Sunday, March 22, 2015

The poor’s sorrier state

The very high prices of food wiped out the gains in per capita income. This situation could have been avoided especially in the case of rice, which is a staple food for low-income and vulnerable families, usually accounting for 20 percent of their budget. Just at the time when the world price of rice was declining, the domestic price of rice was skyrocketing.
— Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan on increased poverty
LET’S keep this simple. The State, headed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, should apologize and make amends for making the poor worse off in three big ways.
First, as summed up above by Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, local food prices spiked in the first half of 2014, wiping out income gains for the poor and adding more than a million Filipinos to their ranks. This pain, he added, could have been avoided in the most important commodity, since global rice prices were falling then.
Why did domestic costs surge when the world rate was down? Obviously, it’s because not enough cheaper imports were coming in to moderate local prices. For that, blame Manila’s truck ban, the molasses flow of cargo processing by the Bureau of Customs, and other port-congesting policies cited in the article, “If you care about jobs, prices and growth, read on,” published November 18 and 20.
The surge in local staple prices offset higher incomes in the first half of last year, and that led to a 1.2 percentage point rise in poverty incidence to one-fifth of families and 25.8 percent of Filipinos. That’s some 1.2 million people dragged back into poverty by dearer rice — about one-fifth of the crowd at Pope Francis’s Luneta Mass.
While food prices have moderated since last July, as cargo flow increased, congestion could return when the post-holiday lull in shipments ends this month. Plainly, governments national and local should work with the private sector to ensure that essential goods, especially rice, get through without delay and in ample quantities — even if the grain import figure makes a mockery of Aquino’s repeated claims of self-sufficiency in rice.
And an apology from the Head of State for policies holding up vittles wouldn’t hurt.
Stipends for the poor fall P6.5 billion
The second state-inflicted scourge on the poor: monthly stipends under the much-hyped conditional cash transfer program were cut by one-third just when food prices soared. CCT disbursements last year fell by P6.5 billion to P14.3 billion, from nearly P21 billion in 2013, according to Secretary Balisacan’s report.
Not only does this monumental failure to deliver assistance demand an equally gargantuan apology. The government, and especially Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman, must explain how and why the monthly money for indigent families fell woefully short.
Plainly, this is a far more egregious misallocation than the P4 million wasted on a resort weekend for poor families to keep them away from the papal route along Roxas Boulevard. Let’s hope Congress sinks its teeth into the CCT slump, which afflicted far more Filipinos than even the Mamasapano massacre and its resulting Mindanao war.
If the death of 44 police commandos is worth three official officials or more, surely the slashing of assistance to millions of poor families amid escalating food costs, should be accorded one or two reports, even if they make Secretary Soliman cry.
And if it’s not too much to ask, a Palace apology for cutting cash for the poor.
Crime doubles under Aquino
The third scourge on the poor is soaring crime. Really? Recent SWS poll data doesn’t seem to square with that criticism. It reported that the percentage of families whose members suffered from any crime fell to an annual average of 7.5 percent in 2014, falling every year from a peak of 12.5 percent in 2010.
But other numbers in the same survey show rising fear of crime since 2010. The average percentage of respondents who say people in their neighborhoods fear burglary climbed from 54 percent five years ago to 60 percent in 2013 and 59 percent last year.
Those worried about unsafe streets rose from 43 percent average in 2010 to 49 percent last year. And concern about drug addicts, whose presence tends to accompany rising crime, increased to 52 percent of respondents last year, from 38 percent in 2010.
Let’s look at statistics on actual crimes from the Philippine National Police. As our September 9, 2014, column, “Crime has doubled under Aquino. Here’s why”, reported:
“Believe it or not, based on the true statistics, crime incidence has more than doubled under President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“Citing the corrected PNP data [not dubious official figures in 2011 and 2012), news website Rappler reported that crime volume for all of [2013] hit a record 631,406 incidents. That’s nearly double the 2010 figure, and almost three times the now doubtful 2012 data of 217,812. … From January to May [last] year, a total of 289,198 crimes were reported, up nearly 44,000 or 18 percent over the tally of 245,347 for the same five months in 2013.”
The article also cited two reasons for rising crime, both sadly stemming from presidential appointments.
Back in 2010, Aquino had the chance to put the PNP under then-Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, who wiped out jueteng as Naga City mayor; and the Bureau of Customs under former BoC and revenue chief Guillermo Parayno, who computerized the agency and became IMF consultant for customs reform.
But Aquino passed up both proven reformers. Jueteng and smuggling flourished, the latter jumping five-fold based on IMF data. Gaming payoffs corrupted police, and contraband included drugs and guns, as Aquino himself admitted in his 2013 State of the Nation Address.
No wonder the people don’t feel as safe as before. Especially the poor who have to walk the streets day and night.
Again, a presidential mea culpa for the crime surge would be in order. But don’t hold your breath.

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