Friday, August 01, 2008

Kasalanan ni Gloria itong kahirapan ng mga Pilipino

GMA's Government Must Take Blame for Crisis
by BAYAN MUNA Rep. Satur C. Ocampo
Privilege Speech delivered at the House of Representatives

30 July 2008

Mr. Speaker,

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege on behalf of my colleagues from the progressive party list bloc to give our views on the President's State of the Nation Address delivered last Monday in time for the opening of our second session.

We in the progressive party list bloc feel it is our obligation to at least give an alternative and truthful view of reality, from the point of view of the underrepresented and marginalized majority that we represent both by commitment and by mandate through popular election. In the face of the President's lies and distortions, we hope this attempt at presenting the truth will be taken constructively by our colleagues in the Majority.

Ginoong Speaker, Noong Lunes, sinimulan ni Gng. Arroyo ang kanyang talumpati sa pamamagitan ng paghuhugas kamay sa matinding kahirapang nararanasan ng ating mamamayan. Ibinaling niya ang sisi sa buong daigdig – sa paggalaw umano ng presyo ng langis at bigas sa international market at paghina ng ekonomiya ng US.

The President was trying to be clever by blaming everything but herself, her government, and her policies for the miserable state of the Filipino people. Worse, she even had the gall to claim that if not for her "foresight, grit and political will," the situation would have been worse. In the end, she turned reality on its head by repackaging the unjust and oppressive VAT into an ultimate panacea.

Clearly, the President is so used to lying that she can't help it.

Ano ba ang katotohanan, Ginoong Speaker? What is the real state of the nation?

The fact is that even before the dramatic increases in world oil and food prices, the poverty rate in the Philippines was already rising, family incomes were falling and the gap between the rich and poor was widening. Mula pa 2003, dumarami na ang bilang ng ating mahihirap, bumabagsak ang kita ng karaniwang pamilya, at lumalaki ang pagitan ng mahirap at mayaman.

Ayon sa pinakahuling Family and Income Expenditure Survey (FIES), bumaba ang kita ng halos siyam sa bawat sampung pamilyang Pilipino. Bumaba nang 20% ang netong kita ng karaniwang pamilyang Pilipino o bumaba ng P20,400 kada taon (batay sa 2000 consumer price index. Kontrolado ng pinakamayamang 20% ng pamilya ang mahigit kalahati (52%) ng kabuuang kita habang ang yaman ng pinakamayamang 20 Pilipino ay katumbas ang sa 10.4 milyon nating kababayan.

According to research think tank IBON Foundation, the number of people jobless or otherwise looking for more work because they were earning so little from their current jobs increased by 2.2 million in 2007 from 2001. The number of unemployed increased by over 400,000 and of underemployed by 1.8 million. The 630,000 jobs supposed to be created each year are not enough to make up for the annual increase in labor force of some 690,000.

Alam ng ating mamamayan na walang saysay ang pinagyayabang na paglago ng ekonomiya noong 2007. It was during this period that the share of agriculture to GDP reached a historic low of 18.4%. In 2007, the share of manufacturing to GDP had deteriorated to its lowest level since 1956. Dahil higit pang humina ang agrikultura at pagmamanupaktura, mahigit 10 milyon ang walang trabaho o naghahanap pa ng dagdag na trabaho.

Dumarami rin ang bilang ng mga batang hindi nakakapag-aral, pati mga ina at sanggol na hindi naseserbisyuhan ng ating mga ospital at health center.

The point I'm making, Mr. Speaker, is that despite glowing GDP and GNP figures, poverty is increasing, incomes are dwindling, prices are skyrocketing, and joblessness is increasing. For Mrs. Arroyo to casually blame this phenomena of jobless, inequitable growth on external shocks is to evade responsibility and accountability for her flawed economic policies.

Mrs. Arroyo's much loved value added tax is a prime example of such unjust and oppressive economic policies. In 2006, the already miserable situation of our people was further exacerbated by the expansion and increase of the VAT to include oil, power, medicines,
instant noodles and a host of other products and services. Overnight, government coffers were overflowing from the increased taxes imposed on our ordinary, mostly poor, consumers.

Today, the cruelty of the VAT is manifested in the VAT on oil. Not only does VAT make oil prices higher by P6 to P7 per liter, it also rakes in an annual bonanza of P18.8 billion to P30 billion in windfall tax revenues. These are surplus collections and therefore not covered by the General Appropriations Act. Through the VAT on oil, the government is actually cashing in on the people's misery.

Ang sabi ni Mrs Arroyo, pumayag na tayo sa VAT dahil meron namang limang bilyong "Katas ng VAT" na ipinamumudmod sa mahihirap. Unang-una, talaga bang sa mahihirap ito napupunta at hindi sa bulsa lamang ng kanyang mga opisyal? Pangalawa, limang bilyon lang ang ipinamimigay pero mahigit P18 hanggang P30 bilyon ang sobrang kinokolekta. Saan napupunta ang iba?

But that is just as far as the VAT on oil is concerned. How about the other windfall VAT revenues resulting from the general increase in prices of goods and services, considering that inflation is at 11.4%, the highest in 14 years? No wonder that the DOF, in several hearings of the House Ways and Means Committee, has refused to provide Congress with pertinent data on VAT collections and disbursements. Ayaw nilang malaman kung gaano talaga kalaki ang kotong sa VAT.

Indeed, where does the VAT go? The fact is that the biggest beneficiaries of VAT are not our people but our creditors who will be paid 62% of all government revenues this year. During the deliberations on the tax measures in 2005, we were informed by the Department of Finance that as much as 80% of additional revenues from the new taxes would go to our creditors. No wonder a year after the imposition of VAT, we were paying loans in advance to the detriment of the budgets for health, housing, education and other social services. No wonder the credit rating agencies are ecstatic that we are taxing our people to death just to pay our debts.

Kinumpirma ni Gng. Arroyo na pambayad ng utang ang VAT. Sa kanyang
SONA sinabi niya: "Napakahalaga ng VAT…una nabawasan ang ating mga utang…" Again, it is a clever ruse of Mrs. Arroyo to justify an oppressive, windfall-earning tax by saying that she's returning it to the poor anyway.

In the first place, the poor would be better off without the government collecting kotong on their taxes. Removing the VAT on electricity would immediately and perpetually reduce the bills of lifeline rate customers by at least P66.79 a month forever, definitely more than a one-time dole out of P500. This will cost the government a mere P12.4 billion, a pittance compared to the more than P140 billion in annual uncollected duties on imported goods.

Removing the VAT on oil, on the other hand, would immediately prevent another round of fare hikes and possibly even lead to a rollback in jeepney and bus fares. That may be nothing to the rich but definitely something substantial for the poor.

Kung talagang nag-aalala si Mrs. Arroyo sa mga mahihirap na maybahay, sa mga manggagawa at magsasaka, dapat ay tanggalin na niya ang VAT sa langis at kuryente.

Katulad ng pagdepensa niya sa VAT, pinagpililitan din ni Mrs. Arroyo ang patakarang deregulasyon sa industriya ng langis. Perhaps the most glaring example of the failure of neoliberal economic policy can be seen in the oil industry. Sampung taon na mula nang ma-deregulate ang industriya ng langis at ibenta ang Petron sa mga dayuhan. Mula noon, hindi man lang natupad ang pangako ng murang gasolina o pagbuwag ng kartel ng dayuhang oil companies.

Today, the government is reduced to pleading for mercy from the oil companies who continue to rake in superprofits from their cartel operations in the country. In fact, the DOE can not even explain to us the oil cartel's pricing mechanism. Their claims of under-recoveries are considered Gospel truth. Under deregulation, government has become inutile in the face of the oil companies rapacious greed.

Kung talagang nag-aalala si Mrs. Arroyo sa mahihirap, ibabasura niya ang deregulasyon sa langis, kokontrolin ang presyo, ibabalik ang Petron sa pagmamay-ari ng publiko, at sisimulan ang sentralisadong pag-angkat ng ating pangangailangan sa langis at produktong petrolyo.

In her SONA, the President made much ado about her thrust towards self-sufficiency in rice, as if this were really her policy. The fact is that the Arroyo government had long abandoned the policy of self-sufficiency in rice and agriculture. We have not been self-sufficient in rice not because of the limits of our topography but due to the limits of our government's imagination and political will.

It is an outrage, for example, that a substantial portion of the NFA's resources are used to subsidize farmers from other countries where we import rice from. While farmers in other countries get full support in terms of technology, production inputs, credit and infrastructure, our lowly rice farmers are basically left to fend for their own. Wala na ngang suporta, kinokotongan pa ng mga opisyal ng gobyerno ang fertilizer at seed funds at iba pang pondong pang magsasaka.

Central to the issue of agriculture is the issue of agrarian reform. Mrs. Arroyo is pushing for the extension of an agrarian reform program that has proven to be insufficient at best, a sham at worst. In her SONA, Mrs. Arroyo noted, "There are those who say agrarian reform is a success – if only because anyhting is better than nothing." Now she would even make it worse by allowing CARP lands to be used as collateral, a measure that would further transform CARP beneficiaries into not into agribusinesses as she claims, poor and indebted

Mr. Speaker, the bankruptcy of the government's economic policies is reflected in its penchance for quick-fixes, palliative measures and dole outs. All government wants to do is to create safety nets because they don't have the guts to change their disastrous free market economic policies.

Mrs. Arroyo refuses to accept the flaws in her economic policy and so is limited to scrambling for dole outs to quell the people's dissatisfaction. Such is the so-called new social welfare program unveiled by her last Monday. These dole outs are especially attractive to Mrs. Arroyo and her candidates for the 2010 elections who are desperately trying to score brownie points in the face of their dwindling popularity ratings.

Speaking about satisfactory ratings, Mrs. Arroyo was conspicuously silent on the systematic plunder of the national coffers under her administration. Since 2005, it has been the policy of the Arroyo government to cover up every anomaly involving the President and her family. Until now there is no closure to the IMPSA deal, the Jancom contract, the Diosdado Macapagal Avenue overprice, the fertilizer fund scam, the Hello Garci tapes, the Venable contract, the NBN-ZTE deal and similar questionable transactions involving the highest leaders of the land.

This policy of cover up has led to the undermining of systems of transparency and accountability that are supposed to be the bedrock of good governance. In particular, the Executive's actions have led to the bastardization of the impeachment process and the sabotaging of Congress' function of legislative oversight.

She was also conspicuously silent on the issue of human rights and peace. In the face of the people's protests against the government's flawed economic and political policies, Mrs. Arroyo has resorted to the systematic violations of the people's civil and political rights in order to quell dissent and ensure her survival in office.

The killings and enforced disappearances have not stopped. Since Mrs. Arroyo's presidency in January 2001 to June this year, the human rights organization Karapatan has documented 910 victims of extrajuidcial killings, 193 victims of enforced disappearances, and 331 cases of frustrated killings. For the first six months of 2008,

Karapatan has documented 20 cases of extrajudicial killings, one case of enforced disappearance, 41 cases of illegal detention and 67 cases of illegal arrest. The surveillance, harassment and physical attacks against progressive organizations and their members have likewise not stopped.

Hardly any of the perpetrators have been investigated, arrested or tried, leading to a culture of impunity among state security forces and state-backed para-military groups. Again, this is a question of policy, particularly the counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya which, since 2001, has targeted activists and political dissenters as enemies of the state. Mr. Speaker, the true state of the nation is quite the opposite of what Mrs. Arroyo envisioned last Monday.

Gloria Arroyo cannot evade blame for this dire state of the nation by pointing to external causes as the culprits. What cannot be denied or hidden by contrived statistics is that the Philippine economy's growth has been gravely stunted. It has remained basically backward, with neither a modern agricultural base nor an industrial backbone to speak of, all because the Arroyo regime, like her predecessors, has adamantly stuck to the anti people neo-liberal globalization prescriptions of the IMF-WB-WTO triad – liberalization, deregulation and privatization.

By her canine devotion to both these multilateral instruments of global capitalist plunder and to the discredited George W. Bush administration, Mrs. Arroyo has encouraged the marginalization of our farmers, the demise of many industries, the assualts of labor unions.

By her policies she has deprived the economy and her government of any defensive shield and flexibility to withstand the destructive impacts of the frequently recurring crisis of global capital.

The fact is that there are more poor, hungry and jobless Filipinos than ever before. The fact is that it is government's neoliberal economic policies that has magnified the negative impacts of external shocks on the local economy. The fact is that unabated graft and corruption has made matters even worse. The fact is that human rights
continue to be trampled and peace remains a pipe dream.

And the fact is that the government and the President is to blame for the hardships that have befallen our people.

This is the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in. The earlier we recognize this the better it will be for efforts to address our people's yearning for democracy and reform.

Thank you.