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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.

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.

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)

Philippine Army soldiers kill journalist in Masbate

MANILA — A journalist was shot and killed by government soldiers in Milagros, Masbate, last Saturday, November 14.

Ronnie Villamor, 50, a stringer for local tabloid Dos Kantos Balita was killed by troops led by a certain 2nd Lieutenant Maydim Jomadil after covering an aborted survey of a disputed property.

Villamor was also a pastor of the Life in Christ Church.

A spot report on the incident by Milagros police chief Major Aldrin Rosales quoted army troops as saying they were investigating the presence of five armed men in Barangat Matanglad who fled at their approach.

The army and the police said Villamor was a New People’s Army (NPA) member who allegedly drew a firearm when ordered to stop his motorcycle at a Scout Platoon-2nd Infantry Battalion Philippine Army checkpoint.

The victim’s colleagues however disputed the soldiers’ version of the incident, saying there was no encounter between the government soldiers and the NPA.

Masbate Tri-Media President Dadong Briones Sr. told Dos Kantos Balita the victim just came from a coverage of an aborted survey of a piece of land being disputed by certain Dimen family and businessman Randy Favis.

Favis’s goons reportedly prevented the survey from proceeding, prompting the surveyors to return to mainland Bicol and the victim to proceed to his brother Arthur’s house at Barangay Bonbon.

Dos Kantos Balita reported that witnesses saw army troopers flagging down the victim and, after being identified by Favis’s men Johnrey Floresta and Eric Desilva, shot Villamor dead.

In a statement, the Masbate chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the killing of their colleague and demands a thorough investigation of the incident.

“The killing of our colleague…at the hands of government soldiers sends a chilling message to us journalists not only here in Masbate but all throughout the country,” the victims’ colleagues said.

Villamor is the fourth journalist murdered in Masbate after Joaquin Briones (March 13, 2017), Antonio Castillo (June 12, 2009), and Nelson Nedura (December 2, 2003), the NUJP said.

“He (Villamor) is the 19th slain during the Duterte administration and the 191st since 1986. He was also the second killed this month, only four days after NUJP member Virgilio Maganes, who had survived an attempt on his life in 2016, was shot dead outside his home in Villasis town, Pangasinan,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Peace advocates slam red-tagging as a ‘work of evil’; call for peace talks resumption

By Joseph Cuevas

Peace advocates held a media briefing last Wednesday, November 11, to condemn red and terror-tagging activities they say undermine efforts to resume peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

The group Pilgrims for Peace pointed out that if the GRP still wants to resume negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA), it should stop calling the underground groups as terrorists.

It also pointed out that the NDFP is not classified as a terrorist organization even in the government’s own official pronouncements.

The advocates are dismayed that “war and terror-mongering are rearing their ugly heads once again, as a dominant trend in the current conduct by the GRP.”

Fr. Christopher Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente described the red-tagging activities of government agencies such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and some officials of the government as a “work of evil” that directly hurts peace efforts.

Ablon cited that six out of seven victims of extra-judicial killings of church workers and peace advocates red-tagged.

Not terrorist organizations

Atty. Edre Olalia, legal consultant of the NDFP, said that red-tagging and vilification violates the presumption of innocence and human rights of target, especially the right to association.

The practice of red-tagging, especially by the state forces and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, has no other real purpose but to silence dissent and criticism and repress opposition and counter-narratives against government policies and actions, Olalia explained.

“Red-tagging together with the draconian measures like the newly signed Anti-Terrorism Law turn the state forces and machinery against such unarmed civilians and groups who are exercising their basic rights and fundamental freedoms in a democratic society,” Olalia said.

Olalia pointed-out that the CPP-NPA-NDF possesses a level of legitimacy while their armed resistance abide by standards set by the United Nations resolutions and conventions.

“The CPP and NPA have not been listed as a terrorist organizations by the United Nations and the NDFP has never been [listed as] a terrorist organizations in any country,” Olalia added.

Olalia said that red-tagging conditions the mind of the public to eventually designate legal organizations and individuals as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council.

NDFP peace consultant and long-time activist Rafael Baylosis stressed that CPP-NPA-NDF must not be called terrorist organizations but entities fighting for national liberation and democracy for the people.

Talks resumption

Baylosis said that peace negotiations must be resumed and the Duterte government should rescind its terrorist proclamation of the CPP and the NPA.

He also called on the government to respect previous agreements signed by both parties.

Baylosis recalled the cancelled fifth round of peace talks last 2018 that was set to sign the Interim Peace Agreement that included the common draft on social and economic reforms, the coordinated and unilateral ceasefire, and release of all political prisoners thru general amnesty.

Pilgrims for Peace encouraged the GRP to consider resuming the peace talks anew in order to address the root cause of armed conflict through peace negotiations. #

More rights violations with Sinas as top cop, groups warn

A farmers’ group and a human rights organization warned that more rights abuses will follow National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) commander Major General Debold Sinas’s appointment as the next Philippine National Police (PNP) chief.

Following the announcement by Malacanan Palace that the controversial officer is the country’s next top cop, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said Sinas’ record is enough proof that the police would be further tainted with more human rights violations once he assumes command.

The group said Sinas is accountable for Oplan Sauron in Negros it blames for the deaths,   arrests, and detention of farmers and activists during his stint as Central Visayas Regional Police Office chief.

“Sinas is also behind the arrests of Manila-based activists including Reina Mae Nasino. Sinas is also on the hook for the still unresolved brutal killing of peasant leader and peace consultant Randy Echanis last August 10,” the KMP said in a statement.

Sinas, described by the KMP as an “attack dog” of President Rodrigo Duterte, will replace outgoing PNP Chief Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan.

The police general also courted widespread condemnation by celebrating his birthday last March with a party at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City despite a government-imposed ban on gatherings.

The KMP said that with Sinas at the PNP’s helm the public must expect for the worst from the police and remain vigilant at all times.

“The PNP only serves at the pleasure of the President who terrorizes the people on a daily basis,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

Human rights group Karapatan for its part said it is not surprised at Sinas’ appointment as PNP chief as Duterte has a clear penchant for rewarding the most notorious of human rights violators with rank promotions.

Karapatan warned that with Sinas’s appointment, ”a bloody party of human rights violations” is sure to follow.

“Duterte’s most rabid and murderous lapdogs are given freer rein to merrily kill, kill, and kill with wanton impunity,” the group said in a statement.

Karapatan said it fears Sinas will continue the Duterte government’s “sham and bloody drug war and the repression of critics and activists.”

The group recalled that the Commission on Human Rights reported the increase of drug-related killings in Central Visayas from July 2018 to October 2019 when he was police chief in the region.

“Karapatan has nothing but indignation and disgust for Sinas’ appointment. The messages being sent are clear as day: follow the president’s orders and you will be protected and promoted,” Karapatan said.

“[T]his fascist regime is gearing up for an intensified crackdown on dissent and assault on human rights by appointing one of its most loyal butchers as the country’s top cop,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

IBON asks: How much of Villar wealth is driven by BBB?

by IBON Media & Communications

Sen. Cynthia Villar has just been reported as the richest government official with a reported net worth of Php3.81 billion. Sen. Villar’s net worth is by far the biggest among the Senate, House of Representatives, and Cabinet. The Villar family is one of the largest property developers in the country. Because of this, IBON points out, it is among the biggest beneficiaries of soaring land values from transport projects under the Duterte administration’s flagship Build, Build, Build (BBB) infrastructure program.

Sen. Villar is the wife of the Philippines’ richest man – former senator Manny Villar who has a net worth of US$5.6 billion (about Php271 billion at current exchange rates). Similarly, their son Public Works Secretary Mark Villar has been reported as the second richest Cabinet member with a net worth of Php1.41 billion. The public works secretary’s personal wealth was even used by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque to argue that he is “above corruption”.

Corruption in public infrastructure projects is normally understood as referring to kickbacks or bribes from public works contractors. There are however also huge windfall profits to be made by well-placed real estate developers from public transport projects, IBON said.

The Department of Transport (DOTr) for instance has already pointed out how MRT-3 projects can cause residential and commercial land values within one kilometer of stations to increase four-fold, from Php3,700-6,300 per square meter to Php14,000-22,100 per square meter.

Likewise, real estate consultancy firm Colliers International Philippines sees residential land values around the planned Mega Manila Subway project’s stations rising by at least two-fold and commercial land values by at least three-fold from the start of construction to full operation of the subway. Another firm, Leechiu Property Consultants, meanwhile points out how real estate values around rail stations can even increase as much as thirteen-fold.

IBON noted that the Duterte administration’s BBB program has already increased public infrastructure spending nationwide from Php590.5 billion in 2016 to Php785.6 billion in 2019, increasing further to Php1,017.3 billion in 2021. Transport infrastructure projects include roads, bridges, rail, airports, sea ports and others. Out of the government’s 104 flagship infrastructure projects worth Php4.1 trillion, 70 are transport projects cumulatively accounting for Php3.7 trillion or 91% of the total value of projects.

IBON says that the huge windfall wealth for the country’s real estate developers including the Villar family is likely among the reasons for the Duterte administration’s stubborn insistence on its transport-heavy BBB program despite emerging pandemic-related needs for cash assistance, health systems development, and enterprise support.

The systematic use of public funds to support private oligarch wealth is among the reasons for 12 Philippine real estate developers to be counted among Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list, IBON noted. This raises huge conflict of interest issues around the Villar family’s direct involvement in government, IBON stressed, specifically in the Senate and Cabinet public works portfolio.

The dominance of real estate and related interests in the economy and their influence on economic policymaking also goes far in explaining the bias against developing domestic agriculture and Filipino industry, IBON said. #

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

Dirty Duterte admin: More coal energy than ever

by IBON Media & Communications

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte called on all signatories of the Paris Agreement to do their part in reducing carbon emissions. He said that he will consider declaring a “climate emergency” because mitigating the effects of climate change is a priority. Meanwhile, Congress is deliberating on a higher proposed budget for renewable energy.

This is a seeming turnaround from the president’s 2016 declaration that the Philippines will not honor commitments under the Paris climate change deal. But maybe not – the country’s increasing reliance on coal betrays the Duterte administration’s green turn as mere posturing. The government is maintaining the country’s high dependence on coal. This puts into doubt whether it is genuinely concerned about the Philippine environment and declaring a climate emergency. A higher proposed budget for renewable energy also does not necessarily indicate seriousness towards greener energy.

Using more coal than ever

A real shift to renewable energy will help the country phase out of relying on coal and fossil fuels. But the heavy and mounting use of coal shows that the government is not really keen on this. The highly privatized power sector is predictably choosing to source energy where it is most profitable for it.

Energy supply in the Philippines is still primarily sourced from fossil fuels. Non-renewable oil and coal made up 61% of energy sources in 2018, while the rest were renewable sources including geothermal and biomass. Oil is largely used for transportation and commercial purposes. The industry and electricity sectors meanwhile rely heavily on coal which takes up 32% and 31.5% of 2018 energy consumption, respectively.

The government is increasingly reliant on coal for power generation. Department of Energy (DOE) data shows that, under the Duterte administration, power generated from coal rose from 43,303 gigawatt hours (Gwh) in 2016 to 57,890 Gwh which is over half of total power generated (106,041 Gwh) in 2019. Only 22,044 Gwh of power was generated from renewable energy.

In its study “The State of the Philippine Environment”, IBON noted that 11 of the 49 committed power projects across the country are coal-fired power plants and account for 78% of the projects’ combined rated capacity of 6,280 megawatts (MW). Out of 345 indicative power projects, 18 are coal-fired accounting for 28% of the rated capacity.

The Philippines is also increasing coal imports. Imported coal made up 13.1% of the primary energy supply mix in 2016, 15.8% in 2017, and 17% in 2018; the share of indigenous coal as well as renewable energy correspondingly decreased . Coal self-sufficiency fell from 45.2% to 37.9% over the same period.

IBON also stressed that coal is cheap but hazardous to the environment and the people. Yet, the country continues to receive imported fossil fuels, technology, and foreign investment. Some of these have been rejected or banned in their countries of origin due to environmental concerns. As a result, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the Philippines increased by 425% annually from 1990 to 2016, mostly coming from power generation. Coal was responsible for half of the GHG emissions.

Serious about renewables?

Clearly, getting rid of the Philippines’ coal dependence will be a concrete step towards embracing sustainable energy. Environment-friendly sourcing of energy is possible through community-based, people-determined solar, air and water energy generators.

In the proposed 2021 budget for the DOE, the Renewable Energy Development Program gets a higher allocation at Php117.9 million from Php112.5 million last year. However, Philippine governments’ push for renewable energy – specifically geothermal, biomass, hydropower and biofuels, can actually harm the environment, IBON’s study bares.

The construction of geothermal plants destroys forest cover and disturbs the natural habitat. For example, in the Southern Negros geothermal area, trees near the well sites shed their leaves due to emissions of sulfur oxide.

Hydropower generation through large dams is meanwhile pursued to attract foreign direct investments. However, the large impounding areas common with such projects submerge the lands where they are built, disrupt the natural ecology of river systems, and displaces communities in inundated areas. They also cause sedimentation which eventually weakens power and water generation capacity.

The construction of the Kaliwa and Laiban dams, for instance, will displace over 6,000 households and flood barangays in Tanay, Rizal and General Nakar, Quezon, mainly where the Dumagat and Remontado indigenous people live. Agricultural, forest, and wildlife areas inside the Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve will also be flooded.

The Biofuels Act of 2007 aims to encourage investment in locally produced biofuels. This however diverts attention and scarce resources from food production and supply. Biofuel farms also usually involve the use of large amounts of fresh water, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and fossil fuel, in agrichemical monocropping.

If the government is sincere about declaring a “climate emergency” and protecting the Philippine environment, it needs to give more value to the environment and to people’s needs over the profits of energy businesses. If it does so, then it can pursue more sustainable options in sourcing and distributing energy across residential, commercial and industrial sectors. #

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

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. #

Fighting for our rights to food, a healthy environment and development

by Xandra Liza C. Bisenio

In a forum on the role of consumers in agroecology, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) Center Assistant Chief Klarise Espinosa stressed that the right to food is recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Article 11 states that “everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living… including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” As duty bearers, governments are expected to make sure that the right to food and the factors enabling it are realized, clarified Espinosa. The ESCR Center is currently reviewing to what extent the Philippine government facilitates and provides sustainable, available, and accessible food.

The ICESCR underscores that the right to food is linked to having decent living standards and the availability of essential needs, services and utilities for an individual and families. For campaigners of People Economics, asserting the right to food is inextricably connected to the people’s struggle to realize their rights to produce food and other basic needs, to industrialization, to a nurtured environment, to the comprehensive range of working people’s rights, to progressive fiscal systems, and to economic sovereignty.

Right to food challenged

In the Philippines, the government gives only token attention to the right to food, as well to the rights to an adequate standard of living, services such as health and education, and even to utilities such as water and electricity. Neoliberal policies have also kept the economy backward and underdeveloped, thus leaving the environment in bad shape, and affecting the availability of safe and sufficient food.

The Philippine government’s food threshold is very low and set at a measly Php50 per person per day. But the Philippines should not have to be counted among the top countries with moderate to severe food insecurity and high levels of malnutrition as per the food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had the government not abandoned and liberalized agriculture, IBON Research Head Rosario Guzman said.

The critical state of our natural food sources, namely Philippine agriculture and the environment, is due to government neglect and mispriorities. This helps to explain why Filipinos’ access to safe and sufficient food is problematic.

The agriculture sector, which produces our food, lost 1.4 million jobs from 2017 to 2019, or even before the pandemic. The sector’s annual growth was only at 2.1% on average in the same period and its share in the economy has reached its smallest in Philippine history at 7.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. Combined agriculture and agrarian reform budgets were at their lowest in 21 years being only 3.6% on the average also from 2017-2019.

In the middle of the pandemic, government even defunded agriculture further with a meager 1.5% allocation in the 2021 budget. This pales in comparison with the agriculture budgets of rice-exporters Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, which are at 6.3%, 3.6%, and 3.3% of their national budgets, respectively.

Land degradation and land use conversion have also disrupted the ecological balance and affected food systems.

The country’s forest cover is now down to only 23.3% of the country’s land area which, according to environment scientists, is ecologically unhealthy. They say that the country’s geography and terrain should sustain a 54% forest cover.

The use of inorganic chemicals and input-dependent crop varieties meanwhile has caused severe erosion in 70.5% of the country’s land area. Moreover, land conversion for corporate agriculture, cash crops, real estate and infrastructure has also added to ecological disruption. The current administration is for instance pushing for almost one million hectares of oil palm plantations in Mindanao. Its Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects, including the Kaliwa, Kanan, and Laiban Dams, threaten to destroy communities, livelihoods, farms, forests, and water sources.

IBON infographic

Hunger and government’s unsustainable ways

Philippine agriculture is in contradiction as a food system, affirms Dr. Charito Medina of the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG). Farmers and fisherfolk producing food, he says, struggle to eat, and are the poorest sectors with 36% and 34% poverty incidence, respectively, according to official 2018 poverty statistics. Land planted to food kills instead of extending life because it is heavily infused with chemicals. Agricultural lands produce not for people but for big business in the case of feeds and biofuels production. Food wastage is high. Ultimately, corporations, not farmers, control and profit from agriculture. Government policies even prioritize importation and cash crops for export instead of strengthening local food production.

Rural, urban, and indigenous folk affirm how government policies have made food more difficult to both produce and avail. Zen Soriano of the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan) said that during COVID, farming communities are practically being hamletted during the lockdown. This makes it difficult for farmers to transport their produce and for farmworkers to transfer from one planting area to another. There are even cases when peasant missions to deliver food aid were terrorist-tagged. She also said that the rice liberalization law has caused palay prices to fall and millers to close down.

Mimi Doringo of the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) meanwhile said that for families whose breadwinners lost their jobs or are in precarious work amid the coronavirus crisis, more expensive food and services make it more difficult to cope. Kakay Tolentino of the BAI Indigenous Women’s Network agreed that many government policies have interfered with indigenous people’s food systems in ancestral lands, from the commercialization of palay seeds to destructive mining, export crop plantations, ecotourism projects, and militarization.

These are happening while the pandemic crisis batters especially millions of the poorest and informal workers. The widespread distress is driving calls for heightened aid, food security programs benefiting all marginalized sectors, junking rice liberalization, and a halt to corporate landgrabbing and the commercialization of land and crops. Strategically, the calls are for land reform so that tillers can make their land productive and benefit from this, and for a healthy and robust environment that is not being maimed in pursuit of so-called development that only benefits a few.

Call to consumers

As rights holders, consumers can establish solidarity with producers and themselves begin sustainable practices in producing and consuming food. They can demand the production of and access to safe and sufficient food. Consumers need to also thwart the corporate onslaught on agriculture. Consumers can assert not only the right to food but the right to produce it, and other economic, social and cultural rights.

Solidarity with producers can range from forming relationships to directly procure local farmers’ produce and help raise farmers’ incomes, to standing with farmers in their campaigns for land and life. While maintaining this connection with local producers, consumers can also engage in urban farming to grow what they eat and eat what they grow.

In demanding the production of and access to safe and sufficient food, consumers can call out government neglect of the country’s own production sectors. They can push for ample budget allocation to agriculture and industry, free land distribution and stopping land use conversion, and boosting local production by giving farmers financial and infrastructure support. They can push government to procure local produce and to ensure local stocks for adequate supply.

Consumers can demand that the price of food be reasonable. They can demand subsidies in times of crises and emergencies such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are so many households, displaced workers, farms and small businesses in need.

The corporate onslaught on agriculture and on Filipino producers and consumers also has to be thwarted for local production systems to break free from big business and foreign profit-driven objectives. This means saying no not only to the highly chemical and artificial farm inputs detrimental to the soil and the people’s health, but also to all policies that prevent Philippine agriculture from flourishing into the nation’s giver of food and material for development. This means saying yes to Filipinos’ indigenous, traditional ways of farming, while improving food and agricultural programs towards being ecologically sound, scientific and sustainable conduits of progress. #

* “The Role of Consumers in Agroecology” was co-organized by the Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumer para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan (SUKI), Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), IBON, and the AgroecologyX Network