THE country’s “ill-prepared” and “nightmarish” hosting of this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit has more “faults” to it than its perceived benefits as it dealt a heavy blow, among others, to Metro Manila workers and residents who were deprived of their rights to move conveniently around and to earn a living, according to renowned economic and political analysts.
In separate interviews with The Manila Times, both former National Treasurer Leonor Briones and Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER), claimed that the “economic cost” of holding the APEC summit in the Philippine capital far outweighs its perceived benefits that come in “non-binding” agreements forged between Manila and other APEC member-countries.
“The government was not ready to host APEC. Because they [in the government]wanted so much to succeed, they have to put on a grandiose show at the expense of the people. They sacrificed a lot and the affected people lost a lot,” said Briones, a professor emeritus at the National College of Public Administration and Governance of the University of the Philippines in Diliman (Quezon City).
According to her, the experience has left an indelible mark of suffering for ordinary folk who had to walk for hours to and from work.
She said the APEC summit aggravated the already precarious situation of residents in Metro Manila and the suburbs who have to contend with daily traffic and hellish queues at railway systems.
“The P10 billion spent by the government is understated. There are bigger losses than this. The people have been deprived of their human right to earn a living. I don’t think it’s right. It is a violation of their right to work,” Briones added.
At the outset, she said, preparations were only meant to “impress” and to boost the country’s image, something which the government could have done more effectively had the summit been held at a more convenient and practical venue.
In 1996, the APEC meeting was held in Subic Freeport, causing no disruptions at all to Manila, the nation’s capital.
Briones surmised that the organizers decided to hold the event in Manila over certain “concessions” from businesses that were to directly benefit from it.
“But how about the public utility drivers who lost their income? The lowly store owners who were forced to close shop? The street vendors who rely on their daily sales? The low and middle-income workers who had to walk for hours so that they can report for work? How can the government compensate them?” she pointed out.
Besides the gargantuan government budget for the event, airline companies had to cancel at least a thousand scheduled flights that cost them billions of pesos.
Traffic itself and the corresponding gasoline expenditures of motorists cost them a lot, too, Briones noted.
“Other countries that hosted APEC did not demand as much and they did not sacrifice their people for such a ‘bongga-cious’ [over-the-top] performance just to impress. In fact, in Bangkok [Thailand], tourists are even given the chance to taste local street foods as part of their come-ons. Can we quantify the amounts lost due to canceled meetings, programs and activities of middle-income workers?” she said.
Casiple echoed Briones’ assertion that for the government to “make up” for giving the people a hard time, it should produce tangible results from the activity.
“Whether the APEC summit will reap the benefits that it promised will have to be answered when the assumed benefits become a reality. Some of these benefits, such as prestige, are intangible and cannot be given a price,” he said.
Casiple, however, claimed that based on “immediate impact,” the international event only “caused havoc on the lives of residents of Metro Manila.”
For Briones, who had seen 26 APEC summits throughout her career in government, the “motherhood” and “general statements” made at the conclusion of each may sound attractive but forging these agreements are just the beginning of a long tedious process of seeing them come to fruition.
“Remember that these are all non-binding. They can either sign or not. They can agree now and disagree later. These have to be ratified by each country and most of the time, nobody can oblige any country to fulfill what was agreed [on]… Whatever happened to previous APEC agreements? Fact is, only half were ratified and implemented,” she said.
“So the questions we have to ask are: First, how do we benefit from it? Second, is it worth the sacrifice? The cost was very high and the impact on the people was very hard,” Briones added.