March 23, 2015

Venezuela stands up to US bullying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Businessworld
23 March 2015





March 08, 2015

Marching for authentic change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Business World
9 March 2015

February 08, 2015

Aquino cover-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There must be no impunity for the Mamasapano bloodbath. #

Published in Business World
9 February 2015