Path not to take: The exclusionary and elitist Daang Matuwid

May 8, 2016

by IBON Foundation

#BeyondElections2016 | The Aquino administration’s long-playing call to sustain its so-called legacy of a fast-growing economy driven by “good governance” resonated in the “ituloy ang Daang Matuwid” electoral campaign. That the elections are just a day away and that the term of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III is nearing its end are opportune moments to review Daang Matuwid and expose it for what is has truly been.

These past six years have shown that the Daang Matuwid legacy which the ruling party’s standard bearers vow to continue is that of exclusionary economics, antipeople neoliberal policies, elite governance and deepened subservience to foreign interests at the Filipino people’s expense.

Exclusive growth. The Liberal Party has taken to claiming the supposed achievements of the Aquino administration: a relatively fast-growing economy under its rule. They attribute this growth to “good governance” with an anti-corruption drive and the pursuit of market-based reforms which purportedly boosted the confidence of business to invest and consumers to purchase.

Daang Matuwid underscores how market-based reforms help to create a business and foreign-investment friendly environment, which is expected to eventually translate into widespread development for the country.  “Inclusive growth” is treated as an add-on to be addressed through increased social service spending.

However, this is merely a continuation of the same old neoliberal globalization policies that began in the 1980s.  The government focused on using public funds and resources to promote private profits and interests.  Though growth may have been relatively rapid, it was not felt by many and did not deflect from the deterioration of the domestic economy.

Jobs crisis. Despite reported uptick in employment, job generation has weakened  to an average of only 692,000 from 2011-2015 down from  the annual 858,000 from 2001-2010. Poor quality work is widespread: 24.4 million or 63% of total employed are non-regular, agency-hired, informal sector, or unpaid family workers. Working Filipinos are also grappling with low incomes despite increasing labor productivity.  Almost half or 46% of workers receive less than the minimum wage and 25% receive just exactly the low minimum wage.

Persistent poverty. The number of Filipinos in extreme poverty remains unchanged at 27 million in the first half of 2015. There is an estimated 66 million poor Filipinos surviving on just P125 or less per day. There are 203,000 more underweight children while there are 692,000 less fully immunized children despite P295 billion being spent from 2011-2016 on the conditional cash transfer scheme Pantawid Pamilyang PilipinoProgram (4Ps).

Shrinking production sectors. The agriculture and industry sectors, which are vital for national development and sustained growth, continue to deteriorate. Agriculture growth has been declining from 2.8% in 2012 to just 0.2% in 2015.  Manufacturing growth has also been slowing down from 10.3% in 2013 to 5.7% in 2015.

Inequality. The neoliberal policies pushed on the Daang Matuwid platform concentrated wealth and economic power in the hands of a few elite business groups and oligarchs.  The wealth of the 25 richest Filipinos (US$44.1 billion) is equivalent to the combined income of the country’s poorest 76 million Filipinos. The networth of the 40 richest Filipinos grew from 14% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010 to 24% in 2015.  The gross revenue of the top 100 corporations also rose from  59% of the GDP in 2010 to 69% in 2014.

Public funds for private gain. The government’s centerpiece public private partnership (PPP) program has allowed the private sector to greatly profit from public funds and resources – even in utilities and social services such as education, health, housing. For instance, the San Miguel Corporation owned by presidential uncle Eduardo Cojuangco has bagged PPP contracts worth a total of Php149.06 billion.  Under Daang Matuwid, there have been 12 projects worth Php217.4 billion awarded to the private sector. Many of these projects such as the construction of MRT7 in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan and the Quezon City Business District have driven farmers and urban poor settlers, respectively, from their abode, resulting in forced evacuation and violent demolitions.

Daang Matuwid’s idea is to make business out of housing instead of providing it as a social service. The Daang Matuwid administration has allocated billions to private education instead of strengthening the public school system and has pushed K-to-12 to hone an army of cheap labor for the global market. Despite PhilHealth, its so-called universal health-care program, 69% of total hospital bill is still paid with salary, loan or sale of property: government subsidy ends up in private health institutions.

Foreign-controlled economy. Daang Matuwid’s economic policy has been largely defined by foreign interests such as the US government and international financial institutions like the World Bank (WB). The US Agency for International Development (USAID), one of the US government’s key mechanisms for crafting the country’s economic policy, funded the US$1 million Arangkada Philippines Project (TAPP) since 2010. Administered by the American Chamber of Commerce and implemented by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines, the program aggressively seeks to change the 1987 Philippine Constitution and remove foreign economic restrictions. By 2015, some three out of four (75%) of the TAPP’s 471 policy recommendations have been started or already completed. The WB also used US$1.1 billion in development policy loans in 2006, 2011, 2013 and 2014  to push for health, education and power privatization, higher VAT and other taxes, and reduced government spending.

Onerous deals. The Aquino administration also actively pursued Free Trade Agreements (FTA) that seek to liberalize trade and investment, further exposing its subservience to foreign interests at the expense of government regulation for public interest.  Since the beginning of its term in in 2010, the administration has actively sought to join the US-dominated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. It has also started formal talks for the European Union-Philippines (EU-PH) FTA, and through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is involved in the China-dominated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).  Government refused to heed that the economy has not benefited from earlier such deals as the Japan Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement. Membership in same-principled World Trade Organization has also resulted in more extensive damage to the country’s economy, especially agriculture and industry, and thus to prospects for national development.

Exclusive path. Daang Matuwid was a straight path for elite politics characterized by exclusionary and pro-foreign decision-making. Its brand of leadership championing elite interests over that of the people’s figured throughout Aquino’s term.

Daang Matuwid brandished symbols of democracy. Yet on Daang Matuwid wealthy families’ political dynasties flourished, eventually corrupting most of the party-list system and keeping landlord and compradore families in control of government. Almost seven of 10 Senators and six of 10 lower house representatives come from political dynasties.

Human rights violations. The ‘straight path” boasts of a vibrant civil society and is internationally known for its ‘good governance’ mantra. But contingent to its continued implementation of neoliberal policies that have kept the people poor and the economy backward are the Liberal Party-led administration’s repeated attacks on the people’s civil and political rights, especially against those that asserted them. Since December 2015 it has 304 extrajudicial killings (of whom 223 were peasants, 80 indigenous people and 28 children), 304 illegally arrested and detained and at least 19 incidents and 7,000 victims of forced evacuation in Mindanao, Southern Tagalog and Cagayan Valley in 2015 alone.

Haciendero leadership. The Kidapawan massacre that felled two of more than 6,000 drought-stricken farmers demanding government to release promised rice provisions would only be the among most recent display of the ruling party’s marginalization of farmers and other people’s sectors. The administration’s lack of decisive action whether on the Supreme Court’s order to distribute the Aquino-Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita or on Lumad killings in mineral-and-resource-rich Mindanao where several farmers and indigenous folk had also been killed by State forces highlights its bias for big landlord and business interests and against the people’s assertion for land, jobs and broad-based development.

Corruption. Belying its anti-corruption stance, Daang Matuwid also bent the high court’s decisions declaring the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) illegal, still retaining and even increasing huge lump sum funds and maintaining DAP in the 2015 and 2016 budgets. This reeks of bureaucrat capitalism and fans suspicion that people’s money may be used to fund the ruling party’s election campaign.

Zero accountability and neglect. Daang Matuwid never owned up to its accountability in the tragedies that beset the nation during its administration. So-called probe bodies have absolved the president of command responsibility in the Mamasapano incident and covered-up US troops’ illegal participation in the botched operations where 44 of the PNP’s elite forces perished.

Government’s implementation of neoliberal policies have kept communities inresilient to calamity hazards. Meanwhile, according to recent data, only 30% of families affected by super typhoon Yolanda have received livelihood assistance and 6% of damaged coconut farms have been replanted while millions of dollars and pesos in cash and material aid have not reached the calamity victims.

Mary Jane Veloso who remains in the death row is a picture of thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers encouraged by Daang Matuwid to respond to the global ‘steady demand’ for cheap labor. The fire that razed footwear factory Kentex killing 72 mostly contractual  and irregular workers highlighted Filipinos’ labor woes: measly wages even pulled down lower by the two-tiered wage system, labor flexibilization, lack or absence of benefits, poor working conditions and the criminalization of unions.

War for profit.The same pro-business bias defines the incumbent administration’s approach to peace which has been reduced to the surrender of arms and principles: The imminent passing of a watered-down Bangsamoro Basic Law presupposes big business and foreign institutions’ corporate expansion plans for Mindanao. It undermines the Moro people’s aspiration for self-determination and sovereignty over ancestral land and resources. Government’s refusal to resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines delays discussion and thus action on pro-people socio-economic reforms.

Cronyism, selective prosecution. In Daang Matuwid those who have been charged with allegations of corruption within the ruling camp and the previous administration were not brought to justice. It did not prosecute for instance presidential best friend Paquito Ochoa regarding the waterways projects and Alan Purisima who even led sensitive police operations amid suspension. Though former Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted for corruption, his boss former president Gloria Arroyo’s conviction for electoral fraud and funds misuse was ambiguous and the fallen dictator’s son Bongbong Marcos and his family are at large and even leading in the vice presidential race in poll surveys. Presidential friends who were former corporate executives have also been given top cabinet posts such as Roberto Singson and Jose Almendras.

The president’s vetoing the proposed Php2,000 Social Security System (SSS) pension hike despite the abundance of possible sources of funds starkly contrasts to Daang Matuwid standard bearer Mar Roxas’ former chief-of-staff Eliza Antonino’s getting a Php6 million annual salary as SSS commissioner.

Subservience. The Aquino administration also unflinchingly disregarded the Filipino people’s struggle for sovereignty and patrimony against US imperialist aggression in legalizing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and offering agreed locations which US military troops may use at liberty. As the US strengthens its foothold on Asia Pacific, it benefits from the Philippine government’s use of China’s affront regarding the Scarborough Shoal to seek tighter ties with the US military. The US has been allowed to elude Philippine laws in cases where Filipinos were victims of US troops abuses as in the case of Gregan Cardeno, Nicole and Jennifer Laude. It has no commitment whatsoever to defend the Philippines much less its sovereignty. Its commitment is in ensuring that the Philippine economy is shaped according to the interests of foreign, especially US, corporations through globalization policies.

Through their daily struggles for livelihood, social justice and rights, the Filipino people have increasingly rejected Daang Matuwid. The elections may be another opportunity to register this rejection, however throughout their campaign, candidates other than the bearers of the Daang Matuwid flag have not shown their platforms to differ. Under this administration this would also be the second round of discredited, privatized automated polls featuring machines supplied by a multinational firm.

Beyond the 2016 elections, this brings the nation to pursue the path that will muster the people’s collective capacity to push meaningful and lasting change that will truly benefit the majority.