IBON Features – Contempt for human rights is fast becoming a Duterte administration trademark. Over 10,000 people, mostly poor, have reportedly been executed in its war against drugs. Extrajudicial killings, harassment and intimidation, illegal arrests and forced evacuation of communities have continued and recently started escalating. The victims include many opposing the government’s anti-people policies. Authoritarianism is growing astride neoliberalism.
Big business- and foreign investor-biased neoliberal policies cause economy-wide violations of people’s economic, social and cultural rights while creating prosperity for a few. This will only worsen with the neoliberal tax reforms and wholesale liberalization being pushed by the Duterte government.
Recent rapid economic growth has not resulted in the attainment of the rights to work, to just wages, to land, to adequate standard of living, and to health, housing and education – in many instances the situation has become even worse. Promises to end contractualization and of free land distribution, education and housing are still unmet. The abrupt termination of peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) betrays the government’s lack of interest in, among others, the basic social and economic reforms that the country needs.
Some 11.5 million Filipinos are jobless or underemployed – counting the unemployed that official statistics have stopped reporting but still excluding the over 10 million forced to find work abroad. Of those employed, 31.6 million or nearly eight out of 10 are in the informal sector with poor quality work. Some 5,800 Filipinos leave the country every day to work overseas. As it is, the latest labor force survey data for July 2017 reported 784,000 jobs lost from the same period last year including a million agricultural jobs lost that were not replaced by new jobs elsewhere in the economy.
Around 22 million Filipinos live in extreme poverty at Php60 per person or much less per day, and almost two-thirds of the population live on just Php125 or less per day. Inequality persists — the combined wealth of the 15 wealthiest individuals amounting to Php2.6 trillion is equivalent to the combined income of the 77 million poorest Filipinos. Wages meanwhile are still less than half the family living wage.
Landlessness is still widespread, Even among supposed agrarian reform beneficiaries, some three out of four are unable to amortize the land supposedly awarded them. Farmers and farmworkers are evicted from their lands by corporate plantations, ecotourism projects, and real estate developers. This imperils not only farmers’ livelihoods but also the nation’s food security. Farmers that have dared to collectively occupy and cultivate land have been attacked by landlords and the state’s armed forces.
Homeless urban poor groups have claimed idle government housing but still grapple with spotty health services, and water and power supply. Their leaders meanwhile face arrest for the boldness of their organizations’ assertion of the right to housing. In the Visayas, tens of thousands of Typhoon Yolanda survivors have been in temporary shelters for four years with their former communities declared no-dwelling zones yet transformed into tourism spots. In Mindanao, a few thousand Marawi evacuees have been promised free housing even as thousands more are prevented from returning to their war-ravaged homes by business-led rehabilitation cordons.
Community-built schools in Lumad and other remote areas where the government is absent have enabled thousands of indigenous children and their families to avail of free and relevant education. Yet the Duterte administration continually threatens them with many already harassed, bombed and forcibly evacuated by the military and paramilitary groups. Teachers and community leaders have already been killed.
The Duterte administration’s social and economic policies as found in its Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 and priority legislation remain trapped in obsolete neoliberalism. These will only worsen the jobs crisis, undermine decent wages, further erode social services and public utilities, and prevent the country from benefiting from its rich natural resources. At the same time they will further entrench the hold of local and foreign big businesses on Filipinos’ economic life.
The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) program will strain the budgets of poor households who will have to pay more for their marketing, transport fares and utilities because of new taxes on oil products, sweetened beverages, coal and others. The country’s more well-off families on the other hand will be relieved of income, estate, donor and other taxes; even corporate income taxes are planned to be cut.
Among the biggest beneficiaries of TRAIN revenues will be big local and foreign investors participating in or otherwise using the big-ticket infrastructure projects in the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program. These projects include large dams feared to displace some 20,000 indigenous peoples’ families across the nation.
Proposed amendments to the Public Service Law and to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law seek to completely turn over public services and utilities such as telecommunications, transportation, water and electricity to the private sector including to foreign investors. More than ever, these will become commodities to profit from rather than vital services that all Filipinos have a right to. Their affordability and accessibility will be compromised.
The Duterte administration’s drive to completely liberalize the economy for foreign investment is especially alarming. The nationalist economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution will be made ineffectual under the proposed Federalism charter. This removes the last legal measure for the country to assert its sovereignty over its national patrimony and economy. As it is, the administration will already take initial steps towards this in its upcoming revision of the foreign investments negative list (FINL).
The anti-development repercussions of federalism also cannot be underestimated. Pres. Duterte’s federalism initiative will drive local governments to compete with each other in a race to the bottom to attract investors through cheaper labor, lower business taxes and other conditions favorable to profit-seeking at the expense of social and welfare considerations.
The state is obliged to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. The Duterte administration’s neoliberal policies do the opposite and violate the rights of tens of millions of Filipinos. As with all its other rights violations, it should be held accountable for these attacks on the Filipino people’s economic, social and cultural rights.###