June 12, 2006

Cha-cha and democracy

The bastardization of democratic processes in this country is epitomized by the current hullabaloo over changing the basic law of the land, what is more commonly referred to as Charter change or Cha-cha.

The de facto President, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has hyped the revision of the Constitution as the magic pill that will transform Philippine politics from a decrepit, rotten and completely anachronistic system to one that is more suited to her vision of an “enchanted kingdom” for the country. She arrogantly used the metaphor of an unstoppable express train to underscore her administration’s unbreakable will to see though Cha-cha regardless of the very real legal and political obstacles that she must overturn in the process.

Such hard-sell, especially in the wake of serious challenges to Mrs. Arroyo’s hold on power since last year, underscores the flimsiness of the grounds being used by the administration to push Constitutional change.

And contrary to initial analysis that Cha-cha is merely a diversionary ploy, it is now exceedingly clear that its main purpose is to keep Mrs. Arroyo firmly ensconced in Malacañang by institutionalizing the status quo and more in the country’s fundamental law.

Cha-cha is intended to sweep aside any and all questions on the legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency, preempt any further moves to hold her accountable for impeachable acts, and achieve the unprecedented concentration of power in her hands as the incumbent head of government until, but not limited to, the end of her second term in 2010.

The intent itself is diabolical but the methods used to achieve the purpose are downright illegal, fraudulent and insulting to the intelligence and good sense of morally upright Filipinos everywhere.

In the main, these are: a Malacañang-orchestrated, bogus “people’s initiative” trying to create a bandwagon effect in gathering the required signatures to amend the Charter; a self-serving, pseudo-populist pro-Cha-cha campaign by government officials salivating over term extensions; and brazen attempts to convene a constituent assembly by means of the Arroyo-de Venecia bought and controlled majority in the Lower House of Congress despite the sound objections of 21 out of 23 senators, including those counted as pro-administration.

Less subjected to scrutiny are the administration-backed amendments that can only doom the country to a continued state of poverty and backwardness and tie it to a semi-feudal and un-industrialized economy that cannot feed, give jobs and secure a decent future for its growing population. Included here are provisions allowing foreign ownership of land, exploitation of natural resources, operation of public utilities and the complete liberalization of areas of the economy heretofore reserved for Filipino nationals.

These proposed amendments are guaranteed to endear Mrs. Arroyo to foreign multinational corporate interests, to the neo-liberal gurus of the World Bank, IMF and WTO, to the international credit rating agencies whose main interest is to determine the capacity of debtor countries to service their mounting debts as well as to imperialist governments such as the United States that give the political “good housekeeping seal” to client states like that of the Philippines.

Hardly any debate has been generated, most especially in official circles, about proposals to remove foreign bases-free and nuclear-free provisions in the Constitution. In the era of the US-led “war against terrorism”, the imperialist objective of aligning the country’s Charter and other laws completely in tune with US geopolitical strategy and tactics appears paramount for the US-backed Arroyo regime in so far as security and foreign policy matters are concerned.

Little is said of the proposed amendments that threaten to wipe out civil libertarian provisions in the 1987 Charter, including restrictions to Presidential abuse of martial law powers. These have provided some kind of legal restraint to Malacañang’s gross violations of law, ill-concealed abuse of authority and the increasingly tyrannical means being employed by the Arroyo regime to impose itself and its policies on an aggrieved and restive citizenry.

But it goes without saying that such legal constraints would not necessarily deter a desperately beleaguered regime from resorting to martial rule when its efforts at deception and coercion fail to cow its opponents and quell a defiant people’s movement calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s ouster.

In the recent weeks, the noise generated by the pro-Cha-cha camp has somewhat abated. The illusion of a Cha-cha express train that cannot be stopped from reaching its destination according to the timetable of the Arroyo-de Venecia tandem has been shattered.

The Cha-cha train has been forced to slow down considerably. In some areas, legal monkey wrenching has been successful with the court issuance of TROs and injunctions; certain local Comelec officials have found the courage to act lawfully and not proceed with the verification of signatures; and anti-Cha-cha groups (a majority of whom are first and foremost opposed to the GMA regime) have gone on a sustained campaign despite initial misgivings about Mrs. Arroyo’s real reasons for wanting Cha-cha.

The Senate’s resistance to Mrs. Arroyo’s Cha-cha coupled with the people’s movement calling for ouster continues to be one of the main lines of defense against Mrs. Arroyo’s cynical utilization of Cha-cha to keep herself in power.

On Monday, Independence Day, 4:30 pm, a broad coalition of anti-Cha-cha groups and personalities ranging from Left to Right in the political spectrum, will gather for an inter-faith prayer rally at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila and major urban centers nationwide. The prayer rally will be ministered to and presided over by religious leaders of the Catholic church, various Protestant Churches, Charismatic Christian groups as well as those practicing the Islam, Buddhism, and Hindu religions.

Organizers are hopeful that the joint action dubbed the “Panalanging Bayan” will leave its imprint on the people’s psyche, contribute to making the Arroyo regime shelve its latest attempt to fool the people, and help build powerful and progressive social forces that will bring about more truly democratic and lasting changes in both government and society.#

June 02, 2006

Losing her grip

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's pretensions to heading a democratic regime and of
having a firm grip on power are fast falling apart. The almost weekly, if
not daily, political killings and abductions carried out by suspected
agents of the state have exposed the seeming "inability" of Mrs. Arroyo's
government to put a stop to these heinous crimes.

The victims' families, the activists and the human rights groups are
finally being listened to when they say that there is an unacceptably huge
number of people whose murders or involuntary disappearances are related to
their political beliefs and activities with the military, police and/or
government-sponsored "death squads" as prime suspects.

An overwhelming number are identified with the national democratic
movement, as exemplified by the progressive party lists such as Bayan Muna
and the militant formations such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), but
other activist groups like Kilusang Pambansang Demokratiko (KPD) and the
followers of former President Joseph Estrada in the United Masses for
Justice and Democracy (UMDJ) have also been recently victimized.

The government line -- these are just individual, unrelated cases that they
are dutifully investigating; there is no pattern to the mayhem; and those
who decry military/police involvement are communists or communist
sympathizers whose unfounded accusations ought to be dismissed outright --
has been completely debunked.

After pretending for more than a year that the problem did not exist,
government has resorted to a different tack. The favored explanation by
Malacanang today is that the Leftists are killing each other off.

The argument goes: they've done it before, they can do it again. Why they
are doing so now and how government can put a stop to this supposedly
fratricidal rampage are questions that Messrs Ermita, Gonzales & Gonzalez
and the PNP/AFP's smart generals seem to consider irrelevant.

That incredible theory has not caught on considering the victims' track
record as militant leaders, human rights advocates and even just plain
civic-spirited citizens. In fact, the victims' kin, friends and co-workers
have consistently denounced the tagging of the New People's Army as the
perpetrators to be a malicious attempt to get the real culprits off the hook.

However, the recent murder in broad daylight of Sotero "Ka Teroy" Llamas in
Tabaco, Albay appears to be a renewed attempt to give credence to the
discredited government line that the killings are the result of the blood
thirsty vindictiveness of the communist movement, if not part and parcel of
another violent "purging" of its ranks.

Mr. Llamas, a legendary communist leader in the Bicol region who gained
national prominence when he was wounded and arrested after a firefight with
government troops, was subsequently released and became an adviser to the
National Democratic Front in peace talks with the government. He then
helped found the progressive party list Bayan Muna before running for
governor of Albay under the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (Lacson
wing). He chose to retire from political involvements and run a small
business after he lost his electoral bid.

As such, he did not run afoul of the CPP in any way nor the progressive
party list he had joined after having given up the armed struggle. But
SOLCOM head, General Pedro Cabuauy, has foisted his ignorant if not
malicious speculation that Mr Llamas was killed by his former comrades
because he had run for governor allegedly against their wishes. This
canard was immediately belied by Mr. Llamas' widow but the government
persists in peddling the lie to the uninformed public.

Presidential Defender Mike Defensor added a touch of the comic to official
avowals that government could not have had any reason for wanting Mr.
Llamas dead by claiming that the former rebel had been helping the
government in certain projects. He apparently had forgotten or was
completely ignorant of the fact that the Justice Department had included
Mr. Llamas, along with more than fifty others including progressive party
list legislators Satur Ocampo et al, among those government charged last
month with conspiracy to commit rebellion.

It did not take long for the police body tasked to investigate the
political killings, to posit another incredible theory. Former Senator
"Gringo" Honasan and his followers in the Guardian Brotherhood Inc. are
being implicated in the unsolved murders. This was just after National
Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales announced that the CPP-NPA planned to
assassinate Mrs. Arroyo and other Cabinet members even as they were also
planning to assassinate their alleged allies in the Opposition. Again no
plausible reason could be provided by the National Conspiracy Adviser.

Is this a convoluted if somewhat crass plan to disrupt the broad
anti-Arroyo alliance or are Mrs. Arroyo's defenders simply running out of
excuses and ruses?

Whatever it is Mrs. Arroyo's boys are cooking, her refusal to condemn the
killings, her failure to order an honest-to-goodness investigation by an
impartial and credible body and her inability to sanction immediately and
severely those police and military men found to be remiss in their jobs of
running after the true perpetrators or worse, as in the recent case of the
ambush by Cavite policemen of a militant trade unionist, of participating
in such crimes themselves, speak loudly about where her true attitude and
intentions about these killings lie.

Seen in the light of the political persecution that Mrs. Arroyo's opponents
are currently being subjected to such as the six progressive party list
representatives and others accused or implicated in false rebellion
charges, the red labeling and demonification of legal democratic
organizations as "terrorists", the continuing Gestapo-like arrests of
critics and alleged dissidents in the name of countering "destabilization"
and the state terrorism being inflicted on ordinary people by government's
militarization of the countryside, what adds up is that Mrs. Arroyo is
resorting to sheer violence on top of wholesale deception in order to prop
up her tottering regime.

Mrs. Arroyo is generating more political turmoil, more rebelliousness and
the just condemnation by the Filipino people as well as the international
community among whom there still exists high regard for the rule of law and
respect for human rights and human dignity.#