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NUJP presses for justice on Gerry Ortega’s 9th death anniv

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) renewed its call for justice for broadcaster Gerry Ortega in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan on the ninth anniversary of his killing.

In a statement, the NUJP said it calls on the courts to resume trials against alleged masterminds in Ortega’s murders after the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed a 2018 ruling clearing former Palawan governor Joel Reyes, the primary suspect.

The group said the CA  ordered the Regional Trial Court in Puerto Princesa to “issue a warrant of arrest against the petitioner (Reyes) and to conduct proceedings in criminal case No. 26839 with purposeful dispatch” last November.

“Today, as we remember Doc Gerry, we call on the courts to let the wheels of justice finally turn, but not turn slowly,” the group said.

Hopes that the alleged brains behind Ortega’s murder would be held accountable had been dashed when co-accused former Coron, Palawan mayor Mario Reyes was granted bail in 2016 and his brother Joel was cleared of the murder charge and freed by the Court of Appeals in January 2018.

The former governor was back behind bars however after he was convicted of graft by the Sandiganbayan three weeks later.

The NUJP expressed optimism in a conviction as the gunman and all the members of the hit team were arrested, prosecuted, and convicted.

“In a rare instance, the hired killers named the alleged masterminds, who fled the country in 2012 soon after arrest warrants were issued against them but were captured in Thailand three years after and brought back to stand trial,” the NUJP said.

Ortega—also an environmentalist, public servant, good governance advocate and civic leader—had just finished hosting his program on radio station DWAR when shot dead.

The NUJP also noted that the victim’s family never wavered in their struggle for justice, adding it can do no less.

The NUJP is set to light candles for Ortega at the Sgt. Esguerra gate of ABS-CBN tonight, January 24, as it also calls for the renewal of the media company’s legislative franchise President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to block at the House of Representatives. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ika-33 anibersaryo ng masaker sa Mendiola, ginunita

Nagtipon sa tulay ng Mendiola sa Maynila ang mga progresibong grupo sa pangunguna ng Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas upang gunitain ang masaker na pumatay sa 13 magsasaka noong 1987.

Kasabay ng panawagan ng hustisya para sa mga martir ng Mendiola ay ang pagpapatuloy ng usapang pangkapayapaan sa pagitan ng National Democratic Front of the Philippines at Government of the Republic of the Philippines na ang susunod na adyenda ay ang Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms kabilang na ang tunay na reporma sa lupa para sa mga magsasaka. (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

Kadamay starts urban poor campout at CHR

Urban poor group Kadamay launched a campout to protest attacks on their communities and members at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Thursday, January 23.

“Mapanganib ang buhay ng mahihirap sa ilalim ni Duterte, kami’y sinasabing mga terorista pero kinakatwiran lamang ito ng mga awtoridad para itulak ang mga atake at demolisyon sa maraming komunidad sa buong bansa,” Kadamay chairperson Gloria “Ka Bea” Arellano said.

CHR chairperson Chito Gascon welcomed members of the group Kadamay and joined them in a boodle fight.

Commission on Human Rights chairperson Chito Gascon welcomes Kadamay members and supporters.

Kadamay said that widespread demolitions and displacement due to the government’s aggressive infrastructure campaign “Build Build Build” is one of the reasons for attacks against the civil liberties of the poor.

The camp, supported by the CHR and the University of the Philippines, is intended to serve as a sanctuary for urban poor Filipinos whose lives are in danger for opposing the unjust policies of the regime.

Kadamay decried the harassment, assaults, fake charges, wrongful arrests, violence and extortion of fake surrenderees by law enforcement.

Other attacks have been tallied in communities across the nation. In Navotas, Kadamay said its members are routinely hounded by personnel of the Philippine Navy. Leaders and members are also charged with bogus criminal cases.

In Bulacan, Kadamay said two of urban poor organizers are detained on fabricated charges. They have also masterminded the creation of alternate groups dubbed “pro-government’ to combat Kadamay and spread violence in Pandi, Bulacan.

“Palibhasa sa taong 2019 at lalo sa 2020, malawakang ipapatupad ang maraming demolisyon para sa BBB. Hindi naman nireresolba ang matinding kawalan ng tahanan sa ating bayan, pararamihin pa ang homeless, inaatake pa sila ng mga pulis at sundalo. Kaya kami naglunsad ng kampuhan upang isiwalat ang katotohanang ito sa mamamayan. Hindi kaunlaran ang dulot ng BBB, ibayong kahirapan at homelessness ang epekto,” explained Arellano.

Around 506, 495 will be displaced from 15 (out of 100) of the flagship projects under the BBB, Kadamay said.

Gascon joins Kadamay in a boodle fight.

The group also disputed the fact that the government will be able to provide relocation for all the displaced. In the last five years, only 58% of whole target of homes for Yolanda victims was made. In addition, the housing budget has plummeted under Duterte, with a 76% reduction.

Kadamay called to resolve the homeless crisis, not aggravate it. “Karapatan ang paninirahan, ibig sabihin, dapat responsibilidad ng pamahalaan na harapin at resolbahin ito.”

Ang kailangan ng maralita at homeless, disente, abot-kaya at pangmasang pabahay. Lilikha ito ng trabaho, paninirahan at ganansya para sa buong ekonomiya. At imbes na gibain ang mga komunidad, paunlarin. Tanging mga malalaking negosyante at mga kapitalista ng China ang makikinabang sa mga proyekto ng BBB,” said Arellano. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Mendiola ng buhay natin

Ni Prop. Rolando Tolentino, PhD

Unang sinulat ng may-akda ang piyesang ito noong Enero 2008. Kahapon, Enero 22, ginunita ang ika-33 anibersaryo ng Mendiola Massacre. Wala pa ring katarungan para sa mga biktima ng krimen.

Malalaki ang bilang na dumadalo ng mga rali noon. Libo-libo, madalas umaabot din ng daan-daang libo. Kasagsagan pa ng People Power I, at kahit pa marami nang nanamlay sa kilusan at bumalik sa gawi ng gitnang uring pagnanasa, mas marami ang nanatili sa hanay.

Nasa kilusang kabataan at estudyante ako noong 1987, kasama ng College Editors Guild of the Philippines. Sa panahong ito, pinapalawak ang pambansang kasapian. Binubuhay ang mga rehiyon at eskwelahang nawalan ng ugnay sa organisasyon. Pinapaigting rin ang ugnay sa iba pang organisasyong pangkabataan at iba pang sektor.

Malaki ang bulto ng nagrali. Ang daming magsasakang nangunguna sa rali, galing sa iba’t ibang lugar ng Luzon. Karamihan, nakatsinelas lang. Umabot ang rali hanggang sa sandaan ng Claro M. Recto at J.P. Rizal. Ito ang paanan ng tulay ng Mendiola, at ang maiikling kalsada ng Mendiola.

Nasa harap kami ng U.E., at ito na nga ang kahiya-hiyang unibersidad na ang harapan ay ginawang sine at mall. Walang dangal na ang pangunahing harap ng unibersidad na kilala sa disenyong art deco ay biglang naging mall. May Jollibee sa bukana rin ng kampus.

Bigla na lang may putukan sa harapan. Ang kalakhan ng nasa rali ay nagsipagdapaan sa kalsada. Nagtaka ako, nakisigaw ng “Makibaka, huwag matakot.” At ilang mabilis na sandali pa ay nagkakandakumahog ang mga tao sa pagtakbo paatras. Naririnig kong nagpapatuloy ang putukan. Sunod-sunod, parang armalite. Malakas at nakakapangilabot na ang amoy ng kumakalat na tear gas. Ang daming ginamit ng militar para umamoy hanggang sa tinatakbuhan naming sa Recto. Tumungo kami sa gilid ng kalsada sa aming pagtakbo. Sa Recto kasi, maliban sa unang palapag, ang ibang palapag ay nakalabas sa sidewalk. Inisip kong mas ligtas ito kaysa tumakbo sa mismong kalsada.

Kumaliwa kami ng karipas sa Morayta tapos ay sa isang institute sa kabila ng Quezon Boulevard. Doon nagtipon ang mga dinisperse sa rali. Nagkaroon ng komand na tumungo sa Liwasang Bonifacio. Hindi pa malinaw na marami na palang namatay at nangasugatan sa paanan ng Mendiola.

Larawan sa paggunita sa ika-33 na anibersaryo ng Mendiola Massacre kahapon, Enero 22.

Sa Liwasang Bonifacio, nagsimula rin ang programa. Kabado ang marami pero nagpatuloy pa rin ang nagsasalita sa ibabaw ng jeep. Biglang may pulutong ng militar na sumunod sa Mendiola. Patuloy pa rin ang pagbatikos sa dispersal ng nagsasalita. Nagsimula muli ang putukan. Hanggang dito ba naman ay sistematikong dini-disperse ang rali. Tumakbo kami sa likod ng Post Office, umabot sa likod ng National Press Club.

Mangilan-ngilan na lang kami at natagpuan namin ang aming sarili na nasa ibabaw ng nakadaong na barge sa Pasig River. Mahapdi na ang mga mata namin dahil sa dami ng tear gas na pinasabog para matiyak ang pangalawang dispersal. May nakaisip na sumalok ng tubig sa ilog at gamitin ito para basain ang panyo at ipantapal sa mata. Naisip kong hindi nga kami mamamatay sa putok ng baril, mamamatay naman kami sa tetano dahil sa dumi ng tubig. Pero ito o lalo pang humapdi ang mga mata.

Sumakay akong papunta ng Faura at doon ay sumakay ng jeep pauwi sa Mandaluyong. May komand na huwag matulog sa sariling bahay, bilang pag-iingat sa hindi natatanyang pangyayari. Nakitulog ako sa kaibigan sa Makati. Tinatawid ng bangka ang bahaging ito ng Pasig River para makarating sa bahay ng kaibigan ko.

Mainit ang sabaw ng nilagang buto-buto. At totoo namang sabaw na lang ang naging ulam ko dahil biglaan ang aking pagdating. Ikinuwento ko ang pangyayari sa kaibigan kong manunulat at siya man ay may balita batay sa nasagap niya sa radyo at telebisyon. Nakinig din kami ng radyo bago ako natulog sa sala.

Dalawang beses pang mauulit ang mahabang araw na may kinalaman sa Mendiola. Una ay ang libing ni Rolando Olalia mga anim na buwan pa lamang matapos ng matagumpay na People Power. Mula sa U.P. Chapel at bago ilibing sa sementeryo sa Mandaluyong, idinaan ang bangkay ni Olalia at ng kasamang pinaslang nito sa Mendiola. Ikalawa ay ilang buwan lamang matapos ng tinawag na Mendiola Massacre, inilibing naman ang pinaslang na lider estudyante na si Lean Alejandro. Mula U.P. Chapel, nagmartsa ang daan-daang libo sa Mendiola bago ihatid sa Malabon.

Ang Mendiola ay dambana ng kontemporaryong pakikibaka ng mamamayan. Dito sa kanyang paanan, namumulat ang daan-daang libong nakikibahagi sa kolektibong karanasan sa kilusang pakikibaka. Dito sila inaalay, namumulat, idinadaan bago ilibing, nagiging martir at anak ng bayan. Dito sinisingil ang tampok na simbolo ng estado. Ang maikling daan ng Mendiola—sa pagitan ng magkabilang dulo ng Malakanyang at sambayanan—ay ang saksi sa digmaang-estado. #

‘Detained for interviewing protester’: Altermidya denounces arrest of Radyo Ni Juan reporter

AlterMidya

National alternative media group Altermidya strongly denounces the intimidation and arrest of Davao-based reporter Glenn Jester Hitgano of Radyo ni Juan. 

Hitgano was interviewing protesting workers from banana company Philippine Dream Farm Dev’t in Carmen, Davao del Norte on Jan. 21 when police cut short his interview and took him to the police station. 

The police claimed that Hitgano “insulted” them by interviewing the protesters, and attempted to handcuff the reporter. They also tried to confiscate his phone and demanded him to delete the interview.  

Hitgano was held for an hour, and was released only after convincing the police that he will not report on the workers’ protest. The Radyo ni Juan reporter said he covered the protest after receiving information that the workers were harassed by uniformed men the previous night. 

Altermidya condemns this attack on our colleague, who was clearly being coerced into silence by state forces who were uncomfortable with the truth. The arrest and intimidation of journalists like Hitgano is a blatant violation of media’s task of exposing the truth to the public. It is pure assault not just on press freedom but on the public’s right to know. 

Altermidya calls for an independent investigation to hold into immediate account the members of the Carmen police involved in this gross wrongdoing. State forces should be at the forefront of safeguarding rights such as free speech and expression, and not be the purveyors of abuse. 

NDFP: After successful ceasefire, time to release peace consultants

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) seeks the release of its detained peace consultants and staff as a goodwill measure to boost chances of peace talks resumption this month. 

Along with the success of the ongoing ceasefire between the Rodrigo Duterte administration and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said it is widely expected that the government ought to release consultants who are under detention.

“The release of the political prisoners on humanitarian grounds will ensure the success of the formal meeting to resume the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations within January,” Sison said.

He said the consultants are being detained in violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees that prohibits harassment, arrest and detention against personnel of both the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP negotiating panels.

Long-time NDFP peace consultants Vicente Ladlad, Adelberto Silva, Renante Gamara, Rey Claro Casambre, Frank Fernandez, Cleofe Lagtapon, Esterlita Suaybaguio, and Leopoldo Caloza as well as NDFP panel staff Alex and Winona Birondo were arrested in succession after negotiations broke down in November 2017. 

All had been similarly charged with illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives.

Consultant Rafael Baylosis was the first to be arrested in January 2018 but was released by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court a year later due to lack of evidence.

Consultants Eduardo Sarmiento and Ferdinand Castillo were arrested by previous administrations.

NDFP consultant Lora T. Manipis has been reported missing since February 24, 2018, last seen with her husband Jeruel B. Domingo in Kidapawan City.

Manipis joined other missing NDFP consultants believed abducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, such as Leo Velasco, Rogelio Calubad, Prudencio Calubid, NDFP staff members Philip Limjoco, Leopoldo Ancheta, and Federico Intise. 

Meanwhile, youngest NDFP consultant Randy Felix P. Malayao was assassinated in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya by still unidentified gunmen in January 2019. Another peace consultant, Sotero Llamas was killed in Tabaco, Albay in May 2006. 

Sison said Duterte should also immediately release sick and elderly political prisoners on humanitarian grounds.

“As regards the rest of the political prisoners, they can look forward to the general amnesty that is already slated for proclamation upon the approval of the Interim Peace Agreement (IPA),” Sison said.

Reaffirming past agreements

Sison said the formal meeting to resume the peace negotiations has the task of reaffirming all previous joint agreements since The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 and setting the agenda for negotiating and approving the Interim Peace Agreement 

The IPA has three components: 1. the general amnesty and release of all political prisoners; 2. approval of the articles of CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms) on land reform and national industrialization; and 3. coordinated unilateral ceasefires, Sison said.

“The CASER will benefit the entire Filipino people, including families of adherents to the GRP and NDFP, through land reform and the generation of jobs under the program of national industrialization. These provide the economic and social substance for a just peace,” Sison said.

He added that a resumption of formal negotiations shall effectively supersede all Duterte issuance that terminated and prevented peace negotiations since November 2017. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Scientists, green group condemn continuing detention of colleague

By SHERWIN DE VERA
www.nordis.net

VIGAN CITY – The Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) and Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) – Philippines condemned the continuing detention of environmental scientist, and peasant rights advocate Delilah “Delai” Padilla for trumped-up criminal charges filed by state forces in Cagayan Valley.

In separate statements, Agham and CEC said that Padilla’s apprehension and imprisonment are examples of attacks against environmental defenders and human rights advocates to silence and stop them from their advocacies. They also shared the significant contribution of Padilla to environmental defense and advocacy.

Delilah Padilla (Photo courtesy of AGHAM)

“As an environmental scientist, she was very dedicated to sharing her knowledge in far-flung communities that were experiencing environmental issues due to mining, logging, and pollution,” CEC Philippines said.

The institution added that “her work in environmental education resulted in improving the learning methods to promote the understanding of basic ecological principles among those who did not have formal schooling.”

Before relocating to Cagayan Valley, Padilla worked with CEC Philippines. She became part of the institution’s Environmental Research and Advocacy Program, where she worked to strengthen environmental education and awareness.

Later on, she also joined Agham to reach out to many scientists and encourage them to take part in people’s issues. In the early part of 2000, she became its Deputy Secretary-General.

According to Agham, Padilla headed the environmental investigation mission (EIM) in the coal mining areas in Cauayan, Isabela, in 2000. This undertaking exposed the dangers of coal mining and extractive industries to the people and the environment.

The group also noted that she was with the team that conducted the study on the impacts of the conversion of vast tracts of agricultural lands into monocrop plantations of Bt Corn in Isabela.

“Her temerity in the face of the glaring injustices that she saw challenged the status quo and helped stir the growing consciousness and will to act of the people she worked with. We know that her imprisonment will not deter her conviction to defend the environment and the people,” Agham said.

Agham lauded her for using her knowledge and expertise with the grassroots organizations and non-government sector “despite having the option to pursue a more lucrative career.”

According to the group, Padilla decided to move to Cagayan Valley after “realizing the need for a more proactive response to the needs of farmer communities.”

She was one of the conveners of Save the Valley, Serve the People, a broad multi-sectoral alliance against plunderous and destructive projects in the region. With her hard work and expertise, she earned respect and recognition of groups and communities, which eventually tasked her to become the spokesperson.

Padilla is a graduate of BS Biology from the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Baños. She also earned her Master in Environmental Science in UP Diliman.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) in Region 2 apprehended her on October 8 in Leonarda Village, Tuguegarao City in Cagayan. She is facing charges for assault, murder, frustrated murder, attempted murder, and robbery. The government placed a P700,000 bounty for her arrest. Also arrested in a separate operation on the same day were Violeta Ricardo and Cristeta Miguel. Authorities tagged the three as a ranking officer of the Cagayan Valley Regional Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

According to Danggayan ti Mannalon ti Cagayan Valley (Danggayan-CV), Padilla’s arrest came during their protest preparation for the October peasant month commemoration.

The number of environmental activists red-tagged, arrested for trumped-up charges and killed continues to rise, said Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment, with 225 killings recorded in the Philippines since 2001. This year, Global Witness, an international watchdog, reported the Philippines as the most dangerous country for land rights and environmental activists with 113 killed in the past three years alone. #

Water you up to, Mr. President?

By Sonny Africa

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is posturing against oligarchs again. This time, the tough talk is against corporate water giants Manila Water and Maynilad. It is a popular and justified stance – the firms make billions of pesos every year while consumers suffer expensive water and incomplete services.

The hope is that this comes from a real understanding of water as a human right where the oligarchy’s profit-seeking is seen as hindering the realization of this right. Or it might just be populist posturing against some oligarchs rather than the oligarchy.

Presidential threats

Pres. Duterte tapped into public outrage against the country’s water barons when he threatened the Ayala family and businessman Manny Pangilinan. They helm concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad, respectively. At a speech in Malacañang, the president angrily said that Filipinos are poor because oligarchs dominate the economy.

He said he would take action against them even if this made the country a pariah in the international community and among investors. Anyway, he said: “We can start from the beginning… nandiyan naman si Villar” (Villar is there). The uneasy reference to richest Filipino Manny Villar, whose rapidly expanding PrimeWater venture makes him the country’s fastest-rising water baron, only fueled criticisms of cronyism in play.

The president also called on his audience – including senators, cabinet members, and business folks – to stop this “business of milking the people.” At the end of his short speech, everyone rose to their feet clapping.

The government seems serious about going after the two Metro Manila water concessionaires. The Solicitor General said it will pursue ‘all remedies’ to contest the water arbitral rulings that worked against the government. The justice department identified a dozen provisions making the water concession agreements (CAs) ‘onerous’. To remedy this, the finance department is drafting replacement contracts supposedly more favorable to the government and the public.

The Metropolitan Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) said that it will cancel the irregular 15-year extension of the CAs beyond 2022 to 2037.

Pres. Duterte himself threatened to file economic sabotage cases against the water firms and government officials involved in the disagreeable water deals. When the new water contracts are drafted, he said the water firms can basically take it or leave it. He reportedly also promised to make the lives of the Ayalas and Pangilinan “very, very, very miserable”. Among others, he threatened to slap each of the billionaires and offered this as some kind of catharsis to Filipinos.

The posturing seems to have paid off. The water firms are reportedly waiving the Php10.8 billion awarded to them by their respective international tribunals – Php3.4 billion for Maynilad and Php7.4 billion for Manila Water. The firms will also defer higher water rates scheduled for January 1, 2020 and renegotiate their contracts.

Still, water privatization

So are things, finally, all settled on the water front? Unfortunately not, if the government still sticks to its water privatization policy.

Many of the issues raised by the Duterte administration echo issues raised long ago by the Philippine mass movement (which includes many organizations now being vilified and attacked by the government). Progressive groups criticized water privatization and the CAs from the time that they were being negotiated in 1997. The Water for the People Network (WPN) meanwhile was at the forefront of civil society campaigning in 2013 against water rate hikes bloated by corporate income tax, non-implemented infrastructure projects, and a host of other irregular items.

Thus government’s apparent epiphany is welcome to the extent that it moderates corporate water profiteering. This relief is long overdue. Since the start of water privatization, water rates have increased seven-fold in the West Zone under Maynilad (573% increase) and ten-fold in the East Zone under Manila Water (871%). These rate increases far outpace inflation over that same period.

Water privatization proponents often justify expensive water with the argument: “The most expensive water is no water.” Yet beyond the catchiness, the reality is that water has become unaffordable especially for lower income families. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3% of household income. Yet WPN, in its studies in 2013, found poor families in Metro Manila paying as much as 7-22% of their household income for water which is so basic to survive.

The rate increases support huge profits. In 2013, WPN noted that the two water firms had returns on investment conspicuously higher than in telecommunications, power and housing. In the last 15 years, Maynilad made around Php68 billion in profits and Manila Water some Php61 billion. In 2018 alone, the water firms raked in around Php6.6 billion in profits each. Profits are also boosted by increasing water demand from explosive Metro Manila urban over-development – meaning that the Ayala group, also a major real estate developer, profits twice over.

Water rates and the water firms’ profits would be even higher if large water rates hikes had not been stifled following citizen- and mass movement-driven protests and campaigning in 2013.

The ‘losses’ claimed by the water firms and brought to arbitration are largely about the corporate income taxes that they were disallowed from charging to water consumers. These are potentially enormous and, in the case of Manila Water, would have summed to around Php79 billion passed on to consumers from 2015-2037.

Under an unchanged framework of privatization, there are reasons to doubt whether government’s renegotiated concession agreements will be able to completely rectify these problems. The basically profit-driven approach is inappropriate and will inevitably result in contracts still unnecessarily skewed towards ensuring private profit even at the expense of social objectives.

Privatization means having public utilities and social services run by the private sector. The private sector is assumed to be inherently more efficient than the public sector and, hence, able to provide the utility or service better. The better services, it is argued, justify the more expensive prices and resulting profits.

The new renegotiated contract terms are still undetermined so it is hard to say how far two decades of expensive water and unmet sanitation targets can be corrected. Still, the global experience with water privatization may provide some clues of the prospects.

Reversing water privatization

By now, many may believe that water privatization is commonplace. Yet water privatization really only started in the 1990s and the 1997 privatization of MWSS was actually one of the first and the biggest at the time.

Privatized water is actually a minority worldwide and even in retreat.

There are around 500 large cities worldwide with a population of over one million, including the big cities in Metro Manila. Despite the wave of water privatization starting in the 1990s, 82% of these cities and their populations are actually still served by public providers.

Moreover, privatized water has been in retreat in the last decade or so. Many of the reasons for this happening abroad are familiar to Metro Manila residents: steep water rate increases, inadequate service coverage, insufficient infrastructure investment, opaqueness, and lack of accountability.

Driven by the incompatibility of the human right to water with privatization, more and more water services have been nationalized since the mid-2000s. Erstwhile privatized water services in at least 267 cities in 37 countries have returned to, or are in advanced stages of returning to, public sector hands. Nearby, this includes Jakarta in Indonesia and Selangor in Malaysia.

Elsewhere in Asia, water services are being nationalized in India and Kazakhstan. This is also happening in countries from Argentina to Uruguay in South America, from Ghana to Tanzania in Africa, from France to Sweden in Europe, and even in the US and Canada. Uruguay and the Netherlands have even gone so far as making water privatization illegal.

The nationalization of water services – or ‘remunicipalization’ as it is also called – occurs at many levels. It has been literally national in Uruguay, regional as in Argentina, city level as in Indonesia, and at the municipal or community level as in France and the US.

Water for the people

Nationalization is the real alternative to water privatization. It is the best way to ensure that water is provided as a service instead of operated as a business.

The concession agreements should be terminated as the starting point for returning Metro Manila water services to full public ownership, management and control. Government officials and the water firms should also be held accountable for over two decades of water service misdeeds.

There is a seemingly powerful counterargument to renationalizing water – why return Metro Manila water services to the government which did such a poor job of running it over two decades ago and was the reason for privatization to begin with? Privatization is flawed, it is argued, but public water is worse.

The concern is legitimate. Metro Manila water services in the 1990s certainly needed much improvement. Yet the Metro Manila and global experience these decades past are strong arguments that water should be run as a public service rather than as a business.

The drive for profits is so powerful as to override social concerns. Businesses are inherently profit-seeking and will necessarily put profits above social considerations – otherwise, they would not be businesses any more. Governments on the other hand are supposed to put social considerations above all.

Businesses will always charge a profit premium. Apparently, they will also underinvest if this will make their profit-seeking risky. In effect, water businesses will give people the water services they want as long as these are water services the business wants to give. If forced to do otherwise they will not also not hesitate to bring the State to court.

Which raises the question – how can the government improve how it runs water services? First of all, we can rule out privatization for that. The MWSS has overly relied on the water concessionaires over the past two decades. Not only has it foregone building capacity over that period, it even eroded whatever capacity it already had.

The government should seriously consider options not relying on profit-maximization. Profit-seeking underlies all variants of privatization and public-private partnerships (PPPs). There are, for instance, public-public partnerships (PUPs). These are collaborations between two public authorities on the basis of solidarity and the spirit of improving public services.

The Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) already reports 137 water service PUPs in around 70 countries as of 2018. PSIRU even observed that “the number of implemented PUPs largely exceeds the number of privatized contracts in the global water sector”. Such not-for-profit partnerships to build non-commercialized water and sewerage systems are the most appropriate capacity-building arrangements for realizing water as a human right.

Democratic public water

Giving citizen groups a greater role in water services can also help check corruption, abuses and inefficiency. It is already well-established that civil society organizations are vital for reflecting needs of local communities, mobilizing these to support policies and projects, and holding governments accountable. Democratic and transparent governance is not easy – but it is necessary and possible.

The political and economic interests behind neoliberalism understandably oppose nationalization of water services. This would be a direct rebuttal of their claims that corporate profit-seeking can deliver the public service that people need and deserve as a matter of human right – and on such a huge and profitable flagship privatization project as Metro Manila water no less. It is also inconsistent with the market-biased and foreign investor-friendly preferences of economic policy elites.

There is however more than enough reason to let go of the cherished neoliberal dogma that pursuing private gain through free markets is the best way to achieve optimal social outcomes. The last few months have already seen protests and uprisings around the world. Although appearing to be on disparate issues, their common root is the neoliberal economic model imposed on populations worldwide for nearly four decades. This has caused such dire consequences for so many.

In the Philippines, nationalization of water services would be a significant beachhead to advance the counterattack against neoliberalism and reclaim the economy for the people. Which is exactly why the Duterte administration, for all its posturing, is most unlikely to go in that direction. As always, sustained social and political dissent is the key to upholding the interests of the majority –indeed, more than ever in these times of neoliberal authoritarianism. #

December 19 and the quest for justice

ON DECEMBER 19, the day set by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 for the promulgation of its much-awaited verdict on the Ampatuan massacre, it will be 10 years and 25 days since the killings occurred in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.

Let that sink in: a decade of injustice. Ten years since 58 men and women, of whom 32 were journalists and media workers, were brutally killed in the worst election-related violence in the Philippines and the worst attack on journalists in history. These are millions of moments when swift decisive justice could have been served on the alleged perpetrators of the crime and its masterminds.

On December 19, the Filipino public expects nothing less than a conviction from Quezon City RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes. But the Ampatuan case is one more indication of the fact that in the Philippines, a verdict in the lower courts even on a patently heinous crime will take at least a decade. It proves that impunity thrives for the powerful, while for the victims of crimes such as the Ampatuan massacre, a decade can pass without attaining justice.

A decade has indeed passed but the conditions that led to the Ampatuan massacre remain: political dynasties and patronage are still alive, paramilitary groups have not been dismantled, and the Ampatuans’ collusion with the administration — Arroyo then and Duterte now — still persists.

But in this climate when attacks against free expression and the press escalate relentlessly – from the killings of journalists to illegal arrests to online attacks – we should remain undaunted. Despite the stark lesson on how elusive justice is from the Ampatuan massacre case, journalists, activists, and advocates must not only soldier on, but also up the ante in the fight to shatter the culture of impunity that has enveloped the nation.

A conviction of the Ampatuans would be considered an initial victory against impunity. An acquittal, on the other hand, would spell death to press freedom.

December 19 will not only underscore how elusive justice is in our country. It should also be a time for all of us to renew our commitment to continue fighting for it no matter the cost, and no matter how long.

On December 19, let us express our solidarity with the families of the Ampatuan massacre victims and register our resounding call: Justice for the 58 massacre victims. End Impunity. Convict the Ampatuans.

* Pooled editorial of the members of the AlterMidya Network, a national organization of independent media outfits in the Philippines.

No more transfer of political detainees, BJMP assures families

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has agreed to stop the reported mass transfer of political prisoners from its Bicutan Taguig facility to various jails nationwide, a human rights group said.

In a statement, families of political prisoners under the group Kapatid said it met with BJMP deputy for operations Gen. Dennis Rocamora last Thursday morning, December 12, who assured them the detainees in Bicutan would spend the Christmas season together.

“We gave our letter to Gen. Rocamora appealing to stop the mass transfer of political prisoners out of Bicutan through the seemingly legal process of court motions this Christmas season,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

Earlier, government prosecutors have asked to transfer National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants Frank Fernandez, Adelberto Silva and his companions, called the “Sta. Cruz 5”, to the Laguna Provincial Jail; Rey Casambre to Bacoor Jail; and government union organizer Oliver Rosales to Malolos City Jail.

Farmer Maximo Reduta from Southern Quezon was transferred to Gumaca District Jail last month.

“This transfer scheme would in effect result in the dissolution of the entire political prisoner’s wing in Bicutan,” Lim said.

During the dialogue, however, Rocamora reportedly assured Kapatid that the BJMP has ordered the warden of Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 to stop the transfer of all political prisoners out of Bicutan.
In addition, the BJMP will no longer file requests to the court for transfer of political prisoners and not oppose or counter the opposition filed in court by lawyers of affected political prisoners concerning existing motions for their transfer, Kapatid reported.
Also, the BJMP will no longer act on the old list of a previous warden for the transfer of some political prisoners, the group added.

Kapatid said that no political prisoner in Bicutan wants to be transferred because of concerns for their personal security.
“We hope and pray that the BJMP will fulfill its assurances to Kapatid,” Lim said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)