PHILIPPINES: Much has been won; much still to be fought for
Akbayan on President Aquino's 3rd State of the Nation Address
As President Benigno Simeon Aquino III prepares for his upcoming state of the nation address (SONA), Akbayan Party joins the Filipino people in celebrating our victories these past two years. Since the people's break from a corrupt and decadent past, we immediately worked to rebuild and fulfill our dreams. We have planted the seeds of change and reclaimed some of the lost social and political reforms.
However, while much has been won in the past two years, we believe much has still to be fought for and won to hasten, broaden and deepen the process of implementing essential and far-reaching reforms.
In the people's quest for truth, justice and accountability
Arroyos, Corona, Abalos
In this manner, Akbayan joins the Aquino government in its important victory brought about by the prosecution of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former first gentleman Mike Arroyo and former Comelec Chairperson Benjamin Abalos for the crimes they committed against the people. We commend Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales for filing plunder charges against Arroyo and other erring government officials. We also laud the Department of Justice for preventing the Arroyos' escape and seeing through a defective TRO issued by Renato Corona who was convicted and removed as Chief Justice through a successful impeachment process.
These are clear triumphs of truth and justice, responding to the people's clamor for accountability and demonstrating the resolve of the Aquino government to eradicate corruption. Supported by an active citizenry, we have began the process of restoring the confidence of the business and international communities in our political system and created the necessary impetus in our effort to rebuild our democratic institutions.
Ampatuans, Palparan, Marcos
But much still needs to be done. To begin with, the Ampatuan massacre trial remains to be a slow, winding road where vital witnesses to the case are one after the other ending up dead. Added to this, former General Jovito Palparan, accused for numerous extrajudicial killings, is still a fugitive from the law. Worse, the human rights victims of a dictatorial past are still crying for justice.
Akbayan calls on President Aquino to heed the people's call for "all-out-justice." Akbayan earnestly hopes that the Ampatuans and Palparan will be made to answer for their crimes. We expect President Aquino, himself the son of democracy icons who fought the dictatorship, to include the Marcos Compensation Bill in his priority legislations.
FoI and "Silip SALN" Bills
To further the campaign against impunity and corruption, we also call for the inclusion of the Freedom of Information (FoI) and Akbayan's "Silip SALN" Bills in President Aquino's priority legislations to help the people's effort to weed out systematic corruption. The FoI bill is the "mother of all waivers" that will herald a new era in the people's effort to weed out systemic corruption while the "Silip SALN" bill will allow the public unimpeded access to the statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth of public officials.
In the arena of agrarian reform, Akbayan hails the Filipino farmers' triumph in the Hacienda Luisita case, validating the decades-long struggle for agrarian reform and vindicating CARPER. With the high tribunal's final ruling, we call on President Aquino to accomplish what the first Aquino government had failed to do and effect meaningful redistribution to the landless farmworkers of the Hacienda.
Akbayan also welcomes the pledge made by President Aquino to distribute all large landholdings through CARPER by 2014. The Aquino government's definitive statement on the issue of land distribution eased the growing concern among Filipino farmers that the government is dragging its feet on this important task.
Fast-track CARPER, Amend DAR AOs, Coco Levy
We hope the Aquino government will stay true to its word to fast-track and complete land distribution under CARPER and amend Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Administrative Orders 7 and 9 to repeal all the controversial sections that give privilege to the landowners' dilatory tactics.
We also call on the administration to utilize the 24% San Miguel shares purchased with coco levy funds to develop the coconut industry in order to lift more than 20 million Filipino families from poverty. The agricultural sector must be modernized and freed from all feudal vestiges if we desire a strong national economy.
On economic development and addressing poverty
Subsequently, Akbayan calls on the Aquino administration to intensify its pursuit of economic development with the people at the core of its paradigm. We call for a comprehensive review of our economic policies geared towards the crafting of a new development plan that will re-distribute wealth, reinvigorate the domestic market and generate regular jobs. In the immediate, the government should implement policies and programs that will hold back if not address the immediate manifestations of poverty.
Moratorium on Demolitions, Security of Tenure
Thus, we welcome government's move to allocate Php 50 billion, on top of the conditional cash transfer program, through the NAPC, DILG and the DSWD for the humane relocation of informal settlers in Metro Manila living in danger zones. However, this should be accompanied with an executive order from President Aquino calling for a national moratorium on forced demolitions to give informal settlers a respite from violent demolitions and the enactment of the Security of Tenure Bill to overhaul the governing rules of contractual work.
Pass the RH bill
Alongside this, Akbayan asks President Aquino to use his political capital to finally pass the Reproductive Health Bill which has been languishing in Congress for 16 years. Beyond drastically reducing the number of deaths due to unsafe childbirths, unwanted pregnancies, and the rate of infection of sexually transmitted diseases, the RH Bill is an important development policy for economic empowerment.
Reconsider $1 B IMF Pledge, increase social spending
Furthermore, we hope the Aquino government will reconsider its US$ 1 billion pledge to the IMF. While we join the government in its call to extend solidarity and assistance to other countries ravaged by the economic crisis, it is injudicious to lend to international financial institutions which are primarily accused of causing the crisis in the first place. Instead, we join the European people in their call for IFIs and big banks to take responsibility for their role in the global economic crisis. We also join them in the call for a sovereign, democratic and responsible financing system. The Philippine government has no business in rescuing irresponsible banks. It is prudent for the government to use the money to increase social spending to address its chronic underspending and serve as the Filipino people's protection from the ill-effects of the worsening global economy.
On the environment
In the government's effort to safeguard the environment, we laud President Aquino for explicitly declaring in Executive Order. 79, which areas should not be included in mining operations. This includes tourism sites, farmlands, marine sanctuaries and island ecosystems. We also welcome the EO for recognizing the indigenous people and their communities as important stakeholders in the mining issue.
Alternative Minerals bill
Nevertheless, there are still many issues which the EO—which was based on the defective Mining Act of 1995—cannot fully address. Akbayan believes no less than an Alternative Minerals Law coupled with a National Land Use policy will completely address the multifaceted issues surrounding mining. We therefore urge President Aquino to certify as urgent Akbayan's House Bill No. 3763, also known as the Minerals Management Bill to put premium in the ecological value of our country's mineral resources, and shift the land use priority towards environmental protection, food security and sustainable development.
Promoting peace and regional security
Lastly, Akbayan commends President Aquino as well as our armed forces for their resolute defense of our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. Despite being a small country, we have shown to the whole world our courage in securing our sovereignty against China's regional bullying and expansionist ambitions.
We also acknowledge the efforts of the government in implementing reforms in the ARMM as well as its commitment to pursue peace with the MILF. We are hopeful that after 14 years of negotiations, the government and the MILF will finally forge an agreement for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.
Independent and Progressive Foreign Policy
Yet, we strongly caution the Aquino government from anchoring its foreign policy to the political and military interests of the United States or any other country. While we support the government's strong stance against China and support efforts to strengthen our ties with our allies, Philippine foreign policy must be independent and outside of any country's shadows.
Much still to be fought for and won
Akbayan looks forward to seeing the struggle for reforms result in the transformation of ambulatory socio-economic schemes into comprehensive social protection programs, that the campaign to weed out corruption will go deeper to its systemic causes to bring about functional institutions and deepen democracy, and that the gains from promoting peace and sovereignty would translate into an independent foreign policy rooted in international solidarity.
We expect that as President Aquino embarks on the second half of his term, the reform initiative would undergo a process of instituting policies and programs that would not only expand the people's victories but also, hopefully, make the structural reforms both felt and irreversible. Akbayan Party, being a progressive coalition partner of this government and with the support of the Filipino people will strive to significantly contribute to this undertaking. ###
'People's patience might snap if real progress will not happen soon'
Statement of the Sentro ng mga Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) on the third State of the Nation Address (Sona) of Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III on 23 July 2012:
AS P-NOY wraps up his second year in office and enters the first half of his six-year term highlighted by his Sona today, the Sentro ng mga Progresibong Manggagawa, a new labor center launched last May Day, is now compelled to issue a terse warning for this government. Despite maintaining high approval and trust ratings across the country's geographical areas and socioeconomic classes in successive surveys (including by the SWS), Aquino's popularity will soon plunge sharply and his presidency will face the "wrath" of the people when their patience over the government's superficial and ineffective "reforms" reach their breaking point.
In governance, two years in office is more than enough to receive either a thunderous accolade or a stinging rebuke. Indeed, the Aquino administration should not readily blame the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime for all the problems in the Philippines. While the incriminating "fingerprints" of Gloria and her cohorts are found in almost every major "crime scenes" of fairly recent corruption and political repression; but, at the same time, the shadows of omissions and transgressions of P-Noy and his acolytes are now also looming in the background.
In fact, Aquino's electoral slogan of "Kung walang korap, walang mahirap" is now becoming an empty rhetoric or another comedic counterpart of Erap's "Walang kaibigan, walang kamag-anak" braggadocio. The prosecution of Gloria and some of her coconspirators - many are still roaming scot-free, including her notorious husband, Mike Arroyo - deserves a cautious praise since they are not yet formally convicted and the possibility of them winning the cases later is very likely considering the serious flaws in the country's "justice" system. Remember what happened to the mountain of cases filed against the Marcoses? No punishment was meted out and they are now back in power!
(Talking of dispensing with justice, both the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the US Department of State have scored the Aquino government for the persistent impunity of human rights violations in the country. Aside from the excruciatingly slow trial of the Maguindanao Massacre suspects and the failure to arrest ex-Gen. Jovito Palparan, known as "the butcher" and the brains behind many abductions and "salvagings" of activists, HRW also said that at least "10 cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances" happened since Aquino took office. Even Etta Rosales, chair of the Commission on Human Rights, has admitted that "two years into the Aquino administration, not a single human rights violator has been arrested and sent to jail.")
More significantly, P-Noy's slogan reveals the mindset of his administration and even the past governments - and, of course, the employers, especially the Big Business or top corporations. Granting that large-scale corruption can be effectively curbed, poverty will still be widespread as long as the grossly unequal distribution of wealth remains entrenched.
But the line of thinking of this government will definitely be echoed in P-Noy's Sona. He will surely cite the continuing economic "progress" of the country as proven by the high 6.4 percent "growth" in the gross domestic product in the first quarter of this year - from an anemic 3.9 percent GDP last year. Backing this claim, the World Bank announced only last week that it has raised its growth forecast for the Philippines this year, from 4.2 percent to 4.6 percent. The International Monetary Fund quickly followed suit by declaring that it has lifted the country's growth outlook from 4.2 percent to 4.8 percent this year, and from 4.7 percent to 4.9 percent next year.
The problem with these "growths" is that ever since they have fundamentally failed to reach the vast majority of the Filipinos. The worn-out capitalist "trickle-down" of wealth cliché has remained, well, a cliché. For instance, the government's poverty reduction goals have miserably failed to keep up with the so-called "growths" in the GDP or GNP (gross national product) as shown in the continued wide income disparity and poor job creation and quality.
And since this "growth" has not created long-term and sustainable livelihood prospects, it is not surprising that during a recent SWS survey, poverty perception has further worsened to 55 percent in March this year compared to 45 percent last December. This is equivalent to about 2 million poor families more or a hike from 9.1 million to 11.1 million poor families. Similarly, in the same survey during the same period, unemployment also swelled from 24 percent or 9.7 million workers to a staggering record high of 34.4 percent or 13.8 million workers! Ironically, all these occurred while the economy purportedly shot up to 6.4 percent!
A study also bared that the 1.1 million "jobs" the government has allegedly created as of April this year were basically "additional part-time workers." The latter actually comprise about 43 percent (and counting) of jobs in the national economy - or 16.2 million of the 38 million said to be employed, which indicates that the job quality being generated is deteriorating.
Workers' wages have remained pitiful. For example, a research shows that the latest P30 salary "hike" in the NCR last May is actually a mere 44 percent of the appraised P1,017 family living wage - a wide difference compared to the 53 percent ratio of the minimum wage vis-à-vis the FLW ten years ago.
While not discriminating against part-time workers and the burgeoning informal or contractual workforce in general, this escalating phenomenon of non-regular labor is a cause of serious concern. Their rapid growth is essentially a deliberate neoliberal tactic, which is consciously or unconsciously tolerated by P-Noy, with an end goal of creating a huge army of contract workers with cheaper or unstable wages and benefits, no security of tenure, as well as banned from joining or forming unions and having CBAs or CNAs. Thus, the "cheap and docile" as well as unorganized workers tag.
In the Hacienda Luisita issue, Aquino's supposed "non-interference" could actually be seen as a ploy to subtly back the intransigence of his relatives to cling to their warped and feudal ownership claims to the over 6,400-hectare estate in Tarlac. In fact, a study says that among the post-Marcos governments, the P-Noy administration has the lowest land distribution record so far - 13,819 hectares per month as of September last year - which makes its current rate of land distribution "already over five-and-a-half years behind schedule" based on its June 2014 target under CARPER (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms).
Meanwhile, further mirroring the character and tendencies of the Aquino government - amid the worsening poverty of the majority and the deteriorating plight of the working class - the few rich and powerful have in fact become tremendously richer and powerful since P-Noy assumed the presidency. According to Forbes, the 40 richest Filipinos, including five billionaires (in US dollars), in 2010 owned a combined assets of $22.4 billion or a little more than P1 trillion. Both figures more than doubled after only two years - 15 dollar billionaires in the 40 wealthiest Filipinos with a total mind-boggling incomes of $47.4 billion or almost P2 trillion or over one-fifth (21 percent) of last year's GDP!
Truly, the filthy rich and powerful in the country and the world have immensely benefited neither from "luck or hard work," but from the greed-induced programs of neoliberalism - all-out liberalization, deregulation and privatization of the economy; plus the ageless tactics of profiteering and suppression of dissent, including union-busting.
However, deprivation and repression, in all their forms, had always been and will always be met by protests and resistance. This could well be the scenario in the last four years of the Aquino government - if no meaningful social change will occur.
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