Posts

Financial strength, development weakness

By Sonny Africa

The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), presided by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, addressed the country on Tuesday. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III was a moment of lucidity especially compared to his principal’s rambling incoherence. Unfortunately, being lucid doesn’t necessarily mean being correct.

Resilient and the best?

Sec. Dominguez opened by rejoicing about the Philippines being ranked number six out of 66 countries in the world for “economic resiliency” and supposedly “the best in Southeast Asia for financial strength”. The compulsion to welcome any sort of accolade is understandable especially coming from The Economist, a well-regarded business newspaper. We’re so starved of good news that ranking highly on any international scale – like in boxing or beauty pageants – always gives an endorphin rush.

But then again, it’s probably useful to be a little more circumspect about the metrics used to say that the country is supposedly doing well. The four measures of ‘financial strength’ in the magazine’s report are of course fine as they are and include the most important usual measures of financial strength – public debt, foreign debt, cost of borrowing, and foreign exchange reserves. Hence Sec. Dominguez’s elation over our so-called financial strength and the country’s credit ratings.

But we should presumably see things from a real development perspective and beyond the shallow endorphin rush. In which case, the main problem is the confusion between means and ends. This is actually a recurring problem with our neoliberal economic managers in particular, and free market-biased economists, policy folks, and business minds in general.

The four metrics and credit ratings aren’t valuable in themselves but for how useful they are for the presumably real development ends of policymaking – enough jobs and livelihoods so that there are no poor Filipinos, and an equitable, stable, self-reliant and sustainable economy. It’s always been odd that whenever policymakers see a conflict between financial strength and social development, the latter always loses.

Which is also to highlight that while those measures are of course better favorable than unfavorable, supposedly favorable performance can actually be undesirable depending on the price paid to get them.

Financially strong for whom?

So, some thoughts on Sec. Dominguez’s self-congratulatory echoing of an assessment that the Philippines “continues to enjoy the confidence of the international community” – meaning all the foreign creditors and investors whose main interest in the country is that we keep borrowing and stay profitable for them, to put it bluntly.

First, “financial strength” is a misnomer if this is in any way taken to refer to the level of development of the Philippine economy or even of the government. The only underlying so-called strength these metrics refer to is the country’s perceived ability to pay its foreign debt obligations. There’s no direct correlation between such so-called financial strength and a country’s level of development – a quick scan of the ranking with countries like Botswana, the Philippines, Nigeria, Indonesia and India ranking high should make that easily clear.

Finance secretaries, central bankers, and other economic managers around the world are regularly feted as the World’s Best this or that by global finance magazines and organizations. Their countries, economies and governments correspondingly benefit from the halo effect and are projected as developing – even if, as is often the case, they’re not.

Second, it matters how “good performance” along these indicators was achieved. Put another way, what may be good for financial strength may be bad for development. As is often the case.

For instance, the Philippines has had comfortable foreign exchange reserves since the 1990s mainly because of remittances from the unprecedented export of cheap labor and overseas Filipino workers. We’re so used to it, but it’s worth keeping in mind that this enormous reliance on overseas work is at huge social costs for families and exposes the inability of the domestic economy to create enough jobs for its population. It also actually distorts the economy with a huge imbalance between domestic production and incomes and final household demand. Mammoth overseas remittances – not brilliant economic managers – are arguably the biggest factor in the country avoiding foreign debt payments crisis such as in the 1980s.

Public debt, including public foreign debt, has moderated and credit ratings also improved. However, this was done on the back of an increasingly regressive tax system that relies more and more on consumption taxes rather than on direct taxes. The regressive trajectory of the country’s tax system started in earnest with the introduction of value-added tax (VAT) in the 1980s then worsened with VAT expansion in the 2000s and 2010s, and with cuts in personal income, estate and donor taxes particularly through the regressive Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) reforms since 2018.

All this increases so-called financial strength by unduly burdening poor and low-income groups who make up the majority of the population, while making it easier for the narrow sliver of the richest in the country. Sec. Dominguez is unrepentant and noticeably still pushing for the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA) bill which, among others, lowers corporate income taxes – most of all to gain further favor from the international community.

Lastly, what is prevented by insisting on these measures as if they were ends in themselves also matters. The onset of COVID-19 and the national and global measures to control the pandemic have a tremendous impact on the economy. The Philippines and the world are in recession, and some are saying that the world is in its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression almost a hundred years ago.

Our current pandemic panic will eventually settle in the coming months, but the economy will still be stumbling. Worse, poverty and unemployment will be soaring. In such circumstances, it doesn’t make sense to be so insistent on narrow indicators of so-called financial strength to the point that urgent development measures are prevented.

Today, it’s incredibly important to put more money in people’s pockets both to help them maintain their welfare as well as to boost effective demand. It’s also important to support rural producers and small enterprises to ensure that the goods and services needed are still available. It’s also important to rapidly expand the public health system to deal with the pandemic and to meet the country’s vast COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 health problems.

Attending to all this means the government having to spend more as well as building up its capacity to intervene. Giving unwarranted emphasis on measures of ‘financial strength’ unfortunately sets artificial limits to the government meeting its human rights obligations to intervene on a massive scale.

To force an analogy, it’s like being in the hinterlands of the Philippines with an emergency case in the back of the car and the nearest hospital hours away. In this kind of situation, you don’t obsess about fuel-efficient driving or not red-lining the tachometer or limiting the car’s mileage – you step on the gas. Glorifying ‘financial strength’ is stepping on the brakes. #

= = = = = =

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

Why can’t food self-sufficiency be our new normal?

by Rosario Guzman

From the outset of the Duterte government’s military lockdown as its response to the spread of the coronavirus, it has directed the continuous flow of food commodities, along with medicines and other essentials. Food is inarguably essential to people’s survival during a pandemic and in its socioeconomic aftermath.

Government’s response however has fallen short in ensuring food production and supply. In fact, the military and authorities have controlled even the movements of the direct producers, both in tending their farms and selling their produce to the markets. Even activist volunteers who endeavored to bridge the farmers’ produce to urban consumers and to deliver relief goods to the farming families were detained and accused of violating quarantine rules and inciting to sedition.

The thing is, government has erased “food self-sufficiency” from its agricultural planning principles, now totally unheard of in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. It has instead focused on “economic opportunities” anchored on “market orientation”. The country’s lack of food self-sufficiency has made government’s coping with crises such as COVID-19 utterly chaotic.  It is the economy’s sinkhole that will make us fall deeper into a COVID-aggravated economic crisis.

Yet, eight weeks into the military lockdown, while it continues to wrestle with its insufficient health response, the Duterte government is talking of a “new normal” in agriculture. A closer look at the plan, however, reveals it to be a bunch of old habits that have hampered Philippine agriculture from achieving even the most basic goal of food security, much more self-sufficiency.

Pre-COVID crisis

Only eight weeks ago, the country’s “normal” agriculture was having its worst crisis in decades. The sector lost 1.4 million jobs in 2017-2019, the highest number in a three-year period in the last two decades. Its average annual growth rate of 2.1% in the same period is also lower than the 3.5% average in the last 70 years. The sector has also reached its smallest share in history at just 7.8% of the country’s gross domestic product.

In the first quarter of 2020, agriculture posted a 1.2% decline in output, finally collapsing after a momentary recovery from a decline in 2016 and a three-year slowdown thereafter.

Neoliberal policies that government has recklessly implemented are the culprit in agriculture’s near demise. Starting off with the evasion of free land distribution to tillers and rampant land conversions to favor finance capital, government has oriented agriculture towards commercialization, high value cash crops, inorganic chemicals dependency, paid-for irrigation, imported machinery, and trade liberalization. Agriculture is not a government priority, which is putting it mildly when the figures clearly manifest state neglect. The 3.5% average share of agriculture and agrarian reform in the 2017-2020 budgets is the lowest in two decades. In 2018, the Duterte administration delivered the coup de grace with the liberalization of rice imports.

Landowners and merchants have exploited this “normal” – that is the classic story why our food frontliners are the most destitute and hungry in Philippine society. And like adding insult to injury, the government points to farmers’ lack of capacity and technology (and interest to carry on) as the reason why food self-sufficiency is not feasible.

Government gross neglect

Then, COVID-19 happened. Government agencies could not even provide a full picture of our food buffer stocks. The Philippine Statistics Authority has stopped updating the rice inventory, for instance. This showed that, as of March 1, our rice stocks were enough for only 65 days, quite below the 90-day buffer. Vietnam’s announcement that it would implement a rice export ban added to Filipinos’ anxieties – Vietnam accounts for about 38% of Philippine rice imports.

A day before the declaration of a lockdown, euphemized as ‘enhanced community quarantine’ (ECQ), the Department of Agriculture (DA) made assurances that there was enough food for everyone in Metro Manila. The stocks of rice, vegetables and root crops, poultry and meat products, fish, and eggs were sufficient. It took time before some local government units started distributing relief foods, and even then mostly unhealthy canned sardines.

Farming has been disrupted. IBON estimates about 2.5 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk economically dislocated by the ECQ. The ECQ guidelines specifically allow establishments engaged in food production and trade but are painfully quiet about the farmers. Farmers’ organizations have said it succinctly – there is no work from home for them. They are subsistence farmers who will go hungry if they are not allowed to farm.

The Duterte government’s COVID response for agriculture under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act is to provide Php5,000 cash assistance each to only 591,246 beneficiaries under the Financial Subsidy to Rice Farmers (FSRF). But as of 28 April 2020, seven weeks into the lockdown, the Duterte government has served only 266,284 rice farmers.

Farming families may have been given cash assistance through the social amelioration program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which even then has only served 57% of its target 18 million beneficiaries as of 1 May 2020.

Granting that the rice farmers have indeed received subsidies, IBON estimates these to be equivalent to only Php80-119 per day over 49 days of lockdown, or less than one-fourth of the already low official poverty line of Php353 per day for a family of five.

Government’s meager and much-delayed response to the pandemic is pushing the poor and vulnerable farmers and fisherfolk deeper into poverty and hunger, which gets more and more morally unacceptable at this point in our crisis.

Photo by Lito Ocampo

Neoliberal inertia

The DA is among the first agencies to talk of a new normal. We should rethink and restructure our policies and practices, said DA secretary William Dar. But the DA’s emphasis on the continuation of neoliberalism especially under a global economy that is about to plunge into a grave depression cannot be missed. The Duterte government cannot fake a new normal narrative when its transition plan remains neoliberal.

The budget priority for the DA to transition to its “new normal” remains for cash assistance instead of production support. This is under the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RFFA), which is in line with the implementation of the Duterte administration’s rice liberalization law. The RFFA targets to provide Php5,000 to rice farmers who are tilling 0.5-2 hectares. The FSRF is in addition to RFFA and is packaged as the COVID-19 response, which targets rice farmers who are tilling one hectare and below. The total target beneficiaries of both packages are 1.2 million rice farmers nationwide, but there are 2.5 million rice farmers in the country who are definitely dislocated by rice liberalization.

The program priority is a food resiliency action plan that is aimed at an unhampered flow of food and agri-fishery products. It is anchored on the aforementioned cash assistance as consumption stimulus and market links such as the Kadiwa program, market satellites and market on wheels. In short, it is anchored on trade, again not so much on strengthening farmers’ production. The plan is also about popularizing urban and backyard gardening, which is overly focusing on individual consumers to go on survival mode instead of improving the production and conditions of farming communities in the real spirit of bayanihan.

The DA has proposed to implement nationwide the “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS) Laban sa Covid-19” or what it dubs as Plant, Plant, Plant program to “increase the country’s food adequacy level”, with an approved Php31-billion supplemental budget. But this will be done by intensifying the use of quality seeds, inputs, modern technologies – which have been proven from experience to only add to the farmers’ debt burdens. The DA unfortunately has perennially acted as a marketing agent and endorsed the sale of seeds, inputs and farm machinery of big agribusiness to Filipino farmers, while it has shunned the promotion of agroecological practices.

The Duterte government still emphasizes that in order for agri-fishery to grow and cope with emergencies such as pandemics, the sector needs to attract more investments and resources and partner with the private sector. And there we are back on the neoliberal road.

Photo by RB Villanueva

Build the momentum

Surely, food self-sufficiency can be our new normal. But first in the face of a pandemic, farmers need fast and sufficient relief assistance, both for their daily needs and health services and as production subsidy. In the same manner that urban consumers should be relieved of paying their bills during COVID-19, farmers should have been long ago condoned of their mounting debts from unpayable land amortizations, loans from unscrupulous traders, and even from availing of government lending programs. Then, farmers and fisherfolk should be allowed to go to their farms and on fishing trips and deliver their produce to the markets.

But in the long-term, food self-sufficiency is about the assertion of an entire range of human rights. The state should recognize the right to food, the right to produce food, the right to till the land, and to have control of the land that farmers have been tilling for generations. Farmers have the right to choose their own production system, so as not to be dictated by the whims of the market and made vulnerable to market vagaries. We can envision an agriculture that is moving away from the profit-oriented concept of value chain that disregards the small producers and their environment, and move towards sustainable farming practices.

In the end, we can build the momentum for food self-sufficiency only from the farmers’ struggle and movement for genuine agrarian reform. And that should be our new normal. #

= = = =

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

After 7 weeks of lockdown: Meager cash aid puts households below official poverty line

by IBON Media & Communications

Research group IBON said that 97% of 11.4 million served beneficiaries are barely surviving the lockdown with cash aid that is way below the official poverty line.

Meanwhile, 37% of 18 million low-income households are still waiting to receive social amelioration after seven weeks of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

The group said that, already so late in the game, the government urgently needs to pick up its pace if it really intends to aid millions of struggling Filipino families.

Based on Pres. Duterte’s latest report to Congress, IBON said that the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on for too long and is still insufficient, pushing many vulnerable households into deeper poverty.

A total of 11.4 million beneficiaries were reported to have been given social amelioration from various government agency programs.

Of this, IBON estimates that 11 million or 97% of served beneficiaries have received emergency subsidies equivalent to just Php80-119 per day over 49 days of lockdown.

This is as little as just one-fourth (23%) of the very low official poverty line of about Php353 per day for a family of five.

These include 4Ps beneficiaries (3.8 million) that got only Php89 per day of cash aid; non-4Ps beneficiaries (6.4 million) with Php119/day, DOLE-CAMP workers (522,855) with Php102/day; and TUPAD informal workers (254,071) with just Php80/day.

PUV/TNVS drivers and overseas workers supposedly received relatively higher support of some Php8,000 and Php10,000 respectively. However, these are also still below the official poverty line of Php10,727 monthly on average nationwide.

Meanwhile, there are still millions of households that have not received promised emergency subsidies for more than a month-and-a-half. If just 11.4 million beneficiaries were given assistance, this means that 6.6 million or 37% of the targeted 18 million low-income families still have not gotten anything.

IBON said that government’s laggard and militaristic response to the pandemic has left millions of Filipino families struggling to meet their basic needs. Emergency subsidies during the lockdown are not enough.

The government should ensure that all families needing assistance are given sufficient support not just to recover from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 lockdown but also to survive the economic crisis that has set in. #

4Ps – Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program; DOLE – Department of Labor and Employment; CAMP – COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program; TUPAD – Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers program; PUV – public utility vehicle; TNVS – transport network vehicle services.

= = = =

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

ECQ disrupts livelihood of 19M: Millions of working people left behind by poor gov’t response

by IBON Media

Research group IBON estimates that the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) has disrupted the livelihoods of 18.9 million working people. Some 7.7 million working Filipinos and their families have not received emergency subsidies and are being pushed into deeper poverty, and that what support has been given has not even been enough to cover the almost seven week-long military lockdown.

The group said that the Duterte administration’s poor response is causing widespread suffering and passing the burden of containment onto the poorest and most vulnerable.

IBON estimates, using 2018 and 2019 labor force data, that 18.9 million working Filipinos or 45% of 42.4 million employed have been displaced by the ECQ. ‘Displaced’ refers to job losses, part-time work, reduced pay, and other disruptions in livelihoods especially by informal earners.

Most of these are: vendors, shopkeepers, and sales persons in the wholesale and retail trade subsector (4.4 million); construction workers (2.7 million); farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk (2.5 million); pedicab, tricycle, jeepney and truck drivers and mechanics in the transport sector (1.8 million); manufacturing workers (1.5 million); and hotel and restaurant employees (1 million). The balance is largely in other sectors especially services.

The government promised to give 18 million households assistance through Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department of Agriculture (DA) programs.

The DSWD Social Amelioration Program (SAP) is the largest program, supposedly reaching 18 million, but where beneficiaries of similar DOLE and other programs will no longer be eligible. The DOLE’s programs include CAMP for formal workers (650,000 beneficiaries), TUPAD for informal workers (235,948) and AKAP for overseas Filipino workers (135,720). The DA’s RFFA and FSRF programs target 591,246 beneficiaries.

A month-and-a-half into the ECQ, IBON said that the government has only been able to give emergency subsidies to 11.2 million beneficiaries according to latest data available. These are from the DSWD (10.2 million), DOLE-CAMP (407,3000), DOLE-TUPAD (275,0000), DOLE-AKAP (70,000), and DA (354,875).

This means that, even according to government targets, there are 6.8 million beneficiaries without cash assistance to compensate for the lost income of families or their breadwinners who were displaced due to the lockdown.

Measured against the 18.9 million estimated displaced by IBON, 7.7 million working Filipinos and their families still need to be reached.

The cash assistance given has also been very slow and much less than needed to compensate for the month-and-a-half disruption in livelihoods.

The government’s official poverty line is an average of Php10,727 for the whole country but beneficiaries have been getting much less than this.

According to the president’s 5th report to Congress on the government’s COVID-19 response, the average assistance received is mostly very low: 4Ps beneficiaries (Php4,392); non-4Ps (Php5,771); PUVs/TNVS drivers (Php8,000); workers under CAMP (Php5,000); and informal workers under TUPAD (Php2,611). Reported aid is only relatively large for overseas workers under AKAP (Php10,000) and farmers (Php11,971).

IBON said that working Filipinos are a key force in helping the country overcome and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Duterte administration should give their full support to and aid those displaced. It should immediately remove bureaucratic hurdles to accessing social amelioration and address inefficiencies. It also needs to ensure sufficient funds to cover all vulnerable Filipinos. Also, government assistance should not only be given for the duration of the lockdown but also until households have recovered from weeks of lost wages and incomes, IBON said. #

= = = = =

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

Lola, nananawagan ng tulong

Habang nagko-cover ang Kodao ng pag-aresto ng 18 na aktibista sa Barangay Central, Quezon City noong Biyernes, Mayo 1, lumapit ang isang lola at nakiusap na i-bidyo ang kanyang paghingi ng tulong.

Nais ni Lola Marietta “Nene” Benig ng tulong upang makabili ng kanyang gamot, partikular sa Department of Social Welfare and Development at sa Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs ng Lungsod Quezon. “Nais ko pa pong mabuhay,” ani Lola Nene.

Sa mga nais tumulong, siya ay nakatira sa No. 4, Maparaan Street, Barangay Central, Quezon City. Ang kanyang numero ay nasa dulo ng bidyo. (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas)

Gov’t should deliver cash subsidies it owes 3.8M poor families in GCQ areas

by IBON Media

The government announced that it will ‘reprioritize’ social amelioration to only the areas retained under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and will ‘discontinue’ in declared general community quarantine (GCQ) areas.

But research group IBON said that some 3.8 million* vulnerable families still without assistance are at risk of slipping into deeper poverty should the government make the shift.

The group said that government should be sensitive to the plight of all still un-served and now struggling beneficiaries by making good on its promise to immediately distribute emergency subsidies.

The Duterte administration declared that the extended ECQ – previously set to end on April 30 – will be again extended to May 15 in areas classified as “high risk”.

The areas observed to still have many COVID-19 cases are Benguet, Pangasinan, Central Luzon except Aurora, Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Cebu, Ilo-ilo, Bacolod City, and Davao City.

The rest of the country – considered “low risk” and “moderate risk” areas – will be under a GCQ. Face masks and physical distancing will still be required, but work and transportation are expected to re-operate under more relaxed quarantine.  

IBON observed that despite Pres. Duterte being granted emergency powers by Congress, promised financial assistance has not been expediently delivered to the targeted 18 million poor families affected by the Luzon-wide ECQ.

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) secretary Rolando Bautista said that GCQ areas will no longer receive cash subsidies due to limited social amelioration program (SAP) resources as per National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) recommendation. 

Though the DSWD recently clarified that beneficiaries in the GCQ areas will still receive the first tranche of subsidies, IBON said that overall, government should stop making excuses on top of a huge SAP backlog.

The group said that government should provide humane and compassionate response and it can start by immediately dissolving all bureaucratic hurdles to deliver promised cash assistance to the millions of unserved beneficiaries including those in GCQ areas.

Relaxing activities in areas previously locked down does not offset the six-week impact of the ECQ on the incomes and livelihoods of the most vulnerable families, said the group.

Based on DSWD data, IBON noted, some 1.3 million beneficiaries or one of three target SAP beneficiaries in Luzon GCQ areas alone remain unserved as of April 29.

Meanwhile, 8.4 million households across the country are reported to have not yet received any emergency assistance.

Of these, 4.6 million households are in the retained ECQ areas and the remainder 3.8 million households are under the downgraded GCQ areas by May 1.

Also, some Php50.3 billion in SAP funds have yet to be paid out nationally, Php19 billion of which is for GCQ areas. 

IBON hit government’s indifference to the plight of the poor. The group observed that government was able to afford a one-and-a-half-month delay in emergency aid to its poorest constituents and is now deciding to even ration it.

On the other hand, the government guarantees resources for business-inclined Build, Build, Build infrastructure program and prompt debt servicing.

This is only exposing the Duterte administration’s inclination to scrimp on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in order to survive COVID-19’s impact while saving the economy for big business.

The delayed response and the move now to even get away with it has only highlighted that the Duterte administration’s approach has only been militaristic more than humanitarian, IBON said.

The nation’s chance to survive the health crisis and the deterioration of the country’s economic crisis as aftermath is even compounded by the need to surpass such callous governance. #

* DSWD SAP data was noted for national, ECQ areas (based on announcement by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on April 30, 2020). Nationwide GCQ data for unserved beneficiaries was derived by subtracting ECQ areas data for unserved beneficiaries from national data for unserved beneficiaries.

= = = =

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

On 7th week of lockdown: 10M worker and informal earner households still waiting for emergency subsidies

by IBON Media

A month-and-a-half into lockdown, millions of workers and informal earners grapple in uncertainty as the government’s social amelioration program (SAP) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) aid are failing to reach them, said research group IBON.

Six-out-of-ten or majority of government’s targeted beneficiary households have still not received the promised emergency subsidies while funding for DOLE assistance programs has run out. The sluggish response and lack of funds highlights the State’s continued indifference, said the group.

IBON said that the sorry state of emergency relief shows how even the granting of emergency powers to the president has failed to swiftly deliver promised aid to the 18 million poorest households. This includes millions of workers in the formal and informal sectors who lost incomes and livelihoods under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

The latest Department of Social Welfare (DSWD) data shows only 8.1 million SAP beneficiaries were assisted, which means that 9.9 million, or a glaring 55% of the target 18 million low-income households, still await emergency cash aid into the seventh week of lockdown.

IBON said that aid is long overdue for millions, and that the 8.1 million households helped should also be getting their second tranche of subsidies already due to the lockdown extension.

The government’s other assistance programs do not add much more.

As of April 26, DOLE reported giving cash aid to only 345,865 workers, which is just 3.2% of 10.7 million workers estimated by IBON.

Meanwhile, only 259,449 informal workers benefited from DOLE’s cash-for-work program which is just 5% of 5.2 million informal workers.

Only 40,418 PUV and TNVS drivers have received emergency subsidies – with no new recipients in the last two weeks.

The DOLE also reported that just 49,040 affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been approved to receive Php10,000 cash assistance out of the 233,015 that have so far applied, as of April 26.

The department said that the number of OFWs requesting aid exceeds the 150,000 targeted by the government. The Php1.5 billion funds under the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program for this will not be enough to cover all OFWs needing assistance.

IBON also noted that to date, only 354,875 rice farmers or just 3.7% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk have been given cash assistance by the Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, only 6,403 employers have been able to apply for assistance on behalf of 130,188 employees under the Department of Finance’s Small Business Wage Subsidy program.

This is just 3.8% of the 3.4 million small business employee target, and actual payout will only start on May 1.

The poorest Filipinos continue to go hungry and fend for themselves amid over-delayed social amelioration, said IBON.

To make matters worse, the Duterte administration has announced that low-income households living in areas where the ECQ has been lifted will no longer receive emergency subsidies.

IBON said with no other means to help compensate for their lost wages and incomes due to weeks under lockdown, many vulnerable families will be pushed into deeper poverty.

IBON said each week under lockdown further exposes the Duterte administration’s pro-big business and militaristic approach in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If it continues to ignore the humanitarian crisis and not genuinely and substantially address the socioeconomic needs of affected Filipinos, many more will go hungry, human rights violations will rise and there will be even more unrest. #

= = = = =

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

On the sixth week of lockdown: Millions of Filipinos going hungry, suffer amid worst mass unemployment in history

By IBON Media

Research group IBON said that millions of Filipinos are going hungry and suffering the worst mass unemployment in the country’s history as the sixth week of lockdown begins.

The group said that government relief efforts, especially to the poorest Filipinos, is sluggish and minimal.

The Duterte administration is not giving emergency relief enough attention and appears more focused on using “martial law-like” measures to contain mounting social unrest, said the group.

Pres. Duterte’s latest report to Congress shows how government’s socioeconomic response is still dragging and meager, even in achieving its already low targets. Even with emergency powers granted to the President, bureaucratic hurdles and inefficiencies continue to stall urgent relief efforts. 

IBON said that there has been little improvement in the distribution of promised emergency subsidies.

The group noted that just about 4.3 million or less than one in four (24%) of the government’s targeted 18 million low income families have received cash assistance.

Contrary to the promise of supposedly up to Php5,000-8,000 in aid each, recipients instead received just an average of Php4,392 each.

No additional Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries have been given assistance other than the 3.7 million families reported three weeks ago.

Also, just 617,141 more non-4Ps beneficiaries have been served since then.

Non-4Ps beneficiaries apparently include the previously reported 40,418 drivers of public utility vehicles and transport network vehicle service; this is only 9% of the 435,000 drivers nationwide targeted for cash aid.

This means that as many as 13.6 million or 76% of the 18 million poorest families have not received emergency subsidies and are going hungry, said the group.

IBON said that millions of households are at risk of hunger because of the poor reach of emergency subsidies and even of government’s other financial assistance programs.

The Department of Labor Employment (DOLE) stopped accepting applications due to the depletion of the Php1.6 billion fund for its COVID-19 Adjustment Measure Program (CAMP).

Only 264,154 formal workers have received Php5,000 each in financial assistance as of April 19.

This is just 2.5% of the IBON-estimated 10.7 million workers in the country, a large majority of whom are affected by the lockdown.

The group said that it is unclear if affected workers unable to avail from CAMP will now be shouldered by the Department of Finance’s Small Business Wage Subsidy Program.

Not all formal workers in need meet the criteria of being employed in small businesses and registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Social Security System.

Meanwhile, just 235,949 informal workers were assisted by DOLE, which is still only 3.4% of 5.2 million non-agricultural informal earners estimated by IBON. They received just an average of Php2,300 each.

IBON said that financial assistance for farmers and fisherfolk is also slow and negligible.

The Department of Agriculture has so far reported giving assistance to 300,994 farmers under the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance Program and 52,043 farmers under the Financial Subsidy for Rice Farmers Program.

This means only a total of 353,037 farmers have been given subsidies or just 3.6% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk as per IBON estimates.

IBON expressed concern that the government is more focused on using a militarist approach instead of swiftly resolving inefficiencies and ensuring that emergency subsidies are given to all vulnerable households. Government’s neglect could lead to more and more Filipinos violating quarantine as they seek ways to feed their families.

If the government gives more emphasis on “martial-law like” measures instead of being more humane and sensitive to the plight of poor and low-income families under lockdown, millions of families will go hungry amid more human rights violations and mounting social unrest, said the group. #

= = = = =

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

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

by IBON Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by IBON Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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