April 29, 2010

Makabayan, makamasa

A number of friends and sympathizers of the national democratic movement have voiced their disagreement or downright disapproval of the tactical alliance forged between Makabayan, the umbrella organization of progressive party lists prominently led by senatorial candidates Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, and the Nacionalista Party (NP) whose standard bearer is its presidential candidate Manuel Villar. With less than two weeks before the elections, there is a point to recapping the underpinnings of the seemingly controversial alliance to place matters in proper perspective.

Representatives Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza agreed to join the NP slate on the basis of a joint platform which contained nationalist and democratic provisions foremost of which is the recognition that social injustice, not just poverty and corruption, constitutes the nation’s main problem; and that major socio-economic reforms, not just the elimination of corruption, are needed to solve this problem.

The NP-Makabayan platform asserts that thoroughgoing land reform is needed to address the issue of landlessness and is vital to a comprehensive strategy for economic and social development. Job creation and just wages for working people rests on the development of manufacturing and local industries in light of the global economic crisis, unfair foreign competition and blind adherence to the policy of economic liberalization or “globalization”.

Makabayan and the NP agree that economic development must be coupled with reforms ensuring social equity and respect for human rights, people empowerment and good governance. The platform of the alliance vows to uphold foreign policy based on respect for national sovereignty and ensuring mutual benefit.

Clearly, Makabayan, Satur and Liza never for a moment gave up their program for comprehensive political and socio-economic reform upon entering into an alliance with Mr. Villar and the NP. They continue to exercise independence and initiative in fighting for such a program in as many arenas as possible, the electoral arena just being one of them.

The movement has long been engaged in tactical alliances with sections of the ruling elite in order to oppose and isolate the worst faction thereof (invariably, the ruling faction, cf the Oust Gloria Arroyo Movement) without losing sight of the strategic goal of national and social liberation. It has already proven itself capable of engaging in electoral contests and emerging victorious without compromising principle and falling into the trap of cooptation.

Mr. Villar's acceptance of the two progressive legislators as NP guest candidates is based on his recognition of the movement's strength nationwide and its potential contributions to a successful campaign. Call Mr. Villar a shrewd politician if you will but it is to his credit that he can rise above ideological and political prejudices and even risk the likely backlash from the more rabid anti-Left sections of the ruling elite in taking this bold and unprecedented move. He has publicly stated that he thinks the Left deserves to be heard and has earned its rightful place in mainstream politics.

The alliance with the NP during the elections is a conditional one anchored on principle. The national democrats certainly harbor no illusions regarding Mr. Villar's class and “trapo” (traditional politician) character, especially should he win and become President. While no one can guarantee that Mr. Villar will adhere to and uphold the progressive provisions in his campaign platform once in power, the national democrats will certainly spare no effort in mobilizing the people to demand these of his government.

Whatever the outcome in the elections, Makabayan, Satur and Liza will continue to advance the national and democratic interests of the people as articulated in the Makabayan platform and in the more thoroughgoing national democratic program.

After all is said and done, any new administration will have to confront the reality of crisis and ferment as the movement has been describing it, and the relevance and validity of the solutions the movement has been fighting for.

By and large, the presidential contenders have said nothing substantial or anything different about how they will fight the scourge of poverty. Their analysis of its underlying causes is in the first place superficial, myopic and even willfully deceptive.

Should Sen. Noynoy Aquino win, the hollowness of his "korupsyon ang dahilan ng kahirapan" campaign slogan will become more evident, especially with an economic management team recruited from the Arroyo regime and with no fresh ideas on how to lift the economy out of the morass of depression and debt.

While Villar's "ang dahilan ng kahirapan ay kawalan ng trabaho" is an improvement on his "sipag and tyaga" formula for overcoming poverty, it remains to be seen whether and to what extent he will overhaul the economy to create more jobs and livelihood opportunities for the people.

All nine presidentiables except Sen. Jamby Madrigal, stick to the old, worn-out formula -- attract foreign investments (by pressing down wages and other workers' benefits, dismantling protectionist economic measures and despoiling the environment); increase exports (low-value-added commodities and cheap labor); increase government revenues (by raising more taxes and other fees, privatizing public services such as schools and hospitals); and let the expected economic growth trickle down to the poor (meanwhile provide dole-outs and other band-aid programs).

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that without any clear-cut position on genuine land reform, national industrialization and how to break free from the stranglehold of foreign monopoly capital, all talk about alleviating poverty is pure hogwash.

The leading presidential candidates have consistently highlighted their purported positive personality attributes and character traits that prove they are just right for the most powerful government position in the land. Assuming without granting that their claims are true, history has shown time and again that systemic social change cannot be achieved by any individual leader’s virtue, talent and determination alone.

The Left has always believed that genuine social change can only be a mass undertaking. In whatever arena of struggle, the true measure of leadership lies in the ability to unite, rally and lead the people towards their social emancipation and national liberation. #

*Published in Business World
30 April-1 May 2010

April 15, 2010


Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino's entire appeal to the Filipino people to elect him President of the Republic, from television ads to live and press statements to written platform, rests on a single claim: that having inherited the legacy of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, he can stamp out corruption and bring righteousness, progress and prosperity to the Filipino people.

Of late, he has carried this grand posturing to the extent of his camp drumming up the "failure of elections" scenario to simulate the '86 fraud-ridden snap elections, present himself as "another Cory" and thereby rally the Filipino people behind him.

Alas, unwittingly this scheme backfires as it becomes clear that there is an ocean of difference between Cory the challenger to Marcos' dictatorial rule and Noynoy the pretender to the Ninoy and Cory legacy.

Cory eventually galvanized the broad anti-Marcos opposition behind her – including the forces of the Left – to oppose the fraudulent claim of victory by Marcos in the 1986 presidential polls and to mount mass protests that culminated in the “people power” uprising that overthrew the dictator.

Noynoy could have worked to build the broad unity of the anti-Arroyo forces to ensure the defeat of the administration candidate and Mrs. Arroyo herself in her home province but chose instead to foist the small Liberal Party on other parties and groups. He had become convinced that the spontaneous outpouring of sympathy for his family after his mother’s death would be enough to fuel him to victory.

As for Noynoy's claim that he can lead the Filipino people in the righteous fight against corruption towards prosperity and progress, this has to be tested in the light of his stand on the Cojuangcos’ Hacienda Luisita and the long-standing agrarian dispute that has hounded them.

The truth is, the Cojuangcos utilized the clout and influence of President Cory to get Congress to enact a fatally-flawed agrarian reform law that, for one, allowed big landowners like them to circumvent land reform by means of the so-called stock distribution option (SDO). The landless were given worthless pieces of paper saying they were co-owners of Hacienda Luisita Inc (HLI). Their lot changed from bad to worse: they had no say on the decisions made regarding the hacienda; they had no assurance of jobs; they did not even own the land on which their hovels stood.

Thereafter Noynoy utilized Congress as a platform to vociferously defend his relatives managing their essentially feudal landholding. He also exonerated them as well as the Arroyo regime for culpability in the infamous massacre of the hacienda’s striking workers and their supporters six years ago. Instead, Noynoy accused the workers of provoking and orchestrating the deaths and injuries among their ranks.

Noynoy now promises land distribution to the farmers by 2014 when in truth the 6,453-hectare property should have been distributed in 1967, a precondition to the loan granted to Noynoy’s grandfather, Don Jose “Pepe” Cojuangco Sr. , by the then Central Bank.

This is a classic example of bureaucrat capitalism that the national democrats have been denouncing as one of the three basic evils of Philippine society; i.e. the use by bureaucrats in high public office of their political power to protect and promote their vested interests.

Cory looked the other way when land reform was thwarted in HLI by means of the SDO and by management cooptation and control of the farm and mill workers’ unions. She washed her hands of the HLI massacre while her son was beside himself accusing “communists” and “outsiders” of instigating unrest on their otherwise purportedly placid hacienda.

Despite this and without giving up on and reneging on the farm workers’ just struggle to get back the lands appropriated unjustly by the Cojuangcos, the Left would agree to unite with Cory when she finally decided to call for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation after the “Hello, Garci” election fraud blew up in Mrs. Arroyo’s face. She was convinced to do so by the ten resigned Arroyo cabinet members and some bishops who promised to back her call.

Satur himself prevailed on HLI farm workers picketing the Aquino residence to allow Mrs. Aquino to leave her house the day that she was to announce in a press conference that she would lead a march to Congress to press for Mrs. Arroyo’s impeachment. The HLI issue could give way that day to help build the broad united front against the anti-people Arroyo regime.

But the HLI issue cannot be set aside, minimized or papered over today vis a vis candidate Noynoy Aquino. Land reform is a defining issue for the Left precisely because it is the basic demand of the peasantry and it impacts heavily on the entire Filipino people.

Decades of land monopoly by a few constitutes stark social injustice that cries out for resolution. It is fuelling agrarian unrest and armed revolution in the countryside; the series of bloody counter-insurgency programs of all postwar governments including that of President Cory have failed to bring these to an end.

Landlessness is also the major cause of the poverty and backwardness that has bound millions of peasant families to a life of endless, backbreaking toil and relegated the Philippines to little more than a semi-feudal, semi-colonial backwater with no jobs, no livelihood, nothing but a bleak future for the vast majority. Is it a wonder Filipinos are leaving by droves to find better-paying jobs and a chance at a better life anywhere outside their homeland?

Noynoy must answer whether, when and how he plans to deal with the land dispute on his clan’s landholdings because that will set the pattern by which the land problem will be faced by his presidency.

Noynoy at first echoed his mother’s lame excuse: their family is a minor stockholder and has little say in the running of the corporation. That cop-out was unconvincing so next he said something about debts to be paid and not wanting to saddle the farm workers with the problem of an insolvent company. The workers said, thanks but no thanks. Just get the HLI management to withdraw its Supreme Court petition for an injunction on the current government decision to grant the land to the hacienda tenants.

Noynoy Aquino has displayed nothing but disdain for the national democrats and unabashed anti-communism to the point that he would not even agree in the beginning to engage in any kind of talks with the Satur/Liza camp. There was never for a moment any opening given by Noynoy to probe possibilities for an alliance with the Left in the 2010 elections.

Noynoy’s attitude towards the Left has endeared him to the rabid anti-communists and militarists inside government and out. It also serves to assure US imperialism and other foreign monopoly capitalists and their Filipino partners that the Left will not be allowed any space in Noynoy’s presidency, enough to endanger their unmitigated plunder of the country and the oppression of its people. But it bodes ill for ending the legacy of human rights abuse and impunity that has gone hand-in-glove with failed counter-insurgency programs of all previous regimes without exception. #

*Published in Business World
16-17 April 2010

April 08, 2010


So far what voters and the rest of the people are being told by leading presidential candidates in the current campaign are their claims or offer of themselves as most capable of bringing about the change that everyone is calling for. Unfortunately none of them have seriously explained how or even what change other than superficial and peripheral they intend to bring about.

Hundreds of millions of pesos are being spent on advertisements with catchy one-liners, motherhood statements and empty slogans. Far from presenting platforms for change, these ads are the stuff of the same old traditional political campaign and indicate that instituting real change is farthest from the minds of these leading contenders for the highest political office in the land.

In contrast, how much have the candidates spent for disseminating their full platforms and discussing these with the electorate? Doesn’t this stinginess indicate as well the candidates’ cavalier attitude towards the electorate; that is, their lack of respect for the people’s ability to discern substance from packaging; platitudes from concrete policy statements and proposed programs; track record from image makeovers?

Even the unusually plentiful forums, debates, one-on-one interviews, etc. where candidates are pitted against each other or made to face public scrutiny (which are otherwise a welcome development, doubtless spurred on by the strong clamor for change) have failed over-all in focusing on platforms or what changes the candidates will institute and how if elected. Instead what we see clearly from these forums is just how shallow, hollow and misdirected are the analyses and solutions being offered to address deeply-rooted and long-running social problems.

Let’s take a sampling from the two top-rated “presidentiables” in the ubiquitous surveys.

Sen. Noynoy Aquino has maintained his lead since he threw his hat into the ring but surveys show this lead has gone down significantly and even plateaued. Apart from harping on and turning his parents’ political legacies into unearned political capital, Noynoy has stuck to a single, simple message “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap.” His analysis of Philippine society’s complex and seemingly intractable ills is reducible to corruption as the root of all evil including societal “division” and “alienation” and the alleged “paralysis” of the people’s “moral faculties”.

Comparing the message projected in his ads to his written out but hardly disseminated platform, one sees that indeed, there is not much to project as the platform itself suffers from the same dearth of substance. Even as he decries the incumbent Arroyo regime’s inability to offer “lasting solutions for the many problems of the country” his own articulation of what he sees these solutions to be is sorely lacking and even trivialized.

On the economy, an area where good intentions including pledges not to steal from government coffers, are plainly not enough to qualify as a program of government, Mr. Aquino’s prescriptions do not include land reform and reviving and strengthening domestic production whether it be in agriculture (for food requirements of a burgeoning population) or in local industry (for generating more quality and secure jobs and accumulating social capital rather than relying solely on foreign debt and investments).

He is mum about what he intends to do with the failed policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization that Cory Aquino’s presidency persisted in pursuing when she took over from the dictator Marcos. The neo-liberal policy framework prescribed by multilateral financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank and implemented blindly and consistently by governments since Marcos’ time underlies much of the poverty and economic backwardness we see around us and not so much corruption per se.

In the area of resolving decades-old armed conflicts between government and revolutionary movements led by the CPP-NPA-NDF and the MILF, Mr. Aquino is content to relegate the matter as a “peace and order” concern.

He criticizes the current “disjointed, short-sighted Mindanao policy” to address “decades of neglect of the Moro and other peoples of Mindanao” and proposes a “broadly-supported just peace” but avoids going into any substantiation of what that entails. Mr. Aquino’s failure to even mention what all previous governments have considered the number one armed threat to government - that of the communist-led armed struggle in the countryside - much less how he intends to deal with it, is a major sin of omission.

Sen. Manny VIllar for his part promises to all and sundry that he will liberate the poor from poverty. He unabashedly presents himself as the poster boy of success, an example of what it purportedly takes to climb out of poverty through “sipag at tyaga”. Some quarters have questioned whether Mr. Villar was ever really as impoverished as he says he was (albeit it is clear he was not born into a clan of hacienderos and old rich like the Aquino-Roxas tandem).

Villar's platform, on the other hand provides more substance, significantly zeroing in on poverty and social injustice as the two most serious problems that need to be addressed in order to achieve real change. The platform attempts to present solutions to landlessness, economic stagnation, foreign intervention and control, environmental destruction, human rights violations, etc. It advocates agrarian reform, development of domestic manufacturing industries, environmental protection, protection of human rights, and an independent foreign policy. But it falls short of spelling out the concrete measures needed to carry these out. For example, Villar appears to play it safe by being deliberately vague on the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US and on the neoliberal economic policies that have wreaked havoc on the economy and on our lives, calling only for a review of these.

Unfortunately, Villar's ads so far have overstressed poverty while only scantily dealing with the problem of social injustice. Overall he has not been able to project the analyses and solutions that are laid down on his platform. And he still needs to spell out more clearly his position on certain crucial issues. Until he does, Villar would be vulnerable to skeptics' view that his platform is really just a scrap of paper.

Meanwhile the justification for the entry of progressives Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza as guest candidates in the Villar ticket rested on the acceptability of Villar’s platform to the Left party lists and their supporters. This alliance suffers even as Villar keeps that platform under wraps.

With only a month left before the people troop to the polls and cast their ballots, hope for a more intelligent and substantial campaign dims. There appears no attempt on the part of the candidates to raise the level of the campaign and break away from the old circus atmosphere.

But it is not too late for the people who earnestly, almost desperately, cry out for tunay na pagbabago to demand nothing less. #

*Published in Business World
9-10 April 2010