Crafting development policies: Para kanino, para saan?*

Wigberto Tañada, Lead Convenor

Congratulations to PLCPD and its partner civil society organization for organizing this event. Hopefully, this conference will see a rich harvest of ideas on the right development policies that will benefit the 88 million Filipinos, specially the poor and the marginalized within our midst, and finally propel this nation to a higher, real and not illusory, level of development and prosperity.

I believe all of us gathered in this hall share the same view – the be-all and end-all of policy making is the development of our people. This is non-negotiable. The policies that we make should lead not only to the creation of more and better jobs and the delivery of more and better social services to our people, but also to the enlightenment and empowerment of ordinary citizens, ordinary Filipinos. They must become active agents, not passive objects of development. This means institutionalizing and broadening the process of information sharing, public consultation, multi-sectoral social dialogue, and public participation in the crafting and implementation of any policy.

This is precisely the problem we, at the Fair Trade Alliance, have encountered in the twin issues of the JPEPA and the RP-China deals. In both cases, there was hardly any information sharing and public consultation.

In the case of the JPEPA, it was the Alliance which first brought to the attention of the globalization committee of the House of Representatives the existence of a draft Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement, which the DTI had refused to divulge and furnish the legislators with a copy thereof. It was also the Alliance which saw the zero-tariff treatment for the different wastes Japan could export to the Philippines. We immediately shared this list with our friends from the legal and environmental sectors. As it has turned out, ang dami pa palang problema ukol sa JPEPA. One-sided in favor of Japan, who will enjoy a large range of flexibilities like having around 300 tariff lines exempted versus ten or so for the Philippines. On the other hand, minor gains for the Philippines. And worse, this sets a bad precedent in trade policy making, which China, US and other countries will certainly use in seeking similar concessions from the Philippines.

In the case of the RP-China deals, the problems associated with JPEPA like lack of transparency resulting in the failure of the executive branch to communicate and to consult with the public, the farming sector in particular, are even more glaring. We got copies of the one-sided 19 agreements in the most indirect way, largely through the help of a few government officials who are deeply bothered by the implications of opening up 1.24 million hectares for the direct management and cultivation by the Chinese. This is more than one-tenth of the Philippine agricultural area of ten million hectares. This is not
land colonization; this is colonialism of a new type.

Kaya, napananahon ang kumperensiya na ito para salain, tilad-tilarin ang mga patakarang kailangan ng bayan.

To repeat, development is not just for a few but for the benefit of all the people. This is the idea behind asset reform or wealth redistribution, including the need to continue agrarian reform and make it fulfil the Constitutional vision of agrarian reform as the cornerstone of agri-based industrialization and balanced rural development. Development policy must singularly focus on the economic, political and social well-being of all Filipinos. National development must promote human development in all aspects and dimensions of life. As Gunnar Myrdal put it: “Development is a movement of the whole social system upward”. In short, development must be holistic, integrated and broad-based. This is why the feel-good macroeconomic data released by NEDA on the GNP have become meaningless because many Filipinos continue to suffer from poverty, experience hunger, and remain socially and economically marginalized. Dapat lahat ng Pilipino ay sakay ng barkong namamayagpag, di lumulubog, sa dagat.

Development policy must also be coherent and progressive.

In the economic sphere, we have seen how so-called development policies were crafted without any clear human development framework. The result is an anemic and crisis-ridden economy. The army of workers in the informal sector keeps growing. The hollowing out of the formal economy is also continuing as we see more factories either closing down or relocating abroad. Agriculture continues to stagnate. From a net agricultural exporter in 1993, we have become an agricultural net-importer starting 1995. This year, the Department of Agriculture is importing over two (2) million metric tons of rice, the highest in the country’s history. Is this the way to achieve food security and agricultural sovereignty in the country? These are all testimonies to the grand failure of the economic technocrats to build a modern and progressive economy based on their narrow concept of development – that growth automatically happens when the market is liberalized and opened up. Unfortunately, they have translated this narrow theoretical construct as the platform for development policy making, from the l980s to the present, with a lot of nudging from the IMF-World Bank group. Look where we are now?

The challenge therefore, as UNDP says, is how to build a trade regime that is not just balanced and equitable but also actively combats poverty and promotes human development. UNDP also argues that trade liberalization does not totally lead to self-sustaining growth and poverty reduction. Proactive policies must be developed to achieve the larger goal of expanding human development and combating poverty through a critical engagement with all the sectors. The operational words here are proactive and engagement.

While we see the important role that the government has to play in seeing to it that trade benefits the people and society, the role of civil society and the private sector is also critical. As pointed out by Myrdal, in his theory of “cumulative causation”, government involvement – whether by planning, socio-economic engineering or effective demand management – must be regarded as a critical tool for economic development. But we also say that we cannot let the government solely run our lives. The private sector and the civil society must share the burden of governance. For instance, government intervention is important in achieving a competitive state for its industries and agriculture but industry organizations and farmers’ associations must proactively contribute to the modernization of their sectors as well.

And yet, the government has misinterpreted competitiveness with trade liberalization and less government intervention under the framework of market-oriented development. This “misinterpretation” is very clear not only in the never-ending crisis of the industrial and agricultural sectors but also in the context of the debt problem of the country and how our national budget is structured. The policy of the government, from the time of Marcos to present, to finance development through foreign loans has negatively distorted public investments on social and public services. As a result, the percentage share of all sectors, except debt servicing, have been decreasing. Interest payment alone eats up one-third of the budget. In particular, severe cuts in public expenditure to give priority to debt payments have negative implications on public investment for the modernization and upgrading of infrastructures such as agricultural irrigation and post harvest facilities.

Because public investment has been eroded as a result of debt servicing, essential services to the Filipinos have been neglected. The MDG scorecard for the Philippines in the areas of poverty, health, and education are symptomatic of this policy. In particular, efforts towards national development have been severely impaired. Since more resources are allocated for debt payments, less and less resources are being allocated to agricultural productivity, improving governance and modernizing the infrastructures (e.g. power, ports). It is not surprising, therefore, that the Philippines has remained uncompetitive vis a vis other Asian economies and a many of our fellow Filipinos continue to wallow in poverty.

Ano po ngayon ang dapat nating gawin?

Because of the failings of the government and its neo-liberal technocrats, we at the Fair Trade Alliance have come up with our own policy road map dubbed as the Nationalist Development Agenda or NDA. The takeoff point in the NDA is the need to promote trade and development in a holistic and pro-Filipino way. Development must not be sacrificed for the sake of trade liberalization, and that any trade liberalization measure must be calibrated to our level of development.

Second, our people must fully and meaningfully participate in making the society grow and expand. Third, through tangkilikan, we can reinvigorate people’s productive capacity. In other words, our country will have real development if we put people at the center of development and if the role of the people in the development process is enhanced.

Finally, I believe that not only a serious review but also a revision of our economic and social policies is long overdue. After three decades of neo-liberalism, where are we now? What is the state of human development? Nasaan ang tao? Nasaan ang Pilipino?

Kung walang pakinabang ang ordinaryong mamamayang Pilipino sa pag-unlad, anong uri ng patakaran mayroon tayo? Anong uri ng governance mayroon tayo?

Pilipino naman, ngayon na!

Maraming salamat.

—————————
* Speech delivered at the 2nd National Multisectoral Policy Conference on Population and Human Development organized by the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, August 15, 2007, Heritage Hotel, Pasay City.

To download a copy of this speech in .pdf file, click here.

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