Tens of thousands to step up in fight against hunger

End Hunger: Walk the World

All over the world, across borders and time zones, tens of thousands of people are preparing to join the fight against hunger in “End Hunger: Walk the World”. An annual event to raise funds for and awareness about the efforts of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to feed hungry and malnourished children, “Walk the World” is a joint effort between WFP and its partners, led by transportation and delivery firm TNT, consumer goods giant Unilever, and life sciences and material sciences company DSM.

Here in the Philippines, “Walk the World” will take place on May 29, Sunday, at the SM Mall of Asia IMAX Parking Lot, from 5:00 AM to 10:00 AM. There are four categories for would-be participants: a two-kilometer walk, a five-kilometer run with men’s and women’s divisions, and a ten-kilometer run for 10-member groups.

The proceeds from the event will go to the WFP Emergency School Feeding Program in conflict-affected areas of central Mindanao, which supports about 80,000 children. It costs the WFP only about ten pesos to provide a nutritious meal to a child at school.

WFP National Ambassador KC Concepcion with some of the young beneficiaries of the feeding program at Walk the World 2010. Image courtesy of the Walk the World Pilipinas team.
WFP National Ambassador KC Concepcion with some of the young beneficiaries of the feeding program at Walk the World 2010. Image courtesy of the Walk the World Pilipinas team.

Eradicating hunger is part of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which all UN member states and several development institutions have committed to achieve by 2015, but whether the target will be met is still uncertain. According to a 2010 fact sheet from the UN, while the proportion of people suffering from hunger is declining, the pace has been unsatisfactory, and progress has been fitful since the beginning the decade. A non-commissioned Social Weather Stations survey conducted in March this year would seem to support this. The survey showed that, in the first quarter, the proportion of Filipino families who reported suffering from involuntary hunger—that is, hunger from lack of anything to eat—at least once in the past three months rose to 20.5 per cent, or about 4.1 million families.

Those interested to join the race against hunger may register online until May 27, at any establishment participating as a “Walk the World” registration site until May 28. Other ways to help the cause include spreading the word via social media, donating to the WFP, and finding other ways to get involved.

Of Wedding Feasts and Famines

In the media-driven frenzy of royal-watching, the wedding between Kate and Wills harks back to a time when the pomp and pageantry of the monarchy provided a diversion from the daily struggles of their subjects. In England, as late as the 1930s, poor families struggled with the problem of hunger. Yet as George Orwell wrote,

The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea and potatoes — an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots.

The May/June 2011 online version of the magazine Foreign Policy is devoted to the problems associated with food price inflation and the impact this would have on poverty and hunger. The development aid community has flagged this as a potential cause for dragging many in the middle to low income countries into poverty.

Calls have been issued to address this pressing problem. But in a piece written by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, the general consensus regarding the issue is challenged. What if the experts are wrong, they ask.What if the problem of hunger is not caused by the lack of affordable food? Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen has famously pointed to the fact that famines have only occurred in recent times in countries that lacked democratic institutions of accountability. Poor governance rather than a lack of food supply creates extreme hunger.

In India where Sen is from, despite the rise in per capita income, per capita caloric intake has declined. The piece points out that

(t)he change is not driven by declining incomes; by all accounts, Indians are making more money than ever before. Nor is it because of rising food prices — between the early 1980s and 2005, food prices declined relative to the prices of other things, both in rural and urban India. Although food prices have increased again since 2005, Indians began eating less precisely when the price of food was going down.

What if the problem of hunger is not driven by a lack of affordable food, but the fact that the poor demand a different variety of food? They use one example to bear this out:

Using price data from the Philippines, we calculated the cost of the cheapest diet sufficient to give 2,400 calories. It would cost only about 21 cents a day, very affordable even for the very poor (the worldwide poverty line is set at roughly a dollar per day). The catch is, it would involve eating only bananas and eggs, something no one would like to do day in, day out. But so long as people are prepared to eat bananas and eggs when they need to, we should find very few people stuck in poverty because they do not get enough to eat.

To provide more evidence of this, they cite a study conducted in two regions of China where researchers offered randomly selected poor households a large subsidy on the price of basic staples believing this would result in greater consumption of food. Instead they found that:

(o)verall, the caloric intake of those who received the subsidy did not increase (and may even have decreased), despite the fact that their purchasing power had increased. Nor did the nutritional content improve in any other sense. The likely reason is that because the rice and wheat noodles were cheap but not particularly tasty, feeling richer might actually have made them consume less of those staples.

They go on to point out the possible reasons why the poor might be eating less. Better water and sanitation for instance may lead to a lower incidence of nutrition depleting diseases. Women in rural villages which now have access to water no longer need to spend a good deal of effort fetching water to and from rivers. Aside from that is the penchant of the poor to spend on non-essentials like vices and other forms of entertainment (televisions, DVDs, mobile phones, movies, etc).

Many programs aimed at boosting protein and iodized salt intake have been met with a dismal response from poor households. It seems that when it comes to deciding what to spend their income on, they seem to have other priorities.

This article originally appeared in The Cusp (the author’s blog).

Principle or politics?

The policy elite continue to give President Aquino the benefit of the doubt as a stream of bad news regarding the state of the nation hit the headlines in the last couple of weeks.

A series of indicators seemed to point to the deteriorating state of governance in the country. Despite all this, expert commentators continue to give consideration to what they see as the genuine desire of the president to steer the ship of state safely through the rough seas. In the space of a few weeks, a number of surveys uncovered a not too rosy picture of the country. In quick succession the following came up:

To the policy elites, these reports would certainly be disconcerting as the consensus has formed that the actions taken by the Palace have allowed the country to turn a corner. Take for instance the PERC survey. Ateneo economist Cielito Habito asks whether corruption is really worse, stating that the sentiment of domestic investors who possess more complete information regarding the state of affairs in the country counts more than the views of foreign players. Domestic investments have surged under the new administration. He provides a plausible reason for the worsening perception of foreign investors identifying the senate hearings on corruption in the military in the first quarter which may have tarnished the entire government’s overall reputation in the eyes of these executives.

On the fall of the president’s trust ratings, UP economist Solita Monsod countered over the weekend that a number of appointments bode well for the president’s agenda on good governance. These good appointments may be just a fluke as the underlying current that runs through them may be factional infighting among his political supporters, but never mind, she says, as a win is a win.

On the rise of hunger, sociologist Randy David poses one possibility (remote though it seems) that the self-reporting on hunger may have gone up as many of those surveyed mistook the SWS interviewers for public social workers who were reportedly screening households for the conditional cash transfers program that would entitle them to receive monthly allowances. As for the fall in consumer confidence, this was attributed to external factors stemming from the uprising in the Middle East and North Africa affecting prospects of foreign nationals working in the area.

Just a few months back, the president was claiming credit for the decline in poverty incidence saying that his reforms had already borne fruit. Never mind that what was being reported was the effect of reforms instituted by the previous administration.

Now it seems in a bid to counter the negative news, the president has been going out on the offensive running after the people close to his immediate predecessor. The impeachment of Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez has occupied much of the news of late. Her trial in the senate will no doubt hug the headlines in the weeks to come. Never mind that her term is expected to expire anyway.

When the proceeds of the sale of the confiscated property of Lt Gen Ligot was handed over to the government, the palace was quick to claim it as an endorsement of the integrity of the president. Never mind that this was the result of the actions of the lady whom they had just impeached in Congress through their party mates.

The tax fraud case filed against former presidential son Rep Mikey Arroyo is currently capturing media attention with continuing revelations of properties he is alleged to have left out in his tax declarations. While palace officials were quick to deny this move was a form of political harassment, Conrado de Quiros who many regard as a surrogate mouthpiece for the administration provided a reality check by claiming that the former presidential son was indeed targeted for this kind of treatment.

While these sorts of exposes and trials make for good political theater, allowing the administration to score political points, they do come at a cost. The cost is that the legislative agenda of the government will come to a standstill during the impeachment trial. Also there is a tendency to give the rulers a free pass on the more crucial bits of governance that go unnoticed.

Take the rise of poverty (by the proxy measure of hunger) for instance. This could have been a result of the phaseout of the grains program run by the National Food Authority. None of the policy elites want to acknowledge this because they are almost ideologically opposed to it. Yet this would explain why poverty rose in Luzon while it declined slightly in the rest of the country where the conditional cash transfers were mostly targeted.

As food inflation rises resulting from global production shortfalls exacerbated by the price of oil and transport, the timing could not be worse for the government which has withdrawn its support for the grains importation program. It is reported today that a possible rice shortage may be in the offing over the coming months.

At some point, the tendency to blame the administration immediately preceding it will become old hat. The current rulers will have to take ownership for the current state of affairs. While the policy elite might continue to give this president the benefit of the doubt, some time in the future there will be a reckoning. If the negative indicators continue to point down, that moment might come sooner than expected.

Let’s FEED Back!

It’s been four months ago since nagbigay ako ng talk about advocacy blogging sa Iloilo City para sa Visayas Blogging Summit. Bukod sa Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) na palagian kong inoopen sa mga forums at kahit sa mga simpleng pagtitipon ng mga bloggers at mga kaibigan, ay mas pinagtuunan ko ng pansin ang isyu ng gutom hindi lamang sa Pilipinas kundi sa iba pang parte ng mundo. Mula sa report na nilabas ng United Nations World Food Programme at ng Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations na sa buong mundo mayroon kulang kulang 1 billion na katao na ang nakakaranas ng tinatawag nilang chronic hunger. Karamihan sa kanila ay ang mga batang pumapasok sa paaralan. At sa pamamagitan ng konsepto ng online campaign sa mga social media ay inilunsad ng FAO at WFP ang  kampanya ng 1 Billion for 1 Billion Hungry. Sa project na ito ay binigyan ng kakayahan ang mga online users na ikampanya ang issue ng gutom sa pamamagitan ng social media at nakalikom sila ng suporta at pledge mula sa iba’t ibang tao, samahat at organization sa iba’t ibang parte ng mundo.

At ngayong March 8, 2011, kasabay ng celebration ng International Women’s Month, ay inilunsad ng WFP ang WeFeedBack. Ito ay isang online project na kung saan inaanyayahan lahat ng online advocates at bloggers na makiisa at ilagay sa mga websites nila ang widget para i-engage ang mga readers nila na tignan kung anong katumbas ng bawat binibili nilang pagkain sa kung ilan ang batang maaari nilang matulungan. Sacrifice – ito ang konsepto ng WeFeedBack campaign ng WFP, kung paano mo i-dodonate ang dapat sanang isang burger para sa miryenda mo para makatulong ng 3-4 children na humaharap at nagtitiis sa kalam ng sikmura.


Maharil marami rin nagtatanong bakit sa Women’s Month ito pinasok ng WFP, bilang isang taga suporta ng WFP masasabi kong nararapat din alalahanin sa bukod sa karapatan ng bawat kababaihan ay mayroong mga ina, kapatid at kaibigang mga babaeng humaharap sa hamon ng kalam ng sikmura. Ang mga kababaihan lalo na ang mga ina ay siyang tinawag na frontliners of hunger, sila ang nagtitiis ng gutom para lang mapakain ang kanilang mga anak lalo na silang mga nasa Africa, sila rin ang mga babaeng naglalakad ng malayo para kumuha ng firewood at tubig para sa pamilya nila na kadalasan biktima rin ng karahasan sa daan tulad ng nagaganap sa ilang region ng Sudan. Ang bawat isa lalaki man o babae ay biktima ng suliranin na hinaharap ng lahat at iyon ay gutom, lalo na sa mga bansang nasa third world country at naiipit sa giyera.

Simple lang ang hamon ng WeFeedBack, sa bawat 1 Dollar na ibibigay mo ay 2-3 batang mapapakain mo, sa bawat 5 dollars na binibigay mo maaari mong matulungan ang isang ina para matugunan ang pangangailangan niya sa livelihood program at sa 10-25$ na ibibigay mo isang klase na ang mabibigyan mo ng mainit, masarap at nutritious na pananghalian na kailangan nila habang nag-aaral. In reality, sa sampung estudyante na pumapasok sa paaralan ay kadalasang 2-3 lamang ang nakakakain ng maayos, habang ang natitira ay tinitiis ang gutom, sa kabila ng kumakalam na sikmura magagawa kaya nilang makapag aral ng mabuti. Ito ang ideya kung bakit sa MDG nangunguna ang kampanya ng “Eradication of Poverty and Hunger” (MDG #1). Malaki ang epekto ng gutom sa buhay ng tao, at ito ay nararanasan ng lahat at sa iba ay malubha.

May magagawa ka, sa bawat sakripisyo na gagawin mo, isang burger, isang fries, isang venti frappe, at isang froyo na i-gi-give up mo sa araw na ito at ido-donate mo sa WeFeedBack ay may mga bata at ina kang matutulungan. Kung nais natin ng pagbabago at kung nais natin labanan ang gutom, huwag lang tayo magsalita at umasam nito, maging parte ka ng laban at pagbabago ito dahil sa huli may parte ka at may magagawa ka. supports the UN WFP's We Feedback campaign

“Three years after the 2008 food and financial crises, food prices on international markets are rising again. Price volatility hits poor people the hardest, as they already spend the majority of their income on feeding their families.”

This statement is from the official website of the United Nations World Food Programme (UN-WFP). As supporters of the WFP’s WeFeedback campaign, ProPinoy will be publishing stories showin

g how hunger and food prices are affecting not only the lives of people from around the world, but also systems, economies, and the entire world order.

This page shows the situation of high food prices in six countries, while this shows the real impact of rising food prices. We invite you to learn more about this issue and understand how food is not just a personal issue, and not just an issue of the poor and hungry, but an issue that all of us need to know more about.

We also invite you to check out the WeFeedback website, where you will find a Feedback calculator that computes the feeding impact of our favorite foods. It’s an interesting exercise in keeping track of our food consumption and how it could potentially affect hungry people from other parts of the world.

Everyone is hungry for something. The question is: what are we doing to feed that hunger?

Achieving MDG goals to require over P400 billion for 2012-2015

Achieving MDG goals to require over P400 billion for 2012-2015
Business World Online

THE GOVERNMENT needs to spend around half a trillion pesos from 2012 to 2015 if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are to be met before the end of President Benigno C. Aquino III’s term, the Budget department yesterday said.

Budget Assistant Secretary Luz M. Cantor, speaking at a national MDG congress, said agencies involved in the implementation of the UN-sponsored objectives needed P486.55 billion to hit a 2015 deadline.

The estimate, which does not include allocations under next year’s national budget, was based on submissions by the Health, Social Welfare, Environment, Agrarian Reform, Finance and Public Works departments; People’s Credit and Finance Corp. (PCFC); Philippine Ports Authority (PPA); National Food Authority (NFA); and the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW).

Not yet included is the amount needed by the Education department.

The Social Welfare department accounts for the bulk: P343.02 billion for implementing projects related to MDG 1 or the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Other agencies involved in meeting this goal include the Agrarian Reform department which has sought P32.7 billion; PCFC, P7.88 billion; Finance department, P500 million; PPA, P167 million; and the NFA, P65 million.

Under next year’s budget, the Social Welfare department’s budget for its Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program was increased to P29.2 billion from this year’s P10 billion, Ms. Cantor said. Some P21.2 billion will go to conditional cash transfers (CCTs), P2.88 billion for the Supplemental Feeding Program, P881 million for the Food for Work Program for Internally Displaced Persons and P4.2 billion for rice subsidies.

The CCTs also address MDG 2 or the achievement of universal primary education and MDG 5 or the improvement of maternal health.

The PCW, in charge of MDG 3 or the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment, proposed a P222-million budget for 2012-2015.

“Among initiatives to mainstream gender sensitivity, the national government continues to carry out measures to improve the implementation of the Gender and Development Policy which directs all government department, bureaus, offices and agencies to set aside at least 5% of their annual appropriations for projects designed to address gender and development issues,” a Budget department document states.

The Health department, in charge of MDGs 4, 5 and 6 or the reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health and the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases, respectively, said it required P79.84 billion.

The Environment department, concerned with MDG 7 or the assurance of environmental sustainability, asked for P12.68 billion while Public Works department which is also working on the goal wants P9.49 billion.

“With only five years remaining, we need to do more. Statistics show that the ’business as usual’ mindset will not contribute anything substantial…,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano W. Paderanga said.

Jacqueline Badcock, UN Resident Coordinator, said: “The challenge ahead is thus to sustain progress and accelerate the pace of progress on the goals that are least likely to be achieved.” — J. J. A. Cerda

Fewer go hungry, feel poor. Affected families, however, still number in the millions

Fewer go hungry, feel poor
Affected families, however, still number in the millions
Business World

FEWER FILIPINO FAMILIES claim to have experienced hunger or feel poor but their numbers remain in the millions, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.

A September SWS poll, the results of which were made exclusive to BusinessWorld, found 15.9% of households — equivalent to some three million families — claiming to have had nothing to eat at least once in the past three months, down from 21.1% in June.

Some nine million families or 48% of the respondents, meanwhile, rated themselves “mahirap” or “poor,” a slight improvement from June’s 50%, while the ranks of those who considered themselves food-poor stayed unchanged at 39% or an estimated 7.1 million households.

President Benigno C. Aquino III welcomed the results and said he remained committed to good governance and improving the economy.

The latest hunger figure was down from over 20% results in the last three quarters. It is two points above the 12-year average, the SWS said, adding that hunger has stayed in double-digit territory since June 2004.

Overall hunger fell due to declines in both moderate and severe hunger, the SWS said. Moderate hunger — experiencing it “only once” or “a few times” — was down four points to 12.9%, equivalent to 2.4 million families, while severe hunger — “often” or “always” having nothing to eat — slipped a point to 3.1% or 575,000 families.

Overall hunger declined in all geographical areas, decreasing the most in Mindanao to 16.3% (700,000 families) from 26%. The Visayas saw an almost six-point dip to 15.3% (580,000 families), in the Balance of Luzon it was down almost four points to 14.7% (1.2 million families), while Metro Manila trimmed its ratio by nearly two points to 20.3% (507,000 families).

Broken down, moderate hunger declined in Mindanao to 13.3% from 21%; in the Visayas to 11.7% from 17.3%; in the Balance of Luzon to 12.3% from 14%; and in Metro Manila to 15.7% from 19%.

“The new moderate hunger rates are still higher” than their 12-year averages, the SWS said.

Severe hunger, meanwhile, was down by two points in Mindanao and the rest of Luzon to 3% and 2.3%, respectively. It stayed at 3.7% in the Visayas and rose to 4.7% from 3% in Metro Manila. The new rates are above their 12-year averages in Metro Manila and the Visayas but are lower in the Balance of Luzon and Mindanao.

By geographical area, meanwhile, self-rated poverty dropped to 40% from 44% in the rest of Luzon and to 53% from 56% in Mindanao. It increased in the Visayas to 61% from 58% and in Metro Manila to 49% from 48%.

It declined by three points to 55% in rural areas and by one point to 43% in urban areas.

Self-rated food poverty, meanwhile, fell by 12 points to 36% in Mindanao but rose in other areas: to 41% from 35% in Metro Manila; 50% from 45% in the Visayas and 32% from 31% in the rest of Luzon.

The self-rated poverty threshold, or the monthly budget poor households say they need in order not to consider themselves as poor in general, remained sluggish in an indication of belt-tightening, the SWS said.

As of last month, the median poverty thresholds for poor households was P10,000 in Metro Manila, P9,500 in the rest of Luzon, P6,000 in the Visayas and P5,000 in Mindanao. The median food-poverty threshold, meanwhile, was P6,000 in Metro Manila, P4,000 in the rest of Luzon and P3,000 both in Visayas and Mindanao.

All thresholds have been surpassed in the past, the SWS said.

In Metro Manila, the SWS said the median poverty threshold was equivalent to only P6,146 in terms of 2000 purchasing power. The deflated threshold of below P10,000 per month, it added, is a “throwback to living standards of over 10 years ago.”

The P10,000 per month is equivalent to P16,270 in the September 2010 cost of living and subtracting one from the other yields P6,270, the extent of belt-tightening that took place, the SWS said.

Metro Manila’s median food poverty threshold of P6,000, meanwhile, is equivalent to only P3,883 in terms of 2000 purchasing power. It is equivalent to P9,270 per month at the September 2010 cost of food. Subtracting the 2000 threshold of P6,000 yields P3,270, which is how much food-poor Metro Manila households have lowered their living standards, the SWS said.

Mr. Aquino, in a text message, to BusinessWorld: “Corruption enfeebled [the] government. Our fight is meant to empower government in service of the people focused on the most disadvantaged.”

“The PPP (private public partnerships), the CCT (conditional cash transfer) program are examples of this thrust. Of course, we are heartened by the survey. [But] the problems are huge…

“Growth of the economy and efficiency in effective governance have been done and continue to be priorities,” Mr. Aquino added.

The SWS polled 1,200 adults nationwide last Sept.24-27 using face-to-face interviews. The error margins used were ±3% for national and ±6% for area percentages. — AMGR

Asean lists down causes of failure to meet MDGs

Asean lists down causes of failure to meet MDGs
Written by Estrella Torres
Business Mirror

LINGERING conflicts, fragile political situations and armed violence in Southeast Asia hamper the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Dr. Surin Pits wan, Asean secretary-general raised the need to address these concerns of members, particularly developing countries like the Philippines, at the sidelines of the United Nations Review Conference of the MDGs in New York City.

Surin met with Timor Leste President Jose Ramos Horta; officials of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and of the World Bank and the United Kingdom, to identify programs to raise the importance of peace-building and state-building in achieving the MDGs, according to a briefing statement issued by the Asean.

Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines are having difficulty complying with the MDG commitments due to the lingering conflict and fragile political conditions in those countries.

In March 2009, Asean members agreed to align to the attainment of MDGs the road map to establish a single market by 2015.

The signatories to the MDG compact signed in year 2000 also set year 2015 as the end-year for compliance with the eight goals.

The declaration “reflects Asean’s serious commitment to reducing poverty and inequality and improve the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Asean,” Surin said

The MDGs are time-bound goals that aim to halve global poverty incidence by 2015 by eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal access to primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

Asean signed an assistance program with the European Union to develop statistical reports using the MDG indicators to support regional programs aligned to achieving the MDGs.

A Philippines that Works: Economic Vision and Platform

Speech by Senator Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III delivered on January 21, 2010 before the members of the Makati Business Club at the Peninsula Manila Hotel, Makati City

Four-part video of the speech, courtesy of NoyTV on YouTube:





A Philippines That Works Economic Vision and Platform

Officers and members of the Makati Business Club, Your Excellencies of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen, my friends and countrymen.

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to address you. I trust your asking me first is not based on alphabetical order, or based on age, but perhaps, based on who you think will most likely win the coming election.

As managers, you recognize that one of the necessary skills of an effective manager is time management. Is it possible that you have invited me to determine if there is still a necessity to spend time with the others?

Baka naman inuna niyo ako upang malaman kung sapat na ako at hindi na kailangang pansinin yung iba?

I think we are all aware of the problems facing our country. We share the same statistics. We probably even share the same conclusions about the need for better governance. To rehash all of these problems at this forum would be a waste of your time. But what we have now is an opportunity for you to get to know me, to find out the advocacies that I champion, the perspective and philosophies I bring to the equation and some of my proposed solutions to give an insight into my inner persona.

Levity aside, the political exercise that we will engage in this May is a crucial one. It will be, as it is for every fledgling democracy, a test of the strength of our political institutions. The peaceful transition of power has become a symbol of political maturity across the world, with many still failing to achieve the credibility that is the cornerstone of a genuine political mandate. With the electoral scandals that have stalled our democratic progress as of late, it is not a test that we can afford to fail.

We have an administration whose mandate is clouded in doubt and overshadowed by allegations of fraud because it refused every opportunity to clear the air and be held to account. Its choices have limited its decision-making to seeking ways to ensure day-to-day political survival and self-interest. We must now become a government committed to accountability. A government that works with the people in achieving long-term change.

We must make the shift from bare economic survival to robust economic growth. We must make the change from treading water to keep afloat, to reaching that promised shore where we can all stand tall as healthy, happy, educated and responsible fellow citizens.

But why does transformation seem like such an impossible dream?

Isa sa mga tema ng ating kalaban, yung “ang pagbabago, madaling sabihin yan pero mahirap gawin,” is probably echoed by a lot of Filipinos. The oft-repeated question is, why can’t we advance? Why can’t we progress? What is it in us that limits or prohibits our growth as a people and as a country?

All of you are aware that most of the contenders have had years, possibly even decades, of preparation for this electoral exercise. I had no such ambitions to run in the 2010 elections but I responded to the people’s clamor. I am but the face of what we believe is the overwhelming demand of our people to repudiate everything wrong in the current administration.

Given that I only announced my decision to seek the presidency on September 9, and I only came to that decision the day before, I have not had material time comparable to our opponents. What is perplexing is that viewing the same problems, and having access to the same data for the most part, we believe the solutions have been there all along, and necessitate only clear political will to execute. But most of our opponents seem to indicate the contrary opinion that there is very little that we can do to change the situation. One has to wonder: did they overstudy the problem, or are they committed to preserving the status quo?

If the leader is not convinced that change is not only necessary, but extremely possible, how does he lead us to the promised land?

What is it that we want to change?

We want to repair the damage that has been wrought on our democratic institutions by those who have sought to manipulate them for their own selfish ends.

We want to improve the situation of our people, who have suffered years of neglect because of a self-absorbed leadership obsessed with political survival.

They are poor. Many of them are homeless. Each year, we add some 2.5 million mouths to feed to our already hungry population. Of these new additions, one third were the result of unplanned pregnancies. We have a growing underclass that statistics tell us have given up looking for work. A permanent underclass that includes the five million of our countrymen that are illiterate, which means their opportunities in life will always be limited to living hand-to-mouth.

We want to give our young the opportunity and means to improve their lot in life.

It can only begin if our children and their parents are assured that money spent on education is money well spent. Unfortunately, students are at the mercy of our decrepit education system that allows double shifting, erroneous textbooks and substandard nursing schools to exist. No less than DepEd officials admitted that students in Grade 1 take three subjects in one class period. We have a procurement program so heedless of the need for excellence that it doesn’t care if it produces a textbook series riddled with 500 factual errors. For every hundred kids that start grade school with the hope of achieving their dreams, only fourteen will graduate from college and possess a tangible means to materially improve their lives.

To my mind, the crucial, lacking element in all these is a government committed to a transformation: from a society overwhelmingly poor to one overwhelmingly middle class. In every developed, progressive, prosperous democracy, it is the middle class that is the biggest class. Government, for one, has failed to make the conceptual leap from patronage to development. Efforts at feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing basic care to the sick, and offering a quality education aren’t only the people’s rights; they are the essential tools for individual self-improvement.

In 1998, when I first campaigned for office, one lady bluntly told me that regardless of who is elected, things would remain the same for her.

What did she mean?

That she was poor to begin with; that she would remain poor, and in fact, she would be lucky if she didn’t end up poorer, after the candidates leave office.

This brings up the question at the forefront of the minds of our countrymen still undecided on whom to vote for, and pursued by my critics. If this is a time that calls for national transformation, am I qualified to be that transformative leader? Having answered the call of duty, can I ask you or anyone to entrust me with your vote, on faith alone? Never having sought the presidency, I preferred to do my duty and not seek the limelight. Now that I have been thrust in the limelight, it is only fair to answer the question: before you tell us what we can do, what have you done?

I have always believed that the job of an effective legislator goes beyond merely proposing laws, for what are laws but written agreements entered into by members of society on how to harmonize their mutual relations? In fact, I do not believe that we suffer from the problem of too few laws. One of my proposed measures was the recodification of laws, in response to an appeal from the legal community to put some order into our laws, their amendments and those that have been repealed, because even our lawyers are at times confused.

Consider the recent controversy over who gets to appoint the next Chief Justice. We maintain that there are no ifs and buts in Article 7 Section 15 of the Constitution where it states that the current President cannot appoint anybody within two months prior to a presidential election up to the end of her term. An exemption exists, but it applies only for positions in the Executive Department. Yet you have two retired justices arguing exactly the opposite. How can former justices of the Supreme Court be so seemingly confused, when the fact is that the provision regarding presidential appointments is stated clearly in the law?

Our problem is the lack of political will to faithfully implement the many world-class laws that our legislature has passed. A preference for ambiguity even when times call for clarity, leads to artificial controversies. Insecure or overly ambitious leaders need to create a climate of doubt, because it’s in the grey areas that its ambitions thrive.

It is in addressing this problem that I focused on the fiscalizing aspect of a legislator’s job – on Congress’ oversight and investigative functions.

Consider intelligence funds. In the proposed 2010 budget, a total of 1.4 billion was allocated to confidential and intelligence funds.

Woodrow Wilson once wrote that oversight is always preferable to investigation, which is like putting out a fire instead of preventing one. We proposed that if the Executive wants orderly transactions, at least a few members of Congress should be privy to all of the details to determine if they were spent properly. However, this proposal was dismissed out of hand without even a single hearing for the reason that they undermined the Executive’s privileges.

And yes, the investigations were a vital part of my functions, too. I don’t think anyone will begrudge me my efforts in this regard. From Hello Garci and the impeachments, to NBN-ZTE and the fertilizer scam, I did my duty at the forefront of these issues.

The original design of the NBN-ZTE project required a BOT agreement between government and the supplier, not a government loan. But during the NBN-ZTE hearings, we learned that the project was entered into through a government loan despite instructions to the contrary from no less than the President herself. The cost of the intended government loan was P40 billion, (in which P16 billion was for the backbone and P24 billion was for the CyberEd project.) Jun Lozada belied this when he cited P5 billion as the actual cost of the entire project. Ito yung sinasabi niyang kalakaran ng gobyerno, kung saan sa sobrang laki ng patong, bubukol na.

SCTEx took around 8 years to construct before it finally opened. Projects of this scale normally require two years to complete. Furthermore, when SCTEx finally became operational, it was found that the central hub, which was Clark, did not have an exit, excluding Clark from the Subic Clark Tarlac expressway itself. How can one justify these kinds of delays where opportunities are lost, costs have escalated and the people’s burdens, instead of being reduced, end up being compounded?

My active role in these congressional hearings has put me at odds with the administration. In 2005, it cost me my post as Deputy Speaker. It continues to put me at odds with the coalition of self-interest that currently holds power. It puts me at odds with other candidates for the presidency.

To lead transformation, you cannot be part of the problem. As I said when I accepted the people’s draft, the job of chief executive is about the efficient allocation of resources. If you have hogged those resources for yourself, if you have lied, cheated, and stolen to gain power, how can you be trusted to lead the transformation our country needs?

Going back on the issue of appointing a Chief Justice prior to the forthcoming elections. If we are to transform the country, it begins with doing what we can, now, to limit the damage and give our people a fighting chance to rebuild our damaged institutions. The Constitution imposes a blanket prohibition with few exceptions concerning midnight appointments. A candidate cannot ask for the people’s mandate, pledging to improve the situation tomorrow, if he becomes complicit in worsening the situation today.

Hindi naman mahirap gawin ang tama. Alam naman ng lahat yan eh. Wala namang magic, wala namang sikreto. Pero bakit pilit pa ring ginagawa ang mali?

There is a widespread perception that success in the business milieu can almost be directly correlated to your closeness to the powers-that-be. Because of this, some players in the industry are forced to focus their activities on maintaining relationships in order to retain the favors that they receive in exchange for cultivating that relationship. This has fostered the wrong kind of competitiveness. While it may work, locally, for now, it has not enabled these players to become competitive in the world market, where the rules of the game do not take special relationships into consideration.

We will encourage free and fair competition in a level playing field. One not need be a crony in order to succeed in the field of business. More importantly, government will not compete with business. Nor will government use its regulatory powers to extort, intimidate and harass.

We will transform our systems to foster service to the public instead of making citizens jump through hoops. We will streamline the approval process, not only for setting up new businesses but also in the regular day-to-day transactions with government, such as the payment of taxes. We will do this on a national as well as the local level.

In 2010, our next President will inherit a continually bloating deficit. As of November 2009, the deficit of the national government already reached P272.5 billion, or 4.1% of GDP.

In addressing the looming fiscal crisis, good governance and the drive against corruption are critical components in our strategy. We will refrain from imposing new taxes or increasing tax rates.

I strongly believe that we can collect more taxes at the BIR and higher duties at Customs if we become more serious in curbing and punishing tax evasion and smuggling. The BIR’s collection dropped by 5.5%, while that of Customs declined by 16.6%. This is the first time in recent history that absolute revenues have actually declined.

Our initial focus then will be to capture a good part of the revenue leaks caused by smuggling and evasion. In this effort, we will not be starting from zero. Be assured that those smugglers and evaders are not faceless and unknown entities. The ideas to improve tax administration and to control smuggling have been there for some time and some programs have been initiated in the past. One of these successful programs was the RATE or Run After Tax Evaders. In fact, some of the people at the Department of Finance and the BIR who have tried to implement reforms before are with us now, and together with reform-minded career executives, we intend to put their commitment and talents to good use under my administration.

My vision is to transform our country into one where we have lower tax rates enjoyed by all, rather than have some enjoy absolute tax exemptions while we burden the rest of the economy with very high tax rates. I believe that markets are better than government in spotting where the growth opportunities are, and, with universal low tax rates, we will encourage entrepreneurs and enterprises to invest and create jobs in any industry. We will, therefore, pursue the rationalization of fiscal incentives early in my administration.

There is a lot of room for our revenue base to grow. Our tax effort has gone down from 17% at its peak to a worrisome 13% today. If we can only bring this back even to just the 15% level, that will translate to P150 billion in additional revenues, which would make a significant dent in cutting our deficit.

My budget team estimates that for 2009 alone, around P280 billion of our national budget was lost to corruption. If we take the years 2002 to 2009 the total estimates exceed one trillion. Estimates vary, but everyone agrees that the numbers are huge.

If we agree that change is necessary, how can a Presidential aspirant, whose own financial and political ethics are questionable, be effective in leading transformation as the head of the bureaucracy? How can a leader, who is benefiting from the status quo, be able to restore a civic sense and pride in our citizenry? The leader, who has used public office for private gain, will always be the most committed enemy of change.

Rich or poor alike, we have a tangible experience of the sorry state of public infrastructure at present: traffic, which eats up time, which as the saying goes, is money. Railways are built at bloated cost; urban transport is constructed, but not enough trains are on track. Our people are the first to experience the effect of something that works and conversely, something that is badly done because bad intentions handicapped the project from the start.

It is time that our infrastructure agencies and LGUs transform into cooperative ventures with the private sector by bringing forth an agreed public infrastructure program, based on a cohesive plan that optimizes the value of the entire network. In our conversations with members of the private sector, there has been a lot of positive feedback about possibly working with government on this endeavor.

To transform infrastructure projects from sources of waste and scandal into examples of cooperation and efficiency, we will set objective criteria for different types of projects and develop a scorecard that will assess various projects against benchmarks transparent to the public.

Initially we want our infrastructure program to transform from being the means to enrich a few, to being labor-intensive and biased for employment as a means to pump-prime the economy.

When I read about countries that have invested in their agriculture sectors and succeeded, it always pains me to find that these countries – Vietnam and Thailand, to name just a couple – had started by sending their experts to be educated in the Philippines. It seems that we cannot implement among ourselves the lessons we successfully imparted to experts from elsewhere. This will have to change. We must be able to harness our homegrown talent in order to further our local industries.

When we change administrations, there must be a complete review of all the programs in the Department of Agriculture. We can do a lot for our farmers given the present budget of the Department if we eliminate the leaks and focus on the efficient use of resources. For example, we must stop eating up millions in mere administrative costs as in the case of NABCOR, which charged our government P60 million because it served as a useless conduit to regional offices. We will also support efforts such as supply chain management that minimizes losses, creates jobs, consults with stakeholders, and capitalizes on our competitive advantage.

Our core belief is that the current approach to governance and power must change. That is why our terms of reference always begin with the present government, what it has done, and how different our institutions and our nation must be six years from June 30, 2010.

In a small-scale operation it is easy for everyone involved to visualize that entity as the combination of their collective efforts. As opposed to, say, when you are a bigger firm, and there is the management side and there is the labor side. In Tagalog, it’s even more dramatic. Kayo at kami, sa halip na tayo.

We must find a unity that transcends the divisions of today, based on a shared commitment to transforming our country into one that works: One where traffic flows well, garbage is collected efficiently, crimes are solved, justice is served, and our kids are educated properly. It works in the sense that you do not have to flee the country to move up in the world, improve your lot in life, and rise to the highest level your personal merits can achieve.

We are a nation of sacrifice, of diligence, dedication and, idealism, because we are a people imbued with compassion even when we have officials who lie, cheat, and steal. Our faith teaches us that we are our brother’s keeper. Our logic should tell us that in taking care of others, their growth equals our own.

In the movie “Invictus,” Nelson Mandela says, “In order to rebuild our nation, we must exceed our own expectations.” It requires us to insist, always, that we are not a nation of crooks, of thieves, of murderers who get off scot-free and where justice is won by the highest bidder.

In May, you will be asked to make a choice. Will you choose transformation and change or will you choose to uphold the status quo?

We have already made our choice. Ours is a journey towards transformation. I ask you today to join us in this journey now.

Thank you.

[Archived from the official campaign web site of President Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III]

Palace: Poverty could’ve been worse

Palace: Poverty could’ve been worse
By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang Monday admitted that the problem of poverty and hunger remained a challenge to the Arroyo administration but added that it could have been “even worse” had the government not acted to cushion the world financial crisis last year.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Gary Olivar was reacting to a statement by Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, an economic adviser to the President, that the rich got richer in the past nine years of the Arroyo administration while self-rated hunger almost doubled from 11.4 percent in 2000 to 20.3 percent in 2009.

Olivar said this was “perhaps the only major sore spot in a sea of good news about the President’s economic legacy,” but added that there were various ways that one could “put this trend in proper context.”

In a statement he read at his regular press briefing, Olivar said, “It is possible—sometimes even inevitable—to have more growth with more income inequity—the latter being the source of more hunger” but not the other way around.

“In other words, had we not avoided the recession last year or grown more slowly than we actually did, our problems with hunger and inequity would likely be even worse,” he said.

Olivar also pointed out that surveys on self-rated poverty had “gradually declined over the years from nearly 74 percent of households toward the end of the Marcos years, through a lower 62 percent in 2001 at the start of the Arroyo term, and more sharply down to only 46 percent by the last quarter of 2009.”

He said President Arroyo had implemented many programs to help the poor—from conditional cash transfers to cheaper rice and medicines to scholarships.

Olivar underscored Salceda’s figures showing that only one-third of the P3.1 trillion in net profits of the top 100 companies was reinvested.

“How much of the two-thirds of that amount that was pocketed as dividends found their way through the charity of the privately wealthy into the lives of the needy and hungry among us?” Olivar said.

“These questions bear answering in the event many of those same businessmen go around complaining about how government isn’t doing enough about poverty and hunger,” he said.

Olivar continued: “Perhaps the most productive way to address this issue is to frame it as part of the continuing agenda for national economic development—one that we hope the next administration will take up as a priority, building upon the worthwhile initiatives already started by the current leadership.”

Salcedo had said “the oligarchies were just too sturdy” to allow overall economic growth to trickle down to the poor. However, he also lamented that the state was too weak to take stronger measures because of opposition charges that Ms Arroyo had cheated in the last election.