P-Noy’s Edsa report: Usual ‘straight path’ rhetoric, pro-business bias, palliative reforms

AMID the political circus called the impeachment trial of the Supreme Court’s dubious head, the Edsa People Power 1 uprising’s 26th anniversary was again marked by President Aquino by pouring out his habitual “straight path” rhetoric, his anticipated bias especially for big business, and his naïve trust in superficial social reforms.

This was the scathing remark of the Alliance of Progressive Labor on Aquino’s speech – as well as a critical assessment of his major policies – during the festivities last Feb. 25 at the People Power Monument along the historic Edsa, which was attended by a few thousand people led by top government and security officials.

While correctly admitting that the ousting of the Marcos dictatorship by the 1986 “revolution” has failed to free the vast majority of citizens “from hunger, poverty, injustice, and lack of opportunities to succeed,” Aquino continues to adhere to neoliberal economic programs that have worsened global inequality, the APL said.

Stressing the need to fast-track reforms, Aquino, however, contradicted himself when he commented in his speech that “if the majority of Filipinos do not feel any change, what good is democracy (that was supposedly restored by Edsa 1)?”

The APL clarified that “in the first place, there is no genuine democracy if the nation’s wealth remains at the hands of a very few superrich, who also wield effective political power in our society.”

‘Dismantling the barricades of poverty’ (!)

Aquino has even the gall to proclaim that his “government is dismantling the barricades of poverty” – “binabaklas ng inyong pamahalaan ang mga barikada ng kahirapan” – through the Conditional Cash Transfer program, which is basically an expensive dole-out package first implemented in the country in 2008 by his predecessor, the widely despised Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the APL retorted.

Aquino reported that last year an additional 45,000 poor households were added to the CCT’s original target of 2.3 million families from 78 cities, 968 municipalities and 80 provinces in the country. He vowed that these “lifelines” will be provided to at least 3 million impoverished families “before the end of 2012.”

Under the CCT or also called the “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps),” each indigent family identified by the government will be given P1,400 cash at the most a month – P500 for “health and nutrition grant” and P100 for each child (14 years old and below, and a maximum of three every family) for “education grant” – for five years if the beneficiaries will comply with the requirements like sending the children to school and the mothers to undergo regular prenatal and postnatal care.

Admittedly, even the gesture of helping the poor is commendable enough; but the APL emphasized that the government should have focused its plans and resources on long-term and more permanent solutions to poverty like protecting and strengthening the local industries and agriculture, ensuring decent and secured jobs for all, expanding the state’s welfare services for the public, and seriously promoting social justice.

Reliable feedback mechanism, including on whether the program is not fostering dole-out mentality, as well as how to confirm that the intended beneficiaries (not some crooks and politicians) are really receiving the money and they are using it for the intended purposes are not the only problems facing the currently P10-billion CCT program, the APL revealed.

“It’s mind-boggling to think how to squeeze every month P300 for the schooling of three children even in public schools, and P500 for a family’s ‘health and nutrition’ needs. And there’s still much to be desired in the country’s prenatal and postnatal care. Besides, the sheer number of Philippine poor and the enormous amount required to provide each family even a measly P1,400 monthly for five years is staggering,” the APL wondered.

Even the latest (and obviously conservative) government data, the 2009 Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES), show that while poverty incidence allegedly declined to 26.49 percent in that year from 35.15 percent in 1988, the ranks of the poor in the same period have still swelled to 23.9 million from 21.3 million.

Income disparity in the country has barely changed since Edsa 1 as the “top 1 percent of families (185,000) have an income equal to the income of the bottom (or poorest) 30 percent (5.5 million),” disclosed a noted ex-government official. He concluded that “since studies show that there is very little of a middle class to speak of, this means that most of the 99 percent are also poor.”

Business confidence, business confidant

Aquino told his audience that under his administration, the country registered “all-time highs in our stock index 16 times.”

And, although trying to be humble, Aquino actually boasted that less than two years after taking office, the country is now enjoying “a refreshing new confidence from the global community,” that is, from ratings agencies closely linked to the international Big Business.

He specifically cited Standard & Poors, Moody’s, and Fitch, the world’s top three credit ratings agencies (the first two are US-based, and the last is headquartered in Paris), as well as Japanese credit ratings companies.

The positive marks the Philippines had garnered were due to “the reforms … in the commerce and trade sector” instituted by his administration, Aquino claimed. He underscored this “achievement” by asserting that: “This is what we call reform. This is what we call results.”

Validating this “business confidence,” Aquino rattled off investment statistics attained in the special economic enclaves run by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.

Investments in PEZA last year hit P288.3 billion, “the highest in history,” the President enthusiastically testified, adding that since assuming the presidency in June 2010, investments in PEZA reached to P439 billion.

This amount and this early, Aquino announced, already accounts for an astounding 22 percent of the P2.003 trillion total investments put in PEZA in the past 16 years.

Adding to the “list of good news,” Aquino proudly mentioned a study conducted by the Japan External Trade Organization apparently designating the Philippines as “the No. 1 ideal destination of businessmen in Asia, whether in the manufacturing or the services sector.”

This feat is due to the “high quality of work, the skilled and talented workforce, and the low cost of doing business in our country,” Aquino said, quoting the JETRO survey.

Undoubtedly, Filipino workers are among the best not only in Asia but in the world; but, the APL lamented, they are also one of the most exploited highlighted by the worsening job insecurity in the country.

Contractualization is now very rampant, for example, in the burgeoning services sector which is highly coveted by foreign investors, especially in the business process outsourcing or BPO industry, led by the call centers, the APL said.

This rampant non-regular work – hence, in general, with cheaper wages and limited benefits, and trade unions are not allowed – is of course a huge come-on also for foreign investors in many manufacturing firms in the sprawling special economic zones managed by PEZA.

“Thus, both the PEZA report of Aquino and the JETRO survey are not at all surprising; they are expected,” the APL said, adding that “it is precisely because of the official or unofficial state policy of institutionalizing jobs that are cheap, non-unionized and contractual or without security of tenure which caused the outpouring of the so-called ‘business confidence.’”

The APL further pointed out that despite the purported rise in foreign investments and even the claim that the country’s economy is growing, the fruits of this “progress” have failed to benefit the vast majority of the masses.

Prove beyond the rhetoric

Thus, the APL reminded Aquino to go beyond his “daang matuwid” slogan and ensure that concrete steps are made to really address the short-term and long-term needs and aspirations of the majority.

“No amount of feel good statements to describe his administration from the Arroyo regime – like ‘We call this dedication. We call this compassion. We call this the straight and righteous path’ – can truly uplift the lot of the masses unless he go beyond the realm of the rhetoric,” the APL noted.

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