“All this talk about abuses of the top people in Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), National Power Corporation (Napocor), National Food Administration (NFA), though true, has less impact in draining the national coffers than debt servicing, which is the biggest unproductive expenditure in the budget,” said Ferdinand Gaite, chairman of Courage, a public sector confederation. “The amounts Aquino mentioned that went to fat bonuses and allowances are just part of the P400 billion ($8.67 billion) yearly allocated for salaries and allowances of the public sector, from its top executives to bottom rank-and-file. What Aquino did not mention was the P700 billion ($15 billion) that yearly goes to debt servicing,” he added.
The private-public partnership that Aquino repeatedly extolled in his SONA as though it was an answer to peoples’ prayers is nothing new, said leaders of progressive groups. “It has been tried before, and found wanting,” Bayan’s Reyes said.
“Known as the three P’s, this (private-public-partnership) is a euphemism for privatization,” Gaite, of Courage, said. “It is a situation where the public pays and private businesses profit. We have seen that before. A case in point is the privatization of MWSS, which is done by not completely selling off the agency and just leasing it out. But it is still being run by the private sector.” Gaite added that privatization “has already been proven to be a nonproductive arrangement.”
It is the reason why we have a water and electricity crises and yet prices are rising, said Dr. Giovanni Tapang of Agham. “His public-private partnership means a more favorable investment climate for foreigners, who would recoup their investments through the likes of the much criticized toll-fee rates today,” Tapang said.
It is the same old liberalization implemented by Aquino’s mother, former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, Tapang added.
“Aquino’s Sona had nothing for the people and a lot for capitalists,” said Nenita Gonzaga, vice-president for women of Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement). “It discusses how to speed up papers and registration, how to improve the conditions so foreign investors could enter more easily. Aquino did not touch on working people’s issues such as wage increases, the contractualization of labor, and the assumption of jurisdiction being imposed on workers’ strikes.”
Elmer Labor, chairman of KMU, said he did not “hear any commitment to improve the lives of the basic sectors, for instance, better wages, real employment and justice for victims of the Arroyo regime.” He described the Sona as “business-inclined, like in the building of expressways by private companies, which would guarantee profits, not livelihood. His policy direction is aimed at massive privatization, deregulation and liberalization.”
Indeed, Aquino “unveiled no concrete plans for the 4.3 million unemployed and seven million underemployed Filipinos. He is not clear about pursuing national industrialization. He has no plans for it. Instead he plans to just rely on whatever foreign investment would come along,” Bayan’s Reyes said.
“Aquino’s context is the perspective of business,” said Gaite of Courage. “His Sona is basically a corporate report for board members,“ added Labog.
Among the demands of the poor are quality, basic education. (Photo by Angelica de Lara / bulatlat.com)
Aquino’s economic worldview, Gaite said, “is the market-oriented neo-liberal agenda. He looked at the workers as simply consumers doing their role in a market – that people study, work and get a job so they could buy commodities, and not because they are to be fully human.”
No Peace Under Aquino
Aquino announced in his Sona that his administration would resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Frong (MILF) after the Ramadan. But instead of saying that he would resume the negotiations between Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines(NDFP), Aquino rehashed his predecessor’s hawkish tact. He gave what has been described as a “contentious pre-condition” before resuming talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP: ceasefire.
“Arroyo used that — it’s the reason why negotiations did not progress,” Reyes said. How, he added, would “armed fighting stop if there is still no land reform and national industrialization, and US troops freely interfere in our internal affairs?”
“The government and the NDFP have agreed on the conditions to achieve long and lasting peace in its joint declaration in The Hague, Netherlands — they should just resume it. Why is the GRP revising it unilaterally, and calling for a cease-fire as a first step to lasting peace when it is supposed to be a step to be taken toward the end of the negotiations?” Gaite said.
The NDFP has said in the past that the Philippine government knows that a cease-fire precondition is a surefire way to derail the peace talks. Cease-fire per se, the front has said, is not bad but this bogged down previous talks because of discussions on mechanics, terms, monitoring, implementation, instead of the two parties focusing on substantive issues such as the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and proceeding with the talks on a Comprehensive Agreement for Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).
Besides, the front has reasoned, the two parties were driven to the negotiation table because of the armed conflict. Why, it asked, would the GRP and the NDFP talk peace if there was already “peace” or a cease-fire to begin with?
Filipinos’ Elusive Dreams
“Aquino said we can now dream again — but how can you dream without an increase in wages, increase in the budget for education and social services, if the country is just relying on crumbs thrown its way by foreign investors?” Reyes of Bayan asked. “It seems it is difficult for the people’s dreams and Aquino’s dreams to meet halfway.”
In the end, the Sona rallyists cheered to another dream. “We can only rely on the strength of a people united. Not every path to change is straightforward,” Reyes concluded. “There are stony, winding, muddy, difficult roads — such are the roads we and others more have been treading toward genuine change.” (Bulatlat.com)