September 25, 2006

Philippine military: unreformed and anti-people

September 21 is the thirty fourth anniversary of the imposition of martial rule and the Marcos fascist dictatorship on the Filipino people. The call, “Never again!” will reverberate among the tens of thousands who will mark this day with protest rallies in several cities of the country as well as in smaller actions around the world. It will be whispered as a silent prayer by many more ordinary folk who lived through its horrors and continue to this day to suffer its destructive legacy.

It is worthwhile to focus on one pernicious aspect of those dark years that is so obviously alive today; that is, the overweening, abusive and anti-people criminal character of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Let us not forget how the despot Marcos used the military and constabulary forces as his private army to prop up his illegal, malevolent and bloody rule. For fourteen long years, they were utilized in a “dirty war” that included extrajudicial killings, involuntary disappearances, torture, prolonged illegal detention and other human rights abuses.

Part of the national euphoria that swept the country after the military revolt cum “people power” uprising toppled the Marcos dictatorship was the illusion that a truly reformed armed forces was part of the “miracle of EDSA”. On the contrary, that transmogrified institution had been allowed to emerge unscathed with its anti-people and fascist orientation and its numerous human rights violators and corrupt generals in tow.

For the record, there has not been a single conviction for human rights violations in this country. (It is only in a landmark human rights case pursued by victims in the US judicial system has Mr. Marcos been found liable.)

There has not even been a proper accounting in the manner of the Truth Commissions set up in South Africa and Latin America countries after their respective repressive regimes were overthrown. Without a doubt, the culture of impunity reigns supreme.

Thirty four years and four regimes later, the AFP continues to be used to suppress political dissent and implement a series of brutal counter-insurgency programs that have fanned rather than squelched the flames of rebellion nationwide. Consequently over the years, human right violations persist, have grown alarmingly and have worsened in their severity.

Nowhere is this most blatantly and cruelly felt than in the rural areas where the Vietnam-vintage, US counter-insurgency formula of Clear-Hold-Consolidate-Develop has been the preferred strategy implemented by the AFP.

According to Amnesty International, “From the late 1980s, the AFP pursued a ‘Total Approach’ counter-insurgency strategy, including the increased use of official militias and a toleration of unofficial ‘vigilante’ groups to ‘hold and consolidate’ CPP- NPA-influenced areas following military clearance operations by regular AFP troops. Implicit in the strategy was the aim of eroding the insurgency’s popular mass base by moving against members of legal organizations suspected of being ‘front-groups’ for the CPP-NPA.”

“Accordingly, the practice of ‘red-labeling’, by which perceived communist or leftist opponents of the government were tagged as ‘subversives’ became more pronounced. Once publicly labeled, such people were at sharply increased risk of grave human rights violation such as extrajudicial executions, ‘disappearances’, arbitrary arrest and torture.”

The counter-insurgency campaign being waged by the Arroyo regime since 2002 is called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL). It also involves “dismantling the political infrastructure” of the revolutionary movement, which has ended up in the targeting of civilians suspected of being supportive, if not part of, the CPP-NPA. The AFP generals, aping their US counterparts, euphemistically term the consequent injuries to civilian lives and property as necessary “collateral damage”.

According to the Philippine Peace Center, OBL differs from its predecessors in its “unprecedented viciousness and brutality.”

“Whereas previous counter-insurgency campaigns involved the wanton assassination of civilians suspected of being CPP-NPA sympathizers, most of these were in NPA-controlled or influenced barrios. It is only under OBL that we see, in addition to the continuing human rights violations in the countryside, the systematic and relentless identification, demonization, harassment and finally, cold-blooded murder of leaders and activists of legal and aboveground progressive organizations and institutions, including churchpeople, lawyers and journalists, all in urban centers.”

An 2005 AFP briefing presentation “Knowing the Enemy: Are we missing the point?” made a wholesale condemnation of a wide range of activist, church and media organizations as “communist front organizations” including the Social Action Centers of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the National Union of Journalists.

The consequences of such red-baiting are not benign and has invariably preceded summary executions by suspected agents of the state or shadowy “death squads” under their direction and supervision.

And because Mrs. Arroyo, the de facto Commander-in-chief, has called on the entire AFP to wage an “all-out war against the Left”; has appropriated billions to the renewed effort; has upheld Oplan Bantay Laya; has coddled her blood-thirsty generals and has sanctioned impunity by tolerating ineffective police investigations, she cannot be expected to be serious about putting a stop to the extrajudicial killings.

In fact, there is widespread perception that she is the one who most benefits by the summary executions of those who oppose her illegitimate rule. For one, she maintains her tenuous hold on power by eliminating her purported “enemies”. Two, she rallies the fractious AFP and PNP officers and men to focus on such “enemies” and not on her corrupt regime by lavishing them with more firepower and increased opportunities for graft and corruption. Three, she proves to the US, that she is still the most reliable flunky to run after the CPP-NPA, that resurgent revolutionary movement that the US has labeled as the most terrible of “terrorists” that it wants eliminated under the aegis of the so-called “war on terror.”

September 21 is also the day that Filipinos must reaffirm the lesson that the Arroyo regime seems bent on forgetting: dictators and would-be dictators invariably generate the resistance from the people that lead to their ignominious overthrow.

September 16, 2006

GMA’s Chacha: recipe for dictatorship

Proponents of Charter change (Chacha) have been quite busy lately with the two-pronged tactic of a “people’s initiative” petition and the convening of the Lower House of Congress as a “constituent assembly” without the concurrence of the Senate. The antics of the government-sponsored pro-Chacha group “Sigaw ng Bayan” and Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s minions in the House of Representatives (HOR) are so blatantly illegal and equivalent to the basketball violation “forcing through”, they could be easily dismissed as both laughable and contemptible. But these Malacañang maneuvers are no laughing matter.

The remaining quarter of 2006 is the last chance for Chacha proponents to introduce the wide-ranging changes they want before the May 2007 elections overtakes them and dictates the tempo of Philippine political life.

The Chacha Express Train, as Mrs. Arroyo so confidently named her all-out effort to revise the Constitution, appeared to be in serious trouble just before her July State-of-the-Nation Address at the opening of Congress for it had ran up against formidable opposition.

Aside from the unperturbed anti-GMA movement that looked on Chacha as the preferred means of the Arroyo regime to legitimize itself, there was the categorical anti-Chacha stand of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the new anti-Chacha alliance, One Voice, apparently backed up by sections of Big Business, the elite Ateneo de Manila University, the Society of Jesus community and a motley crowd of very well-heeled people.

But now the Arroyo-de Venecia tandem, apparently emboldened by the abject defeat of the second impeachment move in the HOR and tantalized by the prospect of a winner-take-all outcome if the Chacha campaign succeeds, is making its last-ditch effort to get what it wants.

It is taking advantage of the lack of a massive educational campaign that dicloses what is really at stake in GMA’s Chacha and ergo the relative quiescence of the public in the face of what constitutes a looming Palace coup d’etat.

The Arroyo-de Venecia clique is also taking unfair advantage of having its political enemies under constant fire, not just metaphorically, but in actuality through all sorts of legal suits from libel to rebellion and through physical elimination by way of summary killings, massacres, abductions and torture.

Much has already been said about how the two-pronged Chacha attack, “people’s initiative” and “constituent assembly” are clearly an Arroyo-de Venecia game plan and therefore all talk about Chacha reflecting a groundswell from the grassroots is a lot hogwash.

Despite all the efforts of the GMA-de Venecia combine to create an illusion of a pro-Chacha bandwagon -- 6.8 million signatures, a series of full-page paid ads and a run of TV spots – there is no palpable excitement much less public clamor for it; instead there are concrete examples of fraud, manipulation and the cynical use of public funds for the spurious signature gathering and expensive media ad campaign.

What is more important at this point is to draw attention to and thereby expose for all to see that GMA’s Chacha is fraught with danger from the proposed extension and concentration of political power in the hands of Mrs. Arroyo even as it is clothed in the rhetoric of political reform and economic renewal.

Simply put, GMA’s Chacha will create an unelected unicameral interim Parliament that is packed with her subalterns and loyalists from the incumbent members of Congress, members of her Cabinet and some others she will have the free hand to appoint.

Party-list representatives, at least the progressive and independent ones who are a whiff of fresh air in a Congress filled with opportunists, will lose their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to be in Parliament.

The 2007 elections are unlikely to be held, being left to the discretion of the interim Parliament itself whose fat asses have the privilege of having their terms of office extended from three to five years. Thereafter, they can continue to run for office with the lifting of term limits, and thus spare themselves the hassle of having their spouses, offspring, siblings and assorted relatives engage in a rigodon of who runs for Congress, governor, mayor, etc.

The incumbent President and Vice President are assured of their stay in office till 2010 despite a supposed shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system. The incumbent President retains all executive powers as President and merely delegates what she sees fit to the interim Prime Minister. Moreover, it is the incumbent president who nominates the interim Prime Minister who will then be elected by the members of the interim Parliament.

To top it all, a second Charter change, will take place through the convening of the interim Parliament within forty-five days from the ratification of the proposed GMA constitutional “amendments”, to further propose another round of “amendments to, or revisions of, this Constitution”. This is a carte blanche for the all-powerful GMA-de Venecia clique to mangle the basic law of the land as they see fit or as their vested interests dictate.

There is no other course of action than for the people to reject GMA’s Chacha so that legal moves being utilized by its proponents to achieve their malevolent objectives will not prosper; in particular, the “people’s initiative” petition in the Supreme Court and the illegal convening of a constituent assembly in the Lower House of Congress without benefit of a Senate vote.

Because they have not the fear of God in them, we must try to instill at least the fear of the wrath of a people fed up with lies and of being screwed by their supposed leaders in broad daylight. Let us fight to stop GMA’s Chacha in its tracks.###

September 08, 2006

Digging deeper into the leakage

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Digging deeper into the leakage

As a medical student learns early on, signs and symptoms are mere indicators of an underlying illness; real cure comes from diagnosing and treating the disease, not just mitigating its manifestations. The concept is not difficult for even the layman to understand since it is grounded on the truism that problem solving requires digging deep at the root causes if a genuine solution is to be found.

Why then the seeming inability, or perhaps unwillingness, of government to see beyond the current scandal of the nursing board exam leakage? Is this just another case of unscrupulous government officials colluding with profiteering owners of nursing schools and review centers to allow unqualified examinees to cheat their way to their licenses? Or is there something more here than meets the eye?

The magnitude of the problem is laid bare by the following: the filing of charges against two examiners from the Board of Nursing (BON) of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC); the forced resignation of the President and Vice-President of the Philippine Nurses Association implicated in the leakage and its cover-up; and the alleged involvement of scores of nursing schools and review centers in disseminating the leaked exam questions to their students. There are worrisome signs that cheating has become systematized and a criminal syndicate in cahoots with government officials is on the loose.

Worse, the PRC, relying on the BON findings instead of creating an independent investigative body, initially denied any possibility of a leakage with the assertion that the examination system “has been so streamlined that leakages are now a thing of the past.”
When it could no longer sweep the problem under the rug it admitted the leakage and pinpointed responsibility to just two of its examiners.

Now the PRC appears to have taken the unprincipled tack of minimizing the impact of the leakage on the integrity of the examinations. The PRC cited some statistical manipulations that they claim “solved” the problem and hastily administered the nursing oath to those they certified to have passed (until a court restraining order stopped the oath taking). They stood pat on the position that there was no need for a retake of the examinations by any of the examinees, including those who reviewed with the R.A.Gapuz Review Center (RAGRC), a center that witnesses claim distributed answers to exam questions the night before the June 11 board examinations. Not surprisingly, RAGRC now boasts of having bagged the 3rd to 10th place in the exams.

From news reports, the PRC even brought in supposedly well-placed labor recruiters who assured the examinees that they would still be eligible for placement in US hospitals despite the controversy surrounding their licensure exams. It appeared to be a calculated move to counter reports that local as well as foreign hospitals had indicated they would refuse to hire nurses from batch 2006.

Meanwhile Malacañang has chosen to uphold the PRC position hook, line and sinker. While vowing to go after those responsible for the leakage, it immediately exonerated the PRC itself of any responsibility and peremptorily declared that the nursing leakage was more of an exception rather than the rule. Mrs. Arroyo even praised PRC Chair Leonor Rosero, her personal dentist whose husband is a close friend and fellow Rotarian of the First Gentleman, for doing a great job. She also took the “no retake” position popular with the examinees in what seemed to be a classic GMA trick of pandering to the crowd when no major personal or political stakes are involved.

There is no indication that the Arroyo administration sees the current brouhaha as a reason, or even an occasion, to seriously study what ails the nursing sector. Consider that nurses (as well as doctors-turned-nurses) continue to be one of our top exports as a labor exporting country . The alarm has been raised by the World Health Organization that the Philippines faces the prospect of a major crisis in its health care system with the exodus of health personnel for more lucrative jobs abroad.

Is it so difficult to see that the scandalous extent and circumstances of the recent board exam leakage is in direct proportion to the degree of commercialization of nursing education as exemplified by the proliferation of substandard nursing schools churning out unqualified, if not incompetent, graduates? Shall we be content with merely calling for better regulation by the PRC and by the Commission on Higher Education?

Shall we not examine what fuels this soaring demand for a nursing diploma and license to practice the nursing profession that provides fertile ground for all sorts of corrupt scams victimizing students, their parents and future patients at that?

Certainly it is not a sudden surge of humanitarianism, of people wanting to care for the sick and infirm. On purely economic terms, the demand is fed by the desire to go abroad and earn a decent income that can provide a comfortable life and a secure future for one’s family.

Such a modest, middle class dream is no longer possible for the vast majority in the Philippine setting. What everybody seems to know is that the passport out of the Philippine Rut into the American Dream is indeed that nursing license.

Rather than address the endemic problem of unemployment and underemployment, successive governments from Marcos to the present have pursued a short-sighted policy of exporting labor. From a stop-gap measure, the export of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) has evolved to become the major dollar-earner and life-saver of a chronically floundering economy with roughly eight million OFWs, a tenth of the population, remitting US $10 Billion last year.

Thus the demand for nurses in the US and UK has become the main driving force shaping the development of nursing education and the profession today. Not the needs and requirements of a highly underserved people in the throes of hunger, malnutrition and preventable diseases.

When government cannot see beyond dollar remittances and will do anything and everything to keep them coming, it will turn a blind eye to the deepening crisis of the Philippine health care system; it will paper over the festering problems in nursing education and the nursing profession that the recent leakage scandal has so glaringly exposed.

With provincial and even major urban hospitals scrambling to stay open despite the steady loss of its doctors and nurses, the future is bleak while government policies remain unchanged. Needless to say, the long and short of it is that the majority of our people end up, once more, on the losing end.#

September 02, 2006

Melo Commission: no surprises

Malacañang's creation of a supposedly "independent commission to address media and activist killings" -- headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo -- has been met with much skepticism, if not incredulity, by the very victims themselves, i.e. the families of those summarily executed, as well as their advocates in the local and international human rights community, the churches, the academe, the mass media and even Congress itself. The Melo Commission, in marked contrast to the Palace hype, is widely perceived to be neither powerful, credible nor independent.

We must be clear on what the victims and the public expect from a truly independent commission. It is nothing less than to determine whether government personnel under the Arroyo administration, such as the AFP and PNP, have any role as either perpetrators, conspirators, accomplices or accessories to the most serious human rights violations of killings, abduction, torture and massacre reported by human rights groups and the victims or their organizations.

Moreover the public demands that such a commission flush out the perpetrators of these extrajudicial killings, lay the ground for their successful prosecution and punishment and thereby dispel the climate of impunity that has so far enveloped these cases.

It is not, as AO 157 states, that the Melo Commission "be the Government's sole voice on the issue of media and activist killings" as if the Arroyo administration merely wants to orchestrate its official line on the matter.

Neither is it to "make a report to the President outlining its action and policy recommendations including appropriate prosecution and legislative proposals, if any, aimed at eradicating the root causes of extrajudicial killings and breaking such cycle of violence once and for all."

Such a description of the Melo Commission's function presupposes that there is no basis whatsoever to the charge that the political killings are systematic, officially condoned if not directed, and subsequently officially covered up by means of public pronouncements by high-ranking civilian and military officials discounting any military or police involvement without any serious investigation.

Is the Melo Commission starting from the premise that the killings cannot be part of state policy in the light of the Arroyo regime's belligerent declaration of "all-out war" against the Left? Ergo that culpability is limited to, at most, certain abusive military and police personnel and that it cannot go all the way up to the AFP and PNP top brass, the members of the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security and even up to the President and Commander-in-Chief herself?

It will then have to close its eyes to direct and circumstantial evidence indicating a pattern to the killings: The victim's activist or leftist profile and a favored modus operandi of using motorcycle-riding assassins after a period of surveillance and even outright harassment by men believed to be members or assets of the AFP and/or PNP. It will have to disregard evidence prior to and after the murders pointing to state forces as having the motive, the means and the opportunity to carry out these dastardly crimes. To top it all, it must refuse to take notice of the authorities' zero track record in terms of credible investigation, successful prosecution and punishment of the guilty parties.

If the Melo Commission cannot investigate these glaring facts and circumstances, how can it get to the bottom of the killings? Perhaps, its fundamental flaw as a so-called independent commission is precisely its being a creation of Malacañang, its members hand-picked by Mrs. Arroyo herself without benefit of any consultation at all with aggrieved parties.

How can the Melo Commission, like the proverbial water, rise above its source?

But what of the sweeping powers given by Malacañang to the Melo Commission? Essentially, these are nothing more than the limited powers that the toothless Human Rights Commission (CHR) does not already have. Concretely, while the Melo Commission may have the power to subpoena, it has none to punish those who choose to ignore its summons.

If today the Senate, with its much broader powers under the constitution, cannot compel even middle level officials of the executive department to testify, how much more the puny Melo Commission? Mr. Melo admits as much and is left to citing the persuasive powers of Malacañang to get cooperation from the necessary government agencies and officials. Just how far that will get the Commission in its mission to flush out killers and their sponsors, including possible generals and national security advisers, is anybody's guess.

At the end of the day, on what agencies will the Melo Commission rely to gather evidence and to give protection to witnesses -- the very same ones that have proven themselves incapable and unwilling to investigate and stop the killers and even engaging in the foulest of cover-ups. Need we point out that the creation of the Melo Commission is a tacit admission that Task Force Usig is an abject failure, if not a sham.

What of the Melo Commissions vaunted independence? It must be said that the current composition leaves much to be desired. Toothless be the CHR, it has at least displayed a modicum of independence having been the first government body to condemn the killings and call the executive department to account. What is there in the track record of GMA's hand-picked members of the Commission to assure the victims of their independence?

The presence of DOJ Chief State Prosecutor Zuno and NBI Director Mantaring virtually undermines not just the perception of independence but the commission's real autonomy as an investigating body.

A little known fact is that the DOJ is one of the lead agencies in the Inter Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) created by Malacañang in January this year. IALAG is tasked with carrying out the government's intensified legal offensives against communist rebels which is the other face of the two-pronged "total war" effort of the GMA regime. Justice Secretary Gonzales had been crowing that its first achievement is the filing of rebellion charges against the Batasan Six and scores of other legal and underground Left personalities.

As such, the DOJ and NBI members of the Melo Commission are being given the impossible task of investigating killings clearly associated if not resulting from governments counter-insurgency campaign against the CPP and NPA. It is unimaginable that the two subalterns of Justice Secretary Gonzales will be able to maintain such a split personality within the commission and pursue the investigation of those mandated to prosecute the military aspect of Mrs. Arroyo's "total war".

The rest of the members of the Melo Commission are seen to be too close to Mrs. Arroyo for comfort, much less to demonstrate unquestionable independence. Why didn't GMA choose individuals known for their independence, probity and respected record of fighting for human rights?

At this point, the answer is not hard to come by.#

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