The Aquino administration’s socioeconomic rights violations

 In addition to its widely-known civil and political rights violations, the Aquino administration is also the biggest violator of economic, social and cultural rights in the country

The Aquino administration has the duty to uphold, protect and promote the human rights of all Filipinos. This is the responsibility of every government. The administration’s civil and political rights violations are already well-documented and widely known. But it should be as well known that that the Aquino administration is also the biggest violator of economic, social and cultural rights in the country.

After five years and nearing the end of its term, the Aquino government is directly accountable for how the overwhelming majority of Filipinos still struggle in chronically poor socioeconomic conditions. It keeps the neoliberal “free market” globalization policies that open the economy to foreign plunder and enrich a few oligarchs at the expense of real economic development. And more than that, it keeps pushing for programs and international economic deals that entrench and expand these destructive policies.

International and domestic law

There is a legal basis for the Filipino people to hold the Aquino government accountable. At the global level is the International Bill of Human Rights used by the United Nations (UN). This has three texts: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and its two optional protocols. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is particularly relevant.

The ICESCR is approaching its 50th anniversary after being adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 16, 1966. It contains some of the most significant international legal provisions establishing economic, social and cultural rights, including rights relating to work in just and favorable conditions, to social protection, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education, and to enjoyment of the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress. There are also various other pertinent Conventions, General Comments, and Resolutions.

International human rights law declares the principle of protecting the full range of human rights required for people to have a full, free, safe, secure and healthy life. It maintains that the right to live a dignified life can never be attained unless all basic necessities of life – work, food, housing, health care, education and culture – are adequately and equitably available to everyone. The Philippines ratified the Covenant without reservation on June 7, 1974 and thereby voluntarily undertook to implement its norms and provisions.

At the national level is our own 1987 Constitution which mandates the government to promote the general welfare of the Filipino people and to enhance their socioeconomic rights. There are for instance two important provisions in Article XII on the National Economy and Patrimony:

Section 1. The goals of the national economy are a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth; a sustained increase in the amount of goods and services produced by the nation for the benefit of the people; and an expanding productivity as the key to raising the quality of life for all, especially the underprivileged.

Section 6. The use of property bears a social function and all economic agents shall contribute to the common good. Individuals and private groups, including corporations, cooperatives, and similar collective organizations, shall have the right to own, establish and operate economic enterprises, subject to the duty of the State to promote distributive justice and to intervene when the common good so demands.

In other words, the 1987 Constitution recognizes that the national economy exists to serve the needs of the Filipino people and that the government has the duty to intervene when the common good so requires. The ratification of international human rights treaties and the 1987 Constitution itself make the Aquino administration accountable to the Filipino people for, in effect, tens of millions of rights violations.

Neoliberal socioeconomic backwardness

The Filipino people have a right to self-determination. However pro-foreign investor and pro-oligarch market-based policies have only increased their control of the country’s labour, agricultural and mineral resources. They have exploited these for their own profit to the detriment of the national economy and the welfare of the majority of the Filipino people. Domestic manufacturing has correspondingly fallen to its smallest share of the economy in six decades and agriculture to its smallest in the country’s history. Foreign capital meanwhile is at its largest share of the economy and with more control over it than ever before.

The Aquino administration’s collaboration with the United States (US) government to make the country compliant with the extreme neoliberalism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is particularly alarming. The TPP membership sought by the Aquino government will surrender domestic policy-making to big foreign economic powers especially the US and Japan. The TPP promotes the profit-seeking of the biggest American, Japanese and other member countries’ transnational corporations. It does this by preventing countries like the Philippines from implementing the interventionist policies needed to develop backward domestic economies and protect the public welfare. It also creates a legal system prioritizing investor rights to their profits.

As it is, there are already more unemployed and underemployed Filipinos than at any time in the country’s history – by IBON’s estimates at some 12.3 million in July 2015. The economy is already many times larger than in decades past but is only creating the same or, in some years, even less new jobs annually than before. Record numbers of Filipinos are driven overseas to find work and there are now more deployments abroad every day than new jobs created at home.

The number of workers in non-regular including contractual work has risen to record highs. Around half employment is in the informal sector. These are among the reasons why seven out of ten wage and salary workers are earning less than or just exactly the too low minimum wage. These constitute an unprecedented violation of the right to work.

Agrarian reform programs have supposedly been implemented for decades. Yet peasant organizations estimate that at least 70% and perhaps as much as 90% of farmers are still landless, and that less than a third of landowners still own more than 80% of agricultural land. The majority of farms in the country likewise covering most of the farm area remain under tenancy, lease, and other forms of tenurial arrangements.

Tens of millions of Filipinos are then denied their right to an adequate standard of living. At least two-thirds or around 66 million Filipinos are poor in trying to live off Php125 or much less per day for all their food, shelter, utilities, education, health, housing, transportation and other needs. The poorest one-fourth or 24 million Filipinos struggle to subsist with just Php52 or less per day. These include the some 7.3 million poor families who are denied their right to housing and live in the squalor of urban slums nationwide.

These most deprived and vulnerable Filipinos are also denied their right to health. The poorest half of the population have the highest infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates, while their access to water and sanitation is many times worse than that of the richest two-fifths of the population.

Education, like other social services, is being increasingly inaccessible due to commercialization. Even with the institutionalization of the K+12 program, entry to tertiary education has become much too expensive including that in state colleges and universities. Instead of honing their potential to the fullest through higher education, high school graduates are now being encouraged to join the army of cheap laborers toiling for the global market.

All these and so many other poor socioeconomic outcomes go against important Constitutional provisions on the need for policies that promote full employment, a rising standard of living, provide adequate social services, and an improved quality of life for all (Art. II, Sec. 9) and on social justice (Art. II, Section 10).

They are the direct result of economic policies of the Aquino administration and previous governments. The cumulative impact of trade and investment liberalization, privatization and deregulation undermines the realization of human rights while systematically accumulating wealth in the hands of a few.

Social, economic and political deprivation and inequities are exploding. At the same time, Filipinos continue to wage their heroic struggles for their economic, social and cultural rights. These include but go beyond just finding work and making a living. They are about building a society where everyone can live a decent life with dignity, where all have a chance to develop to their fullest, and which is free from exploitation and oppression. The advance of these struggles are what give cause for celebration as international human rights day is observed. ###

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