By BENJIE OLIVEROS
In its “Food Security and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific” report released the first week of May, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) noted that while the Philippines achieved a reduction in poverty (in terms of official statistics), it still has to address undernourishment and hunger. The release of the report came at the heels of the annual governor’s meeting of the ADB held in Manila. In the said meeting, noted “development economist” Jeffrey Sachs was the keynote speaker, who stressed that while there is economic growth in Asia, it has to look into the social and environmental costs of this growth, i.e. inequality and climate change.
President Benigno Aquino III was reported to have delivered a speech in the said conference. He reportedly launched a tirade against the corruption in the previous administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which eroded the foundations of government, and where self-serving interests were placed first at the expense of the people.
Just recently, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) released to the public the results of its March survey on hunger. It revealed that involuntary hunger has hit a new high at 23.8 percent, affecting 4.8 million families. This is reportedly an increase from the 22.5 percent or 4.5 million families who experienced involuntary hunger in December 2011. The 23.8 percent is also the highest percentage of families who have gone hungry. It surpassed the December 2008 peak of 23.7 percent.
This, the SWS said, is consistent with its earlier survey where 11.1 million families rated themselves as poor. And among these, 32.4 percent said they experienced hunger.
Hunger, poverty, inequalities, environmental degradation, why are these problems still prevalent?
The country has been faithfully following the prescriptions of the IMF-World Bank and the ADB: it has liberalized trade by reducing tariffs, allowing the entry of all imports, and agreeing to market-access commitments; it has provided foreign investors with tax holidays, sovereign guarantees, freedom to repatriate profits; it has been privatizing the provision of social services and basic utilities by opening these up to public-private partnerships, as well as selling government owned and controlled corporations; it has reduced government spending; it has attacked trade union rights, job security and has been keeping down wages. It has removed all semblances of regulating industries, refusing to control the prices of oil and basic commodities even when it has been causing untold sufferings on the Filipino people.
The only things left are the full privatization of government hospitals and the public school system. But these are already in the works as laboratory services in government hospitals are being transferred to private health service providers. Also, the Department of Education has announced its plans to let private corporations run public schools, while subsidies to state universities and colleges have been significantly reduced.
Also the 1987 Constitution still has restrictions regarding foreign equity in corporations engaging in certain industries and prohibits foreign ownership of land. But these are being circumvented by the government through public-private partnerships and leasing out land to foreign corporations for 50-75 years.
In addition, if we are to believe the declarations of the Aquino government, corruption under the current administration no longer prevails. So, “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap,” the lives of the Filipino people should have been improving significantly now. Why is hunger still worsening?
These problems still exist, and are even worsening, not despite of but because of the Aquino administration’s faithful compliance to the prescriptions of the IMF-WB and the ADB.
These policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization, which Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine calls deregulation, privatization and cutbacks in social services or deregulation, privatization, and assaults on unions are the very reasons why inequalities, poverty and hunger, as well as environmental degradation are worsening. It has been, according to Klein, “turning the already wealthy into the superrich and the organized working class into the disposable poor.”
Consider some of these facts from Fight Poverty www.fightpoverty.mmbrico.com
• Half of the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
• The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
• Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
• 51 percent of the world’s 100 hundred wealthiest bodies are corporations.
• The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.
• The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money.
• 20% of the population in the developed nations consume 86% of the world’s goods.
• The top fifth of the world’s people in the richest countries enjoy 82% of the expanding export trade and 68% of foreign direct investment — the bottom fifth, barely more than 1%.
• In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 1997, 74 times as much.
• An analysis of long-term trends shows the distance between the richest and poorest countries was about:
11 to 1 in 1913
35 to 1 in 1950
44 to 1 in 1973
72 to 1 in 1992
• The developing world now spends $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants.
• A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 2.5 billion people.
• The 48 poorest countries account for less than 0.4 per cent of global exports.
• The combined wealth of the world’s 200 richest people hit $1 trillion in 1999; the combined incomes of the 582 million people living in the 43 least developed countries is $146 billion.
• about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s assets in 2004
According to a UN study, in 2006, “the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth.”
No matter how many times the Aquino government recites its slogan, “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap,” poverty and hunger are here to stay for as long as it implements the same economic policies as its predecessors, including the president’s teacher in economics at Ateneo de Manila University, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. So the Aquino administration should start owning up to its own faults and looking at its own economic policies.