‘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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