March 18, 2005

The killing spree and VAT

The Arroyo government seems to think that one can solve a problem by exterminating it.

That is what the murders and abductions of leaders and members of cause-oriented groups such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Gabriela, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and progressive party lists, such as Bayan Muna and Anakpawis, as well as their supporters -- Iglesia Filipina Independiente (commonly known as Aglipayan) priests, lawyers, media persons and local government officials -- lead us to conclude. Since the government cannot stop what to its mind is these groups' dangerous habit of criticizing government and leading protest actions, the thing to do is to get rid of them and their support network physically, starting with their key leaders.

That is what the massacre of striking Hacienda Luisita workers and their supporters last November and the recent massacre of inmates in the Camp Bagong Diwa detention center also lead us to believe. What distinguishes the former from the latter is that human rights lawyers and advocates have been able to do a thorough investigation and documentation of the Hacienda Luisita case. We may never know what really happened at Camp Bagong Diwa as the authorities have succeeded in monopolizing the sources of information and barring independent investigation into the assault by the police special action forces into the detention facility, against a handful of mutineers with handguns, albeit known to be with the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group.

In the wake of the bloody, news-grabbing events of the previous day, cause-oriented groups and their allies, including leaders of the opposition, held another nationally coordinated protest against the GMA government-sponsored 20% VAT hike.

This is what the proposed increase from 10% to 12% amounts to, not just 2%, as some proponents misleadingly state. At the Senate, thousands gathered once more to denounce the new regressive tax measure despite "sweeteners" offered by administration senators to make it more palatable to the public.

While pointing out that the Senate decision to reject the 12% VAT rate proposed by Malaca§ang is a result of the vigorous opposition by anti-VAT protesters and its rejection as well by the general public, BAYAN called on the senators to altogether junk Senate Bill No. 1950. The bill seeks to lift VAT exemptions on basic utilities, particularly petroleum producers and electricity, and vital services such as those rendered by physicians, in order to achieve the same objective of increasing the government's revenue. BAYAN warned that such a move would definitely result in higher prices of transportation and other basic services and commodities.

The issue should not be made to look like a contest between the House and Senate as to who can provide the "better" version. In truth, both bills will end up as an intolerable burden on the people already facing double-digit unemployment rates, rising inflation aggravated by unstoppable fuel prices increases, and hunger and misery stalking the land.

The arguments for a VAT hike are anchored on the supposed worst-case scenario that without the additional tax measure, government would not be able to solve its fiscal crisis and thus make the International Monetary Fund-World Bank and the credit-rating agencies very, very unhappy. Government would be unable to pay its gargantuan debts, to the chagrin of its creditors, as well as be unable to feed the insatiable appetite of its officials for the lard of graft and corruption and such other perks of power and pelf they have grown accustomed to.

Of course, the official line is that if government is not able to squeeze more blood from the tax-deducted employees and indirectly taxed consuming public, it would not be able to provide the roads, the irrigation systems, the low-cost housing, the schools and hospitals badly needed by our people. But nobody really believes this line except the people in Malaca§ang who dish it out and the paid hacks in media who lap it up.

There is the other accompanying tactic of raising the specter of an "Argentinian scenario" calculated to frighten the public, who have never really gotten the real story on what happened to Argentina after its government took the bold, unilateral move of not paying more than US$160 billion in debt to its foreign creditors. The fact is its economy grew by 8% for two consecutive years, its currency stabilized, and two million jobs were added since 2002.

Argentina, the country our economic policy makers and the IMF-World Bank would not want us to emulate, pulled off

these achievements by focusing all of the country's resources on developing the domestic economy. That feat entailed setting aside the harsh prescriptions of the IMF, starting with the policy of putting a premium on the payment of government-incurred or -guaranteed debts.

No doubt about it, the only ones who really stand to gain from the harsh economic measures the Arroyo government has been and continues to impose on the people, belong to the small ruling clique of Mrs. Arroyo -- her favored relatives, subalterns, big business cronies and assorted supporters who benefit from the largesse of her regime.

GMA is indeed hard-pressed to prove that she is still the most capable and most willing of the country's elite politicians to do the bidding of the US neocolonial overseers, the IMF-World Bank and the American and other foreign chambers of commerce. And prove it she will by ramming through unpopular economic measures such as new regressive taxes at the risk of igniting a political maelstrom that could topple her from power.

Thus we come full circle. The logic of the pattern of killings and other acts of political repression undertaken with impunity by the state's military and police forces as well as paramilitary and vigilante groups coddled by the state becomes exceedingly clear.

It is nothing less than a pre-emptive strike, to cripple, if not decapitate, the people's movement crying out for land, jobs, food, justice and sovereignty, resisting oppressive government policies and thus threatening its very rule.

It is the act of a ruthless but desperate anti-people regime that has not learned the lessons of past regimes, especially the US-backed Marcos dictatorship -- no amount of state terror can ever cow the people into submission and quell their righteous demand for a life of dignity, security and the untrammeled enjoyment of national freedom and democratic rights.

March 18-19, 2005

March 11, 2005

Government as terrorist

Tarlac City councilor Abelardo Ladera was a marked man. Everyone said so especially after the military's Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) announced in a press briefing, without an iota of proof, that he was a leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines/ New People's Army (CPP/NPA) responsible for fomenting social unrest at the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita.

Ladera acknowledged the threat as serious and took security precautions. But the assassin sent to kill him on March 3 still found him easy picking. Ladera, a popular and outstanding local government official, a known defender of the rights and welfare of Hacienda Luisita farmers and workers, was felled by a single, well-aimed sniper's bullet to his heart, while at an auto supply shop on his way home for lunch.

That same night, Danny Macapagal, a known civic leader and former Bayan-Nueva Ecija secretary general, was abducted by armed men from his house in Cabanatuan City and remains missing till today.

On March 9, the day his grieving family and constituents buried councilor Ladera, another Bayan leader was killed in broad daylight at the Baguio City market with a single shot to the head. He was Romy Sanchez, Bayan-Ilocos secretary general and a former political detainee.

These are only the latest in a rash of killings and abductions of leaders and activists of progressive mass organizations, and even plain civilians suspected of being NPA or NPA sympathizers in Central and Northern Luzon -- 12 killed and several more missing since February of this year. The situation is reminiscent of martial law years when military, police and right-wing vigilantes brazenly perpetrated such atrocities with impunity.

This alarming development began much earlier in Mindoro where officers and units of the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) are untouchable. In that formerly placid island south of Manila, summary killings, involuntary disappearances, arbitrary arrests, the effective banning of legal organizations such as Bayan and even human rights formations such as Karapatan are the end result of nonstop militarization that is now the order of the day.

The Arroyo government consistently turns a blind eye to these wanton and escalating human rights violations, and a deaf ear to mounting complaints and protests despite the fact that the government's own Commission on Human Rights attest to the bloody record of the AFP and PNP. Instead, it rewards the suspected culprits -- officers, men and entire units of the military and police -- with promotions, citations and the rah-rah speeches and Ramboesque pose of the President herself.

The presidential signals are clear and sent unimpeded down the line -- from the DND and DILG secretaries to the military and police generals to the foot soldiers and rookie policemen, the CAFGU and other paramilitary groups, all the way to military and police assets. The message is simple and unambiguous: Malacañang approves and supports these illegal and morally reprehensible acts as part of "counter-terrorist" operations against the communist-led armed movement and the Moro movement for self-determination in Mindanao.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the US blamed on terrorists, the Arroyo government has found a new and convenient justification for this policy by invoking the so-called global "war on terror" and branding all the perceived enemies of the state, or more specifically, the political enemies of the Arroyo regime, as "terrorists."

The Arroyo government is emboldened by the US "war on terror" to heighten and intensify -- and here, let's call a spade a spade -- no less than fascist measures against the populace to suppress dissent and remain in power. These include psychological warfare wherein high-ranking government officials, including Mrs. Arroyo, red-bait and demonize various organizations and leaders; the abduction and summary executions of such leaders and activists; wanton strafing and bombings of suspected "rebel" areas regardless of civilian casualties and destruction of crops and property; pouring in of military forces and war materiel in provinces where the AFP exercisesde facto supremacy over civilian authorities; and most recently, calls for the suppression of press freedom by way of punishment for media persons that air the views of anti-government forces a.k.a. "terrorists."

The US, for its part, is instigating the Arroyo government, as with other states all over the world, to institute its own version of the US Patriot Act, the law passed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks that allowed the Bush government to trample on the previously sacrosanct political and civil liberties of the American people in the name of "counter-terrorism."

No wonder the Arroyo regime is feverishly pushing Congress to legislate an "anti-terrorism" bill that is drawing flak from civil libertarians for its over-arching definition of terrorism that will allow authorities to brand the legitimate exercise of democratic rights as "terrorist" as well as severely punish ill-defined "terrorist" acts that merely duplicate crimes already punishable under the Revised Penal Code. Underhandedly, government is putting the blame for recent bombings in urban areas on the lack of an "anti-terrorism" law rather than acknowledge the basic incompetence of its police forces and prosecutors for its failure to pin down the perpetrators.

The US is unapologetically engaging in more obvious political interference and outright military intervention in the Philippines -- from giving unsolicited advice on everything from economic policy-making to government's anti-corruption drive to how to pursue the counter-insurgency campaign newly decked out as an "anti-terrorism" program. The latter includes determining for the Philippine government what entities and which persons it should consider "terrorist" and how they should deal with them, the single major factor that has led to the current impasse and near collapse of the peace negotiations between government and the communist-led revolutionary movement.

The neo-conservatives of the Bush administration now reign supreme in the US with the Republicans' grip on both Houses of Congress and the apparent dominance of pro-Bushites in the Supreme Court. This is the same warmongering bunch that brought us the wars of aggression and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, threatens more sovereign states with invasion, and dreams of a 21st century version of Pax Americana, meaning nothing less than the incontestable US domination of the world.

The Bushites have foisted the US "war on terror" as a pretext for launching a global military offensive -- more wars of aggression and intervention; a gargantuan defense budget feeding the voracious US military-industrial complex; a restructuring of military force deployment in order to pre-place war material and US soldiers in all strategic regions of the world; a re-organization of intelligence services to feed their output directly to combat forces for overt military objectives and so on. The US is thus widely seen as taking the lead in casting aside and flouting international norms and principles on human rights, international humanitarian law and international relations between and among sovereign states.

World public opinion is slowly but surely nearing the conclusion that the US-declared "war on terror" is not only suspect in terms of rationale, underlying objectives and methodologies, it is highly questionable as to its efficacy in stopping "terrorist" attacks.

Rather, a "war on terror" waged with such contempt for truth, deceit, imperialistic designs and inhuman means not only fails to address the roots of "terrorism" in economic exploitation, social oppression and global injustice, it breeds widespread resentment and enmity for the US "empire" and fuels resistance of all kinds worldwide.

Similarly, the Arroyo regime's fascist "counter-terrorist" measures are generating even greater opposition and resistance from the people, not only against the government, but against the entire system of unjust rule in this country. Rather than be terrorized by the state's iron hand, the people all the more realize that their only salvation lies in fighting back.

Erratum: I mistakenly attributed to the Bayan Muna party-list, data and analysis on VAT that came from the national democratic alliance, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), in last week's column.

March 11-12, 2005