‘Long and winding SONA silent on what matters most to Filipinos’ – progressive groups

“Aquino’s grandiose claims of economic growth based on cherry-picked economic indicators fail to hide the economic indicators that matter to ordinary Filipinos. Landlessness is growing; unemployment is rising; wages are being depressed; prices are soaring; and social services are decaying as they become more scarce,” Elmer Labog, chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

By RONALYN V. OLEA and MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III took one hour and 43 minutes delivering his fourth State of the Nation Address. But progressive organizations said President Benigno Aquino III’s speech was nothing but rhetoric.

“Despite the fact that he said so much, he purposely avoided mentioning the most crucial words. President Aquino is still in denial,” Sonny Africa, executive director of think tank Ibon Foundation, told Bulatlat.com. Africa cited two basic things – unemployment and poverty – that are sorely missing in Aquino’s SONA.

So many Filipinos today have no jobs. In fact, the number of jobless Filipinos today is historically at its highest, Africa said. He added that Aquino should have recognized at least the situation being suffered by many, and also the fact that poverty incidence remains unchanged since he took power in 2010.

“Aquino’s SONA, though long, was based on the same recycled rhetoric of daang matuwid (righteous path) but with very little real achievements to show,” Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said.

Aquino’s SONA is “a long and winding self-congratulatory enumeration of his administration’s ‘triumphs,’” said ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio. He noted that Aquino’s SONA failed to touch on basic concerns of the majority of Filipinos suffering economic hardships. These, Tinio said, include the need to generate jobs, raise wages and salaries, lower the prices of electricity, water and fuel, and provide affordable housing.
While many quarters have pointed to increased inequality under Aquino, his SONA also “utterly failed to acknowledge and address this,” Tinio said.

“Aquino’s grandiose claims of economic growth based on cherry-picked economic indicators fail to hide the economic indicators that matter to ordinary Filipinos. Landlessness is growing; unemployment is rising; wages are being depressed; prices are soaring; and social services are decaying as they become more scarce,” Elmer Labog, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said in a statement.

Unfortunately, the Aquino administration’s stab at “inclusive growth��� is only illusionary, according to Ibon. “Economic growth should be felt, but the Aquino government is not doing something new, they’re just covering it up,” Africa of Ibon said.

CCT, a solution to poverty?

Aquino praised the expansion of coverage of the conditional cash transfer program or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, from 700,000 households in 2010 to nearly four million households under his administration. President Aquino even announced that the coverage of the program, and its budget, would further be increased this year to include children up to 18 years of age.

However, President Aquino failed to mention though that a recent reported impact study of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, conducted with the cooperation of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and support from the World Bank and AusAid, revealed that poverty rates among CCT beneficiaries were not significantly lower than non-beneficiaries.

The impact assessment also reportedly showed that while there was positive impact of school enrolment of younger children (from pre-school up to 11 years of age), this was not the case for older children aged 12-14 years old. They are still dropping out of school even if they are CCT youth beneficiaries. Given their poverty, various groups surmise they are dropping out likely because they had to find work, or they still cannot afford the whole schooling expenses.

DSWD has reportedly targeted to increase it budget from P56.157 billion ($1.305 billion) in 2013 to P88 billion ($2.046 billion) for 2014, while the proposed CCT budget will jump from P44 billion ($1.023 billion) to P63 billion ($1.465 billion).

From the start, progressive groups have criticized the Pantawid Pamilya Program. “The CCT promotes a culture of mendicancy while sparing the government from its responsibility to build an economy that can sustain jobs and livelihood,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luzviminda C Ilagan in a statement.

In a recent article written by Sonny Africa, and posted by Bulatlat.com, he said, “… the much-hyped multibillion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program is not so much a long-term sustainable anti-poverty program than a massive multi-billion peso effort to undercut criticism of the free market as well as to provide political legitimacy and to generate popular support for neoliberal “inclusive growth”.

The CCT is being used for scoring ‘pogi points,’ but without jobs after that, you’d still be poor, Africa told bulatlat.com.

More job opportunities?

In his SONA, President Aquino declared that it is no longer necessary to wait for the “trickle down” effect of economic growth. Aquino declared that the government has been providing “opportunities” for those who want jobs and what is left for the people to do is to “maximize these opportunities.” He claimed that six out of 10 scholars of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Department of Labor Employment were able to land jobs. Aquino boasted that from 2006-2008, only 28.5 percent of TESDA graduates were able to land jobs and that his administration was able to increase this to 70.9 percent for graduates of the IT-BPO program and 85 percent for graduates of the electronics and semiconductor course.

Aquino said that only those who refuse to take advantage of these “opportunities” being opened up by the government are being left behind.

Using government data and other sources, Bayan contested the so-called “opportunities” provided by the Aquino administration. It said the number of poor swelled to 10.5 million from 8.9 million at the start of Aquino’s term in 2010. The number of hungry went up to 3.6 million in 2010 to 4.1 million this year. Unemployed workers grew from 9.5 million in 2010 to 11.16 million this year. On the other hand, the wealth of 20 richest Filipinos grew from $22.8 billion to $47.4 billion.

Government investments in social services?

Apparently, you can say so many things and yet say nothing of consequence, said Sonny Africa who confessed that he used to do it in high school, when he doesn’t know the answer. Aquino rattled off figures that focused on small aspects of government services that groups say they still do not have access to.

Aquino praised Education Secretary Armin Luistro for eliminating the shortages in textbooks and chairs. He said that this year, the shortages in classrooms will likewise be bridged and that the government is ready to address the needs of the K+12 program.

“That’s not true. In reality, the crisis in education has worsened under Aquino. The number of drop-outs rose, tuition increased, shortages increased and the system of education became even more colonial, commercialized and repressive,” Vencer Crisostomo, chairman of Anakbayan, said.

President Aquino boasted about the increase in coverage of PhilHealth from 62 percent to 81 percent, and its expansion of covered services. However the Network Opposed to Privatization had long criticized the government’s reliance on PhilHealth.

“There is no need for a health insurance if the government is sincere in delivering health care services to the people. Funds for this program alone can be allocated to the improvement of deteriorating health care facilities and other equipment that are most needed by our government hospitals,” Dr. Geneve Rivera-Reyes, secretary general of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) told Bulatlat.com.

“PhilHealth does not shoulder the entire bill of the patient. Paying members benefit more than the sponsored members. It specifies the type of illnesses to be covered by the benefits and the maximum amount for hospitalization. A member should have paid the premium for a minimum of nine months to be able to avail of the benefits. In far-flung areas where PhilHealth-accredited health facilities, necessary medicines and health professionals are absent, the insurance is certainly an ineffective and frustrating proposition,” said the Network Opposed to Privatization.

Progressive groups deem PhilHealth as a special tax being used by the government to finance private and public health services. In effect, it is passing on to the people the cost of health services, while private and public hospitals are assured of profits in corporatized or privatized hospitals.

Aquino boasted that the government, last year, spent P33 billion ($767.4 million) for the rehabilitation of 4,518 government hospitals, rural health units, and barangay health stations.
“Is the government improving the hospitals and rural health units to sell these later on? That’s just wrong,” Gene Nisperos, vice chairman of HEAD asked.

The government is set to corporatize 26 DOH retained hospitals; among these public hospitals are San Lazaro Hospital, Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center, Veterans Regional Hospital, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Zamboanga City Medical Center among many others. It also placed the Philippine Orthopedic Center, San Lazaro Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the Eversley Child Sanitarium in Metro Cebu and 21 more regional hospitals under PPP projects for “modernization and improving of health facilities and services” with the promised return on investment in revenue sharing, lease fees per treatment with diagnostic equipment. – See more at: Laying the foundations for the privatization o government hospitals

The Philippine Orthopedic Center is first on the chopping block. The “modernization” of the Orthopedic Center is in the stage of final bidding. So far, only the consortium of Megawide Construction Corporation and World Citi Inc. has submitted its bid.

Disaster preparedness and mitigation?

Aquino announced the soon to be finished geo-hazard mapping by the DENR, but environmentalists condemned his attempt at “greenwashing.”

Kalikasan–Philippine Network for the Environment said Aquino is posturing like he wants to prevent disasters when he himself has been supporting the operations of large-scale mining, logging and expansion of plantations that pose danger to the environment.
Aquino said he is also for renewable energy, but he took swipes at environmentalists for opposing his government’s moves to build coal-fired plants in Subic, Zambales.

Worse, President Aquino was perceived as blaming the poor for the worsening floods the country is experiencing when he announced, during the SONA, that it is the government’s priority to relocate more than 19,400 families living along Metro Manila’s major waterways.

Carlito Badion of Kadamay said that the poor must not be blamed for the floods, saying that the so-called development of Laguna de Bay and the quarrying operations in Rizal are causing floods. He added that the national reclamation project along Manila Bay would inundate the southern part of Manila.

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