Akbayan! Youth Official Statement on President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address 2013

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Akbayan! Youth Official Statement on President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address 2013

Henry Sy’s cancer is in his wealth. The SM tycoon’s net worth jumped to $13.2 billion this year, an almost 50% leap from last year’s $9.1 billion. He is currently the richest Filipino and a consistent member of the Forbes’ billionaires’ list.

As the 16th Congress opens with the President’s State of the Nation Address, the Aquino administration will once again boast of its high economic performance: 7.8% growth in the first quarter of 2013. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lauded our economy as a “momentum high”. In addition, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) has reported that we have the fastest growing economy among Asian countries in the same quarter.

The economic growth has made more Filipinos debut in the elite club of the world’s billionaires. In addition to the Sy’s, Tan’s and Gokongwei’s, we have more billionaires included in the richest people of the world. It is the renaissance of economic times in the country and the tycoons are in their happiest.

Young people left out

Young people’s situation, however, cannot be more different. Statistics and surveys show that in the last three years, young Filipinos are in peril in the Aquino definition of growth.

“She loved to study… She believed that financial limitations are not a hindrance to education”, echoed the words of the mother of UP Manila student Kristel Tejada early this year. The death of the UP co-ed rocked the administration’s ‘sterling’ performance.

The systemic problem of poverty and inequality in the country has turned desperate and Kristel just gave a human face to that desperation. Kristel’s suicide stole the thunder from the 44% budget hike for state universities and colleges which Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad donned as a badge of honor several months prior.

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”, said author Edward Abbey. The government’s economic performance benefits neither the middle class nor the poorest of the poor. The Social Weather Station reported that hunger incidence among families has risen since the last quarter. The NSCB also pointed out that the level of poverty remained unchanged since 2006.

The country’s unemployment rate also paints a grim picture with an increase of 7.5% in April of this year from 7.1% reported in January and 6.9% in April of 2012, according to the National Statistics Office (NSO). It seems that millions of Filipinos are currently not invited to the bountiful feast of the Aquino economic growth.

If with enough luck they get employed, young Filipinos have to settle with jobs that do not provide enough for them and their families. Many of the employed are in the informal sector which has minimum or no benefits at all. NSCB reported in 2012 that the top 30% income group earns 7 times more than the bottom 30%. The NSCB also showed how the top 10% income group earns 18% than those belonging to the poorest 10% income group. As economic growth booms, the income disparity looms.

Many of young Filipinos are shunned at the door, unable to take part in the economic activity at home. They, in turn, go abroad and send billions in OFW remittances which keep the economy afloat. The growth is in the hands of OFWs but not to their benefit.

That is, at least for some 60 % of Filipino youth, from rural and urban, ages 15-30, who desire to work abroad because of higher pay according to the 2010 National Youth Assessment Study of the National Youth Commission (NYC). About 85% of those surveyed recognize limited opportunities to earn a living in the country.

Social services for health also do not address young people’s concerns. The rising number of HIV-AIDS cases and early pregnancy among young people are a testament that there is a discord between government programs and young people’s needs. Twelve million young people are out of school not only because of poverty, but because they have to rear children. The government deserves a failing grade in these areas.

Make the future bright: healthy, employed and educated young people

As the President delivers his SONA this year, Akbayan! Youth is expressing alarm that the welfare of young Filipinos may not see the light of day after a change of administration. In this situation, the administration has to cement its final three years by investing in young people and building the economy towards inclusive growth.

The Philippines is one of the countries with the youngest population. Almost half of unemployed Filipinos are young people and Aquino cannot afford not to invest in the next generations of the work force which will balloon by 31%, as projected by Bank of America Corp.

We are challenging the Aquino government to generate secure jobs and livelihood for all, especially by promoting and supporting local economies and industries. We shun the government policy of sending millions of OFWs abroad, majority of which are young people and are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse. We need jobs for young people – and decent jobs where workers are justly remunerated and their rights are fully respected.

We are also challenging the president in boosting social services beyond the conditional cash transfer (CCT). This can be done by ensuring progressive increase in budget allocations for health and education towards international standards. The nominal increase of previous years in the budget allocation for health and education are not enough to address the health issues among young people and the rising number of out-of-school youth.

Akbayan! Youth remains a critical partner of the PNoy administration and commends the President for being a champion of anti-corruption and economic growth. But growth for the sake of growth is cancer and ignores the question of inequality and disparity. For this year’s SONA, we urge the President to lay down his plan for an inclusive growth – a growth that neither sends millions of young Filipinos abroad nor another Sy in the billionaires’ list. #

Executive Director, Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking, Inc.
Youth and Students Sectoral Representative, National Anti-Poverty Commission
[email protected]

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