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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2788


Senator MASON —(New South Wales) (3.55)-The report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence entitled `Australia and the Philippines: The situation in the Philippines and its implications for Australia' is a very interesting and useful report which sets out a great deal of fact.


Senator Crichton-Browne —Is it a good report?


Senator MASON —It is a good report but to my mind it does not sufficiently emphasise and define closely enough the type of initiative that Australia should take to assist the processes of reform that would be the only way of saving the Philippines society in the future. This is something of a spectator report. As I said, it contains a great deal of factual material but when it comes to recommendations I think the Committee has been more vague than it ought to have been in defining what should be the important thing for this Parliament-that is, what can we do most effectively to help the present situation in the Philippines?

I suggest that it is not enough that President Aquino has survived the recent coup possibilities. She has done so at the price of an accommodation with the military in the Philippines. I think that is something of enormous importance; it is something which has to be taken into account in any dealings with the Philippines that our Government might have. Quite unlike our military forces in Australia, in a sense the regional power groupings in the Philippines in many cases are in fact private armies which support the cause of local mayors and local plantation owners, particularly the owners of sugar plantations, and whose sole purpose is to put down and to suppress the normal feelings of independence that people have and to exploit people economically in every way possible.

I remember that when I was in the Philippines two years ago I spoke with the late lamented Defence Minister, Mr Juan Ponce Enrile, about the Brian Gore case. I was told then by Mr Enrile-I think this is important and valuable-that there was not a great deal that the Philippines Government in Manila could do about situations like that because, and Mr Enrile told me this quite frankly, there were power groupings in the Philippines over which the central Government had virtually no control. I think we have to bear in mind that it is not only what is going to happen in Manila that will be of consequence.

Reforms in the Philippines will not be easy. Many years ago I was in the Philippines for the election following the death of Ramon Magsaysay whom some honourable senators may remember as being the President in the 1950s who really did attempt proper agrarian reform and reform of the Filipino society. He ran headlong into conflict with these regional power groupings in the Philippines, as a result of which he was killed not long afterwards in an air crash. I and many other people do not believe that that air crash was accidental. I was at the election following Magsaysay's death. It was an eye opener for me to observe that election closely and to see the degree of corruption which marked the election at that time and which has also occurred at every election since. I also saw the degree of violence that occurs in all Filipino elections. Scores of people were killed. Literally millions of people were influenced either by bribes, blackmail or by force in respect of the way they cast their votes. The report of the Joint Committee states:

The Committee considers it appropriate that the Philippines should rank high among the recipients of Australian development assistance in view of its development needs and its strategic, political and economic importance to Australia.

One could not disagree with that statement. But it is not good enough; it does not go far enough. I ask, through the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) who is at the table, that the Australian Government consider as a matter of urgency a definite and large pattern of aid to the Filipino Government of Mrs Aquino which addresses some fundamental problems of that society and that some attempt be made to analyse and assess what those fundamental problems are before that aid program is worked out. The basic problem is that the very poor people in the barrios and the villages need some kind of co-operative industries. They perhaps need to produce better farm products. There should be a strong inducement on the Filipino Government if that can be done-and I think it can-to transfer land back to those people. Land used for export crops, particularly sugar, should be transferred back to them so that the Philippines can return to a situation where it is actually capable of feeding its own people, which it is not capable of doing now. I think there could be any sort of assistance for co-operative industries at the village level. I will have a word about infrastructure a little later but I believe there should not be large infrastructure projects, such as dams, roads and things of that kind. The projects should be designed to address the actual needs of the bulk of the people at the very poor and impoverished economic level at which they now stand. These things will not be achieved simply by throwing money.

I suggest that there is a mission for Australia, as far as the Philippines is concerned, to go back to the sort of situation we had 20 years ago. Expert volunteers were actually prepared to go into countries, with sufficient financial backing, and work with the people to do the things that needed to be done. I remember the tremendous reputation that Australian Volunteers Abroad had in Indonesia and in all the other Asian countries at the time. We now have mass unemployment. A lot of our young people, who are extremely well educated and very competent, would be very properly and reasonably, I think, used in this way. It would be better for them to be used in this way than to sit rotting on the dole here; they can be of use. I put this suggestion to the Government, through the Minister at the table, the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan), as it is one which requires people.

What I have said may sound strange because, due to my need to abbreviate my remarks, it would appear that we should push our way through and suggest to, or impose certain things on, the Philippines. Far from it. If we do consult sympathetically with the Aquino Government I think we will find an understanding that these sorts of things are necessary. If the Philippine Government were approached by the Australian Government in a reasonable way it might be very pleased for us to go ahead with that kind of aid.

There is a reference on page 131 of the Committee's report which I think is a little unfortunate. It states:

The projects have been criticised for an excessive emphasis on infrastructure. It has been argued that roads and bridges are of limited value to the poorest groups in the community and may also benefit the military. The Committee considers that this criticism misses the point that sustained economic growth, without which lasting poverty alleviation is unlikely to occur, requires the removal of major obstacles to development. In many developing countries, inadequate infrastructure is one of the most crippling obstacles to development.

That is a very shallow, very superficial and totally inaccurate perception which the Committee has put in the report, and I do not know why it has done so. I have worked as an adviser overseas in these sorts of village communities and I can tell the Committee that that is not the first necessity. If infrastructure is put in first that infrastructure will not be used. We have to build up from the impoverished village society itself, and infrastructure is something which must come later. The Committee hangs itself by its own petard by saying that better roads mean that more farmers can get more produce to market more quickly. This shows a lack of understanding by the Committee. The majority of the people we are concerned with here are impoverished and have nothing to take to market and are not likely to have anything to take to market for a very long time. The people who can take things to market are already doing very nicely, thank you, and it is not really up to Australia to help them more. I think there is a lack of perception there which is very worrying. If we do not do this I think the New People's Army will increase its strength even more than it has done in the past. On page 42 the Committee talks about the NPA, and I am encouraged to see that it states:

From 1983, the CPP/NPA-

the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army-

grew rapidly. The NPA by then was established in nearly all the country's provinces and had an armed strength of perhaps 15,000 armed guerillas.

That was the year I was in the Philippines. I spoke to a number of people in the church and elsewhere who had visited all parts of the Philippines regularly, and they said to me that the New People's Army was stronger then than it had ever been and that all the indications were that if the economic conditions in the Philippines were not ameliorated, it would continue to grow rapidly. So there is the alternative. We have an alternative available to us now to grasp the nettle and take this problem of an aid program to the Philippines, which involves people as well as money and which involves the real needs rather than just the easy way of throwing money into infrastructure, which anybody can do. We have that choice. Either we do that, and other countries in the world with a feeling of good will towards the Aquino Government do it, or we will face a situation where the Philippines will become a communist state. There are no other alternatives. If we sit back now and say that simply because Mrs Aquino appears to have made her accommodation with the military and seems to be in the saddle for the time being in Manila, we are kidding ourselves and, I suggest, kidding ourselves to our great cost in the long run.