Inquirer Headlines: Nation

A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

2 governors, mayor share best practices in governance

June 16, 2008 03:41:00
TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—And then there were three—all leading lights in local politics who have joined hands to preach good governance in the hope this would be replicated elsewhere.

In their first much-awaited meeting, Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca and Pampanga Gov. Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio plotted on Tuesday night their future, and the country’s.

Over dinner of sinampalukang manok, pancit molo and bistek Tagalog at Club Filipino in San Juan City, the three officials agreed to tackle together problems, and more importantly, share their “best practices” in governance with other local chief executives.

“We are a fragmented nation and what we want is to group together, make a commitment and advocate the same advocacy,” Panlilio said in an interview. “The country deserves better governance.”

One quick way to reach out is through cyberspace. The three officials are planning to set up a “group blog,” where they can write down their thoughts, in the hope of luring others to their cause, according to Robredo, who keeps a blog like Panlilio.

There have been calls for the three officials to get together and talk about what’s good for the country, but it was only last week that they got around to doing it. After all, they are the new breed of reform-driven public servants.

Harvey Keh, director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship of Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, arranged and joined the meeting of the three, whom he calls the “hope of the country.”

“If bad people in our government can join forces to wreak havoc in our country, then why can’t the good people join forces as well and promote good governance in our country?” he said.

In their two-hour meeting, the two governors and the mayor made an amusing, but otherwise not surprising discovery about themselves: They’re advocating the same reforms.

Greater transparency

These are ensuring greater transparency and accountability in government dealings, curbing the pervasive illegal numbers game “jueteng” and illegal logging, and fighting for more local autonomy in the maintenance of law and order.

And with less than two years to go before the 2010 national elections, the three officials are now pushing for computerized elections and voters’ education.

After the dinner, Padaca, 44, went home feeling a certain “lightness of heart.”

“I thought to myself. ‘I’m not alone anymore,’” she said by phone on her way to a remote village on a mountainside in San Agustin town in Isabela province for a regular dialogue with her constituents on Friday morning.

Robredo, 50, winner of the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service and one of Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World for efficient, good governance, said the main consensus was cooperation.

“Since we’re not getting any help from the national government, we agreed to cooperate in solving our common problems,” he said by phone from a domestic airport in Naga. For one, they could share strategies, he added.

Choice of police chiefs

One of their more pressing concerns now, especially in Panlilio’s case, is getting regional police officials to respect their choice of police chiefs, which is crucial in the campaign against jueteng.

The mayor was happy to note that Panlilio employed the same tack he took when faced with the same problem in the past: Call the senators’ attention.

If a solution entails getting a law amended, the three officials said they would write lawmakers to file a bill to this effect.

But over and above their local concerns, the three agreed to share “best practices” on how transparency and accountability work in their respective turf with other like-minded officials.

“Good governance starts with simple lifestyle, low-cost expenses in the capitol, transparency and accountability, efficient delivery of services,” Panlilio, 54, said in a phone interview before giving a talk on good governance at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City on Friday morning.

The priest shot to national prominence following his crushing victory over the popular Gov. Mark Lapid and moneyed Lilia Pineda in last year’s gubernatorial elections in Pampanga province.

Best practices

Among the best practices that can be replicated elsewhere are Naga’s practice of allowing NGOs to sit at deliberations of special bodies and the city council, and in effect, help run the city, and posting the disposition of its funds and results of its bidding processes on its website; Pampanga’s efficient collection of quarry taxes; and Isabela’s efforts at food sufficiency.

The three plan to meet again, hoping to see other “like-minded” officials next time around.

“We’re very sure there are a lot of others out there who have their own success stories, but have yet to be discovered,” said Padaca, who thrashed the heirs of the Dy family in the 2004 and 2007 gubernatorial elections in Isabela.

Panlilio agreed: “If we put more emphasis on those who really work for good governance to change the political system, and we work together, it will have a big impact on our country.”

The idea of bringing the three officials together was to create a “coalition” of local government officials who are committed “to promoting good governance, transparency and accountability,” Ateneo’s Keh, 29, said.

“I want to make the organization grow, to include other local government leaders who want to see genuine change in our country,” he said.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Corruption preys on RP poor: UN study


Petty corruption is taking a toll on poor people in the Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, by curbing economic development in the region, according to a United Nations Development Program study.

The report, "Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives," said small scale corruption is draining economic growth across the Asia-Pacific region and affecting people's access to basic services. It called on governments and citizens across the Asia-Pacific to tackle corruption together by focusing on areas that impact daily life such as health, education, the police and natural resources.

"Corruption undermines democratic institutions, retards economic development and contributes to government instability. It attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existence is the soliciting of bribes," said Hafiz Pasha, director of UNDP's regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

"Economic development is stunted because outside direct investment is discouraged and small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the ‘start-up costs’ required, because of corruption."

The report cited a global study which shows that corruption tends to slow the income growth for the bottom 20 per cent of the population. It said corruption slows down poverty reduction by lowering growth rates and reducing the effectiveness of social programs.

The report said corruption often hinders the delivery of many of the goods and services targeted for the poor. Instead, the goods often finish up in the hands of well-off and connected households who can afford to bribe the officials. It also said that the rice and powerful get the best deals when there is a general shortage of services, public or private.

Politicians, police least trusted

According to the report, politicians are seen as the most corrupt group in government followed by the police, with the judiciary running a close third. Nearly one in five people claim to have paid a bribe to police during the previous year. Other sectors also tainted by corruption include tax collection, education, medical services, utilities and registry or permit services.

The report cited a 2005 study commissioned by the Asian Development Bank that showed that power projects in the Philippines are more expensive than international norms due to delays, heavy reliance on international consultants and contractors, corruption and extensive use of foreign currency loans.

It said corruption was involved in almost all phases of a project, from tendering and bidding to operation and maintenance as well as in privatization and the awarding of independent power-producing contracts.

The report warned that corrupt policemen could extort, abuse or even rape suspects and force them to pay for their freedom. It added that police can also seize people they know to be innocent, threatening them with arrest and demanding payment for release.

On the other hand, the report cited a number of studies that found that two-thirds or more of the Asian population consider their court system to be corrupt and admit that they consider it wise to pay bribes.

The report said governments should ensure that complaints against the police are dealt with by a truly independent body while making changes on police structures and operations
to make them more efficient and responsive. Other solutions include applying rigid recruitment criteria, reallocating individuals across tasks, modifying transfer patterns, and carrying out ethical evaluations of those who are up for promotion.

For corrupt justices, the UNDP recommended that governments ensure that judges are appointed by independent bodies, serve fixed terms, have salaries that match their experience and qualifications and are offered all necessary protection. The judicial system should also require judges to give written reasons for their judgements – making greater use of information technology to offer easier access to court documents.

Strong civil sector involvement

The report also noted the strong involvement of civil society groups in fighting corruption in the Philippine government.

Several of the anticorruption initiatives and groups cited were:

- The Action Program for Judicial Reform initiative, which monitors the selection of the chief justice, ombudsman and election commissioners

- The Transparent Accountable Governance project, which monitors textbook procurement and delivery in the Philippines

- The Concerned Citizens of Abra Good Government, which monitors government projects in the Abra region

- The Transparency and Accountability Network, which monitors road-building in the country.

The report also cited the role of journalists in reporting cases of public interest. It said the Philippine press has helped create public pressure for reform even as some reporters admitted receiving bribes.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

'Irrigate more rice lands for self-sufficiency'

From ABS-CBN News Online, May 5, 2008

A former agriculture secretary said the government needs to irrigate at least five million hectares of rice lands to achieve its self-sufficiency goal for the Philippines after President Arroyo's term ends.

Sorsogon Rep. Salvador Escudero, former president Ferdinand Marcos's agriculture chief, said the government should be able to do what Vietnam and Thailand did: irrigate five to eight million hectares of rice fields.

"When we left [the agriculture department] in 1998, there [were] only 1.44 million hectares of irrigated land and I don't know if this number was maintained," Escudero said.

He said the government should immediately release funds for developing irrigated lands. He said the development of these lands will ensure the country's rice self-sufficiency for the next three to four years.

Mrs. Arroyo has announced the government's plan to release up to P43 billion funds for agricultural development starting this year up to 2010. Part of the plan is to develop more irrigated lands in rice-producing provinces, particularly in Luzon regions.

Billions poured into food program

The President announced a "wide array" of agriculture initiatives she dubbed as FIELDS (fertilizers, infrastructure and irrigation, extension and education, loans, drying and other post-harvest facilities, and seeds) during a food summit in Pampanga on April 4.

At least P43.7 billion funds for agriculture were allotted by Mrs. Arroyo during the food summit. The funds include:

* P500 million for fertilizer support and production.
* P6 billion per year for large and small irrigation systems.
* P6 billion per year for farm-to-market roads and Roll-On-Roll-Off ports.
* P5 billion for research and development, capacity building, and improving educational efforts for the agriculture and fisheries sector.
* P2 billion for hybrid seeds (for the remaining five planting seasons, up to 2010).
* P6 billion for certified seeds (also up to 2010).
* P2 billion for dryers and other post-harvest facilities.
* P15 billion for agricultural loans to farmers, most of which will be coursed through Landbank.

The Philippines has been tagged as the biggest rice importing country in the world, despite having vast agricultural land.

The government has been banking on imported rice from Vietnam, Thailand and United States to sustain its needs during the lean months of July until September.

The agricultural department said 1.7 million metric tons of imported rice are expected to be shipped into the country to augment the National Food Authority's depleted rice stock.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Increasing poverty caused by corruption

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:04:00 03/10/2008

MANILA, Philippines - For lack of anything else to be proud of, President Macapagal-Arroyo likes to boast about her “economic achievements” because very few Filipinos understand economics. She cites numbers written on pieces of paper—like “the Gross Domestic Product grew by so much percent last year”—and you have to take her word for it. It is very difficult to check these figures. So what she says becomes the official statistic. And it usually gives a wrong image of the nation. For example, our image now is that we have an improving economy.

But there is another statistic that everybody can see every day and that is very easy to understand: the number of poor people is increasing. There are more children and old people begging in the streets, squatter colonies where the poorest of the poor lead wretched lives are expanding. More and more people are looking for jobs and finding too few; recruitment agencies are always awash with people hoping to get jobs abroad. The Department of Foreign Affairs can’t cope with the demand for passports as more and more Filipinos try to escape the poverty at home for greener pastures overseas. All of these are clear signs that something is very bad with the economy: it cannot support our population. But GMA does not want to see them; instead she sees only the numbers that somebody probably picked out of thin air and put down on paper as official government statistics.

Actually we don’t need the statistics just released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) to know that poverty is worsening because we can see it day by day. Nevertheless, the NSCB has made it official: One out of every three Filipinos is poor. The Inquirer editorial last Saturday spelled it out very clearly: Within the presidency of GMA, from 2003 to 2006, the number of poor families—those that earn less than P6,274 a month, the amount a family of five needs to be able to afford the basic necessities—grew from 4 million in 2003 to 4.7 million in 2006. The number of poor Filipinos grew by 3.8 million, from 23.8 million to 27.6 million. The number of families that did not earn enough to buy the minimum amount of food they needed grew from 1.7 million to 1.9 million—meaning 14.6 percent of the population, 12.2 million souls, were not eating enough.

If the economy is improving as the GMA administration claims, why are there so many poor Filipinos? Why can’t so many Filipinos find jobs at home? Why are they forced to leave their families to earn a living abroad? Why don’t so many Filipinos have enough to eat?

If the economy is really as good as GMA trumpets, there would be few poor Filipinos, they would have jobs here, they would have enough to eat, there would be few squatters.

Every time her countrymen ask what their President is doing about this or that problem, she answers: “I am concentrating on the economy.” What economy? An economy that keeps so many Filipinos poor?

Administration apologists are quick to make excuses for the growing incidence of poverty: It is because of inflation brought about by the increase in oil prices, they say. It is because of the typhoons. Excuses, excuses.

Other countries were also hit by the high oil prices; other countries were also hit by typhoons. But we are the only country that had such a big increase in poverty.

No, it is neither Opec nor typhoons that are to blame; it is corruption. Companies find it expensive to do business in the Philippines because of corruption and red tape, so no jobs for Filipinos. Funds that should go to projects and to basic services to the people go to private pockets. Commissioners and brokers are no longer content with 10-percent commissions. They now collect 100 percent of the original cost, thus doubling the cost of the project. The ZTE-NBN and NorthRail projects are just the tip of the iceberg.

Although the Arroyo administration has sold and is still selling assets and has increased taxes, we are still deep in debt. From China alone, the Arroyo administration borrowed in recent years $8 billion (that’s billion). In pesos at the time they were borrowed, they were worth P450 billion! Needless to say, hard-pressed Filipino taxpayers will have to pay for them.

And what do we have to show for that P450 billion? Probably half of that went to private pockets.

GMA also claims in her speeches that poverty and the unemployment rate have gone down. Now we know she has been lying all along. The President lying to her people? Not surprising anymore.

Has anybody noticed that corruption has jumped as the Arroyo administration winds to a close? Kickbacks have also increased tremendously. The explanation is simple: Knowing that they would be out of jobs when GMA is no longer President, top government officials are providing for their future. Knowing that this or that character got so much in kickbacks, succeeding commissioners demand bigger and bigger kickbacks. It was a case of oneupmanship. And immoderate greed. GMA officials’ motto seems to be: “Take as much as you can while the getting is good. Time is running out on us.”

Cabinet meeting called to intensify anti-poverty programs

By Michael Lim Ubac, Cyril Bonabente
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:22:00 03/11/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- Saddled by the increasing number of poor Filipinos under her watch, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo convened on Tuesday a full Cabinet meeting to monitor the progress of the government's hunger-mitigation programs.

The Cabinet meeting came on the heels of the latest Social Weather Stations survey showing that some 6.1 million households, or 34 percent of Filipino families in the last quarter of 2007, said they considered themselves poor in terms of food.

SWS said the figure was the lowest recorded since June 2004, when 35 percent of Filipino families said they were food-poor.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Anthony Golez said the meeting focused on the Arroyo administration's program of “enhancing activities addressing poverty.”

Golez said the number of poor people indeed increased despite government's intensified campaign to arrest hunger around the country.

The President told the Cabinet “to accelerate programs for milk, corn and wheat production, including spending on rural infrastructure -- irrigation, post-harvest facilities, cold storage facilities, decreasing the cost of transporting goods, including access to education, health and other social services.”

Arroyo, however, treated this disturbing figure as a temporary setback.

“The President expects the figures of poverty incidence would go to a steady downward trend especially after the 2008 budget has been signed, which will focus on investing more in our economy, education and environment,” said Golez.

The Fourth Quarter Social Weather Survey also showed signs that many Filipinos, or 34 percent, were tightening their belts and eating less.

The survey, conducted from November 30 to December 3, 2007, asked 1,200 adult household heads from all over the country to rate their families based on the type of food they eat and to rate themselves as poor, not poor, or somewhere in between.

Thirty-four percent said they were food-poor, another 34 percent said they were not, and the remaining 32 percent put themselves on the borderline.

By region: Self-rated food poverty declined in Mindanao (from 59 percent in September 2007 to 39 percent last December), Metro Manila (from 33 to 28 percent) and in Luzon (from 41 to 35 percent), but remained steady in the Visayas (from 33 to 32 percent).
Respondents were also asked: “In your opinion, how much money would your family need for food expenses each month in order not to be called poor anymore in terms of food?”

SWS found that the food poverty threshold for those who considered themselves food-poor failed to increase significantly. “[This] is a sign that the poor are actually lowering their real living standards,” SWS said.

Median thresholds for food-poor households went up slightly in Mindanao (from P3,000 in September to P4,000 in December) and Metro Manila (from P4,500 to P6,000), but stayed at P3,000 in Luzon and the Visayas.

“These levels had already been reached and surpassed several years ago,” SWS noted.