NAPC Secretary Liza Maza hopes that their book of proposals will inspire meaningful debates among policy makers, change the way they see the poor and poverty, and usher in a comprehensive and integrated approach to poverty reduction this new year.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – A year and a half since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency, the National Anti-Poverty Commission directly under the Office of the President released a 100-page book pushing for reforms on how the government approaches anti-poverty policy.
Over the past decades, every administration implemented anti-poverty programs. But all of it ultimately failed, said NAPC Secretary Liza Maza. An activist who represented the Gabriela Women’s Partylist and Bayan Muna in Congress, Maza presented the NAPC Secretariat’s book called “Reforming Philippine Anti-Poverty Policy – Going Beyond, Moving Forward” as their contribution, beginning this new year, to hopefully spurring “meaningful debates” among policy-makers and advocates.
Secretary Maza, however, is aware that they are going against the flow within the administration. She has given President Duterte a copy of the policy proposal since December. She still has to hear from him about it.
The change they want to usher in includes setting the government’s sights higher, going for poverty eradication instead of mere poverty alleviation. They want the government to deepen the reach of intervention to “multidimensional,” which by their explanation means the government must also bring changes in the structures, systems, policies that bring about poverty. They want to change the current practice of “compartmentalized” anti-poverty actions where government offices attending to poverty function separately from the offices and agencies issuing orders that cause poverty. They are proposing to the Duterte administration to make poverty eradication the centerpiece of its economic, social and environment policies. This way, they said, anti-poverty actions won’t be mere palliatives.
Besides, even as palliatives, the government effort is far too little. “Sa isang malaking dagat ng mahihirap, ang liliit ng target (Amid the wide sea of poverty, the government’s target is too small),” said Marivic Raquiza, one of the authors of the proposed policy reforms.
The NAPC secretariat wants to broaden the government’s view of poverty. They observed that the prevalent view in government of poverty is merely that of having low income. “It should include the people’s suffering from hunger, discrimination, and other vulnerabilities,” said lawyer Evalyn Ursua, also one of the authors.
Implementing the human rights-based approach to eradicating poverty is in fact in the 1987 Constitution, Ursua said. “The Constitution provides that the thrust should be poverty eradication and not alleviation.” Ursua added that much of the policies being issued are “inconsistent with the Constitution.”
What the government should be doing, according to NAPC secretariat
Considering that the country has failed to develop the economy in more or less four decades of neoliberal policies, the NAPC proposal wants a reorientation of the economy. They said the main strategy to adopt should aim for healthy Philippine industries, a comprehensive agrarian reform, a developing countryside and “transformative social policies” which cover also social services and protection.
Among others, the following, according to NAPC secretariat, are some of the reforms their policy proposal hopes the Filipinos will support and urge President Duterte to champion also:
1. Develop Philippine industries. It’s not enough to have economic zones and foreign investments, the government must also actively help develop in phases Philippine industries.
2. Review international economic deals. Countries developed not with free trade – they only open up when they’re already strong. It’s not that the Philippines should close itself but that it should also be after certain benefits from trade deals. Indonesia, India, Venezuela, Ecuador and other countries are also realizing and taking actions that they shouldn’t be tied down to free trade deals.
3. Regulate foreign investments for development. “Foreign investments are not the magic bullets the proponents of charter change would want us to believe,” said Jose Enrique Africa, one of the authors of the NAPC proposed policy reforms.
4. State-directed financing for development
5. More progressive taxation.
Joseph Anthony Lim, an Economics professor from Ateneo de Manila and a retired professor of the School of Economics in UP Diliman, suggested providing additional concrete examples to the proposed industrial policies. Given the composition of the Duterte administration, he said, what we can do is present the proposals in “positive” formulation. For example, given that the economy has already been opened wide to trade deals and foreign investments, he suggested positively reformulating the proposal to say “make the industries more competitive.”
He expressed belief that remittances of overseas Filipinos have become the country’s safety net against trade deficits. The country needs domestic production but the problem, he acknowledged, was that the government has not been formulating its own “industrial developmental policies.”
He urged the NAPC secretariat to work with the progressive sector in government in pushing for the implementation of proposals such as these. He noted that a poverty summit was held recently but it didn’t seem to generate much attention. “There must be a social contract,” Lim said, toward implementing anti-poverty reforms.
Duterte, Filipinos to benefit from anti-poverty policy reforms
NAPC Secretary Liza Maza believes their proposal will benefit the president a lot in that it will show him a different perspective in resolving the problem of poverty. Maza said the government can unleash a tremendous energy for correcting the damaging aspects of past and present economic policies.
If implemented, the NAPC proposal promises to start the government on a road to change and the beginnings of resolving the long-standing poverty problem in the country. But the bigger question hounding it is how President Duterte would take it.
NAPC is mostly a policy monitoring and oversight office under the President. It has no direct implementing body. It is a small office with just 46 regular plantilla positions and reportedly a small budget.
To achieve what it wants to do, it needs to build unities with the implementing government offices and agencies under the president, and it needs the president’s support. However, it appears that President Duterte has not been meeting with NAPC and leaders of government agencies in an assembly. Some of the NAPC plantilla employees interviewed by Bulatlat said they used to hold that meeting nearly every other month last year and early this year. It stopped when the Marawi crisis erupted. They haven’t met for another assembly since then.
Since the formation of the NAPC (crafted under the Ramos administration), the country’s presidents had convened NAPC assemblies for his or her anti-poverty programs, all but during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III who did not convene even one assembly of NAPC, said an employee of NAPC for 10 years.
Still, the need to address poverty remains. Secretary Maza said that as an activist, she would still work toward it.
“Many Filipinos are still trapped in poverty and inequality because administration after administration have subscribed to the same neoliberal framework that has been proven as a development failure all over the world,” Maza said in a statement. She expressed hopes that their book of proposals will inspire meaningful debates among policy makers, change the way they see the poor and poverty, and usher in a comprehensive and integrated approach to poverty reduction this new year.