April 22, 2005

Bandung: Making history

One day, when history shall be written at last by those who make it -- the teeming billions of the oppressed and exploited -- the Bandung Afro-Asian Summit held in April 1955 shall be remembered as one of those glorious moments when the weak and small gathered together in solidarity to speak as one against the big and mighty.

The Bandung Summit shines as a historical precedent of small and weak nations uniting against colonialism and all its vestiges and post WWII reincarnations. It brought together leaders of 29 Asian and African countries, representing more than half the world’s population, most of them newly independent nations that went through a bloody struggle for national liberation from their colonizers. It included national liberation movements (NLMs) still in the throes of revolutionary struggle to achieve freedom. Included were countries led by nationalist and socialist governments such as India (Nehru), China (Mao), Indonesia (Sukarno) and Egypt (Nasser).

It convened at the start of a period of relative stability and rapid growth of capitalism when the Western powers welcomed the lead of US imperialism in dealing with the communist specter and the rise of NLMs and newly independent states assertive of their national sovereignty. It was held in the midst of the Cold War US geopolitical and military strategy of containment of the USSR, as well as consolidation of neocolonial domination, what with the US economic bonanza after the war and its monopoly of nuclear weapons.

The conference was called with a view to eradicating war and oppression. It became an opportunity for Asian and African peoples to build unity and cooperation while charting their own path towards development, on the basis of mutual interest and respect for each other’s national sovereignty. The participants refused to be dragged one way or another into exacerbating international tensions and provoking another world war, likely nuclear and therefore devastating to humankind.

The Bandung Summit was preceded in a substantive way by the formulation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in 1954 by China and India as a guide to state-to-state relations and to international relations in general. The principles are mutual respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual nonaggression, noninterference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

These five principles were subsequently integrated into and elaborated in the Declaration of Ten Principles by which nations could develop friendly cooperation and live together in peace.

1. Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

2. Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.

3. Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations large and small.

4. Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country.

5. Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself singly or collectively, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.

6. (a) Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defence to serve the particular interests of any of the big powers.

(b) Abstention by any country from exerting pressures on other countries.

7. Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country.

8. Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties' own choice, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.

9. Promotion of mutual interests and cooperation.

10. Respect for justice and international obligations.

According to the International League of Peoples Struggle (ILPS) that co-sponsored a parrallel people’s conference in Bandung last week, the summit resulted in several positive consequences: “It inspired the peoples and countries of Asia and Africa to struggle for real national independence, development, social justice and independent foreign policy against imperialism and colonialism. It led to the organization of the Afro-Asian peoples’ solidarity and Afro-Asian associations of youth, journalists, writers and the like. It pushed the UN general assembly to proclaim the decades of decolonization and development in the 960s and 1970s. It encouraged the spread of armed struggles for national liberation in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It gave impetus to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement of states. It paved the way for the demands for a new international economic order and a new international information order in the UN general assembly in the 1970s.”

The spirit of Bandung – its precepts and principles and even its proposed forms of anti-imperialist solidarity -- remains valid to this day. It provides not just an alternative viewpoint to the problems of development and international security, specially for the Third World, but a model, historically tested and proven viable, versus the “there is no alternative” triumphalist claim of the ideologues of capitalism.

The current international situation is a picture of intensified exploitation and oppression of the world’s peoples especially those living in the Third World, a great majority in Asia and Africa.

In fact what we are witnessing constitutes no less than imperialist plunder and war trampling on the independence and sovereignty of countries and peoples, unleashing fascism and state terrorism, flouting all precepts of international law and relations among sovereign nations and violating universally accepted standards of human rights perpetrated by imperialist countries led by the US, in the guise of the “war vs terror”.

As the ILPS concluded, “More than ever the peoples, nations and countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the retrogressive countries in the former Soviet bloc need … to assert, realize and exercise the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and the Ten Principles of the Bandung Conference… The crisis of the world capitalist system inflicts terrible suffering on the … people. At the same time it is a favorable condition for people’s resistance. The noble and intelligent course of action for the people is to fight and defeat imperialism for the purpose of bringing about a new and better world of national freedom, democracy, social justice, development and enduring peace.”

April 22-23, 2005

April 09, 2005

Against the odds

Experts have been sounding the alarm bells about the highly critical situation in both public and private hospitals these days with the unremitting brain drain of nurses and doctors leaving for greener pastures abroad.

The statistics are indisputable. An excellent study by the PCIJ released last month highlighted the fact that apart from still being the second top exporter of doctors, the Philippines provides a quarter of the world’s supply of nurses. This translates into a lot of good-paying jobs for Filipinos but the loss of competent nurses and a marked decline in the standards of nursing education as commercialism swamps instant nursing schools.

Moreover, the PCIJ study correctly points out that the shortage of health manpower in many parts of the country is further compounded by doctors taking up nursing to increase their chances of working abroad.

On top of a highly iniquitous health care system favoring the better off and urban-based sections of the population, there is now the added burden of competent nursing personnel and doctors in an exodus for better pay and working conditions outside the country. Hospitals and the rest of the health care system are left to unskilled or even incompetent hands. The inevitable result: further deterioration in health care services for most Filipinos, especially the desperately poor and even the so-called middle class.

One sad and ironic situation that unbridled globalization has yielded in a backward, underdeveloped country such as ours is the fact that whatever we produce, whether it be mangoes or nurses, the best ones we export to earn the needed dollars and we end up with the leftovers. The good quality ones that we manage to retain become available only at a steep price to the few locals who can still afford them.

Policy makers turn a bind eye to the dire implications of the impending breakdown of the country’s health care system in light of the more than $7B annual remittances of migrant Filipinos, the single biggest factor keeping the economy afloat. The outflow of skilled health human resources is but part of the policy of labor export that began during the Marcos dictatorship. Subsequent administrations tried to cover up the anti-Filipino, anti-people policy by sugarcoating this with the rationalization that it was a “temporary measure”.

The Arroyo administration has dispensed with this charade and institutionalized the policy as a “legitimate option” in its 2001-2004 Medium Term Development Program. This open policy means that it has abandoned any pretense at striving for industrialization and providing enough local jobs for our people including those for health professionals. The labor secretary, in the House budget committee hearings, admitted that 4 million of the 10 million jobs that government has promised are OFW or migrant jobs.

The reasons for the worsening of the health manpower crisis in this country run parallel to the steadily deteriorating macro economic situation. The younger generation faces a discouraging if not bleak prospect in terms of finding quality jobs that give decent pay, security of tenure and job satisfaction not to mention opportunities for career advancement. The health sector is not spared this reality.

On the other hand the lure of earning handsome dollar incomes abroad is just too irresistible and the neocolonial education and pro-Western cultural brainwashing young Filipinos receive make the prospect of relocating to a new but not alien culture mush less daunting. In recent years, increased demand for health manpower services abroad, especially in US, UK and the Middle East, have resulted in easier job hunting with more attractive terms and conditions.

So far the solutions offered are far short of being real solutions. At most there is talk about reforms that are not likely to make a dent on the problem. To cite a few: a proposal to add on the entire social expense for education and training in determining the price tag and marketing health manpower abroad; the creation of a national commission to oversee things; the appeal for “development aid” or “compensation” for countries exporting highly skilled personnel and health education reform to emphasize values formation that will hopefully stir patriotism among nursing and medical graduates.

Rather than wait for enlightenment on the part of the government whose anti-people policies should continue to be exposed and opposed, serious if limited reforms can be pursued at the level of health education and local initiatives through advocacy and activism.

Let us make it easier for the children of ordinary people, who have the talent, motivation and less potent urges to flee the country, to enter into nursing, medical and other health professions. There should be more such schools in secondary and even tertiary urban centers where students can be recruited locally and geared to practice locally.

Creative experimentations in health education, e.g. the ladder-type school for the health sciences in Tacloban, Leyte should be emulated and replicated. Public and private resources must be harnessed to create scholarships for poor and deserving students all the way up to residency training for tertiary level of care, coupled with iron-clad commitments that scholars will serve inside the country for a set number of years.

Decent salaries, housing and educational benefits for those professionals who opt to practice in more depressed areas and in difficult situations should be assured. The Armed Forces of the Philippines should be made to put a stop to the harassment of doctors who decide to work in non-traditional settings. Instead they should be extolled as role models. Practicing one’s profession inside the country is itself difficult enough as it is but there is still a whale of a difference between working in the urban centers and in the countryside.

Finally, we should encourage social and political activism among health students and professionals. In this way we nurture their humanitarian ideals and imbue them with social awareness and a progressive outlook that can sustain their determination to practice their chosen profession and serve their own people despite tremendous odds.

April 9-10, 2005

April 01, 2005

Militarist mindset

Here's a classic conundrum for the Arroyo administration. When does a killing deserve presidential notice, a reaction, or, perhaps, some form of condemnation? When is it just another grisly murder that Mrs. Arroyo, with her carefully cultivated image of being a no-nonsense, hands-on Chief Executive, will leave to the police to investigate and solve?

Mrs. Arroyo's swift action ordering the police to solve the slaying of Mindanao journalist Esparat post-haste is in stark contrast to her inaction and silence in the face of the alarming number of political activists murdered in the past three months, or abducted and missing to this day.

In a manner of speaking, both had put their lives at risk, having made enemies of powerful vested interests who have the armed means (the police, military or hired assassins) to protect themselves against perceived tormentors -- journalists who poke their noses into what's not their business and activists who make it their life's cause to agitate the oppressed to fight for their rights.

The explanation is not difficult to come by. The victim in the former case is a journalist with a track record of being a hard-hitting crusader against corruption: She not only exposed shenanigans through her writing, she filed several complaints against both local and national government officials. It just won't do for Mrs. Arroyo, who has declared her administration's anti-corruption goals ad nauseum, not to take a high-profile stance in the Esparat killing.

In the case of political activists and their supporters, they are considered as Leftist troublemakers, if not "communist terrorists" and "destabilizers," likely deserving of their fate for working to bring down the government.

Perhaps, it matters that national, and most significantly, international media attention has been trained on the killing of journalists since last year. The Philippines has the dubious distinction of being declared as the second most dangerous place for journalists to be in, beaten to top place only by war-torn Iraq. Image-conscious Mrs. Arroyo and her media handlers know how damaging that nasty piece of notoriety can be to her administration.

Then, again, perhaps Mrs. Arroyo will be prodded into belated action by the bishops of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) who have issued strongly worded statements calling on government to find out who ordered the killings of three key supporters of the Hacienda Luisita strikers or face a spreading "social conflagration." It certainly won't do for a self-declared pious Catholic like Mrs. Arroyo to turn a deaf ear to the admonitions of the princes of the Church.

The move of Anakpawis party-list representatives in Congress to go on a three-day fast to draw attention to the unsolved killings, government foot-dragging and, worse, authorship of the politically motivated liquidations of leaders and members of militant mass organizations, progressive party-lists and human rights groups would likely just be ignored by Malacañang were it not for its coinciding with the holding of the 112th Interparliamentary Union assembly in Manila which is expected to draw in 1,500 foreign participants from 130 countries and the corresponding international media attention.

It bears watching how Mrs. Arroyo and her political troubleshooters will paper over this latest black mark on her administration, what with her plummeting approval ratings due to rising prices, allegations of widespread corruption as well as perceptions of inability to secure peace and order.

Whoever thought that branding political activists as "terrorists" and shooting them down in quick succession was the ultimate solution to the national security problem posed by the communist-led revolutionary movement, does so with the same twisted values and perverse logic that US President Bush and his cabal of warmongers used in invading and occupying the sovereign states of Afghanistan and Iraq. They are committing the same fatal mistake, on top of the monstrous atrocities, that Bush and company committed in these two infamous wars of aggression.

The world marked the second year of the US invasion of Iraq on March 20, justified by President George Bush as a pre-emptive strike against the regime of Saddam Hussein, a world-class "demon" who posed a clear and present danger to the US and the rest of the world with his arsenal of deadly weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), had close ties with the arch terrorist-villain Osama bin Laden, and had oppressed his people far too long than Bush Jr. could care to remember.

Of course, all that has been proven to be a big, fat lie so now the Bushites harp on the so-called "war on terror." Everything they do is now justified in those terms.

Let's just focus this instance on the kind of militarist thinking that pervades the official doctrine of the "war on terror" which the US keeps hard-selling to the world, and the Arroyo regime keeps parroting. There is a need to expose the interconnections of this mindset with the kind of militarist thinking we suspect is behind the recent spate of killings of progressives and activists and even the bloody handling of the latest flare-up of fighting in Sulu between government forces and Muslim separatists.

Mr. Bush and his inner circle of neo-conservatives have a fairly simple appreciation of the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes in Eastern Europe, and the emergence of the US as unchallenged sole superpower. The US wants to keep it that way and expand its sphere of influence and control even further to achieve complete world domination -- militarily, politically and economically.

The only problem is who is the enemy? Communism no longer provides the credible straw figure to suit the purpose.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US, it was a cinch naming the enemy -- terrorism, with a capital T. No matter that even the United Nations has not been able to come up with a definition of terrorism that it could get everyone to agree on. Remember the adage, "One man's terrorist, another man's freedom fighter."

But for the Bushites, again it's fairly simple. "Terrorists" are all those entities the US categorizes as such for whatever reasons it sees fit and for such grounds as it chooses to consider. The whys and wherefore of the phenomenon of so-called "terrorism," how this relates to historical and long-standing socioeconomic iniquities in the world and how it should be justly and effectively addressed are matters beyond the pale of the current hype and obsession with pursuing the "war on terror."

Thus, deeply rooted, complex and humongous politico-socio-economic problems in the world, in specific regions and particular countries are reduced to the caricature of the enemy that the US-concocted "war on terror" has foisted on the world. The rest follows.

Take Iraq. The "easy" military solution to a non-existent problem of WMDs. The spectacular military success of "stun and awe" but incalculable political and humanitarian disaster when the Iraqi people ended up with hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, their country physically devastated, their oil resources taken over by foreign plunderers and their country under the boot of the US military occupiers and soon to be run by US puppets just as ruthless and corrupt or maybe even more so than Saddam.

The US occupation of Iraq has met with unexpectedly stiff and widespread armed resistance by the Iraqi people, tying down large numbers of US troops and with no clear solution in sight for the US that has dug itself into another quagmire -- a clear example of how the military solution engendered far bigger problems than the one it purportedly set out to solve.

The raging war in Sulu shows how the Moro conflict remains basically unresolved despite two peace accords (1976 Tripoli Agreement and 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Accord) and innumerable declarations to the contrary. The underlying causes of the conflict merely smoldered over the years such that a seemingly isolated incident, when a Moro family was massacred in yet another military atrocity, easily flared up into a full-blown war, especially with the government allowing the military to wreak vengeance on the Moro people for the heavy losses they incurred in the battlefield, regardless of the economic and political repercussions, not to mention the massive displacement of civilians, human rights violations and damage to lives and property.

The military's knee-jerk reactions -- no ceasefire, take revenge, assault, pulverize -- can easily be understood (but not excused nor justified) by its mindset. After all, that is what they have been trained to do. That is precisely why no half-way democratic society would put government in their hands. That is why civilian authority is supposed to be supreme. Government is supposed to be able to look at the whole picture and command the military, to put them in their proper place.

Obviously, that is not the case under the present regime. The Arroyo government itself appears to have this militarist mindset. Many reasons have been put forward to explain this unfortunate phenomenon:

(1) The Arroyo government is held hostage by the military, fearing that it could be overthrown should it displease the military;

(2) It feels beholden to the military, erroneously believing that it owes its ascension to power to a military turnabout;

(3) It adopts this policy, aping or following the baton of the US in line with the "war on terror"; and,

(4) It is afflicted with the same narrow mindedness, prejudice and inability to learn the lessons of history. In all instances, the underlying reason is its obsession to remain in power.

It is this murderous militarist mindset at work in the wave of cold-blooded murders and abductions of progressive leaders and political activists.

April 1-2, 2005