Labor Center’s May Day report: P-Noy is failing on his ‘pet programs’ vs poverty, corruption, etc.

REMEMBER the famous and catchy “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap” (rough translation: “If there is no corrupt, there will be no poor people”) slogan of then candidate Noynoy Aquino during the campaign for the presidential election last year?

Although it is naïve or simplistic to claim that poverty will disappear if corruption will be eradicated, that electoral jingle was nonetheless very effective not only due to its plain message but also to the pledge that it implies – that the administration of Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III will simultaneously fight the rampant and worsening poverty and corruption.

But even this early or two full months before his first year in office, the Alliance of Progressive Labor said that this is already enough to gauge the direction or tendencies of the Aquino government: that it has miserably failed to keep its avowed promises.

Corruption has deteriorated with the country landing again in third spot in the entire Asia by scoring 8.9 – with 10 being the worst, from a scale of one to 10 – based from a survey called Asian Intelligence Report held from November last year to February this year. Beating the Philippines – with a slightly “better” previous score of 8.25 – were Cambodia (9.27) and Indonesia (9.25).

It was conducted among top expatriate business executives in Asia by the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. (PERC).

The PERC specifically cited the country as “perhaps, the Asian country that has been hurt most by corruption,” noting that “(i)f one looked at the end of World War II as the starting point for modern Asia, the Philippines today should be the richest economy on a per capita basis in Asia and a leader in many fields.”

It is almost the same in the global level as shown in the annual report of Transparency International (TI), with the Philippines notching a 2.4 score – with 1 as “highly corrupt” and 10 “very clean,” as opposed to PERC scale – for two straight years now, and placing 139th among 180 countries in 2009 and 134th among 178 countries last year.

Likewise, both the perceived and actual poverty has continued unabated to this very day – despite the boasts of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of accomplishing “36 quarters (or nine years, January 2001-June 2010) of uninterrupted economic growth” and Aquino’s attaining the “highest economic growth in 34 years” or from 1.1 percent GDP (gross domestic product) in 2009 to 7.3 percent in 2010, mostly in the last half of the year or under the helm of P-Noy.

Even the 1st Quarter 2011 Survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) held on March 4 to 7 has confirmed the escalating economic hardship of the majority when it indicated that more than one in five Filipino families or 20.5 percent of the respondents have undergone “involuntary hunger” at least once in the past three months.

It is equivalent to an estimated 4.1 million families or about 20.5 million individuals (based on the average five-member Filipino family), and an increase from 18.1 percent or 3.4 million families or around 17 million people recorded in a similar survey last November 2010.

While 51 percent of the respondents in the said survey considered themselves as “poor,” representing 10.4 million families or approximately 52 million people – a hike from the 49 percent result in November.

In addition, the said SWS survey bared that 40 percent of the respondents or 8.1 million families or about 40 million people believed themselves as “food-poor,” up from 36 percent last November.

At any rate, even the conservative government statistics acknowledged that the number of poor Filipinos – in spite of the said bragging of both Arroyo and Aquino – has swelled from 25.5 million people in 2001 to over 30 million last year.

There are other studies that yet put the number of impoverished Filipinos to as much as 2/3 or at least 70 percent of the Philippine population, which already reached to 94 million in 2010.

“Jobless growth” is one of the terms that economists describe this type of economic “development,” which is characterized by its failure to equitably redistribute income or at least – to use a classic capitalist cliché – to “trickle-down” the wealth to the majority of the citizens.

And as the term denotes, in a jobless growth there is a proliferation of generally poor quality jobs or a rapid surge in the ranks of contractual or non-regular workers, which is in fact happening today, the APL said.

A study by a leading local research institution disclosed that between 1995 and 2005, the Philippine contractual labor has “soared from 65 percent to as much as 78 percent of the country’s labor force.”

Significantly, contractuals and the like – casuals, probationaries, apprentices, seasonals, OJT (on-the-job) trainees, practicumers, pakyawan, etc. – are usually low-paid, lack many benefits, have no security of tenure, and banned from joining trade unions and thus are not covered by CBAs or CNAs.

They encompass even the so-called “highly-paid” (but with unstable wages and benefits) staff in the burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, especially the call center agents, precisely because most of them are hired as contractual employees or based on a specific project only.

Related from this are the still distinct two groups of workers, the self-employed and unpaid family workers – designated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as belonging to “vulnerable employment sector” – that are quickly rising in number.

Also referred to as the “informal sector,” the ILO described them as being deprived of even the basic elements of “decent employment,” like minimum wage as well as “social security, health benefits and recourse to social dialogue or effective collective bargaining mechanisms.”

Even the data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) conceded that “vulnerable workers” have steadily grown from 13.5 million in 2004 to 14.9 million in 2009 or a staggering 42.6 percent of the 35 million “employed” in that year. It further expanded to more than 15 million of the 36 million “employed” or nearly half of the 39 million labor force last year.

There is still a separate and even more pathetic and exploited class of workers called by the ILO as “working poor people” – those who earn less than $2 or below P100 a day – and in the Philippines has multiplied from 7.9 million in 2003 to at least 9 million in 2009 or a shocking 30 percent of the total “employed” in that year.

As if these are not enough, the costs of basic commodities and services have recently and uncontrollably skyrocketed. For instance, prices of petroleum products, particularly gasoline and diesel, have increased more than 12 times from January to April causing a domino effect in actual or planned hikes in LPG rates, transport fares, electricity and water bills, toll gate fees, prices of various food items, and many others, which will obviously affect more the majority poor than the few rich.

The problem is, aside from the real oil price hikes in the world market – triggered by the catastrophes in Japan and the continuing social upheavals in the Middle East and in North Africa, specifically in Libya – the undue surge of prices of local petroleum products is caused more by “predatory pricing” led by the “Big 3” oil cartel of Petron Corp., Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. and Chevron Philippines Inc. (formerly Caltex).
Even the Department of Energy (DOE) has grudgingly admitted that at least the fuel price hikes during the Holy Week – first exposed by journalist Jessica Soho and later satirized as “Oily Week” by the Philippine Daily Inquirer – “were more than what was warranted” (read: not justified).

This relentless price hikes coupled with greedy profiteering have further diminished the purchasing power or the real amount of the already low salaries of most of the Philippine workers. For example, according to a study by a reputable research institution, the current P404 minimum – and nominal – wage of workers in Metro Manila is actually equivalent to P253.43 only today by using 2000 as the standard base year and considering changes in inflation.

Furthermore, the same study demonstrated that in so short a time since Aquino was inaugurated as president on June 30 and until as recently as February this year – the real value of the Filipino workers’ already meager wage has been sliced by as much as P7!

In a nutshell, the APL asserted that the Filipino and Filipina workers have not enjoyed any significant gain since P-Noy assumed the presidency. His continued although still discreet promotion of unfettered neoliberal programs – liberalization, deregulation and privatization – will exacerbate poverty and misery of the vast majority in the Philippines, especially the working people.

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