(This article was published in the Commentary section of the Nov. 16, 2015 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)
This week, Manila will be clogged not only with heads of state, senior ministers and business leaders from 21 countries, who will be here for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit. Adding to the bedlam will be labor unions, farmers’ associations, indigenous peoples, urban poor groups and activists of all sectors, stripes and nationalities protesting the Apec and the global economic system it stands for.
Under the banner of #PHFightApec, at least five international conferences will be held by antiglobalization activists from all over the world as a counterpoint to the Apec’s various events. Add to this the numerous rallies, fora, workshops, cultural events and gatherings by people’s organizations and NGOs. They will all culminate in a big protest march in time for the Apec economic leaders’ meeting on Nov. 19.
Why all this objection and resistance? To put it simply, because the Apec’s thrust of global economic integration and the economic policies that underpin it—trade and investment liberalization, economic deregulation, and the privatization of public assets and utilities—have caused so much misery among the world’s peoples. Somehow, opening up the world’s economies to the full vagaries of the mythical free market has accelerated the so-called race to the bottom, with countries trying to outdo each other in providing the lowliest-paid laborers, cheapest raw materials and semi-manufactured goods, and most profitable markets for the benefit of the rich transnational corporations and their local partners that profit highly from such a system.
Meanwhile, globalization’s supposed rewards—unprecedented opportunities for wealth creation; greater access to health, education and technology; reduced poverty and inequality—remain an illusion for most of the world’s peoples.
Thus, whether in advanced capitalist countries, the emerging industrialized economies or semi-feudal neocolonies like the Phlippines, ordinary workers, farmers, indigenous peoples, professionals and small businesses, retirees and sectors dependent on government subsidy or support are reeling from the harsh impact of this corporate-driven globalization and are coming out in protest.
Take the case of the the Philippines. For the last 30 years or so, it has religiously implemented the Apec’s prescribed formula for development—starting with the International Monetary Fund’s and the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs in the late 1970s and 1980s; its institutionalization into laws and policies designed by the USAID-funded Agile (Accelerated Growth in Investment and Liberalization with Equity) program; to our government’s overzealous implementation of World Trade Organization agreements on tariff reduction and the lifting of quantity restrictions on imports.
Today, we are one of the world’s most open economies, with tariffs on agricultural and nonagricultural imports reduced ahead of everyone else’s, and now among the lowest in Asia. Such ultralow tariffs, coupled with massive smuggling and government’s lack of an industrial strategy, have seen the Philippines transformed into a service economy that can’t even feed itself nor provide enough products for local consumption. As a share of the economy, agriculture production has plummeted to 10 percent of GDP, the lowest in history, while manufacturing has dwindled to 22.6 percent of GDP, the lowest in six decades. This is a tragedy given our country’s immense natural resources and human talent, which other countries are surely taking advantage of.
This failure to develop our production capacity has resulted in jobless growth, depressed wages and a dramatic rise in contractual labor. The highest minimum wage of P481 per day in the National Capital Region is not even half of the decent cost of living for a family of five, estimated at P1,088 per day. There is a job crisis, with 12.2 million Filipinos out of work or looking for work, and more than 4,000 a day leaving their families to work abroad. Worse, six out of 10 workers are either own-account or unpaid family workers, and 44 out of 100 are contractual or agency-hired, with little or no job security nor bargaining power.
The situation is even worse for farmers, farm laborers and fishers, whose average monthly income is a mere P2,000 per month.
Ironically, in the face of such joblessness and depressed incomes, the Philippines has one of the highest power and water rates in the world. Small producers pay usurious interest rates to creditors. Traders and middlemen make a killing from hapless producers and consumers. All these thanks to a policy of deregulation and allowing the private sector to turn government utilities and services into profit-raking businesses. To top it all off, we have among the highest income and value-added tax rates in Asia. Ouch!
Of course, there are some winners in this system: the global corporations, their local subsidiaries and partners, and small players who are either innovative enough or plain lucky to have linked up with a global value chain or found a niche market. However, the fact that poverty estimates have remained virtually unchanged despite all these years of growth show that whatever benefits there are have failed to trickle down to ordinary folk in quantities that make a difference.
And so the question facing us during this Apec Summit is this: Should we allow more of the same policies that have made us and most of the world’s people poor, oppressed and undeveloped?
This week’s cries of “NO!” are voices telling us of an alternative truth. They are the voices of ordinary people searching and struggling for a truly better world.#