May 27, 2005

Today's imperative

The Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL) was formed by the stalwarts of the civil liberties movement in the 70s, including Sen. Jose W. Diokno, Sen. Lorenzo M. Tañada, Chino Roces, Joaquin Po and National Press Club (NPC) members shortly after the suspension of the privilege to the writ of habeas corpus, a year before the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos.

The MCCCL was revived yesterday in a nostalgic reunion of hundreds of civil libertarians from the 70s and 80s as well as a broad gathering of legislators, spiritual leaders, trade unionists, peasant leaders, human rights and peace advocates, feminists and other progressives. According to MCCCL convenors, the landmark event was impelled by the rash of killings of journalists, lawyers, church people and activists since the start of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration in 2001.

Stage and film director Behn Cervantes captured the moment with appropriate dramatic flair. He underscored the fact that the struggle to uphold civil liberties and political freedoms in this benighted country is never done. Again and again -- concerned citizens must take up the challenge to uphold basic democratic rights and defend hard-earned freedoms in the face of political repression and state-sponsored violence.

Feisty and irrepressible Sister Mary John Mananzan, OSB, activist nun par excellance, highlighted the lessons that the Filipino people have learned in the life-and-death struggle against the Marcos Dictatorship as well as the arduous struggle to uphold civil and political rights in the post-Marcos era. We consider it worthwhile to quote extensively from her speech:

“First lesson: armed conflicts, mass protests, dissent and the general instability that has characterized our political life and continue to threaten every sitting government are the result of social injustice and discrimination, the deteriorating economic conditions and unrelieved impoverishment of our long suffering people. These in turn have been brought about by anti-people and anti-Filipino policies and corrupt and treasonous governance. Therefore the solution to the chronic political instability we suffer is thoroughgoing economic, social and political reforms and not repression or ‘total war’ against one’s own people.”

“We must reject the concept being peddled by government today of a ‘strong republic’ founded on using the military, the police and their assets as well as the courts and new fascist legislation to curtail our people’s democratic rights in the guise of fighting ‘terrorism’, ‘criminality’ and ‘destabilization plots’.”

“Every so often the militarists inside and outside government try to recycle strongman rule and various forms of military or civilian-military juntas as the ultimate solution to the country’s political malaise and periodic convulsions. But these we must also reject outright.”

“Second lesson: The purpose of repression is to cow the people into submission. The only way to beat it is by broadening and heightening resistance and defiance, to show that repression is ineffective and counterproductive.”

“The anti-dictatorship struggle underscored the importance of vigilance and the militant, united action of the working people and other democratic sectors and forces in breaking the “terror effect” of martial law and gradually building up the critical mass that would topple the dictatorship. For example, the religious, supporting the La Tondeňa workers resulted in the breakthrough strike of 1975. The underground, alternative media including the “xerox” press broke the Marcos monopoly of the avenues of information and the molding of public opinion. Protest mass actions grew in numbers and gained breadth especially after a series of desperate measures resorted to by the dictatorship to remain in power such as the Aquino assassination, bogus presidential elections (1981) and snap elections (1986) as well as brutal counter-insurgency campaigns that victimized hundreds of thousands of civilians. Unpopular and corrupt-ridden projects such as the Bataan nuclear power plant further widened opposition to the dictatorship.”

“Even in the post-Marcos era we have seen that there is no substitute to uniting our people to fight for our democratic rights and freedoms. Today we must all link arms to resist each and every attempt to impose a de facto, if piecemeal, martial law and to thwart all schemes to systematically cripple, if not wipe out, all dissent and opposition especially by state terror in the form of assassinations, torture and enforced disappearances.”

“Third lesson: there are powerful foreign interests that are at play and intervening actively in our country’s internal affairs that we cannot ignore. The US, our former colonizer, continues to exercise a dominant influence on the way our government makes policies on domestic and foreign affairs and undertakes and implements programs including so-called “counter-insurgency” and “counter-terrorist” programs (including, ironically, peace negotiations with armed rebel groups). Most ominously, it is still the single most decisive factor that can make or unmake a sitting government.”

“Unfortunately, the lesson that what is good for the US is not necessarily good for the Philippines and that US political and military intervention in the Philippines is in fact harmful to the immediate and long-term national interest has been a difficult one for many of us to learn. Blame it on our colonial mentality. But blame it as well on the political dynasties and other elite-based politicians that have ruled this country post-independence. They have never questioned much less resisted US interference for their own selfish reasons.”

“We must learn this hardest lesson of all from the struggles against the US-backed Marcos dictatorship and subsequent US-supported anti-people regimes and oppose both covert and overt US and other foreign interference in our internal affairs.”

“Finally, we pay tribute to the martyrs in the anti-dictatorship struggle both the well-known and the unknown -- the Ninoy Aquinos, the Macliing Dulags, the Edgar Jopsons, the Dr. Bobby de la Pazes and the Juan and Juana de la Cruzes -- those who fought through the legal venues and those who perforce took up armed struggle to counter the systematic and oppressive violence of the state wreaking havoc on the people’s lives.

Today we pay tribute to the scores of men and women who have been summarily executed or involuntarily disappeared under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo whose murders cry to the heavens for justice and whose innocent blood gives us all the more reason to relaunch and reinvigorate this Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties. We must vow to stop these killings, to end political repression and to defend and uphold our rights and freedoms as a people.”

May 27-28, 2005

May 20, 2005

Lessons in rebellion

Some quarters have opined that the plea bargain resorted to by 184 soldiers undergoing trial by court martial for their participation in the Oakwood mutiny resulted in punishment that was little more than a “slap on the wrist” similar to the "100 push-ups" meted by then AFP Chief-of- Staff Gen. Fidel Ramos on military officers and men involved in the 1989 coup attempt against the government of Mrs. Corazon Aquino.

They rue the lesson, or rather, lack of it, that will again be impressed on the Oakwood mutiny leaders and their followers – that mutinies and coup d’etats when unsuccessful, do lead to hardships and punishment meted out by the state to those they can catch and prosecute but not enough to discourage would-be putschists who will try and try until they succeed (especially when there is no lack of civilian as well as foreign sponsors of such military adventurism).

But take it from Prof. Carolina Hernandez, Presidential Adviser on the Recommendations of the Feliciano Commission that investigated the Oakwood mutiny. Hernandez categorically states that another coup attempt is still possible despite the punishment meted out to the soldiers who joined the mutiny because the factors underlying these rebellious acts continue to exist.

Another member of the Feliciano Commission, retired Navy Captain Rex Robles, a former Navy intelligence officer who himself took part in the anti-Aquino coups, even warns us that a coup appears to be imminent if not already in the offing, citing meetings and movements of at least four military groups.

By and large the mutineers have in fact been vindicated both by public opinion and subsequent events. A Pulse Asia survey done a month after the mutiny showed that more than half of respondents agreed that the soldiers had sufficient reason to rebel against the government. Corruption of gargantuan proportions, institutionalized and involving no less than the top brass of the AFP was exposed in the scandalous case of AFP Comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, accused of diverting at least P70 million of AFP funds into his or his co-conspirators’ pockets. Subsequently, at least another 9 high ranking military officials were also charged in the wake of public clamor for heads to roll.

The miserable conditions of soldiers in the field – delayed salaries, no rice allowances, inferior or defective helmets and boots, inadequate medical services – are indisputably connected with the insidious practice of “conversion” a system wherein purchases of supplies are faked and then fake receipts are used to disburse budgeted money, which is then divided among the corrupt officials, suppliers and other government personnel involved.

The more damaging testimonies of the Oakwood officers had to do with allegations that their senior officers had ordered the bombing of a mosque and that then ISAFP Chief Gen. Victor Corpuz and then Defense Secretary Gen. Angelo Reyes were involved in the Mindanao bombings which the government and military blamed on "terrorists". The Oakwood officers alleged that the bombings were actually the handiwork of the military as part of building up a scenario of being under siege by unnamed "terrorists" most likely Muslim fundamentalists, thereby justifying fascist measures invoking "counter-terrorism". Subsequent investigations by an independent citizens’ commission organized by church people, lawyers, bombing victims and their families revealed that such were not the handiwork of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but were suspiciously tied to the AFP’s campaign of psychological warfare, selective assassination and intense militarization of the countryside as part and parcel of its counter-insurgency program.

To top it all, the Oakwood mutineers dared to place the blame squarely on their Commander-in-chief and President of the Republic and demanded her resignation alongside those of Generals Corpuz and Reyes. The mutineers invoked their loyalty to the people and their sovereign will against that of a Commander-in-chief and military high command who had lost all moral ascendancy and political legitimacy to rule, not to mention were themselves guilty of the most heinous crimes.

Let’s get it straight. From the way the entire episode was eventually executed, it was a political statement rather than a real power grab. Of course, the Arroyo regime swamped as it was by economic and political crises, could not afford such a symbolic protest by men in uniform.

From the point of view of the targets of the rebellion, the military top brass and the President, the mutineers had to be punished for daring to expose the shenanigans of their superiors, taking their case direct to the public and worse, for training the mutineers’ guns against the chain of command. They had to be made into a negative example so that other like-minded officers and men would think three times before mounting another distinctive kind of armed protest action.

What many sectors and opinion makers criticized the Oakwood mutineers for was the manner in which they chose to express their disgust and protest, in that innocent lives were placed in harm’s way. But as a jolt to the Establishment, both military and civilian, they delivered a powerful message in a most dramatic fashion. And they did so without a chance for any kind of military success. Rather, the most they could aim for was merely a political, largely symbolic, victory for which they faced the full force of the law and the vindictiveness of the Arroyo regime. No material rewards were in the offing; rather the likelihood of dismissal from the service and other punitive measures from government lay in wait for them.

In the end the lesson that should be learned is that no military rebellion can succeed, much less establish and sustain a military or civilian-military form of rule, without the support of the people or unless in conjunction with an unarmed uprising or armed revolution from below.

More importantly is the lesson that a democratic reform movement inside the military must be grounded on 1) the long standing legitimate grievances of the majority rank and file and the young officer corps still untainted by the corruption inhering in the more senior officers; 2) the correct analysis of what is wrong not just with the ruling regime but with the entire ruling system that has spawned the economic, political and socio-cultural problems facing the Filipino people for decades; and 3) a profound insight into the history of the AFP as a tool of the reactionaries against the people, foremost of which is its dependence on the United States for its indoctrination including its deeply-rooted anti-communist and anti-Muslim bias, its training in “dirty warfare”, and logistical and financial support.

May 20-21, 2005

May 13, 2005

Regime change

“Regime change” is the euphemism found in US strategy papers referring to governments, friendly or otherwise, that the American ruling elite would like to remove from power, for one reason or the other.

Once more the possibility of a sudden change of government in this country looms. It is in the air, becoming more palpable and more compelling as the weeks and months pass.

“Sobra na, tama na!” was transformed into a political battle cry against the Marcos Dictatorship, for all those seeking a change in some way. “Sobra ng pahirap, patalsikin si Erap!” was the more direct-to-the-point and catchy slogan during the heady days of EDSA 2. Today, the English equivalent is still “Oust!” but it is now “Oust her!” -- an ostensibly correct formulation, grammatically and politically, that one hears shouted more and more frequently, in the streets by demonstrators, as well as in exclusive clubs, by retired military and police generals.

Contrary to the propaganda line that the US reserves its support only for the deserving in terms of so-called good governance, a measure of incorruptibility and the practice of democracy, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it quite bluntly when she said of US-backed regimes, “He may be a S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.” And that, apparently, makes all the difference.

On the other hand, a client state may be headed by a staunch US ally but when his or her unpopularity is such that he or she becomes isolated from the people and alienated from other major players in the political arena like opposition parties, the corporate media, the business sector, the church hierarchy etc. making that regime a liability to its erstwhile backers, a policy decision must be made. Shall the US continue to support that regime, even as it pressures it to institute “reforms” that will defuse the volatile situation or should it take its own advice to “cut, and cut cleanly” in order to minimize its losses?

George Bush Sr., while still the US Vice President, lauded the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ “adherence to democracy” when his regime had become quite odious what with the horrendous human rights violations and Imeldific plunder going on. In due time, however, Marcos’ friend Ronald Reagan had to signal to him and all and sundry that it was time for the Dictator to step down or else there was the danger a real social revolution would take place and sweep away not just the Marcos dictatorship but the entire system of reactionary rule. Now where would such a dire development leave the US?

Has a crucial decision point been reached as far as US backing for the government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is concerned?

The flurry of visits by various Opposition leaders and/or their hatchet men to the US State Department after the 2004 presidential elections is an indicator that anti-GMA politicians see bright prospects for a sudden change of fortune and that US officials are keeping their ears close to the ground. Upon their return, these politicians appear encouraged enough to keep up or heighten their opposition against Mrs. Arroyo.

An official visit by another high-ranking State Department official recently may be construed as an opportunity for a mutual reassurance of sorts between the Washington and Mrs. Arroyo. Or then again, it may have been an opportunity for the US to warn her of impending danger unless she shapes up: that is, Mrs. Arroyo must get Congress to pass that expanded VAT bill, find a breakthrough in the peace talks with the MILF while cracking down on the “terrorists” lurking in Mindanao and force the communist movement to surrender by using the “terrorist” label to tighten the screws on its leaders and look the other way as the military and paramilitary go on a killing spree of activists and their supporters and terrorize the countryside.

Still, seemingly casual conversations between an Arroyo government functionary and the US ambassador is causing La Presidente to become suspicious and insecure, enough to impel her to berate the forlorn bureaucrat twice in public and move to cut him down to size.

Then there was the recent hush-hush meeting in Palawan with the outgoing US Ambassador Ricciardone and certain AFP higher-ups in the wake of another supposed destabilization plot in the days leading up to May 1. Whatever took place there appears to have convinced Mrs. Arroyo that US backing and the loyalty of the AFP generals could be counted upon no matter how much her popularity ratings continue to plummet.

While the erosion and eventual withdrawal of US support for any client regime is a critical development that the latter fears and its opponents welcome, Filipino nationalists and anti-imperialists who have studied the strategy and tactics of the US in the post-war neocolonial period in so far as “regime change” -- from an old, discredited one to a newer, relatively untainted replacement – know that any US role in a movement to oust Mrs. Arroyo from Malacaňang is bound to be in accord with its self-serving economic and geopolitical interests above everything else.

In other words, the US cannot be trusted to support a genuinely democratic movement to oust an oppressive and corrupt regime that is shamelessly selling the national patrimony and sovereignty down the river because it is precisely one of the main pillars, if not the main pillar, of this regime. No doubt the US would only consider abandoning the Arroyo administration when the situation warrants and a suitable replacement is found.

History has shown that such a situation can only come about when the people in their millions begin to manifest their determination to bring about change – whether it is merely a change in the way government is run to the way government is. This is the crucial factor that can bring about genuine, wide ranging and long lasting reforms ushered in a by a government composed not just of political forces that conveniently allied together to oust the Arroyo government but of truly nationalist and democratic forces and their allies that can bring about the long overdue, structural changes in the exploitative and oppressive system.

Such a “regime change” is not the sort the US has in mind and in fact would do everything to prevent.

May 13-14, 2005

May 06, 2005

Destabilization, anyone?

The excruciating heat of this summer may have addled the brains of Malacaňang’s bright boys who can’t seem to get their act together in order to dissipate the political heat that threatens to burst into flames and engulf their commander-in-chief as well as torch their privileged asses to a crisp.

For starters, can they please make up their minds whether the threat of “destabilization” is real or imagined? On the one hand there is the PNP and the National Security Adviser pooh-poohing the capacity of any anti-GMA group to topple Mrs. Arroyo from power. Yet last May 1, Labor Day, the layers of container vans, barbed wire and the 16,000-strong police and who knows how many back-up military units barricading Malacaňang said the exact opposite.

Militant workers and their supporters across the country brought home the message that government’s callousness to the plight of working people – no jobs and no alternative sources of income, fixed wages and salaries for the few employed, skyrocketing prices of basic goods and services, high taxes and other impositions, fascist suppression of trade union and other workers’ rights – would spark a rebellion that would shake the government even more. But no one fell for agitation to storm Malacaňang and other government centers in conjunction with supposed coup attempts. The hype about “destabilization” was suspicious both as to the sources and the motives.

Former Defense Secretary, General Fortunato Abat, and his group of retired military and police generals, launched the “Coalition for National Salvation” a day before the Mayday protest rallies calling for the ouster of Mrs. Arroyo. Abat vowed to bring about a “revolutionary transition government” through “people power” without saying exactly how the change from the current regime to the new one that they envision would come about.

Abat hinted at a civilian-military junta to replace the Arroyo government when he said the movement "will require the cooperation and coordination of civil society groups, together with military and police establishments." Subsequently, the DOJ secretary flip flopped from sternly warning Abat “not to cross the line” or else face sedition charges to saying he didn’t want to dignify the ranting of an old man.

Apparently Mrs.Arroyo was not so bemused when former ambassador and National Labor Relations Commission chief, Roy Seňeres, was reported to have sought US help to oust her. On two occasions Mrs. Arroyo herself branded Mr. Seňeres a “destabilizer”. He acknowledged meeting with US Ambassador Ricciardone and other high-ranking embassy officials and talked “facts” over coffee such as the “5 million unemployed Filipinos here and the millions of Filipinos who work abroad.” To Mr. Seňeres dumbfounded question “Is that destabilization?” the answer appears to be -- it’s not what you’re talking about but who you’re talking to -- that is unsettling the beleaguered Malacaňang occupant.

Come now three Catholic bishops known both for their advocacy of people’s issues as well as sobriety, together with some patriotic businessmen under the banner of the Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya, condemning the Arroyo administration for “maintaining an economic system whose topmost priority is to serve foreign interests and completely disregard the welfare of the people”. Bishops Labayen, Iňiguez, and Tobias said in a press conference that “(i)nstead of heeding (the) call for change, the GMA administration is now embarking on a terrorist policy against her own people” and called on the people “to fight for economic and political freedom”.

Again, Malacaňang’s reaction is carrot and stick, including the DOJ secretary’s threat to also file sedition charges against the clergymen, but newspaper reports hint at a growing number of disaffected bishops. Perhaps to mitigate the impact of this development, the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, a known GMA ally, was compelled to issue a disclaimer that the three church leaders were not speaking in behalf of the institution, something none of them had claimed.

What the Arroyo administration has achieved so far is to expose further its growing insecurity and utter lack of capacity nor even a modicum of political will to address the reasons underlying the people’s continuing restiveness, the growing strength of the protest movement in the cities, the vitality of the armed revolution in the countryside as well as the widening clamor for serious reforms in government from even traditionally conservative members of society.

The Arroyo regime’s silence and inaction on, amounting to tacit approval of the wave of murders of leaders and activists of progressive organizations shows its intolerance of criticism and clamor for genuine social change. Its double-standard lenient handling of the Abat challenge and the bishops’ call betrays, on the other hand, its morbid fear of the progressive mass movement swelling into another people power uprising that could entice the civilian and military bureaucracy to shift allegiance and dislodge it from power.

In truth the real causes of the Arroyo regime’s instability and vulnerability to being unceremoniously booted out from Malacaňang lie within -- its own anti-people policies and programs, its reputation for greed and corruption, questions about its legitimacy, its blind obedience to neoliberal economic policy dictates by imperialist multilateral agencies like the IMF-World Bank and WTO, and its campaign of state terror and political repression against its perceived political enemies invoking the so-called US-led “war on terror” and so on.

It is predictable that the political heat on all fronts will soon cause the rotten Arroyo regime to collapse by its own undoing.

May 6-7, 2005

May 05, 2005

The case against a national ID

The National Identification System (NIDS) mandated in Executive Order 420 has been invariably described by its various proponents as a practical and harmless measure which has become all the more necessary to address the problem of "terrorism".

The government-issued ID card would contain vital data about a person such as: name, residence, sex, ID photo, signature, date and place of birth, marital status, names of parents, height, weight, two index finger and two thumb marks, information on any prominent distinguishing feature like moles and a Tax Identification Number. The compilation appears harmless enough at first glance.

Malacaňang insists the NIDS has become both urgent and imperative to stop "terrorism", curb criminality and "reduce costs and provide greater convenience for those transacting business with government". “Only those with something to hide", its proponents thus argue, would be against the ID system.

So why are civil libertarians, Opposition figures and militant mass organizations vehemently opposing a system that would purportedly provide all citizens with a useful ID and at the same time provide government a useful databank on each and every citizen?

Let us first understand what the NIDS is and how it works. The NIDS is essentially a population control measure. As a national system for identifying and monitoring the movements and activities of individuals, the NIDS is mandatory, not optional. It must cover everyone, there are no exemptions (except, of course, the privileged few with sufficient money and influence to override any system, but that's another story). As announced, the ID will be a requirement for transacting any business with government; that is, no ID, no service.

Once in place, the NIDS can then serve as an "internal passport", a compulsory requirement for the conduct of day to day activities. A person may be denied travel, medical services and the like, or even be arrested and detained illegally simply for failure to present her ID.

To illustrate, the police can use the ID system to challenge the presence of strangers in a locality. Without the ID, a person can be picked up for questioning by the police. One can be considered a suspicious character until one can provide any other proof of identity, give a credible explanation regarding one's movements or find someone to vouch for one's good, moral character. This completely overturns a person's right against unreasonable searches and seizures and places every individual in the category of a suspect until he or she can prove otherwise.

Moreover, since ID holders will be issued a distinct serial number that will be used and recorded for any transaction with government, a person’s activities can automatically be tracked through the NIDS. As the Supreme Court rightly pointed out in its earlier ruling against AO 308, or President Fidel Ramos’ attempt at instituting a national ID system during his term, such an ID system “can interfere with the individual’s liberty of abode and travel by enabling authorities to track down his movement”.

We can only conclude that the NIDS, by its very nature, violates a person’s right to privacy, to security of person and freedom of movement.

Further scrutiny of EO 420 that creates the NIDS reveals that there is no provision on how the compiled information about individuals in the government’s centralized data bank will be used, who will control access to such information, under what circumstances and for what purposes.

While there is mention of keeping all information confidential and for safeguards and encryption systems to be in place, there is no reasonable assurance that government can prevent the misuse of vital personal information or even the alteration of stored data for criminal ends.

The question begs to be asked: Can the government itself, with its record of corruption and abuse, be entrusted with a centralized database of personal information on everyone?

The answer to this basic question is also the answer to whether the NIDS can be an effective weapon against terrorism, organized crime as well as the “communist insurgency” (as Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales would want us to believe).

We submit that the answer is a resounding NO! With corruption so ingrained in the interstices of government, institutionalized from the top and culturally accepted every step of the way, it will not take long before an enterprising bureaucrat will find a way to produce fake IDs or allow the use of genuine ones fraudulently.

Witness how driving licenses and IDs issued to "special" or “confidential" agents of the military, police, the National Bureau of Investigation, and other government agencies are wantonly abused ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates and a variety of shady characters.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan warns in its position paper on EO 420:

"When taken as part of several measures aimed at curtailing civil liberties and democratic rights, including the Anti-terrorism Bill, pronouncements from the Armed Forces of the Philippines about 'enemy' lists as well as the brazen killings of activists and others critical of or opposed to the Arroyo administration, the NIDS is a dangerous measure that threatens our people's rights and well-being on all fronts.

It is clear that the US-Arroyo regime, rather than address the root causes of armed conflict, political dissension and social unrest with wide ranging and genuine reforms, intends to maintain its unjust, antinational and antipeople rule through coercion and intimidation. This regime is abetting and cultivating a climate of fear and insecurity amidst the worsening economic and political crisis and the people's growing call for its ouster from power."

Far from being an innocuous measure to improve government service and bolster the Arroyo government's counter-terrorism efforts, the NIDS looms as a devious instrument for political repression that an awakened and vigilant people must firmly oppose.

April 29-30, 2005