July 24, 2008

A flunkey's SONA

De facto President Gloria Arroyo is scrambling to regain some measure of public approval before her July 28 State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA), Alongside the continuous drumbeating of supposed subsidies to the poor, she is claiming credit for the postponement of weekly oil price increases as a result of Malacanang’s “appeal” to oil companies. But most people are skeptical and see through the Arroyo regime’s deceptive maneuvers.

Mrs. Arroyo’s satisfaction rating (SWS June 2008 survey) has plummeted to a historic low compared to the past four administrations including that of ousted former President Joseph Estrada; is lower than the -33% she got at the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal in May 2005; is the fourth consecutive quarterly drop despite the “glowing” macroeconomic statistics in the earlier part of the period surveyed; and to top it all, cuts across all socioeconomic classes and regions of the country with the decline steepest in her erstwhile bastions of support in the Visayas.

The latest dive in her ratings from -16% to -33% is a stark reflection of the people’s restiveness in the wake of the precipitous increases in oil and food prices that has led to an 11.4% inflation rate, the highest in the past 14 years. The deterioration of the people’s standard of living, including the AB classes, can no longer be papered over by rosy government statistics and plaudits from the IMF-World Bank, international credit agencies and multinational corporations for Mrs. Arroyo’s assiduous payment of the country’s foreign debt and hewing to the “neoliberal globalization” policy framework.

With no relief in sight for the rest of the year because of the regime’s refusal to cut the billions-worth value added tax on oil and power, Arroyo’s spokespersons and other apologists have resorted to the half-truth that the economic crisis is a “global phenomenon” to wash its hands of blame for the people’s continued immiseration amidst the country’s further maldevelopment and economic retrogression.

While it is true that the Philippines’ economic woes are part and parcel of the current crisis of the world capitalist system, in particular, the depression of the US economy which is at the heart of this system, it is utterly false and misleading to say that government can do nothing about it.

In the first place, the mire we find ourselves in is the result of sustained, blind and foolhardy adherence to economic policies that have institutionalized unsound economic fundamentals and disastrously combined these with a world-wide capitalist crisis unprecedented since the Great Depression of the 30s.

These economic policies have reduced the Philippines to the status of a backward, agricultural country that cannot even produce enough rice to feed its own people and with no industrial base to speak of except export processing zones. It must export Filipino brawn and brain power in order to earn precious foreign exchange with which to buy fuel and other basic and luxury imports as well as service a historically huge foreign debt. It must sell off the nation’s patrimony in the form of mineral and other natural resources already depleted by decades of unbridled exploitation by foreign investors and their local partners in order to satisfy the greed of its ruling elite.

To be sure, these policies did not originate from the Arroyo regime and can be traced all the way back to colonial period and carried on by governments that came to power after independence. In particular, economic liberalization policies began to be increasingly implemented from the 1960s highlighted by President Diosdado Macapagal’s decontrol policy. Tariff reform in the 80s under the Marcos dictatorship further liberalized trade. The Ramos “Philippines 2000” shibboleth was all about the accelerated and almost complete opening up of the national economy to foreign domination in the areas of investment, trade and ownership of land and public utilities. The short-lived Estrada government did not deviate from the entrenched policy framework.

To her discredit, Mrs. Arroyo continued these policies without let-up, favored foreign monopoly capital and their local big business partners and turned a blind eye to the people’s suffering, the destruction of the people’s livelihood and the environment, and the plunder of the country’s economy and natural resources. The Arroyo regime would even revise the 1987 Constitution to remove the few remaining provisions that hardly protect key sectors of the economy from foreign control and take-over.

Given that the US and the world economy is embroiled in a crisis of immense proportions that even economic experts and policy makers themselves cannot as yet estimate the extent of the crisis nor predict its course, the economic life and prospects of semi-colonies like the Philippines can only be bleak. Things are bound to get worse before they get better.

To quote from the documents of the recently-held Third International Assembly of the International League for Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) regarding its view of the global crisis: “Monopoly capitalism is in the throes of an extremely deep crisis of overproduction and destructive financial collapse. It is passing on this crisis to the world’s peoples through its policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.”

The ILPS said, “Monopoly capitalists have whipped up financial speculation far beyond the real economy in the imperialist countries and the rest of the world. Unregulated financial markets where speculators are reaping huge profits on the skyrocketing prices of oil, grain and other commodities impact heavily on the world’s peoples.”

Furthermore, “The US economy is in deep crisis resulting in a protracted state of stagnation and decline. Bankruptcies, production cutbacks and high unemployment rates continue to constrict the global market. The sharp drop in US consumption is expected to put countries dependent on exports to the US in an economic tailspin.”

In short, the Arroyo regime has further placed the domestic economy in such a weak, highly unstable and extremely vulnerable position so that in the wake of the global crisis of capitalism, it is among those countries suffering the brunt of the crisis and whose government appears helpless to protect the people.

On the day of Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA, activists and a growing number of Filipinos have more than enough basis to denounce Mrs. Arroyo, first and foremost, as a flunky to foreign monopoly capitalist interests and a traitor to the people. Only in this sense is it helpless in the face of the latest round of economic belt-tightening wherein hundreds of thousands of families will be sacrificed.

For their part, the people are not helpless in putting an end to such an anti-people, anti-Filipino regime.#


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