October 11, 2010

Ominous first one hundred days

President Noynoy Aquino’s spinmeisters dubbed his speech assessing the first 100 days of his administration as “Isang Daang Araw Sa Isang Daang Matuwid: Report Kay Boss”. The clever play on words is meant to once more invoke the image of a presidency hewing to the straight and narrow path against corruption in government and of Mr. Aquino’s professed accountability to the people as his “boss”.

It is not at all surprising that Mr. Aquino and his supporters have ended up congratulating themselves on the administration’s claimed achievements and deriding his critics as seeking to merely set back his so-called reform agenda and maintain the status quo. Ominously, he even issued a veiled threat to these critics saying that their days are numbered.

Too bad for Mr. Aquino, there are a growing number of Filipinos who are tired of simplistic campaign rhetoric and crowd-pleasing gestures. They are looking for concrete actions and policy measures in the immediate and a platform of government for the remaining five years and nine months of his term.

Unfortunately too for this administration, while strong survey outcomes and carefully crafted and executed public relations measures are good grist for the media mill, the reality of the ongoing socio-economic and political crises of Philippine society is already catching up with Mr. Aquino’s hyped-up mystique.

In the first hundred days of his administration, Mr. Aquino’s ideological and political mind set - that is, his overall framework, priorities, inclinations and outright biases – has more clearly come to the fore.

Rather than reinforce his claims as a harbinger of much-needed reforms in government, he cuts a more and more conservative if not unabashedly reactionary figure, a traditional politician who will protect, uphold and promote foreign and domestic elite interests rather than those of the common tao.

Organizations of workers, peasants, urban poor, the student youth and professional sectors as well as faith-based organizations say Mr. Aquino has failed dismally where it counts.

He has not moved an inch in the criminal prosecution of former President Gloria Arroyo or any of her minions for graft and corruption on a grand scale.

He has not put a stop to extrajudicial killings and the body count is rising. He refuses to acknowledge the government’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya, as directly responsible for the Arroyo regime’s bloody human rights record, and he has extended it as his government’s program.

He curries favor with the military and police generals by giving them huge increases in their budgets while looking the other way in so far as their crimes of murder, abduction and torture as well as thievery of soldiers’ pay, benefits and equipment. He has done nothing to break the culture of impunity with which the AFP and PNP perpetrate corruption and human rights violations.

He says hardly a word and takes no steps towards addressing the feudal tenurial relations in the country benefitting big landlords such as the Cojuangco-Aquino clan of which he himself is now the most prominent member. But he and is spokespersons have favorable comments for the management of Hacienda Luisita as they employ all kinds of vile tactics to frustrate land reform from reaching the Cojuangco-owned estate.

He continues with the honorable-debtor policy that was the legacy of his mother and all post-Marcos Dictatorship regimes, not only persisting in the payment of onerous debts but in prioritizing debt servicing over any and all government expenditures, especially basic services such as health, education and housing.

The Aquino administration’s neoliberal economic policy framework is completely unchanged from that of the Arroyo regime with its liberalization, privatization and deregulation thrusts. The result: more joblessness, more poverty and misery, greater environmental destruction and further denationalization and deindustrialization of the economy.

Not only does Mr. Aquino fail to see the connection between the endemic poverty and backwardness of the Philippine economy and these failed policies, he attempts to portray them as something innovative.

This is the case with the private-public partnerships (PPP)held up by Mr. Aquino as his centerpiece economic strategy though they are nothing more than the joint ventures of old. In fact many of such build-operate-transfer projects have ended up over-priced and, for the most part, graft-ridden, with the debts incurred in their implementation guaranteed by government and recovered through unconscionably high user fees and taxes.

US-Philippine relations under Mr. Aquino’s watch are still framed in the old neocolonial mold which Mr. Aquino even continues to describe as “special” apparently oblivious to all nationalist reassessments of the historically and currently unequal, lop-sided relations.

Mr. Aquino’s speech and Q & A in a forum sponsored by the US Council for Foreign Relations during his US trip is revealing. He declared the Philippines as “open for business under new management”. He assures US business interests that his regime will be “investment friendly” and that the doors are wide open to private investment in infrastructure projects, tourism, mining and business process outsourcing.

Mr. Aquino reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to uphold US geopolitical interests and foreign policy thrusts in the Philippines and in the Asia-Pacific region to the point that he was speechless about the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, the permanent presence of US troops on Philippine soil and related national sovereignty issues.

He displayed first and foremost, for his US audience of big business and policy makers, that he is a leader of the same kowtowing mold as Mrs. Arroyo and even his mother before him. Then he touted his popularity and credibility as one that can - in a gross perversion of “people power” - rally the people behind his regime’s policies, no matter how anti-people and undemocratic these turn out to be.

Mr. Aquino has not taken any steps to end the decades-old armed conflict in the country through peace negotiations and addressing its root causes. Instead he parrots the military’s line that the New People’s Army is a terrorist organization and that a ceasefire is a precondition to any reopening of peace talks.

From Mr. Aquino’s first one hundred days, it seems that the only change our people can expect is a change for the worse. #


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