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Govt stinginess worsens Filipinos’ suffering and PH economic collapse

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.

Swept away – Philippine agriculture bears wrath from government neglect

by IBON Media & Communications

Government’s long-time neglect of the country’s agriculture sector has been disastrous to small producers. The recent series of super-typhoons – Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses – has highlighted this.

The country’s geophysical characteristics as well as geographic location make it exposed to natural hazards. What makes it extremely vulnerable to risks is government’s lack of relevant policies to strengthen the agriculture sector and the larger economy, including policies and practice of disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM).

Fresh damage

According to a combined bulletin by the Department of Agriculture-Disaster Risk Reduction Management Operations Center (DADRMMOpCen), Quinta left damages to agriculture amounting to Php2.7 billion, with a volume production loss of 149,475 metric tons (MT) in Regions I, II, III, CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, V, VI, and VIII. This affected 57,858 farmers and fisherfolk with 96,474 hectares of agricultural areas.

Still reeling from this devastation, the regions again felt Rolly’s wrath and sustained Php5.79 billion in damages and losses affecting 48,682 farmers and fisherfolk in 127,298 hectares of agricultural areas. The volume of production loss was at 177,091 MT. The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) further reported that Rolly damaged 170,773 houses and infrastructure worth some Php12.9 billion.

Then, Ulysses happened, leaving 73 dead, 24 injured, and 19 missing in Regions II, CALABARZON, V, and CAR. Damages to agriculture are estimated to be worth Php4.2 billion, to infrastructure some Php6.1 billion, with a total of 67,391 houses partially or totally destroyed. Affected were 102,500 farmers and fisherfolk in 99,660 hectares of agricultural areas. Production loss in commodities including rice, corn, high value crops, fisheries, livestock and poultry, irrigation facilities, and agricultural infrastructures was estimated by the DA to be at 167,385 metric tons (MT).

Some 62,220 hectares planted to rice alone sustained damages and losses amounting to Php1.98 billion with volume of production lost at 124,437 MT. Some 14,132 hectares planted to high variety crops (HVC) areas sustained Php907.7 million worth of damages with volume of production lost at 35,487 MT. As for areas planted to corn, up to 23,308 hectares were affected, with volume of production lost at 7,461 MT amounting to Php371 million. In the fisheries, some Php712 million was lost in terms of affected fin fish, milkfish, hito, tilapia, carp, crabs, and prawns. Livestock and poultry sustained Php51.69 million in damages affecting 72,146 heads. Some Php11.9 million were damaged or lost in terms of irrigation and agriculture facilities.

Quinta and Rolly damages and losses totaled to Php8.46 billion affecting 106,540 farmers and fisherfolk in 223,772 hectares. Volume of production lost reached 326,566 MT. Combined estimates of damages and losses in the Philippine agriculture sector due to typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses are estimated to have reached some Php12.4 billion to date.

The devastation in agriculture was also grave particularly for Catanduanes province, a top producer of abaca in the country, which is second biggest world producer of the cash crop. According to the Philippine Fiber Development Authority (PhilFIDA), the province accounted for 30% of the country’s annual abaca output. But then Rolly battered Bicol and other abaca-growing regions – CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, and Eastern Visayas, resulting in Php1.2 billion worth of farm damages. The 30% decline in abaca output due to the typhoon as per the estimate of PhilFIDA would land at only 50,000 metric tons (MT) of produce, the crop’s lowest in 20 years. Using PhilFIDA estimates of Php1,000 income for every 10 kilos harvested, this decline is equivalent to a Php2.1 billion loss in farmers’ incomes.

What preparedness?

Government’s DRRM plan, actual implementation, recovery strategy, and even budget allocation of calamity funds are all telling – there is little acknowledgment of the Philippines being a calamity-prone country. It is no basis to say that the country is indeed disaster-prepared.

The Philippines ranks 9th among countries with the highest disaster risk index according to the World Risk Report of 2019. An average of 20 tropical cyclones enter the Philippine area of responsibility annually. Yet the budget allocation for disaster risk reduction in 2020 of Php16 billion declined from the already meager Php20 billion or 0.5% share in the 2019 national budget. The NDRRMC is again set to get Php20 billion in lump sum calamity funds in the 2021 national budget. But it remains a mere 0.4% of the total budget.

Components of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (NDRRMP) 2011-2028 are: disaster prevention and mitigation, disaster preparedness, disaster response, and disaster recovery and rehabilitation. This should mean building massive evacuation and shelter infrastructure, for instance. This should also mean making available competent education, health, and housing, and providing sufficient energy, water, communication and transport mechanisms that can withstand any weather hazard. For a largely agricultural country, it should also mean the availability of crop insurance, food stocks, production support at all times, whether or not during recovery, and other measures that ensure farmers, fisherfolk, and farmworkers’ continued sustenance when calamities strike. Neither the NDRRM Plan nor the DARRMOpCen explicitly mandate these as part of the mitigation and preparedness steps of DRRM.

The NDRRMC reported Php115 million worth of assistance provided to Ulysses victims. The DA assured Php400 million in Quick Response Funds and Php300 million worth of emergency loans with zero interest and no collateral, payable in 10 years under the Survival and Recovery (SURE) Loan Program of Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) for farmers and fishers affected by Quinta and Rolly. The agency has also assigned the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC) to provide insurance protection to farmers against losses arising from various calamities. Those insured under the PCIC are set to receive Php10,000-15,000 in insurance claims for damaged farm equipment, fishing boats, and gear. But this measure is premium-dependent and ties impoverished farm producers to indebtedness.

PCIC coverage is quite limited and leaves millions of agricultural producers behind. PIDS explains that the amount of cover is based on the cost of production inputs specified in the farm plan and budget submitted by the farmer upon application of insurance. Insurance premium rates vary based on the type of insurance cover, risk classification, type of farmer, and type of insurance cover availed. Premium for high value crop insurance is solely shouldered by the farmers, ranging from 2-7% of the total sum ensured. Premium rates for fisheries are solely determined by the PCIC.

According to latest available Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and PCIC 2018 figures cited by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, only 2.2 million farmers in 1.8 million hectares are insured. This is a small number compared to the over 10.9 million farmers, farmworkers and fisherfolk in the government’s Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture or RSBSA. It was also noted that while a huge chunk or 1.1 million of listed farm parcels reported by the Census of Agriculture and Fisheries (CAF) were less than 0.5 hectare in size, the penetration rate of the PCIC in these holdings was quite low compared to parcels of bigger sizes.

Long-time neglect of agriculture

Even given the backdrop of being a natural hazard-prone nation, government action for the farming and fisheries sectors has long-been either too little or too detrimental. Weather disturbances have even gotten worse over the years due to climate change, increasing further havoc on the country’s agriculture communities.

Philippine agriculture is in crisis, growing at an average 2.1% in 2017-2019, its slowest pace after 70 years of growing at 3.5% annually on the average. In the same period the sector lost over one million jobs. In the third quarter of this year, the sector grew only by 1.2%.

In 2018, the country’s agricultural trade deficit was the largest in history, and in 2019 the Philippines began importing its staple food rice.

However, despite the sector’s decline and disaster vulnerability, the budget for agriculture and agrarian reform averaged just a measly 3.6% of the total national budget annually from 2017-2019. This has been reduced further to 1.7% in 2020 and 1.6% for 2021 under the Duterte administration.

Calamity-battered Bicol

An example of the vulnerability and crisis of the country’s agriculture is the Bicol region. The region is prone to natural calamities such as typhoons, volcanic eruptions, drought and flooding, almost on a yearly basis. It is among the areas whose agriculture sector was hard-hit by the recent consecutive typhoons. The several calamities that have torn through the region in recent years resulted in billions of pesos in agricultural damage.

These include, for instance, tropical depression Usman which left Php1.6 billion worth of agricultural damages in Bicol at the end of 2018. Typhoon Tisoy, which hit the country in early December 2019, resulted in over Php1.7 billion worth of agricultural damages in the region, affecting its major crops. Bicol’s agriculture has also suffered crop losses from the El Niño drought last year and its abaca sector’s battle with the Abaca Bunchy Top Disease.

The region’s agriculture sector is now reeling from damages wrought by Quinta (Php395.8 million), Rolly (Php3.6 billion), and Ulysses (Php168.5 million).

Bicol’s abaca and coconut industries have not yet recovered from the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Tisoy. In the second quarter of the year, coconut production and abaca production both registered negative growth rates of 8 and 4 percent, respectively, from the same period last year.

Build Back Better” vs. inclusive response

The region’s disaster risk reduction bodies undertook early warning measures such as preemptive evacuation and advanced harvesting during typhoons Usman and Tisoy. In a way, mitigation was leveled-up. Yet, the Bicol Region’s agriculture sector, as with the rest of the country’s, was left vulnerable to destruction. The DADRROpCen practices the integration of DRR measures in the plans of government agencies. But like the NDRRMC plan, it is weightier on response, relief and recovery rather than building the core capacity of the agriculture sector. Making it flourish and able to stand on its own is not part of the plan.

The bottomline of the Philippines’ disaster risk reduction plan is the global-inspired “Build Back Better” which has been used in various calamities worldwide but saw big contractors and businesses taking the upper hand in rehabilitation and recovery. This is instead of focusing on really strengthening communities per se in terms of ensured rights to basic needs including food and jobs, adequate standards of living, a balanced ecology, ample services and development. These would be what will forge the capacity to withstand disasters.

In the case of agriculture, policies destroy rather than hone the sector’s own contribution to building this capacity. Decades of subscribing to global market dictates have crippled the agriculture sector and reduced it to being a supplier of cash crops, now being enhanced by the Plant, Plant Plant program. The National Land Use Act will accelerate the conversion of agricultural lands into commercial ones. Rice import liberalization meanwhile is destroying farmers’ incomes with falling palay prices and results in the shutdown of mills.

Through these policies, the government pushes Philippine agriculture off the cliff and keeps our farmers poor and vulnerable to calamities. Government lacks the sense of urgency to aid the calamity-stricken agricultural producers and only promises some farm inputs and limited financial assistance, not to mention in the form of burdensome loans. This jives with its non-interest to develop the sector other than for what the global market needs it to be.

The only way the country can really be disaster-prepared would be if risk reduction and response followed a comprehensive plan across pre-calamity and calamity scenarios. This needs to start with strengthening the heart of the economy and that is Philippine agriculture and manufacturing. Agriculture programs from the most token to those that destroy the industry and Filipino producers’ livelihoods must be stricken out especially liberalization and commercialized and profit-oriented insurance and credit-facilitation.

Land should be free for the tillers and not converted to non-agricultural use; the decision on how to make it productive theirs; give them substantial farm subsidies and direct farm facilities, machine and inputs support; and ensure their social protection. Especially during a pandemic such as the one that grips the nation and the world now, sustained financial assistance and direct support for producers is very much in order.

Governance that decides to sovereignly boost agriculture this way will be the same one that will forge policies and infrastructure for domestic industry, a healthy environment, people’s rights, and funding development, which are certain foundations of people-centered disaster preparedness. #

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

Barangay chairperson halts relief distribution in Isabela, insists on taking over

An Ilagan City barangay chairperson prevented relief delivery to flood victims in her community and ordered the confiscation of food items for distribution last Thursday, November 19, a regional farmers group reported.

Hacienda Sta. Isabel Norte chairperson Leonora Uy allegedly ordered a stop to the humanitarian activity for hundreds of farmers in her barangay after allowing photos to be taken of only a few residents receiving food items, the group Danggayan iti Mannalon ti Cagayan Valley (Danggayan) said on its Facebook page.

Danggayan said it properly coordinated with Uy on the relief activity who in turn suggested it be held at the barangay covered court “in order for the facility to be of some use.”

Relief goods being readied for distribution but were ordered confiscated by a local executive. (Danggayan photo)

The barangay executive also wanted that all residents should be recipients of the activity, prompting the relief workers to divide each pack into two to benefit twice as many families and accommodate Uy’s wishes.

But the chairperson ordered the relief items to be confiscated after photos have been taken of 10 beneficiaries receiving them, the farmers group said.

Photo ops lang pala ang pinayagan,” Danggayan said in a statement. (She only allowed the photo opportunity, it turns out.)

Uy reportedly said the barangay would re-pack the relief goods and take over the distribution.

Danggayan said the farmers disagreed, sure that many would later be denied the relief items.

“Ayon sa kapitan, kung hindi daw i-turn over sa kanya ang ayudang pagkain ay i-pull out na lang ito dahil hindi naman daw siya humiling ng ayudang pagkain. Pati ang mineral water ay ayaw siyang pumayag na ipamigay sa mga residente,” Danggayan reported. (According to Uy, the relief food items should be pulled out if these would not be turned over to them as she did not ask for them in the first place. She even refused to have drinking water distributed to the residents.)


The local executive even refused the distribution of drinking water to flood victims. (Danggayan photo)

The group said Uy’s decision angered residents and decided to continue the distribution at the house of farmer-leaders.

Two barangay councilors reportedly disagreed with Uy’s decision and helped in the distribution.

The relief items, worth PhP200,000 were donated by local groups Dagami, Tulong Kabataan, Tulong Sulong CV, Cagayan Valley Disaster Response Center Inc. and others. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(Efforts to seek Uy’s comment failed as her supporters refuse to give the executive’s contact details. Kodao is still seeking ways to talk to Uy.)

Red Red Whine

by Sonny Africa

IBON staff reflect on red-tagging and its attack on the ideas of the Left

Two weeks ago, as floodwaters reached a new high to trap thousands of Filipinos on the roofs of their homes and force hundreds of thousands more to evacuate, red-tagging reached a new low.

The nation struggled to mobilize help beyond what the government was giving but the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) saw it as just another day at work to whine about Reds. It tried to dissuade donations for relief work of youth activists, took a swipe at CNN Philippines for being infiltrated, and even thought it worthwhile to meddle in a call for support among co-parents in a high school group chat.

The sad episode is a case study of the depths the Duterte government goes to in calling people Communists or terrorists and organizations as fronts or infiltrated. The hysterical claim last week is that the call for donations is “extorting money and goods to fund and support their terrorist activities”. Go figure.

But it also prompts deeper reflection on what red-tagging is and why we all lose from it. It isn’t the mere labelling that the government and its security apparatus like to pretend it is and which, they insist, even the Left does to itself. Red-tagging is labelling to attack not just people and organizations but also the very ideas and values so needed to make tomorrow better than today.

Fear of ducks

These are the coordinates of their lunacy: Communists are terrorists, Communist ideas a.k.a. Leftist ideas are passé, and anyone spouting Leftist ideas is a terrorist or a brainwashed puppet.

But the thing is, with the world and the country the way they are, it’s obvious what anyone concerned about humanity will cherish for their absence – social justice, equality, and a decent life for all. An honest grasp of history, politics and economics also points to what’s needed for these values to become real – people taking control of society and their lives.

Drilling down further shows what makes ‘Reds’ look, swim and quack like the ducks that elites fear so much – the rejection of capitalism, redistribution of wealth, and the imagining (or even building) of a socialist alternative. There’s a diversity of ducks but they all have these feathers.

Reds proudly embrace these ideas, and are famously relentless in putting these ideas into practice as conditions allow. They wear their red hearts on their sleeves and wave their red flags, literally and figuratively, because it isn’t enough for the ideas to be compelling. They have to be grasped and embraced and practiced by as many people as possible.

Which brings us back to red-tagging. Leftist ideas are the floodwaters of social change but instead of homes of the poor they wash away the structures of power. These waters are rising – maybe not like a storm surge but inexorably rising nonetheless.

Red-tagging aims to put a stop to that. Starting with activists and their organizations, including their supporters, and then really anyone daring to think differently and taking a stand. It wants to reduce radical ideas to a trickle of disembodied voices embellishing a fake democracy but threatening no one.

Progressive ideas will be tolerated if spoken from armchairs or as rhetoric in speeches and policy-making. But red flags are raised when these ideas are connected to each other and, especially, when they’re borne by the organized power of politicized Filipinos in a mass movement for change.

Capitalism and wannabe authoritarians don’t want that. They need a blind and docile public that doesn’t question why the economy leaves them behind, nor that opposes unrelenting corruption and the abuse of power.

Duck-hunting

The Duterte administration is averse to Leftist ideas but is incapable of arguing against them beyond shrill banalities. The government admits as much whenever it laments losing the “propaganda war,” as verbalized by the NTF-ELCAC, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), and even a militarist senator.

What they don’t see and can’t concede is that they’re losing because they’re on the wrong side of history – so they’ve gone duck hunting instead.

This wouldn’t be a problem if they were going after armed ducks. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-led New People’s Army (NPA) is waging armed revolution in the countryside and, for that, is prepared for an equally armed response. The state can’t seem to defeat them in the battlefield and is in a virtual stalemate. But that’s another story.

The problem is that the Duterte administration is going after anything that quacks, wherever they might be, even if they aren’t doing anything illegal in their advocacies, projects, humanitarian work, law-making, and fiscalizing. In a back-handed compliment, the state is starting with the biggest, most influential, and deepest-rooted mainstream Left forces. The calculation may be that if the powerful radical flank is broken then moderates become more manageable.

The new Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) is bringing a tactical nuke cannon to a duck hunt with the same kind of widespread and excessive damage. Red-tagging today is in cheap posters and flyers, bad PowerPoint presentations, loose media statements, and troll-like social media posts.

The ATL will make red-tagging graduate from these – bypassing courts where they’d just be a mess of inadmissible evidence – to become the first step towards thinly ‘legalized’ surveillance, freezing of assets, warrantless arrests, and indefinite detention. The brazen abductions and assassinations by shadowy state security forces before the new law will still continue.

Fantastic tales

Red-taggers won’t admit it but they know they would never win a battle of ideas. So they fight with twisted fantasies instead and bank on sheer repetition using the vast propaganda apparatus of the government.

Armed Reds and Leftist activists, or armed Leftists and Red activists, are crudely lumped together — this only exposes that it’s Red and Left ideas that they fear most of all. The NTF-ELCAC’s banal propagandists think that they’ve stumbled on irrefutable wisdom and repeat this ad nauseam.

A Philippines that would be idyllic if not for the renegade violence of NPA bandits in the countryside? As if it isn’t the government that’s been killing tens of thousands of alleged drug offenders and unarmed activists. The Duterte government’s state-sponsored and -sanctioned violence against civilians kills more than the guerrilla war does in the countryside.

Families blissfully happy if not for youth brainwashed to hate their parents? As if children, youth and students can’t see for themselves how their families and many others are exploited while a fraction have uncountable wealth and luxury. Our best and brightest love their country and their families. Their choices come from maturity and deserve respect.

Activists whose real agenda is hate, death and destruction? As if they aren’t among the most consistently compassionate, dedicated and productive defenders of human rights or enablers of oppressed and exploited folks wherever they might be. The self-sacrifice is out of a deep love for others.

Lumad communities in picturesque harmony if not for NPA recruiters? As if they don’t know that soldiers and paramilitary goons pave the way for mining, logging and energy projects that won’t benefit the Lumad communities. The government exploits the Lumad many times over when they are paraded as propaganda props.

The NPA are rapists, murderers and extortionists? As if a roving army of such deviants could survive for decades, attracting idealistic youth and getting the support of rural communities knowing them and seeing for themselves who they are.

And an economy made poor by Communist armed conflict? As if the economy wasn’t poor before the rise of rebellion, and isn’t kept poor by neoliberal policy incantations from worshipers of the Gods of Capitalism. And as if the most rapid economic growth in decades hasn’t benefited oligarchs, government functionaries, and foreign capital while leaving the majority poor and farther behind than ever.

The red pill

Part of red-tagging is the Duterte government wanting us to take the blue pill. To swallow their disinformation, stay ignorant, and live in the confines of an unjust, unequal and unchanging world. It’s a pill to make people not just clueless but ultimately helpless and hopeless.

The red pill, on the other hand, frees us from the enslaving control of thinking that there is no alternative to capitalism and the status quo. It affirms the working class coming together as the most powerful force for change for the better.

It also makes us see how everything is commodified where the presidency, elections, legislators and laws, even the judiciary can be bought. And how oligarchs, foreign investors, business cronies, and government officials have become wealthier – as well how the wealth of the president and his family has become suspiciously invisible.

At one level, the NTF-ELCAC propagandists are just indoctrinated military personnel and folks with a quasi-religious devotion to the president (or maybe just a crush). At a deeper level, the NTF-ELCAC is the spearhead of the system trying to put down dissent and the rising waters of social revolution.

A line is being drawn in the dolomite sand. But it isn’t between those for or against ‘Communist-terrorists’ – it’s between those embracing or enabling the status quo and those choosing to change this for the better. More than ever, it’s time to take sides. #

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

Academic Break, hiling ng mga mag-aaral sa buong bansa

Nagsagawa ng student strike ang mga grupo ng mag-aaral mula sa iba’t-ibang unibersidad at kolehiyo sa Gate 2 ng Ateneo De Manila University sa Katipunan, Quezon City bilang bahagi ng International Students Day, Nobyembre 17, 2020.

Pangunahin nilang hiling na magkaroon ng national academic break dahil sa sunud-sunod na sakuna na dumaan sa bansa gayundin ang mga pahirap na sistema sa online classes. Ang academic break, ayon sa kanila, ay maagang deklarasyon ng pagtatapos ng semestre at mass promotion ng mga estudyante.

Binatikos din nila ang Pangulong Duterte dahil sa kriminal na kapabayaan nito na tugunan ang pandemya, edukasyon at sakuna. # (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas/Kodao)

A new and novel way indeed – and heed

from HBC’s The InComplete Sonnets

(Sonnet based on this Kodao news report: As floods devastate Luzon, cellphone load becomes disaster relief)

7
a new and novel way indeed – and heed
this well – for in the face of tragic signs
one can well count on some within the breed
who find flood victims in their helpless lines.

some offer cellphone load, it's quite relief
this, one way there to help beyond a doubt
the typhoon victims down, down in their grief
from nasty blasting typhoon's* ruthless clout.

one offered fifty pesos worth of load,
of cellular load to the ones in need
within his own community** – a broad
phrase that could help the ones in piteous bleed.

alive the bayanihan spirit is
which puts community in heights of bliss.

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*Ulysses, the 21st to hit the Philippines this year.

**Michael Ramos Pagulayan has offered to send P50worth of cellular load to those who need them in his home community of Auitan, San Pablo, Isabela.1625-1632; Nov. 14, 2020, Saturday.

As floods devastate Luzon, cellphone load becomes disaster relief

Experts urge effective communication programs as part of disaster management and relief.

Citizens have found a new and novel way of sending immediate aid to victims of the ongoing Luzon floods brought by Typhoon Ulysses: free cellphone load.

Michael Ramos Pagulayan offered to send Php50 worth of cellular load to those who need them in his home community of Auitan, San Pablo, Isabela.

Asked how much was he able to share so far, Pagulayan said he was able to send Php50 pesos each to his former elementary school classmates.

“I try to help because I have no way of going home because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. I can’t fly home, I can’t drive. So I thought of sharing  mobile phone loads to flood victims who need to contact relatives here in Manila,” Pagulayan said.

Not many have taken up his offer, however, probably because they have ran out of batteries or have no mobile phone signals.

Auitan had been underwater for since Thursday in what many of its residents say is the worst flooding in decades.

Many victims in the community had been staying on their roofs as rescue efforts are frustrated by strong currents.

Anna Balasbas is a Pasay City resident who also gave Php30 to Php 100 cellular phone loads to 29 flood victims as of two o’clock Saturday afternoon.

Those who asked for load are from the Cagayan and Isabela provinces, Balasbas said.

Balasbas said she even talked to victim from Barangay Linao East in Tuguegarao City a few minutes past two o’clock who badly needed help, but their phone call got cut off.

“Her father suffered a heart attack. Her battery must have drained already,” Balasbas said.

Netizens had been storming social media sites demanding information on their families in severely flooded areas, especially in Cagayan Valley as well as in San Mateo and Rodriguez towns in Rizal and in Marikina City that were also hit by catastrophic flooding since Typhoon Ulysses hit Luzon Island on Wednesday.

Mobile phones had been the most reliable way for families to exchange information during disasters in the Philippines that break down as power and communication services are shut down by strong winds and flooding.

Communication as disaster aid and relief

Even emergency responses by the government are affected by breakdowns in communication and information exchange, United States-based public safety expert Thomas Connelly said.

“As important as the flow of information into the managers of any disaster situation is the flow of information out to emergency responders, residents, search and evaluation teams, other emergency managers and management agencies is critical,” Connelly wrote

“Dissemination of timely and credible information can minimize the potential for loss of life and injury, help residents understand the extent of the emergency, simplify first responders’ tasks, accelerate the recovery phase and minimize the overall impact of the disaster event on the community,” Connelly, a retired police officer who developed Los Altos, California’s emergency and disaster response plan, said.

Quezon City Disaster Response and Relief Management Council officer Ares Gutierrez said communications is the most crucial yet oftentimes neglected area in disaster and emergency management.

“Communications bridges everything. Disaster managers need an efficient communications system to enable them to efficiently coordinate response efforts and save more lives,” Gutierrez told Kodao.

Ares Gutierrez being interviewed after a strong earthquake jolted Luzon in November 2016. (Photo from his Facebook account.)

Gutierrez said timely and frequent communication also prevents disinformation and assure the public that help is on its way.

Effective communications from the ground up will also enable decision-makers to determine whether response plans are working or needs calibration and now what type of further assistance is needed, he said.

“In times of disaster, the public wants to know how or where they can get help, what risks or dangers they face, and how they can protect themselves and their families,” Gutierrez added.

Gutierrez, a crisis and disaster risk management expert, said citizens offering mobile phone loads is a way of compensating for the perceived lack or breakdown of disaster communications.

“Humanity kicks in when you see people crying for help. You want to jump in and help. Sharing cellphone credit can be a lifesaver,” he said.

Gutierrez, however, warned that such gestures are useless if the phone network is totally down.

“A disaster-prone country like ours should have all types of communications platform in place so we don’t get cut off during crucial moments,” he said.

Gutierrez also urged the government, the private sector and the academe to act together to implement the many disaster preparedness and communication plans that languish on the drawing boards.

“Ondoy gave us a decade to prepare for Ulysses; Yolanda should have reminded us that we should get our acts done. The problem is, we easily forget,” Gutierrez said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Worst flooding in decades: Cagayan Valley’s turn to cry for help

It is Cagayan Valley’s turn to cry for help as the swollen Cagayan River submerged many barangays along its banks that led to the region’s worst flooding in decades.

As heavy rains brought by Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) inundated the region, Magat Dam has opened seven of its floodgates since Thursday, further swelling the country’s biggest river system and bringing near unprecedented flooding of communities from Central Isabela all the way to Aparri, Cagayan.

Infographic by PDRRMC Isabela

Hundreds of victims have spent days on their roofs, crying out to be rescued or be brought drinking water and food.

Local government units seemed overwhelmed and powerless, admitting they lack the equipment and personnel to deal with the crisis.

Even the region’s economic center, Tuguegarao City in Cagayan Province, is hard hit by the flooding with several of its barangays submerged in 15 feet of flood.

Water level reached as high as 13 meters at the city’s Buntun Bridge and the mighty river looked like the Pacific Ocean, Cagayan Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Office chief Ascio Macalan said on ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.

Cagayan Provincial Risk Reduction Management Management Council (PDRRMC) reported eight deaths, and five injuries due to the flooding as of Saturday morning.

In a separate radio interview, Cagayan governor Manuel Mamba said several portions of the Maharlika Highway are impassable, hampering rescue and relief operations on nearly all municipalities located along the banks of the Cagayan River.

The local executive said that aside from the excess water continuously being released by the Dam, all from the Sierra Madre, Caraballo and Cordillera mountain ranges drain into the Cagayan River, worsening the flooding.

Cagayan River was already swollen due to incessant rains since Supertyphoon Rolly, and Typhoons Sonia and Tonyo.

“It has been two weeks since this (flooding) started,” the governor said.

Mamba said he already asked the Provincial Board to be declared Cagayan under a state of calamity, admitting that its calamity fund has already been exhausted from its coronavirus pandemic operations and earlier floods.

In San Pablo, Isabela, Barangay Auitan residents report of the worst flooding since the early 1980s and complain of lack of rescue and relief operations.

Residents with single-storey houses have evacuated to houses with upper floors but many victims have remained on their roofs, neighbors with boats failing to rescue them due to strong currents.

Flooding in San Pablo, Isabela. (Photo by Ninz Khalifa Mesa)

Some victims have been wet and hungry for at least two days already.

Only two Magat Dam floodgates remain open as of Saturday morning and the flood has receded by three inches, relatives of victims said on Facebook.

#CagayanNeedsHelp and #IsabelaNeedsHelp have trended on Twitter, highlighting the desperation of victims and their worried relatives in Metro Manila.

Rescue and relief plans have yet to be announced by the national government, still busy with similar operations in the Bicol, Southern Tagalog (ST), Central Luzon and National Capital Region (NCR).

Typhoon Ulysses floods in Northern Rizal Province, Marikina, as well as parts of Bulacan Province and other NCR provinces have exceeded 2009’s Tropical Storm Ondoy, reports said, overstretching rescue and relief operations of both local and national governments.

Meanwhile, several church groups and activist organizations have begun their relief operations in affected areas in Bicol, ST and NCR on top of bringing relief to the victims of the massive fire in Bacoor, Cavite at the height of Super Typhoon Rolly. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Heavy cost of coronavirus response drains local governments’ disaster budgets

Pandemic response is taking up bulk of resources, including funds meant for disaster management.

By Estrella Torres, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

The coastal towns of Dolores and Sulat in Eastern Samar constantly battle with the impact of extreme weather events such as storm surges, flash floods and typhoons.

Early this year, the leaders of the two towns were set to conduct training for emergency response teams, buy rescue equipment and early warning devices from their calamity funds, but the Covid-19 pandemic got in the way and wiped out their calamity funds to prevent the entry of the virus.

“The province was not ready to have a Covid-19 case,” said Manuel Catuday, head of Municipal Disaster Risk Resilience Management Office (MDRRMO) of Dolores. “We don’t have a government hospital, only a rural health center with one doctor.”

A community hospital in Dolores has been dilapidated since last year, and has not been repaired, he said. The next government hospital is in Tacloban City, which is at least a four-hour drive.

Covid-19 came at a time when the localities have not even completely recovered from the onslaught of Typhoons Yolanda and Ruby, which struck a year apart.

While the government was still on post-Yolanda operations, Ruby came in November 2014 and caused severe damage to homes, crops and farmlands that were still being rehabilitated. There was not enough public attention in the aftermath of Ruby as Yolanda was still fresh in the minds of government officials as well as the general public.

A piece of G.I. sheet is seen on top of an electrical post in Barangay Sagkahan, Tacloban City after Typhoon Yolanda made landfall and claimed around 6,000 lives. Photograph: Bernard Testa

Lahat ng hanapbuhay namin nawala (All our sources of livelihood were destroyed),” said Rio Caspe, 42, a fisherman from Barangay San Francisco in Sulat whose house was destroyed by Typhoon Ruby.

His three children and wife had to rely on the meager earnings of their small sari-sari store as massive flooding made fishing difficult.

Caspe said his neighbors were also cash-strapped because their crops such as banana, rice and copra were destroyed by the typhoon.

“We only relied on relief goods while staying in an evacuation center,” said Caspe.

Funds depleted

Dolores, a third-class municipality, earmarked P8 million in calamity funding for 2020 to prepare and protect its 42,000 people or 12,700 families from the impact of natural calamities.

However, the funds had to be realigned to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for community volunteers as well as hygiene kits and food packs for residents during the lockdown, which was imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The national government’s Bayanihan fund gave Dolores a P14-million subsidy to respond to the  Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are now sourcing from this (Bayanihan) fund for our response to Covid-19 pandemic,” said Catuday.

The town also has to spend for at least 900 LSIs or locally stranded individuals who arrived in Dolores from March to June.

Dolores, Sulat, and seven other towns in Samar were placed under state of calamity in May when Typhoon Ambo, the first typhoon to visit the country this year, pummeled the province. As usual, the storm destroyed crops and damaged houses, displacing more than 140,000 people.

Most houses in these towns are made of light materials.

Matagal bago kami makabangon, hirap kasi ang pagpapagawa (It takes a long time to recover because we don’t have enough money to repair our houses),” said Catuday.

Charlie Rosaroso, head of the Sulat MDRRMO, said at least P1.5 million or 30 percent of the P5.1 million calamity fund for 2020 was spent to provide emergency assistance to families affected by Typhoon Ambo. The remaining funds were depleted by the Covid-19 response.

He said he was only able to spare P300,000 to continue the training for volunteers on emergency response.

Provinces and cities get 5 percent of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), the local governments’ share of national tax collections, for disaster risk resilience (DRR) under Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

Of the total calamity fund, 70 percent is allocated to prevention, mitigation and preparedness, and 30 percent is set aside as a Quick Response Fund (QRF).

“What is left of our calamity fund is now being used for our Covid-19 response,” said Rosaroso. These include relief goods, PPE for volunteers, hygiene kits, food packs for residents, as well as LSIs and ROFs (returning overseas Filipinos) undergoing quarantine.

Sulat has hosted close to 200 LSIs since March.

A fourth-class municipality with a population of close to 16,000, Sulat does not have a hospital, but there is one doctor in each of the rural health centers in 18 barangays, said Rosaroso.

As of Aug. 10, there were eight confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection in Eastern Samar and most of them came from Metro Manila. Both Catuday and Rosaroso said there were no confirmed cases in their towns, as they work even on Sundays to ensure health and hygiene protocols are properly implemented.

Mario Candelaria, chairman of Barangay San Francisco in Sulat, said: “An infection here is a nightmare because we don’t have a hospital.”

Noon ‘pag galing Maynila sinasalubong ng mga taga dito, ngayon nilalayuan na (Before, those who arrived from Manila got a welcome, now people avoid them,” said Candelaria.

He said the P110,000 calamity fund of San Francisco has also been used for food packs, hygiene kits, and for disinfecting public facilities.

Exposed and vulnerable

The Philippines ranked second in terms of exposure and vulnerability to climate-related risks in the Global Climate Change Risk Report for 2020 of Germanwatch, the environment think tank. Japan topped the list.

Red Constantino, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), said the report showed that “Those who are least responsible for the problem, are the ones who are suffering the most. This is unacceptable.”

“The pandemic has largely revealed systemic weaknesses that would have just taken more time to uncover otherwise,” said Constantino.

A man swims neck-deep in water in San Francisco Del Monte, Quezon City at the height of Typhoon Maring in 2017. Photograph: Bernard Testa

The German report noted that strong tropical cyclones such as Bopha (“Pablo”) 2012, Haiyan (“Yolanda”) 2013 and Mangkhut (“Ompong”) 2018 have been recorded in the last 10 years, affecting mostly the poor and vulnerable population.

At least 74 percent of the country’s population is susceptible to multiple hazards, including coastal hazards such as typhoons, storm surges and rising sea levels, according to the 2018 World Risk Report. The report ranked the Philippines third among countries most vulnerable to disaster risks.

The catastrophic impact of Tropical Depression Ondoy in 2009 cost Marikina and Pasig cities P22.54 billion, of which Pasig accounted for 90 percent.

Rich city gets more money

This time around, Pasig City had to let go of critical spending for disaster risk resilience programs due to the pandemic response, said Bryant Wong, the city disaster risk reduction and management officer. These included reducing the number of fire engines and rescue vehicles to be purchased.

“We did not expect Covid-19 pandemic to affect us all, but we need to respond to it the best way we can,” Wong said.

Unlike Sulat and Dolores, however, Pasig City Hall has deeper pockets and generous donors.

Of the P600-million calamity fund for 2020, the city government has spent half for the Covid-19 pandemic response, Wong said.

It also managed to utilize an additional P200 million from the P300 million DRR savings in the last five years.

Other funding sources for Pasig City’s Covid-19 response included a P1.2-billion supplemental fund for the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) and another P1.2 billion for tablets to be used by students for online classes, from the Special Education Fund.

The city also received P136 million from the Bayanihan fund, equivalent to one month of its IRA.

Wong said private donations of beds, PPEs, hygiene kits and rapid testing kits worth P50 million boosted the city’s pandemic response.

The private sector also donated 100,000 food packs to Pasig.

In the case of Sulat and Dolores towns, there are no big corporate donors, which meant that the money for food packs distributed to locked-down residents came from their calamity funds.

Funding sources

Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad of the Office of Civil Defense, also the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Council (NDRRMC), told local government units (LGUs) in a webinar in July to learn “to adjust, transform and adapt strategies to manage response to Covid-19 pandemic and prepare for multiple hazards from natural calamities.”

During the webinar, John Aries Macaspac, a director of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), enumerated funding sources for the Covid-19 response, including the Special DRRM Trust Fund or the savings from DRR funds in the last five years, a month’s worth of IRA from the national government and realigned funds from the General Fund. LGUs may also use 20 percent of their development funds for the purchase of PPEs, rapid test kits, vitamins, medicines, accommodation and expenses of health workers, construction of rental quarantine facilities, mobile testing labs, tents, shelters for the homeless, and training for pandemic response, under guidelines issued by the DBM and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The “Bayanihan to Heal as One” or Republic Act 11469 allocated P37 billion for the emergency Covid-19 response of LGUs. It allocated P12.4 billion to all cities; P18.39 billion to municipalities and P6.2 billion to provinces.

Constantino said responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and climate emergency should go hand in hand, as both require the expertise of scientists and policies and actions based on evidence.

Scientists, he noted, advised physical distancing to prevent the transmission Covid-19 while waiting for a vaccine to be developed. Scientists have also stressed the urgency of limiting the rise of global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

“We do not have the luxury to choose whether we need protection from the deadly fevers induced by the novel coronavirus or from an increasingly feverish planet. Just as climate change is not an environmental problem but a development crisis, so is Covid-19 not merely a human health crisis but an ecological problem,” said Constantino.

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About the Author:

Estrella Torres is a journalist who has worked for major English dailies in the Philippines for 20 years. She is now the Head of Media and Communications of Save the Children Philippines. Save the Children implements a program on improving the quality of disaster response and preparedness in the typhoon-stricken municipalities of Sulat and Dolores in Eastern Samar.

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.)