By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Benigno Aquino III was elected by a people longing for change, especially after the scandal-ridden administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The Macapagal-Arroyo family was linked to so many corruption and bribery scandals that anybody who was to replace her could be deemed an angel. But as fate would have it, Corazon Aquino, the figurehead of the EDSA people power uprising against the Marcos dictatorship, died and this propelled her only son Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, an underperforming senator who was also a former House representative with no major accomplishment to boast of, to the presidency.
But the Filipino people was hopeful that an unlikely president would bring change in Malacañang and address the problems of corruption, injustice, unresolved extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and filing of trumped up cases against activists and murders of journalists, suppression of dissent, poverty, unemployment and worsening social inequities.
So what happened after five and a half years?
Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her close allies Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla have been brought to court and detained, former chief justice Renato Corona and former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez were removed, and a few other minor functionaries of the former administration have likewise been charged and jailed. But their cases would definitely outlast the current administration and their fate would depend on the leanings of the next government. The developments in the case of the main conduit to the corruption of pork barrel funds, Janet Lim-Napoles, have been kept from public scrutiny.
Moreover, all allies of the Aquino administration that were linked to previous and even current corruption scandals are being well protected. Far from being eradicated, corruption persists, albeit involving different personalities and a different type of pork barrel the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
Justice has still been elusive to the victims of killings and other rights violations. Even the most well-known cases where the perpetrators have been identified – the Maguindanao massacre and the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos, son of press freedom icon the late Joe Burgos – are nowhere near attaining justice. Worse, under the Aquino administration’s watch, more journalists have been murdered and more political activists have been killed, disappeared, and harassed through physical and legal threats. The unabated killings and enforced disappearances, harassments, and enforced evacuation being committed against the Lumad by military and paramilitary forces demonstrate with clarity that the Aquino administration is not beyond committing human rights violations to suppress dissent and to protect the interests of big foreign and local businesses.
The Aquino administration has hardly made a dent in addressing the problem of poverty, unemployment, and social inequities mainly because it has been pursuing the same economic policies of deregulation, liberalization, and privatization, which were implemented by Macapagal-Arroyo and all other previous presidents.
Independent think-tank Ibon estimates that there are 12.2 million unemployed and underemployed – 4.3 million unemployed and 7.9 million underemployed – by the end of 2014. This, according to Ibon, is the most number of unemployed and underemployed in the country’s history.
The wealth of the 10 richest Filipinos has tripled from P630 billion in 2010 to P2.2 trillion in 2015. The net income of 260 listed firms of the Philippine Stock Exchange rose from P438 billion in 2010 to P583 billion in 2014.
On the other hand, the share of regular employees to total employment decreased from 72 percent to 56 percent. Ibon also said that using the government’s low poverty threshold of P58 per person per day, the number of poor Filipinos has likely increased by some 2.5 million since the start of the Aquino administration. By the end of 2014, Ibon estimates that the number of poor Filipinos has reached 25.8 million. Using the 2012 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, around 66 million Filipinos are living with P125 or less per day.
Landlessness persists. Around 1.2 million farmers are in tenancy arrangements and 75.8 percent of beneficiaries of the government’s land reform program could not pay the amortization imposed by the government.
However, hearing President Aquino talk about the accomplishments and legacy of his administration, it seems that these problems have been effectively addressed. President Aquino often mentions that he has prohibited the use of wang-wang (sirens) by government officials as a symbol of his campaign against abuse of power. But the wang-wang may have been rendered silent, but still, motorcycle cops stop and push vehicles aside whenever a government official’s convoy of vehicles is passing through. Just like the wang-wang campaign, it’s all empty talk, it’s all for show.