The Strong(arm) Republic: APL Comments on Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address

Hindi tayo binigo ni Gloria! She said the things that we would expect a traditional politician like her would say in a SONA address: half-truths; misleading and unsubstantiated statements; minor achievements blown out of proportion; downright lies; and a lot of promises!

The State of Gloria’s Imagination

GMA’s claim that internationally “the Philippines is back on the map” and that our country has “the third best performing economy in Asia and the best in southeast Asia” flies in the face of reality! Such claims mean nothing in a situation where the country has continually ranked first in unemployment rate in Asia since 1998.[1] As of April this year, 4.866 million or 13.9% of workers are unemployed. According to a recent POPCOM report, 40% are now living below poverty line. That means four out of 10 Filipinos lived on less than P38 a day![2]

Her claims that her land reform and housing programs was a success is grossly misleading! While the 103% accomplishment based on her SONA target may grab headlines, the 104,261 hectares distributed for land reform is, in reality, the lowest achievement of an administration since 1998![3] It is a case of setting the target so low that one does not have to do much to surpass it! (See Table 1) Table 1: DAR’s LAD ANNUAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS, 1996-2001
YEAR/ADMINISTRATION AREA DISTRIBUTED
(in hectares)
1988 (Aquino) 135,693
1989 111,665
1990 183,062
1991 279,892
1992 (Aquino/Ramos) 260,040
1993 (Ramos) 407,680
1994 433,678
1995 289,324
1996 300,195
1997 (Ramos/Estrada) 210,326
1998 (Estrada) 137,358
1999 132,069
2000 110,478
2001 (Arroyo) 104,261
Source: DAR March 2002

The same goes for her housing program. Last year, GMA promised to provide affordable housing to the Filipino people. She vowed to provide 100,000 housing units for workers 50,000 houses for the marginalized. She even promised P20 billion for home financing within the year. She claims 100% accomplishment in this area. But that amounts to nothing considering the fact that the housing backlog is at 4.5 million! [4] Not to mention that the P20 billion she promised did not materialize. As it turned out, the money she was eyeing was supposed to come from workers’ pockets (savings in Pag-Ibig)! It’s a good thing we managed to stop her lackey, Mike Defensor, from dipping his hands into this fund! Bakit manngagawa ang gagastos para sa pagpapaganda ni Gloria?

Gloria’s claim that her comprehensive 10-point plan has reduced power costs from being the 2nd most expensive in Asia to being the 6th was meant to mislead the people into thinking that she has finally fixed the problem! What she failed to mention was that her “comprehensive plan” continues to honor the onerous contracts with the IPPs! And as long as that is the case, we would still end up paying more than we should! And let us not forget that it was Gloria who privatized the power sector!

Of course Gloria failed to mention anything about water rates which have gone up by more than 200% compared to its pre-privatization level. After all, her government intends to kowtow to the demands of the Lopezes and the Ayalas to grant their petitions for rate increases including rate re-basing anytime soon!

Then she also forgot to mention anything about the curtailment of workers’ and trade union rights, the continuing illegal demolitions in urban poor areas, and other instances of anti-people policies!

So when she claimed that the “immediate crises have been resolved,” one wonders, which country’s situation was she describing?

Walang Gloria sa Pagbabalik ng mga Kano!

When Gloria claimed that our country has “gained powerful allies in our domestic war against terrorism,” she must have been dreaming when she added that, “I am certain that our increased international visibility will continue generating capital inflows for the Philippines.” Instead of gaining credibility and security for the country by embracing the US-led “war on terrorism”, it is very likely that the opposite is the case. After all, the “military response has deepened the alienation of the Filipino Muslims and the expanding US military presence in the South is likely to bring us into confrontation with our Muslim neighbors in Indonesia and Malaysia.”[5] It is, as another writer puts it, a “tripwire (patibong) to a bigger, internationalized war!” GMA seems to have conveniently ignored the fact that the conflict in Mindanao is rooted in the historical, political, economic and cultural injustices against our Muslim brothers that has spawned widespread poverty and social exclusion – the roots of terrorism!

Of course she did not mention anything about the numerous violations of human rights committed during the course of joint US-RP military exercises in Basilan!

To top it all, by saying that “we shall enhance our strategic relationship with the United States through continuing training exercises to sharpen our soldiers’ capabilities,” Gloria effectively confirmed what we have always warned the public against: that the “US troops will be staying here longer; they will be more directly involved in combat; and a new agreement for permanent US military access will be up for approval soon.”[6]

Indeed, if there is any achievement that Gloria can truly claim credit for, it is the fact that her government has thrown back the country to the fetters of US colonialism. And there is a simple word that can best describe her brand of diplomacy… subservience!

A Strong Republic?

If Gloria’s presentation of the state of the nation was partly incomplete and misleading and partly fictitious, her prescription for a “strong republic” is at best a confused idea, at worst a hint of dangerous direction!

She said that a strong republic is marked by “independence from class and sectoral interests so that it stands for the interests of the people rather than of a powerful minority.” This statement is devoid of any structural understanding of this country’s poverty! No one wants to be poor. People are poor because they are kept in that condition, violently in most cases, by those that enjoy the fruits of their labor – the rich minority! Thus to be able to stand “for the interest of the people rather than that of the powerful minority,” government, or the republic as she puts it, would have to stand behind the interest of the poor! And this she confirmed by saying, “Ang malakas na republika ay para sa mahihina, para sa mahihirap, para sa walang trabaho, para sa nagugutom, para sa nanganganib, para sa agrabyado, para sa mga api!”

So how can government be for those who are weak, unemployed, hungry, endangered, victimized and oppressed when it should be independent from class and sectoral interests? Ano ba talaga Gloria?

But if she was confused about her definition of what a “strong republic” is, there should be no doubt about the dangers of the direction she hinted she wanted to take. Gloria said that “criminals are criminals, whether of the common kind or the kind that kill in the name of political advocacies.” Such a statement is but a step away from criminalizing political dissent!

A cursory look at the different versions of anti-terrorism bills now pending in Congress verifies this direction by broadening the definition of what consists a act of terrorism. It was designed to criminalize political dissent!

Come to think of it, in the movie Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the call for a strong republic was the pretext used by Supreme Chancellor Palpatin in building his evil empire! Beware of the dark side of the force!

Walang Gloria ang Kinabukasan Natin Kay Gloria

So what can we expect from our President?

While many governments around the world are starting to veer away from neo-liberal policies, Gloria intends to keep her faith in this discredited project! Thus we should not be surprised if more LDP policies would be thrown our way.

And if we allow her to have her “anti-terrorism bill,” she would have no second thoughts about using it against our legitimate right to dissent and to fight for a better world!

Creating and improving job opportunities would be GMA’s “working agenda for the coming year.” But her plan to do so – attracting investments, perhaps foreign ones – is unimaginative! She even promised to fight corruption, ensure peace and order and low power costs to do so. Again she misses the point! The country would continue to be a lackluster target for private investments, foreign or otherwise, because of our limited domestic market. Any discussion on addressing the massive unemployment must start from wealth redistribution through asset reform and the rapid development of agriculture and industries. But we can develop our agriculture and industries only if we veer away from the “free trade” ideas promoted by the IFIs and the WTO and staunchly defended by GMA herself! Obviously that idea is not acceptable for GMA and her kind!

Even her urgent request to “pass a law to give overseas Filipinos the right to vote, consistent with the Constitution…that will give equal respect and recognition to an overseas Filipino’s dual citizenship, consistent with our national honor,” must not fool us into relaxing our vigilance. After all, the trapo-dominated Congress can easily mangle this bill beyond recognition!

Gloria or any of her kind will not save us. After all elites would always look after their interests!

We need to continue fighting for our own future, a better one than what Gloria envisions! This would include: fighting for an alternative development paradigm; opposing the anti-terrorism bills; opposing power and water price increases and ensuring more accessible, efficient and truly service-oriented utilities; fighting for affordable housing and, pushing for labor centennial bills.

But more importantly, we need to continue strengthening the social movement. There is nothing else that we can rely on but our unity! We have no choice but to intensify the struggle for social transformation through social movement unionism!

[1] “A State of the Nation Address tailor made for Washington” by Walden Bello and Mary Louise Malig, Focus on the Global South.
[2] PDI, July 5, quoting POPCOM report
[3] “Gma’s Sona Commitments On Agriculture and Agrarian Reform: A Year Hence” by Marissa de Guzman
[4] “Housing Promise Remains Elusive: To Dream the Impossible Dream” by Cathy Rose A. Garcia, Business World Anniversary Report 2002
[5] Bello and Malig
[6] “Endless war games and word games for endless war” by Herbert Docena

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