Inquirer Headlines: Nation

A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

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.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

'Queen' enthroned for helping Maranao poor

'Queen' enthroned for helping Maranao poor

By Jocelyn Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:36:00 03/08/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- She shunned the glitter of the law profession in favor of a life of service to her war-weary province in Mindanao.

Now 36-year-old Baicon Macaraya will be enthroned by chieftains in Lanao del Sur as its "queen" (or as the Bai Labi Ko Shakba) to look after the poor, and the victims of war that flared up in the region and other neighboring provinces eight years ago.

The enthronement ceremony has been set on March 23 in Ditsaan Ramain town after more than two months of deliberation.

Macaraya herself chose the date because she wanted the rites celebrated during Women's Month, which officially starts Saturday.

Traditionally, leaders or sultans in the province award one leadership title to a woman. According to Macaraya, the selection system for the "crown" is primarily based on blood lineage and the government position the woman has handled in the past.

In a phone interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of Friday, Macaraya said the appointment was a "transformation of traditional governance" in her province as she was handpicked based on her service to the community.

Although her forefathers were once sultans, Macaraya (her first name Baicon means princess) has never held any political position nor does she have a lot of wealth or resources.

"This is also the first time they are enthroning someone who is below 40 years old. I am happy they chose me because of what I did and what I can still do for the community," she said.

Another road

Macaraya never intended to abandon her law studies in 2000. In fact, she decided to pursue law after finishing her degree in political science because she wanted to help alleviate the human rights situation of her fellow Muslims.

But a trip to her hometown of Marawi City, one morning in March 2000, opened another road for the promising law student.

Macaraya, mother of three, narrated that she and her husband were on their way to a lower court to file her application for internship when she saw truckloads of grim-faced mothers and children being brought to a school.

She convinced her husband to pull over and to find out what was happening. She later learned that thousands of families had fled their homes in the neighboring province of Lanao del Norte because of the war.

Truckloads evacuated

At the time, then President Joseph Estrada had just declared an all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the bandit group Abu Sayyaf. But Macaraya never realized the gravity of the situation until she saw the truckloads of homeless mothers and children.

"We were caught unaware. I knew that there was a conflict in Mindanao but I never thought it was massive until I saw people arriving in trucks with nothing except the clothes they were wearing," she said, recounting her painful encounter with evacuees.

Every three days, a fresh batch of displaced families arrived in Marawi City seeking shelter in vacant buildings, gymnasiums and schools.

More evacuees came from the neighboring towns of Lanao del Sur and much later, from Maguindanao.

"I was scared for myself because I knew the armed conflict could escalate anytime to our city. But I pitied the [evacuated] people and I felt that I was needed so I decided to help," Macaraya said.

Helping displaced families

She and her husband went home and started collecting pots and pans, as well as clothes to give away to displaced families.

Eventually, Macaraya forgot about her internship and became the founding chair of the youth organization, Bangsamoro Youth-Ranao Center for Peace and Development. She oversaw the daily needs of thousands of evacuees staying in schools.

Her organization tied up with Tabang Mindanao and pioneered the Integration Return and Rehabilitation Program to help displaced families get back on their feet.

Later, her group handled the reconstruction of about 500 houses, six mosques and five schools destroyed by the fighting in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.

Mothers for Peace

In 2003, she helped launch the advocacy group, Mothers for Peace, to push for an end to the conflict in Mindanao because women and children are the greatest casualties of war.

Macaraya recalled bringing a bleeding infant to the hospital since the mother had no money to consult a doctor or to buy medicine.

"I was worried about [which hospital] I could take my child who also had a bad cold at that time. Then there was this mother, who had no money, who couldn't do anything except wait for her son to die," she narrated.

Macaraya is now involved with the United Nations World Food Program, touring schools to distribute rice, to make sure children stay in school and to address the food security needs of people living in conflict-affected areas.

Lessons from parents

Her parents also taught Macaraya--the youngest in a brood of five-- to be independent and to work hard for their "wants and needs."

She recalled helping her parents sell goods at the barter trade every weekend and whenever she did not have classes so she could earn extra money.

Her compassion for people in need, she also attributes to her parents, who sold cellophane and ice candy at the barter trade center in the 1970s in Zamboanga City.

One incident Macaraya cannot forget was the night her father returned home from work with a bag of rotten tomatoes he had bought from an old vendor.

"I asked him why he did not buy the good ones. He told me that if he did not buy them, the old man would have stayed longer out on the streets selling tomatoes," she said.

A good heart

Her mother, on the other hand, believes in simple acts of charity.

Macaraya said her mother would always cook extra food so they could always serve something to an unexpected visitor.

"She would also always eat last to make sure everybody has enough. Those simple things really instilled in us the value of helping others," she said.

"I learned so much from my mother. She always told me a good heart is the best quality of a woman," Macaraya said.

Outsourcing firm makes workplace woman friendly

By Ronnel Domingo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:34:00 03/08/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- Consulting and outsourcing firm Accenture on Friday said it will strengthen efforts to make its workplace more conducive to women, especially in the Philippines where the proportion of men to women is higher compared to elsewhere in its global network.

Kevin M. Campbell, Accenture's chief executive for its outsourcing group, said in a briefing there was a one-to-one ratio in the firm's 15,000-strong workforce in the Philippines.

"The statistics are lower outside this country," Campbell said. "We view this as one of the strengths of our operations here."

He said the sex ratio of Accenture's local workforce evened out in the past three or four years when more and more women were hired as working women became more and more socially acceptable and necessary.

"A big boost to motivate women as half our workforce here was having a female country managing director," Campbell said. "From there, it became more of finding out culturally what works for this country."

He was referring to Beth G. Lui, who has been at the helm of Accenture in the Philippines since 2002.

Lui said Accenture has adopted programs that encourage women employees to stay with the firm "for a long time."

She said these programs include flexible working hours, remote working (from one's home), and ways that help them enjoy social activities without spending too much money.

"We have parts of community programs that are specifically for working women, especially mothers, who enjoy their careers but need to spend more time with their families," she said.

For example, if an employee has DSL service at home, it is possible that she can work from there two days in a week.

Lui said there also was training on managing personal finances, crafts like jewelry and bead-making, and the traditional sport-oriented activities.

She said one reason for the large number women in Accenture's local workforce was that outsourcing work suited women because they are good in multi-tasking and because of their leadership qualities and empathy.

"The job is not dependent on physical abilities," Lui said. "It is process-oriented and uses one's intellect, it is about discipline."

"We want to keep our female employees with us for the long haul and the challenge to that is to help them build self-confidence as well as exposing them to role models," said Campbell, who is based in the United States.

Both Campbell and Lui said another program that showed how the company appreciated its women employees was its decision to celebrate International Women's Day every year.

Accenture commemorated the occasion a day early on Friday, the fourth year in a row, with this year's celebration themed, "Discovering opportunities in a multi-polar world.”

Also on Friday, the New York Stock Exchange-listed firm released the findings of a recent study which showed that only 43 percent of women professionals worldwide felt they were well-equipped to compete in the business economy of the future.

Sponsored by Accenture, the study titled "One Step Ahead or 2011: A New Horizon for Working Women," surveyed some 4,000 male and female business professionals in 17 countries across Europe, Asia, North America, and South America.

However, the study had no respondents based in the Philippines.

The survey asked respondents to consider their "skill readiness" in six categories -- agility, social responsibility, global skills, technology, inclusion and diversity, and business relationships.

Skills readiness was defined as representing the respondents' perceived importance of the specific skill as well as their readiness in that skill.

Both men and women rated technology at the top of their skills readiness assessment, with 75 percent and 73 percent saying so, respectively.

Further, the study found that women were more likely than men to attribute their career advancement to ambition and drive, to passion for their chosen careers and to family support.

Asked what factors limited their careers, 23 percent of women respondents cited gender, 22 percent said it was the need to devote energy to children and family, and 18 percent said it was an unwillingness to relocate.