By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The recently-released results of the June 25-28 survey of the Social Weather Station (SWS) on the list of issues the Filipino people want the Aquino government to immediately address should provide President Benigno Aquino III with an indication of the direction the government should take toward “daang matuwid” (straight path), especially if he intends to keep his word that the people are his “boss.” In fact, the list of issues that topped in the SWS survey are also the issues that surfaced consistently in the “man-on-the street” interviews Bulatlat did during the state-of-the-nation address rally.
This goes to show that even as President Benigno Aquino III focused on the issue of corruption during the presidential campaign, it does not mean that the people expect him to concentrate all his efforts on this when he assumes the presidency. Graft and corruption ranked only fourth in the SWS survey, with 25 percent of respondents identifying it as an important issue, and is even tied with helping farmers and agricultural programs, and lower prices of medicines and health programs.
For one, corruption is still a middle class issue. It is the middle class who abhor the immorality of corruption and abuse of power, and how it makes the playing field uneven (It’s as if the playing field is not uneven as it is because of the widening income gaps and worsening social inequities). That is why even in the issue of “wangwang” (use of blinkers and sirens to get ahead of traffic), it is the middle class – who generally drive their own cars – who benefitted and are happy when it was banned.
The masses, who comprise the majority of the Filipino people, are more concerned with gut issues such as jobs, livelihood, and prices of basic commodities – the very same issues that topped the list of the SWS survey – because the lack of secure, decent jobs and livelihood opportunities coupled with soaring prices of basic goods and services make them suffer the most. Even as it could be argued that corruption is a gut issue as well, because it deprives the government of money that could be used for social services, still, a government with wrong priorities, such as allotting the biggest portion of scant government resources to paying foreign debt and buying weapons for the military, could not provide sufficient social services, even without re-channelling funds to line the pockets of corrupt officials.
Under the nine years of the Arroyo administration, the country had the longest-running double digit unemployment and underemployment rates. Landlessness worsened. Prices of basic commodities and services soared. These directly worsened the lives of the poor majority. What are the plans of the Aquino government to solve this?
Government-private partnership (read: privatization)? Business incentives and cutting red tape? Attracting foreign investments? The Arroyo government and all other previous administrations used this very same track. And it did increase corporate profits, but it also worsened the lives of the Filipino people.
The Aquino government is now confronted with two major cases affecting the jobs and livelihood of working people: the Philippine Airlines (PAL) labor dispute and the Hacienda Luisita agrarian issue. It is a mistake for the Aquino government if it thinks that the PAL labor dispute involving the airline management, on one side, and the pilots, the union of flight attendants (FASAP), and rank and file employees (PALEA) on the other, is its concern mainly because it would disrupt flight operations. More than that, the PAL labor dispute is about the different ways by which big corporations try to maximize profits by removing the benefits and reducing the salaries of employees and workers through contractualization schemes, increasing workloads without corresponding compensation, and so-called spin offs.
The Hacienda Luisita agrarian dispute, on the other hand, is not merely a thorn on the side of President Benigno Aquino III. It is about the centuries-old problem of land and the Aquino government’s attitude toward it. How it would be settled would reflect on Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of the government, the implementation of which has been for more than twenty years already, without making a dent in the problem of landlessness.
How the Aquino government would settle these two issues would indicate its attitude toward the working people – workers, employees, farmers, among others – and whether it would promote and defend secure, decent jobs and livelihood opportunities or not.
As for the problem of soaring prices, the first act of the Aquino government seems to be to increase the rates of the metro rail transit. And now Meralco is serving notice of another rate increase.
Will some people still wonder why Fernando Hicap of fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, and other progressive groups criticized President Aquino when he appointed mostly representatives of big business in key positions in his Cabinet? (Bulatlat.com)