There’s no question: the Philippines has been engulfed by a new social menace; its deleterious effects are being felt in all areas of our social life . This is the pernicious phenomenon of what has been called “neo-liberalism”. Because it develops as a set of economic policies that has grown out of worldwide capitalism— or more accurately, as a necessary development of imperialism—it pervades all other aspects of society, especially in the cultural life of the people.
It is an economic malady, as much as it afflicts the political and cultural superstructure of society.
For an informed introduction and familiarization with the features of “neo-liberalism”, we take this quote from Elizabeth Martinez and Arnoldo Garcia who both attended the Intercontinental Encounter for Humanity and Against Neo-Liberalism on July 27- August 3, 1996, in Chiapas, Mexico. They say –
“Neo-Liberalism is a set of economic policies that have become widespread during the last 25 years or so. Although the word is rarely heard in the United States, you can clearly see the effects of neo-liberalism here as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer.
“Liberalism can refer to political, economic, or even religious ideas. In the U.S. political liberalism has been a strategy to prevent social conflict. It is presented to poor and working people as progressive compared to conservative or Right–wing.
“Neo means a new kind of liberalism. So what was the old kind? The liberal school of economics became famous in Europe when Adam Smith, a Scottish economist, published a book in 1776 called The Wealth of Nations. He and others advocated the abolition of government intervention in economic matters. No restriction on manufacturing, no barriers to commerce, no tariffs, he said, free trade was the best way for nation’s economy to develop. Such ideas were ‘liberal’ in the sense of no controls. This application of individualism encouraged ‘free enterprise’, ‘free competition’—which came to mean, free for the capitalists to make huge profits as they wished.”
Neo-Liberalism as it manifests in Philippine society takes the form of State-imposed policies in the economy and directs the conduct of government officials. It affects the general consciousness of the Filipino citizenry. The norms of “free enterprise” are held as the most viable road on which society’s economic development must take. It serves as the masthead of the economic elite’s ideology alongside its cognate called “democracy”, a vastly deodorized system of politics and governance.
Individualism is given high premium and works as the core motivation of neo-liberalism. It takes on the garb of individual freedom —“freedom from all controls” and provides the premise of the “rule of the market” as the banner prescribed in all economic activities in society. It is like religion the doctrines of which must be observed and followed no matter the social damage it may cause. This spreads the gospel of “free trade” that flings open the country’s boundaries to international trade and investment. And so, the establishment of export processing zones and agri-business industries where multinationals thrive and dominate to their utmost advantage at the expense of the host country’s economic growth and development. .
Accordingly, neo-liberal mandates an unregulated market which is deemed the best way to increase economic growth and believed to ultimately benefit everyone by the long dislodged theory of “trickle down” effect. . And so, deregulation is adopted as an economic policy. But deregulation after decades of implementation has only perpetuated the spiraling rise of oil prices along with all other basic commodities. And poverty worsened.
Privatization of public corporations is another move demanded by the economic leaders in government. whereby public corporations charged with the delivery of social services are transferred to private ownership in the name of efficient management and supervision. But this will only reduce if not remove safety-net measures for the poor. And under private capitalist management the cost of services inevitably rises. What is capitalist undertaking for if not profits and more profits. As a result wealth is concentrated in a few hands. The poor is always at the losing end because the public pays more for the needed social services.
Under this regime of neo-liberalism the concept of “the public good” or “common good” is eliminated and is replaced with “individual responsibility”. The individual citizens are left to fend for themselves amidst overwhelming forces that deny them rights for survival and better conditions of existence. There is no such thing as individual responsibility, much more social conscience and responsibility as guiding principle for governance and the economic plunder of natural resources pursued for profits. The impetus of the rage to gain must be unimpeded by any concept of common good.
Via this precept, it is no wonder that President Noynoy Aquino would open the roads and gates for mining corporations to the rich mineral-endowed mountains to be leveled by open-pit mining, making irreparable damage to environment and dispossessing and displacing indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. And when these destructive anti-environment, anti-people activities draw criticism and opposition by concerned sectors and the affected communities, the State security forces come into the scene as protectors of the alien plunderers.
Indeed, massive militarization has always been the Philippine government’s response to strong, consistent and just opposition to environmental destruction by foreign mining and logging operations. Mindanao is invaded by 55 battalions of government troops to safeguard the continued operation of these foreign interests. And these armed minions of the State who occupy our indigenous people’s dwelling places and school buildings have been very effective in violating peoples’ human rights with impunity. They have tortured, maimed, kidnapped and killed mountain residents of all ages and gender.
The soldiers are made to believe the falsehood that they are serving their country and people, when they serve the interests of foreign nationals and a handful few among our economic elite who own the resources and wealth of the Land. This makes them fascist soldiers who have no respect for the human rights of their fellow countrymen. As mercenaries their beastly conduct will inevitably develop into a berdugo syndrome in the mold of Palparan’s psychopathic personality. .
In industrial centers, the workers are greatly marginalized. Their wages are reduced, their employment tenure compromised with a system of contractualization. What Filipino workers have fought for decades for their own welfare and benefit, including their workers’ rights to form unions have been eliminated. Labor laws have become mere decorative items in the legal depositories of the nation’s justice system. The President even brags the near-zero occurrence of workers strikes throughout the archipelago as indication there is stable “industrial peace”—the catchphrase of capitalist exploitation of workers.
Neo-liberalism has likewise warped the mentality and outlook of the citizenry in general. Individualism is at its worst at these times of unabated influx and propagation of cultural norms and modes of thought from the West, especially from the United States where the American pop culture pervades the moral fiber of the /Filipino soul, reinforcing our people’s penchant for foreign goods and habits. The domestic policy of opening the country’s inland beauty spots as tourist destinations has stretched the elastic limits of what ought to be safeguarded as inalienable patrimony and land resources. Foreign nationals have invaded our sacred places for exploitation as incentives for foreign investments. The government—yes, President Noynoy himself — has acted as pimp for the prostitution of our fabulous land and our women. And nowhere is this most starkly scandalous than the favors accorded to US military troops in occupying our sovereign territories, granting them license under unequal treaties and agreements, to rape our women, kill any Filipino citizen denied of right and access to our own repository of justice.
The phenomenon of “neo-diaspora” whereby Filipino nationals in hundreds of thousands are obliged to seek employment in foreign lands is an undeniable testimony of the government’s lack of concern or outright neglect for the uplift of the domestic plight of our people, immersed as it is in bureaucratic corruption to infinite proportions.. Neo-liberal outlook engenders individualism in its worst expression of self-aggrandizement and the “rage to get rich quickly”, “to each his own” and the “get ahead of the others” mentality.
In fine, the decades of neo-liberal policies imposed by the government, officially instituted during the incumbency of former President Fidel Ramos,. have not alleviated but have rather caused the worsening poverty and misery of the masses and the country’s continuing underdevelopment. Neo-Liberalism is a phenomenon concomitant with our government’s rabid puppetry to U.S. Imperialism—the source of all evils that have shackled Philippine society to perpetual poverty and underdevelopment.