Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Poverty of Memory - A Constantino Book

Business Mirror, February 24, 2006

Of extraordinary exploits, Filipinos have had plenty recently to speak of. Three insurrections in the last two decades. Two toppled governments, one failed. A fourth upheaval, maybe a fifth, or a sixth,continues to nervously peek from the horizon; each one is unsure of its raiment: will it be the sunset of the old order or a recycled sunrise of the moribund? Hard to say.

"I am not afraid of coup attempts. The military now is very professional," said the fearless Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on March 10,2001. Every year and virtually every month in the Philippine president's term has been plagued with coup threats while barbed wire, police and palace soldiers in full battle dress have materialized with remarkable frequency to guard the unafraid presidential citadel.

We are reminded by the highest officials of the land that the bickering must end and that it is time to unite so that the reform program of the government is not derailed. Reform is such a noble purpose. Reform the government. Re-form the oligarchy. Re-form the gangster economy. Reinvent elite rule.

Everything seems to change with the exception of two things: the sustained decay of Filipino living standards and the continued pursuit in the country of virtually the same economic programs: slay local snakes in order that bigger alien serpents may enter. Sell the country's crown jewels. Barter away the air, water and land. Open up the economy ahead of everybody else.

Restructure, reengineer, re-tool the countless,nameless denizens in order to remain in the infamous global race to the bottom, a race where winning means losing and fitness means decay.The more spins change, the more they remain the same.The economic fundamentals of the country are strong goes the mantra.Investor confidence is growing. The Philippine economy is on the vergeof takeoff.

In the Philippines, it seems up is down and down is up and we still keep mistaking cliffs for runways. Unfortunately, the consequences are real -at the bottom of each precipice lie the broken lives of too many Filipinos, recording for posterity the fact that neither peace nor prosperity has chosen to visit the Philippines in recent memory.

When the government tells us the country's economic fundamentals are strong, exactly whose fundamentals is it referring to? According to a recent survey, 57 percent of Filipinos today consider themselves poor - a figure higher than the 55 percent register in 1983, when the economy was in severe crisis during the twilight of the Marcos dictatorship.Today there are places in the Philippines where the child malnutrition rate is higher than North Korea’s worst places.Today, around four million preschool children are underweight for their age while three million adolescent Filipinos are underweight and fivemillion are chronically energy deficient.

According to the Philippines Free Press, an estimated 28 million Filipinos are today unable to buy food to meet their basic nutritional requirements. Reality bites but our young ones can't: over 15 million Filipino students have tooth decay today. There is only one dentist for every 22,261 students while the government’s dental health budget per student is 50 centavos a year.Today, jobless college graduates outnumber jobless elementary and high school dropouts.

Today, the Philippines ranks third among the top migrant-sending countries in the world, behind India and top-ranked China - the world's two most populous countries. From 380,000 overseas Filipino workers in1986, the number is now hovering around 10,000,000. And our export of Filipino working people - our greatest asset, the country's largest investor - is still rising because it seems to be easier than crafting real reasons for them to invest their lives and hopes here and stay.

Wow Philippines: a recent United Nations report recently avowed that the Philippines is actually an attractive a place to do business in - as attractive as Iran, Iraq and Kazakhstan. In 1994, advocates of haphazard, blind, aimless free trade in the Philippine Senate - led by then senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo -promised the creation of half a million new jobs a year in industry, in addition to the creation of another half a million new jobs in agriculture annually should the Philippines decide to join the World Trade Organization.

For years, the Philippines offered its best sons and daughters to blond-haired priests and their brown-skinned acolytes who sang hosannas about the paradise that awaited those who opened their economies.Curiously, while the Philippines faithfully worshipped at the altar of free trade, members of the developed world - along with the ranks of rapidly developing nations that were clear about where their national interests lay - continued to nourish, even cosset, their local agriculture and industries.

Today, in place of promises are collapsed and collapsing industries and agriculture and joblessness. In place of promises, hunger and resentment stalk the land while crime shadows its every move.As the affluent chew on fresh rumors of popular bedlam, not a few of them pray that the emaciated working person's dream of emancipation remain in the realm of dreams.

Each rumor is chewed to pieces by the wealthy, fearful they may choke on the embedded suggestion that the wretched this time will realize there should be more to people power than just changing the faces of those who rule. #

The article is part of Constantino's forthcoming book, The Poverty of Memory: Essays on History and Empire, which will be launched on March24, 2006. Comments are welcome at red_constantino@yahoo.com.

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