By David Michael M. San Juan
More than 100 years after Philippine independence was declared, a great majority of Filipinos remain poor. In the past years, the country’s rank in the United Nations’ Human Development Index—a holistic tool for assessing progress in terms of income, health and education — has steadily declined. It is thus safe to conclude that recent administrations have been “Noynoying”— doing nothing or at least not doing everything to wipe out Philippine poverty.
While many of our people suffer from extreme destitution, we have at least six dollar-billionaires and a number of peso-billionaires. The Philippine government does nothing but perpetuate the unjust status quo. High-quality education, which can empower the poor, is not a priority in the national budget. Hence, conservative scions of rich political dynasties (which are by the way banned under Article II, Section 26 of the Philippine Constitution) are able to monopolize political power without any strong challenge from the marginalized sectors. This is why an enabling law for the Constitution’s anti-dynasty provision gathers dust in the archives of Congress.
The elite’s monopoly on political power cements their dominance of the Philippine economy. The current president, Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Cojuangco Aquino III, comes from the powerful Cojuangco clan that includes billionaire businessmen. The president’s running mate in the 2010 elections, Manuel “Mar” Roxas II comes from the Araneta-Roxas clan. All senators are multi-millionaires. The House of Representatives is also a virtual millionaires’ club: only seven members are not millionaires. Even the current cabinet of the Aquino administration is a millionaires’ club, with Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC, of the Department of Education as the only non-millionaire! To cement the “marriage” of politics and the economy, rich businessmen usually donate money to political parties. Once in power, elected officials usually become subservient to those who gave them campaign funds.
In the meantime, millions of Filipinos endure hunger and poverty. Data from the 2009 Official Poverty Statistics released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) gives us an idea on such wide disparity between the richest and the poorest sectors of our society. According to the NSCB’s 2009 Official Poverty Statistics, people in the poorest sector had an average monthly per capita income of P9,681 while people in the richest segment had an average monthly per capita income of P184,997 pesos (more than 19 times the poorest sector’s average income)! Comparing 2006 and 2009 data, there has been no significant change.
Such lack of progress for all citizens is a symptom of the country’s dependence on foreign loans and investments. The country’s vast natural resources are not utilized for local industrialization to provide jobs for Filipinos. Instead, foreign firms and their local subsidiaries monopolize these rich resources, most of the times exporting our resources at terribly cheap prices. As a result, unemployment and underemployment rates in the country remain high. Those who have skills and talents are compelled by the circumstances to seek overseas employment. Progress becomes even more elusive.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. Progressive non-government organizations and party list groups formed by those among the marginalized sectors are in the forefront of the endeavors to transform Philippine society. These are the same groups who accused the president of “Noynoying.” Contrary to the President’s counter-accusation, these groups espouse alternative socio-economic programs which aim to democratize the political institutions and economic processes so as to provide equal opportunities to all citizens. They campaign for a comprehensive debt audit and moratorium on automatic debt appropriation that depletes the country’s national budget. A comprehensive debt audit would provide the necessary proof on the huge amounts of onerous loans acquired by corrupt leaders — loans which need not be paid. Meanwhile, debt moratorium will enable the country to have huge savings which could be invested to jumpstart land reform and industrialization.
Land reform will ensure self-sufficiency in rice and other food crops, which of course is necessary for the well-being of the country’s labor force and other citizens. Land reform will produce huge agricultural surplus which can be utilized in providing raw materials for Philippine industries. Everything that is needed for industrialization, from minerals to raw food materials are in the country. Hence, industrialization is a must. It would instantly wipe out unemployment in the country. Acquiring capital to industrialize is the only problem, and a temporary moratorium on debt payments, which lots of formerly developing countries have adopted and helped them achieve First World status in just a few years, is the only feasible option.
I challenge the President to overcome “Noynoying” by engaging in a public debate on the merits of these alternative development plans. Now, who’s with me? “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you join us…” and the Philippines will be transformed.
Mr. San Juan teaches at De La Salle University-Manila
Everyman is Manila Standard Today’s new column for citizens’ commentary on pressing issues in the Philippines and in the world. Anybody who feels he or she has something of value to add to the discussion on the pertinent issue is encouraged to contribute.