June 14, 2014

June 12: What’s there to celebrate?

Independence Day has never been more of a sham and a shame than it is today, 116 years since the Declaration of Independence against Spanish colonization “under the protection of the Mighty and Humane North American Nation” and 68 years since the so-called “grant” of Philippine Independence from US colonization.

Today the ruling regime of President BS Aquino has proven to be one of the most servile to US dictates.  This can be seen in the grossly lopsided, treasonous, unconstitutional and dangerous Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), part and parcel of an abjectly dependent foreign policy tailored to US geopolitical interests.  It is also displayed in the perpetuation of US-imposed neoliberal economic policies  - liberalization, deregulation,  privatization and denationalization - that continue to wreak havoc on our people's lives and livelihood.

In turn, the regime is certified by the US as “democratic”, “reforming” and a model of “good governance”.  Such seal of good housekeeping translates to sizeable US economic and military aid, close cooperation in counter-insurgency aka counter-terrorist operations, and a state visit by no less than US President Barack Obama to cement the two countries’ “special”, if dysfunctional, historical relations.

After all, Mr. Aquino has all the necessary elite credentials being scion to one of the biggest landed clans as well as heir to the Cojuangco-Aquino political dynasty.  He is not simply the unprepossessing son of a martyred opposition leader and a democracy icon who, despite a lackluster track record in Congress, was thrust into the presidency by historical fluke.  He is in fact a dyed-in-the-wool member of the ruling classes of big landlords, big comprador business interests and traditional politicians that the US has nurtured from colonial times to the present neocolonial set-up.

These miniscule but entrenched ruling classes remain the US’ main source of future pliant leaders of the country. It is understood that the vast powers they wield as high government officials must be used primarily to preserve the reactionary ruling system but that they can use these as well to promote and enhance their own economic and political fortunes so long as they do not undermine the status quo.

Bureaucrat capitalism is a proven lucrative business venture in the Philippines.  There are just so many ways one can make money using one’s power to approve government contracts, to regulate or deregulate the business environment in favor of certain vested interests, and to make a profit out of corrupt dealings through ghost projects, substandard infrastructure or overpriced supplies and services.

The pork barrel system is currently the most conspicuous and notorious of the ways by which corrupt politicians make their pile.  It has its roots in the American colonial period, when it was introduced through the 1922 Public Works Act and grew over the years until perfected as a milking cow for corruption and patronage politics through all the supposedly democratic post-Marcos regimes. 

The BS Aquino regime is no exception.  In fact the Aquino presidency holds the record for the largest presidential pork and has even enlarged the available pork allocations of congressmen and senators several times over.  It cynically and astutely utilized the more than a trillion pesos in presidential pork to buy canine loyalty from national and local politicians as well as military and police officials; to ensure the passage of pet bills; to engineer the fraudulent victory of political allies; to leverage favorable judicial decisions; and to occasionally impeach the favored whipping boy or girl identified with the former, unlamented Arroyo regime such as SC Chief Justice Renato Corona and Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

All these should be enough to indict Aquino for unmitigated graft and corruption.  But he even exacerbates things by defending the pork barrel system, justifying its use for patronage politics; and refusing to do anything about the system until public outrage over the Napoles pork barrel scam threatened to explode in his face.  Aquino persists in accusing, investigating and filing criminal cases against only his political enemies while shielding and defending his cronies, his political inner circle, and above all, himself.  Then he denies doing so by shamelessly invoking his martyred father's noble words.

Filipinos riled by the continuing lack of accountability for the multibillion-peso Napoles pork barrel scam despite the dramatic, even comedic , twists and turns of the latest political corruption tale have held protest demonstration on Independence Day.  Their call: “Lahat ng sangkot, dapat managot! (All involved should be accountable!) No to Aquino cover-up!”

Other protest rallies were held to decry not only the continuing US economic, political and cultural stranglehold on its former colony, but to denounce the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as a “throwback to US colonial occupation”.  The nationalist alliance BAYAN, anti-bases legislators and other patriots have taken Aquino administration officials to the Supreme Court assailing the constitutionality of the EDCA.

Indeed, genuine love of country must translate to opposition to EDCA because it derogates national sovereignty, territorial integrity and even national dignity in an unprecedented manner.  The terms of EDCA mean an unlimited and unspecified number of “agreed locations” where an unlimited number of US forces, military and civilian, as well as private defense contractors, may come and go; where an unspecified and uncontrolled number of war equipment including nuclear and other weapons systems may be stockpiled, prepositioned and launched; where the US forces ”exercise all rights and authorities” to ensure operational control and defense while Philippine authorities are given access “consistent with operational safety and security requirements in accordance with agreed procedures”; and where the Philippine judicial system does not have jurisdiction in cases of crimes committed against Filipinos, on Philippine soil, since EDCA states that the resolution of “disputes arising under the Agreement (will be) exclusively through consultation between the Parties”. 

To top it all, the EDCA has an unlimited duration - “an initial term of ten years, and therefore, it shall continue in be in force automatically unless terminated by either Party” - unlike the junked Military Bases Agreement that expired in 1991 and was not renewed by the Philippine Senate.

What does the Philippines get in return?  Not compensation for the use of our national territory: the “agreed locations” are free of charge.  Not an upgrade in the Philippine military’s defense capabilities: all the war materiel, especially the high-tech gadgetry, are for the exclusive use of US forces and may be brought in and taken out at any time.  Not even a promise of US military preemptive or retaliatory actions in the wake of China’s encroachment on the Philippine’s maritime rights and territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea: the Mutual Defense Treaty on which EDCA is claimed to be based does not cover such disputes and the US has repeatedly stated it will not take sides in such conflicts. 

What we get is the real danger of such “agreed locations” being magnets of attack for the US’ numerous actual and potential enemies.  And something else: that EDCA provides the legal and political cover for increasing direct US military intervention in Philippine affairs.  The prospect of a Vietnam War scenario with all its destructiveness, inhumanity, loss of lives and further setback in economic development looms in the horizon.

All in all, it means that under the BS Aquino regime and contrary to national interest, the US is being gifted on a silver platter with all the economic and military privileges. At least the previous administrations had asserted some semblance of sovereignty. This is more than enough reason to rage and march in protest, rather than engage in a shallow and meaningless celebration of Independence Day. #

Published in Business World
13 June 2014