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Commentary

Freedom from structural injustice

The discourse on poverty is sometimes limited to the shortcomings of poor people. This hides the fact that certain global structures actually contribute to the impoverishment of peoples in the Third World. For instance, structural adjustment programs (SAPs) consisting of loans provided by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund during the 1980s failed to uplift the countries they were supposed to help. As a condition for the release of the loans, borrower countries were obligated to impose policies dictated by the WB-IMF. But these policies have been neoliberal rules which favor rich countries. As such, instead of improving the situation of least developed countries, conditions such as increase in taxation, reduction of the balance of payments, and the balancing of budget resulted in the decrease of funds badly needed for basic services.

A component of the social reform agenda that has stifled growth in poor countries is the requirement of privatization, in which state-owned enterprises are sold to private interests. This has transformed former state-run companies into profit-oriented entities, in which the costs of certain commodities rose and wages were cut in order to allow the new owners to extract more. Private investors dictated policies at the expense of national interest and sovereignty.

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To this day, most of the countries under a social reform agenda have remained the poorest. While SAPs have been aligned to the Millennium Development Goals, most importantly in the area of poverty reduction, its true impact in improving the lives of the poor remains questionable.

Global politics has always been to the advantage of First World societies. While the Cold War is over, the new battleground is now the global economic arena, with China trying to position itself as an emerging superpower by flexing its muscle and influence in Asia and Africa through major investments. Understandably, the United States sees this as a threat to its own global status, and it has invoked its supremacy in the global political order as the world’s remaining superpower. In this respect, maintaining its dominance in world affairs will require gaining a permanent foothold, not only economically but also ideologically, in those countries it considers crucial to its own interests.

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The Philippines remains important to the United States. The military alliance between the two countries is integral to the balance of power in the Pacific. Two things are bothering America nowadays: the Islamic State and the rising influence of China. It is to the interest of the United States that the Philippines pursue the ruling against China handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. But the problem is that the Philippines’ new leadership is looking beyond that. President Duterte is playing his cards quite well. The fact of the matter is that there is not much that the Philippines can squeeze out of the United States. For this reason, the possible alliance with China becomes a new, uncharted course which may offer both good and bad for the Filipino people. The reason is that, like the United States, China’s main interest is also its national interest.

Independence in foreign policy does not necessarily mean putting aside the interdependent nature of global trade. What it means is that we have to begin, as a matter of priority, to look after our own interests before those of the multinational entities that we are hosting. It also requires looking into the conditions that are often attached to foreign loans and that may undermine the wellbeing of some local communities. If the Philippines is to advance the freedom and common good of its people, then we are in that opportune time to be able to use the President’s bold resolve and political will in liberating itself from a global structural injustice that has impoverished millions of lives.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.

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TAGS: Cold War, first world, Millennium Development Goals, Poverty, social reform agenda, structural adjustment programs, Third World
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