Last July 27, President BS Aquino delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the opening of the Philippine Congress. This was his sixth and last speech and also his longest speech so far. The rhetoric in his words and the reality of the state of the people leave me with disturbing thoughts. As in SONA years past, the State of the People was also delivered by the people on the streets where the government had set up barricades and where the riot police were stationed.
The state of the nation’s top 10 richest Filipinos has been excellent. They have tripled their wealth 250 times over, from Php 630 billion in 2010 to Php 2.2 trillion in 2015. Eleven more wealthy Filipinos have been included in the world’s pool of billionaires! You most probably have not met the richest man in the Philippines but you most likely would have gone to one of his malls. His name is Henry Sy, the shopping mall and real estate billionaire. No complaints from this side of the social triangle.
The biggest growth in profits has been in real estate, construction, finance, business process outsourcing (primarily call centers) and overseas Filipino remittance- driven consumer spending. The net income of 260 listed firms in the Phil Stock Exchange jumped to Php 583 billion last year, a 33 % increase; that of the top 1000 corporations went up 26 % or Php 1 trillion. The growth is due to low global interest rates and continued demand for cheap Filipino labour.
The state of the nation’s people, the majority, continues to worsen. When the growth in the economy does not benefit the majority, then something is off. When the combined net worth of just 25 richest Filipinos is equivalent to the combined income of more that 70 million poorest Filipinos, this tells me that the divide between the rich and the poor is very, very huge and unacceptable. Economic growth that yields profits to big domestic and foreign corporations does not benefit the people. This approach is not built on the strategic and strong foundation of supporting domestic agriculture and building genuine Filipino industry with the goal of creating a strong domestic economy. Our economy can not be built on call centre offices, fast food stores, or malls even if these are profitable in the short and immediate terms.
In 2014, there was an estimated 12.2 million of unemployed and underemployed Filipinos. If you were one of them, you probably have already found your way abroad. Wages and incomes of millions of workers are low and have remained low. Contractualization is the norm. The average daily basic pay is Php 367.35, with those working in private households and agriculture getting lower than this. This is not a living wage by any standard.
Not surprisingly, poverty, lack and loss of decent jobs and livelihood, and the government’s labour export policy continue to push thousands of Filipinos to work abroad. At least 6000 Filipino men and women leave the country daily as overseas Filipino workers. Not only does this forced migration serve to diffuse social tension at home, it also serves to prop up the economy because of the foreign remittances it brings.
Public services like hospitals and mass transit which are used by the people are (or if they have not been, will be) privatized and run like businesses, not public services. For instance, the light rail transit system, with its increased fares and deteriorating service, continue to make life difficult for Juan de la Cruz. I urge all Senators and members of Congress stop using their cars and be required to use the public mass transit so that, maybe, just maybe, they can understand what the commuter has to put up with on a daily basis.
BS Aquino had said, “kung walang kurap, walang mahirap.” Well, his administration has been plagued with corruption and scandals and the people remain poor and bereft of basic services. This could very well be his admission of guilt! Not enough has been done to prosecute and bring these bureaucrats and their accomplices to pay for their crimes. Disturbing too is his willingness to look the other way when his friends or cronies are involved or his inability to own up to his own mistakes.
National patrimony and sovereignty is shamelessly surrendered to profit and subservience to corporate entities, most especially in mining, and to US policies and lopsided agreements, as seen in defense agreements and partnerships that surfaced very clearly in the Mamapasano tragedy.
The state of the people’s human rights across all the sectors continues to be one of violation instead of observance. These are violations that include harassment, surveillance, illegal arrest and detention, extrajudicial killings, bombings, trumped up charges, etc. against progressive people’s organizations and activists – from indigenous communities, women, workers, peasants, environmental activists, teachers, government employees, overseas Filipino workers, etc. The International People’s Tribunal in mid- July, just before the SONA, confirmed that the human rights violations under the Aquino government, with strong support and complicity from the United States government, were deliberate, systematic, and state- sponsored bent on silencing criticism and dissent from the people. Furthermore, it found both Presidents BS Aquino and Barack Obama guilty of crimes against the Filipino people.
Mr. President, the state of the nation is the state of the majority of the Filipino people. Not the state of the elite and the powerful. The “daang matuwid” has reached a dead end and the Filipino people were left behind.