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Consolidating Consensus, Advancing People’s Struggles and Building Alternatives
by James Matthew Miraflor
The script, which was used every SONA, is the most effective one. Blame former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to distance oneself from the evils of her government. Tell everyone how bad things were, as if the gravity of the darkness then would absolve all his failings. No one believes it anymore, if anyone believed it then. Our answer is the same as his: GMA is worse than Aquino? “Eh di wow.”
Relative vs. Absolute
Aquino’s economic team seems deeply confused about absolute versus relative values. Of course everything will be bigger: dividends, revenues, budgets, etc. Population is growing, and so are markets. So we have to compare Aquino’s performance not on absolute terms relative to the growth of the economy. For instance, Aquino’s current revenue effort of 15.1% still fell short of Arroyo’s peak at 16.49%. With its current trend of deceleration, the Department of Finance (DoF) may be hard-pressed to reach the administration’s target of 16.5% in 2016. Despite aggressive tax policies of Kim Henares lauded by the President, tax revenues fell short of target in 2014 (short by 159.78 billion) and 2013 (72.2 billion).
The trumping of unemployment progress too, now down to 6.8%, is confused. Our unemployment rate is worst in the ASEAN, as reported by International Labor Organization (ILO). This is what we are bringing to the ASEAN as we are participating in another round of APEC talks. Again, the focus on the absolute figures rather than relative ones is for the purpose of massaging reality.
Massaging the data a la Arroyo
This blatant spinning of data leaves us no recourse but to say it at last: Aquinomics = Arroyonomics.
The tone is clear. At the start, Aquino trumpeted credit rating upgrades and our new status as “Asia’s Brightest Spot”. We heard that a few years ago, when Arroyo proudly claim our status as one of the “Next 11” countries after receiving favourable reception of investors of her policies. The emphasis of record-breaking foreign investments is also old news, even as the Philippines actually has the lowest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) percentage (1.12% of GDP) in the ASEAN according to the 2014 United Nations Human Development Report.
The massaging of data went on and on. Manufacturing is supposedly growing, but like her predecessor, it remains to be heavily import dependent. Consider that in 2013, Electronic Integrated Circuits corner 25% of our exports (the largest in the pie), 25% of which went to China. But looking at our imports, electronic ICs corner 14%, 27% of which came from the United States. In short, our primary export is electronics imported from the US exported to China.
Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) may have been an effective intervention, but computing its impact as is, that is it is not enough. At its current levels (less than P5,000 per month), we have to compare the cost versus benefits. The real question is: Was it an effective intervention with respect to alternative interventions which would have cost less? We can also ask: Had it been more effective had we increased the benefit per household?
No SONA is complete without Aquino’s blame game, as it is the only way he can defuse criticisms – by pre-empting them and blaming his people. He castigated Transport Secretary Jun Abaya for failing in his tasks to manage the Metro Railway Transit (MRT), pointing his inability to play hard ball with the capitalists controlling the metro’s transport backbone – with the private sector transferring their responsibilities to the government. The message is that it is his men, not his policies, which are to blame. The problem is that his policy to promote Public Private Partnership (PPP) is the very model adopted by MRTC and the model he is trying to reverse via Equity Value Buyout (EVBO).
Aquino explained their development strategy underlying the thrust “kung walang korap, walang mahirap”: justice, trust, economic growth, opportunity, progress. He then concluded that progress has been achieved without “cheating”, as we have clearly invested in the anti-corruption drive, which led to credit and investment rating upgrades, which led to the supposedly highest growth average in 40 years, which led to increasing opportunity for the poor.
The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) recognizes corruption as an important developmental problem, and subsequently attacked the Arroyo administration for it. But from the beginning of his administration, we have already denied that anti-corruption alone is not enough, and it may even be distracting us from structural causes of impoverishment. It is no longer a proposition now – despite 5 years of uninterrupted growth (not unlike Arroyo’s), poverty incidence increased to 25.8% – erasing all anti-poverty gains his administration proudly proclaimed in previous SONAs and statements. Assuming that corruption decreased, poverty certainly didn’t.
For removing the thin, anti-corruption mask of the Aquino’s administration will reveal its true character: it is the same elite government as his predecessor, with the same policies, crafted by the same elitist groups, benefitting the same elite class while giving token social welfare to the rest. It is the same corporate class that has financed his predecessor that supported his election, and for the past five years, they have been cashing in.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his pilot program: the PPP. Infused with regulatory guarantees, facilitated by the full entry of foreign banks that assures cheap access to capital, of course the corporate profiteers will queue to have their share of the pie. Business optimism will naturally be high, for they are at the receiving end of Aquino’s gravy train. Check out the billion-peso deals of the Ayala group, for instance.
Not a Lame Duck
FDC will continue to fight Aquino’s elitist, neoliberal polices, as it had fought Arroyo’s. Aquino’s last year in office, far from being a lame duck presidency, will be characterized by a rapacious effort to push as many neoliberal policies as he can. In his own words, “we ain’t seen nothing yet. Simula pa lang po ito.”
These anti-people policies will be insidiously mixed with legitimate reform agenda like the Freedom for Information (FoI) bill, the rationalization of fiscal incentives bill, and an anti-dynasty bill. This is something the Filipino people cannot allow even as we support his more progressive initiatives.
We enjoin the Filipino people to continue their resistance and reject Aquino’s neoliberal and elitist policies as they had rejected Arroyo’s.