Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Alamon: A missed opportunity

Wrapped in Grey

BASED on his cryptic pronouncements during that recent tete-a-tete in Malacañang, it would seem that President Duterte has virtually closed all doors for the resumption of the stalled peace talks with the reds.

He said, in not so many words, that he has done his best effort in this particular campaign promise. But it is just that the demands of the Left are untenable or impossible to meet or satisfy. Instead, he expressed in his recent public address to provide what he thought were the solutions to the problems currently plaguing the nation.

His responses were often very shortsighted and generally lacked coherence. It is unfortunate actually that Duterte has preferred to listen to war hawks within his cabinet and rejected the suggestions of the Left by firing aligned cabinet members and then quitting on the peace talks. By doing so, he has failed to address the root causes of many of these problems that we are facing as a nation.

For instance, he believes that the solution to the rice crisis was to open up the market to more rice imports. The abolition of the NFA council and his plans to revert back to the unhampered entry of goods, this time with tariffs, between southern Mindanao and Borneo, for instance, were just some of the urgent solutions he cited to respond to the problem.

All these stopgap measures may or may not bring down the price of rice in the short-term but it does not respond to the deeper and larger problem of internal food security and the development of our backward agricultural sector that actually is the cause of so many other problems that he cited such as political instability as manifested by his Trillanes debacle, a runaway inflation rate, and even traffic in the urban areas.

Relying on imports on basic goods such as rice subjects the staple product to inflationary effects. A typhoon, geopolitical instability in the volatile West Philippine Sea, and other extraneous factors beyond our control that could affect supply can suddenly raise the price of rice beyond the common Filipino folk’s reach such as what happened to Sulu when the southern border was suddenly closed.

Economists have sounded the alarm over our shrinking rural economy with the agricultural sector contributing insignificant if not zero contribution to the gross domestic product in the previous years. When supply of staple goods such as rice and fish are limited, the constant solution of Duterte and of government even in the past is to flood the market with imported produce. We have heard of the shocking fact that the country, with one of the largest marine resource areas being an archipelago, has been importing roundscad or galunggong from China for years now to feed its population.

The Left has always criticized this approach since it does not address the causes why domestic agricultural production remains stunted. Under the regime of import-dependent neoliberalism, for example, local rice traders continue to milk the labor and product of small rice farmers by charging exorbitant fees for farming inputs while buying the output so cheaply. Instead of government buying decent rates from local rice farmers, they prefer to source from neighboring countries to the benefit of politician-backed rice importers who are more than willing to share a portion of their income to their patrons in government.

The high inflation rates of staple goods such as rice and fish are the immediate consequences of this economic policy but there are other related symptoms that reflect this neglect of our rural economy. The congestion of our urban areas leading to the gridlock in our cities is but another manifestation of this uneven development between our rural and urban areas as rural populations escape the poverty in the rural areas in search for work in the service sector of our urban centers.

Duterte’s hatred against mercenary politicians such as Trillanes which he badgered in his recent public address can actually be remedied by solutions offered by the Left in CASER.

By freeing the rural economy from the control of landlords who also happen to be politicians, the base of power of these self-interested agents shall be severely curtailed. The proposal of the Left as encapsulated in the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms or Caser which was tabled for discussion in the stalled peace talks is to strengthen the national economy through agrarian reform and development in order to democratize our political life and achieve self-reliance on staple goods such as rice and fish. It is a missed opportunity for Duterte, for he could actually provide long-term structural solutions to our problems as a nation both political and economic.

But then again, why would Duterte want all these positive changes to happen when he and his cabal have much to lose with these long-term genuine measures for change proposed by the Left? He could prove us all wrong by going back to negotiating with the Left on the points cited in CASER and resuming the peace talks at the soonest possible time. Probably, only this kind of miracle can save this failing administration.