Group commits action vs. welfare-jarring laws

April 11, 2013 11:33 pm 

MANILA, April 11 — May 2013 poll aspirant Sanlakas party list group targets addressing legislation it deems as stumbling blocks to better public welfare nationwide.

"We must ease the burden on people so they can have a better future," Sanlakas first nominee Manjette Lopez said at State-run PTV 4's 'Paghahanda para sa Hatol ng Bayan' program for this year's mid-term polls.

She considers such action urgent, noting accessing welfare-boosting public services is still difficult for most people as income inequality persists nationwide despite economic growth government reported earlier for the Philippines.

"The playing field must be level," she said.

If elected to Congress this year, Lopez said Sanlakas will prioritize addressing legislative stumbling blocks ranging from automatic appropriation for debt service to labor contractualization.

In January 2013, National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) reported Philippine gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 6.8 percent in 2012's fourth quarter, paving the way for an estimated full-year, broad-based growth of 6.6 percent.

"We're still among countries where income inequality is highest, however," Lopez noted.

NSCB reported last year that estimated degree of such family income distribution inequality, as expressed in terms of the Gini coefficient, hit 0.448 in 2009 with Region VIII registering the highest disparity at 0.484 then.

"Among ASEAN countries, excluding Brunei Darussalam and Myanmar, the Philippines recorded the highest income inequality in 2009 followed by Singapore (0.425), Thailand (0.425), Cambodia (0.407), Indonesia (0.394), Malaysia (0.379), Vietnam (0.378) and Lao PDR (0.326)," NSCB continued, citing the 2009 Human Development Report.

Gini indices of zero and one represent perfect equality and inequality, respectively.

The 2010 United Nations Development Programme report on human development in East and Southeast Asia said the Philippines, Thailand, China and Cambodia “all had a Gini coefficient above 0.4 in the mid-2000s, implying an extremely high level of income inequality and above the internationally recognized warning level."

"Among them, the Philippines saw an increase in value of the index from an already high level of 0.429 in the mid-1990s to a still higher level of 0.44 in the mid-2000s," the report also pointed out.

In 1977, then-president Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree 1177 which mandated automatic appropriations for principal and interest on public debt as well as for other specific government expenditures.

"We'll continue pushing for repeal of automatic debt servicing appropriations, however," Lopez said.

She noted Sanlakas also believes government must re-channel such appropriations to basic services instead.

"Doing so will help increase funding for those much-needed services which government is duty-bound to provide after all," she noted.

Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) previously reported debt service for the country's interest payments alone already averaged around 25.72 percent of the national government budget during all administrations from 1986, when Marcos was ousted from power, to 2008.

"This is not to mention payments for principal amortization which are excluded from the budget and automatically deducted from new borrowings," FDC noted.

FDC called for striking out the automatic debt servicing provision in Section 26(B), Book VI of Executive Order 292 (1987 Revised Administrative Code).

Such provision was copied from PD 1177 and mandates automatic appropriations for interest payment and principal amortization of government obligations, FDC said.

The coalition also sought conduct of an official debt audit and repudiation of "blatantly illegitimate" debt cases.

Kabataan party list Rep. Raymond Palatino introduced during the 15th Congress House Bill 1962 which similarly seeks to repeal the policy on automatic appropriation for debt servicing.

His bill noted such policy "scandalously eaten up the most monstrous share of the people's money, effectively diverting finances away from the delivery of basic social services."

"UN prescribes that governments must spend an equivalent of at least six percent of their countries' GDP in educating their citizens – the Philippines, because of its monstrous debt burden, spends more or less just two percent annually," Palatino further said in the bill.

During the 14th Congress, Senator and 2013 re-election aspirant Antonio Trillanes IV likewise filed Senate Bill 1591 on repealing the automatic debt servicing appropriations law.

"Each year, government is allocating enormous amount to service the country's external debts," he said in the bill. "In 2005 alone, government allotted PhP686 billion or around 94 percent of the country's total revenues. It was also in the same year that budget allocation for debt payment overtook appropriation for public service expenditures by 1.37 percent."

Sanlakas previously identified labor contractualization as another issue needing immediate legislative action, noting such practice is disadvantageous to the country's work force."We'll still push for criminalization of contractualization," Lopez said.

She noted decent work must be available for all instead.

International Labour Organization (ILO) defines decent work as undertaking that's "productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men."

Earlier, National Labor Union (NLU) expressed opposition to labor contractualization and branded this practice as exploitative.

Contractualization restricts employment to less than six months, the maximum probationary period for workers, so employers can avoid providing benefits regular employees are entitled to.

NLU urged government to act on the matter, reporting contractual workers already account for about 90 percent of the Philippines' work force.

Only 10 percent of the work force are employed as regulars, NLU said.

DIWA party list representative Emmeline Aglipay earlier introduced House Bill 3402 on amending some provisions of the Labor Code to strengthen employees' security of tenure.

She said employees' right to security of tenure is enshrined in the Constitution.

"The fact that contractualization has remained a concern for employees for more than a decade shows that the current legal framework is inadequate at dealing with the issue," she added. (PNA)

LOR/CJT

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