August 23, 2015

Electoral circus comes to town

The election season is definitely upon us even with national polls still nine months away and filing of candidacies for national positions set two months from now. Already we can see the portent of things to come: the lack of genuine choice for the electorate; a farcical party system; election outcomes skewed towards the candidates backed by elite and foreign vested interests; an electoral system upgraded from manual to electronic manipulation and cheating.
The jockeying and wheeling dealing over who will run, who will be whose running mate, and which party and patron will back up which candidate has shifted to high gear and is already hogging the news and rumor mills. Political advertisements of “presidentiables”, “vice-presidentiables” and “senatoriables” have begun airing to the public’s bemusement or consternation as the case may be.

Candidates as well as the dominant political parties are indistinguishable in so far as platforms of governance are concerned. There are no serious contending political philosophies, analyses of what has ailed and continues to ail the country and ergo what are the candidates’ and parties’ proposed immediate and long-term solutions.

Candidates are one in playing to the gallery; that is, what they think the teeming masses of the poor, unschooled, and politically immature voters are looking for. Thus the image-building centers on the candidates’ bleeding heart for the poor and underprivileged and their promise of salvation from want and misery through all sorts of dole-outs and assurances of jobs and livelihood opportunities.

The anti-graft-and-corruption banner is still waving high up in the air. It is a race among the supposedly clean and untainted because they come from the class of “old rich” exploiters who did not make their pile from being politicians; the dyed-in-the-wool as well as upstart politicians who grew their wealth along with their flourishing political careers; and the relative newbies whose slates are still clean because they haven’t been around that long. All present themselves as ready, willing and able to clean up the Augean stables of government.

Anti-crime or the “peace and order” tack is also a favorite with the usual whipping boys -- drug lords, criminal syndicates and police and judges on the take -- and the usual neofascist solutions -- bring back the death penalty, cut corners in law enforcement and due process and instill “discipline” among the people.

The big questions remain unasked and unanswered. Why does the country remain backward in terms of economic development despite (or rather because of) supposedly “sound fundamentals”: entrenched policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization to attract foreign investments; entrenched policies on labor export, low wages and contractualization; entrenched policies on the wanton exploitation of natural resources; and an overextended land reform program.

Why is income inequality growing even more scandalously despite high Gross National Product (GNP) rates?

Little to nothing is said about rooting out the causes of armed conflicts, of patronage politics, of political dynasties, of undemocratic institutions and processes including elections that always end up reinforcing the dominance of the elite and their foreign principals.

So what really counts? It is who among the known political kingmakers are backing whom.

Where there is no functioning party system based on a clear, well-articulated and consistently-pursued platform of government, leaders are not up for public office based on track record nor established stand on issues but on sentimental affiliations of kinship, political connections, foreign backing, personality traits, and even accidental twists of so-called fate.

The endorsement by the incumbent regime is not about who will continue such a self-proclaimed stellar performance as that of President Benigno S. C. Aquino III but who will have the marked advantage of having the resources of the government at his disposal in the run-up to and the actual electoral campaign.

We are talking about billions of lump-sum discretionary funds lodged in the executive department easily waylaid for patronage politics, for unofficial campaign sorties disguised as official business, for last ditch quid pro quos with a variety of vested interests. Paramount here are the narrow interests of the ruling Aquino clique with its main backers, the ruling Liberal Party and coalition partners who haven’t jumped ship.

What the opinion surveys say as to who are front runners and tail enders is easily translatable to financial and political backing since everyone wants to place their bets on the “winnable” candidates.

Perhaps the only democratic aspect of the sway of the surveys is that while these reflect the interests paying for the surveys and are effectively influenced by the dominant mass media as well as sophisticated public relations campaigns, somehow candidates’ naturaleza still breaks through and are picked up by the public pulse.

The advent of another electoral circus come to town need not trigger resignation nor cynicism.

Those fighting for more systemic, meaningful and long-lasting reforms in the socio-economic and political system of the country must be unrelenting and creative in their efforts to arouse, mobilize and organize the people based on their true interests and aspirations for a prosperous, egalitarian, independent and peaceful nation. Only in this way can they go against the reactionary tide of populism, trivialization of the national agenda, the dumbing down of the public discourse and the refurbishment and perpetuation of a patently undemocratic system.

During the electoral period, there must be a constant critique of the prevailing unjust and oppressive system.

Any and all candidates must be challenged to measure up to the people’s standards of what constitute a truly patriotic and democratic platform of governance. The most reactionary of candidates must be exposed and rejected while liberal to progressive candidates must be supported up to being voted into office. Lastly but most critically, the looming likelihood of another foreign-designed and controlled automated electoral system that can and will be used to engineer the fraudulent victory of the favored national candidates must be exposed and opposed by an aroused and militated citizenry.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published in Business World
24 August 2015

August 02, 2015

Mining TNCs versus social movements

In the last two decades the global mining industry has tried to repair its image and whitewash its blackened record in the wake of public furor over mine “accidents” and stiff resistance by mining communities to their operations.  It has launched a coordinated, well-funded and sustained public relations campaign as well as aggressive lobby work with governments and international bodies such as the United Nations.  This colossal greenwashing effort has attempted to sell the concepts of “sustainable and responsible mining” and “cooperation of all stakeholders”.

Unfortunately for the industry but fortunately for Mother Nature and humankind, resistance to mining is no longer confined to mining-ravaged local communities but has grown into national and global social movements involving indigenous peoples, peasants, mine workers, environmentalists, scientists, lawyers, church people, human rights advocates and social activists in Africa, America, Asia and Europe. 

The holding of the International People’s Mining Conference (IPMC) in Manila last week attests to the expansion, diversity, strength and vitality of the global, national and local movements opposed to large-scale mining.  The IPMC focused on the destructive effects of large-scale mining on the lives of people living in areas where this is carried out as well as its adverse impact on the entire country’s economy, natural resource base and ecology.  It also highlighted the growing peoples’ struggles all over the world in defense of their lives, livelihood and homes against imperialist plunder enabled by the collusion of corrupt and repressive host states.

Their view is that large-scale, corporate mining has resulted in the rape of the environment in order to plunder the natural resources of poor, economically backward countries leaving behind wide swathes of wasteland where once there had been lush forests, rich fishing grounds in rivers and coastal areas, productive farmlands, and biodiversity of flora and fauna.  The huge profits made from large-scale mining have merely been taken out by the mining transnational corporations (TNCs) to their home countries.  Very little gets ploughed back into the countries where the extraction of minerals takes place because these finite resources are exported as raw materials with very little value-added rather than utilized to develop domestic industry and the economy as a whole. 

The Philippines serves as a microcosm of how corporate mining has led to massive landgrabbing, rapid depletion of natural resources, degradation if not devastation of the environment, displacement of communities, militarization and human rights violations while contributing to the worsening of the pre-industrial and backward economy of the country.

From 1997-2014, large-scale mines operated by consortia of foreign mining TNCs and their Filipino partners increased from 16 to 46.  Almost one million hectares of land are under mining agreements. From 1997-2013 tax and shares from mining was only US$2.93 billion, a measly 10% of the total production value of  US$29.13 billion in the same period.  From 1997-2013, mining’s average gross domestic product (GDP) and employment rate contributions were just at 0.7% and 0.44%. From 1995-2014, 19 major mining disasters and contamination incidents were recorded. And from 2001-2015, 82 environmental activists, mostly anti-mining activists, were victims of extrajudicial killings.

These are the same violations and other worse crimes that mining communities in different countries have seen. In South Africa, 34 striking mine workers were killed and 78 others were injured when they were fired upon by police and security forces of UK-owned Lonmin mining company in August 2012.  In Papua New Guinea, BHP Billiton’s open-pit Ok Tedi Mine has caused massive environmental degradation and pollution of the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers and their adjacent ecosystems.  This was due to the irresponsible and deliberate discharge of two billion tons of mine wastes into these rivers from 1984-2013.  

In West Papua, Indonesia, mining giants Rio Tinto and Freeport-McMoran are reported to have initially poured in $35 million for military infrastructure and vehicles and paid at least $20 million to state security forces from 1998 to 2004 to quell opposition against its Grasberg Mine, the world’s largest gold mine. In China, coal miners are one of the most exploited and have one of the worst working conditions. There was a total of 589 accidents and 1,049 deaths in the coal mining industry in 2013 alone.  In 2011 and 2012, 3,357 mine workers were killed in mine accidents according to the China Labour Bulletin.

Mining TNCs’ thirst for more gargantuan profits is unquenchable.  In the late 80’s, under the banner of “globalization”, more than 80 countries changed their mining regimes due to the powerful lobby of foreign TNCs and the dictates of international financial institutions (IFIs) like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organizations (WTO).

Neoliberal mining policies allowed the privatization of state-owned mining firms. These led to the free flow of foreign investments to the local mining industry and  full foreign ownership of mining corporations and lands in the host country.  Capital control and other forms of regulation were lifted; generous tax breaks and other incentives, granted; and legitimation and legalization of measures to quell local opposition to mining activities, provided.

To further defray costs and up profits, the mining TNCs demand lower government royalty shares along with more lax environmental laws and overall regulatory environment.  They insist on lower wages and benefits for mine workers, more job insecurity, lower occupational safety standards and repression of trade unionism.

One example is Peru.  With liberalization, privatization and deregulation as the pillars of its neoliberal economic policy regime,  Peru’s mining industry became dominated by foreign and private corporations and tied to the international market. Between 1992 and 2000 more than 200 state-owned mining operations were privatized. In 1999, private corporations accounted for 95% of mineral production, up from 55% in 1990, less than ten years previous.  Pedictably, 10 foreign mining corporations are among Peru’s Top 100 corporations.

National mineral production became further oriented to and dictated by the international market and not by the particular development needs of each country. This meant being held hostage to the vagaries of international trading wherein metal prices rise and fall based on the dictates of a few mining giants, their financiers and the IFIs. As to the demand for minerals in the global market, mining TNCs and their financiers are increasingly engaged in speculation in the commodity futures market.  According to IBON Foundation, “the global mining industry, just like the major drivers of monopoly capitalism, relies on fictitious capital to surmount the crisis...”

Mining TNCs clearly cannot cannot get away with their plundering ways if they are not backed up by governments.  This is where the corruption of government bureaucrats and top-level political leaders comes in: to put in place a policy regime skewed towards mining TNCs; to complement the TNCs’ campaign of deceit and cooptation; and to harness the state security forces to protect mining operations and stamp out dissent.

As the crisis of the global mining industry intensifies, the social movements  -- for workers’ rights, environmental protection, and indigenous people’s land rights; for asserting the rights and welfare of mining communities; and for upholding human rights -- are confronting the situation and struggling to prevail against the odds.  People’s movements for economic sovereignty, food security and development justice are squaring with the plunderers, despoilers and their powerful protectors in the international, national and local levels .

Their message is loud and clear: Mining TNCs cannot plunder the common resources as before;  the people are rising, steadfast in their struggles and steadily gaining ground.  The people shall prevail.  #

Published in Business World
3 August 2015