Category: walden bello

bongbong, walden, EDSA

sabi ni bongbong marcos, the people power rovolt was american-inspired.  ibig ba niyang sabihin na kung hindi sa america, hindi nagkaroon ng people power na nagpatalsik sa diktador na si ferdinand nuong pebrero 1986?

Marcos lamented how Philippine history books failed to show how the US “inspired” the bloodless revolt that led to his father’s downfall.

“It was American-inspired,” he said. “Dahil yung pagsimula ay galing sa Amerika eh, galing kay [former US President Jimmy] Carter, kung maaalala niyo. Tapos yung sa IMF, tapos yung lahat ng ginawa ng Amerikano para pahinain yung administrasyon ng aking ama.”

He said the assassination of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in August 1983 was only one of the many factors that triggered the uprising.

“Yung uprising na ganyan, ang Amerika may ginawa. Yun na nga, kagaya ng sabi ko, nag-start dun sa IMF na inipit-ipit ang ating mga pondo… Ako, nasa Palasyo ako nung panay ang message ni Ambassador [Stephen] Bosworth sa father ko na ganito, ganyan dapat gawin. Talagang involved sila. Ang sinasabi ko lang, involved sila.”

“Hindi naman isa lang bagay ang pangyayari. Kaya nangyari ang [1986 EDSA People Power Revolution], palagay ko maraming factors yan, at hindi natin masasabi. So ang sinasabi ko isang bagay diyan yung Amerikano, isang bagay diyan yung pagkapaslang kay Senator Aquino at siguro mga ibang bagay,” Marcos said.

ano daw?  that’s so convoluted and in-credible.  he’s saying that america, from the time of jimmy carter (democrat 1977-1981) to the time of ronald reagan (republican 1981-1989), conspired with the IMF to weaken the economy and bring the marcoses down?  carter was anti-marcos, yes, but it was mostly because of human rights violations.  otherwise, the marcos government had no problem borrowing billions of dollars from foreign banks, for development kuno, until 1983 when the shit hit the fan — not because ninoy was assassinated but because lumobo na ang foreign debt at walang pambayad kahit paiyakan — and the IMF had to step in.

When Marcos assumed presidency in 1966, the foreign debt of the Philippines stood below $1 billion. When he fled Malacañang in February 1986 during the first People Power, the country had a foreign debt of $28 billion…

…it was also Marcos who issued Presidential Decree (PD) 1177 or the Budget Reform Decree of 1977 that automatically appropriates for debt servicing regardless of how much is left of the country’s resources to fund basic social services.

…Between 1973 and 1982, the indebtedness of the Philippines grew by 27 percent per year. From 1976 to 1982, BSP data show that the foreign debt was swelling by an annual average of $2.8 billion. In 1982, due to automatic debt service, payments reached $3.5 billion, almost the same level of total foreign borrowing for that year and larger than the total foreign debt before Martial Law was declared.

The debt level became unmanageable, forcing the Marcos government to declare a moratorium on debt payments in 1983. The Philippines never recovered from its fiscal woes ever since, in spite of painful restructuring under the tutelage of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for the moratorium and additional funding.

bongbong should google “marcos foreign debt” for pages and pages of links to the details of the story.

and really?  america inspired people power?  how?  enrile is right, reagan troubleshooter philip habib was around the week before EDSA and when he left saturday noon he was certain something was about to break but he didn’t know what; neither he nor ambassador bosworth had the mind to imagine the possibility of a military defection being used by people power in cory’s name to oust marcos.  neither had any contact with the people, only with their so-called leaders — cory, enrile, marcos, maybe even cardinal sin, the generals, and the like — who all had no idea either what was coming, and who were certainly not in command, any of them, over the four days.

the people were.  in command.  it was the height of subversion.

after a week of civil disobedience,  boycotting the goods and services of of marcos- and crony-owned companies, from banks to manila bulletin, san miguel corporation and magnolia food products, rustans and the like, these people were in the throes of revolution.  if enrile and RAM had not defected, cory’s boycott movement would have gained steam as it spread to the visayas and mindanao.  eventually the cronies and other ruling oligarchs would have thrown up their hands in surrender.  marcos would have been compelled to resign to save the economy, and cory would have taken over anyway.  writ large as a nuanced sense of revenge that we pinoys exact sometimes, even on ourselves.

this is the same successful economic boycott that no one, but no one, ever speaks of or writes about — not the left, not the right, not civil society.  as though it never happened, as though no one knows about it, no one wants to remember, i guess.  because, really, it was even more subversive than the people gathering physically in large numbers in the same space to insist that marcos resign.  imagine.  we stopped buying san miguel beer and coke, we gave up manila bulletin, we snobbed places that served crony goods, it was exciting, and fun.  nakaka-high pala pag ang nakararami ay nagkakaisa in a common cause.  the power is awesome.  the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

finally, in the slew of opinion pieces and commentaries on the EDSA revolt in the run-up to the 30th anniv, i must say i take exception to walden bello’s campaign speech in los banos where he puts EDSA in such an ugly light .

Formally launching my campaign for the Senate at UP Los Banos, before an assembly of close to 1000 students, Feb 9, 2016. My message: “We are in the midst of a dual crisis: the crisis of the EDSA system of elite democracy and the crisis of the neoliberal economic paradigm that has brought us nothing but increased poverty and inequality and the plunder of the environment.”

“the EDSA system of elite democracy”?  it started with EDSA?  really?  for the first time, bello disappoints me.  alam naman nating pre-martial law pa ang elite democracy na yan, di ba.  it’s so leftist to ignore, if not snort at, the historic high points that were the six-day boycott and the four-day manifestation of people power in the story of marcos’s ouster.

it’s understandable naman.  after all, this is the same left that snootily boycotted the snap elections, thinking there was no way cory would win.  so it’s no surprise hearing/reading the leftists making EDSA maliit, and glorifying instead only the actions and sufferings of the left during the martial law period.  but i expected more from bello the senatorial candidate.

walden bello: the pro-RH forces are not without weapons

We are halting the consideration of all other legislative matters, including privileged speeches, unless the bill moves forward to a vote.  We will place the onus for the legislative stalemate on the anti-democratic dilatory moves of the anti-RH minority.  Some of us are considering even suspending the consideration of the national budget, but only as a last resort, if the anti-RH lobby does not see the light. 

Why Fighting Corruption Is Not Enough

By Walden Bello

After nine years of witnessing increasing poverty among the masses and spiraling corruption in high places, it is understandable that Filipinos see a strong correlation between corruption and poverty. And the judgment of many is probably correct that the candidates that are free of the taint of corruption stand the best chance of turning this country around. Moral leadership may not be a sufficient condition for successful leadership but it certainly has become a necessary condition in a country that has been so deprived of exemplary public figures like the Philippines.

Corruption, however, has become the explanation for all our ills, and this brings with it the danger that, after the elections, campaign rhetoric might substitute for hard analysis on the causes of poverty, leading to wrong, ineffectual prescriptions for dealing with the country’s number one problem.

Let me be more explicit: Corruption must be condemned and corrupt officials must be prosecuted because being a violation of public trust, corruption undermines faith in government and leads to an erosion of the moral bonds among citizens that serve as the foundation of good governance. Corruption, however, is unlikely to be the main cause of poverty. Wrongheaded policies are, and clean-cut technocrats have been responsible for more poverty than corrupt politicians.

The complex of policies that have pushed the Philippines into the economic quagmire over the last 30 years might be summed up in that formidable term: structural adjustment. Also known as neoliberal restructuring, it involved prioritization of debt repayment; conservative macroeconomic management that involving huge cutbacks in government spending; trade and financial liberalization; privatization and deregulation; and export-oriented production. Structural adjustment came to the Philippines courtesy of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, but it was internalized and disseminated as doctrine by local technocrats and economists.

Prioritizing Debt Repayment

Corazon Aquino was personally honest and her contribution to the reestablishment of democracy was indispensable, but her submitting to the International Monetary Fund’s demand to prioritize debt repayment over development brought about a decade of stagnation and continuing poverty. Interest payments as a percentage of total government expenditures went from 7 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1994. Capital expenditures, on the other hand, plunged from 26 percent to 16 percent. Since government is the biggest investor in the Philippines—indeed in any economy—the radical stripping away of capital expenditures goes a long way toward explaining the stagnant one percent average yearly growth in gross domestic product in the 1980’s and the 2.3 per cent rate in the first half of the 1990’s.

In contrast, our Southeast Asian neighbors ignored the IMF’s prescriptions. They limited debt servicing while ramping up government capital expenditures in support of growth. Not surprisingly, they grew by 6 to 10 percent from 1985 to 1995, attracting massive Japanese investment while the Philippines barely grew and gained the reputation of a depressed market that repelled investors.

Trade and Financial Liberalization

When Fidel Ramos came to power in 1992, the main agenda of his technocrats was to bring down all tariffs to 0 to 5 percent and bring the Philippines into the World Trade Organization and the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), moves that were intended to make trade liberalization irreversible. A pick-up in the growth rate in the early years of Ramos sparked hope, but the green shoots were more apparent than real, and they were, at any rate, crushed as a result of another neoliberal policy: financial liberalization. The elimination of foreign exchange controls and restrictions of speculative investment attracted billions of dollars in the period 1993-1997. But this also meant that when panic hit the ranks of foreign investors in Asia in the summer of 1997, the same lack of capital controls facilitated the stampede of billions of dollars from the country in a few short weeks in mid-1997. This pushed the economy into recession and stagnation in the next few years.

The Estrada administration did not reverse course, and under the presidency of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, neoliberal policies continued to reign. New liberalization initiatives in the next few years were initiated on the trade front, with the government negotiating free trade agreements with Japan and China. These pacts were entered into despite clear evidence that trade liberalization was destroying the two pillars of the economy, industry and agriculture.

Radical unilateral trade liberalization severely destabilized our manufacturing sector, with textile and garments firms, for instance, being drastically reduced from 200 in 1970 to 10 in recent years. As one of Arroyo’s finance secretaries admitted, “there’s an uneven implementation of trade liberalization, which was to our disadvantage.” While he speculated that consumers might have benefited from the tariff liberalization, he acknowledged that “it has killed so many local industries.”

As for agriculture, the liberalization of our agricultural trade after we joined the World Trade Organization in 1995 transformed the Philippines from a net food exporting country and consolidated it into a net food importing country after the mid-1990’s. The year 2010 is the year that the China ASEAN Trade Agreement (CAFTA) negotiated by the Arroyo administration goes into effect, and the prospect of cheap Chinese produce flooding our markets has made our vegetable farmers fatalistic about their survival.

Depressive Fiscal Policy

What likewise became clear during the long Arroyo reign were the stifling effects of the debt repayment-oriented macroeconomic management policy that came with structural adjustment. With 20-25 percent of the national budget reserved for debt service payments owing to the draconian Automatic Appropriations Law, government finances were in a state of permanent and widening deficit, which the administration tried to solve by contracting more loans. Indeed, the Arroyo administration contracted more loans than the previous three administrations combined.

When the deficit reached gargantuan proportions, the government refused to take the necessary steps to contain the key factor acting as the main drain on expenditures; that is, it refused to declare a debt moratorium or at least renegotiate the terms of debt repayment to make them less punitive. At the same time, the administration did not have the political will to force the rich to take the brunt of bridging the deficit by increasing taxes on their income and improving their collection. Under pressure from the IMF, the government levied this burden on the poor and the middle class via the adoption of the expanded value added tax (EVAT) of 12 percent on purchases. The tax was passed on to poor and middle class consumers by commercial establishments, forcing them to cut back on consumption, which then boomeranged back on small merchants and entrepreneurs in the form of reduced profits, forcing many out of business.

Facing the Policy Challenge

The straitjacket of conservative macroeconomic management, trade and financial liberalization, and a subservient debt policy kept the economy from expanding significantly, resulting in the percentage of the population living in poverty, according to the World Bank, increasing from 30 to 33 percent between 2003 and 2006. By 2006, there were more poor people in the Philippines than at any other time in the country’s history.

The country’s plight under the lash of wrong policies over the last four administrations becomes even clearer in a comparative perspective. According to the United Nations Development Program Human Development Report, the Philippines registered the second lowest average yearly growth rate, 1.6 percent, in Southeast Asia in the period 1990 to 2005 —lower than that of Vietnam (5.9 percent), Cambodia (5.5 percent), and Burma (6.6 percent). The only country registering average growth below that of the Philippines was Brunei, which, being an oil-rich high-income country, could afford not to grow.

So yes, we must wage an unrelenting campaign against corruption because it destroys faith in government and weakens the moral fiber of the country. And yes, let us by all means punish corrupt officials and elect morally unquestionable people to power. But let us not mistake corruption as the principal cause of poverty and believe that anti-corruption crusades provide the main response to the country’s economic ills. The main source of our lack of economic dynamism is a wrong policy paradigm that we have allowed ourselves to be straitjacketed into.

It is disturbing that the policy errors that have led to our present state are hardly mentioned in the presidential debates. It is unfortunate that we are not taking advantage of the current international economic crisis that has dragged down our local economy to debate the wisdom of the policies of globalization and liberalization that have brought us to this impasse. Yes, the issues of corruption, management experience, and bureaucratic reform that dominate these debates are vital, but unless the winning team has the courage to reverse 30 years of failed neoliberal economic policies, the country will remain in the economic doldrums, unable to take off, with poverty possibly rising to the point of no return.


Walden Bello

Representative Edcel Lagman of Albay has a term for legislative measures that gain approval in a congressional committee yet never make it to a full floor debate owing to one reason or other. He calls them “Mona Lisa” bills. “Mona Lisa” because, as he explains, “as that line from Nat King Cole’s famous song goes, ‘they just lie there and they die there.’.”

The Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008 – better known as the “RH bill” – is one of those Mona Lisa bills. The RH bill, however, did not die of neglect or lack of interest, which is the case with most of these measures. In this case, Mona Lisa was murdered.

During the last three Congresses, RH has been a topic that has elicited great controversy owing to rock solid opposition from the Catholic Church. In the 14th Congress, however, it was able to win approval in the Committee on Health, setting the stage for a much-awaited debate on the House floor. RH was listed as a priority bill throughout 2009; indeed, before the Christmas recess, the rules for the debate on it were being discussed.

When the House reassembled on January 18, however, RH had disappeared from the Speaker of the House’s list of priority bills. Inquiries by proponents of the bill produced evasive replies from the House leadership. When the House adjourned for the elections on Feb 3, RH was dead. The reason, however, was painfully obvious.

In December, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) instructed the electorate not to vote for candidates who espoused RH. Alongside this decree had unfolded a massive campaign that involved systematic disinformation about the bill. Among the malicious allegations that were spread was that the bill imposes penalties on parents who do not allow their children to have premarital sex. Another was that the bill promotes the use of abortifacients or methods of contraception that induce abortion.

It was not in the interest of the anti-RH lobby to have an open debate on the House floor because a rational, enlightened exchange would have revealed the aims of the bill to be not only morally legitimate but ethically imperative. Foremost among these goals is to provide women with the information and means to enhance their reproductive health. Second is to provide partners with the information and means to practice family planning. Third is to provide men and women with the information and means to avoid sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV-AIDS, which has now reached epidemic proportions.

The anti-RH lobby knew that even if the bill lost on the House floor, a debate on it would have contributed immensely to the enlightenment of the Catholic electorate, the majority of which, according to recent surveys, already favor modern methods of family planning and enhancing reproductive health. Thus, deploying its tremendous political clout, the lobby colluded with the House leadership to carry out a silent procedural homicide.

There is a great deal at stake in the RH debate. One of them is the preservation of the principle of the separation of Church and State. The Church seeks to prevent the State from having a say on reproductive issues. Yet the State must have a say since it has a responsibility for the health of the country and the health of women citizens in particular. The State must concern itself with reproductive issues because it must balance the needs of society and the fragility of the environment. The State must involve itself with reproductive concerns because it has a mandate to end poverty and promote national development.

Another bedrock principle of our liberal democracy that is threatened by the Church campaign against RH is pluralism. Many constituencies favor RH, and among these are other religious organizations, including Christian churches. Yet one religious denomination arrogates to itself the right to speak for all religions and to veto the opinion of other religious organizations on reproductive rights. This is absolutism, not democracy, and if allowed to go unchecked, it will erode the tolerance that is an essential component for the survival of our pluralistic polity.

Pro-RH people are not against the Catholic Church. Indeed, most admire the Church’s stance on many other issues – for instance, its urging voters to vote for candidates according to the dictates of their conscience. But does not this stand promoting respect for the individual’s conscience not contradict its ordering voters not to vote for pro-RH candidates?

The Church, to its credit, supports measures that would end poverty, like agrarian reform. Yet it opposes an initiative that would address one of the key causes of poverty, which is the failure of poor families to control the size of their families through natural means?

The Church has – again to its credit – taken up the cudgels for the environment. But it opposes effective family planning measures that would rein in one of the key forces behind environmental degradation: unrestrained population growth.

The Church lobby is powerful. Not only has it intimidated Speaker Prospero Nograles and the House leadership into killing RH procedurally. It has also now forced presidential contender Gilbert Teodoro to renounce his support for RH. And there are reports that Noynoy Aquino is also backing away from his support for RH.

Punishing people at the polls for their beliefs is certainly less reprehensible than burning them at the stake, which the Church did to dissenters centuries ago. But resorting to electoral punishment exhibits the same absolutist frame of mind that threatened Galileo with burning if he did not recant.

Yet, just as we have left the Inquisition behind, so are we destined to advance towards a more tolerant pluralist polity that makes decisions based not on intimidation and threat but on enlightened democratic debate. Mona Lisa may have been murdered this time around, but let those who have killed her be put on notice that, as Congressman Lagman predicted, she will be resurrected in the 15th Congress or in succeeding Congresses until she is finally enacted into law.