Blah-blah over inanities like “the people are my Boss” and “the impossible becoming possible” may be inspiring to some. For most Filipinos, however, these mean absolutely nothing.
What matters is whether a President has created a national environment that generates jobs enough to allow most Filipinos to keep body and soul together.
“The jobs we have produced within the past two years total almost 3.1 million,” President Aquino boasted in his recent State of the Nation Address.
Either he was misinformed, or he was lying. The table below shows the data, computed from statistics from the National Statistics Office.
Since Mr. Aquino took over in July 2010 up to April 2012, in the last survey done, the number of employed Filipinos increased by only 1.5 million—half of what he crowed over. That didn’t dent at all the unemployment rate, with 2.8 million Filipinos now without work, more than when he assumed office.
That even conceals the reality that the jobs situation after two years under this President has worsened. Those reporting themselves as underemployed now total 7.8 million—a staggering increase within a short period of two years of over 800,000. While the underemployed are technically defined as those working less than 40 hours a week, or those seeking more work, their number is actually a better indicator of the jobs situation in any country, especially in the Philippines where there are as many who are self-employed (e.g., cigarette vendors and sari-sari store retailers) or are unpaid family workers (e.g., in a subsistence farm) as those in formal establishments.
A worsening of the underemployment rate, as has happened in the past two years, means either or both of the following:
• Wage workers have lost their jobs, and turn to whatever work they can do, for instance as hawkers, part-time workers, or even domestic help. Unable to find work in the cities, they may have returned to their rural homes to work in their families’ small farms. In these cases, they will be reported as employed, yet underemployed.
• The young people entering the labor force can’t get jobs, and are similarly forced to make do with whatever self-employed work they can undertake. They have work but will be reported as underemployed.
The jobs situation can be represented by the sum of those unemployed and those underemployed. After two years under Mr. Aquino, these total nearly 11 million—nearly a million more than when he assumed office. One out of every four of Mr. Aquino’s “bosses” can’t find jobs or not enough work to keep body and soul together.
That there has been a worsening of the employment situation under Mr. Aquino isn’t at all surprising. In his first year in office, because of his Manichean mentality that everything about the past administration was evil, he withheld government expenditures, and demanded to review every single contract signed before he took power. That severely cut government expenditures, disrupted the economic momentum of the last years under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the GDP drastically slowed down to a feeble 3.7 percent growth in 2011, resulting in much less employment opportunities.
Despite all the rosy pronouncements from government and even business associations, there actually has been no surge of local and foreign investments to provide the huge number of jobs necessary in a country with unabated population growth.
This is because of the main worry of businesses, especially foreign companies: the inadequacy of Philippine infrastructure, especially electric power. While claiming credit for projects started and on the completion stage (like the LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension) by Arroyo, Mr. Aquino has not unveiled any clear road map to fast fix Philippine infrastructure. The government cannot finance all the infrastructure needed. However, Mr. Aquino bungled the handling of the territorial dispute with China and has unnecessarily antagonized the biggest provider in the world now of concessional official development assistance.
Other than his “matuwid na daan,” Mr. Aquino does not have a road map for pushing the economy forward. Reflective of his disinterest in the economy is the fact that he convened and presided over the National Economic and Development Authority—the Republic’s economy planning body, which he chairs—only twice in his two years in office, which demoralized enough his first economic planning secretary to resign. It is telling that in his Sona, the main industry he pointed to as presaging the economy’s boom is the business process outsourcing industry, the growth of which is the undisputed accomplishment of his predecessor, whom he continues to persecute without letup.
But as an April study of the Asian Development Bank (“Taking the Right Road to Inclusive Growth: Industrial Upgrading and Diversification in the Philippines”) explained, the BPO industry is not enough to move the country forward. Government has to target specific industries to shepherd and develop, in the way Arroyo did with the BPO industry.
But nothing of that kind of substantial talk is coming from Mr. Aquino. Only rhetoric pirated from the entertainment industry.