April 06, 2015

The personal is political

Readers of this ten-something-year-old column have likely observed that the essays I write are mostly political in nature; an outcome of my being a social activist from way back when.  But once in a rare while yet for good reason, the theme becomes more personal.  Then again as the feminists of the late sixties phrased it so elegantly -- the personal is political. And so here goes.

Someone once asked me, intrigued by the last part of the blurb accompanying this column that describes me as a “doctor by training, activist by choice, columnist by accident, proud mother of two and happy partner to a liberated spouse“ what that meant. 

I wish today, on the 70th birthday of the “liberated spouse” to expound on what that means for a radical reformer such as myself.  In the process I wish to publicly give credit where it is due, something that has truly been a long time coming.

I met my future husband, Miguel “Mike” Araullo, as I entered the State University, a wide-eyed and eager ex-colegiala. He was on his way out, prolonging his stay in Delaney Hall (DH), the hang-out of members of the UP Student Catholic Action, only because he was reviewing for the engineering board exams.  As an old Filipino adage goes, a bit paraphrased, “Papunta pa lang ako, pabalik na siya.” (I had just embarked on this journey; he was on his way back.)

Having been born “old” – I was given the moniker “granny” for having an over-sized super-ego and constantly reminding all the kids to behave – I didn’t mind the age gap at all.  Of course his being good-looking caught my eye; more than that he struck me as a mature, kind-hearted person with a straightforward, even mockingly honest manner, that I found refreshing compared to the self-conscious cockiness of the younger males at the DH.

In time his perseverance in courtship paid off despite the physical distance (by then he had started to work in Laguna) and my growing involvement in radical student politics (which meant interminable discussion groups, non-stop teach-ins, and a constant stream of protest rallies and marches on and off campus).

Our relationship withstood the sudden separation from my going underground when martial law was declared and my arrest upon re-enrollment at UP.  Still he did not join the revolutionary movement just to be closer to me; he knew that decision had to come from one’s own conviction and commitment.  But he respected me enough and was sufficiently progressive politically himself not to dissuade me from acting in accord with my beliefs.

After release from detention, he patiently waited for me to finish an extended Bachelor of Arts course, then another four years of medicine (with summer vacations spent in “social immersion” among peasants in the countryside) while he continued to seek economic stability, first  as an employee then an independent, small-scale entrepreneur. 

At last upon graduation we agreed to get married although I managed to irk him by a sudden attack of panic that neither of us knew how to cook so how could we embark on our own away from his and my mother’s reliable kitchens.  But that was to be the least of our problems. He readily assumed the role of breadwinner while taking up the slack from the untalented and perfunctory homemaker that I turned out to be.

Mike’s progressiveness was certainly tempered by his determination to have a viable family life amidst the trials and tribulations of an economy in doldrums and a spouse whose promising professional career wasn't meant to be; more so, of a politically repressive martial law environment and even more terror and harassment under the supposedly liberal democratic regime that followed forcing me to once again go underground for a time leaving behind two bewildered young children.

Many times he was mother and father to our kids especially when I was wont to be hard pressed by the demands of being a full-time activist through the ups and downs, ebbs and flows of the movement.  Through his dedication and perseverance (and to be fair, my wholehearted cooperation) our two children grew up to be well-rounded, self-assured and disciplined individuals with athletic, theatrical and other extra-curricular accomplishments to boot. 

Mike has largely been the "invisible" partner, quietly in the background while wife and kids drew some kind of limelight for achievements or, in some people's eyes, notoriety.  A couple of years ago, our daughter surprised him with a text message on his birthday saying “you are the wind beneath my wings”.   And he is affirmed each time he reads in published interviews of our son that the latter credits his father for the solid values he imbibed as he grew up and the opportunities to develop whatever God-given talents he had.

We had tried not to be defensive about our being “economically challenged” especially when hard times hit his fledgling business and our kids had to wear their cousins’ hand-me-downs.  A proletarian lifestyle, while not being philosophically averse, was still a source of tension and instability in the family.  Happily, we never really quarreled about money or the lack of it.

Mike suffered silently through my mother's harangues about why he would let his wife pursue risky even dangerous, time-consuming and time-away-from-kids kind of "work", instead of hunkering down to a respectable medical practice but he never actually pressured me to stop my activism.  He not only resigned himself to the fact that a large part of what defines me as a person is my activism, he grew to love and respect me all the more for it.

Mike is a spouse who is most of all a dear friend, and always will be.  He is great to have light, silly chats with in early morning jogs and late night telenovela-watching bonding time; as well serious conversations whenever this activist needs a sounding board, especially a contrary but nonetheless thoughtful and honest view about controversial issues of the day.

What is so much clearer to me now, as we grow mellow in our senior years, I would never have been able to pursue a life of dedicated activism and somehow still manage to have happy, healthy and level-headed progeny and a reasonably functioning home were it not for a partner who has been supporting me through thick and thin, good times and bad.

He has been the more mature, the more understanding, the more forgiving, the more accommodating, the less bull-headed of the life partnership  and for that I am most blessed, a truly “happy partner to a liberated spouse”. #

Published in Business World
6 April 2015

March 30, 2015

Aquino’s “last word” on Mamasapano, the writing on the wall?

President Benigno S. Aquino III’s speech at the PNPA graduation was meant to write finis to the public uproar over the bloody, botched counterterrorist operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.  Instead it only managed to further rile a people sick and tired of the finger-pointing, the obfuscation and lies about what really happened, the stonewalling about key factors that caused the failed operation and, to top it all, the pathetic excuse that the president is, after all, only “human” and also makes “mistakes”. 

But the only mistake Aquino admits to is the total trust he conferred on the sacked SAF Commander Napenas (who he says “fooled” him about the seemingly foolproof design of Oplan Exodus and his capability to lead it) and on suspended Chief PNP Purisima (who he says failed to follow his order to coordinate with the AFP and who failed to give him accurate updates on the progress of the operation).  The question he refuses to answer:  why didn’t he, as Commander-in-Chief/Chief Executive, ensure that AFP chief Catapang and the OIC PNP Chief Espina were in the loop from the very beginning? Why did he rely on a suspended general with no authority whatsoever, and a lower level PNP officer whose authority is not at par with either Catapang or Espina, to call the shots in this complex, high-level and high-risk operation?

What Aquino is still trying to obscure is the fact that he authorized Oplan Exodus including the so-called “time-on-target coordination” with the AFP, meaning the AFP would only be informed when the operation was already under way.  He also agreed to set aside the ceasefire protocol with the MILF which meant the SAF commandoes would enter MILF territory without any prior coordination whatsoever with the joint AFP-MILF bodies overseeing the ceasefire.  These two factors are what led to the Mamasapano fiasco: the lack of proper and timely coordination with both the AFP and the MILF.

Aquino stonewalls about his authorizing the setting aside of the ceasefire protocol with the MILF despite knowing about the dangers of fully armed contingents of MILF, BIFF and PAGs (private armed groups) in the area and the likelihood of the “pintakasi” phenomenon (where the armed community unites to resist any armed intruder) as clearly pointed out in the BOI report.

According to the BOI report, Aquino never gave any guidance as to how Oplan Exodus would take into consideration the ongoing GPH-MILF peace process. Aquino obviously agreed with the assessment that the MILF was coddling Marwan and was not to be trusted on that score. He apparently did not consider weighty the ensuing fall-out on the peace process should anything go wrong.  Aquino does not admit to any of these and still pretends to be the leader who would do everything to achieve “peace” in Mindanao, even if it only means getting Congress to pass a watered down Bangsamoro Basic Law that he wagers the MILF will nonetheless accept.

These two fatal errors sealed the doom of the SAF troopers who in effect walked into a death trap:  there was no escape and no rescue until it was already too late.

What stands out in Aquino’s speech is that he was most silent about US involvement in the Marwan operation. The Foreign Affairs department had all but exonerated the US by testifying in the Senate hearings that they accepted hook, line and sinker the US embassy’s declaration that US involvement was limited to the medical evacuation of the trapped SAF troopers.

 That claim by the US embassy was proven to be a big lie when a video taken by a SAF commando of a drone flying just overhead and monitoring the battle surfaced. This validated reports from independent fact-finding missions of the presence of drones days before and on the night of the SAF operation.

Forced to amend its statements, the US and some Philippine government officials subsequently admitted that they helped in intelligence gathering (which is allowed under PH-US agreements such as the VFA) but continued to insist that US forces were not otherwise involved, especially in combat operations.

However, SAF commander Napenas testified under oath during executive sessions of the Senate hearings that there were six US officers, three of whom arrived with him, at the Tactical Command Post along with other SAF commanders. The presence of the six Americans, one of whom was even reported to have issued an order to an Army brigade commander to initiate artillery fire, speaks not only of the high interest the US had in the operation but the hand that they were allowed to have by the Philippine government -- Aquino no less -- in directing the operation.

Did the American "advisers" lead Aquino to believe that they had such reliable intelligence information, and they had trained and armed the SAF commandos so well, that arresting Marwan and Usman would be a walk in the park and that there would be no need to inform the AFP and MILF?

Was BSA so enthralled by the thought that personally turning over “international terrorists” Marwan and Usman to the FBI would be a publicity coup without equal?  Coupled with the capping of the Bangsamoro peace process with the imminent passing of the BBL, would this not make him a shoo-in for the Nobel Peace Prize which had eluded his mother? The thought that he could even surpass his revered mom's record and name must have been so titillating, the other side of the coin -- the high probability of a firefight and costly casualties -- was completely  overlooked or shunted aside in his calculations.

As a bonus, a successful operation would redeem the name of his BFF (best friend forever) General Purisima, justifying his decision to allow the latter to direct the entire operation despite his suspension from office on corruption charges.

Some quarters continue to press the question of where funding for Oplan Exodus could have come from.  If the US funded it, then Aquino, Purisima and the SAF could be considered as mercenaries doing the US bidding.  But if not, then Aquino and Purisima could be criminally liable for misusing the SAF personnel and related resources outside of the authorized government budget and chain of command and thereafter for bringing about the unnecessary death of the SAF 44, MILF 17 and several civilians.

For the nth time, Aquino dissembles and stonewalls on the full extent of his and US complicity in engineering the Mamasapano disaster.  The lid on this political can of worms is off and all attempts at a cover-up by Aquino and his apologists are failing. 

The political demise of the Aquino regime is all but written on the wall. #

Published in Business World
30 March 2015

March 23, 2015

Venezuela stands up to US bullying

The failed coup in Venezuela last February and US President Obama’s declaration this March that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a “national security threat” to the US have escaped most Filipinos’ notice.  Understandably so, with the entire country preoccupied with  another monumental blunder by the Aquino government that has cost  scores of lives including  elite police forces and has  undermined the GPH-MILF peace negotiations. 

Yet Filipinos should sit up and take notice.  These  recent events in Venezuela underscore hard lessons  learned by the Venezuelan people and its democratically-elected government as they try to chart their nation’s destiny towards greater equity, social cohesion and national progress.  In the process they find themselves continuously, systematically and violently opposed by the small but still powerful socio-economic elite with the solid backing of the US government.

Fifteen years ago, under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan society underwent sweeping reforms that aimed to redistribute the revenue from its oil wealth for the benefit of the greater majority.  This entailed nationalizing the oil industry and utilizing its earnings for government programs  to make basic goods and services such as food, housing and education  universally accessible and affordable.  The Chavez leadership also pushed aggressively for genuine land reform.  It capitalized on its huge popularity with the masses to build grassroots-based people’s organizations such as worker-managed cooperatives and community councils. All these  galvanized the popular will behind Chavez and his  reform programs.

The Chavez government prevailed over unrelenting destabilization moves by its opponents including an army  coup d’état in 2002 that deposed Chavez for 48 hours, until   millions of Venequelans poured into the streets to demand his release and  loyal officers of the armed forces restored him  to power.  He ruled from then on winning a series of democratic elections until his death from illness in 2013. 

The Maduro government that took over and has carried on  the sweeping reforms of Chavez (dubbed the Bolivarian Revolution) has been met from day one by a new round of attacks from the US-backed right-wing forces code named “El Salida” or “The Exit”. 

The elements of the plot are: 1) sabotage of the supply and distribution chain for food and other basic goods in order to induce artificial shortages and run-away inflation; 2) widespread, violent “protests” that would cause chaos in the streets; 3) systematic and sustained anti-government reportage by the elite-owned private mass media outlets beamed to global media; 4) vilification of President Maduro and his government and  the projection of unrepentant coup plotters as representing the legitimate political opposition and deserving international  support  5) military actions such as assassinations of government officials, bombings of government centers and  false flag operations such as the assassination of some rightist  leaders  and deaths in violent street protests blamed on state security forces.

For two years now the government has been exerting every effort to overcome the economic sabotage measures.  According to reports, while scarcities and inexplicably inflated prices are being fought back through government police action such as forcing stores to lower their prices  and raiding warehouses to flush out hoarded goods, the economic warfare continues.  But the disturbances have not resulted in the kind of mass unrest they were meant to incite; Venezuela’s poor hold fast to their experience of much better times under the Chavez and Maduro governments.

The so-called mass protests have died down despite the efforts of opposition leaders holding the reins of local government in rich enclaves to sustain these with sporadic thrashing of public parks and government buildings by hoodlums.  The destabilizers have been trying to project the image that the Maduro government is unable to enforce basic law and order, much more, is violating its citizens’ right to freely assemble and express their grievances.  But this has not been able to stick despite willful media manipulation echoed by imperialist-controlled global corporate media.

What has become more starkly clear is that the right-wing opposition is resorting to the more dangerous option of military actions up to a full blown coup d’état to bring the government down.  It would appear from the account of the latest attempt in February of this year that the plan was to conduct aerial bombings of the Presidential Palace, the government media center Telesur, the Ministries of Defense, Interior and Foreign Relations, the Department of Military Intelligence and the Attorney General’s Office.  The publication of a manifesto in a national newspaper calling for a transition government would be the plotters’ signal fire. There would be a call for street protests once more with intentions of fomenting wanton violence and confusion in order to portray the events as the result of government repression.  A video of a detained general, a confessed coup leader in an earlier failed attempt, would be repeatedly shown to agitate members of the armed forces.  Failing this, a video of men in the uniforms of the different services of the military would be shown to announce to the country and to the world that the armed forces had risen up against the Maduro government.

This plot was  nipped in the bud and fell apart when a recidivist coup-plotting general was turned in by another officer he was trying to recruit.  The government  acted quickly to preempt any of the plotters moves.  According to Mark Weisbrot (Al Jazeera), “The Venezuelan government has produced some credible evidence of a coup in the making: the recording of a former deputy minister of the interior reading what is obviously a communiqué to be issued after the military deposes the elected government, the confessions of some accused military officers and a recorded phone conversation between opposition leaders acknowledging that a coup is in the works.

The government also categorically accused the US embassy in Venezuela of direct involvement in this latest as well as previous attempts to topple it.  It pointed to the “close relationship” of the political and military figures at the core of the February attempt at another putsch with US embassy officials.

After the standard US denial of any involvement, came in quick succession US President Obama’s declaration that the Venezuelan government is a “national security threat” to the US and that US sanctions would be imposed on seven Venezuelan officials.  This is indeed ironical given the long history of US political interference up to armed intervention not only in Venezuela but the entire breadth of Latin American countries to remove governments not to its liking or to prop up those that are its vassal states.

Aside from being a defensive reaction to the revelation of US complicity in attempts  to subvert and overthrow the Maduro government,  Obama’s declaration of Venezuela being a threat to US national interest is primarily due to Venezuela's continuing  key role  in building and strengthening alternative political and economic alliances among Latin American and Caribbean states such as Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and Petrocaribe. These alliances further the interests of these states and their peoples more than the traditional US-initiated and dominated alliances such as Organization of American States (OAS) and the so-called "Caribbean Initiative".

Rather than isolate Venezuela, Obama's move to attack and isolate Venezuela is yet another futile attempt to stem the decline of US global supremacy in its own hemisphere. #

Published in Businessworld
23 March 2015