December 12, 2016

Reaping the whirlwind

" the end you cannot cheat history. History will not err in its judgement because no  matter how you fabricate achievements, glorify events or conceal truths, a true people's  history will eventually unmask the fake heroes and the judgement on them will be harsh  and severe." - Renato Constantino, 24 September 1975

Finally, the Marcoses have had their way, a hero’s burial for their despot-patriarch at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB), but without the pomp and grandeur of a state funeral that they had been dreaming of for decades.  On the contrary,  they had to settle for a simple military funeral and an elaborate subterfuge - false public announcements about funeral arrangements; the secret airlifting of the Marcos remains from Batac, Ilocos Sur to Manila courtesy of a military chopper; and a formidable police security cordon to prevent anticipated protesters, the mass media and the general public from entering the LNMB during interment rites.

So why didn’t the Marcoses choose to churn out a grand palabas out of the event, Imeldific no less, complete with a horde of Marcos loyalists, to lend it a semblance of popular acclaim?

The obvious reason was to throw off those vehemently opposed to such a travesty - martial law victims, human rights advocates, civil libertarians, advocates of clean government and mass organizations of the Left that have persistently thrown legal and political obstacles in their way.

The lifting of the status quo ante order of the Supreme Court was seized by the Marcoses and their political patron, President Rodrigo Duterte, to hurriedly and sneakily carry out the fait accompli, despite a 15-day period in which petitioners could have filed their motion for reconsideration.

The collusion between the Marcoses and President Duterte is clear and can no longer be denied nor downplayed.  The latter justified and cleared the way to the hero’s burial by whitewashing Ferdinand Marcos’ brutal one-man rule and its legacy of gross human rights violations, grand larceny of the public coffers, destruction of the national economy and treasonous puppetry to foreign dictates. To top it off, Mr. Duterte deliberately glossed over the judgement of history - a history made by an aroused and enraged people - of ousting the hated tyrant.

After the fact, Imee Marcos once more calls for healing and unity ad nauseam. Mr. Duterte’s spokespersons pretend that he did not know that the burial would be taking place so soon. AFP and PNP officials pretend they merely took their cues from the Marcos family.  And President Duterte for his part wants people to believe that he merely did his legal duty, smugly confident that his current popularity would weather any consequent political fallout.

With the dastardly connivance of Mr. Duterte, the Marcos family is attempting nothing less than the rewrite of history.  The same-day-video of the burial released by the Marcoses flaunt for all to see that indeed he received the full trappings of a hero’s burial. Years from now, it will be the only extant documentation of that infamous event.

But the people see through the charade.  The explosion of protests as news of the Marcos burial broke is a portent of what lies ahead. The expressions of rage and condemnation were widespread both in Metro Manila and in other urban centers where people massed up and held protest actions.

All were one in saying “Marcos is no hero” and decrying the indecent haste with which the Duterte administration carried out the bidding of the Marcoses. Some people felt duped; some betrayed. All were visibly angry and vowed to exact some form of retribution including disinterring the Marcos remains from its undeserved resting place. There were spontaneous expressions of solidarity from motorists and other passers by who made impromptu placards or honked their horns.

Prominent were not only human rights victims or their families and those who lived through the horrors of martial rule but many students from various university campuses as well as young professionals. This youthful character of the protests seems to belie the notion that “millennials” are tuned out to the issue and just don’t care.

The activists in the crowd took pains to highlight the real heroes who fought against the dictatorship including the thousands of young people who went underground to join the revolutionary resistance.  They organized in the slum areas, among striking workers and dispossessed peasants.  They joined the New People’s Army and the Moro National Liberation Front to wage an armed struggle to weaken the fascist military as well as the dreaded constabulary force.  As they were in the forefront of the anti-dictatorship struggle, they bore the brunt of the fascist state’s repression.  They constitute the overwhelming majority of martyrs as well as victims of enforced disappearance, torture, and illegal arrest and detention.

The Marcoses and their cohorts, most especially Mr. Duterte, may think all these protests will blow over consistent with the conventional wisdom that Filipinos have a short memory or are prone to amnesia.

On the contrary, they themselves provide the reason why these protests are only the beginning.

The Marcoses will not stop at historical revisionism.  The Marcoses' real goal is not so much to establish Marcos' heroism – for the Marcoses know best the lies behind this – but to bury the  truth along with the dictator's corpse, erase from our national psyche  the nightmares of the Marcos era, and clear the grounds for a Marcos Restoration.  Their next stop is Malacañang Palace no less.  As many have correctly surmised, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos sees himself as the rightful successor to  his father and the anointed one  to carry on the Marcosian legacy.

As for Mr. Duterte, this shameful episode of willful, premeditated complicity with the Marcoses will have its political costs. His authoritarian slip is already showing what with his undisguised admiration for the dictator Marcos; his propensity for legal short cuts that not only mean lack of due process but a rising pile of dead bodies in his vaunted “war on drugs”; his unqualified  backing for and granting blanket impunity to police and military operations masquerading as counter-drug/counter-terrorist that are part and parcel of abusive counter-insurgency operations or even hit jobs by questionable quarters; and his threat to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and resurrect the Philippine Constabulary or a militarized police force.

Mr. Duterte’s credibility as a reforming president is steadily being eroded especially with no real headway in basic socio-economic reforms; his flip flopping over his foreign policy pronouncements; the continuing militarization of the countryside; and the non-release of over 400 political prisoners crucial to progress in peace negotiations with the NDFP. He has not taken a single step to stop the government policy of criminalizing political offenses such as rebellion three months after he declared he would do so, “otherwise we will never have peace because there will always be in injustice.”

There are attempts to reduce the Marcos hero’s burial as part of the continuing rivalry between the Marcoses and the Aquinos.  Unfortunately, the attempt of the Yellow Crowd to write history from the narrow perspective of those who gained the most from EDSA1, the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their retinue, fuels this false dichotomy. And the narrative, discredited and hollow as it is, is the kind that the Yellows are trying to recycle even now.  Their obvious agenda is to bring about the failure and eventual downfall of the Duterte presidency, and the return of the Liberal Party to power.

In the final analysis, history eventually gets to be written by those who make it - by the masses of people who decide to take their destiny into their their own hands.  They are the real heroes, and they know full well who stands with them and who does not. #

Published in Business World
21 November 2016

The people say “Enough”

President Duterte had it coming.

Yes, Virginia, in a country rife with continuing human rights violations, the annual International Human Rights Day on December 10 is invariably marked with protests and mass demonstrations.

Public anger over the secret burial of the remains of the Dictator Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and all that it implies still smolders necessitating the highlighting of wholesale human rights violations under martial law and Marcos one-man rule. Yet the Duterte regime’s disturbing human rights record in the brief period it has held power (coupled with his most recent outrageous pronouncements and decisions on related issues) has managed to overtake the Marcos burial issue.  Unsurprisingly, it occupied center stage in this year’s traditional protests.

That the killing of an alleged drug lord, Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinoso would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back was a surprise of sorts.  After all, critics of the government’s “war on drugs” kept asking why only drug users and small-time pushers from slum areas were getting hit.

The truth of the matter is that Duterte brought it on himself.

His early pronouncement defending the police CIDG team that raided the jail and killed Espinosa and another inmate despite obviously questionable facts and circumstances; the revelation that he prevailed on PNP Chief “Bato” de la Rosa to assign Superintendent Marvin Marcos to CIDG Region 8 despite his tainted record of involvement in illicit drug trade without a credible explanation; and his persistence, nay bull headedness, in clearing Marcos and his men despite Senate and NBI findings pointing to a likely “rub out” scenario — all these actuations piled up inexorably as the dead bodies of victims of extrajudicial killings to shock even those inured to Duterte’s penchant for saying dumfounding things.

Duterte’s handling of Mayor Espinosa’s brazen and pre-meditated killing at the hands of the police while already in detention serves as unmistakeable red flag in his “war on drugs”.  An unrelenting pattern — police raids on suspected lairs of drug pushers, alleged shoot-outs with a unbelievably high rate of sharpshooting by police, and dead bodies beside shabu sachets and alleged weapons — has emerged as nothing less than a license to shoot-to-kill people who have yet to be proven guilty or even to have anything to do with the illicit drug trade. Coupled with Duterte’s vigorous defense of his men, it amounts to presidential condonation of summary executions and impunity for their perpetrators.

There is growing unease over this kill-and-take-no-prisoners solution to a social scourge with complex causes requiring a multifaceted approach that puts rehabilitation of drug dependents and addressing underlying social ills at the forefront. There are growing reports of innocents being killed; communities terrorized; and the use of “Operation Tokhang” for counterinsurgency purposes against grassroots organizers and activists.  Meanwhile there is the Duterte regime’s own admission that many policemen and government officials are deeply involved in the drug trade even as no purported big fish amongst them are being properly prosecuted to effectively dismantle the drug mafias.

Even the killings ascribed to “vigilantes”  cannot remain unaddressed and unsolved for they contribute to the climate of impunity.  It consigns their poor victims to oblivion as involved in some way or as “collateral damage”. Some police officials have claimed that these killings could be the result of a war among drug lords.  If true, it only confirms that the way the “war on drugs” is being conducted allows it to be used as a convenient cover for inter-drug cartels’ killing frenzy as well.

The issue of political prisoners, more than 400 of them as of last count by human rights organization, KARAPATAN, has festered for so long despite attempts of supposedly democratic regimes post-Marcos to sweep them under the rug.

The Arroyo regime’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya, involved not only the targeted assassinations of leaders and members of legal progressive organizations (not armed combatants of the New People’s Army, take note), but also what government dubbed as a “legal offensive”.  A task force of public prosecutors worked hand-in-glove with police and military intelligence officers as well as pliant judges to illegally arrest, detain, prosecute and convict hundreds of perceived Leftists on the basis of trumped-up common crimes (multiple murder, arson, robbery in band and so forth) not even the political crimes of rebellion or sedition.

As part of a bold move to talk peace with the revolutionary forces of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, President Duterte offered a general amnesty as the swiftest way of remedying this patent injustice.

To jumpstart the formal peace negotiations, Malacanang worked with the political prisoners’ lawyers for the grant of bail to 17 NDFP consultants and 2 personnel. The ensuing effect on the peace process was unprecedented — a simultaneous unilateral ceasefire of indefinite duration and acceleration of the negotiations over socio-economic and political reforms. A bilateral ceasefire was in the works pending the release of all political prisoners and progress on a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).

Sadly, Duterte has steadily backtracked from his earlier enlightened position regarding the political prisoners.

Apparently upon the advise of militarists and rabid anti-communists in his Cabinet and the military top brass, Duterte now says he will not release more political prisoners unless a bilateral ceasefire is signed arguing that to do so would mean he will lose bargaining chips in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

Moreover, while Duterte gives blanket immunity for police, he undertakes the blanket labelling of political prisoners as members of the New People’s Army, to justify his hardline stance and in the process underscoring his utterly distorted sense of justice and the rule of law.

These shocking statements are especially unjust for the 130 of these political prisoners who are elderly, sick, women (especially those whose husbands are also in jail), or have been imprisoned for more than ten years.  The government peace panel has repeatedly promised to expedite their release on humanitarian grounds considering 13 have already died in detention.  They and their families have been undergoing a see-saw of emotions in the wake of government flip flops between announcing their impending release and then pronouncements that amount to their being held hostage to the peace negotiations.

The continuing militarization of the countryside, state terror inflicted on the peasantry and lumad in the form harassment through encampment in their communities, interrogations and up to summary executions by military and paramilitary elements, are ongoing despite the existence of unilateral ceasefires on each side of the protagonists in the armed conflict. This reality is rendering the current situation more and more untenable and could spark clashes in the near future.

The appointment of a general implicated in the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos, the son of Joe Burgos, an icon of the fight for press freedom during martial law, and other human rights violations to the top post of the AFP; the threat to suspend the writ of habeas corpus as part of government’s anti-terrorism efforts; the moves to restore the death penalty and to revive the notorious, martial law-vintage Philippine Constabulary  — are among the Duterte regime’s actuations that are undermining whatever claims he has made to being a progressive and a harbinger of change.

The effigy burned at last week’s Human Rights Day was that of a skeletal monster with the face of the Dictator Marcos but with unmistakeable referencing to Duterte’s troubling human rights record.

“Never again!” clearly not only referred to the restoration of the Marcoses to Malacañang but to signs of the growing resort to fascist measures by the Duterte regime. #

Published in Business World
12 December 2016

December 06, 2016

A fitting farewell to “El Comandante”

What a world of difference.  Cuba, a small Latin American country struggling to overcome several decades of a crippling US embargo, has just solemnly buried a hero of their country, of their Revolution (yes, with a capital R, because it is a real social revolution) — “El Comandante” Fidel Ruz Castro.  In the Philippines, a “hero’s burial” was surreptitiously rendered to the plasticized remains of a brutal despot, a certified plunderer and human rights violator, a traitor who sold national economic and political sovereignty to foreign, principally US, imperialist interests.

Many young people were roused from political apathy by the burial of the Dictator Marcos on supposedly hallowed ground.  They displayed their rejection of the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses in two big mass demonstrations held in the span of less than two weeks. They, and for that matter all Filipinos, have much to learn from and be inspired by the example of the Cuban people and their genuine, modern-day heroes.

Fidel Castro has been eulogized by countless writers as the icon and incarnation of the Cuban revolution.  This is in reference not only to the daring overthrow of the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in a guerrilla war that lasted six short years but also to more than half a century of building a socialist society and system of government in the face of unrelenting US attack. This includes more than 600 CIA-hatched assassination attempts, an economic blockade that the UN General Assembly has repeatedly voted to be put to an end, and counter-revolution including the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 that Castro roundly defeated.

Fidel Castro’s life has been full of color and drama intertwined with the writing of his nation’s spectacular history. Immediately after the overthrow of the Batista government, Castro began Cuba’s transformation by ending Batista’s rule of terror, carrying out land reform and wealth redistribution.  He incurred the ire of the USA by nationalizing US-owned companies and land.

Cuba’s elite left the country in droves and settled in Miami, Florida. To this day the Cuban emigre community serves as a bulwark of anti-Castro sentiment, the base of a powerful political lobby for continuing the US embargo and recruitment for CIA plots to assassinate Castro and overthrow the Cuban government.

On the other hand, Castro won the overwhelming support of the Cuban people by expanding social services and eventually eliminating illiteracy, making higher education accessible to all, realizing universal health care of high quality and providing affordable housing to more than two thirds of the population.

Cuba’s disaster prevention, mitigation, relief and rehabilitation programs are a model for other poor, underdeveloped countries because of the way it is anchored on the mobilization and organization of the people at the grassroots level to lessen the impact of the typhoons that annually slams the tiny island nation.

Cuba has sent its doctors and other health personnel to developing countries especially those reeling from disasters such as Haiti, those struggling to sustain its pro-people programs and policies against elite and US sabotage such as Venezuela, and many other countries in Latin America and Africa. As of January 2015, more than 51,847 Cuban medical personnel, half of whom are physicians, were working in 67 countries, mainly in the developing world.

According to the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS), “Under the leadership of Fidel Castro, the revolutionary proletariat and people of Cuba have stood out as the most formidable revolutionary force inspiring the people of Latin America to fight for national independence, democracy and socialism against US imperialism.”

Even during the “special period” when the Cuban economy was devastated due to the disintegration of the USSR (the country lost approximately 80% of its imports, 80% of its exports and its Gross Domestic Product dropped by 34 percent) the Cuban government and people did not waver in their anti-imperialist resistance.

Most recently, Cuba has worked closely with Venezuela and other Latin American countries in building the  ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) according to the principles of social welfare and mutual economic aid and in opposition to imperialist and reactionary policies, especially neoliberalism, subversion and military intervention.

Much earlier, Fidel Castro and the Cuban people had demonstrated their boundless internationalism by playing a major role in the tricontinental movement of anti-imperialist governments and peoples earlier inspired by the Bandung Conference and then by the Non-Aligned Movement. Castro sent Cuban troops to Africa to fight South African apartheid armed forces and helped paved the way for the liberation of South Africa and several other African countries.

Castro governed Cuba for 47 years as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2006. He relinquished his presidential duties to the Vice President, Raul Castro, his brother and revolutionary comrade, when he became gravely ill in 2006 but continued to write on global issues and major developments and to influence Cuban policy.

Addressing the final session of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party on April 19, 2016, Castro declared, “This may be one of the last times that I speak in this room, but the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain as proof that on this planet, by working with fervor and dignity, we can produce the material and cultural wealth that humans need”.

Inspired by their leader’s fighting slogan “Socialism or Death!”, the Cuban people have united and resisted in their millions to defend Cuba against US intervention and aggression and to carry out the social transformation of Cuba even in the midst of the most difficult internal conditions and most unfavorable external conditions.

The ILPS, in its highest tribute to Fidel Castro, stated, “(He) will always be remembered as a great revolutionary leader who held his ground in Cuba, accomplished what was possible and continued to fight for the cause of national and social liberation, for socialism and for the ultimate goal of communism despite the dismal conditions resulting from the betrayal of socialism by the modern revisionists, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent ideological, political, economic and military offensives of the US and its imperialist allies.”

Fidel Castro has been hailed as the most influential Latin American leader of the 21st century.  After a four-day “Caravan of Liberty” starting with a massive gathering in Havana’s Revolution Square where Castro delivered his rousing, marathon speeches, and tracing in reverse order Castro’s journey from Santiago de Cuba to Havana in 1959 to mark the triumph of the Cuban revolution, his ashes will be laid to rest at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, which houses the remains of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti and other national heroes.

It is a fitting farewell to a quintessential revolutionary leader beloved by his people. And according to Dr. Helen Yaffe, a specialist on Cuban and Latin American economic history, “Somewhere, rising up through their grief will be a sense of pride; that nature took el Comandante, and not the enemy.”  #

Published in Business World
5 December 2016