Charter change and further economic liberalization

July 13, 2012. Once again, our politicians and their patrons are peddling the lie that the only path to the economic salvation of the Philippines is through more intensified foreign intervention in the economy and a more intensified liberalization of “key industries”. It is almost like routine, from the administration of President Fidel Ramos, to Joseph Estrada, to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Benigno Aquino III, every year or two, the leaders of both Houses of Congress peddle the proposal of changing the economic provisions of the Constitution in order to liberalize the remaining sectors of the economy with “nationalist restrictions.” True enough, faithful to tradition, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte comes out today, a few weeks before the State of the Nation Address and the opening of the last session of Congress, to promote “charter change.”

This begs the question, is “free market” liberalization the only path to economic prosperity? A brief look at the economic history of today’s prosperous and developed nations will prove that the path to economic prosperity is paved by national industrialization with strong basis in state intervention through regulation and subsidies, and protectionism–quite the opposite of the neoliberal dogma most of these countries now peddle and force upon the throats of the people of the “third world.”

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So why do you wear jeans, use a laptop and a camera?

So, you believe in socialism, why do you use Facebook, your phone and laptop, why do you wear branded jeans or shoes or eat at fastfood chains, all “products of capitalism”?

This is a typical rhetoric, and a stupid one at that, I get many times from those who are just eager to try and discredit activists and leftists but refuse to engage in ideological tussle.

The first answer is, most often, necessity. So, what do you expect us to wear, loincloths? Second, just so they realize, “capitalism” did not manufacture those products. Industries and the labor of many workers in socialized production did in assembly lines across the globe. We do not owe our shoes, clothes, computers and cars to “capitalism.” Capital did not manufacture them, labor did. In fact, capitalists barely have any participation in production, it is simply by virtue of control and ownership that they appropriate the wealth created by production, and leave the rest scrounging for trickled down salaries and wages.

In a very basic sense, socialism is merely the rightful correction in the contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation of the wealth. Instead of the creation of the “wealth of the few through the labor of the many”, it should be the “wealth of all through the labor of all”. Since products are produced in socialized production, why shouldn’t the appropriation of the wealth be likewise? The struggle for socialism, in the economic sense, is the struggle for the people’s rightful share in the wealth they create.

Third, to demand that leftists reject all products of commercial enterprises when all consumer goods today are produced in private enterprises is nothing but a ploy corner leftists to capitulate their struggle. Which is preposterous, because the entire point of being a leftist and an activist is to continue engaging the status quo, exploit available technologies and everything they need, and change society, not recluse from it. In other words, you cannot demand leftists to live by socialism when it has not yet been won.

On the laziness of many poor Filipinos

April 19, 2012. There is this prevalent and misguided notion among several sectors of the ‘educated class’ that the cause of a person’s or a family’s poverty and want is a function of one’s lack of “diskarte” as they call it, or even more insulting, a function of one’s indolence (echoing Spanish colonial friars), or worse, a function of the number of children in the family.

If that were the case, then they should agree with the idea that the primary solution, then, to the persistent poverty that cripples majority of Filipinos is a nationwide psychological self-help and motivation seminar and the mass castration and ligation of couples nationwide. But clearly, that is absurd as it is naive.

Poor millions of Filipinos are but lazy they are certainly not. They are neither a class of irresponsible offspring-makers as some insultingly try to portray them to be. God knows how many Filipinos work tirelessly in the fields and in the factories and workplaces in the country and overseas from sun-up to sundown and yet their lives do not improve. (For if you are looking for the laziest people in the planet, you need not look further than the corner offices of men and women who take no part in production but acquire the wealth of collective labor). Certainly, the hand to mouth existence of millions is not a mere consequence of individualized and separate circumstances of their God-forsaken lives, as some religious conservatives insist (and thus the solution is simply–prayer). The poverty of any one Filipino family is a condition that they share with millions of others across the archipelago, not because of some common trait of indolence or libido, but because we are all subject to the same political and economic rules of the status quo. Indeed, larger political and economic forces are behind their shared misery.

So, to my idealistic friends, who remain hopeful but misguided by the onslaught of a cacophony of bourgeois solutions to poverty: perpetual charity work, seminars, scholarship drives, outreach missions, “fun runs” just won’t do. The challenge is to unite with the different sectors of society to collectively confront the political and economic roots of this centuries-long calamity.

* Charity is a virtue?

The dishrag calling the dust cloth dirty

January 15, 2012. A few days ago, a paper written by ex-President Gloria Arroyo entitled “It’s the economy, student!” was released to the public. In the piece, the ex-President went on great length to champion her economic programs on one hand and to and bash President Aquino for failing to ‘sustain’ the gains she boasts to have accomplished on the other.

What really is the fundamental difference between economic policies of the two? Nothing. President Aquino merely continues the same economic policies of President Arroyo.

Both Presidents’ economic programs adhere to the same dogma of neoliberal globalization. It’s the economy, all right–the economy of big businessmen, foreign investors and their local counterparts. Whether or not ordinary Filipinos benefit from such economic growth is merely incidental. They have a phrase for it–“trickle down” effect. Numbers that proclaim economic growth are rendered meaningless by the fact that poverty has continued to worsen over the decade, so much that the government had to re-define and lower the poverty threshold. The vision of economic prosperity and survival is entirely dependent on foreign investors and all the economic programs of President Aquino and his predecessors are aligned with the agenda of these monopoly capitalists and their local counterparts.

Both Presidents have pushed for the further privatization of public utilities by selling contracts to roads and other public services to private profiteers. Both administrations have strengthened the deregulation of industries imbued with public interest and rejected clamors to repeal the laws that allow such deregulation, from the oil industry (Oil Deregulation Law) to power generation and distribution (EPIRA) to education (Education Act of 1982), which have resulted to public services that are increasingly out of reach to ordinary Filipinos and are increasingly profitable to private corporations.

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Contracting social services, bleeding the people dry

It has always been a priority for the Arroyo administration to “balance the budget”–meaning, to decrease the gap between government revenues and government spending. In plain reading, this is good. Trimming the budget deficit should mean less borrowing, and eventually more money for health, education and other social services. However, the goal of balancing the budget under the Arroyo administration, and even before, has always been to ensure the payment of our debt obligations, unfortunately at the expense of social services spending. To make matters for ordinary citizens worse, in order to balance the budget and earn more revenues, the government, for years, has always put a stress on consumer taxes (E-VAT, sin taxes, proposed text tax) instead of directly taxing corporations and high-income tycoons, instead of taxing imports or plugging the leaks from corruption.

In the age of trade liberalization and globalization, government would rather give rich foreign investors, high-income tycoons and importers tariff cuts, tax holidays and other tax incentives. Aside from taxing the consumer, government has also been selling its assets and privatizing services and public utilities in an effort to hide its poor and lopsided tax effort. This results to private companies concerned largely with profit and not with public service controlling public utilities. Thus, the high power and water rates we experience. When corruption and smuggling comes into the picture, we arrive at the terrible fiscal decay we find ourselves in. Ordinary people are being taxed dry, and yet social services are continuously deteriorating, and despite all these, our debt just keeps growing and growing. Below are some graphs that would illustrate the trend of the government in its budget proposals for the past years.

National Government’s Outstanding Debt Stock (1990-2010*)

National Government Spending Per Capita Per Day (1998-2010*)

graphs from IBON Foundation’s “2010 National Government Budget: Confirming GMA’s Legacy of Fiscal Decay” presentation (*estimated)

The second table just shows how much government has been spending on debt-servicing and selected social services per Filipino per day. For the 2010 Budget, the government will be spending P1.10 per Filipino per day on health, but would be spending P21.75 per Filipino per day on debt-servicing. This is one of the simplest way of showing what the government’s priorities are.

Cha-cha beyond term extension motives

Changing the constitution of different countries worldwide has been in the agenda of the lobbying efforts of multinational financial institutions and corporations the past years, in an effort to open up their national patrimonies and natural resources to foreign exploitation and ownership.

If you think it’s all about the personal and political motives of our politicians, it’s worse than you think. All charter change attempts by all Philippine presidents after Corazon Aquino have a common motif–amendments to our nationalist economic provisions, to allow the wanton foreign exploitation of our natural resources and foreign ownership of our public utilities.

Even with the 1987 Philippine Constitution in place (and its 60-40 ownership restrictions in many national industries), the country’s rich natural resources have only been exploited, through legal loopholes, by local and foreign corporations for profit instead of serving its potential of lifting the millions of Filipinos who continue to suffer from abject poverty out of their tragic situation.

The current attempt at changing the Philippine Constitution will not only seek to extend the Arroyo administration’s hold on power, but will also legitimize the economic plunder of our country. All the more reasons to reject the Arroyo administration’s current attempt at Charter Change.

Faced with Recession, US at the Forefront of Amending RP Constitution

The latest report on Foreign Trade Barriers of March 2009 on the Philippines by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) explicitly states the “[aim to reduce or eliminate] the most important foreign barriers affecting US exports of good and services, foreign direct investment [and] intellectual property rights.”

Apart from Politics, Pressure from WTO, US, EU Drives Cha-Cha Bid

The political dimension of charter change has dominated the national agenda. But the constant driving force behind all the attempts since the last decade to modify the Constitution has been the external pressure coming mainly from the WTO, the US, the EU and other rich countries to create the sort of policy environment that will allow globalization to fully thrive in the Philippines.

US ‘Wish List’ vs Philippine Constitution Behind American Lobby for Cha-Cha

The Americans, like the Europeans, have an inventory of what they call “barriers” in the Philippine Constitution that they want the Arroyo regime to remove through constitutional amendments. Meanwhile, the Constitution will have to conform with the Jpepa, the Philippine-Japan agreement, not the other way around.

GMA Hires Pricey Foreign Consultant for Cha-Cha

On July 25, 2005, Mrs. Arroyo hired the lobbying and representation services of US-based Venable LLP, one of America’s top 100 law firms, for a substantial sum of $75,000 a month, or $900,000 (P50.4 million) for 12 months, to “secure grants and (US) congressional earmarks” for her initiative to “reshape the form of government”¦into a parliamentary federal system.”

Labor Day in Manila ’09 (Part 4)

My friends in UP and colleagues from Kabataan Party were at the Labor Day rally to affirm the workers’ sector’s causes and to push for the youth sector’s own issues intricately connected with the workers’ struggles. I’ll post some news releases below.

8 out of 10 unemployed Filipinos are youth New grads could end up idle for months, years

Kabataan Party-list Rep. Mong Palatino on Labor Day warned that majority of this year’s 900,000 new college graduates could end up idle months or even years after graduation. “The youth are always at the greatest risk in these economic downturns. Often it is young workers or new graduates who are the hardest hit,” Palatino said. “For every 10 unemployed Filipinos, five fall under the age group of 15 to 24 years,” Palatino said, citing the January 2009 Labor Force Survey. This accounts for 49.2 percent of the total number of unemployed Filipinos. If combined with the 25 to 34 age group, Palatino said the share of young Filipinos in the unemployed accounts for 80 percent of the total number of unemployed Filipinos. “Young, low-skilled workers are easily priced out of entry-level jobs. Young workers are also often disadvantaged in bargaining arrangements,” he added. “The government is trying to hide the high unemployment and underemployment rates in the country by using the call center boom and its new medical tourism program.”

“Malacanang is sponsoring call center and tourism job fairs to create an illusion that there are still decent jobs available in the country. But these jobs are market-driven, meaning they are temporary in nature and are not sustainable for young Filipinos looking for permanent careers,” Palatino said. “The government’s adherence to globalization policies which vulnerably open up the economy to unrestrained entry of foreign goods and capital is slowly killing our own enterprises, leading to mass lay-off of workers and lost job opportunities. Coupled with the present global economic meltdown, they only exacerbate the dismal conditions that our young workers and fresh graduates are already facing,” he said.

When the sun had set, people started lighting up their sulos and the thousands marched to the American Embassy in Roxas Boulevard. We were blocked by policemen in a barricade near the embassy, so we decided to hold the protest program right there and then.

Imperialist virus

“Unjust and deliberate retrenchments, slashing of wages and work shifts, and institutionalization of flexible labor schemes have become the worst epidemic ever as it has already destroyed the lives of millions throughout the world,” KMU Chairperson Elmer Labog said. “It was the big businesses mainly from the US imperialist that have created the economic crisis outbreak, and made workers bear the brunt of it to ensure their continued profiteering. Thus, Labor Day becomes most relevant to all because to defend the cause of the workers — for job security, better wages and living conditions — is to champion the interests of the greater majority, that are always subdued by the capitalist elites.” Labog added. “This May 1, we shall bring the fight at the foot of the global crisis epidemic’s mastermind: the US regime.”

The KMU-led rally trooped to the US embassy with a thousand torches and culminated the program there. “The Arroyo government, as one of the US regime’s most favorite puppets, has consistently enacted policies that make the country’s economy serve US the most, such as limitless lifting of restrictions and giving of incentives to foreign trade products, investments, and ownership. “Arroyo is even railroading the ChaCha now to gain further US support to her term extension plans, for the ChaCha will allow 100 percent foreign ownership — meaning greater US imperialist control — to Philippine resources, media, and basic government institutions. And we expect the onslaught or more lay-offs, wage cuts, and labor rights violations if foreign monopolies will have greater control of our economy,” Labog added. The Labor Day rally also served as an anti-ChaCha demonstration.

A Tyrant’s Desperate Attempt

When Press Secretary Jesus Dureza prayed last November 18 in a Cabinet meeting that Gloria Arroyo will continue to lead the country “even beyond 2010,” he actually meant it. The President herself also meant it, even as she pretended to be embarrassed, as the events before and after the prayer indicate that the Charter change is set up once again for an Arroyo dictatorship beyond 2010.

After its failed attempt to use the MOA on Acestral Domain with the MILF to initiate constitutional amendments, the US-Arroyo regime is now more desperate than ever to clear the way for the Charter change express. Arroyo’s last ditch effort to extend her term is without the usual theatrics and pretensions – the danger of term extension is now staring us at the eye.

On November 17, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, an Arroyo ally, assumed the Senate presidency following a political move that ousted Senator Manuel Villar. Such change in leadership in the Senate favors the bid for a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) that has been gaining support at the House of Representatives since the start of the month. And at present, Arroyo’s wish for Con-Ass for Charter change is just a few votes away.

Instead of addressing the plight of millions of Filipinos locally and abroad who suffer under the worsening economic crisis, Arroyo busies herself with paving the way for her term extension. By focusing on prolonging her presidency, she is also prolonging her neoliberal policies that have squeezed much wealth and resources from the country for the benefit of US imperialism – which is now crumbling due to sheer greed for wealth. At the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the stay of a tyrant and US lapdog in power is highly favorable for US imperialism to grapple with its crisis. Arroyo’s term extension means further transforming the country into a sponge that will absorb the global financial mess. Eventually, massive layoffs and worse hunger will confront millions of Filipinos who are now barely meeting the standards of decent living. And those who will decry injustice will simply be punished with brutal force.

Yet with such bleak prospect, compliance is not an option for the people that have tasted Arroyo’s atrocities and oppression for years. As Arroyo allies in Congress railroad the new Charter change bid, they also expedite the advance of the mass movement that will trigger the downfall of the US-Arroyo regime. During these critical times, we are left with the sole option to revolt against tyranny and exploitation. We are challenged to avert the prolonged Arroyo dictatorship and make a historical feat by searching for a better alternative social project.

Cha-cha at Gloria, Ibasura!
Papet, Pasista, Pahirap sa Masa! Patalsikin si Gloria!

Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights – UP (STAND-UP)

Sipag at tiyaga

[This is my simple contribution to Blog Action Day 2008.October 14, 2008. The most prevalent idea being perpetuated by mass media and other traditional establishments with regards to how poverty could be solved is the notion that it’s all up to the individual’s hard work and perseverance. Nasa sipag at tiyaga lang ‘yan. Kayod lang nang kayod. Mag-trabaho lang nang mag-trabaho. Dadating din ang asenso.

To reinforce this idea, it’s not seldom that we are made witnesses to countless life stories of individuals who rose from poverty rags-to-riches style. Just this weekend, over ABS-CBN, we are made audience to TV biographies of the country’s business tycoons and how they achieved their status through “hard work” and how they return to the poor their riches through humanitarian efforts and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) projects.

This, however, is the reality: anumang sipag at tiyaga ang gawin ng malawak na sektor ng manggagawa, karamihan sa kanila ay hindi talaga aasenso. Not in a prevailing order that thrives on the cycle of inequality that it perpetuates. The success stories we are being made to witness and admire are mere exceptions rather than the norm. Surely, if it’s all up to sipag at tiyaga, then most of our employees, workers and farmers, whom we pride to be hard-working, should be experiencing economic security. Don’t you ever wonder why such is not the case? After all, who benefits the most from the hard work of workers?

We are simply being made to pin our hopes and be content with the way things are done and not strive or fight for something better. Indeed, when it is not coupled with genuine reforms and changes in the core orientation of our economies and in how our governments are run, mere sipag at tiyaga will never be enough to lift the vast majority Filipinos, and even the rest of the world’s poor, out of poverty.

People’s SONA 2008

People's State of the Nation Address SONA

July 28, 2008. It was my second SONA (State of the Nation Address) rally. This year’s mobilization was definitely larger than last year. It was a broad-alliance rally of BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) and other political opposition groups. I went there as a member of the University Student Council along with my other colleagues in the institution.

More than a hundred UP students joined the march all the way from Diliman to the rally site near Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue. Some of my blockmates from UP College of Law even joined the rally after our Legal History class that morning.

People's State of the Nation Address SONA

I shall just repost the editorial we have for the current issue of Oblation, the official newsletter of the University Student Council.


When power becomes an end in itself, and not a means for the common good, moral judgments are bound to take the backseat. And so, the annual State of the Nation Address — meant to truthfully report on the president’s progress for the year — has evolved into a tool for deception.

Since 2001, Gloria Arroyo has trumpeted her administration’s achievements. Elaborate cover-up techniques were employed, with numbers and rhetoric as her most potent weapons. The littlest improvements were exaggerated, harsh statistics were ignored, and outmoded yet positive data were favored over the recent but negative figures. Consistently, the end result is a rosy picture of the national fabric, even when reality tells of bleak prospects. Yet, a closer look on Arroyo’s fiscal reforms reveals sinister details.

This year, Arroyo chose to laud the unpopular Expanded Value Added Tax (VAT), crediting the regressive measure for providing the necessary cushion amid the global economic crisis. “Ito ang nakasalba sa bayan,” she proclaims. Seemingly, the success of future government initiatives, pro-poor programs, debt servicing, and infrastructure projects hinged on one aspect alone — the additional profits generated by VAT. “Take VAT away and you and I abdicate our responsibility as leaders and pull the rug from under our present and future progress, which may be compromised by the global crisis,” she further declared. Amid disbelieving ears, Arroyo punctuates this statement with a glowing report of development. “We ended 2007 with the strongest economic growth in a generation. Inflation was low, the peso strong, and a million new jobs were created,” she stated with a smile.

Quidquid latet, adparebit. Nil inultum remanebit. Yet, all that is covered shall be unmasked, all that is hidden shall be known. In a PCIJ report, UP Economics Prof. Ernesto Pernia pointed that while the global recession wrought adverse effects on practically all countries, neighboring regions such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam fared better than the Philippines. Despite the absence of regressive tax measures, the relative strength of their economies was key in weathering the oil and food crisis. In contrast, Pernia describes Philippine economy as “weak,” predicting a collapse in the markets following a brewing financial typhoon. Economic experts agree that Arroyo’s policies have largely been in the wrong for the last seven years, aggravating an already unstable national economy. With no financial security to speak of, the most vulnerable sectors are also the most hard-hit. More and more people are constrained by the dearth of opportunities as poverty rates increase from 30 per 100 in 2003 to 33 per 100 in 2006.

Government response, however, is characterized by a lack in both insight and foresight. Social desirables such as democratized education, employment opportunities, adequate income, sound housing projects, and affordable healthcare system have largely been missing in government plans. Instead, efforts were wasted on “band-aid solutions,” such as oil and rice subsidies and cash dole-outs. These policies are essentially populist, aimed at boosting Arroyo’s popularity while failing to safeguard the majority from the recurrence or exacerbation of the crises. Certainly, the rise in poverty levels is cause for alarm. Yet, this trend is bound to continue for as long as government is preoccupied with palliative measures that are more of a bane than a boon.

With limited national resources, Arroyo must concentrate on solutions that will have a lasting effect on the population while shielding the country from similar predicaments. For in the final analysis, all presidents are weighed according to one standard — the assurance of the future of the Filipino people. This, in turn, is guaranteed by measures that address the root cause and not merely the symptoms of the malady.

“Leadership is not about doing the first easy thing that comes to mind; it is about doing what is necessary, however hard,” said Arroyo to a country where millions are hungry for opportunity. Yet, the Filipino people deserve more than empty and deceptive rhetoric. Substantial and palpable changes are in order, for there is no other alternative but to perish.