Patricio Diaz’ COMMENT on Plus vs. Minus Points
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 March) – “Let’s focus on plus
points” – thus President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo proclaimed a new
strategy for the Philippines to keep “pace with the world in all
aspects of economic and political stability”, to shore “up the welfare
of the people”, to expand “democratic space” and to hit “hard on the
threat of terror”.
For emphasis, she said at the inauguration of the P9.1-million Sulipan
Bridge in Pampanga: “No one can beat the Philippines when it comes to
fiscal discipline, and the Filipino people when it comes to
productivity and excellence.”
To the graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, “The focus of the
world is not only on the Philippine economic wonder but the way we are
making democracy work while keeping the threat of terror at bay.”
What she said in Pampanga and to the PMA graduates, she repeated in
her tribute to the strong peso, clinching oratorically her plus
points: “We are consolidating the political, economic, social and
security ramparts of nation-building in a manner and pace that has
never been done, and this is a tribute to the resiliency, excellence,
spirit of enterprise and courage of the Filipino people.”
To the critics of the President and her administration, her plus
points are magnets attracting the minus points to distinguish reality
from fiction, to depict in a balance sheet the real political,
economic and social standing of the Philippines. The challenge to her:
Let’s focus on the balance.
1 in 5 Hungry
While President Arroyo was extolling the strong peso as “boosting
social amelioration”, the Social Weather Stations came out with its
February 24-27 survey that 19 percent – the same as the November 2006
survey – of Filipino families, nearly one in five, “have experienced
hunger at least once in the last three months”.
While she was elating over “making headway in the social payback of
economic growth” as “the real story in the lives of the people”, a
survey found that 61 percent of corn farmers in Mindanao are living
below the poverty line largely due to poor farm and market conditions
and unfavorable government policies. (MindaNews, March 20)
Mindanao produces more than half of the country’s total corn
production – last year, 56 percent of 6.08 million metric tons – the
bulk coming from South Cotabato. Farmers harvest three times a year.
Yet, they have remained poor because of high production and marketing
costs and low buying prices.
The government has not only failed to attend to this imbalance but has
allowed corn importation to further erode the market price. Adding to
the marketing cost and risk is the poor farm-to-market roads which
have been long neglected.
Sen. Ralph Rector said that 370,000 hectares need to be irrigated
between 2006 and 2008 to produce enough food (rice and corn) for the
country’s fast growing population. The P7.6 billion irrigation budget
for 2007, he said, looks impressive but can irrigate only 17,150
hectares – that is if properly used.
All the above have rendered hollow, President Arroyo’s pledge for
government “to make sure that the fruits of economic growth were felt
in the countryside through better infrastructure” together with
“quality education and health services”.
While raving over investments coming to Subic, Calabarzon and other
industrial zones in Luzon – showing the confidence of “big-ticket”
investors in the Philippines – social and economic developments in
Mindanao are left to foreign assistance and exploitative
multi-national companies. Mindanao is not in the focus of
infrastructure development to attract such foreign investors.
For instance, the United States Agency for International Development
(USAID) has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into
infrastructures in Mindanao through its Growth with Equity in Mindanao
(GEM) programs 1 and 2 since 1996. GEM 3, spanning 2008 to 2013, will
spend $145 million.
Besides the USAID, aid agencies from Australia, Japan, Canada, and
many European countries have responded to the need for assistance in
Mindanao. Socioeconomic assistance is under the umbrella of the UNDP
(United Nations Development Programme).
Profitability has attracted “big-ticket” foreign investors to
industrial zones in Luzon. Poverty and underdevelopment have caught
the pity of foreign aid agencies to Mindanao that has long been
rendered miserable by government neglect.
“Why are they here?” the President taunted her critics, pointing to
the $100-million Toyota transmission plant in Laguna, the $150-million
expansion of Unilab, and the $300-million Hanjin shipyard in Subic?
Mindanao, as well as the Visayas, should ask: “Why are they not here?”
In reference to her statement at the PMA, the above have rendered
empty “the Philippine economic wonder” – the “focus of the world”.
Most empty was “the way we are making democracy work…” as seen in the
forcible transfer of Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo from Manila to Leyte
and how he had been charged with murder and other examples.
Ocampo’s ordeal was shown in television just hours ahead of President
Arroyo’s PMA speech. Of these, Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila
wrote: “the first is a sinister reality unfolding before TV cameras –
the mauling of liberty by security forces; the second is a counterfeit
and artificial rendition of that reality.”
While Malacañang disclaimed responsibility over the Ocampo case, the
Inquirer reported Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno as the mastermind in
ignoring the Supreme Court order to hold Ocampo in Manila until the
resolution of his petition for a temporary restraining order set to be
heard on Friday, March 23.
While President Arroyo is crowing about “expanding democratic space”,
B’laans in Colombio, Sultan Kudarat fear going to their hunting
grounds or even tending to their farms as they would be shot by
soldiers avowing as their protectors from the New People’s Army.
B’laans who had ventured out were shot as NPAs.
Indeed, the world is focusing on how “we are making democracy work
while keeping the threat of terror at bay”! There must be foreign
groups that have likened the military and the police to the Gestapo in
their handling of the Ocampo case.
Besides the hearing by the U. S. Senate of the extrajudicial killings
in the Philippines, Archbishop Emeritus Dr. Desmond Tutu of Cape Town,
South Africa supports the “trial” of the Arroyo regime by the
Permanent People’s Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands – together with
the U.S., World Bank and World Trade Organization — “for gross
violations of civil and political rights”, etc. “of the Filipino
UN Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin has called for specific
amendments or repeal of the entire Human Security Act of 2007, very
recently signed into law, for being incompatible with Article 15 of
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Obviously, the world is seeing in focus the constriction of democratic space.
It’s unbelievable that President Arroyo would focus only on plus
points. Why does she shun the minus points? Without the latter, it
could not be determined whether the country is having a net profit or
a net loss?
Only absolute monarchs, dictators, other authoritarians and
self-conceited presidents would focus on plus points, real or
imaginary, and believe the people are enjoying them while they are
suffering the minus points. Has President Arroyo already become one
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion
section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored
Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to
education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist,
Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at