Magna Carta

On March 25, President Benigno Aquino III vetoed the Magna Carta for the Poor, a measure that mandates the government to immediately provide homes, food, jobs, education, and health care for the country's 25 million poor. It is the duty of government, as stated in the bill, to satisfy the requirements, conditions, and opportunities for the full enjoyment of these rights of the poor and which the poor can demand as a matter of right.

He justified the exercise of his veto power since it is unrealistic to provide the basic needs of the poor without the R3,044-trillion budget which the government must allocate. He lamented the absence of the phrase ''progressive realization'' enunciated in the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights of which the Philippines is a signatory. He said that ''I could have played cute. I could have signed this into law and earned brownie points, but I know that government wouldn't be able to meet this.'' The alternative and corrective measure that he proposed is for the Social Cluster of the Cabinet to draw up a substitute measure for the next Congress to consider.

It is for this purpose that we present the following conceptual framework as the alternative solution to the Magna Carta for the Poor.

The term informal sector in the framework is defined to be similar or synonymous to entrepreneurial poor, microfinance clients referred to in the book ''Delivering to the Poor: A Search for Successful Practices in Philippine Microfinance,'' written by a research team at the Asian Institute of Management. This pertains to non-agricultural enterprises engaged in ''petty trading and vending ... and a variety of livelihoods and service activities such as food processing, livestock raising, sewing, hairdressing and manicure services, weaving, and making clay products.'' To determine how large it is, a survey can be done as part of the ongoing 2012 Census of Philippine Business and Industry.

Dr. Gerardo Sicat, former director-general of the National Economic and Development

Authority (NEDA), once mentioned in his column that the informal sector is the employment ''sponge'' of the economy. Those who cannot find work in the organized formal sector often end up as participants in this low-income sector and this condition usually persists for a long period of time. However, Dr. Sicat observed that there are two major elements in the informal economy - the traditional, low-productivity sector, which often shrinks in the face of successful economic growth, and the modernizing component, which improves in size as economic success proceeds. The latter is similar to the entrepreneurial poor mentioned above.

There are several reasons why the government is interested in integrating the informal sector with the formal sector. The informal sector can be a source of income considering that it is a substantial group, accounting for 49% of the labor force, which serves as a conduit between the formal sector and the poor sectors of society. It also serves as a regulatory and control mechanism of the economy to ensure that the sector observes proper handling of food services, that it exercises a keen watch on proper sanitation and that it abides by relevant rules and regulations at all times. It can also serve the purpose of traceability to identify where the informal workers reside, work, and what kind of jobs they are engaged in.

On the other hand, there are advantages/benefits for the informal sector to be integrated with the formal sector such as access to grants, banks and financial institutions and productive resources, defense from unexpected occurrences and natural or/and man-made disasters and calamities, and protection from unscrupulous and corrupt authorities and/or legal protection from violations of its rights.

In view of the identified realities, there are factors that hinder the integration of the informal sector with the formal sector. There are too many documentary requirements imposed by the government such as residence certificate, certificate tax payment, and many more which are unnecessary and irrelevant to its activities. A greater hindrance is the exorbitant fees which it has to pay considering its irregular source of income and capacity to pay. Aside from these, the benefits that are given to it are unattractive such as minimum health coverage and absence of provision of medicine. Finally, there are existing legal impediments such as the absence of a legal environment that reduces the costs of opening and operating businesses, lack of legal protection and assurance of contract enforcement.

Considering the existence of the aforementioned conditions, there is a need to establish a transition period for both the government and the informal sector. This is the period when the government can assess its policies of effectively bringing the informal sector into the social and economic mainstream to protect its rights and reduce its vulnerability, promulgation of laws that can address the issues of recognition, promotion of forms of compromise and respect and accommodation of its representational rights at the local level.

Furthermore, it is during this period that the government should officially recognize the existence of the informal sector. There is a need for more focus and attention from the government about the economic influence of the informal sector in the social milieu. There should also be a clear and consistent policy approach to this particular sector.

At the same time, the period of transition is needed to give enough time for the informal sector to impress upon the government that it should be formally recognized on the basis of its contribution to the national economy, to work for the elimination of bias and discrimination of the government against it and to overcome the hindrances and barriers towards its integration with the formal sector. This is the period between the desire and need for the informal sector to integrate with the formal sector and its actual integration. (To be continued)

To supersede the veto of President Aquino, it is suggested that we scrap the Magna Carta for the Poor and instead propose a Magna Carta for the Informal Sector/Entrepreneurial Poor and provide it with basic social protection schemes such as education, housing and health which will free the government from an excessive budgetary allocation.

The right to have access to quality education, which will eventually provide livelihood opportunities, will be covered by the K-to-12 program that focuses on technical-vocational courses at the Grades 11 and 12 level. Technical and vocational courses, although looked down upon by many students who prefer degree courses, are one answer, among others, to poverty and will lead to the promotion of the quality of life, according to the UNESCO-UNEVOC 2004 Bonn Declaration. Prior to this declaration, however, the Philippines had already recognized the need for this program and it was for this reason that in 1994, Republic Act 7796, the Technical Education and Skills Development Act, was promulgated.

Sixty percent of graduates of technical and vocational courses, based on statistical data, have a shorter and easier time to get employment since there is a demand for skilled workers here and abroad. Schools involved in the teaching and promotion of technical and vocational quality education courses are MFI Foundation (formerly Meralco Foundation), Don Bosco Technical College, and Dual Technology Training Center Foundation, Inc. These schools can help train public school teachers involved in the K-to-12 program. Popular technical-vocational courses are caregiving, practical nursing, cosmetology, dressmaking, housekeeping, computer repair and servicing, dental technology, programming, welding, to name a few. Ordinarily, these courses last from six months to one year. And some of these courses will be offered in the K-to-12 program.

In the housing sector, the government is expected to develop and implement well targeted and responsive subsidy schemes that will provide decent housing with the least financial burden. For this purpose, the Community Mortgage Program (CMP) can be officially adopted as a component of the National Shelter Program. The program assists legally organized associations of underprivileged and homeless citizens ''to purchase and develop tracts of land and to own lots they occupy or where they choose to relocate to, under the concept of community ownership.''

The CMP, managed by the Social Housing Finance Corporation, is now being used for housing development in both rural and urban areas. All that the informal sector has to do, after identifying the piece of property it wants to occupy, is to be organized into a homeowner or community association and submit all the necessary documentary requirements of the program. The program covers public lands and private properties, the amortization rate is affordable, and the loan payment is for 25 years.

Finally, the right to basic health services should be recognized by local government units, which should ensure and promote the health of the people, particularly the provision of basic health services. The Department of Health should provide a highly specialized level of health care and technical assistance to local government units, people's organizations, and other civil society members to participate in the effective implementation of programs that will promote the health and well-being of every Filipino. The government health insurance programs should be increased, expanded, and liberalized to include socialized basic health services and provision of medicines for the poor to be handled by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth).

Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights mandates the state to ''...take steps... to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including participatory adoption of legislative measures.'' This is the principle of progressive realization, which acknowledges that some rights, such as the right to health, may be difficult in practice to achieve in a short period of time and that the state may be subject to resource constraints but it is required to act within its means.

This proposal supports the aforementioned principle by eliminating the big budget and unnecessary expenses required in the Magna Carta for the Poor and recommends that the informal sector/entrepreneurial poor, on their own initiative, take advantage of the basic social protection schemes provided by the government such as technical and vocational courses offered in the public school system (as preparation for livelihood opportunities), provision of cheap but comfortable housing units under the community mortgage program and universal health insurance and services, and thereby help themselves sustain decent survival and well-being.

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