Enemies of the People II

by Kenshin Himura
Guerilla Information Network
22 April 2001

Poverty is not the problem. Whatever, or whoever, causes poverty is. The situation makes it easy for people like Erap and other possible demagogues under him to thrive in the Philippines, an economy once second to Japan half a century ago and the envy of its neighbors.

If the Philippine economy had indeed been performing by at least 6-7% GDP or GNP growth rate under Marcos (1965-1986), that would have tripled/quadrupled in that period and would have kept us abreast with at least Malaysia and Thailand. However, there is a lament that the Philippines took one wrong strategy after another, starting with the import-substitution industrialization of socialistic regimes. Export-oriented strategies applied by the newly industrializing market economies would have been much better.

Another was the instances of financial collapse triggered by cronies and the Filipino-Chinese business community in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Loans by the billions became uncollectible. Hence, banks and businesses fell like dominoes because of loans at the behest of patrons but were unsecured and mismatched when short- to medium-term funds were used for long-term projects like infrastructure and realty development. Decades later, people are discovering that the lessons of history have been repeated. Arnold Toynbee must be weeping for Filipinos in his grave.

The last nail on the coffin of the Marcos era was the political crisis of 1983. However, wasn't Marcos responsible for that very crisis that shifted their gears in reverse? Wasn't the late Sen. Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. assassinated during his watch? So it wasn't just the result of a wrong strategic economic turn, but his style of governance that failed as well.

If Filipinos check their exports statistics, Filipinos began to wean away from coconut and sugar in the early 1980s already and began their exports of garments, electronic components and cash crops like pineapple and bananas. Although exports were enjoying the benefits of the sharp peso devaluations/depreciations at the time, it wasn't enough to counteract the massive capital flight and the loss of international investor confidence.

A grave mistake will be if Filipinos make a mindless mimicry of the export-oriented strategy of the newly industrialized countries. It will not work. You know why?

The dictator whom Filipinos ousted in EDSA1 had no sense of a total perspective of political and economic systems. When it had to be a choice between enriching himself/his cohorts vs. spurring economic development/political democracy, Marcos and Co. would look after their interests and leave the country to the devil. He and his friends engaged in those ambitious infrastructure projects not because he loved the country but because he derived more kickbacks in the process than the ordinary Filipinos enjoyed.

Who has ended up footing most of the bill? The majority of those who benefited the least who now have to pay burdensome taxes in consumption and income, excessive charges for power, water and fuel, and are passed on the cost of behest loans, "posted" foreign exchange losses (which when posted by a creative accountant, can engineer dollar salting & capital flight not only in companies but in governments as well).

Thanks to EDSA1 and the rapid restoration of democratic institutions in 1987, Filipinos have the democratic space to be heard and make their opinions, no matter how hurtful, count. It was followed through by the de-regulation and decentralization of economic sectors that promoted competition in industries once held by virtual monopolies. The next step, which Filipinos failed to take after 1986, would have been for a wider self-initiated, participative democracy to further advance consumer and taxpayer interests and assert their basic economic right to demand value for the money they pay for.

Filipinos are poor (on the arithmetic average) because of the minority sample who live first world lifestyles are pulled down by the vast majority who suffer from squalor and misery. The situation worsens because in times of plenty, Filipinos heap privileges on the few for the promise that they will accelerate development for everyone's benefit. In times of famine, the many are asked to assume the risks through government guarantees and pay for the bill when promises of the industry czars, cronies and tai-pans fail to materialize.

It's as if Filipinos waste water during the rainy days and squeeze water from stones, not the cacti, in a drought. That's why taxes are so difficult to collect and the budget deficit balloons. Who wants to pay for someone else's mistake while the perpetrator goes scot-free? And when high crimes of economic plunder pay, then offenses committed by the masses increase, including those you cite: rampant criminality that arise from poverty, frustration and sociopathic behavior, red tape that encourages grease money and corruption and other crimes, both petty and heinous.

What solution is proposed instead? Capital punishment and stricter penalties. No wonder the backlog of cases in the courts rise, the number of prisoners grow and the death row grows longer. Are not Filipinos treating the symptoms and not the disease?

From a larger perspective, that is why their export-oriented economic drive appears to fail. That is why their NEDA MTDP process will most likely lead the nation to the same rut of mediocrity Filipinos are currently suffering from. What has been produced in the past are documents of programs and projects neatly packaged into a cohesive story line. It describes the situation, problems and gaps and provides piecemeal solutions. However, it fails to define and specify the tacit networks of corruption and the informal conspiracies in the marketplace that have fuelled vicious cycles of poverty that slow down in good times but worsen in bad times.

Government talks about raising farmgate prices of palay but doesn't propose more cohesive market links with the retailers and end-consumers. Besides, who can deliver the palay from the farmgate: the farmers themselves who have no access to and information on the markets or the rice traders? Sad thing, there is talk of the privatization of the National Food Authority (NFA), but for whom? The government is attempting to cut costs but turns its back on the farmers and consumers when it had failed to meet its mandate effectively. Instead, it will sell the NFA facilities paid by taxpayers to the network that has profited from ignorance and the pockets of farmers and consumers.

Targets for low-cost housing are ambitious. What's to stop the beneficiaries from selling their units when a squatter syndicate offers them a price, relocates them to other private lands ripe for speculation and pressures the hapless owners to sell the squatter-infested land for a song? The government is trying to deliver homes at a shoe-string budget but what is it doing to curb speculative pressures by parties with privileged information about infrastructure development plans in the area? How about syndicates who produce land-titles through illegitimate means? These are what drive up property prices out of the reach of those who need them most.

Then, there is clamor among civil servants for higher pay. Where is the commitment to delivering quality service for which they are accountable not to their bosses but to the people that they swore to serve and who pay their salaries through taxes paid and exacted from their hard-earned money?

Filipinos flog themselves for the low savings rate of their country. The poor are too poor to save? Then why are they the biggest players of jueteng? How about mobilizing the funds of the jueteng lords into the more formal financial institutions like successful self-initiated co-ops and micro-finance groups?

People weep over the poor Filipino soldier's pay for risking his life. How about investigating the "tales of Wong" about corruption in the military If they are true, then the resources to raise their standards of living need no longer be borne by the hapless taxpayer (including those from war-torn Mindanao).

We can make a seemingly endless list of unjust structures, vicious cycles and market conspiracies (I don't want to be knit-picked by technocrats about definitions of "cartels"). Many of us are mature and enlightened enough to admit that there are people who walk hallowed halls of power and accumulate immense wealth from the set-up. Perhaps the problem lies in having the courage, tenacity and craftiness to face these enemies of the people.

The problem is systemic. Therefore, the solution must be systemic. This is not advocating class conflict. Such arguments are better fought in the street brawls where Erap has rightfully taken them. They no longer belong to a respected place in people's intellects, which is why it was relatively easy to take Erap out in EDSA2.

Instead, let Filipinos wage a war against people's naivet´┐Ż of the situation by leaving the problems to the "experts." It must be a war against quick fixes that promise relief from difficulties but not cures from social illnesses. Their weapons must be alternative systems, structures and institutions that operate for the common good, the people's benefit and, if need be, outside the government's sphere of influence and control. [end]

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