Selling out PH sovereignty and patrimony for conditional Chinese money

In exchange for conditional loans that benefit Chinese banks and corporations, the Duterte administration is weakening, if not practically giving up, the country’s claim on 381,000 square kilometers of maritime space as well as vast fishery, oil and gas, and mineral resources.

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(Image from CNN Philippines)

Even more alarming than the reported nearly done construction of Chinese military facilities in Philippine-claimed reefs in the South China Sea is the dismissive response of Malacañang. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque did not just downplay the gravity and implications of what China is doing in the disputed seas. His statement indicates that the policy of the Duterte administration on the territorial conflict with China is to feign helplessness and in effect legitimize China’s violation of Philippine sovereignty and patrimony.

No one is asking the President to declare a war against China. It is also true that the Chinese construction in the reefs started long before Pres. Duterte came into power. But what government should have been doing at the minimum is constantly protest China’s continued militarization of the disputed territories. What it should have been doing is use the favorable ruling by the United Nations (UN) Arbitral Tribunal to strengthen the country’s claim and gather further international support and recognition on Philippine sovereignty over the reefs. But instead of shoring up the country’s assertion of sovereignty through sustained diplomatic actions, Duterte has substantially weakened the Philippine position by kowtowing to China.

Malacañang sells to the Filipino people China’s supposed promise not to reclaim new islands or shoals. However, with its military facilities already entrenched in the disputed areas, China may no longer need additional reclamation, at least in the short term. Or should such need arises, it can easily expand and reclaim new areas precisely because it already has fortified its position. Chinese experts have already said that land reclamation in the South China Sea will continue to expand although they claim that construction would be for civilian and not military purposes. While it is uncertain that China would even honor its promise of not expanding its reclamation, it is certain that taking back from China the territories it grabbed from the Philippines is much more difficult now with its military infrastructure in the disputed areas already in place.

In exchange for a much softer stance on the territorial dispute, Pres. Duterte has actively sought Chinese patronage for his administration’s programs, especially the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program. These include aid, concessional financing and investment pledges that the Department of Finance (DOF) has described as unprecedented and comprise the initial dividend from the President’s supposed foreign-policy rebalancing. So far, these commitments total an estimated US$ 7.34 billion (about Php367 billion @ US$1:Php50) in soft loans and grants, according to the DOF’s International Finance Group (IFG). The amount covers the implementation of 10 big-ticket infrastructure projects as well as the construction of two bridges in Metro Manila and two drug rehabilitation facilities in Mindanao, and aid to rehabilitate Marawi City.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has earlier identified Chinese official development assistance (ODA) to bankroll at least three flagship projects of the Duterte administration — the Philippine National Railways (PNR) Long Haul from Calamba to Bicol (Php151 billion); the Kaliwa Dam (Php10.86 billion); and Chico River Pump Irrigation (Php2.70 billion). But note that these are not gifts with no strings attached. (See Table below)

ODA flagship projects under Duterte Jun 2017

These are loans that must be repaid with interests and are also tied to the provision of contracts to Chinese firms and suppliers. Meanwhile, in exchange for these conditional loans that benefit Chinese banks, corporations (and probably even workforce), the Duterte administration is weakening, if not practically giving up, the country’s claim on 381,000 square kilometers of maritime space as well as vast fishery, oil and gas, and mineral resources.

It is not only in South China Sea that the administration is allowing China to take over the country’s patrimony. Perhaps encouraged by the “peace and stability” that Pres. Duterte’s Martial Law declaration promises and by greater economic opportunities through Charter change (Cha-cha) that lifts restrictions on foreign capital, China is among the leading foreign investors that eye thousands of hectares of land in Mindanao for plantation operations and multibillion transport infrastructure projects to facilitate its exploitation of the region’s wealth. The Duterte administration also let China conduct maritime research in Benham Rise and basically allowed it to make a map of the maritime resources in the country’s eastern seaboard.

But for the President’s spokesperson, such total sellout of Philippine sovereignty and  patrimony is not news. #

More articles on China and Pres. Duterte —

“What’s in it for China in Duterte’s ‘Build, Build, Build’?”

“Business interests with ties to Duterte to benefit from Martial Law extension”

Cha-cha ng mga trapo, dayuhan at negosyo

Importanteng maintindihan ang Cha-cha bilang isa sa mga larangan ng pagtutunggalian ng iba’t ibang interes sa ating lipunan. Pangunahin dito ang pagtutunggali ng interes ng mga naghahari at pinaghaharian.

(Larawan mula sa CNN Philippines)

Ano ang problema sa Charter change (Cha-cha) ni President Duterte?

Dalawang bagay. Una, ang proseso kung paano gusto ng kampo ng Pangulo na baguhin ang konstitusyon. Pangalawa, ang mismong mga probisyon sa Saligang Batas na gusto nilang baguhin.

Sa unang punto, hindi lamang ito ang problemadong moda ng consituent assembly (con-ass) kundi maging ang paraan kung paano ito gustong ipatupad ng rehimen.

Totoong nakakabahala ang con-ass. Alam natin kung gaano kabulok ang Kongreso. Pugad ito ng mga pinakamasahol na trapo. Ipagkakatiwala ba natin sa kanila na kalikutin ang itinuturing natin na fundamental law of the land? Noong panahon ni Pres. Arroyo, malakas ang sigaw ng bayan laban sa Cha-cha at con-ass. Hindi umubra ang pakana ng mga trapo.

Pero ang mas nakakabahala ngayon ay ito –  mas garapal at mas bulok ang liderato ng mga trapong nagpapakana sa con-ass ni Duterte. Kung hindi n’yo pa nababalitaan, ito ang huling sinabi ni House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez tungkol sa Cha-cha:

“Of course, some provinces would not support the initiative, then they will get zero budget. If you won’t go along with the plan, it’s okay. I respect that. It’s your right, but you should also respect my right to give you zero budget.”

Noong panahon nina GMA at Speaker Jose de Venecia, may pakulo pa ang mga trapo na “great debate” sa Cha-cha. Ngayon wala nang pakulo. Deretsahan na na pera-pera ang usapan. Kaninong pera ang iniyayabang ni Alvarez? Buwis natin. Buwis na lalo nilang pinabigat sa TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion).

Mapapaisip ka tuloy – ang pahirap na dagdag-buwis ba ay para talaga sa infrastructure development at social services, o para sa Cha-cha ng mga trapo? Lalo ka tuloy masusuklam sa TRAIN. Pinabibigat lalo ang buhay ng mahihirap, pinagagaang ang sa mayaman para sa Cha-cha ng mga trapo? (Syempre, ang mga trapo ay sila rin ang mayayaman, at ang mga pinakamayaman ay mga backer ng trapo. Sila-sila rin ‘yan.)

Isipin n’yo, pera iyon ng mamamayan. Pinipiga sa bayang 10 milyon ang pamilyang nagsasabing mahirap sila at pitong milyong pamilya ang nagsasabing nakararanas sila ng gutom. Pero kung magsalita si Alvarez, parang galing sa sarili n’yang bulsa ang ipamumudmod sa mga gobernador at mayor na sasayaw sa Cha-cha.

Ito ang mga trapo na gustong mag-con-ass para baguhin ang ating Saligang Batas. Nagkakamali kayo kung inaakala n’yong tapos na ang maliligayang araw ng bulok na sistema ng pork barrel at patronage politics. Buhay na buhay ito sa ilalim ng Duterte administration at garapal na gagamitin para sa Cha-cha.

Lumilikha ng tensyon sa iba pang paksyon ng mga trapo ang kagaspangan ng pamamaraan ng mga ka-partido ng Pangulo sa House of Representatives. Para iratsada ang Cha-cha, joint voting ang con-ass na gusto nina Alvarez. Dito, magsasama bilang iisang assembly ang House at Senate para aprubahan ang mga pagbabago sa Konstitusyon sa botong three-fourths ng pinagsamang bilang ng dalawang kapulungan. Dehado syempre ang Senate na meron lamang 23 myembro sa House na merong 292.

Kung hindi payag ang Senate, sila-sila na lang daw sa House ang magku-con-ass, sabi ni Alvarez. Hinamon n’ya ang mga may kwestyon sa ganitong proseso na dumulog sa Supreme Court (SC). Ang parehong SC na inaatake nina Alvarez ng impeachment laban sa Chief Justice nito para kontrolado rin nila at maging sunud-sunuran sa agenda ng Malacañang.

Ito ang pangalawa (at mas mahalagang) punto, ano ang laman ng Cha-cha, para saan ito at para kanino?

Nakapaloob ang mga inihahaing pagbabago sa Saligang Batas sa Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 8, ng Study Group ng Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) Federalism Institute (executive summary), at ng binubuong mga panukala ng House committee on constitutional amendments.

Importanteng maintindihan ang Cha-cha bilang isa sa mga larangan ng pagtutunggalian ng iba’t ibang interes sa ating lipunan. Pangunahin dito ang pagtutunggali ng interes ng mga naghahari (dayuhan, pinakamayayamang negosyante’t landlords at kinatawan nilang malalaking trapo) at pinaghaharian (ordinaryong mamamayan, manggagawa, magsasaka, urban poor at iba pang mahihirap).

Noon pa, interes na ng mga dayuhan ang mas mahigpit na kontrol sa likas-yaman at ekonomya ng Pilipinas para higit nila itong mapagsamantalahan. Nagawa nila ito sa pamamagitan ng colonialization at globalization. Pero hindi nila maitodo nang husto dahil bawal sa Konstitusyon ang ganap na dayuhang pagmamay-ari sa ilang susing sektor ng ekonomya (kahit pa na madalas naiikutan).

Kaya ang Cha-cha para payagan ang foreign ownership/control sa lupa, public utilities, mass media, at iba pa ay matagal nang agenda ng mga dayuhan, lalo na ng US at mga negosyong Amerikano. Binubuhusan nila ng milyun-milyong dolyar ang mga pag-aaral at lobbying sa Kongreso para bigyan ng justification ang lalo pang liberalization ng ekonomya sa pamamagitan ng Cha-cha.

Para sa malalaking negosyo kabilang ang mga dayuhan, taliwas sa interes nila ang constitutional safeguards sa karapatang panlipunan at pang-ekonomya ng mamamayan. Kaya isa sa mga aatakehin sa Cha-cha ang mga ito gaya halimbawa ng consitutional provisions sa living wage, seguridad sa trabaho, makataong kondisyon sa paggawa, serbisyong panlipunan at iba pa.

Binabaluktot ang papel ng estado sa pagtiyak sa mga karapatang ito – kabilang ang epektibong state regulation sa mga negosyo sa ngalan ng national o public interest – habang binibigyang-diin kung paanong higit na makikinabang ang mga negosyo.

Iisa rin ang agenda ng mga trapong nagtutulak ng Cha-cha mula pa noong panahon nina Ramos, Erap at GMA – ang manatili sa poder at pahigpitin pa ang kapit sa kapangyarihan ng mga nasa pwesto. Hindi ito nagbabago hanggang ngayon kay Duterte. Ang kaibahan, bukod sa mas agresibo at mas garapal ang mga trapo, mas tampok ang tunguhing diktadura ng Cha-cha ngayon.

Kinukonsentra ng Cha-cha nina Duterte at Alvarez ang kapangyarihan sa kamay ng iisang paksyon ng mga trapo habang pinahihina ang mga kalabang paksyon. Itinatago ito sa federalism bilang porma ng gobyerno. Pero kung susuriin, makikita ang authoritarian agenda at konsolidasyon ng poder ng nakaupong rehimen sa panahon ng mahabang transition sa federalism (na diumano ay pwedeng umabot sa 10 taon). Ito ang parehong istilong bulok ng diktadurang Marcos noon.

Kabilang sa mga panukalang inihahain ang abolisyon ng Kongreso at pagbibigay ng kapangyarihan kay Duterte na bumuo ng mga batas; pag-abolish sa opisina ng Bise Presidente, ang pagkontrol sa mga constitutional commission; at maging ang posibilidad ng pagtatalaga ng mga bagong myembro ng judiciary. Kung matutuloy ang maitim na planong ito, kumpleto at absoluto ang magiging kontrol ni Duterte sa lahat ng branches ng gobyerno.

Kung tunggalian ng mga interes ang Cha-cha, ang nagtutunggali sa pangunahin ay ang interes ng naghahari at pinaghaharian. Pero sa mga paksyon ng naghahari, mayroon ding tunggalian. At lalo itong matingkad sa diktadurang agenda ng paksyon nina Duterte. Kayan naman matigas ang pagtutol ng Senado sa gusto nina Alvarez na joint voting sa con-ass. Ito rin ang posibleng dahilan ng preference ng ilang ng malalaking negosyo sa constitutional convention (con-con), at hindi con-ass, bilang moda ng Cha-cha.

Pero iisa ang pinagkakasunduan ng buong naghaharing uri ng malalaking negosyo, dayuhan at trapo – lalong supilin ang mga karapatan ng kanilang mga pinaghaharian at lalo silang pagsamantalahan. #

TRAIN: Si CEO, ang kanyang luxury car at si manang tindera

Si manang tindera at kapwa mahihirap nyang suki ang magbabayad sa matitipid ni CEO sa kanyang luxury car.

(Larawan mula sa expatch.org)

Isipin n’yo ito –

Kapag bumili, halimbawa, ang presidente o CEO ng isang malaking kumpanya ng luxury car gaya ng Toyota Alphard 3.5 V6 na ang presyo ay nasa Php3.28 million, makakatipid siya nang hanggang Php337,000.

Si manang tindera sa sari-sari store na kailangang bumyahe sa Divisoria para mamili ng mga paninda ay maaaring magbabayad ng dagdag-pasahe sa dyipni nang hanggang Php4, o hanggang Php8 kung balikan. Magiging mas mahal na rin ang bibilhin nyang mga paninda gaya ng yosi na tataas ang presyo nang Php2.50 bawat kaha at softdrinks na tataas nang Php12 kada litro. Kailangan ni manang tindera ng mas malaking puhunan, habang maaaring liliit naman ang kanyang dati nang maliit na kita.

Si manang tindera at kapwa mahihirap nyang suki ang magbabayad sa matitipid ni CEO sa kanyang luxury car.

Ito sa simpleng salita, ang ibig sabihin ng TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) para sa mayaman at mahirap.

Nakakalula ang laki ng sahod ng mga CEO ng mga dambuhalang korporasyon sa bansa. Ang average na sahod ng CEO ng Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) at Meralco nina Manny V. Pangilinan ay nasa halos Php8 million kada buwan. Ang mga CEO na nasa Ayala ay sumasahod ng halos Php7 million kada buwan. Sina Ramon Ang sa San Miguel Corp. (SMC), sumasahod kada buwan nang halos Php6 million. Si manang tindera? Swerte nang kumita ang kanyang pamilya ng Php2,700 sa isang buwan (batay sa 2015 Family Income and Expenditure Survey o FIES ng gobyerno).

Directors-Salary-v2
Mula sa Entrepreneur Philippines

Noong 2016, ang tinubo ng top 1,000 corporations sa bansa na kontrolado nina Pangilinan, Ayala, Ang at iba pang super rich kasama na ang mga dayuhan ay umabot sa Php1.24 trillion, mas malaki pa nang halos 15% sa tinubo nila noong 2015.

Yan lang ang deklarado o alam ng publiko. Magkano pa kaya ang totoo? Kaya walang epekto sa kanila ang anumang taas-presyo sa mga produkto o serbisyo. Sila nga ang may monopolyo sa mga produkto at serbisyo sa bansa at lahat ng taas-presyo ay ipinapasa sa pobreng mamimili. Laruan lang sa super rich ang mga luxury cars, tapos makakatipid pa sila nang daan-daang libo kapag bumili ng mga ito?

Sa kabilang banda, marami sa mga Pilipino ang gaya ni manang tindera na umaasa sa informal economy bilang nagtitingi ng produkto o nagbibigay ng serbisyo gaya ng mga drayber ng traysikel at dyipni, o mga tindera sa karinderya. Wala silang buwanang sahod. At marami sa kanilang kostumer ay mga galing din sa informal economy. Ibig sabihin, hindi sila makikinabang sa mas mataas daw na take home pay dahil sa mas mababang income tax. Pero tiyak na tataas ang kanilang gastos.

Si manong tsuper ng dyipni ay magbabayad ng dagdag na Php2.80 kada litro ngayong taon sa diesel habang si manong traysikel drayber ay may taas-gastos sa gasolina nang Php2.97 kada litro. Si manang may-karinderya ay tataas ang gastos sa LPG nang Php12 kada tangke (11-kg). Batay ito sa pahayag ng DOE.

Paano ang mga magsasaka at mangingisda – na pinakamataas ang poverty incidence sa lahat ng sektor (kapwa nasa 34% sa pinakahuling official data) – na umaasa sa kerosene, na tataas nang Php3.30 kada litro dahil sa TRAIN (pinakamalaki sa lahat ng produktong petrolyo) bilang pang-ilaw, pangluto at sa paghahanapbuhay?

Ngayong taon pa lang yan. Sa susunod na 3 taon, lalo pang tataas ang presyo ng langis dahil sa TRAIN, bukod pa sa halos linggo-linggong oil price hike dahil sa deregulasyon. Binibilang pa lang natin ang direktang impact. Ang pagtaas sa presyo ng langis (at kuryente bunga pa rin ng TRAIN) ay may domino effect sa presyo ng iba pang produkto’t serbisyo.

Lampas 15 million ng mga may-trabaho sa bansa ang walang regular na buwanang sahod o hindi nga sumasahod kahit nagtatrabaho, katumbas halos ng 37% ng kabuuang bilang ng employed noong 2017, kabilang ang gaya nina manang tindera at manong drayber. Paano pa kaya ang mga walang trabaho na nasa 2.4 million batay sa pinababang unemployment rate ng gobyerno?

Pero maraming ordinaryong manggagawa o empleyadong may regular na sahod ay hindi rin naman makikinabang sa TRAIN. Walang madadagdag sa sahod ng mga dati nang sumasahod ng minimum wage o mas mababa pa na bumubuo sa halos kalahati (46%) ng lahat ng manggagawa sa Pilipinas. Pero papasanin nila ang pagtaas ng mga presyo’t bayarin dahil sa TRAIN.

Kakarampot na nga ang minimum wage sa bansa. Bago pa ang impact ng TRAIN, ang minimum wage ay wala na sa kalahati ng tinatayang cost of living (hal. sa NCR, nasa Php1,130 ang cost of living kada pamilya kada araw kumpara sa arawang minimum wage na Php512). Paano kung maging mas mahal pa ang mga bilihin at serbisyo dahil sa dagdag-buwis?

Babawiin din ng taas-presyo dahil sa dagdag-buwis ang sinasabing pagbaba ng personal income tax. Kahit ang mga mataas-taas ang sahod at may pambayad pa, halimbawa, sa Uber o Grab ay hindi ligtas. Nagsabi na ang Grab ng taas-singil sa pasahe nang aabot sa Php13 dahil sa TRAIN. Mas mataas na ang gastos sa gasolina ng mga de-kotseng middle class. Hindi pa pinag-uusapan na inaalis ng TRAIN ang dating tax exemption na hanggang Php100,000 para sa 4 na dependents (hal. anak) ng isang taxpayer (o Php25,000 kada dependent) bukod pa sa personal exemption na Php50,000.

Isang paraan ang progresibong pagbubuwis para tiyakin ang makatarungang pamamahagi ng yaman ng isang lipunan. Pero kung ang mahihirap ang papasan ng buwis para sa maluhong pamumuhay ng mayayaman, hindi lang iyan regressive, pang-aapi na iyan. #

Ma-Digong Bagong Taon!

Marami nang bagyo ang dumating sa ating bayan. Pero paulit-ulit tayong bumangon at nagtagumpay sa lahat ng unos. Habang ang mga Pangulo at kanilang bagyong dala ay lumipas at nagdaan.

(Kuha ng Inquirer.net)

Sa ulat ng PAGASA, ang bagyong si Agaton ang sumalubong sa atin sa bagong taon. Paalala ito sa maraming bagyo na aasahan natin sa 2018. Pero hindi lang iyong mga binabantayan ng PAGASA.

Mas matindi ang pinsalang dadalhin ng mga bagyo ni Pang. Duterte. Una na rito ang bagyo ng taas-presyo, bayarin at buwis.

Hindi pa nga nakakabwelo ang 2018, malaking oil price hike na agad ang bumati sa mga motorista. Dahil ito sa umiiral na deregulasyon at hindi pa kasama ang epekto ng Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) ni Duterte. May panimulang one-time, big-time na Php2.50 per liter dagdag-presyo sa diesel ngayong taon dahil sa TRAIN; Php2.65 naman sa gasolina. Kasunod na nito ang taas-pasahe sa mga pampublikong sasakyan. Nakaamba ang mga petisyon na itaas ang pasahe hanggang Php4.

Sa mga darating na buwan, asahan din ang malakihang pagtaas ng singil sa tubig. Nagsisimula na ang tinatawag na rate rebasing ng Manila Water at Maynilad. Bahagi ito ng pribatisasyon ng Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS). Humihirit ang Manila Water ng Php8.30 per cubic meter na dagdag-singil habang Php9.69 naman ang Maynilad. Bukod pa ito sa mga regular na pagtataas ng singil sa tubig gaya ng ipatutupad na nila ngayong Enero dahil sa taunang implasyon.

Isa pang mapaminsalang bagyo na dala ni Pang. Duterte simula sa 2018 ang demolisyon at dislokasyon. “Modernisasyon” ang tawag dito ng Malacañang. Sa sektor na lamang ng transport, halimbawa, sa “modernisasyon” ng Philippine National Railways (PNR), nasa 100,000 pamilya ang mapapalayas sa kanilang mga komunidad. Daan-daan libong tsuper naman ang mawawalan ng hanapbuhay sa phaseout ng may 200,000 jeepney. Sa likod nito ang tubo ng mga negosyo at bangko, kabilang ang mga dayuhan.

Samantala, matagal nang sinimulan ni Pang. Duterte ang bagyo ng paglabag sa karapatang pantao, panunupil, Martial Law at pagtatayo ng diktadura. Pero ang nakababahala, lalo pang nagtitipon ng lakas ang bagyong ito. Ngayong taon, inaasahan ang tuluyang paggulong ng pagpapatalsik kay Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno kasabay ang Charter change (Cha-cha). Kapwa ito nangangahulugan ng mas mahigpit na kontrol sa estado poder at pagpapanatili sa kapangyarihan ng kampo nina Pang. Duterte. Nangangahulugan ito ng mas malulupit na paglabag sa mga karapatan ng mamamayan.

Pinakamalaking pananggalang sa atake ng mga bagyong ito ni Pang. Duterte ang organisado at determinadong pagkilos ng mga aktibista, progresibo at rebolusyunaryong mga grupo. Kaya sila rin ay mas marahas na hahagupitin ng bagyo ng crackdown at all-out war ng Pangulo.

Marami nang bagyo ang dumating sa ating bayan. Pero paulit-ulit tayong bumangon at nagtagumpay sa lahat ng unos. Habang ang mga Pangulo at kanilang bagyong dala ay lumipas at nagdaan. #

Jeepney phaseout could hurt commuters, too

“Fare increases would serve as an incentive to move forward to modernization” – LTFRB

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) claims that its controversial jeepney modernization program only has the interest of commuters in mind. Phasing out the jeepneys and replacing them with vehicles that use modern engine (Euro 4) and designed to provide utmost safety (speed limiter, CCTV) and comfort (bigger space, wi-fi) will surely benefit the riding public, the said government body likes to stress.

To be sure, all these features and amenities that the LTFRB and Department of Transportation (DOTr) promise are welcome for commuters. What transport officials do not say is what or how much it would cost for the riding public to enjoy the supposedly modernized jeepneys under their plan.

At the hearing of the House of Representatives (HoR) on the modernization program, LTFRB chair Martin Delgra III said: “fare increases would encourage drivers and operators to take part in the modernization program, as these would cover losses, inflation or fuel price increases and serve as an incentive to move forward to modernization.”

DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade also earlier said that the program is “designed to strengthen [and] to guarantee the profitability of the jeepney business”.

Clearly, the supposed modernization will not be cheap not only from the point of view of jeepney drivers and small operators but also of the commuters.

As fares are not subsidized by the state, commuters will have to shoulder the full cost of the pricey vehicles including interest payments owed to the banks, cost of maintaining and operating the units and their required terminals, taxes and fees owed to the government, income of drivers and operators, etc.

Taken with the unabashedly pro-big business policy direction being charted by the Duterte presidency, the threat of skyrocketing fares becomes even more imminent. Consider, for instance, the proposed Public Service Act amendment or House Bill (HB) 5828, one of the priority and urgent legislative measures of the administration. If passed by Congress, HB 5828 would allow public services like transportation to set rates (or fares) that would give its operators the maximum profit rates based on existing market condition. If that amount translates to a minimum fare of Php15, Php20 or even more, commuters will be left with no choice. Worse, deregulated rates or fares is also an option as stipulated in the Malacañang-backed HB 5828. Deregulated fares will actually be easier to implement with the planned beep cards. Now combine this with the long deregulated oil industry and the result would be catastrophic for commuters.

Do the small operators benefit from this lucrative jeepney business? Only if they could get a franchise under the demanding new guidelines of the LTFRB and meet the high capital requirement of managing a fleet of at least 10 vehicles (worth Php12 to 16 million), which is unlikely. Most of them would be certainly displaced by established business groups with access to capital (and political power). And these firms, under HB 5828, could be foreigners even. HB 5828 says transport is not a public utility and thus excluded from the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership.

Some commuters, of course, would be willing and able to pay a premium for better services. But most commuters of jeepneys are the lowest paid workers and are from the poorest households who struggle daily to make ends meet. They are the students from working class families. They are the self-employed and jobless. According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the average low income group households in the country have to spend at least 20% of their monthly household income for transportation. Soaring fares would push millions of Filipino commuters to greater poverty and marginalization.

What transport officials refuse to see is that modernization is not merely about replacing the old with the new. Modernization must above all be about long-term development that addresses the people’s basic needs and promotes their rights. When a society upgrades its ways of doing things, the primary objective should be to advance the interests of its people. If “modernization” comes at the expense of those who are already marginalized such as the poor jeepney drivers and commuters, then that is not development but regression. To ensure that genuine development comes with modernization, the state must play a central role.

But instead of addressing this question, the DOTr, LTFRB and President Duterte himself are creating an artificial contradiction between the interests of jeepney drivers/operators and the commuters. They absolve government of its duty to build a modern public transport system that protects both the welfare of the commuters and those who rely on it for livelihood. This as the apparent direction of the Duterte administration’s program is for big corporations to fully take over, push out the small drivers/operators and fleece the riding public with exorbitant fares.

The chronic state of disrepair of the country’s public transport system is the result of decades of government’s wrong policies, bureaucratic corruption and outright neglect.

Access to safe, efficient, reliable and affordable public transport system is a right that the state must guarantee for commuters and not a privilege for those who could afford it. What is the role of the government to ensure this? Is it simply to issue franchises and set standards? Why not start the discussion on jeepney modernization on these fundamental questions? ###

 

Martial Law 45th anniversary: US imperialism and the Marcos dictatorship

Marcos, his family and cronies would not had been able to plunder and repress the country the way they did without the support of the US. Marcos lasted for as long he did because he was backed by an imperialist superpower.

(Ferdinand Marcos with US President Richard Nixon in a motorcade during the latter’s Philippine visit in 1969 | Photo from filipiknow.net)

We mark the 45th year of the Martial Law declaration by highlighting the numerous atrocities and massive corruption of Marcos. Amid the rising fascism of the Duterte regime and systematic bid to revise history, reminding the people of the crimes of Marcos and evils of tyranny is more relevant than ever.

But we should not forget as well the role of the US as the country’s foremost colonial patron in the Marcos dictatorship. This is important to better understand why in today’s global/regional context (e.g. China’s rise and weakened US hegemony) and Philippine context the US, to advance its agenda, would also support the Duterte regime in its consolidation of political power through tyranny and fascism.

Marcos, his family and cronies would not had been able to plunder and repress the country the way they did without the support of the US. Martial Law and the Marcos dictatorship were useful for American economic and military interests in the Philippines and the region. Marcos lasted for as long as he did because he was backed by an imperialist superpower. Until of course when the political and economic crisis and social unrest intensified to a point that it was no longer beneficial for US interests to sustain Marcos’s tyrannical and corrupt rule.

The years before Marcos declared Martial Law were characterized by a surge in people’s protests – the First Quarter Storm (FQS) – against the exploitative and oppressive social order represented by the corrupt Marcos regime amid a worsening global and national economic crisis (soaring prices, massive unemployment and landlessness, ballooning public debt, etc.). The political instability threatened not only Marcos’s survival but US political, military and economic interests in the Philippines. To restore “stability”, the Marcos regime imposed Martial Law.

What were the US interests that Marcos and his dictatorship served?

At that time, the US was embroiled in the costly Vietnam War, a Cold War-era proxy war between the US and the former USSR. The Philippines under Marcos served the American war by deploying thousands of Filipino troops to help the US forces. Note that before he became President, Marcos was opposed to the sending of our troops to Vietnam. But once in Malacañang, Marcos changed his stand due to US pressure and because he knew that he would need US patronage to remain in power.

But beyond the deployment of Filipino troops, far more strategic for the US were the Subic Naval Base that their naval forces (US Seventh Fleet) used for repair and replenishment throughout the Vietnam War as well as the Clark Air Base that served as their key logistics hub. After the US’s disastrous defeat in the Vietnam War, Subic and Clark became even more important for the US in order to maintain its military presence and operations in Asia.

The US backed the fascist regime in exchange for the dictator’s assurance that the Philippines will continue to allow the stay of US military bases. Days before he publicly announced Proclamation 1081 that placed the entire country under Martial Law, it was reported that Marcos phoned then US President Richard Nixon to get his commitment of support. When Marcos imposed Martial Law on September 21, 1972, the US reportedly stationed 40,000 troops at its Subic Naval Base to “meet any contingency” arising from the dictator’s declaration.

Aside from its military agenda, the US also used the Marcos dictatorship to retain its privileged position in the Philippine economy and the exploitation of our natural resources. The Laurel-Langley Agreement of 1955 which gave full parity rights to American citizens and businesses or equal access like Filipinos to domestic agriculture, timber, mineral, public utilities, and land expired in 1974. But with his Martial Law powers, Marcos issued decrees that effectively maintained the neocolonial economic privileges of the US such as reversing court decisions that disallowed American ownership of landholdings in the country.

Indeed, as a 1973 press report read: “The most encouraging aspect of President Marcos’s assertion of one‐man rule has been the disappearance of the anti‐foreign feeling that had been mounting in the press and the Constitutional Convention in the year preceding the proclamation of martial law.” Prior to Martial Law, the 1970 Constitutional Convention was formed to rewrite the then prevailing 1935 Constitution. The US was concerned that the new charter would affect its military bases and economic interests in the country. Under Martial Law, Marcos arrested some members of the Convention and reconvened it to write the 1973 Constitution that favored Marcos’s and the US’s agenda.

On top of ensuring that the policy environment under Martial Law remained favorable to US interests, American businesses and politicians were also actually in cahoots with Marcos and his cronies in plundering the economy and public coffers. American banks provided odious debts that funded Marcos’s projects riddled with corruption.

Perhaps nothing is more notorious than the hugely overpriced white elephant US$2.3-billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) that the US Export-Import Bank and American Express bankrolled together with the Bank of Tokyo. Through payoffs worth US$18 million to Marcos via his crony Herminio Disini, American firms Westinghouse and Burns and Roe bagged the lucrative contract to design and build the BNPP. Built on an earthquake zone, the BNPP was never operated for public health and safety while billions of dollars in payments went to American banks and firms at the great expense of the Filipino people.  

Finally, the US also undermined the Filipino people’s quest for justice to make the Marcoses accountable for their crimes. This as real justice would mean making the colonial masters of the Marcos regime liable as well. According to a May 2016 report by The Guardian, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) knew that Marcos stole US$10 billion but refused to tell the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) what they knew because apparently, American businesses such as those involved in the BNPP and political figures would be implicated as well.

Marcos also allegedly bribed high ranking US politicians and helped illegally fund the presidential bid of US presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, said the same Guardian report. The US systematically covered up its link with the corruption of and plunder by the dictator. For instance, the documents that the American authorities seized from Marcos when he fled to Hawaii in February 1986 have been allegedly redacted to hide transactions involving US organizations when they were turned over to the Philippines.

Today, the Duterte regime has been playing a leading role in revising the history of Martial Law and in the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses. This serves his own fascist agenda of establishing a Duterte dictatorship. He has already imposed Martial Law in Mindanao in what could be a dress rehearsal for a nationwide Martial Law.

Would the US support Duterte and connive with his regime in plundering and repressing the people the way it propped up the Marcos dictatorship? For all the President’s anti-US rhetoric (or more precisely, anti-Obama rants) and moves to deepen ties with US rival China, the Duterte regime has continued to foster ties with the country’s neocolonial master.

US military presence and intervention is felt more than ever with American troops and attack and surveillance drones deployed in Mindanao as part of Duterte’s military campaigns. US military bases remain through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) while joint military trainings including urban warfare continue under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). For all its rhetoric about human rights, the US would work with any fascist dictatorship, even with someone as unpredictable as Duterte, to protect its interests and influence in the region especially amid a growing challenge from China as well as Russia.

Thus, when we protest against Martial Law, fascism and tyranny, we should protest not just for the violation of our human rights but also for the violation of our sovereignty as a people. ###

SONA 2017: Business interests with ties to Duterte to benefit from Martial Law extension

President Rodrigo Duterte with his Martial Law administrator Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and implementor Armed Forces Chief General Eduardo Año (Photo from Al Jazeera)

As expected, the so-called supermajority in Congress granted the extension of Martial Law that President Rodrigo Duterte asked for. Martial Law would be in effect in Mindanao until the end of the year.

Malacañang said that with the extension, the country could now “get on with the job of nation-building and contribute in the attainment of the full promise of Mindanao.” The Duterte administration intends to “transform Mindanao into a land of fulfillment”.

How exactly Martial Law could contribute in “nation-building” is unclear. What is clear is that the 261 lawmakers who rubber-stamped the presidential request have further built up the nation’s fear of an authoritarian regime that Duterte wants to establish.

Martial Law in Mindanao and its extension could indeed be just a dress rehearsal and forebodes an of all-out fascist rule that Duterte and his Martial Law generals plan to unleash on the entire country.

Meanwhile, the “attainment of the full promise of Mindanao” pertains to the unrestrained exploitation of the region’s resources. Despite decades of corporate plunder, many areas in Mindanao are still not yet fully exploited.

Business interests with ties to the President appear to be among the beneficiaries of the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao.

Investment opportunities

The World Bank, for instance, in an August 2016 report said that: “Mindanao has 10 million hectares of land, of which 59.4% or 6.066 million hectares are classified as forestlands… if properly delineated, and rights are defined, can potentially increase the land inventory for large- scale investments.”

It noted that of the 6.07 million hectares of forestlands in Mindanao, only 700,000 hectares are covered by industrial forest management agreements, mainly by corporations. There are 700,000 hectares more that are still not covered by any form of tenure instrument. Another 400,000 hectares of public forests that are unclassified – all potential areas for big corporate investments.

In addition, of the remaining 4.14 million hectares of alienable and disposable (A&D) lands in Mindanao, a huge 2.24 million hectares have not been covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). These millions of hectares of forest and A&D lands offer enormous opportunities for investment and profits.

“If we push for massive agri investments in Mindanao, we need to start looking at the availability of these lands for consolidation to achieve economies of scale,” said the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), a government body created to among others promote and facilitate investments in the region.

Under the Duterte administration, MinDA and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) are also working to fast-track the Mindanao Ecozone Masterplan. The plan will develop existing and new economic zones around Mindanao to increase trading activities and attract more foreign investments.

There are 81 accredited ecozones in the region covering agro-industry, manufacturing, information technology and tourism. The Duterte administration is currently conducting an inventory of areas in Mindanao that can be developed as “ecozone cities”.

But many of these supposedly idle areas or available lands are actually occupied by lumad and peasant communities. Their firm resistance and the strong presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) are the biggest obstacles to the massive expansion in Mindanao of corporate plantations, big mining companies, and export-driven industrial enclaves – and the construction of hard infrastructure to support their operation.

The resistance is not against development but against the land and resource grabbing and massive displacement of local communities that often accompany big-ticket investment projects in Mindanao. That is why the NPA, and the lumad, farmers and farmworkers are the real targets of the extended Martial Law in Mindanao.

Big business interests

Indeed, Duterte’s Martial Law is apparently more about providing security to big investors who want to further exploit Mindanao. And it appears that the business sector feels encouraged by the strongman rule that Duterte is imposing. The organizers of the recently held Davao Investment Conference (ICON), for instance, reported record-breaking confirmed attendance, including about 100 foreign investors.

In an earlier report, the organizers said ICON participants include the country’s biggest conglomerates like San Miguel Corp. (SMC) as well as 30-40 “big Chinese investors”, among others.

SMC and the Chinese are among those most aggressive in expanding in Mindanao particularly in establishing vast plantations and constructing infrastructure. Chinese investors have been reportedly discussing with the Duterte administration the possibility of a 6,000-hectare tea plantation in a territory controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Duterte has been actively seeking Chinese patronage, mainly in the form of official development assistance (ODA) or loans as well as military assistance. Among those that the administration is pitching to China are multi-billion infrastructure projects in Mindanao including expressways, coastal roads, seaport and airport development, and the Mindanao railway system.

On the other hand, SMC (together with Malaysia’s Kuok Group) is developing about 18,495 hectares of forestlands covering four Davao del Norte municipalities for oil palm production. Just last August 2016, SMC also opened a 2,000-hectare industrial estate in Malita, Davao Occidental that also has a 20-meter deep seaport that can accommodate container vessels.

Earlier, the conglomerate was reported to be looking at a total of 800,000 hectares of lands for development as commercial farms in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Sarangani, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, North Cotabato and Agusan del Norte.

Of course, SMC’s top man Ramon S. Ang is known to be “close” to Duterte. The SMC president was among Duterte’s campaign contributors in 2016 giving an undisclosed amount and perhaps other forms of support as Ang wasn’t even listed in the official Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE).

Ang also offered to buy Duterte a private jet (worth as much as US$65 million) that he could use as President while donating Php1 billion to the Chief Executive’s pet campaign, the war on drugs.

Meanwhile, Duterte’s former campaign spokesperson and Irrigation chief Peter Laviña and his group Philippine Palm Oil Development Council Inc. has been reportedly lobbying the government since Aquino’s time to develop at least 300,000 hectares of Mindanao lands for palm oil production targeting MILF territories as well as CARP and lumad lands.

These are some of the big business interests in Mindanao that stand to benefit from the state repression of local communities opposed to their operations. Apparently, Martial Law is more than what President Duterte, his Generals and their allies in Congress are telling us. ###