Venezuela stands up to US bullying

The failed coup in Venezuela last February and US President Obama’s declaration this March that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a “national security threat” to the US have escaped most Filipinos’ notice. Understandably so, with the entire country preoccupied with another monumental blunder by the Aquino government that has cost scores of lives including elite police forces and has undermined the GPH-MILF peace negotiations.

Yet Filipinos should sit up and take notice. These recent events in Venezuela underscore hard lessons learned by the Venezuelan people and its democratically-elected government as they try to chart their nation’s destiny towards greater equity, social cohesion and national progress. In the process they find themselves continuously, systematically and violently opposed by the small but still powerful socio-economic elite with the solid backing of the US government.

Fifteen years ago, under the leadership of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan society underwent sweeping reforms that aimed to redistribute the revenue from its oil wealth for the benefit of the greater majority. This entailed nationalizing the oil industry and utilizing its earnings for government programs to make basic goods and services such as food, housing and education universally accessible and affordable. The Chavez leadership also pushed aggressively for genuine land reform. It capitalized on its huge popularity with the masses to build grassroots-based people’s organizations such as worker-managed cooperatives and community councils. All these galvanized the popular will behind Chavez and his reform programs.

The Chavez government prevailed over unrelenting destabilization moves by its opponents including an army coup d’état in 2002 that deposed Chavez for 48 hours, until millions of Venequelans poured into the streets to demand his release and loyal officers of the armed forces restored him to power. He ruled from then on winning a series of democratic elections until his death from illness in 2013.

The Maduro government that took over and has carried on the sweeping reforms of Chavez (dubbed the Bolivarian Revolution) has been met from day one by a new round of attacks from the US-backed right-wing forces code named “El Salida” or “The Exit”.

The elements of the plot are: 1) sabotage of the supply and distribution chain for food and other basic goods in order to induce artificial shortages and run-away inflation; 2) widespread, violent “protests” that would cause chaos in the streets; 3) systematic and sustained anti-government reportage by the elite-owned private mass media outlets beamed to global media; 4) vilification of President Maduro and his government and the projection of unrepentant coup plotters as representing the legitimate political opposition and deserving international support 5) military actions such as assassinations of government officials, bombings of government centers and false flag operations such as the assassination of some rightist leaders and deaths in violent street protests blamed on state security forces.

For two years now the government has been exerting every effort to overcome the economic sabotage measures. According to reports, while scarcities and inexplicably inflated prices are being fought back through government police action such as forcing stores to lower their prices and raiding warehouses to flush out hoarded goods, the economic warfare continues. But the disturbances have not resulted in the kind of mass unrest they were meant to incite; Venezuela’s poor hold fast to their experience of much better times under the Chavez and Maduro governments.

The so-called mass protests have died down despite the efforts of opposition leaders holding the reins of local government in rich enclaves to sustain these with sporadic thrashing of public parks and government buildings by hoodlums. The destabilizers have been trying to project the image that the Maduro government is unable to enforce basic law and order, much more, is violating its citizens’ right to freely assemble and express their grievances. But this has not been able to stick despite willful media manipulation echoed by imperialist-controlled global corporate media.

What has become more starkly clear is that the right-wing opposition is resorting to the more dangerous option of military actions up to a full blown coup d’état to bring the government down. It would appear from the account of the latest attempt in February of this year that the plan was to conduct aerial bombings of the Presidential Palace, the government media center Telesur, the Ministries of Defense, Interior and Foreign Relations, the Department of Military Intelligence and the Attorney General’s Office. The publication of a manifesto in a national newspaper calling for a transition government would be the plotters’ signal fire. There would be a call for street protests once more with intentions of fomenting wanton violence and confusion in order to portray the events as the result of government repression. A video of a detained general, a confessed coup leader in an earlier failed attempt, would be repeatedly shown to agitate members of the armed forces. Failing this, a video of men in the uniforms of the different services of the military would be shown to announce to the country and to the world that the armed forces had risen up against the Maduro government.

This plot was nipped in the bud and fell apart when a recidivist coup-plotting general was turned in by another officer he was trying to recruit. The government acted quickly to preempt any of the plotters moves. According to Mark Weisbrot (Al Jazeera), “The Venezuelan government has produced some credible evidence of a coup in the making: the recording of a former deputy minister of the interior reading what is obviously a communiqué to be issued after the military deposes the elected government, the confessions of some accused military officers and a recorded phone conversation between opposition leaders acknowledging that a coup is in the works.

The government also categorically accused the US embassy in Venezuela of direct involvement in this latest as well as previous attempts to topple it. It pointed to the “close relationship” of the political and military figures at the core of the February attempt at another putsch with US embassy officials.

After the standard US denial of any involvement, came in quick succession US President Obama’s declaration that the Venezuelan government is a “national security threat” to the US and that US sanctions would be imposed on seven Venezuelan officials. This is indeed ironical given the long history of US political interference up to armed intervention not only in Venezuela but the entire breadth of Latin American countries to remove governments not to its liking or to prop up those that are its vassal states.

Aside from being a defensive reaction to the revelation of US complicity in attempts to subvert and overthrow the Maduro government, Obama’s declaration of Venezuela being a threat to US national interest is primarily due to Venezuela’s continuing key role in building and strengthening alternative political and economic alliances among Latin American and Caribbean states such as Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and Petrocaribe. These alliances further the interests of these states and their peoples more than the traditional US-initiated and dominated alliances such as Organization of American States (OAS) and the so-called “Caribbean Initiative”.

Rather than isolate Venezuela, Obama’s move to attack and isolate Venezuela is yet another futile attempt to stem the decline of US global supremacy in its own hemisphere. #

Published in Businessworld
23 March 2015

Marching for authentic change

As of this writing, two marches are taking place on the 8th of March. One is the annual celebration of International Women’s Day led by the militant women of Gabriela with the spotlight on the critical role of women in the struggle against the beleaguered US-backed Aquino regime in order to put in its place a more competent, accountable and democratic government. The other is the “March for Justice for SAF 44” organized by the alumni association of the Philippine National Police Academy with its tangential reference to women through a call for solidarity with the widows of the SAF commandoes slain in the ill-fated police operation codenamed Oplan Exodus .

The latter march is noteworthy not just for its novelty but its portent for the status quo and the regime that presides over it; a significant section of the state’s security forces remains restive over what they deem to be the unnecessary sacrifice of forty-four of their comrades. Too bad one of the organizers, a Catholic priest who runs as a means to espouse his favored causes, is reported by mass media as already succumbing to intrigues that predict the failure of the policemen’s march because of the unwelcome participation of “leftists” and those with a “political agenda”. (Someone should advise these well-meaning “mamang pulis”, who have been thrust into the unusual role of citizens with a grievance by no less than their Commander-in-Chief, to not get sidelined by attempts to confuse, gag and otherwise rein them in.)

On the other hand, the women’s yearly march is being held in the midst of the Aquino regime’s worst political crisis in the aftermath of a foreign-hatched, ill-conceived and subsequently botched counterterrorist operation that has cost the lives of 62 combatants and 6 civilians, several more seriously wounded, and the fragile peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) severely, if not irreparably, damaged.

The bloody Mamasapano clash has punctuated and pretty much exacerbated Aquino’s record of disastrous leadership from the Luneta hostage crisis, Zamboanga siege, the inept relief and rehabilitation post-Yolanda typhoon and other calamities, pork barrel and patronage politics, MRT mishaps and the breakdown of public infrastructure and services, to name a few. Thus calls for his resignation or ouster have been gaining a lot of traction in a surprisingly short span of time.

The struggle for women’s liberation, specifically in the Philippine setting, is firmly embedded in the continuing struggle of the Filipino people for national and social liberation from neocolonial and feudal shackles. This Sunday, the women’s march will be celebrating the glorious history of courageous women all over the world taking their place, alongside the menfolk, in the place of honor – the line of fire.

They are challenging sexual stereotypes and gender oppression in the context of class structures of oppression and exploitation. In the Philippines, they are fighting against a moribund social system perpetuated by the domestic ruling elite in partnership with foreign, notably US, imperialist interests. This system has been installing and propping up a series of reactionary, deceptive and repressive regimes since the grant of nominal self-rule. The regime of Benigno S. Aquino III is no exception.

Gabriela and the broader Women for Aquino’s Resignation Now (WARN) will be joined by the multisectoral formation Noynoy Out Now (NOW). NOW is demanding not just Aquino’s removal from office but the establishment of an interim People’s Council for National Unity, Reform and Peace that will “lead the transition to a new and better government…that better responds to the people’s clamor for political, economic and social reforms.” NOW says categorically, “It cannot be business as usual.” Thus the group rejects turning power over to the constitutionally mandated succession, i.e. to the incumbent Vice President, for the remainder of Aquino’s term.

It is premature at this point to name “who” will take over the helm of government. NOW asserts that the People’s Council will be formed “through a democratic process, from the wide array of organizations, groups and individuals involved in the movement to compel Aquino’s resignation.” NOW believes that there are more than enough “patriotic Filipinos with a track record of leadership in the people’s movement for democratic reforms, with known probity, integrity and independence” who can step up the plate and lead at the proper time.

What is important are the urgent reform measures that such a caretaker or transitional government will undertake in the short time it is envisioned to govern — one to two years. According to NOW, these are: 1) create an independent Truth Commission to investigate and prosecute those accountable for the Mamasapano fiasco; 2) undertake electoral reforms to prevent cheating and fraud, reduce patronage politics and prohibit political dynasties; 3) abolish the pork barrel system and prosecute those responsible for the DAP and the PDAF scams; 4) introduce key economic policies to ensure food sufficiency, land reform, national industrialization, jobs, higher incomes and basic social services for the poor and middle class; 5) review lop-sided agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA); 6) pursue peace negotiations with the MILF and NDFP by honoring agreements and addressing the root causes of the armed conflicts.

Filipinos have gone through two successful people’s uprisings dubbed “people power” that have brought about a change in regimes but sorely failed in reforming, if not overhauling, a backward, undemocratic, unjust and corrupt social order. In the meantime the status quo is being weakened by socio-economic decay and rocked by social unrest, deadly infighting among factions of the ruling elite and armed conflicts with the communist-led revolutionary movement and Moro secessionist movements.

Even the ruling classes and their foreign backers know that the system is bursting apart at the seams and thus the opposing factions jostle each other to take the mantle of “reforming” the system while ensuring things remain essentially the same for as long as possible.

There is understandable pessimism or even cynicism among the middle forces (those for whom the system has still something to offer, if not a bright future, then a tolerable one) that another stab at reform via “people power” will only lead to more disorder and instability. They are suspicious and leery of opportunists among the so-called Opposition or among the military who may simply wish to grab power. The politically conservative also fear the “militant Left”.

Those among our people whose lives have gone from bad to worse on a daily basis and whose futures are as bleak as ever will embrace the window of opportunity for changing the system that accompanies removing an inept, uncaring and anti-people president like BS Aquino. For they having nothing to lose and much to gain once organized to push for authentic and meaningful societal change. #

Published in Business World
9 March 2015

Aquino cover-up
The second address to the nation about the Mamasapano incident by President B.S. Aquino last Friday was more of the same glib BS.

To the fallen 44’s relatives, the self-proclaimed “Father of the Nation” said he feels for them just as if he had lost 44 of his “children”.  SAF Director Napenas is being set up as the definitive fall guy in keeping with Aquino’s habit of blaming everyone else but himself and his inner circle for any failures in his administration.  Aquino accepts the resignation of suspended PNP Director Purisima, Aquino’s BFF (best friend forever), for reasons known only to him.

Aquino vows to get Usman (the other “terrorist” that got away) and cajoles the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to please help or at least “do not interfere” (as in, don’t shoot our police when they come after him).  He then threatens the full might of the state against unspecified groups “who have lost their way”, presumably the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in a bid to satisfy those whose idea of justice is to get even through “all-out war”.

At the outset and in conclusion Aquino plays the “peace” card. The SAF commandoes attacked the MILF stronghold to achieve “peace”. (No, they were not just serving warrants of arrest for Marwan and Usman.)  Aquino considers the MILF “brothers on the path to peace”. (Too bad the ceasefire agreement integral to the GPH-MILF peace talks was breached by the Marwan operation, unleashing untold deleterious consequences on the peace process).  And a “widespread and lasting peace” should be the primary focus of one and all.  (Truth, accountability and justice are all secondary or perhaps even irrelevant.)

Aquino takes pains to paint Marwan as an extremely evil and dangerous man, wanted by both Indonesian and Philippine governments for mass bombings and for leading an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in the region.  The description of Marwan as the alleged “Bin Laden of Asia” or Southeast Asia is exaggerated media hype; such is not what is stated even in FBI dossiers.

In fact there is no conclusive evidence till now that Marwan, Jemaah Islamiya, the ASG or any Moro/Islamic “terrorists” are behind the bombings in Mindanao and the National Capital Region.  Let’s not forget the US fellow Meiring who accidentally set off a bomb in his hotel room in Davao but was whisked out of the country by US authorities beyond any investigation by local police. Let us also call to mind the Magdalo mutineers who pointed to their superiors as having ordered them to throw grenades at public places and implicated then AFP Chief Angelo Reyes and ISAFP head Victor Corpuz in the insidious plots to sow mayhem.

Based on a mere FBI certification (which the public, by the way, cannot independently verify) that DNA tests indicate it is Marwan the SAF commandoes had killed in their assault, Aquino declares Oplan Wolverine a “triumph” albeit with a “heave price”.  To many observers, it seemed a foregone conclusion that US lab tests would show the SAF teams got their man.  A negative result would have meant the entire Marwan operation was an unmitigated failure.

But even assuming that the FBI claim is true, does one dead “terrorist” justify the illegal command by a suspended general; the unnecessary deaths of 44 SAF, 18 MILF, 2 BIFF and 6 civilians; and the outright violation of the ceasefire agreement between government and the MILF that had held without incident for the past two years?

Marwan’s supposed demise is being used in the same way Osama Bin Laden’s supposed death was used: to falsely claim that the world is safer from terrorism because of the US-led “war on terror”; to justify draconian anti-terror measures violative of people’s democratic and human rights; and to deodorize the atrocities perpetrated in the name of countering terrorism through imperialist wars of intervention, aggression and occupation.

Aquino crows that many lives have been saved because Marwan has been neutralized.  The question begs to be asked, were many lives saved by the killing of Bin Laden (assuming that he is indeed dead if we believe the US claim hook, line and sinker)?  Has “terrorism” ended with the killing of these leaders? Let us recall that in 2001, US troops joined the AFP in Balikatan war exercises directed against about 300 members of the homegrown Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).  The Philippine armed forces then said they had reduced the ASG to a few score men. Nowadays, authorities concede that the ASG appears to be continuously growing like the proverbial amoeba despite one counterterrorist campaign after another.

The truth is, in a bid to follow the orders of his US bosses to go after Marwan in this fatally flawed operation (also out of Aquino’s sheer incompetence, narrow-mindedness and arrogance) Aquino gambled the entire peace process with the MILF.  Aquino is now scrambling to salvage what is left of efforts to legislate the Bangsamoro Basic Law that hangs on the brink of interminable delays if not potential defeat.

The Aquino regime is carrying on the policy and practice of the previous Arroyo regime of blind, uncritical support for the so-called war on terror and compliance with US dictates.  This is not the first time the result has been at the expense of peace negotiations.  In the case of the GPH peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the US designation of NDFP Chief Political Consultant and the CPP-NPA as “terrorists” with the full collaboration of the Arroyo regime resulted in years of delays in the talks until the end of the Arroyo term.

What is critical at this point is to unmask the continuing efforts to cover up the truth and evade accountability by: 1) fudging Aquino’s critical role in the bungled operation as Commander-in-Chief,  particularly his criminal abuse of authority in disregarding the chain of command; 2) reducing the bloody fiasco to operational lapses and bad decisions of the commander-on-ground in order to shift the blame to him; 3) denying Purisima’s role as an illegal commander in order to shield Aquino and Purisima; 4) encouraging an anti-MILF hate campaign to also shift the blame on the MILF while making loud noises about wanting to push the peace process forward; 5) going through the motions of filing cases against the MILF and BIFF commanders to appease those who are crying for MILF and BIFF blood; 6) trying to appease the relatives of 44 SAF by means of financial assistance and false paeans to them as heroes; 7) continuing blackout regarding the US role in Oplan Wolverine; 8) claiming the Marwan kill  with US complicity so that operation is not exposed as a complete failure.

Aquino and Purisima are both criminally liable.  At the minimum, Aquino should resign while Purisima’s resignation should not allow him to escape criminal liability.

There must be no impunity for the Mamasapano bloodbath. #

Published in Business World

9 February 2015

Epic fail in leadership and intelligence


It was a rout – a massacre.  On the early morning of January 25, forty four out of close to 400 elite, US-trained, Special Action Force (SAF) policemen were killed in a 12-hour firefight, in a remote barrio in Mamasapano, Maguindanao — a known rebel stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  They were reportedly on a top-secret counterterrorism operation to capture Malaysian bomb expert and Jemaah Islamiya leader, Marwan, said to be the equivalent of Osama bin Laden in Southeast Asia and his second in command, Usman.  The two had a total of $7 million bounty on their heads courtesy of the United States government.

The facts and circumstances surrounding this latest debacle in the Aquino government’s anti-terrorist efforts have only been slowly trickling out, no thanks to Malacanang’s lack of transparency if not outright attempts to mislead and deceive. Mr. Aquino’s address to the nation four days after the Mamasapano incident was riddled with inconsistencies, obfuscation, half-truths and outright lies. (For one, there is no mention of civilian guides and paramilitary/CAFGU casualties, which the MILF reports counting, adding up to a total of 64 instead of just 44 killed on the government side.)

Thus the families and comrades of the slain are still seeking answers.  They find little consolation in the Aquino administration’s declaration of a so-called national day of mourning, medals of valor for the dead and injured, and promises of financial support to the latter’s dependents.  They are steadfastly demanding that justice be rendered for their kin’s untimely, avoidable and senseless deaths.

This demand underlies the calls by various quarters for an impartial and thorough investigation into the culpability of those who had instigated, authorized, and planned the entire operation.

Unfortunately, the warmongers and those with deep-seated anti-Moro prejudices have been garnering the most media mileage.  They are calling for “all-out-war” versus the MILF, the junking of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and a halt to further peace negotiations between government and the MILF on the premise that the rebel group is mainly, if not exclusively, to blame for the carnage.

Aquino and his defenders and apologists pretend to be sober and fully committed to achieving peace with the MILF despite this setback.  They have labeled the Mamasapano incident as an unfortunate “misencounter” and have appealed to the public not to make any hasty conclusions until an investigation to be carried out by a PNP Board of Inquiry can determine the “truth”.
But the truth is Mr. Aquino and his clique of the closest “kabarkada” and “kabarilan” are hell bent on foisting a cover-up.

In the first place, more than a week after the incident, there is no admission as to who gave the go signal for what an Interaksyon editorial called a “fatally flawed mission”.  Aquino, when asked by the media categorically whether he himself okayed it, hemmed and hawed and ended up saying his specific approval was unnecessary since there were standing warrants of arrest for the two high-value targets.

Nonetheless, it can be concluded, from his claim that he had repeatedly stressed in briefings the need for coordination, that he was continuously briefed on the progress of the operation and therefore had – or could have had — full and constant knowledge of it.

What has also eventually emerged as a fact is that SAF Director Napenas was directly reporting to suspended PNP chief Purisima, bypassing superior officers in the line of command up to PNP OIC Espina.  Purisima in turn was directly reporting to Aquino, bypassing SILG Mar Roxas.  This breakdown in the line of command, especially in giving Purisima the authority to direct the operations, is by itself highly anomalous and unjustifiable, even if the operation had been successful.

There is no need for any investigation to determine the immediate cause of the disaster.  It was the deliberate decision not to coordinate with both the MILF and the AFP.  It is clear that there was no coordination on several levels and fronts between the police and armed forces, from the SAF commandoes and army units on the ground up to the highest levels of command.

Within the police hierarchy, there was a clear breakdown in the chain of command, with the SAF Director Napenas neither informing nor reporting to the PNP Chief Espina, and instead directly reporting to suspended chief Purisima. Purisima, in turn did not inform nor report to DILG Secretary Roxas but to the President himself.

The MILF official statement sums up the lesson from the Mamasapano incident insofar as the peace process is concerned:  “The MILF have (sic) been in negotiations with the Philippine Government for some time now. During this time both parties have established protocols, ways of proceedings and mechanisms, which support and keep the peace.  Adherence to these mechanism (sic) have created a peaceful environment and lessened actual hostilities through the years.  lt is unfortunate but not entirely surprising that when parties do not follow these protocols lives are placed in harm’s way.”

What emerges is the picture of a clique in Aquino’s Cabinet, headed by no less than the Commander-in-Chief, breaking the chain-of-command and illegally placing a suspended police officer in charge of a suicidal mission – a mission fraught not only with untold dangers and operational complexity but imbued with wider and more serious political implications on the ongoing GPH-MILF peace negotiations, particularly the passage by Congress of the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Some analysts attribute Aquino’s illegal and foolhardy reliance on Purisima and his coterie of trusted aides like Napenas to a combination of hubris, his eagerness to score propaganda points in the global “anti-terror” campaign, and just plain incompetent leadership.

What is overlooked however are the undeniable military and political stakes of the US Superpower in this bungled operation and their record of direct and indirect involvement in previous attempts to neutralize Marwan’s group.  This includes the 2012 use of armed drone strikes against a suspected hideout of Marwan in Sulu which resulted in scores of civilian fatalities and an unscathed Marwan.

The “actionable intelligence” that Aquino touted as key to the decision to mount the Mamasapano operation has been traced, according to news reports, to a US mole within the MILF.  This was allegedly verified through US drones and GPS tracking. Subsequently the US mobilized its Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) based in Mindanao for the latest operation; JSOTF forces were sighted in the aftermath of the Mamasapano operation.  The US would also have nixed coordinating with the MILF despite the dangers of a firefight between the SAF and MILF forces because of intelligence information that Marwan was being given sanctuary by the MILF.

Thus it comes as no surprise that a certified US puppet like Aquino would have had no second thoughts about giving the go-signal for the ill-conceived operation at the sacrifice of the lives of so many SAF personnel in exchange for the prospect of having bragging rights to Marwan’s neutralization.

Speculations are rife and the entire truth will have to await an impartial and thorough investigation.  But there are enough undisputed facts surrounding the Mamasapano disaster that point to an epic fail in intelligence and leadership, military and otherwise. #

Published I Business World
2 February 2015

Welcoming the Pope of the poor to a country of the poor

More than a year ago when Pope Francis had barely warmed the papal office in Rome, his words and style of leadership signaled something new and welcome to an estimated more than one billion Catholics the world over, many of whom had become estranged from the institutional church over the decades. He made known his bias for the poor, the downtrodden and the powerless: those teeming masses struggling to exist in the fringes of mainstream elite-dominated societies — exploited, oppressed and almost forgotten.

He chose the papal name “Francis”, the first ever to do so, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi because he was especially concerned for the well-being of the poor. St. Francis, he said, has “changed history…as he brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time.”

Pope Francis is thus also making history by giving new life and meaning to the spirit and message of St. Francis about being an instrument of peace – (beyond or deeper than the well-known “Prayer of Peace” erroneously attributed to him) – which is to be an instrument of peace with justice.

He did not mince words when he denounced the “cult of money” under capitalism or what some recognize as the destructive, overweening role of finance capital in the global economy to the point of further widening the divide between developed and underdeveloped/backward economies and between the rich and the poor within countries.

He weighed in against the impending armed intervention of the US and other western powers together with their Arab allies in conflict-ridden Syria by presiding over a high-profile prayer for peace in Rome that was the signal fire for worldwide appeals against the bombardment of Syria. Pope Francis thus helped avert the initiation of another US-led “humanitarian intervention” in a sovereign country and a likely repeat of what had happened in Libya.

Pope Francis has been shaking up the Roman curia as well as the Catholic Church hierarchies around the world about prioritizing the poor, a simple style of living and working, eschewing corruption and unsavory activities and being more pastoral than doctrinal in relating to those who have been alienated from the Catholic Church or are not part of the flock to begin with.

But perhaps what has most endeared him to ordinary believers and drawn the attention of even non-believers are his official as well as informal pronouncements about social issues such as homosexual relations, marriage and children out of wedlock, the future of the youth, care of the sick and elderly, human trafficking, and so on. His words and demeanor convinced many that this pope is really inclusive and non-judgmental, open to other views and not doctrinaire, and that he does not insulate himself from the dirty, rough-and-tumble world out there but is reaching out to the world’s peoples. That Pope Francis speaks in a straightforward manner rather than in obscure terms is a definite plus factor giving him a deft communicator’s touch that has been adjudged as “instinctive” and “spontaneous.”

The Pope’s visit to a country like the Philippines is significant not only because most Filipinos are born and raised Catholic. But, for this pope, because the vast majority of the nation’s hundred million plus people (the 10 million diaspora of overseas Filipino workers included) are poor and oppressed — Pope Francis’ focus and primary concern.

They are neglected survivors of calamities such as Yolanda. They are landless peasants and seasonal farm workers. They are the underpaid contractual workers. They are the army of the unemployed and underemployed; the oddjobbers in major towns and cities like itinerant vendors, tricycle drivers and others existing hand-to-mouth. Even the social stratum of fixed income earners, loosely called the “middle class”, are fast slipping into penury. They are the underclass in the vast countryside, in the ubiquitous pockets of urban decay and in the sprawling slum areas derisively called “squatter colonies”.

The government is preoccupied with ensuring that security will be tight for the visiting head of the Roman Catholic Church as well as the head of the Vatican state. The Aquino administration is readying a list of convicted prisoners who will be pardoned in the spirit of “mercy and compassion” that is the theme of this year’s papal visit. (Some pundits say this is to curry favor with the international media, if not the Pontiff.) Philippine media is all agog about Pope Francis, particularly his simpatico public persona that has captured the hearts of many.

While security concerns are valid, these cannot override the main objective of the Pope’s visit to the Philippines and that is to reach out and touch the minds and hearts of the poor and oppressed by listening to their cries and giving them succor and hope.

Organizations of calamity survivors such as People Surge in the Eastern Visayas are eagerly preparing for the Pope’s brief visit to Tacloban and Palo in Leyte in order to breach the cordon sanitaire that is a given for such a V.I.P. They and other members of people’s organizations hope that the coming of the Pope will be an occasion to bring attention to long-standing grievances and demands. They hope to find a sympathetic ear in Pope Francis, and perhaps an inspiring message of solidarity and support.

But it is clear to them that they must struggle themselves to resist anti-people and anti-poor government policies and programs and in turn advance their rights and welfare.

One plea that the umbrella group People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope (People’s Welcome) will highlight is the call for the government (GPH) to release political prisoners (people imprisoned for their political beliefs) and to resume the formal peace negotiations with the revolutionary National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in order to resolve the decades-old armed conflict and achieve a just and lasting peace.

It is not farfetched that Pope Francis may realize in his visit that there is a golden opportunity for him to use the immense influence and moral suasion of his office to help break the current impasse in the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations the way he broke a half-century impasse in diplomatic relations between the United States of America and Cuba. #

Published in Business World
12 January 2015

Torture by any other name

A day before International Human Rights Day, a long-delayed US Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs), or simply put torture, on post-9/11 suspected “terrorists” held in “black sites” or secret detention sites hosted by certain US allies, was finally made public.  But only a 500-page redacted summary was released with 6,000-plus pages of the complete report still classified on the grounds that these could compromise US national security.

While human rights groups calling for greater transparency and accountability are disappointed, the executive summary already says a mouthful about the extensive but ineffectual use of torture by the CIA during the administration of George W. Bush; how this was politically and legally justified in the context of the so-called War on Terror; and how this criminal conspiracy that constitutes a violation of international law was subsequently covered up at the highest levels.

It has been called a landmark report because of its official authorship, the highly controversial if not taboo subject matter, its revealing findings and the politically explosive consequences for the US.

The Senate Committee undertook a five and a half year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program conducted between 2002 and 2009. It was initiated in March 2009 based on a bipartisan vote of 14-1 when Committee members incidentally discovered that videos of EIC used on two Al Qaeda suspects were ordered destroyed by CIA officials thereby raising a red flag as to what was being hidden from congressional oversight.

Combing through 6.3 million pages of official documents, the study revealed that after the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, the CIA took charge of at least 119 suspected “terrorist”, some of them mistakenly or without sufficient grounds even by the CIA’s own standards, and then detained them indefinitely in secret sites outside the US.  All were subjected not only to “coercive interrogation techniques” (apparently still legally justifiable) but to “enhanced interrogation techniques” that constituted brutal and unremitting torture.

These included not only the kinds of torture already revealed in various leaks and lawsuits like waterboarding, staged mock executions and revved power drills near detainees’ heads.
Detainees were sleep deprived for days, forced to strip naked, subjected to beatings while hooded, and made to stay in painful stress positions even though they were already injured.  They were also subjected to extensive periods of sensory deprivation or were constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music. There were several cases of “rectal rehydration” for the purpose of demonstrating absolute control over the detainee.  Aside from death threats, detainees were also told their children would be killed and their wives sexually assaulted.

The ordeal eventually caused severe and irreparable physical and psychological injuries up to the death of one detainee from hypothermia after he was made to lie on a concrete floor half naked.

On the basis of the Senate report, Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, declared in a statement, “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.”  Moreover he said, “The perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to…Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction.”

And yet prospects are not bright for such accountability taking place.  CIA officials with US President Obama’s blessing sought to prevent the report from coming out even as they undertook a campaign to distort and discredit its findings even before it was issued. The CIA has vigorously rejected the report since its release and continues to dispute one of its major findings; i.e. torture did not produce good intelligence.  The information extracted through torture was usually fabricated, not actionable nor could these not have been obtained using non-coercive means.

While much of the information revealed by the Senate report is new to the public, it is inconceivable that Washington was unaware of these.   Attorney General Eric Holder had conducted a detailed torture investigation during President Obama’s first term.  Holder had decided not to prosecute anyone for the CIA’s torture because “the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

As for Pres. Obama, when asked about investigating CIA torture in 2009, he replied that “it’s important to look forward and not backwards.” In fact the only person the Obama administration has prosecuted in connection with the torture program is a man who revealed its existence to the media, former CIA official John Kiriakou.  He was forced to plead guilty when threatened with decades of imprisonment and is now serving a 30-month jail sentence.

The Obama administration stands accused of other egregious violations of the American people’s and world’s people’s human rights with NSA spying revealed, police brutality against African Americans and other people of color, armed drone attacks leading to loss of civilian lives and properties in several countries that the US is not even at war with.

It is relevant to mention here the US’ continued refusal to accede to the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its functions, jurisdiction and structure, opening the doors to the prosecution of crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and the crime of aggression. This would have made the US government and its notorious security and intelligence forces vulnerable or subject to prosecution by the ICC.

But what the report doesn’t say is just as important.  According to Prof. Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research, “The terms unethical and immoral are mentioned (in the report). The criminality of those who ordered these actions at the highest levels of government, however, is not acknowledged.”   Furthermore he asserts, “The actions directed against alleged jihadists are categorized as ineffective in the process of revealing intelligence…What of course is not acknowledged is that the alleged terrorists who were tortured were framed by the CIA.”

And the biggest deception of all: “The September 11, 2001 attacks provided the green light to wage a ‘Global War on Terrorism’. While the report acknowledges CIA brutality, it does not question the legitimacy of the ‘Global War on Terrorism’. The acts of torture were all for a good cause.”

The US Senate report can be used to expose the US as the world’s foremost terrorist state or, perversely, to refurbish US credibility as a bastion of democracy and defender of human rights.  The findings must be brought to their logical if unintended conclusion:  to expose and oppose US imperialist wars of aggression and intervention in the guise of “humanitarian wars”; unmask the continuing use of “terrorism” as justification for war crimes and crimes against humanity; rouse the world’s peoples to demand the trial and punishment of the perpetrators of CIA torture and all other gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the US government.  #

Learning history’s lessons

carol aurollo(Photos by Mon Ramirez)

On the 151st birth anniversary of The Great Plebeian, Gat Andres Bonifacio, nationwide protest actions calling for government accountability and genuine societal change were launched, inspired by the revolutionary vision and example of the Supremo of the Katipunan.

More than historic symbolism and patriotic fervor were on display as the people who marched and demonstrated were spurred by burning issues that have plagued this country since flag independence and despite the trappings of a modern democracy — institutionalized corruption and plunder of public funds; policies that entrench poverty, backwardness and inequality; injustice that breeds armed conflicts and social unrest; violations of human rights with impunity; and continuing affronts to national dignity, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

They consciously partook of the revolutionary spirit embodied by Bonifacio with the tagline “Diwa ni Bonifacio, Tunay na Pagbabago” but capped this with the provocative call “Panagutin si Aquino!”  For indeed, theirs was a call meant to finally unmask the pretentions of a reactionary regime that had decked itself out as the harbinger of change (in a copycat take on US presidential candidate Obama’s campaign slogans revolving around “change we can believe in”).

Hot-button issues that rang out in the protesters’ slogans and speeches included the following:  President Benigno Aquino as pork barrel king and chief purveyor of patronage politics;  “daang matuwid” as empty rhetoric when applied to KKK (kaklase/kamag-anak/kabarilan);  caciqueism epitomized by Hacienda Luisita; high growth rates where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer;  Yolanda and Pablo typhoon victims abandoned and treated with bureaucratic contempt; public infrastructure, utilities and services handed over for private profit-making through so-called public-private partnerships (PPPs); devastating militarization campaigns disguised as “bayanihan” and pursuit of peace;  foreign policy defined as “Kano ang boss ko!” ergo give the US what it wants and more.

There was heightened vexation over Mr. Aquino’s leadership style characterized by a disdain for the masses who he thinks he is able to hoodwink with his populist speechifyng; intolerance for any kind of criticism or opposition and a tendency to retaliate; a laid back manner bordering on incompetence and laziness;  a propensity for credit grabbing and believing in his own propaganda; coddling of the crooked in his inner circles; unabashed pro-Americanism and whose idea of patriotism is belligerent bluster against a resurgent China, admittedly the US’ biggest creditor and trading partner.

Such grievances, exasperation and indignation were enough to bring these protesters to the point of saying “Enough of Aquino!”  But do they mean “We want Binay?”  We can safely hazard their reply, “Of course not.”  Because these politically conscious, new breed of Filipinos have learned their lessons about cosmetic changes that merely bring about a changing of the guards, a mere rigodon of factions of the same exploitative and oppressive ruling elite.  Think EDSA I and II.

They look to bringing about a kind of change that will usher in a real break from the past in terms of a political platform of governance that is truly pro-people and pro-Filipino; of political leaders from the ranks of the masses and the middle class and not the old dynasties of the elite; of true transparency, responsibility and accountability to the people.

The 11-point program of the Pagbabago (People’s Movement for Change), one of the groups at the forefront of Bonifacio Day demonstrations gives us the gist of such a program.

  • Honest leaders chosen in fair and free elections.
  • Good governance:  prioritizing the country’s interests; addressing poverty, providing accessible and affordable basic services; resolving the problem of onerous public debt and high debt service; responsible utilization of public funds; fearless against organized crime without resort to violations of rights.
  • Land for the peasantry; food self-sufficiency; modern agriculture and rural development;.
  • National industrialization and development of the domestic economy; decent jobs and sources of livelihood.
  • Uphold the people’s democratic rights; end abuse of authority and punish the abusers.
  • Peace based on addressing roots of armed conflicts.
  • Respect for the rights and advance the status of women.
  • Culture that serves the interests of the many and teaches the value of service to the people.
  • Protection of the environment and wise utilization of natural resources.
  • Uphold national dignity, territorial integrity and sovereignty; cooperate and seek mutually beneficial relations with all countries.
  • Recognition and respect for the rights of the Moro people and other national minorities.

Because constitutional succession means more of the same, they are open to transitional arrangements where leadership does not fall on the vice president but to a transition council of the most actively involved in booting out the old and bringing in the new.  A collective kind of leadership which is not to be sneezed at since our experience with the current presidential system is absurdly unsatisfactory while parliamentary systems that represent organizations of the people at different levels democratically making and executing decisions are worth a try.

This is until truly democratic elections can take place where lack of resources, political pedigree and clout is not a bar to competent, upright and hardworking citizens running for public office made synonymous to real service to the people.

Now what’s the point of calling for Aquino’s accountability and for him to step down, be impeached or  ousted when time is said to be running out. The 2016 electoral derby is closing in with elite politicians already briskly engaged in the standard mudslinging and obligatory horse trading.  Why not just wait for the end of Aquino’s term and the start of a new regime?

Let us assume that we are facing another national, electoral exercise that will not be a big departure from before; that is, elections still dominated by the reactionary political class and their foreign-backed, moneyed sponsors.  The push for strengthening the national consciousness and the people’s movement that banner these issues, calls and aspirations before the 2016 elections can mean altering the national agenda and terms of reference, boosting the chances of viable, alternative candidates with progressive politics and breaching the erstwhile monopoly of power by the elite.

And yet the people’s movement for change is in for the long haul.  It will take much more awareness building, organizing strong and autonomous people’s organizations and cause-oriented groups and engaging the powers-that-be in myriad arenas of struggle for fundamental changes to take place.

But the writing is on the wall: the old elite social system and the old elite politics are rotten to the core and moribund.  Our visionary forebears led by Gat Andres Bonifacio have shown us the way of revolutionary struggle for revolutionary change.  #

Published in Business World

1 December 2014