The blandest reports from the UN often provide the most brutal counterfoil to swaggering government leaders who act and talk as if they were some colossus who have saved their countries from a perennial scourge and universal source of misery – massive poverty. It is these reports , notable for their neutral language and obvious lack of partisanship, that strike a dagger into the reputations of leaders who claim greatness based on benchmarks that have very little to do with lifting human lives.
Like Mr. Aquino’s claim that he has done great things and these things need continuity.
Example is the 2015 UN report on poverty reduction. Straightaway, the message of the UN report to Mr. Aquino and his swaggering technocrats is this: The Philippines is the Asean’s worst performer in poverty reduction. Seven countries in the region have done better than your country in what is universally acclaimed as the noblest mandate of a leader, which is to ease unbridled poverty. In the Asian continent, Sri Lanka, which used to be a basket case, has joined the list of countries that have dramatically reduced their poverty levels.
Thailand and Malaysia, countries that looked up to the Philippines just a few decades back, have managed to purge poverty from their societies.
I will provide what was unsaid by Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and his UN staff, the collective sense of the millions of Filipinos who have been invisible to Mr. Aquino. Three things:
1. Please, please rein in the hype and the nonsense about your supposed strides in changing human lives. Unbridled and abject poverty remains unchanged. We are poor as ever and six years into your leadership absolutely nothing has changed.
2. We know that we are not even part of your chosen constituencies. But as an act of tender mercy, quit bragging about growth rates and credit upgrades. These gloating grate on our open wounds. Our lives as miserable as they are right now, the last thing we need are your claims of economic robustness and your hectoring on integrity.
3. Frankly, we can’t eat growth charts and approbation from S&P.
There is a fourth message from us to Mr. Aquino. It is this: We do not care about “legacy” and “continuity.” Your pitch for your anointed presidential candidate is a broken record that you should not torture us with.
Shut off from the national conversation under Mr. Aquino’s supposedly “ inclusive society,” no one will heed our four messages. But it feels good to let them out. After the venting out, we need to do some explaining.
Outsiders with very little familiarity with the harsh realities of Philippine society are probably perplexed by the two diametrically opposed conditions. The Philippines is supposed to be one of the most resilient economies in Asia. Over the past several years, a six percent growth rate is even considered underwhelming. Yet, it is the worst performer in poverty reduction. It has an unresolved communist insurgency problem and we are all familiar with the social and economic conditions of societies with thriving insurgencies.. How can you square off robust growth and massive poverty probably the most glaring contradiction in any society?
Or this: Why is it that a few wealthy Filipino families own roughly $75 billion and more than 10 million families suffer from daily involuntary hunger?
The story of poverty in the Philippine context has not changed in over a 100 years. Poverty has a rural face and the rural areas’ share of the poverty problem is 70 plus percent. Small scale farming is the economic lifeblood of the rural areas. This is precisely the area most neglected by Mr. Aquino.
After the pork barrel corruption story broke out, Mr. Aquino saw a chance to cut off the lifelines of the small farmers, the token state-provided subsidies. His first government order after the newspaper reports on the scam was to stop seed subsidies, fertilizer subsidies, consuelo de bobo to small farmers so to speak.
The fact that Napoles used fake farm-sounding cooperatives as fronts for the scam was never the fault of farmers. In fact, the scam’s primary victims were the farmers. But that didn’t matter to Mr. Aquino. He just used the scam as a twisted rationale to bludgeon small farmers.
To manage the Department of Agriculture (DA), the agency most vital to small farmers, Mr. Aquino (we think he wanted to play a cruel joke on small farmers) appointed not one but two secretaries. The regular secretary is Procy Alcala, a former kontratista ( public works contractor) and the co-secretary is Francis Pangilinan, a former komentarista (radio bloviator) who recently resigned to the general relief of our peasant sector. What solid grounding on agricultural management would a former kontratista and a former komentarista bring to the neglected sector? Nada.
If you think that would be the cruelest imposition of Mr. Aquino on us, the small farmers, wait till your hear this one.
In the preparations for the horrific El Nino that would start to ravage farmlands by next month, a slew of water conservation measures has been announced. The first one? No water for small farmers.
The small famers, as usual, will have to fend off for themselves. They will starve and suffer but Mr. Aquino will not be moved. Peasant lives do not matter.