Where are the jobs?

Where are the jobs? Manila times 5/6/08

A LOT of good will come from the administration’s P2-billion subsidy to small electricity users, 10 of whom received P500 each at a quiet program at the presidential palace on Tuesday.

The money will help four million poor “lifeline user” households meet their power bills, which have risen mercilessly in the past few months. Lifeline users are the families or individuals who consume 100 kilowatt-hours or less of electricity each month. The money is a one-time handout.

The project borrows from the Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino Program, a conditional cash transfer project launched by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The program provides cash benefits to families on condition they invest in their children’s future with health checkups, enrollment in school and maternal care. The maximum benefit is P1,400 each month for a family with three school-age children.

To ensure government-subsidized rice for poor families, the administration has issued access cards for heads of poor families to save them from long queues and worries that they may have to buy rice above P18.25 per kilo, the ceiling for the NFA variety.

Because college education has become expensive, the President has ordered state universities and colleges to freeze their tuition fees. Turning her attention to public school students, she made school uniforms optional to reduce the costs of basic education, which include transportation, food, class projects and school supplies.

The palace has also fended off petitions from public transportation owners to raise bus and jeepney fare and has encouraged the idea that sending text messages be made at no cost to the users. It has encouraged regional wage boards to raise the minimum pay.

Promote self-reliance, not mendicancy

Much of the public has welcomed the administration initiatives aimed at ameliorating rice and food prices, electricity charges, oil and gas-related expenses and tuition worries. Analysts however have observed that many of the programs neither address the basic causes of our national ills nor offer long-range solutions to them.

They have warned against short-term solutions to inflation pains. They claim the administration is perpetuating mendicancy instead of promoting self-reliance. “Knee-jerk reaction,” “tokenism” and “palliatives” is how they have described the actions crafted by presidential advisers.

Above all these criticisms, we believe the government and its critics have not focused on a national program we need and could work on—creating and maintaining jobs. Filipinos need jobs desperately. Many of the employed are not paid sufficiently and must look for extra work or a higher-paying job.

The President could borrow an idea from her father—President Diosdado Macapagal—who launched the first nationwide public works project in history, the Emergency Employment Administration. The program hired thousands of jobless men and women who earned honest pay with their toil and sweat. They came out of the experience not richer but with more money to pay for their needs, buy a few amenities and appreciative of honest labor.

Create jobs in the cities and the farms

There are countless jobs that could be done in the cities and the farms. Hundreds of irrigation systems need repair. There is work to be done to fix farm-to-market roads and to improve post-harvest facilities, to mention a few examples.

We do not have to wait for international conferences to beautify and clean up our surroundings. The government said recently public buildings require inspection for the next big earthquake. Repairing, repainting and maintaining government buildings require manpower.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority under Chairman Bayani Fernando is a big employer. Forgetting his public portraits, we look with admiration at how BF’s “Metro Gwapo” project has used brawn and muscles to sweep the streets, direct traffic and keep discipline on the sidewalks.

Local governments—the provinces, towns and cities—could embark on similar projects, using paid hands and volunteers, to help the administration cope with a big headache and to enable millions of Filipinos to earn a living that dignifies them and that honors their skills.

Organize a national jobs program

Small and medium businesses need a strong boost through affordable loans and credit. The underground economy or the informal sector is a strong pillar of the economy that employs half of the labor force, produces services and products.

Active entrepreneurship, open to women and young Filipinos, is the alternative to wearying 9 to 5 office or blue-collar jobs.

Private business has an important role but will not of course hire the hands it does not need. The problem, according to a Department of Labor survey, is that many employers could not fill up their vacancies because the skills needed are not available. This takes us back to the job-vacancy mismatch because the schools are educating and training people in the “wrong” vocations.

We will have to continue engaging the overseas job market as we replenish the talent supply. The work of the Commission on Higher Education, the Department of Labor and Employment and the Technical Education Skills Development Authority for education, training and marketing is important.

Giving as many of our people jobs is the way out of poverty, ignorance, idleness and crime. Malacañang, together with the private sector and local governments, must put a national jobs program in place.