RIGHT after being sworn as prime minister and that was several months back, Justin Trudeau did two things. He raised the taxes on the Top 1 percent income earners then reduced the middle-class taxes. With a complementary program to modernize the infrastructure of Canada through aggressive public spending, there were doubts raised on the viability of his fiscal policies.
Here was his answer.
“Confident countries are willing to invest in the future, not always follow the conservative orthodoxy of balanced budgets at all costs.”
Now, make a compilation of the twisted, convoluted answers stated by the No-Ro (Aquino – Roxas) Bros in rejecting the small (very small really) tax break on the incomes of the ordinary wage earners, which now peaks at 32 percent. The arguments can fill all rooms of the Burj Khalifa, but at the end of the day, these arguments just mean one thing, hewing to the”conservative orthodoxy”on balanced budgets rejected by Justin Trudeau.
Does any other leader in the 21st century ever care about”balanced budgets at all costs”except Mr. Aquino and his like-minded counterparts in the US Republican Party? Seriously, none.
But what struck many of us was the out-and-out cruelty of the Aquino argument against lower taxes, as channeled by his surrogate – Mr. Roxas.” What programs will be sacrificed ? What pro-poor programs will be cut?” (The truth is this: the Philippine economy can both lower the taxes on the low-income earners and raise the CCT budget to P120 billion every year without busting the national budget.)
The “what are the programs to be sacrificed” quip pitted the really poor against the struggling wage earners, both part of the vulnerable sectors in this sad sack of a country called Philippines. We can add this: Cruelty and orthodoxy of the impossible kind in two brief sentences. Really, what kind of leaders would invoke this poor-versus-struggling argument to prop up the baseless decision that rejected a meager tax break? And hide the lenient tax policy on the very top income and corporate earners.
The Trudeau contrast is fitting. In 2010, we had the expectation, a great one really, that the victory of Mr. Aquino, would usher an age in politics exactly like the one being started by Trudeau in Canada right now – liberal, open and humane, more so toward the vulnerable. Or, at the very least, not stuck-up on the old paradigms and crippling orthodoxies.
We expected so much from Mr. Aquino in 2010 because, in his transition to adulthood, he saw his father behind barb wires of Laur, the military stockades, and before a kangaroo court that meted him a death sentence. And he was witness to an economy based on cronyism and coziness with a few oligarchs. That sucked up most of the income gains. The chosen few were also granted the legal franchises to all sorts of concessions, from mining to power and media, franchises that operated with no scrutiny and regulations.
Shuttling between the detention camps, we thought, would have given him an extra-ordinary sense of humanity, a deep concern for the helpless and the vulnerable, just like what Michele Bachelet of Chile learned – and drew life lessons from – during the years of the military dictatorship. We felt then that because his family suffered so much under martial law, Mr. Aquino’s first agenda would be to give voices and hope to the voiceless and the hopeless.
How wrong were we.
To the shock and frustration of the vulnerable who thought Mr. Aquino’s triumph was theirs too, Mr. Aquino made it clear early on that his government would be about pursuing nice charts on growth rates, credit upgrades and balanced budgets under the banner of a buzz phrase that can easily stand out in a slogan-writing contest in Pyongyang – Right Path.
The obsession with nice charts, which, more often than not, have no bearing on ordinary human lives, tailored the Aquino policies to the needs of the oligarchs who would benefit most from the spending of the OFW families and the BPO workers. Real estate boomed, the service sector boomed, the telcos made their play on the extraordinary spending on gadgets and apps of the hoi polloi.
Mr. Aquino, to be clear, was not a principal actor in the growth of the two pillars of the massive spending, the BPO workers and the OFW families, who would spend massively no matter what, and even with Mr. Aquino doing what the activists call “Noynoying.” Ka Blas institutionalized the OFW sector and it was Mr. Ramos who laid the groundwork for the opening of the country to BPO firms.
Mr. Aquino’s part was ensuring the unimpeded, unimpaired capability of the new oligarchs to do business. Mr. Aquino’s government, adhering to his favored 20th century Washington Consensus, made sure that the favored oligarchs got hold through fair or foul means of all the lands they needed for expansion under an inspired privatization program of government-owned lands in strategic areas of commerce. If not sale, the grant was through long-term and concessionary leases.
The latest measure of wealth says that 60 percent of income gains is sucked up by the top 1 percent, in a straight line to the top, the only vetted and fact-checked instance of the “straight path.”
President Aquino, this is the verdict of history, is a president for the 1 percent and is an “all-business” president.
We hoped for a Justin Trudeau in 2010 : unorthodox, open, fair and concerned with the lives of the underclass. We got the opposite.