The irony of the D&E electoral choice

PHILIPPINE STAR/ RUSSEL PALMA

Isn’t it ironic that the D&E socioeconomic classes, the very sector that needs social and economic reforms the most, are the stronghold of the Marcos and Duterte UniTeam.

We all know that the Marcoses and Dutertes are political dynasties. They are supported by the Arroyos, the Estradas, and the Romualdezes, all of whom are dynasties too. And since Marcos and Duterte have the lead in the polls, numerous dynasties across the archipelago have pledged their support for their political survival.

Given the composition and background of the UniTeam, it is highly unlikely that reforms to democratize wealth will be realized. Political dynasties will do what they have always done — consolidate influence for the family even at the expense of vital reforms. I reckon the future, under the UniTeam, will be a status quo situation where the narrow elite control the power and wealth of the land while the majority are given just enough not to revolt.

Why then is Marcos-Duterte tandem the seemingly preferred candidate for the D&E classes? The answer lies in the shortcomings of post-EDSA reforms.

However, sweeping the Aquino and Ramos reforms were to re-establish democracy and re-boot the economy, it fell short when it came to uplifting the lives of the poor. The majority of those who were poor in 1986 remain poor today.

Consider these statistics. Despite the economy expanding by 13.5 times its size in 1986, the wealth of the nation remains concentrated with just 143,000 households or a mere 0.6% of the population. According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, this razor-thin elite enjoy incomes of between P2.5 million to several billion pesos annually. Meanwhile, 5.6 million households live below the poverty line, earning less than P10,481 per month. Nine million households live from hand to mouth, earning between P10,481 to P20,962 per month. The middle class, or those who earn between P20,962 and P208,000 a month, comprise the balance of households.

Acute income inequality has led to widespread discontent among the masses. And this, dear reader, is the reason why the Marcos-Duterte tandem is immensely popular. For those that live below or slightly above the poverty line, a vote for Marcos Junior is a rebellion against the status quo. It is a clamor for radical change since the reforms enacted by the revolutionary government failed, as far as they are concerned. Again, its ironic.

In fact, the sentiments of discontent triggered by income inequality were already apparent as far back as 2016. Despite record economic growth fostered by the former President Noynoy Aquino, the masses gravitated to Rodrigo Duterte and his invective-laced battle cries. Mr. Duterte’s foul mouth reflected the anger of the disenfranchised masses.

There are a multitude of reasons why income has not trickled down to the masses despite the seeming success of the Aquino- Ramos reforms. For expediency and lack of space, let me distill them to three.

The first is a failure of the Local Government Code of 1991. The author of the law, Senator Nene Pimentel, had good intentions. The idea was to devolve the powers of the national government to the local governments. This way, they could be the masters of their own fate as far as economic development, environmental protection, healthcare and social services are concerned.

Unfortunately, 31 years after the enactment of the law, most LGUs remain poor and dependent on the national government for their sustenance. Poverty remains rampant and the delivery of social services remains wanting. Worse, the absence of an Anti-political dynasty law led to local government officials cornering political and economic powers within their respective bailiwicks.

Political dynasties are at the heart of income inequality. In the Senate, 16 out of the 24 members belong to dynasties as are 70% of the members of Congress. Among local governments, 73 out of 80 provinces are controlled by dynasties.

Statistics show that the average incidence of poverty in provinces controlled by dynasties is a staggering 29.15% while those not under dynastic control stand at only 18.91%. Abject poverty is at 2.31% in dynastic bailiwicks and only 1.96% in non-dynastic localities.

Most dynasties are ineffective. Why? Because when members of the same family occupy multiple positions within a city or municipality, most are likely to consolidate power in a pseudo monarchial manner. In such a setup, the preservation of power becomes the priority, even more important than social and economic development itself. Painful but necessary reforms are avoided as they erode political equity. Adoption of populist policies becomes the norm at the cost of stunted development.

The second is the failure of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). While CARP succeeded on a political level, it failed to arrest the continued drop in agricultural output.

CARP resulted in an average farm size of one hectare with a maximum holding of five. Worsened by an inefficient cooperative system and expensive farm inputs (seeds, fertilizers, machinery), farmers were relegated to subsistence farming characterized by low output, low income, and zero bandwidth for expansion.

The third failure is the protective economic provisions of the 1987 constitution. Stiff restrictions on foreign investments have deprived our people of a vibrant manufacturing sector that could have provided high-income jobs, complete with benefits and security of tenure.

All this is not to say that the Cory and Ramos governments were not successful. It was Cory who dissolved the Marcos-controlled Batasan Pambansa and replaced it with a bi-cameral legislature, duly mandated by a brand-new constitution. Human rights were upheld anew and enshrined in the constitution. Mass media and freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly were re-established. Thanks to her, we now have the right to due process if arrested, the rights to privacy, to information and to protection under the law, among others.

For his part, Ramos succeeded in breaking down monopolies and opening up industries to competition. He embarked on a massive privatization program that allowed us to enjoy relatively reliable electric power, water, air transport, and telecommunications today. He restored economic competitiveness through a series of reforms under the Philippines 2000 agenda.

But all these do not matter to the sector that still lives from hand to mouth.

The Marcos-Duterte campaign spent billions to associate their greatest rivals, the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem, with the post-revolution governments of Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Noynoy Aquino. By association, the poor blame the “pinks” for their misery.

But unbeknownst to the D&E, it is Robredo-Pangilinan who has articulated their intent to disrupt the status quo. They vowed to enact the Anti Political Dynasty Bill, the Freedom of Information Bill, the Full Disclosure Policy Bill, the People Empowerment Bill, and the Participatory Budget Process Bill. These bills are game-changers that will redistribute wealth, allow more participative governance, and espouse transparency.

As we cast our votes today, let us hope that the D&E classes get what they truly deserve — a government that will raise them up from poverty and narrow the chasm that exists between the elite and the poor.

Andrew J. Masigan is an economist

andrew_rs6@yahoo.com

Facebook@AndrewJ. Masigan

Twitter @aj_masigan

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