Stimulus package somewhat fulfills wartime promise
MANILA, Philippines—The US Congress approved on Friday the stimulus bill, a $787-billion package of tax cuts and fresh spending to salvage the broken American economy, handing US President Barack Obama his biggest political victory yet.
The bill contains a provision recognizing the military service of Filipino veterans of World War II and granting a tax-free lump sum of $15,000 to those who are based in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs estimates the number of surviving Filipino veterans at 18,000-20,000, of whom 13,000 are based in the Philippines.
More than 250,000 Filipinos served alongside US soldiers to defend the Philippines from the 1941 Japanese invasion and resist the subsequent Japanese occupation.
The US government had promised Filipinos they could qualify for full US veterans’ benefits if they served. But after the war, the US Congress passed the Rescission Act of 1946, stripping Filipino veterans of their status as US veterans.
This denied Filipinos the benefits they were promised.
Since then, Filipino veterans have campaigned for recognition as US veterans to receive benefits.
“Despite America’s economic challenges, the US Congress voted to correct a historic wrong and incorporate the lump-sum benefit for our veterans,” President Macapagal-Arroyo said in a statement issued in Manila.
Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a longtime supporter of Filipino veterans, had earlier said the stimulus measure would provide $198 million for one-time payments to the Filipinos.
Despite Obama’s early bipartisan goals, Republican opposition was nearly unanimous to the $787-billion package of tax cuts, aid to hard-hit Americans, and investment in infrastructure, education and energy.
Conservatives in both houses of the US Congress have been relentless critics, arguing that the plan is filled with wasteful spending and that greater tax cuts would be more effective in creating jobs.
Told that no House Republican backed the measure on Friday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reacted by citing another number—“3.5 million jobs that we look forward to saving or creating.”
The stimulus bill includes spending on infrastructure projects, expanded unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses and billions to help strapped states.
The much touted tax break for middle- and working-class Americans survived but was scaled back.
Obama also won money for two other administration priorities—information technology in health care, and “green jobs” to make buildings more energy-efficient and reduce the United States’ reliance on foreign oil.
The final details of the bill included the drafting of precise language on trade.
The House included a “Buy America” restriction forbidding the use of foreign steel and other products on infrastructure projects funded in the bill. Negotiators were largely going with a Senate version that is much less restrictive, saying the US government would abide by its international trade commitments.
The bill’s approval caps an early period of accomplishment for the Democrats, who won control of the White House and expanded their majorities in Congress in the November elections.
Since taking office on Jan. 20, Obama has signed legislation extending government-financed health care to millions of lower-income children who lack it, a bill that President George W. Bush twice vetoed.
Obama has also put his signature on a measure making it easier for workers to sue their employers for alleged job discrimination, effectively overturning a ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana in Manila, AFP, Inquirer wires
There was public outrage when Mr. Romulo Neri, of the ZTE-NBN notoriety, was named by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to head the Social Security System (SSS). The appointment was seen as Neri’s reward for his silence on the ZTE-NBN deal and blind loyalty to Ms Arroyo. It was feared that Neri would also play deaf and dumb should the Arroyo administration decide to raid the pension funds, for political purposes.
It has been reported that P12.5 billion (yes, billion!) of SSS funds is being eyed “for infrastructure,” as part of the “stimulus package” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2/3/09; read story) which would be placed at the disposal of Ms Arroyo.
Given Malacañang’s track record in misspending tax money with shameless abandon and buying loyalties with generous “cash gifts” and other perks, we shudder at the thought that all this SSS money could end up being used (read: diverted) to ensure Ms Arroyo’s continued stay in Malacañang beyond 2010 — as earnestly, if shamelessly, prayed for by her trusted drumbeater Jesus Dureza.
And the worst part is, she may not have to account for all that profligacy in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on “executive privilege,” which virtually strikes down any attempt to hold her and her underlings accountable for any act of malversation and corruption. God help the Philippines!
STEVE Y. VESPERA, Esq. (via email)
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is urging state pension funds and health insurance and housing loan providers to increase benefits for their members to spur consumption and keep the economy going despite the world financial crisis.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto said the increased benefits, which could total P30 billion, would be part of the P330-billion economic resiliency package in the 2009 national budget.
Recto said the Social Security System (SSS), which handles private sector workers, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), which covers state workers, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), and the Pag-Ibig Fund for housing, had enough “investible funds,” or the difference between contributions and pay-outs, to allow an increase in benefits without affecting the agencies’ financial health.
“If you’re a senior citizen and you’re a pensioner of SSS, and we can afford to give an additional benefit, why not? Which will not destroy the actuarial [standing] of SSS for that limited period of time during this crisis,” Recto said.
“That will help spur consumption [and] demand also in the economy, which is good. That’s the point,” he said.
“We hope that the boards [of the agencies] can get to sit down and think…that it is only appropriate during this crisis that they can improve benefits to members even for a limited period of time, for the next 12 to 18 months at least,” Recto said.
The PhilHealth, Recto said, is eyeing a 20-percent increase in benefits, which would increase the amount members get when they fall sick to P9,000 from P7,500. He said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is “committed” to the increase and will take the matter up with the PhilHealth board.
Aside from the P30 billion in additional benefits, Recto said the P330-billion stimulus package also includes P160 billion from the 2009 national budget, P100 billion from the public-private sector infrastructure fund, and P40 billion from the reduced corporate income tax and increased exemptions for individual taxpayers, which the government expects will also spur consumption.
This refers to the news item titled, “Gov’t searching for more overseas jobs.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01/25/ 09)
The Philippine government is raising false hopes with its repeated assurances that jobless Filipinos can find job openings in Australia and New Zealand; that these countries are “relatively insulated from the financial turmoil.”
The truth is Prime Minister John Key has said that New Zealand sees no economic growth and higher unemployment this year because of the impact of the global financial crisis. Meanwhile, the Finance Sector Union reported that between 5,000 and 20,000 jobs have been lost in Australia. The giant US construction equipment maker, Caterpillar, which has operations in Australia, is cutting 20,000 jobs worldwide.
Furthermore, the new “90 Day Bill” or “fire-at-will” bill comes as another threat to job security for Filipinos and other migrant workers in New Zealand. Under the 90 Day Bill, employers who are employing fewer than 20 people would have the right to sack workers in their first 90 days without the need to give any reason for such a decision. Clearly, the 90 Day Bill is New Zealand’s version of the “six-month labor contractualization” in the Philippines, a policy that deprives thousands of Filipinos of job security and forces them to seek jobs abroad at the cost of leaving their loved ones behind.
The Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government continues to ignore the challenge to fulfill the state’s obligation to generate and secure jobs at home. This challenge was issued by migrant workers during the Global Forum on Migration and Development. Last December, Malacañang also issued Administrative Order 247 for the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to “execute a paradigm shift by refocusing its functions from regulation to full-blast market development efforts, the exploration of frontier, fertile job markets for Filipino expatriate workers.”
No country is immune to the current wave of job losses, and Filipinos will find it harder to keep their jobs abroad. Therefore, the full-blast marketing of cheap Filipino labor is not the answer to the country’s chronic crisis. More than ever, securing jobs at home through genuine land reform and national industrialization must be pursued. AO 247 is a vain attempt of the Arroyo government to promote its labor export policy while completely disregarding the people’s clamor for urgent socio-economic reforms.
Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families certainly deserve a new government that will seriously address the roots of forced migration and the country’s chronic crisis. Someone who misused millions of public funds (including the hard-earned money of OFWs) to steal the presidency has no right to stay in power. Aside from corruption and human rights violations, the Arroyo administration’s perennial neglect of migrants’ rights and welfare gives us more reason to demand its ouster.
DENNIS MAGA, national coordinator, Migrante Aotearoa New Zealand, email@example.com
Editorial writers and columnists have been complaining lately about the lack of moral outrage over what’s happening in the country. But last week, something happened that may yet give us hope that the people are beginning to act and to demand better governance and better service from our government officials.
More than 1,000 people in Eastern Samar province, disgusted by the worsening condition of highways in the province, signed a petition demanding the immediate repair of badly damaged roads. In a letter, the petitioners said: “We say enough! No more excuses. Repair and rehabilitate our roads now.” Similar messages were sent to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, asking her where the people’s taxes were going.
Municipal Trial Court Judge Rowena Tan of Balangiga town, who drafted the petition, said, “The hell roads of Eastern Samar are an eloquent testimony to the selfishness, callousness and insensitivity of our local and national officials.”
Journalists who have traveled to Eastern Samar will readily testify that some of the worst roads in the country can be found in the province. People call the highways “a thousand lakes,” “hellish roads,” and, in a humorous and somewhat oxymoronic twist, “luxurious roads,” derived from “palukso-lukso” (because one has to hop from the edge of one pothole to another to avoid falling into the rut).
Billions of pesos are being allocated for construction and repair of roads and highways, but why are national highways such as those in Eastern Samar in such a deplorable state of disrepair? One reason is corruption. Contractors scrimp on some materials such as cement and gravel or asphalt so that they can make some profit after giving 20, 30 or perhaps even 40 percent of the project cost as kickback to certain national and local officials. Another reason is that provincial roads are not given enough attention because they are far from Imperial Manila and the critical eyes of the media.
The “rising” of 1,000 people in Eastern Samar gives us hope that Filipinos will no longer remain silent, clenching their fists and gnashing their teeth in helpless anger over the many bad things that are happening in their country. What is needed for evil to triumph over good is for good people to stay silent and do nothing about the evil things that powerful people are doing, or not to complain about the non-action of government officials on their urgent problems.
In a democracy such as the Philippines, the people have the right to peaceably assemble and ask the government for redress of their grievances. They have the right to complain about deficiencies in services and facilities; they are paying for these things with their taxes. They have the right to demand good service from government officials, from the President down to the last town councilor; their taxes pay for the salaries of these public servants.
The people have the right — and the obligation — to complain about, denounce and demand action on cases of corruption. Corrupt government officials steal the money of the people, money that should be used to provide the people with better services and facilities.
The people are getting fed up and they are doing something about the bad state of affairs in their communities, towns and provinces. The “rising” need not begin and end in Eastern Samar. It is high time the people expressed their moral outrage over the deplorable situation that is obtaining and the bad things that are happening in their country. Time to reprise Corazon Aquino’s “Tama na, sobra na!” [Enough already, too much already!]
THE World Bank (WB) is a specialized agency of the UN system, established in 1944. It encompasses two development institutions and three affiliates focused on worldwide poverty reduction.
Helping poor nations
The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) is WB’s main component that provides loans and technical assistance for projects in developing – poor – member countries, like RP, and encourages co-financing for projects from other countries or a syndication of dozens of giant commercial banks in the US and Europe.
Most big infrastructures in RP are funded with loans by the billions of pesos from IBRD, that in turn urges big commercial banks in Europe by the dozens to invest here.
One bridge or highway project here costing R500M needs a long-term loan of .52 million. The World Bank will then encourage other giant banks in Switzerland, Paris, London, Berlin, New York, etc. to share in meeting the loan and its terms.
One or two banks may not loan more than R500M to RP.
Disclosures of IBRD that some Filipino contractors and politicians connive or help each other to “corner” contracts via acts amounting to fraud, conflict of interest, influence peddling and other fraudulent means serve as notice/revelation to the lending banks.
The above places RP on the banks’ blacklist of nations notoriously engaged in making net loans result in inferior bridge or road called by honest builders as “matapang sa buhangin.” The same notice or knowledge is not forgotten for years by nations that apply their IBRD loans with unassailable honesty.
Just an image
This was probably the start of RP’s unkind image of having corrupt high officials, national and local, and of wasting loans from IBRD and other sources encouraged by the World Bank Group.
Our high officials and politicians were “splendidly quick” in denying allegations of contract “rigging, fixing and spinning yarns or wizardry.” They – officials and contractors – angrily disputed the lending bank’s official list of shadowy contractors and questioned results of a long investigation by independent experts.
The bank officials did not answer the rage/anger of blacklisted contractors and their protectors. Neither did it refer to blacklisted contractors considered by DPWH officials/engineers as truly friendly and kind and thoughtful and honest – of all things – all the time.
And all 91.8M of us don’t know what epithets and unkind words are being thrown by lending banks in our way for years.
Let’s not forget that a syndication of banks is like a club and can influence other banks in Europe and in the US not to give RP loans of any kind in years.
But let’s not be too harsh on DoJ investigators and the NBI if they call World Bank investigations without basis or based on unreliable evidence like the findings favorable to dirty little crooks selling drugs.
The two agencies combined, including other good agencies, cannot summon Obama’s audacity to take a closer look at disbursements called pork or view a few bottles of liquid fertilizer (replaced by deepwell water) but commanded a price amounting to 1000 percent (or 10 times) of the normal price tag.
DoJ and NBI conclusions with respect to PDEA’s arrests of drug traders they considered innocent are now under review by a commission headed by a retired and distinguished Supreme Court justice. (Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author: Atty. Romeo V. Pefianco