Broad array of groups protest against Aquino gov’t policies that worsen poverty, hardships

“While it is true that Kristel’s death can be attributed to the education policies in place such as the STFAP, tuition and other fee increases and Forced LOA, we cannot gloss over the fact that her family was already a victim of the incessant drive to hike up prices and privatize services which are made less accessible by Aquino’s PPP,” said Kabataan Partylist President Terry Ridon.

“Privatization and price hikes have made services, including education and other day to day activities a bigger burden to most Filipinos when in fact, public services and utilities should be accessible to the PUBLIC themselves,” said Ridon.

On top of persistently overpriced oil products, this past month the Filipinos have seen water prices increase to P28 ($0.69) per cubic meter, and it is expected to be increased further by P5 – P10 ($0.25) by July. Electricity is also expected to be raised by P0.19 per kilowatt hour bringing the average increase to P34 ($0.83) every month.

As hospitals are also being privatized across the nation, with the Philippine Orthopedic Center and the National Kidney Institute as prime examples, Ridon of Kabataan Partylist warned that “free services are set to be removed by the private owners.”

At the same time, fare hikes in the MRT/LRT may follow its privatization process. Ridon estimated that Manny Pangilinan seems set to be the winning bidder in MRT/LRT. The tycoon, he warned, will most likely avail of a guaranteed subsidy and profit by the government. He warned that the MRT/LRT fare may bloat to P60 ($1.47).

“Why is the government prioritizing the subsidy for corporations when we have so many without jobs, healthcare and enough money to finish school? Aquino’s PPP is a testament to his commitment to serving the interest of big business instead of the people,” Ridon said.

Youth groups held large die-in protests dressed in black at PUP Sta. Mesa, UP Manila and UP Diliman to protest the PPP. They said this seeks to condemn Filipinos to a life of hardship and robs the youth of their future.

OFWs cite Pinoy plight as ‘endangered species’

Migrante Partylist and Migrante International joined the March 20 People’s Protest to bring to the public and the government’s attention the issues of Filipinos’ legitimate claim over Sabah, the rising number of victims of human trafficking because of the government’s labor export program, and the issues of tuition fee increases, price hikes and other state exactions that they blame for continuing to force Filipino workers to seek better-paying jobs abroad despite risks and uncertainties.

“These are all issues and problems faced not only by certain sectors of society but of all Filipinos, whether they are here or abroad,” said Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson and first nominee of Migrante Partylist. The group joined the People’s Protest to dramatize what they described as the OFWs’ disgust “with a government that has continuously and unapologetically betrayed the Filipino people and put our OFWs in constant danger.”

Migrante estimates that OFWs send an average of P8,000 ($196.35) per month to their families to cover expenses for rent, food and other utilities. The dollar depreciation combined with tuition and price hikes and the continuously swelling inflation rate impacts ominously on OFWs and their families, the group said. Outside of average P8000 ($196.35) remittances are tuition fees. Usually, come tuition paying time, you will note an increase in remittances, because OFWs have either taken a loan or they worked double or triple shifts to increase the money they could send home, Bragas-Regalado said.

Migrante believes that the Aquino government could actually do something to stop tuition and other price hikes if only it had the political will and the welfare of its citizens in mind, the OFW leader said. In the same vein, Migrante condemns the Aquino government’s slow response and inaction during the height of the crises that also take a toll on OFW lives and jobs in Libya, Syria and now in Sabah.

Aquino’s bogus programs

For the League of Filipino Students (LFS) who also joined the March 20 Peoples Protest and called it a “National Day of Protest for Justice and Rights,” what the Aquino government has been doing cannot just be described as slow or inutile. On the contrary, the Aquino government, they said, is implementing “bogus programs for the people.”

In fact, most of the government programs that have resulted to price hikes are being implemented by the Aquino government purportedly for development or growth. But critics have been saying that only the few wealthy families and their foreign partners get richer from it.

Philippine governments one after another, the latest being Aquino, have introduced privatization, PPP and corporatization as for ‘modernization’ or ‘upgrading’ of hospitals, road networks, ports, railways, water services, power generation, etc. – all resulted in hikes in prices and rates of its services, while profits of the groups that took over it are increasing many fold. Filipinos also continued to pay taxes (from road taxes to VAT) despite having to pay for additional costs of privatized services.

Some of the biggest examples are the increasingly privatized health and education services. While Filipinos are already being taxed supposedly to cover these public services, the government has also been finding ways to make the people shoulder its costs themselves, for example by way of Philhealth and the likes of STFAP. Both are segmenting the market, in World Bank-speak, to make the people and not the state pay for social services. This frees the government to siphon off the peoples’ money toward paying foreign debt or buying military hardware to modernize the military.

The March 20 Peoples Protest also saw various groups such as the Anakpawis calling on the DOH to restore the charity wards in public hospitals. They reasoned that the Filipinos belonging to the growing mass of unemployed and underemployed could not afford the semi-private PhilHealth wards being offered to indigent and charity patients.

“Charity wards should be restored immediately! With the growing number of unemployed and underemployed with meager and unstable income, many people could never afford the P400 ($9.82) per day bed rates in PhilHealth wards. The many limitations in PhilHealth coverage also make it difficult for poor people to avail of its benefits,” Maglunsod said.

“What we are asking for is not even free service. We have already paid for hospital services with the enormous taxes that the government extorts from us. We have every right and it is just for us to demand that these taxes work for us,” Maglunsod ended.

Similarly, the youth detested the tuition fee hikes brought by the likes of STFAP. “Under the framework of neoliberalization, Aquino’s Road Map to Public Higher Education Reform (RPHER) is pushing for the implementation of a socialized tuition scheme similar and patterned after UP’s STFAP. Intensified commercialization is underway for the education sector under the Aquino government,” warned Issa Baguisi, National Spokesperson of LFS.

In the strong backlash that followed student Tejada’s suicide, the UP administration is seen as trying to pacify the clamor for accessible education but only by lifting the “no late payment” policy. The LFS refuses to view it as “a tactical victory,” saying what the schools and the government need to do is scrap the STFAP, rollback the tuition. They challenge the Aquino government to place a moratorium on all tuition and other fees increase.

The youth group denounced Aquino as “a loyal lapdog of US, rigidly implementing economic policies to favor foreign profit-driven interests and consequentially, to the detriment of the welfare of the Filipino people.” ()

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