TO ENSURE POOR’S ECONOMIC RIGHTS: SC INITIATIVE NEEDS TO GO BEYOND JUDICIAL REVIEW

Research group IBON Foundation welcomes the initiative of the Supreme Court to improve the poor’s access to justice through its nationwide summit today. However, it said that the country’s economic policies have the most far-reaching harmful impact that should be addressed beyond judicial review.

For one, existing judicial remedies are extremely limited in addressing the far-reaching economy-wide violations of human rights. This is aside from how nominally the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recognizes economic, social and cultural rights matters as part of its mandate to monitor government’s compliance with international obligations, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

There also seems to be no concrete measures to apply the human rights approach to poverty reduction. For instance, the country has no official procedure that will assess economic policies according to an explicit economic, social and cultural rights framework. It also does not have specific mechanisms by which policy-makers can be held accountable for the effects of trade, investment and fiscal policies on human rights. Even the CHR does not have a monitoring of how economic, social and cultural rights are affected by macroeconomic policies, which have the broadest influence on realizing these rights.

As a result, the judiciary generally gives in to the Executive and Legislature on major economic policy decisions that are deemed unconstitutional, such as the Mining Act, Oil Deregulation Law, EPIRA etc., even as it is equally responsible for upholding constitutional guidelines.

IBON strongly recommends that the judiciary establish a legal framework wherein existing laws, rules, procedures and practices can be modified to conform with the ICESCR and the Philippine Constitution. Based on this, the SC should conduct a formal review to check if the country’s foreign trade and investment policies are consistent with its human rights obligations, and implement measures that will put these economic policies to public scrutiny.

Lasty, measures should be placed to ensure that the country’s main economic planners, trade negotiators, and lawmakers are fully aware of their obligations and commitments under the Covenant in crafting socioeconomic policies.

BON: AS MUCH AS P31/LITER OF PUMP PRICES:GOES TO WINDFALL PROFIT OF OIL FIRMS

Independent think-tank IBON Foundation estimates that as much as P31 per liter of the pump price of oil products may be windfall profits of transnational oil firms. This is based on IBON’s estimate of the real cost of oil at only US$31-US$32 per barrel, consisting of exploration cost, production cost and royalties to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Subtracting this from the May 2008 average Dubai spot price of US$117 per barrel means that the oil firms may have already earned windfall profits of US$86-US$87 per barrel of crude oil. Applying this figure to local pump prices (at 159 liters per barrel and an exchange rate of P43: US$1) and prevailing prices as of June 14 would reveal that for every liter of unleaded gasoline, P26-P31 goes to total windfall profits. For diesel, P23-P27 per liter goes to profits. This means that oil firms’ profits account for 47% to 54% of the retail price. The total windfall figures were obtained by combining profits from crude oil price, applying the US energy department’s data that crude oil accounts for 48% to 58% of the local pump price, and that 12% of the retail price goes to profits (which includes 3% that used to make up oil tariffs). This profiteering only proves that oil prices are artificially bloated at international and local levels because of the dominance of transnational oil firms over the industry, which gives them the upper hand to practice monopoly pricing and speculation. But although the government cannot control the activities of oil firms at the global level, it could minimize the impact of their profiteering and control excessive oil prices by implementing strict regulation of the domestic market.

FALLING PARTICIPATION RATES HIGHLIGHT NEED FOR MORE SOCIAL SERVICES SPENDING


One more child out of every 10 school-age children was not able to go to school, highlighting the need for higher government spending in social services, said research group IBON Foundation.

Figures from the Department of Education (DepEd) show that participation rate at the elementary level, or the percentage of children aged 7-12 who are enrolled in public and private elementary schools, has fallen from 96.95% in SY 1999-2000 to 83.22% in SY 2006-2007. At the secondary level, only 58.59% of children aged 13-16 were enrolled in high schools in SY 2006-2007 from 65.43% in SY 1999-2000.

These figures highlight the need for government to allocate more resources for social were ditional penditure) espectively7.s, 17 out of e of rising cost of livingh is way below int quality stdsservices spending. The 2008 national budget allocated just over P2,000 per Filipino for education, 14% less in real terms than what was allocated in 1998. For health services, another important social service, only P253 was allocated per Filipino, which was 28% less in real terms than what was allocated in 1997.

Such services should be prioritized over the paltry subsidies the Arroyo administration has been using recently to win popular support from the poor. It recently allocated some P2 billion to provide four million poor families a one-time P500 electricity subsidy, and promised other subsidies such as loans for poor students. However, its education spending is only 12% of public expenditure and 2.1% of the gross domestic product. These are way below the international quality standards of 22% (for public expenditure) and 6% (for GDP).

ONE IN FIVE WORKERS DOES NOT EARN ENOUGH, SEEKS MORE WORK


Data from the April 2008 Labor Force Survey (LFS) shows that one in five employed workers reported that they were seeking more work because they were not earning enough for their and their families’ needs, according to research group IBON Foundation.

The April LFS showed that the underemployment rate, or the percentage of employed workers who said they were looking for more work, grew to 6.6 million workers during the survey period, from 6.4 million in the same period last year. More significantly, the growth was in those considered ‘invisibly’ underemployed, or those who already worked 40 hours or more a week.

This means that many wage and salary workers employed in the formal sector do not earn enough for their needs. These figures could even be understated, according to IBON, since only those surveyed who reported that they were seeking more work were classified as “underemployed”.

An earlier IBON study had shown that even after a recent round of wage hikes, adjusted daily minimum wages were still not enough to cover the basic cost of living. In its April survey, IBON reported that 71% of Filipinos was not earning enough to meet their families’ basic needs.

The government survey reflects the country’s employment situation where unemployment is in an all-time high and jobs are low-paying and low in quality that workers continue to seek more work. Amid rising prices, the country’s employment situation remains the greatest challenge for the Arroyo administration.

PROPOSAL TO EXTEND CARP TO INCREASE LAND RECONCENTRATION

Proposals of Malacañang and congressmen to reform and extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) create more opportunities for land owners and agribusiness firms to further consolidate their control over agricultural lands, according to research group IBON Foundation.

IBON noted that proposals for CARP extension include the “farmland as collateral” provision, a key component of so-called market-oriented land reform. The research group said that farmers availing of the provision to access credit may find their lands foreclosed, resulting in reconsolidation of already-redistributed agricultural lands in the hands of landlords and large agribusiness firms. IBON pointed out that the present flawed program has failed to stop bankrupt farmers from selling or transferring distributed lands, despite 10-year prohibitions on such transfers.

Malacañang will also be able to use the proposal to push for its initiatives to develop corporate farms and facilitate foreign and local agricultural investment through the Agrarian Reform Community (ARC) concept, further increasing the insecurity of land tenure in the countryside. According to IBON, the proposal to extend CARP is meant to fine-tune the bankrupt program to continue restructuring local agriculture in order to suit the needs of big land owners and agro-corporations.

Bills filed at the House of Representatives are even more dangerous for small and landless farmers since introducing reforms to the flawed CARP undermines the historical and moral claim of farmers to own the land they till for free. Requiring farmers to pay for the land perpetuates one of the biggest flaws of CARP—that the program is essentially a real estate transaction between landlords and farmers, with the government as the middle man.

The present agrarian situation, according to IBON, proves that CARP in its 20 years of implementation has failed and has been used to legitimize various forms of land grabbing. Instead of extending the flawed CARP, IBON calls for a genuine program that is not designed to perpetuate landlord-business and agro-corporate interests but upholds land distribution as key for social justice.

LATEST WAGES SLIDE TO ONE-THIRD OF COST TO LIVE DECENTLY

Despite the recent round of wage hikes, daily minimum wages have actually slid to only 34% of the amount needed for decent living from 46% in January 2007, according to independent think-tank IBON Foundation.

Data from the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) show that on the national level, the average daily minimum wage, including the new increases, is just 34% of the average family living wage (FLW). The FLW is defined as the minimum amount needed for a family of six members to meet their daily food and non-food needs plus 10% allocation for savings.

In Metro Manila, the new daily minimum wage of P382 is 38% of the family living wage of P871, while in areas outside the capital the average daily wages are just 29% of the average FLW.

These figures highlight how far wages have been overtaken by price increases and how insufficient wage increases given by Regional Wage Boards are. These also underscore the urgent need for lawmakers to approve a decent legislated across-the-board wage hike as soon as Congress resumes next month.

LOW INFLATION NO REASON TO DENY WAGE HIKE

Various business groups have claimed that there is no basis to adjust the minimum wage because the erosion of the peso as of April 2007 was very insignificant. But it obscures the point that workers’ wages can no longer keep with high and rising prices, according to independent think-tank IBON Foundation.

While inflation in April did go down to 2% from 8% in the same period last year, this only indicated that the rate that prices were going up had slowed but prices of goods and services still remained high. In fact, the cost of living continues to escalate.

The National Wages and Productivity Board pegs the living wage for a family of six as of May 2007 at P786. But the daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is just P350 (P300 basi c p lus P50 cost of living allowance) or just over half of the family living wage.

Moreover, the low inflation rates are meaningless for the increasing number of Filipinos who are earning insufficient incomes or worse, do not have jobs. IBON estimates that close to a third of the labor force were either jobless or if employed, is still looking for more work.

The real value of workers’ wages had also seriously been eroded. The purchasing power of the peso in Metro Manila, or the amount of goods and services one peso can buy, had fallen to P0.70 in April from P0.72 last year. This means that over the past year, a worker has lost P2 of actual buying power for every P100 he or she earns. But between April 2005-2006 a worker actually lost P5 of actual buying power.

This loss in buying power underscores the urgency for a wage hike, particularly in light of workers’ increasing productivity. Workers’ productivity grew to P9,560 in the first quarter of 2007 from P9,265 in the same period last year. (end)