THE orthodox strategy to boost investments and generate jobs in Eastern Visayas and other poorly-performing regional economies is this: Make the wage rate as low as possible.
The tripartite body that sets the regional wage for Eastern Visayas and the like does not deviate from this tortured parameter. After Congress abandoned the mandate of setting a national minimum wage and wage-setting was passed on to the tripartite bodies – and that was so long ago that only God knows when — that has been the rule.
That wage-setting policy has been a failure. No, no, cancel that out. That policy has been a miserable failure. Not even a particle of economic lift has been generated by that low-wage policy. In retrospect, asking depressed regions to depress their wage levels to generate investments and gain parity with the more progressive regions was probably based on hokum and decided without the benefit of empirical evidence.
Low wage is not a viable and humane policy.
Without jobs and economic opportunities, the young and able-bodied leave their tough-luck regions for overseas jobs or to jobs in more prosperous regions in the country in an exodus that has not been reversed through generations. The low wage policy may have not only been a prescription for stasis. It may have contributed to the decision of investors to shun the region for good.
( I have two young Warays in my miserable farm, which has not turned a profit since the Pinatubo eruption. They say they would rather starve in my farm than starve in their hometowns. At least, they have this consolation: Pampanga hosts four giant box-like structures called malls where they can girl-watch. The entire EV region does not have a single giant box–shaped mall.)
Low wage = low competencies. Maybe the investors are thinking along this term and the tripartite body is not even aware of this bias. Maybe that is the reason why Eastern Visayas and the like are investment wastelands.
And with the copra industry battered by Yolanda and subsequent calamities, jobs are becoming more scarce and the migration of young men and women into greener pastures intensifies.
In face of empirical evidence that the low wage policy has been a miserable failure, why is there no push from policy makers to reverse course and find policies that work? Given the region’s long of underdevelopment – and the fact that if suffered horrifically from Yolanda’s wrath and it is now a place that needs special attention – the government should have given a special focus on Eastern Visayas and similar weather-beaten, tough-luck regions?
Indeed, why is the government and policy-makers tone-deaf to the pain and suffering of these Sloughs of Despond? The short answer from policy makers? So what !
The government’s breathtaking indifference to the plight of say, Eastern Visayas, is rooted on the fact that it can neglect the region and not pay a dear price for that neglect. The region has been a negligible contributor to the national economy. After Yolanda turned much of the region into a wasteland, the calculation was that the dent on GDP growth by the super typhoon was not much, just barely over one percent. That slack, according to the cruel calculations, can be actually filled up by the unprecedented flow of money from overseas in the aftermath of Yolanda – as ODA or as concessional loans – that is now being used to perk up demand in capital and consumer goods.
From the view of the national leadership that is obsessed with GDP growth, Yolanda would in no way abort the rise in GDP growth. And acts of tokenisms would suffice. That has been the standing policy of government in the aftermath of Yolanda.
If you have not noticed, the government just goes about the relief and rehabilitation efforts to show the international donors and the media that it has been doing what needs to be done. And doing the R and R part does not necessarily imply that there are accompanying policies to fundamentally change the economy of the region. Just do the media-centric part, the play-acting part, the phony show of government concern and compassion.
And you can rely on the media to focus on the superficial and tangential. Remember the time when the media topic was the back-and-forth between a Cabinet member and an LGU leader who belonged to a dynasty from the opposing political camp? Bickering and catfights amid so much tragedy is often condemned and frowned upon in nations with real civilizations. Here, it leads the prime time news.
Throughout much of the histories of the underdeveloped regions in the country, what they get from the government are two: wrong policy prescriptions and tokenisms. This is all too clear in the national budget.
The bulk of the capital expenditures, year in and year out, goes to the wealthy regions. The economic leaders bask in this pragmatic decision. From their perch, they hold that pouring massive amounts of developmental funds into the tough-luck regions is a waste of resources. These areas are virtual sinkholes.
Why bother with life-changing, game-changing policies when these tough-luck regions can live their dreary lives on low-wage policies and other tokenisms?