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Continuous war against the poor

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

August 14, 2018

As the Congress approves House Bill 7735 or the Rice Tariffication Bill on third and final hearing, the Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc. (PNFSP) expresses its strong indignation as it will definitely not address the root cause of continuous food insecurity, rice shortage and worsening poverty in the country. The bill is systematically, mechanically and logically favorable to domestic and international rice cartel operators. It will further exploit the already exploited Filipino farmers and fishermen by forcing them to produce big bulk of rice, meat and fish just to meet global dictum and for importation which are all within the mechanism of HB 7735.

The House Bill 7735 has an intention to put safety nets for Filipino rice producers by imposing tariffs in lieu of quantitative restrictions on rice imports including fish and meat. It was pursued in line with President Duterte’s order to the Congress last July 23 to immediately pass the measure which targets to arrest inflation for at least 1% thus, minimally affecting the reduction of commodity prices. Though the bill mandates the National Food Authority as the sole authority to undertake the direct importation of rice for the purpose of ensuring food security and maintaining sufficient national buffer stocks, there’s no big assurance for common Filipinos to have food security due to neo-liberal agreements signed by the past administration.

The Rice Tariffication Bill will remove tough government control in all agricultural commodities and will oblige our domestic market to join and spend unnecessary resources to global rice market and competition. It will be a burden to all Filipinos especially the 60 million poorest of the poor families because of the high possibility of price increase on all basic commodities like rice, fish, meat, canned goods, vegetables, bread, etc. due to bloating rice import and unstable status of the global market which was further intensified and legalized by the TRAIN Law. In a country where landlessness, joblessness and homelessness are proliferating, the bill will not be of help to the majority of Filipinos. It will lead to farmer’s bankruptcy, drowning in debt and displacement from their lands. It will put farmers at a disadvantage situation especially that the government have minimal support to our rice producers.

In order to address poverty, food shortage and inflation, it is very timely to pass the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill for it has the capacity to uplift the lives of the poor majority Filipinos. Rural aid like free water irrigation, free calamity subsidy, post-harvest facility, agrarian mechanization and boosting of local market. Land conversion must stop because it contributes to the unceasing decrease of tillable land which affects the annual productivity rate of agriculture including aquaculture that shakes our food security.

Lastly, we want to reiterate that the right to safe, healthy and sustainable food system is a basic and universal human right which the Philippine government must abide with. There is no need to pass the Rice Tariffication Bill including the TRABAHO Bill for it is not favorable to all common Filipinos both in public and private sector. We must act and pray that the Senate will hear and consider our intention.

 

RENMIN VIZCONDE

Executive Director, Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc.

Cordillerans to launch #DEFENDCORDILLERA campaign on IP Day

Activists will commemorate International Day of the Worlds’ Indigenous Peoples (IPs) on Thursday, August 9, in Baguio City to call for a stop to intensified attacks, plunder of ancestral land and resources, militarization, and the criminalization of indigenous human rights defenders,

In a press conference in the said city Monday, August 6, the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) said different forms of protest activities will be held in the city, including the launch of an internationally coordinated social media campaign and a cultural and protest march to be attended by indigenous peoples from around the country and abroad.

CPA Secretary General Bestang Dekdeken said that this year’s World’s IP Day will be observed against the backdrop of intensified tyranny, criminalization, harassment and political killings of indigenous human rights defenders in the region.

She said they will drumbeat the killing of anti-dam activist Ricardo Mayumi, the filing of trumped-up cases against five Cordillera women development workers and human rights defenders as well as innocent civilians, and the the terrorist proscription of seven past and present leaders of the CPA as among the issues on Thursday.

The militarization and bombings of communities resisting development aggression, the intensified surveillance and harassment of the offices of regional and provincial IP organizations are included in their campaign, she added.

“Widespread terror against the indigenous peoples is unleashed by the government forces in connivance with big corporations to silence the strong opposition against development aggression or attacks on land, life and rights,” Dekdeken said.

The CPA also accused the Rodrigo Duterte government of being in cahoots with the mining and energy corporationsto destroy our ancestral lands and attack the indigenous peoples, with the help of foreign loans.

“The intensified militarization of communities such as in Besao, Mountain Province is resulting in human rights violations, including trumped-up charges against innocent civilians Edmond and Saturnino Dazon, and disruption of peoples’ livelihood,” Dekdeken added.

Members of the Women Resist Tyranny, meanwhile, expressed alarm over “intensified attacks” against human rights defenders in the Cordilleras.

Jeanette Ribaya-Cawiding, one of the seven CPA leaders named in a DOJ proscription list released last February, said that women activists and development workers have been at the receiving end of various trumped-up charges since last year.

This, she says, made it more difficult for the delivery of basic social services, projects and campaigns in remote communities which has suffered government neglect for too long now.

“What women development workers are guilty of is having the courage to fight for our children and our kakailian against the evils that try trespass our ancestral lands. We are guilty of carrying on the fight of the brave Kalinga, Ina Petra and Bontoc women who opposed the Chico dam, the women of Abra who fought the operation of Cellophil Resources in Abra, and the all the women warriors of Cordillera who resist national oppression,” Cawiding said.

The CPA shall launched its social media campaign dubbed #DEFENDCORDILLERA from August 8 to 10.

They said they enjoin the support of all Igorots around the world and advocates of indigenous peoples rights to post, write and share their solidarity through their social media accounts.

On thursday, a protest cultural march to Baguio’s Malcolm Square will also be held by mostly indigenous groups from all the six provinces of the region and Baguio City. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rice tariffication to impoverish Filipino farmers more, Congress warned

Research group IBON raised concern over the current move by the House of Representatives (HOR) to lift the quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports and instead apply a 35 percent tariff on unlimited rice importation.

This will practically decrease farm gate prices, said IBON, but not necessarily lower retail rice prices as government claims.

Rice prices have increased for six straight months in 2018 – by Php2.53 from Php37.83 to Php40.36 for regular milled rice and by Php1.61 from Php42.58 to Php44.19 for well milled rice.

Consequently, government called for additional importation ahead of the schedule for the minimum access volume (MAV), a commitment under the World Trade Organization (WTO), and for Congress to rush the rice tariffication bill to lower the price of rice and ensure support for farmers.

IBON however said that as it is, the prevailing farm gate price of Php21 does not provide sufficient income from the farmers’ average production cost of Php12 per kilo.

Computing the average yield of 80 cavans of palay from one hectare, which is equivalent to 4,000 kilos, the rice farmer earns only Php36,000 until the next cropping.

Each cropping commonly lasts for six months, which means that the farmer’s average monthly income of Php6,000 is 76 percent short of the estimated monthly family living wage (FLW) of Php25,454 for a family of five.

If higher importation will decrease farm gate prices, the already insufficient income of farmers will fall further, IBON said.

Retail prices, on the other hand, will not likely automatically go down with increased rice imports that supposedly stabilize supply.

The years of highest importation are also the years of highest price increases, IBON observed.

For instance, when rice retail prices increased by Php7.99 per kilo during the rice crisis in 2008, the country was already importing an average of 1.8 million metric tons (MMT) for three years, an unprecedented volume since 2000s.

When the country imported even more at a yearly average of 2.2 MMT from 2008-2010, retail prices continued to increase by an annual average of Php1.20 until 2016.

The farmers are themselves rice consumers, IBON said, and will be affected badly by lower income yet continuously increasing rice retail prices.

The group added that Congress may be misguided for placing hopes on unlimited rice importation for stabilizing supply and prices while the rice industry remains dominated by an alleged trading cartel that dictates rice prices. #

‘Cha-cha’ to worsen PH ruin, says group

By Melvin Gascon

Environment groups on Monday expressed concern over the proposed charter change by the Duterte government, saying the draft federal constitution bodes danger for the environment.

In a statement, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment rejected the bid to change the constitution and replace it with one that would supposedly allow foreigners and political dynasties to gain full control of the exploitation of the country’s mineral resources.

“We resoundingly reject Duterte’s Cha-cha which would only open up more of our natural resources, lands, and coastal areas to 100-percent privatization and foreign ownership,” said Leon Dulce, Kalikasan national coordinator.

Kalikasan cited provisions in the draft constitution which supposedly removed the exclusive right of Filipino-owned companies to exploit the country’s natural resources.

Under a proposed federal system of government, natural resources will supposedly be under the control of regional republics, which, Dulce said, will most surely fall into the hands of the regions’ political dynasties.

Only worse’

The group thumbed down the government’s ongoing efforts to address ecological problems, saying these were “not commensurate” with the rate of environmental destruction the country is facing.

On the contrary, the Duterte government is “encouraging policies which threaten to exacerbate these losses,” Kalikasan said.

The group also challenged the government to protest the reported destruction by Chinese fishermen of corals and other marine resources in the West Philippine Sea.

“We are with the 80 percent of the Filipino people opposed to the Duterte regime’s continuing inaction over China’s continuing occupation and reclamation efforts in our water (and the) 90 percent of Filipinos who strongly believe retaking the reefs and shoals turned into islands are on just grounds,” Kalikasan said.

They slammed the Duterte government’s centerpiece of its environmental programs, the rehabilitation of Boracay island, as “a fake program”, as this was carried out with no concrete strategic plans.

“No concrete action has been taken on the still-permitted mega-casinos and big resorts, and attempts at independent investigations into the island’s situation are being prevented,” Dulce said.

Kalikasan also assailed the alleged failure of President Duterte to make good his promise to make erring mining companies liable for their violations against the country’s environmental laws.

“Duterte’s hogwash rants against the big mines are being contradicted by the actions of his own Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) which is set to reopen and allow to operate at least 24 of the 28 big mines supposedly up for closure or suspension,” they said.

“More and more people will get to see for whom this regime indeed stands for: the mining oligarchs at the helm of his own (members of) Congress and Cabinet,” Kalikasan added. #

Sectors present issues on ‘HINDIpendence Day’

Representatives from various organizations laid out the different issues their “HINDIpendence Day” event would tackle on June 12, Philippine Independence Day. (Video by Louella Marie Ladaran)

NDFP celebrates 45th anniversary

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) celebrated its 45th year at the U.P. Bahay ng Alumni on April 24, 2018 attended by thousands of supporters calling for the resumption of peace talks.

NDFP senior adviser Luis Jalandoni and peace panelist Coni Ledsma talked with the local media on the prospects for the talks. 90-year old Ka Mameng Deunida graced the event.

Former NDFP peace negotiator Satur Ocampo stressed the need to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), advance the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), and continue the peace talks.

Chief political consultant Prof. Jose Maria Sison welcomed the possible resumption of talks as the Philippine revolution progresses against imperialism and local reaction amid the local and international crises. A parade of colors of the 18 NDFP allied organizations highlighted the celebration.

(Music: “Kapayapaan Ngayon Na”, among several cultural performances and video presentations at the event.)

Kodao’s ‘Itanong mo kay Prof’ to resume podcasting

“Itanong mo kay Prof’, Kodao’s groundbreaking podcast featuring Professors Jose Maria Sison and Sarah Raymundo will soon resume broadcasting.

The podcast presents commentary and analyses by Sison, considered by followers as the country’s top social scientist and intellectual.

University of the Philippines sociologist Raymundo conducts the interview.

“Itanong mo kay Prof’ was a popular source of audio interviews of Sison for various radio stations and programs across the Philippines.

Podcasting was suspended in 2016 due to Sison’s busy schedule following the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Compressed Work Week Bill: Pasado o Palyado?

Kasalukuyang dinidinig pa rin sa Senado ang bill hinggil sa “compressed work week”, isang iskema ng pleksibleng paggawa.

Anila, pabor daw ito sa mga manggagawa dahil mas magiging produktibo kung mas mahaba ang oras ng paggawa kada araw. Dapat ba silang sumang-ayon dito? Ano ba ang epekto nito sa kanilang sahod at kalusugan?

Isa ito sa mga isyu ng manggagawa sa papalapit na Mayo Uno.

Panoorin ang bidyo ng MayDay Multimedia:

 

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.