Who, in 2016, will run for the workers, farmers, the everyman?

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With the two-stop-shop nature of the Philippine economy (OFWs and BPOs), no heroic effort is required of a Philippine President to fulfill the elementary mandate of ensuring decent growth. The BPOs and OFWs grow on their own momentum. The Philippines is also uniquely positioned to be the prime supplier of global manpower and the host to the voice segment of the BPOs. Not much push in terms of policy tweaking or ramping up of investment is required.

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In the case of the BPOs, the outsourcing companies have no option but to relocate here. The driving force is simply the profit motive. For every seat at a Philippine-based call center, the BPO spends the maximum of $1,000 a month per seat: wages, office rentals, auxiliary operating costs etc. If that BPO charges its client double, or triple of what it spends per seat, that would be incredibly low. It is more like ten times or 15 times of what it spends.

It is a tubong lugaw operations by all means . There is no reason for the BPOs not to base their operations here, come hell or high water. The BPOs used to have the ‘India option’. But with India focusing more on the sophisticated end of IT-enabled services (from accounting to journalism), the voice component of IT services has to find a home and the PH is the next best choice. The other competitors are far, far behind.

We are familiar with this long running story of the country , the greatest contemporary story ever, and this is about the resilience and reliability of the OFW sector. At the onset of the Great Recession that roiled the developed economies in 2008, the forecast was unanimous, that it would hit the remittances of overseas workers hard. True. Mexico and China got lower remittances but one country stood out in terms of sustained, or even higher level of remittances. The Filipino OFW is the most resilient in the world. He has little regard for booms and busts.

You know what? It is only in the Philippine context that “ boat people” has a very positive meaning. Our version is that the “ boat people” sail the seven seas, as merchant marine captains or just plain ABs, or able-bodied seamen. They serve the global commerce or the global oil trade and lately, they have been making their mark as competent, hardworking and ever-smiling staffers of cruise liners.

Those rich enough to take those cruises to Alaska and the Mediterranean can attest to the growing dominance of Pinoys in the global cruise business.

So much for the exalted role of the President as the prime mover of growth.

The real role of a President, other than taking those foreign trips to boast about the country’s real or imaginary strides, is about taking care of the vulnerable: the workers, the farmers, the sectors with marginal lives. As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, or as the top foreign policy honcho , the President does not do so much because he cannot really do so much. Our voice in the global stage is not even a pipsqueak . We have no military might either, with hand-me-downs as the anchor of our Air Force and Navy.

Now, here is the question: Will any of the candidates in 2016 do that? Which is to run, precisely, on behalf of those who are struggling to just survive?

Who will run on the platform of pushing for amendments to the Labor Code with these things in mind:

• Scrapping the tripartite, regional wage determination bodies in favor of a national minimum wage, which is basically a “ living wage.”

• Broadening the scope of those covered by the ccde, including the workers in the technology/BPO field.

• Strengthening of the inspectorate arm of the DOLE to monitor violations of wage and other economic provisions.

• Reversing the weakening of trade unions through a revitalization of the workers’ right to collectively bargain.

The small farmers have been neglected for so long that their woes have piled up. And a President sincere in helping them would not even know where to start. The desperation is such , peaking at a scope and scale that is only matched by the gravity of their needs. I know, I am one of them. But still, there is a credible body of policies that can really help farmers meet their basic needs such as the provision of adequate irrigation , a dedicated farm credit, production support and market linkages. The first and the last are the most important.

The President has to start off an honest-to-goodness support to small farmers by endowing five state-run universities with P10 billion each for an inspired agricultural R&D. For one , we should research on the alternative to our disastrous dam-building policy. Our irrigation dams are costly and useless. Moreover, they help mass-murder people during heavy rains.

For the vulnerable, the starting point should be a doubled CCT–P120 billion a year in cash transfers instead of the underfunded P60 billion a year. Cash transfers should be at least four percent of the national budget.

The presidential candidate after the hearts of the vulnerable should also announce a program like this one: a dialysis machine for every barrio. Deaths from kidney failures are currently a humanitarian crisis and no one in the upper echelons of power – this is all too predictable and expected – has realized this.

So, who will stand up for the poor in 2016? If there is a genuine one , he or she will run roughshod over the gallery of heartless technocrats and Netanyahu-lites.

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