July 29, 2010

Smoke and mirrors

“Pnoy the Magician” in bright yellow. This was how activists depicted President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino in effigy in last Monday’s annual State-of-the-Nation street demonstration. They were proven prescient in more ways than one as soon as Mr. Aquino started delivering his SONA that turned out to be vintage smoke-and-mirrors demagoguery.

Rather than lead the people to an understanding of the true state of the nation, his seemingly straightforward rhetoric was used instead to conjure illusions and deceive not unlike the way a magician uses optical illusions to create believability while actually performing tricks.

The main trick is to continue to appear as the harbinger of the “change that people can believe in” that worked well enough to get Mr. Aquino elected.

However, despite the effort to make the Aquino regime appear poised to undertake far-reaching reforms in government, in the economy, in resolving armed conflicts and even in turning around public sentiment from pessimism to hopefulness, cynicism to unity and cooperation, Mr. Aquino’s SONA only confirms that there is nothing new, innovative, not to mention any attempt at a radical break from the past, in his prescriptions.

What we heard are more of the same policies and programs of old dressed up to dazzle and give false hopes.

Once more corruption is presented as the overarching problem. Mr. Aquino’s speech used simple and folksy language to whip up the public’s hatred for corrupt politicians and other government officials by laying out more horror stories from the previous regime: Mrs. Arroyo’s pampering her province with government funds to boost her congressional bid; the over-procurement of imported rice at the cost of billions of pesos which was then left to rot in government warehouses; MWSS top officials wallowing in pelf and privilege while the country suffers a water crisis.

Salacious new details these but nothing surprising. Why not tell us the progress in case build-up on the biggest corruption scandals that plagued the Arroyo administration? Why is the Truth Commission still nowhere in sight, much less near to having Mrs. Arroyo and her partners in crime brought to the bar of justice?

Mr. Aquino stated categorically that his administration would not tolerate murderers and plunderers. He crowed about solving “50% of the cases of extralegal killings” that occurred soon after his assuming office or three out of six reported cases with the identification of suspects.

Assuming this to be true, however, his complete silence on government’s current counterinsurgency or COIN program as the underlying cause of most of the killings as pointed out by independent international human rights bodies places in serious doubt Mr. Aquino’s earnestness in putting a stop to and solving these murders by state security forces.

More specifically, the lack of immediate action to disband the legalized private armies called “civilian volunteer organizations” that the military uses to augment its COIN operations, renders Mr. Aquino’s boast inconsequential in ending criminal impunity. Such a reign of impunity gave rise to the still unresolved Maguindanao massacre on top of the more than a thousand unsolved extrajudicial killings in almost a decade of Oplan Bantay Laya.

It is not surprising that Mr. Aquino’s take on the peace talks reveals his apparently shallow and short-sighted view about armed conflicts and how to resolve them. His insistence on a permanent ceasefire as a precondition to the resumption of the talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF and his insinuation that the NDF has not made any worthwhile proposal on the matter indicates either ignorance of what has previously transpired or a dangerously militarist mindset intent on throwing a monkey wrench on the talks rather than in undertaking the fundamental reforms needed to attain a just and lasting peace.

Stopping corrupt practices, judicious use of government resources, and so-called private-public partnership are touted as the strategy to lift up the economy and miraculously solve all other related problems such as massive unemployment and underemployment, the budget deficit, decrepit social services as well as crumbling public infrastructure.

Mr. Aquino completely and conveniently overlooks genuine land reform not just as a basic social justice measure but a question of breaking free from a backward, semi-feudal agricultural economy.

He is completely mum about neoliberal policies that destroyed whatever was left of manufacturing, further undermined agricultural development and food self-sufficiency and rendered the domestic economy more than ever vulnerable to the vagaries of the international market as shown in the recent regional and global financial crises.

We can safely presume that his macro-economic policy framework will not depart from those of all his predecessors including Mrs. Arroyo.

So much ado about how Mrs. Arroyo wasted public funds for narrow political ends leaving the Aquino government with little left to undertake vital programs and services. But he says not a word about the P300 billion pesos automatically set aside for debt payments considering many of these are onerous debts that date back to the Marcos dictatorship as well as to the graft-ridden Arroyo regime.

Ibon Data Bank puts forward concrete doable measures to address the fiscal deficit but apparently Mr. Aquino does not countenance any of them.

These include implementing increases in tariffs and withdrawing huge incentives given to foreign investors. IBON estimates government losses of around P200 billion in potential revenues each year because of tariff reduction. Fiscal incentives to foreign investors have in turn led to huge tax losses estimated by the Finance Department to be around P43 billion.

Mr. Aquino has a fondness for using the metaphor of crossroads to describe his administration’s core values and trajectory. He likens a leader’s choice to taking the straight path of “good governance” or the crooked one so dishonorably exemplified by the Arroyo regime. What all this clever use of metaphors has been concealing all along is the truth that corruption is not the root cause of our nation's poverty and hardship.

It is the wanton exploitation and oppression of our people by foreign powers, mainly the US, with the collaboration of the local ruling elite. Together they appropriate the social wealth produced by our people's labor. Together they impose and implement socio-economic and political programs and policies that deliberately favor foreign capital and their local agents while relegating our economy -- our local industries and agriculture -- to backwardness and dependency.

All this magic may serve to deceive and even entertain our hungry and suffering masses. But they will not forever drive away the pangs of hunger, the homelessness and the scourge of disease. No matter how many SONAs repeat the same deceptive tricks and clever lies, more and more in the streets, in homes, factories, fields and mountains, will see the through the smoke and mirrors, see the truth and find the real path to freedom, democracy, progress and peace. #


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