Aquino in another country

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

President Benigno S. C. Aquino III returned to the Philippines last Saturday after a week-long visit to France, Italy and the Vatican, but his remarks upon landing at the airport sounded as if he were still in another country.

Mr. Aquino said it was “great” to be President of a country whose people are universally admired, apparently because the French and Italian government officials he met and talked to had expressed their appreciation for the contributions of Filipinos to their respective countries.

The demands of diplomatic correctness aside (what else could they have said?), it’s an honest tribute, nevertheless. Filipinos are very much in evidence not only in Europe but also in all the other continents of the planet, and they have contributed not only their labor but also their skills to the countries where they work or study.

But those countries’ gain is the Philippines’ loss.

Thanks to Filipino migration, the talents, skills, knowledge and labor that could otherwise have helped move the nation forward have instead gone into sustaining the progress of other countries, in most cases because there is no market for their abilities in their own homeland.

Section 2, Paragraph (c) of the 1995 Migrant Workers Act declares that “While recognizing the significant contribution of Filipino migrant workers to the national economy through their foreign exchange remittances, the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development.”

The Act therefore makes it a State responsibility to “continuously create local employment opportunities and promote the equitable distribution of wealth and the benefits of development.”

Every president, including Mr. Aquino, who has ever gone abroad to solicit aid, loans and/or investments has announced that he or she has been assured of foreign funds’ coming into the country, which presumably would make more jobs available locally. But the number of Filipinos leaving the country for work abroad has not declined.

On the contrary: the migrants’ group Migrante International points out that more Filipinos are now leaving the Philippines for employment in other countries.

Despite the economic growth that the Aquino administration has been crowing about, the supposed influx of foreign investments and record growth of the economy have hardly made a dent on the unemployment rate.

From a daily average of 2,500 in 2009, the number of Filipinos leaving for work abroad went up to 4,018 in 2010; to 4,624 in 2011; 4,937 in 2012; 5,031 in 2013; 5,054 in 2014; and to 6,092 this year.

This hemorrhage of brain and brawn denies the country human capital that could otherwise contribute to its progress, and validates a Pulse Asia survey finding that some 19% of Filipinos — or nearly 20 million — would seek their fortunes in another country if there were an opportunity to do so.

The extent of unemployment, and consequently, of poverty in the Philippines is no less evident in the Aquino administration’s own acknowledgement of the existence of a huge population of homeless and street people when it frantically hides them in resorts, government facilities, and temporary shelters whenever an international event occurs, such as the Pope’s visit last January and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last November.

Much of Aquino administration talk has gone into its supposed commitment to “inclusive growth,” but that, apparently, is what it’s mostly been: talk. The reality is that economic growth has not benefitted the majority and has only made the rich even richer, thus the continuing exodus of Filipinos to other lands.

As if to emphasize its propensity for talk rather than deeds, Mr. Aquino spent a lot of time talking while he was himself abroad.

He appealed to France and Italy to support the Philippines in its dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea, as if he couldn’t wait for the country to be beholden to even more foreign patrons.

The President of the Philippines also talked to the Filipino community in Italy, which counts in its ranks mostly overseas Filipino workers (OFW). But no, he didn’t talk about what his administration has been doing for OFW’s in the areas of (1) his customs appointee’s decision to tax Balikbayan boxes; (2) putting a stop to the bullet-planting extortion scheme at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport that has victimized many OFWs; (3) the number of OFWs who have been sentenced to death for various alleged offenses — about 80 worldwide; (4) the continuing abuse of OFWs from Hong Kong to Saudi Arabia; and (5) most important of all, what he’s doing about providing the meaningful, sustained, and adequately compensated employment, the absence of which drove most of those in his audience into leaving the country in the first place.

Instead, Mr. Aquino talked like the trapo (traditional politician) he’s supposedly not by attacking the people who are contesting the presidency of the Republic with his anointed, Manuel “Mar” A. Roxas II, apparently because he’s thinking of the OFW votes — and hoping that they’ll make enough of a difference in the political fortunes of Roxas come May 2016 for the latter, despite his dismal survey numbers, to end up in Malacañang.

Mr. Aquino was in another country at the time, and he might as well have still been, when, upon landing on his native soil, he said that the Philippines was “different” now. He attributed the difference to the admiration Filipinos have earned worldwide — not because of their labor and sacrifices, but supposedly because of his policies.

Everyone but Mr. Aquino and his band of clueless and corrupt bureaucrats knows what the reality is: that government mismanagement and indifference has kept the majority poor. State failure to punish the killers of journalists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, human rights defenders and others has made the Philippines the poster boy of impunity, the human rights record of the Aquino administration being also among the poorest in Asia.

Its misuse of relief funds and goods for disasters is becoming an international scandal.

The Philippines has one of the worst airports in the world where extortionists have been exonerated by Mr. Aquino himself.

The capital has practically come to a standstill because of a traffic problem that in other countries would have led to multiple resignations and even suicides. The administration shamelessly hid the underprivileged even from the Pope of the poor who’s committed to their welfare. The same regime has made the country the doormat of every power on earth by throwing the country wide open to penetration and exploitation and bending over backwards to accommodate imperial strategic interests.

The Filipino people may have gained universal admiration for their tenacity, their capacity for work and sacrifice, their resiliency before adversity, and their skills and creativity.

But not the Philippines — and certainly not its government, whose current president might as well be from an imaginary country.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Published in Business World
December 10, 2015

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