March 24, 2017, 12:11 pm
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The economics of a failed revolution

In the first place, maybe what we insisted on calling a revolution never was in the strictest sense. Seeing through the years what we had become -- those of us who reveled in the EDSA Revolution, ecstatic we had deposed a dictatorship with prayers -- the EDSA Revolution might have been, in reality, a dismal failure.

Self-reflection can be painful when what stares back falls short of expectations and in contrast might actually be the reality others see. 

Note how others might view our democracy. 

In 1986 we demonized a despot who choked us employing a dictatorial stranglehold that it took decades for us to grow the gonads to depose him. Since then we reverted, confronted now with the possibility of a diabolic political resurrection.

Since 1986, we’ve had two presidents accused of high crimes enough to jail them. After a few years we not only released them but we’ve reinstalled them in powerful positions.

Our political development actually worsened. Recently we picked a president whose reputation for violence might sit well with the reputations of such authoritarians as Baby Doc Duvalier, Pol Pot, and even Idi Amin.

Now note how others might view our economy.

Since 1986 we’ve failed to industrialize and instead established an economy essentially nothing more than a backroom after-sales office providing telephony support. If what sustained us prior to being a business processes outsourcing (BPO) economy was simply being a raw material supplier, via our dependence on BPO, we effectively remain as raw input suppliers.

Where we think we’ve industrialized, we didn’t. Note where mining is typically a seminal industrial catalyst, despite the  political power mining players wield data shows it contributes little to GDP, enhancing instead offshore industrialized economies while ravaging our forests and food baskets.

More than failed development, the manner we celebrate the EDSA Revolution is perhaps the most painful realization of a self-inflicted wound. Note that our most historically popular president chose not to celebrate EDSA himself. The snub was deliberate. Worse, it felt like a slap. 

It’s ironic. Had EDSA failed to unseat Ferdinand E. Marcos, we would not be enjoying the freedoms we carelessly enjoy. Without deposing the dictatorship Cory Aquino would not have been president. Nor would Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and Cory’s son, Benigno III -- the latter’s weaknesses and failures compelling us to elect Rodrigo R. Duterte. 

The EDSA unseating was successful only where it allowed us to choose according to the depth of our intellect and the sway and swings of our emotions. But was the EDSA Revolution just that, an unseating? 

One view of revolutions is that these result in a profound overturning of ruling classes. The socio-economic structure of the Philippines during the dictatorship years and what it is now are perhaps the best arguments that the revolution we thought we fought either did not take place or had failed miserably. 

Some economic indices bear these out. We are not referring to the disembodied GDP that misses out on critical metrics like the gap between the rich and the poor, hunger and inequity -- those that measure inclusive development. 

GDP improved. Even in the simplest macroeconomic growth graphs GDP eventually travels north powered by technological advancement and the inherent desire to be more efficient. Given three decades since 1986, whether governed by outstanding presidents, or among them, bungling buffoons, growth is assumed and dips, naturally corrected.

Between 1986 and  2016 poverty incidence did indeed fall to between 21 percent to 28 percent under Benigno Aquino III, albeit those mimic Estrada’s target in 2004. GDP growth increased from 3.2 percent to 7.1 percent. External debt fell and interest burdens decreased substantially when, under Arroyo, debts were either paid down or refinanced, eventually leading to the ballyhooed ratings Aquino boasted of when he inherited Arroyo’s economy. Tragically however, per capita GDP remained lowest in the region while coup-cursed Thailand, our economic twin, registered over 2.20 times ours.

Unemployment, also the worst in the region among even lower GDP growth economies, improved from 1986 as the government changed its benchmarks but the bigger problem of underemployment remained substantially between 25 percent to 33 percent. The most alarming however is the labor participation rate under Aquino’s final year. Those looking for work in 2016 were 63.4 percent. In 1986 it averaged lower at 62.9 percent.

Where revolutions impact on inequities EDSA failed miserably. The Gini Coefficient that measures inequality worsened under Aquino registering 43.1 percent compared to 41.04 percent in 1986.

That gap should not have happened. Yet it was allowed to grow by a dispensation that cared little and had no empathy for our poorest subsisting at the bottom rung of the index despite the GDP growth that skirted them. The gap shows  the last presidency that could have and should have resurrected the economic promise of EDSA, simply pampered its upper-crust plutocracy. 

After 1986 we crawled away from a debt-driven economy and GDP grew. But only for the rich. From 1986 the worsening inequity shows how government fails when it prioritizes the interests of cronies in the case of 1986, and in 2016, the “kaklase, kaibigan and kabarilan” coterie under Aquino. If the EDSA celebrations were largely ignored last month it is because the last plutocratic administration hammered the last nail on its coffin.
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