Disasters and the dire state of economic, socio-cultural rights in the Philippines


IBON Features | 10 December 2013 | The country’s weak capacity to adapt to the impact of disasters is a result of years of state neglect and its adherence to economic policies that ensure profit above people’s welfare.
Philippines Typhoon
IBON Features—This year’s commemoration of International Human Rights Day finds the Philippines challenged with the devastation wrought by supertyphoon Yolanda in the Visayas one month ago. While the nation continues to grapple withrelief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, the country constantly reels from the man-made plague of backwardness and underdevelopment, the very same symptoms of the present bleak state of economic, social and cultural rights.

The country’s weak capacity to adapt to the impact of disasters is a result of years of state neglect and its adherence to economic policies that ensure profit above people’s welfare. Like disasters, these policies have devastating effects on the country: persistent poverty and inequality, record unemployment, and declining productive sectors, among others. This situation lies behind the repeated violations of the people’s economic, social and cultural rights.

Right to self-determination. Neoliberal policies that government continues to implement have hindered Filipino producers from growing and flourishing.  The share of manufacturing in gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen from 27.6% in 1980 to 22% in 2012; agriculture’s share in GDP in turn has fallen from 23.5% to 11 percent over the same period. This shrinking of productive sectors deprives millions of Filipinos the opportunity for decent work, livelihood and means of subsistence. The wealth of the country’s richest 1% is equivalent to the combined income of the poorest 30%, showing severe inequity that reflects the control of the economy by a few. Neoliberal policies have also eroded government revenues (15.3% of GDP in 2001 to 14.5% in 2012) and the capacity of the state to meet the people’s social and economic needs. In 2012, total interest and principal payments on public debt (Php729.8 billion) were more than double combined education, health and housing spending (Php357.6 billion).

Right to work. The combined estimated number of unemployed and underemployed in 2013 was 11.9 million with some 549,000 job losses among farmers, fisherfolk and workers and around 16,000 job losses among professionals. The lack of job opportunities is also reflected in how around 21% of the unemployed have college degrees, 6% have post-secondary qualifications and 34% have high school degrees already. The government still actively promotes a labor export policy instead of generating jobs at home, and daily overseas Filipino worker deployment reached 4,924 in 2012.

Right to just and favorable work conditions. Wage standards are commonly violated and 21.6% of firms inspected were found to be violating minimum wage laws in 2012. Minimum wages are insufficient to maintain a minimum level of decent living. The current mandated daily minimum wage in the National Capital Region (NCR) of Php456 as of March 2013 is Php578 short of the Php1,034 (US$22.70) daily living wage for an average family size of six. Many workers are in irregular and vulnerable work arrangements, with one in four workers in non-agricultural establishments with 20 or more workers having non-regular status and 37.3% wage and salary workers not covered by written contracts. Meanwhile, the rural poor suffer backward agricultural systems and feudal relations with 52% of all farms in the country covering 51% of total farm area remain under tenancy, lease and other forms of tenurial arrangement. Some 2.4 million farms out of a total 4.8 million still rely on hand tools, plows and carabaos, while only 30% of total farm area is irrigated.

Right to unionize. Though guaranteed under law, workers continue to experience severe labor repression when they try to uphold their rights. From June 2010 to July 2013, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights recorded 392 trade union-related human rights violations counting 30,578 victims. There is also an accumulation of firm level evidence of increasing contractualization and agency-hiring which hinder the right to unionize. Attacks on unions have caused further decline in union membership from 11.7% of wage in salary workers in 2005 to 9.9% by June 2012, with collective bargaining agreements covering only 10.3% of workers in June 2012.

Right to social security. Millions of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable are effectively beyond public social insurance or safety nets. Despite the rising number of jobless workers, there are no unemployment benefits. On the other hand, amid the Social Security System’s (SSS) hundreds of billions in assets and investments, huge income, not to mention millions in perks and bonuses received by its management, the Aquino administration approved a 0.6% increase in members’ contributions to the SSS this year, adding burden to workers already suffering from low wages.

Right of families to protection/ assistance. Due to the overseas worker phenomenon, an estimated number of children aged 0-14 years left behind by OFW parents have ranged from two million to 5.5 million. Poverty also drives many children to leave school for work: in April 2013, some 2.4 million children aged 5-17 were working to augment family income or fend for themselves, with 75% employed in psychologically and physically hazardous conditions. There were 2.2 street children in 2006. The largest number of poor population among basic sectors are children (14.4 million) and women (12.8 million).

Right to adequate standard of living.  Around 70% of the population, or some 66 million Filipinos, are living off less than Php104 per person per day. By whatever count these are the most number of poor Filipinos in history. Some 65 million or 70% of Filipinos lived of Php104 or much less per day in 2009, with the poorest half of the population having very low per capita incomes of Php22-Php67 per day. According to the 2008 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS), of the poorest 30% of families, 28.7% do not have access to safe drinking water, 36.2% have no electricity and 24% do not have access to sanitary toilets.

Right to food. The country’s most vulnerable sectors suffer increasing hunger. IBON’s October 2013 survey revealed 58.5% of respondents having difficulty in buying food. About 53% of Filipino households are incapable of feeding their children with an adequate and nutritional diet. Women and children are the worst affected by the lack of access to adequate and nutritious food supplies, while the prevalence of malnourishment is worsening. The share of underweight children 0-5 years old stood at 20.2% in 2011; 66.9% of households had per capita energy of less than 100% adequacy.

Right to housing. According to the 2008 APIS, 42% of the poorest 30% of families don’t own a strong housing unit and 35% do not own their house and lot. The number of families in urban poor communities also increased by more than 60% in urban centers nationwide between 2000 and 2009. The National Housing Authority (NHA) reported in July 2011 that there are half a million informal settler families in Metro Manila. Housing and community development was allotted just 0.4% of the national budget for 2012, one of the lowest public spending on housing in Asia.

Right to health. Government spending on health has been decreasing from 0.58% in GDP in 1997 to 0.50% in 2012, while real spending per capita per day on health was Php1.50 in 2012. The increasing privatization of health institutions to the profit of the country’s richest are narrowing people’s access to health even further. Already, health care is a great burden on the poor as the average cost of treatment in public health facilities is equivalent to 3.8 days worth of the daily minimum wage and of confinement an entire month; treatment cost in private health facilities is even higher. Mortality rates for the poorest 20% (infant-40/1,000 live births; child-19/1,000 live births; under-5-59/1,000 live births) are also many times that of those at the 20% highest income levels (infant-15; child-2; under-5-17). Maternal mortality has drastically worsened to 221 per 100,000 live births in 2011.

Right to education. Poverty denies millions of Filipino children the right to a decent education with high non-tuition expenses. The 2010 APIS reported the incidence of out-of-school youth (OSY) at a high 15.5% equivalent to 6.0 million Filipinos. The OSY rate is highest for the poorest 10% of households at 17.8 percent. Though the Constitution mandates that education receive the highest budgetary priority from government, debt service is the biggest item in the national budget. In the 2012 national budget, allocation for 112 state universities and colleges was cut by Php147 million, with top 51 SUCs receiving a cut of Php574 million. Backlogs in education by the end of 2012 remained considerable: 110,874 teachers, 34,673classrooms and 1,275,944 seats.

Violations to economic, social and cultural rights are man-made woes that extend beyond and aggravate the hazards of natural calamities. Poverty, inequality and poor standard of living are the direct results of neoliberal policies that give priority to the foreign and corporate profits over the welfare of the majority. By replacing these with economy-wide policies that improve the basic rights to work, health, education, and adequate standard of living, then the dire state of economic, social and cultural rights—like the effect of disasters in the country—can be mitigated. IBON Features


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