PH must change its neo-liberal course or suffer another "Lost Decade"
President Benigno S. Aquino III or P-Noy got elected on a mandate to correct the unprecedented corruption under the previous administration. However, there is another equally, if not more, compelling problem, the solution to which can no longer wait. This problem is widespread poverty and the failure of the economy to provide the majority of Filipinos a respectable and dignified life.
P-Noy did take some bold steps to deliver on his anti-corruption promise. To the other problem, he adopted, unfortunately, a"business-as-usual" approach. Sad to say, his was no different from that of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
While P-Noy couched his economic program as "inclusive growth" upon the promptings of ADB and IMF-WB and his economic team, it says little that is new aside from more jobs, more infrastructure, more social spending and more safety nets for the "poorest of the poor."
The P-Noy administration's strategy is still anchored on market-oriented and private sector-led economic growth with trickle-down impact on the majority.
In substance and effect, this neo-liberal strategy is about subordinating government and the public sector to private corporate ends and mechanisms in running the economy.
Three years after and midway into P-Noy's term, the consequences of this economic governance have been bad for our country. As NSCB data of 2012 shows, there has been no significant decline in the poverty ratio since 2006 despite claims of moderate to high growth rates during these years. Worse, inequality has worsened which is a clear sign that neo-liberal growth has favored only those at the top. Seventy six percent (76%) of GDP growth for 2011 is equivalent to the income growth of the richest 40 families in the country. In 2009, the Philippines' gini coefficient (WB, 2009) already made it the most unequal country in Southeast Asia (no figures for Burma) and one of the highly unequal countries in the world.
This experience shows that the lack of growth of the economy is not the main, much less the sole reason behind the problem of poverty and failed economy. Rather, it has been the result of historically-entrenched deep inequalities in the control of sources of wealth, access to education, health and housing services and the enjoyment of political power between a small oligarchic elite that enjoys the support and patronage of global powers, particularly the US, and the vast majority.
Monopolies and oligopolies dominate almost all sectors of the economy, allowing them to frustrate, even strangle the growth of micro, small and medium businesses. Big landowning clans and big agribusinesses control and benefit from the main lifelines of agriculture and fishery and frustrate agrarian reform. Full and meaningful participation of the majority in the economy is blocked by the bitter reality that only 10 percent finished tertiary education and 40 percent did not complete secondary education. Malnutrition is significant among children and adults and adequate health services are beyond the reach of many among us. Four million families or roughly 20 million persons live in substandard and unsecured houses and land.
Enlarging the pie through sustained economic growth to increase the share of the majority will not redress this situation. What is needed is redistribution of assets and incomes. However, this is rendered impossible to achieve by the neo-liberal strategy and policies which successive governments since Cory Aquino's have pursued. By allowing corporate-driven markets and global powers to dictate the course of our economy, both industry and agriculture have been consigned to the backburner in favor of externally-oriented services. The commons, our inalienable natural resources, our water, land, minerals, forests are now steadily being privatized and commodified.
Neo-liberal growth has created widespread joblessness, job insecurity and rampant violations of workers' rights. The Filipino diaspora count of 9 million workers is still increasing, depriving the nation of citizens with skills, enterprise, and resources.
Furthermore, the Philippine Government's addiction to debt to finance what it calls development and its own operations has made it a captive of various policy impositions by the international financing institutions, the commercial banks and foreign governments. Turning to bond markets as the primary source of external and domestic loans maintains debt-dependency and makes it vulnerable to global and regional financial instabilities and manipulation. Social debt – the unfulfilled State obligations to to its citizens in the area of food, education, health, housing, and other social needs in compliance with its own laws and programs and international covenants have accumulated in gargantuan terms as a result of putting debt service payments as the topmost priority of government spending.
Economic solutions alone will also not suffice. In fact, they cannot be resorted to without simultaneously democratizing the political and State system of the country. This system adopts democratic ends formally but institutionalizes means which empower the oligarchic dynasties to rule over our country, not the people who should be the master in a democracy. This system also allows foreign, especially US, interference in the internal affairs of our country which they desire to retain as an imperial preserve.
Winning the fight for equality and justice is also essential to winning the fight against climate change. While some forward steps have been taken to adapt the country to climate change and mitigate carbon emissions, the Philippine government must take a really consistent stand for climate justice. It must be more aggressive to demand reparations and more responsibility from rich and industrialized countries which did the most damage to the globe's climate and environment. It must reject global corporate greed to commodify nature and thus turn climate change into another arena for profiteering through loans and other financial instruments.
P-Noy has wasted the opportunity of his first three years to turn the country around towards making a better life for all Filipinos. Those three years were precious for striking out on new directions, rather than having allowed himself to be regaled by hypes coming from international credit agencies and international financial institutions like the ADB and the IMF-World Bank.
There is no alternative to altering the neo-liberal course of the Philippine economy and correcting the systemic economic and political inequality. Our country, especially our young, has suffered so much from repeated lost decades. We cannot afford to have another lost decade and a lost generation that goes with it.
RICARDO B. REYES
Freedom from Debt Coalition