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Philippines: Inclusive growth under Aquino no longer possible

Sentro - Nagkaisa | 01.05.2014 12:42 | Analysis | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements | World

WITH only two years left in his term as he now enters his fourth year in office, President Aquino could now be described as either unwilling or unable to make the country’s much-hyped economic growth inclusive.

This was declared by the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Center for United Progressive Workers) during today’s 124th celebration of the International Labor Day, when members of the labor center, together with the Nagkaisa labor coalition, held a march-rally from España Blvd. to Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang.

“Despite the country’s 7.2 percent gross domestic product (GDP) ‘growth’ last year, second only to China’s 7.7 percent, it remains far from inclusive as the Philippines still has the highest unemployment rate in the region,” Frank Mero, SENTRO chair, said.

Last October the government’s official jobless rate was 6.5 percent or about 2.6 million Filipinos; but a survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in the same period disclosed that it actually swelled to 27.5 percent or about 12.1 million unemployed. It further increased in January to 7.5 percent or comprising 2.9 million jobless Filipinos. Underemployment is also high reaching 19.5 percent or 7.1 million people.

Josua Mata, SENTRO secretary general, observed that combining the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed will create “a huge army of 10 million workers with no or unstable income and who will likely be forced to toil in contractual jobs.”

In fact, Mata noted that “the corporate use and abuse of these precarious jobs are rampant and becoming the norm in employment – from the bursting factories in ‘special economic zones’ to the ubiquitous malls and to the mushrooming call centers,” adding that “workers here usually have low or high but uncertain wages and benefits, no security of tenure, and banned from joining unions.”

Ironically, the rich are becoming richer under the Aquino government, SENTRO said, citing a study that from 2010, when Aquino became president, to 2012 only, the wealth of the country’s superrich, particularly the top 40 families, has skyrocketed from over $20 billion to $47.4 billion or P1.9 trillion.

The study said that last year the collective riches of the “Super 40” were placed at P2.4 trillion or “more than the combined annual income of 17 million (Filipino) wage earners,” adding that GDP growth has “remained concentrated to the high income class … with the top 15 percent … getting more than 60 percent of the national income.”

This year the country has 10 US dollar billionaires with a combined wealth of $40.1 billion or a staggering P1.8 trillion, which accounts to a huge 16 percent of the country’s GDP last year.

SENTRO also quoted the then National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), which admitted last year that the country will most probably fail to attain the UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of decreasing to 17.2 percent of the Filipinos earning or surviving on less than a dollar a day (currently P44) by 2015 due to the still high 25.2 percent poverty rate or 23.7 million Filipinos in 2012.

“Thus, it is becoming clearer that Aquino’s reluctance to or fear of actively engaging the neoliberal economic programs of liberalization, deregulation and privatization, as well as the well-entrenched oligarchy – in which his family also belongs – will make inclusive growth impossible during his reign,” SENTRO concluded.

Labor coalition Nagkaisa chided President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for continuing to dishonor workers on Labor day by failing to respond to important issues raised by labor representatives during the non-ceremonial pre-labor day dialogue in Malacanang the other day.

“President Aquino continues to ignore for four years the issues which we believe would help impact the plight of the working people. Workers are feeling deprived of the benefits due them despite of their great contribution to improving economy,” the Nagkaisa said in a statement.

“Since assuming presidency in 2010, Mr. Aquino is always being remembered by workers in every Labor day memorial as a leader who has abandoned and failed them at the critical moment when they needed his leadership in view of growing joblessness, rising cost of living, rampant and unfettered precarious work arrangement, high cost of electricity rate and by conceding social protection services to greedy capitalists,” they added.

“Hindi tuwid, hindi tama, hindi makatuwiran kung pag-unlad ay para sa iilan lamang (it is not straight, it is not right, it is unjust if growth is shared only by a few),” the group stressed as they plan to muster 30,000 of their members march from Welcome Rotonda to Mendiola in today’s Labor day commemoration. The group will assemble along Espana at around 8a.m.

Aside from chastising Aquino, labor groups belonging to Nagkaisa also lambasted Energy (DOE) Secretary Jericho Petilla and (BIR) Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares for failing to offer government solutions to pressing long-standing workers’ issues raised by Nagkaisa (United) during the yearly Labor day dialogue with President Benigno Simeon Aquino III held the other day.

The group also tagged the duo as “the weak link that help makes Aquino appear out-of-touch, out-of-tune and widely disconnected with workers’ issues raised by Nagkaisa in the past four years.”

“Out of the several cabinet secretaries who responded to the issues that Nagkaisa raised, it was Ms. Henares and Mr. Petilla who appears to be badly serving the president by refusing to offer solutions to the high cost of electricity and tax issues as a way and means of non-wage economic relief to workers in view of not benefitting from despite of significant contribution to make the economy performed excellently in the past years,” the Nagkaisa said in a statement.

During the span of the two-year Nagkaisa dialogue with the executive government, the alliance have demanded for Henares to provide tax breaks to workers by way of taxing only the incremental amount of the negotiated minimum wage of regular workers and expand the tax exempt de minimis fringe benefits enjoyed by employees from their employers as performance incentive.

“It is clear to us that Ms. Henares wants to meet her revenue quota by making workers bleed in the sand, clearly ignoring the fact that these workers are the backbone of the economy and were responsible for high economic growth that she, the employers, and this administration are flaunting about,” the group said.

On the issue of the high cost of electricity, Nagkaisa have demanded that to make the country attractive to investors that creates jobs a Presidential Commission on Power must be created immediately.

“We proffered that the Commission to be made up of a national multi-sectoral and multi-agency actors who will craft a 24-month national strategy response that will craft a 24-month roadmap aimed at lowering the cost and ensuring sufficiency of energy supply. That way, a reduced electricity cost will make workers spend more on their food and basic necessities at the same time invite foreign and local investors put up more shops, offices and factories creating jobs for the millions unemployed,” the alliance said.

“However, it was clear to all that Mr. Petilla downgraded the proposal to just create a task force under the auspices of the Department of Energy (DOE) rather than a presidential commission is a signal that he wants the Filipino people to be continued hostage by the monopsony of a few powerful elites that controls the entire energy sector. Nagkaisa condemns his arrogance and we will continue to hold him into account. Nagkaisa will insist on the establishment of a commission.”

On the issue of contractualization otherwise known as “555” or “endo”, a precarious scheme of employment arrangement, as the most important issue that Nagkaisa raised in the dialogue, the group welcomed Aquino’s announcing his middle-ground response to this issue on May 28th.

Aside from eliminating contractualization scheme, lowering electricity rates and providing tax breaks to workers, Nagkaisa welcomes the response of Trade and industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, Yolanda Rehab and Reconstruction czar Secretary Panfilo Lacson for acceding to Nagkaisa demand for labor sector to be included in the crafting of a jobs-led agro-industrial plan, monitoring and evaluation of the prosecution of extra-judicial killings of union organizers and journalists, and inclusion of Nagkaisa representatives in the formulation and implementation of Yolanda-hit reconstruction and rehabilitation strategies.

Nagkaisa also welcomes the assurance of Aquino to immediately ratify the ILO convention 151— a convention concerning protection of the right to organize and procedures for determining conditions for employment in government service.

The group also awaits Aquino’s unequivocal policy statements in the next dialogue on the issue of revision in the EPIRA law, providing affordable in-city housing program, non-violent transfer of urban poor communities in danger zones, appointment of a workers’ sector representative in the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), and approve into law the Freedom of Information bill.

Sentro - Nagkaisa