October 25, 2012

The red baiting and reformism of Akbayan

The Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (New Zealand) put Pres. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino on the spot when they raised questions about his administration’s human rights record and the continuing reign of impunity for human rights violations (HRV) under the government’s counterinsurgency programs, including that during the time of his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom Mr. Aquino had lambasted precisely on this score, when he was running for president.

Instead of squarely addressing the issue, Mr. Aquino chose to berate and denigrate the credibility of human rights advocates by branding them as "extreme left" and ridiculing the candidates they support.

It was a tactic his allies in Akbayan had resorted to recently, after the Anakbayan youth group questioned their qualification to run in the Party List elections, but it was completely unexpected, because entirely unbecoming, for an incumbent President to do so.  On the other hand, Mr. Aquino did say, a few months ago, that he and Akbayan are like-minded.

Mr. Aquino’s reply reveals several things: first, his refusal to acknowledge that impunity reigns under his own administration and what this implies, that he will do nothing about it.

Second, that Mr. Aquino’s rabid anti-communism aggravates his cultivated ignorance of what is really going on in the country with regard to violations of human rights.  Worse, it justifies his rationalization that such reported violations are not to be taken seriously because these are only coming from his political enemies who he avers have nothing good to say about his government in the first place.

Yet a third revelation, that those forces he pejoratively refers to as on the “extreme Left” of the political spectrum (excluding the apparently not “extreme Left” such as the party list Akbayan) are hurting Mr. Aquino’s administration where it is most vulnerable: on the issues of human rights, land reform, living wage for working people, rising prices of prime commodities and the privatization of public goods and services like hospitals under the overarching program of Public-Private Partnership (PPP).

So much so that the Aquino regime, including Akbayan, resorts to low blows such as red baiting and red bashing to get back at Malacañang’s critics and opponents.

Unfortunately for Mr. Aquino, he and his spokespersons only succeeded in providing the senatorial candidate of the Lefist coalition, Makabayan, Rep. Teddy Casino, the platform to fire back, first on the question of popularity and what it truly signifies. And then back to HRVs that Mr. Aquino and his spokespersons simply cannot sweep under the rug because there are the undeniable victims of extra-judicial killing, enforced disappearance, massacre and displacement, torture, and illegal arrest and detention crying out for justice.

Suffice it to say that Mr. Aquino and his rah-rah boys fallaciously argue that 1) survey ratings of candidates are an accurate gauge of the public’s acceptance of a political party’s stand on issues; 2) popularity in surveys is the most important gauge of the correctness of one’s stand; and  3) survey results are impervious to the advantages in media projection and resources available to incumbent high government officials, members of political dynasties, the moneyed and otherwise well-connected in society.

Now all this is happening as the debate on the disqualification of the party list Akbayan heats up. Was it just coincidence that Mr. Aquino attempted to cover up his dismal HR record by raising the red "extreme left" herring shortly after the Akbayan had similarly accused the "extreme left" of attempting to eliminate them physically as defense against the charge that being part of the regime in power, they do not and could not possible represent the marginalized?

Akbayan had basked in pride and self-gratification when, in their May 2012 Congress, Mr. Aquino had unqualifiedly exclaimed that "I and members of Akbayan think alike..."  Belatedly, apparently as a result of the public backlash to its attempts to muddle the issues by red baiting, the Akbayan has started to take pains in pointing out that they differ with Mr. Aquino on some important issues.

But these only raise more questions than they answer, and suck Akbayan deeper into the quagmire. For if they differ with Mr Aquino on many important issue that affect the marginalized, why do they still continue to support and serve it?

They agonize at digging up their so-called history of standing with and for the marginalized sectors, even announcing their delusion that the "extreme left" envy them and hold them as legend.  But even assuming, for the sake of argument that they had indeed stood by the marginalized sectors in the past, that doesn't disprove their being in power and no longer representing the marginalized now that they are among the closest allies of Mr Aquino. On the contrary, it only shows what they claim they were able to do when they were still not in power.

To be more specific, concrete and to the point, one must look at Akbayan’s current record and posture to see where they really stand in relation to the issues of the marginalized.

Instead of fighting to eradicate the roots of poverty, they are the champions and one of the prime implementers of the World Bank-funded Conditional Cash Transfer and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER), palliative band-aid schemes to assuage the public in general and the poor in particular and divert them from fighting for more fundamental social reforms.

The National Anti-Poverty Commission itself, which a high-ranking Akbayan official heads, is now being questioned by the Commission on Audit for apparently favoring a few score formerly “marginalized” members and friends by hiring them as consultants with hefty salaries meant for programs for the genuinely poor.

Instead of fighting to break the shackles and ending the domination of foreign capital on our economy, they support and help implement the neoliberal economic policies, including now the PPP.

It is not surprising that Mr. Aquino could not claim any progress in upholding human rights, with an Akbayan Commission on Human Rights Chair who habitually issues findings that absolve the military on one hand, and who has been instrumental in depriving bona-fide martial law human rights victims of their rightful and much-needed indemnification, and allowing the diversion of these funds to the undeserving.  This is on top of adopting a so-called Internal Peace and Security Plan lifted from the US Counterinsurgency Manual, using "peace and human rights" as a sugar-coating over the same old policy and practice of impunity in perpetrating HR violations.

Let us not forget that the Philippine military campaigned for Akbayan in previous elections while it waged a systematic and unrelenting campaign against the progressive party lists such as Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Kabataan and others.

The point is, Akbayan’s being a coalition partner of the Aquino regime is prima facie evidence that it is – no ifs and buts - a pro-administration party committed to supporting the regime’s anti-people and anti-national policies, programs and stand on major issues. Ergo, Akbayan inevitably rises to the defense of the Aquino administration when it is questioned and hit on such issues, not least of which is, human rights.

Akbayan cannot claim to be representing the marginalized so long as it collaborates with a regime that is the highest honcho of the local landed elite and big business interests, serving and colluding with foreign monopoly capital in exploiting and oppressing the truly marginalized sectors.

Akbayan pays lip service to working for fundamental change in the social, political and economic system, but in fact entrenches the status quo with all its inequities by deceiving our people with minute, temporary and illusory changes.

In return it enjoys the perks and privileges and enviable access to the corridors of power.  How then can Akbayan Chair Risa Hontiveros turn things on its head and translate this to Akbayan being a part of the “marginalized” and to “representing the interests of the marginalized”? #

Published in Business World
26 October 2012

October 11, 2012

Promising Agreement?

If one were to believe President Noynoy Aquino, an era of peace and prosperity is dawning in Muslim Mindanao, with the Bangsa Moro finally enjoying full autonomy under the sovereignty of the Philippine government (GPH) and within the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.

“This agreement creates a new political entity,” Mr. Aquino declared at the announcement of the formal signing of the Joint GPH-MILF Framework Agreement, “and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro.”

The ink had hardly dried on the Joint GPH-MILF Framework Agreement when other government personalities and spokespersons hailed the end of civil strife in the southern islands, especially in the areas conceded to be MILF strongholds, augured not so much by the silencing of the guns and the realization of Bangsa Moro self-determination but by the purported rush of foreign investments ready to pour into these areas ostensibly for the economic development that the Bangsa Moro have for so long been deprived.

While both GPH and MILF hail the Framework Agreement as a major breakthrough and substantial advance in the talks, MILF statements have been relatively more guarded.  The latter stress the fact that while the Framework Agreement  sets mutually acceptable general parameters for negotiating a final political settlement, further and no less difficult negotiations must be made to flesh out the details of principles which appear on paper to be commonly held and to resolve contentious issues that have for the moment been set aside.

The MILF, in the editorial of its official Central Committee website, describes the Framework Agreement as “a template for real self-rule for the Bangsamoro in Mindanao. It is a solid document, short of the ideal option providing for an independent state…   As a consequence of the signing of this Agreement, a new engagement between the MILF and the GPH will emerge.  If in the past, their relationship had been characterized by mistrust, animosity, and confrontation, this time it will gradually undergo dramatic changes for a more collaborative approach. The progress might not be too fast because it is tied up with how they comply with the provisions of their Agreement and how they settle the remaining issues which will be contained in annexes.”

Perhaps a more realistic appraisal of what the Framework Agreement represents and who, from the GPH viewpoint,  really gained more from the agreement is the GPH chief negotiator’s reported statement that, “They (MILF) changed their positions; we conceded a lot of language.”

This is not an idle boast or off-guard remark reflecting government’s euphoria over the feat, but a clear message to all and sundry, especially to those who benefit from and are protective of the status quo, that the Framework Agreement will not, repeat, will not, grant to the Bangsa Moro a state or substate, or the kind of autonomy in whatever form that the MILF had initially and over the last 15 years demanded and negotiated for.

Recall that the MILF had, from the beginning of peace negotiations with the GPH in 1997, bent backwards in good faith by agreeing to set aside their call for independence and secession and work instead for some "new model" of autonomy that would allow the Bangsamoro to exercise their right to self determination short of establishing a new state.

In 2008 the Philippine Supreme Court shot down the Bangsa Moro Juridical Authority (BJA) as the new autonomous political entity that would govern the Bangsa Moro, along with the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-Ad) as “unconstitutional”.  The MILF, undaunted, persisted in crafting a proposal for a "substate" in an “asymmetrical” relationship with the “central government” which the GPH might be persuaded to agree to albeit would certainly require amendments to the GPH Constitution.

Why is the MILF insistent on a “substate” related to the central government “asymmetrically”, in a “federal” and not a “unitary” system of government and with a parliamentary or “ministerial” system?  Is it because the MILF has done its homework and it knows from the experience of other people’s fighting for their right to self-determination that this arrangement is the only assurance that the autonomy the Bangsa Moro will enjoy will be authentic.  That is, the new autonomous entity will not be a dependency of the Manila government subject to its arbitrary and unilateral decisions, as well as to the vagaries of changes in administration, nor prey to the impositions of the economic, political and socio-cultural forces controlling such a government?

In the Framework Agreement there is a clear-cut rejection of the “status quo” with the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to be replaced by the new entity, the Bangsamoro.  There is agreement that the form of government will be “ministerial” and that this will have an “asymmetric” relationship with the “central government” but the details or implications of what this means is unelaborated.  There is no mention of a “substate”.

Here we see an example of conceding language but not essence: the GPH’s apparent retreat from its former position of retaining, building on and improving the ARMM as the form of Bangsamoro self-government.  Aquino himself piously admits in his speech heralding the Framework Agreement that the ARMM is a “failed experiment”.

What is swept under the rug is the long-held MILF position that the basic and fatal flaw of the ARMM is that it was initially created and run totally in accordance with the GPH’s constitutional and legal processes, and remained under the control of the GPH, even as it was eventually “transformed” as a result of the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Accord, into the Bangsa Moro’s “genuinely” autonomous government.

Then MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat observed after the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement: “The agreement considered side issues only and never touched the core of the Bangsamoro problem which is the illegal and immoral usurpation of their ancestral homeland and the barbarous usurpation of their legitimate rights to freedom and self-determination... (Moroever) the agreement is devoid of justice and freedom for the Bangsamoro people and peace without justice and freedom for the aggrieved party is another form of colonial suppression.”

Succeeding events proved Mr. Salamat correct.  It was not Misuari that caused the failure of ARMM and the 1996 FPA; rather, the 1996 FPA and ARMM doomed Misuari and the MNLF to fail.  Guided by and firmly adhering to this view, the MILF has consistently steered away from this constitutional framework trap in peace negotiations with the GRP/GPH since 1997.

Unfortunately, under the Framework Agreement there is little ambiguity in the requirement that Congress shall legislate the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro in order to pave the way for a plebiscite that will ratify it.  In fact the draft of that law is still to be negotiated in the Transition Commission that will be created by the GPH president, with only a slim majority of eight out of fifteen members to be designated by the MILF.

A possibly more crucial example of where the MILF had adjusted its position while the GPH merely adjusted its language is on "normalization" where the GPH has successfully incorporated its program for DDR (disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation or reintegration) sans the controversial term into the Framework Agreement.

GPH Chief negotiator Leonen minces no words when he underscores that all of the above required steps have to be in full accord with GPH constitution and legal processes.  How the MILF seeks to overcome these obstacles, repeatedly proven in the past to be formidable and fatal to the Bangsa Moro aspirations for self determination, remains a big puzzle to many observers.

 In any case, both Parties are certainly stating the truth when they say a final negotiated settlement is still a long way off, with crucial details still to be fleshed out and likely fought over. #

Published in Business World
12-13 October 2012

October 04, 2012

Birds of a feather

The spectacle unleashed before the public by two of the nation’s highest officials in connection with the 40th anniversary of martial law declaration has caused many stomachs to turn amidst cries of pained outrage and guffaws of bitter laughter.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, undisputed martial law administrator, attempts, in his freshly-minted autobiography, to whitewash, reverse and even obliterate historical facts and truths about the US-backed Marcos dictatorship that he so loyally served and for which he was so richly rewarded.  Until, that is, his own skin and political future were in jeopardy from rival factions loyal to First Lady Imelda Marcos and General Fabian Ver.

A travesty of justice, Mr. Enrile’s version of history mocks the memory of the heroes, martyrs and all who suffered under and resisted against the abomination that was martial law.

Mr. Enrile had the gall to launch his book just as the nation commemorated the imposition of martial law four decades ago.  He claims credit for preparing all the legal requirements for the palace coup d’etat; the swift and coordinated moves of the Philippine military and constabulary to arrest identified leaders of the varied kinds of political opposition; the clamp down on mass media and Congress; and being able to hold the Supreme Court hostage to Marcos’ rule by decree.

Lamely, Mr. Enrile justifies his role in the 14-year mailed-fist rule as a case of a good thing gone bad.  Hey folks, martial law wasn’t supposed to last so long if Marcos had listened to Mr. Enrile.  Abuses began to take place which, if we will believe the Marcos henchman, he tried to mitigate. Marcos eventually lost control and things began to unravel.  Mr. Enrile then spouts his considered opinion that the dictator Marcos was the best president the country has ever had give or take some minor problems that history (as written by the uncontrite rulers of the land) can very well place in proper perspective.

The 88-year-old wily politician of the bureaucrat capitalist model (that simply means he made his pile primarily from using public office as his private enterprise) obviously has a very practical reason for the timing of his official apologia.  What else but the Senate bid of his erstwhile juvenile delinquent son now all grown up and raring to fill papa’s big shoes.

Sadly, Mr. Enrile’s effrontery is ably matched by the opportunist complicity of the book’s publisher, the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN .  The Lopezes seems to have buried the hatchet with Marcos’ self-proclaimed hatchet man; after all they have already gotten back their lucrative businesses and much more.  Having to pragmatically face the current lay of the political landscape, the Lopezes now leave it to others to correct Mr. Enrile’s unconscionable revisionism.

But how to explain President Noynoy Aquino’s gracing of the Enrile book launch after another rousing speech where he pays tribute to those who fought the dictatorship, vows to establish the truth about martial law through a new historical commission and promote its proper retelling to the youth?

Some commentators attribute it simply to Mr. Aquino’s desire to return a favor, Mr. Enrile having done a brilliant job of delivering Chief Justice Corona’s impeached head on a platter to Malacanang.  Others suspect Mr. Aquino hadn’t read the book in the first place and doesn’t know the extent to which Mr. Enrile denigrates the reputations of his beloved parents not to mention spins a fairy tale about martial law where Mr. Enrile comes off as the unlikely fairy godfather to us all.

But let’s give Mr. Aquino more credit than that.  Our “daang matuwid” president surely has done his own study of that historical period apart from which he and his family were direct witnesses of the times.  Thus Mr. Aquino waxes eloquent when he describes the violations of civil and political liberties; the bastardization of the Philippine Constitution; and the arbitrariness, corrupt and inherently abusive character of strongman rule.

Nonetheless he is conveniently clueless about the underlying causes, the whys, hows and the forces at play whereby such an open form of brutal dictatorial rule could have been successfully imposed on the nation. One would easily conclude based on his account that the be all and end all was the evil of one man, Ferdinand E. Marcos, aided by his coterie of co-conspirators, subalterns and cronies.

Mr. Aquino is silent about the conflicts wracking Philippine society at the dawn of martial law.  Indeed the national situation was often described even in the seventies as a social volcano about to erupt from the volatile mix of wide income disparities, landlessness, economic backwardness, servility to foreign - mainly US - interests, disempowerment of the many amidst the socio-economic and political stranglehold by the elite, violent suppression of democratic rights of the people, armed revolution in the countryside and a growing mass movement of dissent and resistance in the cities.

Aquino is silent on the Marcos ruling clique's resort to martial law to put a lid on these roiling conflicts which is why the majority of the reactionary classes, forces and institutions operating in the country, including foreign big business and big power interests applauded Marcos’ flagrant move to seize and monopolize power.

No, Mr. Aquino, you are dissembling when you make it appear that “soldiers” were as much victims of the dictatorship as the people they mowed down, maimed, abducted, tortured, detained indefinitely in subhuman conditions and otherwise subjected to horrible violations of their human rights and dignity.  While ordinary soldiers and policemen may be forgiven for following unlawful orders and giving way to their bestiality, the military top brass and senior officers of the military and constabulary establishments were the necessary, willing and likewise richly-rewarded accomplices of the dictator Marcos without whom martial rule could not have lasted a day.

In a similar manner, Mr. Aquino says nothing about the real causes of the downfall of the dictatorship apart from a general acknowledgement of the nameless Filipinos who fought against it.  His most dramatic accounts have to do with the 1978 Metro Manila-wide noise barrage associated with the boycott of the elections called by his father and the latter’s assassination in 1983 to which Mr. Aquino attributes the “revolution” that toppled the dictatorship.

Airbrushed from his version of history are the uphill and bloody struggles of students, workers and urban poor to fight for their rights and thereby break the enforced silence of the era; the fledgling armed effort of the peasantry and hundreds of urban youth from worker and middle class backgrounds to sap the might of Marcos’ armed minions then wreaking havoc on defenceless civilians; the courage of progressive church people and political prisoners in exposing the truth and defying repression in the heartland of the dictatorship.

The blithe reduction by Mr. Aquino of the lessons of the martial law era to that of the fight against Marcos one-man rule while honking about how different things are today just because the Cojuangco-Aquino faction of the ruling classes is in power constitutes another form of historical revisionism of the crassest order.

In fact, many of Marcos-era repressive decrees were deliberately retained by his mother, President Corazon Aquino, and are still in effect; the “reformed AFP” that mutinied against the Marcos regime is the same old fascist military that is the source of human rights violations today; economic policies that impoverished the nation and subsumed it to the dictates of imperialist multilateral institutions such as the IMF-WB have been carried over and are very much currently in place.

It will certainly take more than Mr. Aquino’s appointed “truth” commission to illumine and finally make a full and honest accounting of that dark period of our nation’s history. #

Published in Business World
5-6 October 2012