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Protecting the Poor

Protecting the Poor

Jan 14, 2012

Protecting the Poor

by Leonor Magtolis Briones

“How will the US financial meltdown affect the Philippines? What are the implications of the crisis on the 2009 national budget?  How will it impact on the Filipinos”?

These were the questions which Congressman  RolioGolez  and his colleagues raised  when the Alternative Budget Initiative convened by Social Watch Philippines, presented its alternative budget for education, health, agriculture and the environment to the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives. These very same issues were likewise raised by Minority Floor Leader Ronaldo Zamora when ABI/Social Watch made a similar presentation later in the afternoon.   How relevant  are the macroeconomic assumptions in the 2009 budget  in the light of the rapid global escalation of the crisis?

As early as May, ABI/Social  Watch already engaged the first version of the macroeconomic assumptions. These did not take into account the double tsunami of rising rice and fuel costs, as well as increase in poverty and hunger.  The submission of the 2009 budget on August 30 was followed by the collapse of the US financial markets, rendering the second version of the macroeconomic assumptions downright ridiculous  and absurd.

Uncertainties about the $700 billion rescue package from the US government  further rendered the third version of the assumptions submitted last week  by the economic team of the government even more tenuous.

It is important to bear in mind the combined impacts of external crisis and bad governance, including graft and corruption.

I mentioned the fact that while concern was immediately expressed about the banks and the stock market,  risks and dangers threaten the entire Philippine economy as well as the social system. The government has stoutly maintained that they are ready to come to the rescue of the private financial system.

The slowdown in the US economy will surely impact on trade and tourism. This is unfortunate since trade is the best source of foreign exchange for the economy, and not debt.

The Philippine economy is kept afloat by  remittances from overseas workers.  Filipino Americans have assimilated  the credit culture of the American system.  They are in debt for houses, cars, appliances and even for their trips home.  They have made bad investmentsThis is also true for  European Filipinos.  Remittances as well as balikbayan expenditures might be reduced.

Who needs government protection?

The ones who need the most protection are those who have the least capacity to protect themselves, namely the lower middle class and the poor.

The slowdown in trade and tourism will surely impact on employment and incomes.  The continued increase in prices of consumer goods will surely affect expenditures for food, health and education.

Worse, the fabric of society will be threatened as criminality rises.  The poor will prey on their fellow poor. They are the ones who will be held up; their purses and cell phones will be stolen; their homes will be burglarized.  They will even be killed for a few pesos. The rich might be safe in their enclaves and fortresses but not the lower middle class and the poor who are surrounded by the poorest.

How can the budget be served as an instrument for protecting the poor?

Since the government claims that the financial sector is fairly safe, public financial resources should be utilized to strengthen the real economy and its productive forces.  Focus should be on the sectors which produce what we need to survive: food and basic necessities.

ABI/Social Watch recommended that expenditures in education, health, agriculture and environment should be increased by at least P34 billion.  An additional P18.697 billion was recommended for education—for the creation of new teaching positions, teachers’ training, scholarship and fellowship grants, benefits for teachers under the Magna Carta, and  development of alternative learning systems.  For higher education, P536.72 million was recommended for capital outlay and tuition subsidy.

It was also proposed that the health budget be augmented by P 3.352 billion. Among others, this will cover implementation of doctors to the barrios programs to induce physicians to go to the provinces, and  provisions for pools of  resident physicians. ABI/Social Watch also proposed intensified rabies control programs and mercury-free thermometers for hospitals.

As for agriculture, it was proposed that additional allocations of P9.680 billion be made for organic fertilizers; strengthening of irrigation and infrastructure, dryers and post harvest facilities, and  agricultural education .

Additional allocations were proposed for environment at P2.586 billion for community based forestry programs, operations against toxic substances and waste management, pollution control and other projects.

Where will the money be coming from?

ABI/Social Watch identified more than P82 billion in proposed allocations which are vague, don’t contain special provisions and are highly vulnerable to manipulation.

The budget for 2009 should be a budget for the real economy and for the people who produce this country’s output by the sweat of their brow.

* Prof. Briones is co-convenor of Social Watch Philippines. This article was first released last October 6, 2008 in her Business of Governance column at www.abs-cbnNEWS.com

(Published in: Focus on the Philippines October 2008, http://focusweb.org/oldphilippines/content/blogsection/8/6/9/27/)

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