Aquino vetoes bill setting P3 trillion for poor

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He could have signed it into law and scored brownie points. But without a P3.044-trillion budget to fulfill the basic needs of the poor right away, the government would have been haled to court.

This in essence was President Benigno Aquino III’s reason for vetoing 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.

Facing reporters, the President on Monday said that when the legislation was forwarded to his table for signing, he realized that the government did not have sufficient funds to immediately carry out even one of the five basic needs.

Mr. Aquino said that 5-million social housing units alone would cost the government P2.320 trillion, way more than this year’s P2.006-trillion national budget.

This year, the government could program only P600 billion for social housing and that doesn’t even include food, jobs, education and health services yet, he said.

“In other words, I could have played cute. I could have signed this into law, and earned brownie points, but I know the government wouldn’t be able to meet this,” Mr. Aquino told reporters after speaking at the anniversary celebration of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines in Pasay City.

In the end, the head of the National Housing Authority would face charges in court from people whose homes have not been built, or for not paying the rent of beneficiaries pending the construction of their homes, the President said.

Lack of funds

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said providing for the key programs in each of the five basic rights would cost some P3.044 trillion.

“Keeping in mind that our 2013 budget comes to P2.006 trillion, that is way beyond our capacity to provide. That is why the President had the law vetoed and promised to substitute a more fiscally viable and practical version of the Magna Carta for the Poor,” Abad said in a text message.

Lawmakers had high hopes Mr. Aquino would enact this into law. Congress approved it in early February ahead of the start of the campaign period for the May 13 national elections.

‘Progressive realization’

After a review, the President said he discovered that the measure did not carry the phrase “progressive realization” of the poor’s rights, and this made all the difference.

This phrase is clearly enunciated in the International Covenant on Economic Culture and Social Rights, of which the Philippines is a signatory, he said.

The measure spells out the rights of the poor: right to food; right to employment and livelihood; right to quality education; right to shelter and right to basic health services and medicine.

And as part of its duty, the government would provide “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.”

‘Demandable’

“While reading it, we found out that the phrase ‘progressive realization’ wasn’t there. That means, we have to fully realize these rights of each of our countrymen living below the poverty threshold, which is estimated to be 26 percent of the 95 million Filipinos,” Mr. Aquino said.

The housing provision alone “is demandable” and has to be carried out immediately, he pointed out.

“If only they have put the ‘progressive realization’ in, which was in the covenant, we won’t have any problem here. But if I signed it, and we’re aware the government couldn’t accomplish it, then I’d be deceiving my bosses, and I can’t do that,” he said.

He could have signed it and delayed its implementation until the next administration comes in, but this would have been unfair.

“Our corrective action is that we’ve directed the Social Cluster to draw up a substitute measure that we will give to the next Congress, and hopefully, that they will act upon with haste,” he said.

The Magna Carta for the Poor was expected to institutionalize the government’s main antipoverty program, such as the conditional cash transfer.

The Magna Carta for the Poor describes the poor as those whose income falls below the poverty threshold defined by the National Economic and Development Authority, and the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

The measure mandates the government to ensure adequate and decent employment and living wage for the basic sector workers, farmers-peasants, artisanal fisherfolk, and other indigents, among others.

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