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.”