July 17, 2008

Where are the protesters?

Malacañang’s orders to the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) to monitor the people’s reaction to the rapidly deteriorating economic situation, specifically the soaring cost of food and oil products, betrays its fear of the people’s growing restiveness and its dread of mounting protests that could trigger anew calls for the resignation or ouster of de facto President Gloria Arroyo.

The public is being conditioned into thinking that when massive protests – both organized and spontaneous – take place, these can only be under the instigation of the “enemies of the state”. In fact, such protests are legitimate expressions of dissent against the profiteering of oil companies and of the people’s democratic right to demand redress of grievances against a government deemed to be in collusion with the oil cartel. The Arroyo regime is actually laying the ground for even harsher measures to either preempt or squelch the oncoming wave of mass protests.

The inclusion of the ISAFP in the Energy Contingency Task Force also gives the military a platform to engage in psychological warfare. Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza, ISAFP Chief and former head of the Presidential Security Command, has been issuing statements downplaying the possibility of hungry people rioting, explaining that Filipinos being a “mature people,” would not resort to such “extreme” measures. Gen. Prestoza is oblivious to the fact that hunger and destitution is a rather extreme condition that is already driving people to make the extreme sacrifice of foregoing the daily grind of scraping together a living in order to take a stand against government policies that have been causing their plight.

The ISAFP Chief had given in advance the highly intelligent political assessment that only the “noisy” militant groups are protesting but that “they only talk and talk without giving solutions” even as he admitted that ISAFP teams tasked to carry out the presidential directive were still undergoing seminars in order to understand the “finer details” of the energy and food crisis. Perhaps Gen. Prestoza’s intelligence agents would care to visit the websites of these groups, for example, http://www.bayan.ph/; their many primers and statements are all there, including concrete proposals and programs that could alleviate the people's suffering in the short and long term.

A recent news feature article in a major daily entitled, “Where have all the protesters gone?”, gave the impression that I, as chairperson of Bayan, held the view that “the poor suffering from the unabated increases in fuel, oil and food prices just prefer to endure the hardship” rather than protest. Moreover, that even activists were too busy earning a living to undertake the necessary task of raising the masses’ awareness of the reasons underlying the current economic crisis and mobilize them to take action to mitigate as well as resolve their problems. This purported view was then used to give credence to the abovementioned psywar line of Malacañang as dutifully articulated by the head of military intelligence.

In the first place, there is no truth to the implied premise that protests have abated and protesters have vanished into thin air. Protest actions continue and there is no reason to believe they will disappear altogether. But it is true that many expect much bigger and more frequent protest actions given the gravity of the economic crisis and the extent to which government anomalies have been exposed. Government and its apologists in media have seized on this seeming apathy by assiduously pushing the line that "people have grown weary" of protest actions and especially of people power, and want government to go ahead and solve the nation's problems.

Still no matter how successful the government is in propagating this line and conjuring the appearance of a contented populace, it can never succeed in conjuring an illusion of sound economic management, much less of alleviating the peoples' difficulties in the midst of rising prices of basic commodities and of rampant corruption and other wrongdoing by the highest public officials.

Why is it then that the people, most especially the sectors who are most exploited and oppressed by the ruling regime and the existing socio-political system have yet to pour out into the streets in their hundreds of thousands to pressure the government into reversing its anti-people policies and programs?

Unfortunately, the Arroyo regime is still able to use deception to wash its hands of responsibility for the palpable deterioration in the living conditions of the people. When the economic indicators are rosy, albeit doctored, government claims full credit while giving unsatisfactory explanations why these supposed gains are not at all felt by the people. When there is an indisputable downturn, the phenomenon is attributed to the workings of world market forces beyond the control of government.

Moreover, the regime is still able to engage in the cover-up of its many crimes ranging from the “Hello Garci” massive election fraud; to extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances; to gargantuan corruption scandals such as the NBN-ZTE deal; and to the belated and woefully inadequate relief and rehabilitation measures for victims of Typhoon Frank.

It has been able to use its vast resources and authority to torpedo impeachment proceedings in Congress; to utilize the Supreme Court to allow the Executive to commit crimes under the mantle of “executive privilege”; to kidnap whistleblowers and keep them quiet; to protect guilty officials and business cronies from investigation and prosecution; to line the pockets of political opportunists and carpetbaggers masquerading as responsible government officials; to fill the church coffers for immoral bishops and clergymen willing to look the other way; to keep corrupt and unprincipled generals loyal to their equally corrupt and unprincipled Commander-in-Chief; to protect the economic stakes of foreign and local Big Business and keep them “apolitical”; and to kowtow to the short-term and strategic interests of the United States in exchange for the latter’s political blessings and enlarging foreign aid.

There is also no denying the debilitating and disruptive effects of non-stop government campaigns of repression and terror in the rural as well urban poor communities that have displaced countless families; destroyed their livelihoods and placed them in extreme difficulty and uncertainty; as well as led to the unsolved murders, illegal arrests and intense harassment of leaders and organizers of people’s organizations and their supporters from the middle forces.

While these measures have indeed succeeded in the short term in averting the massive protest actions similar to those that have earlier erupted for even lesser reasons, by no means have they removed the sources or reasons for outrage. On the contrary, the resulting impunity has only further emboldened the culprits to perpetrate even worse anomalies.

And while the vast majority of people are outraged by the rottenness and greed of this regime and demand fundamental changes in the system, they are wary of quick fixes promised by anti-government groups that only focus on calling for a change in the presidency or administration. They seek real, long-lasting solutions to the chronic problems of an ailing society periodically convulsed by acute and recurring crisis. That indicates real political maturity on the part of the people and should be taken as a challenge by the groups that oppose the Arroyo regime. #


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