This is a reaction letter in response to National Federation of Filipino American Associations’ President, Loida Nicolas-Lewis, calling for truth but not calling for resignation.
Ms. Loida Nicolas-Lewis
National Federation of Filipino American Associations
2607 24th St. NW, Ste. 4
Washington, D.C. 20008-2600
February 29, 2008
Dear Ms. Nicolas-Lewis,
I am a 22 year old Filipino-American, born to a middle class family in the United States. However, for the past two years I have been living in the Philippines. As an official observer of the May 2007 elections, I was shocked by the basic dysfunctionalities in our political system. However, I was inspired by the massive involvement of civil society in guarding the elections. Many analysts pointed to the mobilization of ordinary citizens – who outshined the extremists – to defend their democratic prerogatives.
With that said, the current crisis is now again pushing civil society to mobilization. And, also like the elections, the unorganized, non-extreme citizens are taking the lead. I appreciate your statement in supporting civil society’s call for truth. Additionally, after having experienced the divide between Filipinos and Filipino-Americans from both sides, I appreciate that you even cared to make any statement at all. However, I believe parts of your statement were based on incorrect assumptions, and I beg you to specifically take the following into consideration: 1) GMA’s accomplishments regarding the economy; and 2) That “there’s no other alternative.”
You cited as a main reason for keeping GMA as the president the record 7.3% growth in the economy. However, if you would take the time to investigate actual analyses of the economy, experts agree that this GDP growth is not due to sustainable policies of this administration, but due to the record increase of remittances from overseas workers ($14.45 billion in 2007, compared to $12.8 billion in 2006) and the massive sale of government-owned corporations and shares in public holdings. GMA has followed a program of wide-scale privatization which has resulted in skyrocketing costs for basic services (such as water, electricity, and highway tolls). Worse, many government holdings have been sold to foreign companies, truly preventing the Filipino people from enjoying the resources of our own soil.
As a result, there has been no trickle down effect of this GNP growth. Basic economics tells us that as an economy expands, and especially as the value of the peso rises, this should be accompanied by a drop in consumer prices. Conversely, in the past six months there have been no less than three nation-wide raises in the market prices of basic commodities such as rice, wheat, bangus and eggs. Wages have not increased to meet the increase in prices and, in fact, several large corporations have experienced massive retrenchment due to a decrease in revenue. Furthermore, the majority of the nation, which is dependent on OFW remittances, has actually experienced a decrease in real income as the peso rises against the dollar. You stated “Consistent growth in the next two years will bring our country to the threshold of socioeconomic progress.” However, economic analysts agree that this growth will not continue, especially as tax collection has actually decreased during the GMA administration, and the administration habitually grants “tax holidays” to major firms whose owners she wished to woo (such as the Lopez-owned Meralco).
I hope this evidence enlightens your point of view regarding GMA’s supposedly positive impact on the economy. However, I was more troubled by another part of your statement, that “The Filipino people are being forced into extremist positions advanced by personal vested agendas,” and that you do not wish to support a call for resignation “on the ground that there’s no other alternative.”
Immediately, I understand your point of view. When I was living in the U.S., the seemingly unending crises appeared to be sad evidence of the political immaturity of Filipinos, who seemed to me to be easily excitable and induced to extreme actions. However, being that I have had the opportunity to witness this latest crisis from the inside, there are several factors which show that this is not the usual noise.
First, I would like to reiterate that the extreme groups on both the left and the right are small players in the current political clamour. In fact, although the story of this administration is an extreme one, not limited to immense corruption but also including kidnapping, intimidation and murder, the response, as you noted, is a tempered one of truth and accountability. A new generation of students and laity are taking the lead in a way completely different than, for example, the LFS of the early 80’s. There is a new consciousness among the people that goes beyond regime change; that is centered around basic principles of democracy and morality, and reform.
Which brings me to the most important point. There is a fundamental mistake with the idea that we must settle for GMA “on the ground that there’s no other alternative.” Many lament that the Philippines has been through 2 successful EDSA revolutions and life has still not improved. Many, like you, do not want to call for GMA’s resignation before answering the question, “Sino ipapalit?” The inability of the Filipino to rise after several presidents and regime changes is evidence that our goal should go beyond regime change to include basic fundamental system changes.
There are fundamental flaws in our institutions that allow them to appear democratic externally, yet be co-opted by immoral forces. For example, we have elections, but the government institution responsible for conducting elections is understaffed and mismanaged. We have a system which checks the president’s power to appoint judges and cabinet officials, however, those that submit the list of judicial nominees to the President are also chosen by the President, and the President can bypass Senate confirmation of cabinet officials by simply announcing an appointment when Congress is not in session. We have laws, such as the Public Administration Code, which regulate the way public money is spent, however, almost every clause of the Public Administration Code ends in the phrase, “upon the discretion of the President.” We have a governmental system, however, this system is so flawed that true democracy can never flourish under it, no matter who is president.
I believe that GMA should resign from office. As a government official in a country which claims to be democratic, she serves at the pleasure and mandate of the people. She has lost that mandate (if she ever had it to begin with) and thus has no right to sit in the Presidency. However, it is time for our political discourse to mature beyond simple regime change and to fundamental political reform. GMA is a major obstacle to meaningful government accountability and reform, and thus should and must be removed if our beloved country is to have a chance to progress. However, we must go beyond that. Our question should not be “Sino ipapalit?” but “Ano ipapalit.”