December 18, 2008

Booting them out

The year ends with two of the most hated political figures in recent history, US President George W. Bush, and his dwarfed, local version, Gloria M. Arroyo, getting their symbolic comeuppance. Thanks to an intrepid Iraqi journalist, the lame duck Mr. Bush got the quintessential Arabian contemptuous send-off – having a pair of shoes hurled at him – that was as well a poignant reminder of his crimes against humanity in ordering the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

For her part, Mrs. Arroyo’s well-deserved kick-in-the-behind took the form of the December 12 anti-Charter change/anti-Gloria rally in Makati’s business district.

In truth, one’s Christmas wish for Bush might have been an ending like that of the villain in the novel Shogun by James Clavell, who gets buried in the ground up to his neck and anyone who cares to spit, piss, kick dirt into his face or hit him with a stick (no lethal blows, please, we want him to last for all those in the overlong queue) can do so to his/her satisfaction.

But the poetic justice rendered by the young Iraqi journalist, Muntadar al-Zeidi, to this indescribably abhorrent US President is still vastly superior on several counts.

First, it’s near perfect execution. As Ms. Susan Roces would say, “Not once, but twice” did al-Zeidi successfully fire the leather missiles at Bush’s head. No matter that he didn’t actually hit Bush, the low velocity of his ammunition being a natural disadvantage. Yet the unexpected form of his assault weapon was enough to confound Bush and al-Maliki’s entire security horde enough to give the young man the precious seconds to carry out his heroic deed. The timing too could not have been more perfect; i.e. during an international, multimedia-covered press conference that has captured the image of Bush’s ignominious exit for posterity and for internet –users’ on-demand replay.

Second, the political message rang loud and clear. No sense in paraphrasing it. We must quote al-Zeidi no less. “This is a farewell kiss, you dog!” shouts our champion in Arabic, with the first throw, thus capsulizing all the unbridled scorn and hatred of the Iraqis, other Arabians and people the world over for Mr. Bush. Al-Zeidi follows this with another shoe and the unforgettable denunciation, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” (Notice how that covers not just the estimated million Iraqis killed but even the thousands of American soldiers who died, cannon fodder once more for the imperial wars of the US ruling elite.)

Third, the shoe attack cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as a “terrorist” act. The opportunity to heap political onus on this highly innovative form of protest, one that would commonly arise at the sight of the carnage and destruction wrought by, say, a suicide bomber, just isn’t there. Could al-Zeidi have been inspired by Osama bin Laden? Who knows and who cares? His message just can’t be clouded or be overtaken by the “terrorism” bogey.

No wonder that Mr. Bush could only react lamely that al-Zaidi was merely “trying to draw attention to himself” and that “…one guy throwing shoes (cannot) represent a broad movement in Iraq.” Later, when he had time to compose a more “presidential” reaction, Mr. Bush tried to downplay the significance of persistently low popularity ratings in light of the US’ worst recession since the 30’s and America’s new quagmire in Iraq, by saying “I didn’t compromise my soul to be a popular guy.”

Does this sound familiar? History students should do some research to find out whether Mrs. Arroyo actually preceded her American Idol Bush in using this incredible line that only their inner circle of sycophants would still buy.

Now for Mrs. Arroyo’s own “shoe-in-the-face” episode.

The weightiest mass demonstration against the Arroyo regime in this last quarter was clearly the December 12 anti-Charter change rally simply titled, “Enough! Stop Gloria’s Chacha now!” The range of social classes and political forces that were present or expressed similar sentiments was clearly the most significant aspect, compared to the much bigger numbers of those who went out into the streets in the same venue on February 29, at the height of the NBN-ZTE corruption scandal.

And the “expletives” came fast and furious, raw or in more sophisticated form, from senators, a former government official, a stand-up comedienne, progressive politicians and numerous speakers and cultural performers from all walks of life. Three prominent rebel military officers -- two of whom are highly-decorated and one, voted senator by a wide constituency -- sent their solidarity messages from their prison cells.

Certainly the basis for a resurgence of mass protest is being fed by the Arroyo regime’s extreme aggravation of the country’s chronic economic crisis and the people’s misery by pushing neoliberal policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund/World Bank and World Trade Organization even in the wake of the most severe US and worldwide economic recession such policies have already spawned.

But it is in her thinly-disguised bid to remain in power beyond 2010, by orchestrating a Congressional railroading of Constitutional amendments in the Lower House, that Mrs. Arroyo herself has provided the occasion for another show of unity among the fractious opposition, from left to right of the political spectrum. It has also sparked discordant anti-Charter change voices from within her own ruling circle and among her most reliable defenders in Congress, the Catholic church hierarchy and the leadership of the charismatic religious movement El Shaddai.

The rejection of Mrs. Arroyo’s Chacha is broad because of a variety of reasons but the most incontrovertible one is that people want a change of leadership. They are fed up with this illegitimate, corrupt and obnoxious regime and will not countenance any form of prolongation of Mrs. Arroyo’s rule, especially by means that is grossly illegal and unjustifiable.

Should Mrs. Arroyo pig-headedly force through her Chacha, her political isolation will reach unprecedented levels. The volatile national situation could easily be ignited as opposition to her regime broadens and intensifies.

At the rate she is going, Mrs. Arroyo will have more than a pair of shoes thrown at her when she is finally booted out of Malacanang. #

December 11, 2008

Celebrating Human Rights Day

Each year, on Dec 10, we pause to commemorate Human Rights Day. But there is not a single day in the whole year when the life-and-death struggle for the defense of human rights is not being fiercely fought in many corners of our country, nay, all over the world.

In the Philippines, the defense and promotion of human rights is a daunting task that exacts a high price, even the supreme sacrifice of giving one’s life, from not a few courageous human rights workers and advocates. But the herculean effort has won many gains and victories and has, on the whole, frustrated the fascist oppressors’ designs. It is worthwhile to highlight certain landmark endeavors that have helped to stave off, though not completely, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in 2007 and 2008.

One of them is the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), second session on the Philippines, held in The Hague, the Netherlands in March 2007. Derisively dismissed by Malacanang as a “kangaroos court”, the PPT found both Philippine President Gloria M. Arroyo and US President George W. Bush, Jr. and their respective governments as responsible for gross and systematic violations of human rights, economic plunder and transgression of the Filipino people’s sovereignty.

It was not a verdict based on whimsy or sheer political bias. The PPT was deluged with documentation and testimonies of victims and experts such that the eminent array of jurors led by François Houtart – a renowned sociologist and scholar who was himself an expert for the Vatican Council II and one of the initiators of the World Social Forum - staked their names and reputations on the watershed case.

Also in 2007 was the breakthrough effort of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines spearheaded by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and participated in by the Catholic Bishops Conference (CBCP) Commission on Ecumenical Affairs. With the unstinting support of US churches, the delegation went on a speaking tour and lobbied parliamentarians in North America. The group also submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to intensify international pressure to stop the killings in the Philippines.

The visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, in February 2007 was remarkable in that it elicited the full cooperation not only of the human rights victims, their families and the organizations that support them but also that of the Arroyo regime. When Mr. Alston’s damning final report was presented to the UN Human Rights Council six months later, the Philippine delegation could only defensively brand the report as “inaccurate, highly selective and biased.”

We quote here some highly revealing portions of the Alston report that may have provoked the Arroyo regime’s vitriol, to wit:

“In some areas, the leaders of leftist organizations are systematically hunted down by interrogating and torturing those who may know their whereabouts, and they are often killed following a campaign of individual vilification designed to instill fear into the community. The priorities of the criminal justice system have also been distorted, and it has increasingly focused on prosecuting civil society leaders rather than their killers.

“The military is in a state of denial concerning the numerous extrajudicial executions in which its soldiers are implicated. Military officers argue that many or all of the extrajudicial executions have actually been committed by the communist insurgents as part of an internal purge… but the evidence that (the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army or CPP-NPA) is currently engaged in a large-scale purge is strikingly unconvincing. The military’s insistence that the ‘purge theory’ is correct can only be viewed as a cynical attempt to displace responsibility.”

The legal battles to defend progressive parliamentarians, leaders and organizers of militant cause-oriented organizations as well as consultants and publicly known leaders of the communist-led National Democratic Front – maliciously lumped together by government prosecutors in numerous criminal cases – have also achieved significant victories. The celebrated case of the late Cong. “Ka Bel” Crispin Beltran and the “Batasan 5” that sought to pin them down on charges of rebellion along with CPP founding Chairperson Jose Maria Sison and 44 others is now one for the books.

Apart from dismissing the case as without merit, the Supreme Court rapped government prosecutors for they had “not only trivialized the investigation but lent credence to the petitioners’ claim that the entire proceeding was a sham.” Judge Romeo T. Capulong, lead counsel for the defense in the Beltran et al case said that it will be more difficult, in the future, for the government to file trumped-up rebellion cases against political activists – a usual practice of the government especially under Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez.

Finally, there is the October 2008 decision of the UN Human Rights Committee, the body monitoring governments’ compliance to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), on the complaint filed by relatives of murdered human rights leader Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy with the assistance of Karapatan*. The two were abducted and later summarily executed in 2003, allegedly by soldiers under the command of General Jovito Palparan, a notorious human rights violator who has yet to be brought to justice.

In a 12-page report, the committee said the Philippine government violated the following in the Covenant: the right of violated persons to effective remedies and the State ensuring that such remedies are provided and enforced; the right to life of every person; and the right to liberty and security of persons. It said further, "In the present case, though over five years have elapsed since the killings took place, the State party's authorities have not indicted, prosecuted, or brought to justice anyone in connection with these events."

These victories of the human rights movement in the Philippines spring from the blood, sweat and tears of the martyrs and unsung heroes of the Filipino people’s indomitable struggles for freedom, justice and democracy, past and present. They attest to the historically proven lesson that only through united and collective action can the people defend, uphold and promote their rights against their oppressors and exploiters. #

* Karapatan, the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights is in the forefront of the fight for human rights in the Philippines with scores of its leaders and workers killed or under threat of arrest and physical attack.

December 04, 2008

Looming showdown

The Arroyo regime is hell-bent on ramming through Mrs. Arroyo’s devious schemes to remain in power, no matter how isolated from and detested by an overwhelming majority of our people. Mrs. Arroyo’s railroading of Charter change (dubbed “Chacha”) will isolate her more and rush her rule headlong to political self-destruction.

When Corazon Aquino assumed the presidency in 1986 (after the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown), she ruled by means of a revolutionary government setting aside the Marcos Constitution. In a year's time, a new constitution was ratified, buoyed by the residual good will for the Aquino regime that had promised to erase all vestiges of despotism and kleptocratic rule.

The outcome of a victorious anti-dictatorship struggle but not yet the fruit of a sweeping social revolution, the 1987 Charter contains fortified restrictions on the state’s use of martial law powers that the unabashed fascists and militarists in government consider problematic in their pursuit of counter-insurgency aims.

There are also certain economic protectionist provisions such as limitations on foreign ownership of land, foreign exploitation of natural resources, and foreign equity in corporations considered Filipino, etc. that foreign big business interests and their Filipino corporate partners want removed.

The foreign bases/foreign troops-free and nuclear-free provisions of the Constitution allegedly hamper US geo-political strategy and tactical operations in the region and the US government has urged their removal as well.

Every regime since Aquino’s has tried to change the 1987 Charter. Each time the incantation is “constitutional reform” in order to bring about “political and economic stability”.

Fidel V. Ramos cited the need to institutionalize "people power" by shifting to a parliamentary form of government, in tacit admission of the chronic political crisis plaguing the country. He also sought to delete the nationalist economic provisions in the Constitution that were purportedly preventing the transformation of the Philippines into a "newly-industrializing country" by 2000. But the people saw through the altruistic and visionary rhetoric and correctly perceived his real motive was to remain in power beyond his term. A massive anti-Chacha demonstration led by the late Cardinal Sin and Mrs. Cory Aquino stopped Mr. Ramos in his tracks.

Next was Joseph Estrada whose Chacha attempt was likewise derailed by a huge protest rally at Makati's premier business district. Subsequently, Mr. Estrada was ousted from power on charges of corruption and abuse of authority without having served even half of his six-year term.

It is Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s turn to dance the Chacha. Her attempts have been too many to count but the serious ones -- a bogus “people’s initiative” and the dubious convening of the current Congress into a constituent assembly to amend the charter -- were highly unpopular and spurred a vigorous and sustained protest movement.

Both schemes were successfully thwarted. The former was adjudged illegal by the Supreme Court; the latter provoked the Catholic bishops to call for a repeat of the Sin-Cory mammoth rally that caused Malacanang to backtrack and call off her lapdogs in Congress.

That was two years ago. The current initiative to convene Congress as a constituent assembly, openly led by House Speaker Prospero Nograles and Mrs. Arroyo’s eldest son Rep. Mikey Arroyo and despite stiff opposition from the Senate, is clearly a part of another Machiavellian plot by the Arroyo clique.

The same all-consuming motivation is still driving this latest attempt to revive Chacha: that is, to hold on to power, pelf and privilege beyond 2010 as well as to inoculate Mrs. Arroyo and her men from prosecution for their innumerable crimes against the people.

Which is why there is such a gross illegitimacy about it; there are only the most preposterous of justifications. For example, the Presidential Son claims that he merely wants to put the concept of a constituent assembly with Congress voting as one (ergo the 24 Senators are overwhelmed by the votes of more than 200 members of the rubber-stamp Lower House) to the legal test in the Supreme Court.

But the bullheaded determination to proceed is obvious in the face of almost universal rejection of Chacha by a broad range and cross-section of Philippine society not to mention warning voices from pro-administration stalwarts -- Congressman Edsel Lagman, Senator Miriam Santiago and El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde -- of an impending political upheaval should Malacanang force through Charter change.

This current push for Chacha is under severe time constraint with only six months left before the ban on any amendment before the May presidential elections kicks in. But the plotters figure they hold the aces with an Arroyo-packed Lower house, a Senate led by a reliable Arroyo ally and a Supreme Court that will decide on any legal challenges to Gloria’s Chacha also dominated by Arroyo appointees.

The Arroyo regime likewise holds as its trump cards the conservative Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the armed forces and the police. The CBCP has hitherto preached against extra-constitutional measures for forcing the removal of the vastly unpopular and despised regime, giving it a dubious moral shield. The military/police top brass have remained firmly loyal to the Arroyo regime and are held in reserve for more drastic and brute-force means to remain in power such as emergency rule, martial law or even a palace coup.

What Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal grievously miscalculate is how much the people and even sections of the ruling elite have come to abhor her continued occupation of Malacanang. And in the end, Mrs. Arroyo cannot count on the military, conservative bishops and even her closest lieutenants to stick by her no matter a drastic change in her political fortunes. Past experience has repeatedly shown how these erstwhile allies could be swayed into jumping from the sinking ship when the people's protests reach a certain critical point.

The anti-Chacha forces are gearing up for a showdown starting with a big mobilization – a prayer cum protest rally – on December 12, Friday next week, at the historic Ninoy Aquino monument on Ayala Avenue. Mr. Velarde is threatening to call for massive protests himself, across the country.

Malacanang is unfazed so far. The stakes are far too high for Mrs. Arroyo’s gang not to try to make a brazen grab for power. Having succeeded once, in the 2004 elections in which many believe Mrs. Arroyo cheated her way to “victory”, they will push their luck.

It is now up to the people to prove them dead wrong. #