Sona 2011 has little to report, less to look forward to – Ibon

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MANILA – In just its second state of the nation address (Sona), the Aquino presidency has confirmed that it cannot be upfront about the real state of the nation and that is unable to take the difficult reform measures needed to lift tens of millions of poor Filipinos from their poverty.

This, according to independent think-tank IBON, has also led to Pres. Aquino’s difficulty in reporting any meaningful economic accomplishment, which was why his Sona “resorted to half-truths such as on jobs and social services, empty claims such as on rice, and exaggerations such as on conditional cash transfers (CCTs).” The Sona reported an all-time high in the stock market, improved credit ratings, and investor interest in oil and gas exploration in the country. Yet, IBON noted that while Pres. Aquino hailed these as signs of an “improved and improving economy,” these are in reality more relevant to investors than to ordinary Filipinos.

The reality of Filipinos is different from the Sona Aquino has portrayed, said Ibon. As the research group expected, President Aquino claimed an “improvement” in the employment situation with a slightly lower unemployment rate and 1.4 million jobs created. But Ibon said that in Aquino’s failing to mention that the jobs created were more than off-set by the growing labor force (1.2 million more) and increase in number of poor quality work (829,000 more underemployed), “he has glossed over the reality that the number of jobless and underemployed Filipinos increased by over 600,000 in the past year.” There are now 11.6 million unemployed (4.5 million, by IBON’s estimate) and underemployed (7/1 million) Filipinos in the country.

Also as reportedly expected by the research group, President Aquino claimed that the CCT program has reduced poverty in the country. But Ibon noted that Aquino also failed to mention that the 100,000 additional CCT beneficiaries per month would only be eligible for the cash dole-outs for at most five years. “Even if these families had been lifted from poverty, which is actually an exaggerated claim because being a beneficiary does not automatically mean no longer being poor, the more important question is their prospect for jobs or livelihood after the program ends,” said Ibon in a statement.

Aquino also repeated the “untruth” of improved rice production due to his administration, which gave the impression of improving the country’s food security, Ibon said, correcting the untruth by attributing the increase in rice production this year not due to any effort of the Aquino administration but rather due to more favorable weather. Ibon noted that there was no adverse El Niño this year unlike last year, and also, there had been an expansion in areas planted to rice. Other than that, Ibon said the projected rice productivity of 3.8 MT/ha in 2011 is virtually unchanged from that of 2009.

Ibon said a more truthful account of the administration’s efforts in the agriculture sector would have mentioned that the budgets for the departments of agriculture and of agrarian reform were each cut by some P4.4 billion ($102 million) from the year before. This can only undermine agricultural productivity, the research group said.

Pres. Aquino also mentioned “ghost schools and teachers as burdening rural children.” But he failed to mention that his administration has also “halved the budget of the education department’s school-building program from P2 billion ($46 million) in 2010 to P1 billion ($23 million) in 2011,” reminded Ibon. Only 13,147 new classrooms will be built this year against the public school classroom backlog of some 113,000, the research group reiterated.

Ibon also called attention to Aquino’s Sona excluding the most pressing problems faced by tens of millions of Filipinos today—for example low wages, continuing landlessness, and a burdensome regressive tax system. This omission and the lack of concrete measures to resolve these make the optimism of the Sona contrived and hollow, said Ibon.

Based on what the Aquino government is doing, IBON said the only foundations it has built are those “for continued social and economic backwardness.”

IBON Foundation, Inc. is an independent development institution established in 1978 that provides research, education, publications, information work and advocacy support on socioeconomic issues.

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