Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
On 25 July, President Benigno Aquino III will deliver his second State of the Nation Address (SONA). He is expected to outline what his administration has accomplished for its first year in office and what the country can expect in the coming years.
My 2 July column started revisiting PNoy’s “Social Contract with the Filipino People” that contains his 16-point agenda on the following 6 major areas: transformational leadership; economy; government service; gender equality; peace and order; and environment. We also looked into his inaugural speech and first SONA. We then compared these to actual government actions based on available information.
I concluded that in the area of transformational leadership, it would appear that not much has been achieved by Pnoy. We now continue with the other areas of his contract with the nation.
On the economy, PNoy vowed to:
• “execute all the laws of the land with impartiality and decisiveness.” Pardon my ignorance but in the absence of more concrete steps, I find this to be too general and am unable put a finger to its concrete economic dimension.
• “recognize farms and rural enterprises as vital to achieving food security and more equitable economic growth, worthy of re-investment for sustained productivity.” Agriculture was mentioned in both the inaugural and first SONA speeches. PNoy said that farmers will have access to irrigation, extension services, product marketing through trading centers, grains terminals, refrigeration facilities, orderly road networks and post-harvest facilities.
Moreover, he said that these will result in the lowering of prices of commodities and the country becoming an exporter from being an importer of food we need. Recently, news bannered that the country will achieve rice self-sufficiency by 2013 and that we will no longer need to import our staple food by then.
As of now, prices of commodities steadily rise, the agriculture sector remains restive, and the Hacienda Luisita issue continues to hound Pnoy.
The Second Quarter 2011 Social Weather Stations’ report on involuntary hunger stated that the over all Hunger rate DECLINED by 5.4 points from 20.5% in March 2011. From an estimated 4.1 million Filipino families experiencing hunger, this is now down to 3.03 million. However, hunger rates ROSE in the Visayas and Mindanao by 6.3 and 5.0 points respectively.
I do not know what have been achieved vis-a-vis the specific promises Pnoy made on agriculture. I am looking forward to his report in the upcoming SONA.
• transform anti-poverty programs from one that instills dole-out mentality to those that build capacity and create opportunity among the poor and marginalized. PNoy’s campaign was hinged on poverty alleviation primarily through eradication of corruption. Somehow, there is a disconnect between this tagline and how anti- poverty measures can be transformed into sustainable initiatives.
Government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) being implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was adopted from the previous administration that PNoy and his people love to hate. Then, they criticized the program as dole-out, but now, the same is the Aquino administration’s flagship anti-poverty program. This despite public criticism because of the huge amounts involved (around PhP21 billion) and the unclear long-term benefits this will have on the poor.
As of DSWD’s report to the Senate, CCT has benefited at least 1.6 million of the estimated 4.6 million poorest families and spent PhP4.12 million. What remains unexplained is how the program builds capacity and creates opportunity among recipients to enable them to escape the oppressive bonds of poverty.
Surely, the public would want to know from the President how this can be achieved.
• “create conditions conducive to the growth and competitiveness of private businesses, big, medium, and small.” PNoy’s first SONA said that processes for Build-Operate-and-Transfer projects will be cut from years to only six months. He also promised a 15-minute business name registration process using only a one- page application form. Local Government Units (LGUs) were advised to review and reform their procedures and make these consistent with those of national agencies. PNoy wanted to attract investors by cutting red tape and implementing stable economic policies.
First, it will be interesting to know what has happened since especially in relation with changes that LGUs have initiated since most small and medium scale businesses operate at this level.
Second, it will be better if PNoy also outlines how his administration will help already existing businesses beyond those still at the start up phase. With the ever increasing prices in oil and other commodities, coupled with the prohibitive and numerous permits and taxes micro, small and medium scale businesses have to comply with, doing business has become very difficult. Helping existing Filipino businesses should also make it to the SONA.
• create jobs at home so that working abroad becomes a choice, not a necessity; and still prioritize the welfare of those who decide to work outside the country. Migration was mentioned in both the inaugural and SONA speeches. PNoy said that job generation can only be done through the preceding point. I must say that the unofficial labor export policy that has resulted to about 11 million Filipinos working and/or living abroad is something that urgently needs addressing. The country cannot continue to primarily survive out of OFW remittances.
Equally disturbing is the development that working abroad has become the national ambition. The social cost of this mindset is tremendous and if not properly addressed, will aggravate the already problematic situation we are in.
Addressing migration needs more than economic solutions, the cultural dimension must also be tackled. Surely, the President knows this.
In conclusion, the ultimate measure of the President’s economic agenda’s impact may very well be in relation with people’s standard of living. Directly, this is about poverty levels.
The SWS Second Quarter 2010 Survey indicated that 50% or 9.4 million households considered themselves as poor. The recent 2011 Second Quarter Survey found that 49% or about 10 million households rated themselves as poor. The 1% decrease is negated by the increase in population. The net effect then is an increase in the number of poor households by .6 million. This despite the billions poured into this administration’s anti-poverty programs.
Thus, on the economic aspect, I say that the PNoy administration’s performance needs much improvement.