by Edberto M. Villegas, PhD
If the government were just pro-masses than pro-rich and pro-foreigners, it would have directed the Philippine Army or even the Philippine National Police (PNP) to use more trucks so they could pick up the animals, cattle, horses, pigs, chicken, etcetera suddenly left by the evacuees in Batangas in their habitats in order to escape the eruption of Taal volcano last Jan. 12. Whether they wanted to stay behind in their houses or take their animals with them, the evacuees found themselves in a very difficult position because they were ordered to evacuate and they do not own trucks to carry their animals with them. Army trucks, which have transported the population affected by the eruption, should also fetch the animals of the evacuees to save the livelihoods of the latter. More trucks should have been provided by the Philippine Army or the PNP as many of these are just standing idly by in military camps. It is to be noted that the army has acquired 219 new trucks from South Korea in 2017 to augment their other hundreds of trucks. Surely, not all of these are being used to fight the rebels or are they?
If the government were just right-minded, it should bring the rescued animals and even fruits to public lands to sell or auction to interested parties to help the devastated families of the volcanic eruption. The owners of these animals have no more space to care for them as their abodes have become uninhabitable and they are willing to sell their animals to the public to obtain capital to start anew in life. This is the least that a responsible government can do for the thousands of Batangueños and others displaced by the eruption as the masses are the foremost capital of society which make it rich with their labor power to run our agricultural and industrial sectors, but with workers always at a losing end because of low wages given to them by the owners of the means of production. Many Batangueño hog and chicken farmers as well as cattle raisers are even paying good taxes to the government which augment the latter’s coffers. The government has allocated P30 billion as emergency supplemental budget for calamity fund to the approved regular budget of P20 billion of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management, making the total calamity fund at P50 billion in the P4.1 trillion budget of 2020. It must be pointed out that the calamity fund has been decreased by P11 billion in the 2020 national budget. Compare this to the increase of the budget for the Office of the President by 21% from P6.8 billion in 2019 to P8.24 billion in 2020. The P4.5 billion of the Office of the President budget is meant for his so-called confidential and intelligence fund, including monetary rewards to PNP officers who can neutralize drug personalities! The calamity fund instead of being decreased should be raised tenfold since the Philippines lies in a disaster-prone area, as witnessed in its numerous floods, earthquakes and volcano eruptions, which have come in series last year and this month of January. It is more called for now to increase the calamity fund as the Philippines has been declared by the UN as among the leading countries in the world to be affected by climate change.
Compare further the measly amount of the regular calamity fund at P20 billion to the allocated budget for the payment of interest alone of our foreign debts, which has increased by 13% from P399 billion in 2019 to P441 billion in 2020, all to be passed on to the Fillipino people. The Duterte regime has borrowed anew from the Chinese for his so called Build-Build-Build program, mostly expected to be funded by Chinese banks. The BBB program of Duterte is mere bluster as befits him because of the 75 projects planned, only nine have been started and it is already the last lap of his term. Many of these projects will just enrich Chinese banks and firms like, for example, the Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon Province, costing $3.7 billion, 85% of which will come from Chinese loans and which will displace hundreds of Dumagats from their ancestral lands. Why is Duterte so partial to Chinese loans when its interest rate is so high, at 2 to 3% per annum compared to Japanese interest rate which is 0.25% to 0.75%? The loans from China are also all tied-loans, which means we will have to purchase its technology and machines and hire Chinese personnel and workers to undertake a project.
Instead of having a development program only meant for show or to grandstand but which is becoming chaotic for lack of careful planning as the BBB which Duterte has dubbed the “golden age of infrastructure”, the government should prioritize the welfare of the general masses. A huge special Industrial Fund for SMEs (small and medium scale enterprises) and Agricultural Fund for farmers should be put up to extend to borrowers low-interest or no interest loans, depending upon the status of a family. These loans can also be augmented by a great portion of government savings every year and the calamity fund lying stagnant in banks. Such industrial and agricultural loans shall include bigger loans for capital investments by Filipino entrepreneurs like pig and chicken raisers, and shops and store owners whose livelihoods were destroyed by a calamity. Evacuees are desperately in need of financial help to start a new life and it is the task of a government to live up to its role as caretaker of the common good, instead of surreptitiously juggling its revenues to favor special interests specially in Congress. A great part of the government revenues come from the masses, especially from Train 1 and 2 or the tax increases of basic goods which have hit the ordinary consumers so hard but reduced the taxes of the rich. The Industrial and Agricultural Funds intended for development undertakings by the majority masses must be increased substantially annually to accelerate national development and prosperity instead of hiking such unproductive fund like the budget for the Office of the President which as we indicated above rose by 21% in 2020 from 2019.
It is about time that preferential allocation be made for Filipino enterprises, including farming ventures, since small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs), owned by Filipinos, employ 60% of the national labor force and not the big companies, including the MNCs. Wages in all Philippine enterprises should also be closely monitored by the Department of Labor and Employment. Daily wages should be mandated by law to increase to P1500 which will give at least a decent living to a family of five due to the decline of the real value of the peso caused by the constant rise of consumer prices, which had been particularly taken advantage of by the Western oil companies, specially American and British. These foreign oil companies had almost every month raised oil prices, particularly that of gas so that we have the most expensive gas prices in Southeast Asia. The basic wages and salaries of all government workers should likewise be raised to the decent level of living as with private workers. And whenever there is a rise of prices of goods and services, wages and salaries should be indexed to them or adjusted accordingly. The rationale for the increases in the national budget to favor the Filipino masses and the protection of their economic well-being by laws is that it will tap their full productive capacity which will benefit the whole of our society.
As for the budget for the construction of new houses in designated public lands for those evacuees whose homes were destroyed, the responsibility will fall on the lap of the Department of Human Settlement and Urban Development which has been allocated a low budget of P5.6 billlion in 2020. Compare this again to the P8 billion allocated to the Office of the President and you will know how greedy this president is for money that is not his.
If the government remains as irresponsible as it is now without even having any semblance of a pro-masses national development program for industry and agriculture, which will involve the direct participation of the Filipino masses in their organizations, the Philippines will be in the same rut as it is at present with its increase of wealth (GDP), mostly derived from credits or fictitious capital (hot money) in the finance market, particularly in the stock market, only benefitting 1% of the population. How could we expect for this Duterte government to launch a truly pro-masses relief program for all Filipino evacuees from calamities when it has even bungled up its so-called flagship program for a drug-free Philippines called Tokhang, which has become a total mess and failure due again to a lack of careful planning and strategy? Or is Tokhang just a big cover-up for something very sinister that favors Chinese drug lords? The masses, led by their organizations, must act now instead of relying on this neo-colonial, tyrannical and corrupt regime, masquerading as the true government of the Filipino people. #
The author is the former chairperson of the Development Studies Program of University of the Philippines at Manila. A Batangan, he is a grandson of General Miguel Malvar.