Streetwise: Progressive views on Philippine and international issues published in BusinessWorld, the Philippines' leading business newspaper, and more.
The past year seemed to usher marked change with the ending of one of the most despised presidencies since the Marcos dictatorship and the inauguration of one steeped in the rhetoric of reform and aglow with the mystique of the new president’s larger-than-life parents, both of whom had figured prominently in the struggle to topple the dictator.
The people heaved a sigh of relief that time, options and machinations had run out for the former Malacañang occupant: the pre-set national elections finally pried Mrs. Arroyo loose from her hold on the presidency whilst repeated attempts to oust her via a people’s uprising cum military withdrawal of support had unfortunately failed.
The populist campaign taglines and slogans, repeated and magnified by billions worth of paid advertisements as well as sympathetic mass media coverage helped generate a gigantic cloud of illusions about forthcoming change in politics and society once a new leadership was elected.
The illusions have persisted, fostered by the people’s unquenchable thirst for a genuine overhauling of the rotten system and great expectations stoked by the new regime’s patrons, pillars and drumbeaters.
But the changes so far exhibited by the Aquino regime have been superficial, insubstantial and tend to cover up the real causes of the chronic crisis besetting Philippine society.
After the elections, extra-judicial killings continued. No corruption, electoral fraud nor human rights violations cases were filed against Mrs. Arroyo and her subalterns.
The call for genuine land reform does not merit presidential attention; Hacienda Luisita continues to be mired in the muck of social injustice and political noblesse oblige.
The anti-national and anti-people economic policies of deregulation, privatization and liberalization have been recycled as pro-development and anti-poverty. The World Bank-peddled Conditional Cash Transfer program implemented by the Arroyo regime with no significant impact has been ambitiously expanded and given a reformist spin.
The Hong Kong hostage crisis and the jueteng exposes revealed both the fractiousness of the new regime and who are the new untouchables.
President Aquino’s US trip highlighted the same dependence on foreign investments, loans and aid to prop up the ailing economy at the expense of upholding and protecting national sovereignty and patrimony.
With the continuing global depression, the World Bank itself had advised so-called developing countries such as the Philippines to focus on their internal markets and productive sectors and reduce reliance on the vagaries of foreign markets. It would seem that the Aquino administration is oblivious to these adverse global conditions.
As to foreign policy, the Aquino government appears content to follow the baton of the US. Mr. Aquino has reiterated the need for continuing US-Philippine “special relations” and acknowledged the preeminence of the US as lone Superpower whose geopolitical interests dwarf and subsume those of its former colony.
To illustrate, in the midst of the armed provocations and counter-reactions in the Korean peninsula between the two still warring parties and the interventionism exhibited by the US, the government has been content to echo the US line regarding North Korea’s “belligerence”. It acquiesces and justifies the mounting of US-South Korea joint war exercises involving tens of thousands of troops, a score of warships, hundreds of aircraft and live-fire exercises.
Recently the Aquino government unveiled its new counter-insurgency plan dubbed Oplan Bayanihan replacing the notoriously murderous Oplan Bantay Laya of the previous regime.
It purports to shift the emphasis from offensive military operations and campaigns to operations that support development and uphold human rights in order to "win the hearts and minds" of the populace in rebel-influenced if not controlled areas. But there is neither novelty nor originality in this, having been evidently lifted from the 2009 US State Department's Counter-insurgency Guide.
The upcoming talks between the GRP and NDFP peace negotiating panels on January 14 to 19 preparatory to the resumption of formal peace talks in February is an opening that could lead to what now appears to be the most likely, if not the only remaining avenue, short of revolutionary armed struggle, for the introduction of reforms that strike at the roots of the social crisis.
If the preliminary talks go well, the formal talks are expected to immediately tackle the operationalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) and the resumption of negotiations on Social and Economic Reforms (SER).
Operationalizing the JMC means acting on or addressing the numerous complaints of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law which have been collected and semi-processed by the Joint Secretariat of the JMC since 2004.
It thus provides an unusual opportunity for the Aquino government and the AFP to show they are serious about Oplan Bayanihan giving primacy to the observance of human rights. They should see the JMC as a fitting mechanism to cleanse the ranks of the AFP of human rights violators and scalawags.
While negotiations on SER still need to break out from the inertia of the past and are understandably more complicated, progress on the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the first substantive agreement, can provide the confidence and much needed conducive atmosphere for the talks to gain momentum.
The negotiations on the SER have an even greater significance and potential impact on the people’s movement for genuine change. While the existing proposed drafts from both Parties are more than a decade old, they nevertheless identify, albeit to different degrees, the basic social problems that in truth are the main roots of the social crisis and armed conflict.
The SER negotiations thus provide a golden opportunity to open up and generate a broad and comprehensive discourse on the roots of poverty, inequity and social injustice beyond corruption or malgovernance, and perhaps the brightest if not the only prospect for achieving a national consensus on how to solve these festering problems. #
Published in Business World
7-8 January 2011