Where do leading Senate bets stand on key economic issues?
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Every candidate claims to be pro-poor, but is this reflected in how they look at and intend to help address poverty?
We tracked where senatorial candidates leading in surveys stand on key policy issues that affect the poor. (READ: [ANALYSIS] 6 economic issues senatorial bets ought to be talking about)
It's apparent in the table that not all bets have a clear say on key economic issues.
Philippine Institute for Development Studies senior research fellow Roehlano Briones told Rappler that they're simply playing safe. "And if you're not confident you can field questions about it so might as well don't put out a platform. You coast along on your popularity, on your good looks, on your celebrity [status]," he added.
"That’s the reason why they have very little incentive to take a risk on making their stand clear on particular economic issues that will potentially cost votes. They know they can already get the votes from people who don’t really care about the content of their platforms."
However, most of the leading Senate bets are not neophytes in politics and therefore have a track record on where they stand on policies that affect households and incomes.
The likes of Jinggoy Estrada, Lito Lapid, and Bong Revilla, who had taken a break from politics, had previously filed bills related to these issues or said they had planned to during their term.
Lapid, who served in the Senate for two consecutive terms from 2004 until 2016, simply said that he will continue where he left off when he filed his certificate of candidacy. Lapid previously filed bills to improve the agriculture sector and another bill requiring “large" taxpaying companies to commit to corporate social responsibility programs.
Revilla, hounded by a plunder case, initially was in favor of sin tax, or the additional tax on tobacco products and alcohol. But he backpedalled and voted against the bicameral version, an ABS-CBN report showed. According to his profile at the Senate of the Philippines website, Revilla in his earlier term wanted to speed up the completion of infrastructure projects, amend the Labor Code, and pass education reforms.
Estrada, facing plunder charges like Revilla, pushed for laws concerning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and the education sector. Estrada is also against the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.
Pia Cayetano, another candidate vying to win back a seat the Senate, is known for her policies centered on health and women in her previous term, such as the extended maternity leave and Republic Act (RA) No. 10354 or the Reproductive Health law. (READ: Feminists slam Duterte, Pia Cayetano for 'enabling' misogyny)
For this current election, Cayetano said that she will work on laws for Filipino families. In an ABS-CBN report, Cayetano said she is in favor of a monthly compensation for the poorest housewives, which is already covered by a bill filed by Albay Representative Joey Salceda.
How about the ex-cop and ex-aide?
As for newbies attempting to enter the Senate, former Philippine National Police Chief Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa and ex-Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go have general declarations on which policies they want to pursue.
Go began his pro-poor stance with the launch of his Malasakit Centers. Go has been vague about the execution of his platforms such as his claim about helping farmers, except for his call to have a separate department for OFW concerns.
Dela Rosa, who based his platform on deterring crimes by reinstating death penalty, admitted that dealing with economic issues such as inflation is not his expertise. But he said that he will be hiring researchers and experts to make up for this inadequacy.
Imee Marcos, who also served as Ilocos Norte governor, said she will support tobacco farmers and wants to remove the excise tax on tobacco. However, she also got dragged in a scandal over her alleged misuse of the tobacco fund.
Marcos is pitching for the revival of Kadiwa market system and will ask the Sugar Regulatory Administration to aid sugarcane farmers by building government-owned and controlled sugar mills. Marcos, in an interview with dzRH called the TRAIN law a "nuisance" and pushed for food security. She also called for the exclusion of medicines from the value-added tax (VAT).
Making up half of the leading bets, the reelectionists' stand on key economic issues can be traced to how they voted on certain laws, particularly the TRAIN law.
Senator Cynthia Villar is a known advocate of agriculture and the environment. Villar also has her own livelihood projects through the Villar SIPAG foundation. However, she sponsored the controversial bill that led to RA No. 11203 or the rice tariffication law, which rice industry stakeholders feared would lead to the loss of jobs. She also stood by her decision on signing the TRAIN law, a legislation some sectors believed worsened the inflation. (READ: [OPINION] Higher inflation: Is TRAIN to blame?)
Senator Grace Poe is also running on a pro-poor platform, pushing for feeding programs. She kicked off her 2019 election campaign with a feeding program for public school students. Poe has also raised the issue of Chinese workers in the Philippines.
Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara championed the controversial TRAIN law, and this stand has been used by those campaigning against him. Despite standing by tax reform, which affected public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers due to higher fuel prices, Angara backed the sector when he called for a probe into the PUV Modernization Program. Angara also advocates for education reforms and micro, small and medium enterprises.
In a Philippine Star report, Senator Nancy Binay said she will be focusing on the tourism industry if reelected. Binay also took a stand against the presence of Chinese workers in the Philippines and called on the administration to deal with the contractualization in government.
Staunch federalism advocate Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III also favors the administration's pivot to China and all the supposed economic benefits that it will bring. Pimentel also did not question the issue of having a Chinese firm partner with Uy-led Udenna Corporation to establish a third telecommunication player.
Opposition Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, who is so far the only member of Otso Diresto in the surveys' so-called Magic Circle of 12, has highlighted education reform as his main agenda and as part of the 8-point platform of the slate.
Aside from this, Aquino is also pushing for a Department for Water, the lowering of electricity rates by removing its VAT, and a review of the Security of Tenure Bill. In his previous term, Aquino also co-authored and sponsored the national feeding program.
Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said he will focus on infrastructure and railway development should he be reelected. Ejercito voted in favor for the TRAIN law, but later called for its suspension. He previously made statements related to labor, helping farmers, as well as utilities, suggesting during a CNN Philippines debate that the government should invest in finding new sources of water and reviewing the privatization of power plants.
Briones said voters deserve more than broad statements on policy issues.
"If you fall into vague generalities, [it's] either you have something that may not be true – because everyone can claim to be pro-poor – but the execution may be wrong because you failed to consider the costs of the decision," Briones said.
"These candidates should enter the Senate with the knowledge already. The responsibility of crafting laws is given to them and that has a lot of scope," he said.
But who can blame them for not even trying?
Dela Rosa said in a CNN Philippines interview that voters like to be entertained.
Briones agreed. "All voters want is to eat, to see a good show, to see celebrities and a few dancing here and there. If that would be the basis for the votes, why should the candidate try to educate the electorate?" – Rappler.com