Why APEC’s free market globalization cannot build resilient communities

November 7, 2015

by superadmin

PH must take back what globalization has eroded if it is to build a fortress that will truly keep the people safe and strong even in the face of calamities

The Philippines spearheaded the crafting of a framework on disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) for this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) high-level meeting. Calling more frequent and intense calamities the ‘new normal’, the spoken goal is to forge inclusive economies that can withstand climate hazards using a new paradigm. There is nothing new with the proposed framework, however, as it continues to highlight the role of the private sector in achieving so-called resiliency and promoting so-called development. The framework remains within the corporate-driven ‘build back better’ mantra of the United Nations and the World Bank.

According to Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council executive director Alexander Pama, the specific measures of the framework are yet to be completed by the APEC delegates before the November senior leaders’ meeting. Yet if the said proposal would be founded on the Philippine model of DRRM, then prospects remain dim for most disaster-vulnerable communities.

Problematic response. Philippine DRRM including the phases of preparedness, response, relief , recovery and rehabilitation have fared  poorly in the face of the super-typhoon Yolanda yet has been swift in laying the ground for business opportunities.

Of the 3.4 million families affected and 918,621 families displaced in six regions, only 5,830 families were accommodated in 4 evacuation centers, 14 tent cities, 47 bunkhouses and one spontaneous settlement. Two years since the disaster, of 1,171,469 destroyed and damaged homes, government has only been able to provide 11,938 houses (as of September 2015), while some 132,000 families remain in bunkhouses (as of June 2015).

Worse, the Aquino government declared a ‘no dwelling zone’ (NDZ) policy and effective prohibited families from constructing houses within 40 meters from the coastline purportedly to keep them safe from storm surges and to grow mangroves and beach forests. But the NDZ policy stands to evict hundreds of thousands of families. Fisherfolk groups estimate 70,000 fisherfolk and farmers’ families to be displaced in Panay island alone. People Surge, the broad network of survivors, families and supporters,  reported 72 houses demolished in Barangay 37 reclamation area of Tacloban  last April in the implementation of the NDZ policy.

Although the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reports 717,404 families receiving emergency shelter assistance (ESA), accounts from the ground show delayed distribution, incomplete assistance, politicized allocation, and denial of assistance to those living in NDZs.

Meanwhile, to address the typhoon’s damage to 600,000 hectares of agricultural land including 441,517 hectares of coconut land (of which 161,400 hectares were totally damaged), government spearheaded replanting 26,514 hectares (6% of target as of September 2015). Also affected were the livelihoods of some 1 million families or 5.6 million individuals in agriculture, fishing, trade and transport, with income losses ranging from 40-100 percent. Government response covered 215,471 families given cash for livelihoods and 93,249 families given tools, seeds, boats and fishing gear.

With regard to rebuilding damaged infrastructure, latest available data shows that only 5,096 or 26% of 19,648 targeted classrooms for reconstruction have been completed and only 3.8 million copies of textbooks and learning materials or 58% of the target 6.5 million have been provided. Repairs have also been completed for 284 out of 309 local government facilities (i.e. civic centers, municipal halls, public markets), 59 kilometers out of a lowered target of 105 kilometers of national roads, and 1,118 long meters (l.m.) of 1,853 l.m. of bridges.

All these, while as of October 2015, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reported that Php93.9 billion or 63% of the total requirement of Php150 billion for rebuilding communities has been released to cover housing and shelter assistance, resettlement infrastructure, livelihood support and social services. Budget appropriation for recovery and reconstruction fell way too short of the amount of total estimated damage, recovery and reconstruction needs, yet estimated funding requirement justifies the aggressive enlistment of private sector intervention in reconstruction and recovery efforts.

Survivors, when asked if they have recovered from the damages wrought by Typhoon Yolanda, are ambivalent. The typhoon left them nothing to start with, but they have started rebuilding their lives only through their collective efforts and without government support.

Build back business? Touting the ‘build back better’ slogan, government’s business-led Recovery Assistance for Yolanda (RAY) subdivided 171 Yolanda-hit areas into 24 clusters  or ‘areas of intervention and development (AIDs)’. Most of these have been “adopted” by 18 giant corporations owned by the country’s richest including Gokongwei, Zobel-Ayala, Aboitiz, Pangilinan, Ty, Razon, Sia, Lopez, Zamora, Gaisano, Cojuangco, Ang, Tan, Sy, and Yuchengco. Their diverse businesses include property development and real estate, ports, shipping, transportation, mining, water and power, and tourism.

As recommended during the APEC meetings, the Aquino government has extended the public-private partnership (PPP) program to disaster response. Big developers have started ‘recovery and reconstruction work’ according to their lines of business despite apprehensions by some local government units (LGUs) over the forced evictions of families in the NDZs. Their projects include: Tacloban Hospital and various health centers by the SM Group (Sy); Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center by ICTSI (Razon); housing in Cebu (Aboitiz); and school-building and education in Leyte, Eastern Samar and Capiz (Lopez). The SM Corporation has begun building a mall; Nickel Asia has resumed mining operations; Cargill has started supplying seedlings, , conducting trainings and promoting cash crops; and Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble have been restocking sari-sari stores and conducting trainings as well. The construction of a surge barrier funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which supports coastal resort development has commenced. An Ayala resort development has also begun in Sicogon.

The APEC meetings have also recommended more private investments to promote “energy infrastructure resilience”. But current, planned and targeted coal power projects that include those of the Aboitiz Group, Ayala Corp., DMCI, and San Miguel Corporation (SMC) totaling to about 6,400 megawatts (MW) in Cebu, Iloilo, Davao del Sur, Bataan, Batangas, Lanao del Norte, Palawan, and Davao Occidental expose big companies investing in environmentally unsound albeit cheaper coal power.

The case of tsunami-damaged spots in other Asian countries should also serve as sufficient warning against ‘build back better’, as survivors barely benefited from big local and foreign business involvement in rehabilitation. Big corporations took the lead in building embassies, power plants and industrial and tourism complexes in Haiti, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Years later however, not only did hundreds of thousands of calamity survivors remain in camps but tens of thousands were also evicted from the cities and dumped in wastelands.

Vulnerable to begin with. An IBON survey revealed that some 722,400 families or 80% of respondents in Yolanda-hit Region 8 live on Php5,000 or even less every month, translating to Php33 a day for some 3.4 million individuals. Also, some 92% of families have earnings from agriculture, while of more than half of the families in agriculture are tenants or are in a leasehold arrangements prior to the super-typhoon. But without a distributive land reform program, farmers here are as impoverished as those in other parts of the country, all centralizing a high percentage of harvests and earnings to their landlords and most being subjected to usury, while others are obliged to pay amortization fees upon receipt of their land title.

Eastern Visayas was the second poorest region after the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2012. It had the highest incidence of hunger in 2011: poverty incidence among families was at 37.4% in 2012. The region also had the highest infant mortality rate with 40 deaths per 1,000 live births which is double national figures. Unemployment and underemployment combined was at a high 30.2 percent. As for education, 13.4% of 5-17-year-old kids were not attending school in the same year. While 97,000 pupils attended school, 189,000 children were already working to augment their families’ meager incomes.

Yet post-Yolanda, the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) targeted to improve lives not by distributing land for free for farmers to till, make productive and earn decent incomes from, nor by assisting fisherfolk to ensure higher catch. Instead, government provided tools, cash assistance, training, credit and linkages to some 705,495 farmers, 98,684 fisherfolk and 32,359 micro, small and medium enterprises. Still, farmers are losing their land as fake land titles are reportedly being bid out to the highest bidders or to absentee landlords who are reclaiming their long-abandoned lands.

Not under globalization. Establishing an inclusive economy where the majority genuinely benefits from growth is a welcome objective. However the theme of the APEC is a farcical one as it upholds the corporate-driven, free market framework. Globalization policies have only benefited the rich, while the vast majority have become increasingly forced to live on falling wages and incomes, worsening jobs crisis and poverty, diminishing social services and utilities, and plundered natural resources.

By forcing economies open, globalization has removed protection of local communities and their chances of developing their capacity to prosper and withstand climate hazards. The Philippines must take back what globalization has eroded if it were to build a fortress that will truly keep the people safe and strong even in the face of calamities. As the APEC high-level meeting nears, it is high time for the Philippine government to rethink the neoliberal framework and replace it with a paradigm that genuinely pays attention to addressing the economic and social roots of the people’s disaster-vulnerability. Only then shall economies be truly inclusive.