SONA 2010 promises vs performance: facts and figures

The public deserves better than a selective presentation of facts and figures in the president’s first year, and is hoping to be given a whole picture of the state of the nation.

According to research group IBON, Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s first state of the nation address (SONA) in July 2010 was as it is short on meaningful promises on the economy. This reflected the lack of a meaningful vision for developing the country and its populist but narrow anti-corruption/anti-Arroyo platform.

Looking back on his first SONA, the group said that promises on jobs and social services are undone as well as promises, such as on privatization, better left undone.

Jobs situation. Pres. Aquino declared in his first SONA: “Paalala lang po:una sa ating plataporma ang paglikha ng mga trabaho (A reminder to all: creating jobs is foremost on our agenda).” It is possible that the SONA will cite 1.4 million jobs created, some 228,000 less unemployed (to 2.9 million), and a 0.8 percentage point reduction in unemployment (to 7.2%), between April 2010 and April 2011. However this is not the whole situation and joblessness actually remains high while the quality of work has even worsened.

The real number of jobless Filipinos is actually some 4.5 million, correcting for an Arroyo-era change in definition of unemployment continued by Pres. Aquino that statistically reduces unemployment by not counting 1.6 million jobless Filipinos. The reported job creation of 1.4 million was also off-set by the 1.2-million growth in the labor force and the drastically large 829,000 increase in the number of underemployed or those with work but still seeking additional work because they are still not earning enough.

The real jobs situation is that the number of unemployed and underemployed Filipinos increased by over 600,000 in the first year of the Aquino administration– by IBON’s estimates now numbering 11.6 million Filipinos.

In terms of wages the administration has also given even less to workers than the previous Arroyo government. Its Php22 wage hike for the National Capital Region (NCR) in May 2011 was less than the Php25 hike that former president Arroyo gave on two occasions and, because of inflation, the real value of the mandated minimum wage is even Php13 lower than reached during the previous administration.

The poor jobs performance is not surprising given how Pres. Aquino shallowly reduced the jobs problem to cumbersome bureaucratic processes: “Lalago lamang ang industriya kung gagawin nating mas malinis, mas mabilis, at mas maginhawa ang proseso para sa mga gustong magnegosyo (Growth will only be possible if we streamline processes to make them predictable, reliable and efficient for those who want to invest).” Whereas the problem rather is poor land distribution and the lack of support for Filipino-owned industries.

Social services. Pres. Aquino also declared: “Oras na maipatupad ang public-private partnerships… mapopondohan ang mga serbisyong panlipunan (Once we implement public-private partnerships we will be able to fund social services).” The first year of the administration has exposed the dangers of relying on private profit-seeking capital for vital social services, as well as shown the administration’s intent to stop taking responsibility for these.

The budget for state universities and colleges was cut by P367.2 million to Php22 billion in 2011 from Php22.4 billion in 2010. The Department of Education’s (DepED) school-building program was meanwhile halved from Php2 billion in 2010 to Php1 billion in 2011. The administration said that it would build 13,147 new classrooms this year — yet the backlog of public school classrooms is some 113,000.

The administration may boast of some Php5.7 billion in Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) scholarships but in seeking to transfer public school students to private schools, these are billions of pesos down the road of education privatization and diminishing the public school system. The government is in effect using private school scholarships as an excuse to not build public school classrooms or hire public school teachers.

Likewise, the administration may boast of additional billions of pesos for PhilHealth and supposed universal health care. Yet much of these funds will eventually be going to private hospitals even as the Aquino government cut the budget for 67 public hospitals nationwide used mainly by the poor by Php368 million, for five specialty hospitals by Php970.6 million, and for subsidies to indigent patients by Php20 million.

Public-private partnership. In his first SONA, Pres. Aquino boasted to have found the magic bullet to the country’s fiscal, infrastructure, jobs and food security problems: “Ito ang magiging solusyon: mga Public-Private Partnerships (Our solution: public-private partnerships).” He also declared: “Makukuha natin ang kailangan natin, hindi tatayo gagastos, kikita pa tayo..lalago ang ating ekonomiya, at bawat Pilipino makikinabang. (We will meet our needs without spending, and we will also earn.. our economy will grow and will benefit every Filipino).”

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. Not only is it unclear how the 10 targeted capital-intensive and centralized PPPs for 2010 roll-out can conceivably “benefit every Filipino”, the administration does not even appear able to get these rolling.

The administration meanwhile drastically cut the budget for economic services. Among others this included slashing the budget of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from Php20.8 billion in 2010 to Php16.4 billion in 2011 and of the Department of Agriculture (DA) from Php39.2 billion (2010) to Php34.8 billion (2011). There is little evidence that the private sector has filled in for the vacuum in critical rural and food chain infrastructure left by the Aquino administration.

Pres. Aquino then ends his first year in office with a long list of unfulfilled promises and poor foundations for progress in the country. The public expects to hear an acknowlegment of these weaknesses in his SONA tomorrow as well as a list of concrete steps, and not just intangible promises, to address these problems. (end)

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