November 28, 2013

Andres Bonifacio – Icon of the Philippine Revolution

“(A)ng catubusa’y hindi nacucuha sa salita o sa sulat…
Sucat na! Papagsalitain natin naman ang sandata!”  - Andres Bonifacio

On November 30 the Filipino working class and people mark the 150th birth anniversary of Gat Andres Bonifacio, the father of the Filipino nation and the Philippine Revolution.  Bonifacio dubbed the “Great Plebian” due to his humble beginnings as an ordinary workingman, self-studied the liberal bourgeois ideals of the French Revolution and Rizal’s writings, joined the reform movement under La Liga Filipina established by Jose Rizal and founded the Katipunan, the secret society that rapidly grew into an armed mass movement that eventually overthrew Spanish colonial rule.

It is only fitting that current-day revolutionaries and activists of various people’s movements, nationalists and patriots (not the vapid, flag-waving kind but those whose love of country includes the defense of national sovereignty and independence from foreign neocolonial domination, exploitation and aggression) and a broad range of working people are celebrating Bonifacio’s sesquicentennial through various forms.  There are mass rallies at Bonifacio monuments all over the country on Bonifacio Day; cultural events such as “Maghimagsik! Andres Bonifacio: Rebolusyonaryo, Anakpawis,” a theater production sponsored by progressive labor and youth organizations on December 7; new musical compositions such as “Dear Bonifacio” uploaded on the internet and described by its young songwriter as a “pledge to continue the Filipino people's unfinished struggle for real change, justice, prosperity and peace”; and a slew of forums and exhibits in schools and universities organized by teachers, students and workers’ unions.

To honor the legacy of the “indio” who in 1896 led the first bourgeois democratic revolution in the Philippines and in Asia to overthrow the yoke of 300 years of Western colonial rule by Spain, the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) has launched a new book Salita ng Sandata: Bonifacio’s Legacies to the People’s Struggles.  The collection of essays, poems and scholarly articles are about the life and times of Bonifacio, his incomparable and enduring legacy as a revolutionary patriot and a man of the masses and his relevance to the ongoing armed and unarmed people’s movements for national and social liberation.

In the book’s foreword, Prof. Jose Maria Sison, founding chairperson of the revolutionary party of the Filipino proletariat, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), distills the greatness of Bonifacio not just as the father of the Philippine revolution but of the Filipino nation that it gave birth to.

According to Prof. SIson, “(D)espite being a wage-earning plebeian, he could not be awed or cowed into submission or compromise by the colossal colonial and feudal structure which had been built for more than 300 years... (He) took the risk and the pains of organizing the Katipunan in order to generate the collective will and daring of the people to fight the powerful oppressors and exploiters.”

Bonifacio was a thinking man who Prof. Sison considers “brilliant” in that “(h)e studied the history and current circumstances of his people… He was far more knowledgeable about his people than those who went to the university but who did not care about them and those who neither read nor understood the social advancement of other peoples who had fought for liberty, equality and fraternity.”

Bonifacio displayed “nobility and purity of character and purpose” by dedicating his life and all his capabilities for the people’s revolutionary struggle suffering untold hardships not just for himself but for his family and giving the ultimate sacrifice of his life, together with his two siblings, upon his betrayal and murder ordered by the ilustrado General Emilio Aquinaldo.

His unparalleled courage and daring was borne of his loathing for the greed, abuse and terror inflicted by the Spanish “sword and cross” as well as his trust in the people, especially the toiling masses, whose sufferings and aspirations he understood and completely identified with.  While he began his political activities in support of the Propaganda Movement seeking reforms from Spain, he did not hesitate to call for armed struggle when it was clear that it was the only path to national independence and the overthrow of the feudal order.  In fact, “(h)e actually led the series of battles that irrevocably started the war of independence.”

Bonifacio was said to have a short temper and was maligned by his enemies as having a dictatorial and imperious bent.  However Prof. Sison draws the reader’s attention to Bonifacio’s humility in offering the leadership of the revolution to Rizal before and after the outbreak of the revolution.  On the other hand, Aguinaldo, who is officially recognized as the President of the First Philippine Republic, had the cunning and ruthlessness to seize the leadership from Bonifacio and order his mock trial and brutal execution.

Certainly Bonifacio's most outstanding virtue and accomplishment that sets him apart from Rizal and other heroes of the Reform Movement, was his ability to conclude and firmly believe that the Filipino masses were ready and willing to rise up in arms as one, bear the sacrifices needed to fight against the superior Spanish colonial forces and win their freedom from tyranny and exploitation. His only weakness or error, if it can be considered one, is that like the French and German workers in the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, he was too trusting of the bourgeoisie and overestimated their importance in the struggle.    

The Filipino revolutionaries led by the Katipunan went on to defeat the Spanish colonialists but complete victory was snatched by the United States of America, the rising imperialist power at that time, with the collaboration of Aguinaldo and other ilustrados.  The old colonial master was replaced by a new one; the old ilustrado class was coopted and became part of US imperialism’s subservient local ruling elite of big landlords and trading partners.

The same foreign domination and feudal and semi-feudal oppression of the Filipino nation and people that Bonifacio, the Katipunan and our forebears rose up against was not only maintained, it was further aggravated. Thus the people’s aspirations for genuine independence and democracy and the logic of revolution to bring about fundamental social change have remained valid and even more compelling.

For the past century since US colonial rule was imposed on our people - then replaced by indirect, neocolonial rule - Philippine society has been afflicted by a chronic crisis causing boundless misery and suffering to the masses, mostly impoverished peasants, resulting in peasant revolts erupting intermittently all over the islands but quelled in one way or another, including the opening up of land frontiers to ease the problem of landlessness. That crisis entered its terminal phase in the late 1960s with the exhaustion of land frontiers coupled by intensified imperialist plunder as the crisis in the world capitalist system worsened.

It was at this time that armed struggle resumed nationwide under the CPP-NPA, and in Muslim Mindanao under the Moro National Liberation Front, both responding to the smoldering desire of the people to once again rise in revolution against the unjust social system and seeking direction, organization and leadership.  On a nationwide scale, the leadership of the new democratic revolution -- the national democratic revolution – has been provided by the Filipino working class, through its party, the CPP.

More starkly clear than during Bonifacio's time, the imperialist-coopted bourgeoisie cannot provide leadership to this new democratic revolution, even as its demands such as land reform, national industrialization and an independent foreign policy are essentially bourgeois demands.

Moreover, the global depression of the world’s capitalist system triggered by the meltdown of its financial system has unmasked the inherently anti-worker and anti-people bias of this system; that it is unsustainable and is leading to massive environmental destruction; and that it is irreparably socially unjust and morally corrupt.  An alternative society organized in non-capitalist, in fact, anti-capitalist terms - socialism - is in the horizon for this new national democratic revolution.

The book Salita ng Sandata is a timely tribute to the glorious heroism and martyrdom of Andres Bonifacio for the cause of national and social liberation.  It not only reaffirms Bonifacio’s rightful place in the pantheon of Filipino heroes but also revitalizes his legacy and its relevance to the people’s resurgent revolutionary struggles. #

Published in Business World
29-30 November 2013

November 21, 2013

Disaster aggravated

So much has been said about the resilience and fighting spirit of the Filipino people as exemplified by the millions of families ravaged by super typhoon Yolanda (internationally named Haiyan).  Such praise is not misplaced given that the vast majority of our people have long been suffering under socioeconomic conditions that have kept them constantly treading the water to survive, barely keeping their heads above it, and sinking to extinction with every adverse event or circumstance. 

But it is wrong and deceitful to use this as a camouflage for sheer incompetence, criminal negligence, lack of genuine concern, preoccupation with image-building and a propensity for finger-pointing, hand-washing, and massaging of facts that the Aquino government has displayed in the wake of this latest calamity visited upon our calamity-prone archipelago.

Such calamities (usually described as "natural" but, invariably, also man-made) are a fact of life in a country geographically located and geophysically constituted so as to be regularly visited by typhoons and storm surges, shaken by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, deluged by floods and buried by landslides.   The increasing frequency and fury of bizarre weather disturbances attributable to climate change, largely the result of environmental destruction and degradation carried out primarily by highly industrialized economies while ravaging the more vulnerable developing countries, are harbingers that the situation for island-nations such as ours can only go from bad to worse.

However, human intervention, most especially the organized, systematic , comprehensive and widespread kind that only governments both national and local can put together with the cooperation of an enlightened citizenry, can prevent a natural calamity from becoming a total disaster.  There is such a thing after all as disaster risk reduction, prevention and preparedness even before and apart from rescue, relief and rehabilitation. This much has been proven not just by advanced capitalist countries such as Japan but even more convincingly and heroically by resource-poor, socialist countries such as Cuba.

Concrete proof of the Aquino administration’s shortsightedness is the presidential veto on budget allocations for disaster preparedness, specifically “pre-disaster activities such as preparation of relocation sites/facilities and training personnel engaged in direct disaster (sic)” under the government’s calamity fund.  President Benigno S. Aquino (“B.S.” Aquino for short) irrationally put pre-emptive and mitigation measures in unnecessary conflict with requisite quick response capabilities during and immediately after a calamity when the former should be given priority attention and is actually key to the latter’s effectiveness. 

And where have the hundreds of billions of presidential and congressional pork, i.e. lump sum, discretionary funds loudly defended by “B.S.” Aquino, gone?  We all know the answer in light of the non-stop exposes of how government officials at the highest levels have diverted funds meant for disaster preparedness, relief and rehabilitation to ghost projects under the name of bogus NGOs.

Unfortunately for the victims of typhoon Yolanda in the provinces of Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, Negros provinces, Panay provinces, Palawan, Bicol and Mindoro, the Aquino regime’s “quick response” has turned out to be appallingly slow, disorganized, inadequate and even non-existent in many areas.  Contrary to “B.S.” Aquino’s constant reassurances that the government was totally prepared with pre-positioned relief goods, air/sea craft and rescue equipment standing by, more than adequate funds ready for quick disbursement and the national and local government machinery on red alert, the scene in Tacloban City, Leyte where Defense Secretary Gazmin and Local Government Secretary Roxas had set up their command center, was total chaos as late as five days after the typhoon hit.

“B.S.” Aquino was forced to eat his words only after the real situation was broadcast by local and foreign media by which time, the effete president could only harp on how local government units failed to prepare, understate the grievousness of the situation by downscaling the number of deaths and the extent of devastation, then belatedly acknowledge the destructiveness of Typhoon Yolanda in order to blame it for the “breakdown of practically everything”, thus rendering his government paralyzed to inutility.

To be fair, the government’s weather agency PAG-ASA and Project NOAH had commendably done their part by predicting with remarkable accuracy the typhoon strength, scope and path, including the height of the storm surge waters and the affected municipalities.  All these vital information was forwarded to Malacanang and all concerned government agencies as early as Nov 5, three days before the storm’s landfall.  Additionally, the scientific community – government, academe and NGOs – has repeatedly warned of vulnerabilities and hazards practically throughout the archipelago as a result of its being in the typhoon path, the Pacific Rim of Fire, and on the fault-laden Pacific trenches.

Clearly, delegating disaster preparedness and response to the local government units while allowing national funds and resources to be hijacked and misused by unscrupulous government officials amount to unconscionable criminal negligence for which there should be accountability. 

Why is it necessary to expose the truth at the risk of being labeled as inveterate critics and naysayers? Because government is lying and covering up.  Because government has to be pushed to act rather than drag its feet. Because government has to be unmasked for its failures, its anti-people policies and programs that have caused so much misery, deaths and destroyed lives.  Or else continue in this vicious cycle.

This is not a pointless exercise. This doesn’t go against mobilizing non-government efforts to make up for the patchy and woefully inadequate government response. This is not so-called Filipino “crab mentality” at work.  Shining a light on the ugly, dark reality of government ineptness, corruption and deception especially in times of national emergencies is a necessary step to breaking the vicious cycle.

Just as there is a welcome and heartening surfeit of compassion and aid locally and from abroad, there is also no lack of prescriptions on disaster preparedness as well as relief and rehabilitation response. All of these prescriptions are not only correct but also long overdue. Most of them are not even new.

All are derived from lessons from disasters here and abroad, paid for by the blood and tears of countless victims, mostly the poor and vulnerable.  The more crucial question then is why have these prescriptions not been put in place, given the perennial incidence of these tragedies?

It is now all too obvious that the answer does not lie in satellite images, sensors and forecasts, much less in grandiose plans, presentations and media statements.

The answer lies in the political will of government, to first of all lift the large mass of Filipinos from poverty that makes them most vulnerable to these calamities, and second to see to it that all available information and knowledge -- from scientific data to lessons learned from past experiences -- are used to devise and implement national as well as local plans and measures to mitigate if not avoid massive loss of lives, dislocation and destruction.  #

Published in Business World
22-23 November 2013

November 07, 2013

Fr. Jose “Joe” P. DIzon – Activist Priest (1948 – 2013)

“Sandigan ang masa; paglingkuran ang sambayanan.” (Rely on the masses; serve the people.) These words of Fr. Jose “Joe” P. Dizon at the celebration of his 40th year as a priest (for the most part assigned to the diocese of Imus, Cavite) sums-up his life-long mantra as an activist priest.  It served as the theme of nearly all of the tributes delivered at his memorial last Wednesday at the San Roque Church in the “hustle-and-bustle” city of Caloocan where he was born and raised.

Fr. Joe achieved what the late human rights lawyer par excellence, Atty. Romeo T. Capulong, describes as the “highest convergence” between one’s profession and one’s social activism.  He conjoined his being a pastor and a social activist, in the most meaningful, dynamic and efficacious way.

Thus the legacy he leaves behind is the shining example of a man-of-the-cloth who transcended the traditional role of a priest in Philippine society - celebrating the Holy Mass, administering the sacraments, and doing charitable works for the poor - to become, in time, a consummate patriot, a thoroughgoing democrat and an unwavering “pastor-servant of the people”.

In his 40 years as a priest, Fr. Joe was tireless in being one with the “poor, deprived and oppressed”. He spent countless hours doing social investigations into the living and working conditions of workers, urban poor, landless farmers and fisher folk in their communities and workplaces.  He joined them in their struggles for their democratic rights and welfare through petitions and dialogues with employers and public officials; at countless picket lines, protest actions and mass demonstrations; and, invariably, by celebrating mass or being part of interfaith prayers to boost the morale and generate political and material support for the beleaguered yet militant masses.

Sr. Emelina Villegas ICM, Fr. Joe’s fellow workers’ advocate in the National Coalition for the Protection of Workers’ Rights, opined that Fr. Joe be called “priest of the people”.  As a young priest in Imus, he assisted then Bishop Felix Perez in supporting the peasants in Tartaria who were engaged in a life-and-death struggle for the right to the land that they tilled. Under the menacing conditions of martial law, he fearlessly spoke out against the Marcos’ dictatorship’s oppression of the people.  He became national director of the Basic Christian Communities-Community Organizing (BCC-CO) program that sought to develop the Church of the Poor, in accord with the progressive teachings of Vatican II, but he was quickly labeled by the fascist order as “subversive” and the BCO-CO, a “communist front”.  To threats of arrest in order to silence him, he retorted, “Kung gusto ninyo akong hulihin, buhatin ninyo ako.” (If you wish to arrest me, you will have to bodily carry me out.)

In the late nineties, Fr. Joe helped conceptualize and give birth to Kairos Philippines, a grassroots movement of ordinary Catholics centered on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary but combining the teaching and propagation of the social teachings of the Catholic Church so as to spur enlightened action on social ills that weighed down on the people.  He wanted lay Catholics to have a progressive alternative to the burgeoning Christian charismatic movements, some of which were directly funded and led by foreign missionaries from the US, with a decidedly conservative and fundamentalist bent.  He won over a significant number of bishops and religious to lend support and guidance to this endeavor.

Sr. Villegas underscored that Fr. Joe, a stickler for ecumenism, was at the forefront of ecumenical institutions and organizations that provide support services for the struggles of the basic sectors. One such effort is the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) where he served as a member of the board since its inception and served as chairperson from 2005 to his death. 

He also founded and continued to lead until his untimely demise, the Workers Assistance Center (WAC).  WAC grew out of a socio-pastoral program he established in his parish in Rosario, Cavite to address the appalling conditions of workers in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) of the Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon (CALABARZON) region.  According to Inquirer columnist, Ceres Doyo, the WAC’s “Bahay Manggagagwa” has served as a “haven for workers”. In addition, Doyo said, “One of WAC’s important achievements is organizing the Solidarity of Cavite Workers, a province-wide alliance of groups that upheld genuine and militant unionism”.  This is no mean feat considering that Cavite has undergone prolonged periods of mailed-fist repression of the trade union movement because of the state policy of ensuring a docile labor force in the EPZs in order to attract foreign investors.

I have never heard Fr. Joe express moral conflict about his being a priest and a dyed-in-the-wool activist.  I attribute this to his clear-minded understanding about what it is, and what it must be, to be a priest in a society riven by class exploitation and oppression; with a state characterized by the deceitful and violent defense of the status quo; and in light of an institutional Catholic Church weighed down by feudal tradition as well as socio-economic ties to the ruling elites.

Armed with his experience of sustained immersion in the lives of the basic masses of workers and peasants and his avid study of the Church’s social teachings, Fr. Joe embarked on efforts to build and rebuild projects that would bring church people once more to the front lines of the people’s movement for change. Thus was begun the Clergy Discernment project which counts scores of priests nationwide in their renewed effort to find their “prophetic” role in Philippine society.  Fr. Joe was indefatigable in bringing the issues and causes of the people to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and individual bishops through such mechanisms as the Church-Labor and Church-Peasant conferences. 

It has been said that Fr. Joe’s parishioners are in fact the Filipino people.  This truism is perhaps best seen in his work helping to build social movements and alliances on a range of national concerns and issues.  These include the multisectoral alliances that fought against the US-backed Marcos dictatorship such as the People’s Alliance for the Pope’s Visit (PAPA), the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA), the Nationalist Alliance for Freedom, Justice and Democracy, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) and the Coalition for the Restoration of democracy (CORD).

He was a leading figure in the Estrada Resign Movement and Plunder Watch that culminated in the people’s uprising dubbed EDSA Dos.  In the same manner he was at the head of the movement to oust Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo highlighting issues of human rights violations, graft and corruption, abuse of power, electoral fraud, and puppetry to US-led wars of aggression such as the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Fr. Joe sustained his passionate fight against the ills of bureaucrat capitalism - the root of endemic and big-time corruption in government, political dynasties, patronage politics, bloody counterinsurgency programs etc. – under the Benigno Aquino administration through Kontradaya, the #abolishporkmovement and the Pagbabago (People’s Movement for Change).

As an exemplary priest in the manner extolled by Pope Francis, I have no doubt that Fr. Joe is now in the heaven his faith reserves for good people. But there is a different kind of immortality that awaits those, like him, who become a part of the historic movement for national and social liberation.  Fr. Joe will certainly live on, incarnated in a new generation of church people who choose to cast their lot with the “poor, deprived and oppressed” and to dedicate their lives in unstinting service to the people. #

Published in Business World
7-8 November 2013