March 18, 2005

The killing spree and VAT

The Arroyo government seems to think that one can solve a problem by exterminating it.

That is what the murders and abductions of leaders and members of cause-oriented groups such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Gabriela, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and progressive party lists, such as Bayan Muna and Anakpawis, as well as their supporters -- Iglesia Filipina Independiente (commonly known as Aglipayan) priests, lawyers, media persons and local government officials -- lead us to conclude. Since the government cannot stop what to its mind is these groups' dangerous habit of criticizing government and leading protest actions, the thing to do is to get rid of them and their support network physically, starting with their key leaders.

That is what the massacre of striking Hacienda Luisita workers and their supporters last November and the recent massacre of inmates in the Camp Bagong Diwa detention center also lead us to believe. What distinguishes the former from the latter is that human rights lawyers and advocates have been able to do a thorough investigation and documentation of the Hacienda Luisita case. We may never know what really happened at Camp Bagong Diwa as the authorities have succeeded in monopolizing the sources of information and barring independent investigation into the assault by the police special action forces into the detention facility, against a handful of mutineers with handguns, albeit known to be with the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group.

In the wake of the bloody, news-grabbing events of the previous day, cause-oriented groups and their allies, including leaders of the opposition, held another nationally coordinated protest against the GMA government-sponsored 20% VAT hike.

This is what the proposed increase from 10% to 12% amounts to, not just 2%, as some proponents misleadingly state. At the Senate, thousands gathered once more to denounce the new regressive tax measure despite "sweeteners" offered by administration senators to make it more palatable to the public.

While pointing out that the Senate decision to reject the 12% VAT rate proposed by Malaca§ang is a result of the vigorous opposition by anti-VAT protesters and its rejection as well by the general public, BAYAN called on the senators to altogether junk Senate Bill No. 1950. The bill seeks to lift VAT exemptions on basic utilities, particularly petroleum producers and electricity, and vital services such as those rendered by physicians, in order to achieve the same objective of increasing the government's revenue. BAYAN warned that such a move would definitely result in higher prices of transportation and other basic services and commodities.

The issue should not be made to look like a contest between the House and Senate as to who can provide the "better" version. In truth, both bills will end up as an intolerable burden on the people already facing double-digit unemployment rates, rising inflation aggravated by unstoppable fuel prices increases, and hunger and misery stalking the land.

The arguments for a VAT hike are anchored on the supposed worst-case scenario that without the additional tax measure, government would not be able to solve its fiscal crisis and thus make the International Monetary Fund-World Bank and the credit-rating agencies very, very unhappy. Government would be unable to pay its gargantuan debts, to the chagrin of its creditors, as well as be unable to feed the insatiable appetite of its officials for the lard of graft and corruption and such other perks of power and pelf they have grown accustomed to.

Of course, the official line is that if government is not able to squeeze more blood from the tax-deducted employees and indirectly taxed consuming public, it would not be able to provide the roads, the irrigation systems, the low-cost housing, the schools and hospitals badly needed by our people. But nobody really believes this line except the people in Malaca§ang who dish it out and the paid hacks in media who lap it up.

There is the other accompanying tactic of raising the specter of an "Argentinian scenario" calculated to frighten the public, who have never really gotten the real story on what happened to Argentina after its government took the bold, unilateral move of not paying more than US$160 billion in debt to its foreign creditors. The fact is its economy grew by 8% for two consecutive years, its currency stabilized, and two million jobs were added since 2002.

Argentina, the country our economic policy makers and the IMF-World Bank would not want us to emulate, pulled off

these achievements by focusing all of the country's resources on developing the domestic economy. That feat entailed setting aside the harsh prescriptions of the IMF, starting with the policy of putting a premium on the payment of government-incurred or -guaranteed debts.

No doubt about it, the only ones who really stand to gain from the harsh economic measures the Arroyo government has been and continues to impose on the people, belong to the small ruling clique of Mrs. Arroyo -- her favored relatives, subalterns, big business cronies and assorted supporters who benefit from the largesse of her regime.

GMA is indeed hard-pressed to prove that she is still the most capable and most willing of the country's elite politicians to do the bidding of the US neocolonial overseers, the IMF-World Bank and the American and other foreign chambers of commerce. And prove it she will by ramming through unpopular economic measures such as new regressive taxes at the risk of igniting a political maelstrom that could topple her from power.

Thus we come full circle. The logic of the pattern of killings and other acts of political repression undertaken with impunity by the state's military and police forces as well as paramilitary and vigilante groups coddled by the state becomes exceedingly clear.

It is nothing less than a pre-emptive strike, to cripple, if not decapitate, the people's movement crying out for land, jobs, food, justice and sovereignty, resisting oppressive government policies and thus threatening its very rule.

It is the act of a ruthless but desperate anti-people regime that has not learned the lessons of past regimes, especially the US-backed Marcos dictatorship -- no amount of state terror can ever cow the people into submission and quell their righteous demand for a life of dignity, security and the untrammeled enjoyment of national freedom and democratic rights.

March 18-19, 2005


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