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REVOLUTION

(For Randall Echanis)

by Lou Gartha Kho-Mawis

After that slow fear

crawling over our spirits

The rage takes over

Quick

Shooting like lightning

Charring the apathy of day

The helplessness of night

Then elightenment

We wriggle

Free from our chains

On tiptoe

we reach for the dreams

We thought were behind us

The gap that we must bridge

is worth our final breath

Our dreams conceive

a world without borders

Hands without chains

In the darkness

we have already died

Struggle is

Our resurrection

NDFP peace consultant Randall Echanis murdered

Randall Echanis, long-time National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant, was killed early Monday morning, August 10, in Novaliches, Quezon City.

His peasant organization colleagues said Echanis’ murder may be by state forces.

He was killed with a still unidentified neighbor, Anakpawis Party also reported.

Echanis died of multiple stab wounds on his back based on an early police report, his colleagues told Kodao. His remains will be autopsied, they added.

Former Anakpawis Congressman Ariel Casilao said that Echanis “was undergoing medical treatment, and was unarmed, when suspected state forces raided his house.”

Echanis actively participated in peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) since 2002 and served as vice-chairperson of the NDFP’s Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms.

He was NDFP’s leading consultant on agrarian reform and played a key role in the drafting of documents on agrarian reform and rural development and the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Reforms.

The victim, 72 years old, was also the incumbent deputy secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

As peasant leader, Echanis spearheaded nationwide campaigns for genuine agrarian reform, including free land distribution to Filipino farmers. He was instrumental in crafting the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) repeatedly filed in Congress since its first filing in 2007.

A former political detainee, Echanis was arrested three times during the Marcos, Aquino, and Arroyo regimes. He became Anakpawis Party’s third nominee after his latest release from jail in 2010.

Randall Echanis (left) with fellow NDFP peace consultant Vicente Ladlad (partly hidden), NDFP Negotiating Panel member Benito Tiamzon (center) and former NDFP resource person for political and constitutional reforms and now Manila City Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Damagoso (right). [Photo by Jon Bustamante/Kodao]

Swift condemnation

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison condemned the murders, saying Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Eduardo Año may know about the killings.

“It is widely known that the DILG secretary Año has been boasting to his staff and other people that he has mapped out the locations of all social activists through the local governments and neighborhoods and that he can wipe them out the social activists anytime,” Sison said.

“This boasting of Año is taken seriously by all the social activists that he threatens to kill,” he added.

Sison said Echanis’ murder will have far reaching consequences as it arouses the indignation and just wrath of the peasant masses and the entire Filipino people.

“All social activists have no choice but to intensify in every necessary way their struggle against the tyrant, traitor, butcher and plunderer Duterte,” he said.

NDFP Negotiating Panel legal consultant Edre Olalia for his part said “ruthless dark forces have struck again” with Echanis’ murder.

“Are we totally and almost irretrievably shutting the doors and windows of a potential peaceful resolution of the perennial ills of society by sowing terror and trepidation among those who present alternative solutions? Where will the people go thence for their legal struggles if they are not welcome?” Olalia asked.

Echanis is the third NDFP peace consultant killed after President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled peace negotiations in June 2017.

Felix Randy Malayao, NDFP peace consultant for Cagayan Valley, was killed in his sleep inside a bus in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya in January 2019.

Julius Giron, designated as National Consultant Number 1 due to his seniority in the Communist Party of the Philippines, was also brutally killed in a combined police and military raid in Baguio City last March 13.

Giron was the holder of a Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees Document of Identification (DI) number 978410 under the name of Arnold Cruz.

All three were killed in the early hours of the morning.

They also were born and raised in Northern Luzon: Echanis in the Ilocos Region, Malayao in Cagayan Valley and Giron in the Cordilerras.

“How bad can it get? It is almost conclusory that the ruthless dark forces have struck again. How then can we encourage people to openly and effectively engage in legitimate causes and advocacies for social and economic reforms if you treacherously silence them?” Olalia further asked. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Record number of COVID-19 ‘recoveries’ mere window dressing, expert says

The decision by the Department of Health (DOH) to categorize coronavirus patients with no or mild symptoms as “recovered” is mere cherry picking and window dressing, a community medicine expert said.

University of the Philippines College of Medicine professor Gene Nisperos said the decision is problematic as it was applied to many cases a World Health Organization (WHO) guideline meant only for individual patients.

“The WHO guidelines were only meant for individual cases. What the DOH did was to apply it en masse,” the medical doctor explained.

“These recommendations are for individual patients who are assessed and cleared by physicians. Simply extrapolating this to massive data is problematic,” he said.

In its July 30 update on coronavirus cases in the Philippines, the DOH reported 38,075 recoveries in a day.

DOH case bulletin for July 30, 2020

Citing new protocols in the US and Europe, the DOH said Thursday it is now tagging patients with mild or no symptoms as “recovered” 14 days from the onset of symptoms or by the date of specimen collection.

With nearly 40 thousand new “recoveries”, the DOH said the Philippines now has 65,064 patients who have recovered from the virus on the day it reported a record number of new cases at 3,954, bringing the country’s total to 89,374.

Nisperos however said even if the new protocol is a new DOH data management style, it remains inconsistent as it leaves out from the list of active cases the number of validation backlog that currently stands at 37 thousand.

The DOH said there are 22,327 active COVID-19 cases in the country.

The medical doctor said the DOH is merely cherry picking and window dressing the data.

“The data is being presented to fit a narrative instead of the narrative being based on the data,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

A revolutionary and peace warrior’: Tributes pour in for NDFP’s Fidel Agcaoili

Tributes are pouring in for National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili hours after the group’s international information office confirmed his passing in Utrecht, The Netherlands due to pulmonary arterial rupture .

READ: BREAKING: NDFP’s Fidel Agcaoili dies

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said Filipino communists and revolutionaries feel a deep sense of sorrow and loss with Agcaoili’s passing.

“He was one of the most beloved and respected leaders of the Party, the NDFP and the Filipino people,” the CPP said in a statement.

“Over the past decades, from the underground movement, to inside prison, to international work and peace negotiations, [Agcaoili] untiringly struggled with the Filipino people and served the revolutionary movement and all the oppressed and exploited classes to achieve national and social liberation,” the group added.

The CPP said Agcaoili firmly upheld its principles at all times and he was imbued with the communist spirit to his last breath.

“The Party and all revolutionary forces, including all Red fighters of the New People’s Army, are in mourning,” the CPP said.

Agcaoili’s government counterpart, labor secretary Silvestre Bello III, told Kodao he joins all peace-loving Filipinos in grieving the passing of a revolutionary whose passion for peace is as ardent as his love for structural change on the land of his birth.

“Ka Fidel V. Agcaoili, my counterpart in the peace table in our efforts to try to end the decades-long armed conflict with the CPP-NPA (New People’s Army)-NDF, was a man of honor and conviction,” Bello said.

Bello added that Agcaoili was an instrument in making the mostly arduous tasks of talking peace smoother and a bit easier.

“It is just sad that Ka Fidel will no longer savor the lasting peace with justice that he was pursuing with passion. Goodbye to a dear friend, a revolutionary and a peace warrior,” Bello said.

Former Quezon City mayor Herbert Bautista, who served as adviser to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Negotiating Panel from 2016, said Agcaoili’s death is “sad news.”

“He was kind. He was flexible on the negotiating table yet strict and firm on principles,” Bautista, a Brigadier General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Reserve Command, added.

Tributes from journalists

Journalists who covered the NDFP-GRP peace process only have kind words for Agcaoili.

“[The news] came as a shock. He was a generous news source, always eager to clarify issues with journalists. He will be missed,” GMA reporter Raffy Tima told Kodao.

Danny Buenafe (right) talks to (from left) Fidel Agcaoili, Jose Maria Sison and Luis Jalandoni. [Photo from Danny Buenafe]

Veteran ABS-CBN broadcaster Danny Buenafe said he had a good time covering the peace talks for more than three decades in large part because of Agcaoili.

“He was tough in taking a stand, but we all know he has a soft spot with journalists when requesting for interviews. Ka Fidel was kind and accessible with us media persons,” Buenafe said.

Buenafe, Europe-based for many years, added Agcaoili was probably the toughest among the so called three “Supremos” (top leaders), the two others being NDFP Negotiating Panel chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison and 20-year NDFP chief negotiator and Agcaoili’s direct predecessor Luis Jalandoni.

“Personally, I found Ka Fidel as the heart of the revolutionary struggle with his decisive character in the negotiating table. Ka Joma (Sison) provides the deeper intellectual discourse, and Ka Louie (Jalandoni) the fatherly approach with the soft touch. Ka Fidel provided a good balance that makes the NDF position solid,” Buenafe said.

The now retired ABS-CBN Europe Bureau Chief said he can never forget being fetched by Agcaoili and wife Rosario at the Utrecht Grand Central Station to attend a small birthday gathering for NDFP peace panel member Julie Sison at a public park several years ago.

“We will all miss him. Rest in peace, Ka Fidel,” Buenafe said.

Friends grieve

Human rights lawyer Ma. Sol Taule said Agcaoili was among the rights defenders she looked up to.

“We recognize and value his unrelenting efforts for a just and lasting peace. He (was) the boomer we all aspire to be,” Taule wrote on Facebook.

Distant relative and retired University of the Philippines professor Aurelio Solver Agcaoili for his part said Agcaoili’s death is a loss to the Filipino people.

“But we gained something [in his passing]: The thought and the resolve to do things right for our suffering people,” he told Kodao.

The CPP said it will announce the day for mourning, giving honor, and remembering Agcaoili whose remains will be flown to the Philippines in accordance with the wishes of his family.

 “In behalf of the entire Philippine revolutionary movement, the (CPP) extends deep sympathies to the wife and children of Ka Fidel V. Agcaoili, chairperson of the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP),” the CPP said. (Raymund B. Villanueva)

BREAKING: NDFP’s Fidel Agcaoili dies

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel V. Agcaoili passed away Thursday in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the group’s international information office announced.

He was 75 years old.

“The (NDFP) announces with deep sorrow the untimely passing of Ka Fidel V. Agcaoili today, 23 July 2020 at 12:45pm in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He would have turned 76 on 8 August,” it said.

“According to the doctor, the cause of his death was pulmonary arterial rupture which caused massive internal bleeding. It was not Covid-19 related,” it added.

Agcaoili, a veteran member of the Left’s peace panel, took over from his 20-year predecessor Luis Jalandoni on October 5, 2016 before the start of the second round of formal talks between the NDFP and the Duterte government in Oslo, Norway.

As chief negotiator, Agcaoili led the NDFP panel in forging major agreements with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Negotiating Panel such as free land distribution for poor farmers and national industrialization for the country that may serve as the backbone of comprehensive agreements on social and economic reforms with future Manila governments.

He became a member of the NDFP Negotiating Panel in 1992.

He was also a long-time chairperson of the NDFP Human Rights Committee.

Agcaoili was the longest-held political prisoner under the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship and was released only after the first People Power uprising in 1986.

His remains will be flown to the Philippines in accordance with the wishes of his family, the NDFP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Aswang’ Documentary Review: Do Not Dare Look Away

By L.S. Mendizabal

(Trigger warning: Murders, mutilation of corpses)

Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.

In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.

In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.

Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.

And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.

As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.

Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.

The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.

Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.

Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.

Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.

Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.

 Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.

Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:

“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).

During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #

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References:

Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations

Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm

Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076

Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html

‘Kapag hindi tayo nagsalita, kinampihan natin ang mali’

“Sa mga kasamahan kong artistang di nagsasalita, ano? May network pa ba kayo? Wala na! Wala na kayong network, kahit magpa-cute kayo diyan sa IG, mag-send kayo ng mga sad face, hindi niyo nadadamayan ang mga katrabaho niyo na dahilan kung bakit kyo sumikat. Kapag hindi tayo nagsalita ibig sabihin kinampihan natin ang mali” – actor Angel Locsin, 18 July 2020 at the simultaneous nationwide noise barrage for ABS-CBN

Tears, rage over massive loss of jobs at the Kapamilya network

Ma, hanggang August 31 na lang po ako sa ABS-CBN,” Jon Montesa, TVPlus brand communications manager, told his mother upon learning of his retrenchment last Thursday. (Mom, my ABS-CBN employment ends on August 31.)

Like Montesa, hundreds of other workers had to inform their families their worst fears as workers of the Philippines’ biggest media network had come true. Throughout the day, tears flowed in the many offices inside the ABS-CBN compound as unit heads delivered the sad news to their colleagues.  

“In my nearly five years in the network, I never thought I will say this to my family. They not only took away our jobs. Our dreams and future, these are the things they took away from us,” Montesa said in Filipino. “I’ve worked so hard for this. I did not get it easily. But it’s gone in an instant. You are inhumane!” he added, blaming the 70 legislators who voted to deny the Philippines’ media network a new franchise to continue operating last July 10.

Montesa’s FB post that has garnered thousands of reactions and shares as well as hundreds of comments.

It is not only ordinary employees like Montesa who are being given their dismissal slips. Even those who have been on millions of television screens for decades and expected to survive the bloodbath of jobs have been retrenched. Award-winning broadcast journalist and news presenter Ces Oreña-Drilon twitted:

Thousand more are expected to be dismissed until August as the company scrambles to stop the financial hemorrhage it had been suffering since the Philippine government issued a cease and desist order on ABS-CBN’s operations. The network is reported to be losing around Php30 million a day since May 5 but with its franchise denied by Congress, it could no longer keep all of its more than 11,000 workers. “We should consider ourselves lucky if 50% of us is retained until the end of the year,” a source told Kodao.

MOR 101.9 disc jock Czarina “DJ Chacha” Balba said is not only at the network’s corporate headquarters in Quezon City that the retrenchment is ongoing. “There are many MOR radio stations in the entire Philippines. It is not only here in Manila that colleagues are losing jobs. Yesterday, our bosses informed us the MOR network only has until August 31,” she said, explaining there are more than a dozen MOR radio stations nationwide.

Balba revealed this is her first job after college that she considers her “first and forever love.” She said it is not all about her salary but the despair of leaving what she considers her home in the past 12 years. “On top of that, you would no longer be working with your friends nor would you be allowed to visit them because it is prohibited (because of the pandemic),” she grieved.

The loss of income is harder for most employees on top of the bleak prospects of finding new employment while the coronavirus pandemic rages worldwide. An ABS-CBN employee told Kodao she is now watching YouTube videos on soap-making, thinking of joining the online selling community once retrenched.

Upon learning of Congress’ rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise, employee Jonathan Samson announced he is selling his beloved collection of scooters.

(Reason For Selling: I no longer have a job. Closed by the government),” Samson posted on his Facebook account.

Broadcast journalist Adrian Ayalin is not among those dismissed this week, but it does not insulate him from uncertainty and the pain.



ABS-CBN Supervisory Employees Union president Raul de Asis lays the massive loss of jobs squarely on President Rodrigo Duterte’s feet. “[A]aminin ko sa lahat na talagang ibinoto ko ang Pangulong Duterte. ‘Yung mga kasamahan natin sa probinsiya, sa RNG (regional network group), ibinoto din siya…Talagang iniisip nila na ibinoto natin ‘tong presidenteng ito, na gaganda ang buhay natin lahat, giginhawa ang buhay natin lahat. Pero hindi alintana na ganito na ‘yung mangyayari sa aming lahat na sumuporta sa kaniya,” he said. (I admit I voted for President Duterte, along with our colleagues from the RNG. We thought our lives will be better if we vote for him. We never thought he will do this to those who supported him.)

Ito ba ang kapalit ng aming pagboto sa kaniya? Kikitilin ang aming hanapbuhay? Gugutumin ang aming pamilya? Hindi na kami makatulong sa aming mga kamag-anak at kapatid at magulang? Sobrang masakit po,” he added. (Is this what we get for voting him? Killing our jobs? Making our families go hungry? We will no longer be able to help our relatives, siblings and parents. This is beyond painful.)

In a speech before soldiers in Jolo, Sulu this week, Duterte admitted wanting the network closed. But even before the network’s franchise bid was formally rejected, Duterte’s close ally Senator Ronald dela Rosa already warned that ABS-CBN employees should start looking for other jobs. “Hanap ng ibang trabaho para mabuhay, magsumikap (Look for other jobs, work harder),” he said in an interview with reporters last July 9.

The shock of losing jobs and the shutdown of their company prods employees to react in various ways. Balba asked: “[M]ay iba pa pong department ang ABS-CBN na stop operations muna. So ipagdasal niyo po ang ibang empleyado na kagaya naming lahat.” (Other departments will stop operations. So, pray for the other employees who would be jobless like us.)

Oreña-Drilon for her part struck hopeful: “Babangon din ang mga #kapamilya. (We will rise up.) This may be our darkest hour. But don’t lose hope,” she said.

NUJP photo

Many, like Montesa, however, have held nightly noise barrages at ABS-CBN’s Sgt. Esguerra gate since Monday, heavily filling the air with the banging of gongs, clanging of makeshift noisemakers and sounding horns of cars driving around the network compound in a two-hour motorcade. On Saturday, they will also participate in a nationwide noise barrage to denounce the network’s shutdown, with several ABS-CBN RNG participating. In Metro Manila, motorcades from Makati and Manila cities will converge at the ABS-CBN compound for another protest activity. Enraged, they vow to make those responsible for their uncertain future pay. “Ako, #KapamilyaForever. Kayo, hindi forever. #ManiningilAngKasaysayan,” Montesa said. (I am Family Forever. You are not forever. History will make you pay.) # — Raymund B. Villanueva (with research by Jo Maline D. Mamangun)

The unbelievable indifference of the Duterte administration

By Sonny Africa

The Duterte government insists that it is successfully responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reality is a little bit different – it hasn’t done enough, and is planning to do even less.

The coronavirus is spreading faster than ever. It took over three months to reach the first 10,000 confirmed cases but less than a week to add the last 10,000, at over 57,000 to date. University of the Philippines (UP) researchers forecast between 100,000 to 131,000 cases by the end of August.

Characteristically, the government’s containment measure of choice was a military lockdown – among the fiercest and longest in the world. It justified this as harsh but necessary, repeating a favored talking point used to justify all sorts of sins.

The effect on the economy and the people was certainly brutal.

The country was plunged into the worst crisis of mass unemployment in its history with 14 million unemployed and a 22% unemployment rate in April 2020, by IBON’s reckoning. The combined 20.4 million unemployed and underemployed are over two-fifths (40.2%) of the presumed labor force. These correct for serious underestimation in officially released figures.

The joblessness and collapse in livelihoods are expected to ease as restrictions are relaxed. But whatever improvement will still not be enough to return to a pre-pandemic state.

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to contract by 2.0-3.4% for the whole of 2020, according to the government’s Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC). The World Bank has a slightly more optimistic projection of -1.9% while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) see it worse at -3.6% and -3.8%, respectively.

This will be the worst growth performance in 35 years since the -7.3% (negative) GDP growth in 1983 and 1984. But if the low estimates materialize, it will also be the biggest decline from positive growth ever recorded.

As it is, the economy is well on the way to its fourth straight year of slowing growth. It already contracted at -0.2% growth in the first quarter of 2020 with just two weeks’ worth of lockdowns. The second quarter figures that will come out in August will be much worse.

Unhealthy response

No one is likely to have thought that the worst public health crisis and economic decline in the country’s history would be enough to spur the Duterte administration to reform its anti-democratic and anti-development ways. It didn’t.

The government’s military-dominated COVID-19 response team has proven unfit for purpose and the steeply rising cases today point to the protracted lockdown being squandered. Yet the rise in reported cases do not even give the complete picture.

To date, there’s a validation backlog of over 15,000. The positivity rate of 12.4% meanwhile indicates that testing is still, months into the pandemic, far below the levels needed. Local transmission is still gaining momentum even as other Southeast Asian countries have already stopped theirs.

The hazy picture is a poor starting point for the contact tracing, isolation and selective quarantines needed. But the rise in COVID-19 cases is sufficient to show how social distancing and other precautionary measures can’t go far enough.

Assuming all pandemic-related deaths are accounted for, the 1,534 reported deaths are still relatively few and the number of daily fatalities fortunately fewer than the peak in March. This may however soon change as the virus spreads in the coming weeks and as the health system becomes overstretched even just by those who can afford it.

Hospital capacity hasn’t been beefed up so much as portions of it carved out at the expense of non-COVID-19 cases. The National Capital Region (NCR) and Cebu are the pandemic’s epicenters in the country. As much as 19 NCR hospitals are at or nearing their capacity of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients – 14 of which were acknowledged by the Department of Health (DOH) last week – while Cebu’s hospitals are already overwhelmed.

Hyped assistance

The inadequacy of the health response is more disturbing in how the time for this was bought with lost incomes, small business closures, joblessness and hunger. Tens of millions of Filipinos even suffered more than they should have because of similarly inadequate emergency relief.

At the start of the lockdowns, 18 million beneficiary households were promised Php5,000-8,000 in monthly cash subsidies for just two months. That right there is an immediate problem – the lockdowns are running on four months now, since mid-March, with only partial easing in June.

Emergency subsidies reportedly reaching 19.4 million beneficiaries under various programs of the departments of social welfare, labor and agriculture sounds impressive.

However, the aid was very slow in coming. Most beneficiaries had to wait 6-10 weeks before getting their first monthly tranche.

The aid is also very stingy. Taken altogether, the first tranche of the cash subsidy programs only amounts to an average of Php5,611 per beneficiary family. Over the last four months this comes out to just Php11 per person per day.

The government has even recanted and said that only 12 million beneficiaries will get the second tranche. But the number of those who will actually get this second tranche may be even less than that. The government is invoking bureaucratic difficulties to explain why only 1.4 million of the 12 million have received this tranche to date.

These emergency cash subsidies are also much lower than the latest official poverty threshold of Php10,727 monthly for a family of five. Yet this miserly relief will even seem generous in the period to come because little more is forthcoming. The official government policy was succinctly put by the presidential spokesperson recently: “We cannot afford to give ayuda (aid) to keep everyone alive.”

Business as usual

The Duterte administration’s lockdowns precipitated what may be the greatest economic collapse in Philippine history. The lockdowns per se are of course temporary – indeed, as too the pandemic, even if this will linger for at least another year or more.

Though temporary, the simultaneous demand and supply shock to the Philippine economy, other countries, and the global economy as a whole is unprecedented in the modern era. The world economy is said to be undergoing its worst recession since the Great Depression.

Yet apart from a momentary surge in emergency relief and despite lip service to the economic crisis, it bizarrely still seems to be business as usual for the economic managers. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The most basic is how the economic managers – and most of our political leaders – are blinded by the free market dogma imbibed over four decades of neoliberal globalization. There is a rigid faith that market forces will be enough to meet the pandemic-driven economic challenge. This is matched by an inability to grasp that responsible state intervention is needed not just to deal with the crisis but for long-term national development.

But there is also an extreme narrow-mindedness common among many afflicted by that dogma – that ‘creditworthiness’, ‘competitiveness’ and ‘investor-friendliness’ are not just a means to but actually ends of development. The people who make up the majority of the economy are peripheral and ever in the margins.

These go far in explaining the lack of urgency and, apparently, seeing the current crisis as an inconvenient but minor speed bump on the highway to free market-driven progress.

Fragments of a response

Genuine attention would start with immediately coming up with a plan fitting the vastly changed pandemic-driven crisis conditions. Nearly six months into the pandemic, all that the people have are fragments – including fragments which are self-evidently exaggerated to give the impression of substantial action.

The economic team came up with a “4-pillar strategy” in April that was eventually rebranded as the Philippine Program for Recovery with Equity and Solidarity (PH-PROGRESO). Supposedly worth Php1.7 trillion or an impressive 9.1% of GDP, this figure was grossly bloated by double-counting of interventions and their sources of financing, by conflating actual spending with merely foregone tax and tariff revenues, and by including additional liquidity from monetary measures.

The Inter-Agency Task Force Technical Working Group for Anticipatory and Forward Planning (IATF-TWG for AFP) released its We Recover As One report in May. This seemed more detailed, comprehensive and forward-looking. There are some relevant health and education measures.

But some very important measures are missing – expanding the public health system, social protection to help everyone in need, and protecting jobs, wages and workers’ rights. Trade, industrial and agricultural measures also seem oblivious to unsound fundamentals, the global crisis, and accelerating protectionism. On the other hand, unfunded feel-good platitudes are aplenty.

The economic managers started working with Congress on a Bayanihan 2 bill in June. This replaces the Php1.3 trillion package that Congress originally proposed but which the finance department summarily shot down ostensibly for lack of funds. The Bayanihan 2 proposal is now just one-tenth in size at Php140 billion.

At present, the stinginess of the economic managers is the biggest binding constraint to addressing the pandemic, alleviating economic distress of poor households, and economic recovery. The Php140 billion is much too small compared to the magnitude of the crisis at hand. At the same time, the sweeping insistence on infrastructure as a magic bullet and on sacrosanct debt servicing means continued unproductive spending rather than on what would have the greatest development impact.

A Philippine Economic Recovery Plan was supposed to be made public at the pre-SONA forum of the economic and infrastructure cluster on July 8. But this was not presented and is still strangely kept secret. Neither the Department of Finance (DOF) nor the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) websites share this with the public, and a direct request was declined.

It’s five-and-a-half months since the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the Philippines, and about four months since declaring a public health emergency, a state of national emergency, and the start of lockdowns. The Duterte administration has throughout portrayed itself as doing everything it needs to.

In reality, it seems to be doing as little as it can. A new anti-terrorism law was apparently even seen as more urgent than clinching a stimulus program. This languid COVID-19 response is bringing us to the edge of the precipice on both the health and economic fronts. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

IBON opens to gov’t inspection days before anti-terrorism law effectivity

With the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) soon coming into effect, research group IBON opened their office for inspection by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Bgy. Sacred Heart officials last Wednesday, July 15.

The group said they requested the ocular inspection to show their transparency and prove the absence of illegal materials and equipment on the premises.

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“This is an important contribution to IBON asserting its character as a legitimate organization that does not, never has, and never will have the guns, explosives, and other illegal items that are wont to be planted to justify spurious search warrants and bogus charges against activists and human rights defenders,” the group’s executive director Sonny Africa said.

The group said that it also wants to protect the rights and ensure the safety of IBON staff and tenants.

IBON Foundation said the inspection is in anticipation of the ATL which is presumed to become effective on July 18.

The group recalled the Duterte administration’s continued disinformation drive about IBON which appears to be laying the groundwork for using the ATL against it.

Africa expressed concern that the draconian and oppressive law will be used to try and hinder IBON’s research, education and advocacy work.

The CHR first inspected IBON premises in November 2019 after a reported imminent police operation on its building.

It confirmed the absence of anything illegal, irregular, or prohibited on the premises.

IBON is among many non-government organizations actively red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communism and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) since late 2018. 

The group has repeatedly refuted allegations by the government task force that it supports terrorism.

The IBON building also houses AlterMidya and IBON International who are also targets of government harassment and red-tagging.

Last February, IBON lodged a complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman against NTF-ELCAC officials: National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon; Armed Forces of the Philippines Deputy Chief of Operations Brigadier General Antonio Parlade; and Presidential Communications and Operations Office secretary Lorraine Badoy. This was for their malicious and baseless red-tagging of IBON since 2018.

IBON said that it supports petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Law filed at the Supreme Court.

The law must be declared unconstitutional for being overly vague in its definition of terrorism. It gives room to target economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights defenders and in doing so undermines prospects for economic democracy, human rights and social justice. These are if anything more crucial than ever at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, said the group. #