August 23, 2015

Electoral circus comes to town

The election season is definitely upon us even with national polls still nine months away and filing of candidacies for national positions set two months from now. Already we can see the portent of things to come: the lack of genuine choice for the electorate; a farcical party system; election outcomes skewed towards the candidates backed by elite and foreign vested interests; an electoral system upgraded from manual to electronic manipulation and cheating.
  
The jockeying and wheeling dealing over who will run, who will be whose running mate, and which party and patron will back up which candidate has shifted to high gear and is already hogging the news and rumor mills. Political advertisements of “presidentiables”, “vice-presidentiables” and “senatoriables” have begun airing to the public’s bemusement or consternation as the case may be.

Candidates as well as the dominant political parties are indistinguishable in so far as platforms of governance are concerned. There are no serious contending political philosophies, analyses of what has ailed and continues to ail the country and ergo what are the candidates’ and parties’ proposed immediate and long-term solutions.

Candidates are one in playing to the gallery; that is, what they think the teeming masses of the poor, unschooled, and politically immature voters are looking for. Thus the image-building centers on the candidates’ bleeding heart for the poor and underprivileged and their promise of salvation from want and misery through all sorts of dole-outs and assurances of jobs and livelihood opportunities.

The anti-graft-and-corruption banner is still waving high up in the air. It is a race among the supposedly clean and untainted because they come from the class of “old rich” exploiters who did not make their pile from being politicians; the dyed-in-the-wool as well as upstart politicians who grew their wealth along with their flourishing political careers; and the relative newbies whose slates are still clean because they haven’t been around that long. All present themselves as ready, willing and able to clean up the Augean stables of government.

Anti-crime or the “peace and order” tack is also a favorite with the usual whipping boys -- drug lords, criminal syndicates and police and judges on the take -- and the usual neofascist solutions -- bring back the death penalty, cut corners in law enforcement and due process and instill “discipline” among the people.

The big questions remain unasked and unanswered. Why does the country remain backward in terms of economic development despite (or rather because of) supposedly “sound fundamentals”: entrenched policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization to attract foreign investments; entrenched policies on labor export, low wages and contractualization; entrenched policies on the wanton exploitation of natural resources; and an overextended land reform program.

Why is income inequality growing even more scandalously despite high Gross National Product (GNP) rates?

Little to nothing is said about rooting out the causes of armed conflicts, of patronage politics, of political dynasties, of undemocratic institutions and processes including elections that always end up reinforcing the dominance of the elite and their foreign principals.

So what really counts? It is who among the known political kingmakers are backing whom.

Where there is no functioning party system based on a clear, well-articulated and consistently-pursued platform of government, leaders are not up for public office based on track record nor established stand on issues but on sentimental affiliations of kinship, political connections, foreign backing, personality traits, and even accidental twists of so-called fate.

The endorsement by the incumbent regime is not about who will continue such a self-proclaimed stellar performance as that of President Benigno S. C. Aquino III but who will have the marked advantage of having the resources of the government at his disposal in the run-up to and the actual electoral campaign.

We are talking about billions of lump-sum discretionary funds lodged in the executive department easily waylaid for patronage politics, for unofficial campaign sorties disguised as official business, for last ditch quid pro quos with a variety of vested interests. Paramount here are the narrow interests of the ruling Aquino clique with its main backers, the ruling Liberal Party and coalition partners who haven’t jumped ship.

What the opinion surveys say as to who are front runners and tail enders is easily translatable to financial and political backing since everyone wants to place their bets on the “winnable” candidates.

Perhaps the only democratic aspect of the sway of the surveys is that while these reflect the interests paying for the surveys and are effectively influenced by the dominant mass media as well as sophisticated public relations campaigns, somehow candidates’ naturaleza still breaks through and are picked up by the public pulse.

The advent of another electoral circus come to town need not trigger resignation nor cynicism.

Those fighting for more systemic, meaningful and long-lasting reforms in the socio-economic and political system of the country must be unrelenting and creative in their efforts to arouse, mobilize and organize the people based on their true interests and aspirations for a prosperous, egalitarian, independent and peaceful nation. Only in this way can they go against the reactionary tide of populism, trivialization of the national agenda, the dumbing down of the public discourse and the refurbishment and perpetuation of a patently undemocratic system.

During the electoral period, there must be a constant critique of the prevailing unjust and oppressive system.

Any and all candidates must be challenged to measure up to the people’s standards of what constitute a truly patriotic and democratic platform of governance. The most reactionary of candidates must be exposed and rejected while liberal to progressive candidates must be supported up to being voted into office. Lastly but most critically, the looming likelihood of another foreign-designed and controlled automated electoral system that can and will be used to engineer the fraudulent victory of the favored national candidates must be exposed and opposed by an aroused and militated citizenry.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published in Business World
24 August 2015

August 02, 2015

Mining TNCs versus social movements

In the last two decades the global mining industry has tried to repair its image and whitewash its blackened record in the wake of public furor over mine “accidents” and stiff resistance by mining communities to their operations.  It has launched a coordinated, well-funded and sustained public relations campaign as well as aggressive lobby work with governments and international bodies such as the United Nations.  This colossal greenwashing effort has attempted to sell the concepts of “sustainable and responsible mining” and “cooperation of all stakeholders”.

Unfortunately for the industry but fortunately for Mother Nature and humankind, resistance to mining is no longer confined to mining-ravaged local communities but has grown into national and global social movements involving indigenous peoples, peasants, mine workers, environmentalists, scientists, lawyers, church people, human rights advocates and social activists in Africa, America, Asia and Europe. 

The holding of the International People’s Mining Conference (IPMC) in Manila last week attests to the expansion, diversity, strength and vitality of the global, national and local movements opposed to large-scale mining.  The IPMC focused on the destructive effects of large-scale mining on the lives of people living in areas where this is carried out as well as its adverse impact on the entire country’s economy, natural resource base and ecology.  It also highlighted the growing peoples’ struggles all over the world in defense of their lives, livelihood and homes against imperialist plunder enabled by the collusion of corrupt and repressive host states.

Their view is that large-scale, corporate mining has resulted in the rape of the environment in order to plunder the natural resources of poor, economically backward countries leaving behind wide swathes of wasteland where once there had been lush forests, rich fishing grounds in rivers and coastal areas, productive farmlands, and biodiversity of flora and fauna.  The huge profits made from large-scale mining have merely been taken out by the mining transnational corporations (TNCs) to their home countries.  Very little gets ploughed back into the countries where the extraction of minerals takes place because these finite resources are exported as raw materials with very little value-added rather than utilized to develop domestic industry and the economy as a whole. 

The Philippines serves as a microcosm of how corporate mining has led to massive landgrabbing, rapid depletion of natural resources, degradation if not devastation of the environment, displacement of communities, militarization and human rights violations while contributing to the worsening of the pre-industrial and backward economy of the country.

From 1997-2014, large-scale mines operated by consortia of foreign mining TNCs and their Filipino partners increased from 16 to 46.  Almost one million hectares of land are under mining agreements. From 1997-2013 tax and shares from mining was only US$2.93 billion, a measly 10% of the total production value of  US$29.13 billion in the same period.  From 1997-2013, mining’s average gross domestic product (GDP) and employment rate contributions were just at 0.7% and 0.44%. From 1995-2014, 19 major mining disasters and contamination incidents were recorded. And from 2001-2015, 82 environmental activists, mostly anti-mining activists, were victims of extrajudicial killings.

These are the same violations and other worse crimes that mining communities in different countries have seen. In South Africa, 34 striking mine workers were killed and 78 others were injured when they were fired upon by police and security forces of UK-owned Lonmin mining company in August 2012.  In Papua New Guinea, BHP Billiton’s open-pit Ok Tedi Mine has caused massive environmental degradation and pollution of the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers and their adjacent ecosystems.  This was due to the irresponsible and deliberate discharge of two billion tons of mine wastes into these rivers from 1984-2013.  

In West Papua, Indonesia, mining giants Rio Tinto and Freeport-McMoran are reported to have initially poured in $35 million for military infrastructure and vehicles and paid at least $20 million to state security forces from 1998 to 2004 to quell opposition against its Grasberg Mine, the world’s largest gold mine. In China, coal miners are one of the most exploited and have one of the worst working conditions. There was a total of 589 accidents and 1,049 deaths in the coal mining industry in 2013 alone.  In 2011 and 2012, 3,357 mine workers were killed in mine accidents according to the China Labour Bulletin.

Mining TNCs’ thirst for more gargantuan profits is unquenchable.  In the late 80’s, under the banner of “globalization”, more than 80 countries changed their mining regimes due to the powerful lobby of foreign TNCs and the dictates of international financial institutions (IFIs) like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organizations (WTO).

Neoliberal mining policies allowed the privatization of state-owned mining firms. These led to the free flow of foreign investments to the local mining industry and  full foreign ownership of mining corporations and lands in the host country.  Capital control and other forms of regulation were lifted; generous tax breaks and other incentives, granted; and legitimation and legalization of measures to quell local opposition to mining activities, provided.

To further defray costs and up profits, the mining TNCs demand lower government royalty shares along with more lax environmental laws and overall regulatory environment.  They insist on lower wages and benefits for mine workers, more job insecurity, lower occupational safety standards and repression of trade unionism.

One example is Peru.  With liberalization, privatization and deregulation as the pillars of its neoliberal economic policy regime,  Peru’s mining industry became dominated by foreign and private corporations and tied to the international market. Between 1992 and 2000 more than 200 state-owned mining operations were privatized. In 1999, private corporations accounted for 95% of mineral production, up from 55% in 1990, less than ten years previous.  Pedictably, 10 foreign mining corporations are among Peru’s Top 100 corporations.

National mineral production became further oriented to and dictated by the international market and not by the particular development needs of each country. This meant being held hostage to the vagaries of international trading wherein metal prices rise and fall based on the dictates of a few mining giants, their financiers and the IFIs. As to the demand for minerals in the global market, mining TNCs and their financiers are increasingly engaged in speculation in the commodity futures market.  According to IBON Foundation, “the global mining industry, just like the major drivers of monopoly capitalism, relies on fictitious capital to surmount the crisis...”

Mining TNCs clearly cannot cannot get away with their plundering ways if they are not backed up by governments.  This is where the corruption of government bureaucrats and top-level political leaders comes in: to put in place a policy regime skewed towards mining TNCs; to complement the TNCs’ campaign of deceit and cooptation; and to harness the state security forces to protect mining operations and stamp out dissent.

As the crisis of the global mining industry intensifies, the social movements  -- for workers’ rights, environmental protection, and indigenous people’s land rights; for asserting the rights and welfare of mining communities; and for upholding human rights -- are confronting the situation and struggling to prevail against the odds.  People’s movements for economic sovereignty, food security and development justice are squaring with the plunderers, despoilers and their powerful protectors in the international, national and local levels .

Their message is loud and clear: Mining TNCs cannot plunder the common resources as before;  the people are rising, steadfast in their struggles and steadily gaining ground.  The people shall prevail.  #

Published in Business World
3 August 2015





















July 26, 2015

Aquino’s SONA, what legacy?

This year’s state-of-the-nation address (SONA) is President BS Aquino’s last.  He is expected to deliver a powerful speech replete with his regime’s achievements for the last 5 years with a summation of the legacy he will leave behind as he winds up his term. The Palace is agog about the Aquino regime’s  so-called “legacy of reforms”.  Speculation is rife, less than a year before the 2016 presidential elections (no doubt stoked by the “yellow” media to dispel the fact of a lame duck president with not much political capital remaining) about who will be his “anointed” to “continue the legacy”.

But the smoke-and-mirrors presidency that this column described upon its inauguration in 2010 has run out of magic tricks especially when it has to make something big out of basically nothing much. All the catchy, folksy slogans, in Filipino even, have boomeranged because they have been unmasked as empty or false and merely calculated to deceive and disarm.

The hard sell is that the Aquino presidency is qualitatively different, especially from the one that preceded it, that of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  Former president Arroyo is the proverbial whipping girl as far as Mr. Aquino and his coterie are concerned, for all things wrong in government before Mr. Aquino, an erstwhile non-performer in Congress, arrived on the political scene. 

But unlike the Arroyo regime that at least saw the successful prosecution and conviction for plunder of Mrs. Arroyo’s predecessor, Joseph “Erap” Estrada, the cases against GMA have either been set aside, dismissed or are languishing in judicial limbo.  The student activists have a term for it: Mr. Aquino has been “Noynoying”, content with keeping GMA under hospital arrest and somewhat constrained from plotting against him, the ends of justice be hanged.

In reality Aquino’s campaign for good governance against abuse of authority, corruption, obstructionism and incompetence have been exposed as mere demagoguery, tokenism, selective prosecution of those in the anti-Aquino Opposition, and sometimes petty vindictiveness sparing the truly accountable from among the “kabarkada, kaklase, kabarilan”. Police General Alan Purisima, Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, LTO Assistant Secretary Virginia Torres, Budget Secretary Butch Abad and Presidential Peace Adviser Ging Deles come to mind.

The Malacanang propaganda line is that the Aquino regime made a real difference to the hardscrabble lives of the majority of Filipinos.  But the reality is more entrenched poverty and economic backwardness; unprecedented inequality marked by healthy profitmaking for multinational corporations and the local elite; untouched feudal relations in the countryside; auctioning of the national patrimony and unabated environmental destruction.  This in the midst of impressive growth rates, credit-rating upgrades, and high scores in “competitiveness” by foreign and local big business and the World Bank. (For a more comprehensive analysis see “SONA 2015: A Legacy of a Disconnected Economy” http://ibon.org/ibon_features.php?id=517)

The illusion that the Aquino regime has been trying to conjure is that it has championed national sovereignty and defended territorial integrity pointing to the government’s filing of a case in a UN arbitral tribunal and appeals for support in other international venues with regard to the heated West Philippine Sea dispute with China over maritime rights and territory. 

The Aquino government’s acquiescence to the lop-sided Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) on top of the obsequious implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in order to allow the permanent stationing of troops and war materiel and unhampered operations by the US military on Philippine territory (nothing less than the return of US military bases as part of the US “pivot” to the Asia Pacific region) is covered-up as a necessary adjunct to building a “credible external defense”. 

The abject lack of an independent foreign policy -- in the process placing the country in the crosshairs of the actual and potential enemies of the lone Superpower -- is passed off as pragmatism, or worse, an alignment of national interests.  The latter has historically been proven as completely false: from the devastation of World War II brought on by being the lone US colony in the region; to the economic losses, social degradation and political costs of hosting the two biggest US bases outside the US mainland; and to the decrepit and weak state of the Armed Forces of the Philippines under US tutelage -- with its long-standing orientation towards counterinsurgency rather than national defense and its hand-me-down equipment purchased at supposed discounts according to the terms of lopsided military assistance pacts.

The big picture moreover shows the surrender of economic sovereignty to the international financial institutions dominated by the US, EU and other advanced capitalist countries, to their governments especially the US, and to the powerful lobby of foreign chambers of commerce in favor of neoliberal policies and programs.  Such policies as liberalization, deregulation, privatization and denationalization akin to the punishing conditions that Greece has recently been placed under have actually been implemented continuously since the late seventies by Philippine governments.
Under Aquino, the Philippine economy and people are further squeezed to favor monopoly capitalist impositions like never before, e.g. regulatory risk guarantees for foreign investors in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) that go even farther than sovereign guarantees for foreign loans.  What’s more, the refusal of the Aquino regime to support domestic agriculture and build a genuinely Filipino industrial base -- the true “sound fundamentals” of a self-reliant economy -- is consistent with its subservient economic policies.

The lie that the Aquino has been peddling, with some success in the beginning, is that his “bosses” are the Filipino people, especially the poor and disadvantaged.  But as he readies his last SONA and prepares to exit from Malacanang (no doubt to continue his carefree, bachelor’s pursuits as a privileged scion of big landlords) the main thoroughfare leading to the Batasang Pambansa looks like a war zone fortified with concrete barriers, concertina wire, container vans etc. to be secured by 6,000 strong police force and standby military contingent.

Mr. Aquino’s real bosses have clearly emerged – foreign multinational corporations, the US Superpower, the domestic comprador capitalists (by definition, “agents for foreign organizations engaged in investment, trade, or economic or political exploitation”) and the big landlords.

On the human rights front, Mr. Aquino will not tire of crowing about the law passed to compensate human rights victims of the US-backed Marcos dictatorship, the arrest of the murderous General Jovito Palparan and the counterinsurgency (COIN) program deceptively dubbed “Oplan Bayanihan” that pretends to uphold the pursuit of peace, human rights and development while militarily crushing the “insurgents” and “terrorists”.

Mr. Aquino however will not admit to supporting incessant efforts to deny compensation to Marcos victims that are identified or associated with the local communist-led revolutionary movement; the coddling of the retired Gen. Palparan by the military establishment before and even after his arrest and the climate of impunity that cloaks human rights violators then and now.  Military officials implicated in the torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killings of activists have been promoted and appointed to sensitive and top positions of the defense establishment to the chagrin of the families of their victims and human rights defenders.

Gross and grievous violations of human rights under the aegis of Oplan Bayanihan, the hallmark of all COIN programs, are now papered over with references to “human security”, “whole-of-nation” approach, etc. and are even peddled as the military’s contribution to community development.  But the effect on the communities of indigenous peoples, landless farmers and farm workers is the same: massive displacement with entire families evacuating from their homes to escape militarization; extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; and illegal arrests with prolonged detention on the basis of trumped-up charges in connection with the ongoing armed conflict.

Most recently, there is the stepped-up and brazen harassment of activists, union organizers in the private and public sector, progressive church people and even health professionals coupled with the filing of a slew of baseless criminal charges in the months leading up to Mr. Aquino’s SONA.  Alarmingly, charges such as human trafficking, illegal detention and the violation of children’s rights, etc. in connection with the sanctuary and support given to lumad evacuees fleeing military and paramilitary violence are being used to justify violent assaults on church institutions and personnel as what happened last week in Davao City.

Mr. Aquino is trying mightily to salvage the GPH-MILF peace negotiations (after the Mamasapano fiasco) by pushing for the passage of a version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that has little resemblance to the terms of political settlement the two parties had already reached and hold little promise for achieving the aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-determination. 
He is also trying to pass off as his peace program what in truth is his program to defeat the CPP/NPA/NDFP militarily -- with a huge dose of psychological warfare and the targeting of non-combatants for “neutralization” -- in order to make completely unfounded claims of leaving behind the legacy of “a just and lasting peace”. 

What Aquino leaves behind is a bloody human rights record, peace agreements reneged upon, and promises broken.   Indeed it is a legacy of more unjust war against a people rising up to assert their democratic rights; to defend themselves from elite depredation and state terrorism; from imperialist plunder and war. #

Published in Business World
27 July 2014