Pres. Benigno Aquino III has been so pleased with himself recently. Before the National Economic Development Authority released the country’s growth statistics for last year, President Aquino had already announced that it is something to be proud of, reportedly hovering around 6.6 percent.
However, the hype of the Aquino government over the “higher than expected GDP growth,” a bullish stock market and rising foreign investments is being questioned by progressive groups, especially Ibon Foundation. According to Ibon Foundation, these are fueled by speculative real estate development and construction, mainly feeding on the potentials of the ever increasing – albeit at a much slower rate than before the 2007-2008 world economic crisis – OFW remittances and projected foreign investments on Business Process Outsourcing. It is normal to see real estate agents moving around in malls and supermarkets trying to convince shoppers to “invest” in condominium units. But in terms of foreign investments, Ibon concluded that the brag of the Aquino government that foreign investors are flocking to the country is an empty boast as the “reported $1.2 billion in foreign investments from January to October 2012 was much lower than the $2.2-billion annual average from 2005 to 2009 or the $1.6-billion annual average from 2000 to 2009.”
The GDP growth is not in any way due to sound macroeconomic fundamentals nor is it a sign that the economy is building a solid base for sustainable growth. All told, the economy is still dependent on foreign investments and capital and its biggest dollar earner is not exports but OFW remittances. Thus, we are but a source of cheap labor locally and abroad.
This is the reason why the Aquino government, like its predecessors, has been blocking moves to increase the mandated minimum wage; has been collaborating with corporations in attacking unions and labor rights; and has abetted the filing of trumped up criminal cases against unionists, and worse, the killings of labor leaders.
This is also why the Aquino government has been protecting big foreign mining and logging companies and their local partners; has been displacing local communities; and has been silent about the killings of indigenous peoples’ leaders who have been fighting against mining companies.
In terms of land reform, the Aquino government has the lowest record in land distribution; it has launched a counterinsurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan, which is no less brutal than the Oplan Bantay Laya of the Arroyo administration; and it has not lifted a finger in addressing the reign of impunity in killings of activists and journalists.
It is also no wonder why the Aquino government, despite its lofty promises of protecting OFWs, turns a blind eye to the abuses. It would rather sacrifice the rights of OFWs rather than lose a client-state, which hires OFWs. Labor export is such an essential component of the country’s economic and foreign policies as remittances are the country’s biggest source of dollar earnings and it props up domestic consumption.
How could we achieve “inclusive growth” if the interests, rights and welfare of the working masses, the majority, are sacrificed under the altar of capital, profits, and wealth of the few? How could we achieve inclusive growth if, despite the hype of the Aquino government, the unemployment and underemployment situation in the country is even worsening? According to Ibon estimates, the unemployed and underemployed in 2012 increased to 11.9 million.
And when progressive groups organize the people and communities and lead protest actions, they are arrested on the basis of absurd charges, such as what happened to two organizers from Courage, a federation of government employees’ unions, Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano were arrested for purportedly participating in an ambush staged by New People’s Army guerrillas last April 29 in Labo, Camarines Norte, 335 miles south of Manila. They are but two of the 28 activists arrested in a span of one month in December, 16 of whom are facing similar charges. And yet more arrests are to be expected as human rights group Karapatan has learned about Joint Order No. 14-2012 of the Department of National Defense and Department of Interior and Local Government (DND-DILG), which contains a list of 235 names who are to be arrested on suspicion of being “communist leaders.”
So how could the country ever achieve “inclusive growth” if there is no democracy?
Some may argue that there is democracy since elections are being held; politicians can freely throw mud at each other; the mainstream media could criticize some policies of the government; and the people could hold protest actions even though they are not allowed to go near Malacañang Palace and the US embassy.
But these are only trimmings of a democracy. The essence of democracy is genuine people’s participation in a government that prioritizes the interests, rights, and welfare of the majority. And as the crisis intensifies, the poverty situation in the country would further worsen; there would be more social unrest; and more arrests and killings could be expected; thus, the farther we would be from democracy, and inclusive growth would be reduced to a meaningless cliche´.