The Duterte administration’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao increases political instability in the country, research group IBON said, and will not help the economy, which is already slowing as it is. While the 1987 Constitution provides for such a declaration, its indiscriminate use gives the impression of an authoritarian government arbitrarily using power for self-serving ends. According to IBON, this creates an economic environment hostile not just to workers, farmers and basic sectors but also to capital and legitimate businesses not aligned with the government.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on Tuesday in Mindanao allegedly as a response to terrorist acts by the Maute group in Lanao del Sur especially in Marawi City. He later also threatened to impose martial law nationwide.

IBON noted that the declaration comes just days after the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released its report of slowing economic growth in the first quarter of 2017. The PSA reported that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) slowed to 6.4% in 2017, which is slower than 6.6% in the first quarter of 2016 and 6.9% in the same period in 2015. The PSA also earlier reported official unemployment increasing to 6.6% in January 2017 from 5.8% in the previous year.

The public outcry against the Duterte administration’s declaration is justifiable, IBON said. While the declaration of a state of martial law is only for a period not exceeding sixty days and while its implications are still not clear, the group said that the experience of economic decline under the long Marcos dictatorship remains fresh. The country’s last experience with nationwide martial law resulted in a wide range of anti-people neoliberal “free market” policies being forced on the Filipino people, world class bureaucratic corruption, and the unprecedented bloating of the country’s foreign debt and a severe financial burden on the economy, IBON recalled.

The conditions for these still remain, said the group, as the current administration’s economic team is intent on pressing further neoliberal “free market” policies despite their proven development failure. Among others these include an oppressive tax reform package that relieves the rich while burdening the poor and public-private partnership (PPP) deals that subsidize the profits of oligarchic private interests. Corruption and even pork barrel remains endemic in the government. The spectre of onerous loans from China for big-ticket infrastructure and other projects is also looming, said IBON.

The country’s experience with martial law has been clearly negative, said IBON. The Duterte administration’s unwarranted declaration of martial law, which is only the third since formal independence in 1946, is a step backward towards worsening elite and undemocratic rule in the country, concluded the group. ###

From Peace History

Research group IBON said that the spirit of the Duterte administration’s rejection of official development aid (ODA) from the European Union (EU) for being used to intervene in the Philippines’ internal affairs is welcome. There is however a much clearer and stronger basis to reject ‘aid’ from the United States (US), which has used its aid programs to become the most interventionist foreign power in the country, said the group.

The Duterte government reportedly informed the EU that it will cease accepting aid from the bloc for future projects. There is still no formal explanation but it can be recalled that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte said in October 2016 that he is willing to forego financial aid from countries critical of his anti-drug campaign. He has also repeatedly said that he views foreign criticism as intervention in the country’s internal affairs.

IBON noted that EU aid accounts for a very small share of total ODA to the country. The US$227 million from the EU in 2015 was just 1.5% of total ODA for the year. Even if aid from multilateral agencies is not counted, EU aid to the Philippines is still less than 3% of total bilateral aid from individual donor countries. Japan leads with a 65% share of total bilateral aid followed by the US at 15%, Australia at 7%, and Korea at 6 percent.

The US meanwhile, according to IBON, is the most interventionist foreign power in the country and aggressively interferes in the country’s economic and political affairs far beyond what the aid figures might indicate. Former United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Andrew Natsios has candidly said that ‘development aid’ is “the most important tool of American influence in the developing world”.

IBON added that the US is the single-biggest foreign influence on Philippine economic policy-making. Taking just the period since 2011, the US government had been using the US$739 million Partnership for Growth (PFG) initiative to bring the Philippines into its flagship Asia-Pacific economic integration scheme – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Though the new US Trump administration has junked the TPP, the PFG will certainly still be used to push pro-US economic policies, said the group.

There is also the US$1 million USAID-funded The Arangkada Philippines project (TAPP) administered by the American Chamber of Commerce from 2010 to 2016. This lobbied policymakers on 471 policy recommendations of which some 80% have been started or already completed, noted IBON. In addition to this, there are four other USAID economic policy intervention projects cumulatively worth some US$50 million (Php2.4 billion): Trade-Related Assistance for Development (TRADE), Facilitating Public Investment (FPI), Investment Enabling Environment (INVEST), and Advancing Philippine Competitiveness (COMPETE) Project. These are multi-year projects but it is still striking that their combined budgets rival the personnel expenses of the government’s entire economic planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), IBON observed.

According to IBON, the US wants policies that benefit American corporate export and commercial interests as well as create the kind of free market-driven trade and investment system in the Asia-Pacific that allows it to maintain its hegemony and dominant economic position. US intervention in Philippine economic policy-making has always been to serve its own economic interests and not to develop the country, IBON said.

Yet international development cooperation should be about development and improving the lives of people, said the group. Rejecting US ‘aid’ will send the strongest possible signal that the Duterte administration indeed upholds independent foreign policy including in the vital economic realm, IBON concluded. ###



The fifth round of peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Phililppines (NDFP) is drawing near. As a socio-economic research institution, IBON observes the historic peace talks under the Duterte administration with interest especially with the start of negotiations on a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).

IBON believes in the importance of increasing public awareness on the economic and social reforms being discussed in the peace negotiations. The institution intends to help build the constituency for reforms that will benefit millions of Filipinos, especially the poor majority who are denied their economic, social and cultural rights.

In this light, IBON humbly invites media practitioners and campaigners to “#CASERGoals: National Development, Social Justice, and Peace”, a media forum that will tackle the CASER and the nation’s search for true development. Representatives of the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels will be asked to tackle their proposed social and economic reforms which IBON will analyze comparatively.

The #CASERGoals media forum will be on May 22, 2017 at 10 o’clock in the morning at the Coconut House located at the QC  Memorial Circle. 

From Arkibong Bayan

IBON Foundation mourns, along with his family, friends and colleagues, the passing of Bishop Elmer M. Bolocon early this week. He will be remembered as a peace advocate, staunch human rights defender, and for his unwavering commitment and service to the poor and vulnerable sectors of Philippine society.

From 1996 to 2006, he was the General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). He also served as the Executive Secretary of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) since 2009.

Bishop Elmer was a former member of IBON’s Board of Trustees for several years and was among the institution’s pillars in basing the advocacy of an alternative economic program on the Filipino people’s history and struggle for independence and democracy. He was known as a good listener and quiet worker. He continued to support and collaborate with IBON even after he retired from the board within the first decade of 2000 due to a lingering illness. Bishop Elmer Bolocon will truly be missed.

Econ Sovereignty

IBON Foundation Statement for the Stakeholders’ Meeting of the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC)18th Round of Negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
Manila, May 10, 2017

Our countries should not be prevented from implementing real development policies. After over three decades of globalization we need to reclaim our economic sovereignty, not erode this even further.

IBON Foundation welcomes this stakeholder engagement. However, as with many other civil society organizations (CSOs), we find the general secrecy surrounding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the correspondingly very limited public participation to be very disappointing.

Our organizations are keen to analyze and discuss the terms of the RCEP for their far-reaching impact on tens of millions of Filipinos and hundreds of millions of others across RCEP negotiating countries. We have made many formal requests to various governments for copies of the negotiating text so that they could be analyzed and discussed among the workers, farmers, and other marginalized sectors. These requests are unheeded and we have had to rely on extremely sketchy information and on so-called leaked texts.

The consequent absence of meaningful participation is not consistent with the principles of democracy and inclusiveness that our governments often espouse.

Secondly, it is often argued that we have to enter free trade agreements (FTAs) or else be “left out” and lose out. This is a poor guide to economic policymaking. The measure of success is not of being able to avoid being “left out” but rather if economic development has been or is being achieved. That defeatist position has resulted in the Philippines steadily liberalizing and opening its markets over the last three decades. The negative Philippine experience is something that we invite our neighbours to learn from.

The Philippines is party to six (6) FTAs, one (1) bilateral FTA, various agreements under the multilateral World Trade Organization (WTO), and at least 31 bilateral investment treaties (BITs). These are aside from a whole range of market-oriented domestic laws and policies. These have made the country already more open than its neighbours in Southeast Asia in many aspects of foreign trade and investment.

These neoliberal policies have kept agriculture backward and caused it to decline to its smallest share of the economy in history. Filipino industry has been in decline for decades and is already a smaller share of the economy and employment than in the 1950s; some 20 firms have been closing on average every day since the 2000s. This has been compensated for by the bloating of a largely low value-added and low productivity service sector.

It has also resulted in the worst crisis of joblessness in the country’s history. There is unprecedented unemployment in the country especially if we also count all the discouraged workers who dropped out of the labour force from finding no work around. We estimate an unemployment rate of over 10% with over four (4) million unemployed Filipinos. On top of this is the greatly worsening quality of work – real wages have fallen to lower than they were fifteen years ago in 2001 and nearly two-thirds (63%) or 24.4 million of those employed are in non-regular, agency-hired, informal sector or unpaid family work. This severe domestic job scarcity has forced some 11-12 million overseas Filipino workers to find work abroad to support themselves or their families, suffering separation and a host of abuses.

All this while a few families have become even richer and a few large corporations have become even more profitable. This is very alarming. We don’t want more policies of inequality and underdevelopment.

Thirdly and overall, we then have serious reservations with RCEP which is a race to the bottom for countries to give the most favourable conditions for capital even at the expense of people and national development. Many of the specific areas of concern have already been well-articulated by colleagues from CSOs and people’s organizations. IBON has also submitted a position paper detailing the threats to Philippine agriculture (especially rice farmers) and industry, to people’s access to cheap generic medicines, and to farmers’ seeds.

We would like to add that Philippine economic policies are already shackled by profit-, market- and capital-driven trade deals and laws as it is. RCEP is an additional neoliberal shackle that is irrational and anti-development. RCEP is restrictive and for instance prohibits economic development policy measures listed as “performance requirements” or the use of trade barriers and other protections for domestic producers.

Yet such policies are exactly what RCEP negotiating countries China, Japan, South Korea, India and others have used to develop their industries to what they are today. Their positive experience with these is something that we should learn from. The double-standard for industrial policy and progress is already jarring — but the proposals for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) where corporations can bring our governments to secretive commercial courts for undertaking such measures in the national interest just make it worse.

Our countries should not be prevented from implementing real development policies. After over three decades of globalization we need to reclaim our economic sovereignty, not erode this even further.

For whom is RCEP? If it is so good for all, then the people should be brought in rather than kept in the dark. If the people are kept out, then this only underscores that RCEP is for the select few involved and not really for the people. ###



Research group IBON urged Philippine negotiators to reject proposals that may further restrict the policy options of the country in regulating foreign trade and investment.

IBON made the appeal as it joined other cause-oriented groups in a dialogue today with trade officials from the Philippines and other countries that are negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in Manila. It stressed that RCEP and other modern free trade agreements (FTAs) target whatever is left of poor countries’ sovereignty in national economic policy-making.

The group said that as an underdeveloped economy, the country needs flexibility and independence in policy making to ensure that the national interest is protected when dealing with foreign goods and capital.

IBON cited as example the proposals reportedly obliging RCEP members to freeze existing national foreign trade and investment laws and drop performance requirements on foreign corporations. The standstill on national laws is meant to guarantee that the Philippines will not reverse current policies that already allow the domestic entry of foreign goods and capital.

Performance requirements, meanwhile, are measures that government uses to compel foreign investors to fulfill certain conditions to operate in the country. These provisions are being discussed in the RCEP in the context of giving foreign investors a “fair and equitable treatment”.

But IBON argued that such proposals would further tie the hands of the Philippines in determining the appropriate policies and programs on foreign trade and investment. It pointed out that a standstill on national laws under RCEP would deprive the country of the policy option to reverse or even just scale back its aggressive liberalization.

Under RCEP, for instance, among those expected to be hit hard is rice with local production declining amid a massive surge in imports. But a standstill on current policies on rice including the lifting of quantitative restrictions by July this year under the World Trade Organization (WTO) would prevent any meaningful intervention from government to protect this socially sensitive sector. Almost 20 million Filipinos who directly or indirectly rely on the rice industry including 2.5 million small palay farmers would be affected.

In addition, the planned restriction on the use of performance requirements under RCEP would undermine more the capacity of government to regulate foreign investments in a manner that serves the local economy. Performance requirements include policies such as requiring foreign investors to source locally produced goods; to export commodities only after substantial domestic processing; and to hire and train local technical people, among others. These requirements ensure that foreign capital helps build linkages in the local economy, helps strengthens rather than stunts domestic industries, and transfer technology and know-how.

IBON emphasized that investment regulation is just one of the many issues and concerns that the public must raise with the country’s trade negotiators in RCEP. Four decades of liberalization should give more than enough insights and lessons for the Philippine government to seriously reexamine the proposed regional FTA, the group said. ###

​IBON Foundation, Inc. is an independent development institution established in 1978 that provides research, education, publications, information work and advocacy support on socioeconomic issues.


As the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN) which contains the first part of the Department of Finance’s (DOF) proposed Tax Reform Package advances in Congress, research group IBON reiterated that this legislative proposal remains biased for the rich and burdens the poor.

With the majority approval of the House of Representatives committee on ways and means, the tax reform proposal will now move to the committee on appropriations for review before transmittal to the House plenary for second reading and debates.

The proposed tax law essentially seeks to raise an additional Php400 billion by 2019 to fund increases in infrastructure spending for the administration’s so-called ‘golden age in infrastructure’. The proposal purportedly intends to lower personal income taxes while expanding the coverage of value-added tax (VAT) and imposing additional taxes on oil and sweetened beverages.

IBON however reiterated that with this proposal, wealthy families will be paying less income taxes and other taxes, while the poor majority will face higher taxes on goods and services.

The group had earlier pointed out that the package includes a reduction of income, property-related taxes and capital income taxes to the benefit of the wealthiest.

The group also initially estimated that in the DOF’s Tax Reform Package the richest will be paying around Php178.3 billion less in reduced personal and corporate income taxes, estate and donor taxes, and capital income taxes. Consumers, meanwhile, will be paying about Php341.6 billion more for the VAT to be charged on previously exempt items and higher excise taxes on petroleum products. Additional taxes will also be paid by consumers for every sugary beverage they buy. The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion bill is a key component of the DOF’s overall tax reform package.

These contradict the DOF’s claim that its tax reform is progressive and pro-poor, according to IBON. The group repeated that the package remains regressive and elitist as it offsets lower taxes paid by the wealthiest Filipinos by putting additional tax burden on the poor majority of consumers amid their already very low incomes and insecure livelihoods.

IBON Infog 2017 0501 Poor quality work persists
IBON Infog 2017 0501 Poor quality work persists

“IBON re-estimates of labor force survey figures amount to over four million unemployed Filipinos with an unemployment rate of over 9% and the officially reported 7.5 million underemployed with an underemployment rate of 18.3% in 2016. This indicates that there are still a considerable 11.5 million who are without work or still looking for more work because of the poor quality of jobs. These are also apart from an increasing number of discouraged workers who stopped looking for work who likely constitute a large number of the 1.2-1.3 million Filipinos dropping out of the labor force. This continuing massive joblessness underpins the economy’s as well as the workers’ continued reliance on overseas work.

​”​At first glance, it may also appear that the quality of work improved in 2016 – the share of part-time workers in employment is smaller at 32.5% and of full-time workers larger at 66.6 percent. IBON’s most recent estimates of the quality of domestic employment meanwhile indicate that almost two out of three employed (63%) or 24.4 million Filipinos are non-regular, agency-hired, informal sector, or unpaid family workers. This means low-paying and insecure work with poor or no benefits.” – Change Underway? 2016 Yearend Birdtalk



“… Raising wages – for instance, initially with a Php125 across-the-board increase in the minimum wage and then working towards a Php750 national minimum wage – and ensuring that workers receive this has a wide range of gains. This will improve the welfare of some 10 million families with main income from wages, have spillover effects where the families spend their increased purchasing power such as in the informal sector, expand domestic demand, and drive economic growth. This needs to be complemented by ensuring that workers receive all their due benefits aside from putting an end to contractualization. Wages are unfortunately seen as just a necessary evil that should be kept as low as possible in the name of competitiveness.” Change Underway? 2016 Yearend Birdtalk

From Arkibong Bayan

The land-to-the-tiller clamour mounts. This, amid the recent spate of farmers’ killings and other forms of military attacks against peasant communities nationwide. These human rights violations have escalated even after both panels of the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have acknowledged in the on-going peace talks the country’s agrarian problem and the imperative of free land distribution.

Indeed, breaking land monopolies remains to be a grim challenge. The fierce opposition from powers-that-be to putting a stop to land use conversion regardless of its negative impact on production and food security is a case in point.

Failed land reform. A moratorium on land use conversion can provide not only respite to farmers who have either been already displaced or whose livelihoods stand to be interrupted. It can also be a first step in securing arable land that should be used to produce crops for the nation’s food and industry needs.

Land monopoly persists. Many of the largest haciendas remain intact because land reform programs and laws such as the Presidential Decree No. 27, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), National Tourism Act of 2009 and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act, have allowed landowners to skirt land distribution, expand their land ownership and even convert lands to non-agricultural use.

Government has not ascertained the real extent of success of the land reform program that concluded in 2014. Land acquisition distribution (LAD) has been reported to be 88% accomplished with 4.9 million hectares supposedly distributed to 2.4 million farmer beneficiaries. Yet former agrarian reform secretary Virgilio delos Reyes himself admitted that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)’s data “has no base”, thus it lacks basis to verify how much of the land are now actually in the hands of farmer beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, thousands of hectares of lands are reported to have been reconcentrated to their original owners – old-rich families controlling large haciendas who have diversified into real estate development, energy, mining and telecommunications, among other businesses. Philippine oligarchs led by the country’s billionaires such as Henry Sy, the Zobel-Ayalas, the Roxases, the Lopezes, the Yulos, Cojuangco of Negros Islands, the Cojuangco-Aquinos of Central Luzon, the Floirendos, and the Consunjis, among others, have taken advantage of various land laws to gain or regain control over vast tracts of land.

Rampant LUC. DAR records show that 98,939 hectares of land were approved for conversion from 1988 to 2016, while 120,381 hectares were approved for exemption from land reform coverage for the same period. Yet according to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), an average of 165,000 hectares of irrigated prime agricultural lands are converted to other uses annually.

Varying data and evidence from the ground show that there have been illegal conversions and correspondingly, violations of social and economic rights of farming and fishing communities affected by such conversions. DAR consultant Atty. Jobert Pahilga disclosed that one such case of illegally converted land is the sprawling 8,650 hectares Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu, Batangas which extends to Bgy. Patungan (now Bgy Sta. Mercedes) in Maragondon, Cavite.

Prior to conversion, some 10,000 Hacienda Looc farmers made productive coconut, mango and various fruit-bearing trees alongside farms planted to rice and corn. Maragondon folk, numbering more than 600 families mostly in fishing, also planted rice and banana in nearby kaingin farms.

In 1994, the Philippine government through its Asset Privatization Trust (APT) sold the entire 8,650 hectares of Hacienda Looc to billionaire Henry Sy’s Manila Southcoast Development Corporation (MSDC), which covered the 5,303 hectares already distributed to farmers and fishermen under CARP. To make way for the conversion, armed state and private security forces displaced the tillers and put their livelihoods in uncertainty. But farmers stood their ground and sought the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA) to aid them in their legal battle.

In 2013, farmer beneficiaries that continued to assert their rights to the hacienda filed a case at the DAR against the SM Investment Corporation, SM Land Corporation, and Costa de Hamilo Inc. of Sy for the unauthorized conversion of some 5,800 hectares in the said hacienda. Pahilga said that DAR only ordered conversion for 94 hectares of land while the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) gave environmental clearance certificate for the development of only 411 hectares.

The 5,800 hectares that the farmers alleged to have been illegally converted by Henry Sy’s corporations cover the famous tourist destination in Hamilo Coast, which includes 13 natural coves inside the contested Hacienda Looc. Hamilo Coast is being marketed as a seaside residential and leisure property.

Many Special Economic Zones (SEZs) were also former haciendas. For example, large portions of the 7,100-hectare disputed Hacienda Yulo have been converted to the existing Laguna Technopark, Greenfield Estates and Nuvali of the Ayala-Zobel clan and the First Philippine Industrial Park of the Lopezes. Meanwhile, the Luisita Industrial Estate is part of the disputed 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita, which was converted by the Cojuangco-Aquino family. The Angara family in Aurora and Quezon established the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (Apeco) through Republic Act (RA) 10083, which covers about 13,000 hectares of agricultural lands, forested areas in public domain, and thriving coastal areas.

The Ayalas through their real estate development arm Ayala Land, Inc. lead the business of real estate development. Aside from their vast haciendas, they have an accumulated land bank of 8,453 hectares across the country. On the other hand, SM Prime Holdings of Henry Sy has a land bank of about 5,900 hectares of prime lands. These big family corporations dominated the top 50 Philippine corporations in 2012, also indicating that real estate development is the lucrative business in an economy still characterized by land monopoly despite four decades of land reform implementation.

Blocked. Late last year, the DAR led by peasant leader and former Anakpawis party list representative Secretary Rafael Mariano proposed a two-year moratorium on land use conversions and applications for exemption from coverage and processing thereof.

The move met strong opposition from the socioeconomic planning, finance, trade and budget secretaries and the Vice President no less. According to them, a moratorium on land use conversion will hinder jobs creation and poverty alleviation.

Consequently, exemptions were inserted in the fourth draft of the executive order (EO). To be exempted now from the LUC moratorium are energy development projects under the Department of Energy; housing projects under the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council; economic zone development projects under the Philippine Economic Zone Authority; and tourism development projects under the Department of Tourism. However, these huge, business-driven projects are exactly the purposes for which many of the applications for LUC have been approved.

The rabid business-biased defense of the administration’s key officials affirms the continuing domination of profit-oriented neoliberal thinking in the country’s economy and politics.

The DAR has also reportedly revoked the reclassification of and marked for distribution some 700 has of the iconic Hacienda Luisita’s Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) and 384 has sold to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC). Upholding this and starting free land distribution in the controversial Cojuangco-Aquino landholding can signal the breaking of land monopolies on a nationwide scale. But Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI) and its partners have appealed against the revocation, partly showing how large private landholdings could comprise a huge percent of the LAD.

Genuine land reform challenge. The ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDFP is set to tackle the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Rights (CASER), which includes the implementation of genuine agrarian reform as a necessary first step in addressing the root causes of pervasive poverty especially in the rural areas.

During the third round of the peace talks, both the Philippine government and the NDFP agreed that land monopoly shall be broken up and that safeguards against the reconcentration of lands and recurrence of exploitative relations between farmers and corporate agribusiness or landowners shall be instituted. Agricultural lands under the NDFP CASER refer to lands that are devoted to agricultural production and such other uses connected with agriculture such as cattle and livestock farms, aquaculture, including foreshore, pasture farms, and lands that are suitable for agriculture.

Meanwhile, farmers’ groups have vowed to sustain their concerted action pressing for genuine agrarian reform.

The Duterte government, which strives to uphold its pro-poor stance, is faced with the choice of either heeding Filipino peasants’ call or turning its back in favor of powerful landlord and comprador interests.


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