By Michael Garay
President Fidel Ramos opened the 10th Congress on July 24 with the executive's traditional "state of the nation address" in a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives. At the same time, 80,000 people — workers, urban poor, students and several non-traditional politicians — marched to the Batasan complex in Quezon City to express the real state of the nation: the state of the people.
Ramos laid down the accomplishments of his administration's Medium Term Development Program (MTDP), more popularly known as Philippines 2000. Its aims to reduce the incidence of poverty by 30%, raise the per capita income from its current level of $800 to $1000 and achieve newly industrialised country (NIC) status by the year 2000.
The address also presented to the Congress the priority bills set by the administration.
Ramos' all too familiar thumbs-up sign signalled the administration's confidence that Philippines 2000 will revive "the sick man of Asia". The government received a "clean bill of health" from the International Monetary Fund after it designed its economic program to follow the IMF's structural adjustment plan.
Ecstatic over the 5.1% gross national product growth rate achieved in 1994, Ramos boldly claimed that the nation is now on the threshold of modernisation and progress and will be the "next Asian miracle".
'State of the people'
The GNP statistic is not even close to showing half the story. Renato Constantino, president of SANLAKAS, a broad federation of liberal, nationalist, democratic and socialist mass organisations, asks, "How can it be now? How can it be us?
"For the past three years , our average annual GNP growth rate is 2.7%, while our population grows at a rate of 2.39%. At this rate, it would take more than 100 years to double our per capita income.
"The 5.1% GNP growth rate is making our government swoon in delirium but this statistic does not reflect the state of our people."
Hidden behind the rosy picture of growth and development are staggering facts:
- 49 million Filipinos (70% of the population) live below the poverty line; 3.95 million are unemployed, 5.35 million underemployed, 9 million self-employed;
- the minimum wage is P135 per day, while the national average cost of living for a family of six is P272.53;
- 5 million children are forced to work;
- 60,000 children have been forced into flesh trade (the country is ranked number 2 in terms of child prostitution);
- 4 million Filipinos have gone overseas as migrant labour;
- 52% of migrant labourers are women, some of whom become victims of abuse, rape and sexual harassment.
Wooing the Congress
The president's refusal to admit the growing impoverishment under Philippines 2000 has been interpreted by different cause-oriented groups and by the opposition, the Nationalist People's Congress (NPC), as a call on the legislature to "Stay with me."
Ramos has yet to convince the 10th Congress to continue supporting the administration's program, after its composition was reshuffled by the elections last May.
In the ninth Congress, the administration was able to coopt other political parties by forming a majority coalition in the lower house using traditional practices and tools, while it faced tough opposition in the Senate.
Ramos' "Rainbow Coalition" is imperiled. Former senator Wigberto Tanada, one of the leaders of the Senate who rejected the bases treaty back in 1991, has joined the ranks of the lower house.
An independent bloc is now emerging in the lower House, which supported and took part in the July 24 march. It has charged the administration with "indifference to the people's plight". Its members are described by Congressman Joker Arroyo, an outspoken critic of both the Aquino and Ramos governments, as "free agents who are as free as a bird".