The People’s State of the Nation and the road to change
Today, President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III delivers his first State of the Nation Address (SONA). It will be his first major policy pronouncement since taking office on June 30. His first SONA should be an indicator of how his administration will differ from previous regimes.
Because it is his first SONA, it should define his programs for the next six years, as well as his plans for addressing the problems left by the Arroyo regime.
And the Arroyo regime left numerous grave problems that cannot be addressed simply through anti-corruption slogans, with anti-“wangwang” peroration. The problems are in fact systemic and have worsened from one regime to the next.
The country is mired in a fiscal crisis of unsurpassed proportions. Unemployment and underemployment are at their worst in half a century. Much-needed social services are severely lacking. Landlessness continues to plague most of the peasantry, who comprise the majority of the Filipino people. Human rights continue to be wantonly violated. Foreign impositions impinge on the country’s sovereignty – or what is left of it.
• The budget deficit shot up to an all-time high of P298.5 billion last year. The deficit for the first half of 2010 has gone beyond initial projections. Meanwhile, government spending for health, education, and housing continues to shrink while 42.7 percent of the budget is allocated for debt servicing.
• By conservative estimates, more than 4 million Filipinos are unemployed, while over 7 million are underemployed. Those who are employed have to put up with extremely low wages.
• Power and water rates regularly increase while 30 percent of all barangays have no access to electricity and 17 percent of families throughout the country have no access to safe drinking water.
• Seventy percent of the peasantry – who comprise the majority of the Filipino people – are landless. Poverty is most prevalent in the countryside. Many big landholdings like the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s plantations in Negros remain untouched by land reform.
• The extrajudicial killings that became rampant during the Arroyo regime, and claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people, continue; no less than five people have fallen prey to extrajudicial killings in the first two weeks of the Aquino administrations. Meanwhile more than 200 victims of enforced disappearances remain missing and more than 300 continue to languish in detention on account of their political beliefs. The counter-“insurgency” plan Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), which targets unarmed activists and other civilians, has not been abandoned.
• Foreign military presence on Philippine soil continues under the auspices of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), with US troops permanently deployed in Mindanao in violation of the Constitution.
• The country remains tied to unequal trade agreements through the World Trade Organization and the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).
With these, Bayan challenges President Aquino to undertake the following urgent measures:
1. Prosecute Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her henchmen for their crimes.
2. Immediately address the problems of joblessness and poverty.
3. Increase wages and provide other forms of economic relief for the people
4. Increase the budget for social services.
5. Implement genuine land reform.
6. Stop extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, and end the OBL.
7. Uphold national sovereignty, abrogate the VFA and scrap the GATT and the JPEPA.
Institutions for accountability have been damaged and undermined by the previous government.The prosecution of Arroyo and her cabal of corrupt officials remains a pressing concern for a people who have long been denied of justice. Expose’ are good only insofar as they will lead to accountability.
We note with great concern President Aquino’s apparent continuation of the failed economic policies of hs predecessors. His economic managers continue to push for new or higher taxes as a way of raising revenues – in effect passing on the government’s fiscal burden to the people. The VAT on toll fees and the drive to have even small vendors issue receipts are some examples. The current government appears to be taking the same neo-liberal path as previous regimes.
While he has made statements against human rights abuses like extrajudicial killings, there has been no concrete action to punish the perpetrators, including the masterminds. The current government has also been non-committal about calls for the distribution of Hacienda Luisita and has not spoken about land reform in general. President Aquino is also silent about even reviewing the VFA, the GATT, and the JPEPA. We note also the current administration’s silence in the face of continuing US military presence in the country and the violation of our national sovereignty.
While Aquino has high approval ratings based on the latest Social Weather Station (SWS) survey, these approval ratings rest on shaky ground. While the survey shows Aquino having an 88-percent approval rating, it also shows that 53 percent of respondents believe he can fulfill only some of his promises, while only 14 percent believe he can fulfill all his promises.
As far as majority of the people are concerned, there are no illusions President Aquino will bring about fundamental changes. President Aquino should take this as a sign that he must immediately address the most basic peoples issues and demands. His approval ratings will ultimately be eroded if no meaningful reforms take place.
At this juncture in our history is important for the people to exercise vigilance and to continue engaging in collective action as the only proven means to achieve social change.
BAGONG ALYANSANG MAKABAYAN
July 26, 2010