July 28, 2011

Broken peace

I have only been to Norway twice -- the first time in 2001 when peace negotiations between the GRP (now GPH) and the NDFP were resumed after they were terminated in 1999. The second time was last February, again when formal peace talks were resumed after the Arroyo regime had suspended these for six long years.

In both instances, the Royal Norwegian Government hosted the talks, indicating that they have been patiently accompanying the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations for the past ten years, officially serving for the most part as Third Party Facilitator.

Anyone who has been to Norway in the last decade or two, appreciated the peace and tranquility of the surroundings, met the pleasant, quietly hospitable people, and marveled at the prosperity of the country, could never imagine that such a generally pacific people would be the target of horrific terrorist attacks such as the one that took place last Friday.

The mass murder of scores of Norwegians at a youth camp of the Labor Party, preceded by a powerful bomb blast at the executive government quarter of Oslo that killed eight people and wounded several others, calls for a serious examination so that right-thinking and peace-loving peoples everywhere may come to terms with such a tragic event.

Norway may be described, in the community of nations, as "nouveau riche", having only recently risen, after the discovery of oil and natural gas in the North Sea in the late 60s, to having the largest capital reserve per capita in the world, being the second wealthiest nation in terms of monetary value, and having the highest Human Development Index from 2001-2006 and from 2009-2010.

Nonetheless one doesn't find a trace of the arrogance or pretentiousness usually associated with the nouveau riche in the Norwegians, not even government officials or their royalty. Perhaps it is this simple demeanor despite their wealthy status that has helped in no small way in gaining for them acceptability as a third party in peace negotiations, mostly in internal conflict in less developed countries.

In turn, their exposure to and experience in these internal and social conflicts has surely provided them with broader perspectives and deeper insights that could be quite useful in grasping the complexity of the issues behind the bombing and youth camp killings.

The extreme, right-wing views of the Norwegian bomber and mass murderer, stands in stark contrast to the political tradition and culture of Norway.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg describes Norway as an “open society” with high regard for democratic principles and practice, including openness to migrants, an acceptance of cultural diversity alongside integration, tolerance for different ideologies, politics and religions (even though Norway has a state religion). It also has the distinction of having a Norwegian Committee award the coveted Nobel Peace Prize.

The arrest of the main suspect, a 32-year-old blond, blue-eyed Norwegian, Anders Behring Brevik, and the discovery of his online 1,518-page manifesto 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence, posted under a pseudonym, has shed light on what motivated these attacks.

Breivik was a zealot for a Christianized Europe that would exclude – through expulsion or some form of extermination, if need be -- immigrants, particularly Muslims, because he believed they were on the road to dominating Europe -- and in the process destroying its civilization -- through their continued immigration and high birth rates.

But contrary to how police described him as a fundamentalist Christian, he is not religious as such but merely extolled Christianity as part and parcel of the supposedly unsullied European culture he imagined he was fighting for.

Without a doubt, Breivik is virulently anti-Muslim to the point of being xenophobic, but it is incorrect to say that he is the mirror image of Osama Bin Laden who was depicted by Western governments and mass media as the ultimate radical Islamist terrorist.

Breivik’s second major obsession was that the European elite had sold out to “cultural Marxists” who he believed controlled the universities, the mainstream media, and almost all the political parties and were thus instrumental in the destruction of western civilization, not least of which through the policy of multiculturalism. (In a photo released before the attacks, Breivik had on a compression suit with an insignia that said "Marxist Hunter - Norway - Multiculti traitor hunting permit".)

To this extreme rightist, the ruling Labor government of Norway that would more aptly be described as left-of-center is “Marxist” and, together with the upcoming generation of Labor Party leaders he slaughtered, are legitimate targets of a violent hate campaign that incorporates deadly terrorist attacks on civilians.

There is a need to expose the sources of such distorted views that combined lethally with Breivik’s militarism to bring about the Norway attacks. The whipping up of xenophobia, racism, false and narrow nationalism, anti-communism, Islamophobia, and anti-terrorism hysteria by right-wing movements and parties has certainly provided the climate that breeds such monsters as Breivik.

From the 1990s the rise of right-wing populist parties through their entry into the legislatures of such countries as Canada, Norway, France, Israel, Russia, Romania and Chile and their partnership with other mainstream parties in coalition governments in Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Italy have provided the ultra rightists with a veneer of legitimacy and a new platform for espousing their views.

In the US, the growth of the political influence and electoral clout of the right-wing Tea Party Movement over the Republican Party is part of the same phenomenon.

Mainstream political parties on the traditional right-“left” spectrum have tolerated, if not encouraged, such right-wing extremism because it has its use in pinning the blame for the current global crisis of capitalism on fall guys – Muslims, immigrant and other minority communities, trade unionists, social activists and reformers and other vulnerable groups.

Not surprisingly, the killings have elicited a chorus of calls for more stringent security and counter-terrorist measures such as greater police visibility, heightened and wider surveillance of suspected or potential terrorist organizations and individuals, interrogations, and more restrictions on if not outright suspension of civil and political rights as well as stricter immigration laws.

I am confident that with Norway's track record as third party in peace negotiations, the RNG and the Norwegian people in general will not settle for dismissing this tragedy as an isolated case and merely resorting to security and counterterrorist measures to prevent its repetition in the future. #

Published in Business World
29-30 July 2011

July 21, 2011


As the State-of-the-Nation Address of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III aka “Pnoy” approaches, we are witness to frenzied attempts by his three-headed communications group to orchestrate the “messaging” emanating from Malacanang that will be capped by Monday’s SONA.

Nothing exemplifies the hollowness of the group’s claims that under the Aquino watch “justice is being served…where those responsible for the suffering we have all endured for almost a decade will be held accountable’’ than the impunity which continues to this day with regard to grievous human rights violations perpetrated by the Arroyo administration.

Indeed, after a year in power, the Aquino government has yet to prosecute a single human rights violator from the state security forces. It is an open secret in the AFP and PNP that each army infantry battalion (IB) has an “internal security operations team” or ISOT, usually headed by the battalion intelligence or operations officer and centrally directed by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces (ISAFP), whose task is to carry out the “neutralization” operations against so-called “enemies of the state”.

The non-prosecution of the perpetrators of these dastardly crimes sends the clear signal that they can go on with impunity. Since Aquino came to power, the human rights organization Karapatan has listed 48 extrajudicial killings and 5 enforced disappearances, nearly all of them leaders and activists of progressive organizations and party lists. That adds up to a horrifying rate of nearly one a week, a terrible record for a regime that claims to be a champion of human rights

It also completely belies PNoy’s claims that under Oplan Bayanihan, the deodorized version of Oplan Bantay Laya, the AFP and PNP have become defenders, rather than violators, of human rights.

President Aquino’s handlers are working very hard to drown out reality. They want us to live in a fantasy world bathed in bright yellow where Pnoy is the knight in shining armor slaying the two-headed beast of corruption and poverty left behind by the evil queen Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They want us to believe their simplistic version of what ails Philippine society and that Aquino is just the man -- with his supposedly untainted, if undistinguished, track record -- to lead us to the path of our salvation.

But what is the real score as far as a growing number of Filipinos are concerned?

Mr. Aquino is not the harbinger of change either in politics or in society at large. He merely presides over the same rotten, oppressive system that he took over from Mrs. Arroyo.

It is a system that tramples on the democratic rights and welfare of 99 per cent of the people in favor of the hacienderos, the big bankers and other domestic partners of multinational corporations (MNCs), the government officials who make public office their private business, the generals and, of course, the monopoly capitalist interests embodied by the foreign MNCs, the international multilateral agencies and the US government.

The Aquino administration wound up its first year in office without showing any sign of prioritizing land reform, creating quality jobs for the long term, upgrading social services and making them universally accessible, developing the rural economy and rehabilitating much less building up domestic industry.

Mr. Aquino – to the delight of US imperialism and the ruling elite – used his high popularity ratings as political capital to implement unpopular decisions such as hikes in rates of public goods and services; maintaining regressive taxation like VAT on oil; not budging on land reform; not budging on wage hikes and contractualization, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to urban poor pleas against demolitions and for decent resettlement; and budget cuts in education, health care and housing.

His underlings gave token statements about reviewing the Visiting Forces Agreement but Mr. Aquino accepts without question the permanent presence of US troops on Philippine soil. He broke protocol recently to welcome the crew of the USS George Washington, one of the mightiest US aircraft carriers and flagship of a US battle group roaming the Western Pacific coast.

He assured foreign investors of wide-open opportunities in public works such as airports, roads and railways as well as in the exploitation of natural resources through so-called Public-Private-Partnerships and even offered unprecedented guarantees.

He continued to make debt servicing a top budget priority even managing to pay eight billion pesos more than the Arroyo regime in his first ten months in office.

To buy the loyalty of the military and police top brass he hiked their budgets by billions of pesos and treaded lightly on corruption scandals and accusations of human rights abuse and violations of international humanitarian law in the conduct of so-called counterinsurgency operations.

Most telling, Aquino’s economic policies are the same old pro-“globalization” policies that have been proven to slow down growth, spur joblessness, shrink incomes and multiply poverty not just in the Philippines but all around the globe. Even his multi-billion peso dole-out programs, the Conditional Cash Tranfers, expanded several times over, are taken from the Arroyo era.

But Mr. Aquino is a “new” and “improved” version of Mrs. Arroyo in the sense that he is what the rotten ruling system so desperately needs to buttress what is already falling apart at the seams and is under constant threat by the unarmed protest movement and the armed struggles being waged by the CPP-NPA-NDF and the MILF.

Mr. Aquino as President is in effect the CEO of the reactionary ruling system. He serves to stabilize the Philippine state by his relatively better capacity (compared to Mrs. Arroyo’s zero credibility) to use deceptive slogans and PR campaigns to blunt criticism, defuse dissent, co-opt opposition and even whip up patriotic fervor (versus Chinese interlopers but never against US meddling) when needed.

It will still take some time for Mr. Aquino to become as odious and isolated as Mrs. Arroyo but at the rate he is going, this may be sooner than later. No amount of public relations gimmickry can appease hungry stomachs, homeless families and victims of injustice.

Of course, anti-Aquino factions of the ruling elite especially those who are pro-Arroyo, pro-Marcos or just plain opportunist will grab at this eventuality to prepare to take their turn at the till.

This is what the people’s movement must prevent and fight hard against, that the ruling system that is exploiting and oppressing the people to intolerable levels will be given another lease on life despite its deep-going crisis. #

Published in Business World
22-23 July 2011

July 14, 2011

Building a bright future

Four hundred thirty participants from two hundred organizations and forty three countries, territories and autonomous regions from all continents packed the plenary hall of the 4th International Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS) held in Manila last week.

They came from far and wide responding to the clarion call of the League: “Build a bright future! Mobilize the people to resist exploitation and oppression amidst the protracted global depression, state terrorism and wars of aggression!”

Remarkably, a diverse crowd gathered under one roof -- trade unionists and migrant workers; peasants and farm workers; indigenous peoples; youth and students; health workers and professionals, teachers, lawyers and other professionals; human rights defenders; researchers and development workers; scientists and technologists; artists and media practitioners; environmentalists; and advocates of the rights of women, gays, lesbians and bisexuals as well as children and the elderly. Most were seasoned activists in their fields or advocacies, in their own countries and internationally.

The ILPS 4th International Assembly was by far the biggest, broadest and most energetic international conference of social activists here in the Philippines in recent history, calling to mind the spectacular people's caravan from Manila to Subic that capped the People's Conference against Imperialist Globalization in 1996.

They were all motivated by the desire to gain a broader, deeper and common understanding of the causes of the protracted global economic crisis and the widespread political disorder involving wars and other armed conflicts together with peoples’ mass protests and uprisings. And they were bound by the conviction that such an understanding was imperative in order to effectively deal with these scourges and build a new world without war and plunder.

The participants committed themselves to working for immediate as well as fundamental changes in the world by raising people’s awareness, organizing and mobilizing them – especially the exploited and downtrodden – for national liberation, genuine democracy and social emancipation.

The failed promises, distortions and outright lies of neoliberal “globalization”, the touted “new world order” and the US-led “war on terror” were dissected and laid bare. The incalculable misery, hardships, death and devastation to peoples, social and physical infrastructure and the environment wrought under these imperialist-constructed signboards were exposed and denounced.

The General Declaration of the Assembly minced no words in identifying the worsening global crisis as that of the world capitalist system and in welcoming the rising resistance of the world’s peoples to the “harsh consequences of the crisis and government measures that make them shoulder the burden of the crisis”.

It underscored the fact that the financial meltdown that started in 2008 has become a full-blown global depression with still no end in sight despite optimistic pronouncements of the G8 countries.

The toiling peoples of the world, whether in the advanced capitalist countries or in the poor and underdeveloped Third World, “create society’s wealth (but) suffer the most from unemployment and underemployment, lower income and rising prices of basic commodities and services” made worse by the downturn.

The so-called solutions to the crisis have not resulted in any real economic recovery with production and employment continuing to stagnate and even further decline as governments persist in pursuing neoliberal policies such as privatization, deregulation and liberalization that undergird the crisis in the first place.

The unprecedented trillion-dollar bail-outs by Western governments of the “too-big-to-fail” banks and corporations have served merely to improve balance sheets, revive the stock markets and pay for the golden parachutes of their overpaid executives.

In the process, these governments are incurring huge budget deficits and public debt because of tax cuts for the wealthy, subsidies for favored monopoly firms, overpriced contracts and bailouts for the big bourgeoisie on top of which are the bloated expenditures for military production and wars of aggression and intervention.

Once more, it is the people who must pay the price through harsh austerity measures pushed by governments and the ruling elites that include attacks on wages, job security, and conditions of work in the private sector and cutbacks on jobs, wages, pensions and health care in the public sector together with spiraling costs of living all around.

But as the Assembly Declaration pointed out it is still the poor peoples in the third world who suffer the most from the ravages of global capitalism in crisis. Untrammeled speculation in oil and food has caused prices to skyrocket pushing millions into destitution. Transnational corporations are taking over vast tracts of land, forests and marine resources, violently dispossessing peasants, farm workers, fisherfolk, and other rural communities from their means of livelihood throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

For the past ten years, the ILPS has steadily gained the capacity to launch globally coordinated campaigns and mass actions led by its member organizations in several countries on a wide range of people’s issues.

Among them are the wars of aggression and counterrevolution under the guise of counterterrorism, the neoliberal policies of globalization being pushed by the WTO and other international agencies, environmental plunder, the exploitation and oppression of the peoples, the extrajudicial killings and other gross human rights violations against progressives, the chauvinist, racial, gender, religious and other forms of discrimination and the anti-labor, anti-immigrant and anti-youth policies in imperialist countries and many others.

Unlike many conferences where the energy of the participants wanes from day to day of listening to speeches, the energy of the participants at the ILPS 4th IA was not only sustained but visibly rose to a high point towards the close. Everyone was happy with the process and outcome, each one was prepared and eager to carry out the tasks of the ILPS which had been clearly defined and united on.

Doubtless, the ILPS is in an even better position now to serve, as it had been conceived to, as a rallying center for anti-imperialist and democratic forces all over the world as they struggle to uphold people's rights, interests and welfare.

According to newly-elected ILPS Chairperson, Jose Maria Sison, “The people have a bright future because they wage revolutionary struggles and build their strength against those forces that oppress and exploit them…The broad masses of the people are moving in the direction of a fundamentally new and better world.” #

Published in Business World
15-16 July 2011