What Gloria did not say in her farewell speech

(Read the transcript of Mrs. Arroyo’s farewell address here.)

In a televised address last night (June 23), Mrs. Gloria Arroyo gave what Malacanang described as her last speech as president. Consistent with the “legacy” propaganda of government, an aggressive and expensive campaign that started last year and has produced numerous advertisements (worth more than P845 million in 2009 alone), a P10-million parade last June 12, and recently, two books, Mrs. Arroyo declared confidence that she is leaving a nation “much stronger than I came to office”.

In her farewell address, Mrs. Arroyo repeated her favorite themes: that she sacrificed popularity to do the right things such as raising taxes (including the notorious VAT reforms); but she only did so in order for government to have more money for education, health and job creation; that as a result we had 37 quarters of uninterrupted economic (GDP) growth; that as a result we had new and better roads, bridges, and other infrastructures; and that 9 million (yes, 9 million) new jobs have been created.

But there are many things that she did not say in her speech. She did not say that while we had 37 quarters of uninterrupted growth, we also had nine years of double-digit unemployment rate which is the longest sustained joblessness in history. Nine million new jobs? A simple comparison of the total number of jobless between the January 2001 and January 2010 rounds of government’s Labor Force Survey (LFS) shows an increase of more than 620,000 unemployed workers.  Such increase captures only a portion of how job scarcity has actually deteriorated as it does not yet account the quality of jobs available in the domestic labor market. (Note also that since its April 2005 LFS, the National Statistics Office (NSO) started to use a new definition of unemployment, which excluded discouraged workers and those not willing or available for work from the labor force. The redefinition had a net effect of “statistically” reducing the number of unemployed.)

She did not say that under her 9-year rule, the absolute number of unemployed workers has been pegged at about 4 million a year, significantly higher than during the time of former Presidents Joseph “Erap” Estrada (3.17 million); Fidel V. Ramos (2.58 million); and Corazon “Cory” Aquino (2.28 million). She did not say that her administration is the biggest exporter of Filipino workers, at about 1 million a year, because the 37 quarters of uninterrupted growth could not produce jobs for the burgeoning labor force.

She did not say that despite three-decade high economic growth, poverty has deteriorated with the number of poor Filipino families (i.e. living on around ₱1,200 a month) increasing from 25.5 million in 2001 to 27.6 million in 2006. (Preliminary data from the NSCB indicate that at best, there’s no substantial change in the 2009 official poverty figures compared to 2006 data.) She did not say that hunger incidence nearly doubled from 11.4 percent in 2000 to 20.3 percent in 2009.

She did not say that as she raised the VAT from 10 to 12 percent, and further expanded it to include power and oil among others, she also pinned government spending on health, education, and housing to their lowest levels while raising payments for government debts, which has also become her administration’s biggest source of corruption.

She did not say that she was the biggest spender on debt servicing but the most frugal on social services among all Philippine presidents. Every year since 2001, the amount of debt servicing has been equivalent to 42.7 percent of annual government expenditures and 67.4 percent of annual revenues. Meanwhile, combined government spending for education, social security, health, land distribution, and housing does not even account for half of what the Arroyo administration was spending for interest and principal payments.

Mrs. Arroyo said that she is leaving behind more roads and bridges, a stronger economy. She did not say that she is also leaving behind a gargantuan budget deficit of P162.1 billion in the first five months of 2010 alone, already higher than the first half deficit ceiling of P145.2 billion, and a 2009 full-year deficit of P298.5 billion, an all-time high in absolute terms. She did not say that from 2001 to 2009, the average national budget deficit was pegged at P148.37 billion while the average deficit as a percentage of the GDP was 2.93 percent, both historic highs.

There are many other things she did not say – how she persecuted her critics, including the 1,000 plus victims of extrajudicial killings, the 200 plus people who were abducted by her security forces like Jonas Burgos, and those like the Morong 43 that they placed behind bars for trumped up charges to silence them; how she called up Garci in 2004 and asked for a 1-million vote lead over the late FPJ; how she, her husband, their relatives and friends milked public coffers and government contracts dry; how her officially declared net worth jumped by more than 114 percent during her presidency; and how she and her friends  dined in New York for almost P1 million.

There are many other things she did not say.

She did not say goodbye, which reminds us that she will still be very much around.

Notes on the 7.3 percent GDP growth

Image from INQUIRER.net

The good news, according to Malacañang spokesperson Gary Olivar, is that Noynoy Aquino will be taking over a “booming economy”. “It’s obviously a great note to end the President’s term with”, Olivar said.

The country’s chief statistician agrees. “This is a glorious ending for the Arroyo administration and a good beginning for the incoming Aquino administration”, a jubilant Romulo Virola, head of National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), declared.

On Thursday (May 27), the NSCB reported that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by a robust 7.3 percent. The Philippine Daily Inquirer noted that it is “the strongest in almost three years and gave some relief to Arroyo who has been portrayed by critics as a corrupt ruler more focused on improving her family’s economic fortunes than the nation’s”. Mrs. Gloria Arroyo is buoyant, the Inquirer reported. 

This is classic Arroyo propaganda of a vibrant economy, a recurring theme used as a smoke screen for the corruption, plunder, sellout, political repression, and bad economic policies of the last nine years.

But the growth is hollow and artificial; it does not in any way indicate a booming economy as Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s spin doctors want to portray it. For one, the first quarter growth was mainly pushed by election-related spending and not by sustainable factors such as healthy productive sectors (i.e. agriculture actually declined by 2.8 percent, after stagnating in fourth quarter 2009).

Elections create temporary jobs, give people instant extra money to spend, and make government to spend more. Consequently, personal consumption expenditure increased by 5.9 percent in the first quarter, outpacing its 3 percent performance in fourth quarter 2009. Government consumption expenditure, meanwhile, jumped by 18.5 percent, which the NSCB said is its highest ever recorded growth. Aside the elections, government spending was also pushed up by reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts after typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng hit the country late last year.

Election-related expenditures may continue to make its presence felt in second quarter GDP figures with campaign spending in April making a last surge. After this are uncertainties. The financial turmoil in Europe is unfolding and the Philippines, with its small domestic market and deeply export-oriented manufacturing and agriculture is very much vulnerable.

And while government hypes the 7.3 percent growth, left untold is that the economy is still reeling from the global financial and economic crunch. In fact, despite the seemingly spectacular first quarter numbers, the domestic economy is still in slowdown mode. While the GDP is forecast to grow 2.6-3.6 percent this year, up from 0.9 per cent in 2009, it is still below the 3.8 percent in 2008 and 7.1 per cent in 2007. These estimates do not yet factor in the very likely contagion of the raging crisis in Europe.

At the end of the day, however, the GDP growth needs to mean something tangible and beneficial for ordinary Filipinos. You can read my previous posts, but let me also quote Mrs. Arroyo’s erstwhile favorite economic adviser: “My biggest frustration as a presidential adviser is that 34 quarters of uninterrupted expansion in the past nine years did little to reduce poverty and the number of poor people”, reelected Albay Governor Joey Salceda said in an interview with the Inquirer last March. Citing statistics on poverty, hunger, and skewed wealth distribution, Salceda, who is now with Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP), echoed what critics – citing the same statistics – have been saying all along, “The rich got richer, the poor got poorer” under Gloria.

Now, the crucial question is can Noynoy – perhaps with Salceda again as among his economic advisers – correct this?

Sadly, despite all the rhetoric about change and justice, prospects of far-reaching reforms in economic policies and strategies under Noynoy are dim.

The problem is for Noynoy Aquino, Filipinos are jobless not because globalization destroys our local industries and people are poor because farmers and farm workers such as those in Hacienda Luisita are landless and duped by schemes such as stock distribution option (SDO). At first, I thought “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” was just a clever PR campaign to sell Noynoy as the complete opposite of Gloria and his fiercest presidential rival Senator Manny Villar. But looking at the people who designed his political and economic program, “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” is apparently more than a PR campaign but an expression of the so-called post-Washington Consensus ideology. Basically, this is an attempt by the neoliberals to justify the IMF-World Bank’s Washington Consensus (liberalization, deregulation, privatization, fiscal and tax reforms, budget cuts for social services, etc) by blaming corrupt Third World governments for the failure of globalization to bring about development and social justice.  

The next two paragraphs are portions of a recent article I wrote for the Philippine Online Chronicles:

The emerging line-up of Aquino’s Cabinet including his likely team of economic managers and advisers indicates that no qualitative change in policies and general direction is in the offing under the new administration. Aquino, in the first place, did not promise major economic reforms that will deviate from the path taken by his predecessors. In fact, some analysts point out that the main theme of his presidential campaign – “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (without corrupt officials, there are no poor) – exposes the lack of intention of Aquino and his team to reconsider current policies that have impoverished the people. By erroneously narrowing the poverty discourse to governance, Aquino has greatly limited the room for fundamental, pro-people economic reforms to take place.

To illustrate, the team of economists that drafted his economic agenda and backed his presidential bid includes the most ardent champions of neoliberalism in the country, a discredited economic dogma implemented since the 1980s. They include the faculty members of the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE) who pushed for bitter fiscal reforms that the Arroyo administration implemented including VAT reforms and reduced budget for social services, among others. These are also the same economists who justified wage freeze, automatic debt servicing, privatization, deregulation, liberalization, and other neoliberal reforms that have worsened unemployment and poverty in the country.

Noynoy’s Cabinet of recycled bureaucrats

Blast from the past. Officials from the Cory, FVR, and Gloria administrations are reportedly making a comeback under Noynoy (Photo from moneyandnature.blogspot.com)

Based on stories coming out in the media, apparent President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III will likely have a recycled Cabinet. But Aquino will use a second-hand Cabinet not as a cost-cutting measure in anticipation of the gargantuan budget deficit to be left behind by now Pampanga Congresswoman-elect Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Aquino’s recycling has more to do with paying political debts to those who have worked for and bankrolled his successful presidential campaign.

Noynoy has already denied the so-called partial list of his Cabinet members circulating through text messages and picked up by the media. But if true (and it’s not farfetched), this may come as a disappointment especially to those who expected Aquino to overhaul and bring closer to the people the bureaucracy. After all, Aquino during the campaign aggressively depicted himself as the bearer of genuine change.

But instead of surrounding himself with new people who have fresh ideas (or even old names but with unblemished and worthy track record), he may end up with people from the administrations of his late mother Cory (1986-1992), Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998), and even Arroyo. Not only are these bureaucrats recycled, they also played major roles in crafting and implementing policies that hurt the poor and the economy. And while Aquino campaigned on a platform of good governance, some of the people he is considering are among those involved in some of the biggest corruption issues in the past.

Media reports claim that Arroyo’s former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Johnny “Juan” Santos will be appointed as Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE). Another former Arroyo high ranking official, former Department of Finance (DOF) Sec. Cesar Purisima is being considered as head of the DTI.

Santos, as Gloria’s DTI Secretary, was the country’s main negotiator during the early stages of the talks for the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), which various sectors and people’s organizations vigorously opposed for its harsh impact on livelihood, environment, sovereignty, and overall economic development. He’s also a former Nestlé Philippines chairman and chief executive officer (CEO). Purisima as DOF boss, on the other hand, served as one of the major players behind the hugely unpopular reformed value added tax (VAT) law (that raised the VAT rate from 10 percent to 12 percent and expanded to include oil and electricity, among others) in 2005.

Santos and Purisima are members of the so-called Hyatt 10, a group of seven Arroyo Cabinet Secretaries and three bureau chiefs who resigned en masse in 2005 following the exposé of the “Hello Garci” scandal.

Other Hyatt 10 members who are in Aquino’s inner circle and reportedly will retake their old Cabinet posts are former Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, who is LP vice president and Aquino’s campaign manager, former Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, and former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita “Ging” Quintos-Deles. Another Hyatt 10 stalwart, former Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Avelino “Nonong” Cruz is seen to head the Department of Justice (DOJ), although Aquino recently disclosed that he also offered the post to retired Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno but was turned down.

Cruz as former Defense chief was part of the murderous Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) military campaign of the Arroyo administration. Soliman and Deles, meanwhile, are key officials of the Caucus of Development NGO Network (CODE-NGO) which got accused of rent-seeking in the scandalous P1.47-billion Peace Bonds. 

The Aquino Cabinet will also supposedly include Pete Prado at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC); Roberto F. Ocampo, DOF; Jun Simon, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG); Carlos “Sonny” Domingues, Department of Agriculture (DA); Cesar Sarino, Social Security System (SSS); Ramon del Rosario Jr., Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); and Philip “Popoy” Juico, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Sonny Coloma, DOTC undersecretary under Ramos, is being considered as chief of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).

Del Rosario and Ocampo are both from the Makati Business Club (MBC) and served as Finance Secretaries under the Ramos administration. They were instrumental in the implementation of the destructive financial liberalization reforms (i.e. lifting of foreign exchange controls and speculative investment restrictions) during the mid-1990s.

Juico, on the other hand, is the first Secretary of the DAR that implemented Cory’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) whose non-distributive stock distribution option (SDO) has fuelled continuing conflict in Hacienda Luisita and blamed for farmers’ deteriorating poverty. As DAR Secretary under Cory, Juico facilitated the referendums which led to Hacienda Luisita farmers signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for an SDO scheme with the Cojuangco-Aquino clan.

Aquino, however, has yet to make an official announcement on his preferred Cabinet members except in the case of Soliman, Deles, and Coloma. He earlier said that he will form a selection committee that will screen potential Cabinet officials. The committee will be headed by his buddy and long-time personal legal counsel Paquito “Jojo” N. Ochoa, which word has it is the next Little President (aka Executive Secretary).

His choice of people to help him run the government will speak a great deal about the policy direction that Noynoy’s administration would likely take during its term. And so far, the possible composition of his Cabinet indicates that the country will probably see more of the same flawed policies implemented by Cory, FVR, and Gloria that have to a large extent failed to address joblessness, landlessness, hunger, and poverty. These are the same people who have been part of the corrupt and repressive regimes of the past.

And today, we might end up taking President Noynoy’s “daang matuwid” (righteous path) with them.

Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap: How Noynoy obscured the link between Hacienda Luisita and poverty

“The basic premise of Noynoy’s advocacy conceals the structural roots of poverty. It hides the universal truth that the working people are poor because a very small minority monopolizes ownership over production means and the wealth society produces.”

Save for  the official proclamation, the presidential elections is now over with Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III emerging victorious. Partial and unofficial tallies separately released by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its accredited poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) show Noynoy garnering at least 40 percent of the votes.

The main message of the Aquino campaign, which apparently captured the sentiment of many Filipinos, is that the people are poor because of corrupt government leaders. Such message not only effectively depicted Noynoy as the anti-thesis of his despised and corrupt predecessor Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It also underscored his only edge (i.e. lacking in competence and experience, he has at least a supposedly untarnished record) over his closest rivals in the presidential derby – convicted plunderer former President Joseph Estrada and Senator Manny Villar, whose presidential bid has been hounded from the start by, among others, the C5 corruption scandal.

It remains to be seen if Noynoy can fulfill his campaign promise of immediately prosecuting Mrs. Arroyo and her cohorts for plundering the country with impunity and on a scale never before seen since the Marcos dictatorship. What is clear is that Noynoy and his handlers misled the people by asserting that without corruption, poverty will end.  This point is crucial because it speaks a lot on what the Aquino presidency has to offer beyond prosecuting Mrs. Arroyo for massive corruption, specifically in terms of economic reforms that will benefit the poor and oppressed.

Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap?

This basic premise of Noynoy’s advocacy conceals the structural roots of poverty. It hides the universal truth that the working people are poor because a very small minority monopolizes ownership over production means and the wealth society produces. It obscures the fact that as long as Aquino’s landlord family exerts effective control over Hacienda Luisita, the farmers and farm workers there will remain poor and their children will suffer even greater poverty even if Noynoy does not steal a single centavo from public coffers.

“Hindi ako magnanakaw” was Aquino’s bold declaration, an assertion he repeatedly proclaimed in his political ads and rallies.

But isn’t the exploitation of the farmers and farm workers of Hacienda Luisita pagnanakaw in its worst form? It may have been legitimized by his mom’s (late Pres. Cory) Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and stock distribution option (SDO) but it is still pagnanakaw. Exploitation steals from the farmers and farm workers their due share of the wealth they themselves produce, and shackles them into perpetual and worsening poverty.

If Noynoy’s vision is walang mahirap, what is needed is not only walang corrupt but more importantly, no Filipino farmer should be walang lupa. Currently, 7 out of 10 farmers are walang lupa and Noynoy must correct this age-old injustice by starting at his own backyard.

Aquino, of course, promised to distribute the Hacienda Luisita by 2014, the deadline of the extended CARP.  But almost half a century ago, his family also promised to distribute the contested landholding to its rightful owners – the farmers and farm workers. More than two decades ago, it was again promised by Pres. Cory. Fourteen people have already been killed in relation to the labor and agrarian dispute at the hacienda in the last five years, including seven who were massacred in November 2004.

Why wait for 2014 when Noynoy, if he truly has the high moral ground compared to his opponents as he claims, can distribute the hacienda immediately? All he has to do is convince his family to withdraw the temporary restraining order (TRO) they sought from the Supreme Court (SC) that stopped farmers from revoking their devious SDO contract with Noynoy and his family.

Unfortunately, Noynoy will not do that. In his first press conference after the May 10 polls, he reiterated that the Hacienda Luisita case is pending at the SC and he is respecting that process. Some have argued that Noynoy’s strong stance against Arroyo’s appointment of the next SC Chief Justice may have something to do with Hacienda Luisita, a contention that is not farfetched.

It is simply not in Noynoy’s interest to give up the hacienda. While Hacienda Luisita makes him vulnerable to political attacks, it is still the material source of his and his family’s clout.

The wanton plunder perpetrated by Mrs. Arroyo is only one of the great injustices that Filipinos suffer today. Corruption certainly aggravates the poverty of the people. While this must be addressed immediately and without compromise, the old and continuing social injustice bred by Hacienda Luisita and lack of genuine land reform must be addressed as urgently and as relentlessly.

Red-baiting: ang maruming laban ni Risa Hontiveros

Ano ang maganda sa laban ni Risa? (photo by rcmanila on Photobucket)

Hindi naman daw red-baiting ang ginagawa ni Risa Hontiveros ng Akbayan/Liberal Party (LP) sa senatorial candidates na sina Satur Ocampo at Liza Maza ng Makabayan. “Nowhere in my press statement did I call them communist,” ani Hontiveros.

Ano exactly ang sinabi ni Hontiveros? Nasa ibaba ang portion ng isang direct quote sa kanyang press statement:

“Actually, the links between the left-wing candidates in the NP slate and the Communist Party is something that nobody really questions.”

Ano exactly ang links na tinutukoy ni Hontiveros? Muli, direct quote sa kanyang press statement:

“It doesn’t help that Satur Ocampo and Lisa Maza keep on pussy-footing on ideological roots and organizational links.”

Wala naman daw nagdududa sa links nina Ocampo at Maza sa CPP. At huwag na raw magkakaila sina Ocampo at Maza sa ideological at organizational links na ito.

Hindi ito red-baiting?

Sa kanyang depensa sa batikos na magkatambal sila ni Gen. Jovito Palparan sa red-baiting, iginiit ni Hontiveros na: “It is actually their refusal to condemn the atrocities and abuses of the CPP-NPA that indirectly helps human rights violators like Palparan to commit further abuses.”

Sa ilohika ni Hontiveros, kasalanan (kahit pa indirectly) nina Ocampo at Maza kung bakit patuloy na pinapatay, dinudukot, at tinutoryur ng Arroyo administration at ng armed forces nito ang mga aktibista. Kung kukundenahin lang nina Ocampo at Maza ang “atrocities and abuses” ng CPP-NPA, matitigil na ang state-sponsored human rights violations?

Ganito mangatwiran ang mga doble-karang oportunista. Mapanganib ang mga taong ganito.

Karapatan s’yempre ni Hontiveros at ng Akbayan na batikusin ang ipinagpapalagay nilang atrocities at abuses ng CPP-NPA. Pero ibang usapin ang red-baiting.

Tandaang hindi ito ang unang pagkakataon na nag-red-baiting ang Akbayan.

Noong January 2005, sa internationally circulated statement ng Bangkok-based na Focus on the Global South kunsaan executive director si Walden Bello ng Akbayan, sinabi nitong: “Being part of a bigger global movement for social justice, we have interacted with, worked with, or even supported groups that are associated or working closely with the CPP such as Ibon Foundation, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS), KMU (May 1st Movement), Asian Student Association (ASA), and Migrante. We now appeal to the sense of decency of individuals in these and other groups and urge them to denounce these actions and apply moral suasion on Sison and other leaders of the CPP and NPA to refrain from the threat and use of force and assassination.”

Mahigit isang libo na ang biniktima ng extrajudicial killings sa ilalim ng Oplan Bantay Laya

Kagaganap pa lamang noon ng Hacienda Luisita massacre nang ilabas nina Bello ang kanilang statement. Ginatungan nito ang propaganda ng militar na mga komunista daw ang nasa likod ng welga sa Hacienda Luisita. Sa dokumentong Knowing the Enemy, na lumabas sa publiko pagkalipas ng ilang buwan, tinukoy ng AFP na communist fronts daw ang mga organisasyong binanggit nina Bello.

Sa mga dokumento ng Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), ang mga “sectoral front organizations” ng CPP-NPA ang target ng neutralization ng AFP. Ito ang kwento ng extrajudicial killings ng mga aktibista sa bansa.

Ang mga doble-karang oportunista ay nagpapanggap na progresibo. Sa isang banda, ipinagyayabang na sila ay human rights at peace advocates.

“How can I be a supporter of a human rights violator, when I filed a case for the disqualification of his (Palparan) party-list? When I authored a lot of resolutions investigating incidents of human rights violations? When I have bills penalizing torture, enforced disappearance, and strengthening the Commission on Human Rights?” tanong ni Hontiveros.

Isang bagay ang mag-file ng maraming bills at resolutions tungkol sa human rights. Ibang bagay ang mag-red-baiting. Ibang bagay ang ginagatungan at inuulit-ulit ang black propaganda ng AFP laban kina Ocampo, Maza, kanilang mga kasamahan at grupo.

Hindi maikakaila ni Hontiveros at ng Akbayan na ang kanilang red-baiting ay ginagamit ng Arroyo administration upang pagtakpan ang napakasahol nitong human rights record.

Noong 2008, nang lumabas ang report ni Prof. Philip Alston, ang Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Execution ng United Nations (UN), binira ng Malacañang ang integrity ng report. Pinagbintangan nito si Prof. Alston na pinapaboran ang CPP-NPA-NDF. Ang ebidensya ng administrasyong Arroyo? Ang mga naunang pahayag nina Bello at Etta Rosales ng Akbayan.

Sa official statement ni Ambassador Erlinda F. Basilio, Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organizations ng bansa, sinabi nitong:

“Prof. Alston’s partiality, selectivity and double standard are fully demonstrated in End Note no. 46 of Prof. Alston’s report. This concerns two leftist government critics – Prof. Walden Bello and Ms. Etta Rosales, whose freedom of expression and right to life were threatened, not by pro-government groups, but by Prof. Alston’s favored group (i.e. the CPP-NPA-NDF). Mr. Bello and Ms. Rosales are leaders of the party-list group Akbayan.”

Bakit hindi si Noynoy ang hamunin ni Hontiveros na i-denounce ang Hacienda Luisita massacre at SDO?

Ang tinutukoy ni Basilio ay ang pahayag noong December 2004 nina Bello at Rosales tungkol sa pagkakabilang nila sa diumano’y NPA hit list. Muli, isang bagay na kundenahin ang ipinagpapalagay nilang hit list (na actually ay diagram ng mga counter-revolutionary groups at kanilang international links, downloadable ito sa CPP website; tingnan ang page 8 ng Ang Bayan, December 7, 2004 issue). Ibang bagay ang malisyosong “umapela” sa mga ligal na organisasyon at institusyong gaya ng KMU, KMP, IBON, CPA, at iba pa dahil sila ay “associated” o “working closely” sa CPP-NPA. Ito ay red-baiting.

Balikan natin ang statement ni Hontiveros. Sabi nito, “She said that the PTC (permit to campaign), the NPA’s human rights violations, and allegations of corruption committed by Villar are valid electoral and political issues that all candidates, regardless of party affiliations, should address”.

Kung valid electoral at political issues ang PTC at NPA, bakit kina Ocampo at Maza lamang ito ibinabato ni Hontiveros? Bakit sina Ocampo at Maza lamang ang kailangang mag-denounce sa CPP-NPA na para bang sila ang kumukumpas sa mga gawain ng CPP-NPA?

Hindi ba’t para sa isang nagsasabing s’ya ay human rights at peace advocate, mas valid na electoral at political issue, in relation to the CPP-NPA, ang peace talks sa halip na denunciation nina Ocampo at Maza?

Kung naghahanap ng valid electoral at political issues si Hontiveros, bakit hindi n’ya hamunin si Noynoy Aquino na i-denounce ang Hacienda Luisita massacre at ang stock distribution option (SDO), na lehitimong human rights issues? Hindi ba’t mas may value ang denunciation ni Noynoy sa Hacienda Luisita massacre at SDO dahil siya at kanyang pamilya ang kumukumpas sa Luisita?

Bakit hindi ang peace talks, Oplan Bantay Laya, o Hacienda Luisita ang gustong pag-usapan ni Hontiveros? Dahil red-baiting ang totoong adyenda nila ng Akbayan.

Notes on the Comelec’s mock polls

Today (February 6), the Commission on Elections (Comelec) held mock elections in various parts of the country. The mock polls, which intended to simulate the first ever automated nationwide polls on May 10, covered nine polling centers with 50 pre-selected voters each.

As a volunteer for election watchdog Kontra Daya that monitored the mock polls in Quezon City, Taguig City, Baguio City, Cebu City, and Davao City, I got firsthand information and feedback from those in the field on the various glitches and anomalies that the mock polls faced, the same problems that the actual automated elections may face on May 10.

For me, one of the biggest concerns repeatedly raised in the past and that today’s mock polls confirmed is the very high probability of the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) machines preferred by the Comelec for May 10 disenfranchising hundreds of thousands if not millions of voters. This will seriously undermine the credibility of the national elections and create a major political crisis.

As of this posting, I’m not yet sure if the 50 pre-selected voters per polling center was achieved by the Comelec. Let us assume it did, so we had 450 voters participating in the mock polls.

From Kontra Daya field reports, a total of 11 ballots were rejected for various reasons by the PCOS machines – 5 in Quezon City, 3 in Davao City, 2 in Taguig City, and 1 in Baguio City. The rejected ballots accounted for 2.44 percent of the total number of voters (450) in the mock polls.

This is a pretty large proportion. Assuming that the same proportion of ballots will be rejected by the PCOS machines on May 10, it will translate to about 883,524 rejected ballots (2.44 percent of the expected 36.21 million voters on May 10).

This figure, in turn, is based on the 75 percent voter turnout during the 2007 midterm elections. The historical voter turnout in the Philippines is pegged at 75-77 percent. Meanwhile, as of March 2009, the Comelec reported that there are 48.28 million registered voters.)

Now, recent surveys show that Liberal Party (LP) standard bearer Sen. Noynoy Aquino and Nacionalista Party (NP) bet Sen. Manny Villar are neck-and-neck in the presidential race. In the latest Pulse Asia survey (January 22-26), Aquino and Villar are actually already statistically tied (Aquino chosen by 37 percent of the respondents; Villar, 35 percent).

If we apply these percentages to the expected number of ballots on May 10 (36.21 million), Aquino will get 13,397,700 votes while Villar will receive 12,673,500 votes or a very slim winning margin for Aquino of only about 724,200 votes.

But this margin is easily wiped out by the expected number of rejected ballots of about 884,970 based on the 2.44 percent rejection rate in today’s mock polls.

A new president may not be declared and the whole electoral process, which is supposed to become more credible through automation, may be seriously undermined.

The Comelec, of course, may argue that the mock polls was held precisely to identify such problems so that they may be addressed for the actual conduct of the automated polls on May 10.

I hope I can say that let us just keep our fingers tightly crossed.

But not with this Comelec, and with Malacañang’s fraud machinery intact.

Our best defense is to remain vigilant.

Debt and deficit as election issue

Image from http://www.popandpolitics.com/

The state of public coffers as an electoral agenda in the coming May polls is not getting the national attention it rightfully deserves. Except for a recent statement by Liberal Party standard bearer Noynoy Aquino that he will not impose new taxes and raise existing ones if elected, presidentiables have not touched the crucial issues of the burgeoning budget deficit and mounting debt that government faces. Vows to curb graft and corruption, meanwhile, are statements too general to pass as a concrete platform in terms of protecting and raising public revenues.

But the reality is that whoever becomes the next President will have to run a government that is almost P5 trillion deep in debt and with a budget deficit of P300 billion or more. Thus, whatever promises about providing for the basic needs of the people especially the poor are empty rhetoric unless candidates disclose how they intend to address the worsening fiscal situation.

Debt accumulation

Every second, the country’s debt is growing by P8,394.54. That’s the average pace in the last nine years and it is still accelerating. Last year, it was expanding by P8,462.36 per second. The rate at which the debt stock is accumulating is indeed alarmingly high.

As of October last year, the total debt of the national government including its outstanding and contingent liabilities was about P4.99 trillion. Outstanding debt refers to unpaid obligations while contingent debt includes government guarantees to state-owned corporations and financial institutions.

At the end of 2000 before the current Arroyo administration took over, the total debt was P2.65 trillion. It means that under the incumbent regime, government’s debt increased by P2.34 trillion. Such huge amount of accumulated debt makes President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the heaviest borrower among all post-EDSA presidents.

In addition, the domestic economy despite the aggressive hype about its growth by the Arroyo administration is not coping with the rapid accumulation of government debt. From 2001 to 2008, government’s annual outstanding debt as a portion of the yearly gross domestic product (GDP) was pegged at 67.8 percent. Comparing it with its immediate predecessor, the Estrada administration (1998 – 2000), the debt-to-GDP ratio was at 60.1 percent. Note that the GDP under Arroyo supposedly expanded by 4.8 percent per year and only 3.5 percent per year under deposed President Joseph Estrada.

For creditors, the higher the debt-to-GDP ratio, the higher the risk of default or inability to make future payments. But for the great majority of the people, it means that the economy, already hampered by structural issues of highly skewed distribution of wealth, would be further unable to provide opportunities for decent living.

Impact on the people

Current debt levels mean that each of the 92.23 million Filipinos is now practically in debt by around P54,093.46 to government’s creditors. And at the rate that government debt is growing since 2001, each Filipino would have a debt of about P56,965.97 by the end of 2010.

But the direct impact on the people of this huge debt can be measured by how much pressure it puts on public resources. The Arroyo administration has shelled out more than twice the amount it borrowed from creditors. From 2001 to 2009 (until November only), government has so far paid its creditors a total of P5.06 trillion for interest and principal payments.

It means that every second, the country is giving out P17,970.90 to pay for government debts. It also means that each Filipino has practically shelled out P54,832.39 to pay for such debts and yet still owes government’s creditors almost the same amount.

Every year since 2001, the amount of debt servicing has been equivalent to 42.7 percent of annual government expenditures and 67.4 percent of annual revenues. Stated more simply, it means that for every P10 that government spends more than P4 go to its creditors while out of every P10 it collects from the people’s taxes and other revenue measures, almost P7 are used to pay for its debt.

More money that go to debt servicing means less money that go to the people for social services. To compare, in 2008 (latest available data), debt servicing for interest and principal payments comprised 47.6 percent of total public expenditures. Education, culture, and manpower development accounted for only 14.5 percent; social security, welfare and employment, 5.5 percent; health, 1.2 percent; land distribution, 0.3 percent; housing and community development, 0.02 percent; and other social services, 0.1 percent. Even if we add the share of these social services together, they will still not comprise even half of public expenditures that went to debt servicing.

Note that the public expenditures for health, education, and housing cited above include spending for police and military schools, hospitals, and housing programs. Thus, actual spending that directly benefited the civilian poor are much smaller. Unfortunately, such data for the said period are not available.

Budget gap and debt trap

Government justifies its heavy borrowing by pointing to the budget deficit, or the gap between its revenues and expenditures. To bridge this gap, government is forced to borrow. And just how big is this gap? As of November 2009, the budget deficit is pegged at P272.52 billion – already an all-time high in absolute terms (and the December figures have not yet been accounted for). It is also P22.52 billion higher than what government anticipated for the whole 2009.

From January to November last year, total revenues was at P1.02 trillion but total expenditures was bigger at P1.29 trillion. To finance the deficit, government raised P541.02 billion through borrowing during the period, mostly through the foreign and domestic bond markets. But if government’s deficit is only P272.52 billion, why did it borrow almost twice the amount? Because portion of the borrowings will cover not only interest payments (which is 20.1 percent of the reported expenditures) but also for principal amortization, which reached P332.91 billion during the 11-month period. In other words, government borrows not only to bridge the deficit gap but to settle as well its old and existing debts.

This cycle goes on and on, worsening in every turn.

What must be done?

One way is to raise revenues. But it does not necessarily mean new (such as the text tax) and higher taxes as the Arroyo administration repeatedly claims. There are numerous ways to raise public resources without subjecting the people to additional burden – curb corruption and bureaucratic wastage, reverse trade and investment liberalization, improve tax collection efficiency, collect proper taxes from the biggest foreign and local corporations instead of giving over generous fiscal incentives, to name a few.

As pointed out in a previous article: “even without modifying our existing commitments with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other free trade deals, the Philippines can hike tariffs across the board and raise billions of pesos in revenues. Note that due to continuing trade liberalization, total collections from tariffs on imported goods and services under Arroyo now only account for 2.8% of total revenues and gross domestic product (GDP), compared to around 4.5% for most of the 1990s. In the first half of 2009 alone, we are giving up almost P117 million in potential revenues per month due to lower duties.”

In fact, even onerous taxes such as the 12 percent value added tax (VAT) especially on oil, power, and other essential goods and services can be scrapped and still government can raise needed revenues.

But raising revenues in a pro-people way is just one aspect of the urgent fiscal reforms that we need today. Unless we plug the largest fiscal hole that is debt servicing, our resources will continue to be drained. Thus, all presidentiables must also outline how they intend to address the country’s debt crisis that has been raging on for almost three decades now.

More concretely, what do candidates intend to do with Executive Order (EO) 292 or the Administrative Code of 1987 that provides for automatic debt servicing at the expense of social services? What do they intend to do with odious debts or those debts incurred by past and present administrations that were tainted with corruption and anomalies ala-NBN-ZTE? Or those that only caused death and destruction of livelihood for marginalized communities such as the San Roque Dam?

These are some of the most pressing questions that those who want to steer government in the next six years (if Arroyo’s Charter change scheme will not push through) will have to answer now. ###

Tables

NG debt (in P billion)
Indicator 2000 2008 2009*
Outstanding 2,134.12 4,220.90 4,424.08
Contingent 514.69 545.58 564.96
Total 2,648.81 4,766.48 4,989.04
*As of October
Source: Bureau of the Treasury
NG debt servicing for interest & principal (in P million)
Year Total Interest Principal
2001 274,439 174,834 99,605
2002 357,959 185,861 172,098
2003 469,990 226,408 243,582
2004 601,672 260,901 340,771
2005 678,951 299,807 379,144
2006 854,374 310,108 544,266
2007 614,069 267,800 346,269
2008 612,682 272,218 340,464
2009* 593,055 260,147 332,908
Total 5,057,191 2,258,084 2,799,107
*Jan to Nov
Source: Bureau of the Treasury
Debt servicing vs social services expenditures (in P million), 2008
Indicator Amount % of total (w/ principal payments)
Total expenditure (social services + others) 1,015,597.59
Total expenditure with principal repayments 1,287,815.59 100%
Debt servicing (interest & principal) 612,682 47.6%
Education, culture, & manpower development 186,619.70 14.5%
Health 15,729.22 1.2%
Social security, welfare, & employment 70,307.56 5.5%
Housing & community development 274.42 0.02%
Land distribution 4,166.94 0.3%
Other social services 1,266.45 0.1%
Source: Bureau of the Treasury, BESF 2010