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Duterte’s midterm: change for the worse

(IBON 2019 Midyear Birdtalk Briefing Paper economic situation highlights)

The country’s slowing economy, and worsening jobs crisis and poverty disputes the Duterte administration’s hype of economic gains. IBON said that this is bound to worsen if the Duterte administration continues unopposed on its current neoliberal trajectory wherein the interests of big foreign and local business prevail to the detriment of millions of Filipinos, especially the poor.

Economic growth slowing since the start of the administration.Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data show that gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been slowing in the 11 quarters since the start of the Duterte administration from 7.1% in the third quarter of 2016 to 5.6% in the first quarter of 2019. There was a momentary increase to 7.2% in the third quarter of 2017 but growth fell rapidly after this. Notably, growth was slowing even before the budget impasse and election ban on infrastructure spending.

High real unemployment. Computing according to the original definition of unemployment for comparability would show that the real unemployment rate in 2018 is 10.1% and the real number of unemployed is 4.6 million. These are much worse than the already high 9.0% unemployment rate and 4 million unemployed in 2016, again computed according to the original definition. In contrast, officially released figures for 2018 were a grossly underreported 5.3% and 2.3 million, respectively.

The record real unemployment last year is a direct result of how only an annual average of 81,000 new jobs have been created since the start of the Duterte administration, from 41.0 million employed in 2016 increasing by 162,000 to 41.2 million in 2018. To put this into context and even granting that the administration is just at its midpoint, this is so far the worst employment generation post-Marcos.

Lowest and least frequent wage hikes under Duterte. The Duterte administration is so far making the worst record on wage hikes of all post-Marcos administrations. In the NCR, for instance, it has only given an average of one wage hike every 18 months. The frequency of wage hikes previously ranged from one every 16 months under Arroyo to one every 10 months under Ramos. Over the two wage hikes under Duterte, the nominal value of the wage increased by only 9.4% – compared to a range of 11.5% by Benigno Aquino III to 45.9% by Corazon Aquino over their respective first two wage hikes.

Poverty underreported. IBON estimates on Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) data in 2015 found that the poorest 50% or 11.4 million families had monthly incomes of just Php15,000 or less, and the poorest 60% or 13.6 million families just some Php18,000 or less.

Inequality worsening. The net worth of the country’s richest Filipinos and profits of the largest corporations continue to grow, in some cases even outpacing economic growth. The net worth of the 10 richest Filipinos grew from Php2.5 billion in 2016 to Php2.7 billion in 2018. The net worth of the 40 richest Filipinos grew from Php3.7 billion to Php3.8 billion in the same period. The net worth of the 40 richest as percentage of GDP was 21.9% in 2018.

Agriculture in crisis, manufacturing stalling. Agriculture has been left to perform chronically poorly. The sector grew by just 0.8% last year and in the first quarter of 2019. This is just around half the growth pace of 1.5% in the 2010s and not even a third of the 2.9% clip in the 2000s. Employment in agriculture has fallen by 1.1 million between 2016 and 2018, with an initial further 376,000 losses reported in April 2019 from the same period last year.

Manufacturing already appears to be stalling with growth of just 4.9% in 2018 – the slowest since 2012 – and slowing further to 4.6% in the first quarter of 2019. The share of manufacturing in total employment of just 8.8% in 2018 is actually even much lower than its 10.1% share in 1990 and 11% in 1990. These are despite the sector growing by 22.1% between 2016 and 2018, according to national accounts data.

Poorest land distribution. Lands covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) should have been distributed by 1998. This deadline was reset twice, yet until now 100% distribution has not been met. To add to this injustice, distribution is slow and is even going at a slower pace than before under the Duterte administration. Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) land distribution accomplishment in the period 2016-June 2019 is just at an average of 2,920 hectares monthly. This is much less than under Benigno Aquino III (8,254 hectares, July 2010-2015), Arroyo (9,047 hectares, January 2001-June 2010), Estrada (11,113 hectares, July 1998-2000), Ramos (26,389 hectares, July 1992-June 1998), and Corazon Aquino (14,142 hectares, July 1987-June 1992).

Build Build Build, for whom?Over the 2016-2017 period, the biggest concentration of gross value in public construction was in Pres. Duterte’s home region of Davao (Region XI) accounting for 14.1% of the total. The increase in Davao is notable in almost doubling from 7.9% over the period 2010-2015 to 14.1% in 2016-2017. Close Duterte allies have reportedly been among the beneficiaries of the surge in Davao construction projects.

Mounting debt. The government is already borrowing heavily. Total outstanding debt of the national government stood at Php7.9 trillion as of May 2019 implying a total increase of Php2 trillion since the start of the Duterte administration. In nominal terms, this is equivalent to an average monthly increase in debt of Php56.2 billion, which is over two-and-a-half times that of the Arroyo administration (Php21.2 billion) and nearly three times that of the previous Aquino administration (Php19 billion).

Truth about TRAIN. The Duterte administration has tried to divert from the regressive nature of its tax reforms by repeatedly claiming that it benefits “99% of taxpayers” and giving the impression that 99% of Filipinos gain from TRAIN Package One. The reality however is that only 5.5 million personal income taxpayers coming largely from the highest income groups will gain from TRAIN’s personal income tax cuts. An additional two million taxpayers are minimum wage earners and so previously already exempt. On the other hand, the poorest 17.2 million or eight out of 10 (76%) Filipino families will pay TRAIN’s higher taxes on consumption goods including petroleum products and sugar-sweetened beverages. #

President’s SONA in denial of slowing growth and fundamental economic crisis

by IBON Media

In his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte did not admit that the economy is on a slowdown and that the country’s production sectors are deteriorating. Instead, the President harped on deceptive, business-biased policy proposals that at the very least do not address the basic problems of the economy, and at worse, may aggravate economic woes. Government should build policies upon an honest recognition of the country’s real situation.

Slackening economy ignored

Nowhere in the President’s SONA was it mentioned that the country’s economy has been slowing from 7.1% growth of gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter of 2016 to 5.6% in the first quarter of 2019. Growth fell rapidly even after a momentary increase to 7.2% in the third quarter of 2017. This slowdown was happening long before the 2019 national budget impasse and the election ban on infrastructure spending and despite record levels of foreign investment reaching US$9.8 billion in 2018.

It would have been important for the President to note this and admit that the slowdown is due to reliance on unsustainable, external sources of growth: Slowing overseas remittances (average growth rate fell from 15.5% annually in 2002-2008 to 3.7% in 2017-2018) and a slowing business process outsourcing (BPO) sector (average growth rate fell from 43% annually in 2005-2009 to only 2.7% in 2017-2018) that impacted on real estate, renting, and business activities. Household spending, export of services (including BPOs), capital formation (including construction), and government spending also slackened.

This points to the urgency of developing sustainable long-term drivers of growth pertaining to more vibrant agriculture, dynamic Filipino industry, and equitable distribution of economic gains. In his SONA, however, the President, though acknowledging the need to boost agriculture and jobs, stuck to the same type of market-oriented measures that perpetrate underdevelopment and backwardness.

Hampering agriculture

Pres. Duterte vowed to continue investing in agriculture programs to increase the income and productivity of small farmers and fisherfolk. In particular, he said that government will ensure the full implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law’s Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to safeguard the livelihood of small farmers.

But the RCEF amount of Php10 billion annually for six years, which government claims will fund farm inputs and operations, is dismally low compared to Vietnam and Thailand agriculture subsidies. Hugely the funds will be used to purchase commercial equipment, seeds, and services for distribution to local government units and certified farmers organizations. RCEF is prone to patronage politics and might marginalize rather than benefit farmers. Peasant groups also fear that the removal of restrictions on rice importation will displace over 2 million rice farmers and imperil the local rice industry with the influx of imported rice.

By sourcing the Philippine staple from a volatile world market and allowing unlimited albeit tariffied rice importation, rice tariffication threatens farmers’ livelihoods and the country’s food security. It does not address the current state of shrinking agriculture. The sector lost over a million jobs from 2016-2018, and barely grew at 0.8% in 2018 and in the first quarter of 2019. Its 8.2% share of GDP in the first quarter of 2019 is its smallest ever share of the economy, yet 2019 budget allocation to agriculture was reduced by Php3.4 billion from an already low Php50.7 billion in 2018 to just Php47.3 billion in 2019.

Instead of pushing rice liberalization, which will benefit rice importers and private traders more than local rice farmers and rice-eating Filipinos, the government should preserve its mandate to procure a minimum of 25% of local produce to sell at a reasonable price that will influence market rice prices to be affordable. There should also be a genuinely distributive and free land reform program to liberate farmers from having to amortize awarded land, and substantial agriculture support and subsidies from domestic industries that will truly aid in raising productivity and incomes instead of burdening the sector with conditional support and mounting debts.

Stifling Filipino industries

The President also did not address a manufacturing sector that appears to be stalling. Manufacturing growth was just 4.9% in 2018 – the slowest since 2012 – and slowed further to 4.6% in the first quarter of 2019. The sector remains shallow and mostly disconnected from the local economy due to being foreign-dominated and capital-intensive in export enclaves. As a result, employment generation has been relatively weak. Manufacturing employment increased by just 221,000 or 6.5% between 2016 and 2018, with even a contraction of 101,000 reported in April 2019, according to official labor force data.

Instead, he praised the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) for helping fund government programs, and pressed for the enactment of the Tax Reform for Attracting Higher and Better Opportunities (TRABAHO) to energize micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME’s) and generate more than a million jobs.

But TRABAHO is a misnomer because its focus is not on creating the stable jobs that Filipinos need, but on lowering corporate taxes and rationalizing incentives. It in fact adds to the regressiveness of TRAIN, which relieves the rich of personal, estate and donor taxes, by increasing corporate profits and the wealth, income, and property of the rich. On the other hand, government will make up for the resulting losses in tax revenues through indirect levies which tax consumption – including by mostly low-wage workers and low-income Filipino families – regardless of their lack of wealth, income and property.

The President’s recommending TRABAHO for MSMEs in his speech diverts from MSMEs’ being mostly in the service sector wherein jobs are usually temporary and low-paying: the top five MSME industries are wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles, accommodation and food service activities, manufacturing, service activities, and financial and insurance activities. The manufacturing sector would potentially be a generator of stable jobs, however contractualization is rampant. The transnational corporations-dominated sector has even seen Filipino workers suffer poor working conditions and stifled labor rights.

Not only do Filipinos need more jobs, the people need quality jobs. But behind the hype of improved employment are signs of a persistent jobs crisis that no corporate-biased policy intends to cure: over 11 million of the combined unemployed and underemployed, and almost 28 million of the employed being in informal, non-regular, or agency-hired work.

(Malacañang photo)

Reorient the economy

Filipino firms must instead be built, sourcing materials from a robust agriculture, and building across consumer, light to heavy industries that will supply the people’s and the nation’s needs. This removes the need to rely on – or be limited to – commercial sources. This will also certainly improve production, stimulate job generation, increase working Filipinos’ incomes, and enliven economic activity both in the rural and urban areas.

All these mean that the government should thwart its business bias so that the country’s economic direction can be refocused to truly prioritize the people’s well-being and national development. This has not been the course of the Duterte administration as evidenced by the neoliberal policies highlighted in his SONA such as rice tariffication and TRABAHO. #

Duterte’s Midterm: Change for the Worse

Research group IBON said that the Duterte administration is being dishonest in its recent pronouncements about high growth, reducing unemployment, and reducing poverty.

The group said that the government is taking liberties with statistics as part of its propaganda campaign that President Duterte is keeping his promise of real change.

In its pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) forum, the Department of Finance (DOF) hailed the Duterte administration for its achievements during its first three years in terms of “rapid economic expansion”, “the lowest [unemployment] in 40 years”, “alleviating poverty”, and Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law “benefiting 99 percent of taxpayers”.

According to IBON executive director Sonny Africa however, growth has actually been slowing since the start of the Duterte administration.

Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data show that gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been slowing in the 11 quarters since the start of the Duterte administration from 7.1% in the third quarter of 2016 to 5.6% in the first quarter of 2019. There was a momentary increase to 7.2% in the third quarter of 2017 but growth fell rapidly after this.

IBON also pointed out that the growth was slowing even before the budget impasse and election ban on infrastructure spending.

Africa added that the economic managers are being deceitful in claiming that the 5.1% unemployment rate in April 2019 is the lowest unemployment in four decades.

He pointed out that the DOF is well aware that the change in the official definition of unemployment in 2005 drastically reduced the reported unemployment rate and number of unemployed which makes the April 2019 figure incomparable with the 25 years of data before 2005.

On the contrary, IBON said, computing according to the original definition of unemployment for comparability would show that the real unemployment rate in 2018 is 10.1% and the real number of unemployed is 4.6 million.

These are much worse than the already high 9.0% unemployment rate and 4 million unemployed in 2016, again computed according to the original definition.

In contrast, officially released figures for 2018 were a grossly underreported 5.3% and 2.3 million, respectively.

The high unemployment is a direct result of how only an annual average of 81,000 new jobs have been created since the start of the Duterte administration, from 41 million employed in 2016 to 41.2 million in 2018.

This is the worst job generation in the post-Marcos period.

Poverty statistics meanwhile show seemingly less poor Filipinos only because of government’s very low poverty threshold, said Africa.

The government’s Php69.50 daily per capita poverty threshold and only Php48.60 subsistence or food threshold in the first semester of 2018 are absurdly low and not conceivably enough to meet decent minimum standards for food, shelter, transportation, health care, and education, stressed Africa.

He said that this leads to a gross underestimation of the real number of poor Filipinos.

Finally, Africa clarified that it is very deceitful to claim that TRAIN benefited 99% of taxpayers.

The Duterte administration wants to make it appear that 99% of Filipinos benefited from TRAIN but the truth is that only 5.5 million personal income taxpayers with tax cuts out of 23 million Filipino families gain from TRAIN.

The poorest 17.2 million or eight out of 10 Filipino families will pay TRAIN’s higher consumption taxes but without any personal income tax gains to offset these.

The government is trying to distract the public from how a disproportionate part of TRAIN revenues come from the poorest majority of Filipinos due to additional levies on consumption goods including petroleum products and sugar-sweetened beverages, said Africa.

IBON warned the public to be more discerning about the government claims and not to take these at face value.

Yet the country can only start to take steps to real solutions when there is more candor and honesty, rather than self-serving propaganda, about the real problems the economy and the people face. #

Duterte selling out sovereignty for Chinese funding – IBON

Research group IBON said that the Duterte administration’s downplaying of the hit-and-run by a Chinese vessel of a Philippine fishing boat in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) shows how it gives more importance to Chinese funding over Philippine sovereignty.

On June 9, a Chinese vessel rammed and sank the Filipino fishing boat F/B Gem-Ver and left the 22 fishermen on board adrift at sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s first comment on the issue over a week after it happened, on June 17, was to dismiss it as a simple “maritime incident” being played up by “stupid politicians”.  

The president echoed the Chinese foreign ministry’s statement a few days earlier calling the boat sinking “an ordinary maritime traffic accident” and warning against “irresponsibly politicizing” the collision.

IBON explained that the Duterte administration’s position is most likely influenced by how it is courting billions in dollars in aid, debt and investments from China.

The government is reportedly seeking as much as US$14.3 billion in official development assistance (ODA) from China to finance 29 ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure projects costing US$16.8 billion.

China ODA has already increased by 24,200% under the Duterte administration – from US$1.5 million in 2016 to US$364.9 million in 2018, said the group.

China ODA is seen as essential to fund flagship infrastructure projects.

Loan agreements with China have already become controversial for having terms disadvantageous for the Philippines and compromising its sovereignty.

The most expensive infrastructure project to be funded by China is the Philippine National Railway (PNR) South Long Haul Project worth US$3.3 billion.

China is also being targeted to fund the Mindanao Railway Project Phase 1 worth US$677 million.

IBON also noted surging foreign direct investments (FDI) from China.

China FDI increased from US$0.4 million in 2016 to US$163.4 million in 2018.

Moreover, the Duterte administration also managed to get pledges from Chinese companies of around US$12.1 billion during the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last April 2019.

Prime Minister Xi Jinping also pledged US$148 million in grants to help boost the Philippine economy during the forum.

The Duterte administration is not asserting the country’s sovereignty or upholding the rights of the Filipino fishermen for fear of jeopardizing the China aid and investments it is so eager for, said IBON.

It is desperate to stimulate the Philippine economy amidst its sluggish performance.

Growth of gross domestic product (GDP) fell to 5.6% in the first quarter of 2019 from 6.5% in the same period last year.  

IBON also warned that China has already been implicated in controversial deals gone bad where governments were pressured to give up strategic assets like ports.

China-funded projects around the world have also been hounded by allegations of hundreds of millions of dollars in corruption and overpricing.

IBON said that a truly independent foreign policy includes asserting the country’s sovereignty and upholding domestic economic development including the welfare of all Filipinos.

The Duterte administration should stop privileging China in Philippine territory just because it is promising so much financing, the group said. #

Prices still higher now than since start of Duterte admin

Research group IBON said that while June inflation has slowed, the prices of basic food items are still higher, especially when compared to prices at the start of the Duterte administration. The wages and incomes of many Filipinos are unable to keep up with the high prices.

The group said that food prices will continue to increase as long as government neglects Philippine agriculture and the country becomes further dependent on imports.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that nationwide inflation slowed to 2.7% in June 2019 from 3.2% the previous month.

Inflation in the National Capital Region (NCR) eased to 3.0% from 3.4%, and inflation in areas outside of NCR fell to 2.6% from 3.1%, during the same period.

IBON executive director Sonny Africa said however that this lower inflation is not being felt by the public.

He said that food is still generally more expensive than in the same time last year, and especially compared to July 2016 at the start of the Duterte administration.

For instance, in Metro Manila, between the first week of July 2018 and the same period in July 2019, rice is slightly cheaper but fish, chicken and many vegetables are much more expensive, Africa said.

According to the PSA, the prevailing retail price of commercial well milled rice in the first week of July 2019 was Php44 per kilogram (/kg), which is only one peso cheaper than the Php45/kg in the first week of July 2018.

The cost of fish like bangus and tilapia meanwhile was much higher, increasing by Php10 and Php20, respectively.

Retail prices for whole chicken, carrots, and potatoes also rose by Php10, Php40, and Php20.

Africa said that NCR food prices are much more expensive now compared to prices during the first week of July 2016, at the start of the Duterte government.

Commercial well milled rice is higher by Php4.00/kg; bangus by Php20; tilapia by Php10; galunggong by Php20; whole chicken by Php20; ampalaya by Php20; carrots by Php30; habitchuelas by Php20; tomato by Php30; potato by Php10; and eggplant by Php20.

But the wages and incomes of ordinary Filipinos are not enough to cope with these higher prices, he said.

IBON estimates that the family living wage (FLW) needed to meet basic needs is PHP1,008 for a family of five and Php1,210 for a family of six in the NCR as of June 2019.

But the NCR nominal minimum wage of Php537 is not enough with wage gaps of Php471 and Php673, respectively.

Africa said that food prices will keep rising and be unnecessarily expensive as long as government continues to neglect the country’s agriculture sector.

He noted that the budget for agriculture continues to shrink, with the Department of Agriculture (DA) budget cut by Php3.4 billion in 2019 and of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) by about Php5.6 billion.

The country’s increasing dependence on food imports because of policies like the Rice Tariffication Law will only worsen the country’s agriculture crisis, Africa said.

Rice liberalization will not necessarily ensure a cheap and stable supply of rice while harming the livelihoods and incomes of Filipino rice farmers.

Increased rice imports may have been behind the falling farmgate price of palay which significantly dropped from Php21.36/kg last year to Php17.91 this year.

Rather than rely on rice imports, domestic rice production should be made more efficient and productive to make this cheaper, said Africa.

Africa said that lowering food prices through more developed domestic agriculture is essential for lower inflation.

He also said that low inflation will be more meaningful for the public if they have higher incomes to begin with.

The government can give relief to Filipino families struggling with high food prices not just by continuing to provide affordable NFA rice but also by substantially increasing wages and salaries. #

Duterte administration being dishonest about economic ‘gains’

Research group IBON said that the Duterte administration is being dishonest in its recent pronouncements about high growth, reducing unemployment, and reducing poverty. The group said that the government is taking liberties with statistics as part of its propaganda campaign that President Duterte is keeping his promise of real change.

In its pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) forum, the Department of Finance (DOF) hailed the Duterte administration for its achievements during its first three years in terms of “rapid economic expansion”, “the lowest [unemployment] in 40 years”, “alleviating poverty”, and Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law “benefiting 99 percent of taxpayers”.

According to IBON executive director Sonny Africa however, growth has actually been slowing since the start of the Duterte administration. Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data show that gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been slowing in the 11 quarters since the start of the Duterte administration from 7.1% in the third quarter of 2016 to 5.6% in the first quarter of 2019. There was a momentary increase to 7.2% in the third quarter of 2017 but growth fell rapidly after this. IBON also pointed out that the growth was slowing even before the budget impasse and election ban on infrastructure spending.

Africa added that the economic managers are being deceitful in claiming that the 5.1% unemployment rate in April 2019 is the lowest unemployment in four decades. He pointed out that the DOF is well aware that the change in the official definition of unemployment in 2005 drastically reduced the reported unemployment rate and number of unemployed which makes the April 2019 figure incomparable with the 25 years of data before 2005.

On the contrary, IBON said, computing according to the original definition of unemployment for comparability would show that the real unemployment rate in 2018 is 10.1% and the real number of unemployed is 4.6 million. These are much worse than the already high 9.0% unemployment rate and 4 million unemployed in 2016, again computed according to the original definition. In contrast, officially released figures for 2018 were a grossly underreported 5.3% and 2.3 million, respectively.

The high unemployment is a direct result of how only an annual average of 81,000 new jobs have been created since the start of the Duterte administration, from 41 million employed in 2016 to 41.2 million in 2018. This is the worst job generation in the post-Marcos period.

Poverty statistics meanwhile show seemingly less poor Filipinos only because of government’s very low poverty threshold, said Africa. The government’s Php69.50 daily per capita poverty threshold and only Php48.60 subsistence or food threshold in the first semester of 2018 are absurdly low and not conceivably enough to meet decent minimum standards for food, shelter, transportation, health care, and education, stressed Africa. He said that this leads to a gross underestimation of the real number of poor Filipinos.

Finally, Africa clarified that it is very deceitful to claim that TRAIN benefited 99% of taxpayers. The Duterte administration wants to make it appear that 99% of Filipinos benefited from TRAIN but the truth is that only 5.5 million personal income taxpayers with tax cuts out of 23 million Filipino families gain from TRAIN. The poorest 17.2 million or eight out of 10 Filipino families will pay TRAIN’s higher consumption taxes but without any personal income tax gains to offset these. The government is trying to distract the public from how a disproportionate part of TRAIN revenues come from the poorest majority of Filipinos due to additional levies on consumption goods including petroleum products and sugar-sweetened beverages, said Africa.

IBON warned the public to be more discerning about the government claims and not to take these at face value. Yet the country can only start to take steps to real solutions when there is more candor and honesty, rather than self-serving propaganda, about the real problems the economy and the people face. #

Slower economy affirms undue hype over credit rating upgrade

Slower gross domestic product (GDP) growth during the first quarter of 2019 belies any claim of a healthy Philippine economy.

Research group IBON stressed that the Duterte administration’s enthusiasm over the recent credit rating upgrade that the country got is unwarranted.

Instead of hailing business-biased programs, government should look to more sustainable undertakings in order to push genuinely inclusive economic growth.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that Philippine GDP grew at its slowest in 16 quarters at 5.6% in the first quarter of 2019 since the 2015 first quarter GDP growth rate of 5.1%.

This is slower than the 2018 first quarter GDP growth of 6.5 percent.

Trade and repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles, personal and household goods and financial intermediation were the drivers of the first quarter growth with faster rates, but the rest of the economic sectors slowed down.

Agriculture had stagnant growth in the last three years, while manufacturing and real estate registered the slowest first quarter growth in the past decade.

News of the economy’s slower growth came at the heels of a credit rating upgrade of BBB+ from Standard & Poor’s, which the Duterte administration attributes to its economic reforms.

The administration’s economic team is also hopeful that with the credit rating upgrade the country could encourage and attract more foreign investments.

IBON however said that the slowdown proves the Duterte administration’s economic centerpiece to be unsustainable, all the more rendering the credit rating upgrade to be meaningless.

The unsustainability of the infrastructure program, Build Build Build, IBON pointed out, was underscored by the slowdown of the construction and real estate sectors, which the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) attributed to the delayed enactment of the 2019 national budget.

Construction slowed significantly to 3.9% in the first quarter of 2019 from 10.2% in the same period last year.

A closer look reveals that public construction nosedived from 22.6% to -8.6% during the same period.

Private construction, meanwhile, was slightly faster from 8.1% to 8.6% within the same period, however registering a substantial slowdown from 19.3% in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Real estate, renting and business activities continued its slowdown from 8.7% in the first quarter 2016 to 4.1% in the first quarters of 2019.

IBON added that the budget delay, which reportedly stifled government spending as agencies were compelled to operate on a reenacted 2018 budget, even puts government’s determination for rapid growth into question.

Any government that is solid on its development vehicle, in this case, an ambitious infrastructure program, would not waste time to promptly allocate the needed budget for it, said the group.

IBON said that instead of focusing on the infrastructure program to boost GDP growth, loans, investments, and even employment, government should exert greater efforts towards sustainable sources of inclusive growth.

The group noted that contrarily, the country’s production sectors are stagnant or on a continuous slowdown.

IBON noted that growth in agriculture, fishery, and forestry fell to 0.8% in the first quarter of 2019 from an already negligible 1.1% in the first quarter of 2018.

Manufacturing slackened further to 4.6% from 7.3% in the same period.

Agriculture registered 1.7 million jobs lost from January 2018 to January 2019, the largest contraction of agriculture jobs across all January rounds post-Marcos administration.

Manufacturing created only 110,000 jobs in the same period, only a fourth of the seasonal jobs created in construction.

IBON reminded that government’s bid for the pro-business Build Build Build and for foreign investments will not bring long-term benefits to the country unless accompanied by a solid agriculture and industry centered development plan.

Without boosting the country’s production base, sustainable and inclusive economic growth will remain elusive, said the group. #

WANTED: An Independent Senate

By Jose Lorenzo Lim

Midterm elections have always been crucial for any incumbent, as results will either affirm or reject the programs and policies so far of the ruling party. The 2019 midterm elections, however, appears to be different, as it happens at the heels of the Duterte administration’s implementation of harshest neoliberal economic policies and undermining democracy. The Duterte presidency has seemingly consolidated the Executive, Lower House and even the Judiciary under its influence, and the Senate could be the last stronghold of democratic processes.

After weeks of campaigning, the 2019 midterm elections is near. Candidates vying for senatorial posts have traveled around the country seeking to convince Filipinos to vote for them. It remains to be seen whether or not we will have a truly independent senate after the May 2019 elections.

Quick voters scan

Looking at data from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) shows that there are 61,843,750 voters in the Philippines with an additional 1,822,173 registered overseas voters for the 2019 midterm elections.

A breakdown of the voters shows that Region IV-A has the highest number of voters with 14%, followed by Region III with 11%, and the National Capital Region (NCR) with 11.4 percent. The Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) has the lowest number of voters with only 1.6% share of the total number of voters. The poorest regions also have a low number of voters. Both Region IX and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) only have 3.5% of the total number of voters.

For overseas voters, the Middle East and African regions have the highest number of voters with 48.7%, while the European region has the lowest share of voters with only 10.2 percent. 

While the huge number of voters does not automatically translate into voter turnout, in 2016 the country had an 84% voter turnout compared to 2013 with 77.3% and 2010 with 74.9 percent. Unsurprisingly, a high voter turnout can also be an indicator of dubious activities like flying voters.

Finding the right candidate

Instead of dancing around and telling rehearsed jokes repeatedly, what does IBON think candidates should stand for to deserve the Filipinos’ vote in the upcoming elections?

First, candidates should adhere to the advancement of socioeconomic strategies. Filipino industries should be protected and supported instead of allowing foreign companies to dominate the Philippine economy. An example is protecting and promoting the agriculture sector through production and price supports instead of flooding the market with imported agricultural goods, as is the rationale behind the Rice Tariffication Law, to lower inflation.

Candidates interested in genuinely effecting long-term reforms for the country’s production sectors should support genuine agrarian reform. The failure of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) to redistribute land to the tillers has only intensified landgrabbing and land use conversions for land market speculation. Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) records show that as of January 2019, there were still 549,920 hectares that need to be acquired and distributed. From 1988 to 2016, meanwhile, 98,939 hectares of land were approved for conversion while 120,381 hectares were approved for exemption from land reform coverage–but this is a conservative count as the real extent of land conversion may be underreported. After CARP, majority of so-called agrarian reform beneficiaries still do not own the land awarded to them or are in the process of being dispossessed because they are failing to amortize.

Third, candidates should be upholding people’s rights and welfare. Candidates should be firm in ending contractualization. It is still very much in place: Employment data shows that in 2018, 8.5 million workers of private companies and 985,000 workers in government agencies are still non-regular workers.

Additionally, legislating a national minimum wage of Php750 should also be a major agenda. Raising the average daily basic pay (ADBP) of Php401 nationwide to Php750 will in turn add Php7,649 to employees’ monthly income and Php99,432 to their annual income (including 13thmonth pay). This will cost the 35,835 establishments nationwide just Php465 billion or only 21.5% out of their Php2.16 trillion in profits.

Moreover, Republic Act (RA) 10963 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law should be repealed instead of taking out taxes especially from petroleum products which are socially sensitive. TRAIN means less money in the pockets of 8 out of 10 Filipinos as only 5.5 million Filipino families benefit from lower personal income taxes (PIT) while the remaining 17.2 million poorest households do not benefit from PIT but all pay higher consumer taxes.

Candidates should also ensure that basic social services will be accessible to every Filipino. That is why there is a need to build more public schools and public hospitals aside from allotting higher budgets to education and health. But 2019 budget for the Department of Health (DOH) for instance was cut by 8.13% compared to last year.

Lastly, candidates should promote environmental sustainability. For example, a candidate should be firm to stop destructive large-scale mining, as this causes irreparable damage not only to the country’s natural resources but to many indigenous communities. Another part of this is encouraging rational consumption. Our resources are finite – what we produce and consume must only be within our needs. Candidates should also promote an environment-friendly agriculture and industry.

The public has heard the candidates’ stances on various pertinent issues such as the TRAIN Law, Rice Tarrification Law, contractualization, and jobless growth. Now the candidates should bear in mind that whatever promises they made during the campaign period would be remembered by the people, who will hold them accountable when they take their posts this June 2019.

The last stand

The new senate should carry out the task of defending the current constitution against the Duterte administration’s push for federalism, neoliberalism, and self-serving political goals. The most consistent is the intent to fully liberalize the Philippine economy for foreign investors.

Relatedly, pending proposed amendments to the Human Security Act (HSA) aim to prevent critics, thereby putting basic human rights and civil liberties in peril. The HSA could expedite terrorist tagging and linking and subsequent surveillance, arrests, and restricting of legitimate people’s movements. The new senate should stand against this creeping authoritarianism.

The Philippine Senate could be the last democratic institution for the government’s checks and balances, independent of and not beholden to the power ambitions of the presidency and expected to side with the people and defend whatever remains of Philippine democracy, people’s rights and welfare, and the country’s sovereignty.

With all these considered, the 2019 midterm elections could be one of the Filipinos’ last stands for freedom and democracy. Depending on how their favorite candidates have explained these to them, they can now vote wisely. #

Employers can afford Php750 minimum wage—IBON

Employers can very well afford to raise the minimum wage to Php750 which only entails a small cut in their profits, research group IBON said.

The Rodrigo Duterte administration should support this hike which will help millions of Filipino households dependent on wages and salaries cope with the rising cost of goods and services, said the group.

Current minimum wages are far from IBON’s estimate of the family living wage (FLW) needed by a family of five.

The current minimum wage in the National Capital Region (NCR) of Php537 is already the highest in the country, but it is Php467 short of the Php1,004 FLW as of March 2019.

IBON said that raising the minimum wage to Php750 will significantly raise the incomes of Filipino workers.

The group’s computations also show that employers can afford to increase the minimum wage they pay to Php750.

In the NCR, raising the average daily basic pay (ADBP) of Php562 to Php750 will add Php4,095 to the monthly income and Php53,231 to the annual income (including 13th month pay) of employees.

IBON pointed out that this will only cost Php115 billion out of the Php1.17 trillion in profits of the 14,414 establishments in NCR, which is equivalent to just 9.8% of their profits.

Raising the ADBP of Php401 nationwide to Php750 will in turn add Php7,649 to employees’ monthly income and Php99,432 to their annual income (including 13th month pay).

This will cost the 35,835 establishments nationwide just Php465 billion or only 21.5% out of their Php2.16 trillion in profits, as per IBON computations.

The group stressed that meaningful wage hikes are doable if only companies were willing to accept a small cut in their profits.

IBON also pointed out that raising wages will not be inflationary if companies share a little more of their profits with workers instead of passing the wage hike on to consumers as higher prices.

These were estimated using the latest Annual Survey of Philippine Business and Industry (ASPBI) data of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) for enterprises with 20 or more workers.

IBON however underscored that the government can help micro, small and medium enterprises afford the wage hike by providing them tax breaks and incentives, cheap credit, subsidized utilities, and technology and marketing support.

The growing productivity of Filipino workers is among the main drivers of economic growth and they deserve a significant wage increase, IBON said.

The richest individuals and biggest corporations in particular have more than enough for granting wage increase.

It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that workers get a fairer share of the gains from economic growth rather than have these gains concentrated in the hands of a few, concluded IBON.#

Workers left behind in growing economy under Duterte administration

Wages of workers in the National Capital Region (NCR) continue to fall even as their growing labor productivity drives economic growth under the Duterte government, research group IBON said.

The mandated minimum wage is not even keeping up with the rising cost of living for ordinary Filipinos, the group revealed, adding that keeping wages low distributes wealth unevenly and worsens inequality.

The Philippine economy is slowing but real gross domestic product (GDP) still grew 6.7% in 2017 and 6.2% in 2018.

The regional GDP of NCR grew 6.2% and 4.8% in that same period, registering a total increase of 11.3% between 2016 and 2018.

In NCR, this economic growth was most of all driven by rising labor productivity. Labor productivity in NCR, measured by regional GDP divided by total employed, increased from Php568,092 per worker in 2016 to Php640,125 in 2018 or a total increase of 12.7% between 2016 and 2018.

These are IBON estimates using the latest available data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Yet despite rising labor productivity, the NCR real minimum wage is actually falling under the Duterte administration.

Measured at constant 2012 prices, this fell from Php467 in July 2016 to just Php457 in March 2019.

The Php46 worth of wage hikes since 2016 have been more than off-set by inflation and the continually rising costs of goods and services especially last year.

IBON also pointed out that the wage gap, or the difference between the minimum wage and the family living wage (FLW), is growing wider under the Duterte administration.

The NCR nominal minimum wage of Php491 in July 2016 was only 54.6% of the Php900 FLW for a family of five at the time.

Today, the NCR minimum wage of Php537 is just 53.5% of the Php1,004 FLW for a family of five.

The wage gap is even wider for a family of six where the NCR minimum wage is just 44.6% of the required Php1,205 FLW.

The research group said that real wages falling even further behind economic growth is worsening the elitist and exclusionary character of the economy.

Moreover, improving labor productivity is not translating to benefits for the working people but is instead going to bloating corporate profits and oligarch wealth.

The people are left to struggle with the rising costs of their food and non-food needs.

IBON stressed that the Duterte government is very much in a position to change this situation.

Among the most important measures is ensuring sufficient incomes for workers by legislating a national minimum wage of Php750.

IBON’s estimates using the latest available data, for 2016, show that a Php750 minimum wage in NCR will only cost 9.8% of the profits of establishments and still leave them with Php1.17 trillion in profits.

The increase in welfare for millions of workers and their families will however be palpable.#