November 26, 2004

Think again

The kind of official hand-washing, victim-blaming and conspiracy theories that have been getting prime-time radio/TV airing and front-page prominence immediately after the Hacienda Luisita massacre can only be described as a travesty of any remaining shred of decency, moral uprightness and sense of fair play in our extremely degraded value system as a people.

The Senate hearing last Wednesday initiated by Committee on Labor and Employment chair Sen. Jinggoy Estrada had DoLE, PNP and AFP officials as well as administration and pro-Cojuangco/Aquino senators taking turns obfuscating the legitimacy of the struggles concurrently being waged by the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU), withholding information while foisting lies and fabrications about the actual dispersal operations by the PNP and AFP, imputing naãvetÇ and ignorance, if not sinister motives upon the striking workers and insisting on the correctness of an arbitrarily issued assumption of jurisdiction/return-to-work order and subsequent deputization of the police and the Armed Forces to break up the strike.

"There was peace and harmony at the Hacienda for decades before the militant groups and other 'outsiders' infiltrated the workers' ranks," intoned Rep. Noynoy Aquino and HLI management.

Read: The decades-old stranglehold of the Cojuangco feudal overlords at Hacienda Luisita has finally been breached as the extremely exploited and downtrodden farm and mill workers realize that they've been swindled of their rightful claim to the 5,000 plus-hectare land under the law and are fighting back.

"The demand for reversal of the stock distribution option (SDO) is a rehashed issue since the hacienda tenants voluntarily agreed to give up land distribution for shares of stock of the corporation and are now enjoying the fruits of their wise decision," said the landlords' spokesperson.

"If it ain't broke, why fix it," was the cute retort of Agrarian Reform Secretary Rene Villa, professing ignorance of earlier complaints filed by ULWU calling for the review of the SDO.

Read: The land reform scheme of the so-called "stock distribution" instituted during the term of President Aquino, incidentally co-owner of the hacienda, has been exposed as a sham and is being rejected by the farm workers and their families, long-time tillers and residents of 10 barangays inside the hacienda numbering close to 32,000 individuals.

A quick review of history is in order. As early Aug. 27, 1957, in a Central Bank resolution approving the dollar loan application of Jose Cojuangco Sr. with the Manufacturer's Trust Co. of New York to purchase CAT and Hacienda Luisita from Tabacalera, the Spanish company which owned the two properties, there was already a condition that "this hacienda (would be distributed) to small farmers in line with the Administration's social justice program."

Ten years later, when Cojuangco Sr. applied for another P10-million loan from the GSIS to cover its acquisition of the hacienda, a close to P16-million loan was granted with the condition " the lots comprising the Hacienda Luisita shall be subdivided by the applicant corporation among the tenants who shall pay the cost thereof under reasonable terms and conditions."

Predictably, years later, the owners refused to honor these conditions and a long court battle ensued. On Dec. 2, 1985, the Manila RTC ordered the Cojuangcos to " convey the entire Hacienda Luisita to the Ministry of Agrarian Reform to be subdivided into small lots and conveyed at cost to qualified and deserving small farmers to free them from the bondage of the soil "

On May 11, 1989 and three years into the rule of the icon of democracy, "Cory" Cojuangco-Aquino, a memorandum of agreement was signed between the owners and a handful of farm workers conveying the agricultural portions of Hacienda Luisita and other farm-related properties to a newly formed corporation, the HLI, in exchange for shares of stocks of the farm.

Thus, under the SDO scheme, the farm workers were made to give up their lawful claim to the land in exchange for meager shares of stock and production shares. They were duped into thinking they were indeed "co-owners" of the corporation when, in fact, they still have to sweat it out to claim any benefits (the number of workdays of a worker is the main factor used to compute stock and production shares), they have no guaranteed work (workers were averaging one to two days a week for the past five years) nor security of tenure (324 workers were retrenched last August, including nine of 10 newly elected ULWU officials, provoking the strike, the same one that was violently dispersed three times until the deadly Nov. 16 attack).

"The Hacienda Luisita farm workers are a contented lot enjoying tens of millions of peso benefits a year," said management. Thus, according to a chorus of government officials -- from the President who appealed for "calm and sobriety" to the DoLE Secretary who did "nothing illegal nor immoral" and, ergo, whose hands are blood-free, the officers of the "maximally restrained" PNP and the "deputized-to-assist" AFP and the DoJ Secretary who ordered an "impartial" investigation into the "NPA-authored" carnage -- the estimated 6,000 to 8,000 strikers and protesters at Gate 1 were merely agitated by the perennial rabble-rousers of the leftist organizations, but more alarming, the violence was instigated by no less than the fearsome communist New People's Army (NPA).

Thus, we are made to believe that so blinded were these dirt-poor workers and their families they chose to rush to their deaths without any rational basis, much less legitimate cause, rather than just lay back and enjoy the fruits of their being "co-owners" of a placid, productive hacienda.

The NPA, for its part, supposedly deployed snipers, but were such bad sharpshooters they didn't hit a single police or military or security personnel. Amazing!

The blameless and clueless President, her fat cat bureaucrats who have thick hides and nonexistent consciences, the pea-brained and fascist PNP and AFP officials, and the heartless cacique owners of Hacienda Luisita must think the Filipino people fools who will buy their outrageous lies and false crocodile tears.

Let them watch the video clips of the thousands of unarmed farm workers and ordinary people facing down the state's water cannons, tear gas, tanks, machineguns and rifles. Then, let them think again.

Nov. 26-27, 2004

November 12, 2004

The wrong lessons

Who says the government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo doesn't learn its lessons from handling past crises?

If there's anything this government has proven it is capable of, it's managing crises without resolving them, evading responsibility and passing the buck, and holding on to power by clutching on the coattails of Imperial America.

Take the cases of the latest Filipino hostages held in Afghanistan and Iraq, Angelito Nayan and Roberto Tarongoy, respectively.

First lesson, impose a news blackout. Don't give the public anything to chew on, to feed anxiety over the hostages, to get them fixated on prime-time television watching a real life telenovela about the travails of the Filipino overseas worker (OFW), that is, everyone's relative or next-door neighbor. More important, don't give anything for the foreign media to feast upon.

Second lesson, don't displease the Americans. Don't appear to negotiate with the "terrorists" or, heaven forbid, agree to their demands. Don't give any suggestion that government is deviating from its official commitment to support the US war in Iraq and the so-called war against "terrorism," especially not after George W. Bush just got his mandate to continue with his "you-are-with-us-or-against-us" view of the world.

Third lesson, appear to be doing everything in your power to come to the aid of the hostages, including sending a flurry of government officials to Iraq and Afghanistan who, of course, won't negotiate, and above all, won't displease the Americans.

Fourth lesson, don't be placed on the defensive by taking the blame for anything. Get paid hacks to blame the hostage-takers, blame the militant Left, blame the OFWs and others willing to risk life and limb even in war-torn countries just to have work that pays decent wages. Never hint that the US government of Dubya might have any share of the blame.

Fifth lesson, institutionalize your crisis system: news and opinion management; diplomatic team "on the ground"; officials to hold the hand of the immediate family members and keep them away from scoop-hungry reporters; officials to be in constant touch with the US embassy overlords; backdoor channels (for the ransom and other such nasty details); and, not to forget, psywar tactics like shifting the blame on pesky militant groups Migrante and Gabriela for making the connections between a subservient foreign policy and recurrent hostage crises involving OFWs.

After the Arroyo administration's decision to pull out Philippine troops from Iraq to save the life of Angelo de la Cruz, this column credited the Arroyo administration with newfound wisdom that not everything the Americans say is good for the country and should therefore not be made into official policy.

Apparently, the lesson Mrs. Arroyo takes to heart is the one that her father, former President Diosdado Macapagal, must have taught her.

According to writer Alejandro Lichauco, "Macapagal admitted in an article he wrote for the Bulletin a few years before he passed away, the US government has been a decisive factor in every presidential election since 1935, and no presidential aspirant objectionable to Washington has ever been elected President. By the same token, any sitting President who manages to displease Washington invariably winds up unseated by Washington. That has been generally the fate of all incumbent Presidents. They were mounted to office by Washington and eventually unseated by Washington."

On the other hand, Mrs. Arroyo refuses to recognize the underlying error that sets the stage for more Filipinos falling prey to forces beyond their control like Angelo de la Cruz, Roberto Tarongoy and Angelito Nayan; that is, her government's unquestioning support for the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and US interventionism in the entire Middle East.

It bears restating that the US-instigated war in Iraq, in which it has embroiled a minority of countries under the umbrella of the "Coalition of the Willing," is an unjust war, a war of aggression against a sovereign country with no justification whatsoever under international law and the United Nations system.

The US war on Iraq was built on lies. No weapons of mass destruction have been unearthed by the US and British occupiers more than a year and a half after the invasion. Not even the most tenuous of links has been established between Iraq's former ruler Saddam Hussein and the dreaded Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the US.

The ongoing war in Iraq is an inhuman war, a war primarily killing innocent civilians, estimated at around 100,000 to date; a war that has spawned crimes against humanity such as the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, ancient historical sites and other non-military targets, and the shocking torture and degradation of Iraqi prisoners by US and British troops and intelligence operatives. No wonder Britain's most famous scientist, Stephen Hawking, condemned the US-led invasion of Iraq as a "war crime."

And to top it all, the Iraq war is being exposed as a war for the seizure of the vast Iraqi oil resources and for turning the entire Middle East into a US sphere of influence, if not outright domination and control.

The "regime change" the US belatedly invokes to justify its brazen aggression has not brought about peace, progress and democracy to a backward, feudal kingdom under authoritarian rule. (That description, by the way, fits Saudi Arabia more than Iraq.) What is now in place in Iraq is essentially a US-installed puppet regime that no one, least of all the Iraqi people, recognizes and respects as legitimate.

Thus, the Arroyo government has made the Philippines a witting accomplice in sowing the whirlwind of chaos and the violence in one of the most ancient civilizations in the world and inevitably putting the lives of Filipinos -- whose presence in the Middle East is a given whilst government persists in its labor export policy -- in harm's way.

Now whatever happened to the promise of hundreds of thousands of jobs in post-war Iraq? Just asking.

Nov. 12-13, 2004

November 05, 2004

The road to perdition

There's one crisis in our crisis-ridden country that I feel compelled to write about, setting aside the urge to comment on the electoral victory of George W. Bush, the man the rest of the world's peoples love to hate.

The brain drain in the health professions, specifically in nursing and medicine, has been going on since the 1960s as far as I can tell. Definitely, by the time my UP Medicine class of about 145 students graduated in 1979, more than half were destined to go abroad, at first to train, then to establish their practice and stay on. (I bet many of them got to vote in the last US presidential elections.)

So the news that the Philippines has the dubious distinction of being the top exporter of nurses in the world is old hat. We used to be the No. 2 exporter of doctors, but maybe India has taken over considering the cost of medical education and the economic crunch that Filipinos have been living under for two and a half decades.

What has got people sitting up to take notice is the fact that physicians are going back to school to become certified nurses. We're not just talking about fresh medical graduates either. Medical specialists who have been practicing five or more years are abandoning their hard-earned professions to work as nurses, mostly in the US and UK.

It doesn't take an economist to figure out why. One estimate is a stark US$400 working as a doctor in a Philippine state hospital versus $4,000 doing duty as a nurse in US hospitals (with immigrant status for family members to boot). I wager $400 is even on the high side since resident physicians, those doctors who are still undergoing specialty training, would be getting much less.

Consider the powerful cultural factors at play in making the switch from doctoring to nursing, but are easily swept aside by the economic imperatives: the general perception, correct or not, that becoming a nurse after having studied or worked hard as a doctor, constitutes a denigration of one's professional status.

There is an implied intellectual superiority that derives from the assumption that it takes more brains to be a doctor than a nurse when in fact, in most instances, the more accurate premise is that it takes more money to go to medical school and thus the higher status has more to with socioeconomic class than anything else.

In our still macho society, the shift to nursing constitutes a double demotion on the part of male doctors. In the hierarchy of the health professions, the doctor is still the decision-maker, the leader of the health team, if not the undisputed "boss," while the nurse takes down the doctor's orders and implements these.

The implications of the continuing brain drain deserve to be confronted especially when our political leaders, the bureaucrats at DOLE, the recruitment agencies as well as owners of mushrooming nursing schools all over the country peddle the lie that the country has a net gain in exporting our human resources.

They extol rather than decry the fact that we are spending scarce social capital on future doctors and nurses, only to lose them to richer societies that can afford to give them decent salaries and a modicum of respect, if not reward, after all the hard work and personal sacrifice.

This is the stark reality. The country has reached the point where there is now a developing scarcity in medical human power even in the cities, in tertiary care hospitals (i.e. those providing more specialized and expert medical care), and in the private sector.

It used to be that scarcity was relative. It followed that doctors and nurses tended to be hospital-based, both to earn more as well as to be able to avail of the newer medical technology and convenience any health professional educated in the Western tradition looks for.

It was to be expected that rural areas would have a difficult time attracting doctors and nurses to practice there because of the expected low paying capacity of its population, mostly farmers and small- to medium-size merchants. There were always vacancies in rural health centers and even secondary government hospitals especially in such far-flung areas like Samar, the Cordilleras and western Mindanao.

Metro Manila, on the other hand, had a surfeit not only of doctors, but of world-class physicians, you just had to be able to afford them or have the patience to queue up in the interminably long lines at the Outpatient Department of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH).

Thus, the crowding in the cities where not only the money is better, the schools for the children are more prestigious, the shopping malls are more complete and the general socioeconomic environs cum cultural life more upscale than anything a small town, much less a barrio could ever hope to offer.

But now, the telltale signs of a worse crisis to come are truly worrisome. Hospitals in Mindanao and Negros Oriental are facing closure because of a lack of doctors and nurses.

UP-PGH, that venerable institution which produced the top-notch specialists practicing in the major urban centers of the country as well as top-rated US medical centers, is having difficulty attracting fresh graduates to fill up the slots in what used to be highly competitive residency programs.

The high turnover of nurses has accelerated in the last decade with the huge number of nursing schools unable to churn out graduates fast enough to fill in the slots their more-honed predecessors left.

No doubt about it, what has been a long-running crisis in our low priority, under-financed and decaying health care system will soon become a full-blown emergency. It's just another example of how the myopic, or rather, head-in-the-sand attitude, of our political leaders promises to lead us to even greater perdition as a country.

That's the fearsome scenario our young doctors and nurses are running away from, and who can blame them.

Nov. 5-6, 2004