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Duterte now a known dictator with EU Parliament vote, rights group says

President Rodrigo Duterte is now known as a dictator by the international community after the European Parliament passed a resolution last September 17 condemning widespread human rights violations in the Philippines, an international rights group said.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) said Duterte has become a globally notorious dictator whose four-year reign has greatly surpassed the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the number of civilians killed by his government.

“With the strong resolution from the EU Parliament, the Duterte government has now gained notoriety as a world-known human rights violator, if not, a dictator following the likes of Ferdinand Marcos,” ICHRP said in a statement.

More than 3,000 were killed, 34,000 were tortured, 70,000 were imprisoned and billions of public funds were stolen by the Marcos regime.

Duterte’s long list of violations

The European Parliament said at least 8,663 people had been killed by the Philippine National Police through a “widespread and systematic” anti-drug campaign by the Duterte government.

The resolution said that Duterte himself explicitly encouraged the police to commit extrajudicial execution and promised them immunity and promotions.

Majority of the victims were from poor and marginalized communities, the measure added, quoting a June 2020 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The resolution also listed the following human rights violations committed by the government:

-threats, harassment, intimidation and violence against human rights defenders, journalists and activists, equating their advocacy with insurgency;

-conviction of Rappler’s Maria Resa and Reynaldo Santos for cyberlibel and the denial of the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise;

-imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima;

-killing of at least 43 land rights defenders;

-criminalization and attacks against indigenous human rights defenders;

-killing of human rights defender Zara Alvarez and peace advocate Randall Echanis;

-assassination of at least 16 journalists and a pattern of intimidation of independent news sources;

-Duterte’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court;

-Congress’ approval of the death penalty measure and adoption of a new anti-terrorism law;

-Duterte’s repeated sexist and misogynistic speech and behavior;

-endangerment of workers’ rights advocates;

-Duterte’s repeated reference to political opponents’ sexual orientation as a smear against them and implying that homosexuality is a disease;

-victimization of up to 100,000 children in prostitution rings and child labor; and

-government’s failure to curb corruption.

The European Parliament resolution said it proactively supports the adoption of a resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation into human rights violations committed under the Duterte government.

The measure also recommended to the European Union (EU) to temporarily withdraw the Philippines’ Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus status that provides tariff perks for Filipino goods until the Duterte government “immediately carry out impartial, transparent, independent and meaningful investigations into all extrajudicial killings.”

The resolution was adopted with 626 votes in favor, seven against, and 52 abstentions.

Allies of Duterte however dared Europe to go ahead with its sanctions and vowed reprisals in the future.

“No more discussions. They should do what they want to do during this time. If they want to implement it, go ahead,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

“I’m sorry. I’m being very undiplomatic in my answer, but what else can I say? At the time of a pandemic, they’re threatening us. Susmaryosep, what else do we lose?” Roque added.

Philippine House of Representatives Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for his part said the European Parliament’s resolution is an interference in the “country’s domestic issues.”

“The Philippine House of Representatives takes exception to the outright interference of the European Parliament in the purely domestic matters of the Philippines by dictating on the government ‘to renew the broadcast license’ of ABS-CBN and to ‘drop’ the Cyberlibel charges against Maria Ressa,” Cayetano said in a statement.

“To our friends in the European Parliament, we have a saying here in the Philippines that the world is round. The day will come – mark my words – that the Philippines will be in a position to impose economic sanctions on your countries,” he said.

A bill seeking to block United States (US) assistance to the Philippine police and military, including equipment and training, “until human rights conditions are met,” has also been submitted by 19 US House of Representatives members last week.

Duterte’s de facto martial law

 ICHRP said it welcomes the resolution by the legislative branch of the European Union it said is a damning indictment of the human rights crisis in the Philippines.

“The demands for justice for those slain in the drug war, the killings of activists, attacks on press freedom have all gained international condemnation. It is an attestation that the world no longer tolerates this repressive government. Duterte and his dictator government will be made accountable,” ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy said.

 “President Duterte with his ‘de facto’ Martial Law in place and the continuing repression in the country has found himself increasingly isolated in the international community. Cut from the same cloth as that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Duterte is now synonymous with killings and human rights atrocity,” Murphy added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups laud global calls for probes and sanctions on Duterte’s rights violations

Human rights groups welcomed measures by the international community to call for investigations and sanctions to stop human rights violations under the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Karapatan said the recent resolution on the human rights situation in the Philippines by the European Parliament is a “welcome step towards reckoning and accountability over the Duterte administration’s blatant disregard of its obligation to uphold human rights and civil liberties in the country.”

The European Parliament, voting last Thursday, September 17, said it proactively supports the adoption of a resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation into human rights violations committed in the Philippines since Duterte became president.

The measure also recommended to the European Union (EU) to temporarily withdraw the Philippines’ Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus status that provides tariff perks for Filipino goods until the Duterte government “immediately carry out impartial, transparent, independent and meaningful investigations into all extrajudicial killings.”

“The resolution — adopted with 626 votes in favor, 7 against, and 52 abstentions —particularly killings related to the drug war as well as the recent killings of human rights activists Jose Reynaldo Porquia in Iloilo City, Randall Echanis in Quezon City and Zara Alvarez in Bacolod City while the Philippines is under coronavirus lockdown imposed by the government,” Karapatan said in a statement.  

The resolution also expressed alarm on the conviction of Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa over cyberlibel charges and the shutdown of ABS-CBN.


Philippine Human Rights Bill

US Congresswoman Susan Wild (D-PA). Supplied photo.

Filipino-American organizations meanwhile welcomed the introduction of the Philippine Human Rights Bill at the United States House of Representatives by Philadelphia Democrat Susan Wild.

The measure seeks to block US assistance to the Philippine police and military, including equipment and training, “until human rights conditions are met.”

The bill is co-sponsored by 18 other representatives.

If the bill becomes law, the US government shall stop funding support to the Philippine police and military unless the following are met:

  • Investigating and prosecuting members of the military and police forces who are credibly found to have violated human rights;  
  • Withdrawing the military from domestic policy;
  • Establishing protections of the rights of trade unionists, journalists, human right defenders, indigenous persons, small-farmers, LGBTI activists, and critics of the government;
  • Taking steps to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses; and
  • Fully complying with any and all audits or investigations regarding the improper use of security aid.

Organizations such as the Communications Workers of America (CWA), The Malaya Movement, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines and Kabataan Alliance said they applaud the bill.

“[We are] proud to support the introduction of the Philippine Human Rights Act to protect the working people in the Philippines who are suffering greatly under the Duterte regime,” CWA Senior Director for Government Affairs and Policy Shane Larson said.

“Although we’re all dealing with the fallout of the pandemic right now, we cannot turn our backs on the crisis that Filipino workers have been facing under Duterte, which has greatly accelerated during COVID-19, with the Philippines government’s intensified power grab to persecute its political enemies. We must show Duterte that Americans and the labor movement won’t stand for him and his administration imprisoning and executing trade unionists and activists,” Larson added.

Other organizations supporting the bill include the Teamsters, Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, United Church of Christ – Global Ministries, United Methodist Church – General Board of Church & Society, Migrante USA, Gabriela USA, Anakbayan USA, Bayan-USA, Franciscan Network on Migration, Pax Christi New Jersey, Kabataan Alliance, and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns and others.

PH government response

In response, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque dismissed the effects of a possible revocation of the tariff perks on Philippine goods in Europe.

“No more discussions. They should do what they want to do during this time. If they want to implement it, go ahead,” Roque in an annoyed tone said.

“I’m sorry. I’m being very undiplomatic in my answer, but what else can I say? At the time of a pandemic, they’re threatening us. Susmaryosep, what else do we lose?” Roque added.

Philippine House of Representatives Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for his part said the European Parliament’s resolution is an interference in the “country’s domestic issues.”

“The Philippine House of Representatives takes exception to the outright interference of the European Parliament in the purely domestic matters of the Philippines by dictating on the government ‘to renew the broadcast license’ of ABS-CBN and to ‘drop’ the Cyberlibel charges against Maria Ressa,” Cayetano said in a statement.

“To our friends in the European Parliament, we have a saying here in the Philippines that the world is round. The day will come – mark my words – that the Philippines will be in a position to impose economic sanctions on your countries,” he fired back.

Karapatan however thanked the political parties who initiated the European Parliament resolution and the members of parliament who supported and adopted it.

“[W]e hope this will enjoin other governments and the international community at large to continue to take a strong stance in denouncing the Duterte administration’s attacks on human and people’s rights in the Philippines and in supporting an independent investigation by the UN HRC on these attacks,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Left to discuss peace talks resumption with Leni

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said it plans to engage in discussions with Vice President Leni Robredo for the resumption of its peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

Recently-appointed NDFP Negotiating Panel interim chairperson Julie de Lima said the Left should “engage the (GRP’s) constitutional successor to press for the resumption of the peace negotiation as a rallying point in the effort to oust [GRP President Rodrigo] Duterte,” the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Ang Bayan reported.

“[T]he NDFP, including its panel, should hold discussions with opposition parties, in particular, the Liberal Party,” de Lima told the underground newsletter.

She added that prospects for resuming the peace negotiations after Duterte, whether he is ousted or he finishes his term, “are possible and desirable.”

De Lima pointed out the peace negotiations can immediately resume on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) once Duterte is out of office.  

Duterte cancelled the peace negotiations in July 2017 as both the GRP and NDFP were ready to finalize important agreements under the CASER.

Prior to her new appointment, de Lima is a long-time NDFP Negotiating Panel member and head of its Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms.

CASER to combat COVID-19

The CASER, de Lima said, has relevant provisions on confronting the issue of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The draft agreement has a whole article consisting of seven sections which are devoted to the discussion of the people’s right to health. This includes the establishment of a universal public health system that provides free, comprehensive and quality health services for all,” de Lima explained.

The CASER provides immediate and adequate financial, material, moral and psychosocial support, ensuring disaster preparedness and respons, and holding criminally and civilly liable corrupt and grossly negligent officials, she added.

“The NDFP and GRP can elaborate on the issue based on a summing up of experience and learning lessons from both sides as well as from the positive and negative practices of foreign countries and international agencies in responding and confronting this particular pandemic as well as other pandemics.”

Robredo has yet to respond to Kodao’s request for a reply to de Lima’s statement. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pahayag ng Makabayan Bloc sa badyet ng Office of the President

Nag-rali ang mga kasapi ng Makabayan Bloc sa Batasan noong Lunes, Setyembre 14, upang tutulan ang anila’y napakalaking badyet ng tanggapan ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte samantalang mababa ang badyet para sa kalusugan sa gitna ng krisis ng coronavirus.

Ang pagkilos ay kasabay ng deliberasyon ng House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations sa lampas walong bilyong piso para sa Office of the President sa susunod na taon, higit kalahati nito ay intelligence fund na maaring hindi na iulat sa Commission on Audit. Buong-buong inaprubahan kalaunan ang badyet ng pangulo.

KARAPATAN unfurls giant “Stop the Killings” banner as 45th UNHRC opens

Human rights group Karapatan unfurled a giant “Stop the Killings” banner at the Commission on Human Rights’ Liwasang Diokno in Quezon City as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) opens its 45th session today, September 14, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The group reiterates its call for an end to the Duterte government’s extrajudicial killings and for the UNHRC to investigate rampant human rights violations in the Philippines.

It really hurts: Economic infrastructure over health

by Jose Lorenzo Lim

The Philippine economy contracted 16.5% in the second quarter of 2020 which was attributed mainly to declines in manufacturing, transportation and storage, and construction. The Duterte administration is counting on infrastructure to stimulate the Philippine economy’s recovery. To do this, the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) is allotting Php1.1 trillion for the government’s infrastructure budget in 2021.

Are the planned infrastructure projects really what the economy needs right now after everything that’s happened this year? How much of the infrastructure helps fight the COVID-19 pandemic? Or is the government just building the same road and transport infrastructure from its pre-pandemic plan?

Unchanged priorities

Long before COVID, the Duterte government’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) Program planned Php8-9 trillion in infrastructure projects from 2017-2022. This included supposed high-impact projects such as railways, urban mass transport, airports and seaports, roads and bridges, and “new and better cities”.

The government’s priority for such infrastructure projects and economic infrastructure stays, as reflected in the proposed 2021 budget. The budget for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is Php613 billion for roads (Php59 billion), bridges (Php157.4 billion), and flood management projects (Php125.8 billion). There are also allocations for local programs (Php176.1 billion), and the convergence and special support program (Php50.2 billion).

Interestingly, Php23.9 billion of the convergence and special support program is for access roads leading to tourism destinations, Php1.9 billion on access roads to airports, and Php2.5 billion on access roads to seaports.

The Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) proposed 2021 budget meanwhile spends Php107.4 billion on railways, aviation, and maritime infrastructure programs. Of this, Php107.2 billion will be spent on railways. The Rail Transport Program includes projects from the 100 infrastructure flagship projects (IFP) such as Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 Rehabilitation, the Metro Manila Subway, North-South Commuter Railway System, and the PNR South Long-Haul Project. The DOTr also proposes Php1 million on aviation infrastructure and Php166 million on maritime infrastructures.

The National Economic and Development Authority’s (NEDA) 100 IFP list includes 15 infrastructure projects targeted to be completed in 2021 worth Php181 billion. Eleven of these are in the transport and mobility sector, one is in information technology, one is in urban development and redevelopment, and two are for water resources. This affirms transportation and mobility as BBB program priorities.

However, the infrastructure priorities are puzzling and the government seems to be getting ahead of itself with all that interconnectivity infrastructure.

As it is, the coronavirus still hasn’t been contained over seven months since the pandemic broke out in the country. Many businesses aren’t able to reopen and many families are still jobless or have low incomes even with lockdown restrictions eased. It is not just unclear but actually doubtful that many of the infrastructure projects proposed will help all those who will remain distressed next year.

The pandemic also exposed how inadequate the country’s public health system is. First, in containing the pandemic with insufficient mass testing, contact-tracing, isolating and smart quarantining. And, second, in treating all COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients needing health care.

Health neglect

What is the state of the country’s health facilities? Government data shows that there are 1,236 hospitals as of 2017, 65% of which are private-run. Privatization has resulted in there being more private hospital beds (54,317) than public hospital beds (47,371) as of 2016.

These private hospitals that dominate the country’s health system are the same ones that are now charging exorbitant rates to COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients to attain their desired profitability. For them, health care is about returns to investment more than returning the sick to good health.

Privatized health is also the reason why bed capacity is falling further and further behind the country’s needs. For a profit-seeking hospital, excess bed and healthcare capacity is in effect idle capital and correspondingly a drain on profits.

The Philippines has never reached the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of 20 beds per 10,000 population. Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data shows that the situation has even worsened from 14.4 beds per 10,000 population in 1990 to only 9.9 beds per population in 2014. In terms of community health services, only 47% of barangays across the country had health stations in 2018.

The country is very much in need of healthcare workers as well. The PSA reports a ratio of one government physician to 33,000 Filipinos, which is far from the WHO-recommended 1:1,000 doctor to population ratio. The number of public health nurses is also concerning at a ratio of 1 to 50,000 Filipinos. Add to this how Filipino health frontliners are themselves succumbing to COVID-19 due to poor working conditions and lack of equipment, facility, and financial support. The dearth in health facilities and health care workers will persist if the government continues to neglect the health sector.

Has the government’s infrastructure program been adjusted to meet deficiencies in health infrastructure highlighted by the pandemic? The government has actually touted some health-related infrastructure to help fight COVID-19.

The latest IFP list is yet to be released. In a recent interview though, Secretary Vince Dizon, Presidential Adviser for Flagship Programs and Projects, announced that 8 projects that could not be completed anytime soon had been taken out from the 100 IFP. These were replaced by 13 projects related to the digital economy, water projects, and healthcare.

Dizon said that the most important healthcare project is the Virology Institute that would be built in New Clark City. A Virology Institute could really complement the Philippine healthcare system, if only there were enough healthcare facilities to begin with. But the opposite is true.

A look at the Department of Health’s (DOH) proposed 2021 budget shows that the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) only gets Php4.8 billion. This is a huge cut from its Php8.4 billion budget this year and especially compared to its Php30.3 billion budget in 2018.

The proposed HFEP budget is just as much as the DPWH’s Priority Bridges crossing Pasig-Marikina River and the Manggahan Floodway Bridges Construction Project valued at Php4.8 billion, which is just one of the agency’s projects in Metro Manila.

The country needs more health infrastructure more than ever. COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 wards are overwhelmed yet the government decides to slash the budget for health facilities and still prioritize economic infrastructure in the form of roads and bridges. Many other essential elements of the health budget are also being defunded in 2021.

Time to reprioritize

The onslaught of COVID-19 exposes the insensitivity of the Duterte administration and how irrelevant the BBB program is in meeting the country’s most urgent needs. Health infrastructure clearly needs to be expanded.

Yet the priority is still disproportionately for infrastructure projects supporting the profit-making of transport contractors, foreign transport sector firms, and corporations in the service- and trading-oriented sectors of the economy.

The government has to invest much more in strengthening the public health system, in building public health facilities, and in advancing health research and development. Health care workers also need to be protected, paid decently, and supported to be able to give Filipinos the quality and affordable health care they deserve. #

‘Are we supposed to just forget he killed Jennifer?’

“So a murderer (will be) released for good conduct. Are we supposed to just forget that he killed Jennifer Laude because he’s done some good? Another question: you think this murderer (I’m not even gonna say his name) wasn’t treated fairly, but was it fair that Jennifer Laude was murdered out of hate just because of her sexual orientation?” — Liza Soberano, actor

Bayanihan 2 and 2021 budget leave millions of unemployed behind

by IBON Media & Communications

The latest July 2020 labor force survey (LFS) figures confirm the inadequacy of the Duterte administration’s response to what is developing into the worst jobs crisis in the country’s history. The Bayanihan 2 and the proposed 2021 national government (NG) budget give the appearance of assistance but will leave millions of jobless and distressed Filipinos behind. The level of aid for the people is much too small for the magnitude of the crisis at hand.

This year will likely see the biggest contraction in employment in the country’s history. Employment contracted by 1.2 million in July 2020 from the same period last year, falling to 41.3 million employed according to the latest LFS. This comes after the reported 8.0 million year-on-year contraction in April 2020. For the whole of 2020, IBON estimates employment to fall by 2-2.5 million from last year. This will far surpass the previous record employment losses of 833,000 in 1980 and 821,000 in 1997.

The crisis of joblessness is unprecedented. The official unemployment rate of 10% in July 2020 brings the average of the first three rounds for the year so far to 11% which is not likely to improve much even when the October round results come out. The 4.6 million officially reported unemployed in July 2020 is already 2.1 million more than in the same period last year.

Adding 4.6 million unemployed and the 7.1 million underemployed means that the government acknowledges at least 11.7 million Filipinos jobless or looking for additional work to increase their incomes in July 2020. IBON however has long pointed out that official unemployment figures since 2005 tend to underestimate the real number of unemployed Filipinos by around 2-2.5 million annually.

Moreover, the labor department has already reported 604,403 overseas Filipino workers seeking assistance of which only a little over one-third (237,778) have been helped so far. In a press briefing today, they also said that they expect another 200,000 to need help until the end of the year.

Official figures likely underestimate the extent of the problem. However, even going by these, the inadequacy of the government’s response to directly help the people is clear.

Bayanihan 2 promises Php5,000-8,000 in emergency cash subsidies and other assistance for poor households, displaced workers and OFWs. However, only Php19.2 billion is budgeted for cash subsidies and other assistance which is just 3.8 million beneficiaries at most. The aid will also just be a mere Php37-60 per person per day for a month or even less than the official Php71 poverty threshold.

In the proposed 2021 NG budget, there is no provision for substantial emergency cash subsidies beyond existing social welfare department programs such as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and smaller programs. Indigent pensioners are not getting any increase in their pensions. Even the labor department’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers and Government Internship Program (TUPAD-GIP) program gets just a meager Php3.2 billion increase to Php9.9 billion.

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are also not getting the focused assistance that they need. There are 997,900 MSMEs employing 5.7 million workers aside from hundreds of thousands more unregistered establishments with millions more workers. Formal sector establishments had over Php21 trillion in expenses in 2018. In July 2020, the DTI said that 26% of companies they surveyed closed operations and another 52% were only partially operating. Those partially operating also said their income was down by 90 percent.

The Php77.1 billion Bayanihan 2 budget for production and enterprise support will cover only a small fraction of workers in MSMEs, and is even shared with farmers and fisherfolk. In the proposed 2021 NG budget, the MSME Development Program is even getting a Php416 million budget cut to just Php2.3 billion. The budget of the Small Business Corporation (SBC) stays the same at just Php1.5 billion.

In their press briefing today, the economic managers projected a 12% unemployment rate in 2020 (mid-point of the Development Budget Coordination Committee estimate of 11-13%) improving to 6-8% in 2021 then 4-5% in 2022. These optimistic projections cannot materialize without substantially increasing aggregate demand through meaningful cash transfers to millions of distressed households and more support to hundreds of thousands of struggling MSMEs.

Tens of millions of Filipinos and their families will continue to suffer for years without a genuine stimulus program overriding the misguided fiscal conservatism and reckless optimism of the economic managers. #

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

Paramilitary destroys Lumad school; leader invokes Duterte in attack

A paramilitary group destroyed an indigenous people’s school in Bukidnon Province last Wednesday, August 26, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network reported.

The Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) Academy in Sitio Laburon, Brgy. Matupe, San Fernando was attacked and destroyed by around 50 members of paramilitary group ‘Bagani’, the network said in an alert Saturday.

The group said two teachers tending to the school farm were alerted by students at around 7:15 in the morning that armed men have trespassed the school campus.

The school—repeatedly accused by government forces as a New People’s Army training facility—is 15-minutes away from the farm.

The teachers saw the paramilitary group destroying the school buildings and tearing up textbooks.  

The destroyed teachers’ quarters. (SOS photo)

“The teachers were about to take photos of the incident but were threatened by the ‘Bagani’ leader Lito Gambay, who told them to leave as President (Rodrigo) Duterte will know about this,” the SOS said.

Students and community members cried out of frustration as their school was being destroyed before their eyes, the SOS added.

The two school buildings and teachers’ cottage was built in 2007 from donations by the European Union Aid for uprooted people.

The main school building after the attack. (SOS photo)

The SOS said the ‘Bagani’ paramilitary is under the command of the 89th Infantry Battalion Bravo Company of the Philippine Army which has set up camp in Brgy. Kalagangan, San Fernando, 30-minutes away from the school.

“The Save Our Schools condemns in strongest terms the unabated destruction and closure of Lumad schools in Mindanao. As of August 2020, around 178 lumad schools are now forcibly closed,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Another view of the destroyed school building after the attack. (SOS photo)

PH ‘stimulus’ smallest in region

Philippine spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is among the smallest in the region, said research group IBON.

The narrow-minded obsession with ‘creditworthiness’ stops the government from taking the urgent steps needed to restore livelihoods and save the economy. The group said that having economic managers dominated by finance people rather than development experts is the biggest obstacle to real recovery.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Policy Responses to COVID-19 tracker, the fiscal policy response of the Philippines is equivalent to just 3.1% of its gross domestic product (GDP).

IBON noted that this is the smallest among the major economies of Southeast Asia. This is less than in Singapore (19.7%), Vietnam (13.3%), Thailand (9.6%), Indonesia (4.4%) and Malaysia (4.3%). It is also less than half of the global average of around 6.2% of GDP.

The Philippines’ ranking does not change even if the Bayanihan 2 bill recently approved by the Senate is passed into law, said the group.

The proposed Php140 billion stimulus program is worth just 0.7% of the GDP and will bring the country’s fiscal response only to 3.8% of GDP.

The IMF notes that country data are not always strictly comparable but the figures are nonetheless indicative.

IBON said that upcoming national government (NG) budgets meanwhile see the smallest post-crisis ‘stimulus’ increases in decades, further undermining economic recovery.

Department of Budget and Management National Budget Memorandum No. 136 only foresees a 5.7% budget increase in 2021 falling to an even smaller 1.8% increase in 2022, despite the country facing the worst economic decline in its history in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The budget increase in 2021 would be the smallest in a decade and in 2022 the smallest in over 30 years.

These increases also compare unfavorably with budget increases after the 1997 Asian financial crisis and 2008 global financial and economic crisis.

After the Thai Baht collapsed in 1997, the NG budget rose by 9.3% in 1998 and then by 8.0% in 1999. After the Lehman Brothers firm collapsed in 2008, the NG budget rose by 9.1% in 2009 and by 2.7% in 2010.

The economic managers have been blocking larger stimulus packages proposed by Congress since at least May, the group said.

The House of Representatives and Senate took up more meaningful stimulus measures worth at least Php1.3 trillion or more but stopped when the finance department told them to because these were ‘unfundable’ and ‘unsustainable’.

These measures would have been closer to the global average.

Among others, this also affirms that the so-called power of the purse of Congress is illusory and how the president and executive branch are actually in complete control of the country’s finances. The president can implement a bigger stimulus package if he wants to, said the group.

The obsession of the economic managers with ‘creditworthiness’ is misplaced, said IBON.

Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have lower credit ratings than the Philippines but are spending more to respond to and recover from the pandemic. Financing can be raised by reallocating from less productive infrastructure and debt service, and by a more progressive tax system with higher taxes on large firms and the wealth of the country’s super-rich.

The magnitude of the country’s response has to be commensurate to the crisis at hand. This should span health measures, continued cash subsidies to improve household welfare and boost aggregate demand, and support especially to Filipino and domestic market-oriented micro, small and medium enterprises, said the group. #

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