CONTRARY to Malacanang’s claim, Filipinos, particularly the poor among them, gained nothing from the just concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, a Church leader and a political analyst said.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the public affairs committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), on Friday said 26 years after APEC was founded, some 1.7 billion people are still living in extreme poverty in the region.
Pabillo noted that also 26 years after APEC’s founding, poverty has only worsened as reflected in a study conducted by Ibon Foundation, which showed 933 million people are earning less than $2 per day; 1.5 billion rural dwellers are without safe drinking water and access to basic sanitation; 63 percent of the world are hungry; 60 percent of the region’s work force are in informal work; 21 million children are not enrolled in primary school; 7.1 million are living with HIV; and 8 million are infected with tuberculosis.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple, executive director, Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, told the Church-run Radyo Veritas that the Philippines would get no direct benefit from the agreements forged by the region’s leaders from their 239 brainstorming sessions and earlier sub-ministerial meetings in Iloilo, Boracay and Cebu prior to the APEC leaders and senior ministers’ meetings.
Casiple explained that the APEC summit was not a “policy-making summit” but a simple gathering and meeting of the 21 heads of state of APEC member-economies.
“Actually, it [summit] has no direct benefit because it was not a policy meeting. The heads of state just updated themselves. They just discussed the common trends, it’s called entry points. Whatever topics they have discussed would most likely result in another series of meetings,” he said in Filipino.
But Casiple pointed out that the APEC summit was important because it was a backroom-level discussion on the latest trends in Asia Pacific but that it has no immediate impact in terms of policy of the participating governments.
According to Bishop Pabillo, the government wasted P10 billion in taxpayers’ money, an amount, he said, better spent on basic services and other programs aimed at alleviating the plight of the teeming poor in the country.
“We do know what we benefited from APEC because definitely, it did not alleviate the lives of the Filipinos. They even suffered more. It’s true that the income of the Philippines has increased but who benefited from the income of the Philippines? It’s not Juan dela Cruz,” the bishop said.
Pabillo added that the Aquino administration spent P10 billion to prop up its image before the eyes of the visiting heads of state but only a miniscule or almost nothing was set aside for the needs of the poor Filipinos.
He said the Aquino administration presented no concrete platform on how to improve the country’s economy.
Urban poor group Kadamay said the P10 billion APEC hosting budget could have fed every hungry Filipino family for at least 20 days.
In a statement, the group claimed that the APEC meeting will only worsen hunger and poverty in the country as it cited “neo-liberal policies” that had actually burdened local economies in previous decades.
“If used to feed the 3.46 million hungry Filipinos, the P10 billion APEC fund could eradicate poverty in the country for at least 20 days,” Gloria Arellano, the group’s national chairman, said.
Unless the government can immediately awaken residents of Metro Manila and the suburbs from the nightmare they suffered during the APEC week, the experience will derail the chances of Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd and other administration bets in next year’s elections, former National Treasurer Leonor Briones said.
“They have six months to make up, to make people happy so that they can forget all about the nightmare they experienced,” she told The Manila Times.
Briones said the entire APEC event was a “folly” because it failed to “impress” foreign visitors and only drew the ire of affected Filipinos, who were “sacrificed” by the government.
“We cannot fool them if we only want to impress. They know for a fact what is really the situation on the ground because they have their consulates and embassies here. We cannot pretend to be something we are not because we cannot hide anything from them,” she explained.
While the government freed roads for exclusive use of APEC delegates, the reality remains that hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were forced to report for work on foot under the blistering sun while the same number of motorists got stuck in horrendous traffic jams.
“Sino ba ang niloloko nila [Who are they fooling]?” Briones said, adding that the experience will definitely affect the people’s perception about Roxas and other administration candidates.
Prior to the APEC summit, Malacanang had been under attack for its failure to solve the traffic problem and the perennial troubles that beset the railway systems in Metro Manila.
‘Think of benefits’
Malacañang also on Friday asked the public to look at long-term benefits of the country’s hosting of the APEC summit.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Aquino administration understands the “differences in viewpoints” on the heels of criticisms from the public.
“Good governance requires that decisions are based on what would be beneficial for the country and what would best serve our people’s long-term interest,” Coloma said in a text message.
No estimates on the amount of business and opportunity losses were cited by the government in its post-event assessment of the APEC meeting.
But Coloma pointed out that revenue losses because of Manila’s APEC hosting will eventually be recovered.
“Looking at the big picture, losses incurred this week will be recovered eventually in terms of continuing and sustained growth and development of the Philippine economy as a favored investment and tourism destination,” he said.
Coloma added that the Palace is always prepared to sit down with its critics for intelligent discourse.
“We are willing to engage all stakeholders in meaningful dialogue as well as consider suggestions for improvement. Reasonable criticism is always welcome in a healthy democracy,” he said.
WITH NEIL ALCOBER