May 26, 2011

Taking a stand on RH

Having borne two children of my own and having struggled to do my part in raising a family while practicing my profession in the field of public health and avidly pursuing my social and political causes, I submit that I may have something worthwhile to say on the controversy over the reproductive health bill.

Ill health, debilitation and untimely deaths due to preventable and curable diseases are undoubtedly an added bane on the masses, men and women alike. Women, however, by virtue of their reproductive functions, their traditional role as the family’s main caregiver and, more and more, as breadwinners themselves, carry distinct and additional burdens.

Central to the concern is the question of family planning or, technically speaking, fertility control. A woman of reproductive age who is ignorant about her body, how she can get pregnant, or choose not to get pregnant, and how to balance the role of giving life and rearing the young with being a productive member of society, as well as pursuing other aspirations and dreams for herself and for others – is a woman who is shackled and doomed to suffer unnecessarily.

Progressives cannot but be on the side of championing RH for women most especially for poor, exploited and oppressed women who are most disadvantaged and worst affected.

But this is not to agree blindly with the supposition that having many children dooms a woman and her family to a life of poverty or conversely, prosperity comes from having only a few. There are exceptions to this observation even in a backward, maldeveloped economy such as ours where poverty is endemic. The key of course lies in the woman’s economic class and social standing.

Those who carry this line easily slide to the proposition that countries and peoples are poor and backward because they are not managing their population growth.

The fear of the teeming multitude derives from an acceptance of the status quo with the overwhelming majority of the peoples of the world mired in a seemingly unending cycle of destitution, ignorance, disease and early death, pointing to overpopulation as the culprit while denying that a tiny minority appropriates the wealth of the world.

(Yes Virginia, US imperialism has elevated the Malthusian theory about unchecked population growth as the ultimate cause of poverty and the depletion of the world’s resources to the level of an international crusade.)

Progressives and genuine people’s organizations must be wary of, expose and contend with imperialist propaganda and programs disguised as pro-people but in truth serve anti-people purposes.

We can agree with the Catholic Church on the basic assumption that people per se should not be considered burdens to society. A people who are productive, not exploited and oppressed, are able to meet their basic needs as well as enjoy a sufficiently stimulating cultural life and are free to pursue their dreams and aspirations – such people are the limitless source of society’s wealth and constitute humanity’s future.

But while progressives can agree with some of the principles underlying the arguments raised by the opponents of the RH bill, the Catholic Church, in particular, there is no gainsaying that we are definitely on the opposing side on this one.

The Church is raising the bogey of abortion (in the process imposing its dogma on when conception takes place) and of alleged coercive means of undertaking RH education and imposing fertility control in opposing the bill. Some fan fears of a rise in promiscuous sexual behavior, sexually-transmitted disease, and moral and social degradation with the passage of the RH bill.

But the consolidated bill being considered has clear-cut provisions against these or at least reasonable safeguards.

Notwithstanding their good intentions, the CBCP cannot be taken to be an infallible judge of spiritual, much less secular issues, even by Catholic Church doctrine. More than once before, the church hierarchy had succeeded in imposing its collective views on matters that are more secular than spiritual, only to reverse itself after some time. We recall, for example, how for many years the teaching of Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo was banned by legislation pushed by the Catholic Church on the grounds that these patriotic novels depicted it in a bad light.

Rather than attempt to impose its views and will on Congress, the Catholic Church would do well to undertake mass education campaigns to promote its views on family planning methods together with the concrete programs to match, among the people, especially the poor who have most need of them.

This way they can better utilize the Church’s formidable persuasive powers and clout rather than act as an adversary to the laudable aim of raising the level of the health and wellbeing of women and their families in this country.

A word of caution on the RH bill. There are several questionable and even objectionable provisions still. GABRIELA, the country’s premier alliance of progressive women, points to “vestiges of neomalthusianism” in the bills’s “Guiding Principles”, to wit, “The limited resources of the country cannot be suffered to be spread so thinly to service a burgeoning multitude making allocations grossly inadequate and effectively meaningless.”

Also in Section 25 on the “Implementing Mechanism”, GABRIELA asks why the Population Commission is designated as the coordinating body in the implementation of the RH bill when it is primarily a bill on women’s health.

It is clear that some of the proponents and a significant number of supporters of the RH bill are equally or even more impelled by considerations of population control and management than anything else. Thus we can expect them to persist in their tunnel vision and put the lid on discourse about the underlying, more fundamental causes of poverty and underdevelopment.

Consequently the rechanneling of more substantial government resources to RH aka family planning aka population control must be closely monitored to make sure it is more of the first and second which is the objective rather than purely and erroneously, the latter.

The abuses of past USAID-funded population control programs that pushed artificial contraception methods to the detriment of general and women’s health programs, gave rise to opportunities for undue influence by donor agencies and population control hawkers in public health policy-making, as well as for graft and corruption in richly-endowed population control programs must be prevented.

Enlightened legislation on women’s reproductive health is a step in the right direction. Whether it will achieve its intended purpose depends ultimately on women and their families relentlessly fighting for the full implementation of its positive provisions and taking a vigilant stance vis a vis its more questionable ones.

At the end of the day, only a people in charge of their own destinies - whose political leadership represents and carries the interests of the overwhelming majority - can ensure a population management policy which is pro-people and rationally designed to contribute to national development goals geared towards social justice, equity, freedom and prosperity. #

Published in Business World
27-28 May 2011

May 20, 2011

Marcos is no hero

Another revolting turn in the stomach-churning political scene in this country confronts us. The heirs to the Marcosian legacy of economic sabotage and plunder of the nation’s coffers, state terrorism and fascist abuse of the citizenry, and kowtowing to foreign imperialist impositions are now calling for the burial of the dictator Marcos’ petrified remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The resurrection of the idea to transfer the remains of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos to what is traditionally regarded as hallowed burial grounds for the nation’s heroes is outrageous and infuriating, especially for the direct victims of martial rule.

But it is an abomination still waiting to happen.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s nerve to sound the call after barely warming his seat in the Senate is not surprising. But the effrontery and collective amnesia of a big majority of legislators in the Lower House who signed HOR Resolution 1135 and the lack of a clear-cut stand much less official resistance from Malacañang is alarming.

In truth, the process of rehabilitation of the Marcos name began soon after his regime was overthrown.

We thought then that the Marcos Dictatorship had been swept away, ignominiously, into the dustbin of history where it belonged. But we were sorely mistaken.

The Cory Aquino regime failed - refused, even -- to lay the ground for the full condemnation and repudiation of the dictatorship.

Marcos-era fascist decrees and laws remain and are still used to suppress dissent and opposition to government policies and programs. Most of the perpetrators of human rights violations among the military and police, especially the most notorious ones, were never prosecuted much less convicted. A yardstick of failure of post-Marcos regimes, especially Mrs. Aquino’s, to prosecute martial law criminals is the failure to identify and prosecute the masterminds behind the assassination of her husband, the martyr, Benigno Aquino Jr.

The Marcos heirs, his cronies and henchmen of various stripes (from ex-generals and politicians to high-living technocrats, well-paid hacks and other apologists) have been able to protect their ill-gotten wealth, reputations and positions of power and influence from any demands for accountability much less restitution.

The public hardly notices that even in the field of education, with its decisive impact on molding the national consciousness, the lessons of martial rule especially its grievous effects on society, are not correctly and sufficiently taught much less emphasized.

It is no wonder that the Marcoses, including Imelda, the other half of the conjugal dictatorship, whose name is synonymous with profligacy of gargantuan proportions, are now no longer social pariahs but are on the guest list of the many “high society” happenings hereabouts.

It follows then that the plunder, brutal suppression of human rights, the culture of impunity as well as the corruption and criminality endemic in government institutions, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police, continues unabated. All these can be attributed to the mindset and the practice honed to perfection during the martial law years.

Through all these, the ruling regimes that succeeded Marcos were content to point to the restoration of formal democratic trappings like elections and Congress, as proof that the martial law era and its attendant evils are long past.

What they conveniently obscure, if not conceal, is that the economic and political crisis that brought about the dictatorship, was aggravated by it, and continues to fester even after its overthrow, is still very much around, providing the very same conditions for a return to authoritarianism and fascism.

By continuing the pro-foreign capital and anti-people economic policies of the Marcos era, succeeding regimes plunged our nation to deeper indebtedness and depression, causing increasing hardship and misery on our people, thus reinforcing the claim and illusion that life after martial law was worse and Marcos was a better ruler.

Meanwhile, the HOR resolution from the Marcos camp, at best, is another attempt at testing the waters, and the official response so far sends the signal that "it looks okay so long as it doesn't pull down our popularity and satisfaction ratings". How else to explain the gingerly, tentative, buck-passing and "survey-conscious" response from Malacañang?

Consider that the resolution merely recycles most of the arguments that have long been exposed as outright lies (e.g. “decorated soldier” versus fake medals) or half-lies (e.g. “built the modern foundations of the Philippines” versus leading the economy to further ruin).

But the biggest argument that deserves to be demolished is that burying the dictator Marcos as a “hero” is a "magnanimous act of reconciliation which will strengthen the bonds of solidarity among the Filipino people".

The resolution outwardly appeals to the magnanimity of Mr. Aquino, son of the most prominent Marcos rival and martial law victim. But in fact, the resolution insults the President, not to mention the Filipino people, counting on their gullibility and total incapacity for discernment.

Mr. Aquino’s tepid response to the outrageous proposal is bound to embolden its proponents. But both grossly underestimate the people's intelligence and their opposition to notions of reconciliation without justice or, simply put, the politics of accommodation among factions of the same ruling elite.

Those whose memory and scruples are not as limited, the victims of gross injustices and all those who would not want their children and grandchildren to suffer the horrors the Filipino people were subjected to by the Marcos rule, are bound to vehemently oppose this effort to bestow honor to a discredited tyrant and despot.

Seven representatives from the progressive party lists Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela Women’s Party, Kabataan and ACT Party Lists have sponsored a resolution opposing the Marcos resolution. It sums up the arguments against the proposal to bury Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani thus:

"NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the House of Representatives strongly oppose renewed proposals to bury former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani as a grave travesty of justice; a monumental historical distortion tantamount to declaring as a hero a dictator who committed crimes against humanity, plunged the nation deeper into foreign debt and control and plundered the nation’s resources; and a renunciation of the historic 1986 people power uprising which toppled Marcos.” #

Published in Business World
20-21 May 2011

May 05, 2011

Terrorist bogey

Osama bin Laden, the elusive head of the Al Qaeda, is dead. The Obama administration thumps its breast as it announces this feat, which reads like an action-thriller movie with US Navy SEALS and CIA-led operatives as the intrepid heroes completing their mission with deadly precision and efficiency, and with not a single US casualty.

This gives the US-engineered “war on terror” new vigor and injects renewed mystique into this touted crusade launched by the Bush administration that has left in its wake a trail of civilian casualties, destroyed physical and social infrastructure and untold havoc and misery on the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention thousands illegally arrested, held in secret detention centers, tortured and interrogated under the aegis of counterterrorism.

To get Bin Laden, the US and NATO invaded Afghanistan and deposed the Taliban government widely believed to be providing the Al Qaeda safe haven. They installed a US puppet who has proven to be true to the tradition of such client regimes – corrupt, elitist, faction-ridden and thoroughly dependent on US-NATO military backing to fight the comebacking Taliban forces.

It goes without saying that the economic stakes of the Western powers in Afghanistan such as the oil and gas pipelines that will deliver Central Asia’s resources to its shores together with their geopolitical interests are being closely safeguarded by the US-NATO-friendly regime.

But much to their unending embarrassment and to the consternation of the American public, the US-NATO forces, for ten long years, could not deliver Osama’s head on a silver platter. Mr. Obama in fact used this as a reason to shift the bulk of US troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and authorize military strikes inside Pakistani territory in flagrant violation of its sovereignty and heedless of civilian casualties.

Iraq was next in the Bush administration’s sights. In the flush of the counter-terrorist, jingoist and anti-Muslim rhetoric post 9-11, the Bush-Cheney-Powell triumvirate successfully pulled the hood on the US and world public with its lies about Saddam Hussein’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction”. Saddam’s WMDS were allegedly poised – in true “terrorist” fashion -- against the US, Iraq’s Middle East neighbors and not least of all, the Iraqis themselves, the Kurd minority in particular.

The massive bombardment of Iraq and the subsequent invasion by US troops also brought about the replacement of Saddam with a US puppet. But the presence and continuing combat role of at least 50,000 US troops as an occupation force remains significant despite repeated announcements by Mr. Obama of their eventual withdrawal.

Meanwhile the scale of violence between the US military, the puppet Iraqi troops and a broad range of armed resistance forces in the country has reached a permanent state of deadliness with more than 4500 US soldiers, tens of thousands of rebels and civilians providing the unending body count.

Iraq’s rich oil resources and economy are now managed within the neo-liberal frame of the IMF-World Bank even as the people are still reeling from the devastation and the deprivations that have come in the wake of the 2003 US invasion and occupation.

In the US, the “war on terror” served to justify fascist measures against the people as never before. The US PATRIOT Act and the creation of the US Homeland Security served to bamboozle constitutionally-guaranteed civil and political liberties heretofore held sacred by the American people including rampant snooping into the private communications of those the government considered security threats and the harassment and actual arrests of suspects on the flimsiest grounds alongside the denial of their due process rights.

In the Philippines, the Arroyo regime immediately sucked up to the Bush government after 9-11 by uncritically and enthusiastically embracing the “war on terror”. Apart from providing the widest latitude for the use of Philippine territory and airspace, military facilities and civilian infrastructure by the US Armed Forces for its imperialist adventures into Central Asia and the Middle East, the Arroyo regime hyped the Abu Sayyaf Group as the Philippines very own local “terrorist” counterpart. She vowed her government would do its part in what Mr. Bush would later on call “the second front in the war on terror”.

In 2002, in order to deal with 300 or so ASG members kidnapping and holding for ransom foreigners and locals alike, the Arroyo regime imposed an undeclared state of martial law in Basilan and Jolo. Scores of innocent civilians were rounded up together with ASG suspects, many of whom are still languishing in detention up to now.

During the first RP-US Balikatan military exercises, 650 US Special Forces troops were allowed to participate in military operations against the ASG in contravention of Constitutional prohibitions. This was put forth as necessary to finally put a stop to the depredations of the ASG and hold the line against international terror in the Southern Philippines. And yet, the Philippine military, in announcing preparations for any possible retaliatory attacks by alleged Bin Laden-sympathizing terrorists in the aftermath of his death, still counts 300 or so ASG, not much less than what the combined US and Philippine armed forces attempted to stamp out nine years ago.

The “terrorist” threat came in handy in justifying the bloody counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo regime – Oplan Bantay Laya – that led to rampant extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, mass civilian displacements and other grievous human rights violations.

Terrorist labels were also used to smear and demonize legitimate revolutionary movements in the country such as that of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and the MILF-BMLA. It was used to torpedo peace negotiations with both movements. Anti-terrorist legislation was railroaded in Congress to satisfy the demands of the US government.

TV news clips show crowds in Washington DC celebrating the news of Bin Laden’s execution. Elsewhere there does not seem to be much jubilation and in fact the reaction of people around the world seemed to be somber and muted.

From various perspectives and for different reasons, everyone says that the death of Bin Laden will not end “terrorist” attacks against the US and its allied powers. The US on the contrary warns that Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups are expected to retaliate and are still capable of launching further attacks. In this way, the Bin Laden operation serves as a stunning display of US military superiority and sophistication, while the US continues to use counterterrorism as a justification for its intervention and aggression worldwide.

More objectively and significantly, many local news commentators have echoed the view that for so long as the US arrogantly flaunts its lone superpower status and wields its political, economic and military might to dominate and trample on the rights of peoples and nations all over the world, those who suffer unbearable exploitation and oppression shall continue to resist and fight back. #

Published in Business World
6-7 May 2011