December 30, 2007

Another year of turbulence

No amount of Malacanang drumbeating can refute market vendors’ testimonies that they sold less this Christmas season than last year. For those Filipino families that can still afford a noche buena, that amounts to far less and simpler food on the table and less gifts or none at all under the Christmas tree, especially if they didn’t have the time, the energy nor the opportunity to go bargain hunting in Divisoria.

Food and drinks are not the only missing ingredients. More families are also missing family members to share the traditional Christmas meal with. Parents, siblings, sons and daughters are spending Christmas thousands of miles away as overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). An unprecedented 9-10 million OFWs, or more than ten percent of the population, are in fact economic refugees scattered in 192 countries.

Three thousand four hundred Filipinos leave the country everyday constituting a strategic drain of professional and skilled labor but the country’s economic managers can only shortsightedly see the record remittances of migrant workers’ earnings. Unfortunately, almost their entire earnings end up covering family consumption expenses as well as loans payments while the social costs of motherless/fatherless families, broken homes and migrant workers who end up exploited and abused in foreign lands are incalculable.

OFW families are still more fortunate than those families with no hope of ever spending Christmas again with their loved ones who are victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Despite international condemnation of the spate of political killings and abductions ascribed to state security agents, justice remains elusive for the victims. The government, most especially the generals of the Armed Forces and the National Police and de facto President Arroyo’s National Security Adviser, continues to wallow in a ludicrous “state of denial”, as aptly described in the official report of United Nations Special Rappporteur Philip Alston.

Add to these the significant number of victims of the gruesome blasts at the Glorietta Mall and the House of Representatives; in both cases, the public continues to be skeptical regarding police theories about the reasons for the explosions and the subsequent claim of authorities that these cases have been solved. The public, inured to a constant stream of bad news, hardly even takes notice of the sporadic bomb blasts in the provinces that are routinely ascribed to “terrorists”. One even suspects these are deliberately being undertaken to provide macabre justification for the US-backed and funded “counter-terrorism” campaigns.

Senator Mar Roxas’ most recent expose of a new contract inked by Malacanang with a United States lobby firm known as Covington & Burling LLP is said to be worse than the Venable contract that got NSA Norberto Gonzales into hot water with the Senate. For one it is worth two billion pesos compared to the fifty million-peso price tag on the Venable contract. For another, while the Venable deal was a lobbying consultancy contract to “secure grants and (US) congressional earmarks” for Mrs. Arroyo’s Charter change initiative, the Covington contract seeks to lobby the US Congress to accept repressive “counterterrorist” measures of the Arroyo regime.

According to Mr. Roxas, “This amount is for something more, perhaps like getting the US Defense and Military establishment to soften resistance to a new strain of Martial Law.” In other words, the Filipino people are being made to pay for mayhem that the US-backed Arroyo regime is planning to inflict on them.

Government credibility is at an all-time low. The Ghosts of Anomalies Past keep catching up with and are magnified by those of Anomalies Present that in turn portend even worse ghosts of Anomalies Yet to Come. Moreover, attempts of officialdom to cover-up the trail of wrongdoing constitute distinct crimes that tear at the foundations of whatever is left of the trappings of institutional, Western-type democracy – the rule of law, public accountability, the right to information, separation of powers and not the least, the illusion of free and fair elections.

As a case in point, take the presidential pardon of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada shortly after being convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan. It had nothing to do with clemency or justice as any fair person could easily discern. It was nothing less than a shameless travesty of the rule of law aimed at neutralizing Mr. Estrada, still a popular rallying figure for the unorganized masses seething with anger at the Arroyo administration, and dividing the Opposition together with blunting renewed impeach/oust moves against Mrs. Arroyo.

The Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Reynato Puno appears to be one of the few saving graces of the current government leadership. Mr. Puno pursued not only an independent track from both the executive and legislative branches but also initiated measures to uphold and protect human rights, in the process challenging Malacanang’s policies and pronouncements, in order to effect remedies for the latter’s abuses and grave misconduct.

Are we any closer to peace and the resolution of problems that cause so much hardship and misery for our people and impel unceasing protests and intractable rebellion? The saber-rattling and war mongering of Malacanang and the military as well as the police establishments indicate otherwise.

They bury their heads in the sand and persist in the delusion that counter-insurgency campaigns are succeeding, that the government can crush armed opposition in a few years. Yet they ask for more repressive laws, including the restoration of the failed and ineffective Anti-Subversion Law and the repeal of the Anti-terrorism Law aka Human Security Act to completely unleash legalized state terrorism upon the people.

The coming year 2008 promises to be even more turbulent than its predecessor. That is because the national leadership – or what tries to pass itself off as one – is by now completely bereft of any shred of moral ascendancy, credibility and ergo popular support. The Arroyo regime will inevitably generate stronger opposition and resistance from the people. It could thus be tempted to resort to ever more repressive measures -- up to and including what Senator Roxas anticipates to be a “new strain of martial law.”#

*Published in Business World
28-29 December 2007


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