Agrarian reform, Human rights

Landlessness, poverty and war in Negros

“Kaya dun po sa amin
Di biro ang magtanim
Magpunla ka ng binhi
Punglo ang aanihin.”

(Magtanim ay di biro)

On Mar 30, 2019, the police and military killed 14 farmers in separate operations in the city of Canlaon and in the towns of Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina – all in Negros Oriental province. Twelve more were arrested. Police and military officials justified the killings and insisted that the victims were armed communist rebels. They claimed that state forces were just implementing search warrants for loose firearms when the victims opened fire at them.

But several witnesses, including relatives of the victims who survived the gruesome killings, have come forward to dispute the account of the police and military. The harrowing details of the massacre as told by the survivors and kin are being documented by human rights advocates and peasant groups as calls for justice and to end impunity mount.

War against peasants

The summary execution of 14 farmers in Negros Oriental came five months after unknown assailants massacred nine farmworkers in Sagay City in Negros Occidental on Oct 20, 2018. They were participating in a land occupation and cultivation campaign led by the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) at the disputed Hacienda Nene when they were killed. Weeks later, on Nov 7, 2018, their lawyer – a long-time peasant rights advocate in Negros – was also assassinated. For the military, the NFSW is a communist front.

It came three months after six people were killed and 15 arrested in similar joint police and military operations in search of supposed loose firearms in hinterland barangays in Negros Oriental on Dec 27, 2018. Again, the authorities insisted that the victims, including village officials, “turned out” to be armed communist rebels and fought back.

All in all under the Duterte administration, at least 55 farmers, farmworkers and land rights advocates have been felled by apparent extrajudicial killings in Negros island so far. These killings appear to be systemically being carried out as part of President Duterte’s anti-insurgency campaign, made even more reprehensible by his virulent rhetoric against assertive peasants (My orders to the police and soldiers, shoot them… If they die, I do not care.” – Duterte on landless farmers involved in land occupation campaigns)

Negros island provinces are among those covered by Memorandum Order (MO) 32. It called for increased deployment of police and military forces purportedly to “suppress lawless violence and acts of terror”. The others are provinces in Samar island and Bicol region.

Implementation of the Malacañang directive in Negros island has taken the form of the Synchronized Enhanced Managing of Police Operations (SEMPO). More notoriously, it is also known as Oplan Sauron in Negros Oriental under whose name the recent mass killings and arrests of mostly Negrense peasants are being carried out.

Twenty of the reported 55 extrajudicial killings in Negros island were on account of Oplan Sauron in Negros Oriental. Oplan Sauron is sinister by design. Disguising as law enforcement, it uses search warrants for loose firearms to legitimize police and military attacks in rural communities and households suspected as bases of support of the New People’s Army (NPA).

But instead of weakening the NPA, such brutal modus operandi could be fueling even deeper collective resentment in the rural areas against the police and military. In the end, Oplan Sauron could only further boost the legitimacy of the people’s war and agrarian revolution that the NPA wages.

This is especially so because of the structural issues underlying the social unrest and conflict in Negros.

Landless, hungry, poor

Negros is an island mired in grinding poverty and hunger, mainly spawned by decades of chronic landlessness among its farmers and farmworkers.

Official poverty and hunger incidence in the island, especially Negros Oriental, is among the worst in the country. Negros Oriental has a poverty incidence of 45% (of population) compared to the national average of 21.6 percent. Its subsistence incidence is 24.2% while the national average is 8.1 percent. Negros Occidental has “better” poverty and hunger figures (29% and 9.4%, respectively) but these are still worse than the national averages. The numbers are as of 2015.

There are about 1.56 million poor people in the two Negros provinces. To give perspective, note that the country’s poorest region, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), has 1.99 million poor people spread in its five provinces.

To be sure, the actual levels of poverty and hunger in the Negros island are much higher than what official data indicate considering the absurdly low thresholds government uses to measure them. Based on the 2015 official poverty survey, for instance, a Negrense only needs Php39 to Php44 to meet daily food needs; and a total of Php56 to Php63 to meet daily food and non-food needs.

Nonetheless, such low standards still paint a picture of widespread destitution, one that is even worsening. Poverty in both Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental deteriorated from a decade ago (i.e. 2006 data). Hunger also worsened in Negros Oriental during the same period. (See Table 1)

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Many see government’s three-decade Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) as a failure; and it can’t be more conspicuous anywhere else than in Negros island. CARP is supposed to distribute 427,656 hectares (has.) of land in the Negros region. But as of end-2016, the program has distributed just 302,377 has. for a balance of 125,279 has. in land acquisition and distribution (LAD).

Negros island accounts for 21% of the national LAD balance of 602,306 has. – the largest among all regions. It has the second lowest LAD accomplishment rate at 71% , just behind the 67% of another restive and impoverished region, the ARMM. (See Table 2)

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Meanwhile, a sizable portion of CARP lands in the region, particularly in Negros Occidental, is under the notorious stock distribution option (SDO) that allows landlords to retain effective control. SDO schemes cover more than 3,200 hectares of CARP lands in Negros Occidental as of June 2015 and practically all are planted to sugarcane, accounting for almost 90% of all SDO lands nationwide.

Indeed, most of the undistributed lands in Negros are vast sugarcane plantations concentrated in the hands of landlords that include political clans. After rice lands (about 23% of LAD balance), sugarcane lands (around 19%) comprise the largest portion of undistributed lands in the country, with an overwhelming concentration in Negros Occidental.

Thus, many of the landless in Negros end up as sugarcane farmworkers in these massive haciendas, trying to eke out a living under slave-like conditions. It is estimated that Negros island has about 335,000 sugarcane farmworkers, almost 43% of the national total.

Latest farm wages survey of government pegged the average nominal wage of sugarcane farmworkers at Php253.69 per day – the second lowest among major crops, just a bit better than corn farmworkers’ Php246.05.

But the actual take home pay of the sugarcane farmworkers is much lower as they are tied to the vicious cycle of landlessness, starvation wages and debt. Paying off loans used to buy rice and other basic daily necessities in between pay days leaves sugarcane farmworkers and their families with practically nothing. In reality, a sugarcane farmworker typically earns just around Php50 to 67 a day, forcing them to work in several haciendas to augment their income.

Their dire situation is only made worse by the dreaded tiempo muerto or the period between the planting and harvesting seasons of sugarcane where no work is available in the haciendas for three months. With no established mechanism of government support, sugarcane farmworkers are left to fend for themselves, usually by taking on odd jobs in the cities.

But others take organized action such as the bungkalan campaign (land occupation and collective cultivation) on still undistributed CARP lands. However, landlords and even state forces respond to this legitimate form of assertion of people’s rights to land and livelihood with systematic violence like what happened in the “Sagay 9” massacre.

When government’s apparent plan to end landlessness is to eliminate the landless, what are the farmers and farmworkers of Negros island supposed to do? ###

 

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Human rights

Who is afraid of IBON?

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(Photo: Politiko)

The only reason that Malacañang is going after groups like IBON Foundation is that because they have been very effective in exposing the lies of the Duterte government.

IBON has been effective in refuting the false claims of Duterte’s economic managers about the TRAIN Law, inflation, improving employment situation, benefits of Chinese loans, etc.

Instead of squarely and convincingly proving as false the fact-based criticisms of IBON or look at its concrete proposals to address the country’s economic woes, the Duterte administration resorts to malicious accusations.

For the past 40 years, IBON has established itself as a reliable source of progressive research and analysis on national socioeconomic issues. From Marcos to Duterte – IBON has been consistent in its position that economics should be about the people, their rights and interests.

But the Duterte administration obviously has zero tolerance for views and alternatives that contradict its policies and programs, including on the economy. Thus, it uses public resources not only to question the legitimacy of IBON but to apparently try to shut it down.

What Malacañang is doing is blatant repression. And while it targets the sources of funding support of IBON, the irresponsible act of the Duterte government also puts the officials and staff of IBON at risk of physical harm.

That is criminal and reprehensible. ###

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Governance, Human rights, Military & war

Militarizing development work: Army chief Rolando Bautista as DSWD head

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(Photo: The Philippine Star)

By appointing Army chief Rolando Bautista as the next DSWD Secretary, Pres. Duterte is transforming government’s social welfare and development work into one big Civilian Military Operations (CMO) for counterinsurgency.

This has serious implications, among others –

  1. It will undermine genuine development work. Already limited public resources intended for development will be further and more systematically diverted for military purposes. Gains will be measured not in development terms but whether target rebel groups have been weakened.
  2. Poor communities that require assistance will be held hostage by the military agenda as government assistance would be contingent not on their actual and urgent needs but on their support and cooperation with the military’s counterinsurgency campaign.
  3. It will make the job of civilian development workers more difficult and could even put them at risk as they will be seen as agents of the military, who many communities distrust because of their atrocities.

Thus, instead of development and peace, militarizing development work with Bautista’s appointment as DSWD chief will actually bring greater poverty and conflict. ###

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Governance, Human rights

Cha-cha ng mga trapo, dayuhan at negosyo

(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. #

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Governance, Human rights

Martial Law, US imperialism and the Marcos dictatorship

(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. ###

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Human rights

Murderous war on drugs could be Duterte’s downfall

(Artwork by PJ Palits)

President Rodrigo Duterte wrongly thinks that his war on drugs is his regime’s greatest strength and biggest source of political legitimacy. In reality, it is his biggest vulnerability  and – unless he shifts course – could be his downfall.

The collective grief and rage that followed another apparent extrajudicial killing is setting the stage for a wave of protests against the murderous war on drugs of the Duterte regime. To be sure, the public condemnation of the bloodshed and its endorsement by Duterte has been as persistent as the killings. But the indignation over the death of 17-year old Kian Lloyd delos Santos appears to be something different. The outrage is stronger and more felt than ever, and shared even by those who support the administration.

Duterte has to listen – the killings must stop. The broad call today is against his war on drugs and its brutal and criminal methods. It is a call that is steadily expanding support and Kian’s cold blooded murder in the hands of the police is accelerating its growth. Failure to recognize this growing and legitimate demand could easily transform the broad call from one against his war on drugs to one that is against the Duterte presidency itself.

There may be truth to Duterte’s claim that forces with vested interests have been plotting his ouster from day one. It could be the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Liberal Party (LP), the drug lords, some generals in the armed forces, and they are all possibly working in cahoots with one another. But Duterte’s thuggish leadership is the biggest threat to his own presidency. His fascism – the war on drugs; Martial Law; all-out war, bombings and militarization in the countryside – is creating the condition for a wide public sentiment unfavorable to his continued rule to consolidate and thrive. His high political capital could easily dissipate and resorting to more vicious violence and state terrorism would only spell his regime’s doom. His ouster would have legitimacy.

It is not just the killings of overwhelmingly poor people – many of whom were innocent, including children as young as four and five years old – in his war on drugs. His regime is also continuously losing legitimacy in other areas of governance. Duterte allowed the trapos to kick out progressives and reformers from his Cabinet. He let the warmongers sabotage the peace efforts and kept on the bloody counterinsurgency campaign that targets civilians, especially the farmers and lumads. He did not lift a finger when his allies got involved in corruption or gross incompetence even as he persecuted his political foes. He let his economic managers further squeeze the poor dry while maintaining an economy that enriches the local oligarchs and foreign interests.

But the murderous war on drugs is and will remain the biggest issue that could galvanize a broad movement – with Kian’s death among the key turning points in its formation – that will seriously challenge the Duterte regime. Those with self-serving agenda such as factions of the ruling elite that want to take over or get back to power – or foreign interests like the US which prefers a more reliable and predictable regime –  will certainly exploit this. Unfortunately for Duterte, whether or not self-serving interests are at play, the movement for his ouster will enjoy legitimacy if he continues to cultivate the culture of impunity and to unleash his brutal wars against the people.

It is up to the progressive and democratic forces that desire genuine change and social justice to thwart these narrow interests by decisively taking the lead in making the Duterte regime accountable for its crimes.

The war on drugs should not be waged against the poor, which is what Duterte’s bloodstained campaign has become. They are actually victims themselves not just of drug syndicates but of the rotten social system that drives them into desperation and into criminal activities like small-time drug peddling. Even when dead bodies massively pile up, the poor will continue to risk life and limb for that next meal as long as the political and economic system that deprives them of decent living and the opportunity to be productive persists. Worse, as poor communities are transformed into war zones, even innocent lives become fair game.

Duterte’s war on drugs kills the poor but not their poverty. This is the reason why Duterte will never win this war no matter how many get killed in its name. But the more poor people he kills, the deeper Duterte digs the grave of his own regime. ###

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Economy, Governance, Human rights, Military & war, SONA 2017

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. ###

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