September 25, 2009

In the order of battle

Long before Bienvenido “Ka Bien” Lumbera was named Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and National Artist, I knew him as one of the most gifted and resilient of the cultural and political activists coming from the martial law period. The gifted part has been validated by a body of work not just read by scholars, students and admirers but performed on stage and watched by a much broader audience.

The resilient part has just been confirmed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) whose intelligence operatives were caught last week with their pants down conducting a surveillance operation on the mild-mannered professor who has continued to recite nationalist, some say incendiary, poems in protest rallies against the Arroyo government even after receiving the coveted awards.

Why would the military, which surely has better things to do, target such a soft-spoken, pleasant and by all accounts, unlikely security threat as Prof. Lumbera?

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro attempts to downplay the incident by saying it was a complete mistake for the military to have ordered the surveillance and that heads would roll. (We await the heads that Mr. Teodoro will offer up as proof of his decisive action.)

The military spokesperson tries to pass off the incident as a routine intelligence training exercise assigned to a rookie enlisted man who obviously failed the test by getting caught. (What about the two others who escaped? Were they more senior and therefore more capable because they got away?) He also describes a supposedly hypothetical scenario that the surveillance team was supposed to verify, that alleged communists were converging in Prof. Lumbera’s residence. (But the Navy claims Prof. Lumbera’s address was picked out at random and there was no deliberate attempt to target Prof. Lumbera himself.)

Executive Secretary Ermita tries to trivialize the incident by cracking a mindless joke, making it appear that the unfortunate incident is just a fluke in the navy’s intelligence training program.

Tell that to the marines!

Ka Bien is the Chairperson of the progressive Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) which is listed in AFP briefings since 2006 as an "enemy of the state". ACT has announced it will take part in the party list elections in 2010. Pioneering progressive party list organizations such as Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party and Anakpawis have all been similarly accused as “enemies of the state”, its leaders, ordinary members and even mere supporters placed in a veritable death list called an “Order of Battle”.

Prior to and during the 2007 elections, the AFP undertook a comprehensive and all-out campaign against these party list organizations, including what they euphemistically referred to in their documents as “special operations of the Palparan model”. Subsequently many leaders and members of these groups ended up victims of extra-judicial killing, enforced disappearance, torture, illegal arrest and detention and all manner of state terrorist attacks.

The only byte of truth in the official excuses is the slip-of-the-tongue reference to the AFP’s suspecting Prof. Lumbera of having links with communist leaders. This, more than his being one of the most prominent leaders of the organized umbrage against Malacañang’s use of the National Artist Award to reward Arroyo ass-kissers, has made Prof. Lumbera a marked man.

Evidently for the same reason, another multi-awarded writer, UP Professor Pedro“Jun” Cruz Reyes, has been the subject of renewed military surveillance in his home in Hagonoy, Bulacan. Prof. Cruz first experienced intense surveillance and was warned by friendly local officials that his name was listed in the military’s “Order of Battle” in 2007. It was there and then that UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Emperor were abducted also in Hagonoy, when General. Jovito Palparan was the Central Luzon Regional Commander.

The sinister implications of these cases are not difficult to see. UN rapporteur Alston confirmed the existence of an AFP “Order of Battle”. Most of those listed are known to have been subjected to surveillance and harassment before they were killed or abducted. Prof. Lumbera appears to be on this “Order of Battle”, if not an eminent candidate for inclusion.

The recent noticeable resurgence of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of progressive activists and human rights defenders together with the intelligence operations on Professors Lumbera and Cruz underscore the fact that the Arroyo government has not abandoned its counter-insurgency policy under Oplan Bantay Laya, of attacking legal personalities linked with the progressive movement.

There is no irony behind the fact that the specter of a police state victimizing its citizens as exemplified by the Lumbera case, along with persistent warnings that despite the elections hoopla, the cabal of Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzales are plotting to declare, if not martial law, then a “state of emergency” in order to retain power, are all taking place on the occasion of the 37th anniversary of martial law. These only underscore the fact that the overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship and the so-called restoration of democracy in 1986 had not decisively eradicated the roots of tyranny and fascism in Philippine society.

We are starkly reminded that martial rule was not just about the machinations of a power-hungry, greedy, devious and ruthless man, Ferdinand E. Marcos, and not even of a “conjugal dictatorship” with his wife Imelda, but about a system of elite democracy that was even then falling apart at the seams.

The ruling classes and their foreign backers could no longer resort to mere deception to keep a restive people in check but had to resort more and more to coercive means; until the trappings of liberal democratic rule itself - a functioning legislature, an independent judiciary and a free press - had to be set aside with the declaration of one-man rule.

The reactions to the Lumbera incident, or lack of these, from those aspiring to lead our country and promising lofty political and social reforms once in power, are a useful, if revealing, gauge of what importance they give to the protection and promotion of human rights.

Sec. Teodoro's statement not surprisingly echoes previous Malacañang and AFP-DND denials of a state policy in effect. Senator Chiz Escudero, chair of the Senate Human Rights Committee, rejected the “lame explanation” of the Navy and said this incident “should not be swept under the rug”. But the silence of other candidates, including those who parade themselves as champions of democracy and human rights, certainly says a lot about how high - or low - human rights and the rule of law are on their list of priorities.

How many more are under covert surveillance and in the AFP's “Order of Battle”? How many more killings, disappearances, illegal arrests, detention and torture will take place? What reason or assurance do we have to believe that all these will end, even assuming a change of administration, in 2010?

It will be up to a more politically aware electorate to demand from the presidential candidates their stand on human rights and whether and how they will put a stop to the impunity enjoyed by the masterminds and perpetrators of human rights violations in this country. #

September 17, 2009

Elections as circus

The opening salvoes praising or lambasting current and prospective frontrunners in the presidential derby appear to be generating excitement and anticipation, much like the first solid blows in the opening rounds of a world title boxing match. In truth, what is unfolding before our eyes is merely another bad, if not worse, version of past electoral contests marked by demagoguery, mudslinging, empty rhetoric, massive vote buying and wholesale fraud - unmistakable signs of a bankrupt and decaying political and social system.

The Lacson-Erap bout is grabbing more attention what with Senator Lacson’s serious, if not altogether new, allegations about ousted President Estrada’s jueteng payola and the use of strong-arm tactics to favor his and cronies’ business interests. The rumored reasons for Mr. Lacson’s sudden loquaciousness regarding Erap and the timing of his expose are less than saintly, including an alleged pact with the “she-devil” to help torpedo Erap’s presidential comeback in exchange for wiggling out of the Dacer-Corbito murder case.

It could be only a matter of time before Mr. Lacson drives the proverbial stake into his former boss’s political heart by pointing to the latter as the brains behind the double murder. Or then again, the entire brouhaha may just die down should some form of political and legal accommodation be worked out among the slugging contenders.

Philippine traditional politics is so full of the seemingly impossible. For one thing, don’t expect any honest-to-goodness investigation and prosecution to take place despite the grievousness of the charges being flung about. This appears all part of the electoral circus we have all gotten used to.

Another self-evident sign of the rotting carcass that is Philippine politics is the super-concentration of political pelf and power to a few families. Here we have the Cojuangco cousins, Sen. Noynoy Aquino and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro as leading contenders. The recycling of political personalities from clans that have ruled before and have only brought the country to greater ruin and the people to greater misery is a permanent fixture in the bleak political landscape.

Nouveau riche Senator Manny Villar, smarting from an ongoing Senate investigation into his alleged corrupt deals, was prompted to dispute the Aquino camp’s framing the 2010 contest as one between “good” and “evil”, i.e. corrupt vs. non-corrupt. Instead, he described it as one between “rich” and “poor”, misrepresenting himself as the latter.

The anti-climactic choice of Defense Secretary Teodoro as the administration party’s standard-bearer only underscores the Arroyo ruling clique’s desperation and absolute disrespect for rules, even their own. The choice was narrowed down to the two consistent survey tail-enders, Teodoro and MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando after Vice President Noli de Castro, GMA’s anointed, snubbed the draft by refusing to even join the LAKAS-KAMPI-CMD. Mr. Fernando, who bannered his loyalty to his party, appeared like a dejected dog after he unsuccessfully moved to have a national convention choose the party’s presidential candidate rather than by a questionable vote of the party’s much smaller Executive Committee.

All these highlighted a gaping wound in the side of the supposedly formidable party machinery of the Arroyo clique. Days before, former President Fidel V. Ramos and former House Speaker Jose De Venecia, the tandem who had saved Mrs. Arroyo’s political neck in the wake of damaging evidence of her direct involvement in systematic election fraud in 2004, declared their decisive break with what they consider to be an illegal merger party.

The consolidation of a significant number of former allies of Mrs. Arroyo in direct opposition to her reveals a greater worsening of the conflicts among the ruling elite. As the room for mutual accommodation of interests shrinks further, the infighting is bound to intensify and grow more deadly.

Mr. Ramos himself and Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile - two of the main pillars of the fascist Marcos Dictatorship, and veterans of so-called political brinkmanship up to and including the imposition of martial law by then President Ferdinand Marcos and the instigation of bloody intrigue and military coup d’etats during Cory Aquino’s regime - warned of plots by the current occupant of Malacañang to perpetuate herself in power beyond 2010.

These include “No-el” or no elections and what would amount to a Palace coup, or else a military/police takeover should there be a massive failure of elections leading to National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales’ scenario of a “transition government” under the aegis of the Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzales cabal.

Should such come to pass, all bets are off for what follows. For one, the overhaul of the Philippine Constitution towards a parliamentary system that will allow the continued hold on power of the Arroyo clique and an entire slew of revisions in the protectionist, civil libertarian and bases-free, nuclear-fee provisions of the 1987 Charter.

While public attention has been riveted on the posturing and pseudo-clashes among the leading contenders this election season, the Arroyo regime has been quietly intensifying its fascist maneuvers against the people and the people’s movement for change. There is an alarming spike once more in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Just recently, a Catholic priest Fr. Cecilio Lucero, who was championing the cause of human rights in the rural backwaters of Northern Samar where the military reigns supreme, was killed. Another young student activist, Noriel Rodriguez, was abducted by suspected military agents and is still missing.

Hopes for a resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the revolutionary umbrella formation, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), have been all but dashed with the sabotage by Executive Secretary Ermita and Presidential Peace Adviser Razon of the confidence-building measures agreed upon in preparatory talks, foremost of which is a halt to the practice of filing trumped-up criminal charges and illegal arrests of NDFP peace talks consultants that only serve to poison the atmosphere for earnest talks. It would appear that the militarists' sabotage of the GRP-NDFP peace talks presage the parallel sabotage of the electoral process in order to perpetuate Mrs. Arroyo in power.

Ironically but fortunately, the splits and intensifying infighting within the ruling elite open up possibilities and avenues for a politically conscious and vigilant people to make use of the coming electoral exercise as a means and arena by which tyrants, frauds, corrupt and immoral leaders are removed from office.

More important, the election season can be harnessed to inspire, educate, and move the people to further expose the ills of society and fight for more fundamental changes. #

*Published in Business World
18-19 Sept 2009

September 10, 2009

Tinimbang ngunit kulang*

The nine years of the Arroyo presidency has so debased traditional, many say reactionary, politics to an extent not seen since the Marcos Dictatorship that even a political lightweight like Sen. Noynoy Aquino III, with only his pedigree and nondescript, uncontroversial persona to recommend him, has been elevated as the new star in the Philippine political firmament with his declaration to run for president in the 2010 elections.

Mr. Aquino’s announcement has created a stir among local and foreign mass media with its potential to re-ignite the admiring throng of ordinary folk who came out in force for his mother’s burial a month ago and get their votes amidst a very crowded field of candidates all claiming to be in opposition to the hugely unpopular incumbent, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Agene France Press gives an unflattering description of the latest presidential contender: “Prior to his mother's death, the bespectacled, balding Aquino was best known as a low-profile politician with no major legislative achievements after nine years in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate…(B)etter known as the former boyfriend of a broadcast journalist, Korina Sanchez, and the brother of TV celebrity, Kris Aquino.”

There was nothing new in Noynoy’s announcement of his candidacy. He reinforced the common perception that he is anointed largely by his parentage being the son of national hero and martyr Ninoy and the now iconic Cory and by the fact of the recent outpouring of adulation in the streets, in media and on the internet for the latter upon her death.

There is the questionable presumption that the outstanding leadership and character traits of Noynoy’s parents have somehow rubbed off or been passed on in the genes to the senator-son. Thus the non sequitur conclusion that he is in the best position to lead the fight for genuine democracy and social reforms in a country still mired in political and social crisis more than twenty-three years after the People Power uprising that toppled the Dictator Marcos and catapulted Cory Aquino to the presidency.

Even the argument that one cannot underestimate Noynoy the same way Cory was largely underestimated in ’86 does not hold water, because as Ninoy’s wife, Cory never had the same opportunity to display or wield legislative and governance skills that Noynoy has had for the last decade.

Noynoy was clearly capitalizing on the highlighted differences between his mother’s endearing personal and political character traits and the despicable ones of the current Malacañang occupant. Thus he harped, as expected, on the issues of top-level corruption, the lust for and abuse of power and the complete absence of integrity and honesty that has hounded Mrs. Arroyo.

Only when fielded questions by the media did we see glimmers of his stand on other issues but not the bare bones of his campaign platform even as his Liberal Party handlers make a big thing about his running to bring about “change” and “reforms”. Instead Noynoy deliberately parries questions on his platform by saying he intends to dwell on this later, not now.

His announcement of his candidacy was preceded by pointing out who he consulted: his beloved sisters, the religious advisers of his mother, young people including two five-year-olds he met in a store in Mindanao and other common folk. Note how he downplayed endorsements from political personalities and high society folks. This and his description of his presidential bid as a non-traditional campaign that will rely heavily on the people’s voluntary support including financial (“Piso-piso para kay Noynoy”) is vintage populist.

His folksy style - not stiff and with stabs of easy humor - helped to project an image of an honest, spontaneous person, not the calculating, crafty politician everyone abhors. He did not display the usual politician’s bombast nor was his cacique class background apparent in his maiden speech as presidential aspirant.

We can safely conclude at this point that Noynoy’s candidacy is clearly and overwhelmingly still in the traditional mold of being personality-oriented but the irony is that not even the leadership traits of the candidate himself is being heralded. Not surprising since up until today, his qualifications are at best lackluster.

If Noynoy wants to take a leaf from US presidential candidate Obama’s campaign tagline - “Change we can believe in” - he has to show much, much more. The Liberal Party, the main machinery Noynoy will be relying on to get his campaign off the ground, cannot just count on the latent potential of the Cory magic, on the afterglow generated by Sen. Mar Roxas’ giving way to Noynoy without a fuss, and on the ampaw rhetoric regarding change and reforms to fuel Noynoy’s presidential ambitions.

Clearly the yellow crowd is there. Erstwhile Mar for President supporters as well. The LP has consolidated with maverick Senator Francis Pangilinan highly visible and very talkative about campaigning for his party mate. Good government groups, new and old, established or of doubtful credentials were present. There were former “nat-dem” leftists now nudging elbows with the soc-dems. Anti-GMA groups that are most comfortable with each other such as Black and White, some high-profile member of the group of Former Senior Government Officials, known Corystas from among the business community were also seen.

The only “presidentiables” aside from Mr. Roxas who have given way to Noynoy are Governors Ed Panlileo and Grace Padaca who were not even serious contenders to begin with. Mayor Jejomar Binay is reportedly supporting Noynoy and is even willing to help broker a unification meeting with ousted President Joseph Estrada but the latter has declared that he is not backing down from his decision to regain the presidency.

The other conclusion we can readily come to is that the base of support for the Noynoy for President campaign remains narrow and limited in terms of the spectrum of social classes and political forces backing it.

Certainly, if Noynoy is to unite the people and the political opposition behind his candidacy, he cannot escape wooing the support of the mainstream Left, the national democrats. Unlike in 1986, they are not only well-engaged in electoral and parliamentary struggle. More important than their acknowledged political and electoral clout, it is the “nat-dems” who have consistently espoused a comprehensive and coherent program for genuine change. #

*Weighed and found wanting

Published in Business World
10-11 September 2009

September 03, 2009

Noynoy for president?

Those who predicted the fizzling out of moves to enlist Senator Noynoy Aquino to run for President in the wake of the massive turn-out at the burial of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, did not expect the relative ease and swiftness by which Senator Mar Roxas was dislodged from being the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate. Strangely enough, Mr. Roxas was apparently convinced to give way, not to a better candidate, not even to a more convincingly popular one at that.

The Noynoy-for-President supporters are invoking not his personal qualities and achievements but those of his departed famous parents. There is a discernible, if not conscious attempt, to draw parallels between the situation faced by Cory Aquino when she was drafted as a reluctant candidate in 1986 to run against the dictator Marcos and her son’s current circumstances. All the better it seems to invest him with the mantle of his parent’s political legacy.

Mr. Aquino’s own reluctance to run for president has been elevated to political virtue, interpreted to mean he is not lusting after the most powerful office in the land unlike the other presidential candidates, much in keeping with his beloved mother’s sterling example.

The delay in Mr. Aquino’s announcement that he will enter the presidential race lends itself quite nicely to the political drama of the man’s sudden foray into the big-time electoral arena. The campaign strategists in the Liberal Party are doubtlessly capitalizing on the people’s contempt for the kapit-tuko Arroyo clique by projecting the image of self-sacrifice and team spirit of the LP stalwarts, Messrs. Roxas and Aquino.

Noynoy’s lack of involvement in corruption scandals and any high-profile role in the horse trading and other opportunist maneuverings inherent in the decadent political order are pointed to by his supporters as added points that allegedly make him the ideal foil against the corrupt-ridden and morally-bankrupt Arroyo regime.

As for Mr. Aquino’s lack of preparedness for the requirements of being Chief Executive, cited not only by Malacañang and his detractors but by his own close-knit family, once more the example of his mother, the plain-housewife-turned-opposition-leader, is offered to trump the arguments against him. On faith, we are supposed to accept the line that if Cory could do it, so can Noynoy.

All this is secondary to the more forceful argument-- that Noynoy is the only person capable of uniting the opposition and galvanizing it into a cohesive machinery with a single presidential candidate that can square off with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's candidate, if not GMA herself. He is purportedly the only star in the Philippine political firmament that would augur our nation’s deliverance from the usurping, plundering and power-hungry Arroyo regime.

That idea appeared to have gotten a big boost last Monday when Mr. Roxas withdrew from the race in favor of Mr. Aquino. But it is still a long way to go from what the Noynoy-for-President drumbeaters are claiming he alone can do. What it achieved was galvanize the dominant Liberal Party faction into backing Noynoy instead of Mar Roxas, virtually clinching the nomination for Noynoy even as he defers his announcement to run.

As expected, survey frontrunner Sen. Manny Villar has promptly indicated he is not about to back out and give way to some people whose main credentials are in their surnames and aristocratic origins. Obviously referring to the Aquino-Roxas tandem, Mr. Villar reasoned that the people deserve to have a candidate who has plebeian origins and who knows what it's like to be destitute in this country. Again, obviously referring to himself.

It remains to be seen whether Noynoy would be able to persuade the likes of comebacking deposed President “Erap” Estrada and young upstart Sen. Chiz Escudero to unite under his banner, but most will agree it's a long shot.

But this is not even the main and most important issue at hand. Buried under the rising anticipation and excitement on who will run with whom is the question: what do they stand for?

Roxas et al herald themselves as THE harbingers of "tunay na pagbabago" -- genuine change. Fine. It is at least recognition that the Filipino people need and demand more than a change of Malacañang tenants. (Ironically, it was from the Aquino presidency that the people began to realize that replacing a hated, despotic, plundering, fascist and puppet ruler with a benign and popular one does not necessarily rid government of corruption, puppetry and fascist rule.)

One of the most important lessons of the “people power” uprisings, EDSA 1 and 2, which are relevant to the current election campaign is that it is not enough to unite the opposition against an already isolated incumbent president. It is not enough to win the vote and expel that unwanted ruler.

What is more important – in fact, most important -- is to unite the opposition and the people behind a program of genuine change. From corruption and plunder to clean government; from political repression to upholding civil and political liberties; from subservience to foreign interests to an independent foreign and economic policy; from feudal exploitation and oppression arising from landlessness to genuine land reform, from wanton destruction of the environment for profit to ecological protection and sustainability; from a militarist solution to armed conflicts to negotiating in earnest with revolutionary armed movements for a just and lasting peace; and much more.

None of the serious contenders has so far come out with a substantial platform for change, including those who claim to stand for it. Beyond motherhood statements and rhetoric, not one has painstakingly elucidated his or her stand on land reform, foreign debt, trade liberalization, labor rights, US military presence and activities in Philippine territory, electoral reform, the right to self determination of the Moro people and other indigenous peoples, etc.

Too often, the candidate’s stand on major problems bedeviling our country is the last thing to be made known, if at all. Thus the quality of the political discourse during the election period does little to raise the political awareness of the electorate and bring about a more informed and wise choice of leaders.

A Noynoy-led Liberal Party, or for that matter any and all of the opposition parties, will be doing our people a great service if they clearly spell out their stand on these issues and unite our people behind a platform that is truly democratic, patriotic and just.

Until they seriously do so and while they continue to engage in the politics of personalities, opportunism and demagoguery, they would not have taken a single step away from the worn-out, rotten politics of old towards "tunay na pagbabago". #

*Published in Business World
4-5 September 2009