OPINION: Writing as contribution to just and lasting peace

By Carol P. Araullo, Independent Cooperator to the NDFP Negotiating Panel

Response to “Contra en punto” written by Edwin G. Espejo, in reaction to my 17 October 2016 Business World column “Streetwise – Thorny issues emerge in Oslo peace talks

IT IS UNFORTUNATE that Mr. Edwin G. Espejo, a member of the GRP Peace Panel Communications Group, chose to write a riposte to my opinion piece by selecting certain parts which he rebuts rather than crafting a piece to give his or the GRP’s take on the second round of GRP-NDFP peace talks held last October 6 to 9.

Mr. Espejo may have an exaggerated estimate of the reach and influence of my column such that he had to write his attempt at a “contra en punto”.  Since Rappler has given Mr. Espejo the space to ventilate his views specifically geared to counter and debunk my column, I am compelled to respond.

I wish to put on record why I write about the peace talks and what guidelines I follow to keep my commentaries fair, that these do not run counter to the written agreements, and are contributory to the goal of reaching a just and lasting peace.

I am acutely aware of the need to give due respect to the prerogatives of the respective peace panels and the need for a media embargo on what transpires while each round of talks are ongoing. In fact, whatever I write during the actual talks is generally on positive developments or merely to describe the atmosphere without going into detail on contentious points. (The title of my column published 10 October, a day after the close of the formal round of talks, is “Second round of peace talks on track”.)

It is another matter once the round of talks is concluded.  I strive to give my readers, especially those who are not able to observe and participate directly in the peace talks, an insight into how the talks are proceeding. It stands to reason that I will include points of contention. It would be a disservice to keep painting a rosy picture when the differences between the two Parties become more sharply delineated as the talks proceed to the substantive agenda.

I am a nationalist and democrat, a political and social activist, an unabashed Leftist. I have never hidden the fact that my politics are aligned with those of the NDFP.

Having said that, I am also an advocate of a just and lasting peace and of giving the venue of peace negotiations a chance to resolve the roots of armed conflict. I see no inherent conflict between the two.

I have thus been a critic of the completely obstructionist and reactionary viewpoint of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process under Sec. Teresita Deles and the GRP Peace Panel under Atty. Alex Padilla during the Aquino III administration.  On the other hand, I have welcomed and supported the Duterte administration’s bold initiatives in resuming the formal peace talks with the NDFP as well as with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Movement.

Mr. Espejo accuses me of impropriety for allegedly “hurl(ing) some serious issues and criticisms against the government panel…(a)nd in the same breadth (sic) heap(ing) all praises to the NDFP.” I urge the reader to take the time to read my entire opinion piece Thorny issues emerge in Oslo Peace Talks and judge for herself if the accusation has any basis. I contend that the article is objective and fair without pretending to be neutral.

Mr. Espejo appears to be defensive about my observation that “(o)n top of contrasting if not diametrically opposed points of view, was the seeming lackadaisical preparation of the GRP RWC-SER.”

This observation however is based on fact that is verifiable. As I wrote, the GRP RWC-SER “did not even have an honest-to-goodness draft outline comparable to the fleshed-out one submitted by the NDFP”.

Mr Espejo’s attempt to explain away this glaring contrast between the two Parties’ preparedness to negotiate on major socio-economic reforms is quite lame. He advances the theory that “the GRP panel are there to receive proposed reform agenda from the group that is challenging its authority.”  He concludes illogically that the GRP panel is “not duty bound to present its own…”

He quickly acknowledges however that “the agreement during the first round of talks in August is that both parties are going to agree on the outline and framework of discussions on social and economic reforms”.  What he conveniently omits is that several weeks before the second round of talks, the agreement was that there would be an exchange of each side’s respective draft outline and framework. Up until the second round of talks, the GRP RWC-SER had a half page listing of topics while the NDFP submitted a 16-page draft framework and outline.

Mr. Espejo notes, “The sheer number of NDFP delegation (rounding up to 60) in the Oslo 2nd round, more than a handful of them released on bail upon the insistence of the government, is more than just gestures of goodwill and manifestation of sincerity.”

Let me just inform the reader that those individuals in the NDFP delegation numbering about 60 vs the GRP’s 50 were mainly consultants and resource persons for the NDFP RWC-SER who had been working the week before to finalize and fine tune what the NDFP would present at the 2nd round.  They had also been working on overdrive to finish the NDFP 3rd draft Comprehensive Agreement on SER, giving it more flesh, updating and fine tuning it from the 1998, 2001 and 2004 drafts all of which where made available to the GRP panel and to the public even as the talks had been embroiled in numerous impasses.

Also for the record, the release of the 18 NDFP consultants was a result of hard work by the two sides, the NDFP invoking the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) that the Duterte-appointed GRP Peace Panel accepted as valid and binding. The herculean efforts of the NDFP consultants’ lawyers, human rights advocates and an entire slew of supporters here and abroad who kept up the pressure for their release in the name of justice and the peace talks were key.  The NDFP consultants were not, as Mr. Espejo simplistically puts it, “released on bail upon the insistence of the government.”

Mr. Espejo questions my writing an analysis of the ongoing GRP-NDFP peace talks since I am part of the NDFP delegation. Again let me be clear that the NDFP delegation includes resource persons such as myself and many consultants who are not necessarily organic to the NDFP.

As far as I know, the NDFP (and for that matter, the GRP) has not imposed a gag rule on any and all members of the NDFP delegation.  It is up to the individual to exercise responsibility, fairness, objectivity and restraint as is warranted to keep the peace talks going on a productive track.  The text of the bilateral statements and agreements are an objective basis for testing the veracity of any analyses or opinion pieces that anyone may choose to write.

I assume that Mr. Espejo, who is part of the GRP “communications group”, is not writing for himself alone but in behalf of his bosses.  In fact he keeps making reference to “minutes” of the peace negotiations citing them as basis for his “contra en punto”.  In this respect, Mr. Espejo appears to have quite an advantage in being able to cite purported official minutes. He again conveniently omits that he is citing GRP minutes and interpreting them to bolster his arguments that are presumably being made to “communicate” the GRP views and propaganda line.

Lastly, I call the attention of readers to two news reports that show even while the talks were ongoing (in fact, as early as Oct 8)  both the GRP and NDFP panels had issued statements to the media regarding the progress and lack of it with regard to CASER, amnesty and ceasefire. It also appears that it was the GRP who first made public its criticism of or displeasure at the NDFP’s position vis-a-vis said agenda items. <PH-NDF talks hit snags, camps committed> and <Govt-NDFP agree on framework for socio-economic reform>

Thus news reports, mostly citing GRP and NDFP panel members and consultants had already mentioned and described in detail what I later wrote about in my column. Mr. Espejo now vehemently protests, as though I am the first to divulge and comment on what transpired in the second round of talks.

Why did Mr. Espejo, and for that matter OPAPP, not protest these earlier statements and news reports? Could it be because it was the GRP who “drew first blood” so to speak, and that the NDFP was merely issuing rejoinders to clarify?

I seriously urge Mr. Espejo to write a separate opinion article where he will have full leeway to expound on the GRP positions as befits his job description. #

 

STREETWISE by Carol P Araullo: Pavlovian Reflex

It was shockingly painful to watch the video footage of a police van mowing down protesting indigenous and Moro people in front of the US embassy last Wednesday.  The rabid zeal and brutally with which the police used their might to inflict injury on anyone they could lay their hands on and arrest as many as they could (including those already hurt and the First Aid team of doctors and nurses attempting to attend to the wounded) was all too familiar yet still disturbing if not revolting.

Another case of police over zealousness in protecting the US embassy? The usual small, unruly crowd of youth activists getting out of hand and requiring more stringent and forceful police crowd management? In fact, no.

The demonstrators easily numbered more than a thousand composed of the different tribes of Lumad and Moros from Mindanao, Igorots from the Cordillera, Dumagats from Southern Tagalog, Aetas from Central Luzon and even Tumandok from Panay.  They were joined by a smaller number of supporters from Metro Manila coming from different sectors including students, workers and urban poor.

They caught the police contingent providing perimeter security for the embassy by surprise and were able to maneuver to get as close to the embassy walls as possible, of course with a lot of shoving and shouting.  They painted the pristine walls red with slogans such as “Go Duterte! Junk EDCA!” and “Yankee go home!”

When the dust had settled, the police, some of them splattered with red paint, resigned themselves to the situation and allowed the demonstrators to hold their almost 2-hour long program in peace.

As the protesters wound up their program of speeches and cultural numbers, a certain Col. Pedroza arrived.  He berated his men for allowing the demonstrators to get the better of them without putting up a fight and allowing him to lose face with US embassy officials.  He then ordered a completely unwarranted violent dispersal of the protest action that was already about to end without further incident.

Several questions have come to fore as culled from social media.  The standard one, “Weren’t the demonstrators asking for it?  Didn’t they ‘provoke’ the police?”  From many witnesses and raw video footages, it is clear that the initial confrontation occurred when the demonstrators asserted their right to bring their message to the very threshold of the embassy.  They succeeded to do so by overpowering the police phalanx with their sheer size and militance.

Immediately they were able to splash red paint on the US embassy seal and paint their slogans on the embassy walls as an expression of rage and protest at the Almighty US of A — self-appointed global policeman and number one instigator of wars of aggression and intervention worldwide — again despite the efforts of the police to prevent them.

Having done so and entrenching their ranks in front of the embassy, the demonstrators quieted down and held their protest program. The police too settled down, held their peace and watched the demonstrators from where they had ensconced.

So what had “provoked” the police was the order of their commander to unleash their maximum intolerance for citizens exercising their right to air their grievances so that US embassy officials could be reassured the police were doing their job.  The Pavlovian reflex took over the police forces, having been oriented, trained, equipped and constantly sicced on protesting citizens to protect the status quo, the oligarchy and their foreign overlords.  The real nature of the PNP as protector of the neocolonial state, especially its power centers like Malacañang and the US embassy, was on full display.

But aren’t the police under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte even faintly aware that their Commander-in-Chief is no longer the unmitigated “Amboy” (American Boy) that all previous presidents since so-called independence have been? At the rate Duterte has been raining expletives on the mighty USA, including its President and the US State Department, while elucidating his concept of an independent foreign policy, more mass protests at the embassy should and could have been anticipated and police response adjusted accordingly.

Unfortunately, the puppet and fascist character of the PNP is so ingrained, it will take a major and determined overhaul to change it.  (It doesn’t help that the PNP is getting carte blanche in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs where abuse of power, extrajudicial short cuts, corruption and impunity are still very much in evidence.)

But there are netizens who are alternately perplexed and aghast why there were indigenous people and Moros demonstrating against US imperialism at the embassy.  Was that their issue? Weren’t their legitimate issues about defending their ancestral lands from interlopers or even the killings traced to paramilitary units and even military forces themselves.  Shouldn’t they be at the DENR protesting corporate mining or at the AFP camps calling for en end to militarization.  Why the US embassy? (They, in fact, had already been to the DENR and Camp Aguinaldo military camp.)

There were even some who imputed that the Left, perennial protestors at the US embassy, had hoodwinked and somehow manipulated the contingents of national minorities to do their bidding and “riot” at the US embassy.

They who had trekked thousands of miles from north to south of the archipelago in what they had dubbed “Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan” (Journey of National Minorities for Self-determination and a Just Peace) were presumed too politically naive and shallow to grasp how US imperialism affects them and so they had to be “tricked” to protest at the US embassy.

Wrong.  Contrary to the common city goers’ misconception, the lumad for one have educated themselves, primarily by their own efforts, setting up at least 146 schools in various communities all over Mindanao.  These schools have been targets of brutal attacks by the military mainly because they have effectively equipped the lumad with the tools to study and understand their situation and to fight for their rights.

Speaker after speaker from among their ranks have clearly articulated the relationship between the encroachments on their lands by multinational mining companies and agribusinesses, the plunder of natural resources and wanton destruction of the environment, and the grievous violations of their rights to US imperialism and its strongest tentacles among the AFP and PNP.

They spoke of the US-patterned, instigated, funded and directed counter-insurgency programs, including the latest Oplan Bayanihan, as behind the militarization of their communities, the divide-and-rule tactic of arming paramilitaries recruited from among them to do the dirty work of terrorizing their communities in order to drive them away from their communal lands so that the foreign corporate interests and their domestic partners could take over.

The indigenous peoples and Moros have the historical and practical experience of struggling against colonial subjugation and neocolonial oppression and exploitation.  Thus they have sharpened their understanding of the root causes of their abject condition and what they must do to regain their dignity as a people, to exercise their right to self-determination and to live their lives under the ascendance of a just peace. #

(Featured image by Amel Sabangan/Kodao Productions)

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STREETWISE: Out of a quagmire

Streetwise
by  Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Out of a quagmire
After more than half a decade of impasse, the resumption of formal peace talks between the Philippine government (GRP) and the revolutionary National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) last August 22-26 in Oslo, Norway is without a doubt a major, major breakthrough.
This historically significant development has taken place in the first 60 days of the new Duterte Administration. The initial round of talks has covered so much ground that had hitherto seemed impossible to achieve, if the obstructionist officials of the preceding Aquino administration were to be believed.
Even the weather during the talks was propitious. The sunny warmth of the Viking summer combined with the cool, crisp air in the mornings and late afternoons provided just the right clime for a very productive first formal meeting between the two Parties.
Spontaneity, warmth and camaraderie were on display from start to finish of the five-day talks. After all, most of the members of the GRP panel and even the Presidential Peace Adviser Sec. Jesus Dureza are old hands in the peace negotiations, particularly during the Ramos administration that saw 10 agreements sealed. The composition of the NDFP panel has been maintained and Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Ma. SIson continues to provide incomparable strategic and tactical guidance.  On a personal level, they are old friends or friends of old friends.
But more significantly, the release of 21 political prisoners, 19 of them NDFP peace consultants, and the prior agreement in informal talks last June 14 to 15 to cover the following five-point agenda 1) reaffirmation of previous agreements; 2) reconstitution of the JASIG list; 3) acceleration of peace negotiations; 4) amnesty; and 5) ceasefire has served to qualitatively raise the level of trust and confidence between the two sides.
I can’t help comparing the atmosphere this time around with that during the resumption of the peace talks in the dead of winter in Oslo, Norway in February 2011, during the administration of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III. Witnessing the seeming collegiality, the nonbelligerent tone and the declarations of commitment from both sides to forge ahead with the substantive agenda of the negotiations, I wrote a political commentary to mark the occasion and titled it “Thaw in the Winter Freeze”.
Alas, the thaw was fleeting. The upbeat sound bytes in the opening statements of GRP peace adviser Teresita Deles and Chief Negotiator Atty. Alex Padilla were followed by crass attempts to set aside previous bilateral agreements while pushing the NDFP to declare an indefinite ceasefire whilst no concrete results had yet resulted from the talks to warrant it.
The release of NDFP consultants covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) was conditioned by the GRP on the “verification” of a list submitted by the NDFP and kept in the safekeeping of a Third Party Depositary agreed upon by the Parties.  When this encrypted digital list could not be opened due to corrupted keys resulting from the raid by the Dutch government on the office and residences of NDFP officials in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the GRP refused to reconstitute the list and unilaterally declared the JASIG “inoperative”.
The agreed upon “acceleration” of the meetings of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER) and the Reciprocal Working Groups on Political and Constitutional Reforms (RWGs-PCR) as well as the RWGs on End of Hostilities/Disposition of Forces (EOF/DOF) ground to a halt.
The GRP also refused to have meetings of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed in 1998 during the Estrada administration. GRP Negotiatior Padilla derisively called CARHRIHL a “propaganda document” of the NDFP.
While back channeling continued to try to revive the talks, with all sorts of creative formulas and even involving special presidential emissaries outside of the hardliners Deles and Padilla, nothing of significance happened.  Mr. Padilla even had the temerity to falsely claim to the Supreme Court that the peace negotiations had collapsed and therefore the conditional bail granted to NDFP consultants Satur Ocampo, Vic Ladlad, Randall Echaniz and Rafeal Baylosis should be cancelled forthwith meaning they should be sent back to jail.
The Aquino III regime raised the GRP’s viciousness & treachery a notch higher when it caused the unprecedented conviction of three JASIG-protected consultants in succession. Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan & Leopoldo Caloza are now languishing in the New Bilibid Prison Maximum Security Compound, all on the basis of fabricated criminal offenses.
In light of the quickened pace in resuming the peace talks during the current Duterte administration and the substantial progress already made, it has become all the more clear that the seemingly insurmountable obstacles placed in the way of the negotiations originated from President Aquino himself.  Mr. Aquino was not interested in nor committed to – and by and large not even closely monitoring – the progress, or rather, non-progress of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. It appears now that he couldn’t care less.
As the visiting Norwegian special envoy to the Columbian peace process insightfully put it, the GRP-NDFP negotiations would have to wait for a new GRP leadership willing to resume the talks. And the new GRP leadership, to be quite honest about it, is indeed the decisive element that has jumpstarted the peace talks.
Which is not to say everything will be smooth sailing from hereon.
The negotiations over socio-economic reforms covers the NDFP demand that land monopoly by the elite be decisively ended in light of the series of failed, bogus land reform programs since the fifties.  Land reform advocates have always asserted that this is not just a matter of social justice for generations of landless peasants mired in rural poverty and backwardness, but of bringing about a industrial and self-reliant domestic economy attuned to the needs of the burgeoning population.  We cannot build a modern economy on the back of a feudal system of land ownership.
The NDFP also calls for a stop to the denationalization of the economy, the ongoing plunder of remaining natural resources and the destruction of the already fragile Philippine ecosystem as a consequence of the unbridled operations of multinational corporations and their domestic business partners.  With regard to economic policies, the NDFP is staunchly against the neoliberal economic policy framework of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.  It regards these policies as having deepened and worsened the retrograde character and maldevelopment of the national economy. It has also relegated the majority of Filipinos to the sorry lot of having to seek decent jobs abroad only to face exploitation, abuse and uncertainty and the prospect of returning to an even bleaker future back home.
Considering that the core interests of very powerful forces within and outside the GRP government (and even those of foreign imperialist powers) are going to be the subject of hard bargaining, the outlook for the negotiations, while bright is not automatically going to be rosy.
Nonetheless there is cause for celebration with the peace negotiations now out of a quagmire. With the support of our people, there is more than a glimmer of hope that the peace talks can be brought to a successful conclusion despite seemingly overwhelming odds and a still rocky road ahead. #
Published by Business World
12 September 2016

STREETWISE: History in the making

Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
History in the making
The past weeks have been a roller coaster ride for many of us – human rights activists working hard for the release of political prisoners, the political prisoners themselves and their loved ones, peace advocates mobilizing public support for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philipines (NDFP) and no doubt even the two negotiating panels.
Will the first batch of political prisoners, 22 consultants of the NDFP peace panel, be released in time for the start of the formal peace talks this 22 August?  Or will the talks be postponed once more to give time for their release repeatedly hamstrung by legal requisites and bureaucratic delay?
Will the exchange of harsh words between President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and his erstwhile professor, founding chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines and now NDFP Chief Political Consultant, Jose Maria Sison, escalate further and jeopardize the peace talks? Or will their political maturity and commitment to a higher good rule the day?
A week ago, while monsoon rains lashed the country, the political storm clouds began lifting. President Duterte invited NDFP political and legal consultants to the Palace along with the GRP panel. What ensued was described by the NDFP consultants as light, cordial, humor-laden and a breakthrough for the political prisoners’ release with direct, unequivocal instructions from the president to speed things up. He also repeated his previously stated stand against the filing trumped-up criminal cases against Leftist leaders and members as the previous administrations of Arroyo and Aquino III were wont to do.
The grant of bail for the NDFP consultants and two others (for humanitarian reasons), the release orders, the passports and visas and the allow departure orders soon followed one after the other.  Not fast enough for those pining for their loved one’s release and the human rights activists who were burning both ends of the candle to fulfill all the legal paperwork and requirements.  And a bit too close to call for the Oslo talks just days away.
But in the end, it was well worth it. The beaming smiles, teary eyes, clenched fists, hearty handshakes, tight hugs and never-ending group photos attest to the outpouring of relief and joy at the first round of releases of political prisoners.  The NDFP perceives this to be in the spirit of what President Duterte promised to NDFP emissaries even before he was inaugurated; that he would declare a general amnesty for thus unjustly incarcerated for their political beliefs, subject to the concurrence of Congress, in order to lay the ground for successful talks and the final resolution of the four decades-long armed conflict between government and the revolutionary movement.
The releases augur well for the peace talks, a qualitative leap in confidence-building that was soon reciprocated with the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the CPP-NPA-NDFP to take effect a day before and a day after the first round of formal peace talks in Oslo, Norway. As we write, Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, has announced that President Duterte has restored the GRP’s unilateral ceasefire as well starting midnight of August 21 “to last as long as necessary to bring peace to the land”.
In truth, we have not seen such a public display of happiness, optimism and determination to work towards the goal of a just and lasting peace as now.
Good will, hard work, imagination, cooperation and creative language engineering will be required from both sides as they keep their focus on the immediate objective of success in the first round of formal talks as well as the long-term goal of inking bilateral agreements on the remaining substantive agenda: economic and social reforms; political and constitutional reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
From experience, there will be unavoidable and avoidable complications, intended and unintended distractions, compounded by miscommunications and missteps.  Each side will be faced with the huge challenge of forging ahead while avoiding pitfalls, especially coming at loggerheads on major and even minor issues that could develop into an extended impasse.
Each side will be constantly under pressure by public opinion and their respective constituencies to try to be as accommodating as possible on the negotiating table while being firm on principle, as each side sees it.   They must appreciate the objective constraints and even the subjective limitations of each side while working towards reaching agreements that will stand the test of the people’s judgement as well as the judgement of history.  And always, always they must keep in mind and take to heart what is good for the majority of the Filipino people, even as each Party will have its own interpretation of what exactly that means.
Many times we have been asked how far we think the peace negotiations can go, what really is possible under the Duterte administration that has vowed to be “inclusive” and the harbinger of “change” but is in fact dominated still by the political and economic elite as reflected in Cabinet appointments to key positions and his majority backing in the Senate and House of Representatives.
How far can progressive, pro-people and nationalist reforms pushed by the NDFP advance through the peace talks even as the local oligarchy and foreign monopoly capitalist firms inevitably start to mount stiff opposition, the US and other imperialist powers plot interventionist moves, and the military, police and other state security forces threaten a coup d’etat against President Duterte?
In the past, even peace advocates and other progressives could only reply with qualified optimism. This time, there is reason for more optimism.
In a few days, the entire NDFP negotiating panel which has been based in Europe for at least three decades will be able to confer directly with a dozen or so consultants who mostly have been in the field all these time before their arrest. The firsthand and face-to-face sharing of experiences, views, situationers and proposals will be unprecedented and will certainly enrich the information-and-knowledge stock of the NDFP panel and sharpen and fine-tune its own proposals and positioning in the negotiations, especially with respect to the substantive agenda on reforms. This could considerably facilitate the discussions on the negotiating table itself and raise the probability of arriving at mutually acceptable propositions.
Indeed while it is still anyone’s guess, efforts to still the guns of war in exchange for a just and lasting peace based on addressing the underlying roots of armed conflict must be sustained, nurtured and even defended by all concerned, that means by each and every one of us.
For social reformers, political activists as well as peace and human rights advocates this translates to pressing on with the struggle for substantial and fundamental reforms in the socio-economic, political and cultural spheres so that the agreements on the substantive agenda are amplified, enriched and bolstered thereby increasing their chances of being upheld and implemented by both Parties. #
Published in Business World
22 August 2016

STREETWISE: Why peace talks hang in the balance

Streetwise
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Why peace talks still hang in the balance
And so it has come to this.  After stoking such high expectations about the resumption of peace talks between the  Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and what the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)  considers the top “security threat” in the country today — the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) — President Rodrigo Duterte now scoffs at the  strength and significance of these revolutionary forces.  He also calls their acknowledged leader, Jose Maria Sison, who he had earlier respectfully referred to as his political mentor, “arrogant” for rapping him about giving ultimatums to the revolutionary movement.
During non-stop visits to military camps all over the country, Mr. Duterte in effect tells his audience of military officials and soldiers, in his signature kanto boy style, that he thinks he is doing the CPP-NPA-NDFP a big favor by engaging them in peace negotiations.
Why, he even declared a unilateral ceasefire effective immediately at his SONA, no less.
But the CPP-NPA-NDFP did not reciprocate with its own unilateral ceasefire declaration after he gave a deadline of 5pm last July 30. (The CPP announced it would make a declaration at 8pm).
So Mr. Duterte lifts the GRP’s unilateral ceasefire at 7pm and he tells the military and the police that they can go back to what they have been trying to do for more than four decades; that is, defeat the NPA militarily and decimate the CPP and NDFP cadre corps through a “legal offensive” utilizing fabricated criminal cases. (Not surprisingly, he sounds much less belligerent and derisive of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, if at all, when addressing a non-military audience, such as the PCCRV.)
But wait a minute. Mr. Duterte’s peace adviser Jesus Dureza says the August 20 talks are still on track. So does Mr. Luis Jalandoni, NDFP chief peace negotiator. What is going on here?
As it turns out, a unilateral ceasefire declaration, whether by the GRP or the CPP-NPA-NDFP, was never a precondition to the resumption of the peace talks in Oslo, Norway.  As a matter of fact, the consensus reached by the two sides last June 15 (contained in their Oslo Joint Statement) was that the “mode of interim ceasefire” would be discussed when the formal talks resumed in July alongside “an amnesty declaration for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to the concurrence of Congress”.
Mr. Duterte’s dramatic declaration of a unilateral ceasefire at his July 25 SONA was his big-bang gesture that unfortunately ended in a whimper.
When Duterte’s people failed to communicate to the NDFP the full text of the AFP SOMO (Suspension of Offensive Military Operations) and the PNP SOPO (Suspension of Offensive Police Operations) in a timely manner; military maneuvers and occupation of rural civilian communities continued unabated; an armed clash took place resulting in the death of a member of a notorious paramilitary group — all these contributed to a delay in the CPP-NPA-NDFP’s reciprocal declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.
In the end, Mr. Duterte’s precipitate ceasefire declaration was undermined by his own people as well as his precipitate decision to recall it — two hours after his arbitrary deadline and one hour before the anticipated CPP-NPA-NDFP announcement of its ceasefire.
In the meantime, there have been no releases of the more than 500 political prisoners nationwide and counting. As in zero. Zilch. This, after Mr. Duterte’s ever-so-generous offer to grant a general amnesty in meetings with the NDFP official representative, even before his inauguration. “I know most if not all of them (political prisoners) are being held on trumped-up charges” he reportedly said, priding himself to know, after having been a prosecutor for many years, the quality of justice meted out in Philippine courts.
Twenty two NDFP peace consultants remain behind bars, three of them convicted, on the basis of trumped-up criminal cases.  There are more than eighty political prisoners who are sick, elderly, husband-and-wife detainees, or for other humanitarian considerations, deserve to be released immediately.
Like all political prisoners, they are victims of political persecution and  an ongoing miscarriage of justice as part of the government’s insidious scheme to deal with political dissenters by illegally arresting them, placing them in indefinite detention until they can be convicted of spurious criminal charges and then made to rot in prison for the rest of their productive lives.
By the way, the easiest way to do this is to plant a piece of grenade in their belongings upon arrest for that makes their case non-bailable. (The grenade is recyclable for the next unsuspecting victim.) No use charging them with the more appropriate political crime of simple rebellion since that is more difficult to prove and is, in fact, bailable.
It goes without saying that they are vilified as “communist terrorists”, murderers, arsonists, robbers, kidnappers and what have you all the better to deny them any kind of public sympathy. (Notably, they do not pin the favorite and most reviled kind of crime of late, illegal drug trafficking, against these activists and revolutionaries because that would indeed be laughable.)
Not that political dissenters are no longer the object or targets of extrajudicial killing by the state’s security forces. It’s just that dealing with the so many “enemies of the state” via this most brutal of means as in the time of President Gloria Arroyo, raised a howl of protest from the local and international human rights community.  Too costly politically so the government came up with this “legal offensive” scheme.
The Arroyo regime put up the Inter-agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) tasked to investigate, prosecute, monitor and handle litigation processes of cases involving national security.  It ended up as the government agency responsible for fabricating criminal lawsuits against the alleged top leadership of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and even political activists that the government suspects are members or supporters of the revolutionary movement.  The IALAG has officially been abolished but its function has been institutionalized in the state’s police, prosecutorial as well as judicial system.
Taken in this light, the call for the release of all political prisoners is valid in its own right.
As a means to forging ahead with the peace negotiations and ultimately achieving a just and lasting peace, their release gains even more urgency and is deserving of the broadest public support. #
Published in Business World
8 August 2016

STREETWISE: Dark clouds over GPH-NDFP peace talks

By Carol P. Araullo
PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s dramatic declaration of a unilateral ceasefire vis a vis the CPP-NPA-NDFP to usher in the peace talks slated to resume on August 20 was, for all intents and purposes, one of the high points of his one-and-a-half-hour-long State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25.  He said it was to be effective immediately.
The President’s announcement was generally met with applause, enthusiasm and great expectations. The public awaited a similar declaration from the CPP-NPA-NDFP leadership in reciprocation of Mr. Duterte’s bold and grand gesture.

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STREETWISE:Peace Talks 101

By Carol P. Araullo

The significance of peace talks resumption between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the revolutionary umbrella organization that includes the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), is not as easy to appreciate and be enthused about as one would think. The subject matter is complex and its prolonged history full of twists and turns. Many times, optimistic rhetoric has given way to recrimination and impasses. Read more

STREETWISE: The Duterte presidency – interesting & challenging times

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Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

In a manner of speaking, incoming president Rodrigo Duterte, like the famous durian fruit of Mindanao, is an acquired taste. Many Filipinos, like most Davaoeños, take to him despite his foul mouth, crumpled shirt and old-fashioned machismo. They swear by the man and rise to his defense on every occasion having known him as their no-nonsense, hardworking mayor who made their city safe and livable.

Those who are immediately turned off by the smell, look and taste of durian and decide that they can go through life without ever having to try one probably feel the same way about a politician like Duterte. Except he is no longer just a mayor of a city down south, he is now president by virtue of a phenomenal victory at the polls and will affect the nation’s life and future in the next six years (and conceivably for generations to come) whether we like it or not.

The Philippine Left, particularly the national democratic movement which includes such formations as BAYAN, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Gabriela and Anakbayan finds itself in unfamiliar territory. Being used to the role of radical opposition to the series of elite, undemocratic governments subservient to the US, the movement is now facing an enigma.

Duterte is an avowed Leftist president who commits to resuming peace talks with the revolutionary forces of the National Democratic Front (NDF); promises to release hundreds of political prisoners; appoints Leftists in his cabinet; takes pro-poor, pro-people positions; and whose initial foreign policy pronouncements indicate greater independence from external dictates. At the same time Duterte will be committed, under oath, to preserving much of the status quo as the incoming chief executive officer of the government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Many well-meaning friends and sympathizers of the Philippine Left are asking how its leaders and members plan to deal with Duterte. They are wondering whether the cabinet positions offered will mean the taming or silencing of the mass movement dedicated to arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people for fundamental socio-economic and political reforms.

They expect from the mass leaders of the Left strong reactions, even denuncitations, to statements by the incoming President, some of which appear to be policy statements while others, just off-the-cuff comments, compounded by his penchant for hyperbole, satire and plain old ribbing.

The valid issues that have been raised include burial for the Marcos remains in Libingan ng mga Bayani; the spectre of extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s war against crime; protection of journalists from being killed in the line of duty including those who may be tainted with corruption; and cabinet appointees with dubious or unsavory backgrounds or conflict-of-interest baggage or known proponents of neoliberal economics.

There too are those who are anti-Duterte for one reason or the other, or anti-Left, or both, who would want to undermine any alliance between Duterte and the Left. They fear the kind of “change” or reforms that can emerge from such friendly, cooperative relations. They include criminal syndicates, militarists, big business interests, land-owning elite, political dynasties and die-hard anti-communists.

The top guns of the outgoing Aquino III administration, the “kaklase, kamag-anak, kabarilan” (KKK) coterie and the various hangers-on who benefited from it are without a doubt just waiting for any misstep, hopefully a major blunder, that they can use to trigger Plan B (Duterte Out/Robredo In). After having tried to redbait Duterte, they now try to bait the Left into joining the lynch mob against Duterte especially in light of his late night or early morning rambling press conferences where he has said or done some pretty outlandish if not outrageous things.

Historically, the US government has been intimately involved in the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency program against the communist-led movement. The US has long instilled a rabid anti-communist orientation into the military and police forces by means of indoctrination and training programs it has provided to them. It has also shown hostility to the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations not least of which is by placing the CPP-NPA and Professor Jose Maria Sison, CPP founding chairman and Chief Political Consultant to the NDFP peace panel, on its “terrorist” list, in order to demonize and isolate the revolutionary movement politically as an adjunct to crushing it militarily.

But more and more, to the consternation of the Right and the surprise and delight of the Left, Duterte is beginning to reveal himself as a maverick politician, an outsider, if you will, from the Manila-centric, hoity-toity political and social milieu.

His claim to being a Leftist or left-of-center is substantiated by his openness towards the revolutionary movement led by the CPP-NPA-NDFP not just in words but in deeds, not just as Davao City mayor but as incoming president of the entire country.

Duterte’s campaign promises about how he will prioritize health and education using savings from cutting down on government graft and corruption, inefficiencies and wastage are slowly taking shape in pre-inauguration policy statements. For landless farmers: land reform and priority given to agriculture. For the urban poor: no relocation, no demolition. For workers: an end to contractualization and a return to a national minimum wage. For SSS members: a hike in retiree pensions. Earnings of the state-run gaming corporation, PAGCOR, to go to the public health and education sectors. For government employees, specifically teachers, police and soldiers: decent salaries to keep body and soul together.

Duterte has stated he is against the wanton destruction of the environment through large-scale mining. At first he offered the post of environment and natural resources secretary to a nominee of the CPP, perhaps in recognition of its conservationist and anti-large-scale mining stand, as well as its mass base among the many indigenous peoples living in mountainous areas. But he withdrew the offer saying that he will transitionally head the DENR and mobilize the armed forces to help him impose restrictions against big corporations and others engaged in land grabbing and overexploitation of the national patrimony.

Emerging bits and pieces of the new government’s foreign policy indicate greater independence and adherence to national interests. There will be no kowtowing to the US. There will be a firm but creative approach to dealing with territorial claims (such as in the West Philippine Sea and Sabah).

But the Left is keenly aware that Duterte is also a politician in the traditional mold. His cabinet choices so far are dominated still by conservative, if not reactionary, bureaucrats both civilian and military, many left-over from previous fascist, puppet regimes. Disturbingly, his economic compass has been left to the neoliberal mafia long entrenched in business and economic policy circles.

Thus the Philippine Left recognizes, welcomes and supports the progressive aspects of the incoming Duterte presidency yet vows to continue to take a principled, critical and even oppositional stand on policies and programs that go against the interests of the country and its people. Putting this into practice in the next six years of the Duterte administration will require steadfastness in principle, political astuteness, creativity and flexibility in tactics, skill in nuanced messaging, and the maturity and strength of its organized mass base.

The next six years promise to be interesting, exciting and challenging times.

Published in Business World
7 June 2016

Carol Pagaduan Araullo’s STREETWISE: Duterte and the Left

The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the center that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged. Defense and attack have met, under democratic conditions, not in the name of class but in the name of principle; but the opposing principles have broadly corresponded to the interests of the different classes.Robert M. MacIver, The Web of Government (1947) 

Rodrigo Duterte, longtime mayor of Mindanao’s premier city, Davao, will be the sixteenth president of the Republic of the Philippines upon his inauguration on 30 June 2016. He is a conundrum to many people both to the left and right of the Philippine political spectrum.

For those on the Right who support him — who comprise the socio-economic elite, the dominant classes, the status quoers, the political conservatives, and reactionaries — Duterte is what the ruling system needs to “fix” what is broken and in so doing maintain and strengthen it further.

During the campaign, they lapped up his diatribes against rampant criminality especially drug abuse. They applauded when he railed against corruption in government. They cheered when he denounced incompetence and the lack of political will to crack down on both. They jeered with Duterte when he spat out the Aquino administration’s “Daang Matuwid” catchphrase.

For the Rightists who believe in Duterte, he is just what the system needs at this time. Not so much to bring about any substantive changes, but to act as the charismatic demagogue who can make the people believe that the system can still be fixed and that he is the one to do it.

Whether they are gleefully cheering Duterte on or warily accepting his ascent to the presidency despite his pedestrian language, controversial record, and association with the Left, it is mainly because he appears to have succeeded more than any of the other presidential candidates in doing so.

For one, his law and order tag line, while neither new nor original, resonated with even the lower to middle income classes. Those who live hardscrabble lives are much more vulnerable to being victimized by the anarchy, violence and rough-and-tumble of the mean streets of the country’s cities. The upper and elite classes who live in exclusive subdivisions, work and play in highly-secured environs, and travel using tinted, air-conditioned luxury vehicles are relatively spared the aggravations of petty criminality and street-level lawlessnes.

The Leftists, more specifically the Makabayan bloc of progressives in Congress, officially supported Duterte’s closest rival, Senator Grace Poe, but saw many of its avowed constituency either gradually shifting to Duterte or, as was the case in Davao City and most of Mindanao, stubbornly backing Duterte from the very beginning.

It didn’t help that Poe’s campaign failed to energize Makabayan’s mass base and other staunch oppositionists to Aquino’s rule with its weak and halting critique of the outgoing administration. Poe’s fairly progressive platform she shared with Makabayan was not highlighted during her campaign and did not quite make its mark in the public consciousness. Poe’s slogan “Puso at Galing” could not sustain its feel-good vibe as the campaign polemics heated up and rivals had to starkly differentiate themselves from the Aquino-backed candidate, Mar Roxas.

In the thick of his campaign, Duterte agreed to a high-profile role in the release of policemen held captive by the New People’s Army (NPA) or what the latter calls their prisoners-of-war. This was followed by his well-publicized Skype conversation with Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman.

Duterte said he would immediately resume peace talks with the underground umbrella organization, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) representing the CPP, NPA and 16 other revolutionary organizations should he win. He has even stated that he is open to entering into a “coalition” with them. He has also unabashedly described himself as a “Leftist” and “socialist.”

Upon his victory in the presidential race, he announced his willingness to set aside four Cabinet positions — labor, agrarian reform, social work and environment and natural resources — to be filled by nominees of the CPP.

These pronouncements taken together with his record of non-antagonistic and, even more so, friendly ties with the New People’s Army in Davao City, as well as support for the Leftist movement in general, underscore three aspects of Duterte that distinguish him from other run-of-the-mill bourgeois politicians.

First, he does not harbor a rabid, anti-communist bias having had exposure to revolutionary concepts and organizations since his youth. He does not consider revolutionaries as terrorists nor traitors but as patriots who are seeking radical societal change for the good of the majority of the people. While his views may not coincide completely with the communist-led movement, he recognizes that the objective conditions of social injustice and vast inequality are the fertile ground on which the entire national democratic movement thrives. He shows respect for the movement’s leaders; he acknowledges the CPP-NPA-NDFP as a significant force to contend with.

Second, because he acknowledges the deep socio-economic and political underpinnings of armed conflicts, he knows these cannot be resolved by military means alone. Thus, he has publicly-announced his commitment to resume peace talks with the NDFP until a negotiated political settlement or, even much earlier, an agreement for immediate truce and cooperation is reached.

He has also repeatedly declared his intention to release all political prisoners, most specially the 18 NDFP consultants covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and the sick, women and elderly, for humanitarian reasons.

Third, Duterte has a strong, idiosyncratic character manifested in his refusal to kowtow to conventional ideas and norms about how a presidential aspirant or an elected president should behave towards the country’s former colonizer, the US of A; or how the presumptive president should relate to the pillars of the reactionary system — Congress, the Supreme Court and the judiciary, the civilian bureaucracy, and the military, the hierarchical church foremost of which are the bishops of the Catholic Church, the big landlords and big business including multinationals and their local comprador partners and dummies.

More than a month away from his inauguration as President of the Republic, Mayor Duterte has stepped up the momentum for change during the transition with statements and decisions no one had expected or predicted. The difficulty in anticipating these lie partly in their being apparently inconsistent or contradictory and irreconciliable, such as continuing the neoliberal economic policies of the Aquino government while offering socio-economic cabinet posts to the communists. But these could also be seen as bold, if unorthodox, yet carefully calibrated measures towards his vision of a reformed “socialist” society while maintaining the tenuous equilibrium between the status quo and reform.

Mayor Duterte has displayed exceptional brinksmanship in proving that an avowed Leftist and Socialist can win and wield the Presidency while reassuring the Right that he will keep his oath to preserve the system. So far, these are positive signs of how well, how fast, and how far he will and can go towards instituting genuine change with the Left behind and alongside his Presidency.

–Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.  Her column STREETWISE  is originally published by BusinessWorld. http://www.m.bworldonline.com/m_content.php?section=Opinion&id=127956)

 

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STREETWISE: Electoral quick fix by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise
The rags-to-riches storyline never fails to hook people onto sappy movies and telenovelas; to dream of better times amidst everyday misery.  Similarly, the get-rich-quick mentality drives many to endure long queues to get into “easy-money” game shows where thousands of pesos are won through plain luck; and, oh yes, to spend their last peso on that lotto ticket.  Both also  never fail to reinforce the illusion that the system works; that there is a chance (yeah, maybe one-in-a-million but a chance nonetheless) for the impossible dream to become a reality.
Periodic electoral exercises carry the same inspirational cum delusional line in politics.  Let’s do a run down of the line that we are made to swallow hook-line-and-sinker. To wit:
Elections are proof of democracy at work; each person — young and old, rich or poor, educated and illiterate, hero or heel — gets the chance to choose the country’s next leaders.
Through elections, at minimum, the electorate gets the chance to bring about a new government, better than the outgoing, usually discredited, one. Maximally, we get the chance to bring about big changes in government, politics and society.
The results of the elections, no matter how flawed, bloody and fraudulent, is the expression of the sovereign will of the people.
In truth, bourgeois elections, whether in the Philippines or in touted “mature democracies” in Western Europe and North America, are nothing more than a quick fix. Elections in elite-dominated democracies are systematically designed and upgraded to serve that purpose and has little to do with reflecting the will of the people nor reforming government and society.
The Free Dictionary defines a quick fix as “an expedient temporary solution, especially one that merely postpones coping with an overall problem.”  The Urban Dictionary defines it as “a shabby attempt at correcting a problem, which usually leads to bigger problems that could have been easily avoided by doing the job right the first time.” Google pops up this answer: “an easy remedy or solution, especially a temporary one which fails to address underlying problems.“
Elections act as a quick fix by design and by default.  The repeated ritual of elections is supposed to be a democratic system’s way of renewing itself.  The country’s leaders get a new mandate from the people in the tradition of the touted “social contract” between the rulers and the ruled.
But the way election campaigning and its coverage goes, most everyone’s preoccupation is with the candidates’ character traits, personality quirks, and supposed “track record”. (The latter usually falls into the public relations trap; i.e. how well the candidate has been able to build his or her public image. In this regard, more credence is given to those who have won a previous election by hook or crook.)
The focus on the candidate’s so-called qualifications as a measure of competence also tends to give undue weight to academic and professional credentials that favor the well-heeled and/or fortunate.
The emphasis on character and personality is consistent with the notion that the problem to be fixed is the leader’s brand of leadership.  Honest vs dishonest.  Compassionate vs indifferent.  Decisive vs namby pamby.  Action man vs all talk.  Experienced versus newbie.  Competent vs unqualified.  Refined vs boorish.
In the end, the change of regime brought about amounts to a mere change in the style of leadership.  In other words, the manner of exploiting and oppressing the people offered by different factions of the elite, with political power continuing to be dominated and controlled by the same set of oligarchs.
When attention is given to issues and problems, there is the tendency to highlight the superficial or the obvious or the concerns of the urban population. Most often cited are obvious poverty, corruption, criminality, traffic, broken-down public infrastructure and lack of social services.
Problems that strike closer to underlying socio-economic and political-cultural maladies are often overlooked or set aside as too serious, incomprehensible and untranslatable to catchy sound bytes.  These include landlessness and rural poverty; the backward, preindustrial economy and chronic unemployment and underemployment; flawed economic policies and rising inequality; intractable armed conflicts and failed counterinsurgency programs; violations of the entire range of human rights by supposedly democratic regimes; and surrender of national and economic sovereignty amidst patriotic drumbeating.
Digging deeper into the root causes of long-standing social ills is still not the norm even during an election period when political discourse becomes a national pastime.
It follows that solutions offered are palliative and temporary rather than long-term: piece-meal rather than comprehensive; populist rather than substantive.  The electoral exercise is institutionalized not to provide real solutions; rather, these are designed to retain and maintain the unjust status quo while giving an appearance of being an avenue for change, for “fixing” things.
Elections also serve as a quick fix in the sense of providing a safety valve for a system straining under constant, in fact growing, pressure due to internal and external contradictions.
But no matter how noisy, how heated and polarizing; how bombastic and filled with exposés; how brimming with motherhood or feel-good rhetoric; or replete with curses, thinly-veiled or in-your-face — such are merely embellishments on an otherwise undemocratic exercise that portends more of the same.  Periodic elections cannot and have never been the source of wide-ranging and deep-going changes in Philippine society and governance.
In fact it is a pillar of elite rule.  All factions of the ruling elite of big landlords and big comprador capitalists and the myriad groupings of bureaucrat capitalists, whether elected or appointed, are one in upholding elections as sacrosanct democratic exercises that are the panacea to all of societal and government ills.  This is the magic potion that is sold by their slick propaganda machinery that is supposed to be the last recourse of a disgruntled citizenry in a democracy. (Even when liberal democratic principles and constitutions uphold the right of the people to rise up against unjust rule.)
Ergo the real work of the Commission on Elections under any administration is to ensure that every electoral exercise has a modicum or a semblance of “fairness, honesty and credibility” to preserve the status quo.  This, even as it facilitates and covers up the maneuvers of the different factions of the ruling classes vying to hold the reins of power (foremost of which are those of the ruling faction and the foreign interests behind it, especially the US).
Elections as quick fixes, no matter how ingrained the mantra of democracy, can only go so far in covering up the problems of a society in convulsive crisis and in pretending to provide the solutions — the “change” — that a people groaning under intolerable exploitative and oppressive conditions so desperately seek. #
Published in Business World
9 May 2016