THE invocation of mass housing to blunt the powerful appeal of the Department of Agrarian Reform’s Ka Paeng for the imposition of a moratorium on land conversion is, by itself, a national tragedy. It pits the need of food security, which is a challenge to the poor and very poor, against the housing needs of squatters, which run into millions.
The debate on land conversion has degenerated into a Hobson’s choice—fire the father to retain the job of the son. There will be no ugly result at the end of the debate except an ugly one.
Or so a cursory analysis of the current debate would bear out.
What if the debate is not really about which, between food and farmers on the one hand and the needs of mass housing on the other hand, gets the priority from state programs? What if I pose this possibility—that the interest of the plutocracy is the one that drives that violent opposition to the moratorium. What if the vocal opposition to the moratorium is not really driven by the motivation to provide decent housing to some 5 million homeless families but to protect the interests of the super wealthy (dollar billionaires mostly) real estate giants.
They are not what ifs. These are true. Beneath the verbal scam of mass housing, is this: our economic managers and the real estate organizations are just fronting for the interests of the real estate billionaires, whose familiar names and corporate entities, have always graced the list of “40 wealthiest Filipinos.”
The imposition of a moratorium on land conversion will only have one very obvious result. The real estate giants will have to set back their expansion plans– which is to develop so-called “modern townships” and “integrated communities” across the three major regions, via the exploitation of farmlands, whether irrigated or non-irrigated, whether critical to food production or not.
What happens to their individual capex, P30 billion a year seems to be the minimum per real estate giant, that have been allocated to convert our critical food production areas into mazes of steel and concrete.
The anti-moratorium side of the debate is for the plutocrats and the economic managers and the real estate organizations are just fronting for the interests of the super wealthy.
If we were to write a chapter on what was the dominant story of the first six months of Mr. Duterte, it was not the triumph of his campaign plank to protect the small people and respond to the alienation of the vulnerable in society. It was about the failure to rein in the plutocracy.
The next five-and-a-half years, unless the full force of the original Duterte planks is given reality and life, will have a story that will run like this: The permanent triumph of the plutocracy.
Just look at the PPP, which was institutionalized by the previous government, to make sure that all the big-ticket infrastructure projects, from roads and bridges to airports and seaports, are done via the PPP, with the bids and awards process skewed toward the corporate giants that have the same names and owners as the real estate giants favored by the reckless land conversion.
Under the Aquino government, trillions of pesos worth of big-ticket infra projects were placed in the exclusive hands of a few. No medium-sized contractors, please. Nothing has changed under Mr. Duterte.
The PPP, as a mode of pursuing major infrastructure projects, has been dropped by many developed societies because of serious questions about its efficiency. The promised job-generation component was found to be a hoax. The efficiency of public funds use was found questionable and inefficient. And the rules of the PPP were found to favor only one side–the private sector partner.
For spans of 25 up to 50 years, the government cedes virtual ownership of the finished infrastructure project to the private proponent that then reaps giant returns though toll charges. Moreover, the terms of the PPP allow the private sector partners to increase toll rates at will and without consideration for the general good. It is a familiar story.
Over and above the guaranteed reign of the plutocrats, our daily news headlines read like this. “BOI grants perks to corporate giants.” And “SSS won’t increase pension without a contribution hike” In short, the plutocrats get what they want, even at the expense of revenue generation. The old and ailing pensioners? Who cares about these dregs?
Dutertismo needs an urgent reboot.
Mr. Duterte should go beyond his war on drugs to recapture the glorious moment of his campaign. That part about levelling the playing field, fighting for the interest of the vulnerable and granting the token social amelioration programs that Mr. Aquino rejected for fear that the grant would bust his beloved budget.
In short, Mr. Duterte should rein in the plutocrats. And halt their current march into a permanent triumph. While there is still time and while the political environment still permits the full implementation of the original intent of Dutertismo.