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Rene E. Ofreneo

259 posts
Rene E. Ofreneo - Laborem Exercens

Agrarian crisis rooted in failure to fulfill CARP’s triple tasks

The present food and agricultural crisis haunting the nation is rooted in the failure of the government to implement fully the agrarian reform program as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) of 1988. This failure is one major reason for the persistence of mass poverty in the countryside and the continuous expansion nationwide of the army of landless rural poor, meaning those without land rights (excluded from the coverage of land transfer) and without stable or secure jobs.

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Missing: Rights and jobs for the landless rural poor

Per study by the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations, more than 80 percent of the employed are informal workers. As pointed out in an earlier column, there are informals in the huge informal sector or informal economy (IS/IE). And there are also informals in the formal sector, referred to as the precariat or paid workers with non-regular or short-term tenures in the formal sector.

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Economy standing on slippery slope?

Can the Philippines achieve its annual GDP growth target of 6.5 percent to 8 percent between 2023 and 2028? Per calculations by our technocrats, such a pattern of economic growth will enable the PBBM administration to reduce poverty level to a single digit, return the debt-to-GDP ratio back to less than the 60 percent global threshold, and most importantly, elevate the country to the “upper middle-income status.”

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Precarious labor unlimited

PBBM’S SONA on July 25 failed to address a number of critical issues facing the nation. As we pointed out in the last column, the most urgent is the challenge of creating quality and sustainable jobs for the majority of the labor force—the “inadequately employed.”

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‘Food is not just a trade commodity’

IN his inaugural speech, President Bongbong Marcos surprised the country’s peasant leaders and CSO agridev advocates with his declaration of support for “food self-sufficiency” as a national goal and his stinging critique of “unfair competition” in global agri trade.

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Remote work: The changing labor market

An interesting policy debate on the work-from-home (WFH) arrangement is consuming the DTI, DOF and PEZA. The WFH was adopted by a number of the call center-BPO sector firms in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It enabled these ecozone firms to avail themselves of PEZA fiscal incentives and maintain, even expand, business operations despite the government restrictions on workers’ mobility. PEZA and the IT and BPO Association want the “hybrid” WFH system retained. Per an earlier agreement with the DOF-led Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB), CC/BPO firms are allowed to keep as much as 90 percent of their work force at WFH system until the end of March 2022.

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From ‘great resignation’ to ‘great renegotiation’ and ‘great furlough’

Last year, American and European human resource managers noticed an unusual trend in the labor market—high “quit rates” in the labor market, meaning more workers leaving their jobs compared to the situation in earlier years. Accordingly, the rates exceeded the 2.5 percent maximum recorded in previous years. In Germany and in some American states, the rates  went up to as high as 6 percent. 

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The Marcos-IMF-WB economy: How do we leave it behind?

IN a recent article timed for the commemoration of the February 25 Edsa Revolt, President Cory’s  finance officers—DOF Secretary Jesus Estanislao and Central Bank Governor Jose Cuisia —claimed that they “undid Marcos economy.”  They described the Marcos economy as one characterized by inefficiency and where one had a hard time getting a phone, water from the tap and dollars for travel. But due to the twin programs of “economic liberalization” and “deregulation” since 1986, the consumer horror stories on phone, water and dollars are no more. Accordingly, the economy has been moving forward and upward. They credit such progress to the support extended to the post-Edsa governments by the World Bank, IMF, ADB and other creditor institutions. Hence, their plea: “Let’s not go back.”

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Challenge to  ADB: Aligning lending assessment tools with SDGs

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been undertaking a “safeguards policy review,” ostensibly as part of the Bank’s efforts to reach out to broader segments of Asian society, especially those belonging to the civil society movement. The Bank has also publicly acknowledged the importance of providing safeguards or protection to the most vulnerable such as the disabled, children and indigenous people.

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The missing ‘surge’: Stronger recovery

The latest labor force statistics reaffirm what we already know. Positive economic growth is slowly coming back, alongside the gradual re-opening of the economy. This is reflected in the declining number of the unemployed. The country’s unemployment rate was down to 7.4 percent in October 2021, which is below the 8.7 percent recorded in April 2021 and the astronomical 17.7 percent in April 2020. The unemployed now number 3.5 million, while the employed total 43.8 million.

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Managing the health-economic crisis: The ADB’s problematic ‘problem tree’

The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to last till 2024, or until all the 8 billion inhabitants of Planet Earth are fully vaccinated. This is the prognosis given by a number of medical experts, as new variants keep emerging. The road to medical normalcy in Europe has been reversed by the Delta variant.  And now, the Omicron variant is casting a long dark shadow around the world.

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Can RCEP save the Philippine  economy?

A broad coalition of farmers’ organizations led by the Federation of Free Farmers are questioning the government rush to ratify Philippine participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. They are also questioning the lack of transparency and public consultation on the Philippine commitments to RCEP and their implications on the economy, particularly on the agricultural sector.  RCEP, a  trade pact involving the 10 Asean, 3 East Asian and 2 Down Under countries, is supposed  to come into force on January 1, 2022.

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Beijing defying neo-lib’s comparative advantage theory (Beijing Consensus vs PHL neo-liberalism: Four decades after)

AT the center of the neo-liberal or Washington Consensus doctrine is the theory of comparative advantage. The theory asserts that countries perform best in the world market if they promote industries that are able to produce goods at a lower opportunity cost based on existing or natural endowments, e.g., technological prowess, capital stock, skills, land/mineral resources, cheap labor and so on. This theory is credited to 19th century economist David Ricardo, who wrote that under free trade conditions, countries prosper if they specialize on producing goods where they have such comparative advantage vis-à-vis other countries given such endowments.

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Political economy with Chinese characteristics (Beijing Consensus vs PHL neo-liberalism: Four decades after)

China’s embrace of marketization and global integration is described by neo-liberal economists as an improvement, not a repudiation of the Washington Consensus. However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which led the market-oriented economic transformation of China after Mao’s death, never accepted the WC. China has a completely different economic model.

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Beijing consensus vs PHL neo-liberalism: Scorecard four decades after

The Communist Party of China (CPP), the world’s biggest political party with 90 million card-carrying members, marked its 100th year with a grandiose celebration at Tienanmen Square in July this year. The highlight of the commemoration was the speech of a proud and assertive President Xi Jinping, who issued a warning to the outside world: “The era of China being bullied is gone forever.” He added: “Whoever wants to do so will face bloodshed in front of a Great Wall of steel built by more than 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

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Two puzzles ADB has to address

The Asian Development Bank held its 54th Annual Meeting of Governors online. President Masatsugu Asakawa (called by his colleagues as “Masa Asa”) came up with a bold theme for the Meeting: “Re-imagining Asia and the Pacific in a Post-Pandemic World.” The Meeting was accompanied by a three-day conference/webinar (May 3-5) which dwelt on the topics of Covid-19 pandemic, climate change challenges, and views of civil society organizations on the role of the ADB in a pandemic world. This writer served as a panel discussant in the session on “CSOs’ Reflections on ADB’s Covid-19 Operations.”

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Can Joe Biden save the world from climate catastrophe?  

A fresh wind of change is sweeping Planet Earth that is facing a climate emergency. The United States, a climate crisis denier under the Trump administration, has now reconnected to the global campaign to limit the rise in global temperature to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius (pre-industrial era), as agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement. President Joe Biden and his climate team have re-asserted US leadership in the global fight against global warming by convening last week a “Leaders Climate Summit” attended by 40 heads of state, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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Why can’t ADB and AIIB make a resolute stand against fossil fuels?

IN February this year, the European Investment Bank sent shock waves to energy investors when it formally announced that EIB is withdrawing support for energy projects using fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas. This EIB stand is in line with the EU commitment to the Paris Agreement of 2015, that is, to prevent global temperature rising beyond the maximum 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era.

No jobs on a dead planet

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) summarized in one sentence the ultimate outcome of an unmitigated warming of Planet Earth: There are no jobs on a dead planet.

Rene E. Ofreneo - Laborem Exercens

No jobs on a dead planet

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) summarized in one sentence the ultimate outcome of an unmitigated warming of Planet Earth: There are no jobs on a dead planet.

Rene E. Ofreneo - Laborem Exercens

Asia falling behind SDG/CC targets: Time to reset growth strategies

IN 2015, the UN Member States adopted two historic agreements —the Paris Agreement on Climate Change mitigation and the 17-point framework for sustainable development.  Both have 2030 as the target date for completion by Member States of their commitments under the two agreements. Both seek to address two existential threats to humanity: global warming and runaway social and economic inequality.

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A plea to Sen. Win Gatchalian: Lead the nation to its green future

Sen. Win Gatchalian is one of the hardest working members of the Senate. A successful business executive, he breathes a fresh air of professionalism in his work as a legislator. He is also known as a passionate advocate of good governance and more investments on human resources, both of which are key to the transformation of the Philippines as one of Asia’s most progressive countries.

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Climate change: When ‘net zero’ is not zero

The Paris Agreement of 2015 (PA 2015) seeks to prevent a climate Armageddon: global temperature rising at a level that makes life on Planet Earth unsustainable. The global target: limit rise in global warming to 1.5-degree Celsius above pre-industrial era.

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Crisis of agriculture: Rooted in bad economic assumptions

For a while, the agricultural sector was being touted as the nation’s salva-vida. At the height of the national quarantine last year, people learned to appreciate the critical role of farmers in feeding the nation. A number of city dwellers even became part-time farmers. An army of plantitos and plantitas also discovered the healing power and ornamental beauty of plants.

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Vaccines for all, safety for all

No one is safe unless everyone is safe. This, in gist, is the rationale behind the proposal of India, South Africa and other developing countries for a “TRIPS Waiver” under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS.

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Draft new commitments to Paris Agreement: Still not ambitious enough

The Climate Change Commission (CCC) conducted last January another consultation with civil society organizations (CSOs) on the new or updated proposals of the Philippines to the Paris Agreement of 2015. Under the said Agreement, UN Member States are supposed to submit last December their revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The overarching goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit the rise of global temperature to 1.5-degree Celsius (maximum of 2.0-degree Celsius) from the pre-industrial era in order to prevent a catastrophic global inferno called global warming.

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Transformation programs: A must in making sustainability happen

IN updating the Philippines’ “Nationally Determined Contributions” under the Paris Agreement, the Climate Change Commission will be doing the country a great service if it develops the NDCs into a truly “transformative” climate change action program. The CCC should also ask each government agency to come up with a concrete, measurable and time-bound implementing program on how to meet the agency’s climate change adaptation/mitigation target or goal. Without such a program, the CCC’s system of “tagging” various government programs as climate-change-responsive is meaningless.

Can the Philippine deliver on its climate pledges to the Paris Agreement?

Aside from looking for vaccines to inoculate their citizens against the Covid-19 pandemic, governments around the world are busy updating their “Nationally-Determined Contributions” or NDCs under the Paris Agreement of 2015. Roughly, the NDCs are pledges of the UN Member States to help combat global warming by reducing their respective national GHG emissions and preparing their countries against climate change risks through a combination of mitigation, adaptation and related adjustment policies. The Paris Agreement requires the UN Member States to submit progress reports on the NDCs every five years. The ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the rise in global temperature below 2.0 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial period; the ideal target: 1.5 degrees Celsius maximum.

Is Meralco heeding the global call to exit coal?

The global trend is unmistakable. Majority of the UN Member States who have signed on to the Paris Agreement of 2015 are racing to fulfill their commitment to become zero carbon emitters in order to stop the rise of global temperature by 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial levels. The United Kingdom and France, in partnership with Chile and Italy, convened this month a Climate Ambition Summit to highlight the progress they have made in the twin areas of mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

We all live in a watershed!

Typhoon Ulysses bared the grim reality: The government has failed to stop the loggers and miners in killing our forest, as President Duterte himself said. The forest is our first line of defense against typhoons disgorging so much flood water.

Japan in climate emergency, yet PHL still in business as usual

IN response to the mounting risks posed by global warming, the lower but more powerful chamber of the Japanese Parliament voted last month to declare a climate emergency. The declaration followed the announcement by the new Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, that Japan shall be a “net zero emitter” of greenhouse gas (GHG) by 2050. This means Japan, a major importer of fossil fuel, shall undertake a bold and massive phasing out of coal and gas plants.

Rethinking economic integration: Will Asean choose another growth path?

On November 5 to 7, over 1,200 delegates from over a hundred CSOs in 11 Southeast Asian countries gathered in a “virtual conference” to discuss grassroots people’s issues across the region. The theme of the Asean People’s Forum 2020 has a very clear message to the Asean governments: “Southeast Asian People’s Solidarity for an inclusive, cohesive and responsive community.”

Making Asean a People’s Asean

For three long days, November 5 to 7, the broad civil society movement in Southeast Asia is holding the annual Asean People’s Forum. The theme of the APF is “Southeast Asian People Solidarity for an Inclusive, Cohesive and Responsive Community.” This theme takes off from the official Asean 2020 theme—“Cohesive and Responsive Community”—adopted by the Asean Leaders as the guide in the work program of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for this year.

More debts, less development

IN the name of “debt relief” for the poor developing countries, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have been packaging debt rescheduling programs which, ironically, can lead to the accumulation of more debts by the “beneficiary” countries.

BBB: Can it rev up a flattened economy?

IN the proposed national budget for 2021, the focus is on the revival and expansion of the Covid-derailed “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program of the government. The DBM is allocating a total of P1.107 trillion for the revival of infrastructure development christened as the “Rebound” program. This amount is estimated to be equal to 5.4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Can ADB walk the talk on going green?

IN 2009, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) came up with a “clean energy agenda.” The agenda was a response to the call of UN agencies and global civil society movement for the world to phase out deadly GHG-emitting coal and fossil-based power plants, the leading cause of global warming. Unchecked, rising global temperature has been causing monstrous planetary problems such as violent storms, drought, sea rise and so on. The Philippines is in the top 5 of the world’s most vulnerable to climate change risks.

Unctad: ‘A perfect storm’ upending global production system


In a previous column, we reported the study of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), the international agency monitoring the flow of foreign direct investment across the globe, on the FDC flows this year. Their World Investment Report 2020 (June 2020) gave a dire forecast on FDI flows: decline by up to 40 percent from the 2019 aggregate value of $1.54 trillion, and a further decrease of 5 to 10 percent the following year.

Philippine participation in the GVC system  


Quo vadis Department of Trade and Industry? Does the Department still view Philippine participation in the global value chain (GVC) manufacturing of multinationals (MNCs) central in the growth of the economy? Is this participation critical in ushering recovery in these difficult Covid times?

Chasing FDI in a crumbling globalization


AT the height of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in April, Enrique Razon told ANC: “The globalization that we have now, that is over.” Razon happens to be the most global in outlook among the dozen or so Filipino taipans dominating the Philippine economy. He controls International Container Terminal Services Inc., which operates in all the continents of the world—Asia-Pacific, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Education for all being tested in Covid times


The school year 2020-2021 is extraordinary. Instruction for the Covid generation will be conducted under new teaching formats using new education technologies and tools. Hence, the education vocabulary now carries terms such as distance education, flexible learning, blended learning, online teaching, e-learning, and so on. Instead of chalks, blackboards and notebooks, students are being asked to be ready with their computers and tablets. But for those who cannot afford such gadgets, they are told not to worry because they can still get instruction via their family television and radio sets.

Essential public services for all: Govt guarantee matters


The Senate Committee on Energy headed by Sen. Win Gatchalian conducted on July 6 a hearing on the “electric shock” that Meralco and other power distribution utility firms delivered to their customers in the months of May and June. According to Chairman Agnes Devanadera, the Energy Regulatory Commission was swamped by almost 50,000 customer complaints on the inexplicable doubling, trebling, quadrupling and quintupling of their electricity bills.  

Agri protectionism in Covid times


The economic response of many countries to the Covid-19 pandemic is to close their national borders. The idea is not only to prevent the spread of the virus but also to preserve their domestic markets, industries and jobs amid a global recession. In crisis times, countries become protectionist. This was amply illustrated during the 2008-2010 global financial crisis, when governments of developed countries set aside a large amount of their stimulus budgets to save industries deemed “too big to fail” or too valuable to be taken over by outside barbarians.

Programming stimulus from civil society perspective


Like in the 2008-2010 global financial crisis, the response of most governments to the Covid-19 pandemic is to craft and implement a stimulus package. The laissez faire style of economic management has given way to the Keynesian approach, which rationalizes government intervention in the market processes. The rationale for government interventionism is to save lives, jobs and livelihoods of the people under a very uncertain and volatile environment.

UP professors’ appeal to government: Save the informals, MSMEs to avoid catastrophe


The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released last week the results for the April round of the quarterly labor force survey. There were no surprises. Only horrible numbers pointing to the sad state of unemployment and underemployment in the country under the Covid-19 pandemic. The unemployment rate reached 17.7 percent, which is comparable to the rates recorded by the country in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which were years of recovery from World War II.

Reflections on CREATE, ISI and EOI in Covid times


The government has been rushing a new package of tax reforms called Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises, originally dubbed as TRABAHO and subsequently re-christened as Citira. As advertised by the Department of Finance, CREATE should attract new investments, FDIs in particular, because the corporate income tax (CIT) is lowered at a rate comparable with those of the Asean neighbors.

Rebuilding the economy requires policy rebalancing


The Covid-19 pandemic is giving countries around the world a golden opportunity to correct the social and economic “discontents” that aimless and unregulated globalization has generated—environmental degradation and ozone-busting GHG emissions, labor precarity and informality, overt and covert wars for resources and markets, and social and economic inequality that is a direct outcome of trickle-down neoliberal growth economics. These “discontents” are amply documented by scores of development economists led by Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, and Robert Reid, former US Labor Secretary.

Growing a ‘flattened’ Philippine economy


The International Monetary Fund issued its verdict on the Covid-19-stricken global economy: worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1920s. Gita Gopinath, Chief IMF Economist, projected a growth rate of minus 3 for the world economy, a minus 6 for the developed countries, and a minus 1 for emerging and developing countries for the entire year of 2020 (“The Great Lockdown,” IMF Blog, April 14, 2020). The Philippines, one of the countries waiting for the Covid-19 infection curve to fall and flatten, belongs to the last category; it is also one of the worst hit in Asia.

A thing called society: Social protection for all


“There really is such a thing as society,” said the Covid-stricken UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his medical isolation. After his ICU recovery, Johnson thanked profusely the UK’s community of health workers and told the larger British society—repeatedly—that, “we are going to do it together.”

Conquering the virus: whole-of-government or whole-of-society approach?


IN their response to the Covid-19 threat, a number of countries have adopted a holistic whole-of-government program of slowing and containing the virus spread. Whole-of-government means different government agencies, with varying mandates, work together to combat the common enemy. Covid-19, a public health issue, is also an economic, employment, food, security and growth issue. Hence, the major departments involved in the Philippines’s Inter-Agency Task Force to prevent the spread of the dreaded virus are the Departments of Health;  Trade and Industry; Agriculture; Labor and Employment; the Interior and Local Government; and the National Economic and Development Authority.

Covid-19: Where are the safety nets for the working poor?


The Covid-19 pandemic has a way of making visible the plight of the nation’s working poor. They are the hardest hit by the government’s lockdown decision.  Locking up the working poor in their homes or residential areas is like a prison sentence. On TV, you see them pleading with the police and the military, explaining why they need to go out and work despite the threat of getting the dreaded virus. They ask: which is worse—dying from starvation or getting infected by the coronavirus?