Post-APEC ruminations

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

To the Aquino government and the designers, contractors, entertainers and others fortunate enough to have partaken of the P10-billion peso outlay for the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) extravaganza, it was a resounding success, a paean to Filipino hospitality and of having “arrived” on the global stage. To the people who live and work in Metro Manila and those who had to fly in or out for the duration of the APEC Summit, it was a living nightmare of canceled flights, endless traffic, lost man-hours, lost income, and frazzled nerves amidst the recurring thought bubble, “What the heck for?”

The last time the country hosted APEC 19 years ago, it was held in the former US naval base in Subic, Zambales where the Ramos administration built luxury villas for the visiting APEC heads of state. At that time “globalization” was a much-hyped mantra of the international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and the neoliberal economic ideologues in governments, big business, the academe, and dominant mass media.

The unsuspecting public was made to believe that “globalization” and the “free market” simply meant the tearing down of trade and investment barriers so that goods and capital could flow unhindered among countries, rich and developed or poor and backward or somewhere in between, thereby generating growth and prosperity for all the peoples of the entire globe. Apart from supposedly being universally beneficial, “globalization” was described as the inevitable outcome of the lighting-speed developments in digital technology; ergo it was said to be unstoppable.

Its ideologues trumpeted neoliberal economic doctrine as the fitting orthodoxy accompanying the end of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Bloc. “Socialism” was pronounced dead and capitalism hailed as “the end of history.” It was logical to ensconce the “invisible hand” of the “free market” and profit-seeking as the underlying impetus of all of society organized around the capitalist economic and social model.

More than three decades later, neoliberal globalization does not have the sheen nor does it generate the mystique that tantalized so many. The neoliberal policies of investment and trade liberalization, deregulation of social and environmental protection, privatization of state assets and denationalization of underdeveloped economies, wage squeeze and social welfare cutbacks are being unmasked as the reasons behind unprecedented joblessness, poverty, income inequality and social unrest and upheaval. These are also the underlying causes of the recurring economic and financial crises that have battered the global capitalist system since the nineties and exacerbated the sufferings of a vast majority of the world’s peoples.

As for APEC, after declaring in its 1996 Leaders’ Summit “full confidence that the APEC process will produce substantial, concrete, measurable and sustainable results which will tangibly improve the lives of all our citizens by the turn of the century,” it has little to show for such boast. (An excellent piece that explains this is IBON’s economist Sonny Africa’s “APEC: special lanes, for whom?”

Many suspect that this is the real albatross that the Aquino administration has had to carry while preparing to host this year’s summit. How does one justify spending a huge amount of public funds (that government claims it is always short of) and disrupting the people’s hardscrabble lives for an event that hasn’t meant anything to them at all?

Since the economic benefits have not been felt except for rapid growth rates that the Aquino administration incessantly crows about but have been exclusively for the socioeconomic elite (most notably the owners of the multinational banks and corporations and their domestic partners among the abiding names in Philippine big business) Malacañang and its parrots have had to draw attention to the frippery. Such as: the top-of-the-line appointments and decorations in the venues of the APEC meetings and festivities; the Filipino fare in the meals with a “global” twist; the mishmash of Filipino performers from classical pianist Cecile Licad to folk dancers to pop singers; and not to be missed, the parade of world leaders who arrived for the party ranging from the so-called “hotties” from Canada and Mexico to the most powerful honchos from the US and China.

Ironically, the anti-APEC forces grouped under the People’s Campaign against Imperialist Globalization and BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) sought to popularize the pun #APECtado (#YouAreAffected) in social and the dominant media to draw attention to APEC, what it really means and why it should be protested and, ultimately, done away with.

The anti-APEC protests together with the numerous school forums, community meetings, and group discussions as well as the informational and educational materials produced and disseminated were part of valiant efforts to get the facts and the truth known. Elite institutions including corporate mass media outlets that shape public opinion did not really scratch the surface on the critique of APEC and why there are anti-APEC protests.

This is partly intentional (mass media after all is also part of big business that is embedded in APEC) but also partly because APEC is both not easy to sell to the broader public as opposition to it is not something you can catch in sound bytes. Many times the anti-APEC demonstrators are made to appear like they are only sloganeering, not really understanding why they oppose APEC. As always, their protests are reduced to violent confrontations with the police. Worse, they are even depicted as merely posturing for the media cameras.

This thought should give pause to some of our kababayan who easily dismiss the demonstrators: Why do you presume that when ordinary people oppose and protest APEC and macroeconomic policies in general, they are biased ignoramuses or perennial naysayers?

The worker who can make the connection between starvation wages, job insecurity, inhuman work conditions and neoliberal economic policies is not dumb, he is enlightened. The landless peasant who realizes that rampant land grabbing, land use conversion, unfair competition for their agricultural produce due to imported goods dumped into the country — all in the wake of liberalization policies — is not brainwashed, he is awakened. The indigenous people of Mindanao and the rest of the country who sees “globalization” as the plunder of their ancestral lands and their displacement and death as a people, are not being paranoid, reality has been shoved into their faces.

Long after APEC fades from the limelight, the multitudes who were kept out of the summitry will continue to suffer under its benighted legacy. Conversely, the ranks of the awakened can only swell and their struggle to bring about change, grow ever stronger.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published in Business World
November 29, 2015

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