POSTSCRIPT / July 27, 2003 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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State of nation depends on one’s political color

SONA TOMORROW: The State of the Nation Address of President Arroyo tomorrow will necessarily be a report of what she was able to do versus her announced goals and what she had accomplished compared to that of her predecessor.

The reactions of the politicians will be along partisan lines. The President and her allies will highlight her significant accomplishments, while the opposition will sniff and say that she has not done enough.

To the teeming masses, the SONA will be significant only in so far as its claims have improved the quality of their lives.

If the average Juan Pasang Krus feels comfortable enough and is optimistic about the coming year, he will give the President a thumbs-up regardless of what she says or does not say in her SONA.

But if life has been hard for poor Juan, or had become worse, he will give the President a dirty finger regardless of the glowing statistics she trots out in her SONA.

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DEFICIT GOES DOWN: The Makati Business Club, which can relate to an economist-president like Mrs. Arroyo, has highlighted in its latest bulletin a 33.5-percent drop in the fiscal deficit coupled with a 14.9-percent improvement in revenue collection.

The MBC report culled from official statistics placed the January-June deficit at P70.6 billion, compared to P119.7 billion in 2002 and P77.8 billion in 2001. The drop in the deficit is a plus point for President Arroyo.

The same bulletin reported a revenue collection in the first semester of this year of P306.3 billion, showing a 14.9-percent increase over the P266.5-billion collection in 2002. Revenues in 2001 amounted to P266.7 billion.

While collections rose, expenditures went down by 0.1 percent in the same period. Government spending was reported at P385.9 billion, compared to P386.2 billion in 2002.

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AGRARIAN REFORM: During the same period, 53,000 hectares of land were distributed by the Department of Agrarian Reform, indicating that the administration is likely to surpass the 100,000-hectare target pledged by President Arroyo in her SONA last year.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan’s optimism has been buoyed by the recent Supreme Court decision declaring P38 billion in Marcos wealth as ill-gotten and therefore available to the agrarian reform program.

He said that with a target of 101,321 hectares for distribution this year, 14 regions have already hit more than 50 percent of their target as of the first semester. Topping the list are Region IX (86 percent of target), Region I (78 percent) and Region XII (71 percent).

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MORE DWELLINGS: Secretary Michael Defensor, chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), reported government housing loans have been made more accessible to low-income families with lower interest rates.

Pag-IBIG interest rates for housing now range from 6 percent to 12 percent per annum, depending on the loan amount. This is the lowest the rates have gone down in the market.

In addition, Mrs. Arroyo has proclaimed more government lands as housing sites, approved the biggest amount as home loans to informal settlers, and allocated the biggest funding for housing.

Defensor said that since 2001, Pag-IBIG has funded the construction or purchase of 131,894 dwellings, exceeding by 3.7 percent its target of 127,165 units.

The President has proclaimed a total of 22,600 hectares of unused government lands as potential sites for socialized housing. This will benefit an estimated 202,702 families nationwide.

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MORE JOBS OPENED: On the labor front, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas reported that the unemployment rate decreased to 12.2 percent in April this year compared to the same period last year.

She added that the number of unemployed persons decreased by 649,000, while the underemployment rate dropped by 4 percent, from 19.6 percent in April 2002 to 15.6 percent this year.

The country’s labor force grew by 3.4 percent, reaching 33.93 million workers last year. Sto. Tomas said the employment rate grew by 3.1 per cent, with more than 906,000 persons employed during the same period.

In 2002, the full-year unemployment rate of 11.4 percent (3.874 million) was about the same as the 11.2 percent in 2001. The average underemployment rate went down to 17 percent (5.109 million) from 17.2 percent in 2001.

The strike incidence in 2002 was also the lowest in 21 years, with only 36 strikes reported nationwide.

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FAILING GRADE: But the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace-Caritas Philippines, the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, has a critical report, saying that the Arroyo administration has failed to make good its commitment to substantially reduce electricity costs.

The CBCP-NASSA noted that the government has not yet instituted reforms to make electricity affordable. It said that consumers continue to protest the escalating cost of power and “popular unrest over the issue is swelling.”

It said that “to placate an angry public, Malacañang ordered reductions in the purchased power adjustment (PPA) only to be recovered through other mechanisms.”

“What awaits electricity consumers is long-term suffering caused by sustaining onerous IPP contracts,” it added. “To justify the entry of more independent power producers (IPPs) into the power sector, government is warning Filipinos of an impending electricity crisis.”

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HOT PPA ISSUE: Warning of foreign interests eventually controlling the power industry, the NASSA-CBCP said these problems remain unsolved:

  1. People, especially Meralco subscribers, are made to believe that the PPA is not being charged anymore although it was only replaced by GRAM or Generated Rate Adjustment Mechanism.
  2. Meralco remains in the hands of the Lopezes despite the clamor for government to take over the company. Being the majority stockholder, government should exercise its right over the company and represent the interest of the people.
  3. Continued implementation of the anti-poor Electric Power Industry Restructuring Act (EPIRA), which allows for unbundling of rates, privatization of Napocor, assumption by government of up to P200 billion of Napocor’s obligations to creditors and IPPs, and the charging of a Universal Charge.
  4. Despite public clamor for the abolition of PPA, government intends to usher in more IPPs mindless that the PPA results from onerous IPP contracts.

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FOREIGN MEDDLING: Interesting questions have cropped up in the preparation for the construction of the Iloilo airport.

After the tender for the project was made in March 2003, the Department of Transportation and Communication rejected the bid of the Japanese consortium of Taisei-Kajima-Shimizu.

The DOTC decision, affirmed by Malacanang, was based on a recent bribery scandal involving Kajima that was upheld by the Japanese Court of Justice. As a result of that case, Kajima was suspended from March 25 to April 3 this year.

Bid evaluation of the remaining qualified bidders made by the DOTC was submitted to the Japan Bank for International Cooperation for concurrence.

But the bank replied: “JBIC rejects DOTC’s concurrence request dated April 9 and insists re-bid.” The bank reportedly threatened to cancel the project loan if the DOTC does not agree to a re-bid.

Taisei-Kajima-Shimizu is reportedly lobbying JBIC to cancel the first bidding.

Some questions being asked in local circles: Why would JBIC allow a company involved in a scandal to influence its official action in a bilateral project? Is JBIC acting on its own or following Japanese government policy in favoring a re-bid?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 27, 2003)

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