ibonreads

RP under new gov’t: is there hope for our backward economy?

In IBON Features on May 29, 2010 at 5:35 am

IBON Features | 29 May 2010 | Will the incoming administration take the bold steps needed to ensure land distribution and enhance agricultural production? Will the president-apparent promote measures in favor of building and strengthening local industries?

IBON Features—Just eleven days after the May 2010 polls in Sitio Buntog, Barangay Canlubang, Calamba, scores of farmers were hurt while a 71-year-old woman and four minors were taken into custody by the Philippine National Police in a land dispute in Hacienda Yulo. The Yulos are pursuing the conversion of the hacienda’s more than 7,000 hectares of agriculturally-productive land for commercial and residential purposes despite the farmers’ pending appeal in court against it.

At Swiss-owned Triumph International (Phils.) Inc., 1,660 workers were retrenched in 2009 with the announcement of a downscale in production and planned closure of factories. This prompted Triumph workers to stage a picket to prevent the removal of machinery before a resolution to the dispute is reached. The picket– as well as efforts by the workers to uphold a makeshift livelihood project of garment production – continues despite several attempts by management to evict them.

These are only cases in example of the general picture: peasant and workers’ rights are stifled while agricultural production and the capacity for local manufacturing are hindered by local elite and foreign interests.

Poverty in the Philippines, which last election’s candidates promised to alleviate when voted, is due to the absence of an independent national industry and the prevalence of centuries-old backward agriculture which today finds millions jobless and needy.

Huge task

Despite several versions of land reform programs launched by past administrations, seven out of ten Filipino farmers remain landless, according to peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP). Moreover, the conversion of agricultural land for commercial purposes is still allowed under the extended Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARPer). None of the 14 recorded cases of stock distribution and similar schemes used to avoid distributing land to the farmers have been resolved. Almost 75% of the country’s poor remain in the rural areas– heavily populated by peasant families– where poverty incidence is almost three times that in urban areas. Also, despite being an agricultural country, the Philippines is now the world’s biggest rice importer: one out of every five spoons of rice Filipinos consume is imported.

The contribution of the agriculture sector to total gross domestic product (GDP) which has decreased from 30.5 % in 1959 to 18.1% last year reflects its dismal state. Even since beyond 60 years ago, the peasant sector has stayed poor, producing mostly for local and foreign businesses and unable to become the potential base of a domestic economy.

Building national industries has also been persistently hampered by foreign corporate interests. The 21.8% contribution of the manufacturing sector to total GDP in 2009 is at around the same level more than 50 years ago. Also, for the last five years, TNCs have accounted for 60%-75% of total manufacturing sales in the Top 1000 corporations in the country.

For certain, the next administration faces the gargantuan task of addressing problems of the Philippine economy upon the exit of the Arroyo government. The role of the Philippines as exporter of cheap raw materials and cheap labor and importer of processed goods mainly benefiting corporate clusters must be reversed. The challenge is to boost the agricultural sector and tap it to provide for the country’s needs including further job generation and the building of basic industries such as textile, steel, chemical, energy and transportation primarily for the people’s consumption.

‘It will be theirs clean and free’

Indeed in tackling agrarian reform, the case to cite would be that of the Hacienda Luisita of which the president-apparent, Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, is part-owner.

The Hacienda’s stock-distribution option scheme cost more than 1,000 farmers and farmworkers their jobs and reduced working days to almost only once a week. Farmers there continue to seek justice not only for the victims of the November 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre but also in terms of compensation for sugar farmworkers who, for many years, have been taking home measly wages.

Towards the 2010 elections, Aquino announced that Hacienda Luisita lands will be distributed to the farmers “clear and free” by June 2014. His platform also stated that farms and rural enterprises are “vital to achieving food security and more equitable economic growth”. The public now awaits how the incoming administration will achieve these given the president-elect’s current approval of joint-venture schemes in agriculture as well as his plan to continue implementing the CARPer which peasant groups lament to be pro-landlord in nature.

How will Noynoy lead in shaping the economy up?

As Senator, president-apparent Noynoy Aquino voted ‘no’ to the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), stressing that Filipinos deserved a better-negotiated and mutually beneficial treaty. He also voted ‘no’ to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), pointing-out that government’s sale of such revenue-generating assets is questionable. Hopefully he will pursue these steps that are protective of national interest despite his silence on the path of liberalization, privatization and deregulation taken by the 1986 Aquino administration.

During the election campaign, Aquino spoke of “empowering the people with better, high-paying jobs” to reduce hunger and alleviate poverty. He also vowed to create “conditions conducive to the growth and competitiveness of private business, big, medium and small” and to harness “homegrown talent” to build local industries.

However, his “openness” to have the Philippine Constitution reviewed, specifically parts which include restrictions on foreign investment and foreign ownership of land, does not yet show the clear-cut bias foremost for people’s welfare that the country crucially needs now. It runs contrary to his vision of building a “leadership that executes all the laws of the land with impartiality and decisiveness.”

Pondering on opening the economy up for foreign ownership beyond current levels further endangers the entire prospect of independently forging national industries. It is important for the incoming administration to first ensure that it will tread the sovereign path in rebuilding the economy and prove its proclaimed determination to put the Filipino first at all times. IBON Features

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