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Life of dignity: Can candidates deliver?

/ 12:02 AM March 20, 2016

The five presidential candidates: Binay, Santiago, Duterte, Poe and Roxas. 

Three decades after Edsa, six decades after Independence and 12 decades after the Revolution against Spain, the Philippines remains highly unequal, with the majority of our people wallowing in poverty and insecurity.

More than half of our 42 million work force are in a precarious or unstable work situation: 3 million unemployed, 7 million underemployed, 14 million working at less than 40 hours a week and two-thirds of the total employed trying to beat the odds in the largely unprotected low-paying informal economy.


Officially, one out of every four Filipinos is poor. But if the ridiculous poverty threshold of P50 plus per capita is raised to P100 or so, half of the population can be considered poor.

Jobs, housing, education


If the basic requirements for a life of dignity, such as regular jobs and family access to adequate food, potable water, quality housing, education, health, transport and other amenities of modern life, are added, the overwhelming majority is really poor.

Is this not the true picture of poverty in the country? Do our presidentiables, vice presidentiables, senatorial candidates and other aspirants for elective posts not see this when they criss-cross the country in the course of their campaign?

Do they not see the expanding colonies of urban and rural slums, the growing number of families sleeping on street pavements and in public cemeteries, the long queues of the unemployed for jobs that are too few and nonregular, and the misery on the faces of the numerous landless rural poor who cannot cope with the vagaries of the weather, market and government’s indecisiveness in implementing agrarian reform?

Poverty and social insecurity clearly affect the majority. What is troubling is that these have persisted amid the claims of technocrats and other officials that the economy has been growing.

This means a few are getting richer every day. Today, the economy for 110 million Filipinos is in the hands of 40 business families and their foreign multinational partners.

Root of insecurities

This sad and unjust state of affairs collides with what our Constitution says. “The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living and an improved quality of life for all.” (Section 9, Article II on State Policies)


Further, the Constitution commands Congress and the executive branch to “give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.” (Section 1, Article XIII [Social Justice and Human Rights])

It is clear that our political leaders—in the present and past administrations—have done a poor job of complying with the constitutional mandate of building a progressive and sustainable economy, on one hand, and ensuring the right of all Filipinos to have a life of dignity and security, on the other.

Three reasons

Why? The reasons are numerous. But to us in the coalition for a life of dignity for all Filipinos (Dignidad), there at least three cogent reasons:

FIRST, allowing our industrial and agricultural sectors, once considered in the 1960s among the leaders in Asia, to collapse under a program of mindless and aimless globalization and deregulation during the last four decades.

Our technocrats opened up the economy to foreign investors and exporters-importers without any consultation and coordination with local industrial and agricultural producers on how to face up to global competition, on how to establish safeguards against unfair foreign competition, such as dumping and smuggling, and on how to upgrade and strengthen local capacities, skills and jobs under globalization.

The results, as documented in the books of Walden Bello and the Fair Trade Alliance, are “deindustrialization” and “deagricultural development,” or the wholesale hollowing out of the economy.

In the process, the Philippines has instead become an economy that is largely dependent on the remittances of millions of overseas Filipino contract workers.

Second, neglecting the critical role of the people in directly contributing to the collective task of building up an equitable and sustainable economy. This happens when agrarian, health, housing, educational, environmental and other social and economic reforms, which can have an empowering impact, are not pursued in a consistent and coherent manner.

How can the creativity and productivity of the greater majority of our people be unleashed when they are not given the opportunity to have access to job-creating assets, life-sustaining social services and capacity-building programs?

Moreover, these reform programs are not given the highest budgetary priorities as mandated by the Constitution.

The government has been violating the Constitution by sticking to a Marcosian law guaranteeing foreign and domestic creditors automatic debt servicing. During certain years in the 1990s and 2000s, debt payments ate up half of the national budgetary allocations, and up to now, these eat up one-third of the total budget, money that could have been spent on social services.

As to reform implementation, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program is now 28 years old and is still far from finished. This shows the outstanding capacity of an elite few and a corrupt bureaucracy to sabotage a reform program meant to benefit the many.

Third and following from the two reasons above, continuing inability of the government to legislate and implement a comprehensive program of social protection for all. Due to civil society pressures, government has committed to universal healthcare. But this is extremely inadequate and the universalization program is being subverted by the program privatizing government hospitals and health services.

Yes, the conditional cash transfer (CCT or 4Ps) program has been getting higher budgetary allocations. However, the program, aside from being a politicized one, is largely a limited stand-alone intervention, which can only partly alleviate poverty given the absence of other poverty-reducing programs, such as active job creation in the urban and rural poor areas.

Overall, there is no comprehensive approach to institutionalize a universal, affordable and adequate social protection for all. The recent presidential veto of the proposed P2,000 pension increase for Social Security System retirees shows how narrow-minded the national leadership is when it comes to developing social protection for all.

As the International Labor Office in Geneva has been suggesting, a member country should allocate at least 6 percent of the gross domestic product equivalent (not the less than 3 percent that the Philippines has) for universal social insurance that should cover all members of society.

The point is that no one should be allowed to fall due to illness, accident, job displacement, and other social and economic risks without the helping hand of government.

Challenge to candidates

Verily, the challenge to the candidates is two-fold:

Build a new governance system that enshrines policies providing all citizens—without exception and with their participation—adequate, comprehensive, universal and sustainable social protection coverage as a matter of right.

Build a new governance system that corrects the existing pattern of unequal social and economic development that prevents the many from having decent jobs and livelihoods that are the key to living a life of dignity.

On the first challenge, a universal and comprehensive social protection program should ensure the basic needs and rights of our working people, as stipulated in our Constitution. Social protection is a human right that all human beings are entitled to so that we can all live a life of dignity.

The state is the principal duty-bearer accountable for making sure that this right is respected, protected and fulfilled. It is comprehensive in the sense that it covers all necessities for a life of dignity and provides mechanisms for the convergence of broad-based initiatives of various state agencies, civil society and other stakeholders toward social protection for all.

Universal social protection

There should be a regime of universal social protection, which entails direct assistance by the state for the least capable and state subsidy to those partly capable.

To ensure that the self-employed informal workers can access social security and healthcare, the government should be prepared to come in as copayors of the premiums, for in the formal sector, the employers share the burden of paying the premiums.

For the totally incapable of paying any premium, the government should cover everything. There should be pensions for all senior citizens and persons with disability, child allowances, maternity protection and income guarantees during unemployment, ill health and natural disasters.

As to the CCT, this should not be treated as a stand-alone program to help the poorest of the poor. It should be just one part of a broader antipoverty program, which includes agrarian reform, rural industrialization and labor reforms.

In sum, Dignidad’s comprehensive agenda for social protection for our people includes the following urgent demands:

1.Decent work and livelihood for all

2.Free and guaranteed healthcare for all

3.Decent, safe and affordable housing with access to water and power for all

4.Adequate, safe and affordable food for all

5.Free quality education up to the tertiary level for all

6.Living pensions for all senior citizens and persons with disability, and adequate income guarantees for the unemployed and survivors of disasters

7.Safe, adequate and reliable public transport for all

On economic governance, Dignidad believes that social exclusion and inequality, poverty and joblessness, and a weak social protection net for the many cannot be solved under the present system of neoliberal economic governance. Bold economic reforms are in order.

Specifically, our leaders and candidates should address the following challenges:

Rebuilding our eroding industrial base. This requires a recalibration of our trade commitments under the World Trade Organization, Association of Southeast Asian Nations and various bilateral and regional free trade agreements based on our development priorities.

Upgrading local capacities, technology, skills and so on. We need to promote industry-industry, industry-agriculture, region-to-region and other value-adding linkages within the archipelago, not merely rely on the global value chains of multinationals investing in the country.

Promoting economic solidarity among all sectors based on the traditional Filipino values of damayan, bayanihan and tangkilikan. Part of this solidarity is social partnership between employers and unions on how to promote decent work while building up competitiveness and productivity.

Rebuilding our devastated agricultural sector. We must adapt an integrated approach that combines land reform with modernization and market development as well as environmental sustainability and climate change adaptation.

Completing land distribution now and transforming agrarian reform beneficiaries and small farmers into modern farm producers. Big agribusiness firms should be asked to come in only if they will help promote increased agricultural processing, not displace farmers from the land.

Empowering the poor as active agents of development. There should be an all-out mobilization of the citizenry in building an inclusive and sustainable economy. For this purpose, there is a need to abandon the policy of simply relying on foreign investments and a few big domestic corporations.

Giving preferential treatment to small local firms, including social enterprises, in government funding and procurement for projects whose selection should be based on people’s needs and environmental sustainability.

(Buhay na may Dignidad para sa Lahat [Dignidad] is a newly established broad alliance of grassroots networks advancing an urgent agenda that will ensure a life of dignity for all Filipinos. It advocates a universal, comprehensive and transformative social protection based on human rights, social justice, gender responsiveness, solidarity, ecological sustainability and participatory democracy.

Its members include Akbayan, Alab Katipunan, Arya Progresibo, Ating Guro, Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Homenet Philippines, Institute for Popular Democracy, Integrated Rural Development Foundation, Kaisa Ka, Kaisahan ng Maliliit na Magsasaka, Katipunan ng Bagong Pilipina, Kilos Maralita, Kilusan para sa Makataong Pamumuhay, Pambansang Kalipunan ng mga Manggagawang Impormal sa Pilipinas, Partido Manggagawa, Philippine Human Rights Information Center, Sanlakas, Sarilaya, Umalab Ka, Sentro and WomanHealth Philippines.

Dignidad is a partner of the regional Network for Transformative Social Protection in Asia that advances an Agenda for a Social Asean.)

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