By BENJIE OLIVEROS
A lot has been said about President Benigno Aquino III’s fourth State of the Nation Address. Perhaps one of the most scathing remark came from Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago who likened the president’s speech to a college paper because as Senator Santiago said, a lot of footnotes were placed in the body of the very long speech. But the common comment among those who critically analyzed Aquino’s speech is that it was silent on the most important and pressing problems confronting the country: unemployment and poverty, and the worsening inequality.
Human rights and journalist groups deplored Aquino’s silence on the raging impunity. Curiously, Aquino made special mention about the suspected rubout of two alleged Ozamis gang leaders and even warned those behind it that he would know who they are and would go after them, but was silent about the 142 cases of extrajudicial killings and 16 cases of enforced disappearance under his watch. The president also did not seem concerned about justice by ignoring the slow pace in the trial of the accused in the Maguindanao massacre, which claimed the lives of 58 people including 32 journalists and the pending cases filed by the relatives of victims of enforced disappearances such as that of Jonas Burgos and UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, which clearly identified military officers as the culprits.
There are a lot more important and pressing issues that Aquino ignored and Bulatlat.com has dedicated an article about it.
I would, instead, focus on what Aquino clearly pushed for that would further burden majority of the Filipino people. Some of these have already been announced this week.
First, President Aquino pushed for increasing the contributions of members to the Social Security System (SSS). This is an added burden to rank and file workers and employees. Already, wages have been pressed down. Considers this data from the July 2013 Birdtalk of Ibon Foundation:
“The wage gap in NCR between the minimum wage and the family living wage increased from Php556 in July 2010 to Php584 in June 2013. The Php456 mandated NCR minimum wage in June 2013 is only 44% of the Php1,040 estimated family living wage. The wage gap has been steadily widening throughout the Aquino administration from just 40% in April 2010.”
“It is also notable that the sectors that have an average basic pay of less than Php350 per day account for three- fourths (75%) of all jobs.”
And these are the very same people who would be forced to cover the unfunded liabilities of SSS, which, Aquino reported, have reached P1.1 trillion ($25.581 million). In the first place, how did this “unfunded liability” reach such a staggering amount? President Aquino made it appear that the cause is that pensions increased by 21 times while contributions have increased only twice. Surely, the contributions of SSS members annually are more than the meager pension benefits being shelled out every year. What happened to the investments of the SSS? Look at these reports showing that the SSS is even gaining from its investments and from increases in members’ contributions.
Second, President Aquino pushed for increasing LRT/MRT fares. Already the LRTA announced that train fares would increase by P10 ($0.23). Consider these statements from RILES, the coalition opposing the LRT/MRT fare hikes:
“Based on the data presented by the LRT and MRT representatives in the 2011 public consultations, the total revenue of the LRT and MRT is enough to pay for the maintenance and operations cost of the light rail system. The current fares are enough to cover the actual expenses for the operations of LRT-1 and 2.”
“Additional fares are only meant to pay for the equity payments incurred in the build-lease-transfer (BLT) agreement with private developers. Therefore, the fare increase is only meant to collect the peoples’ money to pay for the onerous debts with the lenders/investors of the LRT and MRT.” – Sammy Malunes, RILES Network Convenor and KPMM spokesperson.
“Commuters should be forewarned that the increase in fares is not meant to improve the services as what the government has been claiming. Rather, it’s an attempt to entice big businessmen to enter their bid on the sale of the MRT and LRT. If this happens, the operations of the MRT and LRT will be in the hands of greedy profiteering businessmen who will be relentless in jacking-up fares at our expense.” – RILES Network co-convenor Herman “Ka Mentong” Laurel
Aquino parroted the justification being put forward by Interior and Local Government Sec. Mar Roxas that as it is, even people from the Visayas and Mindanao islands are, in effect, contributing to the subsidy for a transport system being enjoyed by those from Metro Manila alone. So the solution is to remove that subsidy instead of developing a government-run transport system to benefit Filipinos from other regions as well? Is the solution “Kung wala kayo, dapat wala na lang ang iba?”
Third, Aquino pushed for amendments to the Cabotage Law. The Cabotage Law grants exclusive rights to transport passengers and cargo within Philippine waters to local shipping companies. Thus, its repeal is being opposed by local shipping industry.
On cue, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez filed a bill that seeks to repeal the Cabotage Law.
President Aquino is again saying the oft-repeated line that liberalizing the shipping industry would foster competition and bring down transport costs. However, repealing the Cabotage Law will kill the local shipping industry, and once big foreign shipping companies dominate the business, ship fares and freight costs would again increase uncontrollably just like in the oil industry. By then, the government will just say that it could not do anything about it under a liberalized, deregulated regime.
Fourth, Aquino pushed for the passage of the Land Administration Reform bill. At first glance, this appears to be merely a measure that would increase the efficiency and streamline the land registration functions of the government. The bill mandates the formation of a Land Administration Authority under the Office of the President. This will be the primary government agency responsible for land administration and public land management. Among its functions is to “Manage and dispose lands of patrimonial property of the national government under Act No. 3038….” The question is: By empowering a government agency to “manage and dispose” of lands owned by the government, could it then sell or enter into long-term lease agreements to foreign corporations, thereby circumventing the Constitutional prohibition against foreigners owning land in the country?
Fifth, more Public-Private-Partnership projects (read: privatization) are forthcoming. Based on the people’s experiences during the last 27 years, from the Build-Operate-Transfer or the Build-Lease-Transfer scheme of the late president Cory Aquino to the current PPP of Aquino the son, this has brought nothing but increased rates and prices for the Filipino people.
Clearly, the Aquino government is intent on pursuing the same neoliberal policies that have increased the burden of the Filipino people and have fostered greater inequalities. Well, as President Aquino has repeatedly insinuated throughout his speech, those who are not able to take advantage of the opportunities being opened up by the government are the ones to be left out. With the way it is running the government, that would mean majority of the Filipino people.