November 13, 2008

Beyond euphoria

Filipinos know the feeling, the euphoria that exploded in the US over the victory of Barack Obama, the first African-American to win in the US presidential elections, over John McCain, US President George Bush's anointed candidate. It was akin to the collective high that overcame the vast majority of the Filipino people when the Marcos dictatorship fell in 1986 and the unassuming widow of the slain opposition leader, Ninoy Aquino, assumed the presidency.

Such great expectations however were eventually dissipated as the Aquino Presidency failed to go beyond restoring the formal trappings of liberal democracy to undertake fundamental reforms in politics and society that the people clamored for.

There is a need for a more objective assessment of what the Obama victory signifies and what the Obama presidency could mean for the Filipino people. After all, the US continues to play a most dominant role and influence over the country’s internal affairs, whether US Ambassador Kristie Kenney will admit to it or not.

It is undeniable that the American people’s rejection of the Republican candidate McCain was a vote to repudiate eight years of President Bush – the Iraq war with no end in sight, body bags piling and thousands more soldiers injured in mind and body; the horror and the shame of torture in Abu Graib; Guantanamo Bay prisoners and other detained “terrorist suspects” denied basic due process rights; secret prison ships and extraordinary rendition; the “war on terror” as a justification for new military adventures that means big bucks for the military-industrial complex while costing the public $10 billion a month.

The worst financial and economic crisis to hit the US in eight decades dramatically unraveled barely two months before the elections and gave Obama’s candidacy the extraordinary boost that not even the Americans’ war weariness could. McCain’s populist appeal to white working class people against Obama’s supposed elitist viewpoint failed to resonate in the light of millions of Americans losing their homes, jobs and retirement savings with a looming economic recession to boot and the undeniable downslide of US prestige and economic clout.

Yes, the American people wanted change because they could no longer stomach the worst of what the US political and economic elite had brought their way in the last eight years of the neo-conservative Bush reign. Mr. Obama came to represent the hope for such a change.

Mr. Obama promised withdrawal from Iraq and a shift to Afghanistan where Bin Laden and the “real” terrorists that threaten US security reportedly enjoy safe haven. He condemned the Abu Graib atrocities, the use of torture and the denial of basic human rights to those accused of “terrorism”. He vowed to close Guantanamo Bay prison. He railed against the twisting of intelligence information to justify bad policies such as the invasion of Iraq. He said he would open discussions with even the acknowledged enemies of the US such as Iran, Cuba, and North Korea and would revert back to multilateralism in dealing with threats to US and global security.

More importantly, on the gut issues that eventually overshadowed everything else including Mr. Obama’s obvious lack of experience in political leadership and governance, Americans heard more of what they wanted to hear from the Democratic candidate. He shot down what he called “the old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.” He decried the Bush administration’s obeisance to market forces and how many Americans out of work, with no health care or those born into poverty were left to their own devices, with no government to turn to.

And while Obama downplayed the issue of race in his campaign and distanced himself from affirmative action for blacks and other minorities, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (his erstwhile pastor, a close family friend and an outspoken champion of black people) and other issues and images historically associated with the struggle of the Black community, even progressives sought to explain this as a requirement of support for Obama by the racist ruling elite and its mass media.

The Obama camp understood this quite well and avoided the race card as a defining issue of the campaign. For after all, without the support of a hefty section of that same elite that brought Mr. Bush to power, Mr. Obama could not have survived a long, bruising campaign to win the Democratic nomination and then the US presidency.

It will forever be a part of the Obama myth that his campaign was financed by ordinary Americans contributing $10 or $20 to the cause but the records show that McCain and Obama shared a common list of corporate and banking sponsors. The only difference is that, in the 2008 election, the Democratic candidate received more of the big money donations than the Republican did.

A closer look at the US President-elect's declared foreign policy reveals how fundamentally unchanged US policy will be on certain crucial issues such as counter terrorism or the use of the “war on terror” as pretext for wars of aggression and intervention; the continuing projection and use of US military power globally to protect and promote US interests; building and relying on multilateral alliances and coalitions and the use of surrogate forces such as the local military, police and paramilitary forces of client regimes while reserving the right to unilateral action; combined military and non-military means (econ development, humanitarian, etc.) to undergird counter-insurgency/counter-terrorist programs; an unabashedly pro-Israel position while obscuring the real economic and geopolitical reasons for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and incursions into Pakistan.

Thus what we Filipinos should know well from our own experience is that the few who are the real kingmakers and ultimate wielders of power always conceal their real interests or package these as the interests of the greater majority of the people. Consequently, the media hype and euphoria created necessarily raise expectations way above what is realistically and objectively possible.

The American people may have had a much longer experience with democracy, and they have reason to take pride in having fought for and achieved this. But US elections, as with its other democratic processes, are no less free from manipulation and control of the finance oligarchs, the same banking and industrial monopolists that dominate not only the economy but the entire state machinery, and seek to tighten their control not only over the US but over the entire globe. #

November 06, 2008

Aftermath of MOA-AD scuttling

On a recently held National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission to Lanao del Norte, North Cotobato and Maguindanao, the meaning of the intractable, long-drawn out armed conflict in Muslim Mindanao, this time between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was made painfully clear to us in the forlorn faces of the evacuees.

The hunger, sickness and generalized misery; the listlessness, the yearning to go back to their farms and homes safely; the appeal for a return to normalcy, for an end to the military restrictions over their comings and goings – these images and plaints became etched in our minds and hearts as we went from one evacuation center to another.

The Mission participants from Manila and different parts of Mindanao were divided into three teams each time: one to distribute the always pitifully few relief goods the Mission had collected; another to undertake medical and psycho-social work among the sick and the traumatized, particularly the children; and the third to talk to the local leaders, including local government officials and imams.

Scores of victims of human rights abuses were interviewed: those wrongfully arrested, those beaten up because they were rebel suspects or so that they would point to the rebels/rebel sympathizers; those whose relatives had been killed or were injured in the course of the government’s drive to flush out the “rogue elements” of the MILF; those whose houses and other properties had been destroyed.

After the teams had tallied the numbers of patients treated, families given relief goods and victims of human rights violations attended to, we came to the sobering conclusion that what the Mission had achieved was a mere drop in the bucket compared to the overwhelming needs.

It was also sharply brought home to us that while relief efforts are a must, the solution to the humanitarian crises that accompany the government’s military campaigns against the rebels lay in addressing the underlying causes of the armed conflict; that is to say, the return of ancestral lands stolen from the Bangsa Moro and respect for their right to self-determination as a distinct people.

The legal and political brouhaha over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MILF has resulted in the eruption of fresh hostilities between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Bangsa Moro Islamic Forces, which in turn fanned the already raging anti-Moro biases. The Arroyo regime rode on the widespread Moro-bashing to drastically renege on its commitment to the MOA that its negotiating panel's initials had clearly signified.

Malacañang shifted from lauding the MOA-AD as a breakthrough in the peace negotiations to disowning and trashing it along with ordering renewed military offensives against the MILF.

Mrs. Arroyo also disbanded the GRP peace panel and announced that henceforth “disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation” -- regarded by both the MILF and the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) as mere euphemisms for surrender -- would be government’s framework for all peace negotiations.

The Supreme Court decision on the MOA-AD declaring it unconstitutional and enjoining the Executive Department to desist from signing it; the seeming de-escalation of military offensives and the dispersal of MILF units; and the lack of prominence in the mass media of the plight of refugees – all these have placed the Moro people’s struggle once more in the back burner.

The Arroyo regime has acknowledged spending half a billion pesos in the highly publicized “pursuit operations” against MILF commanders blamed for atrocities in Central Mindanao. Unfortunately, apart from causing more civilian deaths, displacement and damage to property, the military has little to show for their effort.

Kalinaw Mindanao, a coalition of peace advocates, has decried the “disproportionate war” aimed at capturing or killing two MILF commanders at the expense of half-a-million internally displaced persons. The group says, “the government is barely providing relief services to evacuees and has seemingly turned over this responsibility to foreign aid agencies.”

The aftermath of government’s scuttling of the MOA-AD is continuing war and greater human suffering resulting from the insecure situation of displaced families and entire communities. They have been forced to virtually abandon their farms and homes. Their children cannot go to school as most of these serve as evacuation centers.

Then there is the constant fear of the Moros that they would be branded “terrorist” with the subsequent terrifying consequences.

The danger that the root causes fueling the armed conflict will again be papered over and the resort once more to the failed militarist solution is real. The Arroyo regime appears hell bent on obliterating whatever gains have been achieved in 11 years of negotiations with the MILF.

The impending impact of the global financial and economic crisis portends further economic hardships and greater misery for the Filipino people. But for those living in war-torn areas such as in Muslim Mindanao, the adverse effects are bound to be amplified by military offensives and consequent human rights and international humanitarian law violations.

As if to add insult to injury, there is strong evidence of growing US involvement in military campaigns and operations against the MILF, a revolutionary organization that is not even officially tagged by the US as a "foreign terrorist organization".

The longer the Arroyo regime tries to put off dealing with the issues of the Bangsa Moro's ancestral domain and right to self-determination, the more it will inflict suffering and misery on the Moro people, and the more they will be forced to fight back to survive. The time will come when the government will be forced to go back to the negotiating table and honor its own signature on the MOA-AD. #