The Philippines election campaigning is currently underway.
In an attempt to educate voters on how to choose candidates, one news channel- GMA- has changed its election reporting format. The new format forces candidates to address eight important issues on education, corruption, crime and justice, housing, job security in the Philippines and abroad, health, environment and hunger. The programme, entitled “Philippines Agenda” aims to shift attention away from the personalities of the candidates to focus on the specific policies of the candidates.
The change in focus of election reporting is to be welcomed. While President Arroyo could boast that the Philippines economy has done well in 2006 and is likely to grow significantly in 2007, the latest Social Weather Station (SWS) survey conducted in February 2007 showed a 19% incidence of hunger involving 3.4 million households in the first quarter of 2007. Hunger in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon has worsened calling into question “what is the use of the economy doing well if people are hungry”.
In response to the survey results, President Arroyo as ordered the release of US$21 million (1 billion pesos) for “emergency hunger mitigation” to alleviate hunger in six months. It is also to be part of a wider anti-poverty programme by the government.
Arroyo’s action might not be sufficient. Former Senator John Osmena who is standing for elections to the Senate as a member of the Genuine Opposition (GO), countered that Arroyo’s action would only provide each of the estimated 25 million hungry Filipinos 40 peso which would only be sufficient to buy 2 kg of rice. Two other GO candidates, Senator Panfilo Lacson and Sorsogon Representative Francis Escudero warned that the disbursement of the P1 billion could lead to a great source of corruption. Instead, Osmena called for the elimination of the expanded value added tax (E-VAT).
The election campaigning and posturing has compromised some of the anti-poverty measures. Arroyo had originally proposed P4.7 billion to enable the Department of Education to provide milk and hot food in schools. However, this amount was halved after some Senators opposed the plan on the suspicions that Arroyo was trying to buy the elections.
In another instance of how the upcoming elections is threatening developmental and relief work, the budget secretary has ordered the various government agencies to notify the Commission of Elections on the Calamity Assistance and Relief Effort (CARE) activities that will be implemented in the run up to the elections. CARE was instituted to rehabilitate Bicol and other regions ravaged by the four typhoons in 2006. The budget secretary was concerned that the relief work might be misinterpreted as breaking the public works ban during the election period. (26 March 2007)
Hungry Pinoy to Get Only P40 from Fundosmena (Philippines Daily Inquirer, 26 March 2007)
War Against Poverty, Hunger Gaining Ground (Manila Bulletin, 25 March 2007)
Five Pillars of GMA Network’s News and Public Affairs Give Birth to Philippine Agenda (Manila Bulletin, 25 March 2007)
Its P1-B War on Hunger (Philippines Daily Inquirer, 25 March 2007)
‘Hunger Cases Serve as a Wake-Up Call’ (Manila Standard, 23 March 2007)