Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gloria's Disenchanted Kingdom

PerryScope: by Perry Diaz

In my article, "Gloria's Enchanted Kingdom and the De Venecia Code" (August 4, 2006), I said: "In a demonstration of grandiose ebullience and unabashed optimism, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 24 belies the true state of a nation ravaged by political wrangling, corruption, poverty, terrorism, communist insurgency, and Muslim rebellion. To dramatize her grand vision of a progressive country, she sang praises to her own achievements and crystallized a rosy picture of the things to come in the remaining four years of her presidency." What Arroyo had planned to achieve during her tenure was an "Enchanted Kingdom" within 20 years. During the 27th National Conference of Employers two years ago, she told the audience, "Let's stay together. Let's dream together." And dream, they did.

For the past two years, Arroyo's spin masters have been heralding an "economic boom," claiming that the country had never been better in the past 31 years -- which was during the martial law era. However, had Arroyo's men gone further back to the time of the late President Carlos P. Garcia (1957-1961), Arroyo's claim would have been questionable. During Garcia's presidency, the Philippines was second only to Japan in economic terms. Garcia's success was attributed to his nationalistic "Filipino First Policy."

It was during the time of the late President Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo's father, when his policy of devaluation and decontrol started the economy's downhill slide. As a matter of fact, the Philippines today, notwithstanding Arroyo's proclamation of an "economic boom," is still far behind its Asian neighbors -- China, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam -- in economic status.

The 7.3% economic growth last year that Arroyo had been bragging about has suddenly lost its oomph! Not too long ago, Peter Wallace of Standard Time wrote an article, "Time to face the Facts," which debunked Arroyo's economic data. He said, "if you were told that GDP really only grew about 4.8 percent, and that family spending declined, and that there were more people who went hungry during the past three years than in any period during the past ten years, you'd think much differently." Indeed, the people are still suffering from an economic malaise that doesn't seem to go away. The economy has been heading towards a turbulent course, a situation that Arroyo did not seemingly anticipate.

In my article, "Economic Boom or Boo-boo Economics" (November 30, 2007), I said: "With 50% of Filipinos poor -- 40% of whom have experienced hunger -- and with unemployment rate at 7.8%, what we will soon be hearing is the 'astronomic boom' of discontent and the cry of the helpless poor. Indeed, Arroyo's boo-boo economics has created a short span of high -- albeit false -- expectations. She promised jobs for the people, yet more than one million Filipinos are leaving each year for jobs overseas. In other words, the 'economic boom' that the Arroyo government has been heralding is nothing more than a mirage."

The Filipino people are beginning to wake up from their induced dream of life in Gloria's "Enchanted Kingdom." Suddenly, their lives are entangled in a series of crises -- oil crisis, rice shortage crisis, fish crisis, water crisis, money crisis. Corruption is still the norm of governance and poverty is still the scourge of the nation. The "Sick Man of Asia" is still as sick as it was for the past four decades.

A recent article, "Thousands want to work abroad to survive crisis," in the Cebu Daily News, reported the plight of people -- mostly college-educated professionals -- who couldn't make ends meet. A licensed pharmacist employed by a small pharmacy in Mandaue City said that she would rather do odd jobs such as dish washing and milking a cow in foreign countries than practice her profession here in the country. Asked why she wanted to work overseas, she said: "The wage here in the Philippines could not suffice for the needs of single woman. How much more for married people."

A secretary working in a law firm said that she was disillusioned with a government always promising to increase wages. She said that washing dishes in a hotel in New Zealand would be better as long as it would pay more. She graduated in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Another person unemployed since last year has "criticized the government for not providing enough jobs for the people." He wanted to go to Taiwan and work in a factory. He is one year short of graduating in Criminology.

In 2006, data from the Philippine Overseas and Employment Agency indicate that 1,221,417 Filipinos left for overseas job placement. And for those who couldn't go overseas, a large number of them -- including farmers who left the farms -- moved to the cities looking for jobs in order to survive. The news report further said that "the farmers left their farms because they could not increase their production due to the high cost of the fertilizers, no irrigation projects and not enough support from the government."

On the eve of Labor Day, Arroyo urged Filipinos to practice eating "camote" (sweet yam) and other root crops as substitute for rice. Feeding on roots! Now, isn't that pathetic? That reminds me of the pre-agriculture age 5,000 years ago when hunter-gatherers subsisted by foraging for edible plants and roots.

Meanwhile, the Arroyo government continues to encourage large farm owners to convert their rice fields to jatropha plantations to produce bio-diesel. Last year, Arroyo entered into several agro-fuel deals with Chinese companies. The largest was the $3.83-billion contract with Fuhua Group in which 1.2 million hectares of agricultural land -- a tenth of the total agricultural land -- would be converted into jatropha plantations. This would drastically reduce rice production. At a time of global rice shortage, converting the rice fields would be a betrayal of the people's trust.

Within a period of less than two years, Arroyo's failed economic policies have brought the country closer to the brink of economic collapse. Instead of dreaming of living in the land of the "Enchanted Kingdom," the Filipinos are now living in the land of the "Disenchanted Kingdom."