STREETWISE: Elections — the ultimate con game by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise
Elections — the ultimate con game
Whoever figuratively likened Philippine elections to a circus decades ago could not have imagined how literally true the metaphor has become these days. Aside from the carnival atmosphere and blaring jingles, there are the candidates trying all sorts of tricks to dazzle and convince us of their worth, and the assortment of clowns and bizarre side shows.
The kind of fakery expected from candidates includes motherhood statements about concern for the poor and underprivileged and the willingness to serve no matter the personal sacrifice.  For incumbent officials or politicians poised for a comeback, there are the exaggerated claims of achievement such as thousands of scholars and grateful charity patients plus a train of downtrodden folk who supposedly benefited from the candidate’s kindheartedness and generosity.
Then there are the perennial promises: to wipe out corruption and criminality; to uplift the poor; to provide jobs and basic social services; to grow the economy; to make government transactions transparent and officials accountable; to lead by example; etc. ad nauseam.
Personal narratives intended to make the candidate appear to be a man or woman of the masses are part of the stratagem.  The five presidentiables exemplify this old ploy.
Jejomar Binay grew up poor and struggling, at some point allegedly having to feed slop to pigs. The dark color of his skin and modest height are used to underscore his humble beginnings.  Several terms as Makati City’s mayor supposedly seals his credentials as a more-than-able and pro-poor public official.  Nothing is said about how he became incredibly rich just by being a public servant.
Rodrigo Duterte is the macho, foul-mouthed, no-nonsense man-of-action.  His claim to fame is Davao City’s touted crime-free, peaceful and disciplined social environment.  He may not be virtuous, nor does he display the requisite good manners and right conduct for the presidency, but he is supposedly the decisive leader the country needs to create order from the chaotic mess we are in.  We are asked to disregard disturbing reports about extrajudicial killings sanctioned by Mayor Duterte and suspicions that his quick-fix solution to criminality is via authoritarian rule.
Grace Poe’s narrative as a foundling, despite her being adopted by a well-to-do showbiz celebrity couple, and her almost being disqualified from running on this score, has given her a patina of being an underdog.  She also capitalizes on her late father’s film persona as hero of the oppressed.  Poe complements this mystique by her simple and straightforward demeanor that makes her appear accessible to ordinary folk.  Still, questions about her qualifications and patriotism continue to dog her candidacy.
Miriam Defensor-Santiago capitalizes on her middle class background and her achievements as a seasoned lawyer, judge and legislator. Her witticisms, sharp tongue and legendary temper directed effectively against her political pet peeves goes hand-in-hand with her cultivated image as the nemesis of corrupt and incompetent officials.
Too bad for Mar Roxas, there can be no denying that his background reeks of wealth and privilege as scion of Negros sugar barons and the Roxas political dynasty.  His academic credentials as graduate of an exclusive American university; his work as an investment banker; his record as a bureaucrat then a legislator under several administrations; his campaign based on the tiresome “daang matuwid” catchphrase of the incumbent regime while taking advantage of government resources to fuel his campaign — all these reinforce the perception that Roxas knows little about the travails of the common tao, much less does he empathize with their plight. So much for his narrative.
As to be expected, whatever platforms these candidates stand for are reduced to platitudes, pie-in-the-sky promises, or bombastic demagoguery that have nothing to do with finding genuine solutions to the fundamental problems of Philippine society.
As the elections day draws near, the mudslinging becomes even more frenzied. Every candidate’s gaffe or deepest, darkest secret is pounced upon by his or her opponents to try to pull that candidate down or gain an advantage before the next round of election surveys. The side shows keep the public preoccupied, distracted, entertained or disgusted as the case may be.
In the midst of all this, the technical operators of the grand electoral carnival do their thing, their presence and service accepted as a necessity, their competence and efficiency assumed and taken for granted.  As in a real carnival, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in this case is responsible for seeing to it that all the rides, all the tricks and special effects, are safe and secure with all necessary safeguards in place. A single flaw, a single missing bolt or defective electrical circuitry could result in fatal disaster.
The COMELEC has always had a spotty if not downright suspect record, but controversies and charges of anomalies are invariably brushed aside as mere “sour graping” by losers. Two elections have been held using the automated election system (AES) with COMELEC allowing a US-based multinational corporation, SMARTMATIC, to do the electronic count and canvass without the safeguards provided for by law, akin to allowing the ferris wheel and roller coaster rides to operate without checking the integrity of the mechanical and electrical components.
The hacking of COMELEC’s vast database dubbed “COMELEAK” has compromised security of voters’ data and makes voters vulnerable to all sorts of heists via identity theft.  This only shows what kind of work ethic the COMELEC works under —  gross negligence instead of due diligence in performing its crucial task of safeguarding the sanctity of the ballot;  irresponsibility rather than responsibility.
COMELEC continues to promote the myth that speed in counting the ballots and transmitting results using the AES can substitute for accuracy and dependability in reflecting the will of the electorate.  Moreover, in the era of pre-election and post-election exit surveys, the credibility of the polls seems to hinge on whether the outcomes hew closely to the foregoing survey results no matter an abundance of election anomalies.
The illusion of elections as a democratic exercise is maintained by the noise and the hoopla of the electoral circus.  To place our hope for real change in such periodic spectacle is to allow ourselves to be conned as well as screwed again and again. #
Published in Business World
25 April 2016

STREETWISE: The lure of strongman rule by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Photo by Noel Godines/Nordis.net

Photo by Noel Godines/Nordis.net

Streetwise

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is leading in the latest surveys on who voters are inclined to choose as vice president come May 9. The news is troubling as well as perplexing.

The prospect that the political heirs of the Dictator Marcos will be returning to Malacanang marks a major advance in the full blown historical revisionism pertaining to the Marcos era and the recycling of the Marcosian legacy as blueprint for national progress.

We are faced with the concrete reality of the full reinstatement of the Marcoses in this nation’s politics after serially capturing gubernatorial, congressional and senatorial positions. Whether or not Filipinos will become the laughing stock of the world, as Marcos oppositionist Sen. Serge Osmeña puts it, certainly the joke will be on us.

The general thrust of Marcos Jr’s campaign has been to paint his father’s 20 years as president, 14 of which was under martial rule, as the “golden years” of the nation and to completely deny all its egregious wrongdoing as either nonexistent, exaggerations or mere exceptions to the rule. History’s judgement that the US-backed Marcos dictatorship was an abomination that was rightfully overthrown by our people can only be further obscured and undermined.

The massive and systematic violations of the people’s democratic rights; the plunder of the national treasury, economy and patrimony by the Marcoses, their local and foreign business cronies and favored multinational corporations and banks; the surrender of economic sovereignty to the IMF-World Bank; the surrender of national sovereignty to US imperialist geopolitical interests foremost of which were the US bases on Philippine soil; the monopoly and abuse of power and the brutal suppression of any and all opposition; the entrenchment of a culture of corruption, gangsterism and impunity in the civil and military/police bureaucracy and the list goes on — these crimes against the people and the nation have yet to be fully accounted for much less punishment rendered to those accountable.
Wielding unrestrained state power to the hilt with the full backing of the US and with the legislative and judiciary branches of government under his heels, Marcos became the quintessential bureaucrat-capitalist far surpassing any of his predecessors and eventually becoming the envy of his successors.

Marcos Jr. is already taking advantage of the collective amnesia that has taken hold of the national consciousness, aided and abetted by negligent educational and cultural institutions including the dominant mass media. The quest for truth and justice will surely become more unreachable as the Marcoses leverage their national political clout to further hamstrung efforts to flush out their ill-gotten wealth; grow their grassroots mass base and political machinery; spread their influence within the state security apparatus; rekindle close ties with US political leaders and strategic agencies; and cultivate an image of a “visionary” and “strong” leadership in popular culture as well as in elite social circles.

It must be perplexing to the leaders of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacanang (CARMMA) and similarly-minded and motivated groups, why Marcos Jr’s ratings have even gone higher instead of going down as they had hoped.

There are some who say that the high profile anti-Bongbong Marcos campaign has merely promoted his candidacy rather than dissuaded people from voting for him. Any conclusion, however, that there is this cause-and-effect relationship is purely speculative and suspiciously self-serving. It leads to the unacceptable conclusion that we should just all have kept quiet and let Marcos Jr. claim his victory after a seemingly unstoppable, well-oiled campaign.

The Left is even twitted for belatedly launching the campaign to thwart Marcos Jr’s bid to become vice president; more to the point, that the Left should have stepped up the campaign when Marcos Jr. ran and won as senator three years ago.

Perhaps the Left had underestimated the capacity of the Marcoses to bounce back, what with all the loot they still have hidden and the opportunistic politics of accommodation practiced by the ruling elite. The Left probably underestimated the effect of thirty years of relative freedom for a generation of young people who had no basis of comparison with the dark years of martial law. And most of all there was the underestimation of the gall by which these thick-skinned Marcoses can present themselves as our nation’s saviors after having ravaged its wealth and brutalized its people.

CARMMA and other groups have raised important issues such as the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth and their continuing efforts to block the recovery of monies, jewelries, art works, etc. The Marcos family’s profligacy was also legendary and examples of extremely high living were brought out to remind the public. Cronyism had reached new heights during martial rule with Marcos and his henchmen dividing up sectors of the economy among themselves for plundering and profiteering.

It was pointed out that Marcosian economic policies and programs that were prescribed by the IMF-World Bank and lobbied for by foreign chambers of commerce were proven to be anti-poor and anti-national economic development while conversely being pro-rich and pro-foreign monopoly capitalist. These gave rise to a ballooning foreign debt; a labor export policy to stave off high unemployment and social unrest; and exacerbation of the chronic problems of landlessness, poverty and socio-economic backwardness.

CARMMA has been hounding Marcos Jr. nationwide at his campaign sorties despite limited resources. Other groups have stepped forward issuing statements to refute the claims and outright lies of the Marcos camp. They have mounted plays and concerts, launched signature drives and utilized the social media to reach out to the millennial generation.

Nonetheless it is a jarring realization that despite the dictator’s overthrow thirty years ago, the legacy of martial law — of nothing less than open fascist rule — has not been decisively defeated and uprooted.

In the final analysis, what we are up against is an iniquitous, unjust, and undemocratic social system that gave rise to Marcos strongman rule. It is this same system that has been perpetuated by all the post-Marcos regimes even continuing many if not most of the dictatorship’s decrees, policies and programs that they had previously decried. The dire effects have mutated into worse and multiple forms.

Indeed, the Left has a lot of catching up to do to avert what is looming as another tragedy ala-Santayana. The steady rise of Marcos Jr. in the polls can partly be explained by the popular notion that “things were better during the Marcos era”. This means that many still attribute the worsening ills and crises of Philippine society, especially the deteriorating living conditions, to the individual faults and failings of the post-Marcos regimes rather than see these as cumulative damage in an oppressive and exploitative social system aggravated by the global economic crises.

Frustration and ignorance of history’s lessons has made another strongman, iron-fisted rule attractive to today’s voters. Perhaps this is what the surveys reflect. #

Published in Business World
8 April 2016

STREETWISE: Whitewashing the Kidapawan massacre by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

(Photo by Kilab Multimedia)
Streetwise
Last week’s killing, wounding and illegal arrest of drought-stricken farmers who barricaded the Davao-Cotobato highway to dramatize their demands has brought to national attention the harsh realities in the country’s rural areas.
It highlighted the desperate straits of the majority of rural folk especially the peasantry.  Poor farmers including indigenous people eke out a living subject to the vagaries of nature; utilizing backward means of production; tied to exploitative tenant-landlord relations; reliant on a usurious lending system; forced to sell their produce at low farm-gate prices; and under threat of displacement by mining operations, plantations and other “development projects”.
Extreme weather disturbances that have become the new normal as a result of climate change have hit poor farmers hard whether these be typhoons, flooding, drought or infestation by pests.
To top it all, their lives and livelihood are made even more precarious by ongoing counterinsurgency operations to contain the New People’s Army and, in Muslim Mindanao, Moro rebel forces.  More often than not, these end up disrupting civilian communities that the military suspects to be providing aid and succor to the “enemy”.
With failed harvests, mounting debts and hungry mouths to feed, farmers in North Cotobato decided to take their appeals for support to the provincial capital rather than wait in vain for help to come to them.  Their demands were legitimate: immediate release of 15,000 sacks of rice; release of calamity funds; raise farm-gate prices of their produce; stop militarization of the countryside.
But the governor turned a deaf ear to the farmers’ demands and instead sicced the police on the protesters.  Not content with mowing them down with gunfire, beating them, and making scores of arbitrary arrests, the police as well as military laid siege to a Methodist Church compound where the protesters took refuge.  They turned off the electricity and threatened to charge church leaders for giving sanctuary to so-called criminals.  They conducted a search of the compound but came up empty-handed.
The authorities prevented human rights workers from rescuing the blockaded protesters, attending to the wounded, aiding the arrested and locating hundreds unaccounted for. They conducted unauthorized autopsies on the two persons killed and falsely claimed they did not die from gunshot wounds.  They bulldozed the scene of the massacre and wantonly destroyed the protesters’ belongings left behind in the melee.
Even before a proper investigation had been undertaken, the police involved in the brutal dispersal of the protesters were awarded medals of recognition while the arrested and several individuals tagged as protest leaders were criminally charged for the violent outcome. They have been presenting false witnesses against the protesters to the mass media.
As news of the Kidapawan massacre trickled out, the plaintive call “bigas hindi bala” and the demand for justice for the victims of gross human rights violations resonated among the broad public.  People could not understand why hungry farmers could not be treated with compassion by concerned government officials.  Why were their appeals and demands met with indifference, their protest action met with harshness and eventually armed suppression. Where did government calamity funds go?  What had the Department of Agriculture done to mitigate the effects of El Niño?  Where was President Aquino and what did he have to say?
People were indignant that rice sacks donated by private individuals and groups were being prevented by North Cotobato Governor Taliño-Mendoza from reaching the farmers.  People rejected her wild accusations that a presidential candidate, in cahoots with her political opponents as well as with “militant leftists” had “instigated” the protest action to make the government look bad.
Agriculture Secretary Alcala’s attempt to minimize the severity of the drought in North Cotobato and to claim that government had done what it could to help the farmers was met with disbelief. Reports that the National Food Authority had more than enough rice stocks and was even in the process of selling these at a loss to rice distributors who in turn would make a huge profit were met with suspicion that corrupt deals were being made at the expense of calamity-hit farmers.
Amidst denunciations that President Aquino and his officials are incompetent, have little concern for the farmers’ plight and have the propensity to resort to state violence in dealing with crises, Malacañang slowly put together it’s counter attack.
First, that the protesting farmers were the aggressors. They provoked the police.  They were also armed.  They had been infiltrated by the New People’s Army.  Too bad for the Aquino regime, despite attempts at a cover-up, video footage and eyewitness accounts clearly show the police attacking the protesters.
Second, that the farmers were deceived by the protest organizers. They were told they would be given rice if they joined the protest.  How is it then that the farmers stayed for two and a half days under the scorching sun even as the police threatened them through a blaring sound system that they would be arrested if they did not leave? Why did it take a violent dispersal by the police to break their ranks?
Third, that the organizations of the militant Left were leading the protest because ordinary farmers could not have mobilized in such numbers by themselves.  This explains why the demands were political like putting a stop to the militarization of the countryside.  Now why does Malacañang assume that farmers are incapable of analyzing their situation and connecting socio-economic demands with political demands? Why do Aquino apologists assume that ordinary people are incapable of getting organized and fighting for their interests against government neglect and bad policies?
Pseudo-progressive parties like Akbayan who are part and parcel of the Aquino regime and anti-communist pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to know the inner workings of the communist movement provide the most absurd argument.  They say that protest organizers are communist agitators themselves who have a hidden agenda which has nothing to do with alleviating the hunger of the farmers but everything to do with bringing down the government.
They say that is the reason the protesters would not peacefully disperse despite the entreaties of the police.  According to this line, the Kidapawan massacre is part of the Left’s strategy and tactics, deliberately intended to spill the blood of farmers, enrage the public and consequently heap the blame on government. This convoluted argument falls flat on its face since it entails the Leftists’ unbelievable capacity to manipulate not only the protesting farmers but also the actuations of both civilian authorities and state security forces.
Calls for an independent investigation into the Kidapawan Massacre, the immediate release of those arrested and the dropping of all charges, the suspension and prosecution of those responsible and indemnification for those killed and wounded must be pursued without let-up in the face of the Aquino regime’s whitewash marked by repeated falsehoods, intrigues, red-baiting and media manipulation. #
Published In Business World
11 April 2016

STREETWISE: #BigasHindiBala by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

(Photo from Kilab Multimedia)

Streetwise

The violent dispersal by the police of the 6000-strong protest by farmers and lumad (indigenous people of Mindanao) in Kidapawan, North Cotobato last April 1 could be dismissed as just another incident in the long list of clashes between state security forces and citizens airing their grievances against government.

But this is different. This has the potential to explode in the face not just of Liberal Party Governor Lala Talino-Mendoza and the local police but that of the lame-duck President Benigno Aquino III and his anointed one, presidential candidate Mar Roxas, barely six weeks before the national and local elections on May 9.

The farmers were demanding rice and the release of calamity funds in the wake of the severe drought in their farm lands wrought by the El Niño weather disturbance. They were met with truncheons, bullets and water cannon. The result, as of this writing: three protesters confirmed killed by gun shot, more than a hundred wounded, scores arrested and hundreds more still under siege by the police in a Methodist church compound where they sought sanctuary.

There is no disputing that the farmers had a legitimate reason for massing up on the national highway to dramatize their plight and to force government to act. Hunger stalked their families and their situation had become increasingly desperate with their farms reduced to scorched earth. They were already deep in debt because of their failed harvest and had no money to buy food. There was hardly any relief in sight despite the provincial government’s declaration of a state of calamity.

In response Gov. Mendoza reportedly announced that the farmers would be rationed three kilos of rice each for three months. (Of course, their status as her “legitimate“ constituents would still have to be verified.) Having exercised “maximum tolerance” of the farmers’ protest, she then ordered the police to clear the highway of demonstrators purportedly to restore law and order and to “rescue” the children that the farmers had brought along since no one would be left to look after them in their homes.

The result was a massacre akin to the massacre of peasants demanding land reform during the administration of the first Aquino president, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. It also brought back memories of the Hacienda Luisita massacre when sugar mill and plantation workers in the Cojuangco-owned hacienda were killed while demanding higher wages and genuine land reform. The hashtag #BigasHindiBala (#RiceNotBullets) captures the farmers’ demands amidst the government’s resort to fascist state violence.

All the presidential candidates condemned the violence that had taken place in Kidapawan and the resulting deaths and injuries. Notably four “presidentiables” – Senator Grace Poe, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Mayor Jejomar Binay and Senator Miriam Defensor – explicitly condemned the use of deadly force by the police and called for punishment of those responsible. They also castigated the Aquino administration for failing to provide timely and adequate relief to the distressed farmers considering that the severe drought and its effects on agriculture had been predicted for more then two years by the government weather agency.

Aquino’s candidate Mar Roxas, however, could only condemn the violence that attended the protests in general, without specifying who was responsible. Roxas also called on the Philippine National Police to investigate, a surefire formula for a whitewash, as had happened in all the violent dispersals at demonstrations that had previously taken place.

Neither did he take the pertinent government agencies (such as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Social Work and Community Development) and his Liberal Party-mate Gov. Mendoza to task for failing to proactively address the farmer’s plight. To do so would be to criticize the kind of governance he has extolled as exemplary and which he has promised to continue should he win.

Mayor Duterte went the extra mile by mobilizing the people of Davao and the city government to collect and send sacks of rice to Kidapawan. It is said that Senator Poe also quietly mobilized her supporters to send their contribution as did private individuals such as film actor Robin Padilla.

These humanitarian acts however did not sit well with Gov. Mendoza as she denounced them as “insulting” (to whom we wonder, certainly not to the starving farmers and lumad) and motivated by “politicking” (referring to Mayor Duterte who the governor accused of trying to look good at her – and we suppose her presidential candidate’s – expense).

President Aquino has chosen to remain silent on the Kidapawan crisis but police statements as well as that of Communications Undersecretary Manolo Quezon a day after the massacre indicates what the official line will be.

First, that the protesters rained rocks on the police and the police were only forced to respond. (Quezon is silent about why police were armed with high-powered rifles and were seen on video footage to be aiming and shooting at the farmers.)

Second, that “militant groups of the Left” were the ones who had mobilized the farmers which makes the protest suspect. (Quezon conveniently glosses over the fact that such organizations had been openly, consistently and yes, militantly, been supporting farmers on such issues as landlessness, government neglect of calamity victims and militarization of rural communities leading to grave human rights violations. That they were visibly supporting the farmers at the Kidapawan protest is nothing new nor sinister except to government officials who would resort to red-baiting to shift attention and blame from themselves.)

Third, that initial police investigation indicated the presence of armed men among the protesters proof of which is the alleged finding of traces of gunpowder on the hands of one of the dead farmers. Police also intimated to media that an NPA commander had been arrested but would not give any name. Quezon for his part mentioned “cadres” in the protest to lend credence to his claim that Leftists were behind the protests and the ensuing violence. (If indeed the protesters were armed why did not a single policeman suffer any gunshot wounds? Moreover, the police search of the Methodist church compound did not come up with any guns or deadly weapons. In fact the farmers’ feared that these would be planted by the police and would be used in trumped-up charges against them.)

We can only conclude that the official cover-up has begun. Together with a completely made-up police version of what happened and manufactured ”evidence” to support it, Malacañang spin-masters are already resorting to red-baiting, victim-blaming, and opposition candidate-bashing to cover up the underlying cause of the Kidapawan massacre.

It is nothing less than a government run by bureaucrat capitalists whose main purpose in life is to promote their own interests and those of the entrenched elite – mainly big landlords and comprador capitalists – against the interests, rights and welfare of the majority of the Filipino people especially landless and destitute farmers.#

(The second of this column’s two-part series on the Philippine health care system has been set aside in consideration of the more pressing issue of the Kidapawan massacre.)

Published in Business World
4 April 2016

STREETWISE: Philippine health care system, from bad to worse by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise

A country’s health care system is a sensitive indicator of how government values the health of its people, underscoring the truism that the people痴 general health constitute the very foundation of socio-economic development and ultimately, the people痴 wellbeing and happiness.

Even as a medical student more than three and a half decades ago, it was already starkly clear to me that the Philippines health care system was sick. It was a dual system: one for those who could afford to pay; another for those who could not. One was private, the other public.

On the whole, private health care was of better quality in terms of facilities and personnel although one could find substandard care in private hospitals because of poor regulation and the overriding motivation to turn a profit rather than provide a badly-needed social service. The public system sufficed for the majority of the population who had little choice when stricken by disease except to avail of what was available and affordable
regardless of quality.

These hospitals and clinics were clustered in urban centers. The tertiary centers or the most well-equipped with the widest choice of specialist doctors would be found in Metro Manila. In the rural areas, people continued to live and die without ever seeing a nurse much less a physician because health care was absent or inaccesible, physically and financially.

Of coure there were the crown jewels of the Marcos martial law era, the Heart, Lung and Kidney Centers and the Philippine Children痴 Medical Center that were part of the showcase edifices of First Lady Imelda Marcos but that痴 another story.

In time, with the growing social inequality, there was hardly room left for anything in
between as even the not-so-rich but not-yet-miserably-poor started to avail themselves of public hospitals to avoid dissipating their life savings on health care. That was when the so-called middle class could be seen in the Philippine General Hospital痴 charity wards or, at best, its more affordable but scant private rooms.

As the cost of curative care soared (after all everything, from the simplest syringe to the state-of-the-art diagnostic machines, is imported) and the public health budget became tighter due to chronic misprioritization, the trend towards charging fees for laboratory procedures and making patients buy their own supplies became the norm even among supposed 田harity・patients. (Government hospital pharmacies are notorious for always running out of medicines and supplies so that patients have to buy from private boticas located just outside the hospital premises.)

Meanwhile, most public hospitals in the urban centers continued their slide towards decline and decay, starved of government subsidy. Brain drain among poorly paid health personnel was the rule rather than the exception, mitigated only by the vagaries of the market for nurses and doctors abroad. The negative effects included a constant turn-over of hospital personnel even in critical-care units requiring highly-trained staff.

Private hospitals continued to do brisk business catering to the country痴 elite but became more and more unaffordable to the shrinking middle class. Medical health insurance for the regularly employed through the old Medicare covered only a small portion of hospitalization costs such that out-of-pocket expenses ballooned uncontrollably.

Clearly the system could not remain the same – inaccessible and unaffordable to the vast majority because it was urban-centered, curative care-oriented, and dualistic. Health reform was urgently needed but what kind?

Apparently government heeded World Bank recommendations that were geared towards reforming how health care was to be paid for, less from scarce public funds and more from the private pockets of patients and their families. The assumption was that there were far too many freeloaders availing of the public health care system when it should be focussed on providing services only for the very poor (who now have to prove their state of indigency).

The trend towards commercialization of medical services and eventually the privatization of entire public hospitals stealthily crept up on the unsuspecting public. The shining examples held up to policy makers of how a government hospital can be top-of-the-line without being a drain on the national health budget are the National Kidney and Transplant Institute and the Philippine Heart Center.

These public hospitals have spanking new facilities for pay patients while maintaining some beds for charity patients. They have leased portions of hospital property to private businesses such as shops and restaurants. They seem to have resolved the problem of financing their operations by increasingly catering to pay patients and relying less on government subsidy.

Under the Aquino administration the acceleration of privatization and commercialization of public hospitals reached a new high with the targeting of a slew of hospitals for conversion into public-private-partnership projects.

Prime example is the National Orthopedic Hospital that was slated to be auctioned off to the highest bidder for conversion into a modern, state-of-the-art facility. This would have meant throwing out the thousands of charity patients depending on the old ramshackle facilities and leaving them willy-nilly to their own device to get adequate medical assistance. Only the united opposition of patients, health reform advocates, hospital staff and administration as well as social activists and sympathetic media practicioners prevented the corporate take-over.

In the meantime the government has been overhauling the national health care insurance system called Philhealth. The claim is that there is now close to universal coverage with more than ninety per cent of the population able to avail of health insurance.

Are these the wide-ranging and fundamental health reforms our people have been waiting for? Or are they merely exacerbating the deteriorating health situation of our people by denying them access to basic and life-saving health care? #

Next week’s column takes a critical look on Philhealth.

Published in Business World
28 March 2016

STREETWISE: Letter to a grandson on “people power” and revolutionary change by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

(Photo from Bulatlat.com)

Streetwise

Dear Grandson,

I thought I would write to you and try to explain what EDSA I was all about. The idea came up with all the recent talk about how your parents’ generation does not understand, much less appreciate, what happened thirty years ago, at the “people power” uprising that brought down the brutal and rapacious Marcos dictatorship.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with that sweeping statement, there is some truth to it. Your parents were too young then to really know what was going on. Then they grew up seeing that while the dictator himself was gone, not much else seems to have changed. This experience can be very frustrating and conducive to cynicism and even apathy.

So I thought at the very least, I owe it to you, to do some explaining why our country seems stuck in a rut; economic opportunties are limited; social problems continue to pile up; politicians are a hopeless lot; and many of your uncles and aunts and their friends have decided the only solution is to go abroad to find a decent living and a safer place to raise their families.

At the outset, I must tell you not to take the basic freedoms you enjoy today for granted — freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom to rally and petition the government for redress of grievances.

While there are still many unwarranted restrictions on these freedoms today, the point is we absolutely didn’t enjoy them under martial rule. (At least not until many years later, when people had become angrier, more courageous, and better organized such that they began to assert these freedoms regardless of the consequences.)

Most organizations of the people were banned. Student councils and publications were especially targetted; the dictatorship knew that universities are the hotbeds of radical ideas and dissension. Only the Marcos-controlled political party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) was allowed to exist and rule the stamp-pad parliament.

Defiance of Marcos’ iron rule could mean getting abducted and “salvaged” (outrightly killed without any legal due process); or getting arrested, tortured and spending years in detention without any charges or trial. There were no courts to turn to; no independent newspapers or tv stations where you could expose wrongdoing. No, you couldn’t use social media either; it didn’t exist then as you know it now.

The lower classes bore the brunt of the repression such as peasants fighting landgrabbers and demanding that land be given to those who work on it and not to absentee landlords; workers striking over starvation wages, poor working conditions and the right to form unions; indigenous peoples defending their ancestral land from mining companies and plantations; and urban poor fighting demolition of their shanty towns to give way to shopping malls and so-called development projects.

What is being hailed as the “people power revolution” brought down this repressive rule thirty years ago. All over the country, but most dramatically at the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), the highway between two large military camps where former Marcos henchmen and mutinous military men had holed up, the people rose. They filled EDSA, Mendiola and other thoroughfares in urban centers with their warm bodies for four days until the Marcos family abandoned the presidential palace using helicopters provided by the US government.

It was a heroic undertaking. It took fourteen years – and tens of thousands of lives sacrificed in fighting the dictatorship – to get to that point.

Don’t believe it when they tell you that EDSA was only about Cory Aquino, Cardinal Sin, Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, General Fidel Ramos and the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) rebels and their avid followers.

Don’t believe it either when they tell you the Left or the activists from the nationalist and democratic movement were absent at the four-day “people power” uprising. The Left formed the core of the aboveground and underground opposition, consistently carrying the anti-dictatorship movement forward all throughout the dark years. Your grandparents were part of that movement.

Getting rid of the dictatorship was certanly a big improvement but it was not enough. It wasn’t enough to just change leaders, to shift from the old rulers, the Marcoses and favored oligarchs, to the new ones, the Aquinos and their coterie.

Poverty, hunger and ill health are still rampant and widespread, the everyday condition of majority of Filipino families. They are the landless peasants and displaced indigenous peoples; lowly-paid workers and employees with no security of tenure; and the rest of the people who can’t find work or decent sources of livelihood, who are increasingly going abroad as OFWs, becoming odd-jobbers or turning to criminality to survive.

Society’s resources are still monopolized by the landed and big business elite in partnership with multinational corporations and banks. Political power remains in the hands of the oligarchy whose objective is to maintain the status quo utilizing deception and coercion. Periodic undemocratic elections allow their political dynasties to take turns getting richer from graft and corruption. Government officials are subservient to foreign interests, principally the Philippines’ former colonizer, the US of A, that impose anti-people and anti-national policies and programs.

The educational system, mass media outlets and culture as a whole keep the majority of the poor submissive and resigned to their “fate”.

Philippine society — its economy, political and cultural systems — has been in the throes of crisis for a very long time, needing nothing less than a complete, revolutionary overhaul. But EDSA I was not a social revolution in the true sense of the word. The national situation did not change post EDSA I because the promised reforms were never undertaken. The elite who benefitted from EDSA were also the principal defenders of this unjust and decadent system.

That much has become clearer as the years have passed, with six presidencies, several coup attempts, two long-running armed conflicts and another “people power” uprising taking place.

So, dear “apo”, the fight for fundamental reforms in society and government continues long after EDSA I. It is now your parents’ generation – and soon enough – your own generation that will have to take on this historic mission of achieving our people’s great aspirations for prosperity, equality and genuine freedom and democracy.

I sincerely hope, that in due time, you will awaken to this challenge and embrace it. A life of meaning and fulfillment awaits you.

Lovingly,
Lola

Published in Business World
29 February 2016

STREETWISE: Legacy of EDSA “People Power” by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

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Streetwise

The reputation of the EDSA “People Power” uprising has been getting a beating these past thirty years, especially with an EDSA Dos and even a so-called EDSA Tres following the original phenomenon.

Criticisms range from valid to outlandish. That it merely installed another corrupt, elitist regime and brought back, or even worsened, the ills of the old society premartial law. That it was manipulated by vested interests and shadowy forces. That it was basically mob rule, the anti-thesis to democratic elections that oversee the orderly transition from one regime to another.

Worse, a significant number of young people have been hoodwinked into believing that the US-backed Marcos dictatorship was a a kind of benevolent strongman rule that the present crisis-ridden Philippine society sorely needs to set things aright.

It has been said that Marcos’ imposition of martial law signified the inability of the ruling elite to rule in the old way. Philippine society then was in the grip of another intense socio-economic and political crisis that was but an exacerbation of the long-running crisis of the backward, poverty-stricken, unjust and inequitous social system.

The factional conflicts among the elite could no longer be settled through periodic electoral contests. President Ferdinand Marcos was ending his second term in office and was barred from running again. The infamous Plaza Miranda bombing of the Liberal Party’s leaders was blamed on Marcos. Marcos in turn blamed the communists and his nemesis Senator Benigno Aquino.

Two nascent armed revolutionary movements, one led by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the other by the Moro National Liberation Front, were fast gaining adherents in the countryside. In the urban centers, strikes and demonstrations by workers, students and the urban poor were growing in frequency and militance, mobilizing tens of thousands. They called for and end to the “basic problems” of imperialsm, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism and the overthrow of the “puppet fascist” Marcos regime.

Marcos’ brutal authoritarian regime lasted fourteen years laying waste the best and brightest of a generation of youth who joined the resistance movement and hundreds of thousands of other human rights victims — from such prominent martyrs as Ninoy Aquino, Edgar Jopson, Dr. Johnny Escandor and Macliing Dulag — to ordinary people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It brought the economy to ruin by plundering the public coffers in cahoots with its business cronies and favored multinational corporations and by entering into onerous loans and contracts that would take decades for our people to pay off.

It transmogrified the already fascist military and police forces into the dictator’s private army and
into even more abusive and corrupt institutions. It treated the First Family akin to royalty and instituted one of the most entrenched political dynasties this country has had the misfortune of having.

To ensure continued backing from the US government, international financial institutions and the foreign chambers of commerce, it did their bidding in terms of anti-national and anti-people economic policies and programs. The linchpin was Marcos’ maintenance of the US military bases and subordination of Phillipine foreign policy to US dictates.

The EDSA “People Power” uprising signified the end of the Marcos dictatorship because of the magnitude and depth of its crimes against the Filipino people.

Exploitation, oppression and repression breed resistance. This resistance had been building up from the moment martial law was declared — armed and unarmed, in the cities and the countryside, among the people and the disaffected elite, and across the political spectrum from Left to Right as Marcos became increasingly isolated.

Ninoy Aquino’s assasination sparked public outrage that led to mammoth demonstrations. The political crisis pushed Marcos’ erstwhile backer US President Ronald Reagan to pressure Marcos to call for snap elections. Corazon “Cory” Aquino was declared the winner by the people but Marcos had himself inaugurated as president. Cardinal Sin and Cory Aquino called for civil disobedience. The situation threatened to develop into an uncontrollable political confrontation between the US-Marcos dictatorship and the broad anti-dictatorship united front.

The Enrile-RAM aborted coup d’etat triggered the EDSA uprising when people from all walks of life spontaneously poured out into the highway fronting the two military camps to act as a buffer against Marcos loyalist troops and the Enrile/Ramos-led mutinous forces. They were there not for the love of Enrile or Ramos but for their burning desire to oust Marcos and write finis to the dictatorship.

Cory Aquino was physically not at EDSA during the four-day uprising. Corystas conveniently forget this fact when they gleefully point to the inability of Left forces to position themselves prominently at EDSA because of their preceding error of boycotting the snap elections.

But it would be the height of dishonesty and political naivete to say the Left did not play a role in the uprising — before, during and after. As a matter of fact, national democratic activists of workers and students were already at Malacañang’s gates as the Marcos family prepared to evacuate courtesy of the US military.

Moreover, a cursory perusal of the names of the martyrs at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani and the martial law victims who won a landmark class suit against the Marcos estate would show indisputably that the vast majority belong to the Left, under and aboveground.

For the Left, EDSA “People Power” has left a worthwhile legacy of a united and militated Filipino people rising up against the dictatorship and overthrowing it. Unfortunately its powerful democratic impetus was hijacked and coopted by the anti-Marcos reactionaries this time led by the US-backed Corazon Aquino regime.

The promise of meaningful reform was reneged upon. Militant mass mobilizations were suppressed once more. Peace negotiations with revolutionary movements were sabotaged and jettisoned. “People Power” rhetoric was invoked to rally support for the reactionary government and to entrench the reactionary status quo. Is it any wonder that “People Power” has gained such an unsavory reputation among the people, especially the youth, leading to confusion, alienation and even cynicism?

We need to strive harder for our people to learn the hard lessons of the EDSA people’s uprising — the need for fundamental and not just cosmetic change and the indispensable requirement of continuously expanding and consolidating genuine people’s organizations to accomplish this.

In due time, the awesome power of a united people can once more be ranged against the feckless power of the ruling elite in the ultimate showdown. #

Published by Business World
22 February 2016

STREETWISE: Remembering EDSA “People Power” by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

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(Photo from www.philstar.com and owned by Gerardo Joaquin Sinco)
Streetwise

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

From February 22 to 25, the nation will be marking the thirtieth year of the people’s uprising that toppled the US-backed Marcos dictatorship dubbed EDSA “People Power”. Ironically, this event will take place even as Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the son of the fascist dictator, attempts a spectacular return to Malacañang should he win as vice president in the coming May elections.

Indeed the Marcos dynasty is back with a vengeance.

The Marcoses have been able to hide and launder a substantial part of the billions that they plundered. They have leveraged the political patronage ladled by the dictator on the Ilocos region to reestablish their political bailiwick in the North. (Former First Lady Imelda and daughter Imee have managed to win congressional seats; the dictator’s namesake became governor and now senator giving up the gubernatorial post to his eldest sister.)

They have also cleverly reinvented themselves from social pariahs after their patriarch’s disgraceful fall from power to celebrities once more in high society’s exclusive circles.

How the political heirs of the dictator have achieved this comeback has also much to do with the way the historical judgement rendered by the “people power” uprising has been mangled beyond recognition over the past thirty years.

The ruling elite in Philippine society have presided over the continuing distortion of what EDSA People Power was all about, what were the forces that acted and for whose interests, and what was the eventual outcome. With succeeding regimes having failed to deliver on the promise of deep-going economic, social and political reforms, historical revisionism has become the order of the day.

The over-arching myth of EDSA “People Power” is its supposed restoration of democracy with the ouster of an authoritarian order. In truth only the trappings of elite or bourgeoise democracy were restored: a Congress in the grip of political dynasties; periodic elite-dominated electoral exercises; a judiciary captured by entrenched vested interests; and the mass media owned and controlled by the elite as well.

The ruling classes of big landlords, the comprador bourgeoisie and bureaucrat capitalists remain firmly in power. What took place was a mere changing of the guards with a different faction of the ruling classes taking power by riding on the wave of the anti-dictatorship movement.

There has been no genuine land reform. The Cory Aquino and all post-EDSA regimes have persisted in their blind submission to IMF-World Bank economic policy impositions such as honoring all debts of the Marcos regime; an export-oriented, import-dependent economic model antagonistic to national industrialization; trade liberalization, privatization and deregulation; wage freeze and other neoliberal economic policies that further entrench poverty, backwardness and inequality.

Subservience to US dictates with regard to US military bases and continuing US military presence in the country has defined all the US-backed regimes after Marcos.

US-designed and directed counterinsurgency (COIN) programs were serially implemented resulting in bloody human rights records for every regime that came to power. Peace negotiations with armed revolutionary movements were dovetailed and subsumed to the objectives of COIN programs.

Graft and corruption continued unabated with a different faction of the ruling classes controlling and benefitting from the loot-taking as they took turns occupying Malacañang Palace.

The restoration-of-democracy myth was coupled with the myth that EDSA People Power was a “peaceful revolution”. In truth, there was no revolution as there was no fundamental change of the political and social system to the satisfaction of the people.

What was EDSA “People Power” in actuality? First and foremost, it was an unarmed people’s uprising that brought down the hated Marcos dictatorship. It was marked by the spontaneous outpouring of the people into the streets demanding the ouster of Marcos.

But “people power” was passed off as merely the massing-up of people spontaneously responding to the call of Cardinal Sin to support the Enrile-Ramos mutinous forces. They had been galvanized by the experience of the fraud-ridden snap presidential elections that stole victory from Corazon Aquino.

The objective of the emphasis on the unorganized mass of people is to play down the role of people’s organizations that had initiated and sustained anti-dictatorship struggles throughout the dark years. The purpose, then and now, is to airbrush progressive and revolutionary forces from the historical account of the uprising itself.

EDSA “People Power” was even mystified as a “miracle of prayers“. This attempt at obscurantism was propagated by the same leaders of the Catholic Church who had given their imprimatur to martial rule and only belatedly espoused “critical collaboration” when the people’s resistance to its brutality and criminality grew and intensified.

Second, EDSA “People Power” was a stand-off between two armed camps, that of Marcos-Ver and Enrile-Ramos. The US and the anti-Marcos reactionaries as well as the organized progressive forces and the spontaneous masses occupied the gap between the two armed camps.

Violent confrontation between the two could break out any moment so it is misleading to describe it as a “peaceful” phenomenon. Only US intervention and the growing numbers of people on the EDSA highway fronting Camp Crame prevented the Marcos-Ver camp from aggressively attacking the Enrile-Ramos camp.

The role of the Enrile-RAM-engineered coup d’etat has also been overplayed. It actually failed but it triggered an open split in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine Constabulary (the precursor of the Philippine National Police). Subsequently, the myth of a “reformed AFP” was peddled to cover up the AFP’s fascist character and the grave human rights violations by the leading personalities in RAM such as then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and his aide, then Col. Greg “Gringo” Honasan.
In sum, EDSA “People Power” was the confluence of diametrically opposed forces — progressive and anti-progressive — against Marcos. Nonetheless the balance of power overwhelmingly favored the latter.

The US and the reactionary classes would determine the final outcome, the take-over by Corazon Aquino, a member of the ruling elite and a US marionette, as the chief executive officer of a political system dedicated to preserving and strengthening the status quo. #

Next week: The true legacy of EDSA People Power

Published by Business World
15 February 2016

STREETWISE: Digging deeper into the SSS pension hike by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

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Streetwise

Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr. justified the abrupt adjournment of Congress last Wednesday by saying he didn’t want to embarrass President Benigno S. C. Aquino III with the prospect of a move to override the presidential veto on the SSS pension hike. Not that Rep. Neri J. Colmenares, who was leading the effort to get two thirds of the House of Representatives to sign his override resolution, already had the numbers. But Mr. Belmonte apparently was not confident he could muster the vote to defeat the resolution either.

The hurried adjournment in order to prevent even a debate and much more a vote was totally unjustified. There was a quorum, there was time. Not a few of the affected citizens were present to witness their representatives’ action in their behalf. But the house leadership went to the extent of turning off the microphone while Rep. Colmenares was in the middle of arguing for a discussion and vote.

These “people’s representatives” were caught in a dilemma.

To vote to override Aquino’s veto would likely mean reduced access to Malacanang’s largesse for the coming 2016 elections. To vote against the override, in effect to vote against the pension increase, would expose them as uncaring for the plight of SSS pensioners, spineless in the face of Malacanang pressure, and as the unprincipled, opportunist, and elitist bunch of bureaucrat capitalists they really were.

That is the rotten politics of it.

But what of the economics?

Is it true that the SSS pension bill was not well thought out, that the bill sponsors and the entire Congress merely wanted to pander to what is popular in the season of elections, that they took little regard of its supposed dire effect on the SSS fund life?

For the record, Colmenares filed the bill in 2011 and it passed through the gauntlet of the congressional mill until approved in 2015. SSS top brass had all the time and the opportunity to argue their opposition to the pension increase but they failed to convince Congress. Malacanang had the time, opportunity and clout over its congressional allies to kill the bill but it didn’t.

A 4-billion deficit per year was projected with a 56-billion peso additional cost to the fund. Fund life would be reduced to 13 years from 2015 if — a big if — nothing was done to improve collections, plug leaks, raise income on idle assets, and improve the performance of investible funds.

Worse comes to worst, the national government could appropriate the necessary funds to subsidize SSS expenses in accordance with the SSS Act of 1997. Even increasing member contributions could be considered once it has been demonstrated that SSS significantly improved its services and benefits.

The long and short of it is that the SSS can actually afford the pension hike. It is a matter of priorities; a matter of political will. Clearly the Aquino administration does not consider throwing a lifeline to 2.2 million elderly SSS members a priority. Neither does it have the political will to cut corruption, bureaucratic wastage and inefficiency in the SSS itself.

Talk about inclusive growth under the Aquino administration is a lot of hot air when SSS executives are given “performance” bonuses but its members cannot partake of the gains in its investment portfolio.

The good thing about the heated debate on the P2000-peso SSS pension hike is that many people, not just senior citizens, have begun to ask questions about what ails the country’s social security system, not just the SSS but also the GSIS, and what deep-going reforms are in order.

Progressive think-tank IBON Foundation has come up with very strong arguments backed by hard data to convince us that “social insecurity” actually hounds majority of Filipinos up until their twilight years.

For one, out of 7.8 million senior citizens, IBON estimates that at least two-thirds or over 5.1 million are poor. (IBON uses a poverty threshold of Php125 per day or Php3,800 monthly whereas the Philippine Statistics Authority officially uses an unrealistic poverty threshold of just Php52 per day or some Php1,582 monthly.)

Moreover, six out of ten (57%) elderly Filipinos, or some 4.5 million, don’t receive any pension at all.

If we include those who receive pensions below a reasonable poverty threshold, this would mean almost 97% of elderly Filipinos, or around 7.5 million, cannot afford to live decently much less be able to buy costly maintenance medicines for their various illnesses.

According to IBON, “Coverage is poor because the country’s main pension schemes are designed as an individualistic mechanism more than real social security. The SSS and GSIS are contributory schemes that only cover their members, whose membership depends on member contributions, and whose level of benefit depends on the level of member contributions…But the problems of basing pensions on regular work-based contributions in the Philippine context of so much joblessness and pervasive irregular and low-paying employment are clear.”

The unemployed will certainly not be able to make any significant contributions. But not even those employed are assured of becoming active and qualified SSS members. IBON estimates six out of ten of total employed (58%) are non-regular workers, agency-hired workers, or in the informal sector with at best erratic ability to pay contributions. The problem gets worse with the rising practice of contractualization wherein workers have no security of tenure and are simply hired and rehired every six months.

IBON concludes that the only way forward is for government “to confront Philippine underdevelopment realities head-on and aim for a non-contributory tax-financed universal social security system…(S)ociety, through the government, should be assuming primary responsibility for the security of its most vulnerable citizens including the elderly. Contributory member-financed schemes such as SSS and GSIS should just be complementary measures to a central scheme designed to reach the majority of Filipinos.”

Unfortunately, so long as the neoliberal economic doctrine has a stranglehold over the mindset of our country’s political leaders, government economic policies will continue to eschew this approach to overhauling the social security system.

The so-called “free market” means every man for himself; government intervention to promote social equity and social justice are anathema; even social safety nets for the most vulnerable in society are considered burdensome and unsustainable.

The struggles of senior citizens and their families for a meaningful increase in SSS pensions are giving them valuable lessons in life. Who are with them and who are against them and why. The nature of reactionary politics in an elite-dominated society such as Philippine society. And most important of all, that meaningful changes can only take place when the exploited and oppressed unite and take matters into their own hands.

Senior citizen power is also “people power”; once unleashed, it will find its mark. #

Published in Business World
8 February 2016

STREETWISE: SSS pension hike — it’s a class thing by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise

I waited to hear the views of a friend, a former SSS top executive who sought a meeting with Rep. Neri Colmenares, original sponsor of the bill that seeks to raise the Social Security System (SSS) monthly pension for more than 2 million retirees by P2000. I wanted to balance out my thinking on the issue even though I had read and heard almost all there was to hear on both sides of the argument.

I wanted to give this person the benefit of the doubt since I know him to be an upright person, hardworking, a top professional in the private sector before being recruited into government service, and having come from humble beginnings. Unfortunately the more he expounded on the basic position of current SSS executives, on which basis Pres. BS Aquino vetoed the bill, the more I became unconvinced of the merit, nay soundness, of the presidential veto.

While acknowledging that the SSS fund is a social fund meant to serve the needs of its members, the former official tried to convince us that people expected too much from the fund, that the contributions were way too small while the services it was giving out were costing a lot. Ergo the basic solution is to increase the members’ contributions. In the meantime, there could be no increases in benefits that would only shorten the life of the fund.

He acknowledged, however that increasing contributions is easier said than done. The convincing would have to come in the form of more efficient and substantial services.

Now when one considers that the SSS was listed recently by the Civil Service Commission as one of the top three government agencies that they received complaints about in terms of services, doesn’t the SSS indeed have a lot of convincing to do?

Wouldn’t a reasonable increase in pensions serve as a strong signal that the agency was willing to work hard to be able to give members a decent pension when they retire?

When asked about plugging the leaks in the system like the billions of contributions collected but unremitted by employers, the former official lamented how difficult it is to do this, that SSS lacks personnel and resources.

So how can SSS convince its members that they need to give more when what they are already contributing is not collected properly by SSS. (Or as one struggling entrepreneur counter-lamented, it takes SSS forever to officially tally contributions in their data base from the time the payments are deposited in receiving banks. In the meantime their employees cannot take out any loans and vent their ire on their employers!)

About the touted sterling performance of the SSS in terms of fund management under the stewardship of SSS President De Quiros, my friend intimated that there were SSS properties that were not sold during earlier administrations in order to have higher returns with the property boom in certain areas of Metro Manila. This certainly didn’t seem to take such a financial genius to figure out; that it was quite a matter of waiting for a better price.

In the meantime, .isn’t it unconscionable for SSS executives to give themselves such fat bonuses on the ground that they made the fund grow through their supposedly astute handling of SSS investible funds when they refuse to let the ordinary members share in some of that purported growth. On this point my friend couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

Rep. Colmenares came quite prepared for the one-on-one discussion bringing with him documents that the SSS had submitted to congressional hearings. He had the facts and figures at his finger tips. He questioned the sudden jump in the projected fund deficit to 16-26 billion pesos when SSS officials had stated under oath in congressional hearings this would amount to only 4 billion pesos.

Congress had passed Colmenares’ bill unanimously having taken into account the 4 billion deficit and the ways by which the SSS could cover this by introducing needed reforms within the next five years, including improvement in collections and lessening administrative inefficiencies and costs. And if, despite all these internal reform measures the deficit remained, government is mandated to shore up the fund by means of a direct subsidy.

Indeed, if government can subsidize a dole-out program such as the Conditional Cash Transfer worth 62 billion pesos, why can’t it provide a safety net for working people who are doing their share not only in contributing to the economy but to their own social security fund .

It has also been pointed out by various quarters that with the Aquino administration’s boast of a 268 billion peso reduction in the government’s budget deficit, it has more than enough leeway to back up the P56B for the pension hike plus the alleged projected P16-26B SSS deficit.

How convenient — or deceptive as the case may be — for SSS executives to belatedly come up with such a humongous figure of 16-26 billion pesos in fund deficit that would purportedly run the SSS fund to the ground in 13 years.

This report apparently stunned and scared Pres. Aquino — during the four years the bill was being deliberated apparently he took no notice of it and its supposed dire implications — into action. He obviously took the SSS executives’ word hook, line and sinker, enough for him to issue the politically unpalatable veto

Thereupon the entire Malacanang propaganda machinery was made to work overtime to spread the scare to the rest of the public, most especially to SSS non-pensioners who the Aquino administration wants to dupe into believing that there will be nothing left for them when it is their turn to retire.

Big business honchos, top-caliber professionals in the financial sector and neoliberal academics and pundits who think government subsidy is anathema to the “free market” have swallowed the bankruptcy scare hook, line and sinker too. One wonders why they have chosen to suspend their usual sharp analytical abilities in this instance.

The reason is not hard to fathom. They regard the SSS not as a social fund but as a huge capital fund that one necessarily subjects to actuarial studies regarding its projected life.
Thus the point is reduced to how to ensure that more comes in than what goes out.

Yes, even as hundreds of billions of the SSS fund are a plump source of income for a train of fund managers, stock brokers, investment bankers, accounting firms and the like.

In the final analysis, the two sides to this issue amounts to a class divide. The less in life can’t understand the reason for the presidential veto. Those who can nonchalantly spend 2000 pesos and more on dinner-for-two at a fancy restaurant can’t appreciate the clamor for a pension increase in their lifetime.

Published in Business World
1 February 2016