December 30, 2007

Another year of turbulence

No amount of Malacanang drumbeating can refute market vendors’ testimonies that they sold less this Christmas season than last year. For those Filipino families that can still afford a noche buena, that amounts to far less and simpler food on the table and less gifts or none at all under the Christmas tree, especially if they didn’t have the time, the energy nor the opportunity to go bargain hunting in Divisoria.

Food and drinks are not the only missing ingredients. More families are also missing family members to share the traditional Christmas meal with. Parents, siblings, sons and daughters are spending Christmas thousands of miles away as overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). An unprecedented 9-10 million OFWs, or more than ten percent of the population, are in fact economic refugees scattered in 192 countries.

Three thousand four hundred Filipinos leave the country everyday constituting a strategic drain of professional and skilled labor but the country’s economic managers can only shortsightedly see the record remittances of migrant workers’ earnings. Unfortunately, almost their entire earnings end up covering family consumption expenses as well as loans payments while the social costs of motherless/fatherless families, broken homes and migrant workers who end up exploited and abused in foreign lands are incalculable.

OFW families are still more fortunate than those families with no hope of ever spending Christmas again with their loved ones who are victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Despite international condemnation of the spate of political killings and abductions ascribed to state security agents, justice remains elusive for the victims. The government, most especially the generals of the Armed Forces and the National Police and de facto President Arroyo’s National Security Adviser, continues to wallow in a ludicrous “state of denial”, as aptly described in the official report of United Nations Special Rappporteur Philip Alston.

Add to these the significant number of victims of the gruesome blasts at the Glorietta Mall and the House of Representatives; in both cases, the public continues to be skeptical regarding police theories about the reasons for the explosions and the subsequent claim of authorities that these cases have been solved. The public, inured to a constant stream of bad news, hardly even takes notice of the sporadic bomb blasts in the provinces that are routinely ascribed to “terrorists”. One even suspects these are deliberately being undertaken to provide macabre justification for the US-backed and funded “counter-terrorism” campaigns.

Senator Mar Roxas’ most recent expose of a new contract inked by Malacanang with a United States lobby firm known as Covington & Burling LLP is said to be worse than the Venable contract that got NSA Norberto Gonzales into hot water with the Senate. For one it is worth two billion pesos compared to the fifty million-peso price tag on the Venable contract. For another, while the Venable deal was a lobbying consultancy contract to “secure grants and (US) congressional earmarks” for Mrs. Arroyo’s Charter change initiative, the Covington contract seeks to lobby the US Congress to accept repressive “counterterrorist” measures of the Arroyo regime.

According to Mr. Roxas, “This amount is for something more, perhaps like getting the US Defense and Military establishment to soften resistance to a new strain of Martial Law.” In other words, the Filipino people are being made to pay for mayhem that the US-backed Arroyo regime is planning to inflict on them.

Government credibility is at an all-time low. The Ghosts of Anomalies Past keep catching up with and are magnified by those of Anomalies Present that in turn portend even worse ghosts of Anomalies Yet to Come. Moreover, attempts of officialdom to cover-up the trail of wrongdoing constitute distinct crimes that tear at the foundations of whatever is left of the trappings of institutional, Western-type democracy – the rule of law, public accountability, the right to information, separation of powers and not the least, the illusion of free and fair elections.

As a case in point, take the presidential pardon of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada shortly after being convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan. It had nothing to do with clemency or justice as any fair person could easily discern. It was nothing less than a shameless travesty of the rule of law aimed at neutralizing Mr. Estrada, still a popular rallying figure for the unorganized masses seething with anger at the Arroyo administration, and dividing the Opposition together with blunting renewed impeach/oust moves against Mrs. Arroyo.

The Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Reynato Puno appears to be one of the few saving graces of the current government leadership. Mr. Puno pursued not only an independent track from both the executive and legislative branches but also initiated measures to uphold and protect human rights, in the process challenging Malacanang’s policies and pronouncements, in order to effect remedies for the latter’s abuses and grave misconduct.

Are we any closer to peace and the resolution of problems that cause so much hardship and misery for our people and impel unceasing protests and intractable rebellion? The saber-rattling and war mongering of Malacanang and the military as well as the police establishments indicate otherwise.

They bury their heads in the sand and persist in the delusion that counter-insurgency campaigns are succeeding, that the government can crush armed opposition in a few years. Yet they ask for more repressive laws, including the restoration of the failed and ineffective Anti-Subversion Law and the repeal of the Anti-terrorism Law aka Human Security Act to completely unleash legalized state terrorism upon the people.

The coming year 2008 promises to be even more turbulent than its predecessor. That is because the national leadership – or what tries to pass itself off as one – is by now completely bereft of any shred of moral ascendancy, credibility and ergo popular support. The Arroyo regime will inevitably generate stronger opposition and resistance from the people. It could thus be tempted to resort to ever more repressive measures -- up to and including what Senator Roxas anticipates to be a “new strain of martial law.”#

*Published in Business World
28-29 December 2007

December 21, 2007

Belated homage

A year ago I wrote wistfully about my father who had died ten years earlier during the anniversary of the declaration of martial law. My mom, who in her twilight years had been hoping that her children would write what they thought about her before she passed away, never got her wish. Now would be a good time to fulfill that desire and gift her spirit as well as mine with some kind of closure.

I am told I inherited my mother’s comeliness. But according to a male high school classmate of hers who became Marikina police chief and who I met while I was still a student leader preparing for protest marches in that town, I couldn’t hold a candle to her in the looks department. Aside from being pretty, she had a whistle-bait figure and a sense of style. There was a long line of suitors to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) School of Nursing dormitory where she boarded.

Mom had a lot more to do with my eventually becoming a political and social activist than even I ever acknowledged much less credited her for. To begin with, my revolutionary roots come from her side of the family: her father was a Katipunero from Pateros, Rizal. It was a pity that I never got to know him since he was long gone by the time I was born but my mother’s unwavering conviction that oppression breeds rebellion and that ergo to rebel is justified must have sprung somehow from that revolutionary heritage.

That is why in her heart of hearts she couldn’t bring herself to censure -- in fact, she understood and empathized with -- my youthful activism. Even before martial law was declared, her anger about my coming home very late at night from innumerable meetings was quickly dissipated when I started explaining the latest outrageous policy or act of the Marcos regime and engaged her in a spirited discussion.

Mom said she joined demonstrations in order to keep an eye on me but she knew what the issues were and she generally took a progressive position. Ironically, it was she who ended up courting physical harm: in one demonstration in Plaza Miranda she almost got trampled on when someone caused a commotion by shouting about a bomb going off. It was a false alarm.

Her brand of activism manifested itself in more specific issues and projects. Even as I had gone underground at the height of martial law, I learned that she collaborated with other activists’ mothers to put up a day care center for children of poor parents and full-timers. In later years she became concerned with environment issues and involved in anti-election fraud campaigns.

Mom was baptized Caridad after twin siblings who preceded her were named Fe and Esperanza. They constituted the triumvirate of Faith, Hope and Charity. In hindsight the name fits her well. She not only exhibited a caring attitude and extended a helping hand towards relatives and friends who were in some sort of trouble or difficulty, she displayed a pronounced humanitarian bent when she chose to take up nursing after high school. This was in the mid-thirties when embarking on a nursing career was not yet primarily motivated by a desire to work abroad and eventually migrate to greener pastures unlike today.

She finished her short nursing course at the PGH, got married and had six children. During all this time she worked and eventually went back to school to acquire her bachelor’s degree at the University of the Philippines College of Nursing. That was in 1961, she was forty-six years old by the time she graduated and I was an eight-year-old fourth grader.

Mom applied herself to her profession with pride and passion. She became the Chief Operating Room Nurse at the Quezon Institute (the country’s then premier tertiary care hospital for tuberculosis patients named after President Manuel Quezon who suffered from TB). She always told us stories about how she held her ground against domineering male doctors who showed little respect for the nursing profession, treating nurses as little more than a doctor’s handmaiden. She was triumphant whenever she was able to give them their comeuppance, professionally or otherwise.

The character traits I indisputably got from my mother are her feistiness, especially triggered when she felt an injustice had been committed against her, her close relatives or friends; her being outspoken in her views and her tenacity when she had decided to take a certain course of action. Of course, the flip side of these otherwise positive traits have also been passed on to me: being ill-tempered and somewhat pugnacious (most especially with police dispersing rallies and soldiers terrorizing civilians); appearing to be opinionated (particularly in the eyes of persons in authority not used to being questioned and status quo-ers who can’t stand people rocking the boat); and not least of all, a streak of stubbornness that not even the healthy practice of Mao’s criticism and self-criticism has been able to eradicate.

My mother’s constant admonition to all of her five daughters was that being a woman should not be a bar to achieving one's full potential. She was a firm advocate of women having a career outside the home and for wives to have some degree of financial, psychological and social independence from their husbands. She encouraged us to develop our intellect and to choose spouses who would not feel threatened by wives who could think, who were articulate and took up their own stand on matters in the home and in the larger world outside it.

Mom was the one who encouraged, even nagged, me about becoming a doctor after I was released from detention and finished my psychology course. She argued that aside from earning a decent living I would become fulfilled in devoting my life to a form of social service that would creatively channel my activist impulses.

By the time I got my medicine degree, got married and had two children but was clearly not settled down, not retired from political activism and not on the road to becoming a successful doctor with a busy clinical practice, Mom started to worry and seriously fret.

I guess behind all my mother’s criticism and complaints was her gnawing fear that I would get arrested again or worse and that she and my dad couldn’t see me and my family through another such crisis. At that time I was too involved in my causes to appreciate where she was coming from, to be patient in reassuring her and in drawing her once more to participate in the continuing struggle of our people for a better life, for freedom and justice.

For that I am extremely remorseful. And I write this belated tribute to her to place things in their proper light and to pay homage to a truly beautiful woman of substance and uncommon strength of character – my mother.#

*Written on the occasion of Ms. Caridad G. Castillo-Pagaduan's 92nd birthday
Published in Business World
21-21 December 2007

December 12, 2007


No matter how you look at it, the protest actions last November 29 and 30 indicate that the intense political crisis that has hounded the Arroyo government since the “Hello Garci” expose on electoral fraud is far from resolved. A lot of people did not agree with the tactic of holing up in a 5-star hotel and calling for "people power" from there but few will argue with the issues raised by Senator Antonio Trillanes and General Danny Lim and their call for the ouster of Arroyo to usher in a new government that would institute significant reforms.

And while many thought the Makati action was an ill-planned misadventure that only further eroded the people’s willingness to come out for another demonstration of “people power”, the warm response of crowds of onlookers to the oust-GMA chants of thousands of marchers the following day belied cynical views that the people are tired of street protests.

What actually took place on November 29 action was not a coup d’état, in the sense of being a military grab for power. Judging from the actions of Senator Trillanes and General Lim, they had hoped their bold moves that day, short of a shoot-out with loyal government soldiers and policemen, would trigger another popular uprising and the withdrawal of support by the military and police from their Commander-in-Chief.

Those who have been quick to condemn as illegitimate Mr. Trillanes and company’s courtroom walk-out, protest march cum stand-off at the Manila Peninsula in order to, in General Lim’s words, undertake “dissent with action”, should remember two historical precedents, EDSA I and II.

The EDSA I people’s uprising was preceded by a coup plot that never got off the ground. The military rebels and their godfather, then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, thereafter holed up in Camp Aguinaldo waiting to be arrested or blasted to smithereens by Chief of Staff General Ver’s troops. Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the people to mass up at the EDSA highway fronting the camp to protect the rebel soldiers. As the responding crowds swelled both at EDSA and at the gates of the presidential palace and officers loyal to the dictator Marcos were either neutralized or switched camps, the White House emissary advised Mr. Marcos to “cut and cut cleanly”. A political stalemate ensued with the Strongman’s option to use military force to end the uprising effectively foreclosed. It was then that Mr. Marcos, his family and retinue of cronies and guards took flight with the assistance of the US government, that up until then had backed his fascist dictatorship.

EDSA II on the other hand was undoubtedly a purely civilian affair; this time, the massing up of huge crowds of people at the shrine Cardinal Sin had erected on EDSA to mark the first “people power” uprising, was triggered by the walk-out of prosecution lawyers at President “Erap” Estrada’s impeachment trial that was in turn a result of the move of pro-Estrada senators to suppress vital evidence. Militant and progressive organizations and their sympathizers as well as church-based groups such as Couples for Christ constituted the initial critical mass at the EDSA shrine that helped sustain the throng of people through four days of continuous protest. The break in the military chain of command when then AFP Chief Angelo Reyes announced his withdrawal of support for Mr. Estrada turned the tide irreversibly on the side of the Oust Estrada Movement. The final march of tens of thousands of people led by the militant mass organizations under BAYAN literally pried Mr. Estrada from Malacanang.

In both instances, what took place was direct democratic action that capped the process of deligitimation of a weakened ruling regime until its final ouster when the state’s armed forces could not and would not act to crush the uprising. The Aquino government was catapulted to power by the democratic yet extra constitutional act of “people power” as was that of Mrs. Arroyo as she took over from the deposed Mr. Estrada in her capacity as Vice-President.

So why didn’t it work this time around? Obviously, there is no formula or set recipe for “people power” to succeed in removing an intolerably oppressive government. This is because conditions and circumstances change and the actors learn lessons, not excluding the reactionaries who took power after taking part in the effort to bring down the previous reactionary regime.

It now appears that the Manila Peninsula action was foolhardy and even doomed to fail because it was poorly conceived and not geared so that the mass of people could readily take part. Just to name a few conditions without specifying which is key: the choice of a 5-star hotel in the middle of the premier business district in Makati City; the absence of respected leaders of progressive organizations and charismatic traditional political leaders with mass following; the situation at the Peninsula quickly becoming militarized making civilian protest actions difficult and risky; too much dependence on spontaneity to achieve the objectives of the action; a certain degree of disorganization that affected the political message that Trillanes and company wanted to put across to the public; and not the least, the democratic mass movement still in the process of being revitalized after being subjected to intensified political repression after the 2006 proclamation of emergency rule.

That “people power” was not unleashed last Thursday doesn’t mean that our people will no longer respond to calls to oust a brutal, incorrigibly corrupt and morally bankrupt government. It just affirms the view, forged in the crucible of practical politics, that there is a need for build-up in the form of continuous and unrelenting efforts to expose the evils of the regime; to arouse the broad masses of people, i.e. the “masa” as well as the small middle class that is in a position to mold public opinion; and, not least of which, to painstakingly organize so that there is a solid core of people who will quickly respond to calls to mobilize and will be able to sustain these mass actions until the final, decisive push.

Anyone who would lead another “people power” revolt must recognize and respect the practical wisdom of the people and not rely solely on their being fed up with the Arroyo regime nor on the willingness of a daring few to set off a wished-for chain of events.

The US backed-Arroyo regime continues to unravel and dig its own political grave. Already it has shot itself in the foot with the way it manacled and arrested scores of reporters covering the hotel siege and imposed an illegal curfew that same night. Mrs. Arroyo and her husband’s decision to play golf in an exclusive, rich-man’s course the following day in order to deliver the message that “everything is under control” only succeeded in underscoring her callousness to the people’s plaints. The resort to a foreign state visit to conjure an image of political stability indicates a narrowing of options rather than of resilience and strength.

The AFP hierarchy emerges from the latest protest demonstration of rebel military men as more insecure about the loyalty of its officers and rank and file with General Esperon abjectly failing as a rallying figure.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s declaration of unwavering support for the beleaguered Arroyo regime exposes the principality of the Superpower’s self-serving interests in its policy towards its former colony despite its avowals of commitment to democracy and concern for the welfare of the Filipino people. #