The Real State of the Nation

This is my speech to 400 youth leaders during the Panay and Guimaras All-Youth Convention held last July 7, 2012 at the University of the Philippines Visayas Iloilo City Auditorium with the theme “Advancing the Role of the Youth as Catalysts of Social Change.”

To all the youth leaders from various school organizations, student councils, student publications, sangguniang kabataans and community youth groups: a pleasant morning!

One hundred twenty years ago on this day, July 7, 1892, Andres Bonifacio and his comrades founded the Katipunan to fight for genuine change against colonial oppression.

Just like the founders of the Katipunan, we are here today to advance the role of the youth as catalysts of social change.

But in order to become effective catalysts of change, we must first understand the present state of our nation, thus this discussion on the national situation.

Let’s begin by reviewing some basic information. The Philippines is divided into 17 regions, 80 provinces, 137 cities, 1,497 municipalities, and 42,023 barangays, as of 2009.

Our country is part of the top 18 countries in terms of biodiversity. It has rich forests, abundant water resources, and a variety of energy sources from oil, natural gas, to geothermal energy.

The country is blessed with vast tracts of fertile agricultural lands and vast mineral wealth. The Philippines is the 5th most mineralized country worldwide, ranking 3rd in terms of gold reserves, 4th in copper, and 5th in nickel.

Most importantly, we also have an intelligent, skilled, and talented people as our most important resource. In short, the country has more than enough resources to support local agriculture and industries and meet the people’s needs.

Social Pyramid

The Philippines is rich, but the Filipino people are poor. According to government statistics 23.1 million Filipinos live in poverty as of 2009.

But that is if we use the official poverty line of P46 a day as benchmark. P46. That is equals to 1 kilo of rice plus 1 piece of egg. If you have P47 does that mean you are not poor anymore?

If we use international standards, the number would shoot up to over 65 million Filipinos who live on $2 or less a day. That is 70% of the population.

Why are majority of the Filipino people suffering from poverty? Is it because many of us are lazy? Is it because we are not as intelligent as the people of our neighboring countries?

The reason for this is simple. Have you heard of the Bamboo revival Tatsulok? Remember the chorus? “Habang may tatsulok at sila ang nasa tuktok, hindi matatapos itong gulo.”

On the one hand, there is an elite 1% on the top – the hacienderos, big businessmen, and corrupt bureaucrats – that monopolize the wealth of our country.

On the other hand, the bottom 99% – the poor peasants who provide our food, the workers who drive the economy, the professionals and small entrepreneurs – are left with the leftovers.

According to the Forbes Magazine, the net worth of the 25 richest Filipinos –Henry Sy, Gokongwei, Danding Cojuangco, Lucio Tan, etc. – is equal to the combined income of the poorest 55 million Filipinos.

Two Years

Last June 30 marked the 2nd year of President Noynoy Aquino in office. Before and after he assumed office, Aquino promised to bring genuine change. “Kayo ang boss ko.” “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap.” “Matuwid na daan.”

But after two years, instead of tunay na pagbabago, Aquino was instead charged with noynoying – not doing anything in the face of the grave crisis bearing down on the people.

To counter noynoying, Malacanang released a picture to show that the president is in fact working on his table in the Palace. Instead of concrete solutions to real problems, we were given some publicity stunt which ultimately backfired.

But what is more crucial is the way Noynoy Aquino’s programs and policies have no substantial difference with the baluktot na daan of GMA, Estrada, Marcos, and other previous regimes.

If Marcos had cronies, Cory had Kamaganak Inc, Estrada had drinking buddies, and GMA had his First Family, Aquino has his KKK: Kamag-anak, Kaklase, Kaibigan. KKK: Kakampi, Kalaro, Kabarilan.

Pro-Imperialist, Pro-Elite

It thus comes as no surprise that our economic policies are also pro-big business and favourable to foreign banks and corporations.

Three weeks from now, Aquino will deliver his State of the Nation Address. We expect Malacanang to highlight so-called achievements like rising credit rating, GDP growth, and investor confidence. But how has these affected the ordinary people?

The Philippine economy remains import-dependent, export-oriented. We provide advanced capitalist countries cheap labor and cheap resources and products while the country remains a dumping ground of foreign manufactures and playground of greedy foreign investors.

Case in point is government’s invitation of foreign mining companies. The mining industry earned P738 billion from 2006-2009 while government got only P36.9 billion in taxes. These companies extract our mineral resources along with the profits while leaving behind a damaged environment and wasted communities in its wake.

There is no significant departure in the Aquino regime’s framework under the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016 which focuses on getting more foreign investors for call centers, mining, tourism, agribusiness, and infrastructure building.

Like the Arroyo regime, Aquino still pursues deadly neoliberal policies that can be summarized by the acronym Lapida. What is Lapida? Liberalization. Deregulation. Privatization.

Liberalization opens up the domestic economy to foreign companies even if our local entrepreneurs and industries cannot survive competition with multinationals, thus making the country even more foreign-dominated.

Deregulation is simply the government’s abandonment of its oversight functions over the economy. It means leaving the control of the economy entirely to the private sector, thus big corporations can impose price hikes whenever they want.

PPP is the fancy name for privatization under the Aquino regime. PPP or Private-Public Partnership sounds nice. What’s wrong if the private and public sectors work together for the public good?

But what actually happens is the government opens up the public sectors–that should be the responsibility of government to provide for its people–like education, health, and other services to the private sector. Far from partnership, this is Private-Public Plunder.

Wrong Priorities, Rising Costs

The Aquino regime also pledged to give away US$1 billion to the International Monetary Fund for the purpose of helping the crisis-ridden countries in Europe. What’s wrong with this?

Firstly, the US$1 billion will be used to bailout the greedy banks that caused the crisis in the first place instead of helping the European people.

Secondly, this is despite the gravely insufficient budget for social services in our own country. What we see is symptomatic of the Aquino regime’s twisted sense of priorities wherein foreign debt and military spending are prioritized over the people’s needs.

This year P736 billion is allocated for debt spending as opposed to P230 billion for basic education while P114 billion is allocated for the military budget as opposed to a mere P22 billion for state universities and colleges.

Low budget for social services is coupled with perennial price hikes. In July 2010, the price of rice was P25 per kilo. How much is it now? That year, the price of diesel was P32 per liter while gasoline was P48 per liter. How much is it now?

On top of the rising cost of basic goods, are the yearly tuition and other fee increases which make education inaccessible to the majority. Imagine, for every 10 Grade 1 students, only 1 eventually graduates college.

If you are lucky enough to graduate, there are no jobs waiting for you Unemployment rate for those aged 18-25 has reached a high of 55.9% while unemployment for those aged 24-34 is now 49.1%, according to the latest SWS survey.

And if you can land a job, you are most likely going to be a contractual worker with no benefits and no job security because you might not get rehired after the usual 6-month contract ends.

The minimum wage is way below the living wage. A family of 5 in Western Visayas would need 900 a day to meet your basic needs but the minimum wage here is only P272 a day.

Creating More Cheap Labor

The government is selling the Business Process Outsourcing or Call Center industry as the so-called “sunshine industry.” But the truth is even this is on the downtrend.

Since there are no opportunities in our own country, many Filipinos leave for greener pastures abroad. 4,432 Filipinos leave the country every day.

Instead of providing domestic jobs by developing local business and industry, the government itself encourages this. 11 million Filipinos are working abroad. What is happening is not anymore brain drain but brain haemorrhage.

But because of the grave crisis hitting the economies of the advanced capitalist countries, they are scrapping outsourcing and turning to their own citizens for labor through insourcing.

Have you ever wondered why they’re pushing for K-12 despite having no implementing Law, lack of preparation, massive shortages?

The K-12 is being pushed not to improve the quality of education but so that highschool graduates can immediately be employable by multinational corporations here and abroad.

With more supply of young semi-skilled workers joining the current 11.6 million unemployed, job-seeking and competition for scarce low-paying jobs will only increase the unemployment rate and pull down wages.

Making Excuses

In terms of land reform Noynoy Aquino is the 2nd worst performer in the post-Marcos era. Is it any surprise considering how his family the Cojuangcos only gave P9.50 a day to their sacadas in Hacienda Luisita and massacred them when they protested?

In fact, one of the main reasons for the fast-tracked impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona is the Supreme Court’s decision to distribute the Hacienda Luisita to the farmers. Despite the SC order, the Cojuangcos are still manoeuvring to prevent the distribution to the farmers.

The perpetuation of social injustice and worsening hardships of the Filipino people despite glittering promises of change has led many to stand up for their rights and protest.

What is the Aquino regime’s answer to the people’s legitimate demands? First, everything is former President Arroyo’s fault and we are doing our best to fix her problematic legacy. Secondly, we are going after corrupt officials like Corona and everything will be alright.

Now that Corona is impeached and Arroyo is under house arrest, the Aquino regime is diverting our attention from urgent issues to the so-called threat of Chinese aggression.

Aquino is using the China issue to justify increased US military presence in the country. We must clarify that the US is the bigger threat to Philippine sovereignty today.

We have US unmanned aerial drones, nuclear powered warships, and submarines frequenting the country’s seas and airspace in violation of the Philippine constitution.

There are 700 US troops stationed in a military base in Zamboanga. In 1991 we drove out the US bases in Subic and Clark because of American abuses like rape, indiscriminate violence, and rising prostitution. Now Noynoy is inviting them back to the country.

Doleouts and Repression

If you don’t buy the excuses, then you get doleouts and repression. Families are given cash doleouts through the Conditional Cash Transfer or CCT on condition that they send their children to school and get medical assistance.

But what is the use of one thousand pesos a month for schooling if classrooms are lacking in your barangay? What is the use of having some cash for medical assistance if there are no health clinics near your place? CCT is relief without real reforms.

The CCT is paid for with money borrowed from the World Bank (US$499.6M) and Asian Development Bank (US$508.2M). This is taxpayer’s money being used to pay for CCT!

CCT is also prone to patronage and corruption. Instead of addressing the roots of the problem by providing real jobs and addressing the lack of social services, government is content with leaving the poor loose change.

If you are not content with doleouts and still push for your rights, there is the spectre of human rights violations. Madugo ang matuwid na daan ni Aquino with over 81 extrajudicial killings, 96 tortures, and 417 illegal arrests.

Under the counterinsurgency plan Oplan Bayanihan, we have a militarist approach to solve armed conflict wherein the government does not make distinction between armed rebel groups like the MILF and CPP-NPA and unarmed civilian activists.

World Economic Crisis

But the Aquino regime cannot hope to hide the crisis weighing on the people using these same old methods of simply blaming Corona, Arroyo, and China, giving cash to the poor, or repressing the rights of those who stand up its anti-people policies.

The entire world is now sinking in a deep crisis that’s even greater than the Great Depression of the 1930s. This is a crisis that is inherent in the way the world capitalist system is organized and oriented towards earning profit rather than serving people’s needs.

Because of their profit-orientation, corporate monopolies try keep the wages of workers low. Workers are laid off and become part of the unemployed as companies improve their machinery. Meanwhile, they mass produce as many products as possible to all parts of the world.

With too many products on the market that workers who either suffers from low wages or are unemployed cannot afford to buy, consumption tends to lag behind production. This is the root of the present world economic crisis.

The world’s largest economies are suffering from slowing growth, growing debt, and unemployment. Because the Philippine government’s economic thrust continues to be anchored on export-oriented and foreign investment-dependent model, the repercussions are great.

First, there is slowing demand for local cheap labor. Second, there is decreasing demand for exports. Thirdly, there are falling foreign investments and fourthly, there is the imposition ever more onerous and unjust foreign loan conditions.

Collective Action

The question therefore is what can we do? Collective action.

Last year, our collective action secured for the State Universities and Colleges an additional P4.2 billion for its budgetary allocation. Student councils and student publications were banned under Marcos. Many students took action in order to recognize our rights inside the campus.

It was our collective action that brought down a dictator and a corrupt president through people power. Then and now, collective action is a powerful weapon for social change. However, we should recognize that there are many hindrances to our achieving this kind of unity.

Historical Amnesia

We are said to be a people with short memories. For example, there are now some young people who think that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was the greatest president of the country.

According to this narrative, Marcos instilled discipline and built so many infrastructure projects. But what this forgets is that it was also under Marcos that our foreign debt ballooned to several billion dollars and that this went mainly to corruption and the pockets of Marcos’ cronies.

Those that opposed him and his cronies were victimized with human rights violations. There were 3,000 extrajudicial killings and 70,000 political prisoners under Marcos. If we do not understand our history then we are condemned to repeat it.

Are we aware that U.S. forces killed at least 600,000 Filipinos during their invasion of the country in 1899? This is what General Jacob Smith of the U.S. 6th Brigade said:

“I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn the better you will please me. Kill everyone over ten!”

The Americans brutally and violently subdued the country to make the country a source of cheap labor and natural resources.

Even after the declaration of independence, our leaders continue to favour foreign interests over our own national interests.

For example, the Aquino regime insists on giving US$1billion to the IMF and increasing U.S. military presence here in the country in violation of our constitution. What we forget is that the U.S. is not here to protect us from China but to push for its own selfish interests.

Many of us are afflicted by a colonial mentality that praises everything foreign. Is nationalism now limited to the empty display of the national flag or the mere singing of national anthem or the mechanical memorization of the panatang makabayan?

Individualism, Micro-politics

The culture of individualism is strong. Our sense of collective solidarity is very weak. Our idea of teamwork has been limited to the idea of an elite group of superhuman individuals like the Avengers out to save the world from evil.

Many of us do not understand the importance of forming activist groups. When you speak of activism, what comes to mind are violent dispersals rather than the improvement to the people’s rights and welfare that result from fighting for one’s rights collectively.

Even technology becomes a tool to weaken the political involvement of the youth. Why bother about politics and social problems when I can just listen to my songs in my iPod, enjoy my playstation, surf the net and login Facebook?

Why should I join rallies if I can watch it on TV or send text messages to the radio about my reaction to the issue? I can even show my support by liking Causes on Facebook, or by signing online petitions. Real political engagement is thus lost.

Small politics, Kabataan Party-list representative Mong Palatino observed, is praised as the new activism.

In the past, activists want to change the world. Today there are activists who assert that to mitigate the impact of climate change, the people must change their lightbulbs. From change the world to change the lightbulbs. Large politics to small politics.

What this small is chick framework forgets is the presence of big evils in society that need equally big collective actions. Mong further points out:

Politicians are not afraid of small and micro politics. They themselves are advocating small politics: Obey the law, respect authorities, change yourself first before others, study now and be an activist later in your senior citizen years.

In short, the political forces that prefer micro-politics are those that want only a semblance of change in society because this does not threaten their domination.

If we’re thinking of effecting real social change, planting some trees or building some houses for the poor or posting some witty comments on Facebook are clearly not enough.

I’m not saying we can’t do them but such activities should serve as springboards for large-scale collective endeavours and not the ultimate horizon of our political involvement.

We must tackle campus issues, community issues, national issues. Integrate with basic masses – the workers and the peasants. Let’s engage our leaders. Dialogue. Tap the media. Maximize new technologies. And most importantly, mobilize our constituents.

We the youth will inherit this society. As early as now, let us help in the movement for change. Not just any superficial change. Let’s change society. Change the world.

Fellow youth leaders, lets level up our involvement and commitment for genuine change. Thank you very much!

Related Posts:

SONA 2014: The State of BS Aquino’s Imagination

A Marvelous! Fantastic! Magical! Philippine Miracle

SONA 2013 or the Idiocy of Noynoy’s Neoliberal Dogma

The State of the Nation Will Not Be Televised 

The Second SONA and Aquino’s Real Bosses

What Do We Do After the Orgy?


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