November 13, 2016

The looming Marcos restoration

Thirty short years after the downfall of the dictator Marcos, the Marcoses are back with a vengeance.

And soon, they hope, all traces of their disgraceful exit from Malacanang will be expunged from public memory. The hated despot — the villain who wrought so much suffering on our people, the crook who sold the country down the river so he and his family could live like royalty — will be given a burial that befits a national hero.

Certainly not because he is a hero; he was the epitome of a heel. Marcos will be buried as his family and loyal followers wish, with the dignity and honor they claim he deserves, because the time is ripe, so they say, for “moving on”, for “national unity”, for “healing”. Or is it ripe because finally, a close Marcos ally is a popular yet maverick President?

According to the ones most immediately responsible for this looming despicable deed - the majority in the Supreme Court and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte - 1) Marcos was a former bemedalled soldier and president of the republic no less; 2) the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB) is reserved for one such as he; 3) the president has the power to order Marcos’ burial at the LNMB.  And all else is irrelevant.

Rather than be a balm for healing, Marcos’ impending burial in LNMB has only opened  festering wounds and stirred up unsettled questions.

And well it should.  For the greater tragedy would be to allow the Marcos family and their political cohorts to pull a fast one. That once the dictator’s touted remains are buried at the LNMB, the way forward to retaking Malacañang Palace will be all clear for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

One obvious question, wasn’t Marcos an unmitigated evil that he managed to impose martial law, usurp all power and call it a “constitutional dictatorship”, suppress all dissent with an iron hand, monopolize business for his clique and still gain the backing of the US of A, the so-called citadel of democracy itself?

To say yes to that would be to give Marcos too much credit. Philippine society pre-martial law was in one of its paroxysms of social and political crises. The social volcano was  threatening to erupt due to the sharpening contradictions between the oligarchy of big landlords and comprador bourgeoisie versus the broad masses of the Filipino people - peasants, workers, urban poor, youth and students, low-earning employees and small business folk.

The political duopoly of the Nacionalista and Liberal Parties alternated in deceiving and repressing the populace and in using their official positions to fatten their pockets and perpetuate their political dynasties.

The air was rife with social discontent and revolution.  The Communist Party of the Philippines had been reestablished, soon to be followed by the founding of the New People’s Army, both dedicated to overthrowing a decaying semicolonial and semifeudal order.  The times also saw the birth of the Moro National Liberation Front with the objective of liberating the Moro people from national oppression by means of secession.

Competition among the factions of the political elite was turning more violent and irreconcilable. And Ferdinand E. Marcos was on his last term in office.

In sum, the ruling classes could no longer rule in the old way and needed to resort to martial law to preserve and bring stability to the moribund status quo.  Marcos provided the brains and evil design to pull it off. He led his faction of the elite, with its hold on the military and constabulary generals, to establish authoritarian rule. He got the backing of big business, the Catholic church hierarchy, the foreign chambers of commerce and most important of all, the US government.

All sources and avenues of dissent, he simply shut down in the name of “saving the republic” from invented Left and Right conspiracies.  Martial law heralded the coming of a “new society” supposedly marked by  discipline and progress. Remember the “new society” anthem with its promise “Magbabago ang lahat tungo sa pag-unlad”? (All things will change for the better.)

Why, even much of the public was initially duped (of course, most people found it less dangerous to simply acquiesce and hope that even only half of the martial law propaganda of good things to come would turn out to be true.)

It took 14 years for the fascist dictatorship to become fully exposed for what it was. It took an armed revolution in the countryside to shatter the illusion of its armed invincibility.  The broad anti-dictatorship movement grew by leaps and bounds bringing hundreds of thousands out into the streets by the time of the assassination of Marcos’ nemesis, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino.

The political spectrum ranged against Marcos included the communist-led and Moro liberation movements, the legal progressive movement of democrats and human rights advocates, the conservative Catholic hierarchy led by a wily Cardinal and the various anti-Marcos reactionaries who wanted to remove Marcos so that they could take over.

A failed coup d’tat attempt by disgruntled military officers sparked an unarmed people’s uprising that precipitated the downfall of Marcos.  EDSA 1 was hailed as a “people’s revolution” that was unique because it was non-violent.  It catapulted Corazon C. Aquino to the presidency and allowed her to declare a “revolutionary government”.

However EDSA 1 was not a social revolution by any stretch of the imagination. It merely restored the old ruling order with its trappings of democracy - Congress, the courts, non-government mass media and periodic elections where the different factions of the ruling classes could contest whose turn it is to screw the people.  The system of feudal land ownership, neocolonial domination by the US and anti-people regimes run by bureaucrat capitalists that nationalists and democrats had been denouncing and calling for a complete overhaul continued unimpeded.

EDSA 1 didn’t even achieve the minimum post-dictatorship imperative to completely hold Marcos and his ilk to account for crimes against the people and against humanity (given the scale and gravity of human rights violations).  There was no thoroughgoing investigation and a definitive historicizing of the Marcos legacy.  The pursuit of ill-gotten wealth was mired in legal tussles not to mention questionable concessions and under-the-table wheeling dealing with the Marcoses and cronies.  The Marcoses themselves managed to reinvent themselves — from complicit perpetrators to hapless victims of injustice, no less! — and mounted a horrific political comeback that is causing nightmares to their victims and the rest of the Filipino people.

Political accommodation has taken over.  The politicians and bureaucrats complicit in propping up the dictatorship have gotten a new lease in life. It is business as usual with the competing factions obsessed with taking power and keeping it. Imelda Marcos and her children, heirs to the Marcos loot and residual clout, have proven too enticing as political allies for anyone who would aspire for the highest post of the land.

Over time, Marcos' crimes would gradually be obscured in the collective amnesia of a population inured to rampant and high-level corruption, impunity in human rights violations, shameless puppetry and subservience to foreign interests.  Widespread desperation over continuously worsening living conditions have made people susceptible and vulnerable to the canard that "things were better during Marcos' time”.

But it would take a boldfaced Marcos ally and chief executive to take advantage of this and dare to declare:  it's time to bury Marcos along with all his crimes and our bad memories of him. #

Published in Business World
14 November 2016

October 31, 2016

Restoring a people’s dignity

I watched the cultural show  “Hugpungan” (“encounter” ) mounted by the national minorities — Moro and indigenous peoples — together with UP students at the Diliman Theater last week and was at one point moved to tears.  A powerful choreography performed by youngsters, lumad from different tribes in Mindanao, depicted their pride in their culture, forces attempting to grab their ancestral lands, their determined defense as well as assertion of the right to self determination.  The word that crossed my mind was “dignity” and the beauty of their struggle to uphold their dignity as distinct peoples.

Filipinos from the national majority, most especially those who consider themselves modern and urbane, have much to learn from our sisters and brothers from the mountains.  Those who joined the Lakbayan 2016, a long journey to the National Capital Region bringing their issues and struggles combine the native wisdom and feistiness of their elders with the socio-political activism of the later generations.

Most of us grow up looking down on the national minorities as backward, uncouth and uncivilized although they are considered picturesque in their colorful “costumes” (actually their native wear) and their innocence is appealing to jaded souls from the metropolis. (The Moros, on the other hand, with their history of armed resistance to colonialism and post-colonial national chauvinism and oppression, have been caricatured as shrewd traders if not conmen and prone to violent reprisal for perceived grievances.)

How to “integrate” them into mainstream society and “improve” their lot has been the battlecry of succeeding governments. When a few of their young people are able to get higher education, they inevitably melt or are swallowed into the dominant culture and society losing their identity and distinctiveness.

The ruling elite in this country, those who partner with foreign mining companies, agricorporations and the like or are in their pay, are incredulous that these “natives” know and assert their rights.  They conclude that these people must have been “indoctrinated” by “outsiders” (the communist New People’s Army or NPA, to be more specific).  

Ergo the problem is the NPA and the solution is a counterinsurgency program to drive out the NPA by entrenching soldiers inside their communities and recruiting paramilitary groups from their ranks to terrorize them into submission.  When “peace and order” is restored, the military and other government agencies come in with social services to win back the national minorities’ “hearts and minds”. 

A simple and straightforward “solution” that has failed again and again. It is anchored on the objective of perpetuating exploitation and oppression and denying the national minorities their inherent right to determine their own future. Counterinsurgency programs no matter their “peace and development” guise only engender resistance.  Having somehow retained or, perhaps, rediscovered their dignity and strength as a unified people, the national minorities are fighting for their lives and their very existence.

We now reflect on President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncements and moves to leave the US sphere of influence in the light of our most recent encounter with our national minorities.  

What is most striking is that Mr. Duterte is the first president since independence who has explicitly stated he will not be a US lapdog.  He is bringing back our pride and dignity as a people when he says the Philippines will no longer be a “doormat” of the US. Under his watch, the country will hew to an independent foreign policy, an aspiration enshrined in the Philippine Constitution yet consistently observed in the breach by the political class who rule this country.

A senior citizen expressed the sentiment thus, “I never thought I would see the day when a Philippine president could say ‘F—k you!’ to the leaders of the Western powers and the international institutions they control for their brazen and hypocritical denunciation of the body count in Mr. Duterte’s campaign against addictive drugs.  They have the blood of countless Arabs, Africans, Asians and black and native Americans on their hands because of their wars of colonization, aggression and plunder.”

Mr. Duterte is using the presidency as a bully pulpit to awaken the people’s patriotic sentiments buried under an avalanche of US colonial miseducation, lies and distortions of history, mass media-fed taste for US commodities including cultural goods, and non-stop propaganda about the US being the epitome of modernity, progress, democracy and the good life.

I was pleasantly surprised when the police officer assigned to negotiate with demonstrators at the US embassy last Thursday said another clash between protesters and the police should be avoided at all cost since it would only please the Americans.  He also grumbled about the US giving crumbs to the country, its supposed long-time ally, when it allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to Israel. (It appears that all the public discussion generated by Mr. Duterte’s bold, and to some, outrageous statements, had filtered down even to the men in uniform.)

The White House, the US State Department and neoconservative US political pundits are getting very worried that Mr. Duterte’s anti-US tirade, including dredging up almost forgotten historical atrocities against the Filipino people that would be considered crimes against humanity today, are going to be backed by official action.  

President Duterte has said he wants US troops out of Mindanao nonetheless a new batch of “rotating” US Special Forces numbering more than a hundred recently arrived in Zamboanga City.  He has announced that joint military exercises this October would be the last during his term but military and defense officials have countered his pronouncement by saying such exercises have been scheduled ahead of time and cannot just be cancelled without doing damage to the two countries’ military alliance. 

In response to veiled threats by US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russell about the possible consequences of Mr. Duterte’s turning his back on the US and embracing China, the Commander-in-Chief said that he could very well scrap the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a lopsided bilateral agreement that allows the de facto setting up of US military installations inside so-called Philippine bases, crucial to the US “pivot to Asia”.  Having been upheld by the Philippine Supreme Court as an executive agreement, it is well within the power of the Chief Executive to rescind EDCA.  But Mr. Duterte has backtracked and said he will consult the DND and AFP top brass before making such a decision since it is a “national security” concern.

What is clear and categorical by now is that the Duterte administration is moving farther away from the ambit of US domination economically and militarily with his recent state visit to China where he was warmly received and purportedly brought home a bonanza of economic investments, soft loans and outright grants.  Without giving up the favorable decision rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the Philippines’ maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Mr. Duterte was able to arrive at a peaceful settlement of the Scarborough Shoal stand-off with the immediate effect that Filipino fisherfolk are again able to fish there without being chased away by Chinese coast guard ships.

Mr. Duterte’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy is eating away at one of the biggest factors pushing China’s aggressiveness in the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea; that is, the Philippines’ identification with US geopolitical imperatives and kowtowing to US dictates.  #

Published in Business World
2 November 2016


October 25, 2016

Palovian reflex

It was shockingly painful to watch the video footage of a police van mowing down protesting indigenous and Moro people in front of the US embassy last Wednesday.  The rabid zeal and brutally with which the police used their might to inflict injury on anyone they could lay their hands on and arrest as many as they could (including those already hurt and the First Aid team of doctors and nurses attempting to attend to the wounded) was all too familiar yet still disturbing if not revolting.

Another case of police over zealousness in protecting the US embassy? The usual small, unruly crowd of youth activists getting out of hand and requiring more stringent and forceful police crowd management? In fact, no.

The demonstrators easily numbered more than a thousand composed of the different tribes of Lumad and Moros from Mindanao, Igorots from the Cordillera, Dumagats from Southern Tagalog, Aetas from Central Luzon and even Tumandok from Panay.  They were joined by a smaller number of supporters from Metro Manila coming from different sectors including students, workers and urban poor.

They caught the police contingent providing perimeter security for the embassy by surprise and were able to maneuver to get as close to the embassy walls as possible, of course with a lot of shoving and shouting.  They painted the pristine walls red with slogans such as “Go Duterte! Junk EDCA!” and “Yankee go home!”

When the dust had settled, the police, some of them splattered with red paint, resigned themselves to the situation and allowed the demonstrators to hold their almost 2-hour long program in peace.

As the protesters wound up their program of speeches and cultural numbers, a certain Col. Pedroza arrived.  He berated his men for allowing the demonstrators to get the better of them without putting up a fight and allowing him to lose face with US embassy officials.  He then ordered a completely unwarranted violent dispersal of the protest action that was already about to end without further incident.

Several questions have come to fore as culled from social media.  The standard one, “Weren’t the demonstrators asking for it?  Didn’t they ‘provoke’ the police?”  From many witnesses and raw video footages, it is clear that the initial confrontation occurred when the demonstrators asserted their right to bring their message to the very threshold of the embassy.  They succeeded to do so by overpowering the police phalanx with their sheer size and militance.

Immediately they were able to splash red paint on the US embassy seal and paint their slogans on the embassy walls as an expression of rage and protest at the Almighty US of A — self-appointed global policeman and number one instigator of wars of aggression and intervention worldwide — again despite the efforts of the police to prevent them.

Having done so and entrenching their ranks in front of the embassy, the demonstrators quieted down and held their protest program. The police too settled down, held their peace and watched the demonstrators from where they had ensconced.

So what had “provoked” the police was the order of their commander to unleash their maximum intolerance for citizens exercising their right to air their grievances so that US embassy officials could be reassured the police were doing their job.  The Pavlovian reflex took over the police forces, having been oriented, trained, equipped and constantly sicced on protesting citizens to protect the status quo, the oligarchy and their foreign overlords.  The real nature of the PNP as protector of the neocolonial state, especially its power centers like Malacañang and the US embassy, was on full display.

But aren’t the police under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte even faintly aware that their Commander-in-Chief is no longer the unmitigated “Amboy” (American Boy) that all previous presidents since so-called independence have been? At the rate Duterte has been raining expletives on the mighty USA, including its President and the US State Department, while elucidating his concept of an independent foreign policy, more mass protests at the embassy should and could have been anticipated and police response adjusted accordingly.

Unfortunately, the puppet and fascist character of the PNP is so ingrained, it will take a major and determined overhaul to change it.  (It doesn’t help that the PNP is getting carte blanche in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs where abuse of power, extrajudicial short cuts, corruption and impunity are still very much in evidence.)

But there are netizens who are alternately perplexed and aghast why there were indigenous people and Moros demonstrating against US imperialism at the embassy.  Was that their issue? Weren’t their legitimate issues about defending their ancestral lands from interlopers or even the killings traced to paramilitary units and even military forces themselves.  Shouldn’t they be at the
DENR protesting corporate mining or at the AFP camps calling for en end to militarization.  Why the US embassy? (They, in fact, had already been to the DENR and Camp Aguinaldo military camp.)

There were even some who imputed that the Left, perennial protestors at the US embassy, had hoodwinked and somehow manipulated the contingents of national minorities to do their bidding and “riot” at the US embassy.

They who had trekked thousands of miles from north to south of the archipelago in what they had dubbed “Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan” (Journey of National Minorities for Self-determination and a Just Peace) were presumed too politically naive and shallow to grasp how US imperialism affects them and so they had to be “tricked” to protest at the US embassy.

Wrong.  Contrary to the common city goers' misconception, the lumad for one have educated themselves, primarily by their own efforts, setting up at least 146 schools in various communities all over Mindanao.  These schools have been targets of brutal attacks by the military mainly because they have effectively equipped the lumad with the tools to study and understand their situation and to fight for their rights.

Speaker after speaker from among their ranks have clearly articulated the relationship between the encroachments on their lands by multinational mining companies and agribusinesses, the plunder of natural resources and wanton destruction of the environment, and the grievous violations of their rights to US imperialism and its strongest tentacles among the AFP and PNP.

They spoke of the US-patterned, instigated, funded and directed counter-insurgency programs, including the latest Oplan Bayanihan, as behind the militarization of their communities, the divide-and-rule tactic of arming paramilitaries recruited from among them to do the dirty work of
terrorizing their communities in order to drive them away from their communal lands so that the foreign corporate interests and their domestic partners could take over.

The indigenous peoples and Moros have the historical and practical experience of struggling against colonial subjugation and neocolonial oppression and exploitation.  Thus they have sharpened their understanding of the root causes of their abject condition and what they must do to regain their dignity as a people, to exercise their right to self-determination and to live their lives under the ascendance of a just peace. #