Shattering the Illusion of Change: A Three-Year Assessment of the Aquino Administration

Fact or Fiction: The Progress of our Country under Aquino’s Presidency

Three years have passed since we were introduced to the phrases “dang matuwid,”  “wala nang wang-wang,” and “kayo ang boss ko” by the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines. They say the first year was a test, the second was a chance and his third was proof, but was our President able to prove his competence in the past three years?

Improvement On Campus Press and Press Freedom Situation: Fiction

The Campus Journalism Act of 1991, or Republic Act 7079, signed during President Corazon Aquino’s term,  aimed to protect campus press freedom. The opposite happened: it has proven to be toothless and powerless against violations and repression on campus press.

President Benigno Aquino III continues to burden the campus press with this baggage. His administration continues to implement RA7079. CEGP has documented 230 campus press freedom violations as of April 2013, such as, censorship, administration intervention, suspension in the case of UE Dawn Editorial Board and the libel case filed against the Editor in Chief of Outcrop of University of the Philippines , Baguio.

Repression prevails in the sheets of campus publications while the culture of impunity reigns as media and journalists are killed in the line of duty.

Thus, the infamous Maguindanao Massacre remains unresolved despite the recent surfacing of another whistleblower. Even the promise for freedom to receive and impart information remains fiction, with the Freedom of Information Bill was one of the least prioritized in congress. In fact, the Cybercrime Law was given more priority over the Freedom of Information Bill. Such is the priority of the President and most lawmakers. 

Upgrade On The Education System: Fiction

Amidst the students’ clamor for higher state subsidy for education that promotes national industrialization and national culture, President Aquino pushes to implement policies that worsen the education crisis.

354 out of 451 Private Higher Education Institutions who applied for an increase in their matriculation for the school year 2013-2014 were easily approved by the Commission on higher Education (CHED) making national average tuition fees 8 to 10% higher than last year.

Aquino also introduced the Roadmap to Public Higher Education Reform, which gradually lessened subsidy for state universities and colleges to make them self-reliant,  but in reality would lead to state abandonment of education.

In fact, last May 15, Aquino, while all eyes are on the contentious elections, stealthy signed Republic Act no. 10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013. The Aquino administration seemed desperate in pushing the K-12, a hopeless program to bring the illusion of change in the education system and save the US, the real boss, on its last legs by supplying them with semi-skilled workers ready for export.

In reality, according to Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the country still lacks 47,584 teachers, 19.579 classrooms, 60 million textbooks, 2.5 million chairs, 80,937 water and sanitation facilities, 770 schools for almost 23.9 million students enrolled in school year 2013-2014.

Agrarian Reform and Land Distribution: Fiction

The Aquino-Cojuanco clan is asking for  P10 billion compensation for Hacienda Luisita, as the Supreme Court ordered to distribute the land to the farm workers. Aquino proves his loyalty to the landlords as the regime proposed to extend the  Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program  Extensions with Reforms (CARPER), which will expire on 2014.

Genuine agrarian reform becomes a myth as the peasants cannot expect land reforms through bogus programs authored by the Philippine heads of states’ allies and relatives who come from clans of hacienderos. This is already proven by the 25 years of failure of CARP to address the hundred-year problem of our farmers, land ownership.

To add, 4.5 million small coconut farmers have been deprived from benefitting from the coco levy fund, which they invested in since 1971. Last April, former Akbayan chief and National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) secretary Joel Rocamora said the NAPC had drawn up a P10-billion, five-year “road map” to revive the coconut industry and that the first year of the program could be funded with loans. “The plan is to borrow off the coco levy,” said Rocamora.

The coco levy fund collected from the farmers amounts to P97 billion and estimated to amount P100 billion as of 1999. Until now, the claim for the coco levy fund, the land ownership of the farmers in Hacienda Luisita and genuine agrarian reform continues to be a fairytale.

Peace and Unity: Fiction

To resolve conflict in the countryside and achieve peace and unity, the Aquino Administration conjured up Oplan Bayanihan, which was patterned from the US counter-insurgency (COIN) guide. Instead of spreading peace and unity, Oplan Bayanihan ushered in a time of terror in the countryside for farmers and indigenous people.

According to 2012 KARAPATAN year-end report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, 137 cases of extrajudicial killings (77 are peasants) and 14 enforced disappearances have been reported since July 2010.

KARAPATAN documented 27,308 cases of threat, harassment and intimidation mostly in militarized areas such as Bondoc Peninsula in the province of Quezon. To add, 6,743 cases of indiscriminate firing, 30,260 forced evacuation, 7,717 destruction of property, and 8,336 forced evictions were also recorded, all allegedly done by the elements of the state. 3 cases of rape (all victims of which, are minors) and 154 cases of frustrated extrajudicial killings allegedly perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and Citizen Armed Force and Geographical Unit (CAFGU) were also documented.

AFP used schools,  health centers, churches and other public places for military purpose under the government’s anti-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. The military used civilians as human shields against rebel groups; 23,792 such cases have been documented in just a span of 2 years and 6 months.

Meanwhile, 430 political prisoners are currently detained in several prisons in the country. 148 of these prisoners were arrested under the Aquino regime including CEGP alumnus Randy Vegas, former secretary general of CEGP National.

No Prince Charming or magic can awaken our farmers from the nightmare that the Oplan Bayanihan has brought to the countryside, especially now that the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front has collapsed.

Higher Economy, More Jobs and Lower Prices: Fiction

President Aquino boasts in his previous speeches the 7.8% increase on Gross Domestic Product of the Philippines is a result of the soaring foreign investments in the country.

The truth is that the increase in GDP does not translate into progress in the lives of common people; the burden is carried by ordinary citizens.

In reality, the unemployment rate rose to 7.5% in April 2013 from last year’s 6.9 %. About 48.2% of unemployed were aged between 15 to 24 years old. According to National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA,) majority of the unemployed were high school graduates (31.7 percent), college graduates (21.3 percent) and college undergraduates (14.6 percent).

Meanwhile the Philippine Orthopedic Center, Philippine Heart Center, and Lung Center of the Philippines are all being bid under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program of President Aquino. In effect, the government passes the burden of providing medical services to the private sector, to make a business out of it.

As a result of privatization, 14.2 million water consumers in Metro Manila and near provinces will be affected by the proposed P5.83/cubic meter increase in water services under Manila Water and P10.30 under Maynilad. This will result in an additional P137.10 for residents consuming 10 cubic meters a month and an additional P411 for those who consume 30 cubic meters.

To top it all, there will be a cut in government subsidy to MRT and LRT passengers. To cope with this, MRT and LRT management proposed a P10 fare increase, which will affect 1,579,000 estimated passengers a day.

Sovereignty and Independence: Fiction

Aids, protection and investments were the promise of the America’s Pacific Century in Asia to the Philippines when Aquino joined the program in 2011. The Visiting Forces Agreement was intensified resulting in US Military presence at all times with hundreds of US troops and numerous ships landing on our bays without our awareness.

The incident in Tubattaha, where a US warship passed by a restricted zone, proves that US military forces freely roam our bays and use our bases for their military exercise. Drones were also found in our bays and mountains, proving that US execute war games on our countryside to test their gadgets on our land and on our people.

Just recently, Aquino approved the Access Agreement not just for US troops and ships, but for Japanese troops as well. This will enable these foreign troops to have access to our bays and military bases when they need refueling. The Aquino administration defends the unconstitutional agreement by saying that making US troops visible in Asia will make China draw back and refrain from claiming our territories.

The dream of sovereignty and independence from foreign domination is now a fantasy as American troops have permanent presence and control of our land.

People’s Verdict: Myth Busted

No matter how stunning and deceiving Aquino’s charade and fantasy of change and development is, only the ordinary people can attest to the condition of our suffering country. Our president has proven to be loyal to the ruling class with his anti-people policies, which continue to worsen our economy and shove the people deeper into poverty. There will be no happily ever after and cheerful ending for the youth if we continue to endure regular doses of deception and despair.

It is up to the youth, alongside other sectors of society, to expose the real state of our nation and struggle for genuine change. Only mass movement and continuous mass mobilization can expose the US-Aquino administration’s lies.

Meanwhile it is up to us campus journalists to function as an alternative press, to give a voice to the masses, serve as the watchdog in society, to write and be part of history, and participate in social change.

Emmanuel Lacaba, a famous writer and CEGP alumnus, once said, “The responsibility of any writer in this world is to write truthfully and comprehensively about the world he lives in, the world he remembers and continues to know, the world he experiences.”

May we remember this as we write our articles. May write as conscientiously and courageously as the writer the late Lacaba describes. And may we live our lives in the same manner as well.

sealander.mertie@mailxu.com