June 14, 2007

Postscript to Independence Day

The sounds and images of the country’s 109th independence day celebrations were so pedestrian and unremarkable, they struck me as reflective of the malaise of cynicism and despair over this republic’s state of affairs. Clearly, the lame duck Arroyo regime had neither the fervor nor the capacity to inspire Filipinos into celebrating their nationhood, that is why it even chose to move the non-working holiday a day earlier, based on the dubious benefits of encouraging local tourism via a three-day weekend.

Mrs. Arroyo used the occasion to repeat her tired refrain about setting aside political differences and uniting behind her administration to pursue the country’s so-called economic gains. She tried unsuccessfully to sweep aside the fact of her senatorial candidates’ debacle in the recently concluded elections and the indisputable message of waning public support for her remaining three years in office, much less her ill-disguised scheme to stay in power beyond 2010.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon was Mrs. Arroyo’s prominent escort in the wreath laying ceremonies. His praetorian guard-like presence reinforced the perception of her growing reliance on the military to prop up her flagging regime.

On the other hand, the speech of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Puno at the more proletarian environs of the Bonifacio monument in Caloocan City reflected on the state of Filipino people’s unfreedom. He dwelled on the pernicious effects of poverty, ignorance, a corrupt and undemocratic system of elections, extrajudicial killings and other forms of social injustice.

While decidedly more candid about the economically backward and politically sordid situation in the country today, 109 years after gaining freedom from Spanish colonialism, the Chief Justice missed out on the question of the country’s continued domination in almost all spheres of national life by another former and indisputably more powerful colonizer, the United States of America.

It would seem that of all the holidays there is nothing more meaningless than Independence Day. It has become common knowledge, to the point that it is taken for granted, that the Philippines is economically dependent on and politically subservient to foreign powers, especially the US. This partly explains why Independence Day has been reduced to parades and speeches and why public interest has visibly waned. One need only recall some of the significant and even highly dramatic, if not scandalous, instances to underscore the point.

The RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allows US troops and war materiel unhampered entry, unregulated activity and indefinite stay in any part of Philippine territory barely raises the hackles of supposedly patriotic political leaders, whether they are pro-administration or opposition.

Instead we have the sorry spectacle of the Arroyo administration, caving in to US demand that a US soldier, convicted of raping a Filipina while on rest and recreation in a former US naval base, be turned over to US custody while his case is on appeal, contrary to the decision of a sovereign Philippine court.

Recently, we learned that FBI agents, taking part in one of the innumerable joint war exercises carried out under the VFA, were involved in the investigations on the suspected “terrorist” bombing in North Cotobato last week. They had in fact declared the incident as more of an extortion rather than a terrorism case. Why FBI agents are given free reign to do investigative work inside the country without a clear basis and parameters for doing so is not explained to the public.

Even the kidnapping of an Italian priest in Zamboanga City by an alleged break-away group of the MILF is made the occasion to bring in US spy planes to conduct aerial reconnaissance of the Western Mindanao area -- and who knows what other part of Philippine territory. Quite matter-of-factly, US military and police operatives are all over the country conducting police work, including counter-insurgency operations, all in the guise of international cooperation in countering terrorism.

Do we remember the pricey Venable contract entered into by Malacanang with a US lobby firm that boiled down to engaging the services of a foreign, i.e. US, company to raise funds and generate political support in Washington for overhauling the Philippine Constitution, a decidedly internal matter for Filipinos?

The legislative records are strewn with examples of US intrusions into law making. There is the US and other foreign governments lobbying for the passage of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Law that is replete with provisions that violate basic civil, political and human rights guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution, Philippine jurisprudence and international law.

Regarding the ATL, Senator Joker Arroyo, who prides himself as being a staunch human rights defender, justifies the passage of the bill by saying that it is a toothless law that would please the US. He thus exposed the real motive for Congress to fast-track final approval. In contrast, it failed to pass a bill that would bring down the prices of basic medicines, due to the conspicuous lobbying by multinational, especially US, pharmaceutical corporations.

The Arroyo regime’s inherent servility to US dictates, highlighted by its self-serving need to maintain US backing for its tenuous hold on power, provides the rationale for its blind allegiance to the US-led so-called war on terror. This has had far-reaching consequences: her regime’s militarist approach to the intractable armed conflict with the communist-led New People’s Army, the scuttling of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front and the murderous counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya, patterned after the US Oplan Phoenix used in the Vietnam war, that has killed hundreds of unarmed activists, their supporters and innocent bystanders.

The common tao is now aware, more than ever, that the government is protecting foreign economic interests at his expense. It is worth recalling that the Arroyo government's recourse in resolving the grave fiscal and financial crisis in 2004 was to raise the tax burden on the people while creating more incentives for foreign capital, such as mining multinationals, so as to improve its credit rating and be able to continue borrowing foreign funds.

Indeed, we have not even delved into the socio-cultural effects that US neocolonialism has wrought on Philippine society and the Filipino psyche.

Filipinos have still a long way to go in grasping the profoundly destructive effects of the historical and continuing lack of independence that we suffer as a nation and as a people. Only by doing so, can an independent path towards prosperity, social justice and equality be finally taken by our people, and Freedom Day celebrations attain true meaning and substance.###

*Published in Business World

15-16 June 2007


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