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2 Trillion Pesos: Rice to feed Filipinos for the next 3 decades or cold bullets from the US?

2 years on as President, where is Ferdinand Marcos Jr. taking the Filipino people?

Contributed by Jezrel V. Curambao and Joshua Reyes

DESPITE facing severe social and economic problems, such as skyrocketing prices and impoverished living conditions, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has approved a massive military budget for the defense department. A total of PhP2 trillion will be allocated to the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) modernization project over the next decade. Even under the current economic woes of the Filipino people, such as extremely high rice price, this amount could provide the people’s staple food for 31 years. Considering the impact of the rising costs of living, it becomes imperative to assess the feasibility and affordability of a PhP2 trillion military budget.

Living cost is skyrocketing but household income continues to dive

While the defense sector is undeniably important, it is crucial to strike a balance that does not burden the Filipinos too much. Since Marcos Jr. took office, the domestic inflation rate has continuously risen, from 2.4% in 2019 to 6% in 2023, doubling in just a couple of years. This also means that the people’s costs of living keep rising. According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the domestic consumer price index has increased from 102.4 in 2019 to 145.97 in 2023, representing a 42.2% increase in prices of daily necessary goods. Even non-staples such as mangoes, which used to sell for about 88 pesos per kilogram in 2019, now costs 125 pesos per kilogram.

Going back to rice, the Philippine Rice Research Institute reported a sudden increase in retail rice prices under Marcos Jr. From 38 pesos per kilogram in 2016, it has risen to the current 46 pesos per kilogram, an increase of 19%. And it is expected to increase even more this year.

In contrast, the employment rate remains consistently low while the poverty rate has also increased. The situation is far from optimistic. Unemployment rates under President Marcos’s administration are much higher than pre-pandemic levels, with many young people facing the dilemma of unemployment and low wages. According to the PSA, the youth unemployment rate in the Philippines in 2023 is 10.5%, with approximately 12.14 million young people without jobs and income. As the mainstay of the Philippines’ economic development, the youth could use more policy and financial support. Additionally, PSA data also show, for the first quarter of 2023, the percentage of the population below the national poverty line is 22.4%. This means that there are 25.89 million people in the country whose daily income is lower than 126 pesos (approximately 2.15 US dollars). The PhP2 trillion military budget should be used to provide more education resources and opportunities for the unemployed and impoverished people, particularly the youth, to stimulate economic growth and create job opportunities, or to ensure the basic livelihoods of the extremely poor population.

Another important consideration is the potential impact on essential sectors such as education and health. According to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the education department has been given Php710.6 billion in 2023. However large this sum appears on paper, it shows it is woefully inadequate in light of a 2022 World Bank reports that nine out of 10 Filipinos aged 10 cannot read and understand simple age-appropriate text. In comparison, the defense sector this year receives PhP285. 69 billion, significantly increased from P203. 4 billion allocated in 2023. If the education sector consistently receives such large increases year to year, the existing education crisis may finally be addressed. It is important to carefully consider the potential trade-offs of prioritizing the military over social services. Such a policy compromises critical sectors that directly impact the well-being of Filipinos.

Due to the low wages, soaring living costs and, there have been frequent eruptions of protests within the country. For example, our jeepney drivers are struggling to make ends meet, yet Marcos administration, disregarding pleas from affected transportation sector workers, has decided to implement the controversial for Public Utility Vehicles Modernization Program that requires the surrender of individual jeepney franchises. This policy has placed immense economic pressure on these drivers and has already incited multiple protests over the years. We ask, why are many government programs so heartless to the poor?

An urban poor community symbolizes state of millions of Filipinos. (Kodao file photo)

Unrealistic budget will lead to more foreign debt

Not only is the proposed PhP2 trillion military modernization budget unaffordable, it will also bring unprecedented financial pressure to the government. The modernization budget is a special fund separate from the defense department’s annual budget. In 2023, the program already received an allocation of PhP28 billion, and this year, that figure has grown to PhP40 billion. Over the next 10 years, expenditure on this project will dramatically increase to PhP200 billion annually. Additionally, the Marcos administration has made significant purchases in recent years, including a 375 million USD BrahMos cruise missile deal with India and a 1 billion USD patrol vessels deal with South Korea, all of which need to be paid in the coming years.

Based on the current economic growth and government fiscal situation in the Philippines, meeting this additional military expenditure of PhP2 trillion within 10 years would come at a huge cost. According to the 2023 government budget report, planners initially expected the Philippine economy to grow between 6.5% and 7% in 2024. However, as of now, the first-quarter economic growth rate for 2024 has only reached 5.7%, and the annual growth rate is likely to be only 6%. Additionally, this year, the global interest rates from both the US Federal Reserve and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas are quite stable, which means that the borrowing costs for the Philippine government will be higher than expected, and the fiscal deficit is likely to increase. It is very difficult to make predictions about the future development of the Philippine economy over the next decade. In the past two years, the GDP growth rate during the President Marcos administration has continually declined, dropping from 7.6% in 2022 to 5.6% in 2023.

According to the assessment by Southeast Asian trade and economic expert James Guild in May, given the fiscal situation in the Philippines in 2024, it is impossible to afford annual military modernization spending of billions of dollars, and a PhP2 trillion military expenditure is more of a wish than a reality. To meet this budget, the government will have to resort to heavy foreign loans. However, the current time is not ideal for the Philippines to borrow for military procurement. In 2023, according to BSP data, the total External Debt of the Philippines amounted to 125.4 billion USD, approximately 9.8% of the GDP for that year. The pressure from foreign debt will ultimately shift to the people, and it is difficult to imagine how many people will go hungry and poor as a result.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is received at the White House by US President Joseph Biden and defense sector officials. (White House photo)

26 million Filipino lives are eclipsed by the interests of Marcos, US

President Marcos has decided to invest Php2 trillion of the Filipino people’s money in military expenses that would only enrich US arms dealers. Marcos is unwilling to allocate even a small portion of it to provide essential daily goods for the nation’s 25.89 million impoverished people, ensuring their sustenance, or to support improved education for 12.14 million unemployed youth. President Marcos is sacrificing the welfare of the Filipino people for the next three decades to satisfy his desire to please his US masters whose idea it really is to “modernize” the Philippine military in the service of Washington’s Indo-Pacific pivot against its imperialist rival China. This is not peace and we may be spending for an inter-imperialist war where the Philippines is just a mere pawn. Once war breaks out, the US can gain geopolitical interests at less cost to itself, while the Filipino people have to pay with their lives and endure poverty and underdevelopment for the next hundred years.

What does our country need at this stage? Is it the food supply for the nation’s people for the next 31 years, or the steel and bullets from the United States? #

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Jezrel V. Curambao and Joshua Reyes are freelance writers and were former University of the Philippines students passionate about political and social justice issues.

Opinions expressed in their contributed article above are entirely their own and may not necessarily reflect Kodao’s.

Fil-Am activists hound Marcos Jr.; accuse President of putting PH in crossfire of war

Filipino-American activists hounded President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who is in Washington DC for an official visit, protesting the Philippine government’s military deals with the United States of America (USA).

Staging rallies at the White House and at the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel where Marcos had dinner with some members of the Filipino community in the American capital, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-USA said the President’s visit signifies the “further selling out of the Philippines.”

The activists said Marcos’ visit are to secure deals to further enrich those in power and expand US military presence throughout the archipelago.

Marcos’ visit came at the heels of the biggest war games between the two countries and the approval of four additional US military sites under an expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

In a statement, BAYAN-USA said additional US military presence in Cagayan, Isabela, and Palawan provinces “will only put the Filipino people in more danger of being in the crossfires of war.”

Both governments have earlier denied that the new EDCA sites and the biggest war exercises between the two countries in history is connected with the Chinese government’s aggressive military actions in the region.

On his way to the United States, Marcos stated: “We will not encourage any provocative action that will involve the Philippines by any other country… We will not allow the Philippines to be used as a staging post for any kind of military action.”

BAYAN USA in return asked, “Have you not read the provisions of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement? Prepositioning equipment is clearly and has historically been part of war preparation.”

The group added that no assurances made by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs nor statements from Marcos that the president is allowing the country to be used as a staging post for war.

“The Filipino people must not allow this to continue,” the group added.

‘Ironclad military alliance’

In their White House meeting Monday, US President Joseph Biden reaffirmed US’ “ironclad alliance” commitments to the Philippines, “underscoring that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including the South China Sea, would invoke his country’s mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1952 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.

Both leaders also affirmed the importance of maintaining “peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait following heightened military tensions between the Republic of China and the People’s Democratic Republic of China.  

Biden and Marcos also talked about economic development, environmental protection, human rights, the war in Eastern Europe, among other mutual concerns.

With Marcos in his visit were former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, House of Representatives Speaker Martin Romualdez, eight Cabinet secretaries, First Lady Marie Louise Marcos and Rep, Zandro Marcos. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

REMEMBERING RANDY MALAYAO

Peace worker Randy P. Malayao would have turned 52 years old today had he not been assassinated in his sleep in January 2019. A victim of state terrorism many times over, he still sought peace by being a member of the Reciprocal Working Group on Political and Constitutional Reforms of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in its negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Here is how he described his torture in 2007 at the hands of the military.

‘Kalokohan ang P54.6-bilyon para sa retired military’

“Kalokohan ang P54.6-bilyon para sa retired military dahil hindi ito ang kagyat, at ang kailangang buhusan ng pondo ngayon ay ang produksyon ng pagkain at pag-angat sa lubog nang kalagayan ng mga maralitang sektor, laluna na ng mga magsasaka at nasa kanayunan. Bahagi na naman ito ng ‘Duterte Palpak’ dahil prayoridad na naman ang militar kaysa pagkain na pangunahing kailangan ng taumbayan.”Zenaida Soriano, Tagapangulo, Amihan

‘You messed with the wrong generation’: Daily protests pose strong challenge to Myanmar coup

By Global Voices Southeast Asia

The civil disobedience movement launched in response to the February 1 military coup has continued to gather support across Myanmar.

Communication lines have been intermittently disrupted since the coup and internet connectivity was totally cut off on February 6. When service was restored the following day, the world saw images and reports of massive pro-democracy rallies in the streets of Myanmar cities and towns.

Global Voices interviewed local researchers and foreign residents (whose identities have been withheld for security reasons) about the protest movement. One foreign resident shared this account from over the weekend:

The civil disobedience movement asked the public to go out in the streets on Friday [February 5]. The protests swelled on Saturday. Then internet connection was cut off in the country. Protests continued on Sunday until today [February 7]. Hundreds of thousands participated in almost all regions and cities. Police are deployed in the streets but so far no arrests were made. Protest is peaceful. Meanwhile the Than Pone is still being done every night at 8PM.

Than Pone—which means “iron buckets”—is the name given to the banging of pots to ward off evil spirits. Since the coup, collective pot-banging takes place  three times a day in some areas: at 8am, 2pm, and 8pm, for a total of 15 minutes.

Local researchers told Global Voices that many internet users “got pissed off that the internet was shut down and joined the protest.” One researcher had no internet at home so went out to meet a friend and ended up in the crowd.

They observed that people offered the police flowers, water bottles and snacks during the protest in Yangon on February 6.

These videos shared by the researchers offer a glimpse of the large protest in Yangon, the country’s largest city:

Disinformation runs rampant during internet shutdown

Disinformation has been rampant since the coup. One of the most notorious sources of disinformation is Radio Free Myanmar, which mimics the logo and naming convention of the news website Radio Free Asia.

Local researchers noted that verifying information became more difficult when the internet was blocked:

When you don’t have internet for two days, there is no way to verify those news. Even politicians starting to believe those are rumours.

They were referring inaccurate reports circulating outside Myanmar based on discussions taken place on Chinese social media platform Weibo, such as the military’s supposed readiness to repatriate Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, or that soldiers had staged the coup to protecting the people.

The symbol of the civil disobedience campaign is inspired by the Hollywood film ‘Hunger games’ three-finger salute. Photo supplied to Global Voices by local researchers, used with permission.

The researchers also reported that some Buddhist ultra-nationalists have been attempting to mislead coup supporters by claiming that the three-finger salute widely used in anti-coup protests is in fact a Muslim gesture that means “I am the son/daughter of Muhammad.”

Civil disobedience campaign gathers public support

The disinformation appears to be a desperate reaction by coup supporters as the civil disobedience campaign gains traction. Here are some photos depicting the defiance of many groups across Myanmar:

Even Japanese beer giant Kirin was forced to sever business ties with the military after the coup.

The Burmese Ghouls, a professional esports team that rarely comments on politics, publicly condemned the coup.

In response to the week-long protests, Myanmar military authorities have banned public gatherings of more than five people in some townships. The police also used water cannons to disperse a protest in Naypyidaw, the country’s capital.

These two recent developments will certainly affect the trajectory of the protest movement in the coming days. #

*With additional reporting from Global Voices’ Civic Media Observatory project.

  • This article is published by Kodao as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Students vow to fight police presence inside schools

Students held a rally at the University of the Philippines in Diliman last August 14 to condemn attempts by state security forces to place police and military forces in campuses. They were joined by other organizations from marginalized sectors.

Following Senator Ronald dela Rosa and interior secretary Eduardo Año’s demands that police and military presence be allowed in state universities and colleges to combat student activism, the students said such moves are in violation of their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights. (Video by Jek Alcaraz)

Galvez ill-suited as peace adviser—Karapatan

Criticism greeted Malacañan Palace’s announcement of President Rodrigo Duterte’s planned appointment of Carlito Galvez Jr. as Presidential adviser on the peace process, citing the general’s role in the collapse of the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights in a statement said Duterte’s decision to appoint the retiring Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff as peace adviser is nailing the door to peace shut.

“What will a high-ranking military officer contribute to the advancement of the peace process when the institution [he leads] has been largely behind the derailment and collapse of the negotiations?” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay said it is likely that the general will only turn OPAPP into the “Office of the Presidential Adviser on Preventing Peace.”

“War is business, and the military is adept at profiting from violating people’s rights,” Palabay added.

Malacañan said Wednesday the President is set to appoint Galvez as replacement to Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza who recently resigned “for failing to curb corruption in the agency.”

Duterte publicly fired OPAPP Undersecretary for Support Services Ronald Flores and Assistant Secretary Yeshton Donn Baccay of the agency’s Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program last November 26.

Before Dureza’s resignation, however, Galvez already announced he was keen on being a peace adviser when he retires from military service this month.

Prior to his appointed as AFP chief, Galvez was chairperson of the government’s Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

He said he used to visit territories controlled by belligerent forces in his 12 years as a military officer in Mindanao.

Karapatan, however, said Galvez is ill-suited to become a peace adviser because he actively and strongly opposed the peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP, along with defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana and national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

““The mercenary character of the military prevents them from understanding that peace is not merely the laying down of arms, but a condition that necessitates social justice,” Palabay said.

Palabay also pointed out that Galvez’s appointment will make him the seventh former AFP Chief appointed to key civilian positions in Duterte’s government.

 

Among other former AFP Chiefs-of-Staff appointed by Duterte are Esperon, Año, environment and natural resources secretary Roy Cimatu and social work and development secretary Joselito Bautista.

“Duterte may think he is keeping the military in line by doling out key civilian positions to military men, but he is further endangering the Filipino people. The control of the military over communities will heighten, insidiously using civilian agencies as arsenal against Filipinos themselves,” Palabay warned.

She added that Duterte’s militarization of the bureaucracy undermines civilian supremacy.

“This is how the Duterte regime intends to stay in power amid widespread protest and resistance – fear and repression to be manned by a set of military men kept loyal through the awarding of political favors at our expense,” Palabay concluded. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Mas gusto pang magbayad sa security’

“Ang kapitalista, mas gusto pang magbayad sa mga militar, sa mga pulis, sa mga security kaysa bayaran yung mga manggagawang pinakikinabangan niya.”—Nenita Gonzaga, Vice President for Women, Kilusang Mayo Uno