July 28, 2006

State of survival

At the State-of-the-Nation-Address, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was the unmistakable picture of a happy, if not triumphant, survivor.

She who, by virtue of being vice president, became president in 2001 on the heels of a “people power” uprising, the shifting of loyalty by top military and police generals preceded by the EDSA I Triumvirate (Cardinal Sin, former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos), discrete financing by anti-Erap businessmen and the indecent haste of the Davide Supreme Court to proclaim her the new president.

She who promised to the nation three years later that she would not run for another term so as to heal the political wounds that she caused but who reneged on her promise and ran anyway when her political war chest was brimming and her popularity ratings improved.

She who utilized the overwhelming advantages of an incumbent President including a hot line to the Commission on Elections and being Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces to “win” a second term in office and be hastily proclaimed once more in the wee hours of the morning but who was caught red-handed engaging in electoral fraud and who essentially confirmed her sin by publicly apologizing with the mysterious words “I- am-sorry”.

She who was under siege for more than a year with mounting calls for her resignation, huge demonstrations, an impeachment petition, rebelliousness among the military and police forces, Senate investigations of scams and scandals and increasing tactical offensives by the communist-led New People’s Army and sporadic fighting with Moro secessionists.

She it was who resorted to the vilest of lies, the most barefaced cover-up of crimes, the most diabolical machinations and the most brutal and murderous attacks against her critics and political opponents.

Yes, there is no doubt about it, Mrs. Arroyo has survived.

That is what her bright fuchsia terno and her beaming smile was proclaiming.

That is what her profuse expressions of gratitude to her loyalists was all about: the generals (who stood by her through the trials of vote padding and the tribulations of military rebellion); the congressmen (who killed the first impeachment complaint using all the legal tricks and when those weren’t enough, their sheer number); and the local government officials (who plucked from thin air millions of signatures for a “people’s initiative” to revise the Charter that would legitimize her tenuous hold on power).

Not to be forgotten, she thanked the people for “resist(ing) persistent if not pathetic calls for despair instead of faith, for anarchy instead of harmony”; that is, for not ousting her unceremoniously the way they did former President Erap and the dictator Marcos. Not yet, anyway.

In short, that was the State-of-the-Nation in the eyes of a reviled and isolated President who has clung to power by the skin of her teeth; of course with the generous backing of the US through President Bush and the multinational corporations, corrupt and blood-thirsty generals, favored big business interests and presidential cronies, amoral and politically naïve, if not compromised, bishops and Malacañang/Congressional toadies feeding on presidential largesse.

Instead of drawing a truthful picture of the state of the nation, where to proceed and how, Mrs. Arroyo chose to paint a fantasy land, complete with a slick power point presentation of future multi billion-peso infrastructure projects and live icons of success like boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, a beauty queen and bemedalled athletes, hoping to delude the people into thinking that now all is well and the road to the “Enchanted Kingdom” beckons.

Neda head Neri and Budget Secretary Andaya had already stated that there is a need for more foreign and domestic borrowings to finance GMA’s mega projects. They said government expects to use $3B foreign loans for this year. So Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA means this administration means to further bury the people under the weight of debts, now running to trillions of pesos, only to be squandered on the costs of bribing Congressmen and all sorts of dishonorable persons for Mrs. Arroyo’s survival, plundered by presidential cronies and bureaucratic vultures and wasted away on failed counter-insurgency programs.

Despite gross mismanagement, corruption and basic flaws in the system, the Philippine economy is afloat due to remittances by overseas Filipino workers. Yet the experience of evacuating and repatriating overseas workers from war-torn Lebanon shows government undertaking exceedingly slow and halfhearted efforts to ensure the security and welfare of our “modern-day heroes”.

But the real state of the nation was exposed by the deployment of sixteen thousand police and AFP troops to secure Mrs. Arroyo despite government’s announcement that all serious challenges to her rule, all the “destabilization” plots and plotters, had been uncovered and neutralized.

It appears that Mrs. Arroyo merely feigns confidence but is still much too scared to face the angry, hungry and disenchanted people, as exemplified by several thousand protestors in Manila who had braved torrential rains and floods and the repeated threats of violent dispersal as well as tens of thousands more in the provinces. An iron hand is still needed to impose Mrs. Arroyo’s rule and protect usurpers and wrongdoers.

Still the most outrageous act of Mrs. Arroyo at her SONA was public commendation of General Jovito Palparan, the man who stands accused by human rights victims, their families and their organizations of the grossest and most heinous forms of human rights violations, of leading and directing a campaign of terror that violates the people’s universally recognized and constitutionally guaranteed civil and political rights and of encouraging and then coddling murderers and torturers in uniform.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo brazenly confirmed and reaffirmed, on national television, that political killings are government policy with the blessings of the Commander-in-Chief.

Undoubtedly, it was a most public display of official callousness and criminal intent.

28-29 July 2006

July 15, 2006

CBCP position, a step backward

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) latest pastoral letter had been awaited with much anxiety or much anticipation depending on how one had forecast what the bishops would eventually say.

It appears that Gloria’s Boys went all-out to ensure that they would be able to influence the bishops in their pronouncement. Nothing short of means fair and foul was used, e.g. small, intimate dinners with the President and cash envelopes slipped discretely into the bishops’ hands.

Groups that oppose the Arroyo administration held on to the hope that the CBCP statement would be much less ambiguous and provide moral guidance on the burning issues of the day such as the presidential crisis of legitimacy and the political killings of activists and journalists.

The immediate reaction of the Arroyo camp to the pastoral letter indicates that on the balance, it is pleased with the CBCP position since what is highlighted is that the bishops do not support the new impeachment complaint filed against Mrs. Arroyo.

Those familiar with the much more critical than collaborative stance of the CBCP under the leadership of Bsp. Angel Lagdameo compared to Bsp. Fernando Capalla, a known Gloria ally, point to the CBCP’s oblique condemnation of the way the first impeachment complaint was torpedoed by a Congress dominated by Mrs. Arroyo’s subalterns and allies of convenience. They say this is the reason why the CBCP appears to be so cynical about what a new the impeachment process can bring about.

However, the CBCP statement does not categorically say so. Instead it attempts to render a political, not moral, judgment on last year’s impeachment process describing it as an “unproductive political exercise, dismaying every citizen and deepening the citizen’s negative perception of politicians, left, right and center”.

It then predicted that the same will be replicated in the new impeachment complaint “unless the process and its rules as well as the mindsets of all participating parties, pro and con, are guided by no other than genuine concern for the common good…”

The CBCP position on impeachment constitutes a wholesale dismissal of the only constitutional remedy left for those who seek the removal of Mrs. Arroyo from power without offering a clear alternative.

It is an indiscriminate and unfair condemnation of all the congresspersons (regardless of the positions they took and how they behaved in last year’s impeachment process), and now, of hundreds of citizens who, acting on their conscience and possibly impelled by the good bishops’ exhortation to seek the truth, filed the new petitions for impeachment against Mrs. Arroyo.

Moreover, the CBCP precondition for the impeachment process to be worthwhile is so ideal as to be unrealistic and even politically naïve. The net effect is to shield Mrs. Arroyo from a new impeachment complaint that has the more organized backing of citizens groups and is no longer the exclusive preserve of Opposition congressmen.

The CBCP position has already been interpreted by Speaker de Venecia as a go signal for his demolition squads to quash the new petition as ruthlessly as they did the first.

We can read between the lines, in the CBCP’s persistent demand that the 2007 elections push through, it’s bias for resolving the political impasse by making the 2007 senatorial and congressional elections a referendum of sorts for Mrs. Arroyo.

As a corollary, the CBCP made a separate call for “a thorough reform of the COMELEC to restore trust in the electoral process” to include “the resignation or even prosecution of a number of the Commissioners”.

What the bishops refuse to acknowledge is that COMELEC Chair Abalos is just as adamant about not resigning as Mrs. Arroyo, all the while loudly denying any wrongdoing, while prosecution of any member of the COMELEC would require an impeachment process that the CBCP has just concluded is counter-productive and doomed to fail.

The CBCP also fails to take account of the overwhelming advantage of the de facto President, Mrs. Arroyo, in mobilizing even illegally, government resources for her chosen candidates. Thus, the outcome of the 2007 elections could very well be determined once more by the unchecked stealing of public funds for the campaign kitty of favored candidates, for vote buying as well as for rigging the count.

In effect, the CBCP draws the Opposition and the people to put all their hopes in a corrupted electoral process that is proven to be fraud-ridden, skewed in favor of those with the most money and power and as discredited as the impeachment process that the bishops branded as an “unproductive political exercise.”

On the other hand, the CBCP’s steadfast position against fast tracking Charter change (Cha-cha) through the bogus people’s initiative and dubious constituent assembly is laudable but has a gaping omission. The bishops do not identify who is the prime mover and principal beneficiary of Cha-cha’s “self-serving” amendments; that is, none other than Mrs. Arroyo herself.

Even the much awaited CBCP stand on the spate of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo regime was also a dud. While it condemned the “increasing number of extra-judicial killings of journalists and social activists suspected as sympathizers of insurgents” it never called government to account.

In fact, the specific mention that these political killings are being undertaken by “ultra-rightist elements in the military” is to rule out the well-founded suspicion that the killings are systematic and policy-driven and not just an aberration of the system.

Unfortunately the CBCP chose to underscore “extra-judicial killings” attributed to “insurgents” as equally reprehensible. Even assuming for the sake of argument that the attribution is correct, it is wrong to place them in the same category as extrajudicial killings done by suspected members of state forces or groups sanctioned by the state.

The latter enjoy the mantle of authority, are authorized to carry guns and are protected by a culture of impunity while so-called insurgents are considered criminals, labeled as “terrorists” and the full force of the law is used to hunt them down.

The attempt to be balanced by making mention of the so-called extra-judicial killings perpetrated by insurgents, because premised on the wrong assumptions, has the effect of highlighting the latter and thus obfuscating what the public outcry is about, i.e. the summary executions being undertaken by suspected members of the military or police forces or their surrogate assassins.

The CBCP’s denunciation of the unabated, in fact, in their own words, the increasing number of extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists is thus rendered ineffectual and can be easily brushed off since it does not constitute even a challenge much less a call for accountability on the part of government.

All in all the CBCP’s latest pastoral letter constitutes a step backward from their earlier ones. Despite the long explanation about the doctrinal basis for their taking a position on “burning social issues,” the application to concrete realities falls short even of the more modest expectations of their flock, most especially the exploited and oppressed.

Our long suffering people can only look to themselves and their authentic leaders for solutions to the fundamental problems gnawing at our social and moral foundations as a nation and reflected in the now festering political crisis of the Arroyo regime.#

July 06, 2006

Dialectics of war

Blood curdling though the quotable quotes from Brig. General Jovito Palparan, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s well-rewarded counter-insurgency general with the accursed record of wreaking a wide swathe of civilian casualties in his “successful” anti-insurgency campaigns, the government’s current “all-out war” is still doomed to fail.

It has been correctly pointed out that the real reason for Malacañang’s latest declaration of “all-out war” is still Mrs. Arroyo’s desperate desire to cling to power.

It is resorting to an old trick of hated despots who are in danger of being overthrown; that is, whip up war hysteria against a convenient target that can be demonized as “The Enemy”. In this case it is the communist-led New People’s Army and all those who can be blackened as sympathizing, consorting or otherwise giving aid and comfort to “The Enemy”.

The immediate audience of course is the Armed Forces of the Philippines itself. If there is anything that the alleged video clip of General Danny Lim calling for withdrawal of support from Mrs. Arroyo (that was to be aired once the anti-Arroyo military groups began their dramatic but bloodless attempt to oust their Commander-in-chief) proves is that the divisions in the AFP are real and constitute a threat to Mrs. Arroyo’s continued rule.

What better way of reuniting the fractious military and police establishments (and keeping them loyal to the chain of command) than by agitating the officers and men against an external target, the abominable communists, and making the “all-out war”, the focus of their undivided attention.

This time around, Mrs. Arroyo promises that there will be funds a plenty, one billion pesos for starters. Military operations will not be hampered by concerns about protection of human rights and observance of international humanitarian law.

Mrs. Arroyo is prepared to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the local and international howls of protest against state terror in the form of extrajudicial killings, abductions, illegal arrests and the heightened militarization of priority rural and urban areas such as those in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog.

In simple terms, there are now no limits, no constraints on the targets, methods and expectedly bloody outcomes of government’s reinvigorated counter-insurgency drive. The avowed objective is to “wipe out” the revolutionary movement in two years no matter what it takes.

Of course recent history belies the prospect of military victory despite the bellicose stance of Mrs. Arroyo. The entire legal and coercive apparatus of martial law, not to mention the much more consolidated hold of the Dictator Marcos on the military/police forces and civilian bureaucracy, was unable to crush the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

Notwithstanding the Arroyo regime’s threats of annihilation against the Left and the blood-curdling war cries, the political crisis hounding Mrs. Arroyo makes her a weak and implausible leader for such a historically daunting task for any reactionary ruler.

But even more fundamental is the truth that the decades-old armed conflict in this country and the corollary dogged persistence of the communist-led revolutionary movement is merely the by-product of deeply rooted social injustice, the exploitation and oppression of the majority of our people by the reactionary classes and successive elite regimes propped up by US neocolonialism.

Mrs. Arroyo may have unleashed the dogs of war against the revolutionary movement and the people but the AFP/PNP’s initial ferocity and reinforced capacity for dealing death and destruction can never defeat an aroused and organized people fighting for their national and democratic rights and resisting all-out fascist attacks.#

July 03, 2006

All-out failure

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s declaration two weeks ago in Cauayan, Isabela, of all-out war against the communist-led New People’s Army is reminiscent of her pugnacious pronouncements against crime -syndicates, the Abu Sayaff bandit group and, yes, the same old CPP-NPA that she is again threatening to annihilate with the promise of P1 billion additional taxpayer’s money to boost her regime’s so-so counter-insurgency program.

What Malacañang wishes to pass off as a renewed resolve to stamp out the armed revolutionary movement within a much abbreviated timetable of two years is more likely the product of presidential pique, braggadocio and her public relations handlers’ spin.

Mrs. Arroyo gave the order after learning about the fourteen AFP soldiers
killed-in-action in a recent encounter with the NPA in Jones, Isabela. She
outboasted her own Defense Secretary who, in yet another international anti-terrorism pow-wow, had given his fearless forecast of ten years for crushing the rebel movement. In the process, she exposed her overweening arrogance about the remaining capabilities of her embattled regime as well as profound ignorance of the history of failed counterinsurgency programs of previous regimes that includes that of the 14-year Marcos fascist dictatorship.

The government’s current counterinsurgency campaign codenamed Oplan Bantay
Laya was launched, according to leaked AFP documents, in 2002 and to date
has failed to achieve its objective of decisive defeat of the CPP-NPA, despite the fact that it is already on the fourth year of its five-year plan.

In truth and in fact, the Arroyo regime has been going all-out, has been decidedly hawkish both in word and deed, against the revolutionary movement and its perceived supporters and sympathizers, soon after Mrs. Arroyo came to power in 2001.

There has been no let-up in the massive deployment of troops and in ruthless military campaigns to dislodge the NPA from rebel strongholds,dismantle the political infrastructure of local cadres and activists and terrorize rural folk into submission. This has resulted in the displacement of thousands of peasants and minority peoples as well as murder and mayhem against civilians and non-combatants euphemistically dismissed by government as “collateral damage”.

The Arroyo regime had broken off peace talks since August 2002, campaigned in tandem with the Bush government to place the CPP-NPA-NDF and NDF chief political consultant and CPP founder, Prof. Jose Maria Sison, in the terrorist listings of the US, European Union and several other countries and has since then flagrantly violated agreements inked in the course of the peace negotiations such as that on the observance human rights and international humanitarian law and safety and immunity guarantees for CPP-NPA-NDF personnel involved in the peace talks.

An intensified crackdown on what has been termed the “legal Left” or leaders and members of progressive people’s organizations leading the fight for nationalism and democratic reform, as well as their perceived allies in the movement to oust Mrs. Arroyo from power, has been ongoing for the past several years marked by the unprecedented rise in the number of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, warrant less arrests, trumped-up rebellion charges and brutal dispersals of mass protest actions.

Propaganda and psywar campaigns turn things upside down and blame the revolutionary movement for all the woes of the country ­ from poverty to underdevelopment, to the corrupt and rotten political system, to “unpatriotic”, “undemocratic”, “counter-productive”, “divisive” values and the pre-occupation with ousting GMA rather than focus on moving the country forward to “enchanted kingdom-hood”.

Sustained and vicious mass media campaigns to vilify the Left are not just the usual red-scare tactics meant to divert the people from the insolvable political crisis and the deteriorating economic situation that Mrs. Arroyo’s rule has exacerbated, they have the bloodthirsty component of inciting the fascist forces in the AFP/PNP and death squads to continue the regime’s “dirty war” of terror against both the revolutionary armed movement in the countryside and the legal democratic movement in the cities.

Through all this, Mrs. Arroyo’s official statements and political body language constitute a virtual green light to more of the same grievous human rights violations and even worse atrocities and will reinforce the culture of impunity that has become the hallmark of her rule.

Mrs. Arroyo will justify her despotism as an indispensable link in the US
“war on terror”. She will whip up anti-communist hysteria among the soldiers and police to cover up the restiveness over rank opportunism and corruption within and outside the AFP and PNP. She will substitute “all-out war” for genuine economic and political reforms and call it development.

Indeed, this is the kind of authoritarian glue that binds the selfish interests of Mrs. Arroyo’s ruling clique, her US and military backers and those who think -- wrongly and foolishly ­ that this time she can succeed where all others have failed.#