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semifeudal

Have we got the government we deserved?

in Editorial

The midterm elections of 2019 have come and passed, as in previous ones, tainted with doubts over the results and assumptions of machinations by those in power.

As cynically expected, the Duterte regime emerged “victorious”. Almost all of its candidates were declared winners, with its most loyal vassals – the omnipresent presidential assistant Bong Go and the comedian former Philipppine National Police (PNP) Director Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa – making it to the top-6 circle in the senatorial race.

Now the President has got the supermajority in the Senate, aided by the comebacking election of scions of political dynasties, the daughter of a deposed dictator, a known plunderer, and a celebrity wannabe.

The opposition Liberal Party has been crippled, as the Otso Diretso senatorial slate did not win a single seat. And progressive candidate Neri Colmenares – who notably consistently engaged the administration on timely and popularly-supported issues throughout the campaign period – saw his votes in the 2016 elections shaved by 1.7 million votes. “Duterte magic?” asked a skeptical election analyst.

Having retained a clear majority in the House of Representatives, Duterte has openly dictated a term-sharing scheme for the Speakership in the 17th Congress: the first 15 months on the rostrum for Representative Alan Peter Cayetano of Taguig, and the remaining 21 months for Representative Lord Velasco of Marinduque. Before this arrangement, Duterte’s son Paulo (elected Davao City congressman) and daughter Sara (reelected Davao City mayor) unabashedly displayed their own power-tripping by forming a “Duterte Coalition” in the House to back up comebacking Davao City Representative Isidro Ungab for Speaker.

The sole positive aspect of this election was the tenacity and resiliency with which the progressive partylists belonging to the Makabayan Coalition defiantly withstood and prevailed against the sustained, vicious, nationwide attacks and deceptions used against them by the military-bureacratic machine of the Duterte regime.

To a considerable extent, the voters rejected the regime’s open campaign of “zero votes for the Makabayan partylists,” aimed at dislodging the progressives from their congressional seats held since 2001. Bayan Muna won the three maximum seats allowed by the law, while Gabriela Women’s Party, Act Teachers, and Kabataan Party won a seat each. Only Anakpawis fell short in attaining the number of votes for one seat. The Makabayan bloc, the real consistent opposition in the House, remains intact.

The state machinery was slyly at work before, during, and after the elections. Its most brutal attacks were aimed at progressive candidates and partylists – ranging from killings, arrests and trumped-up charges, harassments and threats, to interminable red-tagging. Brazenly disregarding the clear prohibition by the Constitution, the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines openly engaged in electioneering, campaigning against the progressives even on election day. Vote buying was more massive and rampant than ever. And the much-assailed automated election system (AES), used for the fourth time, recorded the worst incidences of malfunctions that appeared to have been intentional, not accidental (as one IT expert remarked).

Nevertheless, the elections are over and as the winners claim, “The people have spoken.”

Really?

WHAT FALLACY

The elections are meant to be a democratic exercise. The exercise is said to be a great equalizer – rich or poor, everyone is entitled to only one vote. But that is the fallacy of the ballot-box equality. In a class society like the Philippines, the machinery of the state is lodged in the hands of a few, of the rich and the powerful. The great majority is, in reality, represented only in name in these processes and has no real say in the turnout of the elections.

In truth, elections only make it possible for the ruling class to use democratic institutions in furthering their own interests. They have the economic, political, and armed means to use power practically at their whim. This is no democracy at all.

The much-touted “free, fair and honest elections” aphorism is an illusion. Practically anyone who is of age and has the mental capacity can run for public office, but only the moneyed elite can successfully run a campaign, or simply resort to vote buying. The people can choose their representatives, but again only from among the moneyed and the elite. Even if asked to vote wisely, many people are bribed, fooled, hoodwinked, cheated, or forced to vote even for the most undesirable of their oppressors. People want a peaceful election, but threats, intimidation, and violence abound.

When Otso Diretso lost to Duterte, some sectors started calling the voters “bobotante”. The system, not the people, is the culprit. Elections in a semifeudal and semicolonial society are a hoax and fraud is a common occurrence.
Democratic laws and institutions are ample in this Republic claiming to be a democratic state – but only in form, not for real. Human rights are enshrined in the Constitution but state officials are the first to violate, dismiss or disregard the laws. Duterte is a prime example. There are three branches of government for check and balance. But the ruling regime regards all the key posts within the president’s appointing authority as juicy positions to reward its loyalists and supporters.

The minority rules and the majority suffer. That is the meaning of democracy in a semifeudal and semicolonial country.

Despite this rude reality, it is important for the people to participate in the elections as a way to experience and develop their consciousness about how rotten the system is, and what fundamental changes need to be done. The elections become a training ground for the development of revolutionary consciousness. It makes people realize that democracy is lip-service and that the voice of the people can be suppressed or manipulated at any time.

Even elected officials whom the people may initially have felt were true to their promises can turn out to be corrupt, or worse, to be tyrants as in the case of Duterte. The ancient Greeks invented the term tyrant to mean agents of the people who became dictators.

In some cases, progressives and reformers are able to gain power or concessions but only in a limited or temporary sense, and as generally defined, may be tolerated or allowed by the ruling system. Again, this is more an exception than the rule; and exceptions do not make the rule. Once the ruling regime unleashes its full terror, there is no more room for democratic pretensions and all arenas for open people’s participation are deemed closed.

PURSUING DEMOCRACY

Be that as it may, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has even more reason to pursue democracy not just in form but in substance. Its significance – the rule of the majority – is aimed not just in politics but more so in the economic sphere.

In the Philippine context, this means liberating the most numerous, yet also the most oppressed, class – specifically the farmers and agricultural workers who comprise 70% of the population – from oppression and exploitation by a privileged minority.

Hence to stand its ground democracy must be rooted in the economy, which means satisfying the demand for land reform of the landless majority. This means addressing their economic and social problems to effect changes in their class position in Philippine society. This means liberating the country’s productive forces to define their own existence towards justice and prosperity. For too long, widespread landlessness has engendered gross poverty and inequality not just for the peasantry but also for other oppressed classes.

Hence in waging the people’s democratic revolution, the struggle for land takes precedence over all other demands of the people. This is basically an agrarian war. The peasants, in alliance with the working class, have to wrest control of the land from the ruling elite as a means to end poverty and inequality. This is a struggle that may be bloody, because the most reactionary class, the landlords, will not take this sitting down when their land monopoly is challenged, or private property is subdivided and distributed among the tillers of the land.

In due time, as the revolution advances the will of the majority shall find expression not just in the economy but in politics as well. One who holds economic power wields political power. Hence the dominant position of the great majority must be secured for the flowering of true democracy.

Revolutionaries are aware that the quest for democracy does not stop with the victory of the bourgeois-democratic revolution but shall be carried on to the next stage, the socialist revolution. Ultimately the working class becomes the majority of the population, and the dominant class as well. The leadership of this class will find expression in a proletarian state until such time that the people can govern their own lives with no more need for classes or states.

As Lenin put it, it is not the bourgeoisie but the proletariat who can make democracy happen.

True enough, in the Philippines and through the leadership of the proletarian party, the CPP, changes are becoming more visible in many guerrilla fronts in the country.

Emboldened by the revolution, the peasants in the countryside are not just taking up arms to fight for their rights; they are building their own organizations and setting up organs of political power. Elections are called in a truly free, fair and honest manner; the ballot is treated as sacred; representatives are selected from their own ranks and are subject to recall when they err.

Group meetings, mass assemblies, education sessions, deliberations, consultations have become as common as farming. The people are involved in governance as well as in policy-making. Even matters related to production is no longer just an individual or family decision but is addressed by the entire community.

Once the majority of the people gains the power over their own lives – that will be democracy. And that is what the ruling class fears most: an awakened citizenry schooled in the ways of democracy.#

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DUTERTENOMICS: The Problem is Fundamental

in Countercurrent
by Vida Gracias and Pat Gambao

The dream was high on words.

On April 18, 2017 President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team went on a hype to sell to the public “DuterteNomics” in a forum at Conrad Hotel in Pasay City.

All the President’s men where in attendance: Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Executive Director Ernesto Pernia of NEDA (National Economic and Development Agency), Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Secretary Mark Villar of the Department of Public Works and Highways, Secretary Arthur Tugade of the Department of Transportation, Secretary Martin Andanar of the PCCO (Presidential Communications Operations Office), President/CEO Vince Dizon of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, and Board Chair John Gaisano of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce.

They took turns in explaining the President’s economic and development blueprint for the Philippines.

According to the website duterte.today the coined word includes the regime’s “main governance and fiscal policies, comprehensive big-ticket infrastructure programs and upgraded social services targeted to accelerate growth, and by 2022, transform the Philippines into a high-middle income economy.”

A year after that forum and way into its third year “Dutertenomics” remains, at best, a fantasy and, at worst, a catastrophe.

Difficult times

If government statistics were to be believed Dutertenomics is on its way to making the Philippines the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia. But the picture on the ground says differently.

Inflation (the rise in the prices of goods and services) is running high—5.2% in June, 5.7% in July, 6.4% in August, 6.8% in September. Damaging as it is, the onslaught of typhoons such as ‘Ompong” and ‘Rosita’ is shooting up inflation. Rising inflation almost always hits the poor the hardest. But even corporate firms complain it cuts into their profit.

On the current rice crisis, the regime has resorted to removing the import quota, importing 750,000 metric tons for 2018. Despite this, rice prices increased 24 times from January to June 2018, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. At the height of the rice crisis in August, the price of rice in Zamboanga went up to PhP 70 per kilo.

To further arrest price hikes, the regime imposed a suggested retail price (SRP) in four varieties of rice—namely, imported rice, regular local rice, well-milled rice, and whole-grain rice—but with penalties and fines for retailers. Duterte has also certified as urgent the Rice Tariffication Bill, which will remove all quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice importation. Once imports swarm the market the Filipino farmers cannot be competitive.

More severe is the job crisis, according to research group IBON. There are less jobs available in 2018 compared to the start of the Duterte administration. Jobs fell by 295,000 from 40.95 million in July 2016 to 40.67 million in July 2018. IBON conservatively estimates at least 11.3 million unemployed (4.3 million) and underemployed (7.0 million) Filipinos as of July 2018, which is one in four (25%) of the labor force.

A paltry wage hike of PhP 25 plus PhP 10 cost of living allowance was given to workers in the national capital region recently (it’s even lower outside the region). But the PhP 537 minimum wage in NCR alone is way below (or 46.3% short) of the PhP 1,000 family living wage (FLW), or the amount that a family of five needs for decent living as of October 2018.

The brainchild to increase revenues through taxation has been a disaster. Intended to fund the regime’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program through TRAIN 1 (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion), the law, which took effect in January 2018, fueled inflation even more.

The excise tax on petroleum, tobacco and sweetened beverages created a domino effect on prices. Government monthly subsidy of Php 200 per family was meant to cushion the effects of TRAIN on the poor specially for 100 million families under the PhP 24-billion unconditional cash transfer program. But this was not fully implemented. Also, whatever tax exemption that is given to minimum wage earners is cancelled out by inflation.

TRAIN 2 (renamed or rebranded as Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-quality Opportunities or TRABAHO) which takes effect in January 2019 is meant to reduce corporate tax of 30% to 20% and increase incentives for business. Opposing it, the Bayan Muna Partylist said that the loss in government revenues will only benefit big corporations while more taxes will be levelled on the poor.

BBB will drive this country further into debts. Japan is putting in PhP 20.6 billlion, Asian Development Bank (ADB) will extend $7.1 billion in loan assistance, and the China-led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) is expected to fund the construction of health facilities, school buildings and roads.

Already, as of December 2017, the country’s total outstanding debt stood at PhP 6.65 trillion. In the four months from January to April 2018, government borrowing has already reached PhP 244.6 billion. As of end-2018, the outstanding debt has reached beyond PhP 7 trillion.

Meanwhile, the peso has depreciated against the US dollar, its weakest in 11 years. Currently standing at PhP 54 to a dollar, it has also become the third weakest currency in the world. This means imports are getting more expensive while exports earn less, leading to greater trade deficits. Export earnings further declined with less shipment of coconut products, fruits and vegetables.

But, interestingly enough, the Bangko Sentral ng Philipinas (BSP) said that the massive trade gap is due in part to the import requirements of the Php 9 trillion (or $180 billion) infrastructure buildup plan of the Duterte government.

Uncertainties

All told, uncertainties surround “Dutertenomics” with Duterte himself fanning it. Many foreign partners, particularly the European Union (EU) and Canada, are put off by Duterte’s crass behavior and attacks. The Asian Review noted that hardly any major European business delegation has visited Manila, due to concerns over rule of law as well as bilateral diplomatic spats, such as the barring of a high-level EU party official, Giacomo Filibeck, a vocal critic of Duterte’s drug war, from entering the Philippines. The EU is the Philippines largest export market, worth $10 billion in 2017.

Whether it be “Dutertenomics”, Benigno (Noynoy) Aquino’s “inclusive growth”, or Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “Strong Republic”, not one regime can claim that it is resolving the nation’s chronic crisis and leading the country to growth.

The situation has just gone from bad to worse. Current and past regimes simply took the road of neoliberalism (liberalization, privatization, deregulation) on the economy as dictated by the imperialist-controlled International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. The result is disastrous as it aggravates the fundamental problem—of a country remaining semicolonial and semifeudal.

That is why “Dutertenomics” cannot bust poverty, unemployment, inflation, low wages, lack of social services that have bedevilled millions of Filipinos today and in the past. Even more so is the illusion that “Dutertenomics” can raise the status of the majority of Filipinos from being poor farmers and workers to middle class.

Nature of economy

The Philippine economy is basically agrarian. It lacks industries that can produce basic metals, basic chemicals and capital goods. Even light industries depend mainly on imported capital goods. Manufacturing involves slight processing or mere assembly of imported components.

Because of its backward, agrarian nature, the country has always suffered from trade gaps or deficits in the balance of trade. Its exports have consisted mainly of low-value agricultural products (sugar, copra, coconut oil), logs, raw extractive minerals, manufactured consumer goods and reassembled components compared to its imports.

To fill in the gap, the government always resorts to borrowing, which is why the country is perpetually in debt, making it more vulnerable to impositions by international creditors.

Over the years, the Philippines has not gone beyond being a supplier of raw materials to the capitalist world, a dumping ground for imported goods, and a source of cheap labor. This is so because the economy remains under the tight grip of foreign monopolists and big local landlords and compradors. And there is no way “Dutertenomics” is ever changing this landscape.

Just look at the 10 Filipino billionaires (Henry Sy, Manuel Villar, John Gokongwei, Enrique Razon, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Ramon Ang, Tony Tan Caktiong, Lucio Tan, George Sy and Andrew Tan) who made it to the Forbes list. Their investments are tied up into an export-oriented and import-dependent economy. This has uplifted the fortunes of the country’s richest. Under the Duterte regime, at least 19 tycoons were reported to have their networth shift 20% or more over the past year.

The country is rich in land, human and natural resources (mineral, waters, marine, flora and fauna) and could very well develop into a prosperous, self-reliant economy. But “Dutertenomics” will only further worsen the country’s dependence on US and other imperialist powers, notably through TRAIN and cha-cha (charter change).

Key to development

The Filipino people have cried for true agrarian reform and national industrialization as the key to development. But this has been totally ignored and mocked by “Dutertenomics”, which does not only retain and expand private monopolies but would even allow 100 percent foreign ownership of agricultural land.

As “Dutertenomics” creates more havoc to the economy, the more people look up to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in laying down the fundamentals for a sound economy. The NDFP’s proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) which was presented and discussed in the scuttled NDFP-GRP peace talks is an economic blueprint that has come out of the insights and practices of several decades of revolutionary struggle.

In the countryside it is common knowledge that the the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), are carrying out agrarian reform as the main content of the democratic revolution. This consists of a minimum and a maximum program. Minimum includes rent reduction, elimination of usury, setting of fair farm-gate prices and promotion of agricultural production and sideline occupation through independent households and rudimentary cooperation. Maximum involves the confiscation of land from the landlords and land grabbers and free land distribution and agricultural cooperation in stages.

Freeing the economic forces in the countryside will serve as basis for the advent and growth of more industries that, under the supervision of the people’s democratic state, would lead to the fulfillment of the people’s basic needs and bring this country to peace and prosperity.

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