It is often said that Filipinos, as a general rule, have “short”or “poor” memories. The allusion is not to some racial genetic predisposition to be forgetful. What media commentators and the homegrown Pilosopong Tasyo among us refer to is the Filipinos’ seeming lack of a sense of history or of the ability to learn our lessons from past mistakes. Consequently, we appear to lack a sense of purpose or direction in forging our path towards national unity, progress, and a better life for most, if not all, Filipinos. As the aphorism goes, those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.
But insightful historians like the illustrious Renato Constantino identify the real problem as a lack of or an anemic nationalist consciousness, no doubt the product of a colonial past and a neocolonial present.
The high officials of the land or those who would pass themselves off as our betters are quite recent examples of how insidious and damaging is this anti-nationalist mind-set.
Let us take the seemingly innocuous declaration of President Benigno Aquino’s Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda that a main stumbling block in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GPH) and the revolutionary umbrella formation, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), is the latter’s supposed fixation with such outmoded or passé concepts as “national industrialization.”
What was meant to be a derisive assessment of one of the pillars of the NDFP’s proposal for a bilateral agreement on socioeconomic reforms turned into an unintended revelation of what in fact frames the government’s, and in particular, the Aquino regime’s economic policies and programs — no less than the mind-set of economic subservience.
For how can this government, in fact any government that is truly intent on achieving the unassailable goal of economic sovereignty, belittle the goal of building domestic industries that will cater primarily for domestic needs. To do so would doom the Philippines to be forever dependent on outside sources to supply what Filipinos need for daily living and for essential economic activities. This lack of basic industries and consequent dependence on imports is in fact the root of our economy’s backward agrarian character and our century-old trade and capital deficits.
Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairperson of AGHAM or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, summarizes the rational for pursuing national industrialization thus: “Having a sound industrial policy that focuses on modernizing agriculture and shoring up our capability to locally produce capital goods is key to the establishment of a modern and diversified industrial economy. We need to build, among others, our own base metals industry, chemical industries, machinery manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, electronics, industries for food processing, textile, garment, mass housing and agricultural commodities.”
The desired outcome is not just food security and self-sufficiency in essential consumer goods and intermediate products for a dynamic manufacturing sector but secure and high-quality jobs for a burgeoning population including the pool of talented and highly-trained scientists and professionals who invariably end up working for multinationals at home or, more often, abroad.
Completely antithetical to the goal of national industrialization is the Aquino government’s policy and program thrusts and actual performance. These can be summed up as follows: 1) dependence on foreign capital in the form of loans or investments; 2) geared towards meeting the demands of the foreign market; 3) lack of protection of and support for domestic producers including peasants, workers, and small to medium-scale entrepreneurs; 4)bias for local partners of foreign monopoly capitalists such as the big banks and financial houses, big trading companies and import-dependent, low value-added semi-manufacturing enterprises; and 5) completely in sync with the neoliberal doctrine, policy prescriptions and programs peddled by the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, i.e. liberalization, deregulation, and privatization as well as de-nationalization of such vital economic factors as land and natural resources.
It is no wonder that despite record-high foreign exchange reserves (thanks mainly to remittances of overseas Filipino workers); credit ratings upgrades from foreign agencies (who rate countries on the basis of their proven creditworthiness or ability to pay their debts); a robust first quarter GDP rate of 7.3% (as a result of liberal election spending as well as accelerated government expenditure on public infrastructure); and healthy profit-taking by the top 500 corporations in the Philippines (such as the oil, telecommunications, financial and real estate companies) — the official yet grossly underestimated poverty and unemployment figures have remained dismal.
Embarrassed government officials promise “inclusive growth” remains a top priority. They make much ado about World Bank-designed anti-poverty programs such as the multibillion-peso Conditional Cash Transfer program wherein for up to five years poor families get a maximum of ?300/child subsidy. Such programs may provide immediate alleviation for absolutely destitute families but after the program ends, with an economy still unable to generate good quality jobs, these families are back to square one.
Aquino defenders and allies also scramble to justify why most Filipinos do not feel the benefits of high growth rates by saying that the “trickle-down effect” does not happen automatically or overnight. Yet Mr. Aquino has really nothing to show for his administration’s land distribution program (still the slowest since the Marcos Dictatorship years); workers’ wages are fixed to the bottom while mandatory contributions including for social security and health insurance go up; the cost of basic goods and services are constantly on the rise; social services such as education, health and housing are bereft of government funding, are deteriorating if not already substandard and are quickly being privatized through the Public-Private Partnership scheme so as to become even more inaccessible to families struggling to survive.
The truth is staring us in the face: the real reason why economic “growth” is not felt by the vast majority of the Filipino people is simply because economic policies are geared to profits for foreign capital and local business partners and not to raising the living standards of the ordinary Filipino.
The continuing policies and reality of economic dependence to foreign monopoly capital is also the underlying reason behind the lack of political independence of the present Aquino regime and all its predecessors.
This is the more real and compelling factor for the Philippine government’s almost knee-jerk support for or compliance with US foreign policy dictates, including aggression and military intervention. The excuse or rationale that the US and Philippines are traditionally close allies and should stand side by side on every issue has been proven false, not the least by the US’ own statements that it is not bound to side with the Philippines on each and every security issue.
Thus the awkward, if not embarrassing Malacañang pronouncements invoking US support for the Philippine position on the South China Sea territorial dispute, while the US disavows any formal, legal, political and military commitments or obligations to support the Philippine position.
The first step towards a meaningful celebration of Independence Day this June 12 is the forthright acknowledgement that national independence and sovereignty must be defended against continuing impositions — economic, political and military — by the Lone Superpower and the supine acquiescence of the current ruling regime.
Published in Business World
6 June 2013