November 24, 2011

Battle for justice

Forces in the Philippine political landscape are gearing up for a major legal and political battle. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband’s attempts to leave the country and escape the proverbial long arm of the law, ironically by utilizing a favorable Supreme Court order, were foiled by Justice Secretary de Lima and Comelec Commissioner Brilliantes by means of an arrest warrant for Mrs. Arroyo speedily issued by a Pasay court on the charge of election sabotage.

This has led to the current situation with Mrs. Arroyo under “hospital arrest” while a clutch of related legal issues are pending in the Supreme Court and more criminal and civil cases are being filed by various citizen’s groups against the Arroyos.

Indeed, a big battle is looming to bring the Arroyos to justice. Or, as many, including one of the Arroyos’ lawyers would put it, the battle has begun and Secretary De Lima has won the first round.

At first glance, the two major protagonists are the Arroyos on one hand and Malacañang on the other. In truth, the real protagonists are the people wanting to bring the Arroyos to justice for their crimes, and the Arroyos who wish to escape prosecution and punishment.

Thus, the arena of contention is not just the courts of justice, but more so the bar of public opinion.

Public opinion is vehemently and overwhelmingly against the attempted flight of the Arroyos by virtue of the Supreme Court TRO, while strongly in favor of Secretary De Lima’s thwarting such attempt by firmly and courageously refusing to implement the TRO outright at the risk of being charged and cited for contempt.

Nobody is buying the Arroyos’ storyline: that the former president only intends to get special medical treatment abroad, since they claim this is locally unavailable, and will return to face the charges against her and her husband.

Various groups and personages who have filed cases against the Arroyos with the Justice Department and Ombudsman are pushing for prompt action on these. Malacañang has announced additional charges will be filed against the Arroyos and others involved in anomalies in the Arroyo administration.

It must be pointed out that the Aquino administration’s credibility and following rests to a large extent on its repeated pledges to hold the Arroyos accountable and eradicate corruption in government. Thus it is compelled to show concrete results beyond promises and rhetoric.

In terms of mandate, power and resources, it is in the best position to bring the Arroyos to justice. But its performance thus far has been found wanting and reveals an inability to act effectively on its own.

The people need to be vigilant and push the Executive to promptly take the proper and necessary measures to ensure that the Arroyos are prosecuted and eventually convicted of their high crimes against the people.

They must be vigilant against all sorts of mutual accommodations or compromises that may take place between Malacañang and the Arroyos.

As had happened too often in the past ruling regimes have done little to investigate and prosecute the alleged anomalies of their predecessors in accordance with the unwritten rule among the ruling classes that these may used for purposes of election mudslinging or even to oust a sitting government but not for serious criminal prosecution.

The Supreme Court has once again put its integrity and independence under a cloud of doubt with majority of the magistrates voting in favor of the Arroyos on the TRO last Nov 15.

While many still blindly accept the Supreme Court’s impartiality and hold its mandate and decisions unassailable, the vote is reminiscent of previous highly questionable decisions, such as when it flip-flops on its issuances or goes against its own jurisprudence.

The Court’s 2010 decision upholding the constitutionality of the midnight appointment of the current Chief Justice is one of the most notorious and glaring examples.

In his searing critique of this decision, Fr. Joaquin Bernas wrote, “It will not take much imagination to guess whom the President will not appoint…(and) whom she will appoint…What the fallout will be from all this remains to be seen. One thing is sure today: popular confidence in the integrity and independence of the Court has been severely sapped.”

The way the SC voted last Nov 15, the majority of the honorable magistrates seemed totally mindless of how the credibility of the Supreme Court would be affected or how the people would regard the institution’s independence and integrity. Perhaps they had thought the people too naive or ignorant or both to see through their highly controversial if not dubious decisions and actuations.

On the other hand, the subsequent SC vote not to issue a TRO on the question of the legality of the Joint DOJ-COMELEC Committee that recommended charges of electoral sabotage was cause for a collective sigh of relief. A contrary vote would have again given the Arroyos the freedom to fly away from prosecution.

If anything, it was a sign that the people have made their voices heard and that it would have been foolhardy, even for the Supreme Court, to blatantly disregard them.

The Arroyos will certainly take full advantage of the numerical superiority of Mrs. Arroyo’s Supreme Court appointees to sabotage and defeat efforts to prosecute them in any court of justice.

But this advantage has its own limits. The people’s vigilance and active intervention on issues within and outside the courts can counter the Arroyos’ maneuvers and counter-maneuvers.

Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether justice will prevail. The odds are clearly stacked against it, with Malacañang having still to prove its mettle and its resolve to prosecute the Arroyos fully.

Indeed, the people's fight for justice rests on their shoulders more than anything. They must continue to be vigilant, unshakeable and make their voices heard unequivocally and strong so that in the end, their will would be undeniable and in fact become truly sovereign. #

Published in Business World
25-26 Novemeber 2011

November 18, 2011

Flight from justice

The overriding and unstated premise in the controversy over the “constitutional crisis” provoked by the Supreme Court order allowing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former First Gentleman Miguel Arroyo to travel abroad and the Justice Secretary’s insistence on barring them from leaving on the basis of a departmental “watch list order” (WLO) is that the issue being decided on is the ordinary citizen's constitutional right to travel.

However the events that led up to the highly dramatic attempt of the Arroyos to leave the country some hours after the SC decision came down indicate that the issue was more than that. Or even that it was not that at all.

In the first place, GMA and FG are not your ordinary citizens. If they were, it is unthinkable that the SC would have given the petition the same priority they accorded the Arroyos. But lady justice being blind, we can grant that our highest magistrates would treat everyone equally, and also not give consideration to the fact that the Arroyos have hundreds of millions if not billions of reasons to leave the country and contemplate not returning, since these have nothing to do with the issue of constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court voted along clearly partisan lines: eight justices, all GMA appointees, voted to allow the Arroyos to travel; five who contravened are either Aquino appointees or have had a political falling out with GMA.

The speed with which the decision was made (oral arguments were still to be heard the following week) was highly unusual. It seemed the better part of prudence for the High Court to have exercised greater care and circumspection in this highly controversial and politically-charged case but evidently this was set aside.

The circumstances under which the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was issued and received were, to say the least, suspect. The GMA camp appeared to know in advance what the SC decision would be, when it would be issued, and what the prerequisites for the order to become immediately executory were.

Thus the lawyers were able to comply with amazing dispatch. The tickets to Singapore for the GMA travel party were already booked on all possible flights and carriers for the same day of the SC decision. Before the day was over the Arroyos were attempting to fly out.

Most important of all, the “temporary relief” granted to the Arroyos citing their constitutional right to travel and even the right to life (accepting uncritically the Arroyos’ claim that GMA needed life-saving medical treatment abroad) would render the main case (whether the WLO that kept them from traveling is valid or not) moot and academic. The SC had practically given the Arroyos judicial “license to flee” as pointed out by the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

The real issue confronting us is not about an individual’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to travel. GMA’s lawyers cleverly couched the issue for the SC in such a manner to provide the majority pro-Arroyo justices the legal ground to issue a TRO and likely declare the Justice Department’s WLO unconstitutional. But take note that the current champions of this right never questioned it during GMA’s incumbency when it was issued by her Justice Secretary. Is it because they were never on the receiving end of the curtailment of such a fundamental right?

This is also not about seeking urgent and unavailable medical treatment abroad although the invocation of such grounds provides the pro-GMA SC justices the opening to cite the basic right to life and humanitarian grounds for deciding that GMA be allowed to travel.

The top-notch doctors and facilities that the Arroyos relied on to save FG when his life was threatened and to which GMA initially availed of to address her neck problems are all available still. The Philippine Medical Association and individual orthopedic surgeons as well as the Health Secretary have all attested to the fact that while Mrs. Arroyo is recuperating from her previous operations any other procedures such as a bone biopsy and work-up on possible metabolic deficiencies may all be done inside the country with no question as to accuracy and reliability.

Contrary to the vociferous claims of the GMA camp, this is also not about political persecution by the Arroyos’ political enemies. Apart from President Benigno Aquino III’s propensity for attributing everything that is wrong or problematic in his administration to the sins, foibles and follies of his predecessor, his administration has yet to file a single legal case against GMA whether for corruption or electoral fraud much less for gross violations of human rights. All the cases filed against GMA and her cohorts have been by progressive party list congress persons and social activists, human rights victims and various good government advocates.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s frantic attempts to forestall the execution of the TRO are last-ditch attempts to delay the inevitable in the hope that the people will blame the SC and not the Executive for government’s abject inability to exact justice for the Arroyos’ high crimes against the people.

The Aquino administration’s failure to investigate, do assiduous case build-up, file proper charges in court and competently prosecute these cases have all paved the way for what is being touted by the media as “De Lima’s dilemma” but which boils down to Mr. Aquino’s glaring lack of political will.

The apparent "constitutional crisis" that is manifesting itself in a showdown between the executive and judiciary has little to do with upholding constitutional rights although it has taken that issue as its arena of contention. The crisis stems from the Philippine state having to maintain a facade of being democratic and operating under the rule of law, purportedly to preserve peace and order, under conditions of worsening economic difficulties, increasing public restiveness and the festering contradictions among the factions of the ruling elite, in this case between the ruling Aquino regime and the out-of-power Arroyo clique.
Long before this, and especially under the Marcos dictatorship, the entire Philippine state has been in disarray, with the executive and legislative branches caught in all kinds of scandals, anomalies, fraudulent and criminal activities including gross human rights violations.

The GMA regime's contribution was to brazenly get away with all these with impunity through a masterful contravention and even use of laws and legal processes. Its misuse and abuse of the courts to harass the opposition and progressive leaders and cover up extrajudicial killings and other grave human rights violations severely undermined the integrity of the judicial system including the Supreme Court hitherto regarded by many as the last remaining credible institution in government.
The Puno and Corona Supreme Courts put their own credibility under question with decisions that could only kindly be described as questionable or controversial. The SC has reversed and even flip-flopped on its own issuances apparently due to powerful intervening interests.

This being the case, this current "crisis" will not find its resolution even with the Arroyos' constitutional right ostensibly upheld by their imminent flight from justice. #

Published in Business World
18-19 November 2011

November 11, 2011

Looming confrontations

There is a world of difference between the “occupation” of Wall Street and many other cities not only in the US but all over the world by unarmed protestors, and the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya by the US and NATO armed forces. But there is also a definite and clear, though not obvious connection between them.

Occupy movements and people’s protests the world over spring from deep resentment and despair over the state of their economies, the dire effects on the people’s lives and livelihood, the grim future ahead, and how governments and the economic, especially the financial elite, are passing on the crisis to the 99% while bailing out the 1% who caused the unprecedented crisis in the first place.

More significant and ominous, the Occupy movements are a clear signal that ordinary people who mostly prefer to stay away from protest actions have decided that enough is enough, they will not stand idly by while the 1% steal from them their lives and the future of their children. They will add their voice and their warm bodies to the burgeoning protest against The System.

Adding fuel to the fire, governments in the advanced capitalist countries are attacking working people’s fundamental rights to collective bargaining, unions and strikes as well as gutting established entitlements in social welfare achieved through decades of struggle for socio-economic reform. And now, police are brutally attacking and dispersing Occupy demonstrations in many parts of the US, the way they earlier did in the most troubled EU country, Greece.

It is becoming exceedingly clear for many of the world’s peoples that what is in crisis today is the system of global capitalism. With workers' wages being pressed down while hi-tech production grows by leaps and bounds, capital finds less and less profitable productive ventures. Neoliberal policies designed to remove "fetters" to profit making paved the way to the abuse by big banks of unregulated financial derivatives such as the credit default swap scheme, inflating bubbles that burst one after the other in the past decade and peaking in the financial meltdown of 2008.

This crisis of capitalism, in its mature stage of monopoly capitalism or imperialism, has impelled US and NATO to launch wars of aggression and occupation against sovereign countries in resource-rich and geopolitically strategic regions of the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa. Lenin’s oft-quoted statement, “Imperialism means war” acquires heightened relevance.

The US and the biggest NATO countries have resorted to military Keynesianism or the pouring of billions of dollars into the yawning jaws of their military-industrial complexes in order to stimulate their depressed economies. Revving up their respective war machines, they have infused jingoism and paranoia into their foreign policy frames and called it a “war against terror”.

All sorts of false accusations and fabricated charges -- the possession of “weapons of mass destruction”, the harboring of Osama bin Laden and the “massacre” of civilians and unarmed protesters -- were used by US and NATO to bomb the daylights out of the Iraqi, Afghan and Libyan peoples.

After “victory” they sent in occupation forces and installed puppet regimes to replace what had hitherto been sovereign governments and thus sparked fierce armed resistance from the aggressed peoples. Thus came to pass the recolonization of these benighted countries, the take-over of their oil and other natural resources as well as the installation of pseudo-democratic regimes ever ready to do the bidding of their imperialist masters.

A key imposition is the permanent stationing of US-NATO military bases and troops on their soil as staging ground for armed intervention in neighboring “hot spots” such as Syria, Iran and Pakistan.

Finally, after four years of shopping around in vain for a strategic base for its Africa Command (even its closest allies in the region had refused to be so demeaned in the eyes of fellow Africans), the US finally seized the most strategic and lucrative site -- Libya.

Doubtless, the US and NATO have sent out the clear and unmistakable message that no sovereign country anywhere can challenge their military might and it is best that every one does their bidding.

The US can rally its allies to gang up on any leader who dare think otherwise, with a United Nations mandate to boot. It can invoke humanitarian objectives such as protecting civilians even as it indiscriminately bombards cities, kills and maims tens of thousands of civilians, destroys infrastructure and properties, and assassinates perceived enemies with absolute impunity.

The US and fellow imperialists Britain, France and Italy condemn attacks on protestors by sovereign leaders they have branded and stigmatized as despots, even as they send their own police and national guards to attack and arrest Occupy protestors and disperse peaceful demonstrations.

The initiators of the “Occupy Wall Street” battle cry had looked to the so-called Arab Spring for inspiration, believing that the time had come for the American people to occupy their own Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests by the anti-Mubarak, pro-reform movement.

The parallels between the poor, backward and miserable conditions of the Egyptian people weighed by the yolk of US-backed authoritarianism and that of the American people -- suddenly dispossessed of the security and comforts of middle class existence and the promise of the “American dream” while living under the oppressive rule of the US ruling elite -- are all too real.

The peoples in North America and the European Union are waking up from the cultivated illusion that they are living in a “democracy” and have control over their lives; that their political leaders are answerable to them; and that the fruits of their labor are theirs to enjoy into their retirement years.

They are now taking to the streets, occupying the plazas, blockading banks, marching on parliaments and other symbols of ruling class power and leading hugely successful general strikes. They are having teach-ins and general assemblies where political activists, trade unionists, progressive intellectuals and artists and ordinary folk especially young people are discussing and learning the truth about their situation, what are the real causes of their misery, and who are the 1% against the 99%.

As the world watches both the Occupy movements and the occupation of invaded and vanquished countries, seemingly disparate happenings in a troubled world, the bigger picture emerges each time the smoke from the teargas and bombs momentarily clear.

The expanding arenas move inexorably closer to each other. The specter of bigger and wider confrontations looms in the future. #

Published in Business World
11-12 November 2011

November 03, 2011

No truth, no justice

President Benigno Aquino’s “all-out justice” slogan, coined by his tourism secretary (an advertising man before joining government), seems to be catching on. As a tagline, it aims to capture the administration’s purported commitment to peaceful means, i.e. peace negotiations, to resolve the armed conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), without sacrificing its mandate to “maintain law and order” anywhere in Mindanao, regardless of or unrestrained by any ceasefire agreement with the latter.

It has elicited the approbation of foreign governments, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, an assortment of peace advocates among “civil society organizations” and more so, the MILF leadership.

The “all-out justice” call appears to be in stark contrast to the “all-out war” approach espoused by the rabidly anti-Moro warmongers like former President Joseph Estrada, former Marcos martial law henchman and now Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, military officers like the dismissed AFP spokesperson and a slew of mindless, revenge- seeking and/or military ass-licking and profit-seeking bandwagon commentators in mainstream mass media.

In the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of supposed MILF-cum-bandit lairs in Zamboanga Sibugay, what has the Aquino government to show for its “All-out Justice” campaign against those who overpowered and killed at least 19 members of the AFP’s special forces in Basilan?

One doesn't have to be a soldier or policeman to understand that if the mission is to serve a warrant or apprehend a criminal that mission cannot be said to have been accomplished until the target or object has indeed been captured.

In this case, several bombs were rained upon a cluster of houses, supposedly the camp of the band of "lawless elements" that was the object of the military-police operation. This is standard tactic for softening up a target preparatory to a ground assault, never mind that from the air, it is impossible to distinguish between civilian abodes and huts occupied by “lawless elements”.

In practice, aircraft could always be heard before they reach the target so that anyone who has experienced such bombings can easily escape and hide in the adjoining forested area. It is the elderly, feeble and sick, the women and children who cannot run away fast enough, who end up being “collateral damage”. The livestock, immovable houses, and crops left behind are invariably destroyed by the bombings.

In terms of the government's vaunted and enlightened new policy, how was justice served in dropping bombs on a hapless community -- even assuming without granting that there were "lawless elements" in that community?

All-out justice should first of all ferret out the truth. The MILF leadership's call for an impartial investigation by the International Monitoring Team (IMT) on what really happened is the logical and only sane first step in this direction.

To more critical observers, a grand cover-up appears to be taking place. Mr. Aquino is allowing the AFP to save face with its farcical, open-ended military campaign in Moro areas. Meanwhile tens of thousands of civilians are continuously being displaced in the ensuing military operations. Where is the justice there?

With grave implications to the quest for peace, the cover-up serves to obscure one of the major obstacles to the peace negotiations between the GPH and MILF as well as that between the GPH and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

On the one hand, the GPH has been trying, through peace negotiations, to entice if not coerce the MILF and NDFP to accept a political settlement of the armed conflict. Thus there is the presumption that the MILF and NDFP are political organizations, not criminal syndicates, and that they (MILF and NDFP) exercise leadership and control over their respective armed forces.

On the other hand, the GPH has long been carrying out a policy and practice of criminalizing the political offenses allegedly committed by suspected MILF-BIAF and CPP-NPA-NDFP leaders, members and sympathizers, justifying these as legal actions in accordance with GPH law.

This is supposedly the basis for sending out two special forces platoons to "arrest" an MILF commander allegedly for multiple murders, even if the killings were committed in an earlier battle with government troops. It is also invoked as the basis for sending warplanes to bomb a touted lair of MILF forces that the government has arbitrarily called "lawless elements" and for more ground assaults in Sulu and Basilan.

All these actions are in wanton disregard of the ceasefire mechanisms and processes mutually agreed upon and set up by the GPH and MILF with the participation of international and NGO monitors to deal with such situations.

It is exactly the same case with the GPH-NDFP talks that are now stalled due to the GPH refusal to release at least five NDFP consultants, arguing that it is not obligated to do so.

What the GPH is concealing is that while these detainees were clearly arrested for their alleged links with the CPP-NPA-NDFP, they are all being kept behind bars on the basis of non-bailable charges of common crimes (murder, homicide, illegal possession of firearms, arson, robbery) and rarely for the political crime of rebellion contrary to the Hernandez Doctrine which is part of GPH jurisprudence.

Looking back, it is clear that the GPH deliberately suspended the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees in August 2005 and set up the Inter Agency Legal Action Group to pave the way for filing trumped-up charges, arresting, detaining, and even torturing and killing, suspected CPP-NPA-NDFP elements and sympathizers including those unarmed and openly involved in the peace negotiations.

The current GPH regime of Mr. Aquino acknowledges this as a mistake of the previous administration, yet refuses to rectify or remedy the situation by releasing the political prisoners it keeps in its jails.

The GPH for too long has been using "sole sovereignty" and its obligation to uphold the Philippine Constitution and legal processes as excuses to circumvent if not undermine its own agreements with the MILF and NDFP.

It has never given up on its basic US-inspired counterinsurgency frame where peace negotiations are merely tools for psychological warfare, together with dole-out social welfare programs and civic action by the AFP, alongside continuing or intermittent military-police offensives against so-called insurgents.

The GPH pays lip service to attaining a just and lasting peace but lives are being needlessly lost and innocents are languishing in jail, all because the Aquino government would rather use "justice" as a catchy slogan rather than uphold it as a noble goal to pave the way for genuine peace, social equity and economic progress. #

Published in Business World
4-5 November 2011