last year in 2019. As it is, the 2020 Philippine economy is going to be as small as it was three years ago in 2017, and with GDP per capita approaching as low as it was in 2016.

The Philippines’ COVID response is the smallest among those announced by the region’s major economies, according to the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) COVID policy tracker. This earlier reported the Philippines’ response as equivalent to just 5.8% of 2019 GDP which is smaller than in Singapore (26.2%), Malaysia (22.7%), Thailand (16%), Indonesia (10.9%), and Vietnam (10.1%).

Months into the worst economic collapse in the country’s history, the Duterte administration’s obsession with creditworthiness and the myth of a fundamentally strong Philippine economy is preventing it from taking the measures needed for real and rapid recovery. Its insensitivity is placing the burden of rebound and protracted recovery on millions of poor families and distressed small businesses. #

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

OFWs demand increased budget for protection and welfare amid Covid-19

An organization of migrants called on the Philippine government to ensure social protection and welfare services for overseas Filipino workers (OFW), Filipino migrants and their families by increasing funding for these programs in the proposed 2021 National Budget. 

In an online petition on change.org, Migrante International pointed out that in the proposal, only Php 8.6 Billion from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is allotted to fund programs that seek to assist and support OFWs and migrants in distress. 

The group said that despite the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Filipinos abroad, the proposed 2021 budget of Php1.2B for the DFA’s Assistance to Nationals Program (ATN) and Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) is only the same as in the 2020 budget.

It also said that while the proposed budget for OWWA has significantly increased to Php7.4B, the amount will still be inadequate to serve the thousands of OFWs who remain stranded overseas and awaiting repatriation due to the pandemic.

Migrante International said there are thousands of OFWs who lost their jobs who have yet to receive any financial assistance from the government.

Under the AKAP program, the financial assistance for displaced land-based and sea-based Filipino workers program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), only 280,000 OFWs were granted financial assistance out of the estimated 1 million OFWs who were displaced in the past seven months. 

“The proposed budget does not take into account the increased support needed for the millions of Filipino migrants who have been displaced and severely affected by the COVID19 pandemic and who are in need of financial and livelihood assistance, welfare support, repatriation assistance and comprehensive health services,” Migrante International said.

“[T]he proposed budget will potentially leave hundreds of Filipino migrants every year who are victims of labor exploitation, human trafficking, illegal recruitment, gender-based violence, and discrimination neglected for lack of adequate funds to support their cases,” the group added.

The group also asked the government to provide immediate financial assistance in the amount of Php10,000 to all Filipino migrants, OFWs and their families affected by the pandemic by allotting an additional Php 7.2B to the DOLE AKAP Program. 

Migrante International said additional funds are also needed for hiring more personnel, legal advocates, interpreters, and other critical resources to effectively improve services and social welfare and protection for vulnerable migrants. 

The group also demanded that the government fully subsidize OWWA services and programs and stop the collection of OWWA membership dues from OFWs.

“To recover from the pandemic, the people, especially overseas and local workers, farmers and the poor need an expenditure program that heals and unites,” Migrante International said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lifeline needed: Small businesses struggle amid lockdowns

This five-episode podcast was produced by UrbanisMO.PH and Young Public Servants with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines, International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) and PCIJ.

BY AARON MALLARI / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What’s the big picture? Small businesses continue to reel from the effects of community quarantine measures on the domestic economy, which is mired in recession. While some businesses have adapted, for instance, through the wider use of online delivery services, a granular response is needed to address specific needs of sectors as low-income families and LGBT enterprises. 

Why it matters: Micro, small and medium enterprises are the lifeblood of the economy and employ more than 90 percent of all workers. Giving them a lifeline means making sure millions of workers continue to earn a living amid lockdowns and quarantines.

What are the facts? Charlene Tan and Mabi David of Good Food Community talk about the effects of the pandemic on farmers and local food systems, and local government responses to address these challenges, while Meann Ignacio speaks from her experiences in a cooperative that helps urban communities continue to earn a living. Ronn Astillas of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce discuss how LGBT companies are coping with the new normal of doing business. 

The bottomline: More than the usual ‘ayuda’ or cash and relief assistance, local governments need to be more proactive in helping micro, small and medium enterprises survive the pandemic.

Some 50,000 Filipinos left Dubai since June amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Around 50,000 Filipinos from Dubai and the Northern Emirates have left for home since June for various reasons brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Philippine consul general to this city Paul Raymund Cortes said during a press briefing on Monday.

Cortes added the Philippine Consulate in Dubai has also provided free tickets and assistance to more than 2,600 distressed Filipinos, including 143 Filipinos who were repatriated on Saturday (October 31).

“Repatriation started in June and the Philippine Consulate has facilitated the return of Filipino workers and their families who were affected by the pandemic. Most of them returned home after they lost their jobs or were asked by the employers to go on a long furlough. Some decided to go home for good — after spending several years in Dubai — while others were stranded Filipino tourists and some took advantage of the amnesty programme by the UAE,” Cortes said.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi have yet to provide the number of Filipinos who have left the UAE since the outbreak of the pandemic.

PhP68.5M spent for tickets

Cortes recalled three repatriation flights were chartered by the Philippine government back in June and August while majority returned home via commercial flights by Emirates, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.

According to Cortes, the Philippine Consulate has spent around PhP68.5 million (Emirati Dirham 5.2M) for the tickets of over 2,600 Filipinos who went back home. The money was sourced from the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) funds of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

Swab tests

Philippine Labor Attaché Felicitas Bay said returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families were given free COVID-19 swab test upon arrival in Manila.

Bay clarified the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) did not discriminate whether or not returning Filipinos were members of OWWA.

“They (OFWs) were just asked to show a proof of employment or their working visa,” Bay explained.

Those who were not employed as migrant workers were required to pay for the swab test.

Aside from the free swab test, returning OFWs and their families were also provided free hotel stay and meals during the quarantine period while they were waiting for the COVID test result. Those who had to return to the provinces were also given free transportation.

Speaking during a virtual forum in Manila on Monday, OWWA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac Sadi: “We want to emphasise that the swab test being conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard at the airport is free. The specimen being brought to government laboratories is also free. The OFWs who are there (airport) need not pay anything.”

He advised arriving OFWs not to patronize those offering swab testing at the airport in exchange for a fee. “We advised our OFWs not to engage the offer at the airport to pay for the test,” he added.

According to Philippine media reports, returning OFWs were being charged up to Php20,000 for the immediate release of their test results. Cacdac said there are still 5,200 OFWs who are still in hotel quarantine accommodations while waiting for their swab test results.

Left to right Melvin Caseda, welfare officer; Renato Duenas, deputy consul-general; Paul Raymund Cortes, Philippine consul general; Felicitas Bay, Philippine labour Attache (supplied photo)

Assistance to OFWs

Meanwhile, Bay said the Philippine Labor Office in Dubai (POLO-Dubai) has disbursed a total of PhP208.2M (Dh15.8) as cash aid to 21,625 Filipinos in Dubai whose jobs were affected by COVID-19.

The cash assistance is part of DOLE-AKAP (Department of Labor and Employment-Abot Kamay Ang Pagtulong), a one-time financial assistance amounting to Dh730 for each Filipino benefeciary.

Bay noted around 98,000 Filipinos have applied for the cash aid since April 10. Her office is still evaluating some of the application but Philippine government has allotted a budget for only 22,000 recipients, she added.

Livelihood assistance

Bay added OWWA members who have returned to the Philippines for good can avail of a livelihood assistance program amounting to maximum of P20,000 (Dh1,520) while non-OWWA members who were lost their job can also avail of the National Re-Integration Center for OFWs program that can provide cash assistance up to P10,000 (Dh760). “They just need to show their displacement/ termination letter,” Bay noted.

Meanwhile, Cortes advised Filipino expats who lost their jobs “to work closely with their respective HR (human resources) personnel to ensure that they will get their end of service benefits (EOSB).

“Due diligence must be done by the workers and they must make arrangements with their HR. They (OFWs), may, however, avail of free legal consultation from the Philippine Consulate,” Cortes added. #

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This report is original to Gulf News.

Covid-19 in the Bangsamoro (Part 2 of 2)

This five-episode podcast was produced by UrbanisMO.PH and Young Public Servants with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines, International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) and PCIJ.

BY AARON MALLARI WITH ICA FERNANDEZ / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What’s the big picture? Physical distancing is crucial to containing the spread of coronavirus. But minimum health standards are difficult to enforce in evacuation centers for internally displaced persons (IDPs), such residents who fled Marawi City during the 2017 siege. In Part 2 of this two-part series titled ‘Covid-19 outside NCR: The Experience of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,’ local leaders and stakeholders point to ways to ease the plight of IDPs and make sure they are also safe from Covid-19.

Why it matters: Internally displaced persons, stuck in cramped evacuation centers and with little or no access to food, water, sanitation and healthcare, are significantly vulnerable to the coronavirus, and the risk of outbreaks is high.

What are the facts? Bangsamoro parliament member Zia Alonto Adiong and Asrifah Mamutuk of the Lanao del Sur provincial government discuss the aftermath of the Marawi siege more than three years and a pandemic later, while NGO leader Fatima ‘Shalom’ Pir Allian calls attention to the plight of displaced Bangsamoro people outside the region.

The bottomline: The government needs to exert extra effort and devote more resources to help the ‘bakwit’ and prevent the pandemic from severely exacerbating the problem.

Covid-19 in the Bangsamoro (Part 1 of 2)

This five-episode podcast was produced by UrbanisMO.PH and Young Public Servants with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines, International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) and PCIJ.

BY AARON MALLARI WITH ICA FERNANDEZ / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What’s the big picture? The concentration of Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila and surrounding regions means the pandemic response might be uneven across the country. But places like the Bangsamoro autonomous region need extra resources to control the outbreak, and ill-conceived programs aren’t helping. Bangsamoro leaders, for instance, have to deal with returning overseas workers, some of them asymptomatic virus carriers, who were repatriated from their host countries and shipped back to their home provinces under the ‘Balik-Probinsya’ and ‘Hatid Probinsya’ programs. This is Part 1 of a two-part series titled ‘Covid-19 outside NCR: The Experience of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.’

Why it matters: The ability of localities to absorb the influx of returning migrant workers without compromising the health of their home communities is crucial to ensuring the effectiveness of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

What are the facts? Bangsamoro ministers Naguib Sinarimbo and Laisa Masuhud Alamia discuss how the pandemic response has become one of the region’s biggest challenges to date, as it transitions to a parliamentary government that is autonomous, but somewhat still reliant on the national government. Prof. Rufa Guiam, an expert on governance and inclusion, weighs in on how the pandemic and the Bangsamoro government’s ability to deal with it is crucial to the peace process. 

The bottomline: Covid-19 is a test of governance for the Bangsamoro autonomous region, whose success is essential to achieving peace and prosperity in Mindanao.

Transport budget for infra but none for affected jeepney drivers

by Jose Lorenzo Lim

The COVID pandemic has led to massive income losses for Filipinos. The Duterte administration suspended mass transport, including jeepneys, when the enhanced community quarantines (ECQ) in Luzon and other parts of the country were declared in March. Quarantine measures have eased in general community quarantine (GCQ) areas and public transport has resumed in phases. 

The government is attempting to usher economic activity back but public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers keep getting left behind.

Lost income and jeepney modernization program

Three months into the pandemic, the social welfare department reported some 36,200 jeepney drivers of over 200,000 nationwide getting cash aid under Bayanihan 1. Even so, many jeepney drivers only received one tranche of the Php5,000-8,000 of social amelioration. IBON estimated that around 55,000-70,000 jeepney drivers in Metro Manila each lost an average of Php26,000 per month of lockdown over the first three months of suspended mass transport for a total of Php78,000 each.

When quarantine measures eased, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) prioritized modernized jeepneys in resuming operations in Metro Manila which left most PUJ drivers still unable to operate. More traditional jeepneys have recently been allowed back on their routes but physical distancing protocols make them operate on just half-capacity and, thus, their earnings are also halved accordingly.

The PUJ sector along with other vulnerable sectors have been calling for additional aid as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage. However, although the government is moving to gradually resume economic activity, it is allocating less and less for emergency subsidies.

The Php5.58 billion in aid promised PUJ and transport network vehicle (TNV) drivers under Bayanihan 2, for instance, only means an average of Php116-225 per driver per day* spread across four subsequent months of lockdown since the expiration of Bayanihan 1 in June 30. The 2021 proposed national budget allocation for overall emergency aid is even smaller at just Php9.9 billion.

The DOTr announced that it was doubling the subsidy for jeepney operators switching to modernized jeepneys from Php80,000 to Php160,000. However, this is still not enough as modernized jeepneys cost around Php1.6-2.2 million each.

The slow modernization of jeepneys is also a sign that the program is failing. During the 2019 budget hearing of the DOTr, it was reported that the jeepney modernization program was only able to modernize 1.5% of its initial target more than two years after it started. Thus, the DOTr took a step back on the jeepney modernization program and said that it will allow old jeepneys on the roads provided they pass “roadworthiness” standards.

Transport budget for infrastructure

The DOTr is proposing a Php143.1 billion budget for 2021. Of this, Php112.8 billion are capital outlays for railways, seaports and airports.

Of this, Php96.2 billion will be funded by ODA. Specifically, this ODA funding will cover the rail transport program or the construction of the Metro Manila Subway Project Phase 1, North-South Commuter Railway System, and Philippine National Railway (PNR) South Long-Haul Project.

If the government was sincere about its jeepney modernization program not displacing so many drivers and small operators, it could have increased the subsidy for this program. The government counterpart funding for these 3 railway infrastructure projects is worth Php12.6 billion. This could have been an additional Php181,000 jeepney modernization subsidy if shared among 70,000 jeepney drivers in Metro Manila. 

While these expansive mass transport projects will provide faster trips across longer distances, Filipinos still rely on jeepneys as a mode of transportation for short distances or the first or last miles. Increasing subsidies for jeepney modernization is actually a win for both the government and jeepney drivers with the government taking strides towards its goal and jeepney drivers keeping their livelihood.

Keyword: Pandemic

Because of the coronavirus crisis, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) issued Memo Circular 2020-017 which only allows modernized jeepneys and traditional jeepneys under a corporation or cooperative to operate. This leaves out small jeepney operators and drivers. Unlike big corporate fleet operators, they can ill-afford the costly modernized jeepneys, or even the fees and requirements to form a cooperative. They are even less able today after months of lost incomes and depleted savings.

The government should prioritize subsidizing small jeepney drivers and operators and at least postpone costly infrastructure projects that are less urgent because of the pandemic. More railways, seaports, and airports might always seem like a good thing. However, it has always been questionable if these deliver the best economic and development returns for the huge spending on them and the increased debt taken out. Certainly, the emerging needs of vulnerable sectors because of the pandemic should be a more pressing use for scarce funds.

The Duterte administration should support drivers and operators with emergency subsidies for upgrading or replacing their units to meet safety, health and environmental standards. Getting them back on the road will contribute to spurring economic activity. It will also increase the mobility of the working people who are the most crucial elements in economic recovery. #

The Covid-19 response: Are the elderly and disabled being left behind?

This five-episode podcast was produced by UrbanisMO.PH and Young Public Servants with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines, International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) and PCIJ

BY AARON MALLARI / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What’s the big picture? Older persons and persons with disability were already marginalized in terms of government programs and services pre-pandemic. The harsh government response to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly the long periods of lockdowns, only made it worse for them in terms of mobility and economic independence.  

Why it matters: The government’s coronavirus response affects the quality of life of all its citizens and not just the young and the non-PWD.

What are the facts? Emily Beridico from the Coalition of Services for the Elderly, Dr. Maureen Mata of AKAP Pinoy (Alyansa ng may Kapansanang Pinoy) and Dr. Grace Cruz of the UP Population Institute weigh in on the issue of inclusion in the time of Covid-19.

  • There have been no specific interventions and policies to address the needs of approximately 8 million senior citizens and 12 million persons with disability, who are considered highly vulnerable to the disease.
  • This episode touches on the overly delayed and poorly implemented Social Amelioration Program and other government livelihood programs, which do not automatically factor in inclusion of elderly and PWDs. 
  • Instead, inclusion relies heavily on the priorities of the local government units and the ability of sector representatives to assert themselves. 

The bottomline: As Dr. Mata says in this episode, the government must not treat providing services as ‘charity’. Instead, policy makers must keep an open mind and listen to the people’s needs, as citizens voice out their concerns with hopes that the government is listening.

Kalagayan ng mga magsasaka dahil sa Rice Tariffication Law at panahon ng pandemya

Inilahad ni Ariel ‘Ayik’ Casilao, Anakpawis vice chairman, ang kalagayan ng mga magsasaka sa panahon ng pandemya at perwisyo dulot ng Rice Tariffication Law.

Hiling ng mga magsasaka na ibasura ang Rice Tariffication Law dahil ito ang itinuturo nilang pasakit sa kanilang magsasaka at ang dahilan ng mababang presyo ng palay sa bansa.

Governor apologizes after accusing teachers of ‘doing nothing’

Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba was forced to issue an apology following his accusation that teachers are doing less work with the government’s blended learning scheme.

Mamba told radio station DZRH Saturday that “teachers are simply enjoying themselves at home and receiving salaries without working.”

Mamba added that he thinks that the government is being shortchanged and hinted that teachers’ salaries may be slashed soon.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) president Joselyn Fegalan said Mamba had no right to accuse teachers of doing less work as teachers are in fact burdened by greater workload due to the Department of Education’s blended learning scheme.

“Teachers deserve an apology. You go back to that radio station and say sorry,” Fegalan said.

Mamba is ignorant of the situation of teachers even in his home province, ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio added.

“It seems he does not know that many teachers spend their already inadequate salaries to buy paper, laptops, printers and ink because the government has yet to fully provide these,” he said.

“Gov, it’s World Teachers Day on Monday (today, October 5) and this is your message to them? Is this how you thank them?” Basilio asked.

The Student Council of the University of the Philippines College of Education also condemned Mamba’s remarks as “patently insensitive, infuriating and disrespectful of the teachers’ effort to educate amid the pandemic.”

‘Just being fatherly’

Mamba in a statement Sunday he is sorry and did not mean to hurt any teacher, adding he wanted to challenge everyone with his remarks.

In another DZRH interview Sunday, Mamba said he has high regard for teachers as shown by his administration’s involvement of teachers in provincial government projects.

Mamba added he was just being fatherly in lecturing just as he was in admitting mistakes.

A source from Mamba’s camp told Kodao that the interviewer did not give the governor a chance to fully explain what he meant as the interview was at its end. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)