Duterte’s 8-point economic agenda business as usual

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The 8-point economic agenda of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte is an elitist neoliberal agenda, research group IBON said. It is good for big business at the expense of the majority of Filipinos and long-term national development. Its “business as usual” belies the clamor for change and, in repeating Aquino-era policies that drove this clamor for change, bodes ill for the incoming administration, added the group.

Duterte’s possible head economic manager, Carlos Dominguez III, who has rich mining background and is reportedly being eyed as the finance secretary, presented the incoming administration’s economic priorities. IBON said that the short list is revealing for what it said and did not say:

The agenda presented continues the Aquino-era pro-big business economic thrusts that according to IBON enriched a few while keeping tens of millions of Filipinos poor and dependent on government dole-outs. The agenda affirmed the focus on public-private partnerships (PPPs) whose lucrative infrastructure projects subsidize private profits with public funds.

The agenda prioritizes investors’ long-standing demand to open up Filipino natural resources, labor, and markets to greater foreign exploitation, said IBON. The group expressed alarm that as this is matched with a focus on promoting agribusiness and tourism in rural areas, there is also an apparent effort to make it easier for investors to assert property rights over land. Yet, stressed IBON, the agenda says nothing about resolving the enduring landlessness among millions of small farmers that keeps them poor.

According to IBON, there is a populist albeit justified demand to lessen the tax burden on a few million middle class income taxpayers. The group said however that “progressivity” in the tax system is misconstrued as mere inflation indexing rather than the raising of direct taxes on the rich and big corporations while reducing direct and indirect taxes on the poor.

Meanwhile, the thrust in education is narrowly to produce graduates that the private sector needs and, through college scholarships, increase the public funds going to private schools. IBON said that the public good would have been better served with a declaration to reverse decades of health and education privatization that has made these social services expensive and even inaccessible for millions of poor Filipinos.

IBON also said that the agenda fails to outline a real domestic job creation thrust based on agrarian reform, real agricultural development, and Filipino industrialization. The agenda fails to repudiate the accumulation of neoliberal economic policies and free trade deals that have kept the national economy so backward. Hence, said the group, the promise of an expanded conditional cash transfer (CCT) program becomes a ruse to continue with failed neoliberal policies. IBON noted that there was even no mention of decisively raising wages or ending contractualization.

The incoming Duterte administration could have used the post-election moment of euphoria to establish itself as pro-people and different from the outgoing Aquino administration. Yet the 8-point agenda instead seems hurriedly presented mainly to assuage the fear of domestic oligarchs and foreign investors that economic policies would change in favor of the majority of Filipinos rather than elites, IBON said.

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