Separating perceptions from reality

By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Bulatlat.com

It has been two years since Pres. Benigno Aquino III assumed the presidency and now is the time to expect results. For sure, during President Aquino’s second state of the nation address, the nation would once again hear him extol the achievements of his administration, which most likely would include the 6.4 percent GDP growth on a year-to-year basis during the first quarter of 2012; the removal of former ombudsman Merceditas Guitierrez and former chief justice Renato Corona; the results of the 2nd quarter survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) that showed that adult unemployment went down to 26.6 percent from the all-time high of 34.4 percent registered in March 2012 but still above the 24 percent registered in December 2011, and hunger fell to 18.4 percent, or an estimated 3.8 million families. This is more than 5 points below the record-high 23.8 percent (est. 4.8 million families) in March 2012. Moreover, the Aquino administration, as it has declared in the last few weeks, would boast about the supposed change in perceptions on and mindset about the government.

Well, year in and year out, the Filipino people have been hearing glowing assessments of presidents during the annual state of the nation address. We have even be treated to some flair of drama with former president Fidel V. Ramos presenting Mang Pandoy as the face of poverty and former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presenting the “bangkang papel boys” as the poster boys of her administration’s fight against poverty. Mang Pandoy died a poor man. And while the “bangkang papel boys” still have the good fortune of receiving scholarships, or at least the two of them, hundreds of thousands of other children are being disenfranchised with the skyrocketing costs of getting an education in the country.

The state of the nation address this year should be different if we are to believe that the Aquino government is really sincere in effecting change. Change always begins with acceptance of weaknesses, as well as sins of omission and commission. However, from Malacañang’s pronouncements, this would be highly improbable.

A look at the concrete manifestations of the current situation, two years after the Aquino administration took the reins of government, reveals that the change that people expected is just wishful thinking as nothing much has changed except perhaps the public’s supposed still positive perception on the government, which is slowly being eroded by the worsening poverty and hunger resulting from the festering unemployment and underemployment problem and the spikes in prices of basic commodities and services.

Still, it is worthwhile to look at what happened to the promises made by President Aquino during his inaugural address to see which of these were matched by action and which have become even farther from being a reality.

1. On corruption “kung walang korap, walang mahirap” – The most glaring accomplishment of the Aquino administration in this regard is the removal of Gutierrez and Corona, the filing of charges against former Arroyo cronies such as former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation chair Efraim Genuino, and the arrest and filing of electoral sabotage and plunder charges against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Also, the Aquino administration made it a habit of exposing the corruption cases of its predecessor.

However, the question is, why hasn’t anybody from the Aquino administration been the subject of any investigation? President Aquino even laughed off, ignored, or merely reprimanded members of his official family whenever they are linked to potential corruption scandals. Are we to believe that corruption has been totally eradicated under the current dispensation? Surely, centuries of corrupt practices could not be summarily eradicated by merely changing the people in government and exposing the previous administration’s sins.

Also, I received an interesting text message from a Mr. Johnny Chang, passed on to me by Bayan Chairwoman Carol Pagaduan-Araullo this morning. It read:

“Ginagawa tayong lahat tanga!! ���(We are all being made to look as fools!)

“Pinayagan ang MWSS [Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System] ng increase sa Maynilad at Manila Water base sa foreign currency adjustment.”(They gave the go signal to the MWSS to allow an increase in the water rates of Maynilad and Manila Water based on the foreign currency adjustment. )

“The peso has appreciated…dapat bumaba ang tubig hindi tumaas.” (it should have resulted in the lowering of water rates and not its increase)

“In 2002, the peso exchange rate was 53 pesos to a dollar today [it} is 41.60…what are they talking about…the contract was signed during the time of genius Ramos [former president Fidel V. Ramos].”

“They do not make water, they only purified it…taga-ipon lang sila ng tubig kaya lang mga Swapang.” (They merely collect and store water for distribution but they are really Greedy.)

“Corrupt…nagbago ba? (Corruption, did anything change?)”

Mr. Chang raised a valid point. Corruption is not only about government officials digging their hands into the nation’s coffers; it is also about favoring some sectors, such as big business, to the detriment of the interests, rights, and welfare of the Filipino people. Corruption is also about the sell-out of the nation’s sovereignty to a foreign power, and its patrimony and mineral resources to foreign big business, and the abandonment of the government’s role to provide basic social services thereby, leaving the people at the mercy of profit-greedy corporations. What would the Aquino administration gain from these? Power, perks – to be claimed now or in the future – and opportunities for the future.

2. “Hindi natin ipagpapaliban ang mga pangangailangan ng ating mga estudyante, kaya’t sisikapin nating punan ang kakulangan sa ating mga silid-aralan.” (We would fulfill the needs of our students, thus, we would strive to fill up the shortages in classrooms.) – Shortages in the public school system worsened with the implementation of the K+12 program. To remedy this, public schools implemented multiple shifts, thereby even lessening what the K+12 was supposed to achieve: more interaction time between students and teachers. Worse, some students were, without prior notice, relegated to the home school program. Ominously, the Aquino administration intends to remedy classroom shortages through partnerships with corporations, under Aquino’s public-private partnership scheme. This would result in higher costs for the government, which the citizens would bear through higher taxes.

3. “tirahan sa loob ng mga ligtas na komunidad.” (public housing in secure communities) – To ram through its various public-private partnership schemes, the Aquino government presided over the most violent demolitions of urban poor communities in the nation’s history such as in Sitio San Roque to give way to the Quezon City Business District project, the demolition of the Silverio compound in Parañaque that resulted in the death of Arnel Leonor, the Corazon de Jesus demolition in San Juan, among others. Kadamay has also observed that a lot of fires are happening in areas scheduled for demolition such as in Isla Puting Bato in Tondo. Kadamay also said the killings of urban poor leaders who are opposing demolition efforts are increasing.

In relocation centers, on the other hand, there are no social services, electricity and water connections are difficult to get, and there are no jobs available in the area.

4. “Kung dati ay may fertilizer scam, ngayon ay may kalinga nang tunay para sa mga magsasaka.” – Genuine agrarian reform is still a far-fetched dream for farmers as the experience of farm workers of Hacienda Luisita illustrates. The land has been ordered distributed by the Supreme Court and yet, the Cojuangco clan, to which the president is a member, is able to put obstacles along the way.

5. “Layunin nating paramihin ang trabaho dito sa ating bansa upang hindi na kailangan ang mangibang-bansa para makahanap ng trabaho.” – Because the Aquino government is merely continuing with the neo-liberal economic agenda of the previous Arroyo administration, it is hardly able to make a dent in the unemployment and underemployment situation. Even the 7.9 percent GDP growth registered under the previous Arroyo administration did not have a significant impact in the unemployment situation. Regardless of the supposed improvement in the employment situation, according to the SWS survey for the 1st quarter of 2012, unemployment and underemployment rates are still in double figures. And there appears no end to the worst decade of unemployment and underemployment in the nation’s history, which began in 2001.

On the other hand, Migrante International said that the Aquino government is still intensifying its labor export policy to soften the unemployment problem. This results in more deployments of OFWs and consequently more cases of abuse but with worsening services and assistance for the victims.

6. “Papaigtingin namin ang proseso ng konsultasyon at pag-uulat sa taumbayan. Sisikapin naming isakatuparan ang nakasaad sa ating Konstitusyon na kinikilala ang karapatan ng mamamayan na magkaroon ng kaalaman ukol sa mga pampublikong alintana.” (We will intensify the process of consultations. We will strive to implement the rights guaranteed in our Constitution, including the right of the people to information.)

To those who are talking about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice.

As of the last count, extrajudicial killings have claimed the lives of 99 people, including two foreigners: Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio and Willem Geertman. Political arrests and detention have breached the 100 mark, and the practice of torture and enforced disappearances continues. Impunity in human rights violations still prevails as not a single soldier, police officer or government official has been tried and convicted for human rights violations. Former major general Jovito Palparan who has been implicated in the forcible abduction of UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño remains at large. As manifestation of the Aquino government’s indifference to the pleas for justice, it has not made any effort to search for and surface the victims of enforced disappearances.

7. “Gagawin nating kaaya-aya sa negosyante ang ating bansa.” (We will make the country attractive to businesses.) “We will cut red tape dramatically and implement stable economic policies. We will level the playing field for investors and make government an enabler, not a hindrance, to business.”

“We will be a predictable and consistent place for investment, a nation where everyone will say, ‘it all works.’”

In this regard, the Aquino government has already made a lot of effort and has been opening up more opportunities for corporations through its public-private partnership projects, often at the expense of the poor majority.

8. “Palalakasin at palalaguin natin ang bilang ng ating kasundaluhan at kapulisan.” (We will strengthen and increase the number of soldiers and the police.) – Another one of the few promises that Aquino made that his administration is working hard at.

“Kayo ang boss ko, kaya’t hindi maaaring hindi ako makinig sa mga utos ninyo.” (You are my boss and it is not possible that I would not listen to your orders.) The Filipino people thought that when President Aquino said this he was referring to the majority who are poor and are suffering. With the abovementioned unfulfilled promises and few accomplishments of this administration, who do you think he is referring to as his boss? ()

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