May 31, 2007

Something fishy in Maguindanao

The alleged “12-0” sweep of the senatorial elections by the administration-backed Team Unity (TU) versus the Genuine Opposition (GO) in the province of Maguindanao and the reported widespread and wholesale fraud in Lanao del Sur, another province that is part of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), has drawn national attention to these provinces. As in the 2004 presidential elections, polling results in these far-flung areas appear to be crucial in the nation-wide “dagdag-bawas” (vote padding-shaving) scheme intended to bring about victory for senatorial and party-list candidates backed by the Arroyo administration.

The pro-administration Maguindanao governor cum feudal warlord, Andal Ampatuan Sr., attributes the incredible “12-0” TU victory to the traditional practices of the Moro people for selecting leaders which involve ijima (consensus) and shura (consultation). He claims that these traditional practices are the equivalent of the “command votes” by other religious groups such as the Iglesia ni Kristo, wherein voters obediently but voluntarily choose the candidates that have been endorsed by their religious as well as political leaders.

A full-page ad placement in a broadsheet accused those who charged massive cheating, if not a complete failure of elections in Maguindanao province, as engaging in age-old discrimination against Muslims in Mindanao. Thousands of teachers were reported to be protesting in the same province against what they claimed were baseless accusations and affirming that free and honest elections had indeed taken place.

Certainly one may expect less than ideal conditions for the free exercise of the individual right to suffrage in an area where political power is monopolized by a feudal warlord whose clan has consolidated its economic, political and even religio-cultural hold on a wide swathe of territory and a voting population of around 300,000. But the gross and highly unbelievable “12-0” TU win handed on a silver platter by Mr. Ampatuan to Mrs. Arroyo’s anointed candidates and which the Comelec is poised to accept and proclaim as valid, reeks of manipulation and cheating at the highest levels.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos concedes that elections in ARMM have historically been difficult because of the intensity of the rivalry among local candidates and their followers but he sees no reason to suspect any serious anomalies that would mar the outcome. He even threatens those raising doubts about the integrity of the Maguindanao polls with sanctions unless they come up with the “evidence”.

In truth, disturbing testimonies have come out that should spur the Comelec to action. For example, according to four election inspectors presented by the opposition as witnesses, more than 100 election inspectors were forcibly taken and detained, for three nights and two days, and made to manufacture votes for a local mayoralty candidate and the administration senatorial bets. A BEI member, in his sworn statement, said that the authorized Comelec official had yet to collect the election returns (ERs) and 38 ballot boxes from Pagalungan, Maguindanao. According to him, the 190 uncanvassed ERs contained all the votes in eight of 12 barangays in the said municipality.

Moreover, volunteers of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), the sole Comelec-accredited citizens arms authorized to receive official copies of ERs, were completely shut out of the electoral process so that they were unable to retrieve copies neither of the ERs nor of Certificates of Canvass (COCs). In brief, outside of Governor Ampatuan and his loyal retinue, no independent group could vouch that elections reflective of the will of the electorate had indeed taken place in Maguindanao.

In what would be a funny feature of the purported “12-0” administration win in Maguindanao, apparently some of the cheaters doing the actual dirty job of fixing the fraudulent results, misunderstood the battle cry for a “12-0” victory to mean that GO senatorial candidates would literally get zero votes in the province – both a statistical and a political improbability, if not impossibility.

Meanwhile, almost all election watchdogs have declared without exception that elections in Lanao del Sur were characterized by a thousand and one anomalies and illegal practices from rampant vote buying to ballot manufacturing to plain dishonest counting and canvassing of votes that violated the sanctity of the ballot and irreparably damaged the integrity of the polling results. Not even the presence of an unusual number of reporters from the mass media as well as election watchdog bodies could prevent the massive fraud.

Who is to blame for this sorry state of affairs in so far as elections in Muslim Mindanao?

The responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Abalos Comelec and the Arroyo administration. What has been exposed as a parody of elections in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and other provinces of the ARMM is in fact nothing new. This is what already transpired in 2004 and has been the way elections have been conducted for the longest time in these provinces. The Manila government has not lifted a finger because such conditions are conducive for vote manipulation in favor of whoever has the preponderance of resources and wields state power; in this instance, clearly the Arroyo-administration and its TU candidates.

While it would be very difficult at this point for the Arroyo regime to utilize the tainted election results in ARMM to reverse the opposition’s lead in the senatorial race, there is still the danger that GO candidates Cayetano, Trillanes and Pimentel will be bumped off by TU candidates Zubiri, Recto and Pichay. (Defensor has already conceded defeat). In which case, the “dagdag-bawas” mafia operating in Muslim Mindanao will again have proven its formidable clout.###

May 17, 2007

Elections as farce and as protest

After the May 14 elections, are we any closer to the democratic society that our grade school textbooks proudly proclaim the Philippines to be? Unfortunately, the general picture emerging from the stories and the images that have so far dominated the tri-media and ordinary people’s accounts is that of a nightmarish elections and post-elections situation that has confirmed our worse fears. The farcical nature of the electoral process in this country has been laid bare, much worse than even our most dire predictions.

There was widespread disenfranchisement, vote buying, “flying voters” and innumerable delays, disruption and even failure of elections due to outright grabbing of election paraphernalia, bombing of polling places and terrorizing of poll officials and the voters themselves.

The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has been flagrantly pro-administration. This is proven by the deliberate foot dragging and confusing pronouncements it issued on the case of senatorial candidate, Allan Peter Cayetano, (also known as the First Gentleman’s pet peeve and nemesis) who is currently in danger of losing because his votes are being waylaid by an administration-fielded nuisance candidate, Joselito Cayetano. Now there are attempts by the COMELEC to discredit and muffle media reporting of partial results that tend to show opposition victories in the senatorial race as well as in some local electoral contests.

We witnessed government attempts to reduce, if not eliminate, opposition from party list groups by (1) creating pro-administration party list groups and fully supporting these with government resources; (2) by the military's crude attempt to "neutralize" Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party through terror and psywar tactics targeted at actual and potential supporters in rural and urban poor communities and (3) by the filing of trumped-up rebellion and other criminal charges against the standard bearers of these party lists together with moves to disaccredit them and completely bar them from participating in the electoral arena.

The chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been engaged in a determined effort to malign and campaign against a senatorial candidate, Navy Lieutenant Antonio Trillanes, who the government has jailed and is prosecuting on the basis of weak rebellion charges. His strong showing at the polls threatens to develop into a political slap in the face for AFP Chief Esperon and add fuel to the simmering unrest within the young officer corps and military rank and file. The military has also been caught red-handed campaigning for Malacanang’s senatorial line-up as well as for its congressional candidates foremost of who are the two sons of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

However, the patent unpopularity of the GMA regime is clearly reflected in the early and strong lead of the candidates of the Genuine Opposition (GO) in the senatorial race, a result that can reasonably be interpreted as some kind of a protest vote.

In the Visayas provinces, touted by administration rah-rah boys as delivering a much ballyhooed 12-0 Team Unity (TU) win, several GO senatorial candidates are still exhibiting a strong showing. It is only in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or ARMM, notoriously known as “cheating country” for the administration candidates, where the TU is claimed to have been able to muster a landslide win. In effect, the Arroyo regime has been able to “command” the people to vote for its candidates by utilizing feudal cultural, political, economic and plain coercive means on top of good old-fashioned fraud and violence.

While the regime has been able to thwart attempts to impeach and oust GMA by a combination of muzzling media, neutralizing an Opposition-dominated Senate, the cynical use of presidential largesse to wield a pro-administration Congress, state terrorism in the guise of counter-insurgency, fascist measures against protest mass actions, legal dirty tricks against the opposition and dissidents, and not the least, continued US blessings, it is turning out that the political backlash has grown too big for Mrs. Arroyo and her clique to cheat their way out of the people’s rejection in these elections.

Mrs. Arroyo cannot even claim any kind of moral or political high ground in terms of presiding over fairly credible elections. Statements from Malacanang, the COMELEC and the police extolling the “good, clean and orderly” elections is an unmitigated lie that hardly anyone believes. Mrs. Arroyo is directly to blame for the disgraceful conduct and outcome of the recent polls in contrast to her boastful promises that clean and honest elections would be her lasting legacy as president.

The elections as a democratic exercise, i.e. ensuring the consent of the governed, have been completely undermined in the latest exercise to the point of being a farce. But the resilient people’s democratic movement and, in particular, the broad-based Oust GMA Movement, has been able to achieve Mrs. Arroyo’s most dreaded scenario: mid-term elections that are fast developing into a stinging rebuke of the Arroyo regime’s misrule, crimes against the people and against humanity, and its lust for money and power. More than that, the aftermath of the elections could become a build-up to another massive, popular outpouring of discontent that could finally force Mrs. Arroyo from power.

Definitely, there will be more sleepless nights ahead for Mrs. Arroyo. The adage -- uneasy sits the crown on an unjust and oppressive ruler -- easily comes to mind. ###

May 10, 2007

At stake in the May 14 elections

It doesn’t take a political scientist to tell us that this mid-term elections for 12 senators, 275 congress persons and scores of local government officials epitomizes what is so rotten and undemocratic in our postcolonial electoral system. The signs and symptoms of a sick and dying traditional political order are everywhere; its inevitable moribund convulsions are threatening to wreak havoc before a new and truly democratic alternative can take its place.

Ever since independence from US colonial rule in 1946, periodic elections in this country have been touted as the single, most visible proof that representative democracy is alive and well: the people of the Philippines could choose their leaders when the time came -- wisely or foolishly, for good or ill. There was the presumed sanctity of the ballot that withstood generally accepted levels of cheating and violence that accompanied any and all electoral exercises; in this country, anyway.

In time it became clear that not much choice was ever given the electorate since the only ones who stood for office or could mount serious campaigns necessary to win were members of the same old socio-economic elite or their favored political parties and clans. After all, they were the only ones with the built-in advantages of money, private armies, social status and media visibility, more so if they also happen to be incumbent government officials or their anointed ones, particularly family members.

Let us also not forget the time-tested political wisdom enunciated by no less than then President Diosdado Macapagal that no politician worth his salt, who aspires for a major national political office such as the presidency, could do without getting the nod of the former colonizer, and still the single most influential power in the economic and political landscape, the US of A.

Notwithstanding a change in the faces of the traditional politicians taking power, Filipinos have become accustomed to the eventuality that no substantive change in terms of basic political and economic platforms would ensue after the elections. After all, didn’t they come from different factions of the same parasitic and reactionary elite, with veritably the same stakes in the status quo and ergo the same political mind sets? Even so-called non-traditional politicians or self-styled “men of the masses” who run for public office are themselves actually members or surrogates of the dominant classes in society.

Come now these elections taking place in the midst of a festering crisis of the old order, one that involves the shrinking of the sources of commercial profit, of bureaucratic corruption and social privilege. Thus, we are witness to the mad scramble for the advantages of public office in monopolizing the shrinking social pie. The heightened violence, the desperation and the utter disregard for any semblance of principle and moral rectitude attending this year’s electoral contest is a sorry testament to this.

Most significantly, the elections are also taking place in the wake of the unresolved political crisis of the increasingly isolated Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The latter has been rendered vulnerable to the challenge of a broad array of anti-GMA political forces from left to right working for an end to its rule.

The GMA regime is hounded by legitimacy questions due to alleged massive fraud in the 2004 presidential elections. It is being called to account for unstopped extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights violations, not just domestically but by the international human rights community and international public opinion. Its economic policies, while lauded by the IMF-World Bank and admittedly good for foreign credit agencies, banks, investors and their local partners, are not so for the majority of the people who consider themselves hungrier, poorer and more miserable under Mrs. Arroyo.

At stake is the survival of the regime in the immediate, the political future of GMA and her main allies after her term ends in 2010, as well as the Arroyo regime’s impunity for all its crimes against the people as well as crimes against humanity. It is no wonder that the Malacanang has pulled out all stops in the illegal use of government money and resources as well as commandeered the military and police forces and utilized government agencies such as the Commission on Elections, the Justice Department, the Department of Local Government, the Office of the Ombudsman and others in its single-minded drive to bulldoze all of its political enemies in these elections.

At stake for the US is the survival of what is so far its favored faction of the ruling elite, one that has proven itself most servile to US dictates though not necessarily as effective in quelling social restiveness and political dissent. But precisely because it is fighting for its survival, the Arroyo regime is most willing to do anything for its foreign patrons.

At stake for the entire ruling elite and foreign vested interests, is the preservation of the existing economic-political system, of which the elections is only a part, but the one most critical in providing the illusion of “democracy”. Thus the elections’ credibility as a democratic exercise must be upheld at all cost and a parallel effort undertaken by reactionary and conservative forces to make the elections appear fair and free.

These are the reasons why the May 14 elections promise to be one of the dirtiest, deadliest and most rotten in the course of this country’s painful march towards democracy while under the thin cover of a seemingly fair and honest electoral process.

How can the vast majority of Filipinos find their stake in this year’s farcical elections?

Despite the inherent limitations of elections in an elite and foreign-dominated political system, the fact that such a system is in a state of unabated and worsening crisis is ironically providing the openings for a truly democratic and people-based movement to take initiative, to strengthen and expand real “people power”.

Thus our people must be mobilized to vote for the candidates who have proven themselves true champions of the people’s basic interests and welfare. The people must be aroused, organized and be ready to act against the expected fraud and state-sponsored violence that the GMA regime will surely unleash on elections day and immediately thereafter.

Most importantly, the people must stand ready to resist the desperate and brutal resort of the GMA regime to increased political repression after the elections, as its hold on power becomes ever more tenuous and the movement to oust it regains surprising momentum.###

*Published in Business World

11-12 May 2007

May 02, 2007

Jurors' wise words

I have always had this fascination, bordering on reverence, for trees, especially the big, old shady ones with their gnarled roots and marvelously textured trunks. I see them as wisdom incarnate. Now to my more than pleasant surprise comes a man by the name of Puno -- Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato S. Puno -- to be exact, who is quietly making waves by his politically astute and exceedingly profound statements on matters that lesser men, least of all government officials, dare not speak on except to repeat the banal views of the dominant, the strong and the smug.

Mr. Puno chose to speak about human rights and the US-led, so-called war against terrorism to this year’s graduating students at the University of the East. His commencement address is replete with incisive comments on the oft-cited number one enemy of the world in this millennium – terrorism.

One is served well by reading not just news reports about Mr. Puno’s speech but the entire speech itself ( What I would like to bring attention to is the fact that the speech and the recent verdict of the Permanent People’s Tribunal Second Session on the Philippines ( draw very similar conclusions and causal interconnections between the extrajudicial killings, abductions and other human rights violations as well as violations of national and economic sovereignty and the Arroyo regime’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), and the US "war on terror".

Let both documents speak for themselves.

On poverty and violations of economic and social rights as source of injustice and root of conflict:

Puno: “In poor countries, it is also poverty that renders the poor vulnerable to violation of their rights, for the poor will not vindicate their rights in a justice system that moves in slow motion and whose wheels have to be greased with money. And would any dare to doubt, that our national security and our human rights are more threatened by the fear that we face an environmental collapse if we do not take immediate steps to save our seas and our forests from the despoliation to satisfy the economic greed of the few...”

"It will not take a prophet to predict that countries that cannot give decent life to their young people will serve as incubators of extremism that may end up in terrorism."

"The growth and development of any nation lies in the hard work of peasants, fisherfolk, workers, indigenous peoples, women and their communities. But when these very people face intense poverty, hunger, unemployment, landlessness and loss of all resources, then development is meaningless because life itself is threatened and communities are destroyed"

"Such forms of rights violations have brought about a resistance by the people to claim their rights to land, culture and identity. But it has been met with various human rights violations manifested in arbitrary arrest, persecution, torture, killings, destruction of property and land by military forces including extrajudicial killings...."

On dependence and subservience to foreign powers and interests, rampant corruption and lack of legitimacy as source of failure to protect human rights:

Puno: “The threats to our national security and human rights will be aggravated if we have a state, weakened internally by a government hobbled by corruption, struggling with credibility, battling the endless insurgence of the left and the right; and, by a state weakened externally by pressure exerted by creditor countries, by countries where our trade comes from, by countries that supply our military and police armaments. A weak state cannot fully protect the rights of its citizens within its borders just as a state without economic independence cannot protect the rights of its citizens who are abroad from the exploitation of more powerful countries.”

PPT: “The Arroyo regime’s dependence on the
US and the US trained armed forces is crucial for the survival of the regime...”

“The cost of such strict dependence in terms of gross violations of individual and collective rights, has been dramatically confirmed and documented in detail...The never ending military, police and paramilitary operations are the expression of all-out war, or so-called “holistic approach” in Operation Bantay Laya (OBL) or Operation Freedom Watch, a policy which has been carried out since 2002.”

On the direct linkage between US "war on terror", OBL and human rights violations:

“In less polite parlance, the search and destroy strategy gave little respect to the sovereignty of states and violated their traditional borders. The strategy which is keyed on military stealth and might had trampling effects on the basic liberties of suspected terrorists for laws are silent when the guns of war do the talking…One visible result of the scramble to end terrorism is to take legal shortcuts and legal shortcuts always shrink the scope of human rights.”

”These shortcuts have scarred the landscape of rights in the

PPT: "We need to see the worsening Human Rights crisis in the
Philippines in the context of the United States’ strategies for global economic and military hegemony and the ensuing US-led so-called ‘war on terror’.”

"Bantay Laya is the latest formulation of previous counterinsurgency plans initially crafted under the Marcos regime. It is an end product of more than three decades of successive failures and frustrations of US-GRP-AFP in their attempts to crush and defeat the struggles of the people. The
US, through Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency has been involved in conceptualization, planning, training of AFP personnel and execution of the plan.”

On the shared responsibility for upholding and protecting human rights:

Puno: “…the business of safeguarding our national security, the obligation of protecting human rights is a burden shared by all of us…The apathy of those who can make a difference is the reason why violations of human rights continue to prosper. The worst enemy of human rights is not its non believers but the fence sitters who will not lift a finger despite their violations.”

PPT: “As Permanent People’s Tribunal and part of the larger human family, we recognize that the dramatic and worsening human rights situation in the Philippines is the responsibility for us all, not just for those who struggle for their rights in that country. We commit ourselves to strengthen our efforts to defeat those powers which, under pretext of the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ and in the mantle of ‘market- and profit-driven globalization’, deprive the marginalized of a life in justice, dignity and peace.”###

*Published in Business World
27-28 April 2007