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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Nakakatulong Nga Ba o Nakakapagpalala?

Ang mga tulong na sa kasalukuyan ay ibinibigay ni Pangulong Arroyo sa mga mahihirap na pamilya sa pamamagitan ng pagbibigay ng P500 bawat isa at dagdag na P300 kada isang anak hanggang tatlo o kabuuang P1,400 ay isang malaking katanungan. Isang malaking tulong na hindi nakakatulong ang ganitong bagay.

Tama bang bigyan na lamang ng pera ang mga mahihirap ng walang anuman matinong programa para maiangat sila sa kahirapan? Hindi ba't magbubunga lamang ito ng patuloy na pagasa ng mga mahihirap sa ganitong tulong? Walang kwenta ang anumang tulong na hindi tumutugon sa ugat na suliranin ng ating mga kababayan. Puro na lang panandaliang lunas at mga solusyong pampapogi ang ating nakikita.

Eto ang isang artikulo ni Antonio Abaya na tumatalakay sa suliraning ito at sa kasalukuyang pamamaraan ng Pangulo...

Desperate Housewife
By Antonio C. Abaya
Written on June 02, 2008
For the Standard Today,
June 03 issue

In the past six weeks, President Arroyo has been launching one initiative after another, the main thrust of which is to project a new populist image of her as the Patron Saint of the Squealing Masa.

Compared to her, Joseph Estrada – with his fighting slogan "Erap para sa Mahirap" – is a rank amateur.

Towards the end of April, President Arroyo launched the Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino (APP), a socio-economic program which purports to give at least P500 cash dole-outs every month to 300,000 poorest-of-the- poor families in the 20 poorest provinces, for doing nothing, only for being poor. (See my article P500 per Vote, of April 30.)

In addition, APP plans to give away P300 in cash per child in each recipient family, for a maximum of three children, or a total of P900 a month, plus the basic P500 dole-out. That's P1,400 per month per poorest-of-the- poor family to 300,000 families, or P420 million a month nationwide, or P5.04 billion by the time its budget of P5 billion runs out in April or May 2009.

And then, what? I asked. She cannot stop in April or May 2009. She has to keep going because millions of other poor families will clamor for their share of the freebies. And those who are already recipients will have become so used to receiving P1,400 a month for doing nothing that they will demand a continuation of their dole-outs.

President Arroyo will have created a nation of mendicants who expect to be given money for doing nothing, only for being poor. And P1,400 a month – in the face of escalating prices for food, fuel, electricity and transport – is not going to buy much, certainly not enough to start a small business to give them economic independence. .

Her apologists in media and Congress compare APP with the Emergency Employment Agency (EEA) which President Arroyo's father, President Diosdado Macapagal used in the 1960s to give jobs to the jobless.

Not true. EEA paid daily wages for daily work, such as sweeping the streets or cleaning the esteros, etc. The cash given out were NOT dole-outs, they were real wages for real work, much like the emergency employment schemes programmed by the administration of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression in the 1930s, to build highways, bridges and dams.

Apologists point out that similar emergency dole-outs are being given out to the poor in several Latin American countries. True. I know that in Brazil the program is called Bolsa de Nacao, or something like that. But Latin America is not the ideal role model for the Philippines. And President Arroyo should stop trying to ape them. (The East Asian model of encouraging hard work by rewarding it is a better model.)

In September 2004, she hired the advisory services of Peruvian social scientist Hernando de Soto, who had become the darling of aid agencies in Washington DC for his program of selling to squatters in Lima and elsewhere the land that they were occupying. The idea was to give squatters some equity which they can use to secure bank loans to start businesses.

I do not know what success, if any, De Soto's scheme had in raising the host countries' GDP, but the program that he suggested to President Arroyo was to sell to the squatters the land that they occupied along the 22-km long right-of-way of the Philippine National Railways (PNR), from Caloocan to Muntinlupa.

In my articles Dumb and Dumber (Sept 30, 2004) and Hernando's Give-away (Nov. 05, 2004), I critiqued the De Soto plan on the grounds that a) it would preclude the possibility of the PNR ever running a much-needed high-speed commuter rail line along these tracks, since the possibility of catastrophic derailment into the nearby squatters' shacks would be very high; b) whatever loans that the squatters would get for their 20-sqm lots would be minimal and would just be wasted in non-stop drinking and gambling.

I proposed instead that squatters be relocated and organized into manufacturing co-operatives to manufacture products for which there is a real need and demand. (See my article The Co-Op Solution of Sept. 28, 2004).

My objections were apparently heard and considered because the De Soto plan was junked. Instead, the government – thru Vice-President Noli de Castro - has been quietly demolishing the squatters' shanties along the PNR right-of-way and relocating the squatters to a settlement in Cabuyao, Laguna, in preparation for South Rail, the high-speed commuter rail line that will link Makati with Calamba, Laguna.

Will the Arroyo administration listen to my objections to APP. I hope so. But if one examines the environment in which it is being proposed, it seems to be linked to her on-going efforts to remain in power beyond 2010. Witness the ChaCha Road Show launched by Albay Gov. Joey "Bitch" Salceda last Feb. 11, to push for a shift to the parliamentary system of government. Witness the recently launched (by Sen. Pimentel) road show to promote a shift to a federal form on government before the end of PGMA's term in 2010, a Trojan Horse calculated to make sure that she has, not one, but two avenues towards that goal.

But aside from the APP, she also gave the signal to Winston Garcia, president of the GSIS, to launch an attack against the Lopez family and blame them for the high cost of electricity in the Meralco franchise area. This shifts public anger over high power rates to Meralco, even though much of those high rates are due to the EVAT collected by government on power consumption, and on the royalties government collects on the extraction of gas from Malampaya.

Having apparently lost Round One to Meralco and the Lopezes, President Arroyo persists in projecting herself as the New Patron Saint of the Squealing Masa by launching last week yet another populist scheme. This time, she has set aside another P2 billion to help poor families pay their electric bills.

Under this scheme, families who consume 50 kWh or less of electricity a month and pay about P212 for it will be entitled to a subsidy of P1,000 a year or less than P100 a month.

As with the APP, this will be a cash dole-out, when the more business-like and corruption-free method would be for Meralco to issue a credit memo in favor of the consumer, and for Meralco to bill government for it. But this would not have the physical impact of a cash dole-out, specially when the time comes to buy the masa's signatures for the ChaCha referendum in 2009 and the parliamentary elections in 2010.

And who can forget the ill-conceived attempts two weeks ago to make texting free, which would have endeared PGMA to the squealing, texting masa, until the telecoms threatened to shut down the service entirely, rather than provide it for nothing. And then her order last week to state schools and colleges not to raise tuition fees this June, when in fact they already have, as early as last February..

It may be that President Arroyo has genuine concern for the poorest of the poor, but these apparently last-minute, off-the-cuff initiatives show the absence of well-thought- out forward planning on her part. These seem more like the erratic moves of a Desperate Housewife preparing for some hanky-panky soon. *****

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