SONA 2012: how are the poor faring?

 

Pres. Banigno Aquino III delivered his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday afternoon at the joint opening session of Congress.  As might be expected, the reactions of Pres. Aquino’s allies to the SONA were very positive, while his detractors had only negative things to say about it.  But whatever they say is good or bad about the SONA do not mean a thing to almost 60% of all Filipinos who rate themselves as poor or subsistence poor.

For these poor people, the true state of the nation remains characterized by the lack of employment opportunities and income, rising prices of fuel and basic commodities, little or no social safety nets, lack of decent housing, limited access to health services and education, and stagnant wages of workers.  Their needs are very basic and unsophisticated, one may even say “gut-related“, but difficult to address for a president who seems to be preoccupied with his single strategic vision of curbing corruption in government, which may or may not produce its perceived social dividends during his remaining 4 years in office. 

A president who is elected to a single 6-year term of office does not have the luxury of time to dwell too much on strategic policies and programs to the neglect of the “here-and-now” needs of poor Filipinos and still expect to deliver a credible SONA year after year.  No amount of impressive economic charts and social statistics can make the poor feel empowered and better off.

Of course the Aquino administration is not even half way through its full mandate.  But as it enters its 3rd year, a reasonable and fair assessment of its impact on national incidence of poverty may already be made.  Its flagship program of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is not creating enough jobs as Pres. Aquino had hoped for when he announced the program during his maiden SONA 2 years ago because there are not enough takers of the programs and projects the government is offering to private investors under PPP.  And in a recent interview by the press, Pres. Aquino has placed the PPP in the backburner of his investment and job creation drive.

The Conditional Cash Transfer program (CCT), on the other hand, is not making a dent in both rural and urban poverty because the program merely doles out “survival cash” (which is why the program is called “Pantawid Pamilya“) instead of investing its billions of annual fund to empower its beneficiaries with practical capacities and means that they can use for sustainable income generation.  And given its activity of distributing cash to selected recipients, it is easy to understand why many of CCT’s critics are branding the program as a “legalized mode of buying votes” funded by CongressExpect the number of CCT beneficiaries to significantly increase during the months and weeks leading up to next year’s mid-term elections.

It is good to know that the credit and investment ratings of the country have been upgraded by S&P and Moody’s.  Improved ratings are good but they do not automatically translate to new investments and jobs.  Besides, foreign investors have now become cautious of country ratings because lobby and PR can influence the decisions of even the most prestigious credit rating agencies, as shown by their “failure” to downgrade promptly enough many institutions and companies that would shortly go bankrupt or be bailed out by the U.S. federal government during the 2008 Wall Street crash.  Foreign investors are also discouraged by our seeming propensity for changing investment policies and rescinding international contracts every time a new president is installed into power. 

We also cannot “induce” foreign investors with the highest electricity rates in ALL of Asia, rising crime rates, twin insurgencies and banditry, inadequate infrastructures, bureaucratic red tape and, yes, corruption at every level of government.  

Joblessness remains at the core of poverty in the country today.  Poor people without jobs will remain poor.  Clearly, Pres. Aquino can do better at job creation and poverty reduction.  He should now go back to the drawing board with his socio-economic team and come up with better poverty reduction programs than the PPP and CCT for the remaining 4 years of his administration.

 
Published 27 July 2012
Pasig City, PHILIPPINES
 

Related photos

 

Pres. Benigno Aquino III delivering his 3rd SONA at the joint opening session of Congress on July 23, 2012 (photo credit: Allvoices)

 

 

 

 

Protesters burning an effigy of Pres. Benigno Aquino III during a rally outside the Batasan Complex in Quezon City where Pres. Aquino was delivering his 3rd SONA (photo credit: Allvoices)

 

 

 

 

Red carpet fashion at SONA 2012 (photo credit: spot.ph)

 

 

 

More red carpet fashion at SONA 2012:  Party-list representatives Teddy Casiño (right) and Neri Colmenares in their personalized barongs with social statements (photo credit: spot.ph)

 

 

 

Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez and her husband, actor Richard Gomez (photo credit: spot.ph)

 

 

 

 

Garbage scavengers — symbol of grinding poverty in the Philippines (photo credit: youronevoicecanmakeadifference)

 

 

 

 

Urban poor dwellings against a backdrop of skyscrapers — a sad indictment of Philippine society and government (photo credit: skilledtoserve.com)

 

 

 

 

A community of slum dwellers “sanitized” by government tarpaulin advertisement for arriving foreign guests and visitors (photo credit: Yahoo! News)