August 26, 2011

Not yet over

One thing stands out in the six-month military campaign of the US and NATO to overthrow the Libyan government, assassinate or capture Strongman Moammar Kadhafi, install a puppet regime, take control of substantial oil and gas deposits, and carve out a strategic sphere of influence directly under imperialist control in Africa. It is how three global institutions - the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and the international media - have been transformed into instruments and willing accomplices to justify war crimes against a sovereign state and people.

Soon after the outbreak of armed clashes between government and anti-government forces, UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011) imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Kadhafi, his family members and high government officials; this included the freezing of the assets of the Libyan state itself and an arms embargo on Libya. This was followed by Resolution 1973 (2011, authorizing all UN member states to undertake "all necessary measures" for the protection of civilians and for the enforcement of a "no fly zone" in Libya’s airspace.

What we are seeing is how the US and NATO have cynically used and even blatantly violated these same resolutions to justify the bombardment of non-military targets like television stations and communications towers, highly populated residential areas, even schools and hospitals, causing untold civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure.

NATO’s arming and training of anti-government groups, its use of drones, helicopter gunfire and special commando forces on the ground in the final assault on Tripoli, together with continuous bombings in order to batter and eventual overwhelm the defenses of the Kadhafi bastion can by no stretch of the imagination be called “protecting civilians”.

In fact, the hospitals in Tripoli are bursting at the seams with maimed and dying civilians and the damage to water and electricity systems have further compromised the capacity of these medical facilities to cope with the humanitarian crisis.

The National Transition Council - a hodge-podge of monarchists, defectors from the Kadhafi regime (who should be held responsible as much as Kadhafi for the sins of the past dispensation), Islamist groups with proven links to Al Qaeda, ex-Libyan soldiers caught in Kadhafi’s war against Chad and organized by the CIA and MI-6 to undertake assassination missions against Kadhafi, and Libyan exiles in Britain and elsewhere - was held up by Britain, France, the US and other NATO countries as the legitimate opposition in Libya not long after the bombardments began.

The NTC provided the thin façade of a politically valid and viable Libyan opposition to which the US and NATO could relate to and shortly recognize officially as the successor government to the Kadhafi regime even when the anti-government forces had yet to succeed in toppling it.

The International Criminal Court’s issuance of warrants of arrest for Kadhafi, his sons and other government officials who had not broken with Kadhafi for alleged “crimes against humanity” despite meager basis helped give a legal patina to the incessant campaign by Britain, France, the US and eventually other NATO countries to demonize Kadhafi and delegitimize the Libyan government. At the same time, it merely added Gadhafi to its growing list of alleged "rogues" charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide and ordered arrested - the common denominator being persons whom the US and its allies dislike.

The ICC in no small way contributed to politically and diplomatically isolating the Kadhafi regime. At the height of the NATO assault on Tripoli, the ICC even allowed itself to be utilized in spreading anti-government disinformation calculated to break the morale of pro-government forces and Tripoli residents. It announced that Seif al-Islam, Kadhafi’s son, had already been arrested by the insurgent groups and would be turned over to the ICC but this was later proven to be false. A rebel leader had admitted that this false report had contributed considerably to the collapse of government defenses.

The US ruling elites have learned valuable lessons from the Vietnam War about how to keep the painful truth about war from the American people. US public opinion turned against the war after the Tet offensive, which the US won militarily, but proved to be a propaganda debacle with countless body bags containing dead US servicemen being shown on US television.

Mass media coverage of the My Lai massacre and other gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the US military also fueled anti-war sentiment, protests and the “conscientious objectors” movement of Americans who evaded having to serve in Vietnam.

Thus international media coverage of the Iraq War in 2003 was strictly confined to “embedded journalists” who reported on the war from the vantage point and under the supervision of the invading US army.

In the case of the foreign-backed insurgency in Libya and the US-NATO war of aggression, international media were allowed by the Libyan government to cover what was happening. The reporters were free to cover both sides of the conflict and the so-called US-NATO “humanitarian intervention”.

Instead, those from the big media outlets such as CNN, BBC, Reuters and even the Qatari-based Al Jazeera chose, as one analyst put it, “to obfuscate the casualties and human suffering of the Libyan people and uphold the humanitarian fiction of NATO’s R2P (responsibility to protect) mandate.”

According to an eyewitness form the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), after a particularly devastating bombing that killed many people and leveled houses, the only members of the international press that reported the damage of the bombings in detail were Russia Today (RT), TeleSUR, Chinese Central Television (CCTV), and independent journalists.

When the mainstream press reported on NATO’s military operations in Libya as well as mounting casualties there is scant mention about who are to blame for the civilians killed. NATO claims that their military strikes are pinpoint and their targets highly select are accepted with hardly any question despite evidence to the contrary.

There is wide coverage of so-called rebel forces who are positively described as “freedom fighters” (the way the US government used to call the counter-revolutionary forces in Nicaragua that they had set up to fight the Sandinista government that had toppled the dictator Somoza) obscuring the fact that many of them were organized, funded, armed, trained and even commanded in the field by NATO.

Pro-government forces and ordinary Libyans supportive of Kadhafi and opposed to the NATO invasion are depicted as few and dwindling, paid mercenaries, or simply brainwashed by government propaganda.

This kind of selective, biased and even in some cases, outright fabrication of news, that the mainstream media has dished out on the Libyan situation is no doubt largely responsible for the relatively weak anti-invasion protest movement in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

In due time it will be shown that Kadhafi, just as Saddam and the Taliban, was not the evil tyrant ripe for “regime change” that the US and its fellow imperialist powers in Europe together with the international media painted him to be.

The US-NATO invasion and likely occupation of Libya (to be justified as a means to stabilize the post-Kadhafi situation and allow the oil rigs to start pumping again) will invariably be met by prolonged armed opposition as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another quagmire for the aggressors.

With institutions like the UN, ICC and media losing their credibility and ability to serve as deterrents to foreign aggression and the wanton commission of war crimes, it appears armed resistance emerges as the only weapon and defense for the victims of imperialist aggression and armed intervention. #

Published in Business World
26-27 2011

August 18, 2011

Poisoning the air

Of late the Aquino government’s peace panel negotiating with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has aggressively stepped up its propaganda offensive against the NDFP and the latter’s main component organizations, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP/NPA).

This is a departure from the enlightened practice of previous panels (both GPH and NDFP) to refrain from acerbic or heated public exchanges, especially in the mass media, at crucial junctures such as before and after formal talks. It also stands in contrast to the conduct of the GPH panel negotiating with the MILF, which has prudently refrained from ventilating in public whatever problems it may have with the MILF and its armed groups.

The GPH has been shrill in demanding that the NDFP prove its “sincerity” and “seriousness” in the peace negotiations. No less than President Benigno Aquino and GPH Panel Chair Atty. Alex Padilla have echoed what only the AFP-PNP spokespersons and other hawks in government have been wont to raise ad nauseam whenever prospects for formal talks improve.

The current word war between the GPH and the NDFP stems from the former’s lack of compliance with the agreement to release the remaining NDFP consultants and personnel involved in the peace negotiations from detention. This has in fact resulted in the postponement of the second round of formal talks which were originally scheduled for June 2011.

The heated exchange has spilled over to the New People’s Army’s detention of four BJMP guards captured in what the NDFP considers a legitimate military operation and a mayor and his two bodyguards arrested by the NPA to face charges in a People's Court. The former have been granted the status of “prisoners-of-war” in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, to which the NDFP has declared its adherence, while the latter are reportedly undergoing investigation by a People’s Court for their “culpability with respect to charges of involvement in armed operations of the AFP, PNP and other armed units of the GPH against the NPA and the local population".

In attempting to draw attention away from its obligation to release most if not all JASIG-protected persons before the next round of formal talks and instead put the NDFP in a bad light, the GPH muddles the issues, poisons the air and in effect hampers the process of getting the negotiations back on track.

Mr. Padilla asserts, “The government is under no obligation to release all detainees as requested by NDF. What was stated in the Oslo Joint Statement is that the government will work for their release, meaning, subject to verification and after undergoing due process.”

According to the 18 January 2011 Joint Communiqué signed by the Parties in Oslo: “The GPH Panel agreed to work for the expeditious release (underscoring ours) of detained NDFP consultants and other JASIG protected persons in compliance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and in the spirit of goodwill.”

Mr. Padilla's statement obscures the fact that (1) at least eight of these detainees have been acknowledged by the previous GPH panel as JASIG-protected persons, (2) many of the consultants were arrested after the Arroyo regime had unilaterally suspended the JASIG in violation of the provisions of JASIG. (3) these consultants, like most political prisoners, are falsely charged with criminal offenses based on fabricated evidences, and (3) at least one, Tirso Alcantara, is publicly known to be involved in the peace negotiations and was arrested and detained after the GPH had declared its restoration of JASIG.

Now Mr. Padilla has the effrontery to question the NDFP’s “sincerity” when the latter seeks postponement of talks in order to give the GPH time to act in accordance with its word.

The GPH Panel goes on to declare that the NDFP cannot act like a state or a belligerent force because no one has accorded it that status. But no amount of declaration or denial by the GPH can reverse the fact that the NDFP wields political authority over a sizable territory with a significant population and responsibly commands an armed force that adheres to international law.

The CPP-NPA has, in the course of its armed revolutionary struggle against the GPH, gained sufficient political and military strength and popular mass support in order to seize captives in battle, be they military, paramilitary or police personnel, who are eventually accorded by the CPP-NPA-NDFP the status of prisoners of war.

They also undertake peacekeeping operations in areas that they have under their control to the extent that they can put under detention government officials who are alleged to have committed crimes against the people and try them in their revolutionary courts.

This is something the GPH can neither deny, discount nor denounce away. It is par for the course in a situation of unabated armed conflict where the revolutionary forces under the umbrella of the NDFP are able to operate to a significant extent as a “shadow government”.

And this is precisely part of the reason why the GPH is impelled to enter into peace negotiations with the NDFP in the first place: their forces and the constituency they represent are sizeable, irrepressible and, most importantly, are fighting for a rationale and viable political program that is a serious challenge to the existing order that the GPH upholds and protects.

The NDFP has assured the GPH that the NPA has a proven track record of treating its POWs “in accordance with the 1969 Basic Rules of the New People's Army, international humanitarian law, the CARHRIHL and within its capabilities and circumstances” and cites former POWs themselves and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as witness to this.

The CPP explains: “By according POW status to the four (BJMP) personnel, the NPA custodial unit is required by international protocols to ensure their health and welfare, respect their democratic rights, ensure communication with their families and work for their eventual release with the help of third party interceders.”

It would seem that the release of the four is only a matter of time and ensuring proper security arrangements. To this end, the facilitating role of the ICRC, trustworthy personages from the churches, national and local government and peace advocacy groups must be encouraged.

As to Lingig town Mayor Henry Dano and his two bodyguards, the CPP said that they are “presumed innocent until proven guilty…have the right to counsel and enjoy other basic legal rights as provided for in the Rules on Establishing the People’s Democratic Government.” The NDFP and NPA's declarations could be taken as an assurance that they will keep to their word or risk public censure.

Mr. Padilla may appear to be a skillful and effective propagandist for the GPH but his repeatedly calling to question the “sincerity” of the NDFP and ventilating in public issues that are properly addressed across the negotiating table only serves to obstruct, rather than pave the way, towards the presumed mutual objective of advancing the peace negotiations.

Each party must be held to its own word, either by its public pronouncements or its signature on bilateral agreements, about wanting to negotiate, implement agreements, and push the negotiations forward to as far as it can go.

In the current snag in the GPH-NDFP peace talks, the GPH by its puerile double talk is clearly the party responsible for holding up if not threatening the scuttling of the peace talks. #

Published in Business World
19-20 August 2011

August 12, 2011

Clearing the air

Anyone who has been into peace negotiations, or has at least been earnestly following developments in the GPH-MILF and GPH-NDFP peace talks, would know that conventional thinking is not the best way to solve impasses, achieve breakthroughs and open new paths in the quest for genuine peace.

Peace advocates striving to nurture positive, forward-looking steps in these peace negotiations should welcome the recent protocol-breaking meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and the MILF’s Chairman Murad Ebrahim in Japan.

As late as July, the MILF and its supporters had harsh words for the Aquino government for failing to come up with the GPH counterproposal to the MILF proposed Comprehensive Compact Agreement submitted in February 2011. The MILF also criticized the absolute lack of mention of the peace negotiations in Mr. Aquino’s SONA. They lamented that one year had elapsed since Mr. Aquino’s first SONA with no significant progress to speak of.

The Aquino-Murad one-on-one meeting was held at the instance of the GPH and agreed to by the MILF so long as it is held in another country that is part of the International Contact Group (a grouping of countries helping to facilitate the peace negotiations in varying capacities). It has served as a confidence-booster to the peace talks in light of government delays in responding to the revolutionary group’s proposal for a negotiated settlement.

It purports to send the message that both sides are in earnest in so far as trying to “fast-track” an agreement that would end the armed conflict between them.

For the GPH, Mr. Aquino’s gambit has apparently earned himself almost general approbation even from former and sitting local government officials who had vehemently opposed the MOA-AD and certainly has enhanced his posture as peace-maker.

The only discordant voices within government came from an unnamed DFA official who said that the meeting was an “act of treason”; Cong. Edcel Lagman from the opposition who complained that there was a lack of transparency; and Aquino ally Senator Chiz Escudero who opined that Mr. Aquino was “ill-advised” to meet someone who is “not even his counterpart” and may have opened Mr. Aquino to unspecified vulnerabilities in “this early (sic) stage of negotiations”.

For the MILF, “this historic and unprecedented meeting between the two leaders in a third-party country host is a significant political milestone in the MILF’s quest for Bangsamoro right to self-determination”. We take this to mean that the meeting gives a gigantic push to the MILF’s bid to project the legitimacy and strength of the Bangsamoro struggle both domestically and internationally.

To reassure its forces and supporters, the MILF declared that Chairman Murad reciprocated Mr. Aquino’s “grand gesture” without compromising fundamental principles in its pursuit of the Bangsamoro right to self-determination.

Chairman Murad’s stock within the MILF and among Moro people has definitely been boosted in the wake of the high-profile meeting. This is significant especially in the wake of the split of a sizeable part of the MILF’s armed forces under Commander Umbra Kato and armed hostilities already breaking out between the two.

The outcome of the next round of negotiations set on August 22, especially the content of the GPH counterproposal to the revised Compact Agreement submitted by the MILF will provide the proof of the pudding, so to speak, whether the GPH will accept a modified Memorandum of Agreement-Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) as the key to unlock the impasse in the 14-year-old talks.

So far the MILF has given up its call for independence or secession and has pushed instead for a “substate” within the existing unitary Philippine state, seeing this as a more acceptable and viable political arrangement than insisting on a federal system that could accommodate the “Bangsamoro juridical entity” or BJE.

The MILF appears to be doing its homework and have studied and are ready with proposals on how GPH can hurdle legal and even constitutional obstacles to the recognition of such a substate. We recall that the MILF conducted these studies and consultations with its various constituents with the help of the US Institute of Peace, with the results incorporated or referred to in the controversial MoA-AD.

Those who think that the MILF's proposal for a substate within the GPH's unitary state amounts to capitulation should recall that in the MoA-AD, the BJE or the substate that it could lead to would eventually be subject to review and possible change after a fixed period of time, including the scope of its territory and its degee of autonomy.

It would also be useful to recall further that the MILF had broken away from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the late 70s after Hashim Salamat, who was then MNLF Vice-Chairman and its chief negotiator with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), rejected the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. Salamat had objected to a last-minute addition by the GRP that the Agreement shall be interpreted and implemented in accordance with the GRP Constitution and legal processes. The Tripoli Agreement, Salamat observed, would solve the problems of the Manila government but not of the Bangsa Moro people.

So far there is nothing in the declarations of the MILF after the Aquino-Murad meetings that would indicate that the MILF is reneging on its demand for the right to self-determination. For the MILF this means the right to a separate national identity as Bangsamoro; to a “national homeland”, which is their ancestral domain; to ownership over all the natural resources and wealth found in their ancestral domain; to govern and rule their national homeland; and finally, the right to determine their future political status (vis a vis the Philippine state).

Clearly, both sides have gained valuable points from their own respective points of view, and certainly from the perception of the general public, both local and international, while not conceding anything new nor substantial if one is to judge from official public statements from the GPH and MILF.

To a large and significant extent, then, the air appears to be somewhat cleared for further no-nonsense negotiations. All the difficult issues remain to be grappled with and fashioned into something that would be mutually beneficial and acceptable and hopefully lead to a just and lasting peace. #

Published in Business World

12- 13 August 2011

August 05, 2011

Lack of conviction

In conventional Philippine politics, grave accusations about graft and corruption, electoral fraud and other anomalies, including heinous crimes like extrajudicial killings, massacres and other atrocities, are abundant and even common knowledge. These are the stuff of the opposition’s tirades against those in power, rising in crescendo and reaching fever pitch as election time nears, or the potential for an extra-constitutional ouster of the incumbent gains credence.

One would expect that the moment the opposition ascends to power, riding on the crest of popular demand for rectitude, good governance and justice, it would have all the motivation and the means, most especially the people’s mandate and backing, to go after the offenders and throw the guilty behind bars.

But not so, going by well-established tradition since post independence. Even the most scandalous of scams and disgusting of depravities are eventually swept under the rug; shelved and archived until forgotten by all except the most zealous of chroniclers; or even pardoned and whitewashed.

The argument has always been that all such accusations are just part of the unfortunate but necessary mudslinging of electoral or ouster campaigns. Once in power, the new political leadership is supposed to “move on” and go about the more important business of governing (and, of course, taking their turn at the till), magnanimously calling for unity and conciliation rather than division and strife.

Perhaps it can be taken as a measure of the extent and severity of the crisis of Philippine society and politics that business cannot go on as usual.

For one, the crimes that former government officials must answer for have quantitatively jumped to the plunder of hundreds of millions if not billions of the people’s money. These have also qualitatively mutated to include systematic, wholesale and complex schemes to defraud the electorate to gain power and similarly well-planned, convoluted and brazenly executed maneuvers to cling to power by both government-orchestrated deception, high bribery and state-sponsored violence and coercion.

For another, in the aftermath of two people’s uprisings that toppled the hated dictator Marcos and the erstwhile popular but venal “Erap”, as well as an “almost” uprising that was itching to oust the much-despised usurper Gloria Arroyo, the people’s demand for a day of reckoning can not so easily be appeased or brushed aside.

Much more so from President “Noynoy” Aquino who campaigned and continues to work the crowd on an anti-corruption cum good governance platform while invoking the hallowed names of his departed parents.

Recently, human rights victims have taken the decisive step of filing criminal and civil cases against military officials up to and including Mrs. Arroyo as commander-in-chief. New whistleblowers have come forward regarding fraud during the 2004 and 2007 elections. New revelations have surfaced regarding graft and corruption -- nay outright plunder --perpetrated under the Arroyo regime not just by subordinates but by Mrs. Arroyo and the “First Gentleman” (“FG”) themselves.

These more than validate what critics, opponents and victims of the Arroyo regime have been saying all along about its crimes against the people. It also goes to show that with the Arroyos out of Malacanang, the cover-up of their culpability cannot be sustained and honest-to-goodness investigation can and must proceed.

Mr. Aquino does not need a so-called Truth Commission to do what was needed to run after Mrs. Arroyo and her ilk. He just needs political will including rolling up his sleeves to make sure that the serious, hard work of coming up with the evidence and successfully prosecuting cases will take place.

What we have seen so far leaves much to be desired, and raises doubts on what the regime's real intentions on the exposes are.

It must be pointed out that the Aquino administration has not filed a single case against Mrs. Arroyo, “FG” or any of her most notorious cohorts. Efforts in this direction have either failed (e.g. Truth Commission) or are characterized by press releases and innuendoes rather than hard-nosed investigation and case build-up.

Admittedly, Mr. Aquino is able to sustain public perception that he is serious about going after corruption by dint of Malacanang’s media campaign and the exposés in several government agencies like the PCSO and Pagcor and some government-owned-and-controlled corporations.

Thus there is serious if not cynical questioning whether some or most of these revelations are being orchestrated for Malacanang’s benefit, i.e. to remove attention and onus from Mr. Aquino himself for not having much to show for all his speechifying, for tolerating the questionable or outright wrongdoing by his favored government officials; for missteps or lack of rectitude in his own decisions (e.g. buying a luxury car albeit second-hand while poverty is widespread and entrenched).

More importantly, many of the economic and political interests/personalities lined up behind the Aquino administration today were originally with Mrs. Arroyo; switched sides during the campaign and elections; or flipped sides when Mr. Aquino took over. This eloquently signifies that their conflicts are not about fundamental differences in political platform but a question of shifting alignments based on factional interests.

It stands to reason that ordinary people, most especially those who were in the forefront of the fight against the Arroyo regime but who have not joined government, must continue to act as a generic Citizens’ Watchdog on the Aquino administration.

They can take advantage of the abovementioned favorable developments to push harder for the prosecution and punishment of GMA and her cohorts including jail time, removal of all powers and perks as former president and now legislator, recovery of ill-gotten wealth in favor of the people and the regime’s victims.

They must ensure their independence and initiative from the Aquino administration’s maneuvers and machinations by developing a broad flank for pursuing the campaign for justice versus the Arroyos et al.

They must maintain a critical stance vis a vis the Aquino administration on the issues of good governance, graft and corruption and even fraud (in anticipation of mid-term elections in 2013).

Most important, the gains from the campaign for justice versus the Arroyos et al are valuable in raising the people’s awareness of the roots of the problems of electoral fraud, corruption and bad governance in the bureaucrat capitalist system of governance and politics. #

Published in Business World
5-6 August 2011