Subsidizing informal settlers: the PH government’s knack for small and short-sighted programs

Posted on June 24, 2013

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On top of Philippine president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s absurd Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, the government has once again come up with a strange course of action; persuading informal settlers of Metro Manila to rent somewhere else by covering their expenses.

MANILA, Philippines–Malacañang on Monday brushed aside objections to the government’s offer of P18,000 subsidy for each family living along waterways to rent a room somewhere else, saying President Benigno Aquino III wanted them to be safe.

(Source: Link)

Squatting (informal settling) has been an age-old dilemma of Philippine society. Droves of poverty-stricken Filipinos flock into the capital, Manila, in hopes of finding greener pastures. Manila, with its limited space, quickly became congested with too many people as time passed. So far, none of the past governments have been able to decisively and effectively address this troublesome phenomenon. Of course, Noynoy’s administration is no different, which is easy to see if we closely examine his strategy in solving this problem.

Basically, he intends to give poor Filipinos an incentive to stop clogging Metro Manila’s waterways by paying for their rent as they get relocated someplace else. However, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. You see, the fact of the matter is that this kind of “good will” projects attuned towards the Philippines’ unfortunate has been going on for God knows when; the trend is totally the same; the poor are given incentives to basically get out of the place they’re squatting at, then they go back to squatting again as if nothing happened. It just goes on and on and on, ad infinitum.

Einstein once said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” However, the concept might be too foreign for our esteemed president, who keeps on justifying his silly “band-aid” welfare programs that hardly do anything to improve the situation. And speaking of “band-aid” welfare programs, Secretary Edwin Lacierda, who is quite famous for not making much sense, had this to say:

“You are looking at families living on top of the waterways and alongside waterways. And so, come rainy season, come typhoon season there’s a danger of them being washed away. At other times, however, they will also be exposed to dengue, leptospirosis, and other diseases,” the President’s spokesperson said in a briefing.

These are “danger zones,” and there is no question that the informal settlers had to be relocated to safer areas, Lacierda said.
“The President’s primary concern is the safety of these estero families,” he said.

“We don’t want the casualties during typhoon season to happen on a yearly basis. We want that eliminated totally and that’s the reason why we’re moving them away from the esteros or what we call the danger zones.”

Lacierda stressed that the subsidy was part of a comprehensive plan to relocate 100,000 families of informal settlers between now and 2016 when Aquino steps down.

“This is not a band-aid solution. A band-aid solution is just giving them assistance and that’s it. We have already programmed structures to be completed for these families,” he said.

Contrary to what Lacierda would have us believe, the entire program; the subsidy, the relocation, the very idea of displacing poor Filipinos somewhere else is the “band-aid” solution to begin with. It is quite easy to understand why it is so; why did those poor Filipinos come to Manila in the first place?

Most of the Philippines’ core business sectors lie all over Metro Manila. The commercial industry is heavily concentrated at Metro Manila. Many manufacturing companies and factories are also in Metro Manila. The so-called “big four” universities are also at Metro Manila. In other words, the closest thing we have to a “modern way of life” is at– wait for it– Metro Manila. In a rapidly modernizing global economy, a regressing, rural lifestyle might be the last thing you want if long-term prosperity is your top priority. Needless to say, this is what most Filipinos have in mind, and there you have it; a painfully congested capital with a stupendously high demand for jobs. You have a constant asymmetry between supply (jobs) and demand (a large, idle workforce). This is a problem Philippines has been facing for years.

Sure, a bunch of decrepit, makeshift houses scattered around Metro Manila is unsightly, and the idea of informal settlers throwing molotov cocktails at policemen to defend their residence (which is illegal in the first place) is annoying, which is why it’s important to transcend petty, short-sighted programs envisioned by our equally short-sighted government (given its preference to stimulus package-based economic growth and sheer reliance on unstable OFW remittances) and think outside the box. Poor Filipinos leave their provinces and struggle under sub-human conditions at Metro Manila to find jobs and give their families a better life. Therefore, it’s only natural that they will keep coming back because all Noynoy’s government does is separate them from the jobs that they want. On the other hand, we have the issue of a congested Metro Manila since forever.

How about bringing the jobs to people, then, instead of the other way around? How about working towards modernization that comprises the other, far-off provinces in the Philippines (yes, places other than Metro Manila do exist)? Won’t that be a better, long-term, non-band-aid solution? It’s hitting two birds with one stone; it has the potential to get rid of the eternal “squatting” problem in the Philippines, since province folk won’t have to squeeze themselves into Metro Manila for jobs.

Instead of relying and justifying Noynoy’s CCT, which only makes the poor dependent on allowances derived from the working people’s taxes, instead of wasting revenue by repetitively investing on a group of people that will yield no economic value, perhaps we can set our sights to transforming a bunch of dependents to an active workforce distributed to any non-Metro Manila place in the Philippines.

The Philippine government once mentioned that it plans to modernize agriculture. Now’s the perfect time for them to demonstrate just that. They can opt to channel tax revenue not to ineffective welfare programs like the CCT, but to projects aimed at introducing modern agriculture to rural Philippine provinces, which is the optimal course of action since most under-developed places in the Philippines heavily rely on crops for a living. Private entities (with the addition of foreign investors, if possible) may be enticed to invest in agricultural modernization, possibly through private-public partnerships and/or tax cuts, and expand their reach to far-off places in the Philippines, bringing decent, modern jobs to our fellow Filipinos while not generating culture shock by suddenly erecting clothing apparel shops and iPhone stores. Additionally, they can hire Manila’s informal settlers (which is mostly composed of semi-skilled to unskilled workers) to work on basic infrastructure. Developers can opt to provide shelter for the workforce while construction is ongoing, possibly under the agreement that they pay their rent over a generous period of time at low interest rates.

The Philippine government can also use investments (making foreign direct investment an important element in economic growth) to fund scientific research on maximizing output in agricultural production, like what most countries are doing nowadays. Begin research on GMOs, efficient methods of utilizing farmlands to produce the most crops using the least amount of soil possible. Invite conferences and joint-projects with other countries’ agricultural sectors to accelerate the technological development of our local agricultural industry.

As the rural provincial districts gain a stronger foothold in their trade, we can now start introducing a more diverse set of jobs for the workforce; electronics, for instance.

There is so much that can be done, provided that the government is willing to acknowledge the sheer smallness of the programs they claim to “help the Filipino poor,” when the poor people in Metro Manila do not even constitute the entire number of Filipinos suffering under a supposedly fast-growing economy with minimal physical effects. In this day and age, we have to think bigger and farther into the future. But then, given our government’s inclination to playing “blame games” on past administrations, glorifying the president’s parents, and small-scale, short-term “welfare” programs, prospects of long-term prosperity under an economy that actually trickles down to the average Juan might be a pipe dream.

Must we remain cramped in a small wealth mindset, in the same way that many of us are cramped in the Philippine capital?

(It’s been a while since I last wrote an anime review. Expect reviews of Nichijou and Makoto Shinkai’s The Place Promised In Our Early Days in a day or two.)

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