July 31, 2008

One UP student's journey

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-- Robert Frost, 1915

The University of the Philippines Centennial Year is spurring a lot of reminiscences as well as serious reflection on the role the premier state university has played and will continue to play in addressing intractable national problems and the huge challenges that go with them. Having been remiss in partaking of the formal festivities since the start of the year, I wish to add my own personal reflections and do my share in placing on record that facet of UP that is indelibly etched in its past and will inevitably help shape its future – radical student activism.

Even in the late sixties, it was still unusual for a graduate of a relatively exclusive, all-girl Catholic school, still run by German nuns, to go on to UP for a college degree. The common perception was that one could lose one’s soul to the devil at UP, not just by imbibing the liberal thinking that opened the door to agnosticism, or worse atheism, but also to the insidious infiltration of one’s young mind by “communist” ideas.

But having come from a middle-class family of UP alumni, my situation was the exact opposite. It was expected that the entire brood of six would somehow enter UP’s grand portals and finish with a degree properly tucked under the arm, if possible with honors. We were completely unaffected by the conservative scare about UP.

Thus did I step into the Diliman campus bringing with me my orientation towards academic excellence, a strong background in Catholic social action and a marked streak of rebelliousness. (The latter had caused my transfer to the “B” section during my last year in high school as punishment for being outspoken, my election by accident to the presidency of the student council and culminated in a spur-of-the-moment walkout during a meeting with the disciplinarian school principal.)

By then I was also a budding feminist, having imbibed such ideas from the literature of the Women’s Liberation Movement that my role model eldest sister assiduously mailed to us from the US. As a young adolescent, I already instinctively resisted any manifestations of male domination or hints of a patronizing attitude from new-found male friends and acquaintances. Refreshingly, UP had comparatively less of that by the time I enrolled even though the macho fraternities were still going strong and continued to swagger and give female freshmen the eye from their ubiquitous tambayan.

I truly reveled in the liberal atmosphere of the iconoclastic institution of higher learning that UP had become. I enjoyed the general education courses in my first two years that helped mold me into a well-rounded, thinking young person with a sense of being Filipino. The faculty members were a mixed bunch but generally competent, if not all excellent; thought-provoking, if not always inspiring. One’s idiosyncratic teachers (we students called them “terrors”) provided indispensable lessons in surviving the unexpected in one’s colorful student life.

From such a background, one might expect that I would be a natural recruit for the radical student organizations that mushroomed and grew by leaps and bounds in those turbulent seventies. Instead I entered the UP Student Catholic Action (UPSCA) and not its counterpoint, the Student Cultural Association of UP (SCAUP) founded by one Jose Maria Sison. Delaney Hall and the UP Chapel became my comfort zone as I negotiated the daunting new social terrain fresh from the relative insulation of my collegiala years.

I became a “moderate” as they called it in the political parlance of the time. I spoke at teach-ins in the dormitories railing against social injustice and police brutality against demonstrators but I equally denounced the “violence” and the “extremism” of the leftist student organizations. I didn’t join the militants’ rallies but the ones led by the Atenean student leader, Edgar Jopson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines. We always left before the police moved in to violently disperse the radical students with truncheons and bullets. Then, I understood very little of their ideology nor was I intrinsically opposed to their politics; I was just turned off by their sloganeering and seeming unruliness.

My being a student leader in high school made it easier for me to get involved in extracurriculars particularly student politics and I became elected as a councilor in the college council in my second year. But my priorities then were academics first and foremost. Even as students were boycotting their classes to protest the unwarranted oil price increases at the time (by one to two-centavo increments!) I was holed up in the Arts and Sciences student council room studying for my next exam.

Only the persistent ribbing from an activist friend about my abdicating my responsibility to lead co-students in protesting provoked me to leave my books behind. In the nick of time, I witnessed the shooting by a crazy, enraged Math professor, of a protesting high school student, Pastor Mesina, who was part of a contingent of students massed up at UP’s main avenue leading up to the Oblation.

In this dramatic, heart-stopping manner did I eventually get drawn into the historic train of events that led to the setting up of student barricades at the major entrances to the campus to stall the entry of police and military troops ordered by President Marcos to impose “law and order”. I became part, albeit still peripherally, of the symbolic liberated zone of the “Diliman Commune” that was declared by students, teachers and other members of the UP community in February 1971.

That was my baptism of fire into radical student activism. I was confronted with the reality of state fascism unleashed barefaced against defenseless citizens and in flagrant violation of academic freedom. This was how I came to concretely understand the qualitative difference between state violence utilized by the ruling classes to preserve the status quo and the defensive violence resorted to by the oppressed and exploited to challenge the existing order and assert their rights.

And it all happened right in the heart of UP in my second year as an AB Psychology student. (Next week: Campus Politics and Medical School)

July 24, 2008

A flunkey's SONA

De facto President Gloria Arroyo is scrambling to regain some measure of public approval before her July 28 State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA), Alongside the continuous drumbeating of supposed subsidies to the poor, she is claiming credit for the postponement of weekly oil price increases as a result of Malacanang’s “appeal” to oil companies. But most people are skeptical and see through the Arroyo regime’s deceptive maneuvers.

Mrs. Arroyo’s satisfaction rating (SWS June 2008 survey) has plummeted to a historic low compared to the past four administrations including that of ousted former President Joseph Estrada; is lower than the -33% she got at the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal in May 2005; is the fourth consecutive quarterly drop despite the “glowing” macroeconomic statistics in the earlier part of the period surveyed; and to top it all, cuts across all socioeconomic classes and regions of the country with the decline steepest in her erstwhile bastions of support in the Visayas.

The latest dive in her ratings from -16% to -33% is a stark reflection of the people’s restiveness in the wake of the precipitous increases in oil and food prices that has led to an 11.4% inflation rate, the highest in the past 14 years. The deterioration of the people’s standard of living, including the AB classes, can no longer be papered over by rosy government statistics and plaudits from the IMF-World Bank, international credit agencies and multinational corporations for Mrs. Arroyo’s assiduous payment of the country’s foreign debt and hewing to the “neoliberal globalization” policy framework.

With no relief in sight for the rest of the year because of the regime’s refusal to cut the billions-worth value added tax on oil and power, Arroyo’s spokespersons and other apologists have resorted to the half-truth that the economic crisis is a “global phenomenon” to wash its hands of blame for the people’s continued immiseration amidst the country’s further maldevelopment and economic retrogression.

While it is true that the Philippines’ economic woes are part and parcel of the current crisis of the world capitalist system, in particular, the depression of the US economy which is at the heart of this system, it is utterly false and misleading to say that government can do nothing about it.

In the first place, the mire we find ourselves in is the result of sustained, blind and foolhardy adherence to economic policies that have institutionalized unsound economic fundamentals and disastrously combined these with a world-wide capitalist crisis unprecedented since the Great Depression of the 30s.

These economic policies have reduced the Philippines to the status of a backward, agricultural country that cannot even produce enough rice to feed its own people and with no industrial base to speak of except export processing zones. It must export Filipino brawn and brain power in order to earn precious foreign exchange with which to buy fuel and other basic and luxury imports as well as service a historically huge foreign debt. It must sell off the nation’s patrimony in the form of mineral and other natural resources already depleted by decades of unbridled exploitation by foreign investors and their local partners in order to satisfy the greed of its ruling elite.

To be sure, these policies did not originate from the Arroyo regime and can be traced all the way back to colonial period and carried on by governments that came to power after independence. In particular, economic liberalization policies began to be increasingly implemented from the 1960s highlighted by President Diosdado Macapagal’s decontrol policy. Tariff reform in the 80s under the Marcos dictatorship further liberalized trade. The Ramos “Philippines 2000” shibboleth was all about the accelerated and almost complete opening up of the national economy to foreign domination in the areas of investment, trade and ownership of land and public utilities. The short-lived Estrada government did not deviate from the entrenched policy framework.

To her discredit, Mrs. Arroyo continued these policies without let-up, favored foreign monopoly capital and their local big business partners and turned a blind eye to the people’s suffering, the destruction of the people’s livelihood and the environment, and the plunder of the country’s economy and natural resources. The Arroyo regime would even revise the 1987 Constitution to remove the few remaining provisions that hardly protect key sectors of the economy from foreign control and take-over.

Given that the US and the world economy is embroiled in a crisis of immense proportions that even economic experts and policy makers themselves cannot as yet estimate the extent of the crisis nor predict its course, the economic life and prospects of semi-colonies like the Philippines can only be bleak. Things are bound to get worse before they get better.

To quote from the documents of the recently-held Third International Assembly of the International League for Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) regarding its view of the global crisis: “Monopoly capitalism is in the throes of an extremely deep crisis of overproduction and destructive financial collapse. It is passing on this crisis to the world’s peoples through its policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.”

The ILPS said, “Monopoly capitalists have whipped up financial speculation far beyond the real economy in the imperialist countries and the rest of the world. Unregulated financial markets where speculators are reaping huge profits on the skyrocketing prices of oil, grain and other commodities impact heavily on the world’s peoples.”

Furthermore, “The US economy is in deep crisis resulting in a protracted state of stagnation and decline. Bankruptcies, production cutbacks and high unemployment rates continue to constrict the global market. The sharp drop in US consumption is expected to put countries dependent on exports to the US in an economic tailspin.”

In short, the Arroyo regime has further placed the domestic economy in such a weak, highly unstable and extremely vulnerable position so that in the wake of the global crisis of capitalism, it is among those countries suffering the brunt of the crisis and whose government appears helpless to protect the people.

On the day of Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA, activists and a growing number of Filipinos have more than enough basis to denounce Mrs. Arroyo, first and foremost, as a flunky to foreign monopoly capitalist interests and a traitor to the people. Only in this sense is it helpless in the face of the latest round of economic belt-tightening wherein hundreds of thousands of families will be sacrificed.

For their part, the people are not helpless in putting an end to such an anti-people, anti-Filipino regime.#

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. #

July 04, 2008

Sorely missed

Retired Navy Captain Danilo “Ka Dan” Vizmanos would be turning in his grave had he still been around to hear the Board of Marine Inquiry Chairman conducting the investigation into the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars berate the Philippine weather bureau for issuing “too technical” bulletins that laymen could not understand. He would have found it laughable that maritime officials could suggest that a ship crew would be unable to read a weather bulletin correctly because it was too technical.

In the same way, Capt. Vizmanos would probably have pooh-poohed the US dispatch of an aircraft carrier and its attached warships to the Philippines to assist in the rescue, retrieval and relief operations in the wake of the killer Typhoon Frank. He would certainly have substantiated this column’s understated comment that it was overkill in terms of humanitarian aid, suggesting more sinister intentions consistent with US geopolitical strategy.

Ka Dan was commissioned an ensign in the Philippine Navy upon graduating from the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point in New York in 1950. He rose through the ranks to become AFP Inspector General with the rank of Navy Captain (equivalent to a colonel in the army). He incurred the ire and displeasure of the AFP top brass when he stood by his thesis “The Emergence of the People’s Republic of China as a World Power and its Impact on Philippine Security and National Interest.” It was the turning point in his life when he thereafter chose to unswervingly serve his people and country above personal ambition and convenience.

Times like these, Captain Vizmanos is sorely missed. He was a “rebel soldier” in the most profound and real sense. He was an upright military official, an ardent nationalist, consistent internationalist, a revolutionary intellectual, an avid social commentator and a political activist par excellence as well as a solid family man.

Ka Dan died a poor man who left behind a rich legacy of his life and ideals for generations of Filipinos to come. He authored three books “Through the Eye of the Storm,” “Martial Law Diary” and “A Matter of Conviction.” His writings have been described as “a critique of a social order that has chained the country to its colonial moorings and perpetrated social injustice.”

I would like to use this column to share with readers the tribute rendered him by a fellow military man, Dr. Dante C. Simbulan, PMA Class 1952. Dr. Simbulan served with the Corps of Professors and taught at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City till his retirement in 1967. He has a Doctorate in Political Science at the Australian National University, and is the author of the book, THE MODERN PRINCIPALIA, THE HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF THE PHILIPPINE RULING OLIGARCHY published in 2005 by the U.P. Press.

“Ka Dan and I were both political prisoners, ‘classmates’ in the prisons of the Marcos dictatorship. Like Ka Dan, I was arrested at about the same time and jailed for 2 1/2 years without charges.

Unlike many generals of the AFP and PNP today (who are mostly graduates of PMA), Ka Dan has observed the Code of Honor inculcated in us Peemayers for four years: that we must not cheat, lie , nor steal nor tolerate those who do among us. Though not a PMA graduate, he also lived the PMA ideals of "Courage, Integrity, and Loyalty", the so-called CIL embossed in our class rings. Indeed, he could have been one of the few among us who still believe AND PRACTICE these. He could have been, and I believe he will be, an excellent role model of both cadets and young officers of the AFP and PNP.

Many generals today have not only abandoned the honor system and the ideals of CIL, but have also flaunted their ill-gotten wealth, living in mansions in Ayala-Alabang, Corinthian Gardens, Valle Verde, Green Meadows and such high-class and gated communities of the wealthy few, rubbing elbows with the high and mighty in our society. They have lied and cheated for their superiors – including their fake Commander-in-Chief -- in order to be promoted or to get coveted assignments. On the other hand, they have jailed and court-martialed those PMA graduates who still follow the straight path, who still want to tell the truth no matter what is the consequence. In short, these generals today have become part of the problem --part and parcel of the corrupt ruling oligarchy!

In contrast, Ka Dan Vizmanos refused to follow this pattern. He did not serve the dictator Marcos nor did he benefit from such service. Instead, he fought the dictatorship which trampled on the constitutional rights of citizens. He protested against the violation of human rights by the military and the police minions of Marcos.

But Ka Dan did not only protest but also showed enormous COURAGE in defying the dictator and his minions during Martial Law resulting in his incarceration; he demonstrated a strength of character, the HONESTY AND INTEGRITY to live within his means (even though, like the others, he had the opportunity to enrich himself while holding responsible positions in the AFP). Today, like Rep. Crispin 'Ka Bel' Beltran, he lived and died in the same old house with just the bare necessities that his meager income could afford. Ka Dan, like Ka Bel died a poor man. What a contrast to the lifestyle of the generals of
the present dispensation!

Most important of all, Ka Dan Vizmanos showed his LOYALTY, not to the ruling elites and the corrupt system they represent, but he gave it wholeheartedly to the Filipino people, especially to the suffering and oppressed masses of our unjust society.

He was against the mendicant and beggarly attitude of both our civilian and military leaders to our erstwhile colonial master, the United States. He criticized the long-standing dependency of the government and the military on the Americans. He ridiculed the junk, the 'surplus' equipment that the U.S. is giving us, to 'modernize' our armed forces. He caricatured the expressions of gratitude of our so-called leaders to the 'generosity' of the Americans for giving us 40-year old helicopters!

He wanted our country and our armed forces to be self-reliant and not be a tail of the U.S. kite. He wanted to see the Philippines attain real independence and exercise our sovereign rights as a respected member of the world community of nations. Last but not least, Ka Dan's vision is to see our empowered people participate in government and not just the few political dynasties who
lord it over us all in determining our future and in shaping our destiny.

I salute you, Ka Dan, and am truly proud to have known you. Kami'y iyong iniwan, ngunit ang iyong diwa, adhikain at paninindigan ay hindi namin kakalimutan at aming ipagpapatuloy ang ating layunin hanggang hindi makamtan ang paglaya ng ating bayang minamahal.

Tinitiyak kong darami sa ating mga kasundaluhan at opisyal ng military ang makakakita sa iyong maningning na halimbawa at darating ang araw na ang AFP ay magbabagong anyo. When that time comes, it will no longer be the protector and defender of a corrupt ruling system, but will be transformed into a true armed forces of the people, the protector of our people's interest, a defender of our national independence and sovereignty, and the reliable guardian of a true and authentic democracy.”#