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Coronavirus: Philippine labor office in Dubai suspends cash aid

By Angel L. Tesorero/Gulf News

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Dubai on Tuesday suspended the application process for the US$200 (Dh730) cash aid to Filipinos whose jobs were affected by the coronavirus.

“The public is hereby informed that pursuant to the directive of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Philippine Overseas Labor Office Dubai and Northern Emirates will temporarily suspend acceptance of applications for the DOLE one-time financial assistance for displaced OFWs due to COVID-19,” reads a statement sent to Gulf News.

“The link for the submission of applications will no longer accept responses effective 12:01AM, 21 April 2020. We appeal for your full understanding,” added the memorandum.

According to POLO-Dubai the suspension was made “pending evaluation of applications received and subject to availability of funds.”

The DOLE-AKAP (Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong) for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) was announced by Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on March 25 as a one-time financial assistance by the Philippine government to be given to displaced OFWs – both sea-based and land-based – around the world, due to COVID-19.

Also eligible are OFWs infected by the virus, provided that they have not received any form of financial assistance from their host government or employer.

The cash assistance for OFWs who lost their jobs was earmarked from DOLE-CAMP or DOLE COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program fund amounting to PhP1.5 billion (Dh108.5 million).

Over 25,000 applicants in Dubai

Philippine Labour Attaché Felicitas Bay told Gulf News: “As of 12.01 am, April 21, the total applications we received have reached 25,733. These are all subject to evaluation – whether the request will be approved or denied. We have so far evaluated 4,732 applications.”

Philippine labor secretary Silvestre Bello III. (Photo by R. Villanueva/Kodao)

The first batch of recipients will receive the assistance on Tuesday.

“Around 250 Filipinos will receive the Dh730 (Php10,117.39) cash assistance through a remittance centre today,” Bay said.

Many Filipinos in Dubai, who are still employed but whose income has been adversely affected by COVID-19, meanwhile felt they had been left in the lurch.

Advisory from the Philippine Overseas Labour Office Dubai and Northern Emirates. (Gulf News photo)

Dubai resident Edwin Costales told Gulf News: “What will happen to us who have been placed under a ‘no-work, no pay’ scheme? Are we not going to receive any assistance from our government? I hope they have also considered us.”

Filipino expat Huey Rai Sta Ana, 26, a waiter at a Dubai restaurant, earlier told Gulf News: “Our employer told us to go on unpaid leave but we still have bills to pay. Losing a month’s salary will have a big impact on our wallets – we have not enough savings to pay for our rent and utility bills. Whatever assistance we can get from our government would really be a big help.”

False hope

Gabriela-UAE, a group of Filipino expats in the UAE advocating for workers and women’s rights has condemned DOLE for suspending the applications for financial assistance it promised to OFWs.

In a statement sent to Gulf News on Tuesday, the group said: “DOLE and the Philippine government gave many OFWs hope when they promised the financial assistance. By suspending the acceptance of applications for assistance, they have crushed our hope.”

“The excuse given by the DOLE for the suspension, that the submitted applications and the existing funds will be evaluated, is simply unacceptable. OFWs are running low on food and basic necessities, and the financial assistance is urgently needed now,” the group added.

“In the UAE alone, there is an estimated 650,000 OFWs, most of them are employees who were laid off from work, whose wages have been delayed, whose wages have been cut by 25 to 50 per cent; and who have been put under “no work, no pay” arrangements. With a budget of PhP1.5 billion, it turns out that only 150,000 OFWs or less around the world would be able to avail of the financial assistance,” the group noted.

A Filipino expat shares a picture of the the Dh730 cash aid she received on social media. (Gulf News photo)

“Do top (Philippine) government officials think that OFWs are virus-proof and immune from COVID-19? We reiterate our appeal to the Duterte government for immediate, sufficient and systematic distribution of financial assistance to OFWs,” they added.

Not enough budget

Filipino community leader Jason Roi Bucton, chairman of Kalayaan 2020 Organizing Committee, said: “We have to understand that all budget allocated is for the entire OFW around the globe. The overwhelming numbers of more than 25,000 applicants (in Dubai and Northern Emirates alone) is subject to POLO-OWWA’s evaluation and approval with their limited staffs and funds.”

“We have to accept the fact that this is not enough to cater the number of Filipinos displaced in this pandemic. We hope that our Philippine government will be able to assess further and find means to sustain the Filipinos’ needs. Otherwise, it should be better to just prepare for a massive repatriation globally,” he added.

Bayanihan during hard times
Another OFW advocate, Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law, told Gulf News: “Since President Duterte signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act last March 24, much has been publicized on the provision of emergency subsidy to OFWs. In the UAE, the allocated fund for OFW, unfortunately, is just not enough to solve the problems of everyone in need.”

“The solution is clearly written in the name of the law itself: Bayanihan, a Filipino virtue of collective heroism for a common cause. The government has kick-started amelioration efforts, and it is now high time for fellow OFWs to help each other,” he explained.

Almazar noted: “We have no control over the funds but we can very much rely on each other. We should not forget that Filipinos are creative, resourceful and ingenious. We may lack funds but certainly we do not have a shortage of talented Filipino professionals in the emirates.

“There should be a close coordination with volunteer groups. For example, those who do not qualify for the financial assistance from the government should be endorsed to Filipino volunteer groups instead of being refused outright. With this, we eliminate duplication of efforts and ensure scarce resources are allocated efficiently especially for the sick, children and other vulnerable groups,” he added.

Almazar reiterated: “We can improve, because we are more than this (COVID-19). What the government cannot provide, we OFWs ca fill up by volunteering our services, by being vigilant that no resource is wasted. It is crucial to evaluate needs, assess available resources and set priorities to protect the lives of our people, while maintaining their dignity, mental and social well-being.”

“We also want to see the preparedness and advanced capabilities of government staff assigned to assist the OFWs. Planning and managing the response is as important, if not, more important than the funds,” he concluded.

IN NUMBERS

-PhP1.5 billion (Dh108.5 million) – allocated to overseas Filipino workers displaced by COVID-19 worldwide
-US$200 (Dh730) – financial assistance promised to Filipino workers who lost job due to coronavirus pandemic
-25,733 – Filipinos in Dubai appplied for cash aid
-250 Filipinos to receive the Dh730 from POLO-Dubai on Tuesday

= = = = =

This report was first published by Gulf News.

Emergency relief and COVID-19 response more important than debt payments

by IBON Media

Emergency relief for millions of Filipino families during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis is more important than mindless debt servicing, research group IBON said.

The government should get its priorities straight, said the group, and seriously consider at least a moratorium on the government’s debt payments.

This will help provide much-delayed relief and financial assistance to the most vulnerable Filipinos affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez recently rejected the proposal of economic affairs committee chair Senator Imee Marcos to seek a moratorium on debt payments to enable additional funding for the country’s COVID-19 response measures.

Dominguez said the proposition has not been and will never be considered despite the pandemic.

Honoring its financial obligations, he said, is the strongest pillar of the Philippines’ standing in the global community and the reason behind investor confidence in the economy, he added.

IBON executive director Sonny Africa said that the government’s obsession with so-called creditworthiness is blinding it to how a moratorium can help give much more, and much more quickly, to the poor amid the raging coronavirus crisis and its burdensome impact.

“The Philippines is in the worst public health crisis in its history,” Africa said.

“The poor already suffer the worst economic crisis in decades – aggravated by the Duterte administration’s slow response to contain the pandemic, over-reliance on a harsh military lockdown, and stingy relief efforts,” he added.

Africa said that government should stop its wilful blindness to what the people need, which is hindering the country’s ability to stop the spread of COVID-19, build up the public health system, and give relief to millions of Filipinos. At least part of the over Php1 trillion in funds for debt servicing in 2020 can

be used for urgent COVID-19 response instead, he said.

The national government is paying Php1.03 trillion to service debt in 2020 – Php451 billion for interest payments and Php582.1 billion for principal amortization. Some Php285.8 billion of this goes to servicing foreign debt.

The Duterte administration needs to drastically increase spending to respond. It can begin by negotiating with foreign multilateral and bilateral agencies to waive interest and principal payments or even to totally cancel Philippine debt obligations in the face of the pandemic, said Africa.

“The government will be paying so-called development agencies and supposedly friendly governments at least US$5.2 billion in 2020,” Africa said. T

his consists of: US$686.6 million to the Asian Development Bank (ADB); US$433.8 million to the World Bank; US$406.9 million to Japan; US$21.4 million to China; and US$17.3 million to the United States.

Africa said that the government’s narrow-minded debt policy is the biggest stumbling block to a debt moratorium.

“Creditors will always want to be repaid. The government’s job is to struggle for the best possible terms for the country and not to defend creditors’ claims,” he said.

“The suffering of so many proves we are a country in need. The government should stop pretending that a policy of debt relief and debt restructuring is not an urgent option,” Africa said. #

As extended lockdown begins: Gov’t response stalled, stingy despite millions of Filipinos in need

by IBON Media

At the end of the original month-long lockdown period and on the first day of its extension, research group IBON said that the government is still failing to give millions of poor and vulnerable Filipinos the socioeconomic relief they need.

Poor households have struggled to survive four weeks of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and will only endure greater difficulties during the two-week extension.

The Duterte administration needs to let go of its burdensome bureaucratic requirements, increase funding, and expedite getting help to all families in need, said the group.

The Duterte administration released the third report on its COVID-19 response as required under the Bayanihan Heal as One Act or Republic Act (RA) 11469 which granted Pres. Duterte emergency powers.

IBON said that millions of Filipinos are still not getting relief despite these emergency powers, even measured against the administration’s already low targets.

The group noted that no additional beneficiaries were given emergency subsidies since the 3.7 million reported last week.

This is only one-fifth or 21% of the 18 million low-income families targeted by the government.

They also only received an average of Php4,391 which is barely half the maximum Php8,000 the government promised.

Meanwhile, the number of workers and informal earners that received financial assistance has increased but this is still way below the millions of displaced workers and informal earners as per IBON estimates.

IBON said that the number of workers assisted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) increased by only 79,553 to 167, 491, which is just 1.7% of 10.7 million workers.

The number of informal workers assisted went up by only 62,152 to 118,086, or only 2.3% of 5.2 million non-agricultural informal earners.

Emergency subsidies were also provided to 40,418 drivers at Php8,000 each through a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Land Transportation and Franchising Board (LTFRB) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP).

But this is just 9% of the 435,000 drivers targeted for assistance under the MOA, said the group.

IBON also noted that some farmers have finally received cash assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The agency reported giving Php5,000 each in unconditional cash transfers to 319,489 farmer beneficiaries.

However, this is only 3.3% of the IBON-estimated 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk needing assistance.

IBON said that the unambitious targets as well as snail-paced and measly socioeconomic response into the fifth week of lockdown only affirms government’s continued indifference and negligence, especially towards the poorest and most vulnerable.

More and more Filipino families will be pushed into deeper poverty under the COVID-19 lockdown if government does not speed up and significantly expand socioeconomic relief and response to reach all those needing assistance, said the group. #

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

Less than 1/3 of 18M beneficiaries reached: Gov’t should expedite socioecon response under extended lockdown

by IBON Media

Nearly four weeks into the government’s military lockdown and especially with the two-week extension, research group IBON said that emergency relief measures are still too slow and too small.

The group said that millions of poor and vulnerable families are facing unnecessary difficulty in meeting their basic needs under the lockdown. The government needs to show greater political will and do away with bureaucratic obstacles to relief efforts.

The Duterte administration recently declared the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) of the entire Luzon island until April 30. This is supposed to help contain the spread of COVID-19 as well as give government more time to beef up its public health response and prepare for a post-lockdown scenario.

IBON pointed out however that government socioeconomic relief efforts are snail-paced and inadequate.

The group said that if the administration remains indifferent and does not step up its response, the difficult situation of millions of vulnerable families will worsen under the extended lockdown.

IBON estimates 14.5 million dislocated workers and informal earners, and up to 7.5 million low-income families are vulnerable to shocks to their livelihood just in Luzon.

The government acknowledged that the poorest 18 million households in the country need assistance.

Based on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s most recent report to Congress, the group noted that only Php26.3 billion has been spent on COVID-19 response so far.

This is just 9.6% of its supposed Php275 billion budget for dealing with the pandemic.

IBON interpreted budget items in the president’s report as detailing plans for the Php275 billion response.

For socioeconomic relief, only the following was reported spent: Php63 million (55.3%) of Php114 million allocated for emergency packs, and Php22.7 billion (14.7%) of Php154.8 billion for cash transfers, financial assistance and pensions.

IBON said that millions of poor households, workers and informal earners have yet to be assisted. Only 190,217 food packs were distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The group noted that the president’s report confusingly mentioned cash transfers to 3.7 million “beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” and also to 1.2 million “Conditional Cash Transfer beneficiaries of the DSWD”.

In any case, this is at most 20-27% of government’s targeted 18 million beneficiaries.

They reportedly received an average of Php4,400-5,000 each in cash and non-cash subsidies under the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP).

There was no report of financial assistance given to indigent senior citizens.

Only 88,388 workers received Php5,000 in financial assistance under the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

This is just 0.8% of 10.7 million workers in formal establishments nationwide. Only 55,934 informal workers became work-for-pay beneficiaries of DOLE’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) programs and received financial assistance (at an average of Php3,121 each).

This is just 1% of up to 5.2 million non-agricultural informal earners nationwide.

Meanwhile, 357,614 farmers and fisherfolk supposedly received financial assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA) but no figures were provided.

This is just 3.7% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk.

IBON said that the government should waste no time in ensuring the socioeconomic needs of the poorest and most vulnerable Filipinos who are increasingly challenged to cope with the extended lockdown.

The government can immediately implement urgent socioeconomic interventions such as substantial provision of emergency relief packages, unconditional cash transfers, wage subsidiesand financial assistance, among others, said the group. #

(Kodao reposts IBON.org articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.)

Farmers lose Php85 billion during first year: Peasant livelihoods destroyed, food insecurity worsened by rice liberalization

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that rice liberalization has undermined the livelihoods of millions of farmers and most likely even pushed many into bankruptcy. It will only worsen the country’s food insecurity, the group said, as already seen with record high rice imports.

Enacted one year ago, the Rice Liberalization Law or Republic Act (RA) 11203 removed quantitative restrictions on rice importation and replaced this with 35% tariff on rice imports from the region and higher from elsewhere. The law was justified as the solution to high rice prices in 2018. Tariffs from the rice imports were also supposed to fund programs to make Filipino rice farmers competitive, eventually increasing their incomes.

IBON said however that the influx of record rice imports has devastated farmers’ livelihoods. The Philippines imported a record 3.2 million metric tons (MMT) of rice in 2019, surpassing the previous record of 2.4 MMT of rice imports in 2008 by 40 percent. That was the first time that the Philippines gained the dubious distinction of being the world’s biggest rice importer.

Huge rice imports caused palay farmgate prices to plummet, said IBON. The price of palay fell by 22.4% from Php20.14 per kilogram (/kg) in end-December 2018 to Php15.63/kg in the same period in 2019, said the group. Some major rice producing provinces such as Nueva Ecija, Isabela, and Laguna even reported palay prices as low as Php7/kg and Php10/kg.

IBON estimates that rice farmers in aggregate suffered a total income loss of Php84.8 billion in 2019 due to the catastrophic drop in palay farmgate prices. This is equivalent to an average income loss of some Php35,328 per rice farmer.

Farmers groups have reported that as many as 200,000 farmers were forced to stop planting rice due to income losses. Also, at least 3,000 of the country’s some 10,000 rice mills reportedly closed down due to the increase in rice imports.

IBON said that the widespread disruption of rice producers is intentional and the result of free market forces being unleashed on the country’s backward agriculture. The group assailed the economic managers for using high rice prices to justify pushing marginal and so-called unproductive farmers and millers into bankruptcy.

IBON said that the country’s food insecurity is getting worse under the Duterte administration especially because of the low government priority given to domestic agriculture including the rice industry. The country’s rice importation grew from the equivalent of around 5% of total rice production in 2016 at the start of the Duterte administration to 26% of total rice production in 2019. Unprecedented rice imports are exposing the country’s inability to produce sufficient quantities of its staple food, said the group.

IBON said that the rice liberalization policy is another indication of government’s long-time neglect and disregard of local rice production and agriculture in general. The group said that the government should not pit rice farmers and rice consumers against each other. Farmers and consumers have a common interest in the protection and strengthening of the domestic rice industry towards rice self-sufficiency. #

Bayan: Problems are Duterte’s real legacy

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) contradicted attempts by the Palace communications team to picture Rodrigo Duterte to be a succesful president, painting his administration to be very problematic for the Filipino people instead.

Reacting to the ongoing #DuterteLegacy campaign launched by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said 12 major problems may already be listed as the president’s real legacy halfway through Duterte’s government.

Reyes wrote, “We are past the halfway mark of the Duterte regime and Palace propagandists are now trumpeting the president’s so called ‘legacy’. This early on, we can safely say what the legacy of this regime is.”

Duterte’s real legacy, according to Reyes, are the following:

  1. Mass murder. Thousands have been killed in the so-called war on drugs, yet the drug problem persists, the police exposed as corrupt, thus rendering the drug war an abject failure;
  2. Destruction of agriculture. Philippine agriculture has been ruined because of the liberalization of rice importation. The Philippines, an agricultural country, is now the world’s biggest importer or rice;
  3. Surrender of sovereignty. Our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea continue to be violated by China with the failure of the regime to uphold the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the West Philippine Sea to counter China’s illegal activities;
  4. Normalization of Martial Law. For more than two years, Martial Law was imposed in the entire Mindanao, resulting in widespread human rights violations especially in rural communities. Despite Martial Law, Marawi remains in ruins since no real rehabilitation has taken place;
  5. Militarized bureaucracy. The civilian bureaucracy has been militarized and geared towards counter-insurgency, again resulting in massive human rights violations. Duterte’s Executive Order 70 (ordering heightened counter-insurgency operations nationwide) has given way to de facto Martial Law;
  6. Weaponization of the law. The law has been weaponized to target critics of the administration. Trumped-up charges against activists, media, church leaders, the Opposition, lawyers, and other critics have become so rampant. Mass arrests have recently taken place.
  7. ENDO pa rin. Contractualization remains rampant despite the promise of the President to end it. He also vetoed a watered-down version of a security of tenure law. Labor export remains the principal safety valve of the economy;
  8. More taxes. The TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) law and its regime of new taxes that burden the poor is part of Duterte’s anti-people legacy;
  9. Economic slowdown. The slowest GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth rate in eight years was registered under the Duterte regime. The much-touted “Build Build Build” program proved to be a dud. The slowdown of domestic agriculture proved to be the disastrous result of neoliberal policies;
  10. Worsening corruption. Bureaucratic corruption remains and even State security forces have been exposed as being the most corrupt. Transparency International gave the Philippines its lowest rating since 2012, ranking the Philippines as 113th out of 180 countries. Duterte cronies like Dennis Uy have been favored to get strategic industries and utilities;
  11. Marcos restoration. A hero’s burial for the dictator Marcos and a clear pathway for their return to Malacañang; and
  12. Tyranny. Undermining checks and balance in government. Like a true dictator, Duterte controlled Congress, removed a sitting Chief Justice, and concentrated power with the Executive. Things can take a turn for the worse if Charter change pushes through.

Aside from an agressive social media campaign, PCOO spokespersons have appeared in television and radio programs popularizing the #DuterteLegacy campaign.

It hit a snag however when PCOO undersecretary Lorraine Badoy was reprimanded by hosts of the TV5 program “The Chiefs” for taking the occassion to Red-bait an economic analyst instead, unleashing a flood of criticisms online. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

The PCOO’s disinformation must be stopped

by IBON Media

The Duterte administration’s persistent red-baiting of IBON and other groups instead of addressing the issues raised is an affront to the public. The public deserves the truth and to be informed about the issues that matter to them the most. Instead, the government is red-baiting critical voices to silence opposition and to hide the real situation of the country.

IBON Research Head Rosario Guzman and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy were recently guests on One News’ ‘The Chiefs’ to discuss the administration’s Duterte Legacy campaign. IBON presented data questioning the accomplishments claimed by the PCOO. Instead of addressing the PCOO’s apparent disinformation, Usec. Badoy responded by linking IBON to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP). She pressed the point and only relented when the hosts reminded her to stay on topic.

Usec. Badoy’s behavior is symptomatic of the administration’s wholesale attacks on independent groups. It is being done to hide the worsening economic situation, prevent the radical reforms needed to develop the country, and promote its self-serving agenda. Under the pretext of ending the armed Communist rebellion, the Duterte administration cast its net wide and is attacking every group that is critical of its anti-people economic policies and authoritarianism.

The Duterte administration has been most systematic and vicious in attacking those it sees as the greatest threats to its oppressive rule. The government vilifies, harasses, fabricates charges against, and illegally arrests critics and opposition. Human rights defenders have already been violently attacked and even killed under this administration. Usec. Badoy mentioned on the show that she is part of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Since its creation in 2018, the NTF-ELCAC and its security apparatus has been implicated in the surge in human rights violations in the country.

President Duterte with PCOO secretary Martin Andanar and Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo. (Malacañan photo)

The PCOO is at the forefront of the government’s disinformation campaign to deceive and manipulate the public. For this, its budget has been increased substantially to Php1.7 billion in 2020 from an average of Php1.1 billion under the previous Aquino administration. The 55% larger budget of the PCOO is only going to promote falsehoods on an even wider scale.

IBON has been explaining economic issues to the public for 41 years. The Duterte administration is attacking IBON because we advocate an economy that upholds the people’s interests most of all. As with activists and other groups, we are undeterred and will continue to support the efforts of the people’s movement to reclaim the economy from the elites that have taken it over.

We will also be taking measures to show that we do not condone the people’s money being used for a self-serving political agenda. The PCOO, including USec. Badoy, is just among many who need to be put in their place. #

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

Real Duterte Legacy: Three years of slow growth sign of failing gov’t econ policies

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that the economy is on its third year of slowing growth under the Duterte administration, and the slowest in eight years. This shows that government’s market-oriented policies are failing and its claimed economic gains are myths, said the group.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported 5.9% annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) for 2019, missing government’s revised target of 6-7% growth for the year. Government attributed this to the delayed 2019 budget and election ban on infrastructure in the first half of 2019 and slowing agriculture due to weather-related factors like El Niño.

IBON countered government’s claim that the budget delay and ban on infrastructure pulled back growth last year, noting that the economy was already slowing prior to this. From 6.9% in 2016, the country’s growth in GDP slowed to 6.7% in 2017 and 6.2% in 2018. The 5.9% in 2019 marks the third year of economic slowdown under the Duterte administration. This is also the slowest growth in eight years or since the 3.7% in 2011, the group said.

IBON said that the economic slowdown is really due to the lack of strong foundation in agriculture and Filipino industry – made worse by government’s faulty market-oriented policies.

Growth in the agriculture sector dropped from 4% in 2017 to 0.9% in 2018, then slightly increased to 1.5% in 2019, the group said. Yet government continues its neglect and low prioritization of agriculture as reflected in the national budget. Agriculture’s share in the 2020 budget is just 3.5% – the lowest since 2004 at 3.3 percent.

Meanwhile, growth in manufacturing drastically declined from 8.4% in 2017 to 4.9% in 2018 and just 3.8% in 2019. The group said this is because domestic consumption and exports have weakened amid a protracted crisis and increasing protectionism in the global economy. Manufacturing is low value-added and overly dependent on foreign capital and technology, and produces for the world market.

IBON said that instead, government has relied on temporary external factors to drive growth, but these are weakening. For instance, overseas remittances are growing at a slower rate, decreasing from 5% in 2016 to 4.3% in 2017 and 3.1% in 2018. This rose to 4.6% in the first ten months of 2019 but is not likely to surpass the 2016 growth rate. Growth in exports are also falling from 19.7% to 13.4% in 2018 and just 3.2% in 2019.

The consumer spending and real estate booms that for a time fueled growth are also losing steam. Household consumption registered 7.1% growth in 2016 but dropped to 5.9% in 2017, 5.6% in 2018 and slightly grew to 5.8% in 2019. Real, estate, renting and business activities decreased from 8.9% growth in 2016 to 7.4% in 2017, 4.8% in 2018, and further fell to 3.7% in 2019.

IBON said that government has been attempting to boost a lackluster economy through more government spending and its infrastructure program. But this was not enough to stimulate growth. For instance, construction drastically fell from 14.9% growth in 2018 to just 7.7% in 2019.

IBON said that the country’s economic situation will worsen as long as government pushes policies that favor big business interests. It should admit its failure and take on real reforms needed to strengthen and develop agriculture and domestic industries and turn around the country’s flagging economy, the group said. #

(Kodao re-posts IBON reports as part of a content-sharing agreement.)

Real Duterte Legacy: Agri crisis belies admin claims of econ success

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that the crisis in Philippine agriculture due to government negligence contradicts claimed economic achievements under the Duterte Legacy Campaign. The group said that the administration’s neglect and prioritization of local and foreign big business interests is worsening an already weak and struggling sector.

IBON said signs of this agriculture crisis include slowing sectoral growth; shrinking share in gross domestic product; rising import dependence; increasing trade deficit; significant job losses; and widespread rural poverty.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported a minimal 0.4% growth in agriculture in the fourth quarter of 2019. Under the administration, year-on-year growth trend in agriculture has been declining. From a contraction of 1.2% in 2016, agriculture bounced back with a 4% growth in 2017. But this was short-lived when growth fell to 0.9% in 2018 with a slight increase to 1.5% in 2019, noted the group.

IBON said that agriculture’s share in gross domestic product (GDP) has been declining from 8.8% in 2016 to 8.5% in 2017, 8.1% in 2018, and 7.8% in 2019. This is a far cry from its over 40% share in the economy in the 1960s.

While the country has been increasingly dependent on food and agricultural imports in the past couple of decades, this has further heightened under the Duterte administration, the group said. For instance, the country’s consumption of garlic imports was only 1.1% in 1990, but this surged to 91% in 2018.  Rice import dependency ratio (IDR) meanwhile decreased from 9% in 1990 to 5% in 2016. But this grew to 13.8% in 2018 and could worsen with the increase in rice imports due to the Rice Liberalization Law.

IBON noted that as much as 1.4 million jobs were lost in agriculture, with employment falling from 11.1 million in 2016 to 9.7 million in 2019. This translates to an average annual job loss of 455,000 in this period.

Another indicator of agriculture in crisis is widespread rural poverty, said IBON. Poverty incidence among farmers (34.3%) and fisherfolk (34%) is higher than the national average (21.6%), according to latest available figures. However, IBON estimates that at least 90% of farmers and fisherfolk are impoverished, if based on more reasonable standards of poverty measurement.

IBON said that despite its worsening state, the agriculture sector remains low priority for the administration. The 3.5% share of agriculture in the 2020 budget is the lowest since 2004 at 3.3 percent. The group also noted that annual average share of agriculture in the national budget from 2017 to 2020 was just 3.6% – the lowest since the Ramos administration (3.5%).

IBON said that agriculture, hand in hand with domestic manufacturing, is an important productive sector that, if supported and strengthened towards public interest, could help boost and sustain genuine development and job creation. The administration’s continued neglect of the sector and advancement of harmful pro-big business policies that are destroying local production and farmers’ livelihoods only shows how fake the Duterte Legacy really is, the group said. #

Govt methodology underestimates number of poor Filipinos—IBON

Research group IBON said that the government methodology to count the poor grossly underestimates Philippine poverty. The recently released 2018 poverty statistics can be taken to mean those in extreme poverty but IBON says that many other poor Filipinos are left out.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) explained that Republic Act 8425 of 1997, or the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act, defines “poor” as “individuals and families whose income fall below the poverty threshold as defined by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and/or cannot afford in a sustained manner to provide their minimum basic needs of food, health, education, housing, and other essential amenities of life.”

The number of poor are counted as the number of Filipinos whose incomes fall below the poverty threshold or the minimum amount needed to meet basic food and non-food needs. Using official data on provincial food bundles and prices, the methodology first computes the subsistence threshold or the minimum amount a family needs to meet basic food needs. The subsistence threshold is then assumed to be 70% of the poverty threshold where the balance of 30% is assumed enough to meet basic non-food needs.

The number of poor are estimated using family income data from 180,000 sample households from the provinces and highly urbanized cities. Filipinos whose incomes are below the poverty threshold are those officially counted as poor.

However, poverty estimates according to this methodology are unbelievably low and unrealistic. The monthly poverty threshold is just Php10,727 for a family of five. This is just around Php71 per person per day at Php50 for food needs and Php21 for non-food needs.

These low standards explain the reported fall in the number of poor Filipinos. Poverty incidence, or the percentage of poor families to total families reportedly fell from 23.3% in 2015 to only 16.6% in 2018, and the number of subsistence or food poor Filipino families from 6.4 million in 2015 to only 3.4 million in 2018. NEDA hailed government’s poverty reduction measures for successfully getting poverty alleviation on track.

IBON however said that the methodology uses unrealistically low standards and is detached from daily poverty realities.

The food or subsistence threshold, for instance, the group said, conservatively assumes a “least cost” food bundle. It is unrealistic to expect that all families have ready access to this lowest-priced or cheapest food, the group argued. Moreover, the food bundle is based on so-called “revealed preference” which is presumably based on actual spending. Yet IBON said that this is not necessarily a desirable food bundle and may just reflect the food that Filipino families are forced to buy or make do with given their poverty or limited budget, such as the notorious pagpag or recycled garbage food.

These mean that the subsistence threshold estimated is over-optimistically low and not necessarily of the needed quality for decent eating.

Estimating non-food expenses, meanwhile, does not take into account the actual cost of basic non-food items, IBON said. The cost of non-food needs is merely assumed to be a certain ratio to food needs. However, the cost of many non-food needs has been rising rapidly for instance due to the privatization of utilities and social services. Non-food needs include clothing and footwear; fuel, light, and water; housing maintenance and other minor repairs; rental of occupied dwelling units; medical care; education; transportation and communication; non-durable furnishing; household operations; and personal care and effects. Thus, this also too conservatively assumes that non-food needs are available at illusory low prices.

IBON stressed that poverty has many dimensions and while income is a convenient indicator this is only one of them. The current low Php71 poverty threshold should be adjusted to be more realistic and reflective of the true potentials of the economy, said the group. As it is, PSA data indicate that around 12.4 million families or about half of the population is trying to survive on Php132 per person per day. On the other hand, chief executive officers of the country’s biggest corporations can earn the equivalent of as much as Php60,000 or more per day.

IBON said that a more realistic and higher poverty threshold will send a strong signal of the government having ambitious anti-poverty targets and genuinely seeking to eradicate this. On the other hand, persistently low poverty thresholds and illusory reductions in poverty will only result in persistent neglect of the needs of the many.#