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Aquino must listen to other voices

/ 01:12 AM February 19, 2014

What’s wrong? President Benigno Aquino III’s question to his Cabinet on why high unemployment persists, even rising to 27.5 percent in the last quarter of 2013 (SWS, December 2013), belying the claims of “inclusive growth,”  should make him realize that he is listening to just one voice on the economy—that of the apostles of privatization and liberalization who dominate his Cabinet, like Purisima, Almendras, Balisacan, Abad and Petilla.

There is another voice, often heard in the streets and the academe, at times provided scanty space in so-called consultations with the government, but not given the benefit of the President’s ear. This voice has long pointed out that the policy of almost indiscriminately opening our economy to outside competition without a solid industrial base and a land-reformed and modernized agriculture would kill our industry and agriculture. This is what has happened, especially after we joined the World Trade Organization. And so, we  have jobless growth, which our growing services, still oriented and vulnerable to the vagaries of external markets, cannot solve.

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On top of this,  we don’t have state planning in the real sense. Outside investments, direct and portfolio, come and go, without the government intervening as to where these should be properly channeled to serve national economic development. Sectors of the economy heavily invested with public interest like power, water, and oil, which used to be public or highly regulated, have been privatized and deregulated, left to the predatory monopolies of our oligarchs whose loyalty is only to themselves and their foreign partners.

This voice has long opposed putting into the hands of big corporations and big banks, as well as international financing institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the power to chart the direction of our national economy and determine the welfare of our people. Instead, it has long called for the building of our economy on the basis of our homegrown strength—rebuild our industries again, implement land reform and modernize our agriculture, fulfill our domestic needs and set up a platform to take advantage of global trade and investments that will boost our economy, make it climate-resilient, and raise the living standards of our working people.

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The Philippines is clearly in need of a national policy agenda that is truly progressive, people-centered in character, and rights-based in orientation. It has a number of brilliant and sincere individuals who have a correct way of viewing our developmental needs and, more importantly, are willing to help for our collective future at no cost.

We have senior economists like Sixto Roxas and Manuel “Butch” Montes, who have had excellent preparations in the academe plus essential experience honed in government and/or international institutions like the United Nations. Roxas has participated in a number of National Economic and Development Authority consultations on crafting the Philippine Development Plan and has written critical pieces on economic strategy, but nobody in the government listens to him. Montes had a long stint with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs after years as a professor in the University of the Philippines School of Economics. Now, he is in the South Centre, a Geneva-based policy think tank for Third World governments.

We also have the likes of economics professor Joseph Lim, formerly of UP and now Ateneo de Manila, and Liling Briones, former national treasurer and an expert in public finance, among many others. We have lots to learn from the members of the Kilusang Makabayang Ekonomya (KME), like businessman Hiro Baswani and political economists Rene Ofreneo, Jimmy Regalario, and Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, a former president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC). But Malacañang has paid no attention to these top-caliber minds, nor to what they have been saying.

Aside from these experts, a number of nationally established nongovernment networks, institutions and organizations, plus hundreds of national and local people’s organizations, including the FDC and KME, have long come up with paradigm and economic-policy alternatives to the Philippines’ many structural problems.  Key among these predicaments are wide inequalities, poverty, joblessness and cheap labor, climate vulnerability, and debt-dependence, about which they have figuratively and literally banged the gates of Malacañang and Congress, to no avail.

So far, nothing coming from these “bosses,” as the President likes to call them, has registered in his mind. In fact, even the limited institutional engagements between the government and the people’s organizations and NGOs in the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) are proving to be a non-priority to Mr. Aquino and his sycophantic-majority Cabinet. Ever since his assumption to office almost four years ago, he has never even bothered to convene a single en banc session of the NAPC. And yet, this is supposed to be the government’s premier national agency tasked to help provide long-term solutions to our centuries-old dilemma of systemic mass poverty.

What’s wrong, Mr. President? Look closer: the people around you whose minds and hearts have long been captured by big foreign capitalists and big local oligarchs who are willing partners and tools. Listen and study the ideas that alone see print and are heard in the corridors of power, that you yourself seem to have internalized: that the private sector is the main engine of growth, not our people, not even their government; that the way to progress is foreign loans, foreign investments and foreign technology, not the people’s equity, ingenuity and hard work.

Ricardo B. Reyes is the president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition.

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