Streetwise: Lessons learned By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise

Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City is not called the “killer highway” for nothing. It is notorious for vehicular accidents involving all manner of wheeled conveyances: speeding buses and jeepneys whose breaks invariably “fail”; tricycles that aren’t even supposed to be plying this major thoroughfare; sleek late-model sedans and SUVs whose drivers can’t resist going at top speed given the avenue’s 10-lane width; and, oh yes, motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic to their and other motorists’ peril.

Commonwealth Avenue finally got to us last weekend scaring the living daylights from me.

There we were cruising at 40 kph in the middle lane when a Tamaraw Fx van (reconfigured to have an open bed like a pick-up) suddenly came at us from the inner lane. I saw bodies fly into the air and fall into our path. The driver slammed the breaks and mercifully kept our pick-up from running over the people underneath. But the tailgate of the Tamaraw Fx opened and hit our pick-up before falling on its side. The next thing I heard were the wailing of women passengers of the Fx as they piled out of their vehicle and saw their bloodied companions sprawled on the road.

It was only when the rescue teams had extricated the two men from underneath our pick-up and brought them to the emergency room of the nearby hospital was I able to step out into the street. (I couldn’t bear looking at what I anticipated to be a horrible scene that would be seared into my consciousness.) I then saw a black sedan in the inner lane of the avenue with its front part crushed. It apparently hit the back of the Fx sending it careening towards our direction.

There were plenty of police as well as members of rescue teams, some official and others from volunteer groups, milling around. Some of the police set up barriers and were redirecting traffic. No one approached either my husband or me to ask if we were hurt or if we saw what happened. I saw a policeman directing our driver to take their photos beside the Fx Tamaraw still lying on its side. (According to our driver, they said they needed to document that they were on the scene doing their jobs!)

Meanwhile my husband heard a policeman say that the Korean driver reeked of alcohol. He told me that the investigators on the scene had no breath analyzer. I proceeded to the ER to ask whether the hospital could check for blood alcohol levels but was told they did not have the capability. The ER nurse and resident-on-duty however noted that the Korean had “positive alcoholic breath” or “+AB” and assured me this observation would be written on his chart.

Subsequently I asked a friend in media for help in having a breath analyzer brought to the hospital. My friend informed me that they had requested the LTO to send one to the hospital but it would take time as the one in charge was still asleep! An MMDA traffic investigator who later arrived at the hospital said the instrument would be brought in from Makati. We were instructed to go to the police station so that our statements about the accident could be taken but only our driver was asked to fill up a form stating what he knew of the accident. We were not advised that we, as owners of the involved vehicle, needed to file a criminal complaint, i.e. reckless imprudence resulting to damage to property.

I did what I could to help the injured get proper treatment especially the one who lay comatose fighting for his life. After consulting a neurosurgeon friend, I urged the employer of the critically injured to have them transferred to a better equipped medical facility. We also advised the employer to have his people guard the Korean driver (who had been admitted to the hospital) to make sure he would not flee.

We counted our blessings that we were unhurt although our pick-up had sustained major damage. We went home to get much needed rest assuming the wheels of justice were turning; in particular, that the authorities investigating the accident were doing their part.

What followed next shows that victims of vehicular accidents have much more to contend with apart from the injuries and damages they sustain. Many times they are left to their own devices and are at a loss as to what to do. We only learned later in the day from a lawyer friend that to ensure the Korean driver would be made to account for causing the accident and be prevented from escaping, all the victims needed to immediately file criminal complaints. These would be subjected to an inquest proceeding wherein the fiscal would determine whether there was probable cause to immediately charge the offending party and place him under police custody.

There was an interminable wait at the police station while they finalized their report and completed the needed documents provided by the victims. (The police seemed to be acting in slow motion such that a victim quipped perhaps they needed some “lubricant” to speed things up.) Despite our repeated inquiries, the police kept telling us that we did not need to file a separate criminal complaint for the damage to our pick-up.

We proceeded to the inquest fiscal’s office at the Quezon City Hall of Justice where we endured another long wait for the fiscal-on-duty to arrive and for our turn to be heard. As hours passed (it was nearing midnight), I got more and more exasperated at the seemingly endless wait with no one advising us as to what to expect. Rather than be cheered by the Christmas lights on the city hall grounds and carols blaring from the PA system, our anxiety and feeling of oppression grew by the minute.

When our turn came before the inquest fiscal, we were surprised to learn that we were not a party to the complaint because we didn’t file a separate case. Only the charge of reckless imprudence resulting to serious physical injuries would be heard. Our own complaint would go through the usual process of preliminary investigation once we filed it meaning another long wait for the wheels of justice to turn, if these would turn at all.

At risk of being cited for impertinence by the fiscal since we had no legal standing in the case, I ventured to say that there were initial reports that the Korean driver was driving under the influence of alcohol. The fiscal flipped through the documents submitted by the police and flatly said the medico-legal certificate the police attached to their report did not mention any such finding. Another surprise!

Thus in the wee hours of the morning we hied to the hospital where the injured had been taken for emergency treatment including the Korean driver. We verified that the ER resident-on-duty who examined the Korean had written her finding of “+ AB” but since this finding was considered “subjective”, the medico-legal officer of the hospital had not included it in his certification. What would be considered “objective” findings? The results from a breath analyzer or blood alcohol levels, none which was availed of by the accident investigators. It turns out that such a crucial piece of information had been missed out, inadvertently or deliberately, we will never know.

What does this experience teach us? If you ever find yourself involved in a traffic accident that puts life and limb at risk or that results in major property damage, keep these in mind: 1) pay close attention to what the traffic police or MMDA investigators are doing and get their names and official designations; 2) consult a lawyer first chance you get and if possible, have her accompany you to help protect your interests; 3) as much as possible, work out an amicable out-of-court settlement, without surrendering your rights as an aggrieved party.

Be ready to contend with uncaring, incompetent and/or corrupt investigators; a prosecutorial system bogged down by a huge backlog of cases and fiscals who drag their feet or are quick to file depending on “considerations”; and a judicial system that will grind exceedingly slow until injustice runs its inevitable course.

No wonder many Filipinos are seduced by the prospect of extra-judicial shortcuts as the solution to rampant criminality and anarchy in the streets. But then again, that is tantamount to giving the same state agents responsible for the broken-down system to further flout the law and pave the way for all hell to finally break loose.#

Published in Business World
21 December 2015

STREETWISE: Manilakbayan 2015’s opening salvo by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise

Lumad extrajudicial killings and forced evacuations due to military and paramilitary forces rampaging across the indigenous people’s ancestral domain in the remaining frontiers of Mindanao have finally made its mark on the national public consciousness.

The arrival of the Manilakbayan 2015, a contingent of more than 700 people who traveled from Mindanao to Manila by land, consisting of lumad from different tribes, peasants, trade unionists and social activists, has served as a dramatic and colorful high point of the campaign to seek  justice for gross human rights violations; to defend lumad schools, communities, land and resources; and to resist corporate plunder and government’s war against the people of Mindanao in the guise of fighting insurgency.
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While the sorry plight of the lumad “bakwit” (a colloquial Filipinized term for evacuees) has been ongoing for far longer, certain developments served to bring it to the fore.  One was the frustrated attempt by North Cotobato representative Nancy Catamco, with the help of hundreds of police, paramilitary groups and other government people, to force about 700 Manobo evacuees who had taken refuge in a church compound in Davao City  to go back to where they came from.  Erstwhile presidentiable, Davao City mayor Duterte, intervened to avert more violence, providing buses for those willing to leave voluntarily but not one availed of his offer.

The other dramatic event was the brutal murder of the executive director of ALCADEV, a lumad school in Surigao del Sur and two lumad leaders and the burning of a lumad cooperative, by paramilitary forces under the wing of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).  This led to another exodus, this time by close to 3000 individuals – men, women and children – to the provincial capital, Tandag City.

The killings and arson were condemned as the handiwork of right-wing paramilitary death squads recruited from among the lumad by the AFP.  The military tried to distance themselves from the killers and turn the tables on the victims by tarring them as supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).  When this didn’t work, the AFP and Malacanang tried to echo the call for a stop to lumad killings while blurring who are behind such killings and for what reasons or else pointing to the NPA as the culprit.

Now the Manilakbayan is serving as a compelling and hard hitting testimonial not only to the travails of the lumad and other oppressed people in Mindanao but to their heightened social and political awareness; their courage and steadfastness in the defense of their organizations, schools and communities; and to their pride in their culture and traditions harnessing these to assert their rights as a people.

During the five-day caravan through Eastern Visayas, the Bicol region and Southern Tagalog, the Manilakbayan caravan was warmly welcomed.  The “lakbayanis” were provided food, lodging and other wherewithal to ease their stay. They held rallies in major stops to explain the issues and demands they carried. There were cultural exchanges with various groups especially the lumad youth with their counterparts.
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Their journey culminated in their triumphant entry into Metro Manila wherein the Baclaran church gave them a place to rest briefly overnight; students and teachers from St. Scholastica, De La Salle, Philippine Christian College, Philippine Normal College and University of Santo Tomas welcomed and cheered them on the following day; a “salubungan” and solidarity lunch took place with various sectors at the Bonifacio Shrine; the Manilakbayan and their welcomers marched to Mendiola  to bring their protest to the doorstep of the Presidential Palace; followed by the final leg, the caravan to the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (UP).

As hundreds of thousands of UP student activists have done in decades, the Lumad sit in front of Palma Hall for a protest action.

As hundreds of thousands of UP student activists have done in decades, the Lumad sit in front of Palma Hall for a protest action.

At UP, the long day was capped by a huge, rousing welcome in front of the iconic Oblation statue symbolizing academic freedom and the university’s avowed service to the people, with flags waving and people chanting and cheering.  Manilabayan leaders gave UP Chancellor Michael Tan a red tubao to wear on his head while the latter handed out several “sablay” or the UP sash worn at graduation and other formal events to the leaders.

The UP community laid down a red carpet welcome for the Manilakbayan not in terms of luxurious accommodations (they were assigned a wide, open space near Commonwealth Avenue where camp of make-shift kitchen and dining area, shower rooms and toilets, and sleeping quarters were set up by UP personnel and volunteers) but in terms of a week-long series of events open to the public.

There was a press conference held at the historic stairs fronting the old College of Arts and Sciences or “AS steps” with UP officials formally receiving the Manilakbayan contingent (present en masse in a sea of colorful but mainly red traditional garb).  The lumad performed a ritual to bless their stay and their hosts.  It was a joy to see lumad kids playing basketball with the UP varsity team.  There was a steady stream of visitors to the camp both UP and non-UP denizens to interact with the guests and to take photos to memorialize the occasion.

In the daytime there were conferences, forums and group discussions such as on agribusiness and mining corporations continuing to monopolize land in Mindanao and fast encroaching on lumad ancestral domain as well as on prospects for peace in Muslim Mindanao with the uncertain passage of a highly diluted Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).  There were also protests at government offices such as the Commission on Human Rights and the National Commission on Indigenous People seen as veritable accomplices to the impunity with which state forces were attacking the lumad.
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At night there were cultural solidarity sessions in the camp as well as fund raising events such as the one held for lumad schools by musicians and artists that even featured the Filipino choreographer and dance historian Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa who has been awarded for her lifework of documenting and teaching the “pangalay”, a pre-Islamic dance tradition among the peoples of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Despite initial trepidation by some quarters that UP’s hosting of the Manilakbayan might be disruptive of the university’s daily life as an academic institution or worse, be interpreted as aiding and abetting those that the AFP is wont to label as “enemies of the state”, both the hosts and the guests were one in declaring the one week UP stay of the Manilakbayan as a bona fide, if unique, learning experience for all.  It also underscored the fact that in UP, the counterculture of protest is alive and well and that UP’s other moniker as the “University of the People” stands on firm ground.

The Manilakbayan moves to the Liwasang Bonifacio where they will set up camp for the following weeks until the protests for the upcoming APEC Summit.  The “lakbayanis” are well aware that policies of neoliberal globalization including the policy of opening up the economy and national patrimony to unbridled exploitation by multinational corporations are behind the intensification of plunder and war in Mindanao.

It is hoped that the Manilakbayan’s highlighting of the urgent issues and demands of the people of Mindanao, especially the lumad, will lead to the dismantling of paramilitary groups, the demilitarization of lumad areas, justice for victims of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations and the further unmasking of the destructive forces of monopoly capitalist greed and bureaucrat capitalist corruption that are at the root of their exploitation and oppression. #

Published in Business World
2 November 2015

STREETWISE: Illusion of democratic elections (or PH elections as farce) by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise
There are two things that the common tao considers as indicators, if not necessary proof, that our political system is a democracy.  The first is national elections.  The second is the Philippine Congress.

When Ferdinand E. Marcos decided to suspend both in 1972, there was no doubt in the ordinary Filipino’s mind that a full blown dictatorship was upon us.  When he was overthrown in 1986 and both elections and the Congress were restored, the common tao rejoiced in the end of the dictatorship and the “restoration of democracy” in our country.

Thirty years later, we now have a clearer picture of what kind of political system was really restored or what it had become.

The definitive arrival of the election season is heralded by the hoopla, gimmickry, horse trading, political intrigue and disinformation thrown in with the grotesque as well as hilarious line-up of candidates from serious to not-so, from relative to absolute cuckoos.

We are being gulled into thinking that 130 instead of a handful of presidential candidates to choose from would make the process or our choice more democratic.  The real irony is that while it is very likely that one or two of them are better qualified and more deserving of the presidency than any of the established frontrunners, there is absolutely no chance or hope in their getting elected.

Is the key question making the right choice? What choices are available in the first place?  Is it really a level-playing field or is the system skewed in favor of those with the advantages of the backing of a political dynasty and the economic elite; the incumbent’s “pork barrel”; name recall, media exposure and popularity; and last but not the least, the good housekeeping seal of the mighty US of A.

Clearly what candidates stand for – not just in terms of pronouncements and promises but track record — is of least importance.  It is more the image that is created and built up that is why advertising tricks do make a whale of a difference.  One’s political party and its ideology, politics, and even affiliations have all gone down the drain.  Running as a supposed “independent” suddenly makes sense as the candidate can distance himself from the opprobrium of traditional parties even as he can be “adopted” as a guest candidate by the same parties or coalition of parties.

Everything is reducible to winnability — who has the resources, the image and the machinery to win.

Resources are the key to mounting an effective campaign.  Dominant mass media visibility means hundreds of millions if not billions for political ads and media “padulas”.  Actual campaigning through sorties is still important for creating illusion of accessibility; one’s mobility, entourage and campaign rallies depend on how much money you are willing and able to spend.  As to political machinery – the layers of campaigners, vote-getters and vote-buyers down the line from the provincial to the barrio level — it has been proven that this truly has no loyalties. It goes to the highest bidder and proof of this is that party switching is at its peak as the electoral exercise nears.

What of the leftist Makabayan Coalition (currently composed of six progressive parties) that has invariably ended up as parliamentary opposition no matter the regime in power?  It is clear that electoral politics for them is not the be-all and end-all.  The struggle to overhaul the exploitative and oppressive socio-economic and political system to one that is truly of, for and by the people does not hinge on participation in elections as such.  Arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people, most especially the masses, is still the mantra of these parties. Elections are maximized as an occasion to highlight their nationalist and democratic program, gain adherents and allies, as well as elect their top caliber leaders into office.  The latter is an uphill climb but given the proven validity and viability of the Left’s platform, and the accumulated strength of the progressive movement through the decades, it has been proven possible.

And now the question of the electoral exercise itself.  Convincing the voters to vote for a candidate is one thing; getting them to actually do so is something else.  Massive vote buying/selling continues to this day and will be around so long as people are kept destitute and look to elections as a means to tide them over another day.  Getting the vote counted correctly is another matter.  This used to require an army of poll watchers and a bevy of election lawyers. In time electoral fraud grew into a sophisticated, high-stakes operation run by a well-entrenched mafia in the Commission on Elections.  By means of wholesale “dagdag-bawas”, a presidential candidate could win by “convincing” margins and senatorial wannabees could make it to the magic 12 of winning candidates or even top the race.

So the real clincher is the question of who actually controls the electoral process in a really insidious but critical way that could spell who wins and who doesn’t.  Automating the elections was supposed to significantly reduce, if not totally eliminate, manipulation and fraud.  But because automation is known to have inherent dangers and pitfalls the law mandating automated elections put in place necessary safeguards.

Thus the 2010 and 2013 elections were automated, but with COMELEC and SMARTMATIC, the US-based company commissioned to conduct the elections, ignoring the required safeguards. The poor performance of the precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines in the 2010 and 2013 national elections and the dedicated effort of the IT experts and anti-fraud groups under AES Watch to expose the flawed system have taken away much of the gleam of automation.

It is perhaps a measure of how blatantly foreign interests can intervene in our supposedly “independent” electoral process and spoil the “sanctity” of our ballots that a foreign businessman and “political strategist”, British Lord Mark Malloch Brown, could publicly boast that he had played a key role in securing the electoral victory of Cory Aquino against Marcos in the 1986 elections. This, when the Omnibus Election Code barring foreigners from participating in the electoral process and aiding any candidate in any way was then barely three months old.

This revelation is even more appalling and alarming now that this person – certainly not by chance – is the Board Chairman of SGO, the parent company of SMARTMATIC, and has no qualms in saying that the coming elections is very important for the future of the Philippines’ business relations with the US, Britain and other centers of foreign capital.

It would be the height of political naiveté, and falling into the trap laid by our elite politicians and their foreign patrons, to fall for the repeated lie that elections are the litmus test of a democracy.  The democratic character of elections in a particular society is always shaped by the democratic or non-democratic character of that society.

The elite classes continue to rule by violence and deception.  Periodic elections are part of the deception. The different factions of the elite make it their business to master the electoral game to their advantage.  The democratic classes wishing to change the rules of the game — not just to have a fighting chance to win under its rules — cannot rely on reactionary elections.  Only by actually strengthening the independent, organized power of the people can they have a real chance to change the ruling system. #

Published in Business World
19 October 2015

STREETWISE: AFP lies won’t bring peace to the lumad by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Streetwise

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its most rabid apologists are trying desperately to stem the tide of public outrage here and abroad over the series of killings of unarmed lumad leaders, their supporters and ordinary community members attributed to paramilitary groups created, funded, directed and protected by the AFP.  They are resorting to squid tactics, red-baiting and victim blaming which only further entrap them in their own web of lies.

During the Senate investigation into the Lianga, Surigao del Sur massacre last week, Senator Teofisto Guingona III underscored the fact that more than a month since the incident, the alleged perpetrators roam free.  There are even reports that they continue to terrorize other lumad communities.  As of this writing another lumad leader has been killed in Agusan del Sur.

Testimonies from the provincial governor, religious leaders and representatives of the 3000 lumad who have sought sanctuary in Tandag City, are one in pointing to a paramilitary group, the Magahat-Bagani, composed of AFP recruits from among lumad communities, as the perpetrators.  More telling, they accuse the AFP of coddling the killers and are calling for the dismantling of these groups.

At first, the AFP tried to sell the idea that the New People’s Army (NPA) was responsible for the killings.  It brought several lumad to Manila and presented them in a hastily organized AFP press conference to say that the entire incident was part of a convoluted scheme by the NPA to demonize the military as human rights violators.  The AFP insists that the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood (ALCADEV) is an “NPA school” and the lumad community it serves supports the NPA.  The AFP insinuates this is probably why the Magahat-Bagani, whose members are anti-NPA, attacked them.

The AFP claims the military unit that was within striking distance of the rampaging paramilitary group did not intervene because they were trying to “protect” the people by avoiding civilian casualties who may be caught in the cross fire. The AFP complains that it is now being unfairly accused of being behind the killings simply because the affected lumad and their supporters are actually pro-NPA.  Nonetheless, the AFP’s proffered explanation — that the NPA killed its own supporters to make the AFP look bad – is just too absurd to be believed by anybody with a grain of independence and an ounce of grey matter.

Consequently the AFP tried to distance itself from the Magahat-Bagani with another incredible line, that these armed groups are “independently organized” and are composed of “traditional” lumad warriors defending their territory from the intrusion of the NPA.  The AFP says these are not under its direction and control.  Accordingly, since these groups are fighting against lumad who have joined the NPA or support the NPA, the AFP posits some kind of “tribal war” going on. The recent killings are alleged to be a consequence of this internal conflict among the lumad but the AFP denies it has anything to do with this so-called tribal war.  Indeed, what the AFP tries to cover up are the origins of these paramilitary groups and how they grew and gained the capacity to terrorize entire lumad communities with impunity.

Their rise can be traced to attempts by big business concerns to exploit the untapped mining, logging and agribusiness potential of lumad areas.  The Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, that was supposed to protect the indigenous people from being displaced from their ancestral domain by facilitating the grant of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs), paved the way for some lumad leaders to treat the ancestral domain as their private property for disposition as they please.  These lumad leaders were bribed by the corporations to agree to open lumad lands for exploitation.

However other leaders resisted, realizing that the promised “development” would destroy the forests, the rivers, the land and the lumad way of life.  The ensuing conflict turned very violent as those who favored the entry of the corporations were backed by these corporations and were armed by the military.  Those who opposed became the targets of harassment, forced agreement and outright murder.  Some of them took up arms and eventually joined the NPA operating in their areas. The people welcomed the NPA’s presence to defend them from the AFP, the security forces of the corporations and the paramilitary lumad groups that were given arms, funding and protection by the AFP.

At the root of the conflict is the lumad’s defense of their ancestral domain from wanton exploitation.  It is also entwined with their assertion of their right to determine the kind of development that will genuinely uplift their socio-economic situation even as their traditions and culture are respected and nurtured.  It is thus understandable that the ranks of the NPA in Mindanao include lumad. The mountainous areas where the lumad have been forced to retreat by the encroachment of lowlanders are also the areas where the NPA are strongest.

The government says the NPA is already a “spent force”. So how does the NPA survive and – in some areas, according even to the AFP, expand their influence – if they are not being supported voluntarily by the people, like the lumad of Mindanao?  If the NPA has sufficient mass support to be able to sustain what has been dubbed as “the longest running communist insurgency in the world” how can the military defeat it without resorting to a bloody, brutal, no-holds-barred war against these supporters, including the lumad?

Some peace advocates suggest that the solution to the violence is to withdraw the AFP, paramilitary and NPA from the lumad areas and declare these as zones of peace.  At first glance, this sounds logical and fair. But a closer look will show it won’t work because it does not address the real issues and consequently draws away from the real solution. One only has to ask in the first instance — will the mining corporations then be free to operate in these areas and do as they wish or will?  Will they be allowed to have their own security guards? If so, would these be non-lumad but armed? Or lumad but unarmed? Will the lumad benefit from this more than the corporations? And finally, what mechanism, action or process could make the AFP and NPA both agree to withdraw from any area, or even to stop firing their weapons at each other? Certainly, not mere calls, appeals or exhortations.

In the final analysis, the peaceful resolution of armed conflict in lumad and non-lumad areas in Mindanao and the rest of the country can only be brought about by the resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (the umbrella formation for the CPP-NPA and other revolutionary forces waging an armed struggle).

Such peace talks must address the root causes of armed conflict and must proceed on the basis of the previous bilateral agreements, without preconditions.  Meanwhile, mitigation of the most grievous effects of the armed conflict can already be addressed by implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International humanitarian law (CARHRIHL) through the operationalization of the Joint GPH-NDFP Monitoring Committee.  The latter receives and investigates complaints lodged by victims and either Party to the agreement.

Peace advocates of whatever ideological and political persuasion should seize the issue of lumad killings as an opening to even more determinedly push for peace talks to resume and go forward to negotiations over socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and finally, the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

True peace must be based on justice and not be the peace of the graveyard. #

Published in Business World
5 October 2015

STREETWISE: Lumad killings and counterinsurgency by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Today, September 21, we commemorate the anniversary of the Dictator Marcos’ declaration of martial law and say “Never again!”  This constitutes our collective denunciation of the evils spawned by 14 years of the brutally repressive, thieving and lying US-backed Marcos dictatorship. It is also a call to action to resist any attempts to re-impose martial rule under whatever guise and for whatever manufactured justification.

Unfortunately, the underlying problems of Philippine society that have given rise to social unrest, armed conflicts and, eventually, to authoritarian rule, have not at all been decisively addressed.  One clear-cut sign is the blackened human rights record of all the supposedly democratic post-Marcos regimes that correlates with the series of counterinsurgency (COIN) programs that have failed to quell the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA).

Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, the Arroyo regime’s COIN programs, ran for nine years. Arroyo declared “total war” against the revolutionary forces; touted it as her regime’s contribution to the US-led “war against terror” after 9-11; sanctioned the Palparan model of unbridled state terror against those the regime painted as its “enemies”; and in the process racked up a bloody record of human rights violations that rivaled that of the open, fascist rule of Marcos.

Bantay Laya’s hallmark was the policy and practice of targeting and “neutralizing” militarily unarmed civilians who are suspected to be key personalities in what the AFP calls the “political infrastructure” that needs to be dismantled in order to defeat the NPA.  At the barangay, town and provincial levels, the AFP “order of battle” was a veritable hit list against peasant and indigenous peoples’ leaders, trade unionists, student activists and human rights advocates including church people, health workers, lawyers and even local government officials deemed sympathetic to the NPA.

The BS Aquino regime unveiled its own COIN program, Oplan Bayanihan, and dubbed it an “internal peace and security plan” (IPSP).  Patterned after the 2009 US Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Guide, Bayanihan boasted of a “paradigm shift”. Its objective — “winning the peace” instead of just “defeating the enemy” — implied that government would give primacy to socioeconomic development rather than military means to bring about peace in areas of armed conflict.

But Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan is just the new signboard of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya.

Politically, it is more insidious in that the Aquino regime paints itself as the complete opposite of its discredited predecessor, the purported champion of government reform, economic development and peace and reconciliation.  Bayanihan is more deceptive in that it pretends to give importance to upholding human rights; highlights livelihood projects and rehabilitation of poverty-stricken, conflict-ridden areas; and drumbeats the objective of achieving a just and lasting peace.

Bayanihan attempts to overcome the weaknesses of previous COIN programs that led to their failure but it cannot change the elitist, anti-people, militarist and rabidly anti-communist orientation of all COIN programs. Despite its peace and development rhetoric, Bayanihan reverts back to the basic COIN tandem of force and deception, implementing the Triad Operations concept of simultaneous conduct of combat, intelligence and civil-military operations.

While there has been a relative decline in extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under Bayanihan compared to the peak years (2005-2006) under Bantay Laya, the number of EJKs, torture, illegal arrests and detention and mass civilian displacement is not insignificant.  To illustrate, according to human rights group, Karapatan, as of end year 2014, there were 229 EJKs, 225 attempted EJKs and 26 enforced disappearances.  For the first seven months of the current year, 58 have been killed.

What is noteworthy and at the same time alarming is that 73 of those killed under Aquino’s watch are from indigenous peoples’ (IP) communities, with 57 of them Lumad from Mindanao. Simply put, 1 out of 4 EJK victims is an IP, and 1 out of 5 is Lumad.

Clearly, this cannot be easily dismissed as a case of Lumad-vs-Lumad, or tribal wars, which the AFP would want us to believe. Organizing and arming home-grown mercenaries — “civilian volunteer organizations” or CVOs in current COIN parlance — as surrogate force multipliers is a counter-insurgency tactic as old as war itself, its whys-and-how-tos described in detail and constantly updated in US and AFP field manuals. Similarly selective assassination of unarmed local leaders to instill terror continues to be the favorite, if most effective, COIN psywar tool. As a US Army general infamously quipped during the Vietnam war, “Grab them by the balls, and the hearts and minds will follow.”

Why the IPs and the Lumad in particular? The real reasons are not lost on the loved ones of the most recent Lumad EJK victims: “The people in power do not want the Lumad to prosper, to become educated so that they will further their capacity to protect their ancestral land. They do not want this to happen, because if this happens, their mining conglomerates will never be allowed,” says Michelle Campos, daughter of Dionel Campos.

“He was a leader in our community… Is it a crime to serve our fellow people and to fight for our ancestral land? Is that really why they took his life so easily?” added Jocelyn Campos, wife of Dionel Campos.

According to Josie Samarca, wife of ALCADEV executive director Emerito “Emok” Samarca, “The school is strong, his leadership is strong, and it was strong against mining. He was defending the ancestral domain and the environment there because the land there is rich and fertile. They have interest in that land and that is why I think they really want to wipe out all those who oppose the foreign, the big mining companies…”

It all boils down to the US-backed Aquino regime continuing the policy of opening up Philippine patrimony to foreign capital, including environmentally destructive mining companies, and escalating the use of state forces — the AFP, PNP, CAFGUs and other paramilitary forces — to clear the area and  suppress all opposition to these foreign incursions.

Ironically to some, the Lumad who are still erroneously and chauvinistically perceived by many to be less educated, unsophisticated, and passively compliant, have long been awakened to this reality and are collectively rising to uphold and protect their rights.

Moreover, the Lumad, more than many still living relatively more comfortable lives in the cities, have realized that they can only be assured of preserving their individual and collective rights, their ancestral lands and indigenous culture, by joining the rest of the Filipino people’s struggle for genuine freedom,  democracy, progress and peace.  #

Published in Business World
21 September 2015

STREETWISE: Lumads in Mindanao under attack by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

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(Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao of bulatlat.com)

James Cameron’s 2009 box office hit film “Avatar”, about an alien world where primitive but highly evolved inhabitants defend their habitat, moved audiences across the globe, including the Filipino urbanite audience. We were enthralled by the lush and luminescent world of beings who end up waging a kind of asymmetrical warfare against ruthless interlopers out to plunder rare and costly minerals from their planet. We cheered on these beings’ defense of their territory, and more importantly, of the life force that appears to be the embodiment of “Mother Nature”, as the triumph of good versus evil, of Nature over corporate greed, and of a united people over high-tech weaponry.

It is said that the film is a thinly-veiled tribute by the film maker to indigenous peoples of the Amazon who are resisting inroads by multinational corporations into their lands to exploit natural resources at the expense of the environment, the habitat of endangered flora and fauna, and the homes of vanishing native tribes.

Here in the Philippines, there are several Lumad groups in Mindanao locked in similar life-and-death struggle against huge corporate mining interests (and other multinational corporations or MNCs bringing in so-called “development” programs to the Lumad’s ancestral lands). The military and police in the name of counterinsurgency dubbed Oplan Bayanihan under the BS Aquino regime, provide armed security for these invading multinational corporations. Paramilitary groups under the control of the military act as “force multipliers”, or cheap, local reinforcements for the counterinsurgency campaigns. In practice, these paramilitary groups are utilized for “dirty war” tactics such as extrajudicial killings and even massacres that the government can wash its hands off while it coddles the perpetrators.

The history of this struggle is soaked in blood yet is repeatedly whitewashed by government propaganda (most assiduously generated by the AFP and parroted automatically by Malacanang); ignored if not one-sidedly reported on by dominant mass media that relies heavily on government press releases; and blithely disregarded by the general public.

The most recent atrocity took place last September 1. Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Development, Inc. (ALCADEV) was killed by the military and government-backed indigenous paramilitary forces. His body was found lying in a pool of blood, with stab wounds on his neck, and his throat slit. Dionel Campos, chairperson of MAPASU (Persevering Struggle for Future Manobo Generations), and his cousin Aurelio “Bello” Sinzo were killed before the terrified community of Han-ayan, in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur.
According to the human rights group, Karapatan, facts and circumstances so far gathered point to elements of the 36th IB-PA, elements of the 75th IB-PA and Special Forces of the Philippine Army; and elements of the paramilitary Magahat/Bagani Forces/Marcos Bocales Group as the perpetrators.

Two days before the grisly murders, Magahat members were reported by witnesses to have burned down the school cooperative building. They also threatened to massacre the entire community if they would not leave the area. Military and paramilitary forces occupied the school and adjoining areas of the community.

The killings of Campos and Sinzo were carried out in broad daylight. ALCADEV’S executive director Samarca was found dead after being taken into custody by military and paramilitary men. More than 300 families or 2000 individuals coming from the municipalities of San Miguel and Lianga have evacuated to Tandag City while scores more have sought sanctuary elsewhere.

Karapatan points out, “Since 2005, members of Mapasu and ALCADEV, who are active in the defense of Lumad ancestral lands against incursion by big business, have been victims of red tagging, trumped-up criminal charges, illegal arrests and detention, torture, and forced evacuation. ALCADEV was established in July 19, 2004 as an alternative learning system especially designed to provide secondary education to indigent indigenous youth — the Manobo, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talaandig and Mamanwa – who live in the mountains of Surigao del Norte and Sur, Agusan del Norte and Sur. ALCADEV is born out of the joint effort of indigenous people’s organizations in the CARAGA region. MAPASU is a regional organization of indigenous peoples in Caraga and is well known for its strong stance against intrusion of mining companies into their communities.”

The recent killings are not isolated incidents. Heightened attacks on Lumad communities especially on Lumad schools have been noted since last year. The government has caused the disruption and even total closure of these schools by the military’s encampment on school grounds; orders from the Education Department for the schools to cease operation due to various pretexts; threats to and actual bodily harm inflicted on school officials, teachers, leaders of Lumad organizations as well as members of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines who provide invaluable support to the schools.

One must ask why the concentrated attack on Lumad schools and communities? The military is forthright. They suspect these Lumad communities to be “infested” by the communist-led New People’s Army and the Lumad schools to be nothing but NPA “indoctrination” camps. In truth, these Lumad communities have demonstrated their determination and capacity to fight for their ancestral domain and their distinctive way of life in defiance of government-backed corporations trying to grab their lands, plunder their resources, and exploit their people then leave them worse off than before.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that the Lumad communities concerned are sympathetic to the NPA who abound in the mountainous terrain that is their home and who may have taught them how to stand up for their rights, does this make them open season for human rights violations perpetrated with impunity? Does this justify brazen acts of state terrorism by the Aquino regime to what amounts in practice as state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of these Lumad communities?

According to Anakbayan-USA, “The spate of human rights violations, military operations on communities, and killings of community leaders are products of Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, wherein the Philippine military is serving as an ‘investment defense force’, or as a private military for large corporations.” The group also pointed out the role of the U.S. government in aggravating the human rights situation in the Philippines. “Oplan Bayanihan is patterned directly from the U.S. Counterinsurgency (COIN) Guide released in 2009. The U.S. has been complicit and has continued to condone these atrocities through its $50 million annual military aid to the Philippine military,”

The blood of these martyrs of the Lumad people’s struggle for self-determination cries out for justice. Those of us who could sympathize with the heroic but fictitious alien defenders of “Mother Nature” and their sacred territory in the film “Avatar” need to open our eyes to the reality in our midst. Then let us ask ourselves, “Whose side are we on this time?” #

Published in Business World
7 September 2015

#StopLumadKillings #StopKillingLumads

Streetwise: Electoral circus comes to town by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

The election season is definitely upon us even with national polls still nine months away and filing of candidacies for national positions set two months from now. Already we can see the portent of things to come: the lack of genuine choice for the electorate; a farcical party system; election outcomes skewed towards the candidates backed by elite and foreign vested interests; an electoral system upgraded from manual to electronic manipulation and cheating.

The jockeying and wheeling dealing over who will run, who will be whose running mate, and which party and patron will back up which candidate has shifted to high gear and is already hogging the news and rumor mills. Political advertisements of “presidentiables”, “vice-presidentiables” and “senatoriables” have begun airing to the public’s bemusement or consternation as the case may be.

Candidates as well as the dominant political parties are indistinguishable in so far as platforms of governance are concerned. There are no serious contending political philosophies, analyses of what has ailed and continues to ail the country and ergo what are the candidates’ and parties’ proposed immediate and long-term solutions.

Candidates are one in playing to the gallery; that is, what they think the teeming masses of the poor, unschooled, and politically immature voters are looking for. Thus the image-building centers on the candidates’ bleeding heart for the poor and underprivileged and their promise of salvation from want and misery through all sorts of dole-outs and assurances of jobs and livelihood opportunities.

The anti-graft-and-corruption banner is still waving high up in the air. It is a race among the supposedly clean and untainted because they come from the class of “old rich” exploiters who did not make their pile from being politicians; the dyed-in-the-wool as well as upstart politicians who grew their wealth along with their flourishing political careers; and the relative newbies whose slates are still clean because they haven’t been around that long. All present themselves as ready, willing and able to clean up the Augean stables of government.

Anti-crime or the “peace and order” tack is also a favorite with the usual whipping boys – drug lords, criminal syndicates and police and judges on the take –and the usual neofascist solutions – bring back the death penalty, cut corners in law enforcement and due process and instill “discipline” among the people.

The big questions remain unasked and unanswered. Why does the country remain backward in terms of economic development despite (or rather because of) supposedly “sound fundamentals”: entrenched policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization to attract foreign investments; entrenched policies on labor export, low wages and contractualization; entrenched policies on the wanton exploitation of natural resources; and an overextended land reform program. Why is income inequality growing even more scandalously despite high GNP rates? Little to nothing is said about rooting out the causes of armed conflicts, of patronage politics, of political dynasties, of undemocratic institutions and processes including elections that always end up reinforcing the dominance of the elite and their foreign principals.

So what really counts? It is who among the known political kingmakers are backing whom. Where there is no functioning party system based on a clear, well-articulated and consistently-pursued platform of government, leaders are not up for public office based on track record nor established stand on issues but on sentimental affiliations of kinship, political connections, foreign backing, personality traits, and even accidental twists of so-called fate.

The endorsement by the incumbent regime is not about who will continue such a self-proclaimed stellar performance as that of President B. S. Aquino III but who will have the marked advantage of having the resources of the government at his disposal in the run-up to and the actual electoral campaign. We are talking about billions of lump-sum discretionary funds lodged in the executive department easily waylaid for patronage politics, for unofficial campaign sorties disguised as official business, for last ditch quid pro quos with a variety of vested interests. Paramount here are the narrow interests of the ruling Aquino clique with its main backers, the ruling Liberal Party and coalition partners who haven’t jumped ship.

What the opinion surveys say as to who are front runners and tail enders is easily translatable to financial and political backing since everyone wants to place their bets on the “winnable” candidates. Perhaps the only democratic aspect of the sway of the surveys is that while these reflect the interests paying for the surveys and are effectively influenced by the dominant mass media as well as sophisticated public relations campaigns, somehow candidates’ naturaleza still breaks through and are picked up by the public pulse.

The advent of another electoral circus come to town need not trigger resignation nor cynicism. Those fighting for more systemic, meaningful and long-lasting reforms in the socio-economic and political system of the country must be unrelenting and creative in their efforts to arouse, mobilize and organize the people based on their true interests and aspirations for a prosperous, egalitarian, independent and peaceful nation. Only in this way can they go against the reactionary tide of populism, trivialization of the national agenda, the dumbing down of the public discourse and the refurbishment and perpetuation of a patently undemocratic system.

During the electoral period, there must be a constant critique of the prevailing unjust and oppressive system. Any and all candidates must be challenged to measure up to the people’s standards of what constitute a truly patriotic and democratic platform of governance. The most reactionary of candidates must be exposed and rejected while liberal to progressive candidates must be supported up to being voted into office. Lastly but most critically, the looming likelihood of another foreign-designed and controlled automated electoral system that can and will be used to engineer the fraudulent victory of the favored national candidates must be exposed and opposed by an aroused and militated citizenry. #

Published in Business World
24 August 2015

Mining TNCs versus social movements by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo of Streetwise

In the last two decades the global mining industry has tried to repair its image and whitewash its blackened record in the wake of public furor over mine “accidents” and stiff resistance by mining communities to their operations. It has launched a coordinated, well-funded and sustained public relations campaign as well as aggressive lobby work with governments and international bodies such as the United Nations. This colossal greenwashing effort has attempted to sell the concepts of “sustainable and responsible mining” and “cooperation of all stakeholders”.

Unfortunately for the industry but fortunately for Mother Nature and humankind, resistance to mining is no longer confined to mining-ravaged local communities but has grown into national and global social movements involving indigenous peoples, peasants, mine workers, environmentalists, scientists, lawyers, church people, human rights advocates and social activists in Africa, America, Asia and Europe.

The holding of the International People’s Mining Conference (IPMC) in Manila last week attests to the expansion, diversity, strength and vitality of the global, national and local movements opposed to large-scale mining. The IPMC focused on the destructive effects of large-scale mining on the lives of people living in areas where this is carried out as well as its adverse impact on the entire country’s economy, natural resource base and ecology. It also highlighted the growing peoples’ struggles all over the world in defense of their lives, livelihood and homes against imperialist plunder enabled by the collusion of corrupt and repressive host states.

Their view is that large-scale, corporate mining has resulted in the rape of the environment in order to plunder the natural resources of poor, economically backward countries leaving behind wide swathes of wasteland where once there had been lush forests, rich fishing grounds in rivers and coastal areas, productive farmlands, and biodiversity of flora and fauna. The huge profits made from large-scale mining have merely been taken out by the mining transnational corporations (TNCs) to their home countries. Very little gets ploughed back into the countries where the extraction of minerals takes place because these finite resources are exported as raw materials with very little value-added rather than utilized to develop domestic industry and the economy as a whole.

The Philippines serves as a microcosm of how corporate mining has led to massive landgrabbing, rapid depletion of natural resources, degradation if not devastation of the environment, displacement of communities, militarization and human rights violations while contributing to the worsening of the pre-industrial and backward economy of the country.

From 1997-2014, large-scale mines operated by consortia of foreign mining TNCs and their Filipino partners increased from 16 to 46. Almost one million hectares of land are under mining agreements. From 1997-2013 tax and shares from mining was only US$2.93 billion, a measly 10% of the total production value of US$29.13 billion in the same period. From 1997-2013, mining’s average gross domestic product (GDP) and employment rate contributions were just at 0.7% and 0.44%. From 1995-2014, 19 major mining disasters and contamination incidents were recorded. And from 2001-2015, 82 environmental activists, mostly anti-mining activists, were victims of extrajudicial killings.

These are the same violations and other worse crimes that mining communities in different countries have seen. In South Africa, 34 striking mine workers were killed and 78 others were injured when they were fired upon by police and security forces of UK-owned Lonmin mining company in August 2012. In Papua New Guinea, BHP Billiton’s open-pit Ok Tedi Mine has caused massive environmental degradation and pollution of the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers and their adjacent ecosystems. This was due to the irresponsible and deliberate discharge of two billion tons of mine wastes into these rivers from 1984-2013.

In West Papua, Indonesia, mining giants Rio Tinto and Freeport-McMoran are reported to have initially poured in $35 million for military infrastructure and vehicles and paid at least $20 million to state security forces from 1998 to 2004 to quell opposition against its Grasberg Mine, the world’s largest gold mine. In China, coal miners are one of the most exploited and have one of the worst working conditions. There was a total of 589 accidents and 1,049 deaths in the coal mining industry in 2013 alone. In 2011 and 2012, 3,357 mine workers were killed in mine accidents according to the China Labour Bulletin.

Mining TNCs’ thirst for more gargantuan profits is unquenchable. In the late 80’s, under the banner of “globalization”, more than 80 countries changed their mining regimes due to the powerful lobby of foreign TNCs and the dictates of international financial institutions (IFIs) like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organizations (WTO).

Neoliberal mining policies allowed the privatization of state-owned mining firms. These led to the free flow of foreign investments to the local mining industry and full foreign ownership of mining corporations and lands in the host country. Capital control and other forms of regulation were lifted; generous tax breaks and other incentives, granted; and legitimation and legalization of measures to quell local opposition to mining activities, provided.

To further defray costs and up profits, the mining TNCs demand lower government royalty shares along with more lax environmental laws and overall regulatory environment. They insist on lower wages and benefits for mine workers, more job insecurity, lower occupational safety standards and repression of trade unionism.

One example is Peru. With liberalization, privatization and deregulation as the pillars of its neoliberal economic policy regime, Peru’s mining industry became dominated by foreign and private corporations and tied to the international market. Between 1992 and 2000 more than 200 state-owned mining operations were privatized. In 1999, private corporations accounted for 95% of mineral production, up from 55% in 1990, less than ten years previous. Pedictably, 10 foreign mining corporations are among Peru’s Top 100 corporations.

National mineral production became further oriented to and dictated by the international market and not by the particular development needs of each country. This meant being held hostage to the vagaries of international trading wherein metal prices rise and fall based on the dictates of a few mining giants, their financiers and the IFIs. As to the demand for minerals in the global market, mining TNCs and their financiers are increasingly engaged in speculation in the commodity futures market. According to IBON Foundation, “the global mining industry, just like the major drivers of monopoly capitalism, relies on fictitious capital to surmount the crisis…”

Mining TNCs clearly cannot cannot get away with their plundering ways if they are not backed up by governments. This is where the corruption of government bureaucrats and top-level political leaders comes in: to put in place a policy regime skewed towards mining TNCs; to complement the TNCs’ campaign of deceit and cooptation; and to harness the state security forces to protect mining operations and stamp out dissent.

As the crisis of the global mining industry intensifies, the social movements — for workers’ rights, environmental protection, and indigenous people’s land rights; for asserting the rights and welfare of mining communities; and for upholding human rights — are confronting the situation and struggling to prevail against the odds. People’s movements for economic sovereignty, food security and development justice are squaring with the plunderers, despoilers and their powerful protectors in the international, national and local levels .

Their message is loud and clear: Mining TNCs cannot plunder the common resources as before; the people are rising, steadfast in their struggles and steadily gaining ground. The people shall prevail. #

Published in Business World
3 August 2015

Streetwise: Aquino’s SONA, what legacy? By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

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This year’s state-of-the-nation address (SONA) is President BS Aquino’s last.  He is expected to deliver a powerful speech replete with his regime’s achievements for the last 5 years with a summation of the legacy he will leave behind as he winds up his term. The Palace is agog about the Aquino regime’s  so-called “legacy of reforms”.  Speculation is rife, less than a year before the 2016 presidential elections (no doubt stoked by the “yellow” media to dispel the fact of a lame duck president with not much political capital remaining) about who will be his “anointed” to “continue the legacy”.

But the smoke-and-mirrors presidency that this column described upon its inauguration in 2010 has run out of magic tricks especially when it has to make something big out of basically nothing much. All the catchy, folksy slogans, in Filipino even, have boomeranged because they have been unmasked as empty or false and merely calculated to deceive and disarm.

The hard sell is that the Aquino presidency is qualitatively different, especially from the one that preceded it, that of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  Former president Arroyo is the proverbial whipping girl as far as Mr. Aquino and his coterie are concerned, for all things wrong in government before Mr. Aquino, an erstwhile non-performer in Congress, arrived on the political scene.

But unlike the Arroyo regime that at least saw the successful prosecution and conviction for plunder of Mrs. Arroyo’s predecessor, Joseph “Erap” Estrada, the cases against GMA have either been set aside, dismissed or are languishing in judicial limbo.  The student activists have a term for it: Mr. Aquino has been “Noynoying”, content with keeping GMA under hospital arrest and somewhat constrained from plotting against him, the ends of justice be hanged.

In reality Aquino’s campaign for good governance against abuse of authority, corruption, obstructionism and incompetence have been exposed as mere demagoguery, tokenism, selective prosecution of those in the anti-Aquino Opposition, and sometimes petty vindictiveness sparing the truly accountable from among the “kabarkada, kaklase, kabarilan”. Police General Alan Purisima, Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, LTO Assistant Secretary Virginia Torres, Budget Secretary Butch Abad and Presidential Peace Adviser Ging Deles come to mind.

The Malacanang propaganda line is that the Aquino regime made a real difference to the hardscrabble lives of the majority of Filipinos.  But the reality is more entrenched poverty and economic backwardness; unprecedented inequality marked by healthy profitmaking for multinational corporations and the local elite; untouched feudal relations in the countryside; auctioning of the national patrimony and unabated environmental destruction.  This in the midst of impressive growth rates, credit-rating upgrades, and high scores in “competitiveness” by foreign and local big business and the World Bank. (For a more comprehensive analysis see “SONA 2015: A Legacy of a Disconnected Economy” http://ibon.org/ibon_features.php?id=517)

The illusion that the Aquino regime has been trying to conjure is that it has championed national sovereignty and defended territorial integrity pointing to the government’s filing of a case in a UN arbitral tribunal and appeals for support in other international venues with regard to the heated West Philippine Sea dispute with China over maritime rights and territory.

The Aquino government’s acquiescence to the lop-sided Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) on top of the obsequious implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in order to allow the permanent stationing of troops and war materiel and unhampered operations by the US military on Philippine territory (nothing less than the return of US military bases as part of the US “pivot” to the Asia Pacific region) is covered-up as a necessary adjunct to building a “credible external defense”.

The abject lack of an independent foreign policy — in the process placing the country in the crosshairs of the actual and potential enemies of the lone Superpower — is passed off as pragmatism, or worse, an alignment of national interests.  The latter has historically been proven as completely false: from the devastation of World War II brought on by being the lone US colony in the region; to the economic losses, social degradation and political costs of hosting the two biggest US bases outside the US mainland; and to the decrepit and weak state of the Armed Forces of the Philippines under US tutelage — with its long-standing orientation towards counterinsurgency rather than national defense and its hand-me-down equipment purchased at supposed discounts according to the terms of lopsided military assistance pacts.

The big picture moreover shows the surrender of economic sovereignty to the international financial institutions dominated by the US, EU and other advanced capitalist countries, to their governments especially the US, and to the powerful lobby of foreign chambers of commerce in favor of neoliberal policies and programs.  Such policies as liberalization, deregulation, privatization and denationalization akin to the punishing conditions that Greece has recently been placed under have actually been implemented continuously since the late seventies by Philippine governments.
Under Aquino, the Philippine economy and people are further squeezed to favor monopoly capitalist impositions like never before, e.g. regulatory risk guarantees for foreign investors in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) that go even farther than sovereign guarantees for foreign loans.  What’s more, the refusal of the Aquino regime to support domestic agriculture and build a genuinely Filipino industrial base — the true “sound fundamentals” of a self-reliant economy — is consistent with its subservient economic policies.

The lie that the Aquino has been peddling, with some success in the beginning, is that his “bosses” are the Filipino people, especially the poor and disadvantaged.  But as he readies his last SONA and prepares to exit from Malacanang (no doubt to continue his carefree, bachelor’s pursuits as a privileged scion of big landlords) the main thoroughfare leading to the Batasang Pambansa looks like a war zone fortified with concrete barriers, concertina wire, container vans etc. to be secured by 6,000 strong police force and standby military contingent.

Mr. Aquino’s real bosses have clearly emerged – foreign multinational corporations, the US Superpower, the domestic comprador capitalists (by definition, “agents for foreign organizations engaged in investment, trade, or economic or political exploitation”) and the big landlords.

On the human rights front, Mr. Aquino will not tire of crowing about the law passed to compensate human rights victims of the US-backed Marcos dictatorship, the arrest of the murderous General Jovito Palparan and the counterinsurgency (COIN) program deceptively dubbed “Oplan Bayanihan” that pretends to uphold the pursuit of peace, human rights and development while militarily crushing the “insurgents” and “terrorists”.

Mr. Aquino however will not admit to supporting incessant efforts to deny compensation to Marcos victims that are identified or associated with the local communist-led revolutionary movement; the coddling of the retired Gen. Palparan by the military establishment before and even after his arrest and the climate of impunity that cloaks human rights violators then and now.  Military officials implicated in the torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killings of activists have been promoted and appointed to sensitive and top positions of the defense establishment to the chagrin of the families of their victims and human rights defenders.

Gross and grievous violations of human rights under the aegis of Oplan Bayanihan, the hallmark of all COIN programs, are now papered over with references to “human security”, “whole-of-nation” approach, etc. and are even peddled as the military’s contribution to community development.  But the effect on the communities of indigenous peoples, landless farmers and farm workers is the same: massive displacement with entire families evacuating from their homes to escape militarization; extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; and illegal arrests with prolonged detention on the basis of trumped-up charges in connection with the ongoing armed conflict.

Most recently, there is the stepped-up and brazen harassment of activists, union organizers in the private and public sector, progressive church people and even health professionals coupled with the filing of a slew of baseless criminal charges in the months leading up to Mr. Aquino’s SONA.  Alarmingly, charges such as human trafficking, illegal detention and the violation of children’s rights, etc. in connection with the sanctuary and support given to lumad evacuees fleeing military and paramilitary violence are being used to justify violent assaults on church institutions and personnel as what happened last week in Davao City.

Mr. Aquino is trying mightily to salvage the GPH-MILF peace negotiations (after the Mamasapano fiasco) by pushing for the passage of a version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law that has little resemblance to the terms of political settlement the two parties had already reached and hold little promise for achieving the aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-determination.

He is also trying to pass off as his peace program what in truth is his program to defeat the CPP/NPA/NDFP militarily — with a huge dose of psychological warfare and the targeting of non-combatants for “neutralization” — in order to make completely unfounded claims of leaving behind the legacy of “a just and lasting peace”.

What Aquino leaves behind is a bloody human rights record, peace agreements reneged upon, and promises broken.   Indeed it is a legacy of more unjust war against a people rising up to assert their democratic rights; to defend themselves from elite depredation and state terrorism; from imperialist plunder and war. #

Published in Business World
27 July 2015

The only real deterrent to China’s aggression by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo of Streetwise

In recent months, China’s flurry of reclamation work and building of military installations on several of the islets and reefs in the disputed portions of the West Philippine Sea (WPS)/South China Sea (SCS) have set alarm bells ringing about China’s aggressive design to claim almost the entirety of the area as part of its national territory. The Philippines, being one of the parties to the disputes over maritime rights and territorial claims in the WPS/SCS, is rightfully aggrieved.

The WPS/SCS encompasses traditional fishing grounds not only for Filipino fisherfolk but those from several other ASEAN countries. (China has been denying their access to these fishing grounds.) The bountiful marine resources and rich marine biodiversity of the WPS/SCS is nature’s endowment to our peoples; it should be wisely conserved while being sustainably exploited. (Chinese fishing vessels are well known to be engaged in destructive overexploitation of the marine environment.) There is substantial, commercially-valuable petrochemical and gas deposits in the underlying seabed that would be a much-needed boost to the economic development of any of the claimant nations. (China is suspected of wanting to hog these resources.)

The WPS/SCS is a geopolitically strategic and sensitive area. It contains vital sea lanes for much of the global trade in the region. Historically, it has been a stepping stone for western imperialist inroads into China. Currently, it is a critical part of the Asia Pacific where US military might is being shifted to contain a resurgent China and maintain the US’ unchallenged dominance in the region.

The Filipino people must see through the geopolitical power play between the declining but still militarily superior US and its rival China, the new economic powerhouse, albeit with a far distant offensive military capability. The Filipino people must not allow the country to be used as a pawn in big-power competition, collusion and confrontation. Unfortunately, there is the widespread yet dangerous thinking, reinforced by a lingering colonial hangover, that the best, if not only, way to defend our sovereignty against any foreign country’s encroachments is to call on Uncle Sam for help.

The conventional wisdom is that the Philippines, being a poor, backward country has no capacity to defend itself against China’s bullying and anticipated worse depredations to come; neither now nor in the foreseeable future. Besides, it is argued, hasn’t the Philippines always been under the US security umbrella through long-standing military agreements?

What is undeniable is the fact that the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and other such lop-sided pacts have not resulted in the promised modernization of the AFP, ergo our external defense capability is one of the weakest among claimants. The year-round Balikatan joint military exercises that are supposed to be improving “interoperability” between the state-of-the-art war machinery of the US and the decrepit, outdated equipment of the Philippines merely reinforce the Philippine military’s state of awe, dependence and subordination to the US armed forces.

With the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the Philippines’ role as provider of forward stations aka “agreed locations” for the basing of the US military troops and materiel is sealed. Once more the justification is EDCA will cover the gaping holes in our external defense, acting as a deterrent against China based on the groundless presumption that the US will go to war against China in our behalf.

Philippine authorities and other wishful thinkers mindlessly cling to the illusory notion of Big Brother immediately coming to our defense despite the fact that the US has repeatedly stated that it will not intervene in the territorial disputes in the WPS/CHS. They also ignore the reality that the US has far bigger, more important stakes in its relations with China — trillion of dollars in trade and trillion more in loans — than it has with its former colony.

This was made clear by no less than US President Obama when he declared during his visit in April 2014, at the height of the tensions over the WPS/SCS, that US-PH military agreements, such as the MDT, do not bind it automatically to take military action to defend the Philippines in the event of a Chinese attack. Moreover, the presence of US troops, war materiel and facilities on Philippine territory, especially on the basis of a military alliance, could only serve as a magnet for attack from the enemies of the US, as in WW II when Japan attacked the Philippines which was then a US colony.

So if the Philippines cannot rely on the US against China’s aggressive posture and actuations in the WPS/SCS where can it turn to? Many foreign policy experts have pointed to the need for ASEAN countries to unite and pressure China to agree to a binding Code of Conduct in settling WPS/SCS disputes. Other opinion makers call for strengthening ties with India and Japan as a counterpoint to both China and the US. However this ignores the fact that Japan remains more than ever the US fugleman in Asia while the US has, in recent years, forged closer economic and diplomatic ties with India.

Others call for quiet diplomacy at government-to-government and people-to-people levels with China geared towards minimizing frictions and increasing understanding and cooperation. While beneficial, it would be naïve to think that such diplomacy will, by itself, temper China’s aggressiveness. The logic of China’s burgeoning capitalist economy fans its expansionist ambitions despite declarations of its intention to a “peaceful rise” as a global power.

Still others say the thing is to be able to beat the two contending powers at their own game by playing off one against the other utilizing a battery of experts in various fields to craft and implement such strategy and tactics.

All these approaches however overlook and grossly underestimate the power of a united people rising in mass protest and pushing the government to do what is necessary to uphold national interests including imposing economic sanctions on Chinese enterprises in the country such as in construction, real estate, agribusiness, import-export, power generation and transmission, mining, banking, etc.

The Vietnamese people angrily took to the streets to denounce China’s grab of its claimed territory and exclusive economic zone in the WPS/SCS. In the past the Vietnamese navy has dared to confront the far stronger Chinese navy. Such courageous and defiant acts have stymied China’s intrusions to a significant extent. China has been given notice that Vietnam is no pushover.

The Filipino people need not feel helpless in the wake of stepped-up Chinese aggression in the WPS/SCS. Building a revitalized patriotic movement that draws its strength from its own people, neither taking sides nor relying on one power to defend itself from the other, is the key to the assertion and defense of our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The time to build such a movement is now. #

Published in Business World
8 June 2015