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Streetwise by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo: Dealing with Duterte

We have been getting “I-told-you-so” and “why-do-you-still-put-up-with-him” reactions from quite a number of well-meaning people here and abroad after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao and withdrew the government negotiating panel form the 5th round of peace talks with the NDFP effectively causing its collapse.

As far as they are concerned, President Duterte and his regime are not so much as “unfolding” but more of “unravelling”. Now a quick explanation on the difference between the two as applied to the Duterte phenomenon and as it is currently being used in the Left’s parlance.

“Unfolding” essentially means Duterte can either turn more to the Left or the Right in so far as his policies and actuations depending on several key factors and developments. “Unravelling” means he is what he is – a conventional/traditional politician who has managed to reach the top of the heap and is now the CEO of the reactionary ruling system – ergo he will inevitably reveal himself as such despite his claim that he is “Leftist” and “socialist”.

The implications of whether one leans to the “unfolding” or the “unravelling” scenario is crucial because it informs one’s attitude towards the Duterte regime and how one deals with him.

After Duterte’s one year in office, it is clear that the national democratic movement in the country – ranging from the revolutionaries waging armed struggle to the political activists leading the struggle for basic reforms in the legal arena – have no illusions about the current regime.

Duterte’s rise to power has not made a dent on the semifeudal, semicolonial character of Philippine. The local oligarchy of big landlords, big comprador and bureaucrat capitalists still lord it over society, tightly controlling the levers of power. The country’s former colonizer, the US of A, still dominates and interferes in all spheres of national life – economic, political and cultural. This despite Duterte’s rant spiced with curses against the US and the oligarchy in general (and some specific ones he just can’t abide), and grand promises of socio-economic reforms to benefit the people.

All the statements coming from the Left of the political spectrum on Duterte’s first year are highly critical and on many policies and programs, even denunciatory – martial law; the Marawi siege; the so-called war on drugs; the counterinsurgency program against the CPP-NPA-NDFP; political repression of peasants, workers and urban poor fighting for their rights; the continuation of anti-people/pro-elite and anti-national/pro-foreign monopoly capitalist economic policies; US military presence and involvement in internal armed conflicts; persistence of corruption, bad governance, patronage politics and impunity for grievous human rights violations.

But still the Left is giving Duterte some benefit of the doubt mainly because of two major policy changes – the resumption of peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP and the appointment of their nominees in three Cabinet positions. This is what is being referred to as significant and concrete evidence of the “unfolding”.

To some this would appear to be self-serving but in reality, there is sound basis for giving weight to these hallmark decisions of President Duterte. If the peace negotiations are to be pursued by both sides in earnest in order to address the underlying roots of armed conflict and thereby arrive at a negotiated settlement on the basis of fundamental socio-economic and political reforms, then we are looking at the dawning of the just and lasting peace our people have been longing for.

In the same vein, the appointment of outstanding and competent leaders from the Left in the Duterte Cabinet is an unprecedented move that is in tandem with his peace initiative. It is a grand confidence-building measure that gives credence to his idea of “inclusivity” in his government. Moreover, given the integrity, commitment and hard work the three Cabinet officials have consistently demonstrated in the last year – they are a boost to the Duterte regime in more ways than one.

Too bad the GRP-NDFP peace talks have been subjected to a lot of delays and now, a major impasse, because of the countervailing pressure of the right-wingers – pro-US militarists and rabid anti-communists – whose idea of the peace negotiations is providing a graceful exit for the surrender and cooptation of the revolutionary movement but without conceding any significant socio-economic and political reforms.

This has translated into the insistence on putting the cart before the horse; that is, getting the NDFP to agree to an interim, bilateral, open-ended ceasefire ahead of inking the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR).

The GRP insists that a bilateral ceasefire complete with terms of reference as to buffer zones, what constitute violations, third party monitoring, etc makes for an “enabling environment” for the peace talks. This goes along with the notion propagated in the mass media by the GRP and so-called peace advocates that ceasefires are sine qua non to peace negotiations between two warring parties.

The NDFP for its part will only enter into a bilateral ceasefire, even an interim one preceding a Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF), when the CASER is signed and all political prisoners are released in accord with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

The NDFP sees a premature bilateral ceasefire as anathema to the objective of achieving a just peace. They anticipate that the GRP will lose all interest in negotiating, much less implementing, CASER and CAPCR once it gets a bilateral ceasefire. The revolutionary forces are admittedly on the strategic defensive because of the huge disparity between the strength of the Armed Forces of the Philippines versus the New People’s Army. A bilateral ceasefire would put it on the tactical defensive as well, tying the NPA’s hands in terms of defending territory under its shadow governance and protecting the gains of its revolutionary programs in the countryside.

The CPP-NPA-NDFP knows from experience that the GRP will not cease its counterinsurgency operations that wreak havoc on peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities even when short-term, unilateral simultaneous ceasefires are in place as in the 5-month period spanning the resumption up till the third round of peace talks.

Too bad as well that the confirmation of the progressive Cabinet officials, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano and Social Work Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, hang in the balance certainly not because of any charges of corruption, incompetence or partiality but because Duterte’s enlightened policy in dealing with the Left is steadily being undermined as he swings to the Right.

Meanwhile, the Left as a whole is not passively watching Duterte and events unfold. The task of exposing and opposing the anti-people policies of his regime is firmly being carried out. All forms of struggle – armed and unarmed – are being pursued in order to defend and uphold the people’s rights and welfare. Through the peace talks, the progressives in the Duterte Cabinet and most especially the democratic movement of peasants, workers, urban poor and the middle forces in society, the Left continues to engage – unite and struggle as the case may be – the Duterte regime.

It is a complex, difficult and often dangerous approach but must be done if the Left is to seize and maximize all openings for pushing truly meaningful change in this country, with or without Rodrigo Roa Duterte. # (First published in Business World, 3 July 2017)

 

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STREETWISE: High stakes confirmation hearing

Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
On Wednesday 3 progressive cabinet members — Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, Social Welfare Secrtary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano — are up for confirmation by the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA).
They have been twice bypassed by the CA and subsequently twice reappointed in the interim by President Rodrigo Duterte. But because the current CA has approved a rule that a cabinet member may only be bypassed three times after which the CA will have to reject or confirm the concerned official, it appears that Wednesday will be the final showdown.
The backstory to this is very interesting if only because it is so unusual.  Newly elected President Duterte surprised everyone when, even before he was sworn to office, he offered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) four Cabinet positions.
Pres. Duterte said the four departments he offered to the CPP – Labor, Agrarian Reform, Social Welfare, and Environment and Natural Resources – dealt with the “most oppressed” and that the Left was known to be “the most vigilant” when it comes to pressing national issues. He also related his offer to restarting peace talks with the revolutionary movement under the umbrella of the National Democratic Front of the Philipiines (NDFP).
In response, NDFP Chief Political Consultant and CPP Founding Chairperson Jose Ma. Sison welcomed the offer but said the CPP could not accept any position not until the peace negotiations had reached the point of a comprehensive peace settlement. In the meantime, Sison said the NDFP could nominate people who are patriotic, progressive, competent, honest, and diligent but not necessarily communists.
Upon the NDFP’s recommendation, Pres. Duterte appointed University of the Philippines Professor and former political prisoner Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Long-time peasant leader and former Anakpawis Party List representative Rafael Mariano became secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The labor portfolio eventually went to former Justice Secretary Sylvestre Bello III, concurrent head of the government peace panel negotiating with the NDFP, while that of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) went to Gina Lopez, a known environmentalist and scion of a wealthy business clan.
The appointment of Leftists and social activists, including former Gabriela Party List prepresentative Liza Maza to the National Anti-poverty Commission, lent credence to President Duterte’s avowal that he too was a “leftist” and a “socialist” even as this became fodder for accusations of his political enemies that the Duterte administration had betrayed the country to the communists.
Policy differences surfaced when the burial of the so-called remains of the Dictator Marcos was allowed by President Duterte at the Libingan ng mga Bayani setting off a torrent of mass protests wherein victims of martial rule and anti-dictatorship activists from the Left figured prominently.  Taguiwalo, Mariano and Maza stood their ground in opposition to the Marcos burial but asserted that this was not sufficient basis for them to resign their posts.
While snide remarks surfaced in social media intimating that the three had sold their souls to the devil, these accusations of cooptation did not gain much traction.  The three have proven to be one of the most hardworking, competent, and upright in the Duterte Cabinet.  They have navigated the perilous course of holding top government positions and being subjected  to myriad pressures and enticements while remaining true to their Leftist principles and continuing to serve their “most oppressed” constituents.
The lines began to be drawn for Sec. Taguiwalo during the budget hearings last year.  Many congresspersons, not least of which were those in the leadership of the House of Representatives, objected to and resented the attempts of the DSWD to ensure that the department’s beneficiaries are those truly in need and not merely “lucky” recipients of patronage politics. A compromise was eventually hammered out: congresspersons’ recommendations would be taken into account and given weight by the DSWD even as the set of qualifications specified by the agency would prevail.
But that wasn’t the end of it. The “honorable” congresspersons wanted ironclad assurances from Sec. Taguiwalo that certain funds they had earmarked for the DSWD would only be spent in their districts in accord with their wishes.  In other words the old pork barrel system was alive and well albeit disguised as an informal arrangement between the head of agency and the “honorable” congresspersons. When Taguiwalo refused to play along, her confirmation in the CA was placed in jeopardy.
As for DAR Secretary Mariano, one of his orders that raised the hackles of his fellow Cabinet members particularly the economic managers, was the DAR proposal for a two-year moratorium on land use conversion. Mariano wanted to put the breaks on rampant conversion of farmlands for residential, industrial, commercial or mixed-use purposes. Not only has land use conversion been a tried-and-tested way to go around land reform, it has even been used to cover up landgrabbing itself.  But apart from frustrating the ends of social justice as envisioned by a series of failed land reform programs, this proposed moratorium is in line with ensuring the country’s food security what with the rapidly shrinking agricultural land devoted to food production.
Needless to say, the big landowners in the country especially the owners of sprawling haciendas and corporate farms are literally up in arms over Secretary Mariano’s unflinching support for the right of the tillers of the land – tenants and farm workers – to own their own plots of land.  Recent attempts of DAR to install agrarian reform beneficiaries in land awarded but forcibly taken from them have met with armed resistance from private security guards and hired goons. In some instances, the police have averred that they cannot help DAR enforce its orders because they are outnumbered and outfirepowered by private security forces.
DENR Secretary Lopez’ decision last February to close 23 mines and suspend five others for breaching environmental standards together with the cancellation of 75 contracts for mining projects located in watersheds constituted a declaration of war against large-scale corporate mining in the country.  For this the country’s mining firms banded together to not only oppose her confirmation, but to file corruption charges against her before the Ombudsman.
Too bad Lopez’ anti-mining stance is popular among a public reminded of the horrendous toll on the environment and affected communities from mining accidents and the over-all destructive effects of large-scale mining operations. Moreover her boss, President Duterte, has continued to back her.
For its part, the NDFP recently stated that it views “in very positive terms the presence of (the three) in the Duterte cabinet”.  Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP Panel chair said, “Ka Paeng will play an important role in implementing a program of free land distribution for poor peasants. Ka Judy will likewise play an important role in implementing expanded social services for the people. Gina Lopez meanwhile has expressed willingness to work with the revolutionary forces in protecting the environment against destructive mining operations. They will no doubt be helpful in implementing a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) that may be agreed upon by the GRP and NDFP.”
The stakes are truly high in the confirmation hearing of the three officials on Wednesday. Will the people’s clamor for meaningful reforms be dealt another serious blow by reactionary interests through their front men in the Commission on Appointments? #
Published in Business World
1 May 2017
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STREETWISE: Out of a quagmire

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

STREETWISE: History in the making

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

Streetwise
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Why peace talks still hang in the balance
And so it has come to this.  After stoking such high expectations about the resumption of peace talks between the  Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and what the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)  considers the top “security threat” in the country today — the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) — President Rodrigo Duterte now scoffs at the  strength and significance of these revolutionary forces.  He also calls their acknowledged leader, Jose Maria Sison, who he had earlier respectfully referred to as his political mentor, “arrogant” for rapping him about giving ultimatums to the revolutionary movement.
During non-stop visits to military camps all over the country, Mr. Duterte in effect tells his audience of military officials and soldiers, in his signature kanto boy style, that he thinks he is doing the CPP-NPA-NDFP a big favor by engaging them in peace negotiations.
Why, he even declared a unilateral ceasefire effective immediately at his SONA, no less.
But the CPP-NPA-NDFP did not reciprocate with its own unilateral ceasefire declaration after he gave a deadline of 5pm last July 30. (The CPP announced it would make a declaration at 8pm).
So Mr. Duterte lifts the GRP’s unilateral ceasefire at 7pm and he tells the military and the police that they can go back to what they have been trying to do for more than four decades; that is, defeat the NPA militarily and decimate the CPP and NDFP cadre corps through a “legal offensive” utilizing fabricated criminal cases. (Not surprisingly, he sounds much less belligerent and derisive of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, if at all, when addressing a non-military audience, such as the PCCRV.)
But wait a minute. Mr. Duterte’s peace adviser Jesus Dureza says the August 20 talks are still on track. So does Mr. Luis Jalandoni, NDFP chief peace negotiator. What is going on here?
As it turns out, a unilateral ceasefire declaration, whether by the GRP or the CPP-NPA-NDFP, was never a precondition to the resumption of the peace talks in Oslo, Norway.  As a matter of fact, the consensus reached by the two sides last June 15 (contained in their Oslo Joint Statement) was that the “mode of interim ceasefire” would be discussed when the formal talks resumed in July alongside “an amnesty declaration for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to the concurrence of Congress”.
Mr. Duterte’s dramatic declaration of a unilateral ceasefire at his July 25 SONA was his big-bang gesture that unfortunately ended in a whimper.
When Duterte’s people failed to communicate to the NDFP the full text of the AFP SOMO (Suspension of Offensive Military Operations) and the PNP SOPO (Suspension of Offensive Police Operations) in a timely manner; military maneuvers and occupation of rural civilian communities continued unabated; an armed clash took place resulting in the death of a member of a notorious paramilitary group — all these contributed to a delay in the CPP-NPA-NDFP’s reciprocal declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.
In the end, Mr. Duterte’s precipitate ceasefire declaration was undermined by his own people as well as his precipitate decision to recall it — two hours after his arbitrary deadline and one hour before the anticipated CPP-NPA-NDFP announcement of its ceasefire.
In the meantime, there have been no releases of the more than 500 political prisoners nationwide and counting. As in zero. Zilch. This, after Mr. Duterte’s ever-so-generous offer to grant a general amnesty in meetings with the NDFP official representative, even before his inauguration. “I know most if not all of them (political prisoners) are being held on trumped-up charges” he reportedly said, priding himself to know, after having been a prosecutor for many years, the quality of justice meted out in Philippine courts.
Twenty two NDFP peace consultants remain behind bars, three of them convicted, on the basis of trumped-up criminal cases.  There are more than eighty political prisoners who are sick, elderly, husband-and-wife detainees, or for other humanitarian considerations, deserve to be released immediately.
Like all political prisoners, they are victims of political persecution and  an ongoing miscarriage of justice as part of the government’s insidious scheme to deal with political dissenters by illegally arresting them, placing them in indefinite detention until they can be convicted of spurious criminal charges and then made to rot in prison for the rest of their productive lives.
By the way, the easiest way to do this is to plant a piece of grenade in their belongings upon arrest for that makes their case non-bailable. (The grenade is recyclable for the next unsuspecting victim.) No use charging them with the more appropriate political crime of simple rebellion since that is more difficult to prove and is, in fact, bailable.
It goes without saying that they are vilified as “communist terrorists”, murderers, arsonists, robbers, kidnappers and what have you all the better to deny them any kind of public sympathy. (Notably, they do not pin the favorite and most reviled kind of crime of late, illegal drug trafficking, against these activists and revolutionaries because that would indeed be laughable.)
Not that political dissenters are no longer the object or targets of extrajudicial killing by the state’s security forces. It’s just that dealing with the so many “enemies of the state” via this most brutal of means as in the time of President Gloria Arroyo, raised a howl of protest from the local and international human rights community.  Too costly politically so the government came up with this “legal offensive” scheme.
The Arroyo regime put up the Inter-agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) tasked to investigate, prosecute, monitor and handle litigation processes of cases involving national security.  It ended up as the government agency responsible for fabricating criminal lawsuits against the alleged top leadership of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and even political activists that the government suspects are members or supporters of the revolutionary movement.  The IALAG has officially been abolished but its function has been institutionalized in the state’s police, prosecutorial as well as judicial system.
Taken in this light, the call for the release of all political prisoners is valid in its own right.
As a means to forging ahead with the peace negotiations and ultimately achieving a just and lasting peace, their release gains even more urgency and is deserving of the broadest public support. #
Published in Business World
8 August 2016
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STREETWISE:Peace Talks 101

By Carol P. Araullo

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

STREETWISE: The Duterte presidency – interesting & challenging times

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Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Business World
7 June 2016

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STREETWISE: Electoral quick fix by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

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

Streetwise
Elections — the ultimate con game
Whoever figuratively likened Philippine elections to a circus decades ago could not have imagined how literally true the metaphor has become these days. Aside from the carnival atmosphere and blaring jingles, there are the candidates trying all sorts of tricks to dazzle and convince us of their worth, and the assortment of clowns and bizarre side shows.
The kind of fakery expected from candidates includes motherhood statements about concern for the poor and underprivileged and the willingness to serve no matter the personal sacrifice.  For incumbent officials or politicians poised for a comeback, there are the exaggerated claims of achievement such as thousands of scholars and grateful charity patients plus a train of downtrodden folk who supposedly benefited from the candidate’s kindheartedness and generosity.
Then there are the perennial promises: to wipe out corruption and criminality; to uplift the poor; to provide jobs and basic social services; to grow the economy; to make government transactions transparent and officials accountable; to lead by example; etc. ad nauseam.
Personal narratives intended to make the candidate appear to be a man or woman of the masses are part of the stratagem.  The five presidentiables exemplify this old ploy.
Jejomar Binay grew up poor and struggling, at some point allegedly having to feed slop to pigs. The dark color of his skin and modest height are used to underscore his humble beginnings.  Several terms as Makati City’s mayor supposedly seals his credentials as a more-than-able and pro-poor public official.  Nothing is said about how he became incredibly rich just by being a public servant.
Rodrigo Duterte is the macho, foul-mouthed, no-nonsense man-of-action.  His claim to fame is Davao City’s touted crime-free, peaceful and disciplined social environment.  He may not be virtuous, nor does he display the requisite good manners and right conduct for the presidency, but he is supposedly the decisive leader the country needs to create order from the chaotic mess we are in.  We are asked to disregard disturbing reports about extrajudicial killings sanctioned by Mayor Duterte and suspicions that his quick-fix solution to criminality is via authoritarian rule.
Grace Poe’s narrative as a foundling, despite her being adopted by a well-to-do showbiz celebrity couple, and her almost being disqualified from running on this score, has given her a patina of being an underdog.  She also capitalizes on her late father’s film persona as hero of the oppressed.  Poe complements this mystique by her simple and straightforward demeanor that makes her appear accessible to ordinary folk.  Still, questions about her qualifications and patriotism continue to dog her candidacy.
Miriam Defensor-Santiago capitalizes on her middle class background and her achievements as a seasoned lawyer, judge and legislator. Her witticisms, sharp tongue and legendary temper directed effectively against her political pet peeves goes hand-in-hand with her cultivated image as the nemesis of corrupt and incompetent officials.
Too bad for Mar Roxas, there can be no denying that his background reeks of wealth and privilege as scion of Negros sugar barons and the Roxas political dynasty.  His academic credentials as graduate of an exclusive American university; his work as an investment banker; his record as a bureaucrat then a legislator under several administrations; his campaign based on the tiresome “daang matuwid” catchphrase of the incumbent regime while taking advantage of government resources to fuel his campaign — all these reinforce the perception that Roxas knows little about the travails of the common tao, much less does he empathize with their plight. So much for his narrative.
As to be expected, whatever platforms these candidates stand for are reduced to platitudes, pie-in-the-sky promises, or bombastic demagoguery that have nothing to do with finding genuine solutions to the fundamental problems of Philippine society.
As the elections day draws near, the mudslinging becomes even more frenzied. Every candidate’s gaffe or deepest, darkest secret is pounced upon by his or her opponents to try to pull that candidate down or gain an advantage before the next round of election surveys. The side shows keep the public preoccupied, distracted, entertained or disgusted as the case may be.
In the midst of all this, the technical operators of the grand electoral carnival do their thing, their presence and service accepted as a necessity, their competence and efficiency assumed and taken for granted.  As in a real carnival, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in this case is responsible for seeing to it that all the rides, all the tricks and special effects, are safe and secure with all necessary safeguards in place. A single flaw, a single missing bolt or defective electrical circuitry could result in fatal disaster.
The COMELEC has always had a spotty if not downright suspect record, but controversies and charges of anomalies are invariably brushed aside as mere “sour graping” by losers. Two elections have been held using the automated election system (AES) with COMELEC allowing a US-based multinational corporation, SMARTMATIC, to do the electronic count and canvass without the safeguards provided for by law, akin to allowing the ferris wheel and roller coaster rides to operate without checking the integrity of the mechanical and electrical components.
The hacking of COMELEC’s vast database dubbed “COMELEAK” has compromised security of voters’ data and makes voters vulnerable to all sorts of heists via identity theft.  This only shows what kind of work ethic the COMELEC works under —  gross negligence instead of due diligence in performing its crucial task of safeguarding the sanctity of the ballot;  irresponsibility rather than responsibility.
COMELEC continues to promote the myth that speed in counting the ballots and transmitting results using the AES can substitute for accuracy and dependability in reflecting the will of the electorate.  Moreover, in the era of pre-election and post-election exit surveys, the credibility of the polls seems to hinge on whether the outcomes hew closely to the foregoing survey results no matter an abundance of election anomalies.
The illusion of elections as a democratic exercise is maintained by the noise and the hoopla of the electoral circus.  To place our hope for real change in such periodic spectacle is to allow ourselves to be conned as well as screwed again and again. #
Published in Business World
25 April 2016
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STREETWISE: The lure of strongman rule by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Photo by Noel Godines/Nordis.net

Photo by Noel Godines/Nordis.net

Streetwise

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is leading in the latest surveys on who voters are inclined to choose as vice president come May 9. The news is troubling as well as perplexing.

The prospect that the political heirs of the Dictator Marcos will be returning to Malacanang marks a major advance in the full blown historical revisionism pertaining to the Marcos era and the recycling of the Marcosian legacy as blueprint for national progress.

We are faced with the concrete reality of the full reinstatement of the Marcoses in this nation’s politics after serially capturing gubernatorial, congressional and senatorial positions. Whether or not Filipinos will become the laughing stock of the world, as Marcos oppositionist Sen. Serge Osmeña puts it, certainly the joke will be on us.

The general thrust of Marcos Jr’s campaign has been to paint his father’s 20 years as president, 14 of which was under martial rule, as the “golden years” of the nation and to completely deny all its egregious wrongdoing as either nonexistent, exaggerations or mere exceptions to the rule. History’s judgement that the US-backed Marcos dictatorship was an abomination that was rightfully overthrown by our people can only be further obscured and undermined.

The massive and systematic violations of the people’s democratic rights; the plunder of the national treasury, economy and patrimony by the Marcoses, their local and foreign business cronies and favored multinational corporations and banks; the surrender of economic sovereignty to the IMF-World Bank; the surrender of national sovereignty to US imperialist geopolitical interests foremost of which were the US bases on Philippine soil; the monopoly and abuse of power and the brutal suppression of any and all opposition; the entrenchment of a culture of corruption, gangsterism and impunity in the civil and military/police bureaucracy and the list goes on — these crimes against the people and the nation have yet to be fully accounted for much less punishment rendered to those accountable.
Wielding unrestrained state power to the hilt with the full backing of the US and with the legislative and judiciary branches of government under his heels, Marcos became the quintessential bureaucrat-capitalist far surpassing any of his predecessors and eventually becoming the envy of his successors.

Marcos Jr. is already taking advantage of the collective amnesia that has taken hold of the national consciousness, aided and abetted by negligent educational and cultural institutions including the dominant mass media. The quest for truth and justice will surely become more unreachable as the Marcoses leverage their national political clout to further hamstrung efforts to flush out their ill-gotten wealth; grow their grassroots mass base and political machinery; spread their influence within the state security apparatus; rekindle close ties with US political leaders and strategic agencies; and cultivate an image of a “visionary” and “strong” leadership in popular culture as well as in elite social circles.

It must be perplexing to the leaders of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacanang (CARMMA) and similarly-minded and motivated groups, why Marcos Jr’s ratings have even gone higher instead of going down as they had hoped.

There are some who say that the high profile anti-Bongbong Marcos campaign has merely promoted his candidacy rather than dissuaded people from voting for him. Any conclusion, however, that there is this cause-and-effect relationship is purely speculative and suspiciously self-serving. It leads to the unacceptable conclusion that we should just all have kept quiet and let Marcos Jr. claim his victory after a seemingly unstoppable, well-oiled campaign.

The Left is even twitted for belatedly launching the campaign to thwart Marcos Jr’s bid to become vice president; more to the point, that the Left should have stepped up the campaign when Marcos Jr. ran and won as senator three years ago.

Perhaps the Left had underestimated the capacity of the Marcoses to bounce back, what with all the loot they still have hidden and the opportunistic politics of accommodation practiced by the ruling elite. The Left probably underestimated the effect of thirty years of relative freedom for a generation of young people who had no basis of comparison with the dark years of martial law. And most of all there was the underestimation of the gall by which these thick-skinned Marcoses can present themselves as our nation’s saviors after having ravaged its wealth and brutalized its people.

CARMMA and other groups have raised important issues such as the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth and their continuing efforts to block the recovery of monies, jewelries, art works, etc. The Marcos family’s profligacy was also legendary and examples of extremely high living were brought out to remind the public. Cronyism had reached new heights during martial rule with Marcos and his henchmen dividing up sectors of the economy among themselves for plundering and profiteering.

It was pointed out that Marcosian economic policies and programs that were prescribed by the IMF-World Bank and lobbied for by foreign chambers of commerce were proven to be anti-poor and anti-national economic development while conversely being pro-rich and pro-foreign monopoly capitalist. These gave rise to a ballooning foreign debt; a labor export policy to stave off high unemployment and social unrest; and exacerbation of the chronic problems of landlessness, poverty and socio-economic backwardness.

CARMMA has been hounding Marcos Jr. nationwide at his campaign sorties despite limited resources. Other groups have stepped forward issuing statements to refute the claims and outright lies of the Marcos camp. They have mounted plays and concerts, launched signature drives and utilized the social media to reach out to the millennial generation.

Nonetheless it is a jarring realization that despite the dictator’s overthrow thirty years ago, the legacy of martial law — of nothing less than open fascist rule — has not been decisively defeated and uprooted.

In the final analysis, what we are up against is an iniquitous, unjust, and undemocratic social system that gave rise to Marcos strongman rule. It is this same system that has been perpetuated by all the post-Marcos regimes even continuing many if not most of the dictatorship’s decrees, policies and programs that they had previously decried. The dire effects have mutated into worse and multiple forms.

Indeed, the Left has a lot of catching up to do to avert what is looming as another tragedy ala-Santayana. The steady rise of Marcos Jr. in the polls can partly be explained by the popular notion that “things were better during the Marcos era”. This means that many still attribute the worsening ills and crises of Philippine society, especially the deteriorating living conditions, to the individual faults and failings of the post-Marcos regimes rather than see these as cumulative damage in an oppressive and exploitative social system aggravated by the global economic crises.

Frustration and ignorance of history’s lessons has made another strongman, iron-fisted rule attractive to today’s voters. Perhaps this is what the surveys reflect. #

Published in Business World
8 April 2016