We can’t forever be giving dole-outs to the millions of families who have lost their livelihoods and homes in the spate of natural calamities that hit the country the latter part of the year, the most devastating of which has been Yolanda, which left probably 10,000 people dead (yes, the provincial police chief who was relieved may have been right after all) and another 4 million homeless.
Those who are living in makeshift shelters nowadays cannot subsist on instant noodles and canned goods much longer.
It’s not just that these emergency goods lower the quality of their diets but really, for these people, dole-outs also will not help much in the long run. They may alleviate hunger for a day or even a few weeks but after that what?
Teach people to fish
Yes, the government needs short-term measures to address hunger and poverty brought about by these calamities. It needs to make a difference now, but feeding programs are palliative measures at best. In the end, what we want is along the lines of that Confucian aphorism, of teaching people how to fish to feed them for a lifetime, instead of giving them fish to feed them for a day.
In short, we want to give them jobs that can help bring some sense of normalcy back into their lives and also get them back on their feet.
For instance, perhaps the government and the private sector can do an inventory of their non-performing assets (NPAs), like idle lands and properties that can be leased to cooperatives and people’s organizations so they can be put to good use for income-generating projects for the Yolanda victims.
Vacant lots in the provinces, even in the cities and suburbs, can be leased to people for vegetable farming, for example. These small projects can create self-reliance, help in community-building and food security.
I’ve seen these vegetable farms in some idle lands inside gated communities, and if they can do this with small plots of land, the government and private companies can certainly replicate it on a bigger scale with its vast idle lands. They have the technical services and the funding sources to make projects like these happen too.
Another thing the administration can do right now is to talk to the different departments and government offices and see how many new jobs might be made available for Yolanda victims.
The private sector has already organized job fairs for Yolanda survivors, including one which would be held by licensed recruitment agencies on January 21 to 22.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that three million workers in the service sector were affected by Yolanda, another 1.9 million workers were in the agriculture sector and the rest were in the industry sector.
We need decent jobs for these workers and the biggest employer in the country is still the government.
I mentioned in last week’s column the super bad timing of the electricity price increase that would further increase the high cost of doing business in the country. We need to encourage more businesses to open, stay open and employ more workers, especially in the manufacturing sector, but high power costs will certainly have the opposite effect so the government has to really look into ways to subsidize or reduce power rates.
The economy is doing well according to investor analysts and government statistics but hunger and poverty are still rampant and we cannot wait for the trickledown effect to kick in.
The widespread destruction caused by Yolanda will have a negative effect on the economy and we need to compensate for the forfeited income and lost consumption, even as we help the millions of victims rebuild their lives.
Again, the government should harness the state’s idle lands and other non-performing assets in productively engaging workers that have been rendered income-less because of Yolanda and other calamities.
NPA inventory needed
The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) should promptly conduct an inventory of all these assets held by the government, including those owned by government-owned and -controlled corporations. NEDA should ascertain those assets that are immediately useful, and then prepare a list of possible ways to make them productive.
We in the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines are prepared to help the NEDA put these non-performing assets to productive economic use. We are ready to help mobilize unemployed, able-bodied citizens to make the assets gainful, whether these be idle public lands that can be used to grow food, or vacant buildings that can be used to support a contact center.
This plea goes out to the private companies as well, because many of them have their own NPAs too.
We will tap local unions and credit cooperatives to make full use of these assets. In the process, we can provide gainful employment to the jobless while producing valuable goods and services.