MENDIOLA, Manila – “Everyday millions of Filipinos are experiencing a Duterte legacy – the rising GDP. That is GDP, Gutom ng Pilipino (Hunger of the Filipino),” Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, secretary-general of Sanlakas, lambasted the current administration today in a rally of marginalized groups a short distance from the gates of Malacañang Palace.
Pedrosa said that it is high time that hardworking Filipinos, “those who suffer hunger and deprivation while a handful of families are in the Forbes list” intensify the fight against gross inequality and build a government of and for the people.
Labor, urban poor, indigenous peoples, and other groups joined hands in the action. Among those in the rally were the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, the Aniban ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, Partido Lakas ng Masa, Oriang Women’s Movement, the Freedom from Debt Coalition, Sanlakas, and the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.
The rally is in line with the call of the Fight Inequality Alliance for global protest to fight inequality on January 18-25. Actions are being held in over 30 countries, including India, Kenya, United Kingdom, Zambia, Mexico, Netherlands, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
“People’s movements have to confront the over concentration of wealth and power among the few. Inequality is part of the root cause of the intolerable poverty and injustices that people face daily,” said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development.
Labor leaders took turns rebuking government for making false promises. “Ang masakit na realidad ng kalderong walang laman, sikmurang kumakalam ay hindi makatarungan at kailangang palitan na (The painful reality of empty pans and stomachs is unjust and must be changed now), said Leody De Guzman, chairman of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino.
De Guzman said “science and technology made food abundant but millions still go hungry. There are all kinds of medicine but the sick who cannot afford medicine and health care have to go begging for help. The reason for this is the prevailing social order that enriches the few at the expense of the vast majority of people.”
Another labor leader, Yuen Abana, of Partido Manggagawa, added that capital continues to block the fundamental rights of workers, including the right to fair wages. She said that the Duterte administration is clearly on the side of capital as it has failed to in its promise to end contractualization and provide social protection like essential health services. She called for “tax justice, especially for women workers badly need social services.”
Zeena Bello Manglinong, executive director of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, stressed that “with only 1 percent or 40 families, out of 110 million Filipinos, monopolizing wealth in the country, it is clear that the economy needs an overhaul but governments hold on to neoliberal policies even though it has led to disasters. For instance, FDC has long questioned the privatization of public utilities like water and power. It is good that government has reacted to the bad service but it seems government’s thinking is limited to only looking for other private companies to take over… People’s alternatives to tax and fiscal policies that favor the elite must now be put on the table.”
Oyette Zacate, secretary general of the Oriang Women’s Movement, lamented that though the Philippines is among the countries most vulnerable to disasters, the budget for calamities have been cut to half since 2016. “Why? Where is our money going – pork barrel, Kaliwa and other such projects?”
“The experience of displaced communities around Taal Volcano should make government immediately review priorities and policies,” she said.
The vulnerability of the country to disasters should be a wake-up call said Ian Rivera, national coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice. “It is a well-established that climate change exacerbates inequality for the reason that the poor and vulnerable people have the lowest means and opportunities to recover from the losses from these impacts.”
This is on top of “the impact of extreme weather events and slow onsets on the important natural resource of people, their means of subsistence, and sources of livelihood such as land, and water… Billions worth of agricultural damages is lost whenever extreme weather events like drought and typhoon hit the country. It usually takes years for the farmers to fully recover as recovery efforts and assistance from the government are either insufficient or prolonged. That is why loan sharks have been the go-to solutions of many farmers. It is a debt cycle. Some are even forced to sell out their lands and find another job just to have a more sustainable source of livelihood,” Rivera explained.
Teresa de la Cruz of LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights)/Kasama (Kababaihang Samahan ng Maporac brought the perspective of indigenous communities. Ancestral domain claimed by her people have been taken over big corporate interests and government has not resolved the issue in spite of their many interventions.
Judy Pasimio, over-all coordinator of Lilak said in a press conference the day before the rally that “the growing inequality among our people is evident as we look at the lives of the indigenous communities. As the government claims economic development with its different infrastructure and development projects, some of which are located within ancestral domains of the indigenous peoples, it is the IPs who suffer loss of food sources and their livelihoods,” she said.
“This is the same with man-made disasters such as the Marawi siege, and other militarization operations in the guise of anti-insurgency, where we see rural and indigenous women and men, still displaced economically and socially. It is then imperative that we collectively fight inequality, in all of its forms, present in all groups and communities of peoples; but more critically, with the most marginalized peoples,” Pasimio stressed.
Fight Inequality Alliance is a group of leading international and national non-profit organizations, human rights campaigners, women’s rights groups, environmental groups, faith-based organizations, trade unions, social movements and other civil society organizations that have come together to fight the growing crisis of inequality.