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