EDSA and the Economy: 25 years after

By Sonny Africa | The 1986 People Power uprising created a moment of national unity and international credibility that could have been the starting point of real economic progress.

IBON Features — The anniversary of the first People Power is a time to reflect on how the nation is 25 years later. The 1986 People Power uprising after all was driven by a desire for political and economic democracy. Politically, Filipinos were emboldened to oppose the Marcos dictatorship upon years of determined struggle by Filipino activists. Economically, people saw that a handful of cronies and foreign elite were prospering amid high unemployment and widespread poverty.

However outside of appearances, there has been scant progress towards this democracy over 25 long years.

Economically, twenty-five years would have been long enough for the economy to take-off. The 1986 People Power uprising created a moment of national unity and international credibility that could have been the starting point of real economic progress.

Sweeping genuine agrarian reform should have been done immediately while the landed families were on the defensive against a surging mass movement. This would have unleashed the country’s agricultural potential, raised rural incomes and broken the back of peasant poverty. An industrialization program should have begun that preserved what domestic manufacturing existed and that phased the steady development of key and strategic industries. Foreign debts of the Marcos administration should have been cancelled and the resources freed up poured into domestic education, health, housing and infrastructure.

Even just 10 to 15 years of progressive and nationalist policies since 1986 would have been enough to start building solid domestic economic foundations. Instead, 25 years of five post-Marcos administrations embraced and implemented free market policies of neoliberal globalization – trade and investment liberalization, privatization and deregulation. Economic growth, foreign investments and exports were treated as ends in themselves rather than the mere means to development that they are. Profits and commerce were hyped while the State’s responsibility to deliver real social and economic development was disparaged.

The 7.2% annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010 and the average 4.5% growth during the previous Arroyo administration from 2001-2009 are considerably faster than the average 3.9% growth in the period 1986-1991 under the first Aquino administration. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has markedly increased from US$2.0 billion in 1986 (equivalent to 6.7% of GDP) to US$23.6 billion in 2009 (14.5% of GDP). The value of exports rose from being equivalent to 16.2% of GDP in 1986 to average 46.1% of GDP over the decade 2000-2009.

Yet there has also been rising joblessness, persistently severe inequality and growing numbers of poor amid economic decline. The unemployment rate which averaged 10.6% in the pre-People Power uprising six-year crisis period 1981-1986 has even risen to average 11% in the period 2005-2010, according to IBON’s estimates; this increase has only been camouflaged by a convenient redefinition of official unemployment in 2005. The 2.6 million unemployed Filipinos in 1986 increased to 4.4 million in 2010.

Inequality remains persistently severe. In 1985 the top 20% of families cornered 52.1% of total family income leaving the bottom 80% to divide the remaining 47.9% between them. This has barely changed over the last 25 years and in 2009 the top 20% of families still claimed 51.9% of total family income (with the bottom 80% dividing the remaining 48.1%). Also in 2009, the net worth of just the 25 richest Filipinos of US$21.4 billion (Php1,021 billion at the prevailing exchange rate) was equivalent to the combined annual income of the country’s poorest 11.1 million families or some 55.4 million Filipinos (computed with an average family size of five) of Php1,029 billion.

The number of poor is a bit more difficult to compare because of at least two changes in the methodology for estimating poverty in the country. The government officially counted 26.7 million poor Filipinos in 1985 rising to 30.9 million in 2000. A subsequent revision statistically reduced the 2000 estimate to 25.5 million with this rising, according to the same methodology, to 28.5 million in 2009. Yet another revision statistically reduced the official 2009 estimate to 23.1 million. In any case, in 2009 some six out of ten Filipinos were trying to survive on incomes of PhP82 or even much less per day for all their food and non-food expenses.

The explosion of optimism for change in 1986 was followed by decades of missed opportunities. There was likewise a burst of optimism in 2010 following the end of the nine-year Arroyo administration. Indeed the economic lessons are there to be learned and the next decades need not be more of the same. For now the optimism comes from the rising number of Filipinos wielding People Power not just in moments of revolt but also in daily and organized struggles for real social change. IBON Features

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