LIBERALISM: MORE POVERTY & CORRUPTION


Prof. Erle Frayne D. Argonza

University of the Philippines

 

Good afternoon, fellows!

The Liberal Party in the Philippines has been bandying lately the good governance agenda. Philosophically bankrupt, the dogmatists of the party could at best parrot the verbiage of university academics who, in reductionist fashion, associated the development problems of the country to bad governance.

Poverty had alarmingly risen from 25% in 2001 to 32% today, as per government statistics. This came at a time when the economy doubled, GDP-wise, and the country had been dubbed as an ‘emerging market’. Can poverty be factored solely to bad governance, as liberal quacks now claim?

Whether the so-called ‘think-tank’ of the Liberal Party or LP possesses the comprehensive grasp of the country’s problems is doubtful. A ‘think-tank’ that is theoretically bankrupt could at best be a coterie of mediocre dudes whose sense of originality in problem-solving engagements is nil.

There surely were episodes in our economic history when poverty expanded. We can concretely site the following periods: 1983-1996, when poverty incidence rose from 35% in ’83 (Marcos era) to 49% in ’89 (Cory Aquino era) to a 60% peak in ’95 (Ramos Era); and, after a period of radical drop, moved up again in 2001 through 2009, from 25% (‘01)to 28% (’04) to 32% (‘09).

The 32% poverty incidence may not even be accurate. As Prof. Cielito Habito (Ateneo University) sited in his newspaper column, the figure could be a high 35%. My own intuitive assessment is that the figure could be much higher at around 45%.

Those high-poverty episodes were actually periods when the country was under the IMF programs’ tutelage. They were times when liberal policy reforms were radically implemented in the country, to note: liberalization, privatization, deregulation, tax reforms, reduced budgets for social services, currency devaluation, wage freeze, and increased utility prices.

Not only did we witness the expansion of poverty during the same episodes, we also saw the rise of corruption. Weak regulatory frameworks at a time of rising total budgets redound to liberalizing graft as well, resulting to larger largesse for bureaucrats & legislators (returns from pork barrel allocations).

Let’s take the case of trade liberalization. As soon as tariff reforms were implemented in full during the Ramos Era, a whopping P300 Billion+ worth of import duties were wiped out, thus reducing revenues so drastically. With nil safety nets in implementation, the tariff reform saw millions of affected small planters, fishers, craftsmen, and farm workers experience large-scale income drops, thus instantly leading to larger poverty incidence.

As commitments to tariff reforms are now binding upon our state, based on signed treaties (ASEAN, WTO), regulatory frameworks for executing projects remain weak. This bad situation ensures the perpetuation of the take of bureaucrats on projects, from the past 10% ‘s.o.p.’ circa 1980s, to the gargantuan 40% today and higher rate tomorrow. E.g. a road project worth P1 Billion will be priced/budgeted at P1.4 Billion, with P400 Million allowance for the grafters (they call it ‘for the boys’).

Note that during the periods of extensive liberal reforms, Hacienda Luisita escaped agrarian reform’s surgical operations. Of course, the regulatory and executory frameworks of the agrarian reform law were so weak, so much that President Aquino’s family estate was accorded special treatment that it enjoys till these days.

Ipso facto, liberal reforms practically destroyed the already weak regulatory frame that we Filipinos have struggled so hard to build since the time of the 1st presidency yet (Aguinaldo, 1898-1900). Curbing poverty and graft, which indeed go together, requires draconian tactics of state interventionism or dirigism, not liberalism.

It is all too easy a kindergarten stuff to forecast that under a liberal regime, poverty will swell to higher incidence (beyond 40%). As budgets and projects increase, so will graft move up, probably eating as much as 60% of total appropriations at certain junctures.

The ‘walang korupsyon’ (no corruption) flaunted by the liberal quacks is nothing but empty propaganda. Bereft of creative approaches to diminishing corruption, the ‘walang korupsyon’ line merely re-echoes an age-old line of traditional politicians or trapos desperate to gain electoral victories by duping a gullible electorate.

‘Walang korupsyon’ isn’t even liberal nor populist a line, but hyper-conservative. Conservatism serves the interests of Big Business, Big Landlords, Big Church (biggest landlord in the Philippines), and foreign capital.

We are therefore not surprised that the leaders and groups representing Big Business, Big Landlords, Big Church (Jesuits, Opus Dei, bishops), and foreign capital have openly supported Noynoy Aquino & the Liberal Party.

The LP of the Philippines now appears more as a copycat of the fascistic Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. Don’t ever be surprised that both parties are good friends within the Liberal International league.

A liberal regime will most likely be saddled with enormous graft and poverty problems that, within a couple of years of its incumbency, patriotic soldiers and populist groups would alternately shake it down to rubbles. A veteran of civil society campaigns myself, I would most likely be marching the streets again to oppose moralist pretenders who are in fact greedy crocodiles.  

Liberalism doesn’t represent the interest of the nation and people, and should be rejected in the coming polls and the next ones to come.

[Philippines, 13 April 2010. Prof. Erle Argonza is an economist, sociologist, and international consultant. He’s a member of the very prestigious Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration or EROPA. See: http://erleargonza.blogspot.com; https://unladtau.wordpress.com, http://erlefraynebrightworld.wordpress.com.]

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