April 28, 2008

Agbiag ti umili ti Kordillera!*

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Agbiag ti Umili ti Kordilyera!?

"Life! If life is threatened, what should we do? RESIST! This we must do, otherwise, we are dishonored and that is worse than death. If we do not fight, we die anyway. If we fight, we die honorably... and our children may win and keep this land. And the land shall become even more precious when nourished by our sweat and blood."—Macliing Dulag

In the early years of the Marcos dictatorship, when martial rule still struck terror in the hearts of many, Macliing Dulag led the Kalinga people’s resistance against the construction of the Chico Dam. The dam would have driven them from their ancestral lands, destroyed their source of livelihood, and submerged everything they held sacred under tons of mud and water. It would have buried their past, obliterated their identity as a people, and destroyed their future in the name of “development” and “progress”. The resistance to the Chico Dam so effectively dramatized the struggle of the Igorots – the name the Cordillera peoples collectively call themselves – against national oppression, exploitation and discrimination. Such that when Macliing Dulag was gunned down by government troops on April 24, 1980, he rose to become the symbol of the Cordillera people’s struggle for self-determination.

Every year since 1985, a large, mixed group of youth, workers, urban poor, peasants, church people and professionals, some of them foreigners, trek to a chosen place somewhere in the Cordillera on April 24 to celebrate “Cordillera Day”. The occasion highlights the unity and resolve of the peoples of the Gran Cordillera mountain ranges to persist in their struggle for their ancestral domain; for the right to practice and develop their indigenous socio-political systems and to maintain their cultural integrity; for the right to self-determination ; and their basic human rights -- against the anti-people and anti-national schemes of the imperialists and the local puppet state as exemplified by the current US-Arroyo regime.

This year, three busloads and half a dozen other vehicles left Metro-Manila Monday evening and arrived in the wee hours of the 22nd here at San Miguel, Abra, where we were met by peasants, workers, youth and professionals of the Cordillera. We recall that also in the early 70s, the Tinggians of Abra waged a resolute struggle against the Cellophil Resources Corporation, forcing it to shut down. Today, Abra remains one of the poorest provinces in the country with a record number of OFWs. It is once again being targeted by multinational corporations, this time for mining operations. As before, local government officials serve as the multinationals’ agents, misrepresenting mining as the solution to unemployment and poverty in the province.

This year’s theme for Cordillera Day, “Resist Mining Plunder and State Terrorism” addresses the current situation and challenge in the Cordillera as well as nationwide. The 1995 Philippine Mining Act opened up to foreign corporations as much as 15 million hectares. More than half of these are in indigenous territory, with six of 23 priority projects in the Cordillera. The immediate result is the displacement of indigenous peoples and other poor farming communities, driving them into greater poverty, misery and social and cultural degradation. The end result is the destruction of the land and the environment which, for the indigenous peoples, is the fountainhead of life, of their collective identity and of their livelihood passed down from one generation to the next.

As early as the American colonial period, the Cordillera became known for its copper and gold mines, of which the biggest were eventually owned by Americans. The exploitation of mining resources in the Cordillera by foreigners, as of other natural resources all over the country, continued well beyond the granting of formal Philippine independence in 1946, as US imperialism continued to dominate and plunder the Philippine economy through unequal treaties and sheer geopolitical pressure.

One would think that after a century of exploitation and oppression, there would be nothing left for foreign capital to extract from the Cordillera or for that matter from the rest of our islands. But that is not the logic of imperialism. Contrary to claims that “globalization” would bring prosperity and progress to all, including Third World countries, the entire world capitalist system has gone into chronic stagnation and ever deeper crises. To escape from the rut of overproduction, highly industrialized economies constantly pass on the burden to the Third World economies, pushing them deeper and deeper into the ocean of debt and depression. Neoliberal globalization has only further opened up the Philippine economy to exploitation and plunder by foreign capital, stunting and then destroying our own industries and rendering our economy even more dependent and vulnerable.

Invariably, as the people awaken and struggle against increasingly intolerable exploitation and oppression by multinational corporations and their local comprador partners, the puppet state’s iron hand strikes swiftly and ruthlessly. Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), the Arroyo regime’s counter-insurgency campaign, has gone beyond intensifying military operations against the NPA while terrorizing the civilian population in the countryside. It has targeted progressive leaders, mass activists and even professionals for assassination, abduction, illegal arrest, torture and prolonged detention. Militarization has extended into urban areas including Metro Manila communities. Even without the formal declaration of martial rule, such fascist brutality continues with impunity in the name of “counter-terrorism”, under the aegis of the US-led “war on terror”. This is state terrorism at its naked worst, beyond all bounds of law, morality and human decency.

The people’s resistance to the plunder of our natural resources has strategic importance, particularly for the generations still to come. At the same time, the people’s resistance to state terror under the Arroyo government serves to defend the people’s democratic and fundamental human rights, and contributes to the eventual downfall of this corrupt, illegitimate and puppet regime while weakening imperialism’s stranglehold in this part of the world.
For it is only under a truly free and democratic state that the national patrimony could be developed to benefit the Cordillera people and the Filipino people for generations to come.
* Long live the Cordillera People!

April 17, 2008

The potent difference

Under the present republican system holding sway in the Philippines, including its considerable distortion, corruption and aberrations in practice, the cards are heavily stacked in favor of the executive branch. Thus, the real "check-and-balance" among the three branches of government can only be achieved through dynamic interaction and engagement of either one or both branches (legislative and judicial) with other sectors of society, including or not the least, the democratic mass protest movement.

Last Tuesday, 200 protesters, including around 120 who traveled in a caravan of vehicles all the way up to Baguio City from Manila, were pleasantly surprised that they were allowed to march up to the entrance to the Supreme Court compound instead of being immediately dispersed by the hundreds of policemen deployed to secure the Court against them. Their representatives were earlier ushered into the office of Chief Justice Reynato Puno by the assistant Clerk of Court after being informed that Mr. Puno had announced to the mass media that he was ready to receive a delegation from the protesters.

I, representing Bayan, together with Fr. Joe Dizon (Solidarity Philippines) and RC Constantino, delivered an Open Letter to the SC justices (www.petitiononline.com/toSC/petition.html) initially signed by 36 individuals reflecting a rainbow of political colors such as protestant bishops Felixberto Calang( IFI), Alex Wandag (ECP), Roman Tiples (UCCP) and Filomeno Ang (IFI); Maita Gomez (Action for Economic Reforms); Bro. Armin Luistro (Lasallian Justice and Peace Commission); Rafael Mariano (Anakpawis); Betina Legarda (Concerned Citizens Movement); Leloy Claudio (Ateneo de Manila faculty); Prof. Ramon Guillermo (UP faculty); Attorney Adel Tamano (UNO); Raymond Palatino (Kabataan Party List) and Netty Sillacos (Citizens for ConCon).

The letter called on the justices to reconsider the 9-6 majority decision upholding former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Romulo Neri’s claim of executive privilege over three questions asked of him by senators investigating the scandal-ridden national broadband network (NBN) deal. In addition, three justices who had voted in favor of Mr. Neri, namely Justices Brion, Velasco and Corona were asked to inhibit themselves from voting on the Senate’s Motion for Reconsideration since their independence from Malacanang had been placed under a cloud of doubt and therefore their votes on the Neri case, compromised.

Ellen Tordesillas, a journalist who was able to join us in the unexpected brief meeting with Mr. Puno, recalls that when asked about the possibility of the justices reversing their decision, Puno replied tersely but meaningfully, “Who knows? We might.”

Dire warnings abound that the Senate’s MR is an exercise in futility given the demonstrated clout of Malacanang on the majority in the Neri case consisting of Justice Teresita de Castro as ponente and Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Renato Corona, Dante Tinga, Minita Chico Nazario, Presbitero Velasco, Eduardo Antonio Nachura, Ruben Reyes and Arturo Brion. (All of them except Mr. Quisumbing were appointed by President Arroyo and the last one was a Cabinet member who supported Mr. Neri’s refusal to answer the Senate’s questions on the NBN scam shortly before joining the Court and voting to uphold Mr. Neri’s invocation of executive privilege.) Opposition senators who had been hot on the heels of the national broadband network anomalies appeared more anxious than upbeat and even unsure if not reluctant about the MR.

The Court’s subsequent decision to give due course to the Senate motion, by asking Mr. Neri to comment, is a truly welcome reprieve. It certainly appears that the almost universal negative reaction from both legal and non-legal luminaries, including former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, former SC Justice Isagani Cruz and constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas to name a few, and the still small yet dramatic protest actions that attended the filing of the Senate MR in Manila and the en banc SC deliberation in Baguio, served to warn the majority assenting justices not to dismiss the motion outright or risk provoking a firestorm of protest.

According to Justice Cruz, “The people cannot be blamed for suspecting that President Arroyo has blocked the continued probe of that notorious agreement because she herself and her husband are secretly and directly involved in its high-level iniquities. Otherwise, she should be the first, as the political and moral leader of the nation, to expose the unbelievable hideousness of that contract.”

Former CJ Panganiban had opined before the March 25 Court decision, “The only independent and credible state institutions that the public still trusts in the search for truth are the Senate and the Supreme Court. Should these two fail to unravel the complete truth, the people…may finally lose hope in our normal democratic processes. They may once again take to the streets and the plazas to forge what CBCP President (Archbishop) Angel Lagdameo calls a ‘new type of people power.’”

After the Court decided in Mr. Neri’s favor, Mr. Panganiban pointedly said, “… by giving the ‘presidential communications privilege’ presumptive confidentiality, the majority inexplicably expanded kingly prerogatives. It unreasonably suppressed the truth.” Nonetheless he himself countered, “I would like to believe that the Neri decision is a mere aberration and would not suffice to label the present tribunal as the Arroyo Supreme Court. But then, it must quickly choose what it wants to do. Is it to serve or to check President Arroyo?”

The issues go even beyond “truth and accountability” re the ZTE-NBN corrupt deal or even Mrs. Arroyo. It is about how the entire system of rule in this country, unless checked, is heavily stacked in favor of the clique in power and how there are built-in measures and mechanisms that can be perverted to preserve this unjust status quo to the detriment of the common good.

What the Supreme Court eventually chooses to do will certainly be determined not only by what takes place in the judicial arena. The hard-earned lesson for us in countless battles against anti-people state policies, malfeasance in office and intractable abuse of authority: the people cannot simply rely on Congress, even with a marginally oppositionist Senate, nor the “court of last resort” to provide the sufficient and effective check to an imperviously autocratic Chief Executive like Mrs. Arroyo.

It takes the democratic protest movement – in the form of marchers in the streets; mass meetings in farms, factories, schools and communities; circles of genuine and untrammeled “discernment” among the middle forces; critical analyses and calls to action in the mass media; and firm, principled opposition from below even in the bastions of conservatism and reaction such as Parliament, the civilian and military bureaucracy and in the institutional churches – to make the potent difference.

The people’s struggle for democracy, justice, economic prosperity and social progress requires perseverance and tenacity, seizing all opportunities, using all available avenues, linking arms in cooperation and coordination with all positive forces and respecting differences, while working hard in a principled manner, to overcome them

April 10, 2008

The new people power

The paper issued by the Commission on Social Apostolate, Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, is a serious, well-thought-out dissertation that attempts to range the responses to the ZTE-NBN scandal and draw up principles as well as action points after analyzing the various options available to those who wish to respond constructively to the latest disgraceful conduct of the Arroyo regime and the larger political crisis.

Today’s column will try to succinctly present the view that what is needed at this time is a new “People Power” that will not only oust Gloria but can also eventually lead to even more substantial and fundamental reforms that our people have long been clamoring for.

It must be stated forthrightly that what is truly needed is to change the entire unsound system of politics in this country and much of the inequitable socio-economic set-up that goes with it. To accomplish this, it is not enough to remove a corrupt, immoral and despotic leader; the problems of Philippine society are more deeply rooted than whoever among the ruling elite happens to head the current government. This is the painful lesson of the two “People Power” uprisings that toppled governments that were deemed illegitimate by the people.

EDSA I was the people’s victory, the culmination of a long, hard and bitter struggle against dictatorship that resulted in the restoration of formal democratic institutions and a modicum of civil and political liberties despite the fact that social and economic iniquities persisted.

Nonetheless, the fact that armed conflicts between the government and revolutionary movements were not extinguished much less resolved, and the state’s repressive machinery is again primarily being utilized in order to crush social unrest under the so-called restored democratic institutions, tells a lot about what EDSA-type popular uprisings have and have not accomplished.

EDSA 2, albeit also correct and quite successful in ousting a corrupt and anti-people regime, now appears to be a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. This is what the majority of Filipinos exclaim today under the Arroyo regime: it is worse than the Estrada regime. Ironically, this has been turned into an argument against removing Mrs. Arroyo from power; i.e. someone worse may take over. It is therefore necessary to restate why Mrs. Arroyo must not be allowed to stay another day in office.

The Arroyo regime is the principal representative, promoter and beneficiary of the reactionary system of rule, of the status quo. It is the principal opponent of change. If it is not removed from power, the rotten system can only get worse and further intensify the grievous harm inflicted on the people.

A clear-cut example is the spiraling prices of basic goods like oil products and rice. Poverty is expanding and growing in intensity because of economic policies that favor the domestic elite and their foreign business partners to the detriment of the interests of the broad masses of the people. The government cop-out is that this crisis is global and it is beyond government's control, but in truth the rice and food crisis is rooted in the government’s overzealous, uncritical and even self-serving implementation of neoliberal policies of deregulation and liberalization, aggravated by corruption and bureaucrat capitalism.

Social and political reformers see compelling reasons to call for the ouster of the Arroyo regime. To allow it to continue its rule without calling it to account for its grievous crimes is not just a recipe for the reign of impunity, it can only result precisely in undermining core democratic values and institutions (flawed as they are and heavily distorted in the Philippine setting) and will lead, not to the path of reform, but to maintaining a sick political and social order.

It is not true that the method of changing governments, including extraconstitutional or even unconstitutional means, is the source of instability, or the reason for the undermining or destruction of democratic institutions. History is replete with extraconstitutional and "unconstitutional" overturns that have brought about or restored democracy and eventually social stability and progress.

On the contrary, it is the ruling elite's trashing of the rule of law and trampling on constitutional and legal process such as what the Arroyo regime has been doing with brazenness and impunity, that has in fact bastardized and destroyed these so-called democratic institutions.

While it is not automatic that the system will change even if this morally reprehensible, incorrigibly opportunist, rapacious, and murderous Arroyo regime is booted out, this step is nonetheless important and necessary for the much-sought-after meaningful and substantive changes to take place.

A lot of work has to be done to realize the ouster of the Arroyo regime and to institute change in the system. Foremost of which is to unite and rally the people on the need to persevere in the struggle.

There is even a lot more work to do if the people do succeed in ousting the Arroyo regime. Ouster could pave the way towards significant reforms through a transition period.

These should include sweeping electoral reforms that will allow for fair, clean and credible elections to choose the new President; the filing of criminal charges against Mrs. Arroyo and all other officials for plunder, human rights violations and electoral fraud; urgent measures to bring about economic relief in terms of accessibility of basic goods and services; resumption of formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; rescinding the total-war policy and putting a stop to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, civilian displacements and other human rights violations; reform in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), most especially to address the issues of corruption, favoritism, unprofessionalism and human rights violations; pursuit of an independent foreign policy and international relations that uphold national sovereignty and putting a stop to the basing and combat operations of United States military forces inside Philippine territory in the guise of joint training exercises and the “war on terror.”

Even if the Arroyo regime manages to hang on and finish its term, the oust efforts will not go to waste. To the extent that the regime is exposed, any anointed "successor" will also be hard put to continue the same policies or even to protect Mrs. Arroyo’s vested interests (e.g. immunity from suit). Any attempt for Mrs. Arroyo to remain in power through Charter change or emergency/martial rule will be vehemently opposed by the people.

April 03, 2008

Reflections at graduation time

Nowadays, many families have mixed feelings at graduation time. It is supposed to be a happy day for both graduate and his actual or surrogate parents. In the Philippines, the college diploma is still held in high regard. For one, it is concrete proof of the hard work and sacrifices made by the parents or whoever footed the bill for the spiraling tuition fees and related costs of education. What a relief from a heavy burden and what promise commencement exercises signify to all concerned!

Yet today there is the realization that having a college degree is no longer the passport to success that tradition and old folks’ expectations make it out to be. Many a graduate faces the prospect of not finding a suitable job; i.e. one that is related to or commensurate to one’s university or collegiate education and pays a correspondingly adequate salary. Many more will face the daunting task of job hunting only to end up as another number in the yearly unemployment and underemployment statistics.

A few heart-rending examples: graduates in such esoteric courses as molecular biology, electronic engineering, even physics, ending up in call centers, being absorbed into the sales force of cell phone companies or shifting careers to become nurses-for-export. Worse, very many women college graduates become overseas Filipino workers doing menial household work while the men become factory workers doing the dirtiest, cheapest and most unsafe kinds of jobs.

Thirty three years ago, a couple of years after martial law was declared, I too graduated from the University of the Philippines. Frankly, I wouldn’t have bothered attending the general commencement exercises if fate hadn’t intervened and I ended up giving the valedictory address -- though I certainly wasn’t top of the graduating class.

As luck would have it, the real valedictorian was a brilliant though unassuming Engineering student with a weighted average of 1.05. He turned down the honor of addressing the graduating class and all the faculty and administration officials assembled because, according to then Dean of Student Affairs, Prof. Armando Malay, he didn’t know what message to impart. That gave Dean Malay the opening to choose who he felt would be better “qualified”.

The good dean offered it to me. I had returned to school to finish a Bachelor of Arts course that had been interrupted by a short stint in the underground movement upon the declaration of martial law and a subsequent four-month detention in a military camp. He gambled that I somehow personified the activist cum scholar “tradition” of UP and would have enough gumption to say something worthwhile despite the very real constraints on freedom of speech that had been imposed.

I distinctly remember asking the help of three people. The first was a close friend, the man I eventually married. Another was Mr. Sammy Rodriguez, a putative high-ranking official of the old Communist Party of the Philippines and a long-time political prisoner even before martial law who the Dictator Marcos had rearrested. And the last was the then Collegian editor, now faculty member at the UP School of Economics.

My friend advised me to be short and sweet; that is, to try to deliver something relevant, straightforward, and yes, defiant, that my fellow graduates would appreciate if not fully identify with. We agreed I would elaborate on the need to sustain the legacy of UP, as the premier state university and the hotbed of student activism in the 70s, by emphasizing the virtue of personal and professional integrity in the future workplace and the commitment to “serve the people” as Chairman Mao had inspired countless youth in China and the world over to do.

Mr. Rodriguez advised me to be courageous and honest, virtues that he himself embodied. The Collegian editor translated my plain speech written in English to what the UP Newsletter subsequently described as lilting Filipino prose.

It was a fearsome time that called forth from the people, most especially the youth, much fearlessness. It had to begin by breaking through the wall of silence that had been erected overnight by the clampdown on mass media, on freedom of speech and assembly and on any and all forms of dissent. Graduation time in 1975 presented an unusual opportunity to affirm the nationalist and democratic aspirations of the Filipino people in a climate of fascist political repression.

The socio-economic crisis was primarily evinced as a political one engendered by the combination of a power hungry, wily and ruthless president and a system of elite rule wracked by deadly internal wrangling, battered by an urban democratic movement that raised gigantic rallies and demonstrations and spurred the growth of genuine trade unionism and militant youth and student activism, and threatened by a communist-led armed guerilla movement in the countryside.

In thinly veiled terms, my valedictory address called to mind the struggles that UP students played a prominent role in, from student rights and welfare, democratization in the university, to support for the just demands of the transport sector and the commuting public against oil price hikes, to the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune and the struggle to resist the impending imposition of martial rule. How all this was animated by the simple yet profound admonition to “serve the people”. How this legacy of critical thinking, commitment to serve one’s country and people and the need to wage a resolute struggle for basic reforms was now a collective endowment on each graduate as he/she left the university to enter into the “real” world.

Many years later, I would note how even some of the most jaded bureaucrats, company executives and professionals at the peak of their careers who graduated from UP in the 70s, would hark back to this legacy in invoking his/her nationalist, if not, activist credentials.

Would that the current batch of new graduates turn their anxieties and frustrations in facing a bleak economic future from a personal predicament to a commitment to be a force for fundamental change in our crisis-ridden society.#