This tale begins on the battle cry of the NoynoyAquino campaign for the Presidency. It was loud, almost gaudy: “absent corruption there is no poverty – pag walang korap, walang mahirap.”
Whether people really believed this true or even agreed with the logic of the line is yet to be established. Maybe all they saw was a candidate who was not the plundering type. That seemed good enough for that political season.
Then, at last, after two years of intensely demonizing his immediate predecessor’s administration, the fearless President announced the end of corruption in government and the Philippine polity. A daily broadsheet banner-headlined the boast in a way that could not have been interpreted as a joke: ‘P-Noy: Corruption Over” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Vol.27, No. 146, Saturday, May 5, 2012).
The claim had been made many times before but this time it was trumpeted before thousands of international delegates participating in the Annual Conference of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Whether these bankers from around the world believed him or not or merely thought of him with surprise as yet another young traditional politician after all – also has not been established as yet.
The government official think-tank, however, was in no mood for politicking, only for polite talk. Reporting in the last quarter of last year, Celia Reyes, a Research Fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) and Aubrey Tabuga, a Supervising Research Specialist at the same institute, wrote:
Despite the Philippine economy having enjoyed one of its best growth periods in recent years [Arroyo to Aquino to date], the poverty rate continues to rise, putting a strain on achieving the Millennium Development Goal targets the country has vowed to achieve come 2015.
Inequitable growth across sectors and geographical units combined with various natural and man-made crises have produced some damaging results. Likewise, poverty-reduction programs designed without taking into account the characteristics of poverty have not helped…. Poverty in the Philippines is still very much an agricultural phenomenon. Unfortunately, the agricultural sector continued to decelerate.
The bottom line is this: growth alone is not sufficient to lift the poor out of poverty. The Philippines’ so-called ‘growth elasticity’ of poverty reduction is not only way below international standards but also below the average for developing countries. Higher income growth is of little help in reducing poverty because of the relationship between growth and poverty in the country.
The private think-tank side, sympathetic as it is to PNoy, nonetheless had to reveal “painful statistics” corroborating the line of these government social scientists. Dr. Mahar Mangahas of “Social Climate” column reported on May 12, 2012:
“Families rating themselves as Mahirap or Poor rose to 55%” (5/3/2012) and “Hunger at record-high 23.8% of families; Moderate Hunger at 18.0%, Severe Hunger at 5.8%” (5/8/2012). … [Thus] self-rated poverty rose by a large 10 points, from 45 percent in December 2011, and hunger was at a new high, albeit just 1.3 points more than in December 2011.
So, then, the logical interrogative pops up: must we take it that “lalong lumala ang korap sa pagkat lalong dumami ang mahirap?” [Must we say corruption must have worsened because poverty and hunger incidence are on the rise?]
Again – the coconut farmers
In any case, if, indeed, poverty in the Philippines is still very much an agricultural phenomenon, this gardener will not tire of pointing out that the most affected are small coconut farmers. And if PNoy wants to reduce poverty in the country, he can do so dramatically by uplifting this most impoverished sub-sector. For many long years they were the most highly taxed citizens in the history of the country.
The billions of nuts produced by hundreds of millions of coconut trees tended by close to four million farmers and workers and some twenty million dependents create so much wealth for a few global corporations and local creditor-traders while systematically impoverishing the majority smallholders.
There are funds wrung out of them in the time of the Marcos-Cojuangco-Enrile-Angara [ACCRA] era – tax funds now widely known as coco levy funds. What are these funds? Who owns them now? Can they not be used to create a new coconut industry – one that produces wealth for the many and not just for a few while continuing to supply the world with its growing demand for a whole diversity of coco-based wellness, energy, environmental and food products?
These questions are the subject of on-going consultations among leaders of coconut farmers’ organizations nation-wide. In Eastern Mindanao, in Bicolandia, in Central Mindanao and in Southern Tagalog (to be followed still by Western Mindanao and Eastern Visayas) coconut farmers’ organizations are making their position clear to PNoy. Can’t he just talk to ACCRA to back down? His PCGG is surely in no mood to go for an amicable settlement because they are so [wrongly] sure they can run roughshod over ACCRA that has produced three Senate Presidents to date: Enrile, Angara and Drilon.
And yet PCGG knows ACCRA can take its sweet time in the judicial world – as it knows as well how badly the peasant sector needs the money NOW. But compromise? Not during our watch – the present PCGG says. They forget that staying in court is precisely staying in the compromised mode declared by the first Aquino administration. Instead of using her revolutionary powers to unabashedly serve the people, she decided to let the Marcos cronies benefit from the new democracy – really the old oligarchic democracy restored.
Charles Avila -The Gardener
The Gardener’s Tales