April 25, 2016

Elections — the ultimate con game

Whoever figuratively likened Philippine elections to a circus decades ago could not have imagined how literally true the metaphor has become these days. Aside from the carnival atmosphere and blaring jingles, there are the candidates trying all sorts of tricks to dazzle and convince us of their worth, and the assortment of clowns and bizarre side shows.

The kind of fakery expected from candidates includes motherhood statements about concern for the poor and underprivileged and the willingness to serve no matter the personal sacrifice.  For incumbent officials or politicians poised for a comeback, there are the exaggerated claims of achievement such as thousands of scholars and grateful charity patients plus a train of downtrodden folk who supposedly benefited from the candidate’s kindheartedness and generosity.

Then there are the perennial promises: to wipe out corruption and criminality; to uplift the poor; to provide jobs and basic social services; to grow the economy; to make government transactions transparent and officials accountable; to lead by example; etc. ad nauseam.

Personal narratives intended to make the candidate appear to be a man or woman of the masses are part of the stratagem.  The five presidentiables exemplify this old ploy.

Jejomar Binay grew up poor and struggling, at some point allegedly having to feed slop to pigs. The dark color of his skin and modest height are used to underscore his humble beginnings.  Several terms as Makati City’s mayor supposedly seals his credentials as a more-than-able and pro-poor public official.  Nothing is said about how he became incredibly rich just by being a public servant.

Rodrigo Duterte is the macho, foul-mouthed, no-nonsense man-of-action.  His claim to fame is Davao City’s touted crime-free, peaceful and disciplined social environment.  He may not be virtuous, nor does he display the requisite good manners and right conduct for the presidency, but he is supposedly the decisive leader the country needs to create order from the chaotic mess we are in.  We are asked to disregard disturbing reports about extrajudicial killings sanctioned by Mayor Duterte and suspicions that his quick-fix solution to criminality is via authoritarian rule.

Grace Poe’s narrative as a foundling, despite her being adopted by a well-to-do showbiz celebrity couple, and her almost being disqualified from running on this score, has given her a patina of being an underdog.  She also capitalizes on her late father’s film persona as hero of the oppressed.  Poe complements this mystique by her simple and straightforward demeanor that makes her appear accessible to ordinary folk.  Still, questions about her qualifications and patriotism continue to dog her candidacy.

Miriam Defensor-Santiago capitalizes on her middle class background and her achievements as a seasoned lawyer, judge and legislator. Her witticisms, sharp tongue and legendary temper directed effectively against her political pet peeves goes hand-in-hand with her cultivated image as the nemesis of corrupt and incompetent officials.

Too bad for Mar Roxas, there can be no denying that his background reeks of wealth and privilege as scion of Negros sugar barons and the Roxas political dynasty.  His academic credentials as graduate of an exclusive American university; his work as an investment banker; his record as a bureaucrat then a legislator under several administrations; his campaign based on the tiresome “daang matuwid” catchphrase of the incumbent regime while taking advantage of government resources to fuel his campaign — all these reinforce the perception that Roxas knows little about the travails of the common tao, much less does he empathize with their plight. So much for his narrative.

As to be expected, whatever platforms these candidates stand for are reduced to platitudes, pie-in-the-sky promises, or bombastic demagoguery that have nothing to do with finding genuine solutions to the fundamental problems of Philippine society.

As the elections day draws near, the mudslinging becomes even more frenzied. Every candidate’s gaffe or deepest, darkest secret is pounced upon by his or her opponents to try to pull that candidate down or gain an advantage before the next round of election surveys. The side shows keep the public preoccupied, distracted, entertained or disgusted as the case may be.

In the midst of all this, the technical operators of the grand electoral carnival do their thing, their presence and service accepted as a necessity, their competence and efficiency assumed and taken for granted.  As in a real carnival, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in this case is responsible for seeing to it that all the rides, all the tricks and special effects, are safe and secure with all necessary safeguards in place. A single flaw, a single missing bolt or defective electrical circuitry could result in fatal disaster.

The COMELEC has always had a spotty if not downright suspect record, but controversies and charges of anomalies are invariably brushed aside as mere "sour graping" by losers. Two elections have been held using the automated election system (AES) with COMELEC allowing a US-based multinational corporation, SMARTMATIC, to do the electronic count and canvass without the safeguards provided for by law, akin to allowing the ferris wheel and roller coaster rides to operate without checking the integrity of the mechanical and electrical components.

The hacking of COMELEC’s vast database dubbed “COMELEAK” has compromised security of voters' data and makes voters vulnerable to all sorts of heists via identity theft.  This only shows what kind of work ethic the COMELEC works under --  gross negligence instead of due diligence in performing its crucial task of safeguarding the sanctity of the ballot;  irresponsibility rather than responsibility.

COMELEC continues to promote the myth that speed in counting the ballots and transmitting results using the AES can substitute for accuracy and dependability in reflecting the will of the electorate.  Moreover, in the era of pre-election and post-election exit surveys, the credibility of the polls seems to hinge on whether the outcomes hew closely to the foregoing survey results no matter an abundance of election anomalies.

The illusion of elections as a democratic exercise is maintained by the noise and the hoopla of the electoral circus.  To place our hope for real change in such periodic spectacle is to allow ourselves to be conned as well as screwed again and again. #

Published in Business World
25 April 2016

April 17, 2016

The lure of strongman rule

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

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

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

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

The massive and systematic violations of the people’s democratic rights; the plunder of the national treasury, economy and patrimony by the Marcoses, their local and foreign business cronies and favored multinational corporations and banks; the surrender of economic sovereignty to the IMF-World Bank; the surrender of national sovereignty to US imperialist geopolitical interests foremost of which were the US bases on Philippine soil; the monopoly and abuse of power and the brutal suppression of any and all opposition; the entrenchment of a culture of corruption, gangsterism and impunity in the civil and military/police bureaucracy and the list goes on — these crimes against the people and the nation have yet to be fully accounted for much less punishment rendered to those accountable.

Wielding unrestrained state power to the hilt with the full backing of the US and with the legislative and judiciary branches of government under his heels, Marcos became the quintessential bureaucrat-capitalist far surpassing any of his predecessors and eventually becoming the envy of his successors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Business World
18 April 2016

April 10, 2016

Whitewashing the Kidapawan massacre

Last week’s killing, wounding and illegal arrest of drought-stricken farmers who barricaded the Davao-Cotobato highway to dramatize their demands has brought to national attention the harsh realities in the country’s rural areas.

It highlighted the desperate straits of the majority of rural folk especially the peasantry.  Poor farmers including indigenous people eke out a living subject to the vagaries of nature; utilizing backward means of production; tied to exploitative tenant-landlord relations; reliant on a usurious lending system; forced to sell their produce at low farm-gate prices; and under threat of displacement by mining operations, plantations and other “development projects”.

Extreme weather disturbances that have become the new normal as a result of climate change have hit poor farmers hard whether these be typhoons, flooding, drought or infestation by pests.

To top it all, their lives and livelihood are made even more precarious by ongoing counterinsurgency operations to contain the New People’s Army and, in Muslim Mindanao, Moro rebel forces.  More often than not, these end up disrupting civilian communities that the military suspects to be providing aid and succor to the “enemy”.

With failed harvests, mounting debts and hungry mouths to feed, farmers in North Cotobato decided to take their appeals for support to the provincial capital rather than wait in vain for help to come to them.  Their demands were legitimate: immediate release of 15,000 sacks of rice; release of calamity funds; raise farm-gate prices of their produce; stop militarization of the countryside.

But the governor turned a deaf ear to the farmers’ demands and instead sicced the police on the protesters.  Not content with mowing them down with gunfire, beating them, and making scores of arbitrary arrests, the police as well as military laid siege to a Methodist Church compound where the protesters took refuge.  They turned off the electricity and threatened to charge church leaders for giving sanctuary to so-called criminals.  They conducted a search of the compound but came up empty-handed.

The authorities prevented human rights workers from rescuing the blockaded protesters, attending to the wounded, aiding the arrested and locating hundreds unaccounted for. They conducted unauthorized autopsies on the two persons killed and falsely claimed they did not die from gunshot wounds.  They bulldozed the scene of the massacre and wantonly destroyed the protesters’ belongings left behind in the melee.

Even before a proper investigation had been undertaken, the police involved in the brutal dispersal of the protesters were awarded medals of recognition while the arrested and several individuals tagged as protest leaders were criminally charged for the violent outcome. They have been presenting false witnesses against the protesters to the mass media.

As news of the Kidapawan massacre trickled out, the plaintive call “bigas hindi bala” and the demand for justice for the victims of gross human rights violations resonated among the broad public.  People could not understand why hungry farmers could not be treated with compassion by concerned government officials.  Why were their appeals and demands met with indifference, their protest action met with harshness and eventually armed suppression. Where did government calamity funds go?  What had the Department of Agriculture done to mitigate the effects of El Niño?  Where was President Aquino and what did he have to say?

People were indignant that rice sacks donated by private individuals and groups were being prevented by North Cotobato Governor Taliño-Mendoza from reaching the farmers.  People rejected her wild accusations that a presidential candidate, in cahoots with her political opponents as well as with “militant leftists” had “instigated” the protest action to make the government look bad.

Agriculture Secretary Alcala’s attempt to minimize the severity of the drought in North Cotobato and to claim that government had done what it could to help the farmers was met with disbelief. Reports that the National Food Authority had more than enough rice stocks and was even in the process of selling these at a loss to rice distributors who in turn would make a huge profit were met with suspicion that corrupt deals were being made at the expense of calamity-hit farmers.

Amidst denunciations that President Aquino and his officials are incompetent, have little concern for the farmers’ plight and have the propensity to resort to state violence in dealing with crises, Malacañang slowly put together it’s counter attack.

First, that the protesting farmers were the aggressors. They provoked the police.  They were also armed.  They had been infiltrated by the New People’s Army.  Too bad for the Aquino regime, despite attempts at a cover-up, video footage and eyewitness accounts clearly show the police attacking the protesters.

Second, that the farmers were deceived by the protest organizers. They were told they would be given rice if they joined the protest.  How is it then that the farmers stayed for two and a half days under the scorching sun even as the police threatened them through a blaring sound system that they would be arrested if they did not leave? Why did it take a violent dispersal by the police to break their ranks?

Third, that the organizations of the militant Left were leading the protest because ordinary farmers could not have mobilized in such numbers by themselves.  This explains why the demands were political like putting a stop to the militarization of the countryside.  Now why does Malacañang assume that farmers are incapable of analyzing their situation and connecting socio-economic demands with political demands? Why do Aquino apologists assume that ordinary people are incapable of getting organized and fighting for their interests against government neglect and bad policies?

Pseudo-progressive parties like Akbayan who are part and parcel of the Aquino regime and anti-communist pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to know the inner workings of the communist movement provide the most absurd argument.  They say that protest organizers are communist agitators themselves who have a hidden agenda which has nothing to do with alleviating the hunger of the farmers but everything to do with bringing down the government.

They say that is the reason the protesters would not peacefully disperse despite the entreaties of the police.  According to this line, the Kidapawan massacre is part of the Left’s strategy and tactics, deliberately intended to spill the blood of farmers, enrage the public and consequently heap the blame on government. This convoluted argument falls flat on its face since it entails the Leftists’ unbelievable capacity to manipulate not only the protesting farmers but also the actuations of both civilian authorities and state security forces.

Calls for an independent investigation into the Kidapawan Massacre, the immediate release of those arrested and the dropping of all charges, the suspension and prosecution of those responsible and indemnification for those killed and wounded must be pursued without let-up in the face of the Aquino regime’s whitewash marked by repeated falsehoods, intrigues, red-baiting and media manipulation. #

Published In Business World
11 April 2016