A Matter Of Political Will

by Benjie Oliveros

In December of 2013, when Meralco’s petition for a rate hike was approved, Malacañang scrambled to justify it. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the rate hike is neither “arbitrary nor unreasonable.” Coloma echoed Meralco’s justification that the rate increase would be “temporary” [1] because of the “maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas plant that was scheduled from Nov. 11 to Dec. 10.”

Recently, Malacañang has been singing a different tune. It has been adding its voice to the clamor not to lift the Supreme Court temporary restraining order (TRO) on the rate hike. Why the sudden change of heart?

The Supreme Court issued the 60-day TRO after two class suits were filed against the rate hike: one by progressive party-list groups under the Makabayan bloc and the other by the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms. A third petition was filed by Anakpawis partylist group requesting the High Court to issue a writ of mandamus against the rate hike.

Also progressive groups under the multisectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno, and women’s group Gabriela have been holding protest actions and have been urging the public to manifest their disgust over the rate hike, which is on top of a series of oil price increases, high prices of basic goods and commodities, a spike in the price of liquefied petroleum gas, and the Aquino government’s planned hike in the fares of the LRT and MRT commuter train systems. These price increases were implemented amid the destruction caused by typhoon Yolanda in Central Visayas.

And now the Aquino government, through the same Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, is saying [2] that the “Government believes that unjustifiable price hikes should not be passed on to the people.”

The Aquino government also deferred again the planned LRT and MRT fare hikes. Malacañang did not reverse its position on the rate and fare hikes because of an epiphany nor did it have a sudden call of conscience.

It simply did not want to further fuel the people’s anger, which began to boil with the pork barrel scam, and was exacerbated by the Aquino government’s bungling and vulgar politicking in the relief operations after supertyphoon Haiyan or Yolanda hit Central Visayas.

What could be learned from these recent events?

First, whenever the Aquino government implements an unpopular, anti-people policy, it always finds reasons to justify it or says that the government could not do anything about it. What recent events have shown is that with enough political pressure from the people, the government could be forced to change or even reverse its position.

Second, Malacañang has always been dismissing and belittling protests against its policies by portraying these protest actions as the handiwork of a few noisy, unreasonable people. The Aquino government, much like its predecessors and allies, has been telling the public that nothing could be achieved by marching on the streets. However, recent events also showed that protest actions could make the government reverse its policies for fear that the people’s anger might boil over resulting in the administration’s ouster, much like what happened to the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 and the Estrada Administration in 2001.

In the final analysis, it is all a matter of political will.

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