WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY
The two-day Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Bacolod ends today, two of several conferences being held outside of Luzon. It is, perhaps ironic that the conference takes place at the time that we are experiencing the tragedy of our time – the death sentence to one of our Overseas Filipino Workers in Indonesia who by God's mercy was reprieved.
APEC represents the liberalization of our economy through the removal of barriers to international trade supposedly to protect the smaller and developing nations from the financial, industrial and political might of the West. That is what propaganda told us right after World War II when most countries were prostrate from the wreckage of the most destructive war of the 20 th century.
The policy of protectionism of the western and industrialized countries was a stumbling block for the poor and underdeveloped countries from selling there. The poor countries asked that these barriers be lifted to allow them to trade and earn. The poor nations cannot produce a surplus for export for lack of market.
And so it was that in the 1980's the idea of liberalizing trade was the mantra for development. Poor nations pushed for the relaxation of the international trading system to give products from poor countries a chance in economies that have the money.
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade came into being – the APEC and other economic treaties are the offspring of this new world economic order. It took some time for the Philippine Congress to ratify these treaties that were billed as trade liberalization towards economic integration.
The reality, however, was far from ready for what the poor nations, like the Philippines have hoped for. We opened our doors to all sorts of goods from the developed, rich countries but while we exported to these countries, our products were unable to compete with theirs. Our cost of production, for instance is high because we are still using primitive tools and processes that are costly.
In agriculture, for instance, our production costs are high because practically all our farms are small and labor intensive. What we can plant in a week developed nations can plant in a day. What we can harvest in a week, they can harvest in half a day. Most of our goods are in the natural state – theirs have several layers of value added.
The most palpable result of this inequitable relationship among the nations under the APEC is that we have to rely on what we have – labor for the needs of developed countries. The Philippine government adopted a massive labor export policy because the foreign currencies that annually pour into the country are too huge – US$22 billion that OFWs have become the main prop of the Philippine economy. Not industries, not exports, but human labor is the underpinning of our economy.
Only in this sense are we able to keep life going in this country. Sure many families have risen from the quagmire of poverty to a better life but at what price? The cases of many OFWs languishing in foreign jails or abused by their employers and broken families are only samples of the price we are paying.
Many Filipinos are forced by the circumstance of life to try to find work abroad because the Philippine government is unable to provide for a source of decent livelihood here.
A few months back when news of several companies opening malls, townships and huge markets in Bacolod came out, someone asked: can our local economy sustain these multi-billion projects? If we rely on our local economy, the answer is we cannot, but there are millions of dollars coming in from overseas workers and the corporate giants intend to siphon this money.
Sure these projects will generate hundreds of local employment, but consider that the money they are going to pay these employees is not generated by these corporate giants but mostly from OFW remittances. These giants are not bringing in money – they are taking out and we are not the least enriched.
We are mesmerized by these huge projects but, in truth, most are not here to help develop the local economy but to take out through the goods they sell and profits they remit back.
Consider their investments and think whether they are creating wealth or they are draining off wealth from this province.
What these corporate giants are doing to Negros is what the developed nations are doing to underdeveloped ones. APEC exemplifies this system.
This is the tragedy of our time.*
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