Hunger and Poverty, Dissatisfaction, and Absence of Justice Reveal the True State of the Nation

Widespread hunger and poverty, broad dissatisfaction, and the absence of justice belie any claim of accomplishments that the Arroyo government is hard-selling on the people.

Vol. VIII, No. 25, July 27-August 2, 2008

Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would be delivering the 7th State of the Nation Address (SONA) of her administration on July 28. (It is actually her eight but her 2001 SONA covered five and a half months of the Estrada administration.)  Expectedly, Arroyo would be gloating over the supposed 7.2 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2007; she would be highlighting the completion of infrastructure projects such as the opening of the NAIA 3 terminal; she would be blaming the global crisis for the intensifying sufferings of the Filipino people; and she would be defending her administration’s refusal to repeal or suspend the VAT by announcing a national social welfare program, with controversial former National Economic Development Board Director and Commission on Higher Education Chair Romulo Neri at the helm.

But the results of surveys of poll agencies namely, Social Weather Station (SWS) and Pulse Asia show an increasing dissatisfaction over the government and a growing pessimism among the people.  The June 27-30 survey of the SWS saw the net rating of President Arroyo plunging to a historic low of -38, with 60 percent dissatisfied and only 22 percent satisfied with her performance.  Those dissatisfied were the overwhelming majority in all classes and in all regions. This is one area where Arroyo keeps on outdoing herself: she has topped her previous negative dissatisfaction rating of -33 registered in May 2005, at the height of the “Hello Garci” controversy. The IBON Foundation’s own survey in April 2008 revealed a worse result with a -74 net satisfaction rating and those wanting her removed at a high 72 percent.

Another survey, this time by Pulse Asia, conducted from July 1-14, 2008, revealed that only one out of ten believe President Arroyo’s state of the nation addresses are true.  A high 40 percent thinks that her SONAs are untruthful and 46 percent are undecided.  A significant drop in the number of the undecided – from 55 percent in July 2007 – translated into a big increase – an 11 percent increase – in those who find it untruthful.

The Arroyo government tried to dismiss the results of these surveys. But other surveys validate these and show the reasons why.

An earlier survey conducted by Pulse Asia from February 21 to March 8, 2008 revealed that 2 out of 3 Filipinos or 66 percent are of the opinion that the state of the economy has worsened during the last three years. This sentiment is shared by all socioeconomic classes all over the country.  An overwhelming majority, 71 percent, considered themselves as poor. A similar survey by IBON Foundation showed that 79.33 percent considered themselves as poor with 70 percent having difficulties in covering their basic needs.

According to the official 2006 poverty incidence statistics, 26.9 percent of families, or 27 million Filipinos, fall below the poverty line, an increase from the 24.4 percent or 20.1 million Filipinos registered in 2003. This is even based on a very low poverty threshold of P41.25 ($0.93 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.23) per person per day.  But the same Family Income and Expenditure Survey of the National Statistics Office also shows that 80 percent of Filipino families are struggling to survive on P284.33 ($6.428) a day, with the poorest 10 percent having incomes of only P90 ($2.03) a day. With an average family size of five, these figures translate to 68.2 million Filipinos subsisting on P56.87 ($1.285) a day.

Another SWS survey conducted during the same June 27-30, 2008 period revealed that 2.9 million Filipino families reported experiencing involuntary hunger. Even more telling is that those experiencing severe hunger increased to 4.2 percent, equivalent to 760,000 families in June.  This is above the 3.3 percent ten-year average in severe hunger and represented an increase from 3.2 percent or 570,000 families just this March.  It shows the worsening conditions of the Filipino people and the ineffectiveness of the government’s program of selling limited subsidized rice to the poor.

So much for the much-touted 7.2 percent GDP growth and the government’s illusions or false claims regarding the country moving towards “First World status”.  If there is real growth and the fundamentals of the economy are strong then how can GDP growth plunge from a high of 7.2 percent in 2007 to 5.18 percent in the first quarter of 2008? Manifesting the deteriorating condition of the economy, fixed capital formation slowed down to 6.55 percent during the first quarter of 2008 from 10.3 percent during the same period last year.  Exports even declined, registering a negative growth rate.

The GDP growth of 5.18 percent came mainly from the services sector; but the share of agriculture to GDP declined further from 17.89 percent to 17.17 percent and that of manufacturing from 21 to 20 percent. This is not surprising as the country could not even produce its own rice needs because of the backwardness of agricultural production where only 2 percent of rice farms are mechanized. In manufacturing, on the other hand, data from IBON foundation reveals that, because of globalization, an average of 553 enterprises are closing down and another 2,322 are retrenching workers every year since 2001. This amounts to 163 workers being displaced every day.

When the country’s economic growth was supposed to be at its highest in 2007, 10.829 million Filipinos were either unemployed or underemployed. There were actually 2.17 million more unemployed and underemployed Filipinos in 2007 compared to 2001. Most employed Filipinos, according to IBON Foundation, are in low quality, low-paying jobs.  In fact, 48 percent are in private households, unpaid family labor, and in self-employed odd jobs.

The widespread hunger and poverty, the deteriorating state of the economy, the unresolved issue of legitimacy of the presidency, and the numerous corruption scandals hounding the Arroyo family, have kept the government in a constant state of instability.  But instead of effectively addressing these issues, the Arroyo government, in its desperate efforts to cling to power, has corrupted almost all institutions where the Filipino people can seek redress and justice.  It has established full control over the House of Representatives with the maneuvering of the Arroyo sons to remove Jose de Venecia from the Speakership. To maintain its hold over the Lower House and the local government, it has dangled the pork barrel and bribed congressmen and local officials with cash gifts. It has neutralized the Senate by stonewalling the latter’s investigations.  It has bought the loyalty of the chain of command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police and gave them a free hand in repressing the people and killing and forcibly abducting activists.

Despite having a proactive Chief Justice, the Arroyo government is able to use the loyalty of majority of Supreme Court justices in squeezing out decisions favorable to it when it matters most.  The Supreme Court has upheld the right of the Arroyo government to invoke “executive privilege” twice: in the case of the president’s conversations with Neri in the graft-ridden National Broadband Network deal with ZTE of China, and recently with the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement. The High Court came out with these decisions despite the eloquent dissenting opinion of Chief Justice Reynato Puno. The Court of Appeals, on the other hand, has already dismissed three cases of writs of amparo: on the abduction of Jonas Burgos, on the enforced disappearance of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, and the abduction of the Gumanoy sisters. Worse, the Arroyo government has virtually bribed the bishops with projects and recently the “Katas ng VAT” dole outs.

With no institution to turn to seek redress and justice, the Filipino people has only themselves to assert their rights, pursue their interests, and address the crisis enveloping the nation. And much of this pertains to holding the Arroyo government accountable for intensifying the sufferings of the Filipino people. But to be able to do this, the organized sectors must be able to mobilize the millions who are dissatisfied with and are suffering from the policies of the current dispensation.

First, it must be able to explain effectively the accountability of the Arroyo government on the worsening crisis enveloping the nation.  While it is true that the spike in oil and food prices are affecting the peoples of the world, it does not mean that the Arroyo government is not responsible for making the Filipino people suffer from it. It just means that the anti-people policies being implemented by the Arroyo government such as the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Law, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, among others, are in line with the policies being imposed by multilateral institutions such as the IMF-WB and the World Trade Organization, which are designed to enable big multinational corporations, such as the big oil companies of Exxon Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Chevron Texaco, and the financial investment houses and banks, to extract super profits from the suffering peoples of the world through monopoly pricing and speculative attacks. The Arroyo government continues to burden the people with regressive taxes such as the VAT not to provide for social services – as the real budgets for education and health has been decreasing – but to ensure its foreign creditors that it would be able to pay its loans. Likewise, the country’s agricultural backwardness and its dependence on rice imports are not merely sins of omission of the Arroyo government but also part of the design to be able to flood the country with cheap agricultural produce from the heavily-subsidized farms of economically powerful nations. It was also designed as such to focus the country’s export production to the needs of industrialized countries.

Second, the organized sectors must be able to motivate people to act by explaining that we are worse off now not because of EDSA I and II or not because both people power uprisings were ineffective but because we were not able to push it further by demanding for substantial reforms.

Third, it must be able to provide different venues and different forms of protest where people can express their outrage.  These would eventually converge into bigger mobilizations, enough to encourage more of the unorganized to join mass actions.

Waiting for two years is such a long time considering the rapid pace by which the people’s quality of life is deteriorating.  In fact, every week counts as oil prices increase every week and food prices have already gone up by an average of 17.4 percent from its level last year.  And we have not seen the last of price increases for the year. According to IBON Foundation, the rate of increase in prices this year is the fastest in the last decade and a half.  Should we wait for hunger and poverty to worsen further?  And besides, if the people would not be able to demonstrate the strength of their collective action now, we cannot expect any change even after the 2010 national elections. Bulatlat

One Response to “Hunger and Poverty, Dissatisfaction, and Absence of Justice Reveal the True State of the Nation”

  1. uohaa Says:

    Thanks for this beautiful Posting On social networking!
    It was very nice to see this great article talking about Community!

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