By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — An urban poor group said it is high time for the government to take the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines seriously and to look into the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser) as an opportunity to address the roots of poverty in the country.
“While the government keeps its positive outlook high riding on the optimism of Filipinos, recent surveys cannot cover up the fact that almost half of the population consider themselves poorer than ever, and the incidence of hunger is at an all-time high,” Kadamay said in a statement.
The peace talk between the GPH and the NDFP was postponed last month, which, according to NDFP’s Luis Jalandoni, is due to the GPH’s refusal to uphold the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) and honor its word that they would release detained NDFP consultants. He added that the peace negotiations between the two panels would depend on the compliance with the Jasig. “If the GPH cannot comply with the Jasig, then there is no way that we can trust the GPH to comply with any other agreement.”
Despite the sharp words that the two panels have exchanged over the media in the recent months, Jalandoni said the NDFP remains committed to the peace talks. Should it resume, the GPH and the NDFP are bound to draft Caser, which is the second substantive agenda item under the 1992 Hague Joint Declaration. In a previous interview with Randall Echanis, a member of the NDFP’s Reciprocal Working Committee on Socio Economic Reforms said this would genuinely address the economic problems of the people, especially the marginalized sectors such as farmers, workers, indigenous peoples and urban poor.
“There is a necessity to replace the current corrupt and landlord-comprador-operated bureaucracy to fully attain the reforms offered in CASER, so that it would benefit the millions of marginalized Filipinos,” Kadamay said.
The group added that it is becoming “more necessary” for the government to look into the proposals of the NDFP as the “existing socio-economic programs seem to be futile in addressing the widespread poverty, and as the worsening local crisis threatens to spur an inevitable social unrest among the populace.”
No effective socio-economic programs
Kadamay said there have been no serious efforts on the part of the government to address poverty in the country. Instead, it has existing socio-economic programs, which, according to the group, are “palliative.” This include the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), Pantawid Pasada, an aid given to public transport in light of the increasing oil prices, and Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPEr).”
For one, the CCT project, considered by President Benigno S. Aquino III as his key anti-poverty strategy would be increasing its budget in 2012 by 86 percent. However, Ibon Foundation research head Sonny Africa noted that CCT is “an expensive, unsustainable, short-sighted and artificial trickle-down mechanism.”
“The DSWD has reported that the CCT program will cost P306.6 billion just from 2012-2016 with some P30.6 billion ($708.2 million) for various administrative expenses if past spending patterns continue. The proposed P39.5 billion ($914.18 million) CCT budget for 2012 alone is, for example, almost as much as the entire health department budget ($1.004 billion) and over four times the budget for the 68 public hospitals nationwide ($226.81 million),” Africa said.
He said the CCT does not address “joblessness and low incomes that cause poverty in the country,” adding that since it is only in a “micro household level intervention,” it does not resolve the roots of the economy’s agricultural and industrial backwardness.
Africa also noted that despite the various implementation problems that emerge on the process of the CCT, the program would be “rapidly without benefit of any major study on its implementation and impact.”
As for land reform, Gloria Arellano, Kadamay national secretary general, said the Akbayan-sponsored CARPER has “legitimized land grabbings as in the case of Hacienda Luisita farmers and in other haciendas in the country.
For generations, Kadamay said landlord families have monoploized land ownership in the countryside, which, in effect, limits the access to sustainable sources of income for tens of million families of farmers, who are majority of Filipinos, and drives a growing trend of urban migration.
“These programs do not address the very vital issue of lack of sustainable and balance source of income for the majority of the population to ensure social order,” Arellano.
Arellano said if the “chronic poverty” would not be addressed by the present administration, it would “propel social unrest not only in the countryside, but also in the urban centers in the years to come.” She added that there are “glaring possibility of social unrest like to those seen on television in the MENA regions.”
“Programs for genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization, which are CASER’s fundamental programs, will not only prevent the social unrest that has started decades ago in the entire countryside, and is now turning to reach the urban population in coming years,” Arellano said, “It will also give chance to millions of poor Filipinos to break free from the bonds of poverty that they have hopelessly and gruelingly suffered from for generations.”