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Bayanihan 2 and 2021 budget leave millions of unemployed behind

by IBON Media & Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PH ‘stimulus’ smallest in region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These measures would have been closer to the global average.

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

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

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

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

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

Gov’t should check SAP’s gross failure as COVID cases rise – IBON

by IBON Media & Communications

Research group IBON said that the Duterte government should correct the huge shortfall of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) especially amid a continuously increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

Aside from getting the stingy first tranche of emergency subsidies, 9 million of the 18 million target recipients and 1.5 million more “wait-listed” beneficiaries will no longer get the second tranche.

This is as the government limits distribution to residents in enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ (MECQ) areas. Yet, the country reaches a record of 36,438 cases as of June 29.

According to the recently expired Bayanihan law, the Philippine government was supposed to provide emergency subsidies to low-income families and vulnerable sectors whose jobs and incomes were disrupted by the lockdown.

Support amounting to Php5,000-8,000, depending on regional minimum wage rates, was to be given to some 18 million poor households for two months.

The first month-tranche came in the duration of three months, making the already stingy aid even much delayed.

The second month-tranche, on the other hand, according to an inter-agency joint memorandum, will be distributed now only to beneficiaries in the ECQ and MECQ areas.

This reduces the original 17.7 million target beneficiaries to just 8.6 million households in the following areas: Central Luzon except Aurora, the National Capital Region (NCR), Calabarzon, Benguet, Pangasinan, Iloilo, Cebu province, Bacolod City, Davao City, Albay province, and Zamboanga City.

This leaves 9.1 million of the original target SAP beneficiaries affected by the three-month lockdown to make do with the meager first tranche, said IBON. This is even if economic activity cannot fully resume in now general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified GCQ areas.

Considering that Php98.3 billion has been distributed to 17.5 million households as of June 27, IBON computes that the first tranche averages out to Php5,617 per family.

Without the second tranche supposedly for the second month of lockdown, the subsidy amounts to just Php53 per family or Php12 per person per day for the past 106 days since the COVID-19 lockdown started.

Even those who will receive the second tranche will still end up stretching a small amount over three months of lockdown, IBON said.

Some Php6.79 billion in second tranche aid has already been distributed to 1.3 million recipients, or an average of Php5,047 per family.

Combining both tranches, these 1.3 million families each got only a total of Php10,664.

This amounts to Php101 per family or Php23 per family member for each of the 106 lockdown days.

IBON also noted that 5.28 million low-income households even continue to wait for the first tranche of SAP.

This figure includes the remaining 278,206 beneficiaries out of the target 17.7 million according to Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) data as of June 27.

The rest are the families declared by the DSWD in mid-May as also eligible to receive aid but have not received any.

Yet, the government retracted and said that only 3.5 million of the wait-listed beneficiaries in MECQ and ECQ areas as of end-May are to get two tranches of emergency subsidy.

This means that the remaining 1.5 million in GCQ and modified GCQ areas are getting only one tranche.

The country does not seem to be winning the war against COVID-19, but the government has remained indifferent to the impact of the pandemic on the millions of poor families, said IBON.

The Duterte administration has continued penny-pinching even as people’s livelihoods and incomes are already irrecoverable and public health is at risk.

People’s socioeconomic welfare along with an efficient health response are the urgent matters that the Duterte government should be focusing on instead of staying apathetic to the mounting health and economic crisis, IBON said. #

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

Higher inflation for poorest Filipinos underscores urgent need for continued cash subsidies

by IBON Media & Communications

Research group IBON said that the higher inflation is problematic but particularly burdens the poorest Filipinos. Inflation rates for the 30% poorest households are higher than the national average.

Especially amid historic joblessness, this affirms how the government should continue giving cash subsidies as income support, the group said.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), headline inflation rose to 2.5% in June 2020 from 2.1% in May 2020.

Behind this uptick are price increases in: transportation, particularly tricycle fares; alcoholic beverages and tobacco; housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels; and communication.

However, the 3.0% inflation rate in June for the poorest 30% of households was higher than the headline inflation rate of 2.5 percent.

This means that the cost of living is rising fastest for the country’s poorest households.

IBON said that this is troublesome for millions of poor families suffering interrupted incomes and stingy emergency relief. 

IBON said that the rise in inflation despite repressed consumption during the lockdown is worrying and points to problems in supply and production.

The government is primarily responsible for ensuring these especially during a public emergency.

For instance, the group said, the notable increase in the transport index shows the government’s weakness in ensuring this vital public service.

Rising prices especially for the poorest affirms the urgency of continued income support, IBON said.

The number of beneficiaries getting the second tranche of emergency subsidies should not be limited. The 18 million poorest Filipinos, including the 5 million wait-listed beneficiaries of the Social Amelioration Program, should receive both the first and second tranches of the Php5,000-Php8,000 per-month emergency aid, said the group.

The government said that only those residing in enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ areas will be getting a second tranche.

This is only 8.6 million families of the original 18 million target beneficiaries, and 3.5 million households of the five million wait-listed.

This also means that 10.6 million beneficiaries now in general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified (MGCQ) areas will have to make do with just their first tranche.

With the cost of living fast rising amid an even worsening pandemic, limiting the number of beneficiaries getting the second tranche of emergency aid is unconscionable, IBON said.

The government should even consider additional tranches for vulnerable households that continue to reel from lost livelihoods and income, said the group. #

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

Govt jeepney ban has already cost drivers Php78,000

by IBON Media & Communications

Thousands of small public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers have lost as much as Php78,000 each from three months of mass transport suspensions since the lockdown.

The government has been insensitive and stingy assistance has pushed jeepney drivers and their families into poverty, said IBON.

Their troubles risk becoming permanent with the government exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to keep small drivers and operators off the road to fast-track its jeepney phaseout program, it added.

The Duterte administration suspended mass transport, including jeepneys, when it declared enhanced community quarantines (ECQ) in Luzon then in other parts of the country in mid-March.

Quarantine measures have since eased to general community quarantine (GCQ) in many areas and public transport has resumed in phases.

The first phase started in June 1 and the second is due to begin on June 22.

Jeepneys, however, will still remain prohibited.

PUJ drivers have suffered lost incomes for over three months already, IBON said. Among them are the estimated 55,000-70,000 jeepney drivers in Metro Manila.

For instance, before the ECQ, drivers plying the MCU-Rotonda via Taft route earned an average of Php1,000 per day after a 12-hour shift, net of boundary and fuel expenses.

Jeepney drivers on this route usually worked six days a week.

This means that, to date, they have lost some 78 working days over the past 3 months or 13 weeks of suspended mass transport.

This translates to a total net income loss of Php78,000 or Php26,000 per month of lockdown, said IBON.

Out of work jeepney drivers lose Income with each passing day of transport suspension.

The group stressed that government assistance has been far from enough to make up for these lost incomes.

The social welfare department reports only 36,200 jeepney drivers getting cash aid in the past three months.

Even then, some jeepney drivers only received one tranche of the Php5,000-8,000 of social amelioration and it remains unclear if they will even get the second tranche.

Many small jeepney drivers and operators could become permanently out of work, particularly in Metro Manila, IBON said. 

Transport officials are using the mass transport suspension to force the phaseout of traditional jeepneys by only allowing modernized jeepneys to run.

Under the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB)’s Memo Circular 2020-017 on public transport guidelines in GCQ areas, only modernized jeepneys and traditional jeepneys under a corporation or cooperative are allowed to operate.

This leaves out small jeepney operators and drivers who, unlike big or corporate fleet operators, can ill-afford the costly Php1.6–2.2 million modernized units, or steep fees and requirements to form a cooperative.

They are even less able after three months of lost incomes and depleted savings, if any.

IBON said that the livelihoods of thousands of small jeepney drivers and operators are at stake. Instead of putting corporate interests first and pushing its phaseout program, the government should give immediate cash assistance to drivers and their families who have suffered three months of lost incomes.

It should also support drivers and operators in upgrading or replacing their units to meet safety, health and environmental standards. #

Open-air jeepneys safer against COVID-19 than enclosed modernized counterparts

by IBON Media & Communications

With only modernized jeepneys allowed to resume operations this week, research group IBON said that keeping traditional jeepneys off the road inconveniences commuters and also denies them potentially safer means of transport.

The group said that the traditional open-air jeepney is likely even safer against COVID-19 than its air-conditioned modernized counterpart. With the pandemic still ongoing, insisting on jeepney modernization unnecessarily puts commuters at risk of possible airborne coronavirus infections.

The second phase of public transport resumption in general community quarantine (GCQ) areas will begin on June 22.

Public utility buses (PUB), modern public utility vehicles (PUVs) like modern jeepneys, and utility vans (UV) express will be allowed to operate.

Traditional jeepneys will remain prohibited.

IBON said that the Duterte administration is using COVID-19 as an excuse to force jeepneys off the road and fast-track its ill-conceived modernization.

IBON however said that the ban on traditional jeepneys should be lifted.

According to the group, there are studies which indicate that open-air transport may have advantages over enclosed, air-conditioned transport in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Most coronavirus transmissions are acknowledged to occur via droplet infection, from coughing and sneezing, and partly through contaminated surfaces.

Nonetheless, recent studies show that the number of pathogens increases considerably in enclosed spaces and that regular ventilation reduces the risk of infection.

Despite physical distancing, enclosed modern jeepneys can become centers for spreading the virus compared to the natural ventilation of traditional jeepneys, said the group.

Medical researchers and physicists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have found that small cough droplets, potentially containing virus particles, can stay in the air of enclosed spaces especially when poorly ventilated.

Air quality and health experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences similarly find that airborne transmission is a significant route of infection in indoor environments.

The UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics) or International Association of Public Transport, with 1,600 members in 96 countries, has issued guidelines warning that public transport systems are “high risk environments” due to the “confined space and limited ventilation”

The risk of community transmission through enclosed public transport has already prompted many countries to take specific measures against this, said IBON.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) advises “proper ventilation in [public transport] at all times” and “the use of windows [to] increase replacement with fresh air”.

Similarly, the United States (US) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came out with guidelines for mass transit administrators which include, among others, “[increasing] circulation of outdoor air as much as possible”.

In Thailand, the transport ministry has instructed public transport operators to open windows for good air ventilation.

In China, some public transport groups have retrofitted window vents to air-conditioned fleets.

In India, buses are enjoined to improve ventilation by increasing the frequency of fresh air intake.

With COVID-19 still spreading, traditional jeepneys have the advantage of being open-air, dissipating droplets with the virus faster, and lowering the risk of transmission, said IBON.

Jeepney drivers prevented from going back to work by the government ask for help. (Kodao)

Yet the government’s narrow-minded focus on corporate-driven jeepney modernization threatens to forego this important built-in advantage in the mass transport system.

The pandemic is being used to put thousands of jeepney drivers out of work and take traditional jeepneys permanently off the road in a brutal enforced phaseout, the group said.

IBON stressed that efficient and reliable public transport is critical to resume as normal social and economic life as possible amid the pandemic.

Commuters suffering from the lack of jeepneys include many health workers and emergency service providers at the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

Jeepney drivers and operators need subsidies to make up for revenue losses and higher operating expenses. The current situation is also an opportunity to promote cooperativization towards the eventually nationalized public mass transport for ensuring this vital service. #

Duterte is a paper tiger in strategic terms and is in the process of being torn apart

By Jose Maria Sison

In tactical terms, Duterte has still enough power and enough armed minions to abuse the people and act like a real tiger. He can still kill any specific social activist, critic or anyone opposed to his brutal and corrupt regime. He can still persecute journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, bishops, priests and opposition leaders as well as their institutions and organizations in so many ways.

But in strategic terms, Duterte is a paper tiger already in the process of being torn apart. Every oppressive or exploitative act that he commits is rousing the people to fight back. Thus, the patriotic and progressive forces are gaining ground rapidly. Duterte is lucky if he can survive politically before the middle of 2022 or he will be even more unlucky and meet a more powerful resistance if he succeeds to extend his power beyond 2022 through any foul means offensive to the sovereign will of the people.

In taking advantage of the COVID-19 problem in order to grab emergency powers, subject the people to extreme repressive measures and steal public funds in the hundreds of billions of pesos, Duterte has sabotaged the Philippine economy and bankrupted his own government and has thus grievously offended the people whom he has deprived of the means of livelihood and frustrated with the false promise of food assistance and economic relief.

In their tens of millions, the workers, peasants and the lower middle class are hungry and angry at the Duterte regime and are eager to move against it. The professionals and entrepreneurs have been deprived of income and have fallen into debt and bankruptcy and are ready to join the toiling masses in concerted actions to protest and make demands. Even the big compradors and landlords who are not his close collaborators now consider him a plague worse than the COVID-19 virus.

The Christian churches are now calling on their people to make Duterte account for his crimes against humanity, his gross and systematic violations of human rights and his blasphemy in cursing and spitting on God’s face. He can invoke the freedom of thought and belief. But he cannot use his state power to persecute and humiliate the Churches without meeting the just resistance of believers,

Duterte has terminated the peace negotiations with the NDFP in obedience to Trump’s order for him to do so in 2017. And to prove his continuing puppetry to the US, he obsequiously promised to Trump that he would do everything in his power to destroy the revolutionary movement and to allow US corporations to have 100 per cent ownership of land and all types of businesses, including natural resource exploitation and public utilities.

Since then, the inter-imperialist contradictions between the US and China have sharpened. The US is now displeased with Duterte for having allowed China to build and militarize seven artificial islands in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, control the Philippine national power grid and to put up cell towers of China Telecom and its Philippine dummy in the AFP military camps in collision with the EDCA which privileges the US to have its own bases within AFP camps.

Despite his betrayal of Philippine sovereignty in his relations with China, Duterte has gotten far less than the loans that he expected to get from China even at the most onerous terms for his much-touted plan of infrastructure-building. It has become obvious that China has preconditioned most of the loans with demands for the most outright and brazen surrender of Philippine sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea and its rich oil, gas and marine resources.

While Duterte and his military minions boast daily in government and commercial mass media that they have wiped out the armed revolutionary movement several times over, they expose their big lie by railroading a bill of state terrorism supposedly aimed at destroying at the same time the armed revolutionary movement in the countryside by likewise destroying any form of legal opposition that can be suspected or interpreted as being helpful to armed revolution.

The armed revolutionary movement of the Filipino people is daily being taunted and insulted by militarist psywar that it is already dead and being challenged to prove that it is still alive and kicking. In this regard, the leadership of the revolutionary movement has announced that each one of its more than 100 guerrilla fronts will deliver lethal blows to their enemy every week and every month in accordance with their current strength within the context of national guidelines under the principle of centralized leadership and decentralized operations.

Indeed, if the revolutionary forces of the people would carry out their fighting tasks very well against the enemy armed units, the human rights violators and plunderers, they can contribute significantly to the isolation, discredit and overthrow of the traitorous, tyrannical, genocidal and plundering Duterte regime. When they were much smaller and weaker and less experienced, the revolutionary forces contributed significantly to the overthrow of the Marcos fascist dictatorship from its inception in 1972 to 1986.

They are now definitely in a much stronger and better position to give a greater contribution to the effort of the Filipino people to get rid of a tyrant of a lower calibre than Marcos, a mediocre mimicry of his master monster. They can assure all their allies that under current circumstances the balance of forces does not yet allow seizure of political power by the revolutionary proletariat but certainly allows constitutional succession among the conservative forces to depose a physically, mentally and morally deranged tyrant and provide relief to the suffering people.

As they did in the fight against the Marcos fascist dictatorship, the conservative forces can avail of the broad united front of forces against the Duterte tyranny, persuade the civilian and armed personnel of the state to withdraw support from the tyrant and apply their principle of constitutional succession to get rid of him and his gang of butchers and thieves. If they succeed, then they shall have created the conditions for the resumption of peace negotiations with the NDFP. All advocates of a just peace can seriously consider this point. #

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The author is the chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Duterte administration’s recovery plans help the rich more than the poor

by IBON Media & Communications

IBON said that the government’s supposed recovery plans are more concerned about supporting business profits than helping the mass of unemployed Filipinos.

The finance department’s Philippine Program for Recovery with Equity and Solidarity (PH-PROGRESO) and stimulus bills in Congress give considerable support to businesses while millions of affected families get token support at best.

PH-PROGRESO of the economic managers does not give any cash support to poor and low-income families most in need, including the mass of unemployed, noted IBON.

The Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE) proposal of PH-PROGRESO wants to give Php667 billion worth of corporate tax breaks, the biggest in the country’s history. The Php133.7 billion in loans and guarantees, Php142.8 billion in other tax cuts and foregone revenue, and Php233.3 billion in additional liquidity will also benefit mainly enterprises.

The group said that the stimulus bills in Congress, including the Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE) recently passed by the House of Representatives (HOR), are not much better.

ARISE allocates a total of Php40 billion for cash-for-work programs and Php42 billion for education subsidies.

On the other hand, it allocates Php1.2 trillion for formal enterprises, said the group.

There is a strong likelihood that the bulk of this will go to large firms of oligarch conglomerates and possibly even foreign transnational corporations.

Big firms dominate the tourism, transport, import and export, manufacturing, and service industries identified for support.

There is also no explicit prohibition of foreign companies, IBON noted.

Meanwhile only Php135 billion of the Php1.2 trillion is explicitly for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Giving large firms equal access to the subsidized financing will likely crowd out MSMEs especially the neediest smaller firms, IBON said.

The focus on formal enterprises will also mean that vast numbers of informal earners and displaced workers will not be reached.

This Php1.2 trillion includes the Php110 billion for wage subsidies. The stimulus bill says that freelancers, professionals, self-employed, and overseas Filipino workers can also receive this.

In practice, however, there is likely to be a bias for workers in formal enterprises, which means the subsidies are in effect subsidies for firms’ payroll expenses, said the group.

IBON said that support to enterprises should give much greater and more explicit priority to Filipino MSMEs.

These are the foundations of the domestic-oriented development so urgent amid the global recession and increasing protectionism even by the world’s most powerful economies.

At the same time, government recovery plans need to give much greater direct income support to poor and low-income households.

This is both direct support for families’ welfare as well as a meaningful stimulus that increases effective demand in the economy. #

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

Duterte gov’t giving up Php667-B in potential COVID response funds to boost corporate profits

by IBON Media & Communications

At a time when funds are urgent for the huge COVID-19 response needed, research group IBON said that the Duterte administration is giving up Php667 billion in revenues to boost the profits of the country’s largest corporations.

Oligarch profits are boosted at the expense of aiding poor families, containing the spread of the coronavirus, and treating those with COVID-19, said the group.

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said that the administration wants to cut the corporate income tax (CIT) from 30% to 25% starting July this year.

The CIT will be lowered again starting 2023 to fall to just 20% by 2027.

This will result in an estimated revenue loss of Php42 billion in 2020 and a further Php625 billion over the succeeding five years.

The faster and bigger CIT cut proposed is grossly unconscionable at a time when the government is blaming its incomplete response to the COVID-19 crisis on the lack of funds, said IBON.

Cash transfers are inadequate for tens of millions of Filipino families, the government says mass testing is unaffordable, and small businesses and workers are bearing the burden of precautionary measures.

There is also no substantial increase in the number of health workers, beds, intensive care units, and ventilators in the public health system, the group noted.

And yet, IBON stressed, The DOF is using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to increase the profits of large corporations.

Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE) pushed by the DOF as “one of the largest stimulus measures in the country’s history” is the very same regressive TRAIN Package 2 it has been pushing for over three years, said the group.

CREATE is only its latest renaming after being called Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Reform Act (CITIRA).

The finance department is also being untruthful in saying that the measure “is meant to fuel economic dynamism, especially among the country’s growth engines – the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) – that employ a majority of Filipino workers”, said IBON.

In a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing in 2018, the DOF itself reported that 75% of CIT revenue collected comes from large corporations and only 25% from MSMEs. Hence, it is large corporations and not MSMEs who are the biggest winners getting the biggest boost in their profits from the CIT cut.

IBON said that if the government is really serious about supporting MSMEs and not just using them as a smokescreen to increase oligarch profits, it can instead introduce a more progressive two-tiered CIT scheme with 20% CIT for MSMEs and a higher 35% for large enterprises.

The group said that countries with such segmented CIT schemes in ASEAN include Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Brunei.

The proposed measure is also misguided in being designed as an incentive for foreign investors to come to the Philippines, IBON added.

Most foreign investment in the country is in low value-added operations. Reducing tax revenues collected from them reduces among the biggest concrete benefits from letting them operate in the country, the group explained.

The big business bias of the government’s COVID-19 response is becoming increasingly evident, according to IBON.

The Duterte administration is giving them CIT cuts, supporting lower wages for workers, and preparing huge loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

These should be corrected in favor of more generous income support for affected families, strengthening the public health system, and supporting Filipino MSMEs, said the group. #

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

Financial strength, development weakness

By Sonny Africa

The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), presided by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, addressed the country on Tuesday. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III was a moment of lucidity especially compared to his principal’s rambling incoherence. Unfortunately, being lucid doesn’t necessarily mean being correct.

Resilient and the best?

Sec. Dominguez opened by rejoicing about the Philippines being ranked number six out of 66 countries in the world for “economic resiliency” and supposedly “the best in Southeast Asia for financial strength”. The compulsion to welcome any sort of accolade is understandable especially coming from The Economist, a well-regarded business newspaper. We’re so starved of good news that ranking highly on any international scale – like in boxing or beauty pageants – always gives an endorphin rush.

But then again, it’s probably useful to be a little more circumspect about the metrics used to say that the country is supposedly doing well. The four measures of ‘financial strength’ in the magazine’s report are of course fine as they are and include the most important usual measures of financial strength – public debt, foreign debt, cost of borrowing, and foreign exchange reserves. Hence Sec. Dominguez’s elation over our so-called financial strength and the country’s credit ratings.

But we should presumably see things from a real development perspective and beyond the shallow endorphin rush. In which case, the main problem is the confusion between means and ends. This is actually a recurring problem with our neoliberal economic managers in particular, and free market-biased economists, policy folks, and business minds in general.

The four metrics and credit ratings aren’t valuable in themselves but for how useful they are for the presumably real development ends of policymaking – enough jobs and livelihoods so that there are no poor Filipinos, and an equitable, stable, self-reliant and sustainable economy. It’s always been odd that whenever policymakers see a conflict between financial strength and social development, the latter always loses.

Which is also to highlight that while those measures are of course better favorable than unfavorable, supposedly favorable performance can actually be undesirable depending on the price paid to get them.

Financially strong for whom?

So, some thoughts on Sec. Dominguez’s self-congratulatory echoing of an assessment that the Philippines “continues to enjoy the confidence of the international community” – meaning all the foreign creditors and investors whose main interest in the country is that we keep borrowing and stay profitable for them, to put it bluntly.

First, “financial strength” is a misnomer if this is in any way taken to refer to the level of development of the Philippine economy or even of the government. The only underlying so-called strength these metrics refer to is the country’s perceived ability to pay its foreign debt obligations. There’s no direct correlation between such so-called financial strength and a country’s level of development – a quick scan of the ranking with countries like Botswana, the Philippines, Nigeria, Indonesia and India ranking high should make that easily clear.

Finance secretaries, central bankers, and other economic managers around the world are regularly feted as the World’s Best this or that by global finance magazines and organizations. Their countries, economies and governments correspondingly benefit from the halo effect and are projected as developing – even if, as is often the case, they’re not.

Second, it matters how “good performance” along these indicators was achieved. Put another way, what may be good for financial strength may be bad for development. As is often the case.

For instance, the Philippines has had comfortable foreign exchange reserves since the 1990s mainly because of remittances from the unprecedented export of cheap labor and overseas Filipino workers. We’re so used to it, but it’s worth keeping in mind that this enormous reliance on overseas work is at huge social costs for families and exposes the inability of the domestic economy to create enough jobs for its population. It also actually distorts the economy with a huge imbalance between domestic production and incomes and final household demand. Mammoth overseas remittances – not brilliant economic managers – are arguably the biggest factor in the country avoiding foreign debt payments crisis such as in the 1980s.

Public debt, including public foreign debt, has moderated and credit ratings also improved. However, this was done on the back of an increasingly regressive tax system that relies more and more on consumption taxes rather than on direct taxes. The regressive trajectory of the country’s tax system started in earnest with the introduction of value-added tax (VAT) in the 1980s then worsened with VAT expansion in the 2000s and 2010s, and with cuts in personal income, estate and donor taxes particularly through the regressive Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) reforms since 2018.

All this increases so-called financial strength by unduly burdening poor and low-income groups who make up the majority of the population, while making it easier for the narrow sliver of the richest in the country. Sec. Dominguez is unrepentant and noticeably still pushing for the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA) bill which, among others, lowers corporate income taxes – most of all to gain further favor from the international community.

Lastly, what is prevented by insisting on these measures as if they were ends in themselves also matters. The onset of COVID-19 and the national and global measures to control the pandemic have a tremendous impact on the economy. The Philippines and the world are in recession, and some are saying that the world is in its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression almost a hundred years ago.

Our current pandemic panic will eventually settle in the coming months, but the economy will still be stumbling. Worse, poverty and unemployment will be soaring. In such circumstances, it doesn’t make sense to be so insistent on narrow indicators of so-called financial strength to the point that urgent development measures are prevented.

Today, it’s incredibly important to put more money in people’s pockets both to help them maintain their welfare as well as to boost effective demand. It’s also important to support rural producers and small enterprises to ensure that the goods and services needed are still available. It’s also important to rapidly expand the public health system to deal with the pandemic and to meet the country’s vast COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 health problems.

Attending to all this means the government having to spend more as well as building up its capacity to intervene. Giving unwarranted emphasis on measures of ‘financial strength’ unfortunately sets artificial limits to the government meeting its human rights obligations to intervene on a massive scale.

To force an analogy, it’s like being in the hinterlands of the Philippines with an emergency case in the back of the car and the nearest hospital hours away. In this kind of situation, you don’t obsess about fuel-efficient driving or not red-lining the tachometer or limiting the car’s mileage – you step on the gas. Glorifying ‘financial strength’ is stepping on the brakes. #

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