Monday, October 25, 2010

New Aquino government: 100 days of perdition and servility

New Aquino government: 100 days of perdition and servility

By Andrea Ibarra
Liberation editorial,
July-September 2010

Barely 100 days into his term, Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) President Benigno C. Aquino III has come under fire for a number of tinderbox issues.

For starters, he gave the green signal to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to continue Oplan Bantay Laya, the infamous military campaign targeting human rights advocates and political activists. He has also approved proposals to increase by 100 percent public train fares; to impose value added tax on highway toll fees; and to reduce budget appropriations for public schools, public hospitals, and assistance for overseas Filipino workers.

In the meantime, his handling of the tragic hostage incident that claimed the lives of eight tourists from Hongkong last 23 August also exposed a level of incompetence that made even his staunchest supporters cover their faces in shame.

In his first State of the Nation Address on 23 July, Aquino delivered a 45-minute tirade against the corruption and other abuses in office of his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But in the aftermath of his speech, nothing substantial has happened. Aquino says that the Truth Commission he created will investigate and settle corruption issues that took place during Arroyo’s term. But already it’s becoming evident that this new institution will fail, given that it can only recommend the filing of criminal charges against Macapagal-Arroyo and other high ranking officials of her former government. It has no authority to proceed with its recommendations or prosecute the suspected criminals.

Expanding privatization, regressive taxation From day one, Aquino has not mentioned any program to promote genuine and nationalist industrialization, nor has he expressed any support for the demand New Aquino government: 100 days of perdition and servility 100 days, of industrial workers and government employees for increased wages, salaries and benefits.

All that his economic platform offers is the continuation and expansion of the bankrupt build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme, and the strengthening of so-called “private and public partnerships”, which is merely another name for privatization. There are undeniable indications that privatization and deregulation will not only continue but expand under the new government.

Oil prices and electricity rates have already gone up as the oil cartel of Shell, Caltex and Petron just recently raised the pump prices of diesel, kerosene and gasoline by 50 centavos to P1 per liter. And the cartel announced that more price hikes are in the offing. The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) jacked its generation charge by 44 centavos per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has additionally said that it is swamped by petitions from the big capitalists in the privatized and deregulated power industry calling for rate increases. Instead of taking the side of consumers and the public, the Aquino administration welcomes these price increases. It reasons that rate hikes mean bigger value-added tax collections for the government. Petroleum and electricity are the two largest sources of VAT revenues, which increase in direct proportion with rising pump prices and monthly electricity bills.

The Aquino government, no different from its predecessors, utilizes regressive, antipoor taxation schemes as a means to solve its fiscal woes.

Anti-poor 2011 Budget Plan

The Aquino government’s proposed budget for 2011 would increase the Filipino people’s debt burden while effectively slashing the already minimal resources for the poor.

For instance, the proposed budget for the health sector in 2011 is lower by P1.4B, from P40B in 2010 to only P38.6B in 2011. Concretely, the Aquino administration slashed the budgets for the Lung Center, Kidney Center and Heart Center – all national-level specialized hospitals – by P970.6M.

Based on its proposal submitted to Congress, the Aquino government earmarked more than 77.6 percent of the P104.4-billion increase in the 2011 budget. The increase comes from the huge P80.99-billion rise in interest payments for government’s debt. While personal services grew by P47.24 billion, maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) fell by P10.92 billion and capital outlays and net lending, by P12.8 billion.

These reflect the Aquino administration’s declared policy of turning over to the private sector the vital functions of government, including the provision ofservices and undertaking infrastructure development. Public infrastructure spending will fall by P21.13 billion in the 2011 budget. This policy will ultimately take its toll on the poor and marginalized in the form of, among others, exorbitant fees for using public infrastructure.

In the meantime, Aquino is determined to follow the tradition set by his predecessors when it comes to foreign debt: the proposed interest payments in the 2011 budget is pegged at P357.09 billion, or 21.7 percent of the total budget. The overall debt burden for 2011, however, could actually reach P823.27 billion if the principal amortization of P466.18 billion is added to interest payments.

All in all, the country’s debt burden (interest payments plus principal amortization) represents a whopping 38.9 percent of the total 2011 budget proposal. Greater allocations for foreign debt payments mean, fewer allocations for social and economic services for the public. What makes this state of affairs even worse is the fact that the so-called development projects funded by the foreign loans and Official Development Aid (ODA) do not benefit the people. Many of these projects even proved disastrous for the livelihood and communities of many Filipinos particularly
in the provinces, and wrought irrevocable damage to the environment. The primary beneficiaries of these foreign aid are private contractors, corrupt government
officials, and the creditors.

Shirking away from land reform

It’s impossible not to notice how Aquino continues to shirk away from issues concerning the demand of Filipino farmers for genuine land reform.

In his SONA, Aquino expounded on the need to improve post-harvest facilities. But any improvement would benefit only a miniscule fraction of poor farmers. In the meantime,
big landlords, big bourgeois comprador and foreign monopoly agri-businesses readily applauded his proposal because they would greatly profit from selling and operating
these facilities.

Aquino’s refusal to address agrarian reform issues is directly caused by the monsters of his past: his own family’s role in the bloody massacres of poor peasants in Mendiola, Manila in 1987 and in the family-owned Hacienda Luisita in 2004. Aquino has taken a vow of silence on the issue of Hacienda Luisita after being proclaimed president. Even during the election campaign, Aquino’s declared intention to redistribute the land was contradicted by his cousin who is managing Hacienda Luisita. There was no longer any mention of the hacienda nor land distribution during his inaugural address.

The Cojuangco-Aquino family does not want to let go of the land. The Supreme Court is currently reviewing the petition of the family against the 2006 decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform ordering the distribution of the land. In his silence, Aquino condones the actions of his family – the continued usurpation of land that the government has already earmarked for agrarian reform. He insists that he controls only 1/32 of the HCI shares, but he is still unable to let go of this even if only for symbolic purposes.

Peace Negotiations and human rights

With regard to the peace negotiations, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has been consistent in its willingness and preparedness to negotiate peace with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), especially now that a new administration has come to power. The NDFP continues to uphold and promote all the previously signed agreements to its constituents and allies.

Aquino exposed his ignorance when he asked “Handa na ba kayong magbigay ng mungkahi?” (Are you now ready to offer proposals?) in his first SONA. The NDFP Peace Panel has been prodding the GRP to enter into the second substantive agenda, which is the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), drafted 12 years ago.

The burden of proving sincerity to put an end to the armed conflict and to bring about a just and lasting peace lies on Aquino’s shoulders. If his current inaction on calls for the resumption of peace negotiations with the NDFP is anything to go by, it appears that Aquino does not consider settling the armed conflict of any importance. The Aquino regime through its spokespersons in the Armed Forces of the Philippines continues to label the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the NDFP as terrorist groups.

Neither has it acted on the issue of political prisoners. Currently, there are at least 388 political prisoners in the country. Of these, 317 were arrested during Macapagal-Arroyo’s term, including the Morong 43 who are comprised of doctors and health workers maliciously accused of being members of the NPA.

Since Aquino assumed the presidency, 16 activists of the political opposition have been assassinated, three of them members of progressive party-list groups, and four are members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines).

The GRP also refuses to withdraw trumpedup criminal cases filed against 54 political activists, including progressive members of parliament and NDFP Peace Negotiating Panel members and consultants. US imperialism’s latest puppet. Very recently, Aquino made an official visit to the US with a 60-person entourage.

Taxpayers are set to shoulder the expenses of the trip: P25 M for seven days. He had also authorized the hiring of a public relations firm to help in the media blitz for his visit, reportedly costing P45M. Aquino’s primary agenda in his week-long visit to the US besides speaking at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), includes the signing of the $434-million grant by the Millennium Challenge Corp.,meeting with US President Barack Obama, and attending a list of business conferences.

He was expected to meet with officials of the World Bank, investment bank Citibank Corp., and information technology firm Hewlett-Packard Co.

The MCC’s $434 million grant was based, among others, on a criteria of so-called adherence to the rule of law and civil liberties. If this was the real criterion, the Philippines would have been disqualified outright because of the dismal conviction rate for cases of extra-judicial killings, among others. A recent study showed that only one percent of these assassinations during the nine years of the Arroyo administration, and the first two months of the Aquino administration, have been resolved in court.

The MCC Compact Grant is in fact a foreign policy tool of the US government to impose neo-liberal policies on third world countries. Grants like this and other so called aid are instruments to advance US economic and political interests in other parts of the world, in the guise of promoting democracy and good governance. This is particularly true now because the US economy is in crisis, and the US government will increase its efforts to extract more profits from poor countries like the Philippines. The MCC is chaired by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The straight path to greater exploitation The first Aquino government promised to be the exact opposite of the Marcos dictatorship.

But the regime change of 1986 did not lead to any significant reduction of poverty, industrialization, shift to an independent foreign policy, or redress of historical grievances.The second Aquino regime’s approach to these very same matters does not promise much improvement in the daily lives of the poor majority. Now, just like during the campaign period, Aquino is offering the Filipino people nothing but empty words, palliative and myopic solutions.

The Filipino people continue to live in poverty and oppression, under the yoke of imperialism, bureaucrat capitalism and feudalism. If Aquino’s first 100 days in office is a foretaste of things to come, the next six years will see an ever increasing mass of people outraged by this regime’s incompetence and subservience. The people are faced with no other option but to wage revolutionary and militant struggle in order to defend and advance their interests.

In the next six years, the people are bound to rise up in resistance against the policies of the Aquino regime and the entire ruling system.