On International Biodiversity Day: SEARICE Statement for the CSO Consultation on the Right to Food

I’m not a farmer, but my work constantly brings me to them (or, them to my awareness). I feel for them, especially the small farmers. They’re among the most under-appreciated and least supported of this country’s producers. But, visualizing the food chain with ourselves as top consumers, I also feel for myself, that is, the quality of food available for my intake, given that I rely on others to grow a large portion or all of my daily food. And, of course, for my children and the quantity and quality of food available to them growing up and in the future.

If and when farmers do not, fail, or stop growing food…can you imagine living off on canned and injected processed goods three meals a day the entire year (or, even, a lifetime)? Can we imagine this country finally possessing a complete arsenal of machinery that could destroy the world but with people that are emaciated, wasting, and sickly because of lack of adequate nutritious food?

Food, then, particularly it’s quality and availability, grown locally, basic to the survival of 100M Filipinos and counting, should be on the top priorities of the Philippine government. We’re unlike our food-importing ASEAN neighbors Singapore or Brunei in land capacity. Relative to these countries, this country has comparative advantage in local food production hence should not be signed away. I understand the need to strike a balance in investments, but the situation right now is that although foreign investors are small in number this 10% already owns 80% of the food production. The rest is a mine field populated by various local players in a shark-eats-shark competition for the market. This and we’ve not yet mentioned who owns the land. What this country need to do away with right now is monopoly and oligopoly and start embracing healthy competition and aligned to it, biodiversity.

The following Statement by SEARICE was issued in 2015 and reinstated here today as the same proposal has yet to be responded to by duty bearers:

Seeds are the source of food and livelihood of small farmers. Small food producers like the farmers, especially in developing countries, operate within an informal seed system. Farmers save, re-use and exchange seeds with other farmers, and this has sustained their agricultural production and contributed to crop diversity ever since agriculture begun.

We emphasize the direct contribution of biodiversity to food security, nutrition and well-being. It provides a variety of food sources of a range of nutritional requirements, and provides a safety net to vulnerable households in times of crisis. Diverse farming systems contribute to more diverse diets to communities that produce their own food, thus improving nutrition, and providing solutions to malnutrition.

We wish to build on this universal context of the farmer seed system and its vital role in ensuring agricultural biodiversity which is recognized by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Likewise, we support the recommendations of the former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter in his Final report: The transformative potential of the right to food. We give particular attention to the general recommendations of the said Report on which we are able to put forward specific recommendations drawn from our site-specific experiences in engaging with farmer organizations and networks from CSOs and government agencies at the local, national and international level.

State Obligation to Protect, Promote and Fulfill the Right to Food and the Implementation of Farmers’ Rights.

Outside of the UN system, the attributes of the informal seed system of farmers have been translated into formal legal entitlement through the Farmers’ Rights provided under the ITPGRFA. These rights are: right to equitably participate in sharing benefits; participation in decision-making; protection of traditional knowledge; and the right to use save and exchange seeds. However, these rights only relate to the plant genetic resources, and their implementation is left to the national governments of the contracting parties with no specific provisions under the Treaty on the remedies in case of its violation. It was noted that “these so-called farmers’ ‘rights’ remain rights without remedies: they are rights only by name. The provision remains vague, and implementation of this provision is highly uneven across the States parties. This is in sharp contrast with the enforcement, at international level, of plant breeders’ rights and biotech-industry patents. Furthermore, there exists no forum in which the implementation of farmers’ rights in various settings is discussed, in order to provide benchmarks and examples of good practices which Governments could seek inspiration from.

We therefore recommend the immediate signing of the proposed Executive Order PROVIDING FOR THE COLLECTION, CHARACTERIZATION, CONSERVATION, PROTECTION, AND SUSTAINABLE USE OF PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE, APPROPRIATING FUNDS THEREFORE AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. The proposed draft was drawn from the 2-year-long meetings and consultations with key stakeholders. It provides among others that the Department of Agriculture, with the participation of relevant government agencies, farmers’ organizations and other stakeholders, shall conduct a review of laws, policies, rules and, regulations relating to plant genetic resources, including seed regulations, to determine if they are consistent with Farmers’ Rights and recommend such actions as may be needed to amend or modify them. The review shall include recommendations on how to address violations of Farmers’ Rights, including the imposition of penalties. This will actualize the state commitment to implement the Farmers’ Rights at the national level and it will set into motion the review of existing policies that runs contrary or is not supportive of the protection of farmers’ rights. Moreover, it will be consistent with the call for the swift implementation of farmers’ rights.

At the local level, local governments units (LGUs) promoting sustainable agriculture through adoption of organic farming practices, establishment of seed banks to conserve and manage farmer-bred and traditional seed varieties for local food security should be promoted by the national government. These practices enhance the functioning of the farmer seed system, thereby ensuring the availability, accessibility, and adequacy of seeds. Ultimately, it ensures the agricultural biodiversity and food security of the local communities. Municipalities like Arakan and Clarin in Mindanao and Calasiao, Pangasinan in Luzon have invariably drafted local ordinances that support and institutionalize farmers’ rights and the accompanying support system for their realization such as proposal to establish seed banks and seed registry for farmer-bred varieties and traditional varieties.

Promoting Innovations and Incentives on Plant breeding and the De Facto Exclusion of Farmers.

The Philippine Plant Variety Protection Act of 2002 (Republic Act No. 9168) provides protection to new plant varieties in the Philippines, as part of the country’s compliance with its commitments under the WTO-TRIPS. It follows the same requirements for protection, terms of protection, and scope of breeders’ rights as the UPOV 1991 Act, but differs in that it provides for a non-optional exception in favor of the traditional right of small farmers to save, use, exchange, share or sell their farm produce of a protected variety (with certain exceptions and conditions), a gene trust fund, and a community registry, among others.

A Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) on the specific provision[7] of PVP Act of 2002, which is very similar to UPOV 91, indicated the following results:

  1. It could negatively impact the functioning of the informal seed system. Its restrictions on the use, exchange and sale of farm-saved PVP seeds would severely affect the positive linkage between the formal and informal seed systems, and make it harder for resource-poor farmers to access improved seeds. Moreover, selling seeds (including those protected by PVP laws) is an important source of income for many farmers. From a human rights perspective, restrictions on the use, exchange and sale of protected seeds could therefore adversely affect the right to food, as seeds might become either more costly or harder to access.
  2. Restrictions on the use, exchange and sale of farm-saved seeds might lead to fewer options for farmers, who then become increasingly dependent on the formal seed sector. Improved varieties, however, often require more inputs compared to local farmers’ varieties, pushing up production costs. In the case of varieties protected in line with UPOV 91, seed costs drive up production expenses even further. From a human rights perspective, higher production costs pose a risk to cash-strapped farmers by destabilising their household budget. This could negatively impact a range of human rights, by reducing the amount of household income available for food, healthcare or education.
  3. Furthermore, there have been indications that several UPOV-related provisions could undermine other public interest policies and processes by negatively impacting the state’s ability to comply with other international legal obligations (for example under the Convention on Biological Diversity or the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture) or national policies.
  4. In conclusion, the research provides clear evidence on potential human rights impacts and further areas of concern that should be carefully considered when designing and implementing PVP laws. The findings of the impact assessment showed (i) strong dependence of small-scale farmers on informal seed systems in developing countries, (ii) the threat to the enjoyment of the right to food when access to seeds of protected varieties is restricted, and (iii) the increasing malfunctioning of the informal seed system as the result of stringent laws including UPOV 91-style PVP laws on seeds

Relevant recommendations of the study to the Philippine Government are as follows:

  • undertake an HRIA before drafting a national PVP law or before agreeing to or introducing intellectual property provisions in trade and investment agreements in the area of agriculture;
  • improve the linkages between the formal and informal seed systems and apply a differentiated approach to PVP for different users and different crops;
  • ensure that governments abide by a transparent and participatory process that includes all potentially affected stakeholders when drafting, amending or implementing PVP laws and related measures;
  • inform government agencies and others involved in seed policy about their obligations concerning the right to food;
  • identify what accompanying measures may be necessary for new PVP-related laws, and implement them, including measures to mitigate and remedy any potential adverse impacts of the PVP-related laws on human rights or on the informal seed sector;
  • monitor the impact of PVP laws on the right to food, with particular attention to ways in which PVP-related laws or policies impact different segments of the population.

Quality Seeds for Farmers through Seed Certification. The Seed Industry Development Act of 1992 (Republic Act No. 7308) seeks to promote and accelerate the development of the seed industry, including the conservation, preservation and development of PGRs of the Philippines. A key policy objective of this law is to promote the development of quality seeds and encourage private breeding through incentives. Seeds to be certified as “quality seeds” have to undergo the certification process, the cost of which is prohibitive for small farmer-breeders for the testing of the varieties that they have bred. This was aired by farmer-breeders during the Farmer-Breeder Conference conducted by SEARICE last December 2014.

A farmers group in Calasiao, Pangasinan, on the other hand, lamented that even though they have produced surplus of local varieties that they have bred and developed, the local government could not procure the seeds that they have produced since there is a standing government guideline to procure only certified seeds, otherwise, it will be disallowed by government auditor. Thus, this has the effect of de facto exclusion of farmers from market access and to the incentives provided under the law, and ultimately, on their economic right to livelihood and their right to food in the context of having means to access it.

Although we find it commendable that the Department of Agriculture came out with a Guideline on the Implementation of Community-Seed Banks, which recognize an equivalent quality control for seeds produced by farmers, we recommend the review and/or amendment of existing seed certification laws/standards to incorporate and allow for local (i.e. provincial or regional) mechanisms to recognize and certify farmer-developed rice varieties.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Food Availability and Access:

  1. FARMERS’ ACCESS TO TRADITIONAL VARIETIES DIMINISH: In the Philippines, the introduction of GMO crop like Bt Corn has significantly reduced the availability of and access of farmers to various conventional or traditional varieties. In Candon City, Ilocos Sur, most corn farmers are using Bt Corn because this is the only available variety in the market. Farmers claimed that they are having difficulties in finding the usual conventional and native varieties that they plant in their farms.
  2. LIMITED INFORMATION ABOUT GMOs: Farmers have little or no information about the GMO crops that they are planting. In the Philippines, there are farmers who claimed that they don’t know that Bt Corn is a genetically modified variety or what GMOs are in general. They were only informed that Bt Corn is a new variety that will address pest control problems, particularly the corn borer.
  3. FARMERS COULD NO LONGER SHARE OR EXCHANGE SEEDS TO OTHER FARMERS: Sharing and exchanging seeds among farmers have been a universal practice among farmers for centuries as part of the cultural and traditional knowledge of farming communities. With GM crops replacing native or traditional varieties in the market, farmers can no longer share or exchange seeds because GM crops are protected by patents.

We recommend the following:

  1. Review EO 430 and the Philippine Bio-safety Guidelines. The mandate of the NCBP, emanating from EO 430, should be reviewed. The leadership role played by the DOST in this policymaking body should be re-considered in view of the fact that the agency’s flagship programs are centered on modern biotechnology. The National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) has not been up to task in performing its duty to raise public awareness on the issues and development of genetic engineering, as mandated in Executive Order 430. It has instead concentrated its efforts in processing and approving applications of field trials of genetically engineered crops like Bt Corn, Bt Eggplant and Golden Rice. Issues in public participation on biosafety regulations, accountability and transparency should have primacy in the review process. The Philippine Biosafety Guidelines should likewise be reviewed, in light of the recent developments in genetic engineering worldwide and the coming into force of the International Biosafety Protocol under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD);
  2. Finally, we support the passage of House Bill 3795, also known as the Right to Adequate Food Framework Act of 2014 since it will provide among others a comprehensive framework to ensure the right of every Filipino to access adequate food at all times. On this note, we wish to underscore the need to incorporate agricultural biodiversity in measures to address hunger, poverty and nutrition.

*emphasis in italic and bold, mine

Advertisements

Livelihood programmes:  a comedy of sorts

​In the days and months after the Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009, aid groups wasted little time.

Many women had been on the front lines, fighting among the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Now, these groups decided, those women needed a healthy dose of “empowerment.”

In development circles, the word “empowerment” has become synonymous with an income stream. So the organizations offered the women opportunities to take sewing classes or attend beauty school. “These are women who had joined an armed movement because of their political ideals,” said Kate Cronin-Furman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School who studies human rights and mass atrocities. “And they were being sent to learn cake-making.”

A lot of these programs were actually disempowering, Cronin-Furman found. They kept women at home, disconnected from their networks and from opportunities to organize. One government official told Cronin-Furman that despite years of training programs, she had never seen any of the women earn a living from these skills. “It’s not just that they failed to help,” Cronin-Furman said. “It’s that it actually made them worse off, cutting them off from political power.”

Aid groups say they’re ’empowering’ women with cows and chickens. They’re not., Amanda Erickson, The Washington Post

Precisely. This reminds me of Angat Kabuhayan a national livelihood programme implemented by the Office of the Vice President. Apart from it (1) reeking of bad politics, that is, an obvious PR tactic to endear the VP to the people (the natural outcome of the VP’s name, face, and person going around localities to launch this and that livelihood project), (2) use of public and donated funds as if it’s personal money by attaching the VP’s name instead of the Filipino people’s or donors’ names as programme owner, and (3) which compels people to ask what’s the country’s VP doing livelihood projects when the VP ought to be strategic, provide oversight to the national legislative agenda, and assist the President considering they’re both the current Administration ie. the Duterte-Robredo Administration? (in short, lend the Office of the VP the respect and credibility it should), the Angat Kabuhayan is another replication of the numerous livelihood projects of various government agencies. DSWD has it’s SL or Sustaimable Livelihood Programme (apart from livelihood projects attached to it’s 4Ps). DOLE has it’s Livelihood Integrated Program / Kabuhayan Program. DILG, it’s own (why the Department of Interior funds village association-level livelihood projects behooves me. Truly only in da Philippinesfunded through the Bottom-Up Budgeting process. The LGUs as well have their own. And we’re not mentioning here those by the I/NGO community that’s come to billions worth through the years. The question regardless is, to what extent have all these livelihood projects contributed over time to regional and national GDP? It is apparent, without a PSA-type impact survey to know, that it’s been minimal, and what’s been stimulating growth ie. consumption instead are OFWs’ regular remmittances from abroad. 

Livelihood is alright but only as a stop-gap intervention. It’s always been a stop-gap intervention, intended to transition skills-, resource-, or capital-poor households from hand-to-mouth existence as when on top of production training they’re taught basics of accounting and saving, but agencies and organizations looked at livelihood as the miracle cure to poverty and the direct path to immediate wealth. But how is that when, in the first place, majority of livelihood project beneficiaries do not own the land they built their houses on and till so that no matter the tools given them, be these in the form of carabaos, goats, chickens, hoes, and loads of training, if they cannot decide on their own how to appropriate the land and enhance it according to their needs, as well as if they also lack mobility (essentially cash and networks to be able to relocate to a better place) these tools will eventually come to naught as when granaries built for them free turned into dance halls if not white elephants. Carabaos, goats, and chickens are butchered one by one and eaten for dinner by money-strapped and near-starving beneficiaries. Livelihood has never been the engine of economic growth. It’s not now, in this fast-globalizing and hyper-paced world.

The other argument against livelihood as the miracle cure to poverty especially when it involves public funds is fairness and justice given that many of these projects are dole-outs to individuals and families who are identified by contestible measurements because they filter out the more economically poor. For example, how is providing ten heads of goats to a farmer-household on leased land while withhelding intervention to a woman-headed household whose house is on public land fair and just? Livelihood projects in these instances overlook the systemic causes of poverty thus perpetuating these dynamics and so no matter the interventions the community, overall, ends up as poorly, forever in circles. Moreover, it’s painful for a taxpayer who is, say, paying off a mortgage at the same time putting the children to school and struggling to sustain medical needs of elderly parents, to reconcile with the fact that one is working one’s butt off just so for government to decide, oh, hey, there’s one family (out of 10M) we’d grant a capital fund for a sari-sari store. If it was a personal choice, the taxpayer would just as soon hand the tax amount from the year’s earnings to his ailing and widowed neighbor.

It would seem livelihood projects are to keep the mass of poor people busy never mind if what they’re busy at has, without their knowing it, gone bust even before it could take off. We wouldn’t want them to congregate into an angry mob, chant insensible things, destroy public property, and maybe if they’re lucky, overthrow an administration because they’ve got nothing else to do, would we? So keep them happy and busy raising pigs (without a market).

What the country need to further stimulate, support, and take advantage of right now, any economist would tell you, is entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship is essentially about owning “intangible resources” as for instance the ability to visualize a clear vision of the livelihood or business you want and to communicate this as clearly and convincingly thus compel others eg. investors, consumers to latch onto and actually build your vision. Traditional livelihood on the other hand is about other people eg. governmeent, I/NGOs going to you to tell you that what you need to get yourself rungs up the ladder is, say, weaving. They then get into your head by painting a very rosy picture of you and your woven products that are unique in all the world they’ve caught the eye of the global market…and millions in exchange. What’s funny in this is (1) it’s the outsider-vision peddlers who are really the entrepreneurs and the beneficiaries the “consumer-victims” (for lack of an appropriate term), and (2) the “promise” of producing a “one-of-a-kind” product hence profit is however undermined or negated even before the beneficiaries have started with their weaving business because of funders’ decision to distribute 1,000 weaving kits which is all the households in the neighborhood.
The fair and just approach to poverty alleviation, aside from the support of entrepreneurship, is a social insurance system comparable to the Nordic countries’. We have a system but is still far from being fair and just. For one, many of the poor remain outside of the SSS and PhilHealth system which begs the question whatever happened to the “registration of indigents” that LGUs are supposed to oversee? It should’ve been completed by now.

Another is the upgrade of basic and adult education. The K12 that we have has turned out as an embarrassment to the study and profession of ‘public education’. The children no less are being shortchanged as a result. This conversation can start with the lack of and poor content quality of textbooks. Also, to have a significant number of illiterate adults at this time and age when technology is all around is the saddest thing for a country. The ALS program need to be re-designed for relevance in today’s workplace. But, in order for such innovations to be recognized and adopted, the public education system need to loosen up, meaning, to become flexible and agile.

And one more, land. How could the poor own land without being pushed to do the usual violence, or becoming victims of violence?  The right to own land is a human right, right? The concern is within libertarian aspirations thus ought to be the priority project of the Liberal Party. On the other hand, if the Communist Party is the one yakking about the poor owning land we ought to know this goes against communism (wherein resource ownership is communal) and is an indication of disjuncture within and among the Parties. Who are each of them yakking for really? ‘Me’, again?

In sum, what I’m saying is re-appropriate the amount targeted for livelihood projects instead to strategic high-impact programmes and initiatives. This implies a more efficient governance framework as programme redundancy is eliminated because then government and I/NGOs are talking to each other and agencies and organizations focus on producing and delivering their comparative advantages.

Religion and ethnicity are incidental, in plenty of cases

The other passengers and I were waiting for one more individual before we could finally go on our way. Everybody was growing restless. Outside our vehicle, the scorching noon-time sun was painful to the eyes. Still, I watched the stream of people outside which I suppose is what people seated in the front do. So I was doing that and then– the two young men, barkers, standing near the headlights and who were just talking the last I saw them suddenly broke into a fight. My heart jumped up my throat. I was travelling alone and in a city that’s a melting pot of armed groups. I feared that any second they’d bring out guns from somewhere the way they were grabbing at each other’s necks. Should I stay put or get out at the driver’s side? Things happened quickly. In a minute, the area swarmed with more men who tried to break up the two young men. But they were bent to get at the other. Finally the men were able to get them to the back of the parking area which was when my breathing returned to normal. When we left, they were still in a heated discussion.

Thinking about the incident during the trip, I realized that nutrition, the lack of, may have played a significant part. Think diabetics experiencing erratic sugar levels. The men are Moro and Muslims and since it was Ramadan, on a fast. I have been amazed and curious from observation of Muslims during Ramadan here– they continue to do normal amount of work. But wouldn’t common sense tell you that with less food going in, energy usage need to be conserved. In short, less food and drinks means one has to cut back on physical work, physical movement, and the like. Otherwise, the body is put under extraordinary strain.

I then typed up a message to someone I knew: minsan, sa kakulangan lang talaga ng sugar sa katawan dahil sa pag-fasting nila ang dahilan kung bakit madaling uminit 🙂

‘Moro’ and ‘Muslim’ are over-rated, often cited as the reason native people in this region are violent or hot-blooded. But as it turns out there are other factors why people would become violent, in this case, perhaps, nutrition. What this points to is that the Moro as well as the Muslims, setting aside religion and ethnicity, are, simply, human beings, and just like the rest of the specie, we show our fangs when our stomachs and brains are drained of food and nutrition. And the reality for this specie is, only a few do get to become saints out of fasting. The majority grow temporary horns (I’m in this category which is why I don’t fast so much from food during Lent. I fast in other ways though like staying still and becoming quiet which is very hard to do).

I guess the solution there is that when we have to fast from food and drinks our entire waking hours, we take care to avoid situations in which our biological vulnerabilities could take over our rational thinking (the ability to think rationally requires adequate and right nutrition hence food, just observe nutritionally-deprived school children).

Which brings me to ask, what is the poverty incidence level in the poorest areas of this region (eg. ARMM)? In other words, imagine going on a decades-long fast.

Meet up

Lakbayan ng Visayas
via Gabriela Women’s partylist

What’s wrong and disturbing about this lakbayan is that the organizer lumped survivors of natural disasters with Martial Law victims. The former’s needs are separate and distinct from those of the latter. Interventions to the former are different from those of the latter. One is apple, the other, orange. We who are working in their service cannot, must not, treat or sell them wholesale. Otherwise, we do them great disservice and injustice.

Survivors of natural disasters. Who are they- women, men, youth, children? What are their unfulfilled needs post-disaster? Livelihood? Shelter? Protection? Right now, post-disaster implementation in Yolanda/Haiyan affected areas is that of reconstruction, and UN agencies, I/NGOs, and Volunteer Organizations are still in the areas. Are these survivors not enlisted in any of the agencies’ programs? What about the government’s- shelter (DSWD-DPWH), 4Ps (DSWD)? If they’re not, why? These are the things we would want to know further in order to provide appropriate assistance. But, then, why travel all the way to Metro Manila to talk? Where are the survivors from? which barangay? Did they not speak with their barangay kocal government units? The LGUs are awashed in DRR funds now. Besides, LGUs could, should, refer residents to their I/NGO or VO partners if there is a need. Such things should’ve been solved at this level already. Going to Metro Manila, bypassing tiers of local government, from the barangay to the province, merely sends out these messages: (a) neither LGU or the CSOs are doing their job, (b) they’re not enlisted in any post-disaster program for one reason or the other and have not told their local authorities this, (c) they don’t know who to approach in their area about this, and (d) their agency-supporter who is the organizer of this lakbayan have not done anything to introduce or refer them to appropriate local agencies or offices.

Victims of Martial Law. What exactly were done to them? their claims? are these filed in court already? One can’t just yell in the streets thaf you’re a victim. One has to go through the justice process. What are their specific needs- legal counsel and representation, financial aid, psychotherapy in the interim? If they haven’t received appropriate assistance, it only means that the local offices of the CHR, Ombudsman or whoever tasked to assist Martial Law victims have not lifted a finger since EDSA I. Bypassing these local offices sends out the same messages provided above.

The shout-out of both groups is, rehabilitasyon ang hingi namin militarisasyon ang binigay (we asked for rehabilitation but were give militarization). Huh? Are these survivors of Haiyan and victims of Martial Law, or what? Because their words don’t jive with who they say they are.

Such glaring disconnect has made the public who are otherwise compassionate and desirous to help wary and suspicious of these campaigns. They are seen as like the “beggars” of today who are actually syndicate groups. They dress up to look like the most pitiable of creatures. Or, use children, women, and disabled persons. After you give them an amount, the singular beggar has suddenly multiplied, they gang up on you, divest you of all your valuables if not your body as well, and then, if you’re so unlucky, kill you. In Baguio City, the foreigners (who have the softest of hearts at the sight of abject poverty) have already learned the lesson. They don’t give anymore to outstretched palms.

But it’s the real poor though, who’d rather stay home and tend to their gardens and farms and look for work than go rah-rah-ing on the streets, who are given a bad name. For all what’s said about them and done in their name, many of them are folks with dignity.

Moving onward to relevance

Communism was ideologically an economics-based movement whose objective was creation of a classless society of abundance…Why did it fail? In the most general terms, it failed because it opposed two strong human impulses: to be free (in expressing opinions and doing what one likes) and to own property… It increasingly failed to provide economic advancement largely because the nature of technological progress changed: from large centralized network industries to much more decentralized innovations. Communism could not innovate in practically anything that required for success acquiescence of consumers. It thus provided tanks but no ball-point pens, spacecraft but no toilet paper… Will it come back? We cannot tell it for sure, but today the chances of a comeback of non-private property and centralized coordination of economic activity seem nil. Capitalism, defined as private property of capital, wage labor and decentralized coordination, is for the first time in human history the only economic system that exists across the globe. It could be monopoly capitalism, state capitalism or competitive capitalism, but the principles of private ownerships are as accepted in China as in the United States.

The above is from Branko Milanovic’ blog post A Secular Religion That Lasted One Century that I first read through Duncan Green’s article here at WordPress. It was written in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death.

Similarly, the Business Mirror two days ago ran a news article, Duterte’s Anti-US Rhetoric Not Enough For Communist Rebels in which, quoting the group’s regional commander and spokesperson, it said

The guerrillas would not simply surrender their firearms unless their major demands are not met, including social and economic reforms, land reform and an industrialization program that favor the poor, who make up about a fourth of more than 100 million Filipinos.

But that’s exactly the problem. Who was it who said words without action is self indulgence? Because that’s what their fight has been, to a large extent. Tanks but no ballpoint pens, spacecraft but no toilet paper.

Didn’t we like to see the communists teach farmers innovative farming practices or assist in generating stock, storing, and promoting native seeds and varieties, on top of conducting literacy classes for farmers and their families as well as teach young people how to grow our own food? I would’ve liked to see them lobby local governments to help broker more equitable land lease arrangements between owners and tenants. I would’ve liked to see them influence local governments to put resources where it’s needed the most. I would’ve liked to see them lead in the preservation and protection of the natural environment which they know intimately, it being their “homes”. I would’ve liked them to put up models of people-managed enterprises that rural folks can start with. One can’t just sit back in the mountains and harp demands from the population. Do the thing one is demanding for. Show that it can be done. Or at least try.

There are those in Congress elected from party lists affiliated with communism. But for me their voices have not rung out loud often and enough for the poor and marginalized. They have become mainstreamed into a congress preferring sensationalized (hence high visibility) shortsighted stop-gap measures. The first day that Ronnie Dayan was presented in Congress was also the day the policy on the first 1000 days of child nutrition (there are many Filipino children still who are stunted and undernourished) was scheduled to be heard. A former colleague attended. The discussion was however derailed because some of the policymakers assigned to the committee went to listen to the other side- to get a glimpse of Ronnie Dayan (how gorgeous was he to catch a formidable Senator’s attention?) and eavesdrop on what they could of the alleged affair! Child nutrition is not as sexy and intriguing, apparently.

A classless society. It cannot be attained at least in this world. But we can narrow the gap. Arms, killings, fanaticism, terrorism, extremism, shortsightedness won’t do it. Globalization and technology are this century’s more relevant and powerful tools. But in order that these will benefit the masa, education first. In this, we have much catching up to do. It’s the 21st century, still huge swathes of our citizens – voters – remain illiterate hence easily swayed by opportunists, propagandists, and smooth talkers.

Today, we remember those who died in the typhoons

This All Souls Day, let’s remember the hundreds (or thousands already?) whose lives had been unnecessarily shortened because of poverty that has impeded their capacity to protect and safeguard themselves and their families from the effects of typhoons and disasters. We recall as well our incapacity to respond as we ought and/or to get them out of poverty in all urgency as we should. May we not further scandalize their deaths by going on with our lives as before, but may this loss instead spur us to recommit to our duties and promises of better and safer lives and communities for all Filipinos but especially those who continue to not know of and enjoy things that the rest of us often take for granted.

In the aftermath of Haima/Lawin

I haven’t been posting lately because of an insane work schedule but I’m taking a few hours off to write something on issues I feel strongly about:

Primary hazard. In the case of the Philippines, natural hazards eg. typhoons are just secondary causes of disasters. The primary cause is continued inaction of local governments (barangays up to the provincial levels) to finance or allocate significant funds in order for local disaster risk reduction strategies, programs, and projects to be implemented. Typhoons such as Lawin/Haima only serve to expose these gaps in local governance.

Compliance to and monitoring for quality standards, for instance. Road cuts in the highways of the Cordillera Region have been due in large part to substandard engineering practices. I’m not an engineer but looking at the image of the Tinoc-Kiangan road cut below, common sense tells you that the way this particular structure is engineered (eg. thickness, no reinforcement, no mitigation structure to counter soil quality, etc.) as exposed by Lawin/Haima will not stand up long to the “wolf’s huff and puff” as it did eventually.

Tinoc-Kiangan Road
Road cut Tinoc-Kiangan Road

Devastation in housing has been due mostly to negligence in monitoring for compliance to zoning and building standards; and, lack of access to low cost housing and subsidies to low income families eg. tenant and small landholder farmers and fisherfolks in order for them to build safe houses because of course nipa huts and houses of light materials will not stand up long to a 300 kph typhoon.

damaged houses in the aftermath of Haima/Lawin
via rappler

Damage to power lines can be mitigated or minimized by financing underground installation of such which given this country’s exposure to natural hazards by way of it’s geographical location should have been started yesterday. But it had not as we continue to build as if blind to our geographical realities.

Damaged power lines along the Maharlika Highway leading to Tuguegarao City
Damaged power lines along the Maharlika Highway leading to Tuguegarao City via philstar

Devastation to agriculture as a result of typhoons especially among agricultural households shouldn’t be as financially devastating to these families when universal access to insurance (crops, livestock, fisheries) or subsidies to such are ensured. There is the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation but only a small percentage of farmers and fisher households are covered.

Poverty reduction is also a disaster risk reduction strategy. But the poor in this country have not been pulled out of their poverty at the rate that we said poverty reduction should happen. Those who need social protection the most ie. the poor continue to be left behind in social security and health insurance coverage, among others. Jobs in localities are not created and growing at the rate that is more or less equal to the rate that schools produce graduates. Nor is labor in localities protected from exploitation eg. employers who pay below minimum such that families of workers are unable to eat three meals a day. Investments in localities are not as high as those in already overcrowded cities eg. Metro Manila in order to incentivize graduates or those looking for jobs to stay rather than migrate. Lands are not redistributed as provided in law. Etcetera. And it is the children who suffer the most from continued neglect of their local governments to finance and implement local poverty reduction.

'Lawin' leaves P5B agri damage in Cagayan
via abscbn

Like Tacloban City with Yolanda/Haiyan, cities such as Ilagan in Isabela and Tuguegarao in Cagayan as well as urbanizing municipal towns as those in the Cordillera are being developed as if their legislative and planning councils have not heard about the environmental impact assessment or the national urban development law/agenda, among other urban development and planning policies and strategies. As if local governments have no land use plans or zoning laws. Real estate development continue to be allowed in floodplains without mandating for mitigation measures.

So it’s not the typhoon (or earthquake, etc.) but it’s the lack of disaster risk reduction measures. Preparedness is merely about, well, preparation just before the onslaught of a hazard, but again in order for preparedness to be effective the assumption is that risk reduction measures have been put in place long beforehand. This country’s law (RA 10121) specifically calls for disaster risk reduction and management, not just preparedness. But what we’ve been doing so far is just preparedness. Also, look, one of the reasons for the DRRM Law is to provide local governments the independence and flexibility to allocate funding for risk reduction and preparedness even without declaring calamity. But what are we again seeing? So no, it’s not typhoons that citizens ought to pray deliverance for but against the harmful mentality and stubbornness of local governments.

Bayanihan. This old Filipino practice among families within neighborhoods is voluntary ie. it arises from goodwill among people who know or have good relations with each other. It should not be spoken about (especially by broadcast media) as an act that another is entitled to or that Filipinos are obliged to do. Bayanihan is not an obligation. If there is any obligation that stands in the aftermath of disasters it is government’s obligations toward it’s citizens ie. to protect and uphold rights standards even during emergencies (local governments therefore should know by heart the Sphere Handbook). It is the obligation of government to bring out the necessary resources that have been paid for by taxpayers eg. equipments, manpower, money to clear roads, clean schools, drain floodplains, trim trees, etcetera. At once. Immediately. Local governments should feel ashamed if they have to wait for private agencies and I/NGOs from miles away to be the ones to respond and make physical assessments of the areas. Government, supported by taxes and other resources, should feel ashamed if it relies on bayanihan to bring back order.

Reporting by broadcast media. “Christmas came early for the students of Casili Elementary School in Rizal.” Reading this news report further you’d see that it refers to a bridge built with funding from the Foundation of Outstanding Mapuans Incorporated, which school children in said school can now use. What’s wrong with the words utilized in this news? It puts forth the message that bridges are Christmas or Santa’s gifts instead of as a right and duty (ie. linked to children’s right to education as well as a duty of government to protect and address the right of citizens to basic infrastructures). A lot of disinformation and mis-messaging hence ignorance are perpetuated by mainstream media, sadly and unfortunately for the Filipino masses. Similarly, whenever I see recipients of aid being made to profusely thank donors or the government on TV when the aid is merely basic satisfaction of their rights (eg. school supplies relative to right to education, food packs relative to right to survival) I get in a rage. The aid recipients are made to be like rape victims who are abused again and again while everybody’s watching and cheering but because they don’t have any other option they do what is asked of them. Dignity during disasters is what duty bearers need to protect more than their policy for visibility, always.

Paradox in Philippine rural communities

Coastal village, Sorsogon, Bicol
Two worlds co-exist in Philippine rural communities: beautiful and rich in human and natural assets; yet very uncompetitive hence continue to be poor. Fisher folks in a recent interview told me they’re seen as occupying the lowest in both social and income class hierarchies. This paradox follows migrants (the unskilled and low skilled) from these areas when they relocate in cities and urban areas.

VAT Exemptions: choices, choices, choices

What is this about taking back from senior citizens and people with disabilities VAT exemption they currently enjoy in order to “compensate the lowering of corporate and income taxes”?

The matter highlights once again the sore point that is this country’s senior citizens and other vulnerable sectors. Except for the one percent who owns much of this country’s wealth and are themselves senior citizens hence also enjoy the current exemption, alongside those who have saved up funds, the sector is one of the poorest.

Seniors are summarily limited in experiencing the benefits of being alive in the twenty-first century. The mass of senior citizens rely, if there is, on pension from government (bracketed according to their salaries from worlds ago such that it’s not surprising that they receive, what, around two thousand pesos monthly- what would that buy?), or intermittent allowances from family or relatives. They rely on family’s kindness for shelter over their bodies, medical, nursing and dental needs, leisure, etc. War veterans are now too frail to follow up on the amounts promised them by government.

Old age in this country presents a very insecure and scary place to be. Tragic, too, because the best spots around the country are developed not for Filipino retirees but for foreign retirees. I’d always thought that when I’m a very old woman, I’d not want to rely on kindness (because kindness is variable). That would be the ultimate loss of dignity. I’d check into a house for the elderly until it’s time to go. This means I need to have saved on that yesterday and systems and institutions have been put up and running well.

But therein lies the problem. Social protection and welfare services for this age group are almost nonexistent. Yet senior citizens are the most active members of our communities- as volunteers, mentors, caregivers, etc. They are eager to remain relevant. In the first world nations, state policies for seniors include continuing training and education, employment (they still can! but on flexi work arrangements), legal assistance, and the like, even regular fun events. Basically, supporting old people in order that they continue living a life of dignity and fulfillment. Here, it’s kanya kanya (mind your own business), bahala ka din sa buhay mo (it’s your goddamn life I don’t care), mamatay ka na lang kaya (why don’t you drop dead already?).

Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan is the counterargument to this prevailing attitude. Therein is the reason this country’s going from crisis to crisis, always beginning to sow but seemingly unable to reap the fruits.

We don’t honor our elders. We are a Catholic majority but live most unCatholic like. We’ve turned back on ourselves and each other. Kapamilya and kapuso are reduced to mean superficial affiliations with rival TV networks instead of their positive humanistic Filipino values of looking out for family and loved ones, especially now in this debate, the more frail members of the nation.

We are not a people who live gratitude. We actually would dip into public coffers earmarked for welfare and use it for personal gain. We actually would sacrifice the lambs for corporate interests. We are third world not only with management of our economy but also in our ways toward the vulnerable in society. We dress up in the costliest of couture but we’re actually cave age-like where it matters.

The irony of it all is that the Philippine Tax Code (section 109) exempts from VAT the following:

(S) sale, importation or lease of passenger or cargo vessels and aircraft including engine, equipment and spare parts thereof for domestic and international transport operation.

But nobody in Congress or the DOF has offered to reverse that one instead to compensate the lowering of corporate taxes (although no sane economist would advise to actually put in law a blanket lowering of corporate tax at a time of robust global markets and technological innovations, it’s suicide if not downright foolish). No. It had to be the senior citizens.

war veteran vs war machine

On current proposals toward change

There are national measures being proposed that appear beneficial on the surface but actually detrimental to inclusive growth, these being:

Income tax reduction. This has no effect on the poor whose wages are below standard daily rates therefore are already exempt. The proposal favors those whose incomes are within and above standard. Hence the net effect is maintaining the status quo between classes. Nothing essentially changes.

Instead why not a review of the Value Added Tax which is shouldered by all consumers rich or poor. It acts as an effective barrier keeping goods and services even basic ones out of reach of the poor. Public schools teach children the importance of a balanced diet, but such teachings are of no use in households that cannot buy, say, bananas sold at PHP75 a kilo! And that’s just dessert although many poor households actually have it as their main dish. One cannot anymore squeeze blood out of a half dying animal without risking it’s death. VAT applies to first world economies. When our country has reached that status then let’s apply it. But not now when many are struggling to have decent meals and roofs over their heads. In an economy in which majority of able human resources are not productive participants, VAT is murder.

14th month pay in the private sector as law. This is the stupidest Bill ever! It doesn’t even deserve discussion space.

Con-Con or Con-Ass. My stand on constitutional or government change remains. We can be a Communist or Socialist State for all I care. The key is the people. Communism and Socialism in theory i.e. in their pure states are commendable. It is people acting on real world challenges who gave these forms bad names. Likewise, the democracy that we have is tainted by human agency. I don’t think many Filipinos understand or enjoy the benefits of democracy. Ask the masses. We feel democracy has failed us when the truth is the people failed democracy. Then, ironically, the highest form of governance is when there is no government in which time the people have attained self regulation. That is true freedom. There is no more need to be governed. My point is, people with good hearts and minds make a good government whatever it’s form.

Supposing it’s con-ass? Who are the constituents we’re talking about? Turn toward the state of local governance. On paper, governance is decentralized. In reality, it is largely centrally controlled and planned. The economy is. Education. So are the arts. The LGU Code has come to naught. Con-ass or not the key is the people. Whatever is received is received according to the capacity/focus/bias of the receiver.

So instead of pushing what majority of Filipinos don’t understand yet let’s hunker down in order to do first things first. Amp up adult education. Stimulate the economy. Facilitate equitable access to quality basic goods and services. Etc. And then when the people are better educated, well fed, generally better off, ask them what form of government they need. That is the truer response. Asking them now when they are stressed, harrassed, hungry, dirty- I don’t think their reply made under present conditions is even accepted in court.

The people who are able to think clearly about con-con or con-ass at this time are those whose interests lie toward that. Presently they make up, what, ten percent of the nation? And suppose it’s con-con? Would that make any difference to the current setup of decisionmaking?

Let’s sleep on con-con and con-ass. If it ain’t broken best to leave it. Economic policies favoring growth and development can be made outside of the Constitution.