Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The corruption network

By Alice G. Guillermo

IN our country today, we are enmeshed in a dense culture of corruption as big financial scandals involving millions are the daily fare in the news. Political corruption or bureaucrat capitalism is the use of government powers by government officials for illegal private gain to enrich themselves or ensure their continuity in office.

Corruption takes many forms—bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, graft, and outright embezzlement. Even more, in our context, we are not faced with only petty or isolated cases of corruption but with a massive endemic phenomenon involving all levels of government and which is being institutionalized and normalized by the state in its function and practice of governance.

In the practice of corruption, the present government has steadily built an apparatus in a bid to legalize it. One feature is the gradual loss of transparency in order to conceal wrongdoing and make it appear legal and within moral bounds. What is invoked is the so-called “presidential prerogative” in which the head of state may determine certain actions, such as whether certain officials will or will not testify in senate investigations or will outright bar certain personalities from testifying. It may thus choose to withhold information from the public—as in the most recent instance of denying access to the police blotters under the pretext of protecting women and children bit so that the facts may be manipulated to favor the perpetrators of crimes sanctioned by the state. The government shifts the blame on journalists who seek to ferret out the truth which may turn out to be unfavorable to the powers that be.

The government thus seeks to strip away transparency and replace it with a thick blanket of denial, seeking to turn the public into the proverbial monkeys of no-see, no hear, and no-talk. The killing of journalists and their harassment by legal suits—as many as 72 have been slapped with suits in Southern Tagalog—completes the dismal picture.

This government is known to be one of the most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, as well as the worst violators of human rights.

Any vision of government that works for the good of the people is not in existence today. Most officials of government use their office to exploit the people to the hilt, to deny their rights and insult their poverty by various means rather than improve their living conditions. Corrupt officials enrich themselves by every means, such as taxation, like the onerous E-vat which they refuse to withdraw because it is a source of easy money for the government, or deals in constructions, infrastructure, and telecommunications with foreign governments, such as the recent NBN-ZTE, involving kickbacks in millions or billions of pesos which they hope to grab at all costs, or the Bolante fertilizer scam involving huge sums of money. In this highly exploitative situation, the state doles out Php 500 pesos for low users of electricity and distributes cheap substandard rice to see the poor form long lines in the sun, an insult to their human dignity. As De Venecia commented referring to the widespread bribery in government, “Everybody is for sale.”

As our leaders take pride in claiming that we are the closest to the United States, even “more American than Americans,” as the president declared in a recent trip to Hong Kong, the president’s recent trips to the U.S. show her eagerness to maintain this dubious position even with Bush out of the picture, since the government has most closely assumed the American system, to its benefit. What was particularly instructive in the past U.S. election were the many insights into U. S. political ideology that have been espoused by the present dispensation. George Bush’s admonition in the midst of the present economic crisis “to stick to capitalism” is probably ringing in the ears of high government officials. In connection with the recent U.S. election, we have also keenly and surprisingly perceived the use of two words in particular: “liberal” and “socialism.” Senator McCain, Obama’s Republican rival, described him as ‘the most liberal of senators” thus declaring himself as conservative rightwing. Riding on religion, Sarah Palin, who was noted by a top American journalist for her “no-content” speeches, warned that Obama would experiment with socialism. It is thus a matter of note that the many Americans still attach negative attitudes and connotations to the words “liberal” and “socialist” in their political ideology.

Most particularly, the absence of a true political vision for the people on the part of the Filipino ruling class stems from the concept of state governance as a corporate capitalist activity and that running the country is like running a corporation for profit. In the recent crisis of Wall Street, it was also found out that the CEOs who headed big corporations awarded themselves with multimillions in salaries. This unbridled greed led to big cases of corruption like ENRON in which people lost their pensions, while more such cases eventually led to the downfall of Wall Street. And here in our country, the use of official position for personal gain is at its most furious and intense in the search for lucrative deals and discovering opportunities for plundering the national patrimony.

In this corporate state, all aspects of life are turned into commodities. There is a massive fetishization of everything including human relations, health, environment, education in which all these become objects to be bought and sold, thus resulting in moral corruption, the decline of human values, lack of regard for the good of others, and, at the end, a profound alienation from oneself and one’s basic humanity and that of our fellowmen. Individuals, families, groups are only viewed as opportunities for exploitation and money-making, thus market surveys are conduced to research on the profit-making efficiency of corporations.

Because of this condition, the lives of the people are continually being jeopardized. In a time of lavish government spending and corruption, the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter are neglected or not attended to by state institutions. Any concern to improve the quality of food and nutrition on the part of the state is a sham. There was a recent nutrition survey in the barangays where the interviewees were given a few packs of instant noodles, cookies and iodized salt to give flavor to rice. As though each family should at least have these. While on the contrary, Macapagal-Arroyo goes on junkets abroad with a big retinue, complete with gifts of shopping bags filled with branded items.

Shelter is largely an initiative of non-government institutions and it has not yet reached the numerous families who live in the slums and under the bridges. For many families, unaffordable rent makes them resort to squatting or living in the slums. Many, too, cannot afford health care and medical services, not to speak of expensive operations which are clearly outside the resources even of the middle class. What the government instead wants to develop is medical tourism meant to attract foreign tourists and retirees to avail of our medical services. In Asia, the Philippines has the most expensive medicines because it is in the grip of the foreign drug companies who impose their high prices in exchange for corrupt deals. Medicine and medical services are just another area for profit.

Education which should have to do with enlightening and nurturing the minds of the youth is also a big source of corruption. The educational system is in the grip of the World Bank which finances textbooks favorable to American interests. Primary and secondary education has not been upgraded and the general lack of competence in teaching mathematics and science has proven to be detrimental to the country’s development. Thus, the country becomes, under the conditions of globalization, only a source of cheap labor and a market and dumping ground for First World products.

In whatever system, progress cannot be possible without a solid basis in mathematics and science, but up to now educators are still bickering over the language issue, resulting in a setback and delay in learning. Also, since education is a market commodity to squeeze profit from, tuition fees in the universities and particularly in the University of the Philippines (no longer the state university but a national university) have been raised, in the UP by 300%, a huge increase which has effectively barred thousands of students from enrolling in college. To these high university officials is squarely laid the blame for almost a whole generation of youth deprived of higher learning, doomed to be OFW domestics in the absence of local opportunities , or salespersons, drug agents, call center youth, or unemployed housewives—a sheer waste of human resources.

To bar the a significant section of the youth from education only shows a basic lack of faith in the Filipino—that these youth, many of them talented but poor are disposable and undeserving of higher education and may simply be consigned to the general pathetic lack of opportunity that is at the root of our underdevelopment. What operates is a policy of exclusion and not of inclusion, where people are discriminated against because of their inability to pay and where the elite are raised to be utterly indifferent to the poverty around them as they enjoy social privileges and their wealth through academic titles, connections with the globalist system, and executive remunerations.

The environment is likewise regarded as an area of great possibilities for corruption. The official frame of mind is to exploit the environment rather than to nurture it. Of course, one began on the wrong foot with Parity Rights after independence when the Philippines gave the Americans equal right to exploit our natural resources to our great disadvantage. We have long been suppliers of raw material and a market for much more expensive finished products. Now, along this line of thinking, important mines are offered for exploitation or ownership by foreign corporations. Logging is again another destructive practice because, aside from denuding forests, it also removes the top soil, thus causing massive flooding in the provinces. Again, logging is mostly for the benefit of foreigners with their technology. There is also insufficient legislature for curbing pollution in the air or water. The residues of factories pollute the water which is a source of life. The reason why there is little improvement in installing anti-pollution systems can be the clandestine exchange of sums. All our rich natural resources, even possible oil reserves, are open to foreigners to plunder and profit from until these resources are finally exhausted.

The blatant graft and corruption in government and its unbridled rapacity is permeating people’s lives and warping their values. It is effacing the values of honor, integrity, and honesty with the bad example of the ruling elite who cannot be models for the youth. The government officials who are addressed by the words “Honorable” show that the honorific label is only a formality, if not a hypocrisy. In this government, we are fast losing our pride and self-esteem which can be readily bought by government officials with bags filled with filthy lucre or foreign-branded luxuries. Thus has the government, knowing the difficult times which they themselves have brought out, has played on the weaknesses of people so as to justify their own massive corruption. In the newspapers, there is no end to the staggering cases of official corruption, the NBN-ZTE which the president herself signed in China, the Bolante fertilizer scam, the Eurogenerals who traveled to Russia bringing large sums. All these have called forth the slogan: “Moderate your greed!”

In this connection, it has been a lucky season for prominent criminals who have been coddled or released by the State. Let us not forget the midnight transfer of the rapist Marine Cpl Daniel Smith to the U.S. Embassy with the Jesuit Fr. James Reuter to comfort and speak for him. At the same time, there were negotiations with Spain to release a Spanish Filipino national to its custody, one of the murderers of the two Chiong sisters of Cebu and recently there was the release from jail of Teehankee with relations in high places, who was imprisoned for the murder of two young people. The precedent for this was the release of Manero who killed Father Favali and engaged in the odious crime of cannibalism. Whether rich or poor as in the case of Manero, these involved ruling class interests which could benefit from these actions.

Another deep flaw of governance is rampant nepotism where a family or clan is star-studded with one or several senators, congressmen, cabinet members, etc. This was true of the Marcos/Imelda conjugal dictatorship and their clan and of the Cory Aquino Kamag-anak Incorporated. Now, how could the training for public office leap from the hollow posturings of a third-rate movie actor to that of a congressman scion representing an invented constituency. A recent example is the presidential gift of 2 billion pesos to Bicol congressman and son Datu to spend on his province. The difficulty of expunging nepotism lies in the insufficient political education of the people, especially in the provinces, which is taken advantage of by the state. Masses think that they are beholden to families and familiar names especially among the traditionally wealthy, with the notion that it is the rich class who are empowered to govern. So, in a town, the traditional landlords become their employers, bosses, and ninongs to whom they beg for sums in an emergency.

And so the cycle of the rich holding public office continues. The poor are kept in a condition of dependency beneficial to their officials. For, all in all, the country lacks a system of just remunerations and efficient wealth distribution so that the laborers and poor are always at the bottom rung. This may be only in keeping with the distaste of Americans for wealth-sharing that right-wing conservatives will not engage in, as well as for their primary principles of individualism and profit-orientation giving rise to billionaires who play an important in the economics of government.

The change of mentality is shown in the proliferation of words pertaining to corruption as in the book Corruptionary. But here we should also note that while many of the words have a touch of ubiquitous Filipino humor, there is also much of irony and sarcasm. The book describes the many forms that corruption takes and warns the reader of these scams of which he and Philippine society in general, may easily become victims of. With these officials, corruption has so deeply permeated society that it may become the governing principle to which lesser employees contribute or participate in their own way, thus perpetuating a government of kleptocracy from which the general masses can only feel a profound alienation as well as the powerful desire and initiative to recuperate our national honor.

—Plenary paper for “Corruptionary: A Cultural Innovation for Good Governance,” a national study conference organized by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) in partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Dec. 8-9, 2008, University Hotel, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The 12 crises of 2009


Let me project to 2009–the crisis year for the Philippines.

1. Cha-cha and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA)’s drive to retain power.

2. Seven retirements, seven appointments, and the crisis of independence and relevance of the Supreme Court.

3. Global recession and its effect on the Philippine foreign trade, foreign credit, foreign investments, overseas and local jobs, local business viability, local banking, and political stability.

4. The poverty and hunger crisis.

5. Oil price, exchange rate, and inflation crisis.

6. Continuing crisis of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and media killings.

7. Crisis of the failed peace process and talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

8. Election violence and election manipulation.

9. Credibility and popularity of the GMA administration.

10. Threat of some form of martial law and military’s political meddling.

11. Crisis of rampant government corruption.

12. Crisis in delivery of government basic services to the poor.

Some of these will be solved in 2009; others will worsen; and still others are treated by the government as non-crisis.

The GMA politics of survival–if continued into the new year–can easily bring her administration into a role as part of the problem, not into the role as part of the solution.

A people power greeting to us all as we usher in the year 2009.

Landlord victory, democracy’s loss
Published December 19, 2008

Congress approved a six-month extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) for the second time. Albeit, with new twist. It prohibited the mandatory and compulsory distribution of land, allowing only the Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) mode of land acquisition.

By this act alone, the landlord-dominated Congress ended the constitutional mandate of social justice–at least–until six months hence. However, given the current political climate, this six-month grace is more of a farcical drama of a near-death patient being merely fanned instead of being given oxygen and other restorative drugs.

The only thing that is keeping the agrarian reform program alive is the stiff resistance of the peasantry themselves and their broad supporters, including the Catholic Church itself. The latter knows the social upheaval consequent to a failed asset transfer in the agrarian sector.

The main political lesson from the struggle in the current agrarian reform issue is that the political ruling class is feeling pretty well secured and is prepared to abandon even pretensions at democratization. The ruling state is slowly evolving–if not already there–from a post-Marcos elitist democracy to an oligarchic state. In this situation, the fragile electoral democracy may easily slide into a farcical electoral democracy, even to some form of an oligarchic autocracy.

The current struggle over charter change basically reflects this struggle between the strengthening and broadening of Philippine democracy versus the impulse to institute oligarchic rule.

With a dead CARP, the demise of the promise of the 1986 people power is not far. The stage is thus set for another people power struggle.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fire the driver
Dispatches from the Enchanted Kingdom
By Manuel Buencamino
Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. "Fire the Driver" was published in the Business Mirror on November 26, 2008, page A6.

Let’s grant that those who advocate Charter change love their country as much as those who push for impeachment. Both groups believe the country needs reform, but they disagree on the means.

Charter changers, like the communists, blame the system. They say we stand a better chance of getting to where we want to go if we change the form of government. Simply put, we’ll get there faster if we had a better car. Impeachers, on the other hand, believe that not even a Rolls Royce will get you there if you have a monkey at the wheel.

Last Sunday, I read an article by Patricia Evangelista, a columnist for another daily. It was the story of one Raymond Manalo, a suspected communist sympathizer who was abducted, detained, and tortured by the military.

Here are excerpts from his story:

“Sometimes, when the soldiers are drinking, they take you out of your cage and play with you. The game varies, but it is usually the same. Two by fours, chains, an open gardening hose shoved down your nose. You crawl back to your cage, on your hands and knees. You wake up to screaming, to the sound of grown men begging, and you wonder which one it is this time. Sometimes, one of your cellmates will disappear. Sometimes, they don’t come back.

“Then they take you away, and there is a doctor, pills, antibiotics, a bed. They tell you they are taking you home to see your parents. You meet the man they call The Butcher, and he tells you to tell your parents not to join the rallies, to stay away from human rights groups, that they would ruin your life and your brother’s. He tells you, this small man in shorts, that if you can only prove you’re on his side now, he would let you and your brother live. He gives you a box of vitamins, and tells you that they are expensive: P35 per pill.”

Thank God for tender mercies.

But it gets better.

“And in April 2007, you hear a woman begging, and when you are ordered to fix dinner, you see Sherlyn, lying naked on a chair that had fallen on the floor, both wrists and one tied leg propped up. You see them hit her with wooden planks, see her electrocuted, beaten, half-drowned. You see them amuse themselves with her body, poke sticks into her vagina, shove a water hose into her nose and mouth. And you see the soldiers wives’ watch.”

What sort of human being would invite his wife to witness such atrocities; what kind of woman would go and watch her husband dehumanize another woman?

Torture is now entertainment. How will changing the system without replacing the one who called a torturer “my hero” stop human rights abuses? Charter change will be nothing more than putting a different gun a different gun in the hands of monsters.

There is a direct link between human rights abuses and corruption. One flows from the other. Human rights abuses become rampant when people impoverished by unabated corruption begin to demand reforms. Free speech is curtailed through intimidation; discontent and dissent are suppressedthrough extrajudicial detentions, disappearances, and killings.

Will Charter change put a dent on corruption if the same crooks remain in the driver’s seat?

Corruption is the ugly part of human nature. It can never be totally eliminated, unless you want to eliminate all humans. The most one can hope for is to keep corruption at a minimum. But that does not mean we adopt Romulo Neri’s fatalistic philosophy of “moderating greed.”

Instead, we need to make sure everybody understands that those who steal are guaranteed severe punishment. That’s the only way to raise the cost-benefit ratio of corruption.

Asking crooks to amend the Charter so they can hang on to their position is like buying a new car instead of firing a reckless driver. Let’s change the driver before we even begin to think about tinkering with the car because, more often than not, the problem is with the driver and not the car.

Impeaching Gloria Arroyo is a more effective game changer than changing the system but keeping everyone in place.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Becoming instruments of healing in Mindanao
PUBLISHED ON November 19, 2008 AT 10:37 AM

By Rohaniza Sumndad
Philippines Country Director, Asia America Initiative

After the breakdown of the Mindanao peace process during August and September 2008, a new round of armed conflict began. The United Nations claims that around 500,000 persons — Christians and Muslims — including at least 300,000 infants and children were displaced from their homes without the basic necessities of life.

In urgent response, in mid-September Asia America Initiative conducted an emergency humanitarian relief mission. We visited refugee camps and war-torn communities in provinces such as Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Cotabato. In mid-October, AAI’s Philippines Country Director Rohaniza Sumndad traveled back to Mindanao to partner with Operation Blessing to conduct Post-Traumatic Stress Counselors Training for humanitarian workers in support of the refugees. Ms. Sumndad reflects:

Mindanao is my homeland. Its unsurpassable beauty of lush farm fields, mineral resources, crystal clear water and a wide spectrum of tribes, cultures and languages make it one of the most fascinating places in Southeast Asia. Tragically, poverty, corruption and violence have robbed our futures. It is the stunning wealth of this land that has led to decades of conflict, pitting family against family, clan against clan and Muslim versus Christian: It is my ties to this land and its people that have made me a peacemaker.

During the past few months, Hope for the normal life that we all dream of has been shattered once again by armed conflict. According to the United Nations some 500,000 people in Mindanao, especially children, have been displaced from their homes and live in the shadow of fear due to continued armed conflict. There is a great need to heal and rebuild communities that have been traumatized by violence. During thirty years of war in Muslim Mindanao this has never been done.

“Child warriors” fighting in guerrilla armies are as young as 12 and 13 years old. Government soldiers are as young as 18. Schools with no chairs, books or supplies for basic education are burned to the ground or turned into artillery fire bases or refugee camps. The healing process, which must begin in each person and family, whether Christian or Muslim, is essential to overcome the extreme distress, fear and even hatred that prolong the ongoing cycles of vengeful communal violence. I have been fortunate as a young Muslim woman from this impoverished area of conflict, to have the benefit of graduating from a respected college in the country’s capitol. Now, holding a leadership position in an international NGO specializing in community-based projects in areas of conflict, I have developed a commitment to building “Bridges of Peace.” My colleagues and I are utilizing the common humanity between my country’s Muslim and Christian peoples with full respect to our religious diversity.

In early September, shortly after the Philippine Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace process broke down, I was accompanied on a relief mission to the area of conflict by Asia America Initiative founder Albert Santoli who traveled from the United States to help me organize and carry medicines, nutritional supplies and toys for traumatized children. In Mindanao, we were assisted by our college student volunteers who are called AAI Catalysts for Peace headed by a medical student from MSU-IIT, Ralphtrin Hermosisima.

In each refugee or internally displaced person shelter we visited, we shared medicines, food supplements and toys — even forks and spoons and plastic to build tents. In each location, local officials, social workers and doctors expressed their concern about psychological and emotional trauma suffered by people who fled for their lives. They stated that without proper counseling interventions, the people’s trauma and fear of ongoing violence might cause their communities to fall apart.

In 2007 and early 2008, AAI had already begun doing healing activities in conflicted areas of Sulu and Basilan provinces, through our Kiddie Fun Day events as part of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process H.E.L.P. [Health Education Livelihood Programs] Caravans. Now, in Central Mindanao, as the threat of religious war is escalating, we - as an interfaith but secular organization — began partnering efforts with a faith-based NGO, Operation Blessing, Philippines, who specializes in Emergency Relief.

Our purpose is to conduct TRAUMA DEBRIEFING SEMINARS and COUNSELOR TRAINING WORKSHOPS for Christian and Muslim social workers, public officials and all sectors in the communities. We also traveled to refugee camps with AAI’s energetic local college student volunteers to conduct a program which we call, A FUN DAY: BRINGING HOPE AND CHEERS TO COMMUNITIES. We could not have done this without the partnership of the Provincial Governments of Iligan City, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.

The big-hearted staff of Operation Blessing (OB) Philippines developed a curriculum for healing traumatic stress through dialogue and sharing experiences. Some 90 professionals from the disciplines of social work, education, health, religious clergy, student leaders and even Christian soldiers who had been involved in armed confrontations against local Muslim guerrillas. To everyone’s surprise, religion and diverse culture was not a divisive factor. We all focused on our common humanity and addressed the suffering of the war victims. The training was aimed to give proper orientation and to provide different professional sectors with knowledge and skills in trauma healing sessions through the Self-Awareness — emphasizing on Healing and Peace should come from within. The most important attribute is to be a good listener. The Fun Day activities for children and their families instill hope and promote peace awareness through music, arts, games and laughter. The fun activities trigger a healing antidote to anger, trauma and distrust.

The Seminar and Workshop

The Trauma Debriefing Seminar and Workshop was conducted in the Provincial Capitol of Lanao del Sur in partnership with Operation Blessing and the Provincial Government of Lanao del Sur through Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. It was attended by a diverse cross-section of professional people from Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte. Local government officials, Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council members, Muslim Ulama religious leaders, Youth and Women Group leaders, Social Workers, NGOs, Philippine military officers and Christian Faith Based groups all attended. We were educated in the psychological process of stress and trauma by professional counselors. Then we separated into group sessions to practice counseling and group discussions. After two days of training, all participants were encouraged to apply the techniques they learned in their home communities.

I was deeply touched during the training in the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi. A middle-aged female social worker repeatedly expressed negative comments like, “peace is never possible,” and “groups like you cannot do anything about what’s going on.” She did not want the military to be present in the training. I became curious about her background and her negativity towards giving peace a chance.

Coming from Lanao del Sur, I was not afraid to ask local people who this woman was. Twenty years earlier, her husband had been killed by the military in fighting between the [non-terrorist] Moro National Liberation Front and government forces. For confidentiality, I will not mention her name but my conclusion was this: Her past still haunts her. She’s among the many persons who never received proper counseling to help her overcome her traumatic experiences — not to mention the extreme pain she suffered from because of death of her loved ones.

I gained respect for her because despite her many critical statements, she never left nor walked out of the training. I was trying to empathize and continually observed her. As the sessions went on, her negativity slowly diminished. She freely participated and cooperated with the rest of the group. Throughout the latter sessions, she sat silently and listened intently, very different from how she was acting at the start of the training.

Most of the participants said that it was their first time to undergo training on post-traumatic stress or Trauma Healing. They all realized the importance of incorporating it in their Disaster Management programs. The debriefing workshops acted as an icebreaker among professionals from different sectors. This was especially important because of the negative notion by local people against the military combatants. The practice exercises paved the way to for dialogue among different groups.

Compassion and Consistency are the Keys for Healing

As the training experiences were completed, participants discussed the next steps for instituting post-traumatic stress counseling among all cultural groups suffering from armed conflict. Ms. Grace Alag, the speaker from Operation Blessing, Philippines, encouraged the participants to network and create a support network. This can help facilitate consistent and continually improved trauma counseling in communities afflicted by conflict. Everyone, Christian and Muslim, left the Social Hall of the Provincial Capitol of Lanao del Sur with one goal in mind: To be instruments of Hope to facilitate healing in their communities.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Body of Lies

PUBLISHED ON November 11, 2008 AT 6:18 PM

By Carlos H. Conde

Ever since the United States sent its troops to the Philippines in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Filipino people have been fed the line that the Americans are here either to help the people of Mindanao through humanitarian projects or to help train the Philippine military combat terrorism. The US troops have stayed in the country for so long now that not only have we lost count of exactly how many of them have remained – for all practical purposes, the Americans have set up camps in Mindanao. We know so little else about what they do here except some morsels of information contained in the occasional press release from the US embassy about medical missions and such.

Meanwhile, Filipino officials, particularly those belonging to the political opposition, have either lost interest in knowing exactly what the Americans are up to down south or they, too, had bought the line that all those undetermined number of troops, all those millions of dollars spent since 2002, are so the people of Basilan and Sulu can enjoy potable water or have their cleft lip fixed.

There had been assertions, of course, that there’s more to the presence of the US troops in Mindanao than meets the eye. Focus on the Global South, an international NGO, maintained, for instance, that the Americans have been engaged in an “offensive war” in Mindanao. Leftist groups, naturally, have been calling for the US troops’ pullout, particularly after the Americans suddenly sprouted everywhere — from Basilan, they moved to Sulu then to the Lanao provinces and God knows where else. And the usual line was, of course, they were on humanitarian or medical missions.

Perhaps the first real glimpse of the true nature of the US military’s presence in the south was the mission in 2002 that led to the rescue of Gracia Burnham, the American missionary, who, together with her husband Martin and several others, was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in 2001. The group has been linked to al Qaeda.

And today, The New York Times reported that the US military has used, since 2004, a “broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere.”

“These military raids typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.”

The paper also reported about operations that reminded me of Body of Lies, the movie starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo diCaprio that was shown here recently. “In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants’ compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission — captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft — in real time in the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.”

The New York Times report tells us not to believe whatever the US and the Philippine governments have been telling us since this “war on terror” began. Although the Philippines was not mentioned in the report, it is not difficult to imagine that we are one of the “other countries” where the US had launched these secret attacks.

If anything, this should give politicians a reason to ascertain exactly what the US is doing in Mindanao. As this report indicates, a strong argument can be made that this American presence may have violated Philippine laws.

If the US military can have its way in countries that are less friendly to Washington – Pakistan, for instance – how much more in the Philippines where Americans are given far greater access, whose people bestow on them a tremendous amount of trust that they probably will not find elsewhere?

Carlos H. Conde is a journalist based in Manila.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Women migrants debunk empowerment myth, vow to continue struggle for rights

Jobs available to women are “mere extension of stereotype women roles as homemakers and as sex objects.” These are, in essence, gender-oppressive roles made to appear as formal work placing women in situations open to abuse and exploitation.


A Filipina in dire need lured by promises of gainful employment in Singapore ending up being forced into sexual slavery. A Thai domestic helper in Hong Kong who is paid meager wages. Women from poor countries sold as brides to Taiwanese men. Highly-educated Mongolian women forced to take on jobs not related to their profession. All of them are bound twice—as migrants and as women.

Women migrants who attended the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) this October shared their predicaments, debunking claims that migration has led to the empowerment of women.

The so-called feminization of migration, the United Nations and the International Labor Organization (ILO) claim, has the potential in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

But women migrants think otherwise.

Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) said that the current trade of migration is not voluntary but forced migration. She said migrant workers are like commodities owned by the sending governments to be exported to other governments, in exchange for remittances and as a way to reduce unemployment.

Lestari said that even before migration, political and economic structures propagate a patriarchal culture. Society views women as slaves who are subordinated by men, she said.
Lestari, an Indonesian who works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, said that most women migrants surrender their power to their employer or recruitment agency. Women are made docile and are vulnerable to all forms of violations.


Samantha (not her real name), 40, is the breadwinner of a family of 13.

Like many Filipinos looking for a decent job, Samantha and her niece Clarissa (not her real name) applied for a job in Singapore.

Before leaving, she stayed at the residence of the recruiter, known to her only as Amanda, in Caloocan City. She, her niece and the other talents practiced moves for a Malay dance.

During the orientation, Samantha and the others were instructed to say they were just on a holiday when questioned by immigration authorities in Singapore. They were even given “show money” for the authorities. She was also told that they would not encounter any difficulty with immigration officers in the Philippines because everything had been settled.

On July 14, she left for Singapore. What appeared to be a harmless job turned out to be a nightmare. Upon their arrival, Amanda confiscated all of their cellular phones. They were brought to bar, the main door of which is always locked. Worse, they were forced to have sex with customers of the bar.

“We cannot just sit; we are obliged to sell sex. We have no choice,” Samantha said.

They were told that they have to raise 5,200 Singaporean dollars for their placement fee.

On July 15, Samantha had a Japanese customer who paid 100 Singaporean dollars for three hours of “service.”

“I was crying, it was my first time to have sex with someone I don’t love,” said Samantha, crying.

The next day, Samantha said she learned that Amanda’s real name is Cindy Domingo.

They are prohibited from saying anything about their situation. When talking to their relatives over the phone, Amanda or Cindy would listen and would always warn them not to cry.

Samantha said Amanda would hurl invectives at them. “She even listens to our conversations with customers… She does not keep a list of the money we give her,” said Samantha.

When her visa was about to expire, Amanda took her to Malaysia where stayed for three to four hours so she could renew her visa.

In August, a British customer “hired” Samantha for eight days. She was paid 8,000 Singaporean dollars. “All the money went to Amanda,” related Samantha.

She was determined to escape so she pretended to be nice to Amanda. Just before she left, she witnessed how Amanda slapped another woman victim. “She pulled her hair, banged her head on the wall… I wanted to help her, she was so skinny and helpless but I could not do anything,” said Samantha.

On Sept. 7, she flew back to Manila with the hope of getting back at Amanda and of helping out the other victims of sex trafficking.

Outright lie

In its position paper, women’s group GABRIELA said, “That migration leads to development is an outright lie. That migration of Filipinas can lead to women’s empowerment is a ludicrous notion…The truth is more and more women are being sold as domestic helpers, as entertainers, as caregivers and as mail-order brides in exchange for their dollar remittances.”

“The stark truth, as shown by the Philippine experience, is that women migrant workers find themselves in situations that are very disempowering,” the group maintained.

GABRIELA said jobs available to women are “mere extension of stereotype women roles as homemakers and as sex objects.”

“These are, in essence, gender-oppressive roles made to appear as formal work that place women in situations open to abuse and exploitation,” it said.

Only hope

GABRIELA said the organization and collective actions of migrants and their families are their only hope for protection and better conditions.

“Just as globalization created a borderless exploitation of workers, it has fortunately also paved the way for a borderless organization of oppressed peoples as exemplified by the growing and developing organization of migrants worldwide,” the group said.

It added, “Women migrants must actively take part in the growing resistance against neoliberal policies by building women migrants’ organizations, strengthening their alliances with anti-globalization women’s groups and participating actively in people’s organizations in their own countries or their host countries.” (

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Labor Migration: A dangerous doctrine
ISSUE ANALYSIS No. 15 Series of 2008

The more the economy is stagnant, the less its ability to create jobs, the more dependent government becomes on overseas labor deployment

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA) Program Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
November 3, 2008

If the state policy making and legislative agenda do not change course, the whole nation will wake up one day to find that remittances accumulated through off-shore migration or labor exportation have become government’s No. 1 pillar of economic sustainability.

Right now, foreign trade and investment – steered by neo-liberal globalization – and reliance on overseas development assistance are the first two pillars, followed by the export of Filipino labor. The state policy of globalization as specified by privatization, liberalization, deregulation, and labor-only contracting binds the three major pillars together.

Labor migration has become the safety valve to the country’s unemployment crisis and a major source of foreign exchange: It has surged way past the domestic job market as the remaining option for many Filipinos. In 2000 alone, more than 800,000 Filipinos were deployed abroad while only less than 200,000 were effectively added to the domestic labor market.(1)

As unemployment has worsened under the Arroyo administration compared to the past 50 years, some 3,000 Filipinos leave the country every day for overseas jobs – or a total of more than 1 million every year.

With remittances growing by the year – $14.4 billion in 2007 constituting 10 per cent of the country’s GDP – the government target is to increase labor migration to 2 million by 2010.(2) And the government is determined to meet the target: From January to April this year there were 516,466 migrant workers deployed thus raising the daily departure to 4,314 from last year’s 3,000.

In fact, remittances sent by overseas Filipinos have outstripped both foreign direct investment (FDI) and overseas development assistance (ODA) which have declined in the past several years. FDI was $2.93 billion in 2007 but minus payments to loans the actual investment inflows fell by 69.3 per cent to only $341 million. Last year’s $14.4 billion remittances is equal to 25 per cent of the total ODA received by the Philippines – that is, in 20 years or from 1986-2006 ($39.9 billion).

In general, last year's global foreign remittances already totalled thrice the amount of aid given by donor countries to developing nations: $300 billion against $104 billion. No wonder labor migration is now being trumpeted by the United Nations and other multilateral organizations as a centerpiece program for developing economies.

For a government whose economic policy is subordinated to bitter policy prescriptions of the IMF and WB and adherence to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Arroyo regime’s agenda to make labor migration as a major source of government income received a boost from no less than UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Speaking before the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) on Oct. 29 in Manila, Ban Ki-moon, who is also South Korea’s former foreign minister, hailed migration as “a tool to help lift us out the (current global) economic crisis…(where) countries can draw the greatest possible development benefits.”

A model for migration

Organizers of GFMD chose Manila as the forum venue on account of the Philippines’ being a role model for labor migration among developing countries and chiefly because of the remittances accruing from foreign employment.

Of some 8.2 million Filipinos(3) living and working in more than 193 countries/territories around the world, 43 per cent are permanent immigrants while the rest or 4.7 million are temporary or contract workers. The Philippines is one of the leading sources of migrant labor in the world market. But it tops in the deployment of caregivers and domestics, 90 per cent of them women, as well as in nurses, seafarers (30 per cent of the world supply), and other medical workers and professionals.

Hypocritically since the Marcos years, the government denies the existence of a labor export policy. What it cannot hide however is the existence of a government infrastructure developed since the Marcos years that gives prime attention to the export of Filipino workers and professionals. This infrastructure promotes and processes out-migration, exacts – extorts, if you will – various exorbitant fees from outgoing OFWs, accredits recruitment agencies, provides skills training and immigration lectures, and supposedly earmarks benefits for the migrant workers and their families. This bureaucracy, which is headed by the President, includes the labor department’s Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), Technical Education and Skills Authority (TESDA), and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with its office of migrant affairs and various Philippine Labor Offices (POLOS) based in many countries.

The government also sends several high-level missions every year to market Filipino labor abroad while job fairs for overseas employment are constantly held at home. Before it hosted the GFMD, Arroyo officials joined the first annual Transatlantic Forum on Migration and Integration (TFMI) held last July in Germany. Last month, President Gloria M. Arroyo signed into law the controversial Japan Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) which increases the number of Filipino nurses and caregivers deployable to Japan in exchange for relaxing restrictions to the latter’s exports and investments in the country.

No domestic economy

The promotion of labor out-migration is driven by the fact that the country does not have a viable domestic economy to speak of – an economy that generates adequate jobs to its people. Despite government land reform, 70 per cent of agricultural land remains in the hands of landlords leaving the country’s millions of farmers unproductive and without a stable income.
Instead of basic industries, what the country has are globally-integrated assembly lines or repackaging plants that exploit labor with low wages and lack of job security because of government’s labor contracting policy.

Moreover, labor wages are frozen low in order to attract foreign investment. It is the same policy that government promotes abroad to market Filipino skills in the form of caregivers, construction workers, and other workers. Filipino seafarers are preferred by international shipping companies because the government tolerates the low wages paid them even if monthly benchmark salaries are higher.

Attribute all these to government’s adherence to neo-colonial and now neo-liberal policies which open the country’s weak economy to unrestricted foreign trade and investment threatening not only the productive livelihoods of many Filipinos but also resulting in the shutdown of small industries. Neo-liberal policies exacerbate poverty and unemployment and are generally counter-productive in terms of building a self-sustaining economy and giving jobs.

Epic proportions

With some 4 million jobless Filipinos and another 12 per cent underemployed, unemployment under Arroyo has worsened – in epic proportions since the last 50 years. Thus out-migration is a safety valve to the unemployed, including thousands of professionals – the last exit from a country that is about to implode in a social unrest.

Labor out-migration has also become a political tool of sorts used by the regime to arrest a growing restlessness – if not discontent – among the people against a corrupt and weak government for its inability to provide jobs and a better future for its people. Yet while its economic management increasingly relies on foreign remittances the government has not seriously taken steps to safeguard the rights of OFWs and improve their labor conditions. For instance, of 193 destination countries for Filipino workers the country has only a handful of bilateral labor agreements.

The more the economy is stagnant, the less its ability to create jobs, the more dependent government becomes on overseas labor deployment. What government cannot provide it sells in the world market to help sustain the economies of advanced countries – that bear constant crisis anyway – and the domestic needs of their ageing populations. But this is dangerous, and not only because even before the government would take this extreme option the whole economy would have collapsed. It will erode the urgency for drastic policy reform and new governance and it will calm the people into complacency and defeatism. Or it can be used by the government to evade comprehensive policy reform that would make the economy more responsive to the basic social and economic rights of the people.

But in the first place what can we expect from a government that persists in the doctrine established by previous regimes embedding economic policies to global, transnational business perspectives? Instructive at this point is a critique of the GFMD by the parallel International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR)(4) last week: The GFMD and the UN secretary general’s pro-migration declaration “arose in the midst of the worsening world economic crisis – where far more advanced…countries are fighting their way out of this crisis even as they retain their…control and power, while poverty, unemployment, and underdevelopment continue to aggravate the lives of peoples of Third World countries.” __________________________________________
End notes

(1) S.P. Go, “Remittances and International Labor Migration: Impact on the Philippines,” Metropolis Inter-Conference Seminar on Immigration and Homeland, May 9-12, 2002, Dubrovnik.

(2) Migrant labor remittances do not include those brought home directly by vacationing Filipinos or by door-to-door transactions, thus the total remittances could be more. In 2007, it is estimated to be as much as $18 billion.

(3) According to the government Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO, 2008). Other estimates put the number at 10 million in nearly 197 countries.

(4) Held also in Manila on Oct. 28-30, 2008, the IAMR was organized by Migrante International together with the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), IBON Foundation, and other groups.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Norms for democracy
Friday, November 07, 2008
From The Manila Times

Once again the United States of America, our former “mother country”—in other words, the state of which were were a colony), has given us and the world an example to follow in the ways of democracy. In particular, the conduct of last Tuesday’s presidential and senatorial election is something we Filipinos should try our best to emulate.

Yes, there were mild instances of voter registration and possibly actually voting fraud. But these were immediately resolved. And the cases reported in Ohio, which seemed to be the worst, were apparently shown to have been wildly exaggerated.

Before nightfall of election day, there were already states in which the clear winner—between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen John McCain—as well as the winners of the senatorial contests were already known. By Tuesday night (Wednesday in Manila), the final winners were known so that The Manila Times Thursday issue already had the frontpage headline “MR. PRESIDENT” with the large picture of President-elect Barack Hussein Obama.

The transparency of the electoral process, the probity of election officers, the vigilance and fairness of election watchers of both the Democratic and Republican parties are things we Filipinos must resolve to have in the 2010 elections.

All the hate that anti-Americans all over the world have felt and expressed these past years for President G. W. Bush seemed to vanish with the victory of Mr. Obama.

For he has become a symbol of hope for a better America and a better world. The fact that he is the first black to become president of the United States made not only African-Americans but also all minority people of the United States weep with joy. Even Filipino Muslims—our Moros—and the Arabs are pinning their hopes for a world without war on President-elect Obama.

Once more the inspiring vision of a clean US election recalled—to those who have America in their hearts like many Filipinos as well as, for instance, many Englishmen, Japanese, Koreans, Hong Kongites and Indians—the opening words by Thomas Jefferson of the Declaration of American Independence and the peroration of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. These documents were learned by that generation of Filipinos who experienced being members of the American commonwealth. They are still studied by students of political science everywhere in the world.

Says the preamble to the US Declaration of Independence:“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . .”

And says President Abe Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

McCain’s example

The defeated Republican candidate for president, Sen. John McCain, is well recognized as an American hero who “started making sacrifices for his country since he was 17 years old.” Held as a prisoner of war and tortured by his Vietnamese captors, he refused to be freed as a special case when the North Vietnam officials, on learning that his father was an Admiral of the US Navy, wanted to release him. MrCain wanted his fellow prisoners to be freed with him.

In conceding defeat to Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain again gave an inspiring example of patriotism. As soon as it was clear that he had no more chance of winning, Mr. McCain called up Mr. Obama and congratulated him.

Then he publicly announced his concession, calling on all Americans and particularly those who fought for him against Mr. Obama to unite behind the new leader of the American nation.

“My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly . . . A little while ago, I had the honor of calling senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love,” he said.

“In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance.” He then paid tribute to Mr. Obama’s virtues and gave special acknowledgement of the historic importance of America’s having chosen the first black president of the United States.

Will we Filipinos ever become as patriotic in our politics as Mr. McCain? Will defeated candidates in our country ever learn to ask us, the citizenry, to unite and help the winning candidate succeed in doing a good job serving the people? Will defeated candidates ever learn not to work to undermine the elected officials?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama wins; first black U.S. president
Obama rides wind of change to historic US victory
Wed Nov 5, 2008 9:16 am EST

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

“WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Barack Obama rode a wave of voter discontent to an historic White House victory, promising change as the first black U.S. president but facing enormous challenges from a deep economic crisis and two lingering wars.

“Obama led Democrats to a sweeping victory that expanded their majorities in both houses of Congress as Americans emphatically rejected Republican President George W. Bush's eight years of leadership.

“Raucous street celebrations erupted across the country, but Obama will have little time to enjoy the victory. He was expected to start work on Wednesday, planning his formal takeover on Jan. 20 and assembling a team to tackle the financial crisis and other challenges.

“The son of a black father from Kenya and white mother from Kansas, Obama was born when black Americans were still battling segregationist policies in the South. His triumph over Republican rival John McCain on Tuesday is a milestone that could help the United States get beyond its long, brutal history of racism.

“It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, at this defining moment, change has come to America," Obama, 47, told some 240,000 ecstatic supporters gathered in Chicago's Grant Park.”

From Philippine Daily Inquirer
Why Obama has won
By John NeryPhilippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:57:00 10/28/2008

“…It is in the culture of politics that Obama has already won: This former community organizer has turned his campaign into one massive organizing effort unlike anything seen before—a campaign that has the potential to change the political game in the United States forever.

“Last Oct. 8, the Huffington Post published the first part of Zack Exley’s detailed report on Obama’s “ground game.” The piece begins: “Inside the Obama campaign, almost without anyone noticing, an insurgent generation of organizers has built the Progressive movement a brand new and potentially durable people’s organization, in a dozen states, rooted at the neighborhood level.”

“What follows (verified by numerous other reports, such as those that can be found in Nate Silver’s is detail after revealing, riveting detail about a political movement.

“Win or lose, ‘The New Organizers’ have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation. Obama must continue to feed and lead the organization they have built—either as president or in opposition.”

From Philippine Daily Inquirer
There's The Rub
By Conrado de Quiros
First Posted 02:22:00 11/05/2008

“…As in Marcos’ time, murder and mayhem are running riot in this country again. Gonzales says nothing will change whether Obama or McCain becomes US president. He wishes. If Obama wins, the killings of journalists and political activists won’t be lost on the eyes of Washington. If Obama wins, the complaints of Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and the UN Special Rapporteur about the Philippines’ “culture of impunity” won’t be lost on the ears of Washington. Certainly, Obama won’t dismiss Philip Alston as “just a ‘muchacho’ [houseboy] of the UN.” While at this, I’d be very curious to hear what Raul Gonzalez has to say about a black US president.

“With Gonzales and company now going for high-profile targets (the latest is James Balao, an outstanding alumnus of the University of the Philippines in Baguio City and founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance) in a bloody, archaic and senseless campaign to rid the world of communists, or people they presume to be so, an Obama presidency will be as welcome to them as an Arroyo impeachment. One case especially has the potential to become America’s symbolic gesture to restore human rights to the Philippines, and that is the case of Jonas Burgos. Jonas’ father at least, if not Jonas himself, is well known to Americans. Joe Burgos was named one of the 100 most important journalists in the world by international news organizations at the end of the last century. That his son should become a “desaparecido” [disappeared] for being just as vigilant as he is in the defense of freedom, only a George Bush or a John McCain can ignore.

“All this may not seem much in the grand scheme of geopolitics. But it sure as hell means the world to those who have lost kin and friend to a murderous regime. It sure as hell means the world to those who believe in justice and freedom and democracy and continue to fight for them. In any case, who says geopolitics is a grand scheme?

“Human life is the grandest scheme of all. Saving it is the most dramatic change there is.”

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Philippines: The collapse of peace in Mindanao

From PinoyPress
PUBLISHED ON October 25, 2008 AT 8:27 PM

Jakarta/Brussels, 23 October 2008: A new Supreme Court ruling has ended hope of a peaceful resolution in the near future to the decades-old conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippines government.

The Philippines: The Collapse of Peace in Mindanao,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, says the immediate task now is to prevent escalation of fighting and discourage the government and local officials from arming civilians. Interested governments and donors should press both sides to keep existing ceasefire mechanisms in place, while quietly urging a return to talks.

“Peace talks have broken down before but never in this way, with government institutions and the political elite fundamentally rejecting the achievements of the negotiators. It will be much harder this time, even if talks resume, to simply pick up from where they left off,” says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser.

The court ruling on 14 October, preceded by an injunction on 4 August, effectively killed an extraordinary Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain that was the culmination of eleven years’ negotiation. It acknowledged the Muslims of Mindanao, the Bangsamoro, as a First Nation and gave wide powers to the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) that was to be set up as their homeland. The agreement was negotiated with little public consultation, and when the extent of the BJE’s proposed territory was revealed – even though affected communities were to be offered a chance to opt in or out in a plebiscite – local officials demanded the signing be stopped.

A few MILF “renegade” commanders then launched attacks on civilians and the military responded with “punitive actions” against them. Renewed fighting has claimed some 100 civilian lives and displaced some 390,000 but remains largely restricted to areas where these commanders operate. Several factors are militating against a return of the two sides to all-out war, but the Supreme Court ruling and the sense that the strategy of talking peace has failed could lead other commanders to join the “renegades.”

“Both sides need to learn lessons from this debacle,” says John Virgoe, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “The government needs to be more engaged with its own negotiating team, head off potential spoilers through consultation or cooptation, and be prepared to deliver what it promises. The MILF needs to show more backbone in dealing with errant commanders.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The U.S. financial crisis and the Philippines’ economic debacle
The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
ISSUE ANALYSIS No. 14 Series of 2008

Having produced only disastrous results, economic management can no longer be left in the hands of an elite corps of bureaucrats and technocrats who ape lock, stock and barrel models purposely to make corporate profits bigger at the expense of workers, farmers, and other marginal sectors.

By the Policy Study, Publication and AdvocacyCenter for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) September 29, 2008

The opposing views proliferating in the media on whether the U.S. financial meltdown will have an extensive impact on the Philippine economy are expected and time may help settle this debate. By zeroing on the element of “impact”, however, these divergent views – voiced largely by economic authorities, bankers, and financial analysts – only miss the truth about the country’s economic anchors, a core issue that is hardly touched every time a financial crisis in the U.S. happens. They forget that neo-liberalism, enforced in most parts of the world by U.S.-led global capitalism, has left billions of people more marginalized and their lives more miserable by the day.

The Philippine economy has been fettered by prolonged unequal ties with its former colonial master – the U.S. - and by being made an appendage to global capitalism. This imbalanced relationship takes its roots, among others, in post-war onerous impositions, one-sided trade agreements, bitter debt payment programs, and unilaterally-enforced credit arrangements.

At the heart of this historical imposition is the Philippine presidency and its economic generals who have perpetuated this unequal relationship for decades, keeping the Philippines always at the receiving end of global capitalism’s periodic crisis. The current U.S. financial crisis – a result of the unregulated speculative financial sector leading to a housing mortgage mess and credit crunch – should compel everyone to reject this inherently disastrous economic model and work toward an independent, people-oriented economic policy.

'Dark age'

To begin with, the Arroyo government is lying through its teeth when it assures the business community not to fear as the country will ride out America’s financial meltdown even if this has all the makings of a second Great Depression or what European groups call a modern “dark age.”

However, as early as January this year, even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) foresaw the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia – and other developing regions - as bearing the brunt of the global impact from a major economic slowdown in the U.S. The recession, the Fund said, will trigger a stiffer export competition from China at the expense of the Philippines and other export-driven countries in the region such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Making a similar forecast, the economic intelligence center Euromonitor projected that the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia heavily dependent on exports to the U.S. will be hit by the economic slowdown as the export demand by the world’s biggest economy declines.

Indeed, the U.S. remains a major destination for Philippine exports. About 20 per cent of the country’s exports go directly to the U.S. Another 50 per cent of the exports go to Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia but these are actually components assembled into products that end up in the U.S. market. All these mean that cuts on the U.S. export demand could be potentially devastating to 70per cent of the country’s exports.

Aside from export manufacturing, highly dependent on the U.S. market are the information technology-enabled industry and the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector. In 2005 these accounted for 90 per cent of BPO export revenues and over two-thirds of foreign equity.

At the receiving end

Each time the U.S. economy tumbles, the Philippines and the rest of the world are bumped aside. Being in the clutches of the U.S. economic hegemony since colonial times, however, the Philippines is at the receiving end of the crisis of capitalism that America passes on to small, developing countries and emerging economies.

To recall, America bought the Philippines from Spain at the end of the 19th century in the period of U.S. capitalist expansion and its conquests for market, cheap labor, and raw materials in Asia Pacific. A strong lobby mounted by U.S. producers against Philippine exports during the Great Depression of the 1930s led to the transition that ended with the granting of independence.

But the grant of independence in 1946 was conditioned upon onerous agreements that tied the Philippines to a “free trade” allowing the unrestricted entry of U.S. exports with parity rights for American citizens to exploit the country’s natural wealth, and own properties and strategic industries.

Emerging from the war in control of more than half of the global wealth and awash with trade surpluses, America had to keep the Philippines and other countries in its grip where it could dump its excess commodities, exploit their cheap raw materials, expand finance capital operations, and extend a new-found military hegemony. Accordingly, national security doctrines during the period emphasized the importance of maintaining a pro-U.S. government in the Philippines that would guarantee America’s over-arching economic and military objectives.

Over the next 60 years, the Philippines’ economic dependence on the U.S. gave birth to treaties and policies allowing the entrenchment of U.S. strategic enterprises and investments, the export of raw commodities, heavy reliance on foreign investments, and the elimination of protectionism.

This neo-colonial structure maintained the system of landlordism and a bourgeoisie that depended on the plunder of natural resources and export of cheap raw commodities. As a result, the local economy became lethargic and generally backward, unable to shield itself from the rise and fall of an increasingly globalized economy where modern agriculture, a strong industrial base, and protective barriers are the keys to survival.

Bitter prescriptions

Imbalanced trade, a weak manufacturing base, and heavy borrowings further resulted in the accumulation of foreign debt that made successive and corrupt administrations accommodating to bitter economic pills prescribed by the IMF and World Bank.

Under the regime of the structural adjustment program (SAP), up to 50 per cent of the national budget went to automatic debt servicing, regressive taxes were increased while social services were reduced, and strategic public corporations went to private hands many of them TNCs.

The government’s commitment to globalization and World Trade Organization (WTO) led to the deregulation of the oil industry. Import liberalization displaced the country’s small producers while tens of thousands of workers lost their regular jobs due to labor-only contract system.

These economic policies took shape in the midst of the periodic crisis of contemporary capitalism battering the U.S. and other capitalist countries. Holding neo-liberalism with a sacred aura, the country’s economic strategists laughed off criticisms from progressive groups that this “new” capitalist paradigm was designed to bring relief to the leading capitalist economies at the expense of the Philippines along with other emerging economies.

Champions of neo-liberal globalization have shown no empirical evidence to support their claim of “equal playing field” and economic growth. On the contrary, neo-liberalism has lost its appeal as it has only widened the gap between rich and poor the world over. Today, nearly three billion people – half the world's population – are living on less than two dollars a day. Conversely, the richest 2 per cent of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth.

Poverty and unemployment

Here at home, claims of economic growth based on GDP cannot hide the unprecedented increase in the number of poor Filipinos by three million (2003-2006), with the total conservative number of poor now 27 million. Current increases in the prices of oil and food products aggravated by the adverse impact of the U.S. meltdown will likely increase the number of poor several times in the coming years.

Meantime, about 4.1 million people are jobless with the country facing a 10.8 per cent underemployment record in 2007. At least 3,000 Filipinos leave the country everyday in search of jobs abroad. There are other grim statistics about the Philippines human development rating that will make it hard to see any positive signs of success attributed to government’s neo-liberal policies.

The management of the country’s economy is a serious responsibility that should be grounded on the people’s rights and well-being, above all else. Having produced only disastrous results, economic management can no longer be left in the hands of an elite corps of bureaucrats and technocrats who ape lock, stock and barrel models purposely to make corporate profits bigger at the expense of workers, farmers, and other marginal sectors.

Clearly, the most recent financial crisis in the U.S. has dealt a mortal blow to the failed but deadly practices of neo-liberalism the world over and undoubtedly lays the groundwork for the crafting of alternative policies more responsive to the needs of the powerless and marginalized in our societies. We can start right here in our country by working for the end of the destructive and rapacious rule by the elite and building people-centered democratic governance.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blogpost from a Filipina overseas worker in Switzerland
Sunday, October 26, 2008

You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.

(Ex 22:20)

I remember the first time when my mother left us to work abroad. I was young then and we were left in the care of our minders. It was temporary and only lasted a month. When it happened again when I was 15, I still couldn't comprehend how a mother could leave her children in search of money. It lasted almost two years. In my youth, I reasoned that I didn't need the money but her presence. I spent many nights crying and hating the fact that we had to be in that kind of situation.

I am only one of millions who experienced this. The Philippines has 1 in 8 people who go abroad. That's 10 million people and if multiplied by the families it affects, it could reach 50 million people. There are families who have been separated for more than 25 years.

But due to economic reasons, it has become almost a national strategy to send out people so that the Filipinos could search for greener pastures abroad. The remittances of the Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs has kept the Philippine economy afloat that they have been called the country's "new heroes."

But what do the OFWs go through when they're abroad? I have been witness to the attempted suicides, abortions and predicaments of the OFWs when I was in Abu Dhabi. I remember the blood stains of an abortion on the carpet that I spent hours trying to scrub off. I saw a bloodied wrist as it was getting bandaged after a suicide attempt. I heard the many horror stories and saw the lashes in the women's prison when a young Filipina (almost my age 15) was hit on her bare back 100 times with a reed leaving red blood marks on her skin because she had killed the man that raped her. Rape was common and yet the women kept it to themselves because they had to send money back home for their families. I saw the cramped quarters of the takas or runaways whose employers had abused them.

I am now in Switzerland and I am still privy to the many stories of broken homes, mistresses, depression and wayward children back home because of lack of adult supervision. It haunts me that families have to be apart because parents seek to provide a better future for their children, a brighter tomorrow that they couldn't have imagined if they had stayed back home.

But I understand now, I am an OFW myself. I am sending home money to my family and I am far away with only friends to call family. It is difficult and it is still painful but I have learned to live with the situation because as a migrant here, I am treated with respect and dignity.

I reflect on the reading for today in Exodus. It is not the first time that people have left their countries of origin in search of better tomorrows. To reiterate Dr. Manuel Dayrit's talk during the Workshop on Migration and Development a few weeks ago, we weren't the first to migrate, it was the Jews, then the Africans and the massive exodus of all the nations. And migration had a spiritual aspect.

And in those times, migrants were treated unkindly and unjustly, oftentimes becoming slaves. These days, there's the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what Atty. Cej Jimenez calls for is that migrants' rights be included in the basic human rights. Everybody needs to be treated with dignity and that migration is not dealing in commodities but in human persons.

There are three different types of aliens or strangers.

1. One is to be feared – those that are deemed to be dangerous and are a threat to society.
2. One that needs to be taken cared of – like the victim in the story of the Good Samaritan.
3. One to be respected – like the Good Samaritan.

This is the line of thought of the Couples for Christ thrust to build the Church of the Pilgrim. When the Jews were slaves, they not only brought themselves but also their faith. Each pilgrim or migrant brings with himself his culture and his belief system. Thus, migration does not only have an economic or political value but also a spiritual face. It is in those times that introduction to the one God – Yahweh – began. And from then on, whenever a believer travels, he spreads the Good News or spreads his belief. And because migration is rampant, there is a need to build a Church for the Pilgrim and to take care of the spiritual needs of the migrants.

Since we are all pilgrims on this earth, one way or another, we should not forget to remember that we should treat strangers and aliens with the utmost respect befitting a human person and a person who is created by God in His image. In today's Gospel, we are reminded that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind and strength and also to love our neighbour as God has loved us.

This call brings us the challenge of loving every person in need and not to oppress anybody because if we were in their shoes, we wouldn't want to be taken advantage of or to be subjected to ill-treatment. We would like to be respected and to be treated as human beings worthy of living with our dignity in tact.

Tomorrow marks the day of a week-long forum on migration and development. Many nation states will come to Manila for the Global Forum on Migration and Development and will deal with issues relating to the many migrants who have made the world a smaller place because boundaries are blurred. Let us continue to pray that migration will become a migration out of choice and not out of need. And that if we are faced with becoming migrants that people will treat us with dignity and if we meet migrants that we will answer the call to love our neighbours as God has loved us.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Arroyo’s labor export policy and GFMD 'promote trafficking of Filipino women'

PUBLISHED ON October 24, 2008 AT 4:20 PM
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A women’s party list group scored the Arroyo government and the Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD) for the intensified trafficking of Filipino women and children. To show their disgust for the Arroyo government and the GFMD, the Gabriela Women’s Party held a protest parade this morning at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Pasay City.

Gabriela Women’s Party’s “Parade of Pinays for Export (PX),” highlighted the plight of Filipino women who were trafficked as mail order brides, domestic workers and caregivers, and prostituted women in countries such as the US, Singapore, Japan, Kuwait, and Canada, among others.

According to reports, some 300,000 to 400,000 Filipino women are victims of trafficking yearly. They are among the 12.3 million victims of forced labor or servitude worldwide.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said that the Philippines belongs to the top five countries in the world with the most number of human trafficking victims, 80 per cent of the victims are female minors. The DFA reported some 238 cases of trafficking in 2007, 212 of these are cases of sex trafficking in Singapore.

Cristina Palabay, Gabriela Women’s Party secretary general, said that Arroyo’s labor export policy ‘legitimizes the trafficking of our women and children to precarious and exploitative situations in host countries.’

”Without jobs and livelihood within the Philippines, victims are lured, deceived and facilitated by profit-hungry syndicate recruiters and even government officials with promises of different jobs, good compensation, high wages and benefits,” Palabay said.

Palabay disclosed that despite the enactment of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act in 2003, there were only eight convictions involving 11 persons out of more than 200 cases filed in violation of the law.

Palabay also said that by highlighting the Philippine government as the role model among nations for exporting labor and by pursuing regular and protective forms of migration, “the GFMD’s role in the promotion of trafficking of women and children becomes clearer.”

Palabay said that with the generation of some $28 billion from the illegal industry of trafficking of women and children, the GFMD sees trafficking as a “profitable industry.”

The group will participate in the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR), a counter forum to the GFMD, on October 28 to 30. (

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beyond remembering

Reprinted from BULATLAT

PUBLISHED ON October 4, 2008 AT 6:33 PM
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Review of Nilikhang KasaysayanVisual Art Exhibit Sept. 21 – Nov. 28, 2008 Bantayog Memorial Center Quezon Avenue cor. EDSA, Quezon City

The martial law that Ferdinand Edralin Marcos imposed in 1972 left a tragic imprint, snippets of terror and malevolent signs. In the visual art exhibit Nilikhang Kasaysayan, the violence of the tumultuous years under the Marcos dictatorship is rekindled, claiming a familiar place in the repressive undercurrent of the present regime.

Contributor, CULTURE/Bulatlat

For the visual art exhibit Nilikhang Kasaysayan (Created History), artist-curator Edgar Talusan Fernandez enjoined his fellow artists to mount the show on the 36th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. More than an effort at commemorating its declaration and the atrocious events that transpired after, the exhibit is a bitter commentary on the continued infliction of violence against the people who, in their impoverished condition, struggle for societal change.

Though the administrations after Marcos’ have tried to veil their rule with illusions of peace and the presence of a “democratic space,” the present generation is familiar with the pain, agony and terror the children experienced under martial law. It is precisely because similar faces hound the scene and the Palace stands with the same, old façade. The exhibit does not only evoke sympathy from viewers; it impresses on them the need for discernment and a critical re-examination of present times.

The visual works included in the exhibit are along the “social realist” genre. Alice Guillermo, foremost art critic in the country, describes social realism as a movement in art that spouses the ideology of the marginalized. It fearlessly depicts social realities and reflects the aspirations of the people for genuine change. Perusing the rich visual narrative of each work of art, one would be transported back to the decade of terror that typified Marcos’ rule. At the same time, one would also be conveyed into a stream of realization that history has repeated itself.

The paintings done with oil and acrylic framed years ago are placed on the contemporary wall imposing its taunting significance in the present-day state of affairs. The paintings done only during recent years reflect the unchanging times and the unrealized aspirations of the past generation.


Because the participating artists lived under the repressive circumstances of the martial law years and in one way or another experienced the iron fist of the Marcos regime, the images eloquently depicted in their works are vivid accounts of history, coming from the very core of the political tumult.

Ana Fer’s “Batas Militar” (Martial Law, 1984, rubbercut) illustrates the hardships experienced by the people under the rule of Marcos. Depicted alongside the dictator are his wife, Imelda and cronies on his right and his soldiers on his left. His tie, which bears the symbol of the American flag, represents his government’s puppetry to the US. Meanwhile, inverted above Marcos are images of the people suffering from this situation. The print presents the cruel interplay of power not only during the Marcos administration, but in almost all administrations in post-colonial Philippines.

Another work portraying the terror of martial law years is Pablo Baens Santos’ “Panangis ni Ina” (Mother’s Cries, 1984, oil on canvas). The sight of the figures lying lifeless on the ground and those in bondage while undergoing torture brings the image of the mother to tears. Yet, the work presents not a woman who has given in to a helpless situation, but a woman who has her despair translated into rage. The rage that can be seen from the look in her eyes is a rage that would bring her up from her knees to fight for justice for her brood. Baens Santos’ choice of medium and the heavy strokes employed add intensity to the visual narrative of the work.

Jose Tence Ruiz’s depiction of a hanged animal carcass, meanwhile, signifies the grimness of the rampant human rights violations during the martial law years. The concentration of colors set against a dark background completes the dour image of fright lurking around the unmoving and lifeless image.


While a social realist work of art brings before the viewers social realities in its most honest depiction, it can also reflect the people’s aspiration for genuine change. As a consequence of oppression and political slavery, the people’s constant longing and struggle for freedom is itself an ever-present social reality.

Fernandez’ “Lakbay ng Panahon” (Journey Through the Times, 1985, acrylic on canvas) explains why “the history of Filipino people is a history of class struggle.” It shows the resistance of Filipino people from the Spanish colonial period to the war of aggression waged in the country by the Americans with crucial roles played by local ruling class. The presence of the image of Andres Bonifacio, as well as of indigenous peoples, imply the primary role historically played by the oppressed classes in the re-shaping of history. The red cloth that seems to enfold the people connotes the radicalism of the Filipino people’s struggle throughout its long history.

Another work depicting resistance is Baens Santos’ “Boycott” (1981, oil on canvas). “Boycott” continues to be used by students and workers as a protest form. Like most of Baens Santos’ works, this particular piece used the interplay of colors to denote both the darkness of the situation and the longing of the people for change.


In the collaborative work of visual artist Antipas Delotavo and poet Jesus Manuel Santiago, text and visuals are infused to create a powerful work of art that screams despite the subdued imagery and resigned subject depicted in the huge canvas. In the four-panel artwork entitled “Eksenang Tahimik” (Quiet Scene, 2008, oil on canvas), the first three parts show tight arms, hands clutching a gun and a finger ready to pull the trigger the moment the delirious taste for killing enters the brain of the assassin. An assassin whose face is not shown points to one direction only: a man with a bowed head seemingly waiting for the bullet to enter the back of his skull.

Scribbled throughout the first three panels are lines of Santiago’s poem. The use of ochre for writing the text creates an impression that the writer scratched through the grim-colored surface. The friction between the surface and the strokes of handwriting creates a spark-like effect that appears to be an effort to peel off the darkness of the “quiet scene.”

On the fourth panel, there is picture of a forest with a dog sniffing across the ground to locate a buried corpse.

Similarly, Brenda Fajardo used text to introduce before the viewer the revolutionary poet Emanuel Lacaba. Entitled “Alay kay Eman” (Dedicated to Eman, 1996, acrylic on paper), the work presents Lacaba not as a hero to be distinguished from others but as a revolutionary who had become one with the masses. Lacaba, who was summarily executed in 1976 in Davao del Norte, was one of the young activists who, during the dictatorship of Marcos, decided to leave the city to organize peasants in the countryside.


Edicio de la Torre’s work “Piglas” (Breaking Free, 2008, acrylic on canvas), features a white dove, the universal symbol of freedom. Around the dove are images of people bathed in red, perhaps implying that freedom, indeed, requires radical change to be brought about by the movement of the people.

Clearly, the works in this visual art exhibit are presented not merely to enable viewers to remember a page in history but to trace the road to freedom through the trail of blood shed during the past struggles of the Filipino people. It reminds viewers that to remember is also to learn from the past. The images speak not only of the perpetual terror but also of the exigent and urgent need to end it. (