SENTRO Statement for SONA 2013

Three years ago, President Aquino promised to substantially reduce poverty, create quality and secure jobs, and end the reign of impunity, among others. He promised “inclusive growth”. Workers have had enough of these broken promises.

This was aired by the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) as it led its affiliates in holding protest actions to counter the “phenomenal” economic “growth” that PNoy would surely brag about in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) today.

SENTRO believes that to end poverty, government needs to redistribute wealth, shift its economic paradigm towards building the domestic economy and, heavily invest in social services such as education, health, housing and the like.

Unfortunately, many if not all these, particularly the redistribution of wealth, run counter to the class interests of the Aquino government.

‘Phenomenal growth,’ historic investment ratings

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) announced on Jan. 31 that the Philippines, amid lackluster US economy and worsening economic crisis in Europe, had posted an impressive 6.8 percent hike in its gross domestic product (GDP) in the last quarter of 2012 and a full-year increase of 6.6 percent. To emphasize its feat, NEDA also disclosed that the country’s fourth quarter GDP was higher than its fellow members in the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations): notably the 5.4 percent of the fast-developing Vietnam and a mere 1.1 percent of the powerhouse Singapore.

In entire Asia, edging the Philippines was the 7.8 percent of the economic giant China. The country even bagged the distinction, even momentarily only, of having the “fastest growth rate in Asia” when it attained a 7.8 percent GDP in the first quarter of this year compared to China’s 7.7 percent.

The said steady and remarkable development had enabled the Philippines to pull off a historic first when Fitch Ratings bestowed upon the country an investment-grade status last March 27, from BB+ to BBB- credit rating with stable outlook. The same rating was granted to the Philippines by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) on May 2.

Moody’s Investors Service rates the country two notches below investment grade or Ba2 with positive outlook, but nonetheless favorably regards the Philippine economy by upgrading its growth forecast this year from 5.9 percent to 6.5 percent. Its sister company, the Moody’s Analytics even described the country as “Asia’s rising star.”

Dubious record of Big 3; ratings will mainly benefit Big Business

In his Sona, Aquino will definitely highlight these ratings “awarded” to the Philippines; but the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), a founding member of SENTRO, has revealed some unsavory records of Fitch, S&P and Moody’s or the Big 3 global credit rating agencies, foremost of which are their “intimate” relationship with big private corporations, especially those that obtain investment rating from them.

For instance, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia were likewise given investment grade ratings shortly before the Asian financial crisis in 1997, which considerably affected too the Philippines. A few days before the infamous bankruptcy of the giant Enron Corp. in 2001 – as well as the collapse of the Lehman Bros. and AIG in 2008 – the S&P, Moody’s and Fitch still issued “safe investment ratings” to these American firms.

An independent research divulged that more than half of the loans granted to several companies that were classified by S&P as AAA, the highest rating, were downgraded only seven years later – testimony to the rating’s unreliability.

‘Growth’ for whom?: The poor getting larger, poorer and miserable

Despite the boast of being Asia’s fastest growing economy, in spite of the stellar ratings given by the Big 3 rating firms, the most recent Philippine poverty figures show that in June 2012 the destitution was ironically worsening or at least “had no statistical difference to the poverty incidence in 2006.”

In this case, NSCB deserves praise that while it proudly announced in January the GDP hike, it likewise humbly admitted in April that poverty rate was barely changed to the chagrin of some top officials in the Aquino government.

Although deemed by independent studies as yet “conservative” or “trimmed down,” the official data on “poor” people, issued by NSCB last April 23, bared that this was practically unchanged from 28.8 percent of the population in 2006 to 27.9 percent in 2012 (or 23.4 percent of total families to 22.3 percent in the same period).

Hence, in June 2012 about 28 of 100 Philippine families or estimated at over 25 million Filipinos were considered “poor” or barely living on P7,821 a monthly income (for a family of five), which includes P5,458 for basic food needs alone. Still below this poverty threshold are those living in “extreme poverty,” which remained virtually unchanged also from 14.2 percent of the population in 2006 to 13.4 percent in 2012 (or 10.8 percent of families to 10.0 percent in the same period).

Moreover, the United Nations (UN) reported last October that hardly three years into the deadline of completing the seven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Philippines failed in four, including eradicating extreme poverty as well as achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality and sustaining maternal health.

‘Growth’ for whom?: The rich becoming richer – filthy, obscenely richer

From 2010, when Aquino assumed the presidency up to the present, the poverty worsened vis-à-vis the tremendous increase in the wealth of the few, particularly the country’s richest 40 families.

Hence, the collective wealth of the “Super 40” has literally skyrocketed from $22.8 billion in 2009 to $47.4 billion last year, or roughly P1.9 trillion ($1 = P41).

NAGKAISA, the broad trade union coalition, which both SENTRO and APL belong, has placed the current wealth of the Super 40 at P2.4 trillion or “more than the combined annual income of 17 million wage earners.” It added that the GDP growth has “remained concentrated to the high income class … with the top 15 percent … getting more than 60 percent of the national income.”

In fact, the collective riches of 11 wealthiest Filipinos – the US dollar billionaires – listed this year (2013) by Forbes publication reach a mind-boggling $39.85 billion or roughly P1.63 trillion or equivalent to a staggering 15 percent of the Philippine GDP last year, which was $257.5 billion or P10.6 trillion.

These crème de la crème of the Philippine elites are the following, including their respective families and purported worth: Henry Sy ($13.2 billion) of SM, BDO, etc.; Lucio Tan ($5 B) of Philip Morris-Fortune Tobacco, PAL, etc.; Enrique Razon ($4.9 B) of port operator ICTSI, Solaire hotel-casino, etc.; Andrew Tan ($3.95 B) of Megaworld, Emperador brandy, McDonald’s-Philippines, etc.; David Consunji ($2.8 B) of construction and real estate company DMCI, etc.;

George Ty ($2.6 B) of Metrobank, Toyota Motor Philippines, etc.; Lucio Co ($2 B) of Puregold, etc.; Robert Coyuito ($1.6 B) of National Grid Corp., PGA Automobile, etc.; Tony Tan Caktiong ($1.4 B) of Jollibee, Chowking, Mang Inasal, etc.; Andrew Gotianum ($1.2 B) of Filinvest, etc.; and Roberto Ongpin ($1.2 B) of Alphaland, etc.

Missing in the dollar billionaires’ list but certainly among the Super 40 are the Gokongweis of Robinson malls, Cebu Pacific Air, etc.; Ayalas of Ayala Land, BPI, etc.; Ortigases of the Ortigas real estate firms; Aboitizes of Aboitiz Power, Union Bank, etc.; Lopezes of ABS-CBN, Rockwell, etc.

A report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer enumerated additional data related to this grossly lopsided income divide:

  • The high-income class posted a 10.9 percent income growth rate in 2011 against the 4.3 percent income growth rate among the middle-income class.
  • The wealth of the country’s Top 40 corporations accounted for 76 percent of the country’s nominal GDP.
  • Since the high-income class comprised only of about 15 percent of the population, its share of the gross national income (GNI) is about three-fifths.
  • In 2010-2011, among the upper income class, the growth by GDP stood at 10.9 percent, GNI at 9.9 percent, and net disposable income (NDI) at 10.6 percent.
  • In contrast, the growth in the middle-income group was 4.3 percent by GDP, 3.4 percent GNI, and 4.1 percent NDI.
  • Should the government becomes serious in collecting taxes from the rich, especially the Super 40, it could earn approximately P320 billion in tax revenues, a huge amount that could finance important government projects.

But where are the jobs?: Jobless ‘growth’

Despite again the supposed “economic boom” the number of unemployed and underemployed Filipinos is steadily rising.

Last February, the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES), an attached agency of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), reported that in one year’s time or from October 201 1 to October 2012, the number of employed Filipinos went down from 38.5 million to 37.7 million or more than 880,000 became jobless.

Worth mentioning in this job displacement figure was that the BLES “observed that more people lost their jobs because they were fired, not because they quit.”

Furthermore, a significant reason for this “job problem” is the absence of secure, decent and quality jobs, the APL reiterated. “In-demand” jobs are mostly contractual employment in the services sector and the business process outsourcing (BPO), particularly call centers, putting aside the very vital agriculture and industry, especially the manufacturing.

It is not surprising that data from NEDA’s Socioeconomic Report 2011-2012 reveal that more than half of the country’s total employed is in the services sector; while less than one-sixth comprises the industry sector and roughly one-third the agriculture, fishery and forestry sector.

The increasing incidence of underemployment has now alarmed NEDA when no less than its head, NEDA director general and concurrent Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balicasan, was quoted as saying that “underemployment is (now) a bigger problem than unemployment,” where the latter has reached in April at 19.2 percent or about 7.2 million Filipinos.

Benjamin Diokno, a noted economist, even claimed that the 2012 “growth” has actually cut or decreased the number of employed persons as the “contribution of agriculture to GDP continued to shrink, posting the lowest growth among the three major (economic) sectors,” including industry and services.

He underscored the fact that most Filipinos “still depend on agriculture and related sectors for a living,” and because the most recent (October) employment data show that “nearly 1 million” agricultural jobs were lost, the 2012 GDP “may be characterized as labor-shredding growth.”

Thus, from Oct. 2011 to Oct. 2012, the number of employed workers in the agricultural sector was slashed by 705,000 or to 12.2 million from 12.9 million, according to the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES), an attached DOLE agency, as well as the National Statistics Office (NSO)

On the other hand, employment in the services sector has consistently multiplied from 18.7 million in 2010 (when Aquino assumed the presidency) to 19.7 million last year.

In the same period, employment in the industrial sector has gained a modest growth, at first glance, from 5.4 million to 5.8 million; but the vital subsector of manufacturing posted a slow increment of 3.03 million to 3.13 million, while the other subsectors have significantly swelled from a combined 2.37 million to 2.64 million.

This is clearly portrayed in the “industrial component” of the 2012 GDP, as shown in the hefty increases in the construction, electricity, gas, water and mining and quarrying subsectors – a reflection of the dysfunctional economic strategy of the present and previous Philippine governments, the APL observed.

Government statistics also show that, despite of the GDP “growth,” unemployment rate has increased from 6.4 percent of the labor force or equivalent to 2.6 million Filipinos in the last quarter of 2011 to 6.8 percent or 2.8 million in the same period last year.

Average annual unemployment figures are virtually unchanged at 7.0 percent of the total labor force (40.4 million) or 2.83 million jobless in 2012 from 7.0 percent also (of 40.0 million LF) or 2.81 million people without work in 2011.

While the Neda contrasted the country’s GDP last year to some of its neighboring nations, the Philippine jobless rates in 2012 are the worst compared to the following nearby countries: Thailand (0.6 percent), Singapore (1.7 percent), Malaysia (3.0 percent), South Korea (3.0 percent), China (4.1 percent), Taiwan (4.3 percent), Vietnam (4.4 percent), and Indonesia (6.5 percent).