Global poverty down, Philippine poverty remains high

Jun 11

That the poverty situation in the Philippines has not improved has been the cause of much concern lately.  According to the National Statistics Coordination Board, 27.9 percent of the population currently lives below the poverty line, a figure that was practically unchanged from the figure of 28.6 per cent and 28.8 respectively in the first half of 2009 and first semester of 2006, respectively. The figures are all the more disturbing because globally, the poverty situation has actually improved since 2005.   According to the World Bank, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty — on less than $1.25 a day — fell in every developing region from 2005 to 2008.   Moreover, the biggest recession since the Great Depression seems not to have thrown that trend off course.  According to the Bank, “The progress is so drastic that the world has met the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half five years before its 2015 deadline.” Debating the causes of global poverty reduction What accounted for this positive global trend since 2005?  One school of thought is represented by Brookings Institution researchers Laurence Chandy and Geoffrey Gertz, who claim that the “stunning progress” is due to “the rise of globalization, the spread of capitalism and the improving quality of economic governance – which together have enabled the developing world to begin converging on advanced economy incomes after centuries of divergence.  The poor countries that display the greatest success today are those that are engaging with the global economy, allowing market prices to balance supply and demand and to allocate scarce resources, and pursuing sensible and strategic economic policies to spur investment, trade and job creation. It’s this potent combination that sets the current period apart from a history of insipid growth and intractable poverty.”  In short, the key for Getz and Chandy was market-oriented or neoliberal reforms, also known as “structural adjustment,” that radically reduced government intervention, eliminated barriers to trade and capital flows, and promoted privatization. Seemingly convincing, this explanation, when subjected to close analysis, falls apart.  There is another, and indeed, more credible way, of interpreting the results.  The dismal period of little progress from the 1990s to 2005, occurred during the high noon...

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The Hashimoto Controversy and Japan’s Failure to Come to Terms with its Past

May 17

The words were so brazen that they have created a firestorm globally.  This was the comment of Mayor Toru Hashimoto of Osaka, described as “outspoken” and “brash” in the international media, that “comfort women”– the thousands of Asian women who were forced to serve as prostitutes during the Second World War–were “necessary” for the morale of the Japanese troops. “Anyone can understand that the system of comfort women was necessary to provide respite for a group of high-strung, rough and tumble crowd of men braving their lives under a storm of bullets,” Hashimoto said, according to the Wall Street Journal. While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and other political figures were quick to distance themselves from Hashimoto’s remarks, their stance was hypocritical since he was simply mouthing what many in these circles and in the broader population believe to be true.   Moreover, the Osaka mayor’s remarks, moreover, came in the wake of a mass visit in April by some 170 sitting legislators to the Yasukuni Shrine, the home of Japan’s war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals, a ritual that many of its neighbors have blasted as a sign of the country’s unrepentant attitude for its conduct during World War II. Failure to Confront Past Hashimoto and Abe’s behavior ultimately stem from the fact that the country has not really come to terms with its role and behavior during that war.  Japan’s experience is in contrast to that of Germany, where society was subjected to a more or less thorough process of “denazification,” the centerpiece of which was the embedding in the national consciousness of Nazi Germany’s responsibility for the war and for unspeakable atrocities, including the genocide inflicted on the Jewish people. Washington played a role in fostering historical amnesia.  Instead of dethroning the emperor after the Japanese defeat, the US kept Hirohito in power for purposes of political stability, thus exempting the main symbol of Japan’s war aims from retribution, a gesture whose meaning was not lost on the Japanese.  Moreover, the window of opportunity that saw a flurry of US-imposed reforms that destroyed the old imperial army and reduced the power of the bureaucratic and economic elites disappeared with the onset of the Cold War and the...

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Wrong Choice, Again?

Mar 13

The conclave to elect the new Pope was an opportunity for the Catholic Church’s all-male college of cardinals to choose someone who would lead the Church into the 21st century.  Again, they flubbed the opportunity, as they did when they elevated Joseph Ratzinger to his role as Pope Benedict XVI eight years ago. The new Pope, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is, many say, an unreconstructed bigot when it comes to homosexuality.  Gay marriage is, he thinks, a work of the devil, and he even opposes adoption of children by gays as against God’s law.  Equally medieval is his opposition to contraception, a position highlighted by his celebrated clash with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner when she distributed free contraceptives to poor communities.  Tough luck for poor Catholic families who want to practice family planning and for the campaign against HIV-AIDS. What about his stand on predatory priests who abuse children?  According to a Washington Post report, the U.S.-based Bishop Accountability group revealed that a convicted pedophile Fr. Julio Cesar Grassi remains free, “thanks partly to a court filing on his behalf by the Argentine church, which was headed by Bergoglio as archbishop of Buenos Aires.” While he was not involved in a cover-up of sex offenders in the clergy, neither did he take the initiative in fighting clerical pedophilia.  Again the Post: “During most of the 14 years that Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, rights advocates say, he did not take decisive action to protect children or act swiftly when molestation charges surfaced; nor did he extend apologies to the victims of abusive priests after their misconduct came to light…’ He has been totally silent,’ said Ernesto Moreau, a member of Argentina’s UN-affiliated Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and a lawyer who has represented victims in a clergy sexual-abuse case. Victims asked to meet with Bergoglio but were turned down, Moreau said. ‘In that regard, Bergoglio was no different from most of the other bishops in Argentina, or the Vatican itself.’” But perhaps the most glaring evidence that calls into question Bergoglio’s qualifications to be Pope is his record on human rights during the notorious “Dirty War” that the Argentine military junta waged against the political...

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I’ll miss Hugo

Mar 07

I’ll miss Hugo. When I first was introduced to him in Porto Alegre in 2003, he greeted me, “Mi padre,” and said he learned a lot from me. I was dubious about this and thought he was simply buttering me up, like any two-bit politician. Then he started telling me what he learned from Development Debacle, Deglobalization, and Dark Victory.  I was stupefied; the guy actually read my stuff! About two years later, we met again, this time in Caracas.  He told me he was seriously concerned about my safety since he had heard that the Darth Vader Battalion had marked me as a “counterrevolutionary” and targeted me for elimination.  He invited me to cool off in Venezuela, telling me he would take me on a tour of the whole country.  Thank you, I said, but he shouldn’t worry since I was dealing with a bunch of space cadets, though crazy ones.  He asked me through the translator what a “space cadet” was.  I tried my best to explain, then he said, “Ahh, un pendejo,” and roared in laughter. In January 2006, during the World Social Forum in Caracas, he had several of us sit with him on stage and introduced us one by one.  When it came to me, he declared grandiloquently that “in his veins runs the blood of Asian martyrs.”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or crawl under my chair, while he went on to construct an image of me that, wow, I wish were true! The next day, at a forum of representatives of social movements, he asked me what I thought about what was happening in Venezuela. I don’t know what came over me, but I made use of the occasion to criticize his government for going back on its promise not to sign the Declaration of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong in December 2005, which would have led to the third collapse of a WTO ministerial, one that would have been the last nail in the coffin of that anti-development mafia dominated by the North.   “As a revolutionary, you can’t go back on your word,” I said.  He was silent, but that was the last time I got invited to Caracas. The...

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Agrarian reform and the urban illusion

Jan 11

There can be no doubt that the administration of President Benigno Aquino III has made significant strides in terms of reform.  The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act was a major breakthrough, not only for women’s rights but also for development, owing to the central importance of our country’s having a sustainable rate of population growth.  The anti-corruption campaign is creating that confidence in government that is an indispensable ingredient of an economic climate that would encourage investment, both local and foreign. The conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, which now reaches over three million families, is the country’s most successful anti-poverty program, one that the Asian Development Bank has toasted as a model for other countries. Unfortunately, these successes have not been matched by advances in agrarian reform.   Some one million hectares still have to be distributed.  DAR figures show that the average number of hectares distributed under the current administration yearly came to 103,732 hectares, the lowest of the last five administrations.   At this pace, it will be hard for the administration to complete land redistribution by the date mandated by law, June 2014, since to achieve that goal, from January 2011 onwards, the DAR would have to distribute 320,242 hectares per year.  It is difficult to see how president can live up to the promise he made at a meeting with farmers over six months ago that all lands covered by Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reforms Act of 2009 (CARPER) will be distributed to all qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries by the target date. Who the president places at the helm of the agrarian reform effort is undoubtedly critical, and with the program in the doldrums, it might be time for the president to evaluate the performance of his top land reform aides.  But the problem is, in our view, more profound.  Undoubtedly, there are people in the administration that believe in agrarian reform, some of them passionately.  However, there are also those who either do not consider it central to the program of reform or see it as a “sakit ng ulo,” one that one must pay attention to, but largely with palliative rhetoric rather than energetic commitment.  Unfortunately, the latter tendency is dominant, and this...

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Women’s rights: Turning point in India, triumph in Manila

Dec 28

Women’s rights have been in the forefront of international concern over the last few weeks. Up in arms against rape Making the biggest headlines were the massive demonstrations in New Delhi and other cities in India provoked by the brutal gang-rape by six men of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a moving bus in the Indian capital.   The crime, which saw the victim suffer extremely serious wounds in her genitals and intestines, proved to be the trigger for the release of popular anger that had built up over the years over the rise in violence against women. The statistics are horrific.  According to government estimates, almost every 20 minutes, a woman is raped in India.  In New Delhi, dubbed the “rape capital of India,” the incidence of rape rose from 572 in 2011 to 661 so far in 2012.  Of the 256,329 incidents of violent crime reported for 2011, a total of 228,650, or close to 90 percent, were committed against women. What accounts for what one writer describes as the “increasingly predatory sexual culture”?   For some analysts, the rise in sexual aggression is related to male resentment of the erosion of the traditional subordination of women in India’s patriarchal society by women’s increasing role in the work force, their increased mobility, and their growing social and economic empowerment.   Also a major factor has been police laxness in dealing with rape reports and increased impunity by rapists owing to the victims’ feeling that the legal processes are stacked against them and their wish to avoid the stigma associated with being raped or abused.  India is, in this regard, much like other societies, and is little different from, say, the United States, which analyst Shenali Waduge, citing government estimates, says tops the rape chart. Yet the current protests may turn out to be a turning point, for while much of the media reporting has focused on spontaneous demands like the death penalty or chemical castration for rapists and sex offenders, the recent developments may well mark the emergence of a massive militant mass movement in India that will focus on confronting head-on the patriarchal norms propping up the social subordination of women that is at the root of much sexual...

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