By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA — The official campaign period for presidential, vice-presidential, and senatorial candidates in the 2010 elections does not start until next month. But for all intents and purposes, the presidential campaign was on as early as last year or even before that. As early as late 2008, everyone who had expressed intention to run for president tried to broadcast whatever he or she had to say on practically anything, frequently trading barbs with everyone else who had avowed presidential aspirations.
Less than half a month before the official campaign period for national positions begins, the official list of 2010 presidential aspirants counts 10 candidates: Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada of the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (Party of the Filipino Masses), Richard “Dick” Gordon of the Bagumbayan-Volunteers for a New Philippines, Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal (independent), Nicanor Perlas (independent), John Carlos “JC” de los Reyes of the Ang Kapatiran Party, Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. of the Lakas-Kampi coalition, Eduardo “Bro. Eddie” Villanueva of the Bangon Pilipinas Movement, and Manuel “Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party.
The range of contestants in the coming presidential race assumes particular relevance when we consider the prospects for addressing the political and economic concerns of the people, especially the majority who live below the poverty line and, increasingly, those who live just a few rungs above it.
For economist Jose Enrique Africa, research head of the socio-economic think-tank Ibon Foundation, this year’s presidential candidates should particularly devote themselves to addressing the problem of an economic backwardness that has led to an unprecedented jobs crisis and worsening poverty. He also said they should address long-term demands for increasing wages and improving social services.
Using data from the government’s Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES), Ibon has estimated at 11.2 percent the average unemployment rate for 2001-2009. (Arroyo first assumed the presidency in 2001 through a People Power uprising and is supposed to step down on June 30, 2010).
According to Ibon, the average unemployment rate for all the eight years of the Arroyo presidency so far is, historically, the worst one over a sustained period since 1956. Other periods yielded lower unemployment rates: 8 percent in 1956-1960, 7.3 percent in 1961-1970, 5.4 percent in 1971-1980, 10.2 percent in 1981-1990, and 9.8 percent in 1991-2000.
Meanwhile, using conservative poverty-threshold estimates, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) placed the poverty incidence at 32.9 percent of the population in 2006, a jump of 2.9 percent from 2003’s figure of 30 percent. Conducting the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) every three years, the NSCB is expected to come up with the results of the 2009 FIES later this year.
Ibon’s October 2009 quarterly nationwide survey showed 71 percent of the respondents considering themselves poor.
Meanwhile, Roland Simbulan, a professor of development studies and public management at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila, said that when it comes to the people’s political concerns, the 2010 presidentiables should take up, among other things, the question of “immediately ending impunity” by taking to task all who are responsible for extrajudicial killings, massacres and other atrocities, as well as those responsible for stealing people’s money through anomalous deals. “We cannot move forward if impunity continues or if there is no closure to these,” he said.
The Arroyo regime’s implementation of its counter-insurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch), which targets leaders and members of legal and progressive organizations for surveillance and “neutralization” as supposedly part of the so-called “political infrastructure” of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP), has led to more than a thousand extrajudicial killings and more than 200 enforced disappearances in the last eight years. The victims include political activists and other government critics, as well as persons suspected of supporting the communist-led NPA.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has also earned denunciation for protecting the Ampatuans, a warlord clan in Maguindanao, eight of whose members are now considered prime suspects in the Nov. 23, 2009, massacre of at least 57 people, including no less than 30 journalists and two lawyers. Supported by the military during the 2001 senatorial and local elections, the Ampatuans played a prominent part in delivering votes to the administration coalition in the elections of 2004 and 2007.
The Arroyo family and their political allies have also figured in no less than 10 large-scale corruption scandals since early in 2001.
“Also, poverty issues should be addressed while resuming peace talks so that socio-economic issues that breed insurgency can be comprehensively addressed,” Simbulan added. “The Visiting Forces Agreement and bilateral and multilateral treaties should be revisited and, if they are inconsistent with the constitutional provisions on sovereignty and ‘an economy effectively controlled by Filipinos,’ should be abrogated.”
When asked about the prospects of having the people’s economic concerns seriously addressed, Africa was less than optimistic.
“None of the candidates have the track record of addressing these key issues,” Africa said. “None of them, even those who have been in politics for a long time, have shown any record of genuinely addressing these people’s economic issues.”
For political analyst Romulo Tuazon, of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), the question of addressing people’s issues goes beyond the presidentiables.
“Whoever among the presidential aspirants wins must address the above issues,” Tuazon said. “Let us be clear, however, that the President provides the vision and leadership while the whole government bureaucracy serves as the implementing arm. The problems are institutional that it would take more than a change in the President for fundamental and lasting reforms to be effected.”
Africa and Simbulan agree that 2010 is particularly significant in terms of promoting people’s economic and political issues.
“The general public, in a more sustained manner, now demands concrete economic platforms of governance from these candidates,” Africa said. “Past elections have been about personality, machinery, and other non-issues.”
“2010 is significant because it can end the regime of the worst president we ever had,” Simbulan said. “We will still be led by oligarchs, but we have the choice of the lesser evil among them who can respect civil and political rights and allow democratic space for further empowerment of grassroots movements that are pushing for people’s concerns.” (Bulatlat.com)