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Duterte’s SONA is a pack of boasts and lies – Filipinos in Asia Pacific

26 July 2020

Reference: Dolores Balladares-Pelaez
Spokesperson, MIGRANTE Asia-Pacific
Tel. (852) 9747-2986

Filipino migrants in Asia-Pacific will not be silenced as Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s trumpets boasts and lies in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SoNA).

Four years into the Duterte presidency, Filipinos are now fighting a regime that multiplies the difficulties the people face with the pandemic. We have had enough.

For the Duterte regime, overseas Filipinos are but cash cows as shown by its drive to make PhilHealth mandatory to Filipinos abroad, at the same time as it increases the premium to be paid. The mandatory initial payment is Php2,400, after which the amount will depend on the monthly salary, with some annual payments amounting to Php 21,600 in 2020 and will increase dramatically in the coming years.

Scores of migrant Filipino workers have complained about this, stating that this is a requirement before they could leave. OFWs are resisting to pay this as PhilHealth is useless in our places of employment, with work contracts having insurance provisions. With serious allegations of almost Php1 billion questionable transactions in PhilHealth, there is a growing fear that the hard-earned money of OFWs will go to fatten the pockets of corrupt officials.

Aside from the mandatory PhilHealth contribution, there are other government exactions, including the Social Security System (SSS) contribution, which is another requirement for the superfluous Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). The fees charged by the SSS, PAG-IBIG, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and other fees migrant Filipinos oppose to, are mere money-making schemes, as these fees do not translate into better services for migrant Filipinos, our families, or the Filipino people in general and milking the OFWs dry.

Speak Out protest in Hongkong (Video from MIGRANTE Asia Pacific)

The problems continue to pile up. The response of the Duterte government to the COVID-19 crisis has made life for both OFWs and their families even more miserable. From the start, it did not refuse people from coming into the country. When it finally did, it also prevented OFWs, residents, and students from returning to the places of their employment. This resulted in OFWs being terminated by their employers for failure to report back to work.

Other migrant Filipinos who were able to stay in their places of employment in the region faced other problems. Some were overworked, abused, or incapable of getting their own supplies for prevention of COVID 19. However, the embassies or consulates began lessening their working days, such as in Japan and Thailand. We were left to fend for ourselves, even with the Philippine government blaming migrant Filipinos for resorting to eating trash to survive, or selling their blood to survive. Now, we are facing the repatriation of 167,000 OFWs, the funds for which may dry up by August. As of last month, only 33% have been repatriated. By 2021, an estimated 10 million OFWs might be displaced.

To top it all, majority of OFWs did not receive the AKAP DOLE was supposedly distributing. Our families back home are also exempted from receiving financial aid from the government as they have OFWs for relatives. This is aside from the problem of how our families can maintain their daily sustenance, with the lockdown the Philippine government imposed on ordinary citizens (but not on government officials), and the government unable to consistently deliver meaningful assistance. As of this month, the Philippine government has secured US$5 billion for COVID-19 response, with Php374.9 billion has already been released, yet it has reached a dismally small number of Filipinos. Certainly, it has reached a minority of Filipinos in Asia-Pacific, as OFWs continue to complain of the inaccessibility of the assistance. The same can be said of Filipinos still in the Philippines.

The situation of migrants has always been miserable, but it is worse now due to COVID-19 and the Philippine government’s ineptitude. And now that more and more people are clamoring for better social services, wiser spending of government funds, punishment of government officials violating the lockdown, the anti-terror act (ATA) was enacted. With the anti-terror act in place, it will embolden government officials in attacking just about anyone who even merely complains about government services. We remember the case of Taiwan OFW Elanel Egot Ordidor, expressing her frustration with the government’s services, faced a cyber-libel case. The government eventually backed down due to public outcry.

Attacks on press freedom have intensified, as even mainstream media is being targeted. Independent and critical press, who reports on corruption and bad practices of governance, is seen as thorn on the side, and Duterte wants it to be muzzled and dealt with. If the Duterte government is going after the big, established institution, what is in store for us ordinary citizens?

Speak Out protest in Aotearoa (Video from MIGRANTE Asia Pacific)

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict will be even more aggressive in terrorist-tagging the progressive movement overseas, which it has been doing even before the ATA. Cases of this has been seen in the region, specifically Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, wherein those who are expressing their dissent to government policies are vilified and tagged as terrorists.

With the ATA in force, it will also be used against critics of the intrusion of the imperialists US and China into Philippine territory. Duterte allowed the full foreign ownership of national resources and operation of utilities. He made a 180 degree turn on his pronouncement to terminate the US Visiting Forces Agreement, after much ado due to the cancellation of his lackey’s visa. He clings to the US, and uses the increased aggressiveness of China’s occupation of the Scarborough Shoal as the reason to maintain the unjust treaty. But it is mere posturing, as he still allows Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to operate without paying taxes. If anything, he is afraid of the people’s ire, and is therefore willing to continue to be both US and China’s lapdog, in an attempt to some semblance of protection. As Duterte clings to both due to his waning power, so will protests rain.

Hence, the Asia-Pacific Filipino migrants refuse to be silenced. We, along with the rest of the Filipino people, live the reality of having a Duterte regime: Hungry, miserable, but angry! Enough with the sweet lies. Migrant Filipinos, let us Speak Out Na! Let us oust Duterte now!

Duterte’s Midterm: Change for the Worse

Research group IBON said that the Duterte administration is being dishonest in its recent pronouncements about high growth, reducing unemployment, and reducing poverty.

The group said that the government is taking liberties with statistics as part of its propaganda campaign that President Duterte is keeping his promise of real change.

In its pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) forum, the Department of Finance (DOF) hailed the Duterte administration for its achievements during its first three years in terms of “rapid economic expansion”, “the lowest [unemployment] in 40 years”, “alleviating poverty”, and Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law “benefiting 99 percent of taxpayers”.

According to IBON executive director Sonny Africa however, growth has actually been slowing since the start of the Duterte 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.

IBON also pointed out that the growth was slowing even before the budget impasse and election ban on infrastructure spending.

Africa added that the economic managers are being deceitful in claiming that the 5.1% unemployment rate in April 2019 is the lowest unemployment in four decades.

He pointed out that the DOF is well aware that the change in the official definition of unemployment in 2005 drastically reduced the reported unemployment rate and number of unemployed which makes the April 2019 figure incomparable with the 25 years of data before 2005.

On the contrary, IBON said, 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 high unemployment 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 million employed in 2016 to 41.2 million in 2018.

This is the worst job generation in the post-Marcos period.

Poverty statistics meanwhile show seemingly less poor Filipinos only because of government’s very low poverty threshold, said Africa.

The government’s Php69.50 daily per capita poverty threshold and only Php48.60 subsistence or food threshold in the first semester of 2018 are absurdly low and not conceivably enough to meet decent minimum standards for food, shelter, transportation, health care, and education, stressed Africa.

He said that this leads to a gross underestimation of the real number of poor Filipinos.

Finally, Africa clarified that it is very deceitful to claim that TRAIN benefited 99% of taxpayers.

The Duterte administration wants to make it appear that 99% of Filipinos benefited from TRAIN but the truth is that only 5.5 million personal income taxpayers with tax cuts out of 23 million Filipino families gain from TRAIN.

The poorest 17.2 million or eight out of 10 Filipino families will pay TRAIN’s higher consumption taxes but without any personal income tax gains to offset these.

The government is trying to distract the public from how a disproportionate part of TRAIN revenues come from the poorest majority of Filipinos due to additional levies on consumption goods including petroleum products and sugar-sweetened beverages, said Africa.

IBON warned the public to be more discerning about the government claims and not to take these at face value.

Yet the country can only start to take steps to real solutions when there is more candor and honesty, rather than self-serving propaganda, about the real problems the economy and the people face. #

Stop the Attacks — United People’s SONA 2018

The broadest opposition forces ever assembled against the Duterte administration launched their own United People’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, 2018 as Pres. Duterte delivers his third SONA before a divided Congress rife in factional power struggles backed by competing big businesses, domestic and foreign. With various performances, protesters slammed Duterte’s violations of people’s rights, called to stop the attacks and demanded justice.

Groups announce People’s United SONA

Various ectors announce their participation in their so-called United People’s SONA to protest what they call President Rodrigo Duterte’s crimes against the people.

Saying they will be joined by a wider spectrum of political forces and individuals in their massive protest action on July 23, the forces also said they want an end to Duterte’s tyranny.

#BabaeAko to hold AMaSONA protest on July 23

By April Burcer

The #BabaeAko campaign announced a protest march on July 23 dubbed AMaSONA (Anti-Misogyny Activists sa SONA) to declare their stand against sexism, misogyny and other acts of injustices.

The announcement was made by a panel composed of Jean Enriquez of World March of Women, actor Mae Paner, Norma Dollaga of Association of Women in Theology, Gert Libang of Gabriela and Anelle Sabanal of Christians for Life and Dignity at a press conference in Bantayog ng mga Bayani Friday morning.

The panel shared women’s issues including the effect of the government’s cancellation of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on women, prostitution, attacks and harassment on activist women, price increases and the suffering of women the ongoing extra-judicial killings.

The #BabaeAko movement, which started as a social media campaign to denounce attacks and abuses against women they said are led by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

The campaign launched in May has since grown to become one of the most influential people on the internet according to a recent Time Magazine article.

Senator Leila de Lima, jailed by the Duterte government in what many say is an act of vengeance, expressed her support to the movement.

“To my fellow #AMaSONA, as women and leaders, we have a lot on our plate –not just in the fight against misogyny, but also in addressing other issues of today,” de Lima said in a statement read at the forum.

“I am calling not only on the women but also to the Filipino people who value our freedom and democracy to stand against these attacks and to help our fellow citizens who were tricked into believing Duterte’s lies,” her message read.

The AMaSONA march will join the United People’s SONA on the day of President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address. #

Destroyer of worlds

In a far from modest and less than truthful description of itself, the Philippine government, said a Malacanang statement, is “headed by someone who has strong political will, decisive leadership, and compassion for his fellow men,” hence the “fruitful” first two years of the six-year Rodrigo Duterte presidency.

How “fruitful” have the past two years of the Duterte regime been? Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in the same statement that the government is winning the “war” on drugs, as evidenced by, he said, the number of police anti-drug operations (91,704 from July 2016 to March 2018), the arrest of 123,648 suspected drug pushers and users, the dismantling of drug dens and laboratories, and the government’s seizure of billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs and laboratory equipment. There’s also the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s (PDEA) declaration of over 6,000 barangay as being “drug free.”

In addition are the “economic feats” — Roque’s words — of the administration and its “independent foreign policy.” The first includes the 6.7 percent growth of the country’s gross domestic product (GRP) in 2017, while the second has “resulted in billions worth of investments that are expected to create thousands of jobs for Filipinos.”

Those “feats,” however, are not of any consequence to the imperative of ending the poverty of nearly 25 percent of Filipinos to which Mr. Duterte said he was committed. Only one percent of the population benefit from economic growth, while the remaining 99 million Filipinos don’t because of the skewed system of wealth distribution that’s one of the worst in Asia. Rooted in the archaic land tenancy system that has defied abolition for centuries, that system has kept millions desperately poor.

But Roque’s statement was nevertheless echoed by former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, who said — without, however, specifying anything — that Mr. Duterte has made good on all his election promises except three. Special Assistant to the President Bong Go said basically the same thing, but was similarly short on the specifics.

None of these three regime worthies mentioned Mr. Duterte’s pre-election promise to enrich funeral parlor owners by killing 100,000 drug pushers and users, which, with four more years to go in his term, he can handily fulfill, 20,000 mostly poor Filipinos including women and children having been killed by the police and their surrogate assassins in only two years since 2016.

Roque’s celebration of his president’s “political will” and “decisive leadership” no doubt refers to his being true to that threat. It certainly doesn’t apply to his promise to pursue “an independent foreign policy,” despite the pledges of billions in investments and aid he has managed to extract from various countries, primarily China.

Those pledges — most are yet to materialize — hardly qualify as either proof or fruit of an independent anything. China’s promise of high interest loans are in fact a trap likely to condemn succeeding generations to indebtedness. Meanwhile, despite his early rants against American intervention and its sordid human rights record in the Philippines, his promise to end Philippine involvement in US war games, and his declaration of “separation” from the US, the country remains bound to US economic and strategic interests. The Mutual Defense Treaty is still in force, and so are the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) despite Mr. Duterte’s control over the majority in Congress, which could have enabled him to have all three abrogated.

As glaring as that reality is, even more flagrantly obvious is Mr. Duterte’s downplaying, and at times even justifying, Chinese imperialism’s brazen violation of Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, where it has built military bases on the artificial islands it has constructed within the the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, barred Filipino fisherfolk from their traditional fishing grounds, and even seized the catch of those who had initially managed to evade its coast guard cutters.

Mr. Duterte’s “compassion for his fellow men” is as mythical as his “independent” foreign policy. It apparently doesn’t include the poor, the marginalized, women, priests, and the Lumad against whom his various other “wars” have been directed.

An Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines and La Salle University study has documented and established the anti-poor character of the killings that have primarily characterized the misnamed “war” against drugs, which has spared drug lords while focusing on small-time drug pushers. Mr. Duterte has even promoted government officials suspected of involvement in the P6.4 billion drug smuggling scandal, while reappointing others he had fired for corruption or made to resign, demonstrating thereby how serious his pledge to end both the drug problem and government corruption has been.

Over the last two years, instead of making an alternative world possible through the initiation of the social and economic reforms the country so desperately needs, Mr. Duterte has laid waste the world — as insecure, problematic and terrifying as it already was — of the widows and orphans of the breadwinners murdered in the course of his selectively anti-poor campaign against illegal drugs. A humanitarian crisis created by those murders is developing, as thousands of wives and children are made even more destitute by the loss of their husbands and fathers.

His order to arrest “istambay” is similarly savaging entire communities. Potentially productive young men — those looking for work but who are unable to find it, as well as those between jobs — are being hauled off to prison together with ne’er-do-wells and petty thieves. Their families are in the process deprived of the help and support of their sons who, among the poor, are their best hopes for survival in a country where the loss or absence of a family member can mean the difference between having food on the table or starving.

As distressing as all of these are, what’s likely to be one of Mr. Duterte’s lasting impacts on Philippine society is his relentless assault on the Constitution and the system of checks and balances which has made authoritarian rule beguiling and democracy repugnant to the uninformed. There is as well his and his minions’ demonization of the media, of the Church, of dissenting and critical women, and of individual clergymen in his apparent belief that they’re potential or actual instruments in a conspiracy to remove him from the power he claims to disdain but in reality so desperately craved.

His rants, ravings, profanities and tirades against critics, human rights defenders, clerics, women and God Himself have further divided a society already fragmented by economic, social and political inequality, and have made rational and informed discourse the subject of scorn among those sectors of the population that need it most. Mr. Duterte’s enshrinement of abuse, impunity, violence, lawlessness, and intimidation as State policies and as substitutes for informed debate and discussion is creating a generation of cynical, ignorant, brutal and mindless citizens and civilian and military bureaucrats who even now venerate, propagate and uphold the very opposite of the values of respect for others and the truth, and the right to free expression necessary in the making of a society of equals in which no one need sleep in fear or under bridges. This is how “fruitful” his first two years in power have been. #

First published in BusinessWorld Photo from PCOO.

Teachers call for 30K salary increase

By April Burcer

Despite the rains, teachers from all over Metro Manila marched Wednesday afternoon (June 4) on EDSA to call for an across-the-board salary increase for mentors and employees in the education sector.

After their General Representatives’ Assembly earlier organized by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers-National Capital Region (ACT-NCR) Union, the teachers also demanded higher education budget and bigger chalk budget, among other issues.

The teachers’ assembly called for an increase in the monthly salary of non-teaching personnel to 16,000 and new teachers to 30,000 as proposed in House Bill 7211 filed by the ACT Teachers Party in Congress.

Joselyn Martinez, ACT-NCR Union President, criticized President Rodrigo Duterte for going back on his promise to increase teachers’ salaries even as he doubled the minimum wages of police and military personnel.

Duterte announced last month that he will increase the salary of teachers, although it will not be as substantial as those received by police and military personnel “because the government cannot afford it.”

ACT said teachers have only recently received a meager increase of 551 pesos per month under Executive Order (EO) No. 201 signed by President Benigno Aquino in 2016 that mandated a four-year pay increase for public sector workers.

ACT Secretary-General Raymond Basilio said that the Office of the President, Vice-President, senators and cabinet secretaries, on the other hand, have enjoyed the highest salary increases under EO 201.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier declared that a special salary increase for teachers will only happen on 2020 when EO 201 is no longer in effect.

“They say we don’t have enough money for the teacher’s salary increase, but they have more than enough budget to pay for our external debt, for military expenses, the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program and pork barrel allocations,” Basilio said.

Overworked but underpaid.

ACT-NCR Union is also calling for better working environment for the overworked teachers.

Under the K-12 program, teachers have to deal with Individual Performance Commitment and Review Form (IPCRF) and other paperwork that eat up a lot of time, Basilio said.

Basilio added the limit of 26 children per class mandated by the Department of Education is also not being implemented, leaving teachers with up to 80 students per class.

Basilio is also concerned that the soon-to-be-implemented Learners’ Information System (LIS) will leave teachers with no sleep because these shall be held throughout the night.

ACT-NCR Union demands free annual medical and dental examination, regulation of class size and teaching load, provision of official time and union time privilege, and improvement of compensation during the next collective negotiation agreement to offset their overworked conditions.

ACT Partylist Representative Franz Castro for her part presented their effort to increase chalk allowance from 2,500 to 5000, augment the Personnel Economic Relief Assistance (PERA) to 5000 pesos, and provide teaching supplies allowance of 5000 pesos per classroom teacher per school year.

However, Castro said that it will not be possible to win this fight without the support of the teachers.

“Let’s join together in the coming State of the Nation Address to voice out our call for salary increases,” Castro said.  #

People’s SONA rally reaches Batasan Road

PROGRESSIVE organizations and activists from all over the country held a rally near the House of Representatives (HOR) as President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25.

About 30,000 activists, including thousands from Mindanao, Visayas and Bicol, were allowed along Batasan Road that has never seen a rally as big in at least two decades. Read more