Urgent critical economic and social rights issues that need to be resolved

Alan Jazmines
Detained NDF peace consultant
and member of the NDF-GPH Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-Economic Reforms
5 June 2012

In a serious way we need to raise with immediacy before the administration of Benigno S. Aquino III certain urgent highly critical economic and social rights issues widely and severely affecting the mass of the Filipino people. We raise these alongside our long-term advocacy of and struggle for fundamental changes amidst the decaying political and socio-economic system prevailing in the country and underlying these issues.

One of the urgent issues most widely and severely affecting the mass of the Filipino people has been the continuously plunging real wage of the Filipino worker, caused by the virtual freezing of wages in the face of continuous inflation over the past several decades. The current minimum daily wage in the National Capital Region (NCR)  -  actually the current nominal minimum daily wage  -  P426, has a real value of only P249 (after removing the effects of inflation since year 2000 price levels), about 58% or just a little more than half of the nominal value.

Moreover, compared to the Family Living Wage (FLW), as computed by the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) based on what is required at the minimum for an ordinary worker's family of six to be able to live decently  -  as extrapolated by the Ibon Foundation for the current period, based on the last NWPC estimate in September2008  -  the current nominal wage of the ordinary worker  is short by P582/day and is just about 42% of the P1008 FLW. This only means that the ordinary worker in the NCR is able to provide his or her family with just about less than half of what they need to be able to live decently.

As the nominal wage  -  real wage and nominal wage  -  family living wage gaps have already become too wide, significant nationally legislated wage increases have become urgently necessary remedies, instead of just resorting to very stingy and superficial token "remedies", such as miniscule additions to wages and cost of living allowances (COLA) occasionally being granted by regional wage boards.

Yet the Aquino administration shirks from its responsibility at needing to decisively act from its executive position at the national level and pushing for a sufficient nationally legislated wage increase. Instead, it intentionally defaults by passing the matter for the regional wage boards to make stingy tokens of wage increases or what are made to appear as wage increases. The Aquino administration has even come out with a "suggestion" that the NCR regional wage board would likely raise the nominal minimum wage by only P13/day (P7.50/day in real terms) and not higher than P21/day (P12.14/day in real terms).

The P125/day nationally legislated across-the-board wage increase, that the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and other progressive pro-labor advocates have been pressing for, would help significantly to bridge the wide gaps, even if still not enough to make-up for the  P137/day gap between the current nominal wage and the real wage, and the much bigger P582/day gap between the current nominal wage and the family living wage.

The House of Representatives Committee on Labor is expected to approve soon a bill filed anew by Anakpawis Party-list representative Rafael Mariano for a P125/day across-the-board wage increase nationwide. It might, however, have difficulty going through the plenary as the Aquino administration majority in the House are most likely to vote against it.

The plight of the Filipino worker has long been worsened at its base with rising and long since critically alarming unemployment levels in the country. Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys have established the country's unemployment rate to have reached 24% of the labor force ( with some 9.7 million out of job as of December 2011).

The Aquino administration is, however, dismissive about this, claiming that its December 2011 Labor Force survey counts only 2.814 million unemployed.

The official government data on unemployment, however, actually sweeps a lot of dirt under the rug. First, in order to reduce the number of the officially unemployed, it removed from the category of "Labor Force" those who have in desperation already given up looking for work because they could not find any work. It also includes in the category of "employed" more than seven million in various degrees of underemployment, including virtual unemployment under which the bulk of them actually fall under. Most of those categorized as "underemployed" are part-time and seasonal (especially agricultural) workers who are only very minimally employed and practically unemployed.

Even most of those categorized as "employed" are only apparently or temporarily so, as they are only contractual (with work contracts of only three months or so, renewable only for a couple of times) or do not even have contracts at all, but work only as casuals.

Also, many of the supposedly "employed" are "unpaid family workers" and "self-employed workers" who have to fend for themselves as peons, vendors, barkers, scavengers and the like. While they are categorized as "employed" in government statistics, in non-government surveys (such as that of the SWS) they simply state what they really are  -  unemployed.

Bulk of the unemployed and underemployed are in worker and urban poor communities and towns, while the bigger bulk are in the rural areas.

Also disguising the grave state of unemployment in the country is the Philippines' being the world's number one exporter of labor relative to its population. Had the present 10 million or so overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) not been able to find jobs abroad, the number of the unemployed and underemployed in the country would have been doubled.

Massive and increasing unemployment and underemployment have been resulting in increasing poverty in the country, with the number of the poor (with per capita income of less than $1/day, the international measure of poverty) increasing to about 24 million by 2009.

Twin to poverty is hunger. And the SWS has surveyed in December last year that about 4.5 million families or about 22.5% of Filipino households have been going hungry.

The grave pestering problem of low wages, compounded by massive unemployment and the resultant widespread poverty and hunger in the country have been basically due to the absence of national industrialization, genuine land reform, economic self-reliance and development; the lopsided trade and investment relations with the imperialist and advanced economic powers; and the ensuing backwardness of the country's economy under the prevailing semi-colonial and semi-feudal system. All these have been exacerbated by imperialist neoliberal globalization and its policies of liberalization, deregulation, denationalization, privatization and labor flexibilization.

These imperialist neoliberal policies, serving as lynchpin to the shallow foundations of the semi-colonial and semi-feudal Philippine economy, have been generating endless successions of further grave crises widely and viciously affecting the mass of the Filipino people.

The imperialist-dictated policies such as deregulation, denationalization and privatization have resulted in the rendering of the neo-colonial government totally inutile at mitigating even slightly the greed of foreign imperialists and local comprador providers of strategic goods, utilities and services, such as petroleum products and electricity.

In the case of the cartelized giant oil companies, deregulation has given them absolutely free rein to continually raise prices of petroleum products at the slightest pretext in the interest of their accumulating even more superprofits, much to the detriment of the exploited and impoverished mass of the Filipino people. Very slight rollbacks are also sometimes made, but only very rarely and only for show in an effort to disguise their greed and diffuse protests.

The combination of deregulation, denationalization, privatization, rampant corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency and grave environmental destruction have resulted in the now almost total incapacitation of the main hydropower generation facilities in Mindanao, especially the Agus-Polangui hydropower complex. All these have for a long time been causing the severe power shortages, prolonged brownouts and rising power costs ravaging the people of Mindanao. Power supply inadequacy in Mindanao is now at a rate of the equivalent of 200 days a year.

The gravity of the Mindanao power crisis, that had been coming for several decades now had already reared its ugly head and started roaring at the onset of the Aquino administration in mid-2010. The new administration immediately encountered an already grave preview then of the power supply crisis and was then forewarned of the imminent furthering of the crisis. But it did nothing except to contract expensive power supply from its cronies, such as the Aboitizes. These cronies brought to Mindanao the previously junked old power barges they bought dirt cheap from NAPOCOR. Now they are charging at enormous rates the power inefficiently supplied through these barges and thereby milking the people of Mindanao now desperate for reliable and continuous supply of electricity.

The Aquino administration still has to act decisively, swiftly and effectively in the face of the all the more critical power supply crisis now raging in Mindanao, without resorting even more to expensive power supply from the old, inefficient power barges of its cronies.

The Philippines' having the most expensive electricity charges in the region is an even and wider problem that has to be critically looked into and urgently attended  to.

These are but some of the more urgent and critical economic and social rights issues widely and severely affecting the Filipino people, especially the impoverished masses. These need to be immediately acted on in favour of the impoverished masses and for long term solutions.

In the longer term, the fundamental problems that these are rooted in  -  the rotten, backward and corrupt semi-colonial and semi-feudal political and socio-economic system prevailing in the country has to be decisively addressed and radically overhauled.