October 18, 2014

Unequal relations invites impunity

Much to the consternation of US and Philippine officialdom, the brutal killing of Jennifer Laude by suspect Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton has placed the issue of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) front and center of the demand for justice in this latest crime committed by a member of the US Armed Forces against a Filipino citizen.  From day one it has been crystal clear to all except the Philippine Armed Forces chief (who insists the killing will "not affect our relationship with the United States") that this crime is inextricably bound to the unequal relationship between the Philippines and the USA as expressed in the VFA, in particular, its provisions on criminal jurisdiction.

The police and prosecutors should have no difficulty whatsoever in nailing this case were it not for the fact that the suspect is a US serviceman.  Unlike in the 2005 case of the Filipino rape victim, “Nicole”, both the court proceedings and the public discourse revolved around whether a rape had actually occurred.  In the Laude case, the corpus delecti is there for all to see.  And no amount of speculation about what caused Pemberton to go on a murderous rampage (ranging from his discovery that Jennifer was not a “bona fide” female after having engaged her for “sexual service”, Jennifer attempting to rob Pemberton or this being a case of a “hate crime” against a transgender woman) can change the fact that Jennifer lies dead at the hands of a US soldier who several witnesses have positively identified.

Moreover by no stretch of the imagination can the offense be construed to be “arising out of any act or omission done in performance of official duty”.  Cases in point are the shooting of farmer Buyong-Buyong Isnijal in Tuburan, Basilan in 2002 involving American soldier Reggie Lane and the shooting of Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque, Zamboanga City in 2004 by an American soldier whose identity US authorities withheld and other transgressions and crimes by US troops while engaged in so-called joint military exercises.  In the latter, the involved soldiers have simply been spirited away by the US with the Philippine government complicit in the surrender of Philippine criminal jurisdiction and national sovereignty.

More than a week after the commission of the crime, the alleged killer has not faced any Philippine investigator.  The Laude family has not been approached by any responsible official of the Aquino government to advise them on their legal rights and inform them what the government is doing to protect and uphold these rights.  Instead its officials have gratuitously announced that custody must remain with the US authorities as stated in the VFA.  The Aquino government has had to form an inter-agency body consisting of the VFA Commission, the departments of foreign affairs, defense, justice and social welfare and development, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to “discuss coordination” with US authorities on this latest imbroglio.

Were it not for the public uproar and the protest actions of the LGBT community, nationalists and activists, especially at the US embassy, the aggrieved relatives of the victim would have had no recourse but to merely beg authorities to act swiftly and arrest the perpetrator.  Whether this case will go the way of all previous crimes committed by US soldiers against Filipinos, on Philippine territory, or result in the conviction and punishment of the perpetrators (as what happened to two US Navy sailors convicted and hauled off to jail for robbing and raping an Okinawan woman) will be a function of the vigilance and unwavering demand for justice by the Laude family and supporters in the Philippines as well as globally.

Now the VFA, Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and the even more lopsided Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are argued to be in accord with the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).  On November11, 2011, the 60th anniversary of the MDT, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton signed a Manila Declaration reaffirming the MDT as “the foundation for our relationship for the next 60 years and beyond.”

The MDT was imposed on the Philippines under severely unequal conditions.  The US then had emerged practically unscathed from WWII as the most powerful and prosperous state, while the Philippines had barely begun to recover from the devastation wrought by war.  The Cold War, deceptively billed as nothing less than a life-and-death struggle between good and evil, democracy and communism, was just beginning to unfold.  The Philippines and the US, as enshrined in the MDT, were to be allies “against the spread of communism” and the pursuit of “democracy and world peace”.

Over the past century, no one comes close to the US ignominious record of sovereign states invaded and occupied, governments overthrown, dictators installed and propped up, fascist surrogate armies trained and armed, bombs dropped on populated areas, and innocents massacred. It has the distinction of having had to coin and popularize a phrase – collateral damage – to justify as unavoidable, to desensitize and soften the impact of deliberate, indiscriminate targeting and slaughter of civilians.

All in the name of democracy and world peace.

It is not as though Malacanang and Padre Faura are unaware of these and are uncritical of the myths they peddle.  In his memoirs, former foreign affairs secretary Carlos P. Romulo writes how in the 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine and create the Jewish state of Israel, Pres. Manuel Roxas had believed that the partition would aggravate the crisis and conflict in the Middle East and even escalate the wars.  He thus instructed the Philippine UN Delegation to vote “no”.  Romulo recounts how the US threatened withdrawal of economic aid to pressure the Philippines and other smaller countries to reverse their vote.

More recently another foreign secretary and retired diplomat admitted that the VFA and EDCA have provisions that surrender national sovereignty and are detrimental to national interest.  But she explained that the lopsidedness is a reality the Philippines could not change because the US is now the sole Superpower and can do as it pleases.  She said that the Philippines still needs to grow stronger economically and militarily, and its people and government to learn to adopt a more independent mindset to change this detrimental imbalance.  A tall order considering the former colonizer’s domination of the country extends to economic, political and cultural spheres, each one reinforcing the other.

Some foreign policy experts view the surrender of national sovereignty to the detriment of national interest as a symptom of the disconnect between foreign and domestic policy, whereas the rule of thumb is that foreign policy is or should be an extension of domestic policy.  The truth is that the kowtowing of successive administrations dating back to the American colonial period to US foreign policy is indeed a mere reflection of their subservience to US interests and dictates in the domestic arena.

Until that chain of servility and dependence is broken, the Philippines will be doomed to unequal domestic and foreign relations, and to impunity in the perpetration of transgressions on its national sovereignty and interest. #

Published in Business World
20 October 2014

September 28, 2014

Student activism lives!

The brouhaha over the alleged “violent” protest on campus by University of the Philippines (UP) student activists against the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and its principal architect and implementer, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, comes in the wake of the nation’s recollection of the martial law period.  Invariably the role of the university as a rampart of reaction versus hotbed of radicalism is reprised.  The phenomenon of student activism, especially in the premier state university, then and now, shares the spotlight, with divergent views on its continuing relevance.

The myth of the university as an ivory tower  had already been debunked in the seventies at the height of student activism and in the face of the brutality of martial rule.  Still the myth lingers, deliberately nurtured and propagated to conceal the reality that the university primarily serves to provide the intellectual requirements of the ruling system.   Currently it is being used by the defenders of Secretary Abad to denounce the student activists as “hooligans” and “enemies of the university” by their invocation of “academic freedom”, civility, and non-violent discourse.

The statement of faculty members of the UP School of Economics unwittingly yet glaringly betrays this attempt at resurrecting and invoking this myth. They pretend to be disinterested academics dedicated to arriving at and expounding on the objective truth. Yet they attempt to cover up the fact that from the outset they are one with Mr. Abad in terms of the economic philosophy or school of thought that they teach and propagate and which undergirds the government’s economic policies of neoliberal/neoclassical economics serving the ruling elite and their foreign partners.

They take advantage of the seemingly “unpopular” because “excessive” behavior of the activists during their protest in order to destroy the latter’s credibility to set aside and bury the valid issues that they raise.  They hype up the alleged “violence” and “mayhem” of the activists to camouflage the bigger disorder and harsher violence wrought by the economic policies that they promote as correct and beneficial to the people.  They make it appear that Mr. Abad is merely doing his job, peacefully and with civility, yet he was unjustifiably victimized by the “violence” inflicted by the “hooligans” masquerading as activists.

Without a doubt UP remains, after more than a hundred years of existence and for all intents and purposes, a university of the status quo.  It was only in the last fifty years or so that “a progressive university within a reactionary university” emerged.  Progressive, nay revolutionary, ideas, movements and organizations had their inception and took root during this period.

UP primarily churns out the country’s leaders and experts in government, business and socio-cultural institutions such as schools and mass media who uphold and prop up the ruling system even as UP has produced outstanding revolutionaries, activists and other progressives who have dedicated their lives to critiquing and overturning it.

Student activists then as now do not have any illusion that they will change UP into the bedrock of progressive ideas and practice while society at large is reactionary but they have tried and continue to try to keep the fire burning within UP. 

The reactionaries and their apologists and paid hacks on the other hand, work hard to find ways to extinguish that flame. 

Student activists before and during martial law confronted Philippine reality with a sharply critical mind, armed with a scientific and progressive philosophy, and a nationalist, democratic and uncompromisingly pro-people political standpoint. (“Serve the people” was the mantra of the day.)

They dared to expose and overturn the dominant elite characterizations of Philippine society.  They were not deceived by the Marcosian justifications for martial law, the empty rhetoric about reform and building a “new society”.  They could not be cowed by the  dictator’s bluster nor the very real prospect of torture and death at the hands of the military, police and paramilitary forces that martial law had turned into the tyrant’s private army.

Not content with skimming the surface of society’s ills but true to their moniker -- radicals – they dug at the deeply-entrenched and historical roots of these problems.   The activists took very seriously the revolutionary imperative of bringing about the downfall of the exploitative and oppressive status quo.

Even at the onset and during the height of martial law, student activists were at the forefront of breaking the “tyranny of silence” by scribbling defiant slogans on blackboards and walls, smuggling manifestoes, holding secret discussions and conducting lightning rallies.

All these, they did amid the same scorn, disapproval, criticisms and vehement protests from the conservatives and "moderates" in and outside the campus.

Inevitably, they confronted and fought the reactionary forces upholding the status quo in the plazas, streets and shantytowns of the towns and cities and in the wide countryside where the majority of Filipinos live lives of misery and quiet desperation.  Like the student activists now, the activists then were at first dismissed as juvenile rabble rousers.  But when hundreds went underground and to the hills to live up to their convictions, those accusations were muted and proven wrong.  

Years from now, these “hooligan” activists' deeds will be appreciated and remembered, just as the deeds of the student activists decades ago are now memorialized.  Those of their “civil  and proper" critics will be consigned to the dustbin of history. #

Published in Business World                                                                  
29 September 2014

September 20, 2014

Martial law and historical revisionism

This September 21 marks the 42nd anniversary of the imposition of martial law by President Ferdinand E. Marcos.  It meant the beginning of mailed-fist dictatorial rule that brought ruin to the Philippine economy; hocked the future of generations to come to the multinational financial mafia; institutionalized plunder and cronyism in government; reared a blood-thirsty, moneygrubbing armed forces that is no better than Praetorian guard to the ruling elite; and led to the sacrifice of a generation of the brightest, most promising youth of the land on the altar of freedom.

Yet a kind of amnesia has descended over our collective consciousness leading to the steady erosion of the memories of that dark period.  Is this a natural process not unlike the fading of old photographs, society's way of dealing with the trauma of the Marcos fascist dictatorship?  Or is this not a conscious revision of history to conceal the real reasons and culprits behind thirteen years of unprecedented tyranny and bestiality?

How can we, as a people, sustain our vigilance and reject any machinations or intentional drift towards authoritarian rule no matter the democratic guise?  How do we come to terms with the disappointing reality of a fundamentally unchanged and even more rotten social system 28 years after the so-called EDSA revolution?

Imelda Marcos’ innumerable shoes symbolized the profligacy of the Conjugal Dictatorship.  At the time, the revelation came as a shock to everyone despite her notoriety for extravagance.  Nowadays it is reduced to being merely a shoe fetish of the flamboyant First Lady, something no longer unusual for upper class fashionistas who think nothing of splurging on so many branded bags and shoes. 

The plunder of the national coffers and the amassing of ill-gotten wealth from over-priced projects of Marcos cronies and their multinational corporate partners was a key issue in unmasking the evils of the dictatorship.  But no post-Marcos regime was ever able to punish the guilty parties; not even that of Cory Aquino.  The latter had the widest legal and political latitude to investigate, prosecute and convict the guilty given the advantages of the post-EDSA euphoria and a “revolutionary constitution”.  Instead she chose to honor all onerous foreign debts including that of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, allowed the take-over of lucrative government contracts by Kamag-anak Inc. and preserved the Cojuangco clan's feudal hold on Hacienda Luisita through the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

None of those most responsible for the horrors of the martial law regime have been held accountable either.  Not Marcos’ fellow architects of martial law like Juan Ponce-Enrile or Fidel V. Ramos or its most notorious hatchet men such as then AFP chief General Fabian Ver.  On the contrary, the political heirs of the dictator Marcos have been fully rehabilitated. The strongman’s son, Ferdinand Jr. is senator and aims to be president one day; Imelda is a congresswoman; daughter Imee is now governor after a stint as congresswoman.

A video documentary “Batas Militar” megged by the Foundation for Worldwide People Power had helped popularize images of the brutality of martial law. But ironically one of the most dramatic footage is actually taken from a video clip of the Mendiola Massacre that happened under Cory Aquino’s watch.  Peasants demanding land reform were gunned down at the foot of the Presidential Palace by snipers believed to be from the military. 

An honest mistake perhaps or maybe an indicator of the way the fascist character of the state security forces is being laundered and made to appear to be a thing of the past.  After all, in the aftermath of the EDSA uprising cum military revolt, Ramos and Enrile emerged as heroes.  This was followed by deliberate media massaging about the “reformed AFP”.  Unsurprisingly, no human rights violator from the uniformed services has ever been punished to this day.

Apart from impunity, there is also the Honasan phenomenon.  “Gringo” Honasan was army colonel, head of the shadowy group Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and Enrile’s right-hand man when they launched the failed coup attempt against Marcos.  This triggered events that culminated in the EDSA “people power” uprising.  He was a recidivist coup plotter: the RAM is implicated in the double murder of the Leftist trade-union leader Atty. Rolando Olalia and his driver as part of a sinister destabilization plot against Cory Aquino to bring Enrile and his militarist pals to power. Honasan was amnestied by President Fidel V.Ramos, himself an ex-general; subsequently, Honasan was able to recycle himself into a senator of the republic.

Thus the myth of the military as savior of the people against hopelessly corrupt politicians and of a military coup d’état as a democratic option to change a despised ruler is one that continues to lure Filipinos looking for a quick way out of rut we are in.

But the role of the United States as a singular force imposing policies that perpetrate the stunted domestic economy and the subservient rule of the small privileged elite is most unclear to our people then as now.  

US backing is the main reason martial law lasted that long. Then US Vice-President George W. Bush lavishly praised Marcos during a 1981 state visit for his “adherence to democratic principles and democratic processes" despite his presiding over one of the world’s most repressive regimes. The US finally decided to junk Marcos when he had become a liability more than an asset to US interests. The EDSA “people power revolution” thereafter became a model for US-backed regime change.

The prevalence of the myth of US benevolence, altruism and protective role continues and has even intensified despite US-led imperialist intervention and aggression world-wide.  Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the relative ease with which the US and the Aquino government  rammed through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a grossly unequal agreement detrimental to national interest and the people’s welfare.

In sum, it is clear that the seeming recurrence of malgovernmance and the failure of successive administrations to improve our people’s lives despite the restoration of elections, Congress and other formal democratic institutions and processes cannot be attributed mainly to national amnesia or to what is decried as the Filipino people’s short memory, but to our colonial and neocolonial education – or more accurately, miseducation -- that persists to this day. 

Only a nationalist and democratic counter-consciousness deliberately and determinedly nurtured can serve as an antidote to the malady of Filipinos pining for another Marcos for their deliverance. #

Published in Business World
22 September 2014