Monday, July 25, 2011

Pnoy Sona 2011

President Benigno Aquino
On the eve of President Benigno Aquino III’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA), independent research and advocacy organization IBON Foundation said the public “deserves better than a selective presentation of facts and figures in the president’s first year" in hopes of being “given a whole picture" instead.

According to IBON, the President’s first SONA last year was “short on meaningful promises on the economy" with a “populist but narrow anti-corruption/anti-Arroyo platform." The group also criticized Aquino for “end[ing] his first year in office with a long list of unfulfilled promises and poor foundations for progress in the country."

The foundation on Sunday selected three of Aquino’s promises in his first SONA, zeroing in on job creation and social services – which IBON lamented as “undone" – as well as the Administration’s public-private-partnership (PPP) program, which IBON insists is “better left undone."

On Saturday, IBON also picked on a fourth promise, that of the government continuing its conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.

Jobs situation

IBON recalled Aquino’s words in his first SONA: “Paalala lang po: una sa ating plataporma ang paglikha ng mga trabaho."

The group expects the President to cite jobs creation and a slight percentage point reduction in unemployment. But IBON said that the reported creation of 1.4 million jobs was off-set by the 1.2-million growth in the labor force and the swelling number (829,000) of under-employed or those employed but still seeking additional work because they are still not earning enough.

IBON claimed that the “real jobs situation" had worsened under the Aquino administration – by IBON’s estimates, 11.6 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos. It added that the Aquino administration has given even less to workers than what the previous Arroyo administration had given.

The group alleged that Aquino had “shallowly reduced the jobs problem to cumbersome bureaucratic processes" in his SONA last year: “Lalago lamang ang industriya kung gagawin nating mas malinis, mas mabilis, at mas maginhawa ang proseso para sa mga gustong magnegosyo."

But IBON maintained that “the problem rather is poor land distribution and the lack of support for Filipino-owned industries."

Social services

IBON recalled that last year, Aquino also declared: “Oras na maipatupad ang public-private partnerships... mapopondohan ang mga serbisyong panlipunan."

But the group warned of the dangers of government relying on private profit-seeking capital for vital social services.

IBON criticized the administration’s Php5.7 billion Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) scholarships, pointing out that “the government is in effect using private school scholarships as an excuse to not build public school classrooms or hire public school teachers."

The group then lamented that the 2011 budget for state universities and colleges was cut by P367.2 million, adding that the government’s school-building program was halved in 2011 which meant that only 13,147 new classrooms would be built despite the backlog of some 113,000public school classrooms.

IBON said that billions of pesos for state health insurance PhilHealth would eventually go to private hospitals even as the Aquino administration had “cut the budget for 67 public hospitals nationwide used mainly by the poor by P368 million, for five specialty hospitals by P970.6 million, and for subsidies to indigent patients by P20 million."

Public-private partnership

IBON recalled that in his first SONA, Aquino said, “Ito ang magiging solusyon: mga Public-Private Partnerships," adding that “Makukuha natin ang kailangan natin, hindi tatayo gagastos, kikita pa tayo… lalago ang ating ekonomiya, at bawat Pilipino makikinabang."

But the group pointed out that a year later, “not one of the administration’s 10 flagship PPPs has taken off and only one (Daang Hari-SLEX road) is even at the start of the bidding stage upon the apparent cancellation of the MRT/LRT bidding process."

IBON added that the administration had “drastically cut the budget for economic services, …slashing the budget of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from P20.8 billion in 2010 to P16.4 billion in 2011 and of the Department of Agriculture (DA) from P39.2 billion (2010) to P34.8 billion (2011)."

Conditional cash transfer

As for the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, IBON branded it as “deceitful." The group said the CCTs are easy and uncontroversial to implement but are ultimately a temporary, expensive and ineffectual way of reducing poverty.

However, there is always the chance that government will establish its sincerity to seek change, said IBON. The group cited “simple and doable things," such as immediately granting a substantial wage hike to show its concern for workers, canceling all stock distribution schemes (SDO) to signal its commitment to land reform nationwide, substantially increasing the budget for publicly-provided health and education services, and moving to repeal the VAT Reform Law.

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