September 24, 2004

Reconciliation without justice

Sept. 21 is a day to remember for a generation of Filipinos whose experience of martial law can best be described as one long nightmare of arbitrary arrests, rape, torture, involuntary disappearances, and "salvaging" (a wry euphemism for extrajudicial killing); of military offensives accompanied by indiscriminate bombings, arson, "hamletting" and psy-war campaigns of terror and deception; of economic hardship and misery for the greater majority while the Marcos cabal was enriched by state policies that favored foreign capital, their local trading partners, and the big landlords.

All these in a surreal backdrop of prettified images of the "New Society" churned out by a tightly controlled mass media, of studied indifference and carefully constructed rationalizations by the institutional church, most of the intelligentsia and polite society in general.

And so it was commemorated in major cities throughout the country -- by civil libertarians, human rights advocates and activists under the banner of the Sept. 21 Committee and BAYAN -- by way of mass demonstrations, prayers, candle lighting and symposia, their voices resonating: "Never again to a fascist dictatorship!"

For its part, the Arroyo administration marked the day in a rather curious fashion.

In the first National Security Council (NSC) meeting under Mrs. Arroyo's new term, she led Council members, including former Presidents Aquino and Ramos and selected representatives of the religious sector (notably, a certain Jesuit priest, Fr. Romeo Intengan, representing the CBCP head, Archbishop Fernando Capalla), in forging a consensus on how to bring about "reconciliation."

The Arroyo administration identified the failure to put a closure on its "conflict" with two deposed leaders -- the family of Ferdinand Marcos, ousted in February 1986, and former President Joseph Estrada, in January 2001 -- as one of the root causes of the lack of political harmony and national stability.

From the point of view of those who choose to remember the infamy of Sept. 21, there are four sore points preventing closure of that bloody chapter of our nation's history under the military boot of the US-backed "Conjugal Dictatorship."

First is the indemnification of the victims of massive human rights violations by the Marcos regime premised on the recognition that these violations took place as a result of state policy (and not, as Gen. Ramos put it, as a result of aberrations in specific commands of the police and military).

Second is the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators of the most egregious human rights abuses.

Third is the return of the Marcos loot (including that part entrusted to cronies) where it rightfully belongs -- to the Filipino people.

Fourth, and not the least, is the reversal of state and economic policies instituted by the Marcos regime that kowtow to the IMF-WB (and now, the WTO) and surrender our economic sovereignty and national patrimony to foreign monopoly capital.

How will the Arroyo government, with the aid of no less than key figures in EDSA I as well as high-profile leaders of the Catholic Church and, doubtless, taking foreign policy into account, go about "creatively" resolving these outstanding issues against the dictator's descendants, cronies and henchmen, and their foreign patrons?

How, when former First Lady Imelda Marcos adamantly declares there were no human rights violations during martial law "as certified by the Philippine Commission of Human Rights"; that those complaining loudly about their rights being trampled on were "communists who were merely being put away because they were trying to overthrow the government."

How, when NSC members and participants to the meeting appeared equivocal on the issue of compensation for rights victims because they worried about the "risk" of giving compensation to "mostly CPP-NPA-NDF members."

How to achieve "reconciliation" when notorious torturers and killers, such as former Constabulary Col. Rudy Aguinaldo and MISG Col. Rolando Abadilla, were allowed to get away with their crimes against humanity with impunity -- then reinventthemselves as honorable congressmen, crimefighters, presidential advisers and high-ranking civilian bureaucrats -- until the NPA was able to render its own brand of revolutionary justice.

How, when the Marcoses claim not to have stashed away a single peso of ill-gotten wealth, for as Mrs. Marcos points out, her husband was already fabulously rich, having discovered a treasure trove of Yamashita gold; thereafter she claims her husband multiplied his riches by being such an astute businessman, investing in more money-making ventures.

How to achieve "closure" when government agencies dedicated to prosecuting the Marcoses and their cronies for the high crime of plunder, have consistently botched these cases one after another; when such cronies have become the closest allies of the Arroyo administration; and when President Arroyo herself has amply demonstrated her capacity for paying off her political debts.

How, when the Arroyo government supports the US "war on terror" in exchange for paltry economic and military aid, allows increased US military presence and activity in the country, follows the US baton in pushing an anti-terrorist law that suspends constitutional rights and campaigns for the "terrorist" listing of the CPP, NPA and the NDF chief political consultant in order to pressure these revolutionary forces to capitulate.

Perhaps, more to the point, are the Arroyo government's moves to come to terms with the Marcos/Estrada camps really meant to render justice along with reconciliation? Or are these merely intended to widen Mrs. Arroyo's base of support for the "bitter pill" of new tax measures, higher prices and increasingly non-existent social services? Are they meant to neutralize, if not co-opt, dissent and opposition to pending "emergency measures" that will be set up to deal with the anticipated social unrest and heightened resistance to the Arroyo regime's anti-people policies?

Sept. 24-25, 2004

September 19, 2004

A solution must first of all be socially just

THE whole problem with the debate on the fiscal crisis is not so much, as the UP economics students say in their rebuttal of the Bello-Nakpil-Nemenzo paper, the lack of "sound economic reasoning." The problem is the lack of plain common sense in the analysis and remedies of the Arroyo administration, the 11 UP economics professors, Bello-Nakpil-Nemenzo, and the UP economics students themselves.

First, common sense dictates that before you offer solutions, you must first diagnose the problem. The bigger and more chronic the problem, the deeper one must study and identify the causes and the more radical the solutions. "Band aid" remedies may cover up and alleviate the condition temporarily, but these will only aggravate the problem in the long run.

Second, all the analyses and "solutions" offered so far have not squarely addressed the social and political dimensions of the crisis. They conveniently overlook and are silent on the question of social justice, suggesting that the

only way to tide over the crisis is by increasing the burden on those who have borne the brunt of hardship and sacrifice.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) takes the position that the current fiscal crisis and the impending repeat of a deeper and more devastating financial crisis than the one that hit the country in 1997, is but part of the chronic crisis of the agrarian and pre-industrial economy resulting in a continuing pattern of unequal colonial trade despite the so-called grant of independence in 1946. Further, Bayan asserts that no economic measure can solve the problem without first of all being socially just.

Chronic deficit

A fundamental feature of the Philippine economy is its inherent inability to earn enough from its exports in order to pay for its imports, especially from the US, Japan and the rest of the developed capitalist world.

We export raw materials and semi-processed or low value-added goods and import oil, machinery and a wide range of durable and non-durable manufactured goods such as cars, computers, electronic gadgets, food and clothes. This has resulted in chronic balance of trade and current account deficits because earnings from exports could not catch up with expenditures on imports.

That is why, since the Marcos dictatorship there has been growing dependence on some eight million overseas Filipinos who remit into the country more than $7 billion.

With the onset of "globalization' and the neo-liberal policy prescriptions of trade and investment liberalization, deregulation and privatization, whatever local industries could survive in the stunted economy were further subjected to unfair competition, dumping, cut-price tactics, and government exactions and restrictions until many more folded up.

Even the agriculture sector has been ravaged by the removal of protective tariffs and subsidies, with vastly cheaper agricultural imports flooding the market and driving tens of thousands of farmers to bankruptcy.

Because the economy cannot earn enough foreign exchange with this institutionalized unequal trade, the government has resorted to foreign and domestic borrowing.

Attracting foreign investments have become the be-all and end-all especially when cheap foreign loans dried up in the 80s. The belief was, this would set up the factories, create the jobs and generate the social wealth and capital needed to move the entire country forward.

But decades of reliance on foreign investments, loans and official development aid have caused further de-industrialization. The only "industries" existing today are those in extractive activities such as mining and those in semi-processing that produce low value-added commodities, more than 90 percent of which are made up of imported raw materials.

Sea of poverty

On top of all this, instead of helping develop the country, these foreign monopoly capitalists have siphoned off whatever domestic capital there is by sourcing their capital requirements locally instead of bringing in their much-touted investments and by repatriating billions of dollars of profit abroad.

The logical outcome is a vast sea of poverty and misery encompassing the entire country and people. According to census data, 75 percent or 58 million people are forced to live on P82 a day while 90 percent eke out a living on P137 or lower daily. A recent Asian Development Bank report said 12 percent of Filipinos were in "extreme poverty" and were forced to subsist on $1 (P57) or lower a day.

Fundamentally unsound

What has been papered over by government, the UP economists as well as Bello and company is the fact that the country's economic fundamentals are not sound.

The UP study draws attention to the economy's heightened vulnerability to "any large external shock" such as a sudden increase in global interest rates, a sustained increase in world oil prices, a sharp decline in overseas workers' remittances or anything that could cause the import bill to rise, including, ironically, attempts to revive an import-dependent, export-oriented economy.

Most damning of all is what the UP economists aptly described as the "deepening crisis" of the deficit and public debt. The deficit and debt are merely the exposed portions of the huge and festering problems of the economy: its basic incapacity to produce adequately for the people's needs because of feudal ownership of land and the absence of industrialization; its debt addiction and ensuing enslavement to international usury; and its lack of sovereign protection in the face of policy dictates of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and the importunings of monopoly capital as a whole.

To utilize a commonsensical analogy, how can the patient be fundamentally healthy if what is diagnosed by the experts as a simple case of cold turns out to be a deadly pneumonia.

Finally, where does social justice enter the picture in all the fine discourse about the current fiscal crisis and how to ride it out?

Sadly, the various "solutions" being pushed by government, academics, clerics, civic leaders and what not reflect this utter callousness and insensitivity to the people's demand for social justice.

The UP economists' paper warns against solutions that not only have little chance of succeeding, but would likely stir social unrest. But it falls short of requiring that a "solution" must first of all be socially just.

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Sept. 19, 2004

September 17, 2004

Leadership in crisis

It didn't look good, whatever the official reason given.

First, there was National Treasurer Mina Figueroa tendering her resignation at a time when there is a fiscal crisis to attend to. Then followed Napocor (National Power Corp.) president Roger Murga, the man GMA handpicked to head the government corporation that is in debt to the tune of PhP1.3 trillion, accounting for an astounding 42% of national government debt.

Both came from the private business sector, highly recommended as qualified for the jobs they were to undertake, and presumably aware that they were not being asked to join a picnic considering the cash-strapped, debt-saddled state of the government.

It is not at all surprising that Figueroa finally realized her own personal budget deficit was a more pressing matter than that of the government and that her time and effort should be worth at least as much as that of the GOCC (government-owned and -controlled corporations) fat cats who could give themselves "unconscionably high" salaries and perks while their institutions floundered.

But the persistent rumors about "policy differences" with Department of Finance officials tainted what could otherwise be accepted as a logical personal decision. And now the revelation that government, its coffers practically empty, lost more than PhP1 billion from the ill-timed $1-billion bond float the Finance department offered on behalf of Napocor. That, it is bruited about, is the real reason behind Figueroa's decision to quit.

Perhaps Murga, just two years into the saddle as Napocor chief, saw it coming too. The gathering storm of protest as people feel the double whammy of higher power rates combined with higher taxes. Already, legislators are threatening to dig deeper into the dire state of Napocor's finances, including the issue of how its officers continue to enjoy fat salaries while the rest of the corporation bleeds and the people, in turn, are being made to cough up blood to keep it afloat.

But wasn't it a political decision of President Arroyo to slash the purchased power adjustment, or PPA, charged by Napocor to electricity consumers at a time when her popularity rating was at an extreme low? Arroyo must have known that would translate into a pileup of debt that someone, at some point, would have to pay.

And since she was the one who asked for the PPA cutback, that meant her government would find the way to pay for the huge loss in Napocor's revenue. Surely that part of the problem cannot be blamed on Mr. Murga alone. But with the people's anger coming to a boil and Malacañang obviously looking for scapegoats, we can understand why the Napocor chief wouldn't want to be around when all hell breaks loose.

Now if indeed the spate of resignations is merely coincidental as Malacañang claims, then it could be the meanest trick fate has played on this administration. For the public perception is that these high-level government functionaries who know the real score have lost confidence in the political leadership of Mrs. Arroyo. Certainly the resignations do not help to build public confidence in her government which is essential if it is to lead us through these hard times.

Unfortunately, President Arroyo is sorely lacking in both credibility and the high moral ground with which to call upon the people to sacrifice for the common good. Wasn't it just some months ago, during the campaign period, that her administration was spending public money like there was no tomorrow? There was no talk then among her Cabinet officials and her rah-rah boys and girls about a looming fiscal crisis. The Opposition accused Mrs. Arroyo of electioneering, but the GMA camp insisted she was merely doing what a President ought to be doing, and that is, engaging in "governance."

As late as her State-of-the-Nation address in July, even as she drew attention to the government's worsening fiscal and debt problems calling the deficit "our most urgent problem," she papered this over with the launch of an ambitious 10-point program promising the people food on the table, decent jobs, livelihood, housing, education and health care within her six-year term of office. She hardly gave any indication that things would probably get worse before these got any better.

And then that state visit cum family outing to China with the entire Macapagal-Arroyo household in tow, grandchildren and yaya included. President Arroyo just threw away whatever credibility she retained about imposing austerity measures -- not only on government, but even on ordinary households -- by flouting her very own pronouncements and making a mockery of her own appeals for sacrifice.

While there is unanimity in acknowledging the need for a political leadership with the will to carry out drastic measures to tide us over, if not resolve, this current crisis, we must ask ourselves, what kind of political leadership?

We contend that such a leadership must first of all have the trust and confidence of the people. The people must be assured that whatever sacrifice they make will accrue to the benefit of the greater majority, if not to the entire nation. Clearly, the Arroyo government fails to measure up to this critical standard.

How much more then on its capacity to uphold the national interest, to stand up to foreign policy impositions whether these be economic, political or military. For starters, can President Arroyo move to renegotiate onerous debts and contracts? Can she put the nation's survival ahead of paying blood money to the foreign multinational banks and kowtowing to the international financial institutions?

How much more on its commitment to the democratic process? Can Mrs. Arroyo deal judiciously with the mass protests and the general social restiveness that her call for new taxes, higher rates for public utilities and more belt tightening measures will surely generate? Can she restrain the urge to resort to politically repressive measures to pre-empt and contain the people's impending outrage?

Sadly, the first three years of the Arroyo government does not give us reason to be optimistic.

Sept. 17-18, 2004

September 03, 2004

Non-solutions and unanswered questions

Weeks after President Arroyo made the uncharacteristically forthright pronouncement that the government was broke (i.e. in a fiscal crisis), after UP (University of the Philippines) economists issued a paper purporting to give the real score on deficits and the public debt, a plethora of "solutions" have been offered. This, alongside the increasingly doomsday scenarios by Mrs. Arroyo's finance managers that the public is being made to feel increasingly anxious about.

On Malacañang's part, the approach has been to heap the blame on everyone except the President, call on everyone to implement austerity measures except the President, railroad the new regressive tax measures in Congress worth PhP80 billion that will then be entrusted to the President to solve the crisis that she, in her first three years in office, had the biggest hand in exacerbating and triggering in the first place.

Mrs. Arroyo's spin masters must be chortling with glee on how they pulled a fast one on the lawmakers who were made to appear as the major villains with regard to the budget deficit. Their PhP20-billion pork barrel -- PhP200 million per senator and PhP70 million per representative -- was denounced to a public fed up and disgusted over the lavish lifestyles and scandalously corrupt ways of the honorable congressmen. Everyone, from bishops to editorial writers to the legislators themselves and even the man on the street, decried the sinful "pork."

Asked about her own pork barrel in the form of an understated PhP1 billion a year social fund from PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.), PhP2 billion in calamity funds, and another PhP1 billion in unaudited intelligence funds, Arroyo belittled the amounts and even pointed to her predecessor, President Estrada, as having started the business of presidential intelligence funds with PhP500 million allotted and entrusted to Gen. Panfilo Lacson, then PNP (Philippine National Police) and PAOCTF (Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force ) chief.

Speaker de Venecia, not to be outdone in the public relations department, has announced all sorts of drop-in-the-bucket but feel-good and look-good measures by legislators: Contribute their one month's salaries of PhP30,000 each; for the multi-millionaires and billionaires among them, donate PhP100,000 each; and for the wealthy of the land to contribute PhP1 million each to help stave off the crisis.

Nonetheless, Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin had to hastily clarify that even if the CDF (Countryside Development Fund) allotments were to be completely done away with, that would make up only 2% of next year's proposed budget and could still not take the place of the new taxes Malacañang wanted enacted into law.

Next to come under attack was the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of the local government units (LGUs), with Malacañang again hoisting up the specter of wasteful and corrupt expenditures by LGUs as well as their supposed overdependence on the national government to provide public funds to serve their constituents.

Lost in the debate is the fact that, years ago, many vital government services like health care, had already been devolved to the LGUs. In fact, such services have continuously deteriorated since then primarily because of inadequate funding despite the legally mandated IRA.

Malacañang is poised to declare a state of unmanageable fiscal deficit to force cutbacks in IRA should the resistance by the LGUs continue. After all, the elections are over and the time for wooing the LGUs is also over.

On the other hand, Rep. Andaya, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, is vociferously opposing the proposal of Sen. Ralph Recto, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, to cut PhP106.7 billion from the proposed PhP907-billion budget. Recto charges Malacañang of not disclosing unprogrammed and other hidden expenditures in the 2005 budget amounting to PhP106.7 billion, thus hiding the fact that the actual budgetary outlay would amount to more than a trillion pesos.

Andaya says that would be tantamount to firing people (which the government already plans to do), close schools and hospitals (which is already happening de facto because the budget for these have been drastically going down under the Arroyo administration) and telling the Army to "go home and plant kamote" (which isn't such a bad idea as the government's human rights record may improve and the peace process with the NDFP [National Democratic Front of the Philippines] and MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] may move forward).

Even some of our venerable Churchmen have joined the fray with catchy sound bytes, tokenism and band-aid solutions that derive from a misunderstanding of the true nature, dimensions and underlying causes of the fiscal crisis.

There is the headline-grabbing call of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines') head, Archbishop Fernando Capalla, who one remembers to be the Church official who blithely and overeagerly absolved the Arroyo camp from any and all charges of cheating and otherwise immoral conduct during the last elections. Once more quickly coming to the aid of the beleaguered Arroyo administration, Capalla now calls on the clergy and the faithful "to give up their monthly allowance for one month or two and give it to the President." One wonders whether the good archbishop realizes that "allowances" for students and other ordinary people usually mean what they use on a daily basis to survive and not excess disposable income.

Thus, questions remain, begging to be asked and answered, first and foremost by the very people who should know and who are responsible for this fiscal and financial mess we are in.

Can President Arroyo please explain how, under her watch, the Filipino people are making the most debt payments in Philippine history -- PhP470 billion paid in 2003, equivalent to 75% of national government (NG) revenue and 11% of GDP; PhP542 billion payments in 2004, equivalent to 80% of NG revenue; and a whopping PhP695 billion in 2005, equivalent to 92% of NG revenue?

Can she also explain why her government is the most indebted government in Philippine history? How did the NG incurred PhP3.4 trillion in total debt as of end-2003 (equivalent to 77.4% of GDP) that has reportedly risen to PhP4.1 trillion by end February 2004?

What about the outstanding debt of the public sector as a whole (including the bailouts of the Central Bank, the DBP [Development Bank of the Philippines], the PNB [Philippine National Bank] and GOCCs [government-owned and -controlled corporations] like Napocor [National Power Corp.], MWSS [Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System] and LRTA [Light Rail Transit Authority], the Public Estates Authority [PEA of the PEA-Amari scam and the overpriced President Diosdado Macapagal Avenue], the GSIS [Government Service Insurance System] and SSS [Social Security System]) amounting to PhP5.4 trillion by September 2003 and running to more than 130% of GDP?

And yet the Arroyo government is still borrowing heavily: Indeed, the last two years saw the highest sustained borrowing in 2-1/2 decades. NG financing is rising steeply, from a net payment of PhP27.1 billion in 1997 to net borrowing of PhP286.8 billion in 2003.

So many questions, so few honest answers.

Sept. 3-4, 2004