Later this month, the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) enter their third round of talks under the Duterte administration. Foremost in the agenda is the second substantive agreement – the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).
NDFP Peace Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoli has labeled this the “crux” of the peace process. Indeed, the resolution of the age-old problems of chronic poverty, gross inequality and underdevelopment is at the heart of the 48 year old communist-led revolution. An agreement that addresses these issues will be the agreement that will shape all past and future agreements. It will be the key to resolving the armed conflict.
In this round, the burden of proposing alternative solutions to the country’s myriad of social and economic problems falls on the NDFP. They are, after all, the ones who have been fighting for radical socio-economic reforms to the extent of taking up arms against the government. More than providing a critique of past and existing economic policies, the NDFP is expected to present a set of concrete and doable policy reforms that will lead not just to a prosperous but a just economic system for the country.
NDFP’s robust proposal
A peek at the NDFP’s draft agreement certainly points to this effort. It is a truly comprehensive document, 84 pages long and counting, covering practically all aspects of the economy. It is composed of a preamble and six main parts, the most substantial being Part III on “Developing the National Economy,” Part IV on “Upholding the People’s Rights,” and Part V on “Economic Sovereignty for National Development.”
The document paints a stark assessment of the current socio-economic situation, traces the worsening problems of underdevelopment, mass poverty and social inequity to the neoliberal economic framework of the last three and a half decades, and proposes a radically different, nationalist and socialistic model of development to be jointly pursued by both sides.
Among the key reforms proposed by the NDFP are:
- An agrarian reform and rural development program premised on the free distribution of land, cooperativisation, farm mechanization and the development of agriculture-based rural industries;
- A Filipino-first industrialization program based on agriculture but directed towards the building of heavy industries, with light industries as the bridge. The program includes provisions on nationalizing strategic industries, integrating regional and sectoral development, developing local industrial science and technology, development financing, and even the participation of the New People’s Army (NPA) and mass organizations in industrial development.
- An environmental protection policy that heavily restricts large-scale mining and marine wealth extraction, prohibits the exports of logs, bans the patenting of life, and ensures the wide participation of local communities in ecological protection and management.
- A comprehensive and rigorous policy of protection for the social and economic rights of the working people and other vulnerable sectors, namely: peasants, farmworkers, fisherfolk, workers and semi-workers, professionals, OFWs, women, LGBTs, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Also included are guarantees for the public’s right to basic services and utilities like social services, education, health, housing, water, energy, mass transport, communications, waste management and disaster preparedness and response.
- Policies to promote Filipino culture, including the promotion of the arts and literature, advancing the rights of educators, media practitioners, artists and cultural workers.
- Greater guarantees for the rights of the national minorities to their land and culture, including the right to self-determination, economic development and non-discrimination.
- A whole set of policy reforms on trade and investments as well as on finance, monetary and fiscal policy aimed at ending the country’s colonial trade relations and establishing a relatively independent and self-reliant economy. This includes rejecting harmful neoliberal economic policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and World Trade Organization (WTO) and establishing better ties with neighboring countries in East Asia as well as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries.
The robust proposal from the NDFP actually adopts a number of proposals from the National People’s Summit held in June 2016 that presented a 15-point “People’s Agenda for Change” to both the GRP and the NDFP.
Sure to applaud the NDFP’s proposal are the marginalized and impoverished classes and sectors in Philippine society who stand to gain from such sweeping policy changes. Expected to vehemently oppose are those tied to oligarchic and foreign interests who have much to loose in terms of economic and political clout.
The GRP’s desired outcomes
In contrast, the GRP has proposed a generalized set of “Desired Outcomes” to include the following:
- Rural equality and development to achieve food self-sufficiency and security;
- A sovereign, self-reliant and industrialized national economy;
- Protected and rehabilitated environment, just compensation for affected populations, and sustainable development;
- Social, economic and cultural rights of the working people upheld and discrimination eliminated;
- Sustainable living for all;
- Affordable, accessible and quality social services and utilities;
- Sovereign foreign economic policies and trade relations supporting rural development and national industrialization; and
- Monetary and fiscal policy regime for national development.
No details were given as to how the desired outcomes would be achieved. These could very well have been lifted from any policy paper churned out by the neoliberal-oriented technocrats in the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) or undergraduate students in the UP School of Economics.
The great debate
In the last round of talks last October, both panels were able to come up with a common outline for CASER which basically merged the outline of the NDFP’s draft agreement with the GRP’s list of desired outcomes (see Annex A of the October 9, 2016 GRP-NDFP Joint Statement). But there is much work to be done and acrimonious debates are expected before a final agreement is forged, hopefully within the year. Even as the talks progress, both sides are expected to continue consulting with stakeholders to further refine their proposals at the same time generate public support for their positions.
The government side will, of course, insist that there is nothing inherently wrong in its existing social and economic policies and that problems of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment can be solved by simply implementing current neoliberal, market-oriented policies at a faster and more efficient manner. The government’s official response to any challenge to its economic dogma is to say that on the contrary, we liberalized our economy too little and too late.
Just like previous governments, the Duterte administration aims to further open up the economy to foreign trade and investments, privatize public assets and utilities, and remove all constraints on private businesses. In other words, allow private (ideally foreign) capital to rule and relegate government’s role to keeping the peace, ensuring the rule of law, and providing safety nets for the poor.
The NDFP, on the other hand, rejects neoliberalism, repeatedly points out its failures even in advanced capitalist countries, and offers a diametrically opposed framework for development. It will insist on developing local, Filipino-owned industries, massive public spending for development, greater government control over the economy, and comprehensive programs for wealth redistribution and social welfare.
The GRP will probably concede on some items – like increasing wages, ending contractualization or lowering income taxes. But they will resist key proposals on limiting foreign investments, the nationalization of key sectors, genuine agrarian reform and the re-establishment of state-run enterprises and utilities.
Many may not be aware of it, but what is at stake in the peace talks is the economic future of the country. The implications of CASER will be felt not only by constituents of the NDFP but by all Filipinos.
(This article was first published in rappler.com on January 12, 2017.)