Bishops Say Neoliberal Policies Have Worsened, ‘Institutionalized’ Plunder of Nation’s Resources


The neoliberal economic policies implemented by the Philippine government over the last 20 years have “aggravated and institutionalized the plunder by foreign corporations” of the country’s human and natural resources,” the leaders of an ecumenical forum of Catholic, Protestant and Aglipayan bishops have said.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 25, July 27-August 2, 2008

The neoliberal economic policies implemented by the Philippine government over the last 20 years have “aggravated and institutionalized the plunder by foreign corporations” of the country’s human and natural resources,” the leaders of an ecumenical forum of Catholic, Protestant and Aglipayan bishops have said.

In a statement, Roman Catholic Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez and Methodist Bishop Solito Toquero, co-chairmen of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), the plunder of the Philippines, also decried the “poverty and want” afflicting the Filipino people.

“We are very much saddened that while our nation is richly endowed with vast natural resources and hard working and resilient human resources, most of our farmers are landless and hungry, our sisters and brothers in workplaces are denied of their right to just wages, our indigenous peoples are denied of their rights to ancestral domain and self-determination, our fisherfolk are left without enjoying God-given marine resources, our women and children are subject to commodification and abuse and many of our young workers and professionals are forced to earn a living abroad away from their homes and families,” the EBF co-chairmen said.

Inequality and poverty

Based on the United Nations’ (UN) Human Development Report 2007/2008, the Philippines has a Gini coefficient of 44.5 – with 0 representing absolute equality and 100 representing absolute inequality.

Among the 177 countries ranked in the Human Development Report 2007/2008, there are only 37 countries with higher Gini coefficients, meaning having more inequality, than the Philippines: Argentina, Panama, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Malaysia, Venezuela, Colombia, Dominican Republic, China, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Jamaica, Honduras, Bolivia, Guatemala, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Nepal, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Togo, Uganda, Cote d’loivre, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Niger, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone.

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has made much of the economic growth posted by the country under her administration. In a speech on Jan. 11, she said:

“Today, the Philippines is on a path to permanent economic growth and stability. We’ve created seven million new jobs in seven years… We’ve achieved 28 consecutive quarters of economic growth in the last seven years. And that’s something that even our neighbors cannot say. There were times during this 28 quarters that the… Singapore for instance, experienced negative growth and many of our neighbors and even the United States, there were quarters when they experienced negative growth.

“And in the last, in the three quarters of 2007 for which we have had our accounting completed, our economy rose 7.3 percent and this is the fastest growth in more than a decade, in a very, very long time.”

This economic growth, however, has been criticized by no less than the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as “among the most inequitable” in Southeast Asia. The ADB also noted that the Philippines has one of the highest Gini coefficients in Southeast Asia.

The ADB’s findings on inequality of income distribution are bolstered by data recently released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), which show that the number of poor Filipinos increased by 3.8 million from 2003 to 2006. Even with its low poverty threshold of P41.25 ($0.94 at the July 2 5exchange rate of $1:P44.07) for each individual Filipino – which is much lower than the living wage estimates of the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) – the rise in poverty rates from 2003 to 2006 is visible.

Corruption and neglect

They also assailed the rampant corruption and political horse-trading in the Arroyo administration, as well as the government’s “collusion” with big foreign and local corporations engaged in profiteering.

“We are outraged that in the midst of serious socio-economic and political crisis besetting the country, the highest government officials are engaged in corruption, self-aggrandizement, and political maneuvering,” Iñiguez and Toquero said. “Furthermore, they collude with big foreign and local businesses such as oil companies, mining corporations, rice cartel and pharmaceutical firms in acquiring bigger profits at the expense of and in gross disregard for the welfare and interest of the people.”

The Philippines has been enduring unabated jumps in the prices of petroleum products. Prices of diesel and gasoline have gone up by more than 20 times since last January alone.

Oil price hikes severely affect the prices of commodities, as petroleum products are used in the production and transportation of goods.

Data from the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) shows that from April 2007 to April 2008, prices of prime commodities have increased by a range of 7.33-88.89 percent.

These price increases took place even as the peso is supposed to have grown stronger against the dollar from April 2007 to April 2008. Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP or Central Bank of the Philippines) shows that from $1:P47.82 in April 2007, the peso registered at $1:P41.82 in April 2008.

Last May alone, food prices soared by 14 percent, according to the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), with commercial rice now costing no less than P32 ($0.73 as of July 25) a kilo.

The inflation rate nearly doubled from December 2007 to March this year. From 3.9 percent in December 2007, the inflation rate shot up in the succeeding three months to 6.4 percent. Last May, the inflation rate reached a nine-year high. Inflation in June reached 11.4 percent.

Oil firms have claimed that the frequent spikes in the prices of their products are offshoots of their supposed need to recover losses from the jumps in world oil prices. They have recently implemented weekly price hikes of P1.50.

But frequent oil price hikes are nothing new in the Philippines. The Philippines has been suffering from increasingly frequent oil price hikes since the deregulation of the downstream oil industry.

The downstream oil industry was deregulated in April 1996, upon the passage of Republic Act No. 8180. Two years later, RA 8180 would be replaced with RA 8479, which eliminated the first law’s provisions on tariff differential, stocking of inventories, and predatory pricing.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was a senator in 1995-1998, authored RA 8479 among other laws paving the way for the Philippines’ entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework.

Human rights

The two bishops also condemned the human rights violations under the Arroyo regime.

“We are disturbed that our people’s collective action to express peacefully their discontentment and desire for meaningful social change are subject to repression by government resulting in various human rights violations such as, coercion, intimidation, political persecution, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings against those who voice dissent, including peace advocates and church people,” they said.

“We are further disturbed that the armed conflict continues to intensify due to the worsening social, economic and political crisis. This is all the more aggravated by the growing militarization of the countryside in the name of development aggression resulting in displacement of entire communities, with thousands of families denied of their rights to land, livelihood and life.”

Data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) show that from January 2001 to June 30, 2008, there have been 910 victims of extrajudicial killings and 193 victims of enforced disappearances.

From 2001 to 2008, the three regions with the most victims of extrajudicial killings are Southern Tagalog with 165, Central Luzon with 137, and the Bicol Region with 128. Most of the victims are peasants (numbering 424) and indigenous people (85). Among political organizations, the party-list group Bayan Muna (People First) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) have the highest number of victims, with 132 and 106, respectively.

Meanwhile, the three regions with the victims of enforced disappearances are Central Luzon with 62, Southern Tagalog with 28, and Eastern Visayas with 24.

Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, the Bicol Region, and Eastern Visayas are all marked as “priority areas” in the government’s counter-insurgency operations dubbed as Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch).

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston went on a mission to the Philippines in 2007 to investigate the spate of extrajudicial killings and came up with a report specifically pointing to the military’s involvement in these. “In some parts of the country, the armed forces have followed a deliberate strategy of systematically hunting down the leaders of leftist organizations,” Alston, who is also a professor at New York University (NYU), said.

Demands

The two bishops, in their statement, put forward the following demands:

·    Resumption the GRP-NDFP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines) formal peace talks aimed at “attaining a just and lasting peace by addressing the social, economic and political roots of the armed conflict,” reconvening of the Joint Monitoring Committee and the full implementation of CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law);

·    Scrapping of the VAT (value-added tax), especially the VAT on oil products, being “unjust and onerous impositions by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) designed to ascertain capacity to service foreign debts, and resulting in increasingly unbearable tax burden on the Filipino people”;

·    Repeal the Oil Deregulation Law, since this law makes the government “fully supportive of the transnational corporations’ unstoppable profiteering on oil prices that puts our people in abject poverty”;

·    A stop to the militarization of the countryside as it “makes the people victims of state power, especially women and children,” and has resulted in numerous human rights violations;

·    Hastening the approval and implementation of the proposed P125 across-the-board wage increase nationwide; and

·    An effective and genuine land reform program that will address the long-standing problem of landlessness of poor and marginalized Filipino farmers. Bulatlat

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