August 31, 2007

Pouring fuel into the fire

Commenting on the arrest of Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, de facto President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo immediately congratulated National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales for a job well done and called the arrest “a giant step toward peace, a victory for justice and the rule of law.”

At first, Mr. Gonzales denied the government’s role and attributed the arrest to complaints filed by the widows of two former communist leaders that the New People’s Army (NPA) had admitted to executing for their alleged criminal and counter-revolutionary activities, and independent action on these complaints by the Dutch government. Afterwards, Mr. Gonzales made no effort to deny or dissemble the Philippine government’s instigation of and full cooperation with a foreign government in effecting the same.

Mr. Luis Jalandoni, NDFP chief negotiator, on the contrary said that it would spell doom for the peace talks since Mr. Sison has played a vital role as a highly respected voice in the revolutionary movement and often the one who would formulate the language of joint statements and agreements acceptable to both parties, thus paving the way for progress in the talks, e.g. the inking the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

More importantly, Mr. Jalandoni underscored the NDFP cannot negotiate in a situation where their consultants, staffers and members of their peace panel, are subjected to harassment, trumped up criminal charges and patently illegal attacks such as enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrest and unjust detention.

Earlier, Mr. Jalandoni had been referring to the situation of NDFP consultants and personnel in the Philippines. The arrest of Sison, the interrogation of Mr. Jalandoni himself, panel member Ms. Coni Ledesma and Ms. Ruth de Leon, head of the NDFP peace panel secretariat, the simultaneous raids of the Sison residence, the NDFP office and several residences of other NDFP personalities and staffers in the Netherlands as well as the wholesale confiscation of computers, cell phones, and documents including personal diaries, has made a resumption of the talks close to, if not outright, impossible.

Simply put, the “peace” Mrs. Arroyo refers to would be the outcome of the projected defeat of the communist-led revolutionary movement through yet another “all-out war” effort with a supposedly much better trained and equipped military (courtesy of hiked US military aid and bigger budgetary allocations); resort to a dirty war that includes rampant violations of human rights as a means to terrorize the rebel movement’s mass base in the countryside and legal, unarmed activists in the urban areas; and forcing the NDFP panel to capitulate in the peace negotiations by agreeing to a purported “final peace agreement” that oversees laying down of arms by the NPA in exchange for illusory socio-economic and political reforms and some form of amnesty.

It is the “peace” of the graveyard and of ignominious surrender.

Ms. Juliet de Lima, wife of Mr. Sison, said in a television interview that the attack on her husband and the NDFP in the Netherlands was an internationally-orchestrated psychological warfare operation that was intended to demoralize the revolutionary forces in the Philippines. Mr. Sison is currently incommunicado save for brief visits by just one of his lawyers, a situation unwarranted by the charge of “incitement to murder” but one that is now routinely reserved for those demonized by the US and EU countries as “terrorists”.

With the effective, though hopefully only temporary, neutralization of one of the Left’s most astute, knowledgeable, far-sighted and resilient of leaders, the reactionary and crisis-ridden government of Mrs. Arroyo thinks it has demolished the linchpin of the longest-running armed, revolutionary movement in East Asia.

The Arroyo regime is blinded by its denial of that great lesson of history -- that revolutions bred by social injustice and oppression cannot be defeated, much less be eradicated, by the state’s iron hand and that brutal suppression of revolutionary leaders only constitute temporary setbacks. Many more invariably stand up to take their place in the frontlines of struggle.

The Netherlands government thinks that by colluding with the Philippine and US government to politically persecute Mr. Sison and the NDFP and to scuttle the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, it has done away with a big thorn in its throat, a political embarrassment as well as a pesky obstacle to Dutch multinational corporations’ unbridled profit making in the country.

In the process it has violated Mr. Sison’s and others’ rights to due process, it has circumvented its own laws and the European Union’s conventions on human rights, particularly the rights of political refugees, and it has clearly interfered in matters internal to the Philippines. In fact, the Dutch government has interfered in the matter of the sovereign right of the Filipino people, the right to determine its political affairs including the political settlement of internal armed conflicts. Its shameful role in this outrageous episode shall, in due time, be thoroughly exposed and it shall consequently be held accountable.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, while prefacing her reaction with the caveat that ”this is obviously a Philippine issue” could not help but applaud Mr. Sison’s arrest as a victory in the so-called fight against “terrorism” . Ms. Kenney’s comment betrays the underplayed but unflagging motivation of the US to dispose of Mr. Sison and thereby counter his unrelenting, consistently sharp analysis and compelling calls to action against US imperialism and all its instrumentalities and lackeys. In fact, the US had been the first to list Mr. Sison as a “foreign terrorist” and use its formidable political and diplomatic clout to inveigh other countries to do the same.

All three governments unwittingly, if stupidly, are pouring fuel into the fire of revolution in the Philippines, in a futile attempt to put it out by fascist means, including the condemnable act of concertedly attacking Mr. Sison, an icon of the broad anti-imperialist and democratic movement at home and abroad. #

August 16, 2007

The crux of the Moro problem

Every time armed hostilities flare up in Mindanao, government assures the public that it is in control, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claims it can wipe out the troublemakers in due time, and a plethora of unsolicited solutions or proposals by self-anointed Mindanao experts and watchers are offered.

It would appear at first blush that the hawks or militarists have the upper hand what with de facto President, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s initial pugilistic stance after the series of military setbacks in Basilan and Sulu that embarrassed not just the military generals but also their Commander-in-Chief. This confrontational approach had the potential to develop into an all-out shooting war against the MILF in Basilan and then the MNLF in Sulu. But perhaps cooler, or rather more pragmatic, heads anticipating the financial, political and even diplomatic costs of such an outcome have prevailed.

So the seeming pull back, at least in pronouncements, to the tack of maintaining the formal ceasefire with the MILF and the more uneasy one with the MNLF, pursuing so-called rehabilitation and development projects in Muslim Mindanao (many of which are funded by the US) and resuming within the month peace talks with the MILF, currently bogged down on the most contentious item, that of ancestral domain. As to the “necessary” AFP/PNP actions in pursuit of the ASG, GMA called for restraint in seeing to it that MILF and MNLF are not provoked into another firefight that could widen the scope of and further intensify armed hostilities.

Mrs. Arroyo also talked about giving back ancestral lands to the Moro people in an attempt to defuse the situation by “showing sincerity”. But everyone, no less the MILF and MNLF, knows that her words are worthless as a measure of sincerity. On the contrary, a concrete proposal for “pilot project” betrays tokenism and beams a clear signal and assurance to vested interests – foreign and local – that they have nothing to fear.

There is a crying need for a historical flashback on how the ancestral lands of the Bangsamoro were forcibly taken from them. This took place with the foisting of first, US colonial rule that presided over their dispossession, followed by the governments of the Commonwealth and the Republic that carried out the same injustice together with the marginalization of the Moros in their own homeland, with the waves of relocation and settlement of non-Moro communities. Thus with eighty percent of the Moros being landless tenants, it is no wonder that their areas are among the most economically depressed in the country today.

In a book entitled, "Bangsamoro, a Nation under Endless Tyranny" (1984, updated 1999), Salah Jubair, a member of the MILF central committee, refers to these laws as "legalized land grabbing."

According to Jubair, after the signing of the Bates-Kiram Treaty on August 20, 1899, the US colonial government applied the Land Registration Act (Act 496) in Mindanao. It required the registration in writing of all lands occupied by any person, group or corporation. That mother act gave way to a host of "land grabbing laws". Foremost of which were the following:

1. Public Act 718 (April 4, 1903), declaring as null and void all the lands granted by Moro sultans and datus or non-Christian chiefs without state authority. This law effectively dispossessed the Moros of their ancestral landholdings.

2. Public Act 926 (Oct. 7, 1903) declaring all lands registered under Act 496 as public lands, making them available for homestead, sale or lease by individuals or corporations.

3. Mining Act of 1905, declaring all public lands free and open for exploration, occupation and purchase even by US citizens.

4. Cadastral Act of 1907, which facilitated land acquisition by "educated natives", money bureaucrats and American speculators."

Under the Commonwealth, more inequitable laws were passed:

1. Act 4197 (Feb. 12, 1935), which declared land settlement as "the only lasting solution" to the problem of Mindanao and Sulu. It "opened the floodgates to the massive influx of settlers into Mindanao," who took over the choicest parcels of land, especially along the highways, and began cultivation even before the areas were subdivided.

2. Act 141 (Nov. 7, 1936) which declared all Moro ancestral landholdings as public lands. Each Moro was allowed to apply for no more than four hectares whereas a Christian could own 24 hectares and a corporation, 1024 hectares. That led to foreign firms hogging thousands of hectares as pineapple, banana and other crop plantations.

3. Act 441 (June 1939), creating the National Land Settlement Administration; it gave priority for land settlement to those who had completed military training (in preparation for the Japanese invasion).

After World War II, settlements in Mindanao were resumed under the Rice and Corn Production Administration and later the Land Settlement and Development Corp, which resettled 1,500 families. Then, under RA 1160 or the NARRA program, 20,500 families of former members of the Hukbalahaps were resettled from 1954 to 1963.

In September 1971 the Department of Agrarian Reform, formed under RA 6389, took over the settlement projects. By 1983 the DAR resettled 22,639 families in 23 projects in Mindanao. Sadly, says Jubair, under the 1987 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) the Moros continued to be dispossessed of their remaining landholdings.

Years of conflict despite two “final” peace accords with the MNLF and ceasefire agreements with MILF have forced the government to publicly acknowledge the roots of the Moro problem but like previous regimes, GMA’s lacks the political will to solve it by recognizing the right to self-determination, especially in the light of decades-old national oppression and discrimination.

It is clear why the Philippine government is not about to give up Mindanao or even only the acknowledged Moro ancestral domains to the Moro people. All talk about national sovereignty and the indivisibility of Philippine territory is just a convenient cover for the real reasons: ownership of land by big non-Moro landowners, including multinationals such as Dole and Del Monte, and access to the still untapped natural resources in Mindanao, including gold, copper and natural gas.

Further, the US "war on terror" has brought to fore the importance of Mindanao as a strategic basing area for the US military forces, being at the center of Southeast Asia while having equal access to both the Middle East and Northeast Asia.

The GMA regime, like its predecessors, will do all it can to deprive the Moro people of their ancestral domain and genuine autonomy, even as it pays lip service to these. After all, from where she sits, the de facto President claims she is as strong as she wants to be. ###

August 09, 2007

Tell that to the Marines

No matter how successful the government may be in conjuring a picture of improved peace and order conditions in Mindanao, the truth is bound to emerge sooner or later, as in the latest Basilan incident.

Is the ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Movement (MILF) holding or is government poised to go on an all-out offensive against it for the debacle suffered by the Philippine Marines last July 10 in an 8-hour gun battle with the Moro rebels? Is the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) to blame for the beheading of the dead Marines and is the government merely undertaking necessary police action to arrest 130 suspects it has identified?

First of all, what really happened? The MILF has been consistent in its version: the Marines entered an MILF-controlled territory in Tipo-tipo, Basilan. Failing to coordinate with them in accordance with the ceasefire agreement, the AFP wittingly or unwittingly provoked an armed attack by MILF forces. The Moro rebel group quickly owned up to the killing of 23 Marines and to suffering four fatalities on its side. They denied that their forces mutilated the corpses of ten of the 14 men that the AFP acknowledged to have been killed in action.

The MILF called for an investigation of the incident under the auspices of the joint GRP-MILF Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities and by international human rights organizations. Nonetheless, they refused to surrender their members whom the government claimed were the perpetrators despite several ultimatums including the supposed “D-day” last July 31 for the planned AFP assault against them.

The military top brass insists the soldiers were attacked by the MILF treacherously and without provocation. The official claim is that, if at all, the Marines’ only sin was failure to coordinate their entry into MILF territory (the AFP initially denied that Tipo-tipo was MILF territory) while on a mission to find and rescue the kidnapped Italian priest, Fr. Giancarlo Bossi. Malacanang says the MILF could have complained of the incursion under existing mechanisms in order to avert a clash but instead it staged the ambush on the hapless Marines in gross violation of the ceasefire agreement.

Whatever triggered the Basilan encounter and no matter how hard the government tries to withhold and conceal critical facts and circumstances, certain undeniable truths emerge.

Truth #1: The ASG is far from eradicated, five years after Balikatan 02-1, the landmark RP-US military exercise held under the Visiting Forces Agreement that involved anywhere from 1,650 to 2,665 US troops, 150 of them Special Forces, and 3,800 Filipino soldiers. Then Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes stated that the purpose of the operation was to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf and free a Filipino nurse and an American missionary couple taken hostage in May 2001.

There was a huge controversy over the entry and presence of US forces in combat zones in Basilan or anywhere in Philippine territory even for military exercises. An International Solidarity Mission subsequently unearthed evidence that US troops were in fact involved in combat operations while purportedly training Philippine troops for counter-terrorist operations. Objections from many quarters, including the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, were overcome by public clamor to wipe out the ASG, a job the AFP appeared incapable of doing on its own.

Truth #2: The Abu Sayyaf is still in Basilan and elsewhere in Mindanao and the Philippines. And so are the US Special Forces!

The Abu Sayyaf, as well as so-called "lost commands" of the MILF & Moro National Liberation Front, are to the Philippine government/Arroyo regime as Al Qaeda is to the US government/Bush regime -- a convenient excuse for military presence and activity in certain sensitive areas, but ultimately a source of embarrassment not only because they appear impervious to all-out military and police operations but also because of their revealing histories.

The ASG was a creation of the Philippine military and police and, like Al Qaeda, was trained and used by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Like the Al Qaeda, it is anybody’s guess whether Abu Sayyaf had gone “out of control” of their creators, or the latter are not in fact still their handlers.

US troops have not left the Philippines since Balikatan 02-1 wrapped up in mid-July 2002. Aside from a continuing series of joint military exercises not only in Mindanao but in the Visayas and Luzon as well, US forces have remained under various pretexts such as "humanitarian operations/missions"-- road-building and other public works, disaster relief and rescue, medical missions, etc., all in continuing violation of the Philippine Constitution.

Truth #3: Government troops are poised to launch a massive assault in Basilan and other parts of Western Mindanao under the guise of conducting "police operations" to arrest the perpetrators of the beheading/mutilation of the dead Marines.

The Arroyo administration has gone to great lengths to make it appear that the beheadings are a "police problem", obscuring the fact that they are a byproduct of an armed encounter with the MILF. But backing up this "police operation" in a remote Basilan barangay with over 5,000 troops, betrays the fact that this is a massive military campaign with still undisclosed military objectives.

Even now, with several postponements and only a few skirmishes, the lives and livelihood of more than 4,000 Basilan residents have been disrupted with the threatened destruction of their meager belongings and sources of livelihood as well being caught in the crossfire or of being mistaken for “terrorists” themselves.

Truth #4: Despite repeated government announcements that formal peace talks between GRP and MILF are about to resume and a peace agreement is in the offing, prospects for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao are no better now than when armed hostilities flared up decades ago.

Two peace agreements with the MNLF -- the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Accord -- have evidently failed to bring peace to Mindanao and uplift the lives of the Moro people. This is because the root cause of the Moro problem -- recognition of and upholding their right to self determination, including their right to their lost ancestral lands -- has not been addressed. The Arroyo regime has instead been engaged in a game of cooptation utilizing economic aid from the US, Japan, the European Union and others combined with the threat of “terrorist” labeling by the US and Philippine governments with all the dire consequences that entails.

Truth #5: The AFP continues to throw its troops into battle with defective arms, ammunition and equipment and is saddled with bungled operations. The AFP has not explained why the Marines ventured into MILF territory without informing the MILF in accordance with a standing ceasefire agreement. Recall also the Lamitan, Basilan hospital incident where the Abu Sayyaf inexplicably managed to slip out of a supposedly tight AFP cordon with even some of their hostages in tow.

Periodic debacles such as the Tipo-tipo battle revive and give credence to charges of deeply entrenched corruption in high places in both the AFP and Defense Department.

Worse, Mrs. Arroyo and her generals are covering up for their bungling and criminal disregard for the safety and well-being of foot soldiers and the civilian population, by utilizing anti-Muslim chauvinism and warmongering and pretending to render justice for the senselessly slain Marines in order to carry out the regime's military campaigns.#

August 03, 2007

ASEAN hype

The press releases churned out of the 40th Ministerial Meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) this week gives the impression ASEAN is well on the way to becoming a formidable economic bloc and a force to reckon with in the geopolitical landscape. This self-congratulatory stance was exemplified by the braggadocio in the keynote speech of de facto Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, that the lofty vision of an “ASEAN community” is achievable by the year 2015, and not the official target of 2020.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. While it is true that ASEAN leaders had decided to eliminate tariffs on practically all goods by 2015, there is no way this could translate into maximal trade flows among the group’s 10 member-nations. Business World reports that intra-ASEAN trade only rose marginally to one-fourth of the region’s total trade even with tariff cuts that began way back in 1993 with the ASEAN Free Trade Area or AFTA. This is considered dismal compared to the other trading blocs such as the European Union (EU) to which Mrs. Arroyo has repeatedly, and erroneously, likened ASEAN.

The Institute of Political Economy (IPE), a local think tank explains, “In practice AFTA and its three core agreements (on tariff, investment and services) have so far merely given the appearance of political cooperation on economic liberalization policy changes that were happening anyway. Also, because of the depth of unilateral liberalization in the ASEAN countries, there do not appear to have been any significant tariff or investor benefits for being an ASEAN member as opposed to a non-ASEAN member.”

How can the ASEAN countries achieve real economic integration, such as that of the EU or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for it to wield collective economic clout? It must be underscored that the European Union arose from the common interest of its individual member-nations to protect their traditional markets and to better challenge the US economically by pooling their resources and presenting a common front against its main rival.

In contrast, the US and the EU are still the main export markets of ASEAN with Japan and China close behind. At a time when bilateral free trade agreements are fast being inked between individual countries in ASEAN and the big economies such as the US, EU, Japan and the economic powerhouses, China and India, the regional grouping is easily overshadowed or relegated to the sidelines.

Most of the individual countries in ASEAN, especially the five core members -- the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – historically and currently have more closely identified their economic and security interests with external big powers, principally the US, than with each other. They have not been able to autonomously define a substantial, so-called regional, agenda. As pointed out by IPE, “(T)he major direction of ASEAN today -- as embodied in the targeted ASEAN Community by 2020 – is conspicuously framed in terms of building closer security and economic links with non-ASEAN powers.”

When it comes to assessing the ASEAN’s political coherence and independence as a regional body as well as its supposedly distinct approach to building unity the “ASEAN way”, the hype far outstrips reality.

The ASEAN was formed in 1967 with the blessings of the US, as a bulwark against the spread of socialism mainly coming from China, North Korea, Indochina and national liberation movements waging armed struggles within the original five member-countries. It was comprised of member-states with governments that were unabashedly pro-US and anti-communist as well as openly authoritarian; among them were Suharto of Indonesia, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Brunei, an Islamic monarchy, was admitted after gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1984.

Ateneo history professor, Dr. Francis Gealogo, points pout, “The ASEAN, though presented as an economic and cultural grouping, (unlike the earlier groupings that were military and diplomatic alliances), still retained its anti-communist character as the single most common and binding attribute of the formation. Despite its official pronouncements, ASEAN was being presented as a counterweight to the formation of a consolidated socialist bloc of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and a reclusive Burma.” But much more than Cold War alignments was the fact that at the height of the US embroilment in the Vietnam War, US military deployments and operations were being launched from the territories of ASEAN member-nations.

In addition, Dr. Gealogo recalls, “(M)ost of the original members of ASEAN did not confine the anti-communist rhetoric to its foreign policy orientation. The suppression of the communist movements … under various official government doctrines (e.g., New Order in Indonesia, New Society in the Philippines; Emergency in Malaysia) meant that democratic governance and the pursuit of social justice were more rhetoric than actual principles that were being implemented in the governments of member states.”

State terror under the guise of countering communism was adopted, according to Dr. Gealogo, “ in order to further cement the support that governments of original member nations were getting from the United States. .. (and) to prolong the stay in power of most of the rulers of the member states. Thus, while ASEAN would pride itself as the ‘democratic’ representative of the region, in contrast to ‘undemocratic’ communist Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, for all intents and purposes, the respect for human rights and individual freedoms of people of member states would be proven to be of low significance to the definition of ASEAN and the ASEAN way.”

Moreover, the ASEAN’s expansion to virtually all of the countries in the region could not be correctly attributed to its performance or strength as a regional grouping but to largely extraneous factors and circumstances. The collapse of the Soviet bloc provided the condition for the Indochina states to gravitate towards a regional association that could facilitate their integration into the global capitalist arena. In a similar vein, Myanmar’s military junta, seeking to break prolonged international isolation, sought legitimacy by participating in whatever international arena it could avail of.

Meanwhile, the reported resistance by Myanmar and the three Indochinese countries to the establishment of an ASEAN human rights body is being attributed to their “authoritarian or single-party governments”. This discriminatory line resurrects the anachronistic “democracy vs. communism” divide and plays up the “black sheep” image of Myanmar while completely ignoring the internationally condemned human rights record of the Arroyo regime, the unchanged politically repressive, elite rule in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and the reigning military junta in Thailand. The human rights, pro-democracy stance of the ASEAN is clearly hollow and hypocritical.

The ASEAN delegates are congratulating themselves. The US representative and the EU foreign minister heaped lavish praise for what the ASEAN has accomplished. The Arroyo government is basking in the glow of the “successful” meetings it has hosted and vainly claims credit for advancing ASEAN economic integration, human rights and security in the region.

But who’s cheering? ###