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Still no better jobs for Filipinos–IBON

First quarter economic growth this year did not translate to better jobs for Filipinos, research group IBON said.

This means that despite government claims that the groundwork for reforms has been laid, growth has remained essentially exclusionary, generating jobs that are insecure and low-paying, said the group.

Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia recently announced the 6.8 percent Philippine economic growth for the first quarter of 2018 to be among the fastest in Asia, second only to Vietnam’s 7.4 percent and at par with China’s.

According to Pernia, these indicate that infrastructure development is accelerating and “Build, Build, Build” is gaining ground.

NEDA even said that OFWs could thus consequently come home to more jobs.

IBON however underscored how at the same time, underemployment, part-time work and informal work swelled by over a million jobs each.

The group said that this implies how, amid supposedly growing capacity to produce goods and services, Filipinos were subjected to more insecure and low-paying jobs.

From January 2017 to January 2018, employment grew by 2.4 million especially in agriculture, services, manufacturing, and construction.

But the number of underemployed or persons looking for additional work grew from 6.4 to 7.5 million.

The number of part-time workers or those who worked below 40 hours a week increased by 1.2 million from 13.5 to 14.7 million.

Those in informal work, meanwhile, or in jobs that are uncertain or irregular with poor pay and benefits, increased by 1.4 million from 14.6 to 16 million.

According to IBON, poor quality work is growing because employers seek to peg wages at a low, minimize benefits and keep labor flexible to be able to increase their profits.

The government takes the side of employers and supports them with its policies of wage rationalization and labor flexibilization, which it justifies as needed to attract investments and drive growth, said the group.

It argued, however, that government’s vision for progress should instead include building a strong domestic economy that can generate regular, full-time and decent-paying jobs.

These can boost the Filipino working people’s purchasing power and yield higher returns for the Philippine economy, IBON said. # (IBON.org)

TRAIN-induced price increases are permanent—IBON

The inflation spike marks the start of increases​ driven by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN)​ in the prices of basic goods and services for the next three years, research group IBON said.

Further inflationary surges are likely to happen in 2019 and 2020 when the next two rounds of additional taxes on oil products take effect.

The Duterte administration’s banner TRAIN is among the biggest factors driving the inflation rate to its highest in over six years, said the group.

IBON noted that the headline inflation rate of 4.5 percent year-on-year in April is the highest since late 2011, bringing the year-to-date average inflation rate to 4.1 percent.

This already breaches government’s inflation target for 2018.

As it is, food, vegetable and fuel prices are already higher from a year ago, IBON observed.

The price of regular milled rice has increased from Php35 to Php40 per kilo, of galunggong from P140 to Php160, of pork liempo from Php225 to Php240, sitao from Php60 to Php100 per bundle, and red onions from Php50 to Php80.

Just since January, the price in Metro Manila of diesel has gone up by over Php7 per liter to Php44.35 and of gasoline by some Php6.80 to Php55.37.

LPG is also already much more expensive at some Php650-750 for an 11-kg cylinder.

“The higher prices of basic commodities hit the country’s poorest 17.2 million families who do not get any personal income tax (PIT) benefits the worst. This burden belies the Department of Finance’s (DOF) fake news claim that ’99 percent of taxpayers’ will benefit from TRAIN,” IBON executive director Sonny Africa said.

Africa also said that government economic managers are being dishonest and insensitive when they downplay the impact on prices by saying that the inflation spike is only temporary.

“The price increases from TRAIN are very permanent and even if inflation rates moderate this does not mean that prices will be lower,” Africa said.

“It is grossly deceitful for economic managers to give the impression or claim otherwise. Prices will continue to rise for the poor from TRAIN’s new and higher taxes unless the government says that the inflation rate will turn negative, which is unlikely,” he added.

According to Africa, while there are many reasons for inflation the government only seeks to divert from its direct accountability for TRAIN-induced higher prices by exaggerating the effects of global oil price and the peso depreciation.

Dubai crude has been at US$62-66 per barrel and the peso at up to Php52.10 per US$1 since the start of the year.

However, even when the price of Dubai crude reached US$105 per barrel in 2013 inflation only averaged 2.6 percent.

Similarly, when the peso was at over Php54 per US$1 from late 2002 to mid-2004 inflation only averaged 2.5 percent , Africa explained.

Africa said that among all the major factors driving high prices, the government has the most control over the taxes it charges.

“If government wants to it can immediately lower inflation and prices for the people by suspending implementation and then repealing the grossly regressive TRAIN law,” he said.

Revenues can and should instead be raised with progressive tax reforms that increase the burden on the country’s super-rich and that relieve the poor majority while their incomes are still so low, Africa concluded.​# (IBON.org)

 

Working Filipino’s real wage, purchasing power weakening under Duterte

Research group IBON said that accelerating inflation is rapidly eroding the real wage and purchasing power of minimum wage earners in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Real wages show the actual value of wages after these are adjusted for inflation. After almost two years in power, the Duterte administration has only raised the minimum wage in the NCR once–in October last year–which increased this from Php491 in July 2016 to Php512 as of March 2018.

The nominal Php21 increase has however not been enough to keep up with rising prices.

Inflation has been steadily accelerating since the start of the Duterte administration to reach a six-year-high of 3.7 percent in 2017.

It is looking to become even higher this year at 4.8 percent already in the first quarter of 2018.

Minimum wage earners have actually already lost Php16.80 per day with the real value of their wages, measured at 2012 prices, falling from Php466.70 in July 2016 to just Php449.90 in March 2018.

The year 2012 is used as the reference period because this is the base year of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in computing the consumer price index (CPI) and inflation.

As it is, the NCR minimum wage of Php512 falls far short of the estimated Php973 family living wage (FLW) for a family of five, and even further short of the Php1,168 FLW for a family of six.

The eroding purchasing power of workers is resulting in even lower standards of living for minimum wage earners.

IBON said that the government should urgently address the grossly insufficient wages of workers, which is even being rapidly eroded by high inflation.

Immediate and concrete steps include implementing the Php750 national minimum wage demanded by workers’ groups and suspending implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Package One, which is driving prices up and amending this to become genuinely progressive; and enforcing price controls such as on staple food items. # (IBON.org)

Amid price hikes: Minimum wage insufficient vs. rising family cost of living — IBON

The onslaught of price hikes since early this year has made the mandated minimum wage in the National Capital Region (NCR) even more inadequate for millions of Filipino workers to decently support their families, said research group IBON.

IBON computations show that the NCR nominal minimum wage still falls considerably short of the rising family living wage (FLW).

As of March 2018, Php1,168 is needed daily to support a family of six, while Php973 is needed for a family of five.

Worsening inflation has increased the FLW needed from the same period last year by Php57 for a family of six and by Php48 for a family of five–a 5.2 percent increase for both.

The minimum wage however has not kept up with the rising cost of living.

The NCR nominal minimum wage of Php512 is just 43.8 percent of the Php1,168 FLW in March this year.

This translates into a significant wage gap of Php656 or 56.2 percent, said the group.

For a family of five, the gap was nearly half (47.4 percent) of the FLW.

These wage gaps grew despite the regional wage board’s approval of a Php21 minimum wage increase from Php491 to Php512 last October 2017.

IBON said that the wage discrepancy is just as wide as the same period last year. In March 2017, the nominal minimum wage in the NCR of Php491 was 44.2 percent of the Php1,111 FLW for a family of six.

This was a wage gap of Php620 or 55.8 percent.

The group also noted that the average daily basic pay of wage and salary workers in NCR has declined under the Duterte administration. Latest official figures show that the NCR average daily basic pay fell from Php557.46 in July 2016 to Php542.16 in July 2017.

Workers’ minimum wages cannot cope with the higher prices that are driving up inflation and the cost of living, said the group.

The 5.2 percent inflation rate for the NCR in March 2018 is so far the highest in five years according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

IBON said that there should be an immediate, substantial and across-the-board minimum wage increase against the high inflation.

The government should approve and mandate the Php750 national minimum wage that workers groups are calling for.

Implementation of TRAIN Package One which is among the drivers of inflation should also be suspended and the law reviewed towards being amended to become genuinely progressive.

It should also ensure job security, necessary benefits, better working conditions, as well as much-needed social services that will assist Filipino workers and their families in meeting their basic needs, said the group. #

 

AGAW WEN Episode 2: TRAIN to Bankerohan Market

by Kilab Multimedia

Panoorin ang spectacular na pagdiskubre ni Agaw kung bakit mas matamis pa ang asin kaysa asukal.

Read more

Unsolicited projects for favored business interests to rise under Pres. Duterte?

By Arnold Padilla / IBON Features

When President Duterte said last month that “all projects of the Philippines would be something like a Swiss Challenge”, media attention has focused on the Swiss Challenge and its implications. But what the presidential statement implied was that in order to supposedly fast track his ambitious Build Build Build program, the administration may encourage more unsolicited proposals and negotiated contracts.

And there lies the real and bigger problem. Unsolicited proposals and negotiated contracts are the worst form of public procurement of infrastructure under the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme. These negotiated deals are the most prone to bureaucratic corruption and to patronage for favored business interests.

Close ties

San Miguel Corporation (SMC) president Ramon Ang, for instance, is among the closest to Malacañang. He is publicly known as one of the (unofficial) major campaign contributors of Pres. Duterte and patron of the Chief Executive’s controversial anti-drug campaign. SMC, a Php255-billion diversified conglomerate and known to cultivate close ties with whoever is in power, is currently implementing theunsolicited Php62.7-billion MRT-7 while awaiting government approval of two more unsolicited mega infrastructure projects.

Based on the revised (2012) Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law, unsolicited proposals are “project proposals submitted by the private sector, not in response to a formal solicitation or request issued by an Agency/LGU (local government unit) and not part of the list of priority projects as identified by Agency/LGU, to undertake Infrastructure or Development projects.”

A third party could challenge the offer of the original proponent of an unsolicited proposal through what is called the “Swiss Challenge”. In order to bag the contract, the original proponent should match the counter-offer of the third party. In practice, however, all unsolicitedprojects concluded in the Philippines since the 1990s were clinched by the original proponent except in the case of the controversial NAIA Terminal 3 where the challenger (Philippine International Terminals Co. Inc. or PIATCO) won but the contract was declared null and void by the Supreme Court (SC) due to irregularities.

At the start of its term, the Duterte administration’s economic managers already announced that the government is open to unsolicitedproposals aside from its so-called hybrid PPP – i.e. mobilizing official development assistance (ODA) to build infrastructure and later bidding out its operation and maintenance (O&M) to the private sector. Ang, however, called hybrid PPP as “complicated” and expressed preference for unsolicited proposals for supposedly faster delivery of projects.

Following the President’s pronouncement of openness to unsolicited projects, the latter flooded the government, with project proposalsreaching a total of as much as Php3 trillion in the first year of the Duterte administration according to a news report last year. But most of these are just concepts or ideas, with actual proposals under evaluation by the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) reaching only three as of the latest (January 2018) projects status report from the PPP Center.

But these three unsolicited proposals are among the just five PPP projects that the PPP Center said could probably be rolled out this year. Two of these unsolicited proposals have SMC as the original proponent – the Php700-billion New Manila International Airport and the Php338.8-billion Manila Bay Integrated Flood Control, Coastal Defense and Expressway Project. The third one is the Php51.17-billion East-West Rail Project of Megawide Construction Corp.

A separate news report said that SMC has an unsolicited proposal to the state-run Philippine National Construction Corp. (PNCC) to expand the Metro Manila Skyway and the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) for Php554 billion.

Combined, the indicative cost of SMC’s reported unsolicited proposals (Php1.59 trillion) already account for 53% of the cost of all unsolicitedproposals (Php3 trillion) reportedly being pitched to the Duterte administration. To get a better grasp of how huge these two projects are, note that the total amount of all (16) PPP projects that have been awarded since the Aquino administration is “just” Php323.06 billion.

Beyond transparency and corruption

Even PPP advocates while recognizing that the presence of unsolicited proposals is on the rise warn governments to use them with caution and within a strict regulatory framework. In a review of unsolicited projects worldwide, a study commissioned by the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) of the World Bank noted that among the common concerns on unsolicited proposals are: (1) lack of transparency in selection and implementation of projects; (2) avoidance of competition; (3) avoidance of due diligence processes; (4) opportunities for corruption and political patronage; and (5) acceptance of poor quality projects (design and/or execution) that do not even meet minimum requirements of any sort, in the name of expediency. The World Bank reportedly prohibits the use of unsolicited proposalsin projects that they fund.

Beyond transparency and corruption issues, however, the greater impact of unsolicited proposals involve how such procurement method further weakens the mandate and capacity of the state to design and implement a rational infrastructure program that is responsive to the long-term needs of the people and the economy. Unsolicited proposals also represent how corporate interests that are mainly driven by profit motivation take over infrastructure development and operation, often at the expense of the country’s overall development and social agenda.

Ideally, infrastructure projects are determined by and consistent with the development plan of a country, meaning projects are initiated and prioritized (including in terms of resource allocation) by government based on such plan. Government’s role goes beyond identification, resource mobilization and construction, and extends to operation and maintenance of the infrastructure.

This has been the practice in many countries including the Philippines until the advent of neoliberalism in the 1980s and its rapid expansion in the 1990s. Government’s role has been reduced to listing down of infrastructure projects and soliciting private investors to build and operate them through bidding or direct negotiation. This is already problematic by itself as it essentially privatizes the infrastructure and distorts its economic and social purpose as commercial viability becomes the primary consideration.

Tailor-made public infra for private interests

Unsolicited proposals thus further detach infrastructure development from specific public needs and interests. With the private proponent initiating the process of identification and conceptualization, unsolicited projects are often not reflective of priority infrastructure needs. In addition, unsolicited proposals reinforce the undue concentration of infrastructure development in urban centers and more developed regions at the expense of poorer regions or areas that need more infrastructure, but where commercial prospects or interests are less for private sector proponents.

There are cases where big business proposes infrastructure projects that are not just meant to supply public needs (and directly profit from it) but are also tailor-made to bolster its other private commercial interests. One example is the unsolicited proposal jointly submitted by SM and Ayala groups to build a Php25-billion 8.6-kilometer elevated toll road that will supposedly help decongest traffic along EDSA. But the project will actually benefit the two conglomerates’ property development interests as the proposed toll road would also increase access to the SM Mall of Asia complex and Ayala’s Makati business district. SMC is questioning the SM-Ayala proposal because it will allegedly duplicate the existing SMC-operated NAIA Expressway and affect traffic volume (and profits).

But while SMC is questioning the need for the SM-Ayala’s unsolicited toll road, the wisdom of its own unsolicited New Manila International Airport is also questionable. Under its proposal, SMC will build a massive Php700-billion airport spanning thousands of hectares along Manila Bay in Bulakan, Bulacan with six parallel runways and an initial 100-million passenger capacity (thrice of NAIA’s). But it will also just duplicate the recently awarded Clark International Airport Expansion Project (a solicited PPP deal bagged by Megawide) whose further expansion has lower social (as a new infrastructure, the Bulacan airport could potentially displace more communities) and financial costs (e.g. there are three separate unsolicited proposals to develop Clark airport from JG Summit, Megawide, and Manny Pangilinan’s group with costs ranging from Php187 billion to Php337 billion).

For SMC, the agenda is not just to build and operate an airport that would be an alternative to the highly congested and inefficient NAIA. What SMC wants to build is an “aerotropolis” or a metropolis revolving around an airport. Aside from the 1,168-hectare airport, the plan includes a 2,500-hectare city complex which gives the giant conglomerate additional potential profits from property development as well as a toll road that will link with NLEX, on top of running the airport.

No guarantees

According to the BOT Law and its IRR, unsolicited projects are not entitled to direct government guarantee, subsidy or equity. Nonetheless, like solicited PPP projects, they are still eligible for other perks including investment incentives under the Omnibus Investment Code and performance undertaking (i.e., a government guarantee that it will assume responsibility for the performance of an agency’s obligations under the contractual arrangement including the payment of monetary obligations, in case of default) such as what SMC’s unsolicited MRT-7 project enjoys. They even enjoy “security assistance”, or the deployment of police or military forces in the vicinity of the project site to provide security during the implementation of the project up to completion.

The BOT Law requires as well that proposals be innovative and offer a new concept or technology. But it is unclear what is particularly innovative in an airport in Bulacan or an MRT along Commonwealth Avenue to pass as unsolicited projects. Indeed, a 2012 assessment ofunsolicited projects prepared for the PPP Center (with support from the Asian Development Bank or ADB) concluded that “most (unsolicited)proposals did not really offer new technology”.

What is clear is that there are no guarantees that the country’s chronic infrastructure crisis, which is being used to justify more unsolicitedproposals and negotiated deals, would be solved with more unsolicited projects. On the contrary, undue public burden could increase as numerous but disjointed or impractical networks of roads, airports, and other infrastructure are built through self-serving unsolicitedprojects by big business interest.