March 26, 2010

Collision course

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the most mistrusted president that Filipinos have had to bear with for the last nine years, is set to reap the whirlwind. Facing the end of her disputed term of office and just retribution for all sorts of malfeasance and crimes against the people, she is scheming and maneuvering to maintain her strategic advantage over her enemies (and they are legion) by holding on to power. She is on a collision course with the people’s wrath.

The Machiavellian lesson that Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of power grabbers has learned is this: so long as she has the generals as her praetorian guards, Congress as her rubber stamp, the Supreme Court to declare her illegal acts legal, the Catholic church hierarchy to give her its blessings or look the other way, and the United States government to certify her regime as friendly and an ally in the fight against “terrorism” thereby assuring her of continuing support – she can get away with almost anything.

The US-backed Arroyo regime and its warlord allies have actually gotten away with murder, mayhem and the surrender of national sovereignty in the name of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. The thieving Arroyo clan members, their cronies and favored foreign entities have gotten away with plundering the nation’s coffers, the economy and the national patrimony leaving a legacy of deepening poverty, maldevelopment and environmental destruction. The overstaying Mrs. Arroyo rode out her worst crisis of legitimacy resulting from her being caught utilizing the Commission on Elections to cheat massively in the 2004 presidential polls.

In the Arroyo clique’s calculations, popularity surveys can go hang; the media can rant all they like. What passes for the political opposition can pose as the country’s saviors as they please; it’s an election year anyway. The people can grumble and swear as long as they don’t march to Malacañang in droves. The New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front constitute the only formidable threat but the military, the police and US military aid will keep them at bay.

Mrs. Arroyo and her cohorts have all bases covered or so they think.

What these scoundrels don’t realize is that they are rapidly and surely pushing a broad range of our people to the edge. The overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship and the Estrada presidency happened when people had had enough and saw no other way to end these intolerable regimes except to take direct action. A series of protest demonstrations and mammoth rallies took place non stop culminating in a mass uprising that did not stop short of storming the presidential palace. “People power” was unleashed.

This time around the specter of a failure of elections in the May polls leading to the holdover of Mrs. Arroyo as president looms not just as some political analyst’s conspiracy theory but as a real threat. More and more prominent groups and personalities have stepped forward to declare they are prepared to call for or support people power should the Arroyo regime engineer a failure of elections.

The motives have long been established: impunity, greed, the lust for power. Apart from seeking to protect Mrs. Arroyo from criminal and civil liability for her crimes, the Arroyo clique simply refuses to relinquish the unsurpassed economic and political advantage for her faction of the ruling elite that nine fortuitous years have made possible.

Mrs. Arroyo has an unbroken track record of deceitfulness. Most notably, she promised that she would no longer run for president in 2004 to obviate political divisiveness but she ran anyway and cheated her way to victory to boot. She also has unceasingly tried but failed so far to have her stay in office extended by changing the Philippine Charter through various schemes.

So no one believes her and in fact automatically thinks the opposite when Mrs. Arroyo’s spokespersons and even the First Gentleman (sic) swear that she is stepping down in June and is preparing the way for a peaceful transfer of power.

More than her words, it is her actions that reveal her true intentions. She runs for a congressional position in her home province (recipient of overly generous government largesse) where she is expected to be a shoo-in winner. The ruling party is observed to be spending more freely for their candidates for Congress (including 6 former Cabinet officials, an assortment of local government officials, and pro-Arroyo pseudo-party list nominees) rather than their presidential, vice-presidential and senatorial slate which is not even complete and consists of survey bottom dwellers. Surely this shows that she is eyeing the House Speakership as her next political platform.

She appoints a known lapdog general to be the head of the armed forces and two others from the same loyalist military academy class of 1978 to key positions, in the process bypassing more senior officers and triggering demoralization in the entire officer corps. Alarm bells are ringing that Mrs. Arroyo is tightening her grip on the military including key branches and units.

She gets a Supreme Court ruling that allows her to choose the next Chief Justice despite a categorical Constitutional prohibition against midnight appointments and overturning well established jurisprudence. Considering her overwhelming hold on the majority of the 15 sitting justices (by this time all are her appointees), her insistence on choosing the next chief justice by May 17 when Chief Justice Puno bows out, reveals a desire to further consolidate her clout over the highest court in the land.

She allows a Comelec that from all indications is in over its head implementing the first-ever automation of national elections to bungle along. Comelec relinquishes to the foreign company Smartmatic the determination of crucial technical, logistical and organizational aspects of the work. Meanwhile Comelec hides its incompetence and possibly its sabotage of the elections by dismissing all calls for remedial measures to prevent massive electoral fraud through voter disenfranchisement, automated cheating and failure of elections.

There is no doubt that a failure of elections or any other nefarious scheme to use the electoral exercise to perpetuate Mrs. Arroyo in power will be met by massive people's protest and resistance. Exactly what form it will take, how it will shape up and how long it will take will depend in large measure to the people's preparedness and determination.

To a large extent, the massive protest actions calling for the resignation, if not ouster of the Arroyo regime since 2005 will have helped prepare the people for this. For one thing, it will prove beyond doubt that the elections are not, as many had believed, the best way to boot the Arroyo regime out of power and make it accountable for its crimes.

People power constitutes a convulsion of revulsion. It is a people’s revolt. It may not be enough to usher in sweeping changes as only a social revolution can do, but it is enough to sweep away a despised regime such as that of Mrs. Arroyo. #

*Published in Business World
26-27 March 2010

March 11, 2010

In memoriam: Josie Lichauco (1935-2010)*

Former Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary Josefina “ Josie” Trinidad- Lichauco was a staunch ally of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and a dear friend to many of us who had the privilege to work closely with her on many a protest action. We sat with her in innumerable meetings that preceded these actions to draw in and unite as broad an array of forces opposed to the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as possible. Her sudden and untimely departure leaves a void, both personal and political.

Our relationship with Josie began in the Estrada Resign Movement that saw the likes of Josie, Nini Quezon Acancena, Sr. Christine Tan, Fr. Joe Dizon, Maan Hontiveros and Behn Cervantes taking the lead in the call for Erap to resign, be impeached or be ousted. She had resigned from the Estrada cabinet by that time.

To be frank we were a bit awed by her, knowing that she came from the ranks of “high society”, had graduated from the UP College of Law and other prestigious universities at a time when women lawyers were a rarity, and had a reputation for being a well-respected, hardworking, charming, and not to mention, handsome-looking former Cabinet official. We knew that in her university days, she was not just a campus figure because of her looks but was famed for her “beauty and brains”.

Notwithstanding such background, Josie was able to reach out and be in solidarity with the disadvantaged, exploited and oppressed among our people. Not only did she fight against corruption and abuse of authority in and out of government, she also took up the cudgels for victims of human rights violations, especially activists and ordinary people who were critical of or opposed the GMA regime. She signed petitions, joined prayer-rallies and demonstrations, visited activists unjustly imprisoned and joined campaigns to secure their freedom.

She also joined mass actions highlighting the demands of working people as on May 1, Labor Day, and March 8, International Women’s Day. She fearlessly and repeatedly ventured out of her comfort zone as she attended and spoke in rallies at Mendiola, Plaza Miranda, Liwasang Bonifacio, Roxas Boulevard and at Commonwealth Avenue for the yearly anti-State-of-the-Nation rallies that Bayan organized.

Josie never asked who were the other personalities who would be joining the protest action; it was enough that she thought it was important for her to take a stand on the issue and that there were familiar faces of fellow street parliamentarians like urban poor leader Ka Mameng Deunida, Gabriela’s Emmi de Jesus or student leader Alvin Peters.

Josie showed that she was willing and able to take the fight wherever and whenever necessary. She became a political activist not only in word but in deed, not only in meetings in air-conditioned board rooms but in hot, dusty and pedestrian venues where she brushed elbows with the “masa” and the “aktibista”.

Josie was the indispensable member of the troika of Betina Legarda and Marily Orosa who formed the core of the Concerned Citizens Movement. She and the CCM were Bayan’s key partners in the Oust GMA Movement. They were most helpful in ensuring principled unity among the disparate groups and individuals involved in this movement and in pushing protest actions that were broad, creative and caused a stir among the media and the public at large.

Starting out with forums held at the Manila Polo Club that touched on burning issues of the day, the CCM graduated to sponsoring protest actions like the march-cum-dialogue at the European Commission on the issue of human rights. They initiated or participated in countless other actions including protest motorcades that passed by military camps, holding vigils in Congress during impeachment deliberations against Mrs. Arroyo, picketing the Comelec office and facing the water cannons of police dispersal units at the Philippine International Convention Center where national canvassing for the 2007 elections was taking place.

Bayan acknowledges with gratitude Josie’s inestimable contribution to the building of the broad political alliances that spanned diverse, if not divergent, ideological and political orientations and cut across class and cultural divides. Her broadmindedness and understanding of the give-and-take dynamics necessary in such alliances helped to overcome the biases, bordering on sectarianism and sheer obstructionism, that threatened to undermine unification efforts.

Because of her social standing, her extensive reach through various professional and personal circles, her unsullied reputation as an upright government official, and her unquestionable sincerity and unassailable record in fighting for justice, human rights and good governance, she was able to help bring together those personages and forces that would not otherwise find themselves on the same side of a political cause.

We in Bayan never felt any prejudice nor apprehension on Josie’s part against the Left, neither the leaders nor individual members whom she met, worked and even became good friends with. In fact, she generously gave of her time, graciously hosted meetings at her residence, and forked out money from her own pocket to help pay for the expenses at rallies and also for the medical needs of some of the mass leaders.

Josie Lichauco was a Filipina who broke free of the confines of a privileged upbringing and the comfortable environs she had been accustomed to in order to find common ground with the rest of the oppressed and struggling Filipino people. She is someone to be both admired and emulated.

Mabuhay ka, Atty. Josie Lichauco! Di ka namin malilimutan. ###

*Delivered at CCM-sponsored memorial, “For the love of Josie”
10 March 2010, Makati City

March 04, 2010

Edsa myths (Part II)

Was Edsa I a failure? Ferdinand Marcos Jr., heir to the Dictator Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth and discredited political legacy, says so. According to him, there has been no change: poverty only worsened, there are no basic services for the people and subsequent governments were not able to clean up the bureaucracy.

Senator Noynoy Aquino reminisces about his parents’ (and his own) sacrifices in fighting Marcos. He asserts that his mother, President Corazon Aquino, successfully restored democracy and defended it by putting down several coup attempts.

Both, not surprisingly, are resorting to half-truths to peddle lies from each one’s self-serving perspective.

Mr. Marcos Jr. cites the impoverished, miserable and repressed state that Filipinos are in to argue that things were better back in his father’s heyday. Marcos Sr. told the people that they had to give up their political and civil liberties in exchange for economic and social welfare; in the end, he gave the people neither. If indeed things are in many ways worse now than under the Marcos dictatorship it is because its warped legacy pervades today’s restored “democracy”.

Noynoy, for his part, tries to reprise the good-versus-evil analogy that worked well for his mother when she ran for president against the strongman Marcos. He paints a Camelot-like reign: apart from restoring so-called democracy, she allegedly also banished the evils of corruption, abuse of power and moral turpitude. Since to many Filipinos, the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the embodiment of evil, Noynoy wants us to believe that he, by pedigree, is the antithesis of Mrs. Arroyo.

Too bad for Noynoy, not even the outpouring of grief during his mother’s wake and burial can erase the truth about what happened after Edsa I, how its promise of giving back power to the people and of bringing about long-sought after reforms was dashed not long after Cory assumed power.

What has been obscured in the furor over whether EDSA 1 was a failure or not is the fact that while martial law was declared by Marcos in 1972 to perpetuate his hold on power, he still had to preserve the reactionary rule of the big landowners, the business partners of the multinational companies and banks, and the entrenched bureaucrat capitalists from whence he himself came.

While the other factions of the elite were lorded over by the Marcos clique, it was the people who bore the brunt of the suffering under the same old exploitative and oppressive ruling system made worse by fascist tyranny. Consequently, while the overthrow of the dictatorship was the immediate common goal of the Edsa I participants, there were as many medium-term and long-term objectives as there were class interests among the participants.

The small but influential and moneyed minority to whom Cory and Ninoy Aquino belonged was interested only in restoring the formal trappings of democracy - e.g. elections, Congress, the judiciary and ostensibly, civilian over military rule - but were averse to instituting genuine land reform or national industrialization. The larger majority wanted nothing less than “food and freedom, jobs and justice”.

The more politically mature and seasoned, those who had been at the forefront of the anti-dictatorship struggle from the outset, harbored no illusions that overthrowing the dictatorship would solve the fundamental problems of Philippine society. They had more realistic, if limited, objectives for a people’s uprising and thus would be the last to judge EDSA I as a failure.

Edsa I had its inherent limitations. It brought back to power a different faction of the ruling elite, one that had the advantage of having been part of the anti-dictatorship struggle and was therefore clothed with the rhetoric of “reform” and “change” and the mystique of “people power” which it, however, used to preserve the status quo.

This explains why the Cory regime undermined land reform by letting a landlord-dominated Congress legislate the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Under CARP, her family’s landholdings, notably the Cojuangco’s Hacienda Luisita, were exempted from distribution. Four administrations and more than two decades later, landlessness and rural poverty - in short, social injustice - has worsened; avowed democratic gains have been rendered meaningless for more than seventy per cent of the people.

Edsa I did not end the perennial economic crisis plaguing the country. Nothing changed as far as economic policies are concerned. The same IMF-World Bank and later, WTO-imposed, policy framework that the Marcos regime implemented was carried out by all subsequent regimes from Aquino to Arroyo. When Cory addressed the US Congress, the most applauded part of her speech was her declaration that her government will not renege on its foreign financial obligations, i.e. the Marcos-incurred foreign debt.

Consequently, the backward, feudal-agricultural and unindustrialized character of the economy has remained the same. Good quality jobs and income-earning opportunities are so scarce that daily, more than 3000 Filipinos seek work abroad. Those who remain compete for low-paying, insecure jobs in a tiny manufacturing sector or the few relatively higher-paying jobs in call centers; become odd jobbers in the informal sector; but more likely end up among the tens of millions of unemployed facing a bleak future.

Edsa I did not empower the people. Politics and government continue to be dominated by the economic and political elite, traceable to the principalia class from which the Spanish, then the American, colonizers handpicked those who would rule in their name, and later in the name of “democracy”. In electoral exercises reinstated after Edsa I, they take turns holding the reins of power.

This is the reason why the US backed the Cory regime and its successors. The “persuasion flights” of US F4 phantom jets at a crucial point of the 1989 coup attempt demonstrated beyond doubt the decisive role played by US imperialism in Philippine politics.

It also explains why every post-Marcos regime has had to pander to and spoil the military and police to retain their loyalty. Every time the people howl in protest, there are always the US-trained and equipped state security forces, the pliant courts and prosecutors, and the shadowy “death squads” to deal with them.

What Edsa I, the first unarmed people’s uprising, succeeded in doing, is the overthrow of the Marcos fascist dictatorship. The restoration of the formal trappings of democracy reopened avenues for expressing the muffled voice and asserting the suppressed will of the people.

The lesson has been learned. The people will no longer be content with merely overthrowing one regime only for it to be replaced by another without any basic changes.

If there is any reason why the Arroyo regime has not been overthrown by people power, it is not because “people are tired of people power”, much less that people are content with Mrs. Arroyo, but because people still have to build a consensus on what kind of regime should take its place. ###

*Published in Business World
5-6 March 2008