MANILA, August 20, 2013—With statistical and economic indicators aside, what would the plight of grassroots sectors be like?
In a bid to air out their unheard sentiments concerning the system of governance of the present administration, representatives of various sectoral groups gathered on August 9 to discuss how the reported economic growth has impacted their state.
Dubbed as “Talakayang Bayan: Tinig ng 99% – “Kaginhawahan: Nararamdaman ko ba ito?”, the academic forum held at the Adamson University featured a critique of the current state of the Philippine economy by various sectoral groups.
Sectoral representatives were given the chance to express their side on how the reported economic growth has affected—whether positively or negatively—their day-to-day living.
Groups covered by the forum include representatives from the following sectors: indigenous people, women, farmers, urban poor, environmental advocates, youth, and labor, among many others.
The forum was organized by Kilusang 99% (K99), a movement convened by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace (CBCP-NASSA).
The K99 movement signifies the majority of Filipinos (99 percent) who suffer from various kinds of exploitation, in contrast with the minority (1 percent) who enjoys the comfort of living an affluent lifestyle.
Growth for indigenous tribes
Indigenous People Representative Conchita Calzado said the plight of indigenous groups has gone worse as funding and budget problems continuously hinder the progress of projects intended for their development.
“Aside from the fact that we are allocated with meager funding, the budget hearing makes everything hard for us,” she said in the vernacular, noting that a lot of conditions have to be met before their funding gets released.
“The situation has become worse and even harder for us. The rights of tribal groups are being neglected. We are far from experiencing the development they are all claiming,” she added.
Calzado noted that the development yearned by the Philippine government is a far cry from the improvement yearned by indigenous groups as various modernization and commercialization schemes only destroy their ancestral lands.
“The development wanted by ancient tribes is different from the development planned by the government. The progress we would want to attain is the recognition, protection, and preservation of our culture and tradition,” she said.
She added that the growth of indigenous groups would only be achieved if their right to ancestral domain would be recognized and if they would be granted rightful representation in the legislature.
“Where are we expected to go? Could we claim that indigenous tribes have attained progress once concrete bridges and big infrastructures have taken our lands? Is that what they call progress?” Calzado said.
Calzado claimed that indigenous groups have become more voiceless and ignored, as time passes by.
“The protection of our ancestral lands is being neglected in the present system. We are losing our voice, and sometimes, when we get the chance to speak to fight for our rights, we are accused of being anti-government,” she said.
She called on government officials to heed their call by strengthening their representation and improving the implementation of policies intended for their development.
Women’s Group Representative Jinky Fulgencio pointed out the prevailing gender inequality between male and female laborers.
Earning a living as a factory worker in Valenzuela, Fulgencio said males are oftentimes paid more than female workers despite having the same workload.
She also cited discrimination against old female workers, noting that they are criticized as being over-aged and unfit for the job as compared to aged male workers who still get easily employed.
“There is no equality between male and female laborers. Women are continuously being treated differently by some employers,” she said in the vernacular.
Fulgencio called on government officials to address the needs of blue-collar workers by improving their compensation and trashing contractualization schemes.
“Would laborers remain as laborers forever? I hope that we would be provided with even the slightest means of comfort…All we can hope for is to be allowed to work, be regularized in our jobs, eat three times a day, have proper shelter, and send our children to schools,” she said.
“We make rich business owners richer. They need us. I just hope that we would be granted our much-yearned benefits,” Fulgencio said.
Meanwhile, Alyansa Tigil Mina Representative Jaybee Garganera slated the degradation of the country’s flora and fauna caused by mining projects pushed by the government.
Citing the Tampakan project that affects the provinces of North and South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao, Gargarena said mining initiatives in the country, once implemented, would adversely affect the environmental state of the country.
“Unfavorable effects would come out from this project just because some people would like to make money out of mining,” he said in the vernacular.
“They are blind to the fact that this would affect the irrigation of thousands of hectares of land, which in turn, would also adversely affect the livelihood of farmers and their respective families,” Garganera added.
“This mining project would affect forests and bodies of water, and there will be grave changes to the state of Mindanao provinces. It is clear that these efforts promote grave misuse of the environment, but (the government) still allowed it because of the mistaken belief that it will lead to the progress of the country,” he said.
Garganera noted that growth is far from being achieved if the government would continue ignoring the rightful preservation of the environment for the sake of raking in money.
“Which one will reign? Is it nature or the money we would get from mining?” he asked.
He urged the public to be united in achieving growth by means of an alternative approach that does not cause environmental degradation.
“We can push an alternative means to change if we have a clear direction and if all sectors would gladly contribute to this effort. But we should not discount the fact that a lot still has to be done,” he noted.
Plight of urban poor
Urban Poor Representative Olive Parilla stressed the importance of lay initiatives in achieving the much-yearned progress in various societal sectors, noting that the proper engagement of each may greatly contribute to this cause.
“We should not just criticize the mistakes we see. Instead, we have to engage especially in the local planning and decision-making of our government,” she said in Filipino.
She echoed the need for more consultations to let various sectors express their needs to authorities.
“We should have more consultations to hear and voice out the needs of different sectors,” she said.
“As a sector that demands a lot of change in the present system, we have to act accordingly to achieve the progress and development we are all yearning for,” Parilla added. (Jennifer Orillaza)