Poor Filipinos are so used to bad leadership that, a few years after the fact, there is only a vague recollection of the trespasses committed by a particularly bad leadership. Take the case of Mr. Aquino. The extremism of Mr. Duterte has the effect of dulling the brain, addled by a lack of nutrients in the first place, of the many trespasses committed by Mr. Aquino under his six years of unfettered and unapologetic Social Darwinism.
Good the horrible dengue vaccine issue jolted our dulling memory on the many sins committed by Mr. Aquino and his government. What we said after his exit from power in 2016, that the years 2010 to 2016 were the “Lost Years” for people outside of the circle of wealth, power and privilege, was duly remembered.
How brutal were the Aquino years for people like us, like in our case, the peasantry? This peasant will recall what he can recall.
Mr. Aquino – this is on record – used the Napoles scam for a full-blown assault on the small farmers. Believe it or not, his first act after the unraveling of the scam was not taking up steps to lock up the perpetrators. That came later. What he did, first and foremost, was to cut off the token subsidies to small farmers: seed subsidies, production support etc. The small farmers were the prime victims of the scam. The Napoles Gang organized fake, farm-sounding and farm-oriented “cooperatives” to receive the SAROs from the legislator-crooks and used fake farmers as beneficiaries of the non-existent proceeds.
Yet, Mr. Aquino and his gang lumped up the victims – the small farmers – under the category of perpetrators and punished them heavily. For being victims, for God’s sake.
The scrapping of the token subsidies for farmers amid an environment that was skewed against the agriculture sector in general and small farmers in particular, was unprecedented. No President before Mr. Aquino has done what Mr. Aquino did – take away the crumbs from small farmers. And he even attempted to merge the Land Bank with the Development Bank of the Philippines to create a state-owned megabank, and to do away with Land Bank’s original mandate of lending to small farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries.
In contrast, Mr. Aquino’s investment people took time before scrapping the tax holiday granted to poultry, feeds and piggery business put up in Central Luzon by the largest Thai conglomerate, the CP, which is controlled by the richest man in the Asean region.
Smuggling of agricultural commodities, from rice to the various meat products, surged to unprecedented levels during the time of Mr. Aquino. The Bureau of Customs data on agricultural commodities that came in was dramatically lower than what global shipping data and UN trade data reported. The difference was the smuggled portion and that was quoted in billions of dollars a year. In the case of my backyard hog farm, I had to rely on OFW remittance to keep the losing farm and prevent the dislocation of the five breadwinners that depended on it. The farm group SINAG has complete files on the massive smuggling of agricultural goods during Mr. Aquino’s six years in power.
Rice importation was also reckless and uncalibrated. It was estimated that the volume of rice that came under the MAV and the legal imports exceeded 2 million metric tons a year under the six years of Mr. Aquino. With the smuggled rice, that came to 3 million metric tons a year.
But what was probably the signature act that demonstrated his contempt for the small farmers, that heavily depended on government programs and funds for survival, was his appointment of a former House seatmate and a former public works contractor, Proceso Alcala as Department of Agriculture secretary. Mr. Alcala was a kontratista in politics, with the least qualification to handle the sensitive DA portfolio. True to form, Mr. Alcala’s last quarter in office was punctuated by a negative 4.4 percent growth for the agriculture sector.
If there was a consuelo de bobo for small farmers, it was the fact that Mr. Aquino lumped all small people, those outside of the circle of power, wealth and privilege, into the general category of deplorables.
Mr. Aquino vetoed the “ tokens” Congress had passed in the name of the Everyman without hesitation and remorse. His infamous veto of the draft Magna Carta for the Poor, on the flimsy and baseless reasoning that it would bust his beloved budget, was to be followed by his serial refusal to grant anything that would benefit the small people, topped, near the end of his term, by his rejection of a tax break for the wage earners and a meager increase in the SSS pension.
So obsessed Mr. Aquino was with his screw-the-small people policy that a failed American presidential candidate known for his flat-tax policy and his general promotion of the plutocracy, Steve Forbes, wanted Mr. Aquino to be the US President.
Forbes represents the public face of the Republican Party’s favor-the-rich, reverse Robin Hood policies, and was overly impressed with the brutal Social Darwinism of Mr. Aquino.
Of course, Mr. Aquino screwed the small people to usher in a sort of Gilded Age for the PH superrich. While Mr. Aquino made sure that the remote communities with 74 percent to 84 percent poverty levels stayed that way, his governance also made sure that the elite families moved up for their wealthy status to an entirely new category of “those-who-can-buy-a-small country-rich.”
Mr. Forbes magazine has been tracking the wealth of the global elite and under Mr. Aquino, a handful of new names entered the list of global dollar billionaires. That Gilded Age, PH version, is the most inspired legacy of Mr. Aquino.