Government policies challenge economic, social and cultural rights in PH

December 11, 2014

by superadmin

These policies have also only advanced the interests of those who recommended them – big local businesses and foreign financial and commercial institutions

This year, International Human Rights Day still finds economic, social and cultural rights in the Philippines in a dire state. This continues with the Aquino administration’s implementation of economic policies that benefit foreign corporations and the local elite at the expense of the people’s rights and welfare.

Right to land, right to food. CARP has, similar to land reform programs that preceded it, continued to compromise the right to land. Though the Department of Agrarian Reform reported having distributed most of around 7 million hectares from 1972 to 2013 under CARP, 76% of certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) have not been paid and are in danger of cancellation. This shows the flawed mechanic of CARP, which obliges farmers to pay for distributed land and even promises compensation for landlords.

Hacienda Luisita, owned by Pres. Aquino’s family, has become a glaring example of landlord circumvention of land reform as more than 1,000 hectares remain in the hands of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. In the recent months, armed goons guarding the clan’s Tarlac Development Corporation have been harassing farmer beneficiaries and destroying crops in more than 9 hectares planted to bananas, chili and peanuts. This is despite a Supreme Court decision ordering the immediate distribution of the land to the farmers.

Relatedly, the people’s right to food is violated by the continued conversion of agricultural land into commercial use. Transnational firms and their local partners are already in big land deals with the Philippine government as in the case of 30,000 hectares in Davao Oriental for a palm oil venture by the Manny V. Pangilinan and Salim group of Indonesia; more than 800,000 hectares for coconut, palm oil, rice and sugarcane plantations in Luzon and Mindanao of the San Miguel Corp and Kuok Group of Malaysia; of 1,125 hectares of Porac, Pampanga’s Hacienda Dolores being claimed by Ayala Land for a commercial district; and 300 hectares in San Jose del Monte Bulacan for the SMC and Araneta-Roxas MRT-7 project. Right to just wages, right to work, right to adequate standard of living, right to unionize. The two-tiered wage system has further undermined the measly minimum wage by allowing regional wage boards to set a floor wage and giving companies that pay lower than the floor wage the discretion to grant productivity allowances. Across all of the country’s industries, average daily pay is only at Php349. The NCR minimum wage of Php466 is not even half of the NCR family living wage of Php1,077 per day.

More than eleven million Filipinos are jobless or underemployed and about 66 million live only on Php125 or less per day. Non-regular workers, including contractuals, probationaries, casuals, seasonals and apprentices comprise almost 50% of all workers in enterprises nationwide. There have been 36 cases of union busting from June 2010 to June 2014, affecting 10,000 workers.

Right to health, right to decent housing, right to education. PPPs, government’s centerpiece economic strategy, also stand to worsen access to basic social services such as health, housing and education. The continued privatization of hospitals as in that of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), and corporatization of health and related services, as in the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), can deprive even more indigent patients of very-much needed health care.

Before its so-called modernization by Megawide Corporation, partly-owned by tycoon Henry Sy, 80% of POC’s patients came from low-income farmers, workers and informal settlers. The current thrust of letting businesses into the construction of social housing continues to deprive millions of homeless of affordable shelter, with units costing almost half a million pesos. This, on top of rampant demolitions giving way to mixed business projects of top real estate, development and construction companies. Even the survivors of recent super typhoons are not spared.

Meanwhile, the various ways by which education has been privatized from increasing tuition fees to business-led construction of schools under PPPs has further commodified the social service. According to Department of Education (DepEd) data, the number of enrolees who reach the final grade has not substantially changed from 1975 to 2010 from 65-66% for elementary and 42-51% for high school. These figures show that Philippine education sorely needs sufficient resources allocation. However, while DepEd receives the highest budget among all government agencies for the fiscal year of 2015, the amount of Php450.2 billion, being only 3.2% of the optimistic estimate for Gross Domestic Product for next year, is still no comparison with the budgetary allocation for education of other Asian countries. Worse, the increase of Php67.1 billion includes 41% in Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund under the Special Purpose Funds category, meaning that the purpose of the amount has not been specified as a line-item, and can only be disbursed upon the discretion of the Philippine president. The maintenance of special purpose funds in the national budget has been criticized as undemocratic by social advocates.

Water and power rates have also continued to burden the public. Though government mulls refining the EPIRA, it has aggravated power woes in the past decade from soaring prices as well to intermittent service and even threatens further rate hikes. EPIRA has also hindered the State from rehabilitating and constructing new power plants, assigning the job of providing a very fundamental public good to private contractors and mandating government to source energy from private providers, at the expense of consumers.

Right to self-determination. The plight of farmers and indigenous groups from Southern Mindanao, Cotobato and Socksargen who recently travelled from Mindanao to Manila mirrors that of various sectors across the country whose lives and livelihood are overridden by business interests. The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 has liberalized Philippine land and resources for almost unregulated mineral extraction especially by foreign mining companies and irreversibly damaged thousands upon thousands of hectares of forests, waters, farms and ancestral land. Under government’s strategy Oplan Bayanihan, affected communities fighting back and asserting their rights are systematically met with violence ranging from forced evacuation, using public spaces as military barracks to the point of disrupting school operations and terrorizing teachers and students (not to mention filing trumped-up charges against them), to extrajudicial killings and disappearances mostly of peasants and indigenous folk.

Even with much hype on economic growth and good governance, the Aquino government’s socio-economic policies have only so far attacked people’s welfare and national development. These policies have also only advanced the interests of those who recommended them – big local businesses and foreign financial and commercial institutions, the goals of which do not reflect that of the larger, toiling and hard-working public. This makes Pres. Aquino, who continues to implement these neoliberal policies, accountable for the persistent violations against the economic, social and cultural rights of Filipinos. (end)