In her ninth State of the Nation Address, President Arroyo painted a rosy picture of the Philippines – a world so much different from the one most Filipinos live in, her critics say.
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA — As many had expected, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had economic matters and claims of improving the lot of poor Filipinos on top of her accomplishment list in her ninth State of the Nation Address (Sona).
“The past 12 months have been a year for the history books,” Arroyo said at the opening of her Sona.
“Financial meltdown in the West spread throughout the world. Tens of millions lost their jobs; billions across the globe have been hurt – the poor always harder than the rich. No one was spared.
“It has affected us already. But the story of the Philippines in 2008 is that the country weathered a succession of global crises in fuel, in food, then in finance and finally, economy in a global recession, never losing focus and with economic fundamentals intact…
“…Our economic plan centers on putting people first. Higit sa lahat, ang layunin ng ating patakaran ay tulungan ang masisipag na karaniwang Pilipino. New tax revenues were put in place to help pay for better healthcare, more roads, and a strong education system. Housing policies were designed to lift up our poorer citizens so they can live and raise a family with dignity. Ang ating mga puhunan sa agrikultura ay naglalayong kilalanin ang ating mga magsasaka bilang backbone ng ating bansa at bigyan sila ng mga modernong kagamitan to feed our nation and feed their own family.”
However, for Bayan Muna Muna (People First) Rep. Satur Ocampo and others who staged a protest rally against the Sona, Arroyo’s claims are the opposite of the truth.
“The truth is on the people’s side,” Ocampo said as he spoke at yesterday’s rally against Arroyo’s Sona. “There was no improvement in the lives of Filipinos, especially the ordinary citizens.”
Indeed, even government statistics paint a picture much different from what Arroyo depicted in her speech. Data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) show that an increase of 530,642 in the number of poor families from 2000 to 2008, while the number of individual poor people rose by 2.1 million in the same period. And this is based on NSCB’s low poverty threshold of less than P45 a day for every individual Filipino.
Meanwhile, data from BusinessWorld show that the net income of the Philippines’ top 1,000 corporations increased from P116 billion to P686 billion between 2001 and 2007 – or a 490-percent increase.
These figures give a louder ring to what children from Salinlahi (Alliance for Children’s Concerns) said in a presentation during the anti-Sona rally. “Gloria is a bad example to children because she made the poor poorer and the rich richer,” they said.
“Gloria promised food on every table,” former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. meanwhile said. “Where is the food? Where are the tables?”
In her 2004 Sona, Arroyo said her legacy would include the creation of six to 10 million jobs, or one million jobs every year until she steps down next year.
In her Sona yesterday, Arroyo was quite silent on how many jobs have been generated since 2004. “(N)agsisikap tayong lumikha dito sa atin ng mga trabahong maganda ang sahod, so that overseas work will just be a career choice, not the only option for a hard-working Filipino,” she said.
Estimates by the socio-economic think-tank Ibon Foundation, based on data from the National Statistics Office (NSO), show that the period 2001-2008 is “the longest period of sustained high unemployment in the country’s history,” as Ibon’s research head Jose Enrique Africa said in a recent forum – with the unemployment rate averaging some 11.2 percent.
What Africa has described as the presence of a “jobs crisis” is evident in the fact that based on figures from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), overseas deployments of workers averaged 990,000 annually from 2001 to 2008 – compared to 469,709 during the Corazon Aquino presidency (1986-1992), 713,505 under Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998), and 839,324 under Joseph Estrada (1998-2001).
As Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement) chairman Elmer “Bong” Labog said, “Workers suffered from a desperate lack of jobs under Arroyo.”
While Arroyo cited the one million beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), Danilo Ramos, secretary-general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines), said majority of Filipino peasants, who comprise over 70 percent of the country’s population, have remained landless and continue to languish in hunger.
As for her 2004 promise of “education for all,” Arroyo merely said her government is “trying hard” to meet the Millennium Development Goal of universal education by 2015. She did not explain why, based on Department of Education (DepEd) data, the number of out-of-school children and youth increased by a total of 4.69 million between school years 2000-2001 and 2008-2009.
“Para sa aming mga kabataan, si Arroyo ang sinisisi namin kung bakit maraming estudyante ang hindi nakakapag-aral; ang ilan ay nagpapakamatay dahil hindi kayang bayaran ang singil sa mga paaralan,” said Kabataan (Youth) Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino in a statement he prepared for the anti-Sona rally. “Tumindi ang krisis sa edukasyon dulot ng kakarampot na badyet ng pamahalaan sa edukasyon. Kinasusuklaman ng mga kabataan ang siyam na taong pamumuno ni Arroyo.”
For all these and more, said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr., the people should push on with the fight against charter change and not allow Arroyo to stay in power beyond 2010. (Bulatlat.com)