Philippines

Social Watch Philippines, together with a number of Filipino academics and civil society representatives, present a policy matrix that identifies urgent issues, provides analyses and outlines recommendations on trade and development from a wide range of actors from civil society, the academe, and private sector in time for the preparatory process leading to the UNCTAD XV Conference to be held in Barbados from 18 to 23 October 2020.

In the Philippines, the preparation of the country's VNR report 2019 catalysed a multi-stakeholder consultation process to which some CSOs, like Social Watch Philippines (SWP) were invited. SWP, in turn, convened a broader consultation process that will result both in inputs to the VNR as well as in an independent civil society report.

The Philippines is currently one of the fastest growing economies of the world, with GDP hovering around 6 to 7 percent in 2018 and growing at an average of almost 5 percent a year in the last decade, but those figures coexist with a high poverty rate, a paradox situation called ‘jobless growth’.

SWP comments that “there seems to be an unspoken yet dominant perspective on wealth, that as long as poverty is minimized, there should be no objection to the unbridled gains of the rich. It is assumed that wealth will trickle down to the poorest.

In an event in 10 July 2019, Social Watch Philippines (SWP) led a discussion called, “Conversation on Tobacco Control Initiatives, Impact of 17th Congress Tobacco Tax Increase, and Universal Health Care- Implementing Rules and Regulations” where the SWP Spotlight Report for 2019 on the SDGs entitled “The PH SDG Agenda: Closing Gaps, Overcoming Policy Incoherence” and the Philippine VNR were discussed by SWP Co-Convenor Dr. Maria Victoria Raquiza and the National Economic and Development Authority Usec. Rosemarie G. Edillon, PhD respectively. Three years ago, SWP has also made its statement on SDGs, through its Spotlight Report, on overcoming poverty and achieving sustainable development.

The upcoming 2019 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July in New York with the theme, “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality,” spurred Social Watch Philippines (SWP) and other organizations like the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), Save the Children, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA), Plan International, Philippine Social Enterprise Network (PhilSen), Tebtebba, Voice of the Free, and Fair Trade Alliance among others, to organize a broader CSO consultation workshop to catalyze a process for civil society organizations (CSO) from different sectors towards engaging the Philippine government on the Voluntary National Review (VNR). With the support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Save the Children Philippines and Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), a consultation workshop Towards Coherent Policies for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Philippines: Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Inputs to the Voluntary National Review (VNR) was held on February 7 to 8, 2019 in Quezon City, Philippines participated by around 70 representatives of different civil society organizations.

The Philippine Congress, particularly the Senate, has a handful of days left to pass important legislation. One of the urgent bills that the Senate should pass is the increase in the tobacco tax rate.

The Executive has strongly endorsed the bill of Senator Manny Pacquiao and has even certified its urgency. Pacquiao’s bill proposes a tax rate of P60 (against the current rate of P35). Subsequently, the rate increases by 9% annually to keep cigarettes less affordable in light of rising income and inflation. Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and JV Ejercito have bills that introduce higher rates — P70 and P90, respectively.

Under the motto "Imagining Gani", Social Watch Philippines gave tribute last March 11 to Isagani Serrano, who passed away last February 22nd. Gani was a Co-Convenor of Social Watch Philippines and a contributor to the national Social Watch reports for several years. He was president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and author of numerous papers and reports on climate and social justice.

Roberto Bissio, from the international secretariat of Social Watch, contributed a personal testimony: "Guiding Gani through Montevideo at his first visit to my hometown was not an easy a task, as his curiosity was insatiable. He definitely had to visit the places where tango was born, and impressed me with his knowledge of the songs and biography of the legendary singer Carlos Gardel. And he insisted on visiting the old jail of Punta Carretas, then already transformed into a shopping center, out of which over a hundred political prisoners escaped in the early seventies through a tunnel. "That episode costed me six months of solitary confinement" remembered Gani to my surprise. In those times Gani was a prisoner himself in the Philippines "and when we heard the news of the tupamaros escaping, we started digging ourselves... but got caught!"

Gani passed away last February 22nd. Gani was a Co-Convenor of Social Watch Philippines and a contributor to the national Social Watch reports for several years. As a president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), visit http://www.prrm.org/isagani-r-serrano.html.

In the Philippines, with a huge mandate to back it up, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte (locally referred to as “DU30”) set off on a long-term goal consistent with the 2030 Agenda, promising to end poverty by 2040 and building a more fair, prosperous, stable and peaceful society through inclusive economic growth that minds environmental limits.

Two years down the road, Isagani Serrano, president of the Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement and a convener of Social Watch Philippines, reports that “DU30 appears on track with its 7-8 percent annual economic growth target because of a massive ‘build, build, build' infrastructure programme accounting for 5.4 percent of GDP in 2017. The negative impact of this programme, specifically conversion to other land uses of already diminishing farmlands, is still to be determined. But the fossil fuel- intensive infrastructure and power programmes and projects could reverse modest gains achieved in environmental protection and rehabilitation.”

The experience of Voluntary National Reviews and of Civil Society shadow (or spotlight) reporting.
How it is key for meaningful participation and accountability

The side event "SDG Implementation at National Level: What’s the Point of National Reports?" was held on July 17 in New York, during the meeting of the High Level Political Forum of the UN. The debate focused on voluntary national reports (VNRs) and parallel “shadow” or “spotlight” reports generated by civil society organizations (CSOs) on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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