“Aquino’s policies like privatization of public utilities do not fight poverty but deepen it.”

This was labor and human rights group, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights reaction to a recent statement issued by Pres. Aquino saying that in line with Pope Francis’ calls, the government is already doing its job to combat poverty through the conditional cash transfer program.

The group said that Aquino seemed to have missed if not ignored Pope Francis’ message about striking inequalities, poverty and corruption which the Pontiff consistently emphasized during his 4-day visit to the Philippines.

“His Holiness did not speak of the past, but the present government when He said that ‘we need to transform social structures that perpetuate poverty.’ Yet, instead of recognizing this, Aquino took pride in combating poverty through the CCT program that is seeing an increase in budget even if it failed to make a dent in reducing the number of poor,”  Daisy Arago, CTUHR executive director said

The group then slammed the Aquino government’s privatization of public utilities and services as highlighted by the water rate hike and MRT-LRT fare hikes just as everyone was preparing for the Papal visit.

“The government gives alms to the poor through CCT but cut their means to survive independently. Aquino’s privatization policies and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program not only violate the people’s right to basic services and utilities, they dispossess them and buried them deeper into poverty. The recent fare hikes in MRT and LRT for instance, take the income of millions of working poor who depend on it for cheap transportation and millions more families  will be forced to limit their water use as rate increases,” Arago explained.

LRT and MRT fares increased by 50 to 87 percent which means 400 to 900-peso addition to the monthly expenses of each worker who use the train to go to and from work. Similarly, water bills will increase monthly household expenses with the recent approval of Maynilad’s rate hike proposal.

The group said that while the working poor are made to bear these fare and rate hikes, big companies are left unscathed and are guaranteed more profits.

According to Bayan Muna, the MRT earned P2.2 billion in ticket sales and only spent P1.8 billion in operation expenses last year.  LRT earned 2.5 billion but only spent 1.03 billion for operation expenses. The government is also reported to have allocated over P11 billion pesos for the maintenance, rehabilitation and subsidies of the train lines this 2015 that will mostly go to private operators.

The fare increase for MRT and LRT, according to the government, is not for railway system’s repair and rehabilitation but will go to private companies who operate the train lines as part of their guaranteed returns.

Moreover, private companies that distribute water in the Metro have seen increased profits. According to Ibon Foundation, Maynilad grew by 48 percent yearly 2007 to 2012 and Manila Water, by more than 15 percent in the same period.

“Throughout his term, Aquino has been pushing for policies that benefit only the rich by passing the burden to the poor majority. Perhaps, the challenge to fight poverty as posed by Pope Francis is not for the government to hear, but a call to the Filipino people to speak out, to reclaim our collective rights to basic services that are being taken away by big companies and a government that treat the poor not just unfairly, but a variable in the game of power and money,” Arago said.###