“While the sustainable development goals (SDGs) at first glance aren’t objectionable, as a framework for development, these are deeply flawed and fail to address the structural problems that perpetuate poverty and inequality, said Sonny Africa, IBON Executive Director at the online forum “People’s Review of SDG 1 & 10: Rising above poverty and inequality in the time of COVID-19”. This forum is the opening salvo of the July PH Civil Society SDG Watch series “Rising above the health and economic crisis in the time of COVID-19” organized by the Council for People’s Development and Governance.
Research group IBON along with the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC), Bai Network of Indigenous Women (BAI), Save Our Schools Network (SOS), Panay Council for People’s Development (PCPD), and Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA) held the forum to review and discuss the Philippine government’s progress in meeting by 2030 SDGs 1 and 10 on eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality. The groups said that these SDGs will not be achieved in the country as long as the government refuses to adopt progressive policies that bring about real development and pushes neoliberal policies that benefit the few.
Africa noted that as of March 2020 at the pandemic onset, the Philippines was “on-track” for only 22% of the SDG targets, while it was lagging or regressing on 78% of targets. At midterm to 2030, the Philippines has had slow progress across all SDG targets. He said that these show the weakness of the government in giving structural problems the needed attention.
For SDG 1, Africa said that the main limitation of the targets is the low threshold set to be considered as living in extreme poverty (less than US$1.25 a day). He said that this discounts millions of people that make more than this but are in poverty. This is the case in the Philippines, where government does not consider poor those Filipinos living on Php72 per day on average.
Meanwhile, shallow standards have also been set to achieve SDG 10, Africa said. For instance, one of the targets is faster income growth of the bottom 40% of the population than the national average. But this means nothing, he said, if income growth is minimally improved for the bottom 40% while the rich still get richer and the huge wealth gap remains or even widens.
Representatives from various sectors at the forum further substantiated how government has not taken the SDGs on poverty and inequality seriously and still advance anti-people policies that are counter to and even worsen these.
In relation to SDG 10, CDPC Executive Director Rhoda Dalang discussed how discrimination against indigenous peoples (IP) is worsening under the Duterte administration. Dalang cited three examples of this – genocidal and ethnocidal oppression of the Lumad people; big infrastructure projects like the Kaliwa, Jalaur and Genned dams that destroy livelihoods and the environment and displace IPs; and policies like the Anti-Terror Law that is being used to brand as terrorists IPs that resist these big infra projects.
Rius Valle of the SOS Network tackled the attacks on Lumad schools due to the communities’ resistance to corporate plunder of their ancestral lands. He said that under the Duterte administration there have been 1,030 cases of human rights violations against the Lumad with 93,977 victims. Some of these attacks include the closure of Lumad schools, militarization, killings, illegal arrests and freezing the accounts of organizations that support the Lumad, such as UCCP-Haran.
MCPA Coordinator Amirah Lidasan shared how despite the peace negotiations between government and the Bangsamoro people, the latter have been driven into deeper poverty. This is due to the Duterte administration’s “war on terror” and policies that have favored big business interests such as large-scale mining and corporate plantations in Mindanao.
Fernando Hicap, chairperson of the national fisherfolk organization PAMALAKAYA, said that poverty has worsened for small fisherfolk under the current administration. He cited the government’s support of big infrastructure projects like the Manila Bay Reclamation, China’s occupation of the West Philippine Sea, and fisheries liberalization policies that have deprived Filipino fisherfolk of precious fishing grounds and destroyed their livelihoods.
Cris Chavez of Panay farmers’ organization PAMANGGAS said that the government’s neoliberal policies have worsened landlessness, and negatively impacted Panay farmers’ incomes and livelihoods. For instance, the Rice Tariffication Law resulted in low rice farmgate prices that left farmers with little or no income. Land reform also remains slow – for example, 120 hectares of land tilled by 150 families in Capiz for 30 years remains undistributed.
Abner Manlapaz of the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) sector of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, said that poverty significantly affects the PWD community. Many are unable to avail of various social services like education and health. During the pandemic, many PWDs had difficulty getting social amelioration. Manlapaz also noted that while there are some policies in place for PWDs, these appear token and often disability-related needs go unrecognized.
Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Inc. (COSE) Executive Director Emily Beridico discussed how the elderly are susceptible and vulnerable to COVID. This is not just due to their weaker health condition, but due to their poor economic well-being and low access to health and social services, even prior to the pandemic. Beridico shared a study finding that while social amelioration helped offset the income effects of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on the elderly, this was not enough for the duration of the ECQ. Some vulnerable older persons especially women were unable to receive cash aid due to differences in interpreting eligibility.
IBON Foundation Board of Trustee Dr. Judy Taguiwalo closed the forum and synthesized the important points shared by the speakers and panelists. Dr. Taguiwalo noted that despite the claims of those in power, it is not the pandemic but government’s programs and policies hindering the realization of the SDGs. She said that poverty will not be eradicated and inequality will not end without the collective action of the marginalized, ending with a quote by Mahatma Ghandi – “The world has enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.”