The Disappearing Safety Nets and Our Diminishing Sovereignty Challenges facing the Civil Society Movement

 
Wigberto E. Tañada, Lead Convenor

Isang maalab na pagbati sa kaguruan at mga mag-aaral.  Gayundin  sa mga kaibigan sa civil society movement.  Nagpupugay din po ako sa lahat ng kababaihang naririto at nakikibaka para sa makatarungang kalakalan at makatarungang ugnayan sa buhay.   Indeed, the struggle for fair and just trade is also a struggle for fairness and justice in other spheres of social life, including the relations between men and women and those between the governed and those seeking to govern.

Ngayon, narito po tayo para pag-usapan ang ilang mahahalagang usaping pangkabuhayan at pangkalakalan na natabunan ng mga usaping pampulitika. Mahalagang malaman natin kung papaano mareresolba ang krisis sa pulitika.  Kung sino nga ba ang mamumuno sa bansa.

Subalit huwag nating kalimutan – magbago man o hindi ang Administrasyon, nahaharap ang ating bayan sa isang malalim na krisis pangkabuhayan. Limang milyong walang trabaho. Anim na milyong alanganin ang trabaho. Mahigit sa 50 porsiyento ng mga pamilya ang naghihirap.  Kinse (15) porsyento ng mamamayan ay dumaranas ng gutom.  At marami ng mga pabrika at negosyo kundi man nagsara ay nagbawas ng trabaho.

We are in a period of deep political and economic crisis. So much uncertainty and instability surround our society.

It is clear that the political crisis hounding the nation today is deeply intertwined with our economic crisis. In fact the economic crisis is fueling the political crisis, and to a great extent, vice versa.
My friends, with your permission, let me now discuss two disturbing developments which I think require a decisive response from all of us.

Our disappearing safety nets

The first development is related to our disappearing safety nets.

As a backgrounder, in the 1994 Senate debates on whether we should join or not the WTO, I took the position that we needed more time as our industry, agriculture and the economy in general were not yet competitive and thus not ready for fuller economic liberalization.  Ang sagot po ng Senate majority, kasama na ang kasalukuyang Pangulo ng bansa, ay huwag kayong mag-alaala. May safety nets para sa mga manggagawang mawawalan ng trabaho.  May training at livelihood programs para sa kanila.  May safety nets para sa mga magsasakang apektado ng imports.  May government assistance para sa agricultural modernization, marketing ng mga produkto sa sakahan at iba pa.  At may safety nets para sa industrial at iba pang producers.  Maglalabas ng batas laban sa biglang pagdagsa ng mga imports (o safeguards law against import surges), batas laban sa pagtatapon sa ating palengke ng labis na  kalakal ng ibang bansa (o anti-dumping law), at batas laban sa subsidized imports galling sa mga developed countries  (o countervailing duty law).

Now where are these safety nets?  What is their status?

Yong mga safety nets para sa trabaho, training at livelihood ng mga displaced workers, nakasulat po pala sa tubig —  sapagkat wala naming badyet.   Gayundin din ang safety nets para sa mga magsasaka.  Minsan nga, para lamang may maireport, isinama ng budget secretary ni Ramos ang mga flyovers sa EDSA na kabilang sa safety nets sa agrikultura.

Kaya, ang tanging safety nets na naiwan ay ang mga batas laban sa import surges (safeguards), dumping at countervailing duties.  Mga batas na naipasa limang taon pagkatapos ng ratipikasyon ng WTO.

Our affiliates in industry and agriculture have exerted efforts to get protection from  these   safety net laws, mainly the Safeguard Measures Act or RA 8800.  These laws are meant to level the playing field against the unfair trading practices of other countries, which are abetted by the greedy and unsconscionable attitudes of certain importers and corrupt  government officials.   At this point, let me stress that our local producers have huge handicaps, which the full implementation of the safety net laws can never cure.  Masyadong tagilid ang laban ng ating mga local producers sapagkat walang government assistance gaya ng ginagawa ng Malaysia at Thailand para sa kanilang mga negosyante at magsasaka, mataas ang cost of doing business and farming sa atin, sobrang baba ng mga taripa para sa mga inaangkat at sobrang taas naman ng buwis para sa mga lokal, talamak ang smuggling na hindi nagbabayad ng buwis, at halos walang opisyales na nagmomonitor sa unfair trade practices ng ibang bansa.

Gayunpaman, matiyaga ang mga industry and agriculture affiliates ng FTA.  Kahit magastos, bumababad sila sa customs para magbantay ng mga smuggled goods, nagmomonitor sila ng mga importations at presyo ng mga commodities at pumupunta sa Tariff Commission, DTI at DA para itulak ang mga ito na gamitin ang mga batas sa safety nets.   Trabaho ito ng gobyerno, pero nagiging trabaho ng local producers.  Ito ang dahilan kung bakit nagsasampa sila ng mga kaso laban sa import surges sa semento, bakal, ceramics, gulay at iba pa.

But now a sad development has taken place.

Two weeks ago, our Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and sustained the decision of a lower court restraining or stopping the executive branch in enforcing  the Safeguard Measures Act or RA 8800, the safety net law that allows farmers and industry to get temporary relief against the predatory trade practices of other nations through safeguard tariffs, on the ground that it is unconstitutional. Shocking, terrible, appalling – frankly, I am at a loss for words to describe this turn of events. For the truth is that globally, nations aggressively protect their domestic industry and agriculture against the unfair trade practices of other nations through the enforcement of similar safety net laws.  The WTO itself recognizes the inherent right of member countries for such laws.  Clearly, such a decision of the highest court can only happen in a country called the Philippines.  This decision is one for Ripley’s believe it or not.

Ten years ago, when we lost the WTO Treaty ratification battle in the Senate, we also went to the Supreme Court. We raised the threat of fuller liberalization wiping out local industry and agriculture and globalization under the WTO favoring the imports.   The Supreme Court’s answer —  our fears are baseless, for they assured us: ‘safety nets are readily available’  for our affected farmers and manufacturers.

But some seven years after the said decision, here comes the Supreme Court, the same court which declared that safety nets were available,  now telling us that we cannot  avail of the safety nets because there is a need to protect the rights of the importers and their ‘workers’.  How many workers do these importers have compared to local industries?

The safety nets law are the last remaining protection for our domestic industries and agriculture against unbridled liberalization. Striking them down should never be an option. Other countries do not think or even dare do this. In fact, they use the safeguards as frequently as possible. For example, when steel imports to the US were eating into the market of US steelmakers, Bush immediately imposed a safeguard of 30 per cent. When the US prawn industry complained of injury due to the entry of Vietnamese prawns, Bush gave a safeguard tariff of 105 per cent. What is clear from the US behavior is that they protect the interests of their manufacturers and farmers first and foremost, no ifs and buts.   Imposing safeguards is an automatic response to any import surge, while in the case of the Philippines, applying a safeguard measure for any hurting industry is literally like passing through the eye of the needle, made narrow and impenetrable by the anti-Filipino perspective of certain officials in all three branches of the government.

The cha-cha threat

This brings me to the other sad and disturbing development – the campaign to change the Constitution and purge it of the few remaining ‘nationalist provisions’, ostensibly to promote more investments, jobs and growth.

As we all know, Malacanang is using cha-cha to insure its political survival. But worse is that it is also promoting cha-cha  to fast-track the further de-nationalization of the economy, an agenda that is spelled out in chapter 25 or the last chapter of NEDA’s Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for 2005-2010.  I will limit my comment on the economic aspect of this issue.

You know, I can not appreciate the logic of those proposing to remove the nationalist provisions in the Constitution in the belief that the country would reap more benefits through more of the same kind of liberalization it has been implementing in the last three decades. Have these proponents forgotten that the Philippine economy is one of the most open in Asia and in the world today?  We have eliminated thousands of imports from a list of restricted items.  We have reduced our tariffs way ahead of many ASEAN and Asian countries, so much so that our tariffs now are just a third of those of Thailand and much lower compared to China, India, Vietnam, South Africa and Brazil.   We have opened the economy to foreign investors by coming up with a Foreign Investments Act with a short negative list, meaning only a few areas of the economy remain restricted to foreign investors.  We have even de-nationalized the retail and distribution sector, which means Wal-Mart can now come in anytime.  We have, on the initiative of Senator Gloria Arroyo, broadened the meaning of condominium to mean buildings, facilities and land, which foreigners can lease for 50 years renewable by 25 years.  This is a total of 75 years, which are longer than the average life span of a Filipino in these crisis-ridden times.

And yes, we have been throwing one party after another, dangling fiscal and other incentives, for foreign investors to come in.  And yet, they do not come to us, except the speculators. They  have been going to China, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and other countries which maintain very restrictive laws against foreign land ownership and  foreign control of public utilities, media and advertising, the  areas of the economy which our cha-cha proponents say should be pried open, as if foreign investors can not go into these economic activities via the 60-40 equity sharing, the BOT schemes, the service contract agreement and so on.

What I am really saying is that the cha-cha proponents, especially those from NEDA, are trying to fool the nation by saying that more liberalization is good.  But a one-sided and unilateral liberalization has never been good to us, as reflected in the state of local industry, agriculture, employment and poverty now gripping the lives of millions of our people.

The problem is not cha-cha.  The problem is we are not implementing what the Constitution mandates. Section 19, Article 2 of the charter provides: “the State shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos”.  We have not complied with this because we have surrendered economic policy making to the IMF-World Bank group and we have rushed into economic liberalization in a pell-mell fashion.

We, at the Fair Alliance, are firmly against the Constitutional change because the primary intent of those behind the initiative is to take away the policy of economic nationalism enshrined in the Constitution. It is strange that our policymakers are so bent on purging the Constitution of its nationalist economic provisions, when in fact it was the absence of economic nationalism in economic governance that is at the roots of the present economic crisis. It is not the nationalist economic provisions that are blocking foreign investments to come in. The high cost of doing business and farming in the Philippines, the gaps in infrastructure, the lack of economic support structures, the corruption in the government and the lack of dynamism in the domestic economy, these  are the main reasons why investors have not come and are not coming to the Philippines.

The truth is that our economic planners and policy makers, with their dependence on foreign advisers and lenders, never bothered to implement the Constitutional mandate to develop a progressive and balanced economy effectively controlled by Filipinos. We never tried to develop a self-reliant and independent economy. We never observed economic nationalism, and yet it is economic nationalism which is now being blamed for our economic backwardness.  This is a typical example of neo-liberal doublespeak.

We, at the Fair Trade Alliance suspect that the real reason for economic cha-cha is to make the Constitution compatible with the demand of the developed countries to open up our service sector.   Tapos na ang industry sector liberalization, at tuluy-tuloy naman ang agricultural sector liberalization.  So services naman, in the name of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services.   What do they want opened up?  Everything, starting with the real estate market, public utility operation service, media and broadcast, and so on. Tatamaan din po ang education   service, health service, water distribution service, power distribution service, grains stabilization service and so on and so forth. GATS derogates the power of the State to regulate or intervene in the market for services and requires member-states to open up service industries to foreign players, who should be treated like the nationals. .

We need to expose the anti-Filipino thrust of cha-cha. We must educate the legislators and the larger public on the true causes of our economic misery and backwardness, which are both rooted in the unilateral and one-sided liberalization imposed by the IMF-World Bank group.   We must   push our trade negotiators to resist a one-sided GATS-liberalization.   Hindi dapat maulit sa services ang sakunang nangyari sa industriya at agrikultura.

Conclusion

Sa pagtatapos, sana ay hindi ito ang ating huling pagkikita.  Marami tayong dapat gawin.

Unang-una na, ibalik ang nawawala nating soberenidad sa kabuhayan.  Sa cha-cha, lalo itong mawawala.

Ikalawa, igiit natin at palawakin ang safety nets.  Walang silbi ang pamahalaan kung hindi nito kayang magbigay ng safety nets sa sarili niyang mamamayan at producers.  Dapat baliktarin ng Supreme Court ang mga nabanggit niyang desisyon na yan.

Ikatlo, dapat nang itakwil ang neo-liberal economic ideology na gabay ng pamahalaan nitong nakaraang tatlong dekada.  Puro kapahamakan lamang ang ating inabot.

Sobra na!  Tama na!  Palitan na!
—————————

Speech delivered during the Forum: “Nationalist Domestic Regulation under Intense Globalization held at Max’s Restaurant, Elliptical Center, Quezon City on August 29, 2005.

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