SONA redefines inclusive growth; Customs a cesspool of corruption

Tony Lopez

Tony Lopez

Aside from the fact that it is his longest (at one hour 43 minutes and with 50 rounds of applause, many of them perfunctory), four things struck me about President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 22.

One, for the first time, he publicly admitted incompetence and corruption in his government.

Two, he failed to tell the nation just where we are headed in terms of macro economic goals, poverty reduction, job creation, and what he intends to do with the incompetent and corrupt. He just kept on threatening them.

Three, he failed to tell us how he will solve the massive unemployment problem.

Four, he redefined “inclusive growth”. It is not how economists usually define it.

“Let us be honest,” BS Aquino riled, “until now, there are still a number of government agencies that apparently cannot reform themselves,” he said in Pilipino. “The moment we look away, someone is sure to be abused and victimized.”

In particular, the President cited the National Irrigation Administration and the Bureau of Immigration for the incompetence of their heads both of whom have been fired. And the Bureau of Customs for both incompetence and corruption, but none of whose ranking officials have been fired.

Yet, BS Aquino minced no words about corrupt Customs personnel, accusing them of involvement in smuggling not just of goods but drugs, arms and similar items, and causing more than P200 billion in tax leakage. “Where do these people get the thick skin for their faces?” he asked in Pilipino, adding, “this cannot go on in this government. If you cannot do your job, you do not deserve to remain in office.”

Aquino was so aghast at the scale of corruption he described corrupt government agencies as a cesspool of corruption, a septic tank of corruption.

As for celebrated corruption cases like the rubout by the police of two gangsters (Cadavero case), PDAF (pork barrel scandal), and MRT3 (the $30 million bribery attempt scandal in which his own sister and brother-in-law had been linked), the President hinted he was doing something. ““Ebidensya ang magdidikta sa ating mga hakbang” (Evidence will dictate our next moves),” he said.

In the standard rule of evidence, an accused or suspect is deemed innocent unless proven guilty—by evidence. I still think that in corruption cases and scandals involving public officials and personalities, the basic rule is, if there is smoke, there is fire.

Customs chief Ruffy Biazon had the gall to offer his resignation by text (Isn’t that bastos, discourteous?). At this writing, the three top customs officials who all offered to resign by text are still in their jobs.

The meaning of inclusive growth    
Yes, the President talked about inclusive growth, but, by doing so, he redefined inclusive growth in a manner no one understood. He called it “maximized opportunities” for all, adding “we are not content to wait for the trickle-down effect.”

But reading closely the English version of his SONA delivered with great vigor by Aquino in down-to-earth Pilipino, one gets the impression what Aquino means by “inclusive growth” is—help yourself.

You must help yourself and enroll in any of the programs of the Tesda—Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

You must help yourself and go get a checkup at a government clinic, no matter how distant it is from your God-forsaken place. You must help yourself and enroll your school-age child no matter how distant the school is from your God-forsaken place.

And, of course, help yourself and go, find a job, and compete with some 17 million other Filipinos who are already either jobless or are underemployed. Or, if you know your congressman, ask him or her to get you a slot to train as a barista, sewer or welder in a TESDA program.

TESDA programs
How many actually graduate from the Tesda programs? The Tesda website claims 4.8 million students enrolled in various courses, from 2010 to 2012.

The 4.8 million is an outlandish claim considering that in 2013, Tesda had a budget of P2.971 billion, of which only P900 million went to scholarships, that is, to train people for work or provide them tuition subsidy. The Tesda programs sound to me like overstated tokenism.

Tesda Secretary Joel Villanueva texted me these figures, graduates of techvoc: 992,391 in 2010; 1,332,751 in 2011; 1,600,658 in 2012; and 647,469 as of June 30, 2013.

In his SONA, however, Aquino talked about 503,521 people who have graduated from the Tesda-DOLE programs. Presumably, the 503,521 were in the past three years, under his administration. That’s an average of 167,840 per year.

But some 1.746 million join the labor force every year, the number of people who turn 15 each year, assuming a population growth rate of 1.8 percent based on 97 million people.

This is not to mention the current jobless backlog of 17 million—4.8 million unemployed (jobless) and 12.29 million underemployed.

Obviously, if we just rely on Tesda’s output of 167,000 per year given short-term courses—like being barista or sewer —we cannot solve the unemployment problem.

No jobs, no poverty reduction
If we cannot solve the unemployment problem, we cannot solve the poverty problem. The reason why 27 million Filipinos are poor is that they have no income or livelihood.

In fact, according to the SONA Technical Report, total employment increased from 36.04 million in 2010 to 37.60 million in 2012, an increase of 1.56 million in two years or 780,000 per year.

Even assuming this figure of 780,000 in annual job creation is correct, that’s still much less than the 1.746 million who join the labor force each year.

About 3.5 million joined the labor force in those two years but only 780,000, on the average in number of jobs, were created per year, resulting in 2.72 million able-bodied Filipinos joining the labor force but having no jobs.The government reckons a low labor force participation rate of 66 percent so only 1.79 million of the 2.72 million will be counted as jobless.

BS Aquino also talked about the Conditional Cash Transfer program for the poor. Some 4 million families have been enrolled, entitled to a dole-out of P1,400 a month, subject to certain conditions.

After three years, CCT has not impacted on poverty.The world managed to solve its poverty problem, halving its incidence. The Philippines has not.


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