Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Filipinos can not afford Activism

Filipinos can not afford Activism
Jamir Ocampo

Nowadays, activists are wondering why Filipinos are not getting out into the streets to protest against GMA despite the President's moral disgrace and the unforgiving social conditions of our country. Older activists are searching for answers to explain the lost activism that once ousted a dictator in the country.

Some claim that the present generation are more apathetic and hopeless while others look at them as being more selfish and individualistic. Partly they maybe true but I prefer another answer: Filipinos, nowadays are so poor that they cannot afford activism.

Much has been said about Philippine politics. Aside from being the first republic in Asia, the country was once a showcase of democracy during the People Power of 1986 that ousted the dictator Marcos from his seat. Democracy was restored in Cory's administration when civil liberties and political rights were reestablished in the 1987 Constitution. In 2001, People Power volted out President Estrada because of corruption, innefficient governance and his personal character.

At present, citizens are massing up against President Arroyo who is facing the issue of illegitimacy. Indeed, relative to other nations, Filipinos enjoyed a higher degree in political participation in the EDSA state years (1986-present). We may have been liberated from the repression of the Marcos regime but how free are we from the traditional bondages of poverty, unemployment, land distribution and other classical socioeconomic problems of the First Republic? After two presidents were ousted by People Power, rallyists dispersed from EDSA uprisings, and the dusts settled in the EDSA highway, how far did we go as a nation in our economic development path?

Many activists, especially the elderly ones, still romanticize the militant movements of 60's and 70's. They are wondering why militant activism of First Quarter Storm is not replicating in the present time. The stark difference between the socioeconomic context of pre-EDSA state years and EDSA state years can be identified as a significant factor in the difference in the degree and nature of activism between the two periods.

One may ask, why does activism flourish in pre-EDSA state years where there is a strong dictatorial regime than in the present EDSA state years which is a period of democratization and political empowerment? One may argue that violent state forces stimulated the rage among citzens that drives their activsim in the pre-EDSA state years but one may also argue that the restoration of civil liberties in the EDSA years created a democratic situation where activism operates better than in a dictatorial scenario. Looking for a more coherent story to explain the lost activism can be found in economic history.

Pre-EDSA against EDSA economy

Macroeconomic conditions indicated by higher GDP and its growth are far better in pre-EDSA state years (1950-1979) which experience the peak in the activist movements, than recent EDSA years (1980-2004) as seen in Table 1 and 2. Higher per capita GDP in the pre-EDSA period than the EDSA period indicates that an average Filipino citizen has greater economic resources for purchasing commodities in the 60's nd 70's than Filipino in the 80's to the present time.

There is a steady decline in the economic power of an average Filipino from the Marcos regime to the Arroyo administration. This decline in economic power among Filipinos can be explained by the decline in the labor share of Filipinos vis-a-vis capital in the national production. The crisis of unemployment and joblessness worsen from pre-EDSA to EDSA years, indicated by stagnant job growth and negative labor productivity growth in period 1980-2004. The increasing lack of jobs and falling wages mean that more Filipinos are losing the income that they need in purchasing the commodities necessary for their sustenance and development.

Another bad part of the story is that as the national economy worsens from Marcos to Arroyo regime, the class are the ones badly affected. Table 2 shows how the lower classes especially industrial workers and farmers lose their basic sources of livelihood as agriculture and industry sector weakens in the national production. As an effect, the earnings of the lower class who are mostly concentrated in the agricultural and industrial sector fell drastically compared to the upper and middle class who are mostly located in the service sector.

Persistent joblessness and falling wages of the masses vis-a-vis the middle and upper classes in the EDSA years reinforced the system of social inequality as shown in Table 5 which shows an increasing Gini coefficient. Table 5 further supports that the poor is getting poorer while the rich is getting richer in the EDSA years (1986-2004). Economic history shows that Filipinos are getting disempowered economically in the EDSA state years compared to the pre-EDSA years which highlights the Marcos regime.

What do Filipinos feel and see in the EDSA state

Macroeconomic conditions revealing the difficulty of living conditions in the country are highly consistent with the subjective perceptions of Filipinos. Above anything else such as political concerns, Filipinos nowadays are more preoccuppied in socioeconomic matters such as good health, schooling and food security as seen in the recent Pulse Asia survey in Table 6.

Filipinos are so poor that they are willing to use political tools not for political ends but for economic reason. 44% of Filipinos support charter change because they believe that cha-cha can improve their economic well-being. The top reasons of Filipinos in supporting Cha-cha are economic in nature such as lower prices for commodities, poverty-alleviation, and employment.

Apathy, Hopelessness or Rational “Deactivism”

As the macroeconomy and social welfare worsen from the pre-EDSA to EDSA state years, activism turns out to be a luxury that Filipinos can not afford. Economic disempowerment of Filipinos, brought about by shrinking income and declining real purchasing power, causes Filipinos to prioritize income-generating activities.

For basic survival reasons, Filipinos can not afford to divert their time and energy to political activities such as union assemblies, rallies and educational discussions that have no clear, immediate material benefits as compared to income-generating work.

How can we expect Manong magsasaka to have all the needed physical and mental energies in absorbing the consciousness-raising activities of political organizers when he has to double his effort in farming to cover up his production cost that is increased by rising prices of fertilizers, absence of micro-edit financing and competition from agricultural exports? Furthermore, Manong magsasaka has a family to feed and has several children dreaming to have a college degree.

The case of Manong magsasaka can also be true to some sections of the youth who are frequently perceived to be apathetic and hopeless. Do we perceive a young professional in a call center as selfish, apathetic Filipino whose time is being monitored by bundy clock, and brains being bought by stupid foreigners in exchange for a salary that he can use to pay the tuition of his other siblings?

Unlike the upper class who enjoys an excessive ownership of capital, average Filipinos seemingly can not afford to waste their ime and energy as their only productive resources to non-income generating activist work.

Economic disempowerment stands to be a limiting factor in the present state of activism. Lost activism or “deactivism”should not be simply seen as a product of apathy and hopelessness but as a rational behaviour of Filipinos to survive in an impoverished nation with no security for food, job and future.

Supportive of this proposition is Maslow's hierarchy of needs which states that an individual should fulfill first his basic and social necessities before he can consume the highest level of human need which is self-actualization. Self-actualization includes consciousness-raising, identity building and formation of personal ideologies.

Applying Maslow's' claims in the analysis, it means that Filipinos should first secure and satisfy their needs for food, water, clothing community life, and other social needs before they can actualize themselves in activism through rallies, discourses and political assemblies.

Developmental Activism and Prospects for the Left

The challenge for the left movement is tranforming its activism to be truly developmental for the Filipino masses. As the movement marches toward social change, the left will find themselves being pulled back by the traditional bondages of social inequality and underdevelopment. Political activism such as anti-GMA campaigns and electoral reforms can only move as far as economic empowerment moves among Filipinos as dictated by the organic connection of politics and economics in a society.

A case in point is the practice of community organizing by the left in the country that is gearing more on political work than on a more, holistic developmental program. Since most community-based NGOs and POs are sponsored or affiliated to political block, it is but rational for community organizers to focus on political organizing so they could later on absorb their sponsored communities into to their own political blocks.

But, how will activists empower local communities when the issues of a community are digressing from the political agenda of activists? Will community-based NGOs and POs be philantrophic to use their limited funds in solving community issues that are outside the agenda of their sponsoring political block?

The challenge for activists is how to develop the productive and reproductive capacities of communities that may empower them against relations of dependency from local elites. In rural areas, activists can establish cooperatives for the community that can serve as a center for micro-credit financing, technical education, livelihood projects and even, cultural discourses. By using their intellectual resources, activists can help farmers and fisherfolks learn to apply modern techniques and equipment in their production process.

In the national level, activists should increase their involvement in policy processes and the development of alternatives against policy regimes. Despite the changing waves of national politics, crucial economic campaigns such as agrarian reform, debt management, and deregulation should well be accomodated, sustained and strenghtened by all sections of the movement through shared ownership and shared responsibility because these are fundamental policies that creates structural problems in the economy.

Civil society formations should enhance its engagements with public institutions such as policy dialogue and consultation especially the public bodies that are managing the production and delivery of public services. Activists should take a step further by developing feasible alternatives rather than being known as complaining critics of national programs.

The civil-society sphere is not spared from economic constraints as some funding evaluators predict an exodus of external funding to NGOs and POs, five years from now. NGOs and POs should be empowered economically against financial insecurity and scarcity. One way of economic empowerment is to engage in income-generating activities. NGOs and POs can feasibly sustain themselves with their own income by using their own intellectual resources in delivering services in policy entrepreneuship between state and societal bodies.

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