Hundreds of people will walk out of their schools and work places across Manila this afternoon to join the latest in a series of protests at the Supreme Court, which is set to decide on the legality of the Manila Electric Company’s (Meralco) recent decision to raise electricity charges.
The Court imposed a moratorium on all energy hikes a few months ago in response to overwhelming public opposition. Protesters point to the privatisation and deregulation of the energy sector, and monopoly control of the energy sector by a few corporate players, as the key culprits behind the spiraling of prices. The signing into law of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) in 2001 was but one in a raft of policies which lifted government controls over public services in an attempt to “liberalise” the economy in the name of efficiency.
Ever since, the country’s working class majority have suffered successive waves of price hikes amid falling real wages and rising unemployment, on everything from fuel to food to tuition fees.
The Supreme Court is also rumoured to release its final decision on the constitutionality of “DAP”, or Disbursement Acceleration Program funds within the week. Critics accuse the Aquino administration of doing no more than putting a sweet face on patronage politics, as the “pork barrel-like” funds are still technically in the control of the President, whose office today has even more power to channel public money to chosen politicians, favoured agencies, provinces, or business interests at will.
Controversies over businesswoman-turned-whistleblower Janet Napoles aroused considerable anger against the Pork Barrel system last year, sparking August’s “1 Million People March”. The theft of some Php 10 billion in government funds left neither Senate and Congress without taint.
“But Corruption extends well beyond the outright theft of public funds, involving government-backed policies skewed in favour of a narrow clique of well-connected transnational corporations and local big business interests – oligarchs from Manny Pangilinan to Henry Sy – which have lorded over our country’s economy for decades. This is patronage politics at its finest”, said CJ Chanco, Deputy National Secretary General of the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines