By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Malacañang is saying that Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s visit to the UK and the US netted $2.5 billion in investments from Europe and the US. It also said that it has gained the commitment of the US to help improve the country’s external defense capabilities, specifically on the aspect of maritime security.
So if indeed, President Aquino was able to wangle some concrete benefits for the country, why are progressive groups railing against it?
In a press release, the Aquino government said it was able to sign memorandums of understanding and agreement with Pasar-Glencore, Asea Gaz Asia, Royal Dutch Shell, and Nestle. Pasar-Glencore builds and operates copper refineries, while Asea Gaz Asia is a power generation company.
From the US, it claims to have entered into investment agreements with Sithe Global, Denham Capital, GN Power, and Underwriters Laboratories. Sithe Global is a power generation company; Denham Capital is focused on energy and commodities; GN Power is from the energy sector, and Underwriter Laboratories is a product safety testing and certification organization.
Actually, GN Power is already involved in the Mariveles project, which aims to construct and operate two coal-powered plants for the Luzon grid. The Mariveles project is being funded by Sithe Global and Denham Capital. Asea Gaz Asia is already a partner of Aboitiz; Pasar-Glencore has been operating a copper refinery plant in Leyte province. Well, Royal Dutch Shell and Nestle have also been operating in the Philippines for a long time already.
It could thus be concluded that President Aquino was, in reality, not able to bring in new investors. At most, it might have gotten commitments from existing investors to expand their operations. But coal-powered plants, copper smelting, and other large-scale, foreign-owned mining operations have been the subject of protests by progressive groups, environmental advocates, and the church because of its destructive effects on the environment and for displacing communities.
And besides, foreign investments never did deliver on its promise of providing more jobs. Its contribution to job generation in the country is at most marginal. According to Ibon Foundation, the cumulative stock of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) increased twenty-seven-fold from $914 million in 1980 to $24.9 billion in 2010, with the biggest increases occurring in the period from 1995–2010, most especially from 2006–2010. The period 2006–2010 also registered the highest FDI flows. And yet the decade from 2001-2010 registered the worst unemployment and underemployment record in the history of the country, with unemployment averaging around 11.2 percent and underemployment around 18 percent. This has even gotten worse when the world economy reeled from an economic crisis recently. The results of a Social Weather Station survey revealed that during the first quarter of 2012, 34.4 percent of the labor force was unemployed.
So that leaves us with the commitments of the US to enhance the defense capabilities of the Philippines. In exchange for the US Senate resolution reaffirming its commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty and promises of helping enhance Philippine defense capabilities, especially in maritime monitoring, through the provision of radars, and perhaps the sale of more decommissioned Coast Guard cutters, with its cannons removed just like the first two, plus support for the construction of a National Coast Watch Center, the Aquino government provided unrestricted access to the former US naval base at Subic bay and US air base at Clark. The Aquino government also agreed to an increase in US troops rotating in the country and more joint military exercises, the excuse being the country’s territorial disputes with China.
However, the US is doing so not because it wants to defend the country in the event of an escalation of the conflict with China. In fact, the stationing of troops, warships, submarines and other armaments in the country and the region fits perfectly to US plans to refocus the projection of its military might to the Asia-Pacific region. And this plan was cooked up way before the territorial dispute with China erupted.
It is actually the US that got substantial gains from the visit of President Aquino. The US was able to open up more fields of investments for its corporations. In fact, even the additional $30 million in aid (which is actually a loan) that President Aquino claims that he was able to secure, would benefit the US more. The focus of Partnership for Growth programs is to “engage governments, the private sector and civil society with a broad range of tools to unlock new sources of investment, including domestic resources and foreign direct investment.” This fits well with US President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative, which is designed to double US exports over the next 5 years “by working to remove trade barriers abroad, by helping firms — especially small businesses — overcome the hurdles to entering new export markets, by assisting with financing, and in general by pursuing a Government-wide approach to export advocacy abroad, among other steps.” And by exports the US refers to both commodities and investments.
Militarily, it is also the US that gained a lot. It was able to secure the commitment of the Philippines to hosting more US troops and for greater access to Subic and Clark. And as I have mentioned in a previous analysis, the whole point of this pivot to the Asia-Pacific is to secure the region for US exports and investments.