January 28, 2010

Political awakening and the First Quarter Storm of 1970

Looking back through the last 26 years to the FQS of 1970, one harkens to a time of cerebral and physical ferment, a time of trepidation and courage, a time of study and education, a time for the heightening of political consciousness, a time to make crucial decisions affecting one’s life, going full-time into revolutionary work. – Antonio Zumel, Remembrances of the FQS of 1970, 1996

I wasn’t a direct participant in the historic First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970 – a series of protest mass actions, which began on January 25, 1970 and continued up to March of 1970. I wasn’t even attuned to its revolutionary slogans and its heart-racing, militant fervor. While already railing against social injustice and police brutality, I was not yet an “ND” or national democratic activist.

This January, commemorative activities on the 40th year of the FQS have begun. They are spearheaded by the FQS Movement, an organization of activists in the 70s dedicated to keeping alive the memory, significance and continuing relevance of that defining point in our nation’s history.

One could sense then that Philippine society was at the brink of social upheaval. Prices of basic commodities were rapidly rising in the wake of frequent oil price hikes. Graft and corruption in government was rampant, there were warlords and rival political clans in every province. Abroad, youth revolts and anti-war protests were rife. The Vietnam War was raging and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China had just passed.

The Marcos regime increasingly used the armed forces and the police to suppress protest and opposition as the streets resounded with the cries of tens of thousands of demonstrators denouncing the three social evils – US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism/fascism – and calling for a new national democratic revolution that would sweep away the decrepit ruling system and usher in an independent, egalitarian, just, peaceful and prosperous Philippine society.

The FQS ferment and upsurge in the democratic mass movement nationwide led to the heightened political education of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos especially the youth and the unpararelled expansion and consolidation of activist mass organizations. It was on this high tide of the national democratic movement that I found myself buoyed up leading to my own political awakening.

From a conscience-stricken, reform-minded but naïve student leader I became a true-blue ND activist, studying Marxist and other progressive writings, imbibing the mantra of “serve the people” and immersing myself in the lives and struggles of the oppressed and exploited, fellow Filipinos who, given my privileged socio-economic upbringing, I would likely have blithely overlooked or disregarded as I pursued my middle class dreams of success.

My first encounter with state fascism was at the barricades set up by students and striking jeepney drivers to protest oil price hikes and the related killing of a young activist. Marcos ordered the dreaded Metropolitan Command of the Philippine Constabulary to launch attacks on the University of the Philippines campus where the protesters had established a symbolic “Diliman Commune”.

I quickly learned how an unjust system is propped up by those who benefit the most from it utilizing the coercive powers of the state. Not only is it exceedingly just but necessary to defend oneself and assert one’s rights, with whatever means possible, against such state-sponsored violence.

Little by little, I learned more about Philippine society not only from discussion groups or “DGs” and rallies but also by undertaking practical investigation of prevailing social conditions and class divisions during community organizing work in sprawling slum settlements all over Metro Manila.

Martial law brought about a brief stint in the urban underground before I was arrested and detained for several months. Upon release from prison I entered medical school and in between arduous studies and 48- to72-hour hospital duty, I continued my activist involvement with the health sector, keenly aware that the ills of our indigent patients were the result not just of the ravages of disease but deeply-rooted social problems.

When the Marcos dictatorship fell during the EDSA 1 “people power” uprising and Corazon “Cory” Aquino assumed power, there was initial confusion in some sections of the movement regarding the character of her regime. In due time, it became starkly clear that only the formal trappings of democracy had been restored, Philippine society was basically unchanged, and in fact the socio-economic and cultural crisis was continuing and even worsening.

The Mendiola massacre of peasants plus the exemption of Hacienda Luisita from land reform, the grievous human rights violations when Mrs. Aquino “unsheathed the sword of war” against the CPP-NPA-NDF, and her about-face from her promise to remove US bases from Philippine soil – all these provided the rude awakening for those who had harbored illusions of more thoroughgoing and fundamental reforms under the US backed-Cory regime.

Going on from health sector activism to multisectoral issues and campaigns, I coordinated the Network Opposed to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (No to BNPP!). The BNPP scam was a clear example of the connivance between US monopoly capital and local bureaucrat capitalists to amass profits at the people's expense and detriment. Along with the failure of the Presidential Commission on Good Governance to prosecute Marcos’ cronies, it also betrayed the Aquino regime's inability to rectify the martial law regime's anti-people practices, if not its continuing complicity with or acquiescence to graft and corruption in government.

These experiences deepened my understanding of the truth about an ailing society in deep crisis and no less than a revolutionary overhaul of that social system would suffice.

Clearly, the Philippine crisis continued under the Ramos and Estrada administrations reaching unprecedented proportions under the Arroyo regime. Its wanton plunder of the nation's coffers, unabashed kowtowing to US and other foreign interests, feudal patronage of political clans and warlordism all the more underscore the urgency of the calls that reverberated during the FQS: Down with Imperialism, Feudalism and Bureaucrat Capitalism!

The 40th anniversary of the FQS is best commemorated by renewing the resolve to carry forward the struggle for nationalism and democracy to a higher stage as local and global conditions become even more favorable than 40 years ago. Filipino activists must seize the day, the hour to realize the calls that resounded far and wide during the First Quarter Storm. #

Published in Business World
29-30 January 2010

January 14, 2010


The recent moves of the Arroyo government in the aftermath of the Maguindanao massacre reeks of nothing less than a whitewash. Not only is it geared to cover-up the culpability of the Arroyo regime in creating the conditions for the barbaric killings attributed to the Ampatuan warlord clan, it even serves to test case some of the political scenarios Malacañang is preparing as the May presidential elections draws near.

If this regime has showed expertise and excellence in anything, it is in employing government resources, including state investigative (especially the police and including the Congressional committees that conduct "investigations for legislative purposes") and prosecutorial agencies (Justice Department and Ombudsman) to cover up anomalies and crimes hatched in the highest reaches of government.

Indeed, the regime's mopping-up operations in relation to the Maguindanao massacre has all the hallmarks of a psywar operation with Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzalez and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita (head of Cabinet Cluster E on Political and Security Affairs) orchestrating matters.

Apart from the body count, the huge number of innocent victims who had little to do with the Ampatuan-Mangudadatu rivaly, and the ruthlessness of the mass abduction cum execution -- it was the Ampatuans’ brazen utilization of the military, police and hundreds of paramilitary forces to commit their barbaric crimes that elicited universal condemnation.

People asked, how did the murderers think they could get away with a crime as horrendous as this? And the only answer that made sense is that the masterminds were in fact a law unto themselves in Maguindanao. How else explain why even the military and police authorities refused to provide critical security detail to the Mangudadatus poised to file their relative’s certificate of candidacy for governor? Had they done so perhaps the murderous plan could have been aborted or some precious lives spared.

But how did the Ampatuans get to be that way? The answer stares us in the face.

The Ampatuans and the Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzalez cabal had a cozy, mutually beneficial and reinforcing relationship wherein the feudal-fascist clan of the Ampatuans served as the pillar of support of the Arroyo regime in Muslim Mindanao. It delivered the Arroyo administration’s statistically impossible landslide “victories” in 2004 and partly, in 2007, and kept at bay if not shut out any anti-Arroyo opposition in their fiefdom whether they be local politicians, Moro rebels or activist groups.

In turn the Arroyo regime simply looked the other way as the Ampatuans lorded it over the province, engaged in illicit activities and committed bloody crimes against their enemies and their constituents. Just as it did with other tried and tested allies such as “Garci”, Jocjoc Bolante, Abalos, Neri, and of course the First Gentleman, the regime vested the Ampatuans with a cloak of impunity that only emboldened them to plan and execute the most heinous crimes without fear of neither reprisal nor punishment.

This is the truth that the Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzalez troika now wishes to hide. Among the reasons for declaring martial law in Maguindanao was to impress on all and sundry, not least of which the international community, that it was dead serious in going after the killers. It also served to facilitate securing sensitive evidence of the Ampatuans’ role in the 2004 massive electoral fraud while defanging the warlord clan, even if only temporarily, in order to reassert the power of central government in the Ampatuan enclave and appear then to restore law and order.

In the process, the regime achieved these objectives within a few days so much so that they could simply lift the martial law proclamation and thereby render moot and academic any question either on its constitutionality or necessity that could be raised by Congress and the public. It was a classic case of fait accompli and the political gain for the regime is the fact that they got away with a dry run for a possible scenario of “failure of elections”.

As to the issue of private armies, the Ampatuan case being the most notorious to date, Mrs. Arroyo, Gen. Ermita, Messer Teodoro and Gonzalez cannot feign ignorance about the existence of private armies maintained by the ubiquitous political dynasties and other big landlord and business interests in the provinces. They have been there since time immemorial acting as personal bodyguards, security force on their properties, goons to intimidate the electorate during elections and to safeguard the massive cheating that takes place, and terror squads to subjugate restive tenants and farm workers.

By virtue of Mrs. Arroyo’s 2006 Executive Order 546, brainchild of Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, these private armies were legalized as paramilitary forces to “multiply” the counter-insurgency forces of the military and police. Although EO 546 places the supervision and control of these “civilian volunteer organizations” (CVOs) under the police, local government officials through the so-called Peace and Order Councils have a huge say especially since they are tasked to source the funds needed to sustain the CVOs. It doesn’t take much to see how these paramilitary forces immediately become beholden to the incumbent governors and mayors if they were not already loyal to the aforementioned political overlords in the first place.

But the real clincher is whether the local government officials are allied with the party in power in the Manila government because when that is the case, they are given wide latitude to handpick the police officials they wish to be assigned to their province and who will in turn select, train, arm and command the CVOs. It all falls into place: the armed CVOs, ostensibly to help enforce peace in the communities, are easily transformed into government-sanctioned, -funded and -trained private armies of the local warlords.

The impunity with which military and police elements have been able to perpetrate crimes mostly under orders from "higher ups" or other masters, must also be underscored with the officers that allowed the carnage escaping prosecution for criminal neglect, not to mention outright complicity in the murders.

In the same vein, not a single suspect from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Department of national Defense and Department of Interior and Local Governments has been identified much less charged for providing the weapons, ammunitions and even armored vehicles found in the Ampatuan arsenal.

Needless to say, all these government agencies could by no means undertake a cover-up of such magnitude and complexity without a master plan hatched at the highest levels of government.

The Ampatuan monster, as we have pointed out before, is not a freak in the sense of being an isolated and accidental phenomenon. It is the creation of a tyrannical regime waging a war of terror on its own people. #

January 07, 2010

What’s missing

The ongoing trial of foremost Maguindanao massacre suspect, Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., has raised hopes in some quarters that justice will be soon rendered to the 58 victims (57 whose remains have been found with 1 still missing). Four other Ampatuans including the patriarch, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., are in detention for rebellion – not multiple murders – while reportedly six hundred or so of their armed followers are being “processed” by authorities to determine their culpabilities in this truly heinous crime. Yet something is not quite right.

The public is being lulled and gulled into thinking that this horrific crime is the handiwork of an evil, perhaps insane, mind as personified by this smug-looking, fat-faced mayor. From witnesses’ accounts, Andal Jr. clearly abused his authority to plan and carry out the mass abduction and killing of a caravan of people that counted relatives of his clan’s political enemies, media people, lawyers and innocent motorists who just happened to be in the vicinity. So get him and justice is served, right?

Everybody knows that Andal Jr. could not have perpetrated the gruesome murders by himself. Even government authorities concede that the massacre is the result of a conspiracy involving other high-ranking local government officials in Maguindanao and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, apparently Ampatuan clan members all. The official line is that the latter then attempted to undertake a full-scale armed rebellion to prevent arrest and prosecution which allegedly necessitated the imposition of emergency rule and eventually martial law itself in Maguindanao.

Supposedly in this way the Arroyo regime “discovered” the extent and seriousness of the problem of warlordism as practiced by its erstwhile loyal political allies, they who had been consistently delivering the votes in elections for Mrs. Arroyo and her administration’s candidates and most effectively, if brutally, countering the Moro secessionist movement in Muslim Mindanao.

For this another commission has been created with the fantastic mandate to dismantle warlordism in the entire country before the May 2010 presidential elections or barely four months away. Let the commission do its work and the pervading conditions of warlordism that create such monstrous criminals will be addressed, right?

We’re afraid not. Already there are questions about how thoroughly and extensively will the actual perpetrators, brains and accomplices of the massacre be determined and called to account for their parts in the multiple murder and other aggravating crimes. Apart from this, a more comprehensive, impartial and independent investigation is needed to really get to the immediate and long-term causes of one of the most gruesome and brazen mass murders ever committed by persons in authority including civilian government officials, police and military officers, and police, military and paramilitary personnel.

The main question that needs to be addressed is how the Ampatuans amassed the firepower, the wealth and the political clout to be able to plan and carry out the massacre and think they could get away with it; then be treated, at first, with kid gloves (remember Mrs. Arroyo had to immediately dispatch an emissary to mediate the Ampatuan-Mangudadatu conflict and convince Andal Jr. to surrender); and eventually, with the Arroyo regime supposedly fearful of a more widespread armed resistance to its law enforcement efforts post-massacre, to a full-blown martial law regime.

Government is caught with its foot in its mouth for not even at the height of the Arroyo regime’s political instability and insecurity in 2006, when it ranted about a right-left conspiracy to topple it from power, did Mrs. Arroyo declare martial law. That she had to so purportedly to deal with the criminal Ampatuans says volumes about how entrenched and how powerful they had become.

First, the arms. An incredible number of sophisticated weaponry including armed personnel carriers and rare long-range high-caliber rifles were uncovered and seized by the authorities from the Ampatuans and their followers. Mostly government property, these weapons and ammunitions are by and large traceable as to source and the way they found themselves in the possession of the warlords. What has so far cropped up is that the arms trader who has been identified as selling the weaponry to the Ampatuans did so with all the necessary permits from government authorities. So far this is the last we have heard on the matter.

Government is taking an excruciatingly long time determining who is responsible considering that if we were to grant the rebellion theory of the regime an iota of credibility, the arming of the Ampatuans’ followers is tantamount to an act itself of rebellion being undertaken by state security forces and their cohorts.

Next, the so-called private army. It is inaccurate and even dissembling for government to characterize the military/police forces and members of the paramilitary under the control of the provincial and municipal governments headed almost entirely by the Ampatuan as a “private army”. They are in fact armed, paid and clothed with coercive authority by government.

That these state security forces, regular and irregular, are used to further the political and economic interests of local political dynasties and their national patrons like Mrs. Arroyo is an open secret. In fact during elections, the administration candidates used Maguindanao as the place for wholesale dagdag-bawas as was so ignominiously revealed in the “Hello, Garci” election fraud scandal that exposed Mrs. Arroyo’s direct hand in the elections cheating and almost brought her regime down.

Not the least of what must be investigated about the Ampatuans is their mind-boggling wealth as revealed in the numerous mansions, luxury vehicles and the reputed vaults stuffed with cash. (The Ampatuans were apparently not too keen about putting their money in the bank). According to the boast of one of Andal Jr.’s lawyers, the clan is able to retain a battery of 80 lawyers in Mindanao and Manila from a high-powered law firm to ensure they have legal counsel 24/7.

Surely, for such an impoverished province as Maguindanao, not even the wholesale raiding of the province’s internal revenue allotment can account for such wealth. Where did the money come from? Illegal drugs trade, smuggling, gun running and who knows what other kinds of syndicated crimes the Ampatuans are capable of with state authorities looking the other way.

All these point not only to government's real failure in investigating and prosecuting the Ampatuans but in fact, its complicity in covering up their crimes. Furthermore, the Arroyo regime is not only coddling the Ampatuans, it is also covering up its own culpability in creating this monster and providing it with the entire wherewithal to commit atrocities with impunity.

The Arroyo regime takes the people for fools if it thinks it can get away with passing off the high-profile trial of Andal Ampatuan Jr. with meeting the ends of justice in the Maguindanao massacre. #

*Published in Business World
8-9 January 2010