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Duterte administration being dishonest about economic ‘gains’

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. #

Sin taxes, UHC to fund privatization of health services–IBON

Research group IBON said that government must allot a higher budget for public health services rather than fund private health providers through the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act.

Also known as Republic Act (RA) 11223, the UHC Act ostensibly aims to provide all Filipinos with promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative health services “without causing financial hardship”, and prioritizes Filipinos who cannot afford such services.

The UHC would need Php257 billion in its first year of implementation.

The sin tax reform law on the other hand is allegedly intended to augment the funding gap of around Php62 billion in the first year alone.

But IBON observed that the UHC would use government funds to create supplementary coverage by private health care providers such as private health insurance and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) as well as provide network-based licensing, contracting, and accreditation of health facilities.

This further privatizes health services, the group said.

The UHC, IBON explained, stipulates that Filipinos would automatically be enrolled in PhilHealth or the National Health Insurance Program (NHIP) either as a direct contributor who would pay premiums or as an indirect contributor.

Moreover, the NHIP would have an increase in membership rate by 0.5% annually to fund the UHC.

The group observed that this is not as socialized as it appears to be, as high-income individuals would contribute the same percentage of their salary as low-income earners.

Also, IBON noted, to ensure that basic accommodation services are met, UHC states that government hospitals would operate not less than 90% of their bed capacity as basic accommodation, not less than 70% for specialty hospitals, and not less than 10% for private hospitals.

However, IBON observed that hospital beds in the country are not enough to begin with.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 20 beds per 10,000 population.

The Philippines has never reached the recommended ratio, the group said, and this indicator even worsened from 14.4 beds per 10,000 population in 1990 to only 9.9 beds per population in 2014.

The number of government hospitals even fell from 732 in 2011 to 423 in 2015.

Moreover, said IBON, the UHC assures that a National Health Human Resource Master Plan would be formulated to ensure the provision of health programs and services through a guaranteed permanent employment and competitive salary of all health professionals and health care workers.

Yet for every 10,000 population the country had only 0.3 government physician and 0.6 public health nurse in 2017.

Despite the scarcity of government health workers, data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that the country has been exporting nurses for decades, which is worsening the brain drain of the health sector, observed IBON.

The Philippines deployed 19,551 nurses in 2016 or 53 nurses per day.

IBON emphasized that the UHC is the continuation of the privatization and commercialization of health services of previous administrations, from the Health Sector Reform Agenda of the Estrada administration, Fourmula One for Health of the Arroyo administration, and Aquino’s own UHC agenda.

These programs advance less government and more private role in healthcare, making provision of health services less direct and more insurance-driven thus prioritizing private profits over public health, said IBON

2018 Yearender: Are You High? The Economy Isn’t

by Sonny Africa

Executive Director, IBON Foundation

The Duterte administration’s economic managers made some odd statements as the year wound up. Economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia said “the Philippine economy became stronger and even more resilient than ever”. Finance secretary Carlos Dominguez III insisted on “the soundness of the Duterte administration’s economic development strategy”. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor Nestor Espenilla meanwhile said that they “expect growth to remain solid in the years ahead”.

These are odd because the economy clearly showed signs of increasing stress in 2018. If anything, the year just passed confirmed the end of the long period of relatively rapid growth for the Philippines.

In denial

Growth has been slowing since the start of the Duterte administration. It is already its slowest in three years. Inflation reached a nine year-high and was even worse for the poorest Filipinos. The current account deficit is at its worst in 18 years. The peso is at its weakest in 13 years. International reserves are in their lowest in 10 years. The jobs crisis is disguised but really at a historic high. Overseas remittances are also slowing — this further dampens household consumption and welfare.

The government seems to think that it can just spend its way out of this. It holds its ‘Build Build Build’ infrastructure offensive as some kind of magic bullet. This will be difficult with the end of the decade of low global and local interest rates and rising borrowing costs. Accelerating government debt will also only become more unmanageable as growth continues to slow. As it is, the budget deficit is already at its worst in seven years.

All these the government’s chief economic propagandists will euphemistically call ‘headwinds’ or ‘challenges’. Yet barring a real change of economic course, there is little reason to expect that the economy will get better anytime soon. Elite business profits will likely continue to grow, but it may just be a matter of time before even these suffer.

As if being near the top of a sinking ship is a good thing, the administration will keep on claiming that the Philippines is among the fastest growing economies in the region and in the world that is caught in a protracted crisis, Still, the 6.3% growth in the first three quarters of 2018 is markedly slower than the 6.7% growth on 2017 and 6.9% in 2016.

Deteriorating

Agriculture is doing particularly badly: its 0.4% growth in the first three quarters of 2018 is approaching its worst performance since 2016. But even the hyped manufacturing resurgence is hitting a wall – the 5.7% growth in the first three quarters is much slower its 8.4% clip in 2017, and the full year results may be the slowest since 2015.

Filipino industry and domestic agriculture would have been solid foundations of domestic demand and production, if only these had really been developed these past years. This is impossible though under the government’s obsolete globalization and free trade mantra. Agriculture is still left to the vagaries of the weather and small peasant labor. Manufacturing remains shallow and foreign-dominated.

The services sector never should have been the driver of economic growth. But even this is failing. The real estate boom appears to be ending with 5.9% growth of finance and real estate in the first three quarters of 2018 continuing the trend of slowing growth from 7.5% in 2017 and 8.5% in 2016. Reflecting weakening household consumption, even trade is down – at just 6.0% in the first three quarters compared to 7.3% in 2017 and 7.6% in 2018.

The main drivers of growth in 2018 have been the intrinsically short-term boost from government spending – this increased to 13.1% growth in the first three quarters from just 7.0% in 2017. , Construction also increased to 13.3% growth in the first three quarters from just 5.3% in 2017.

Real score on jobs twisted

The worst effect of a backward economy is not creating enough decent work for the growing population.

The economic managers hailed 825,000 new jobs created in 2018 and unemployment falling by 140,000 bringing the unemployment rate down to 5.3 percent. Unfortunately, these do not tell the whole story.

The Duterte administration has actually created just an average of 81,000 jobs annually with 43.5 million jobs in 2018 compared to 43.4 million in 2016. This is because the economy lost a huge 663,000 jobs in 2017, which was the biggest contraction in employment in 20 years or since 1997.

So the largest part of the supposed job creation, or some four out of five ‘new’ jobs, was really just restoring jobs lost in 2017.

But how to explain the falling unemployment? This is a statistical quirk. According to the official methodology, jobless Filipinos have to be counted as in the labor force to be counted as unemployed.

It seems that huge numbers of Filipinos are no longer seeking work and dropping out of the labor force. This is reflected in how the labor force participation rate dropped to 60.9% in 2018 which is the lowest in 38 years or since 1980.

While employment grew by just 162,000 between 2016 and 2018, the number of workers not in the labor force grew by a huge 2.9 million over that same period. It is likely that the reported 62,000 fall in the number of unemployed between 2016 and 2018 reflects workers dropping out of the labor force because of tight labor markets rather than their finding new work (because of weak job creation).

This scenario is supported by IBON’s estimates of the real state of unemployment in the country. The government started underestimating unemployment in 2005 when it adopted a stricter definition that made subsequent estimates incomparable with previous figures.

Reverting to the previous definition to give a better idea if the employment situation really is improving or not, IBON estimates that the real unemployment rate in the decade 2008-2017 is some 10.2 percent. This maintains high unemployment in the economy since the onset of globalization policies in the 1980s. IBON does not yet have estimates for 2018, but the real number of unemployed in 2017 was 4.6 million or almost double the officially underreported estimate of just 2.4 million.

Job generation trends in 2018 are in any case worrisome as it is. The quarterly labor force survey showed drastically worsening job generation since the start of the year. Measured year-on-year, some 2.4 million jobs were reported created in January 2018 but this fell to 625,000 in April then 488,000 in July and then 218,000 jobs actually lost, rather than created, in October.

Economy needing rehab

Perhaps high on their own propaganda, the country’s neoliberal economic managers continue to confuse abstract growth figures, business profits and foreign investment with development and the conditions of the people. The reality however is of chronically backward Filipino industry and agriculture and an economy that went sideways in 2018. The real challenge is to discard failed neoliberalism and to replace this with an economics truly serving the people.#

Anti-tyranny group assesses Duterte’s laws and bills

Days before President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address on July 23, the Movement Against Tyranny gathered in Quezon City to assess the government economic policies and Congressional bills.

Economic experts, legislators and legal luminaries presented before the forum their assessment of Duterte’s tax reform law as well as efforts to amend both the Human Security Law and the Constitution.

TRAIN-driven rising cost of living makes wage hike urgent

Research group IBON said that tax-driven inflation is making the meager wages of poor Filipinos fall even further behind the rising cost of living.

The group said this makes it even more urgent for the government to immediately raise wages even as it revisits the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law behind the increase in consumption taxes.

The Duterte administration would be insensitive if it continues to resist the clamor for a decent national minimum wage, the group added.

IBON said that accelerating inflation has increased the family living wage (FLW) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and elsewhere.

IBON computations show that as of June 2018, a family of six needs Php1,175 to meet their basic needs, while a family of five needs Php979.

The FLW has increased by Php65 for a family of six and by Php54 for a family of five in June 2018 from the same period last year.

As it is, said the group, the NCR nominal minimum wage of Php512 is falling even further behind the rising cost of living.

The NCR nominal wage is only 44 percent of the FLW for a family of six, and 52% of the FLW for a family of five with a wage gap of Php663 (56 percent) and Php467 (48 percent), respectively.

The wage gap will continue to widen as inflation erodes the minimum wage.

Reacting to economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia who said that a wage hike is not necessary, the group said that an immediate wage hike will help poor Filipinos cope with price spikes.

The Duterte administration can respond to the demand of labor groups for a Php750 national minimum wage.

IBON stressed that there are enough profits in the economy and among corporations to support the substantial increase in the minimum wage needed by workers and their families.

IBON also belied claims by the country’s economic managers in their joint statement on the June 2018 inflation that TRAIN’s reduction of personal income taxes, cash transfers, and allocation for free social and economic services “should help in coping with the rising prices of goods.”

The group said that their assertion that TRAIN “increased the take-home pay of 99 percent of income tax payers” is grossly deceitful because they know that only around 7.5 million or one-third (33 percent) of Filipino families are income tax payers.

Of these, some two million were already exempt from paying income tax even before TRAIN because they were only minimum wage earners.

This means that 17.2 million or over three-fourths (76 percent) of Filipino families suffer inflation but without any increased take-home pay.

IBON also said that the government should stop hyping TRAIN’s cash transfers because when they are ended by 2020 the higher prices of goods and services due to TRAIN will remain.

The group said that the Duterte administration’s unrepentant defense of TRAIN is daily affirmation of its callousness to the plight of tens of millions of poor Filipinos and its refusal to replace TRAIN with a more genuinely progressive tax package that is unafraid to tax the rich. #

 

Citizens speak against TRAIN law

Ordinary citizens speak on the Rodrigo Duterte’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law, explaining the poor are affected the most by the inflation caused by the measure.

TRAIN was among the issues condemned by activists as they commemorated Philippine Independence Day with a protest action last June 12.

Slow TRAIN cash transfers highlight govt’s insensitivity–IBON

“The poor will get relief about three months into suffering TRAIN-induced price increases with millions of others only getting it much later.”

 Research group IBON said that the slow implementation of the Duterte administration’s social mitigation measures including its cash subsidies highlights how these are just an afterthought to cover up how the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion’s (TRAIN) program is anti-poor and pro-rich. TRAIN was railroaded last year to already be able to raise revenues starting January 2018 even if the supposed mitigation measures were not yet clear.

This is in reaction to the Department of Finance (DOF) announcement about the looming implementation of the government’s unconditional cash transfer (UCT) to supposedly help the 10 million poorest Filipino families cope with the impact of TRAIN. The DOF said that the 4.4 million existing Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries and three (3) million indigent senior citizens will start receiving the Php200 per month cash subsidy in March. The balance of 2.6 million households are supposed to start receiving theirs in August.

IBON executive director Sonny Africa noted that the DOF was last year quick to undertake the staff work for raising taxes on the poor and giving income tax relief to the rich. Yet, in contrast, it was grossly unprepared to implement any of the supposed social mitigation measures even nearly two months into the law’s effectivity. As it is, the poor will get relief about three months into suffering TRAIN-induced price increases with millions of others only getting it much later in August or after eight months.

Africa also said that the DOF was merely scrambling to report 10 million helped “no matter how sloppy the figures.” “The numbers don’t even add up,” he said, “because many of the 3.3 million poor elderly will likely already be among the 4.4 million CCT beneficiary households so double-counting is already happening, more so two or more elderly are in these poor households.”

Meanwhile, TRAIN’s promised fuel subsidies for public utility vehicles (PUVs), fare discounts for the poor and other social mitigation measures still remain unrealized, said Africa.

Lastly, Africa said, it is worth repeating that the cash subsidies are temporary and only from 2018 to 2020. “These are also the three years when oil taxes keep rising and prices keep getting pushed up higher and higher,” Africa noted. “The real TRAIN shock happens in 2021 when the UCT gimmick is gone but the prices that the poor pay for their basic goods and services will be immensely higher,” he said. (IBON News / February 27, 2018)