Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume IV, Number 22 July 4 - 10, 2004 Quezon City, Philippines
Arroyo’s 10-point agenda goes nowhere to resolving the country’s basic
ills. Her so-called “legacies” are a just a mix of populist rhetoric,
assurances that government will be attending to the needs of big business,
and vacuous cries for “unity” and “peace.”
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo takes her oath June 30 in Cebu as the country's 14th president
first glance, the “10-point agenda” outlined by Macapagal-Arroyo
during her inaugural address last June 30 seems innocent enough, and even
desirable. Taken verbatim from her speech they are:
shall have created more than six million jobs, perhaps, even 10
million jobs… I shall have supported three million entrepreneurs by
giving them loans and helping them become good managers… I shall
have developed one million hectares, if possible two million of
agribusiness land by making them productive and transporting their
products to the markets efficiently.
of school age will be in school in an uncrowded classroom, in
surroundings conducive to learning. Hangad kong makapasok sa
eskuwela ang bawat bata. Mayroong sapat na lugar sa silid-aralan at
may computer sa bawat aralan. (I wish for all children to
be able to go to school. With enough classroom and computers at every
shall have balanced the budget by collecting the right revenues and
spending on the right things.
network of transport and digital infrastructure on which my government
embarked in the last three years will have linked the entire country.
and water will be regularly provided to all barangays (villages).
Manila will be decongested with economic activity growing and
spreading to new centers of government, business and community in
Luzon, in the Visayas and in Mindanao.
Subic-Clark corridor will be the most competitive international
service and logistic center in the Southeast Asian Region.
will no longer raise a single doubt about their integrity. The
electoral process will be completely computerized.
will have come to Mindanao. All insurgence shall have turned their
swords into plowshares. They will have become so absorbed into one
society that the struggles of the past will be just a stuff of legend.
divisive issues generated by EDSA I, II and III will also be just
memories shared by friends from every side in those upheavals… Only
the lessons of unity, courage and a just closure left alive in their
have been hailed as “inspired” and showing how “action-oriented”
and “results-oriented” the new president is. Unfortunately these have
to be read against harsh economic and political realities.
agenda opens with a seeming blockbuster double-bill: jobs for millions and
education for all. Progress, moreover, won’t just be in Metro Manila but
spread throughout the archipelago. The only problem is that the government
has done dismally in these areas, historically and especially since
2001 when Ms. Arroyo took over the presidency after Edsa Dos.
“one million jobs a year” claim of government is a particularly
deceitful half-truth where jobs “created” are cited outside the
context of the needs of a growing labor force. Measured against that –
which is what government must ultimately be responsible for – there were
473,000 more jobless Filipinos in 2003, the last full year of Ms.
Arroyo’s term, than in 2000. The average annual unemployment rate even
deteriorated from 11.2 percent in 2000 to 11.4 percent in 2003.
another way, Ms. Arroyo’s half-term presidency saw the highest recorded
unemployment rates in decades and the highest number of jobless Filipinos
– nearly 5 million in April 2004 (see Gov’t Destroys .5 M Jobs,
Record 5 M Jobless) – that the country has ever seen. Barring
catastrophic economic collapse, the one-million-jobs-a-year target will
likely be met. But though seemingly a lot this low target is just not
way Ms. Arroyo aims to “create” these jobs is also revealing. In the
version of the 10-point agenda posted by the Office of the Press
Secretary, it is more explicitly stated that six million jobs are to be
created through opportunities to entrepreneurs, loans to small and
medium enterprises, and land development for agri-business. To be sure
this panders to individual business aspirations. Yet in the absence of a
genuine industrial and agricultural strategy necessary for building a
solid domestic economic base, pockets of individual wealth only obscure
the absence of economy-wide development.
most fundamental economic reforms needed are genuine land distribution and
real support services, a deliberate industrial investment policy, and
judicious protectionism. Promoting individualistic “entrepreneurship”
in the absence of these can only result in increasing joblessness. Even
the stated goal of developing agri-business land is ominous – implying a
renewed drive to enable agricultural land as collateral that will
ultimately increase land re-concentration and landlessness.
quality-education-for-all promise, on the other hand, is not so much a
half-truth but an outright lie considering the trend in national
government spending on education. The long-standing insufficiency of the
government education budget already shows in the dismal lack of teachers,
classrooms, desks and books as well as rising out-of-pocket expenses of
real spending on education – meaning taking inflation into
account – has been falling since 1998 and especially so since Ms. Arroyo
came to power. The P129.9 billion budget for education in 2003 is 5
percent less in real terms than that in 2000 (in contrast, the 2000
education budget eroded 0.6 percent in real terms compared to 1997).
Re-enacted in 2004, this budget will mean even less with inflation so far
this year already accelerating to some 4.2 percent.
glowing promises are belied by the apparent and worsening government
neglect. And while there is no doubt about the need to modernize
education, the promise of computers in every school is peculiar given the
sorry state of the basics. Indeed, given the fact of an eroding education
budget and deteriorating public schools, the appeal to modernizing
aspirations is manipulative and borders on the insulting.
while the people have little to hope for, big business has been assured of
government efforts to give them opportunities for profit. The 10-point
agenda affirms Ms. Arroyo’s support for some of foreign investors’
currently most preferred investment areas: power and water, service and
logistics, and transport and technology infrastructure. Investment areas
where, conveniently, major U.S. corporate interests are involved. We can
take a few examples.
It is surely no coincidence that the USAID-funded AGILE’s crafting of the power sector-privatizing EPIRA in 2001 was closely followed by a US$5 million USAID/U.S. Department of Energy project providing “advisers” to the Philippine Department of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission. U.S. companies are active in the country – including Mirant, Unocal (Philippine Geothermal), Enron, CalEnergy, Covanta, Intergen, Sithe, Bechtel, El Paso, Ormat, and CMS Generation. Mirant alone has over US$ 2.5 billion in total investments in the power sector.
The country is also entirely dependent on imported equipment. Government efforts in “power and water,” “transport and digital infrastructure,” and “service and logistics” invariably mean massively profitable opportunities for suppliers. The U.S. is particularly well positioned and imports from it take up large chunks of the domestic market: telecommunications (45.6%), information technology (27.8%), electrical power (24.4%), construction (21.1%) and water (15%).
the experience of private sector provision of public goods like power,
water, telecommunications and transport infrastructure is to turn these
more and more into luxury goods only for those who can afford them. Water
charges per cubic meter have increased 253% (Manila Water) and 427%
(Maynilad) between 1998 and 2003. Power rate hikes were already higher by
150% between the mid-1990s and 2003. Further increases are already
looming, most immediately in toll way fees come July 5.
for the people, certainly, but only to the extent that there’s a profit
to be made. There is a similar situation in the declaration of a balanced
budget by 2009. “Balance” that is not as innocent as it seems because
what Ms. Arroyo means by the “right” revenues and the “right”
spending, if Philippine economic history is any guide, is unfortunately
not so right for the people.
problem of a national government surplus of 0.1 percent in 1997 steadily
worsening to a 4.6 percent deficit in 2003 is well-known already. Likewise
with the burden of P3.4 trillion in national government debt at the end of
2003, including contingent liabilities which reached P723 billion in
February. Big business is worried about the impact of fiscal problems on
the country’s – and their – credit ratings.
possible tax measures being floated include on text messages, tobacco and
liquor, petroleum products, and gross income which reportedly could earn
the government at least P50 billion annually. Also being considered are a
further expansion in the VAT to 12 percent – with P14 billion in
additional earnings yearly – and the “rationalization” of fees,
charges and fiscal incentives. The Bureau of Internal Revenue also claims
up to P102 billion in “leakages.”
Cutting through the technicalities though, the basic problem is that budget deficits have historically been reduced through harsh austerity measures hitting social services the worst. And it seems that Ms. Arroyo’s priorities are no different.
Not only has social services spending historically fallen far short of meeting people’s needs for education, health and housing, real spending on these taking inflation into account has even drastically fallen since 1997 – by 6 percent (education) to as much as 36 percent (health). In contrast debt payments have more than doubled in real terms and military spending increased by about 5 percent. Notable also is the supplemental budget passed pre-elections to finance just the elections and a pay hike for the military.
last cluster of the so-called “legacies” that she said she wants to
leave after her term are simply underwhelming and most quickly dismissed,
especially when measured against recent behavior.
long-delayed computerization of elections is a tacit admission of the
malleability of current manual methods. But even then, computerization as
such is distantly secondary to the real problem of Philippine democracy:
that whatever the methods of counting, it is a political exercise
dominated by economic elites with strict limits on the extent to which the
genuinely progressive can participate and be meaningful.
the calls for “unity” and “peace” cannot but ring hollow for so
long as the basic reasons why there is unrest and dissatisfaction
continue. The overwhelming number of Filipinos are poor, sick,
ill-educated and badly-housed because of a political and economic system
that places elite and imperialist profits above all. And yet the 10-point
agenda – already reported to be at the core of the upcoming Medium-Term
Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP), the government’s six-year economic
blueprint – is noticeably silent on some vital issues such as
landlessness, low wages and the onslaught of so-called globalization.
Arroyo’s 10-point agenda goes nowhere to resolving these. It is
immediately clear that her so-called “legacies” are a just a mix of
populist rhetoric, assurances that government will be attending to the
needs of big business, and vacuous cries for “unity” and “peace.” Bulatlat.com