November 30, 2014

Learning history's lessons

On the 151st birth anniversary of The Great Plebeian, Gat Andres Bonifacio, nationwide protest actions calling for government accountability and genuine societal change were launched, inspired by the revolutionary vision and example of the Supremo of the Katipunan.  

More than historic symbolism and patriotic fervor were on display as the people who marched and demonstrated were spurred by burning issues that have plagued this country since flag independence and despite the trappings of a modern democracy -- institutionalized corruption and plunder of public funds; policies that entrench poverty, backwardness and inequality; injustice that breeds armed conflicts and social unrest; violations of human rights with impunity; and continuing affronts to national dignity, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

They consciously partook of the revolutionary spirit embodied by Bonifacio with the tagline “Diwa ni Bonifacio, Tunay na Pagbabago” but capped this with the provocative call “Panagutin si Aquino!”  For indeed, theirs was a call meant to finally unmask the pretentions of a reactionary regime that had decked itself out as the harbinger of change (in a copycat take on US presidential candidate Obama’s campaign slogans revolving around “change we can believe in”).

Hot-button issues that rang out in the protesters’ slogans and speeches included the following:  President Benigno Aquino as pork barrel king and chief purveyor of patronage politics;  “daang matuwid” as empty rhetoric when applied to KKK (kaklase/kamag-anak/kabarilan);  caciqueism epitomized by Hacienda Luisita; high growth rates where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer;  Yolanda and Pablo typhoon victims abandoned and treated with bureaucratic contempt; public infrastructure, utilities and services handed over for private profit-making through so-called public-private partnerships (PPPs); devastating militarization campaigns disguised as “bayanihan” and pursuit of peace;  foreign policy defined as “Kano ang boss ko!” ergo give the US what it wants and more.

There was heightened vexation over Mr. Aquino’s leadership style characterized by a disdain for the masses who he thinks he is able to hoodwink with his populist speechifyng; intolerance for any kind of criticism or opposition and a tendency to retaliate; a laid back manner bordering on incompetence and laziness;  a propensity for credit grabbing and believing in his own propaganda; coddling of the crooked in his inner circles; unabashed pro-Americanism and whose idea of patriotism is belligerent bluster against a resurgent China, admittedly the US’ biggest creditor and trading partner.

Such grievances, exasperation and indignation were enough to bring these protesters to the point of saying “Enough of Aquino!”  But do they mean “We want Binay?”  We can safely hazard their reply, “Of course not.”  Because these politically conscious, new breed of Filipinos have learned their lessons about cosmetic changes that merely bring about a changing of the guards, a mere rigodon of factions of the same exploitative and oppressive ruling elite.  Think EDSA I and II.

They look to bringing about a kind of change that will usher in a real break from the past in terms of a political platform of governance that is truly pro-people and pro-Filipino; of political leaders from the ranks of the masses and the middle class and not the old dynasties of the elite; of true transparency, responsibility and accountability to the people.

The 11-point program of the Pagbabago (People’s Movement for Change), one of the groups at the forefront of Bonifacio Day demonstrations gives us the gist of such a program.

•    Honest leaders chosen in fair and free elections.
•    Good governance:  prioritizing the country’s interests; addressing poverty, providing accessible and      affordable basic services; resolving the problem of onerous public debt and high debt service; responsible utilization of public funds; fearless against organized crime without resort to violations of rights.
•    Land for the peasantry; food self-sufficiency; modern agriculture and rural development;.
•    National industrialization and development of the domestic economy; decent jobs and sources of livelihood.
•    Uphold the people’s democratic rights; end abuse of authority and punish the abusers.
•    Peace based on addressing roots of armed conflicts.
•    Respect the rights and advance the status of women.
•    Culture that serves the interests of the many and teaches the value of service to the people.
•    Protection of the environment and wise utilization of natural resources.
•    Uphold national dignity, territorial integrity and sovereignty; cooperate and seek mutually beneficial relations with all countries.
•    Recognition and respect for the rights of the Moro people and other national minorities.

Because constitutional succession means more of the same, they are open to transitional arrangements where leadership does not fall on the vice president but to a transition council of the most actively involved in booting out the old and bringing in the new.  A collective kind of leadership which is not to be sneezed at since our experience with the current presidential system is absurdly unsatisfactory while parliamentary systems that represent organizations of the people at different levels democratically making and executing decisions are worth a try.

This is until truly democratic elections can take place where lack of resources, political pedigree and clout is not a bar to competent, upright and hardworking citizens running for public office made synonymous to real service to the people.

Now what’s the point of calling for Aquino’s accountability and for him to step down, be impeached or  ousted when time is said to be running out. The 2016 electoral derby is closing in with elite politicians already briskly engaged in the standard mudslinging and obligatory horse trading.  Why not just wait for the end of Aquino’s term and the start of a new regime?

Let us assume that we are facing another national, electoral exercise that will not be a big departure from before; that is, elections still dominated by the reactionary political class and their foreign-backed, moneyed sponsors.  The push for strengthening the national consciousness and the people’s movement that banner these issues, calls and aspirations before the 2016 elections can mean altering the national agenda and terms of reference, boosting the chances of viable, alternative candidates with progressive politics and breaching the erstwhile monopoly of power by the elite.

And yet the people’s movement for change is in for the long haul.  It will take much more awareness building, organizing strong and autonomous people’s organizations and cause-oriented groups and engaging the powers-that-be in myriad arenas of struggle for fundamental changes to take place.

But the writing is on the wall: the old elite social system and the old elite politics are rotten to the core and moribund.  Our visionary forebears led by Gat Andres Bonifacio have shown us the way of revolutionary struggle for revolutionary change.  #

Published in Business World
1 December 2014

November 16, 2014

The festering Hacienda Luisita problem

Ten years is a long time to await justice for the massacre of striking farm and sugar mill workers at the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI), the sprawling 6,435-hectare sugar plantation owned by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan, by a combined force of military, police and private security guards. 

Peasant families who have lived and worked for generations at the hacienda and militant peasant organizations and land reform advocates providing unwavering support, marked the tenth year of the brutal, premeditated killings with protest actions in front of Malacanang Palace and at the massacre site itself inside HLI.  Their pained yet defiant cries for “Justice!” and “Land to the tillers!” reverberate together with demands for the ouster of President Benigno S. Aquino III, scion of the powerful and entrenched landlords of Hacienda Luisita.

The search for justice has reached a dead end with the Ombudsman earlier on having thrown out the criminal complaints filed by the victims’ families. Seven strikers and their supporters lie dead and the official line then and now is that the victims attacked the phalanx of well-armed security forces, soldiers and police provoking a defensive reaction on the part of the latter.  How it is that the dead and wounded only came from the ranks of the protesters strains credulity but apparently this fact is immaterial to the state’s spineless investigators.

The land problem in Hacienda Luisita remains unresolved to this day despite the widely decried massacre and scores of related extrajudicial killings of supporters of the farm and mill workers including Iglesia Filipina Independiente Obispo Maximo Alberto Ramento and Tarlac Councilor Abel Ladera.  The  Supreme Court final ruling for the HLI land be distributed to its farmer-beneficiaries has yet to be implemented properly and fairly.

This can only be because President BS Aquino has been able to move Congress to impeach and convict a sitting SC Chief Justice who, while being a Gloria Arroyo hold-over and point man in the SC, also had the temerity to lead the High Court in making decisions favorable to the peasants of HLI versus the Cojuangco-Aquino hacienderos. 

This same president holds sway over the Department of Agrarian Reform that has embarked on means most foul to further dispossess the farmer-beneficiaries, break their unity and weaken their organizations in thinly-veiled collusion with the HLI management. What comes to mind in the light of this brazen display of abuse of one’s position is the famous one- liner by Senate President Jose Avelino, a Liberal Party stalwart of old: “What are we in power for?”

To those who say that agrarian reform has been achieved by the series of land reform programs pre- and post-independence  -- think HLI.  To those who say that the Philippine economy has progressed from the backward agricultural, in fact feudal, mode to that of a modern, manufacture-based one – again, think HLI. 

To those who decry the deep, widespread and multi-generational poverty of our people and all the socio-economic evils that go with it – open your eyes to the abject plight of the HLI peasants and their families. 

To those who sing paeans to democracy in the Philippines – can this mean anything so long as landlordism is alive and well, upheld by the law and protected by the state apparatus of coercion as well as airbrushed as part of the heritage of the “old rich” and therefore not susceptible to charges of graft and corruption unlike the ill-gotten wealth of the “new rich”?

To those who believe the yarn that the New People’s Army (NPA) is the cause of the agrarian and labor unrest and that before the NPA and union organizers became active in HLI there was peace – think the peace of the graveyard and the peace of coopted yellow labor union leaders.

Isn’t is hypocritical that the pro-Aquino/Liberal Party camp and the yellow media make much ado about the alleged 150-hectare Binay hacienda and the Binay dynastic hold on Makati City that paved the way for the institutionalized plunder of Makati coffers while turning a blind eye to the decades-old land problem in the Cojuangco-Aquino hacienda that Cory Aquino’s fake land reform program and its extension up till the administration of her son, BS Aquino, has perpetuated? 

Is it coincidental that only when the ruling regime is not held by the Cojuangco-Aquinos but by their actual or eventual political rivals and with the intensification of the rivalry between them, that there are some legal victories in the farmers’ struggles to retake the land that is historically, morally and legally theirs to begin with?

Hacienda Luisita, with its vast land area equivalent to Makati City and its adjoining two cities, stands out as a national symbol and well as actual stronghold of feudal exploitation and oppression in the 21st century. 

It also showcases the abuse of the highest political office, the Presidency, to circumvent land reform, displace dirt-poor peasant families from their tenuous hold on the land, convert wide swathes of the hacienda for more profitable non-agricultural purposes and quash any and all efforts and struggles of the peasantry to liberate themselves from their shackles.  A president who is of cacique origin and continues to derive substantial wealth and privilege from being heir to his clan’s landholdings can never sympathize with much less uphold the rights and aspirations of the landless peasantry. 

Hacienda Luisita is a microcosm of what ails Philippine society today.  The social, including armed, conflicts that have been spawned by the rank social injustice in Hacienda Luisita is repeated many times over in the rest of the country.  Which is why a radical overhaul of society brought about by the autonomous mass movement of the impoverished, immiserated and disempowered provides the only remaining hope for true social emancipation. #

Published in Business World
17 November 2014

November 06, 2014

Our country’s mercenary armed forces

The Aquino government, most especially the Philippine military, has displayed nothing but disdain and absolute lack of sympathy for the kin of murdered transgender woman Jennifer Laude as well as her German fiancé, Marc Susselbeck, who have simply asked that the suspect US serviceman Pemberton, be placed under Philippine custody so that the wheels of justice may turn in accord with Philippine law.

From the beginning, President Benigno S. Aquino III and AFP Chief Pio Catapang have been more concerned with upholding and defending the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) by saying that the Laude murder is an “isolated case” and has nothing to do with the purported validity and correctness of the VFA nor the claimed mutually beneficial relations between the Philippines and the US.  Philippine authorities immediately stated, even ahead of the US ambassador, that the VFA granted custody over suspect Pemberton to the US despite the fact that the crime clearly had nothing to do with the US soldier’s “official duty” and was committed against a Filipino national. 

Pemberton was brought by US authorities to the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) facility at Camp Aguinaldo, to ward off suspicion that he was already out of the country.  This time around -- unlike US soldier Lance Corporal Smith who was convicted of raping a Filipino woman but was whisked away from the Makati City jail and detained instead at the US embassy with the connivance of high-level US and Philippine officials – Pemberton has been brought to what is made to appear as a Philippine facility, but is in fact a US one, within a Philippine military camp.

Philippine military authorities are indignant at how Susselbeck managed to join Jennifer’s sister in climbing over the fence surrounding the JUSMAG facility and in approaching the container van supposedly holding Pemberton to try to see for themselves how the suspect looks and whether he is indeed detained inside as claimed by authorities.  Immigration authorities had prevented Susselbeck from leaving the country and had charged him with being an undesirable alien subject to deportation proceedings.  They gloated at having upheld the country’s “dignity” and “sovereignty” over a foreigner guilty, if at all, only of trespassing.

Apart from appeasing the loss of face by the Philippine military, the abovementioned moves are calculated to shift the onus of blame to the relatives and boyfriend of the murder victim and away from the government.  The US-backed Aquino regime has failed to immediately undertake basic police and prosecutorial proceedings against suspect Pemberton because of its subservient attitude towards the US and the lop-sided provisions on criminal jurisdiction contained in the VFA. In the process it may very well have irreparably compromised if not undermined the Laude case.

The Laude family must realize by now that they are up against not just an individual American soldier who is suspected of having mercilessly murdered their kin.  They are actually facing the might of the imperial US government bent on protecting its questionable prerogatives on Philippine soil, granted under unequal agreements, and with the full backing of the Philippine vassal state.

It is imperative to review Philippine history to begin to understand the sorry plight of the Laude family and how this scenario of injustice will play itself out again and again so long as an indeterminate number of US troops are free to roam our territory for an unlimited time; engage in various overt and covert activities; bring in and stockpile their war materiel unimpeded; and wantonly abuse our women, children and the environment with impunity.

In exchange for reparations after World War II and as a condition for the grant of independence, the Philippine legislature was forced to ratify the Bell Trade Act of 1946 that granted among other onerous conditions, parity rights to US citizens and corporations in the exploitation of Philippine minerals, forests and other natural resources, despite provisions in the Philippine constitution (1935) to the contrary.  Then President Sergio Osmeña, an unabashedly pro-American president, called it a "curtailment of Philippine sovereignty, a virtual nullification of Philippine independence."

In the sphere of the economy, so also in security affairs.  The Philippines was forced shortly after to agree to several unequal military agreements with its former colonizer, most prominent of which were the RP-US Military Bases (MBA) and Military Assistance Agreements (MAA) of 1947 and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951.  These agreements turned effective control of the Philippine armed forces over to the US: the latter retained immense influence if not decisive say over the AFP’s strategic planning, logistics, training, indoctrination as well as orientation.

The US bases covered 135,000 hectares of prime agricultural land including pristine forests and were US enclaves wherein the US exercised extra-territorial rights and Filipinos would have no control whatsoever. These bases became important staging areas for US wars of aggression and intervention worldwide such as the Vietnam War.  Civilian communities surrounding the bases bore the brunt of the bases’ disastrous effects: scavengers were shot dead by US soldiers who claimed they mistook them for wild pigs; women and children became victims of sexual assaults by soldiers and never got justice; the drug and sex industry proliferated. Moreover, toxic contamination of the soil and water covered by the bases accumulated over the years and were never corrected nor were affected areas rehabilitated.

In 1991, the MBA was terminated and a new agreement was rejected by the Philippine Senate after a sustained anti-bases campaign by nationalist and anti-imperialist forces.  It didn’t take long for the Philippine government under Fidel Ramos to negotiate the VFA that was signed and ratified under the Joseph Estrada presidency.  In the absence of a basing agreement, the VFA provided for the legal status of US servicemen who are engaged in so-called military training exercises in the Philippines.  It essentially grants extraterritorial rights to US forces in any part of the country without any limitations on their number or duration of stay.

The lesser known MAA has shackled the AFP to the USAF in terms of equipment and weaponry.  The Philippines cannot buy weapons from a third party, i.e. another country, without the permission or “mutual agreement”, with the US government.   The Philippines is dependent for almost all of its armaments and logistics on what is sold to it by the USAF and US defense companies.  Because training is usually tied in with arms purchase, and alongside the AFP availment of various US training programs, the US exerts a strong and pervading influence with regards to the orientation and training of the AFP officer corps. 

Furthermore, the MAA created the JUSMAG.  The term “joint” refers to US military personnel from the different branches of the USAF: army, air force and navy and not to joint US and Philippine forces.  It is a composite force permanently stationed in the country whose work is focused on facilitating the logistical & training requirements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for counter-insurgency/internal warfare.  While supposedly serving to upgrade and modernize the AFP, more than six decades have passed and the Philippines remains one of the most backward armed forces of the ASEAN region.  The AFP’s backwardness continues to be the excuse for maintaining the one-sided military agreements and overall lopsided relations between the Philippine and the US rather than taken as a wake-up call for genuine independence, self-reliance and a nationalist, pro-people orientation.

Is it any wonder then that the Philippine military has not transcended its colonial tradition – from the Macabebes during the Philippine-American War and the Philippine Scouts in the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) -- of being a mercenary and puppet armed forces under the effective command of the US Pacific Command? 

The RP-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) effectively seals that tradition and seals the doom of many more Jennifer Laudes to come. ###

Published in Business World
3 November 2014