September 29, 2011

Protests are good

The protracted global economic depression is sending the economies of even advanced capitalist countries such as the United States and members of the European Union on a tailspin. Despite fits of financial convulsions due to the bursting of economic bubbles and now EU countries threatening to default on their sovereign debts if not bailed out, most official quarters still minimize the extent and depth of the crisis of global capitalism.

But the average person on the street in the perennially underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East as well as the most advanced capitalist countries in the West knows from experience that this global economic depression is for real.

It is making life harder and harder even for the touted “middle class”. Worse it is unclear how or when the crisis will end and how or if the people’s situation will improve.

All over the world, what is becoming exceedingly clear for a growing number of working people and their families – wage workers, salaried employees and the bourgeoning underclass of unemployed, under-employed and self-employed individuals trying to scrape together a living – is that they are being made to unfairly bear the burden of this crisis.

And they are fighting back. They are demanding changes that mean something to them and are not mere empty promises.

In this country, students, teachers and school officials are marching in the streets to decry budget cuts for state colleges and universities. Health care workers are up in arms over slashed budgets of public hospitals and public health programs.

They denounce the Aquino government’s budget priorities: debt servicing, conditional cash transfers aka dole-outs and military outlays that go down the drain of corruption and failed counter-insurgency programs.

They reject the privatization and commercialization of basic social services such as education, health care and housing and public utilities such as water, electricity and public transport.

Militant transport workers, in particular jeepney drivers and operators, along with the riding public have staged protests and strikes to dramatize their opposition to run away oil prices. They attribute this to the foreign and domestic oil cartel and speculators in the oil futures market manipulating the oil price and raking in super profits, together with the oil deregulation law and the national government’s “hands-off” policy even as it collects windfall value-added-tax on higher oil prices.

The protesters are demanding the scrapping of deregulation policies, centralized government procurement of crude oil to take advantage of the cheapest prices, the scrapping of VAT on oil and for the government to take the commanding heights of developing a sustainable and people-oriented energy policy that is free from foreign domination and control.

Workers are on a warpath against the policy of contractualization that is ravaging their jobs, security of tenure, wages and benefits leading to labor being at the complete mercy of capital. They are calling for the implementation of the twin policies of land reform and national industrialization to optimize the utilization of the country’s natural and human resources and to create jobs and livelihoods for the army of unemployed and underemployed, especially the youth.

Homeless people living in shanty colonies in urban centers are resisting spontaneously against violent demolitions of their make-do residences only to be literally thrown into the streets. They reject so-called government cum private development projects which exclude them but instead cater to commercial and financial big business interests.

In the US, there have been work stoppages and mass protests over lay-offs, budget cuts, withdrawal of entitlements and subsidies both in the public and private sectors. Migrant workers and other immigrants have denounced job discrimination, police racial profiling and severe restrictions as well as harassment from immigration authorities.

Fed-up ordinary Americans are staging an ongoing “Occupy Wall Street” campaign wherein hundreds if not thousands of people have been conducting a daily sit-in protest at the heart of the financial district in New York City, pointing their fingers at the behemoths of finance capital for their economic dislocation and immiseration.

Greece, Spain, France and Italy have witnessed hordes of their people pouring out into the streets to reject government austerity measures after the public coffers have been emptied in bail-outs for the banks and other financial institutions and other failed neo-liberal policies as well as profligacy of their ruling elites. They are also demanding jobs and social justice against the corporate elite and their political backers who continue to control the highest levers of power.

In North Africa and the Middle East, the political upheavals that have removed or are trying to depose entrenched authoritarian regimes continue. The workers and youth in Egypt, for example, will not settle for the mere removal of their previous ruler, Mubarak, but are calling for his trial and those of his cohorts to account for their crimes against the people.

They reject the military’s hold on power and demand greater political representation of ordinary people in decision-making. They call for an end to failed policies that have only managed to deepen their people’s impoverishment and misery and the backwardness and stagnation of their economy. They vigorously call the US to account for backing the Mubarak regime and its policy of rapprochement with the Zionists in Israel.

Sooner than expected, the real objectives of US-NATO in invading Libya are revealed. For one, Libya is being turned into their newest field of investment (read: dumping ground of surplus capital), with the IMF-World Bank "asked" to "rehabilitate" the Libyan economy using the billions of dollars the Libyan government has invested in foreign banks, and to repair its infrastructure damaged by the US-NATO bombings.

All these developments are rooted in the inability of the global capitalist system to fully recover from the global economic crisis triggered by the financial meltdown in 2007-08. The continuing and intensifying paroxysms in the very centers of capital belie all claims that the world economy has recovered or is on the way to recovery.

This is not at all surprising since none of the neoliberal policies that have brought about the crisis has been reversed. Measures have not been put in place for regulating transactions in financial derivative long identified as one of the major culprits that brought about the meltdown. Worse, the US and European governments, invariably beholden to and directed by finance capital, continue to conspire to this day in diverting public funds meant for housing, education and other basic social services to rescue the latter.

Corporate media and bourgeois propaganda may have succeeded for some time in conjuring the illusion of recovery and brighter times ahead, the reality of continuing joblessness, rising prices and loss of social security inevitably catches up and bursts whatever bubble of false hope remains.

Thus while it can be argued that the people’s protests are long overdue and still need to gain strength and momentum, these have so far been the only forces that have mitigated the greed and avarice of the big capitalists and their agents in the bureaucracies.

In the medium and long run, they are bound to grow and gain more strength as the crisis worsens and the hardships become more intolerable worldwide. #

Published in Business World
30 Sept - 1 October 2011

September 22, 2011

“Kano ang boss ko!”

It is supreme irony that while Filipinos were commemorating the declaration of martial law 39 years ago by the US backed-dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and calling for the release of hundreds of political prisoners, the son of the most prominent victim of martial law, Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy”Aquino, was being given a pat on the back by US President Barack Obama, the current chief representative of the imperialist superpower that benefitted the most from the fascist dictatorship.

Another irony, the presidential spokesperson had the effrontery to declare that there are no political prisoners under the Aquino regime, a grim reminder of how Marcos had denied the existence of tens of thousands of dissidents, opposition leaders and ordinary people who suffered unjust detention under his thirteen years of iron-fisted rule.

“Never again to martial law!” In order for this defiant pledge to be fully grasped and wielded as a battle cry by today’s younger generations the most important lessons of martial rule must be tirelessly recalled and taught over and over again.

One major aspect sorely lacking in write-ups on martial law, by even those who lived under its shadow or were directly victimized by it, are references to how foreign big business and big power interests, chiefly those of the US, colluded and collaborated with Marcos and his coterie of generals, cronies, technocrats and apologists, to impose martial rule and reap its benefits.

The billions of pesos Marcos and his ilk plundered by dipping into the public treasury as if it were his piggy bank; cornering overpriced development projects funded by foreign loans; grabbing lands from peasant and small land-owning communities and turning these into touted “development” projects; or by simply taking over the businesses of his political opponents have been amply written about.

What is sidelined is the fact that foreign multinational corporations which were business partners and financiers of the Marcos clique profited immensely from the behest loans, big-ticket government projects and other mind-boggling scams engineered by the dictatorship not to mention the economic policies favoring foreign monopoly capital that it implemented.

The over-the-top costs of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (including fat commissions to Marcos and Disini, super profits for Westinghouse, and juicy interest fees for the banks that syndicated the loan) easily comes to mind. The same goes true for billions worth of onerous foreign debts incurred by the dictatorship that generations of Filipinos have had to pay for.

Marcos curried favor with western, chiefly US, imperialist powers by protecting their economic and politico-military interests in the country.

For one, the Laurel-Langley and Parity Agreements granting parity rights to US citizens. (i.e. equal economic rights with Filipinos) were to expire in 1974. Two Supreme Court rulings, the Quasha and Lusteveco decisions that went sharply against US business interests were set aside by martial rule.

The treaty to normalize trade relations with Japan was stalled in the legislature by nationalists; an investigation into the operations of foreign oil companies was being spearheaded by the eminent nationalist Senator Jose Diokno; and the 1971 constitutional convention counted among its ranks outspoken nationalists as well. Martial law swept aside all these threats to foreign big business interests.

There was no word of caution much less criticism from the US or other so-called Western democracies when martial law was declared. Foreign chambers of commerce immediately lauded and gave their unqualified support for it accepting Marcos’ justifications, i.e. quelling security threats from the communists, Moro secessionists and “rightists” and “reforming society”.

US military bases in the country operated unhampered during martial rule. Philippine foreign policy hewed closely to that of the US such as support for the US wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and aggression in other countries such as in Chile with the US-engineered overthrow of the democratically-elected Allende government and its replacement with the Pinochet military dictatorship.

The US justified backing for Marcos authoritarian rule as a means to ensure stability in the face of a growing communist-led “insurgency” and heightened nationalism. Military bases and a US-friendly government were definitely more important than the preservation of “imperfect” democratic institutions such as a free press, Congress and a social order that upholds human rights and civil liberties.

It was only when the Marcos fascist dictatorship became extremely isolated after the assassination of Marcos’ arch-enemy Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino - to the point that a broad anti-dictatorship front that included people’s organizations, the bourgeois opposition, the Catholic hierarchy, the revolutionary forces under the umbrella of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and rebellious young officers and soldiers of the armed forces was ranged against it - did the US drop their long-nurtured puppet like a hot potato.

The US quickly repositioned itself to support the anti-Marcos, pro-US opposition rallying behind Ninoy’s widow Cory Aquino and began whitewashing its totally self-serving, unprincipled and bloodied backing for the fallen Marcos. Thus the US basked in the glow of the people power uprising of 1986 and was back in business supporting a new but no less subservient client regime.

All this is consistent with the US record of backing up dictators, tyrants, despots while they serve its geopolitical and economic interests, and deposing, overthrowing and even assassinating sovereign heads of state not to its liking.

More so now under the guise of the so-called war on terror, the US, mainly through the CIA and Special Operations Forces as spearhead of its mighty high-tech war machine, has been committing flagrant violations of international law and human rights all over the world with absolute impunity.

In this light, the Obama-Aquino meeting on the day of the anniversary of the imposition of a US-directed dictatorship in the Philippines is nothing more than a reaffirmation of the continuing collaboration of the local ruling classes and US imperialism in further exploiting and oppressing the Filipino people, disguised as a lasting partnership for peace, security and development in the country.

If anything, what has endured is the odious legacy of poverty and backwardness, oppression and state forces committing crimes and human rights violations with impunity. The incessant hikes in oil prices, deepening poverty and the continuing detention of hundreds of political prisoners are daily reminders of this enduring collaboration.

Whatever their differences, and there are quite a few, Macoy and Pnoy have one, and the most important thing, in common -- "Kano ang boss ko!” #

Published in Business World
23-24 September 2011

September 15, 2011

Lessons from September 16

When I am asked here or abroad what are the two outstanding achievements of the Philippine mass movement in the 20th century, without thinking twice I declare it is the ouster of the dictator Marcos through a people’s uprising in 1986 and the booting out of US military bases through the Philippine Senate rejection of a new treaty in 1991.

Today marks the 20th year of the RP-US Bases Treaty rejection and it is worthwhile to celebrate and be proud of this shining accomplishment.

We Filipinos did it through consistent struggle, through the mass movement that spanned more than half a century (counting the anti-colonial struggles of the 30’s) and the forging of the broadest anti-bases formations that delivered the coup de grace to this glaring vestige of US colonialism in Asia. Against the unrelenting efforts by the US and President Cory Aquino to simultaneously cajole and pressure the Senate, 12 senators stood up for national sovereignty and the larger national interest.

BAYAN convened a few days ago, September 14, a gathering of Filipino nationalists -- young and not-so-young, street parliamentarians and activist legislators as well as veteran and budding progressive artists -- for a forum to rededicate themselves to the cause of freedom from foreign, specifically, US military presence.

According to Prof. Roland Simbulan, “(T)he non-concurrence by the Philippine Senate of the proposed treaty that was to extend the U.S. bases for another 10 years after the expiration of the 1947 RP-U.S. Military Bases Agreement…was a historic feat because it marked the shutting down and dismantling of the largest U.S. overseas military naval and air force bases that were located on Philippine soil since 1901.”

Nathanael Santiago, BAYAN Deputy Secretary-General during this tumultuous period attributed the resounding victory to four major factors: 1) the persistent and painstaking efforts to awaken nationalist and anti-imperialist sentiments among the people; 2) the struggle to overthrow the US-backed Marcos dictatorship; 3) the unification and mobilization of the broadest array of anti-bases, anti-nukes and anti-treaty forces; and 4) the sustained political campaign that saw huge and militant demonstrations attesting to growing public opinion against the bases.

Senator Wigberto Tañada, staunchest of the 12 senators who voted down the bases treaty, recounted how they were derided by pro-bases quarters as the “Dirty Dozen”. After the vote, they were toasted by the media and the general public as the “Magnificent 12” who took that fateful stand and struck the chord for national independence and sovereignty.

Mr. Tañada told the gathering of his proudest moment when his then ailing father, the venerable nationalist, Senator Lorenzo Tañada, sat in a wheelchair in the Senate gallery during the suspenseful vote to witness and take part in the victory of the lofty cause he had fought so hard to attain since the 1950s.

But he categorically concluded that the fight did not end twenty years ago. The Cold War vintage Mutual Defense Treaty and The RP-US Military Assistance Pact together with the post-bases treaty Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Mutual Logistics and Support Arrangement (MLSA) remain and must be abrogated.

These provide the legal and political infrastructure to justify and pave the way for the permanent presence of hundreds of US troops; the prepositioning of US armaments, war vessels and aircraft and related equipment; year-round cooperation between US and Philippine Armed Forces ostensibly for training and joint exercises and civil military operations under the cover of humanitarian assistance and peace and development projects.

Current BAYAN Secretary General, Renato Reyes, titled his presentation “It’s like they never left”. He expounded on how the US and all the post-bases regimes – Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and now Benigno Aquino – conspired to ensure the virtual return of US military bases in a form more pernicious and more of an affront to Philippine sovereignty than ever before.

He cited the VFA and MLSA as legal instruments that allow the stationing of US troops and war materiel in Philippine territory with very little regulation and oversight. He decried the fact that the VFA has an unspecified duration; does not specify or limit the number of troops allowed entry into the Philippines; does not specify or limit the areas in the Philippines that the “visiting” troops can access; and does not specify or limit the activities of the “visiting” troops.

The MLSA on the other hand allows the US Armed Force to access and utilize a wide-array of services for its civil-military operations from the Philippines as host country without having to set up the requisite physical and personnel infrastructure.

In short, “US troops are back and are digging in.”

The US has in fact established the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) that is headquartered in the Western Mindanao Command’s Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City. The activities of the JSOTF-P are kept from the public eye and access to its headquarters is highly restricted even for Philippine military and civilian officials. Moreover, the JSOTF-P is a ubiquitous presence especially in Western Mindanao where it partners with the USAID to spearhead civil-military operations under the auspices of the so-called Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) programs.

Recently Wikileaks released a US embassy cable dated April 2007 explicitly describing the Philippines as "currently the focal point of our counterterrorism fight in the region". It proposes five projects in Southwestern Mindanao for "dual-use" facilities, i.e. useful both for military and civilian purposes. This revelation provides concrete examples and proof of continuing and permanent US military presence and activity in the Philippines twenty years after the Filipino people expelled the US bases from Philippine territory.

So far, the Aquino regime has not taken a single step, not even uttered a single word in the direction of reclaiming the victory marked by September 16, 1991. In this regard President Benigno Aquino is following closely his mother’s subservient example.

Clearly, while the September 16 Senate vote was historic because it capped the victory of the decades-long struggle for sovereignty and against US bases, it was by no means the end of the struggle.

For so long as the country is ruled by a political elite beholden to the US, who cannot shake off the US economic shackles and who can only find security under the protection of a foreign military power that it calls an "ally", the lessons of the anti-bases struggle retain their relevance and power to inspire a new generation of Filipino nationalists and anti-imperialists. #

Published in Business World
16-17 September 2011

September 01, 2011

Who's afraid of immediate peace?

In marked contrast to the positive and hopeful outcome of the GPH-NDFP peace talks that resumed in February of this year, an impasse has now indefinitely delayed the holding of the second round of formal talks originally scheduled for June.

What has led to this impasse and how can it be overcome?

The GPH fired the opening salvoes with its chief negotiator Atty. Alexander Padilla accusing the NDFP of setting “preconditions” for the second round of talks, specifically, the release of all or most of 17 NDFP consultants protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) before the formal talks resume. He and presidential spokesperson Lacierda claimed that the GPH was under no obligation to release said consultants since these constituted mere “confidence-building measures” that the GPH could unilaterally choose not to undertake.

The NDFP countered that these releases are part of what was agreed upon in the initial round of talks; it is clearly stated in the February 21, 2011 Joint Statement that the GPH would work for the expeditious release "before the second round of formal talks, subject to verification as provided in the JASIG Supplemental Agreement dated June 26, 1996, or on the basis of humanitarian and other practical reasons (underscoring ours)".

The NDFP underscored that it was only for the second time in the history of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations that it had asked for a postponement of the formal talks to allow the GPH time “to fulfill its obligations and comply with solemn agreements”.

More ominously, Mr. Padilla recently announced that the JASIG is “inoperative” and that “they (rebels) cannot cite it now.” The NDFP had allegedly violated JASIG by depositing encrypted electronic copies of the photographs of the NDFP consultants along with their assumed names instead of actual photographs in a designated bank safety deposit box in The Netherlands.

The NDFP, in the presence of GPH representatives and Norwegian Facilitator, had been unable to open the encrypted files. The NDFP attributed this to the likelihood that the decryption keys may have been corrupted since these were seized by the Dutch government when the NDFP office and residences of NDFP leaders and staffers were simultaneously raided on August 28, 2007. Furthermore, only 4 out 5 diskettes containing the keys were returned to the NDFP.

As a consequence, additional verification utilizing the said photos can not be resorted to at this time until the NDFP is able to reconstruct its list of holders of “documents of identification”.

The NDFP asserts that there is no provision in JASIG that absolutely requires the deposit of hard copies of the photos. As a security measure, the NDFP had to transport these highly sensitive and otherwise incriminating files as encrypted soft copies so as to avoid their being accessed by unauthorized persons and possibly used to cause the arrest or worse, the extra judicial killing, of said DI holders.

NDFP legal counsels further point to well established legal jurisprudence that electronic and encrypted documents are deemed identical to and of the same value as the documents themselves.

Thus the GPH accusation that the NDFP had violated JASIG has no leg to stand on.

The Philippine Peace Center recalls that “in practice, since 1995, the GRP (now GPH) and the NDFP have been able to determine or agree on the accreditation of persons arrested and detained by the GPH and effect their release without having to open the safety deposit box containing the photographs.” The five NDFP consultants released since January are the latest concrete examples of these. Ergo the resort to such verification is also not an absolute necessity and itself is subject to the mutual decision of both parties.

In truth it is the GPH that grossly violates JASIG by Mr. Padilla’s one-sided and arbitrary pronouncement that JASIG is “inoperative”. JASIG provides that only the principals of either side may terminate the agreement by issuing a notice 30 days in advance before such termination takes effect. This stands to reason to allow all those involved in the peace negotiations time to secure themselves before JASIG loses its effectiveness.

The picture that emerges is that the GPH is utilizing all sorts of excuses and ruses in order to renege on its obligation to release all or most of the previously identified NDFP consultants before talks resume. We can only surmise that the hardliners have gained the upper hand on the GPH side and wish to use these political prisoners as leverage for bargaining in the talks.

Since it is unimaginable that the GPH peace panel could be ignorant of JASIG provisions, it also appears now that the seemingly “foolish” statements of Mr. Padilla may actually be calculated to cause a collapse of the peace talks while sticking the blame on the NDFP.

From numerous public statements on both sides, we are aware that the NDFP has forwarded to President Benigno Aquino III a bold proposal that could cut short the time for arriving at a comprehensive political settlement with the NDFP.

In a nutshell, the NDFP is offering a “truce and alliance” with the GPH. The proposal was first issued in August 2005 in the form of a "Concise Agreement for an Immediate and Just Peace" as a counterproposal to persistent GPH demands for an indefinite ceasefire for the entire duration of the talks. While it sounds like a watered down version of the NDFP Programme, a close study shows it is at the same time basically consistent with and echoes principles enshrined in the Philippine Constitution.

In a statement issued in August 27, 2009, the NDFP describes the proposed agreement as "statements of principles and policies in the national and democratic interest of the Filipino people". The statement declared, "The civil war ends and a just peace begins as soon as the GRP co-signs this 10-point concise but comprehensive peace agreement with the NDFP. Alliance and truce become the modus vivendi of the GRP and the NDFP."

This offer was reiterated last January in a discreet letter to Mr. Aquino, with further elaboration on concrete immediately doable measures including new political instruments such as a Council of Peace and Development, cooperation in undertaking industrial projects, offering to buy big landholdings so that landlords may invest into these industrial projects, the New People’s Army being assigned to "guard the environment and industrial projects", etc.

Could it be that this out-of-the-box proposal from the NDFP is pulling the rug from under the GPH in the sense that it has the real potential to excite and draw support from a wide array of classes and sectors including sections of the ruling elite who are interested in putting an end to the armed conflict, the sooner the better?

Does the GPH find itself perplexed and unable to respond to this challenge from the NDFP knowing full well that not doing so could make it the spoiler or the villain in the peace process. This would be so both in the eyes of the Filipino people as well as the international community supporting the fruitful end result of the peace negotiations.

If such is the case, peace advocates need to intervene and help avert the collapse of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. They must demand and help see to it that the bilateral agreements are respected and complied with. They must work double time in exposing not only the hard-line yet untenable positions of the GPH in the peace negotiations but also its short-sighted, cowardly and doomed-to-fail approach amply demonstrated and ably executed by the GPH peace panel through its voluble chair, Mr. Padilla. #

Published in Business World
2-3 September 2011