December 30, 2005

Abiding faith

The Arroyo regime’s façade of strength and staying power in the aftermath of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s worst political crisis in 2005 shows serious, if not deadly, cracks. Only a fool – or the President’s spokesperson – (these days they seem to be indistinguishable) can say otherwise.

Like a dam that seems to be holding, able to withstand the crush of tons of water, it is really a question of how much more of the onrushing flood of critical issues and scandals the GMA regime can take in 2006 given its severely damaged credibility, shrinking political capital and precarious financial situation.

Mrs. Arroyo faces more and bigger problems in the new year because all she did in the previous one was to sow and foster problems. Rather than resolve these by coming clean, telling the whole truth and allowing the people to be the ultimate judge, she has resorted to half-truths and outright lies, used her authority to suppress evidence and silence witnesses, neutralized both houses of Congress via bribes and EO 464 and further curtailed civil liberties and democratic rights to “preempt” massive protests and restiveness in the military and police ranks.

Her purported political mettle consists of crisis management by way of sweeping problems under the rug and getting her spin masters to project this as an achievement.

An example we cannot pass up is the government’s fiscal and financial crisis. It had gotten so bad Mrs. Arroyo was forced to admit it. She then used her uncharacteristic candor to justify new taxes and higher government fees. More than three fourths of the government budget was being eaten up by debt servicing, neoliberal economic reform measures like liberalization had drastically reduced government revenue, government-owned and controlled corporations like Napocor continued to bleed financially and big-time graft and corruption was further draining dwindling public funds.

Now the government crows about having licked the problem simply because it was able to get Congress to pass the new revenue measures including the expanded value-added tax despite howls of public protest. Consequently it earned the over-valued pat on the back from the IMF-World Bank and international credit rating agencies. In truth, the $12 B worth of annual remittances by overseas workers is the single biggest factor that has kept the economy alive this year no thanks to government’s economic managers.

Mrs. Arroyo may have survived, for now, impeachment by Congress, ouster through the parliament of the streets, and calls by major institutions, political personalities and former Cabinet officials to resign but only at an incalculable political cost. It is a fact that more and more people want regime change and are hankering for Mrs. Arroyo to step down.

The cumulative effects of unresolved economic, political and moral issues hounding the Arroyo regime from the time it opportunistically took power after the ouster of Joseph Estrada to its stealing the May presidential elections, will enlarge the cracks in the political dam the regime has erected to contain the wrath of the people.

New issues based on old problems are bound to crop up next year since the Arroyo regime is not expected to undertake any major reform measures other than cosmetic ones and rely more than ever on repressive measures and deception to stay in power.

The further unification of the politically disparate anti-Arroyo forces this coming year is a development that will spell doom for a regime that has been able to get some tactical reprieve but has not been able to decisively defeat its enemies nor remove the current as well as the more fundamental causes of its instability and weakness.

We greet 2006 with abiding faith in the Filipino people’s capacity to boot out tyrants, corrupt and immoral leaders, fascists and traitors to the national interest, in due time.

That’s cause enough to celebrate. Happy New Year to one and all!

Dec. 30-31, 2005

December 23, 2005

An unmitigated success

Protests continued to hound the World Trade Organization at its 6th Ministerial Conference held this month in Hong Kong, Special Autonomous Region. This time the protest movement was led by the Hong Kong People’s Alliance (HKPA) composed of local trade unions, community-based organizations, advocacy groups and the vibrant HK-based migrant organizations of Filipinos, Indonesians, Cambodians and others. The migrant groups provided the bulk of those mobilized, not just in the street rallies but equally important, in the herculean task of preparing for the convergence of anti-“globalization” protesters on HK that began a year earlier.

The South Koreans came in large numbers, the estimates varying from 1000-2000, despite reported denials of entry for many of them. The Filipinos were a couple of hundreds. There were scores of other South East Asians and South Asians; the latter were mainly from India as the Nepalese, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi mass formations were disadvantaged both by lack of funds and apparently more stringent screening to acquire visas. Latin Americans marked their presence as well.

The marches and demonstrations were almost a daily occurrence that started even before the MC6 officially started. Oftentimes there were simultaneous actions by different delegations either by nationality or by sector such as the ones sustained by the disciplined and creative South Koreans and the colorful, energetic actions of the migrants, peasants, and youth groups. These fanned out in the Wan Chai district in the streets surrounding the Hongkong Convention and Exhibition Center, site of the MC6, but inevitably ended up at its heavily guarded perimeter.A government-designated area for holding the protests at the pier adjacent to the site of the WTO meeting became the scene of countless rallies to highlight the people’s demands. They were punctuated by the chanting of “Junk WTO”/“Da du sai mau” in Cantonese or “Down, down WTO”/ “Kong yee sai mau”, cultural presentations, effigy and US flag burning, giant streamers and the women’s variegated quilt containing sharp messages against the WTO and imperialist and neoliberal “globalization”, the jumping of protesters en mass into the waters by the pier adjacent to the site of the WTO meeting and the inevitable clashes with the police.

Lest it be said that the HKPA-led People’s Action Week was only about street protests, there were in fact countless forums, workshops, and cultural activities held by international, regional and national organizations. There was a forum sponsored by the International League on Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS) on War and Trade that highlighted the relationship between the so-called “free trade” espoused by the WTO to imperialist plunder and wars of aggression against peoples and governments that are resisting the WTO-IMF-World Bank as well as the US-led bogus “war on terror”.

There were the peasant and women’s tribunals to try the WTO and other multilateral instruments of imperialist “globalization”. There were workshops covering the adverse impact of the WTO after more than ten years, on almost all poor and oppressed sectors of society, especially in the stunted, backward economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. There were briefings by progressive experts, research outfits and lobby groups on the real issues and status of the negotiations in the WTO sans the world body’s technical and political gobbledygook.

Thirty parliamentarians from 17 countries led by the Philippines’ Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party drew up a resolution entitled “Defend the right to development in the negotiations on services liberalization”, were active in monitoring the progress of the negotiations from inside and in exposing the US, EU and Japan-led maneuvers to give the rest of the world a “bad deal”.

In the end, that is exactly what the MC6 dished out. In the words of the Third World Network, a non-government organization dedicated to monitoring, analyzing and explaining the goings-on at the WTO as well as advising governments willing to listen and movements willing to learn:

“The developing countries gave in on the key market access issues of services and non-agricultural market access. In return they did not receive any significant gain in cotton, market access for LDCs (least-developed countries), or ‘aid for trade’, the three main components of a so-called ‘development package’.

As for the 2013 end-date for elimination of agricultural export subsidies, the most
publicized claim of benefit from Hong Kong, it was no victory. This greatest-distorting subsidy of all should have been eliminated many years ago, and no price should have been asked for it.”

Months ahead of the MC6 there were forecasts by WTO analysts that no major breakthroughs in the Agreement on Agriculture would be inked because the advanced, capitalist countries that heavily subsidized their agriculture would not budge an inch in lowering their subsidies while continuing to demand that poorer, backward countries heavily dependent on their agriculture take down their tariff and non-tariff barriers.

There was also resistance to any further concessions on the General Agreement on Services (GATS) and on Non-agricultural Market Access (NAMA) until more than lip service would be given by the US, European Union and Japan to the promised aid and preferential treatment for needy countries in accordance with the much ballyhooed Doha Development Round.

Thus there was talk about another impending collapse in the WTO negotiations in HK, the same as in Seattle and Cancun. That did not happen. On the contrary, the advanced capitalist countries succeeded in papering over their differences as well as in bribing, hoodwinking, and arm twisting the Third World countries into signing an agreement in HK that would lopsidedly favor them and soften the ground for even more one-sided and onerous ones in 2006.

Does this mean all the protests were for naught? Ask any of the delegations and other participants who braved the government harassment and intimidation including immigration detention together with the brutal dispersal of demonstrations by the police and who bore the expense and endured the bitter cold of Hong Kong.

On the last day of the MC6 when the HKPA decided to push through with the planned march and rally to cap the week-long protests despite the police brutality the previous day, the morale was high and the call reverberated: Junk WTO! It was clear that the world people’s struggle against the WTO and imperialist “globalization” must continue in each and every country so that governments are pressured to change their anti-people positions and /or become accountable and pay the political price.

Without a doubt, the collective protest against the WTO in HK was another high point in that continuing struggle and was in that sense an unmitigated success.

23-24 Dec. 2005

December 15, 2005

Anti-globalization “terrorist”

How does it feel to be told to step out of the line in full view of hundreds of people, then be escorted like a criminal by at least 5 uniformed men with long arms and two-way radios (were they police or military, who knows), detained for 6 hours without being told why, interrogated twice and then just let go, also without any clear and categorical explanation. At the least, it wasn’t pleasant, let me make that plain.

Still groggy from having to write my Business World column till the wee hours of the morning of December 8 then catch an early morning flight from Manila to Hong Kong, I was totally unprepared mentally for what happened while going through immigration at the HK airport.

My guard was down for, after all, this was just Hong Kong, a shoppers’ paradise, not the paranoid United States of A, not the snobbish countries of the European Union nor the ones ruled by outright fascist regimes in Asia or Africa. In fact, Filipinos could go for a short visit without needing a visa and I had done just that earlier in the year and breezed through without incident.

The minute the immigration officer scanned my passport and instead of forthwith stamping it called another officer, said a lot of things in Chinese, started writing on a piece of paper while glancing every so often at the computer screen, without once addressing me or even looking at me, I knew something was terribly wrong. After standing and waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I finally asked what the matter was. The man gave me a deadpan expression and said he didn’t know.

Some more minutes and he handed my passport to a woman who brought the documents into a small office, came out after another interminable wait then brought in the armed escorts.

I expected their x-raying my hand-carried luggage and turning my handbag inside out but I didn’t expect to be brought to a waiting area crawling with guards that looked to me more like soldiers rather than immigration police. I was told to sit at a specific spot and no other. (Later I was to learn that I was likely being videoed the whole time.) I was prevented from speaking with or even sitting close to the two other Filipino activists who, like me, were being detained.

Frankly, it crossed my mind that maybe the men and women guarding me thought that I may be some “extremist” who could do the unthinkable like charge into them and set off bombs strapped around my torso or simply do something awful somehow. But when I asked my chief escort again why I was being detained, he mumbled something about a problem with the computers.

The first questioning by a mild-mannered, courteous immigration officer was somewhat reassuring. He asked questions I expected to be asked like why had I traveled to HK, who invited me, where was I staying, for how long, who was paying for my expenses while in HK. He later even asked personal things like how many children did I have and what were they doing; had I been to Hong Kong previously and why.

I answered straightforwardly. I did not hide the fact that I was to speak at forums and workshops sponsored by my hosts, a regional organization serving migrant workers, and that these activities were part of the parallel activities planned to coincide with the 6th Ministerial meeting of the WTO.

“Do you plan to join any of the protest rallies against the WTO?” was the next question.

And so it was that the reason I was being held finally emerged. Without the authorities admitting it, I came to the conclusion that they indeed had a blacklist of foreigners who were involved in the “People’s Action Week” (as the organizers, the Hong Kong People’s Alliance, had dubbed it) and my name had landed in it somehow!

I am pretty sure I am not on any Interpol list so I thought to myself that the Philippine government must have provided the HK authorities with some derogatory “intelligence” information about me. (The thought crossed my mind that the word “intelligence” when used by governments was really an oxymoron.)

Was this part of “sharing intelligence information” in the post-9/11 era and if so, how could someone correct patently erroneous information filed secretly against her and how does she confront her accuser? How does one go about seeking redress of grievances foremost of which is being labeled some kind of “undesirable alien,” or worse, a “terrorist”?

How did one get to deserve the label anyway? By being a prominent critic of the US backed-Arroyo government, by leading protest actions calling for her removal from office, by being the head of a progressive alliance of people’s organizations demanding nationalist and democratic changes in government and in society? Or is it by being vocally against the state terrorism practiced by the Philippine government in the name of countering “terrorism” ala the Big White Brother?

The second interrogation, this time involving two policemen, two interpreters (one from Chinese to English and a second one from English to Filipino) and a man who later introduced himself as a “liaison officer” for the HK government was much more formal. The interrogator had a prepared list of questions, printed in a form with blank spaces for the answers, all pertaining to protests set in HK against the WTO and my previous history of joining such protests in the Philippines and abroad. They even taped the Q and A, slipped the tape cassette in a plastic envelope which they sealed and asked me to sign.

After another hour or two waiting (I had lost track of time because I was already exhausted and could hardly keep awake) I was awakened by my first interrogator who said that I should get ready because they were letting me go. But after getting my stuff together and being escorted outside the immigration holding area by three gruff policewomen, I was stopped in my tracks and made to go back. It seems that the customs people wanted to recall me and so I needed to wait some more.

This time I was really pissed and decided not to hide it. So what if I was refused entry; at that point I was past caring. I told them that would they just please make up their minds and call me when they had done so because I was tired and pissed.

Another half hour and I was brought to the customs area where they took another eternity to find my luggage and inspect them. Finding some bundles of printed material underneath my clothes, the customs officer queried me about them and I simply said, “Paper.” He opened up one package but decided not to make a fuss. (Did he know that I had already been detained over 6 hours and that I was told I would be allowed to enter HK? So what was the point of rifling through my things?)

Finally I was released. It occurred to me that I had just been treated to the HK government’s hospitality as a suspect anti-globalization “terrorist”.

I had come to HK to be part of a growing global movement to denounce the WTO for being a scourge to the world’s peoples after more than ten years in existence. Thousands of local HK people, migrant workers mostly from Southeast Asia and anti-globalization and anti-war activists from across the world were converging to bear witness to the adverse, in fact, the disastrous effects of the neo-liberal policies of deregulation, liberalization and privatization on working people and the environment most especially in poor, backward countries. Meanwhile multinational corporations and imperialist countries were lording it over the WTO the same way that they, much earlier, dictated the policies and programs of the IMF-World Bank.

I had been given a taste of what it’s like to be labeled as being against “them” because I was not “for” them and therefore that they would make life hard for social activists like me from giving voice to the underprivileged, the exploited and oppressed on occasions such as the WTO 6th Ministerial.

But like the growing legions the world over who have woken up to the truth about imperialist “globalization,” about who stands to gain by the plunder of the world’s riches and resources and who have indeed waged wars to expand and consolidate those gains, the answer was as clear as day, “Junk WTO! Resist imperialist plunder and war!” There is no stopping the people’s resistance now.

Business World
15-16 December 2005

December 09, 2005

A small victory for human rights

Maj. General Jovito Palparan’s bypassing at the Commission on Appointments, a few days before Human Rights Day on December 10, is a small victory for the human rights organizations and the families, co-workers and friends of those killed, abducted and/or harassed in the regions where he has been assigned to lead counter-insurgency campaigns.

In Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas and Central Luzon, Mr. Palparan has gained well-deserved notoriety as the “Butcher” because of the rash of killings of progressive leaders, activists and common folk who the military claims to be supporting the New People’s Army (NPA).

However the clamor to make him accountable for his crimes against the people has fallen on deaf ears as Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) keeps on rewarding him by not paying any attention to the complaints against him and continuing to recommend his promotion to Congress. On the other hand, the justice department keeps on dismissing the criminal complaints lodged against him and his men despite compelling evidence of his complicity in these murders.

What is utterly condemnable about Mr. Palparan’s track record is not just what one broadsheet bannered as a “fiesta of political killings” and other human rights violations that military units under his command stand accused of . What is infuriating is the man’s unabashed justification for his bloody, iron-hand rule (in most instances, superseding that of local civilian authorities) by means of his fascist mindset.

For example, Mr. Palparan does not distinguish between armed combatants of the NPA and unarmed activists with Left-leaning politics; to him they are both legitimate targets of military operations and should be “neutralized”. He considers terror tactics such as rounding up suspected NPA or NPA-sympathizers, arbitrarily detaining them or torturing them into admitting their guilt, and even making them “disappear” as all within the bounds of permissible methods in countering the alleged “communist-terrorists”. He spouts his rabid, anti-communist tirade against prominent party list congresspersons accusing them of funneling their pork barrel to the NPA or support for the NPA without feeling obliged to show an iota of proof.

He glowered at witnesses testifying against him in outstanding cases of human rights violations such as the abduction and murder of Eden Marcellana, a staunch and fearless human rights worker, and Eddie Gumanoy, well-loved peasant leader from Mindoro Oriental in 2003. His men tried to intimidate the grieving relatives and fellow activists of the slain leaders by taking their photographs during the preliminary investigation while his other underlings strut around with their bulging handguns at their waist.

Mr. Palparan prides himself in his psywar tactics including how he thinks he is able to unmask the leaders of the national democratic movement by simply smearing them “red”.

The outcome of the Congressional confirmation of Mr. Palparan’s promotion will be a litmus test of where human rights is headed in this country especially in the light of another piece of fascist legislation waiting to be enacted – the so-called Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) – a bill that takes inspiration from the US Patriot Act.

One would wish that such a crucial test were not lodged with the Lower House, that prostituted institution that is still earning the ire of many of our fellow Filipinos for another kind of murder; that is, the killing of the impeachment complaint against GMA. ###

Dec. 8-9, 2005