November 26, 2009

Carnage waiting to happen

It was a carnage waiting to happen. In the wild, wild province of Maguindanao, ruled since 2001 by the Ampatuan clan, long-time political allies of de facto President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the November 23 massacre of 57 people and counting, could be chalked up as another grizzly case of wanton violence between two warring political clans. Yet the brutality, the brazenness, and the crass utilization of a monopoly of political power to carry out this hideous mass murder continues to shock and draw universal condemnation.

The victims include the wife and two pregnant women relatives of Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu, a slew of journalists from outside the province (who presumably could muster the courage and the independence to cover the event), two intrepid human rights lawyers and even several motorists who trailed the convoy as it set out for Sharif Aguak to file the vice mayor’s certificate of candidacy. The obvious intent of the brains behind the murders was to prevent the filing from taking place but with what overkill!

Only people who are in authority and are confident they are above the law could have engineered a massacre in broad daylight such as this. The accusing finger points unwaveringly in the direction of the Ampatuans who have been the uncontested overlords in Maguindanao since Mrs. Arroyo took power.

The circumstantial evidence is compelling; i.e. the public and private threats against the vice mayor from the incumbent governor; the reported call of Genalyn Mangudadatu, the vice mayor’s wife, that Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr., son of Gov. Ampatuan, led the more than 100 armed men that waylaid them; the refusal of the PNP and AFP commanders in the province to provide security for the convoy; the sighting of local police plus paramilitary forces among the killing horde; the backhoe traced to the provincial government that was used in excavating the hole in which some of the victims and their vehicles were buried; and the complete lack of action or even any credible statement from the responsible local government officials – all members of the Ampatuan clan – regarding the horrible crimes that took place within their jurisdiction, or more precisely, their feudal fiefdom .

And it is precisely because the prime suspects involve members of this well-armed warlord clan holding sway in Maguindanao, a province that has been key to Mrs. Arroyo’s and administration candidates’ tainted victories in past elections, that government is proceeding ever so slowly and cautiously in its response, despite pronouncements that it will undertake “immediate and relentless pursuit” of the perpetrators of the massacre.

First, a “crisis committee” led by Presidential Adviser Dureza is dispatched to appeal to the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus to cooperate in the investigation. Hot pursuit should have been the immediate action of police and military authorities but they instead preoccupy themselves with preventing “a breakdown in law and order” in anticipation of retaliation by the aggrieved members of the Mangudadatu clan.

A “state of emergency” is declared in Maguindanao but the implicated local government officials are not administratively suspended to prevent them from using their positions to obstruct the investigation, destroy evidence or shield suspects. They are not even being called by the police for questioning. The PNP spokesperson could only say lamely that they could not declare much less arrest anyone as a suspect without a written complaint from the aggrieved parties.

All of a sudden, government is ever so wary about violating the due process rights of the implicated Ampatuans. Warrantless arrests, Dureza assured, will not be resorted to even in a “state of emergency”. Former Justice Secretary and now presidential adviser on legal affairs, Raul Gonzales, he who has been quick to call for the arrest of Leftist parliamentarians on flimsy charges of “conspiracy to commit rebellion”, cautions against acting hastily against the Ampatuans in the absence of so-called solid evidence.

Mrs. Arroyo, while declaring a “national day of mourning” for the victims conspicuously does not condole with any of their bereaved relatives as is her wont but goes to her home province instead to inaugurate a highway. Strange behavior if not for the fact that she likely still hasn’t figured a way out of her latest dilemma: how is she to control the massive political fallout with one of her closest allies doing the unthinkable, while not doing anything to provoke the Ampatuans into spilling the beans on the massive cheating that has been taking place in Maguindanao, should she appear to be favoring the Mangudadatus in any fashion.

Executive Secretary Ermita sheepishly states that the government does not control everything that happens “on the ground” to excuse itself from doing anything to prevent the carnage. However, except for the Arroyo regime which is still very much in denial, almost all commentary and statements issued by various groups so far say that the conditions for the massacre had been laid by the Arroyo regime’s own policies and actuations.

KARAPATAN, the human rights alliance, ascribes to Oplan Bantay Laya, the Arroyo regime's counter-insurgency program, the mindset among the powers-that-be that led to the Maguindanao massacre: “Under OBL, the recruitment and arming of paramilitary groups such as the CAFGU and civilian volunteer organizations have persisted and in fact have been resorted to by the government in its mad design of purportedly ending the insurgency by 2010.”

“With this counter-insurgency program, so many victims, easily labeled as ‘fronts’ of ‘communist organizations’ and ‘enemies of the state’ have turned up dead, killed in a brutal manner, and some disappeared; with the Arroyo government doing nothing to stop the killings, disappearances and other human rights violations. In fact, it even heaped praises for known perpetrators identified with these crimes. Under this counter-insurgency scheme, the Arroyo government has become the biggest warlord in the land.”

“For far too long has this regime considered itself a law above the citizens, contravening the laws laid out in the legal instruments of the land so much so that its coddled political allies have imbibed the mindset that they, too, can commit such transgressions with impunity."
This state of impunity has likewise abetted fraud and plunder at the highest reaches of government, with the likes of Garci, Bolante, Abalos and no less than the first couple spared from an honest-to-goodness investigation, prosecution and conviction.

The Arroyo regime rightly deserves the people’s condemnation for its bloodied hand in this most vile crime against humanity. With the unrepentant Arroyo regime still in place and its kid gloves treatment of the Ampatuans, we certainly have not seen the last or even the worst of its atrocities. #

*Published in Business World
27-28 November 2009

November 19, 2009

Kabataan party list shows the way

For all intents and purposes, election rules be hanged, the campaign for the 2010 elections began several months ago. The ubiquitous paid political ads, the news headlines and opinion pages herald the fact. But except for the laudable efforts of a few media outlets, the academe and election reform advocates to draw out what the candidates stand for, the trend has been to focus on the admirable qualities of the candidates, be they pedigree, professional credentials, business acumen or government positions held.

And, oh yes, which showbiz personality or media figure is running with or has endorsed whom.

In an election season, one expects that candidates aspiring for national office will endeavor to explain the body of principles, objectives and policies on which they stand in appealing for the electorate’s vote. If it is not in the form of an official document called a platform, then by way of their innumerable speeches and other public pronouncements in the course of the campaign.

But this has not been the case. More often than not the public is left to deduce such an orientation or platform from the candidates’ safe, motherhood statements and elections promises that have no connection with historical precedents, current realities and future directions. The candidates merely pander to what they think the voters want to hear. Or else they try to hoodwink the public into thinking that programs and platforms are not all that important because in the end, it is the character of the candidate that matters.

Certainly, the many crimes of the Arroyo regime involving moral turpitude – stealing, lying, cheating – have so scandalized the people and dominated the political landscape that many of our people are led to throw up their hands in despair and look to heaven for the God-fearing Lot in the Philippines’ version of Sodom and Gomorra. In the process, key and substantive questions of public policy and governance are forgotten, set aside or papered over.

Such as how to revive an economy, create jobs and salvage livelihoods ruined by decades of anti-people, pro-elite and foreign-dominated policies and programs. How to protect the little that remains of our plundered and devastated environment. How to resolve intractable armed conflicts rooted in poverty, backwardness and social injustice. And, not least, how to keep the country from being a surrogate field of battle for the US and other powers bent on maintaining their strategic interests and spheres of influence in this part of Asia.

One political pundit who likes to “explain” things to those he thinks unenlightened or ignorant even posited his own scenario and theory of 3 stages in the current campaign leading up to the May 2010 polls. He does so to explain away why programs and platforms could not possibly be a prominent feature of the unofficial campaign so far.

There is supposed to be the first stage of “Hi and hello!” wherein the candidates “introduc(e) themselves, individually, to the public”. Upon the holding of party conventions, the same candidates will be “introducing themselves as standard-bearers of parties with platforms”. Then come the official campaign period, “they will be competing with the other candidates to convince voters… that they, their platforms, and coalition partners, deserve our vote.”

Thus the acceptable introductory spiel is supposed to be: "Hello, I'm running for President... I'm still looking for a running mate and we still have to build our senatorial slate. Let's talk about our platform later, okay?”

The thing is all candidates are paying lip service to the buzzword “change”, pretending to be the one who will change things for the better. Thus the public’s search for platforms and a serious discussion of issues doesn't stem from ignorance of the “stages” of the campaign. It stems from a demand to know from the candidates what change is needed and what they will commit themselves to.

Unfortunately, the logic that the slate must be put together and then the platform decided is that of the quintessential reactionary politician’s logic. To content oneself with this “staging” is obscurantism and tantamount to advocating things as they are. It even naively projects that at the 3rd stage - after the line ups have actually been formed – candidates will actually shift to a higher level of discussing the issues that people have been clamoring for.

The "explanation" also glosses over the fact that in the more economically and politically advanced countries, including the US, even in multi-party systems, the parties have clear political orientations which their members strongly adhere to. And the platform is a particular time-bound program for implementing that orientation under the prevailing circumstances and to address current issues.

In any case, there is nothing in the COMELEC rules which should prevent a prospective candidate from presenting his stand on the current issues of the day. There is not a single serious candidate on the national level who is still unknown and has to "hi and hello" himself or herself to the public.

The fact that there is no longer such thing today as a party orientation, and party-switching has become commonplace does not militate from the candidates' putting emphasis on their positions on issues and programs; if, as they claim, their new alliances are based on principle and not on political expediency and opportunism.

Thus, the demand on candidates, especially on those who claim they are frontrunners and harbingers of change, to base their introductions, alliances, and campaigns on issues and not on personalities, emotional appeals and other advertising devices is not only reasonable, but intelligent and wise.

One refreshing contrast to the prevailing political cynicism and opportunism dished out by the traditional political parties thus far, is the keynote speech of Kabataan Party List representative Raymond “Mong” Palatino in their recently-held national convention. In lays down simply but eloquently what it is these young, politically aware and committed Filipinos stand for, essentially what their component organizations have been fighting for long before their first foray in the electoral arena in 2004.

It is neither the first nor the last time they cogently articulate their advocacies and vision of what should and can be. First, quality education for all, serving foremost the needs of the Filipino people. Second, decent jobs for all and protection of the rights and welfare of working people so that the youth need not go abroad to get jobs and secure their future. Third, good governance starting with the prosecution of corrupt officials under the Arroyo administration. Fourth, protection of the environment starting with a stop to destructive mining and an earnest program to address the devastating effects of climate change. Fifth, charting an independent domestic and foreign policy that is not held hostage to the vested interests of foreign powers especially the US.

In general, national leaders who are patriotic, pro-people and democratic, who uphold and protect human rights and who are fully supportive of the youth’s aspirations for a happy, productive and bright future.

Kabataan Party and other like-minded parties competing in the party list elections, show us how to conduct a campaign based on issues and not on personalities. Where the hi-and-hello is immediately followed by, here-is-what-we-stand-for. #

Published in Business World
20-21 November 2009

November 05, 2009

The measure of victory

Not a few opinion writers have speculated and even attempted to pass of as profound and factual analysis some fantastic pieces of fiction writing about what the mainstream Left is thinking or doing in light of the twists and turns of events leading to the 2010 elections. One thing they are agreed on, the forces identified with such progressive party lists as Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, Kabataan and several new ones now coalesced under the Makabayan banner are joining the electoral fray in a big way and, like it or not, are a force to reckon with.

If anything, the emergence of the Left as a distinct and formidable force in the electoral arena since 2001, when they successfully elected three party list representatives to Congress, is bound to challenge the candidates for national office to raise the level of the campaign to a clash of platforms, issues and track records, rather than a contest of personalities, resources, lineages and backers.

The participation of the Left in national elections may force the candidates, including and especially the opposition, to put their mouths where their hearts (or pocketbooks) really lie; i.e. to declare and elaborate what kind of change they truly stand for, explain why they are to be believed and how they can deliver on their promises. The Left will hope to turn the elections from another periodic political circus into a nation-wide educational campaign to raise the people’s political awareness about what needs to change and how.

The traditional, elite-dominated elections has hitherto been all about "sino ang ipapalit" rather than “ano ang ipapalit”. One popular notion that persists is that what matters most in a candidate is his or her “character” because no matter one’s stand on the issues, the character will determine the elected public official’s performance. This flies in the face of the reality that even the most saintly of presidents must come to terms with a political system that runs on patronage, political debt, and powerful vested interests geared to maintaining an iniquitous social system.

Certainly, the depth and breadth of the social, political and economic crisis that has descended on this nation is inescapable. All the presidential contenders, except perhaps for administration candidate Teodoro who is forced to defend the Arroyo regime’s odious nine-year record, must profess to be for change. Yet several weeks after most if not all of them have announced their candidacy and started campaigning, a clear and comprehensive elaboration of what change it is that they stand for is still nowhere to be seen.

So far, it has only been Chiz Escudero who has started to present a categorical stand on such issues as contractualization, oil deregulation, the traditional party system and a candidate’s independence as well as the prosecution of Mrs. Arroyo and cohorts for plunder and other crimes against the people. But his recent break from the National People’s Coalition, his long-standing political party, could seriously hamper his candidacy unless he acquires or can quickly build an alternative machinery to carry out a viable campaign.

On the whole, what the public has been treated to so far is the worn out and nauseating appeal to emotions, personality hype and, inevitably and invariably, attacks on the personalities of opponents rather than an engagement on platforms and issues. Should the political discourse remain on this subterranean level, our people can expect little by way of meaningful change to emerge from this so-called democratic exercise -- no matter who wins.

Of all the Presidential contenders, it is Noynoy and his camp who deliberately rides the wave of popularity and mystique and parries attempts by his rivals to engage him in a more cerebral contest. Noynoy ignored Teodoro's challenge to a debate; his rah-rah boys' reply to Villar's reference to Noynoy's lackluster record is that what matters in this elections is not one's track record of achievements, but one's spotless record of no wrongdoings. It is reminiscent of the long-ago "No-talk-no-mistake" campaign strategy of Genaro "Gene" Magsaysay, who likewise aspired, unsuccessfully, for high office by banking on his famous brother's genes. Noynoy's recently released star-studded television ad ironically gives us a preview of what a Noynoy presidency could be -- glossy and promising on the surface, but utterly lacking in substance.

In contrast, Villar's and Teodoro's ads so far project them as achievers par exellence, with Villar highlighting his plebeian origins and his purportedly pro-poor, pro-people investments. But neither one has confronted, much less proposed, comprehensive solutions to the real issues of systemic and widespread poverty especially in the countryside, foreign domination of a weak and backward economy, and a bureaucracy of crooks and plunderers from the ruling classes that bleed the national coffers and the people's meager earnings dry.

The Left for its part will certainly endeavor to raise the level of the campaign because it will articulate its own vision and program for change -- “tunay na pagbabago”. It is real and substantive, not false or cosmetic, because it is concrete, consistent, extensive and far-reaching. To wit: uphold national independence against the dominance and dictates of the imperialist powers headed by the US; realize democracy through the empowerment of the working people and respect for human rights; develop the economy through national industrialization and land reform; promote a national, scientific and mass culture; protect the environment from imperialist plunder and destruction; and pursue an independent foreign policy for world peace and development.

It is not a farfetched possibility that the Left could deliver the swing vote. In the 2007 elections, the opposition senatorial candidates were able to preserve their lead in no small way through the Left's nationwide machinery manned by dedicated volunteer poll and canvass watchers. Whoever wishes to gain the support or endorsement of the Left now cannot avoid taking a clear stand on, if not making a firm commitment to, the progressive and patriotic principles and measures in the Left's platform.

Any serious student or observer of Philippine politics would see that by bringing to the public’s awareness the urgent and basic issues confronting our people and rejecting the crass, self-serving and personality-oriented electoral campaigns currently being conducted, the Left and the Filipino people as a whole stand to gain no matter who wins or loses.

Only the narrow-minded mental contortionists would stretch and strain to try to explain the Left's conduct and intent with the pre-conceived notion or conclusion that the Left could not possibly do anything right and walk away victorious from this forthcoming electoral exercise.

The Left cannot be faced with any dilemma in dealing with the vicissitudes of any and all of the candidates' fortunes. Its emergence as a significant force that cannot be ignored in the national electoral arena at this time constitutes incontrovertible proof of that.

The Left's final measure of success in these elections is by how much more adherents would have been added to the goal of freedom, genuine democracy and social justice – the change we need and truly deserve. #