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Ang kinang ng isang maikling tula ng pagmamahal sa litanya ng pang-aapi’t pagsasamantala

Ni Nuel M. Bacarra

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Ang unang linya ng sonetong How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43) ni Elizabeth Barrett Browning ay ganito: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Ang sumunod na isang-dosenang linya ay pawang litanya ng pagmamahal sa kanyang irog. Hindi nakapag-tatakang popular pa rin ang tulang ito sa lahat ng mangingibig mahigit isa’t kalahating siglo na ang nakakaraan.

Mapalad ang mga iniibig. Sila ang taga-tanggap ng mabubuti’t magaganda sa mundo. Kabaligtaran naman kapag ang isang tao ang kinasusuklaman. Sambot niya ang lahat ng ngitngit, uyam, poot, at suklam, ito man ay karapat-dapat o hindi.

Ang kaso ng isang politiko at isang botante ay isang halimbawa. Sa panahon ng eleksiyon, tila isang pursigidong mangingibig ang isang kandidato sa panliligaw ng ating mga boto. Subalit ang pag-ibig ng isang nahalal ay nasusukat lamang kapag naluklok na siya sa pwesto.

Kung kaya, ihambing natin ngayon ang noong manliligaw na si Bongbong Marcos ngayong nabigyan siya ng pagkakataon kung paano niya patunayan ang kanyang mga pangako dalawang taon na ang nakakaraan.

1. Presyo ng bilihin

Bukod  sa ipinangakong gagawin kung manalo sa eleksyon, ang presyo ng bigas ay napako rin sa antas na pang-dalawang kainan na lamang tayo sa isang araw sa halip na tatlo. O baka nga may katulad ko rin noon na ang almusal ay mumog, kanin at itlog, minsan talong ang ulam sa tanghalian at tulog ang hapunan. At hindi na kailangang amyendahan pa ang Rice Liberalization Law. Ibasura na dapat ito antimano. Hubarin na ang maskara na hindi ito para sa mamamayan kundi pagpasok sa buslo ng neoliberal na patakaran ng pag-asa sa importasyon. Tiba-tiba rito ang mga kasabwat na importer at treyder ng gubyerno. Pero madali pa ring lusutan ito dahil halos tuwing Martes kada linggo ay may pataw na dagdag-presyo sa mga produktong petrolyo. Ito ang produktong kapag tumaas, bitbit din ang presyo halos ng pangunahing produkto. Magtatambol naman ang gubyerno ng pagbaba na ₱0.50 kada litro, Pero sa sunod na linggo, ₱1.25 naman ang itaas. At muling ipaghihiyawan na “regulated” na yan dahil may gera sa Ukraine at ngayon sa Israel kaya apektado ang suplay ng produktong petrolyo. May kasunod itong panghimagas na pagtaas ng singil ng Meralco.

2. Produkto ng magsasaka

Ramdam ng mamamayan ang pangunguna ng Pilipinas bilang pinakamalaking taga-angkat ng bigas sa buong mundo. Ito na ang patakaran kapalit ng dapat ay pagpapaunlad ng lokal na produksyon. May budget para sa irigasyon, pero walang tubig na dumadaloy sa mga palayan. Atrasado ng apat na taon ang ayuda mula sa Rice Farmers Financial Assistance o walang kundisyong tulong sa mga magsasaka mula sa execss tariff collection ng gubyerno. Ayon sa Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, ang ₱12.79 bilyon noong 2022 at ang para sa 2023 na halos ₱20 bilyon mula sa excess tariff revenue collection ay di pa naipamamahagi. Nauna pa rito ang pinagsamang halaga na halos ₱7.60 bilyon para sa 2020-21 na ‘di pa rin naibibigay. Ang sibuyas ay ₱15/kg sa bukid pero nasa merkado na halos ₱60 – ₱80 na. At ito ang modelo ng iba pang produkto ng mga magsasaka.

3. Sahod ng manggagawa’t kawani

Sa kabila ng pag-igting ng paggigiit ng manggagawa para sa taas-sahod o legislated wage increase, nakapakong maigi sa starvation level ito. Ang kailangang sahod ng isang manggagawa para mabuhay ay dapat nasa ₱1,208 para sa isang 5-kataong pamilya na malayo sa kasalukuyang pambansang abereyds na ₱441 kada araw, ayon sa Ibon Foundation. Sa National Capital Region (NCR), ang minimum na sahod ay ₱610. Kaya ang mga manggagawa ay nagiging kakumpetensya pa ng mga walang trabaho na dumidiskarte na rin para may dagdag kita. Ang huling pagtaas ng sahod sa NCR ay noong Hulyo 2023. Mayroong hinihilot sa Senado na ₱100 taas-sahod na nasa ikatlong pagbasa na pero may pasiklab ang mababang kapulungan na dalawang panukala para sa isang ₱150 at isa pang ₱350 para raw sa umento sa sahod. Tandaan, eleksyon na uli sa isang taon. Iginigiit naman ng mga organisadong karaniwang kawani ng gubyerno ang ₱33,000 na entry-level salary.

4. Charter Change

Bagamat may paghupa sa dalawang kapulungan ng Kongreso ang usapin ng ChaCha, hindi kailangang mabulaga ang taumbayan na maaaring ibuwelo muli ang pagratsada nito. (Lalo pa’t may bagong liderado sa Senado na pumalit sa dati na ibinunyag ang presyur mula sa mga kampon ni Marcos para palusutin sa mataas na kapulungan ang kasuklam-suklam na sayaw na ito.) Salik sa paghupang ito ang pagtutok ng mga pulitiko sa darating na eleksyon. Ang pagbago sa Konstitusyon kapag di nilabanan ng mamamayan ay magbubunsod sa bansa sa ibayong kontrol ng dayuhan sa mga aspetong panlipunan at iba pang probisyon na pawang pabor sa mga malaking burgesya komprador at panginoong maylupa. Ang nais isingit sa Konstitusyon ay ang linyang “Unless otherwise provided by law” na pagkapon sa konstitusyon. Iniinda, partikular ng konggreso, ang papalaking bilang ng mga protesta ng mga progresibong pwersa laban sa ChaCha dahil naisisiwalat nito ang kiling sa mga dayuhan sa pamamagitan ng mga panukala ng pagbibigay 100% pag-aari ng lupa at negosyo sa larangan ng edukasyon, masmidya, yutilidad at iba pa.

5. Pambobomba sa komunidad

Noong 2018 sa panahon ni Duterte, sa bisa ng Memorandum Order 32 at E.O. 70, integrado na sa “kontra-insurhensyang” programa ng gubyerno ang pambobomba na ipinagpatuloy naman nang maupo si F. R. Marcos Jr. sa poder. Inutil ito sa layong pagparalisa sa operasyon ng New People’s Army o paggapi mismo dito dahil mas ang mga sibilyang komunidad ng mga magsasaka at pambansang minorya ang nabubulabog at biktima nito. Sa ulat ng Karapatan, sa unang taon ng rehimeng Marcos Jr., 23,391 indibidwal ang apektado ng pambobomba. Ginawa ito para diumano sa “kapayapaan at seguridad” at sa pambansang saklaw. Bawat pagbomba, tuliro ang mga komunidad at lalong nasasapanagnib ang kanilang buhay maging ang kabuhayan nila. Kontra ito sa internasyunal na makataong batas at sa Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. Malaking badyet rin ang winawaldas ng gubyerno para rito.

6. Pagpapanatili ng NTF-ELCAC

Kibit-balikat lang ang tugon ng rehimeng Marcos sa desisyon ng Korte Suprema na ang red-tagging ay banta sa buhay, kalayaan at seguridad. Patay-malisya ito sa mga kilos protesta na nananawagan na buwagin na ang NTF-ELCAC, ang ahensyang lugod na lugod sa panre-red tag na bumiktima na ng libu-libong buhay na pangunahin ay mga kritiko at aktibistang kritikal sa gubyerno. Malaki diumano ang papel ng ahensya sa pagpapalaya sa mga komunidad sa pamamagitan ng pagpapasuko sa masang tagasuporta ng rebolusyonaryong kilusan sa kanayunan, na ayon sa tagapagsalita ng Philiippine Army, ay nasa “survival mode” na. Mula nang itayo ito, naging karaniwang tunguhin ang mga ekstrahudisyal na pamamaslang sa mga konsultant sa usapang pangkapayapaan ng National Democratic Front of the Philippines at sa iba pa, pagdukot sa mga aktibista, huwad na pagpapasuko, at iba pa.  Ang testimonya ni Jonila Castro, isang tagapagtanggol ng kapaligiran na biktima ng pagdukot kasama ni Jhed Tamano, ay mga buhay na halimbawa ng kabulukan ng NTF-ELCAC na biktima. Si Castro ay isa sa mga delegado ng Pilipinas bilang saksi at para sa isiwalat ang kabuktutan ng ahensyang ito sa katatapos na International People’s Tribunal sa Belgium. Hinaharap ni Castro ngayon ang gawa-gawang kaso na ginagawa rin sa iba pang mga aktibistang target ng NTF-ELCAC.

7. Kabuhayan ng mga tsuper at opereytor

Masaker sa kabuhayan ang taguri ng mga drayber at opereytor sa Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP). Naobligang palawigin ang itinakdang palugit nito ng presidente mismo nang ilang ulit dahil na rin sa paglaban ng sektor at sa kawalang-kahandaan ng gubyerno matapos ang pitong taong implementasyon ng programa. Walang mahusay na koordinasyon ang mga ahensyang imbwelto dito kaya walang maiharap na matinong plano kaugnay ng rasyunalisasyon ng mga ruta at paano haharapin ang malawakang dislokasyon ng malaking bilang na mawawalan ng trabaho. Ibubulid sila ng gubyerno sa kawalang-trabaho at sa ibayong pagpapatibay ng kontrol ng dayuhan at malalaking burgesya kumprador na ang tunguhin ay pribatisasyon at korporatisasyon.

8. Demolisyon at kawalan ng social housing

Tuluy-tuloy ang demolisyon. Kapag may malaking negosyong itatayo sa isang lugar, asahan na ang mga demolisyon. Paboritong lugar ang Sityo San Roque sa Quezon City na aabot ng 20,000 pamilya, maging sa Beinte Reales sa Valenzuela,  sa Sugbo at sa Dabaw. Kaya sa mga ganito, bagay na bagay ang kasabihan na “huwag tutulug-tulog at baka magkasunog.” Aasa pa ba ang maralitang tagalunsod sa programang pabahay sa ilalim ng programang 4PH (Pambansang Pabahay Para sa Pilipino Housing Program)? Pangako man o pangarap ang isang milyong pabahay sa mga maralita kada taon ng panunungkulan niya, na katulad rin lamang ito ng pangako na ₱20 kada kilo ng bigas. Nais niyang buhayin ang dating programa ng magulang niya na Bagong Lipunan Improvement of Sites and Services o BLISS. Iwinagayway ni BBM ang proyekto sa Naic, Cavite at sa San Fernando, Pampanga. At malamang sa hindi, hanggang dito na lang ito uli. Tulad ng maralita sa lunsod na nangangarap ng kahit paano ay may masisilungang bahay, subalit mangangailangan ang gubyerno ng libu-libong ektarya ng lupaing publiko para rito. Ito ang panganib na idudulot din ng ChaCha ni Marcos. Kapag niratsada ito, goodbye pabahay dahil ang lupa ay aariin kundi man ng dayuhan, o ng tulad ng mga Villar. Hangga’t umiiral ang buktot na pamamahala sa gubyerno, korupsyon at ang dinastiya sa pulitika, suntok sa buwan ang proyektong pabahay.

9. Korupsyon at agawan ng pwesto sa gubyerno

Ito ay eksaktong kumbinasyon ng ekonomya at pulitika ng nasa poder. Negosyo ang pamamalakad sa gubyerno. Matapos mamuhunan para sa halalan, kukubra na ng tubo. Bida lagi ang korupsyon taun-taon at kibit-balikat lamang ang tugon sa trilyong pisong napupunta lamang sa korupsyon. Tama! Nakalista lamang sa ilalim ng korupsyon. Walang napapanagot. Dito rin maiuugnay ang bangayan sa pulitika ng “team unity” na halos isang taon pa lang ay “team hiwalayan” na at maging ang pagiging maka-China at maka-US ng mga Marcos. Isang taon pa lang, tila ramdam na kaagad ang paghahanda sa para sa eleksyon sa 2028. Ang agawan sa kapangyarihan ay laro ng agawan sa kaban ng bayan. Tama, maging ang nangyaring rigodon sa Senado kahapon lamang.

10. Pagka-tuta sa US

Ang ngalan ng ama at ng anak ay kapwa tuta ng US. Kailangan ng dagdag na base militar ng US, ensigida, dinagdagan ng apat pa. Ganito ang kongretong larawan ng isang relasyong tagibang na puro tango sa among imperyalista. Kapag sa kapritso ng US, etsa-pwera ang kapakanan ng mamamayan. Gera ang tunguhin ng galaw ng US kontra sa Tsina na ibinubugaw dahil pain ang Pilipinas bilang sabik na biktima. Tuloy ang paghahamon ng gera ng US sa Tsina sa pamamagitan ng serye ng mga Balikatan. Tuloy ang daloy ng mga angkat na produkto dahil ito ang nais ng amo. Palawakin at paigtingin pa ang ang mga malakihang kontra-mamamayang opensiba laban sa NPA dahil banta ito sa istabilidad ng imperyalistang pangingibabaw sa bansa. Baguhin ang Konstitusyon ng Pilipinas para maluwag na makapagpapasok ang US ng mga armas nukleyar saan man naisin nito sa bansa.

11. Palpak na tugon sa El Niño

Simula’t sapul, ang El Niño ay sinasalubong ng kainutilan ng gobyerno. Ang pinakasimpleng paraan na ginagawa ay ang pamumudmod ng ayuda na bagamat nakatutulong kahit paano, ginagawa ito ng mga pulitiko bilang puhunan sa pulitika. Hindi ito inihaharap bilang suliraning pangkapaligiran, walang alternatibo para harapin ang kakapusan ng pagkain at pagkalugi ng mga magsasaka. Todo-larga ang operasyon ng mga minahan, ng mga proyekto sa reklamasyon, habang walang mekanisasyon sa agrikultura o pagpapaunlad ng teknolohiya. Ang sistema ng pagmomonitor sa pinsala nito ang siya nang pinakamataas na antas ng pagharap sa problema.

Larawan ang makatang si Browning at ang politikong si Marcos Jr. ng dalawang mukha ng bagol—isang nagmamahal at isa namang walang malasakit sa nasasakupan. Kung anong kislap ng isa ay siya namang kalawang ng kabila. Ang pagmamahal ay may kaakibat na sakripisyo, kabutihang-loob at malasakit samantalang ang nangingibaw sa galit at pagkamuhi ay ibayong pagpapahirap, kapabayaan at pagiging makasarili. Ang una ay may kaakibat na suporta ng masa habang ang huli ay aani ng paglaban ng taumbayan dahil sa pang-aapi’t pagsasamantala. #

Consumers demand cash aid, wage hike as more oil price increases loom

A network of consumers’ rights advocates demanded that government continue with the roll out of its promised aid to families severely affected by recent spikes in prices of goods and services.

The Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumer para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan (SUKI Network) said their demand for cash assistance for affected families, transport workers, small businesses and producers are unchanged despite the rollback in oil prices this week.

The group also pressed the government to implement salary increases and reduce prices by scrapping oil excise taxes to help poor families recover from pandemic consumer woes.

SUKI Network is composed of organizations of poor sectors such as drivers, the urban poor, workers, farmers, small entrepreneurs, academics, church people, advocates of the right to food and basic needs, social services, public utilities, among others.

Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) officer Eufemia Doringo said such demands are just as they see further increases in prices of goods and services as another round of oil prices loom nest week.

“Transport workers with the Pinagkaisang Lakas ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) say they are far from recovered with the Php11.45/liter rollback. They have lost income from 11 consecutive weeks of oil price increases this year exceeding Php30.00,” Doringo said.

Doringo reported that in the urban poor community of Sitio San Roque, Barangay North Triangle, Quezon City, rice is being sold at Php35-36/kilo, pork bones at Php250-300/kilo, dried fish at Php10-20/piece, cabbage at Php50-80/piece and sugar at (Php53-Php70/kilo.

Consumer rights advocate Bantay Konsyumer, Kalsada at Kuryente (BKKK) also criticized increased electricity rates it said would impact so-called lifeline consumers.

BKKK convenor Prof. Louie Montemar said the government should consider using the Malampaya funds to subsidize electricity rates and offset the new Php0.0625 per kilowatt hour (kWh) increase, bringing rates to Php9.6467 per kWh.

Government shows lack of control

Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis meanwhile said that the rollback indicates price manipulation on the part of oil cartels.

“They easily announced a rollback after raking super-profits from the total several weeks’ hike of up to Php30.75 per liter in the price of diesel, up to20.50 for gasoline and PHp24.90 for kerosene,” Casilao explained.

The former legislator said the rise and fall in oil prices also shows government’s lack of control of the oil industry under the Oil Deregulation Law.

“As long as deregulation is in place, the nation and the public are at the mercy of giant oil companies’ opaque pricing schemes. The unbundling of the price of petroleum products in the recommended amendments to the deregulation law would be welcome,” Casilao said.

The SUKI network said it demands the unbundling of petroleum product prices, scrapping of the oil excise tax and Oil Deregulation Law, Php10,000 cash assistance for the 18 million poorest households, Php15,000 subsidy to producers, substantial support for small local businesses, and a Php750 national minimum wage.

Collect Marcoses’ unpaid taxes

The network said Duterte’s recent order to increase its monthly financial aid to the poorest Filipino families affected by oil price increases from Php200 to Php500 still only amounts to just Php16.67 per day.

It also cited figures from economic think tank IBON Foundation that the real value of the minimum wage has fallen from Php536.74 in 2016 to Php494.02 in February 2022.

According to IBON, the living wage is now at Php1,072 per day or Php25,252 per month for a family of five in the National Capital Region.”

“The argument that there aren’t funds for the people’s demands is worn and torn,” SUKI Network spokesperson Prof. Reginald Vallejos said.

“IBON has shown that if the Duterte government really wants to help its constituency, it can reallocate the trillions it budgeted for big-ticket infrastructure, debt servicing, and military and police modernization; recover tax cuts given to big corporations; and tax the bilionaires,” Vallejos said.

Kadamay’s Doringo added that the government must also decisively collect Php203 billion estate tax arrears of the heirs of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos as additional source of funds for its cash aid roll out.

“Instead of letting them go scott-free while tens of thousands of small businesses are forced to close due to lack of government support, the Marcoses should be obliged by government to face the law and pay up”, Doringo said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Suspending TRAIN oil taxes will lower oil prices and ease inflation—IBON

Supporting calls to suspend oil excise taxes, research group IBON said that this will go far in immediately easing the burden of rising prices on ordinary Filipinos. The group added that revenue losses can be compensated by similarly suspending recent corporate tax cuts.

IBON said that these measures can be the start not just of a more progressive tax system but also a prelude to better regulation and control over the country’s oil industry.

Amid tight supplies and later increasing demand, global oil prices have been generally rising since the pandemic started including for eight straight weeks now.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has cut production, the US is not releasing oil from its Strategic Reserve, and China instructed its energy companies to secure supplies for the coming winter.

From August 23 to October 15, the price per barrel of Dubai crude increased by US$15.95, Mean of Platts Singapore (MOPS) gasoline by US$19.05, and MOPS diesel by US$22.65.

Gasoline prices in this Pasig City fuel station has gone past P70/liter after last week’s oil price hike. (Photo by Pom Villanueva/Kodao)

The country is heavily reliant on oil imports so the global oil price hikes are causing domestic oil prices to follow suit. In just the past eight weeks, the price per liter of diesel hiked by Php8.70, gasoline by Php7.25, and kerosene by Php8.10.

This disproportionately burdens poor oil consumers and Filipino households, IBON said.

Just from the eight weeks of hikes, for instance, jeepney drivers have to pay Php95.70 more for 11 liters of diesel per day. Farmers have to pay Php1,653 more for 190 liters of diesel per hectare per cropping season.

Rising oil prices increases the prices of basic goods and services, IBON stressed, and fuels inflation. This is worst for the poorest 30% of the population for whom inflation is higher than the national average.

Inflation across many commodity groups is already much higher now than last year. Food inflation increased from 1.8% in the whole of 2020 to 5.4% in September 2021. Over that same period, inflation in housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels increased from 2% to 3.4%, and in clothing and footwear from 2.5% to 2.7 percent. Inflation in health, transport and education have fortunately moderated.

IBON said that suspending the oil excise taxes under Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) will provide immediate relief. This will lower the price per liter of diesel by Php6.72 and of gasoline by Php6.33.

It will also remove Php3 from the price per kilo of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), lowering the price of an 11-kilo tank by Php33 not including VAT.

The price per liter of diesel can go down from some Php46.33 to Php39.61, gasoline from some Php55.51 to Php49.18, and LPG from some Php968.90 to Php935.90.

IBON also said that oil revenue losses can be offset by also suspending corporate income tax (CIT) cuts under the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act or CREATE.

The group noted that the government projects revenue losses of Php115.8 billion in 2021 and Php101.8 billion in 2022 from CREATE’s CIT cuts.

Reducing indirect consumption taxes such as on oil and increasing direct taxes on income makes the tax system more progressive, said IBON.

The group stressed that these immediate measures are doable and will help lower domestic oil prices and ease inflationary pressures, substantially mitigating the burden of global oil price hikes on the poorest.

Longer-term solutions should also start to be seriously considered, said IBON.

IBON stressed that more effective regulation and control of the oil industry is the only way to sustainably lower oil prices.

This can start by ensuring transparency in oil firms’ price-setting and active state intervention to prevent overpricing.

IBON pointed out that oil firms have had too much freedom to raise domestic oil prices opaquely and at will since the Oil Deregulation Law or Republic Act 8479, often changing pump prices by more than warranted by global oil price increases.

IBON also said that renationalization of oil firms such as Petron will increase the government’s capacity to intervene in the industry, with the strategic view of eventually nationalizing the majority of the oil industry. #

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

Reds urge people to brace for worse COVID crisis; rallies forces to lead fight vs. ‘tyrant Duterte’

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) urged the people to brace for an even worse crisis because of the government’s ineffectual response to the coronavirus (COVID) pandemic.

In a statement, the CPP said that due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “unbridled neglect and failure of governance,” there appears to be an imminent break out of an even worse crisis in the coming months.”

The underground Party said there is a possibility that the COVID pandemic would lead to the downfall of the economy and people’s lives due to Duterte’s reliance on lockdowns and other onerous and burdensome policies.

If it happens, the Duterte regime would falter with the wearing down of the people’s patience, the group said.

Last August 6, the day the government imposed its strictest quarantine for the third time since the pandemic began last year, the Philippines has overtaken Indonesia with the most number of active COVID cases at close to 120,000 cases as compared to its neighbor’s more than 118,000 cases.

Since Saturday, August 14, the country registered upwards of 14,000 new cases daily, nearly matching the all-time high of more than 15,000 registered last April.

“[T]he continuing worsening of the pandemic is a result of Duterte’s pigheaded refusal to prioritize health measures,” the CPP said, noting that the government has no new solution to the emergent Delta variant of the virus but repeated lockdowns.

The group warned there is a strong possibility that COVID will spread more rapidly beyond the capacity of hospitals and facilities in the coming months due to the government’s lack of testing and contact-tracing capacity, in addition to its “turtle-paced vaccination” activities.

No recovery in the horizon

The CPP also said government’s assurances of an economic recovery appear empty due to the lack of investments to kick-start production and consumption.

“Based on experiences in 2020, there is the threat of unemployment shooting up within a few months and rapid rise of businesses losses and bankruptcies,” it said.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) announced last August 6 that 5,322 workers have lost their jobs on the first day of the current lockdown as at least 178 establishments said they were closing down or cutting their workforce.

Last March 30, DOLE said 4.2 million remained unemployed while 7.9 million workers took pay cuts from shorter working hours.

The CPP said the situation will cause the intensification of workers exploitation and further deterioration of the lives of millions in both cities and the countryside.

“People are forced to desperate straits by the rotten, failed and oppressive Duterte government. Millions of Filipinos daily suffer in long queues for food, aid and vaccines,” the group said.

All the while, government officials abuse power, politicize aid and vaccine distribution, pocket public funds, squander on counterproductive wars, or repay the ever rising government debt which did not benefit the people, the group alleged.

Human rights activists accuse Duterte of instigating mass killings of civilians. (Kodao file photo)

Resistance vs. tyranny

The CPP urged the people to act and express outrage against the Duterte government’s failed policies and response to the crisis.

 “They cannot remain silent and dispersed. They cannot forever wait for aid or rely on the good-heartedness of others to avoid extreme hunger,” it said.

“The people must resist being silenced by Duterte’s shock and terror. Their silence will all the more embolden Duterte and his vassals and minions to trample on the their rights and welfare, plunder public funds, impose heavier taxes, betray and conspire with foreign powers, monopolize political power, sow terror and perpetuate themselves in Malacañang,” it added.

It also challenged its forces as well as progressive, patriotic and democratic activists to bear “the responsibility of guiding and leading the Filipino people in their fight against Duterte’s ruling tyranny.”

“The Filipino masses have been deprived of everything. They have nothing else to lose,” the CPP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

What Build Build Build has delivered

by Rosario Guzman

The Duterte presidency is nearing the end of its term, yet we don’t seem to be anywhere near the fulfilment of the big infrastructure dream of the administration. Build Build Build is supposed to be the centerpiece of what could be a Duterte legacy, but the program’s performance is far from defining a grand exit for the administration.

The number has changed

Only 11 of the more than 100 infrastructure flagship projects or IFPs have been completed as of May 2021. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) lists another 12 IFPs that may be done by the end of 2021 and another 17 by the end of 2022. If these were even feasible, there would be a total of 40 finished projects under Pres. Duterte’s watch.   

The government started with a list of 75 IFPs in 2017. In 2020, NEDA revised the list twice – increasing this to 104 and then to 112 (no longer including the 7 of the 11 finished projects). It retained only 42 of the original 75 and added new ones that are more doable, or that are not even defined as public works such as the national ID system, or projects that are merely continued from previous administrations. The list was obviously revised to increase the chances of completing a respectable number of projects.

Of the 11 projects completed so far, six were not included in the original 2017 IFP list. Two of these six – the LRT 2 East Extension and the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, were even started under the previous administration. Of the 12 IFPs expected to be finished by the end of this year, 11 are new additions to the list including two previously identified projects that had also been started long before Pres. Duterte’s term – the Unified Grand Central Station (a previous commitment by the Arroyo administration but was stalled due to disputes) and the Malitubog-Maridagao Irrigation Project (started in 2011). Of the 17 IFPs for completion by end of 2022, only the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project was in the 2017 list, while the rest were only added last year.

Even if we do see the completion of these 29 IFPs by the end of 2021 and 2022, all the finished projects will still just amount to Php365.24 billion which is only 7.8% of the total project cost of Php4.7 trillion for all targeted IFPs. Much remains to be done actually, with 51 projects going beyond 2023 while 28 others are still in the pipeline.

Driven by debt and private capital

Nevertheless, the Duterte administration has already crowed about its unmatched performance in infrastructure, citing as an indication of its seriousness the almost 100% increase in government spending for this, from Php590.5 billion in 2016 to Php1,019 billion in 2021. It has increased infra spending as percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) from 3.9% in 2016 to 5.1% in 2021. The annual average of 5% infra spending as percent of GDP in 2017-2021 even surpasses the annual average of 3.4% under the Marcos dictatorship. This is even despite the 21.4% decline in disbursements last year due to the pandemic.

In the Sulong Pilipinas forum of the administration in April this year, the economic managers took turns highlighting how the administration has boldly financed infrastructure for economic development in contrast to the Aquino administration’s lackluster performance.

However, more than half (56%) of the indicative amount for the IFPs is from official development assistance (ODA), mostly as loans, while only 3.9% comes purely from the General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the national budget. Conspicuously, there are now 20 unsolicited public-private partnerships (PPPs) where there was none before, comprising 32% of total cost.

There are seven other PPPs worth Php244.2 billion or another 5.2% of the total cost. Five of these PPPs, all expressways, are components of the Supplemental Toll Operation Agreement (STOA) entered into by the government’s Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), Ramon Ang’s Citra Central Expressway Corp., and the Philippine National Construction Corporation (PNCC). STOA ensures the identification, adjustments and collection of toll rates upon the completion of the projects.

The government has also mixed PPP with ODA in the case of LRT-1 Cavite Extension Project to be accomplished beyond 2023, and with GAA in the case of Metro Cebu Expressway Project which is still in the pipeline. There is also ODA mixed with GAA in the case of Davao City Coastal Road Project to be done after 2023.

PPP was the preferred funding scheme of the Aquino presidency, which was criticized not only for its slowness but more importantly for benefiting the real estate and infrastructure tycoons. The then incoming Duterte presidency declared that the state would proactively make an investment, raising hopes that infrastructure would finally be cheaper and more relevant to public needs. But in reality, the government simply shifted to ODA loans especially from Japan and China; in particular, the share of China ODA to total ODA to the Philippines increased from a negligible 0.01% in 2016 to 2.73% as of 2019. The Duterte presidency also ended up still relying on private capital, unsolicited proposals at that, to expedite projects. Overall, it appears that the promised change of having a genuinely state-led infrastructure development and presumably for maximum public benefit has not come at all.

Instead, the administration doubled its gross borrowings from Php507 billion in 2016 to Php902 billion the following year, breaching the unprecedented Php1 trillion mark in 2019 and nearly tripling this in 2020. The national government outstanding debt as of May 2021 is Php11.1 trillion – it was only Php6 trillion when Pres. Duterte took over.

Building up foreign investors and oligarchs

Unsolicited proposals for PPPs from the private sector are allowed under the 1990 Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law (Republic Act 6957 as amended by Republic Act 7718), the country’s watershed legislation towards privatized infrastructure development. These projects do not require direct government guarantee, subsidy or equity, and presumably involves a new concept or technology. The BOT Law also defines and allows the Swiss Challenge as the procurement system to be followed for unsolicited proposals, where upon the project proposal of a private entity, the government invites similar or competitive proposals from third parties which the original proponent can still match afterwards.

Pres. Duterte adopted the Swiss Challenge and eliminated the normal bidding process for public works, wherein the government presents the specifications of the procurement and invites entities to make offers, which could be in an open or closed bidding. Controversially, Malacañang argued that this would quicken the pace of Build Build Build and minimize corruption. On the contrary, the Swiss Challenge can potentially concentrate infrastructure control to only a few proponents as well as government officials. It can definitely lower transparency, such that the novelty of the concept or technology does not get to be subjected to public scrutiny. In other words, the government has skipped the development planning process and relied on what the private sector wants to embark on, thereby making infrastructure inherently exclusive rather than inclusive.

All of the unsolicited PPPs are for transport and mobility. In fact, 76 of the 112 IFPs, or 91% of the total project cost, are for transport and mobility. Likewise with 71% of the total project cost of the 40 projects that the administration hopes to announce as done by 2022. Build Build Build prioritizes transport and mobility as though the country’s transport and traffic problems take precedence over the crisis and stagnation of agriculture and manufacturing.

In reality, the ‘infrastructure ambition’ is about three things for the Duterte administration. It is about providing the infrastructure foreign investors want – to improve connectivity to the economic zones and ease the cost of doing business. The country’s creditors, notably the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), have been nagging the Philippine government to make pleasant infrastructure to increase the country’s creditworthiness and investment grade and to attract much-needed foreign investment in the import-export economy. That is visibly the first and basic reason for making Build Build Build look grand and why past administrations had merely focused on providing infrastructure as their primary task in a liberalized and privatized economy.

Secondly, Build Build Build is about providing foreign and local investors and builders the business they want. The Duterte administration wanted to take advantage of the global infrastructure investment glut that was largely untapped in 2016 by flashing a grand infrastructure menu card. In short, it has promoted infrastructure as the foreign investment destination, along with energy, water and public utilities which also have vast infra needs. This has immensely enriched foreign infra, utilities, construction and transport technology corporations despite the rise in global interest rates and prolonged global economic slide. And now, despite the pandemic and declining global investments, the Duterte administration continues to sell the dream.

Thirdly, Build Build Build is about boosting the wealth of the country’s economic oligarchs, especially those in real estate construction, ports building, transportation, energy and water, and the consequent speculation on values of land and natural assets. International and national media have observed how Pres. Duterte has empowered a new business elite, the “Dutertegarchs”, and created his own set of cronies who have benefited from full-scale liberalization of foreign investments and private capital in otherwise public goods and domain.

Legacy of deeper crisis

Much of the hyped benefits from embarking on a massive infrastructure program have failed to materialize. Build Build Build has been the Duterte administration’s only hope to arrest the economic slowdown pre-pandemic, and now to recover the economic collapse during the pandemic and beyond.

But it has been the wrong choice of policy from the start. The economy needs mending in its production sectors, especially those catering to domestic needs and that have the capability to create meaningful jobs for the mass of jobless and sustainable incomes for the poor majority. But the government has chosen to spend on boosting investor confidence and opportunities. Even spending on health pales in comparison with the Php1.1 trillion allocation for infrastructure in the 2021 budget.

Consequently, this wrong policy mindset only boosts the production of infra materials by the corporations of the contracting countries. In the case of ODA for instance, loans are always preconditioned by the host country’s use of the so-called donor country’s contractors, technology as well as businessmen. At one point, China even pushed for the use of its own workers in Philippine projects. Consequently, this has increased the country’s imports bill, resulting in the country’s worst trade deficit. But the more important consequence is that Build Build Build’s reliance on foreign contractors and materials has undermined our chance of locally producing these materials and building our own infrastructure using local resources. Even the absorptive capacity, the ability to “learn and use” external knowledge, of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Department of Transportation (DOTr), is limited.

Build Build Build has also failed to deliver the jobs generation that the administration has imagined as one of the benefits. Every year since 2017, the growth in construction employment has been a lot smaller than in 2016. The projected job generation from Build Build Build of 1.2 million annual average in 2017-2022 is a far cry from reality. The annual average job generation from all sectors pre-pandemic or 2017-2019 only reached 313,000,[1] the lowest among all administrations post-Martial Law. We lost 2.6 million jobs last year.

Optimists have looked forward to the public services that may be improved with the finished projects, even if these are not exactly the kinds of infrastructure that are much needed to recover lost jobs and incomes. But that is also one of the follies of debt-driven and privatized infrastructure development – we get to pay for these increasingly irrelevant projects with our taxes and high user-fees. Build Build Build has been backed by the most regressive tax reform the country ever had and the built-in automatic upward adjustments in toll fees, fares and other user-fees.

In all probability, in the future post-pandemic as the economy yields lower returns on investment, the debt owed today will be more expensive than initially computed. This will mean heavier debt burden, more anti-poor and regressive taxes, and higher user-fees for so-called public services. In all certainty by then, we can say that the grand infrastructure age has delivered a legacy of untold poverty and deeper economic crisis. #


[1] Average of 2017-2019 only because of change to 2013 Master Sample Design in 2016

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

‘DOE has become a mere announcer of oil price hikes’

“Oil price hikes have direct and lasting effects on agricultural and fishing production cost, cost of farm inputs, and overall cost of living for Filipinos. Throughout the deregulation era, the Department of Energy (DOE) has become a mere announcer of oil price hikes. Deregulation under Duterte also caused much damage to the livelihood and economic status of Filipinos.”Rafael ‘Ka Paeng’ Mariano, Chairman Emeritus, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

Jobs crisis continues, informal work worsens

by IBON Foundation

Despite economic managers’ claims, the country’s jobs situation is bleak and far from returning to pre-pandemic levels, said research group IBON. Millions of Filipinos are still struggling to find work or turning more and more to informal jobs and self-employment to survive. The group said that substantial ayuda is urgently needed and that Congress should hold a special session to ensure the immediate allocation and distribution of funds for emergency aid.

IBON said the latest labor force figures show that the 3.7 million unemployed in May 2021 remains higher by 1.3 million than in January 2020 before the pandemic. The 2.2 million increase in employment is not enough to accommodate the additional 3.5 million Filipinos in the labor force, still leaving over a million unemployed. The number of underemployed has only decreased by just 807,000.

The employment increase also hides a significant decline in the quality of work and incomes as the country remains battered by the ongoing health and economic crisis, said the group. Millions of Filipinos are increasingly resorting to informal self-employment to make a living any way they can.

IBON noted that, by class of worker, the number of wage and salary workers declined by 131,000 from January 2020 to May 2021. This is mainly due to the 711,000 drop in those that worked for private establishments, likely from closures and retrenchments in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

The number of Filipinos entering informal self-employment and unpaid work is also worsening, the group said. Self-employed work without any paid employees climbed to 12.7 million (1.6 million increase) from 11.1 million in January 2020. Unpaid family workers also rose to 3.6 million (932,000 increase). Employers in own family-operated farms and businesses however dropped to 761,000 (241,000 decrease) from about one million – an indication that small businesses and farms have been unable to cope and are shutting down amid the pandemic crisis.

IBON stressed that the number of employed by hours worked also reveals how bad the informal employment situation has gotten. Those that worked part-time went up by 3.2 million to 16.7 million, while those that worked full-time fell by 1.3 million. Those considered as “with a job, not at work” increased by 273,000 to 606,000.  The increase in part-time workers and those with a job but not at work can also be attributed to the rising number of self-employed and businesses implementing reduced workdays and hours.

More and more Filipino workers are entering sectors that are known to be low-paying and irregular, the group noted. Employment in wholesale and retail trade increased by 1.6 million to 10.2 million and in agriculture by one million to 10.6 million. Economic growth in these two sectors however continued to contract in the first quarter of 2021 – agriculture contracted by 1.2% and trade by 3.9%. This strongly implies lower sectoral incomes made worse by overcrowding.

The rise in part-time employment in these sectors also reflects the irregularity of work, said IBON. The number of part-timers grew by 1.1 million to 3.2 million in trade and by 889,000 to 7.2 million in agriculture. 

IBON said that with an increasing number of Filipinos struggling to support themselves amid poor job prospects and falling incomes, substantial aid, subsidies and support are urgently needed. It is time for the government to take immediate steps in providing these and prioritizing the welfare and interests of millions of vulnerable Filipinos. The group said it can start by heeding people’s demand for a special session to ensure the speedy passage of legislation that will ensure the immediate release of funds and distribution of ayuda.

There’s money for bigger Bayanihan 3: Economic managers just refusing to give more — IBON

by IBON Foundation

There is more than enough money for bigger emergency aid and stimulus in Bayanihan 3 if only the economic managers prioritize ayuda, research group IBON said.

There are various sources that the government can immediately tap for a more meaningful Bayanihan 3, said the group.

These include at least Php217 billion in unobligated and unpaid obligated funds from Bayanihan 1 and 2, and realigning 2021 budget allocations from less urgent items.

The Php401 billion Bayanihan 3 stimulus bill sponsored by over 290 lawmakers has been passed on second reading at the House of Representatives.

Though a larger program than Bayanihan 2, the provisions for emergency aid remain paltry, said IBON.

The group said, for instance, that the Php1,000 emergency assistance given twice to each Filipino will mean that the average family in the badly-hit National Capital Region (NCR) will just get the equivalent of around half of the monthly minimum wage.

The NCR minimum wage is currently Php537 for an equivalent monthly rate of Php16,300.

The economic managers however have been blocking efforts to increase the aid that will be given to millions of distressed families and enterprises.

The government has not even certified Bayanihan 3 as urgent. The budget, finance and treasury departments have also yet to issue a certification on the availability of funds, a constitutional requirement for the passage of bills seeking funds appropriation.

IBON said that the problem is not where to get funding but rather the Duterte administration’s unwillingness to prioritize poor and pandemic-stricken Filipinos.

The group said that there are potentially hundreds of billions of pesos available in funding if only the government pushes the priority legislation needed.

Budget department data as of April 15 shows that there are still Php217 billion in funds from Bayanihan 1 and 2.

This includes a considerable Php158.4 billion that remains unobligated out of the Php653.4 billion in allotments.

Moreover, there is Php58.9 billion in unpaid obligated funds.

These are funds allocated for COVID response that have not yet been committed to a specific item or program (unobligated) or have been committed but not yet disbursed (unpaid obligated).

IBON also notes that there are Php5.9 trillion in revenues (Php2.9 trillion) and borrowings (Php3 trillion) estimated for 2021.

IBON stressed that the administration can realign budgetary allocations from items that are now less urgent, given critical pandemic-related needs, and even counter-productive.

The government can realign from the huge Php1.8 trillion allotted for debt service (Php1.3 trillion for principal payments and Php531.6 billion for interest payments), Php1.1 trillion for infrastructure, Php9.5 billion for confidential and intelligence funds, and Php19.1 billion for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

The group emphasized that the enormous health and economic crisis requires a proportionately enormous response.

This is particularly because the Duterte government’s ill-conceived protracted lockdowns are the biggest reason for the collapse in livelihoods and incomes of tens of millions of Filipinos.  

Bayanihan 3 can be a start to the  expansionary fiscal policy that IBON has proposed to jumpstart the economy.

The Duterte administration can readily find the funds for meaningful aid and stimulus if it wanted to, IBON said. After 420 days of the government’s poor and stingy response, Filipinos more than ever need a government with the political will and boldness to put the people’s needs first over the profits of a wealthy few. #

Big stimulus bill prioritizing aid more urgent than easing foreign restrictions–IBON

Research group IBON said that a real stimulus package that prioritizes emergency cash subsidies, support for small businesses and farmers, and strengthening the health system should be top of lawmakers’ legislative priorities.

This is more critical, the group said, than the bills lifting limits on full foreign ownership in certain economic sectors which the President recently certified as urgent.

IBON said that containing the pandemic, helping the sick, and helping millions of Filipinos badly affected by job losses and falling incomes need immediate attention.

Prioritizing bills to attract foreign investors now is misplaced, and legislators’ attention is much better spent on the country’s more pressing needs, the group said.

Pres. Duterte certified as urgent amendments to the Public Services Act, the Foreign Investments Act, and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act.

The amendments seek to allow full foreign participation in public services such as transportation and communications; lower the number of local hires required of foreign companies in the country; and lower the paid-up capital for foreign enterprises here, respectively.

IBON stressed that the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ (MECQ) in the NCR+ only added to the 12.1 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos already as of February 2021.

The most badly affected are the majority of informal workers especially in retail trade, carinderias, transport and small businesses, and in the hotel and restaurant, transportation and storage, and manufacturing sectors.

The group also said that some 4.9 million poor and low-income families in the Greater Manila area are extremely vulnerable to any income losses from not having any savings to cushion interruptions of their livelihood.

The impact of the ECQ and MECQ will affect these distressed households the most. IBON also said that as much as 189,000 small businesses may have closed nationwide by February, with many likely being in the Greater Manila area.

The continued spread of COVID-19 shows how dismal the government’s testing and tracing efforts to track the virus are over a year since the pandemic hit.

Infected people continue to circulate and too many of those who eventually get sick are not even able to get proper treatment.

IBON blamed this on the government’s tepid response, which falls far short in dealing with the situation.

The Philippines’ fiscal response, equivalent to just 3.8% of gross domestic product (GDP), is among the weakest in Southeast Asia, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Economic recovery is hampered by the spread of COVID-19 and the lack of fiscal stimulus.

IBON pointed out that the 11.3% increase in government spending last year was even below the average annual increase of 14.3% from 2017-2019.

There is also little aid forthcoming, which the group scored as insensitive. The Php239.3 billion allotment for COVID aid under Bayanihan 1 was reduced to just Php22.8 billion under Bayanihan 2, and even further to Php18.4 billion under the 2021 budget.

Despite tight quarantine levels being sustained beyond two weeks since end-March, the government has not spoken of any addition to the Php23 billion in aid for 22.9 million affected individuals in NCR+.

The Duterte administration’s refusal to spend what’s needed to address the pandemic crisis means that any measure that increases spending on COVID-19 response is urgent and very welcome, IBON said.

In its own recommendation for a Php1.5-trillion expansionary fiscal policy, IBON proposes Php540 billion in emergency cash subsidies for 18 million poor and low-income families (Php10,000 per month for three months); Php101 billion in wage subsidies to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to support a Php100/day wage increase for three months; Php40.5 billion for cash-for-work programs; Php220 billion in agricultural support; Php200 billion in financial assistance for MSMEs especially those that are Filipino-owned and domestically-oriented; Php78 billion in financial assistance for informal earners; Php200 billion in COVID-19 health response; and Php113 billion to fund distance education.

The group also cited the Makabayan bloc’s House Bill 7620 or the People’s Strategy for Strengthening Health, Social Protection, Economic, and Local Industrial Development (SHIELD) and House Bill 8628 or the Bayanihan to Arise as One Act (Bayanihan 3) sponsored by House of Representatives Speaker Lord Velasco and Marikina Representative Stella Quimbo.

SHIELD’s Php1.57 trillion budget includes allocations for free and intensified COVID-19 mass testing, treatment, tracing and mass hiring of healthcare and non-healthcare personnel, monthly subsidies for the unemployed, stipends for students, and strategic economic programs.

Bayanihan 3 meanwhile allocates Php420 billion for subsidies to small businesses, businesses in critically-impacted sectors, social amelioration for households, assistance to agriculture producers, and aid for the unemployed.

IBON said that the Duterte administration and lawmakers should give the greatest attention to these proposals which are most deserving of being certified as urgent.

Every additional COVID-19 response measure over the meager amounts allotted by the administration will help the country get out of this crisis faster, stressed the group, whereas bills expanding foreign businesses’ profit-making will not be of any help at all. #

14 Charts: What the Government Has Done to Our Pandemic Economy

by IBON Communication

If you bothered to start to read this then you probably know by now that the 9.5% contraction of the Philippine economy last year was the worst on record – which is to say since the end of World War II which is only when gross domestic product (GDP) started to be estimated for the country.

he government blames the bad economic performance on the pandemic. Well, COVID-19 certainly was a problem for the country.

In September last year, the well-respected Lancet medical journal reported to the United Nations 75th General Assembly that the Philippines ranked 65th out of 91 countries worldwide in terms of COVID-19 response. We were already the worst performer in Southeast Asia then.

The Lowy Institute came out with a similar study last month. In the chart showing the Philippines and a few of our Southeast Asian neighbors, a higher line means better performance in dealing with COVID-19 as the weeks go by. The Communist Party-led Socialist Republic of Vietnam was a star performer from the very beginning.

The Philippines fared even worse in the Lowy Institute study and placed 79th out of 98 countries worldwide. The only countries that ranked lower in Asia were Bangladesh (84th), Indonesia (85th), and India (86th). Perhaps not coincidentally, what the four worst performing countries in Asia have in common is that the pandemic hit as they all struggled with authoritarian leaders and democratic decline.

Effective public health response is the most important starting point of good COVID-19 response without which other measures wouldn’t get much traction. But the economic response is also very important.

Unfortunately the Philippines lagged badly even here and, measured as share of gross domestic product (GDP), had among the smallest fiscal response in the region. The poor public health response combined with the trifling fiscal response to result in the Philippines having the worst economic performance in the region.

And is actually set to have the worst performance not just in the region but to as far away as South Asia and across East Asia.

The Duterte administration insists that it was a choice between health and the economy, kalusugan or kabuhayan, and portrayed itself as having agonized but made the difficult choice to prioritize health. The economic collapse was the price to pay, it said.

But that is a false choice – both could have been attended to well as the experience of the likes of Vietnam and Thailand have shown.

And it’s also not really the choice the administration made. In terms of COVID -19 response, the choice they made was the militarist one to treat the people as the enemy and rely on harsh lockdowns and long community quarantines. And also the choice to prioritize creditworthiness over spending to contain the pandemic and to ease the suffering of tens of millions of Filipinos.

The Duterte government chose not to spend. In the first 11 months of 2020, it only spent Php3.69 trillion which is just an 11.6% increase from the same period in 2020. Unless government spending picks up substantially in December, the last month of the year, this means that it even underspent its 2020 budget which is supposed to be as much as 13.6% more than the 2019 budget.

The historical annual average increase of budgets for the last four decades is 11.1% so the government can’t claim that there’s any stimulus happening.

And so the economy’s unprecedented collapse – because the pandemic was not contained and then because the government did not spend to stimulate it.

Hotels and restaurants, transport and storage, and construction were hit especially bad. Investments and foreign trade as well.

The biggest job losses were in hotels and restaurants, transport and storage, and manufacturing.

Agricultural employment increased – maybe partly because so much of farming and fishing is physically-distanced already, and maybe partly because retrenched and laid-off workers thought to find work there instead. Somewhat surprisingly, employment in education rose.

The biggest job losses were in hotels and restaurants, transport and storage, and manufacturing.

Agricultural employment increased – maybe partly because so much of farming and fishing is physically-distanced already, and maybe partly because retrenched and laid-off workers thought to find work there instead. Somewhat surprisingly, employment in education rose.

The drop in employment was unparalleled. In April 2020, at the height of the government’s lockdown, the number of employed suddenly fell to 33.8 million which was as low as a dozen years before in 2008.

In short, there’s a huge social crisis with millions of unemployed, poverty increasing, and hunger worsening.

Yet the Duterte administration seems oblivious and COVID-19-related emergency cash assistance, or ayuda, has dwindled to almost nothing this year – while corporations (especially large and foreign firms) are being given Php133 billion in corporate income tax cuts.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of distressed micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are getting scant support. Various surveys by the International Trade Center (ITC), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and World Bank reported as much as 10-15% of businesses expecting to close permanently.

Yet, according to the president’s reports to Congress, Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 have extended financing support to less than 28,000 by the end of last year.

The government’s preferred approach of using monetary and financial policy to stimulate the economy simply isn’t working. Despite hundreds of billions of pesos in liquidity poured into the economy and interest rates down to record lows, businesses aren’t borrowing – with loan growth even contracting for the first time in 14 years.

This is most of all because so many ordinary Filipinos with no work and no incomes just don’t have enough money to spend so businesses have no reason to stay in or expand their businesses.

Now it’s true that the government is grappling with record budget deficits…

… and with record debt.

The problems are huge but the equally huge solutions are well within the capacity of the government to implement if it so wanted. The Philippines needs a much more ambitious COVID-19 economic response than the Duterte administration’s current business-as-usual approach.

In broad strokes, the Duterte administration has to take much more decisive measures to contain the pandemic such as by: tracing better, more judicious quarantines, and more rapid isolation; giving more emergency cash subsidies and support to MSMEs; and actually starting on long-term reforms to strengthen domestic agriculture and build national industry.

Most of all, it has to respond in a much more rational and humane manner. Too many Filipinos and their families are suffering from the government’s inaction, and too many small businesses are distressed from being left behind.

IBON takes up the economy’s problems in more detail and outlines possible solutions more concretely in our forthcoming Birdtalk paper. Please have a look at it! #

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