STREET ROUNDS – Last week, the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, commenced its 2015 meeting. Established in 1989 as an informal ministerial dialogue group where foreign and trade ministers meet, it is now on its 26th year of existence.
But what does this really mean to the ordinary Filipino on the street, in rural farms and, remote mountain villages?
APEC: THE ROAD TO PROGRESS?
The primary reason and purpose of APEC is to have a forum that will enhance the economic conditions of states. It seeks to “facilitate economic growth, promote cooperation among states, liberalize trade, and create of opportunities for investments in the Asia-Pacific community.”
Last Tuesday, President BS Aquino said in a press conference that their “mantra is inclusive growth.”
Very beautiful, encouraging, and hopeful words not only from our president, but also echoed by leaders from the world’s largest economies like the US, China, Russia and Japan.
On the eve of the APEC meeting in Manila, closure of major roads has brought hellish traffic to the great inconvenience of the riding public. But frankly, this is nothing compared to the greater suffering that awaits the poor and marginalized peoples of the APEC countries.
WHAT HAS APEC REALLY DONE FOR US?
Looking back at the past 20 years, the APEC’s overall goal of free trade and investments through trade and investment liberalization, business facilitation and economic and technical cooperation (ECOTECH) has brought prosperity, not to the masses, but mainly to the upper class business people and multinational companies.
With the tariff level in manufacturing goods falling from 26% in 1996 to 5% in 2012, and 36% to 10% for agricultural products, the country has become more and more import-dependent. This means we have been consuming imported products rather than buying our own produce simply because the former have become more affordable to the people.
As a result, the businessmen-importers of farm products such as garlic and onions, have been raking in huge profits at the expense of local farmers who end up being forced to sell their produce at below-break-even prices. In fact, the share of agricultural production in the country’s GDP has decreased from 21.3% in 1991-2000 to only 10.8% from 2011-2014. No wonder our farmers are disappearing fast, with the next generation opting to go to the cities or worse, become OFWs.
Is this a problem? Of course this is a problem and a threat to our future as a country! #FoodSecurity.
DO WE REALLY NEED FOREIGN INVESTMENTS TO PROP UP THE ECONOMY?
According to IBON Foundation, APEC’s facilitation of investment liberalization “has actually further pushed the country’s de-industrialization.”
Even with the entry of the so-called foreign investments, the share of manufacturing in our GDP has fallen from 25% (1995-2000) to its lowest average level in almost six decades at 22.6% (2010-2014). Despite this, transnational manufacturing corporations’ earnings accounted for almost 70% of the yearly total from 2004-2013.
Simply put, the money is going into the TNC’s coffers, not the government’s.
JOB CREATION? YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!
Adding insult to injury, foreign investments, while increasing annually by 54.6% for the last two decades, has not resulted to the promised job creation.
In fact, unemployment and underemployment rose from 8.3 million in 1996 to 12.2 million in 2015. And according to the labor department, around 2,520 small and medium Philippine enterprises have been closing down YEARLY due to economic liberalization.
In contrast, after two decades of APEC, the combined net worth of the 25 richest Filipinos (Php 650 billion) was equivalent to the combined income of >70 million poorest Filipinos. In 2015, their wealth even grew to Php 2.2 trillion.
APEC IS NOT GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE’S HEALTH
Faced with joblessness and decreasing purchasing power of their earnings – farmers, workers, ordinary employees, and small & medium sized enterprises can only expect more hardships if we allow APEC leaders to further implement its policy of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization.
Increasing poverty can only lead to ill-health and low-productivity. With government hospitals being eyed for privatization (e.g. sale of the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital to Megaworld of Mr. Andrew Tan), more sufferings await our poor countrymen. This means poor patients will be the ones supporting the coffers of the rich if and when government hospitals are sold to them.
WE MUST UNITE, EDUCATE, AND LIBERATE OURSELVES
Clearly, the government’s economic policies favor transnational companies and their cronies, who happen to belong to the upper crust of Philippine society.
If we want to see change for the betterment of our people, we must unite and resist their plans to oppress us.
But first we must educate ourselves and reach out to as many people as we can. Now is not the time to be complacent, to just sit back and be an observer. We must take extra effort to step out of our convenient life and join this fight for our people, our brothers and sisters in God.
It is now or never. No one will help us, but ourselves.
– Dr. Darby Santiago