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Covid 19, the Neo-liberal policies and Chinese Imperialism (Part2)

By Prof. Edberto Malvar Villegas, PhD

(This article is presented in two parts and will be given in three posts. The first part covers “Covid 19 in the Phillippines”, “The Imperialist Neo-Liberal Policies of the IMF-WB-WTO”, and the “The Neo-Liberal Policies and US Overproduction”. The second part comprises “The Emergence of Chinese Imperialism”, “China’s AIIB”, “China’s Debt Trap”, “The US-China Rivalry and Covid 19” and the “Conclusion”. While the rapid spread of Covid 19 in the Philippines is due to its poor health system because of the policies of the IMF-WB, the virus was directly caused by the easy entry of Chinese nationals into the country due to the too open accommodation of the Duterte’s administration of Chinese imperialism.)

The Emergence of Chinese Imperialism

China entered into the global trade during the period of Deng Xiaoping, after the death in 1976 of Mao Tse-tung, (founding father of the Chinese People’s Republic), the incarceration and eventual deaths of the so-called Gang of Four in 1978 and the purge and executions of around 20,000 Maoists (adherents to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism) who were leading cadres of Mao’s cultural revolution. China’s GDP grew by leaps and bounds, reaching 11% in the late 1990’s due to very low workers’ wages in government corporations in partnerships with foreign MNCs, mostly US and Japanese, located in free trade zones. Deng restored capitalism in China and considered the establishments of free trade zones as vital part of his so-called four modernization program. Hundreds of millions Chinese workers in sweat shops in the trade zones were receiving the lowest wages in the world ($2/day) and the number of those living below the poverty line in China was growing at a fast rate. (Pao-yu Ching, 2010) Soon, an emergent Chinese bourgeoisie, based on trading activities and mostly former government bureaucrats were amassing great wealth in tandem with corrupt government officials so that by the first decade of the 21th century, China had the most number of billionaires in the world. (Forbes) The new rich were living in the cities, particularly in Shanghai and Beijing, while the vast Chinese majority (60%) of its population belonging to the lower classes, earning below $2 to $20/day were mostly inhabitants in the provinces. (Pew Research Center, 2015) Thirty-nine percent of the Chinese people are middle class and 1% occupies the upper echelons of society, which include billionaire businessmen and politicians.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte poses for posterity with People’s Republic of China Vice President Wang Qishan who paid a courtesy call on the President at the Foshan International Sports and Cultural Center in Guangdong on August 31, 2019. (Palace photo)

Since the Chinese elite political leadership in China has grown to be a totalitarian state after the demise of Mao who called for a rule of the working masses, it began to suppress dissent from workers and students regarding its economic and political policies. In 1989, the Chinese government massacred with tanks and machine guns around 10,000 demonstrators, led by students and workers, in Tianamen Square in Beijing. The demonstrators were criticizing government corruptions and asking for democratic reforms and transparency from their political leaders. (BBC, Dec. 23, 2017) Since then, protests in China have occurred in far-off provinces mostly launched by striking workers and miners, especially in the provinces of Guangdong and Heilonging. (China Labor Bulletin) In 2018, however, millions of protesters led by students erupted in the territory of Hong Kong, demanding democratic reforms. For China to call itself still a Communist country is a misnomer since Marxist communism, to which Mao adheres, advocates the abolition of capitalism, the disappearance of the state and the prioritization of the welfare of the poor classes. The current Chinese regime has called its kind of state (bureaucrat) capitalism as actually socialism with “Chinese characteristics” as envisioned by Mao! Mao may be restlessly turning in his grave.

China accumulated tremendous surplus capital from the surplus value created by underpaid workers in the factories of the comprador and bureaucrat capitalists. China began lending this surplus capital to other nations for it to earn interest. In the late 1990’s, China’s bourgeoisie targeted Africa as the region it can mostly dump its surplus goods and capital, using its strategy of a “debt diplomacy” to aggressively penetrate the continent. Some Chinese critics of their government have accused it of turning Africa into its “second continent” to exploit the latter’s very rich natural resources. Africa supplies a third of Chinese oil and is very abundant, among other natural resources, with manganese and cobalt, the first used as ingredient for steel production and the second for electronics.(Forbes, Aug.4, 2018) Soon 10,000 Chinese companies, bringing Chinese workers with them, were set up in Africa and the continent became the foremost area for Chinese imperialism.

In order to receive favorable concessions, the Sino government, particularly that of the current president Xi Jinping, began unloading their huge surplus capital, derived from the wage slavery of Chinese workers as debts to African countries like Zambia, Nigeria, Kenya, Djibouti and others. As of 2020, total African debt to China is $200 billion, or 15% of its external debts. Beijing started to bribe corrupt African politicians and were able to impose debt contracts advantageous to China.

African critics have accused China of building infrastructures, highways, buildings, bridges, etc. using poor and overpriced materials. These critics specially mention cutting costs by Chinese contractors for the shoddy infrastructures they build in Africa. (Forbes, ibid.) It is to be noted at this point that bridges and buildings in China, for that matter, have been collapsing due to lack of government biddings and a non-transparent government. As one Chinese furniture maker says, “Who will police the police?” so that he says the Chinese people are so used to sloppy government constructions in their country. (Morning edition, Aug. 2012) For instance, from April 2011 to August 2012 alone,  eight major bridges collapsed in China, the most known of which was the $300 million Yangmingtan bridge in Harbin City which broke only after less than 2 years of operation. It is the same situation with buildings with the latest the Xinjia Express Hotel, being used to house Covid 19 patients in the city of Wenshou, collapsing in March, 2020, with 10 dead. On May, 2019, a Shanghai building collapsed with 25 dead and in October of the same year several buildings housing migrant workers stumbled to the ground in the province of Wenghou with 22 dead. (smartcities. Dive site)


President Rodrigo Roa Duterte gives a warm welcome to Communist Party of China (CPC) Chongqing Party Chief Chen Min’er who paid a courtesy call on the President at the Malacañan Palace on September 16, 2019. (Palace photo)

China’s Asian Infrastructure and the AIIB

In 2015, China established the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank) for Chinese capitalists to rival US imperialist dominance in the world economy and as an alternative to the WB and its regional bank in Asia, the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Though AIIB’s capital at $100 billion is only about half of WB’s and its membership totals 84 compared to WB’s 189, the goal of this government-controlled bank is to extend China’s trade influence over other countries by funding the so-called Belt and Silk Road through Asia, Africa, Europe and eventually to the Americas. It is envisioned to achieve this ambitious project by spending from $4 to $8 trillion by the year 2049 through the expansions of infrastructures, highway complexes, railroads, ports, airports, etcetera along the Belt and Silk Road. China’s philosophy of development is supposed to be based on building mega infrastructures which it poses against the export-oriented development policy of the IMF-WB-WTO.

The Belt Road, which is actually a maritime route, would cover the South China Sea, the South Pacific Ocean, and a wide part of the Indian Ocean. Does one have to wonder why China is aggressively pushing for the control of the South China Sea, including the rich resources under it, at the expense of the Philippines under its slavishly subservient to China, President Rodrigo Duterte? The gains of countries which participate in the Belt and Silk Road project have, however, been one-sided, to say the least, in favor of China. For instance, between 2014 to 2016, the trade volume of China along the Belt and Silk Road exceeded $3 trillion, but only created $1.1 billion revenues and 180,000 new jobs for countries involved. (Wikepedia) Overproduction, the inherent contradiction of capitalism, in Chinese factories have grown since the late 1990’s and this is the reason China relies heavily on the export of goods as well as capital, the latter primarily through the AIIB, to maintain its high growth rate. Overproduction has led to hundreds of thousands of goods worth $64 billion stockpiled in factories, representing one-fifth of China’s total production. (Chicago Tribune, Feb. 4, 1997) #

(Conclusion/Section 2 of Part 2: China’s Debt Trap, US-China’s Rivalry and Covid 19)

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The author is a retired Social Sciences Professor of the University of the Philippines-Manila and De La Salle University. He is also a novelist and an author of several books on many topics.

Why do we keep on begging China for friendship?

By Rosario Guzman

In the face of the Filipino people’s growing anxieties about COVID-19 and life after the lockdown, president Duterte keeps heaping praises on China.

The Duterte government was reluctant at first to restrict travel and tourism from China and the operations of Chinese Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) because such moves to contain the virus would allegedly hurt China’s feelings. In the next presidential speeches, the government seemed to have flip-flopped from its cavalier attitude towards the pandemic, but it has not stopped uttering assurances to China.

That the Philippines remains to be by China’s side as China battles COVID-19. Or that China will help the Philippines overcome the health crisis and that president Duterte can directly send a personal note to Chinese president Xi Jin Ping. A you-and-me-against-the-world expression of devotion that is repeated ad nauseum.

In the most recent display, returning presidential spokesperson Harry Roque even got a little chummy – referring to the Philippines-China relationship as “BFF” (“best friends forever”), and that naturally China will prioritize the Philippines in giving COVID aid and funds.

It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth as the country continues to grapple with economic uncertainties and government’s lack of direction six weeks into the lockdown.

But is it even valid to cling on to China, or to any other country for that matter, for our survival as a nation post-COVID? Even without COVID-19, it is already insane as it is for the Philippine government to obsessively hold on to failed neoliberal policies and to rely on foreign capital for development. It would take some sobriety to tackle the question, but looking at the global economy and the seismic changes that have been happening is the sensible way to begin.

The world is coming down

China indeed remains the world’s leading merchandise trader and second to the United States (US) in trade of goods and services in the overall. But the slowdown in global trade that has been quite evident since 2016 on the back of a protracted global economic recession is weighing down on the world’s economies and leading traders. This has only been aggravated by the US-China trade war escalating at the end of 2018, which is hurting aggregate import demand, as well as the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic emanating from Wuhan, China at the end of 2019 whose impact on world trade is still unfolding.

World merchandise trade volume had a significantly lower growth of 2.9% in 2018 than the 4.6% growth registered in 2017 that raised false hopes of a return to better days. The slowdown in trade was accompanied by weaker output growth – the world gross domestic product (GDP) grew at exactly the same rate as trade (2.9%) compared to a minimally higher growth of 3.0% the year before.

The numbers turned uglier in 2019 – with the combined effects of the trade tensions in the first half clearly felt and the jitters in the second half over the possible lethal spread of COVID-19 across geographic and economic regions. The slowing world merchandise trade finally declined by 0.1% in volume in 2019. Likewise, in dollar values it fell by 3% to US$18.89 trillion, whereas it registered a 10% increase due to higher energy prices just the year before. The global GDP got even weaker with a preliminary growth figure of only 2.6% for 2019.

Projecting the full impact of COVID-19 on trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is looking at a further decline in 2020 by 12.9% in an optimistic scenario or by 31.9% in a pessimistic scenario. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the global GDP growth in 2020 to fall to -3%, which is a major revision over a very short period. This crisis is going to be far worse than the global financial crisis, the IMF has said, and the worst since the Great Depression.

Palace photo.

China is symptomatic

The world is watching China with apprehension. The country has high demand for raw materials and intermediate goods and serves as a final-stage export platform for global production chains. But even before the number of COVID cases started climbing at the start of 2020, China’s GDP growth of 6.1% in 2019 was already slower than the 6.7% rate in 2018. It was in fact the country’s slowest growth in 29 years.

The National Bureau of Statistics of China reported a 6.8% year-on-year decline in the first quarter of 2020. It is the first contraction at least since 1992.

China experienced a deceleration in merchandise trade volume, from 8.0% in 2017 to its moderate growth of 5.2% in 2018. The value of exports slowed sharply at 0.5% growth in 2019 from a 10% rise in 2018, while the value of imports fell by 2.7%, the first decline in three years. In the first two months of 2020, exports plunged by 17.2% year-on-year, while imports shrank by 4%, amid factory shutdowns and travel restrictions to contain the virus.

China’s trade surplus and capital formation are its sources of economic strength to rise as an outward investor. In 2018, China ranked 2nd globally, next to Japan, in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI) outflows, and 3rd, next to the US and Netherlands in terms of FDI outward stock. But like global trade and the global economy, global FDI flows were in three consecutive years of decline, falling by another 13% in 2018. China’s FDI outflows slid further by 18%, the second year for China, based on UNCTAD data.

China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) reported a lower figure of 9.6% decline in 2018, pointing out that China’s FDI fall was still significantly lower than the world figure of 29% according to MOFCOM. It does not change the general picture, however, no matter how Beijing paints stability. Outward FDI is falling anywhere else in the world, and it is 40% smaller today than its post-global financial crisis peak in 2015.

The China Global Investment Tracker of the American Enterprise Institute, an alternative to MOFCOM data, which tracks Chinese investment and construction around the world with a threshold of US$100 million, is seeing a dramatic fall in China’s outbound FDI of about 40% for 2019 that will be similar to 2011, with Chinese investment returning to a domestic rather than global phenomenon.

The problem is China cannot simply work from home. It has been infected with the unbounded, reckless desire of expansionism – it has to continue going global.

Palace photo.

BFF?

The Philippines is not even among the top 15 trading partners of China. It is also not a significant destination of Chinese investment.

Hong Kong (PRC) receives about 60% (US$86.9 billion) of China’s net FDI, followed by the US (US$7.5 billion), Virgin Islands (US$7.1 billion), Singapore (US$6.4 billion), and Cayman Islands (US$5.5 billion). It is obvious how China uses Hong Kong as an intermediary to take advantage of Hong Kong’s liberalized agreements and competitive currency before investing somewhere else, or of “double dipping” wherein Chinese investors return to the mainland as “foreign investors” and take advantage of additional fiscal incentives.

It also appears that Chinese investors, like many global investors, have sought safe havens such as the Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands as times get rough. Removing these and Hong Kong for the meantime would show that the top 10 recipients of China FDI in 2018 were the US, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Canada, Germany, Vietnam, South Korea, United Kingdom, and Thailand. The Philippines does not figure anywhere in the line-up.

On the other hand, some 56 countries along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which the Philippines is part, captured 12.5% of China’s total outward FDI in 2018. BRI investment has been particularly pronounced in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Meanwhile in Southeast Asia where China’s state-owned enterprises have particular interest, Cambodia is the favorite.

Narrowing our map now to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines captured 11% of China’s investment in the ASEAN in 2019, which is practically a fair share if China’s investment would be divided equally among the 10 member-countries.

In short, we may be among China’s friends, but we are not the best, and forever has not even started.

On the other hand, among the Philippines’ trading partners, China ranks 4th in terms of contribution to exports value, next only to US, Japan and Hong Kong (which is a trading port of many other countries apart from the mainland). Indeed, China is the country’s biggest supplier of imported goods, accounting for about one-fourth of Philippine import value, which shows a one-sided trading relationship. Exports to China in the first month of 2020 had a tepid 7% increase, while imports from China continued to increase at double-digit rate (16.4%), a trend that started in 2016.

Singapore, US, Japan and South Korea have remained the country’s top investors, with their combined net FDI of US$963.49 million in 2019. Inflow from China was US$106.16 million. Even if we add US$28.69 million (assuming 60% of what is coming from Hong Kong, since not all Hong Kong FDI is from the mainland), China would still come fifth. Surely there has been a dramatic rise in Chinese investments of 1,751%, from only about US$10.77 million in 2016 to its peak of US$199.38 billion in 2018, but net FDI from China has started to taper off and declined by 47% in 2019.

There has also been a phenomenal increase in Chinese official development assistance (ODA) loans from US$1.5 million in 2016 to US$364.9 million as of 2018. But Chinese ODA still pales in comparison with Japan ODA of US$6.2 billion or even USAID of US886.4 million.

In other words, even in un-reciprocated relationships that our liberalized and subservient economy has become so dependent on, China is not even the best master.

What then is the fixation on China all about?

There can only be one reason for China – it is unstoppable. Since building its internal strength and setting its sights on the endless possibilities in the global economy, China itself has been fixated on itself.

Its expansionist momentum has surged in the last two decades, perfecting its “go global” strategy and embarking on its biggest and most ambitious ever BRI as well as Made in China 2025, moving away from being the world’s factory to producing high-technology products and services. Beijing has been aggressive and at the same time cautious in its policy approach, which gives it confidence that it won’t crash as hard as its economic rivals.

It may be recalled that China held up well during the 2008 global financial crisis, compared to the slow recovery of the European Union and the US. Although today is different – China being the epicenter of the pandemic – China does its best to sustain the image of stability.

International observers have also pointed out that Westerners are finding it much more difficult than Asians to overcome the hardships arising from the health crisis. The observation could just be China’s own messaging echoed through its own propaganda machinery. In any case, China is sustaining the narrative.

This narrative has been copy-pasted in the language of lauding China’s ability to deal with the crisis, official restraint on China bashing and discrimination especially on social media (even setting up laws to penalize “fake news and rumors” about China and COVID-19), and loyalty to China to the point of endangering lives, as The Diplomat has observed across Southeast Asian governments. The Duterte administration has submitted to this propaganda line and has been most explicit about the fear of retaliation from China as expressed by none other than the health secretary.

For the Duterte government, there are two apparent reasons. One could simply be self-serving – that the Duterte administration, the most traveled to China, be able to maintain the business deals and transactions with Chinese firms. No matter how loose and small, these are big enough gains for its entourage of businessmen and cronies.

But the second reason is more on economic survival. The Duterte administration has yet to really jump-start its Build, Build, Build (BBB) infrastructure program and to capture the promise of China’s overflowing construction capital. Of the 100 flagship projects worth Php4.3 trillion, China accounts for only 17% of the number of projects and 16.3% of the cost, while only one of these projects is in the implementation stage. The economic managers are torn between revamping BBB and reallocating its budget for COVID-19 and leaving BBB unscathed. The fact remains, BBB is untenable now more than ever.

On endlessly praising China, the Duterte administration may not have really internalized China’s rhetoric, but it is clearly desperate. The Philippine economy is on its fourth year of slowdown, and the economic managers are still relying on foreign capital for pump-priming instead of building our industrial and agricultural core. The Philippine economy is down with the lingering illness of backwardness that has only been aggravated by neoliberal policies, yet government cannot think of a cure other than to be on its knees. #

Covid 19, the Neo-liberal policies and Chinese Imperialism (Part I)

By Prof. Edberto Malvar Villegas, PhD

(This article is presented in two parts and will be given in three posts. The first part covers “Covid 19 in the Phillippines”, “The Imperialist Neo-Liberal Policies of the IMF-WB-WTO”, and the “The Neo-Liberal Policies and US Overproduction”. The second part comprises “The Emergence of Chinese Imperialism”, “China’s AIIB”, “China’s Debt Trap”, “The US-China Rivalry and Covid 19” and the “Conclusion”. While the rapid spread of Covid 19 in the Philippines is due to its poor health system because of the policies of the IMF-WB, the virus was directly caused by the easy entry of Chinese nationals into the country due to the too open accommodation of the Duterte’s administration of Chinese imperialism.)

Covid 19 in the Philippines

The Covid 19 pandemic has put into full light the long neglect of the Philippine government of its health system because of its strict adherence to the neo-liberal policies of deregulation and privatization initiated by the Group of 7 capitalist nations, led by the United States, in the developing countries, starting in the latter 1970’s. Private hospitals in the Philippines, which purchase their drugs and other medical supplies from the foreign multinational companies (MNCs) have continuously increased their prices, as the government has abided by the deregulation policy. Hospitalization for an ordinary Filipino worker costs three months or more of his monthly wages. Even government hospitals like the Philippine General Hospital ], because of government low priority for health, have hiked their fees and reduced the number of their free patients to still remain viable. Further, the Duterte government is planning to privatize 33 out of 72 government hospitals like the National Orthopedic Center, the National Center for Mental Health, the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center, Dr. Jesus Fabella Maternity Hospital and others. (InquirerNet) These policies of deregulation of prices and eventual privatization of public hospitals have compromised the quality of health services extended to the general public so that when Covid 19 came roaring into our shores, brought by Chinese tourists, there was a dire lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) like face masks and shields, long sleeve gowns, gloves and respirators for health workers. Ventilators and hospital beds for Covid 19 patients were inadequate. Testing for the virus was also very limited so that people may not even be aware that their neighbor is already Covid positive.

The Philippines due to its unprepared health system, coupled with the gross incompetence of Duterte has become No. 1 by April 15, 2020 with Covid positive people in Southeast Asia with 5,222 cases and 335 deaths followed by Malaysia with 4,917 cases and 77 deaths. (Statista) The martial-law like implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), only in the Philippines, has added more sufferings to the inhabitants of Luzon apart from the high costs of hospitalization if they catch the virus.

The low regard of the Philippine government for the health of its people compared to its payment of foreign debts is shown by the constant decrease of its health budget through the years. For example, from 2016 to 2020, the health budget declined by 11% from P113 billion to P101 billion. (Department of Health [DOH] website) The DOH’s measly P101 billion budget in the 2020 General Appropriations Act is far below that of the payment for interest alone for foreign and local debts of P451 billion and the budget for the Armed Forces at P192 billion in the same year.(2020 national budget) In the Philippines there is only one doctor to every 33,000 Filipinos when the required ratio should be 1 to 1000 and it is worse for the number of nurses at 1 to 50,000. Thousands of Filipino nurses and doctors go abroad to work since there is a lack of job opportunities in the country and salaries are very low. This is why six out of 10 Filipinos die without seeing a doctor. (IBON) Philhealth, which seeks to lower the costs of hospitalization, has been mired in corruption and some have even called for its abolition.

Private hospitals cannot be relied upon to meet the growing health needs of Fillpinos because their expertise are concentrated on the sickness of the rich like cancer and heart diseases and give less priority to contagious diseases like the Covid 19 pandemic which hit the poor the most. Infectious diseases fall under the category of public health concerns which government hospitals are supposed to be more expected to address. Private hospitals exist primarily to profit from the sick after all and not for public service. The inequity of Philippine society has come to the fore because of the Covid pandemic with more poor dying from it than the rich. This is further exacerbated because the costs of medicines in the Philippines are also the highest in Southeast Asia, benefiting the foreign pharmaceutical MNCs like Pfizer, Wyeth, Sanofi Aventis and Abbot that dominate the drug industry in the country.

Photo by Joseph Cuevas/Kodao

The Neo-Liberal Policies of the IMF-WB-WTO

The reason why the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the implementers of neo-liberal policies in the Philippines, have demanded privatization and deregulation in the country’s health system is that these financial institutions, both dominated by US capital, want the government to prioritize the payments of foreign debts obtained from the Group of 7 nations. The priority for the defrayment of debts has been made legal by PD 1177, an obsolete law passed during the martial law regime of Marcos which should have long been abolished after EDSA I. This law allows the automatic appropriation for debts in the national budget so that if our debts grow so huge, there may be zero budget left for health and other social services like education and social welfare. This is why the government, in order to meet its debt obligations, has also squeezed more taxes like Train 1 and 2 (VATs required by the IMF-WB) from the masses since the rich has preferential treatment for decrease in taxes from the Duterte regime.

Among all nations, the Philippines has been the most obedient client of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with 34 stand-by agreements with this institution (completed in 2002). The debts of the Philippines from the IMF-World Bank (WB)consortium has resulted in the high foreign debts of the country, reaching $83.7 billion at present (2020), which still includes the debts absconded by Marcos and his family and new loans from Chinese banks (to be discussed later). The Duterte government has borrowed the greatest percentage of our foreign debts during only its four years in office. (IBON)

Accompanying the stand-by agreements with the IMF are the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) dictated by the WB as conditions for new loans from it and the Fund and from their bank clubs, called the London club and the Paris club. Capitalist banks need to acquire profits from their surplus capital and those of their big depositors, the industrial and commercial capitalists, and they do this by lending this capital to other nations, particularly in the Third World for it to earn interests instead of just lying idle. Loans of surplus capital, particularly to other sovereign nations, also aid the capitalist countries to offset the falling rate of profit due to overproduction in the firms of the industrial capitalists. (To be discussed below) And the IMF-WB, their protector, make sure that those who borrow this surplus capital from capitalist banks and their investors will pay their debts on time. Thus, the stand-by agreements of the Fund and the SAPs of the Bank. The tie-up between the financial capitalists who own banks and other financial institutions with the industrial capitalists(commercial capitalists sell the goods of the industrial capitalists) is what constitutes the “financial oligarchy” or monopoly capitalism(imperialism).

The WB, various SAPs-covered industry, the energy sector, the financial sector and agriculture

The main thrust of these SAPs is trade liberalization in developing countries, aside from its policies of privatization and deregulation. Trade liberalization of goods was more fervidly pushed after the long-delayed founding of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. WTO became the third member of the capitalist triad, apart from the Fund and the Bank. The Philippine Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) in 1996 with the WTO has become the most oppressive of all the country’s trade agreements with the capitalist nations, killing local agriculture particularly the planting of staple crops of rice and corn, and pauperizing millions of Filipino peasants and farm workers. The capitalist nations, particularly the US, were dumping their surplus agricultural products on the Philippines to avoid overproduction. The increasing importation of rice by the country demanded by AoA eventually made the Philippines to become the no. 1 importer of this crop in the world by early 2000 in spite of its very fertile soil. There were extensive land conversions accompanying the AoA, favoring the comprador bourgeoisie in the real-estate business, like the Villars and the Ayalas, because agricultural lands were being turned into subdivisions and leisure places for the rich like golf courses and high-class resorts.

Photo by Joseph Cuevas/Kodao

The Neo-liberal Policies and US Overproduction

The neo-liberal policies, particularly trade liberalization, were adopted by the capitalist triad due to the growing crisis of overproduction of goods of US monopoly capitalism or imperialism, which started to manifest itself again in the middle of the 1970’s after a lull of 25 years.(Brenner, 1998) After the war periods which ended in 1976, comprising World War II, the Korean and the Vietnam wars, the rate of profits of US corporations were falling by a worrying 40% caused by overproduction of goods as production for wars has ceased. It is always profitable for the US military industrial complex (MIC) or the American monopoly capitalists to have wars in the world so that they can sell their war materiel to the US government which cost so high. It is to be noted that during the US war with Iraq in 2003, the American economy grew by 4.3%, the highest after the lull and never attained since then. After hot war periods (the US MIC’s profit from the cold war with the USSR was less compared to the hot wars), in order to offset the continuing decline in their rates of profits, more and more US corporations and even other foreign corporations were turning to the financial market, particularly the stock market to sell and buy stocks and other financial papers, for their surplus capital to earn profits through credits. This is the reason why after hot wars, bubble economies grow and burst, victimizing ordinary people who also buy the stocks of the capitalists. The worst of such bursting after the 1929 Great Depression in the US caused by a plunge of stock values in Wall St. was the financial crisis of 2008, which also originated in Wall St., the center of world capitalist activities.

The growing poverty in the developing countries, which includes the Philippines, manifested, among other social factors, by the inaccessibility of the poor to affordable health care is due to the imperialist neo-liberal policies implemented by the IMF-WB. (From Adjustments Effects on Child Welfare, Cornia, 1990) In truth, there has long been a pandemic of poverty among the lower echelons of society in the developing countries as shown by the fact that in the Philippines alone, 85 children on the average die every day due to malnourishment, 31,000 per year, higher than from any contagious disease that has visited the country.(Save the Children. org) This is a foregone conclusion since the SAPs affecting the health systems and other aspects of society and the payments of their foreign debts cause the client state of the Group of 7 to suffer budget deficits and they are made to raise more taxes to continue paying their debts and to balance their budgets. The IMF stand-by agreements are euphemistically called by the IMF-WB as “stabilization programs” to attain supposedly stable economic fundamentals, meaning for governments to balance their budgets with savings to boot, the latter of course adding to the defrayment of foreign debts. #

(Part II: Covid 19, the Neo-liberal policies and Chinese Imperialism)

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The author is a retired Social Sciences Professor of the University of the Philippines-Manila and De La Salle University. He is also a novelist and an author of several books on many topics.

In the time of COVID: Hello, Earth

By Rosario Guzman/IBON

Today (Wednesday, April 22) marks the 50th year of the commemoration of Earth Day. Environmental activists vow that it will not just be a day but a movement. But in as much as we would want to manifest this human solidarity in a rally and mass gathering, we cannot – we are on our sixth week of a rather militaristic lockdown due to a pandemic.    

Fifty years – a lot has changed in those years, the most significant of which is how people have come to pay tribute to Mother Earth.

I myself remember my own environmental awakening – it was bittersweet. At first there was this desire to commune with nature, which I soon realized to be in a critically degraded state. I shed off that romanticism and embraced the harsh reality that we have to do something about our planet.

The other week while on lockdown, our batch at Ayala Mountaineers (named after the avenue, the concrete jungle) created an FB group to reconnect. In a matter of days, we’ve been photo-dumping old memories of our climbs, of breathtaking ridges, rock walls, rampaging falls, crisscrossing rivers, and crowded summits.

Yes, crowded summits and campsites! You see, we are Batch ’92 – right on the year of the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro when there was an upsurge in environmentalism.

Mountaineering club memberships have dwindled since then, not because the mountains and the great outdoors have stopped beckoning lovers, but because even our mountaineering has been put in a proper perspective.

I have learned a lot from activists. They raised the level of the discussion to sustainable development in Rio, forwarded the critique on the manner things were being governed, and vowed to reclaim our common future. Today, the general public have a far more profound appreciation of our planet, which has been expressed in vibrant struggles and social movements.

Profits over planet

Yet, undeniably, we are confronted with the worst ecological crisis. It took Rio another 20 years for governments and stakeholders to talk about more focused political reforms for sustainable development, and another three years to formulate such goals. Yet again, it has been five years since the sustainable development goals or SDGs, we are faced with what can be the worst pandemic, which undeniably has ecological roots.

Are we really this ignorant, ill-informed and lacking in science and technology to reach this precipice? No, it is the profit-motivated economic activities of few corporations and individuals that have vested interest in resisting the reforms that we want to be introduced.

And in the last 40 years, profit-seeking has been facilitated by neoliberalism. We have seen the unbridled utilization of ecosystems in the name of the market, in the name of profits. The systematic onslaught of neoliberal policies that liberalize foreign trade and investment has unfortunately occurred simultaneously with our so-called sustainable development discourse.

Neoliberalism has devastated our environment and impoverished our people, leading to our vulnerabilities to natural hazards and pandemics.

Unrepentant neoliberalism

Scientists point to several environmental changes that have categorically caused the outbreaks of pandemics. For instance, forest clearing for other economic uses has disturbed the habitat of various species and unleashed various pathogens. The loss of ecological integrity reduces our chances for healthy living and capacities to cope with diseases, aside from having itself created new diseases and mutations.

The Philippines is a hotspot of all of these. Deforestation, land-use changes and coastal reclamation are being done to give way to real estate and infrastructure development, industrial plantations and corporate agriculture. Economic activities that undermine ecological integrity such as foreign large-scale mining and the use of coal for energy are being promoted and liberalized. The kind of urbanization the country has is more associated with poverty rather than human development, as displaced and poor rural folk flock to the cities for survival. The Philippines is also among the top five countries that are most vulnerable to climate risks and disasters.

The Philippine environment is critical, because government policies remain to be hopelessly neoliberal. The Duterte administration for instance is centered on the promotion of real estate, construction, infrastructure development, natural resource extraction, and privatization of the commons, to name a few of its unrepentant neoliberal policies.

Fight on

COVID-19 is a health crisis as well as an environmental crisis – both only showing a crisis of the system that we have not yet resolved. This is why when we commemorate this day, we vow that indeed it is a movement. No matter how we put emphasis on the climb, the summit remains the most rewarding part. But as they say in mountaineering, there can always be several approaches to the summit – a gradual meandering ascent or a direct assault. Whichever we choose, as we commemorate this day, we definitely commit that it is going to be a view of a better future. #

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

IBON launches alternative to failed govt econ agenda

by IBON Media

Research group IBON launched its campaign on People Economics to promote much-needed policy reforms that would really benefit the majority of Filipinos and engender genuine national development.

IBON held the forum “People Economics: May Magagawa!” at the College of Science Admin Auditorium, UP Diliman last October 10 to discuss why there is a need for and what the principles and policy outlines are of People Economics.

After four decades of neoliberal globalization and its market-driven policies, the group said that the country remains underdeveloped.

Many Filipinos are struggling with worsening poverty and jobs crisis, while only a wealthy few are benefiting. The global economic slowdown is not letting up, and in response several countries, especially the big capitalist powers, are becoming increasingly protectionist, the group said.

IBON said that People Economics is an alternative to government’s failed neoliberalism.

This draws from the policies and demands of the people’s movement, as well as IBON’s more than 41 years of experience in advocating for social and economic reforms.

The group said that it envisions a Philippines that can be transformed into a modern industrialized nation that is more equal, humane, and ecologically sustainable. It lays the foundation for a future where the Filipino people continuously change society for the better.

People economics is comprised of six pillars: Develop the countryside; Build Filipino industries; Protect the environment; Uphold people’s rights and welfare; Finance development; and Strive for sovereignty and independence.

IBON said that People Economics can be further articulated and enriched as an alternative to neoliberalism. The contributions of the progressive movement and other advocates for genuine change is needed to come up with the most concrete and comprehensive solutions to the country’s social and economic problems, the group said. #

(Kodao publishes IBON.org’s reports and analyses as part of a content-sharing agreement.)

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. #

‘Paano na ang mga magsasaka?’

President Rodrigo Duterte has recently approved the Rice Tarrication Law, allowing massive rice importation into the country.

Cartoon by Mark Suva/Kodao

Second year of slowing growth a wake-up call – IBON

Research group IBON said that the second year of slowing growth under the Duterte administration should be enough to jolt it out of its complacency and denial. The downturn in the last two years and the poor prospects in the year to come should be a wake-up call to start to undertake the difficult but necessary reforms for genuinely inclusive growth and national development.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported a 6.2 percent annual growth in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for 2018, lower than government’s revised growth target of 6.5-6.9 percent for the year.

Government cited slowing agriculture and high inflation as among the main factors pulling back growth, while the main drivers were growth in construction, and trade and repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles, personal and household goods.

“Growth is slowing most of all because of the economy’s unsound fundamentals in backward agriculture and shallow industry,” said Sonny Africa, IBON executive director.

The agriculture sector registered just 0.8 percent growth in 2018 from 4 percent in 2017.

This is the sector’s worst performance since its contraction in 2016.

Yet, Africa said, the administration seems to have little interest in reversing this trend.

For example, the Php49.3 billion agriculture department budget for 2019 proposed by Congress is Php1.4 billion less than the Php50.7 billion in 2018 (in equivalent cash-based terms).

Africa also noted that manufacturing growth slowed to 4.9 percent in 2018 from 8.4 percent the year before, which is the slowest since the 4.7 percent growth in 2011.

He said that this is due to weaker demand in domestic consumption and weaker exports amid the global economic slowdown. Manufacturing also remains shallow in being low value-added, foreign-dominated, and dependent on foreign capital and technology.

Africa pointed out that recent rapid growth has instead relied on external short-term factors that are fading. Yet remittances are slowing, exports are falling, and interest rates are rising. The real estate and consumer spending booms are also petering out.

Growth in overseas remittances slowed from 5.0 percent in 2016 to 4.3 percent in 2017 to just 3.1 percent in the first 10 months of 2018, said Africa.

Exports growth increased from 11.6 percent in 2016 to 19.5 percent in 2017, but then fell to 11.5 percent in 2018.

Meanwhile, the benchmark overnight reverse repurchase (RRP) rate rose steeply from 3.0 percent in 2017 to 4.8 percent by end-2018, reversing the decade-long general decline in interest rates.

Africa also said that household consumption spending markedly slowed from 7.1 percent growth in 2016 and 5.9 percent in 2017 to just 5.6 percent in 2018.

The real estate boom is also tapering with 2016 growth of 8.9 percent in real estate, renting and business activities declining to 7.4 perent in 2017 and falling further to just 4.8 percent in 2018.

“Rising government spending and its infrastructure offensive haven’t been enough to offset the reliance on waning external factors,” said Africa. “The administration’s efforts to stimulate growth to its 7-8 percent target with even more spending, are not going to be enough amid high disguised unemployment, low incomes, and the global slowdown this year.”

Global GDP growth is estimated to slow from 3.1 percent in 2018 to 3.0 percent this year.

“The Duterte administration needs to stop downplaying slowing growth and hyping that this as still among the fastest in the region and the world because the growth is becoming more jobless than ever,” Africa said.”

The number of employed only increased by 162,000 from 41 million in 2016 to 41.2 million in 2018, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Average annual job creation was then only 81,000 in the period 2017-2018, which is the lowest level of job creation among post-Marcos administrations.

Africa said that government continues to ignore telltale signs of an economic downturn and deceive Filipinos with its rosy picture of the economy.

He said that the sooner the administration admits the failure of its neoliberal policies, the sooner measures that will spur domestic industries and benefit the Filipino people can be implemented. #

Rice tariffication will displace rice farmers, worsen food insecurity–IBON

Rice tariffication and uncontrolled rice imports will displace rice farmers and worsen food insecurity without solving the problem of expensive rice, research group IBON said.

The government is using high inflation to justify rice sector liberalization according to long-standing demands of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and big foreign agricultural exporters.

Domestic agriculture should be strengthened with ample government support instead of being prematurely opened up to cheap foreign government-subsidized imports from abroad, said IBON.

Senate Bill 1998 or the Rice Tariffication Bill, which was approved by the Philippine Senate on third and final reading recently, is currently undergoing bicameral deliberation.

Government said that this will protect the rice industry from volatile prices, and consumers from rising inflation.

The measure is also supposed to earn Php10 billion annually which will be used to fund development of the local rice industry.

IBON however stressed that uncontrolled rice imports will drive rice farmers into worse poverty.

If the Philippines imports two million metric tons of palay, for instance, some 500,000 of around 2.4 million rice farmers will be adversely affected.

Even the government’s own Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) projects a 29 percent decline in rice farmers’ incomes from a Php4-decrease in palay farm gate prices when rice tariffication is implemented.

As it is, farmers’ average monthly income of Php6,000 at the Php21 farmgate price is already far short even of the government’s understated Php9,064 average poverty threshold for a family of five.

It is also not even one-fourth (23 percent) of IBON’s estimated monthly family living wage (FLW) of Php26,026 for a family of five as of October 2018.

Filipino rice farmers are unproductive and domestically-produced rice is unnecessarily expensive because of long-standing government neglect of the agriculture sector.

No more than five percent of the national budget has been given to agriculture over the last two decades.

The Duterte administration does not correct this and, for instance, the Php49.8 billion 2019 Department of Agriculture (DA) budget it submitted to Congress in July is just 1.3 percent of the national budget and even Php862 million less that its cash-based equivalent of Php50.7 billion this year.

The hyped Php10 billion (US$190 million at current exchange rates) rice development fund of the Rice Tariffication Bill is too little and too late, said IBON.

This compares unfavorably to rice industry support given by other rice producers including some countries the Philippines imports rice from — Vietnam (US$400 million), United States (US$619 million annually), Thailand (US$2.2-4.4 billion), India (US$12 billion), Japan (US$16 billion), and China (US$12-37 billion).

IBON also pointed out that there is no guarantee that retail rice prices will be lower in the long run with unhampered importation.

Relying on rice imports makes the country vulnerable to higher world market prices as well as to rice production and export decisions of other countries.

In 2008, for instance, IBON recalled bow Vietnam, India and Pakistan restricted their rice exports amid rising global rice prices.

Thailand also raised the idea of creating a global rice cartel similar to that for oil exporting countries.

Government’s neoliberal prioritization of food imports and production of crops for export should be reversed, IBON said.

The Philippine government should instead strengthen the local rice industry. This begins with free land distribution to all willing tillers, followed by giving substantial support for rice producers, and taking control of the market to ensure reasonable prices for rice and other agricultural produce. #