By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
No more illusions.
Militant student and youth organizations led by the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Anakabayan said that those who supported President Benigno Aquino III’s candidacy in the May 2010 polls are, in likelihood, regretting their decision. The groups said that one year after Aquino’s swearing in, the Philippines was nowhere near making an economic recovery.
Former University of the Philippine Student Regent and Anakbayan vice-chairperson Charisse Banez that the illusions that surrounded the Aquino presidency have all been dispelled. She said that the country was in an even worse state under Aquino.
“Have we made any headway when it comes to the economy? No; workers and the rest of the working people still grapple with the relentless oil price hikes, low wages, unemployment. The urban poor battle demolition operations in their communities, and so many, many youth have been forced out of school because their parents cannot afford the exorbitant tuition costs. Aquino issued so many sound bites and promises about the supposedly better and brighter lives Filipinos will have under his administration, but a year later everyone sees that his words were all empty lies,” she said.
Anakbayan, LFS, the National Union of Students of the Philippines and other youth groups joined protests in Mendiola last June 30 marking Aquino’s first year in office. In the last month the groups held a series of activities to highlight what they termed as the failure of the Aquino presidency to enact genuine change in the country’s economy and politics.
“This government is as corrupt as its presidency. What makes it worse is that it has pretenses to be different,” Banez said.
In the meantime, LFS chairman Terry Ridon expressed outrage over how Malacañang used the youth and students sector to “window-dress” President Aquino’s first year report.
Last June 30, Aquino launched his new program Pilipinas Natin (Our Philippines) in front of 8,000 youth leaders and multi-sectoral volunteers at the Philippine Sports Arena in Pasig City. The program was touted as a campaign for partnership between the government and the Filipino people for nation building, “affirming the spirit of people power and volunteerism that gave President Aquino an overwhelming mandate to lead the country.”’
“There is nothing that makes the youth’s blood boil more than being patronized by an incompetent President who failed to deliver on his promises to the youth, ” said Ridon. He said that Aquino was hypocritical when he invited young Filipinos to support his presidency
given that he approved the severe cuts in the annual budget for state universities and colleges and sanctioned runaway tuition and other fee increases last school opening.
“What do we have to thank Aquino for? That he’s inviting more foreign investors to build call centers? He wants the nation’s youth – our new engineers, scientists and artists – to work in call centers because he cannot provide other productive means of employment for them after they graduate. If it’s not call centers, it’s the international job market. To offer us this little proves how insignificant the so-called achievements made in the first year. The rosy statistics he’s kept rattling off have no meaning,” he said.
Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan, in the meantime, said that Aquino’s worsening unpopularity comes as no surprise. He said that the Filipino youth were among the first to see through the emptiness of Aquino’s rhetoric.
Crisostomo cited last year’s nationwide series of anti-education budget cut campus strikes and student protests which are the first-ever large-scale protests directly against the Aquino administration. Back then, the surveys registered Aquino’s popularity ratings as very high, but youth groups already burnt effigies of the president.
He also dismissed a statement by Budget Secretary Butch Abad that the proposed 2012 national budget will focus on social services, “as a vain attempt to prevent a repeat of last year’s protests and shore up the government’s failing popularity.”
“Last year, they claimed there was no budget cut to education, but now, many state universities are introducing new fees or finding creative ways to hike their tuition rates. Do they really expect us to believe this latest fantastic claim?”
The youth leader said that even if there was a 12 percent increase in the social services budget to be applied separately to the budgets of basic education, state universities, health, and housing, this would only translate to 2012 funding levels of P226 billion ($5.25 billion), P27 billion ($627 million), P40 billion ($930 million), and P6.2 billion ( $144 million)respectively (from 2011 rates of P202 billion, P24.4 billion, P36 billion, and P5.6 billion).
“The UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) recommends that the government at least double this year’s education budget. Health advocacy groups say we need at least P90 billion ($2.09 billion) to reform our hospitals and health centers. What are we supposed to do with the small change being offered by the government?” he said.
No end to lay-offs, corruption
Government employees are not pleased about Aquino’s first year in office either.
The Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) said that the Aquino administration failed to improve the plight of public sector employees.
“ Aquino has remained callous and rejected our calls for a P6, 000 ($139) increase to the minimum pay of all government employees and a P 125 ($2.90) across-the-board legislated wage hike for workers in the private sector. As a result, workers and employees from both the public and private sectors are still subsisting on starvation wages. In the meantime, human rights violations abound, said Courage National President Ferdinand Gaite said.
Gaite said that Aquino and his economic advisers prioritized the interests of big capitalists and foreign investors and have done so since Day One.
“ Privatization, liberalization, deregulation and state abandonment of social services remain the pillars of this administration’s economic policies. Aquino’s Public-Private Partnerships, given legal frameworks in his priority bills in congress, will ultimately lead to the privatization of state enterprises and agencies such as the National Food Authority, the National Housing Authority, the National Printing Office and 14 other agencies targeted for abolition. This will, in turn, mean massive lay-offs and displacement for state workers, depletion of public funds and welfare cuts, skyrocketing prices of basic commodities and complete state abandonment of public food security, housing, education and healthcare,” Gaite said.
“He’s done nothing to put an end to corruption or to improve the economy,” he added.
According to survey by the Social Weather Station (SWS) last April, Aquino received the lowest satisfactory rating among the Classes D and E, as number of families that rate themselves as poor rise to 10.4 million. There was an increase of three percent from the 48 percent registered during the previous regime. The first year of Aquino government also saw an increase in the incidence of hunger, affecting 20.5 percent of the population this year compared to 19.1 percent in 2010.