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Third presidential debate: Issues to be discussed

MANILA, Philippines — The five presidential candidates will share the same stage for the last time for the third and last presidential debate on Sunday night.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and administration bet Manual "Mar" Roxas II are expected to discuss issues and answer questions on:

Read up on the issues see whether the candidates can adequately propose policies that can address them once seated.

Traffic and transportation

The Philippines ranked fifth among countries with worst traffic conditions, garnering a traffic index score of 201.31, according to the online database Numbeo’s Traffic Index for 2015 Mid-Year Report.

The index estimates time spent by motorists during commute, dissatisfaction, carbon dioxide emission, as well as inefficiencies in the traffic system.  Numbeo’s Traffic Index for 2016 Report also showed that the Philippines placed sixth as the country with worst traffic condition based on the cost of living.

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For senior advisor of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, John Forbes, if the annual car growth continues to significantly increase by 2020, and the road or other infrastructures are not upgraded immediately, the traffic mess can make Metro Manila “uninhabitable” within four years. But government does not seem to be listening. In August 2015, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya earned negative criticisms for saying that Metro Manila’s traffic is “at least not fatal.”

The Department of Transportation and Communications and other transport agencies such as Land Transportation Office, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Metro Manila Development Authority, Manila International Airport Authority, and Department of Public Works and Highways, under the Aquino administration are also being slammed for several inconveniences the mass transportation brings. 

These traffic and transport issues include trains derailed, lack of coaches for the Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit, erring traffic enforcers, anomalous maintenance deals, bullet-planting in airports, and power glitches, among others.

To ease the commuter’s traffic and transportation woes, the Aquino government identified the six choke points on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), where traffic congestion is heavier, and re-deployed the Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group to manage traffic EDSA.

 The government also implemented stricter bus lanes, launched point to point bus for foreign and local commuters and even persons with disabilities, and ordered no-contact policy in catching erring motorists, among others.

Last April 20, the MRT-7 project broke ground to stir development along its 22-kilometer elevated railway with 12 stations in Quezon City which is also vital for connecting the city to Central Luzon.

Foreign policy

Republic Act 7157 or the Philippine Foreign Service Act of 1991 mandates the Department of Foreign Affairs to implement the three pillars of the Philippine Foreign Policy:

  • Preservation and enhancement of national security
  • Promotion and attainment of economic security
  • Protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare and interest of Filipino overseas

In its bid to preserve and enhance national security, the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China before a United Nations court, challenging the latter's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. China, however, refused to participate in the proceedings and insisted that they have indisputable sovereignty over the disputed waters.

National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia earlier said that the territorial dispute have overtaken all security issues in the country's hierarchy of national security concerns. The international tribunal is expected to issue a ruling on the Philippines' case against China by May.

The Philippines has gained support from the international community following its arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, Netherlands.

The United States, along with member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have called for a peaceful resolution of the maritime dispute in the region.

There have been reports that China had deployed surface-to-air missiles and had been building radars in some of the features at the Spratly Group of Islands in the South China. Beijing has also recently dispatched a military aircraft to Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed sea. The Department of National Defense noted that China's recent actions are "definitely provocative."

On the other hand, remittances from overseas Filipino workers have provided a steady source of dollar earnings of the country. An estimated 10.4 million ethnic Filipinos live abroad, 2.3 million or 22 percent of them are overseas Filipinos, according the Philippine Statistical Authority's "Survey on Overseas Filipinos 2013."

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported that cash remittances went up to 3.6 percent to $22.83 billion in the first 11 months of 2015 from $22.08 billion. However, the growth still fell short of the target set by the BSP.

RELATED: OFWs: Who they are, where they work, and what they do

OFWs

Around 440,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are back in the country, while domestic unemployment is lower.

This was highlighted by President Benigno Aquino III in his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year.

According to the president, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported in 2011 that there were around 9.51 million overseas Filipinos. In December 2014 the number went down to 9.07 million. Despite the returnees, the unemployment rate still dropped to 6.8 percent in 2014, he added.

At the heart of the president’s statement is the argument that his administration is on-track in achieving inclusive growth — simply put, ensuring that the poor too have food on their table — one of the goals of the Aquino presidency.

"Let me be clear: We created permanent jobs; we did not hire an abundance of street sweepers during the period the labor survey was conducted, just to boost results," Aquino said.

But citing data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), migrant group Migrante said the average number of Filipinos deployed overseas per day grew from 4,018 in 2010 to 6,092 in 2015, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

The group said that unemployment and low wages in the country are cited as the main reasons that push Filipinos to work abroad.

Mary Jane Veloso’s story was the same, where her search for a better life led to a death row conviction in Indonesia after falling victim to drug traffickers.

Veloso’s predicament also brought back to memory the case of Flor Contemplacion, an OFW executed in Singapore for murder more than two decades ago. Contemplacion’s story also brought to the fore the different rights abuses many OFWs experience.

OFW remittances have been a main driver of growth in the country. It has grown from $20 billion in 2010 to almost $30 billion in 2015. And Commission on Elections (Comelec) data showed that 737,759 overseas Filipinos were registered to vote in 2013, while it jumped to more than 1.3 million in 2016.

Concerns such as abuse and maltreatment or being underpaid might be top of mind for OFWs in choosing leaders. But underlying the issue of labor migration is the availability of sustainable, regular, and secure jobs in the country.

Mindanao

The signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front -- and a separate, earlier agreement with the Moro Nationalist Liberation Front -- are just the first steps to bringing development to conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.

The Aquino administration, primarily through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao government, has been spending on bringing social services, infrastructure projects and livelihood programs to the less developed parts of Mindanao.

The approach is meant to address poverty and a feeling of being forgotten by government that can lead to conflict and to recruitment by extremist groups.

Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II plans to continue the Aquino administration's approach. At the presidential debate in Cagayan de Oro last month, he said the administration focused on Mindanao more than past administrations have.

He has also pledged to make passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law a priority if he is elected into office.

Sen. Grace Poe, meanwhile, has promised 30 percent of the national budget -- around P1 trillion -- for projects in Mindanao. She said the money will be used to build more roads, bridges and dams, and to pay for agricultural assistance programs. She said the infrastructure programs will also provide jobs in the southern Philippines.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, whom his party says will be the next president and the first one from Mindanao, has been promising a form of federalism to allow local governments far from the capital to decide on what their constituents need and how to best develop their areas.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, who has warned that there can be no peace in Mindanao with Duterte as president, has promised to build a "Malacanang" in Mindanao.

He has also promised to give poor towns in Mindanao a bigger share of the taxes collected by the national government and to provide a better business environment for investors in agriculture and manufacturing. Like Poe, he has promised better access to government services and more infrastructure projects.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has said the BBL may have provisions that are in conflict with the 1987 Constitution, does not specifically mention Mindanao in her action plan. She did not say much about specific plans for Mindanao at the Cagayan de Oro debate either. She emphasized that electing a competent leader is the best way to bring development to Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines.

Job security

While records show that jobless rate has thinned since President Benigno Aquino III assumed power in 2010, unemployment remains a persistent problem for the sprawling Philippines which has a population of 102.4 million at the end of 2015.

Data from the January 2016 Labor Force Survey made by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that there was a decline in the unemployment rate to 5.8 percent in January from 6.6 percent in the same period last year.

The number of employed Filipinos climbed two percent to 39.2 million in January with an estimated 752,000 additional jobs between January 2015 and January 2016.

“Our labor market was boosted by better employment opportunities in the industry and services sectors. This performance also brought the unemployment rate to its second lowest in the decade, with the lowest recorded in October last year,” said Economic Planning Secretary and NEDAchief Emmanuel Esguerra.

But survey taken by the Social Weather Stations Inc. in December 2015 showed that about 9.1 million Filipinos – nearly a tenth of the population – are jobless.

Generating meaningful jobs for an ever-expanding population has been a challenge for many years.In three of the past five years, the number of Filipinos entering the job market has been greater than the number of jobs created.

Data from the PSA revealed that an estimated 2.4 million Filipinos during the period of April to September 2015 are working overseas because of the lack of decent jobs in the country.

The problem on the labor front is not only limited to employment figures.

Based on the latest results of the Family Income and Expenditure Survey, about a fifth or 21.1 percent of Filipino families were considered poor for earning less than the P9,140 average income needed to meet their basic needs in a month.

To ensure that the labor and employment situation will continue to improve, Esguerra said students should be equipped with skills relevant to industries looking for manpower.

The NEDA chief also addressed the loss of employment in the agriculture sector which recorded a net employment loss of 935,000 during the reference period due to El Niño phenomenon.

“Agriculture accounts for over a quarter of total employment. This highlights the need to further improve the resiliency of farmers to mitigate effects of unfavorable weather conditions such as the El Niño which may persist until May 2016. Also, enhancing skills and improving capacities of affected farm workers is important for them to have a smoother transition to more stable work,” Esguerra added. — Kristine Bersamina, Jonathan de Santos, Levi A. So, Patricia Lourdes Viray and Rosette Adel

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