13 March 2008
Reference: Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, Chairperson
Contrary to the statement of national security adviser Norberto Gonzales, the worst is yet to come for the embattled Arroyo regime. The worsening economic hardship, intensifying repression, and persistent corruption allegations will continue to feed social unrest and fan political instability.
Gonzales declared Wednesday that the “worst of the political crisis is over” and Mrs. Gloria Arroyo has survived the $329-million broadband corruption scandal.
Gonzales ignored the impact of deteriorating poverty on the hold to power of Arroyo. The latest official poverty incidence report disclosed that between 2003 and 2006, more than one million Filipinos are added every year to the number of poor or three million for three years. This further undermines the ability of Arroyo to govern as an increasing number of people feel that the government is not addressing their economic concerns. This will enhance the isolation of the Arroyo regime from the people.
Trends indicate that the worsening economic hardship will persist in the coming months. Unprecedented oil price increases, almost simultaneous hikes in the prices of basic food items and in water and power rates will continue to erode wages and income. Ordinary families could barely afford even half of the cost of living while more than 10.8 million people are either jobless or underemployed. At the global level, the looming US recession has yet to take its full impact on the local economy. But once it does, expect a serious production slowdown that could mean higher unemployment and poverty.
There are also no signs that Arroyo will depart from her current pro-market and anti-people economic policies. She could not afford, for example, to let go of the regressive value added tax (VAT). While the VAT contributes to high prices of basic goods and services, it is also the most reliable source of revenues for the bankrupt regime.
On the other hand, the repression of the Arroyo regime of legitimate protests for economic and political reforms is becoming more vicious. The brutal dispersal of protesting workers in front of the Labor department on March 6 shows the readiness of the regime to use more violence to preserve itself. But this only fuels the people’s outrage and determination to fight for justice and reforms.
Meanwhile, the public perception that corruption under the Arroyo regime is chronic remains pervasive and will continue to hound Arroyo. A Pulse Asia survey in October 2007 shows that Arroyo is perceived by most Filipinos to be the most corrupt president. This has been confirmed by a recent survey conducted by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) that ranked the Philippines as the most corrupt country in Asia.
The combination of worsening poverty, increasing repression, and continuing efforts to cover up corruption provides the condition for the lingering unrest and more protests.
The people will not remain passive amid the current political turmoil. They will take action once they realize that their plight is being aggravated by the wrong economic policies, repression, and corruption of the Arroyo regime. This will further strengthen the growing movement calling for a change in the national leadership and for meaningful political and economic reforms.
Gonzales and the entire Arroyo clique should not take comfort in the coming long holiday break. It could be the proverbial “calm before the storm”.##