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Give the poor jobs

“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” That was supposed to have been said by US Adm. David Farragut during the American Civil War. It means, if you want to win you have to take risks.

As I said last week, action is needed in the last two minutes of the presidency. The groundwork has been laid, it’s now time to move.

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“We cannot wait for progress to trickle down to the poor. We have to act,” said President Aquino in his fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona) last year. Well, he’s acting, all right—except that he is acting to add to the number of the poor. And indeed he will, if he, as expected, accepts the Mining Industry Coordinating Council or MICC’s recommendation to tax the mining industry to death.

There are three sectors of most help to the rural poor, to which the bulk of the poor belong: Agriculture, tourism and mining. Agriculture has been a poor employer; its daily wage per farmer is unacceptably low (a meager P157) and a huge number of those “working” the farms do so for free, as family members.

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Tourism is doing well, but requires skills that many of the poor don’t have; and infrastructure is yet to come.

Mining, on the other hand, can employ thousands, hundreds of thousands of the unskilled who most need help. Mining can generate export dollars in the billions and can be a great tool to achieving the kind of “trickle-down” economy the President says he wants.

Well, the President can kiss that dream economy goodbye once he accepts the MICC’s foolish recommendation. As it now stands, the Philippines has the world’s third worst mining policy regime (only better than Venezuela’s and Kyrgyzstan’s, which are not the worlds’ most enlightened countries). And to think that the Philippines already imposes one of the highest tax rates in the world. If Mr. Aquino accepts the new “GO/NO GO” map where almost every place in the country is a no-mining zone, there would be no hope at all for the industry.

I’m at loss why President Aquino is so opposed to mining when it can do so much good to so many of those most in need of help.

Some $12 billion in mining investments is on hold while  the tax regime remains uncertain. This will disappear if the 10-percent tax on gross revenues or the 45 percent to 55 percent of adjusted mining revenues, plus a percentage of windfall profit (whichever is higher) is imposed as the MICC desires. To put this in context, $12 billion is the six-year total of what the Philippines now gets (I excluded the share transfer of Coca-Cola last year) in foreign direct investments. That is P525 billion. And this government wants to just throw that away?

Countries all over the world derive great benefits from mineral extraction operations. Mining investments generate jobs, build infrastructure, and inject money into communities. These translate into better access to health and education in rural areas where they are most needed. Simply put, mining investments create inclusive growth which is much needed for the country’s development.

President Aquino has been badly advised about mining, and seemingly he has accepted the advice without question. So mining operations, except for those already ongoing, will be on hold until the next hopefully more enlightened president comes along or until P-Noy can be convinced to change his mind.

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We have lost a champion. Wesley So, a  20-year-old Filipino, ranks 15th in the World Chess Federation and wants to get into the Top 10, and even become No. 1. He very probably could, he’s a brilliant player. I took note of his brilliance in a column way back in 2010. Coca-Cola and Shell kindly lent him support; but he needed government support, too, but it didn’t come. So Wesley’s family has moved to Canada, and Wesley has been granted a scholarship in the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Webster University in the United States.  Hence Wesley will become an American champion not a Philippine one. It’s not as though the Philippines is winning so many gold medals it can throw one away. For Wesley to play in the next World Championships he needs the consent of the Philippine National Chess Federation, headed by Butch Pichay, for his transfer, otherwise he must pay some P3 million which he doesn’t have. I sincerely hope Pichay will readily, even if sadly, agree; and that the government will learn a lesson from this unfortunate event and will know how to avoid it in the future.

Right now there’s another brilliant youngster who needs, in this case, Congress support. Farrell Eldrian Wu is a Maths genius. Recently he garnered a perfect score in the 2014 American Mathematics Competition and was included in the Distinguished Honor Roll worldwide by the Mathematical Association of America. He wants to compete in South Africa in July, representing the Philippines, but he must show proof of his Filipino citizenship. He can’t, he was born here but of Chinese parents and in the Philippines, parentage determines a child’s citizenship. Congress can  make him a citizen and I’m sure it will. The bill granting him Filipino citizenship has been approved on third and final reading by the House of Representatives. The measure has been transmitted to the Senate for concurrence. But the chamber’s attention is rather divided at the moment. However, Senate Committee on Justice chair Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III is not among the accused in the pork barrel scam, so there’s a good chance the Philippines will have a champion to be proud of. But not till the Senate grants him citizenship. Let’s hope it does as soon as possible.

Wesley and Farrell exemplify what Filipinos can do, but they need proper government support, and perhaps some from the private sector.  Let’s not lose another winner.

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TAGS: Coca Cola, labor, nation, news, Poverty, Shell, Unemployment, Wesley So
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