Fake populism should boomerang on Arroyo

Jeepney fares will go up from P7.50 to P8.00 starting Wednesday, May 21. Bus fares will also be raised from P10.00 to P11.50.

For the new government-approved figures, read the Inquirer.net and GMANews.tv reports.

This was not what PISTON was demanding in their recent transport strike. PISTON is always the last to seek such increases due to the impact on the commuting public. Fare hikes are the usual response of groups such as FEJODAP and PCDO-ACTO to national economic hardship. PISTON was/is way above the fray of these government-friendly and strike-wary groups, and would rather take a look at their sectoral concern amid the national crisis. PISTON was demanding controls on oil prices vis-a-vis the purported malpractices of Shell, Caltex and Petron (!), and was seeking the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law which removed all manner of protection for the public.

The fare hike is just the latest in a string of suspicious “populist” actions taken by the Arroyo government. First, it started a war against Meralco. Then, the President herself proclaimed the P20 wage hike, beating the hell out of the NCR and Region IV wage boards.  Yesterday, Malacanang announced that it is supporting long-standing calls for a moratorium on tuition fee increases. Today, the government announced a fare hike.

What we are witnessing is a public-relations offensive by the Arroyo administration which may succeed if the opposition and the broad mass movement will allow it and not see the deviousness of it. The band-aid solutions to national disunity, restlessness and economic hardships may look good on paper, but even i we combine them, they hardly make a dent in improving the lot of the majority.

Take the war on Meralco: It truly looks more like pure harassment against the Lopezes than an honest attempt to reduce high power rates. For if the Arroyo administration truly wants low power rates, it could easily and quickly remove the VAT on power. Secondly, consumer groups such as POWER andNASECORE have long bewailed that the Energy Regulatory Commission — an office directly under the President – was just acting like a rubber-stamp of Meralco as long as we can remember.  No mention is made up to now on the role of President Arroyo in the enactment of the EPIRA, the license used by utility firms to gouge consumers with all sorts of fees and rate hikes. All we see is the demonization of Meralco. The major role played by the Arroyo government is being covered up.

Tuition fees have skyrocketed these past few years and decades, no thanks to the deregulation policy on fees and the insatiable greed for profit by so-called capitalist educators (school administrators). Meanwhile, the government has taken a hands-off approach to public education. The budget and number of state colleges and universities continue to be reduced in the name of cost-cutting. President Arroyo even had the gall to appoint Romulo Neri, whose credentials are inadequate for the job, to preside over CHED to purportedly streamline the educational system along neoliberal ends. A moratorium is really good at this time; student groups such as the NUSP and LFS have long asked for it. But this is just a form of immediate reprieve. The crisis is getting worse: higher fees, mass unemployment, board exam scams, dwindling public resources alloted for education, etc.

The KMU and other self-respecting labor groups have called the P20 wage hike as “an insult to the workingclass”. Very honest of these workers, and we should join them. For how can P20 be a form of reprieve amid rising prices of basic goods/services which the Arroyo administration refuses to rein in.

The Arroyo administration is providing the public openings or launching pads from where we could hold it accountable for mismanaging the economy, the budget, the government. The seemingly populist measures it is taking should boomerang on Arroyo who should be held liable for bringing the country to where it is now:

A country ready to cheer small mercies and fake populism amid the crisis of confidence and a sense of hopelessness that have festered since 2001.

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