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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Martial Law: Lorenzana and Año’s “innovative” approach not just vs. Maute?

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año (Photo from Frances Mangosing/inquirer.net)

Is Martial Law Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and armed forces chief (and now Martial Law administrator) Gen. Eduardo Año’s “innovative” approach to end the armed conflict in Mindanao and to achieve the military establishment’s self-imposed target of wiping out armed groups in the region before President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July?

Is it actually aimed not just at the Maute and other terrorist groups but also legitimate rebel forces, including those that the Duterte administration is pursuing a negotiated peace agreement with?

At the start of the year (January 9), Lorenzana declared that the military would crush the Maute group (and Abu Sayyaf) in six months. To achieve the stated target, Lorenzana said they would use an “innovative” approach. “We are going to do something new or innovative to finish this problem once and for all,” Lorenzana said as quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Año followed up Lorenzana’s declaration with the deployment of more than 50 Army battalions in Mindanao. It is said to be most massive AFP troops deployment ever with the avowed goal of “wiping out” the Abu Sayyaf, Maute group, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF). The military is set to assess the progress of this bold counter-insurgency target in June.

By end of January, Lorenzana reported that the “all-out war” against the Maute and other terrorist groups is already in full swing, using the military’s ground, sea, and air assets (including newly purchased FA-50 fighter jets).

The AFP’s operations against Mindanao’s terrorist groups under the Duterte administration have actually started long before the January pronouncements of Lorenzana and Año. In its report for the first 100 days of Pres. Duterte, the AFP said that it has already launched 579 “massive focused military operations” against the Abu Sayyaf, Maute and BIFF that resulted in the neutralization of almost 150 terrorist personalities (killed, surrendered, or captured).

Prior to the Marawi clashes, the AFP said that the Maute group has been suffering heavy blows from the sustained military campaign. On April 24, the military reported that the Maute group’s main camp in Lanao del Sur has already been seized and occupied by state forces, with some 30 of its members supposedly killed in the combat operations.

Meanwhile, hours before Lorenzana and other Cabinet officials, who were in Russia, announced Pres. Duterte’s Martial Law order late Wednesday (May 23) night, officials on the ground were saying that the Marawi situation is already under control. (See Timeline)

With an already sustained campaign and deployment of huge military resources, what justifies the Martial Law declaration? And why the entire island of Mindanao when the incident that supposedly triggered it is only in Marawi City?

Apparently, for Lorenzana, the target of Martial Law is not just the Abu Sayyaf and Maute group in Marawi City but also the New People’s Army (NPA). In justifying the declaration of Martial Law over the entire island of Mindanao, Lorenzana, as quoted by MindaNews, said: “Because there are also problems in Zamboanga, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, also in Central Mindanao, the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Forces) area, and also some problems in Region 11 (Southern Mindanao) yung pangongotong ng NPA (extortion by the New Peoples’ Army)”.

Lorenzana and the military establishment have been carrying out a sustained campaign to undermine the peace talks with the NPA, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The DND/military propaganda against the CPP-NPA-NDFP has been clearly aimed to delegitimize the peace talks such as Lorenzana’s terrorist tagging of the rebel group just before the last round of formal peace talks between the NDFP and government panels started last April. NPA units have been the strongest in Mindanao with a string of successful tactical offensives against the military and police as well as against abusive businesses operating in the region such as mining companies and plantations.

Martial Law does not single out Maute, Abu Sayyaf or BIFF. It opens everyone in Mindanao – including those that the AFP and DND are accusing of as being NPA members or sympathizers and CPP front organizations – to the many abuses and atrocities of state forces. Gen. Año who will be the administrator of Martial Law has been notorious for committing such grave human rights abuses under the military’s anti-NPA campaign.

The human rights situation in Mindanao and throughout the country has already been appalling – with the military and police as among the main perpetrators – even without Martial Law. We do not need to imagine what will happen to human rights under a military rule, we just need to remember the Marcos dictatorship. ###

Trump builds ‘legitimacy’ thru bombs and war-making

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Photo from trofire.com

When Donald Trump surprisingly clinched the US presidency, the legitimacy of his regime has been challenged from the onset. Rival Democratic Party, with the apparent help of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), immediately launched a campaign to delegitimize Trump.

Even within his Republican Party, there seems to be mistrust on Trump to pursue traditional US foreign policy, which since 9/11 has been largely defined by the neoconservatives (i.e., advocates of preemptive wars, among others).

The reason? Trump’s stance on Russia and his overtures of normalizing relations with the US’s longtime adversary during the campaign. Trump’s position reflects the agenda of the monopoly capitalist clique he represents such as a faction of Big Oil that is willing to cooperate more with Russia for its vast oil and gas resources.

One of them is Exxon Mobil, which has a mammoth $500-billion oil deal with Russia. President Barack Obama blocked the deal as one of the sanctions against Russia for its role in Ukraine. Improved US relations with Russia would allow Exxon Mobil to exploit oil from almost 26 million hectares of Russian land, said to be five times the size of what America’s largest oil company has in the US.

But normalized US-Russia relations aren’t as simple, of course. It requires a shift as well in US foreign policy towards Russia’s biggest allies Iran and China, something that even Trump himself is unwilling to do. A policy shift in Iran would greatly compromise the US long held agenda to remain in control of Middle East oil while it will not give up Asia Pacific and its massive market, vast resources and strategic sea-lanes to China.

De-escalating a lucrative New Cold War amid a prolonged economic crisis also doesn’t sit well with the military-industrial and security complex, which profits out of war and the threat of war that is constantly driven by the endless competition among monopoly capitalists to divide the world.

The controversies and predicament that Trump faces simply show the deepened contradiction among the competing big interests in the US and imperialism’s increasingly convoluted geopolitical agenda.

Picking up the momentum of the Democratic Party’s propaganda that Moscow hacked the US elections to benefit Trump, the billionaire President has been depicted as a Kremlin stooge by the CIA-fed corporate mass media. A leaked wiretapped conversation with a Russian diplomat of Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was since forced to resign, further fired up anti-Moscow hysteria as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and several congressional bodies investigate the alleged Trump-Russia collusion. Trump knew that the campaign to destabilize his fledgling regime was real; that a domestic CIA “regime change” operation is likely already ongoing.

In this regard, Washington’s swift decision to drop 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase is more about Trump trying to preserve his presidency than retaliating (in the name of “small children and beautiful babies” killed) against a supposed chemical attack by the Russia-backed Assad regime. The message that the Trump retaliatory attack (which reportedly killed nine civilians, including four children) tried to convey was clear: explicitly, the “bromance” with Vladimir Putin is no more and implicitly, the happy days for the lucrative war making business are far from over.

Trump’s self-serving intention in directly bombing Syria only serves to amplify the brutal criminality of US military intervention and war of aggression in that country and region that has already claimed thousands of innocent lives. In March alone, there were reportedly 1,472 innocent civilians killed in Syria by US-made and delivered bombs.

Amid the corporate media hysterics, a more reasonable action by Trump – like supporting Moscow’s call for a prompt and serious probe even as it claims that Assad’s opponents were the ones in possession of the nerve gas – could be easily interpreted as further proof that a Kremlin puppet is in the White House. Instead, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hints that a regime change in Syria is now back on the agenda even if it aggravates the tension with Russia.

Trump is on the offensive to reverse the campaign to undermine his presidency by rallying the entire monopoly capitalist state machinery behind a campaign to reassert US global power and dominance, including through reckless saber-rattling and military adventurism that court all-out nuclear war.

He followed up his action against Syria with the much publicized bombing of an ISIS cave and bunker complex in Afghanistan with the so-called “Mother of All Bombs”, the largest non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal. It was a “shock and awe” display and ruthless projection of US firepower, which is meant to send the message that it is business as usual for US imperialism and that Syria, North Korea, China, Iran, even Russia and others that threaten US interests should take notice.

After bombing Syria and Afghanistan, Trump then deployed the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its group of battle warships off the coast of the Korean peninsula in an attempt to bully North Korea to stop its recent missile tests.

It remains to be seen how Trump’s more aggressive military posturing abroad will favorably impact on his shaken legitimacy at home. What is clear is that this will increase the stake for the US to meddle more in countries that play a key role in promoting its interests and agenda in the region and the world.

How such greater foreign intervention would translate in the Philippines is something that must be closely watched as the Duterte administration tries to negotiate a peace pact with the revolutionary groups that pose the biggest threat to US imperialism in the country – the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’ Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) –– and starts to forge closer bilateral ties with US rivals China and Russia.

Already, pro-US forces, including several of President Rodrigo Duterte’s own men, have been relentlessly undermining the peace talks with the Left while ensuring that US military presence in the country remains strong.

But the situation also presents a good opportunity for Duterte to show that his independent foreign policy is beyond mere rhetoric by asserting national sovereignty and interest over the US’s imperialist agenda. ###

Duterte’s Defense chief, US imperialism’s reliable point man

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Photo from Rappler

It is fitting that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made the first public declaration of the Duterte regime’s all-out war against the New People’s Army (NPA).

Duterte’s termination of the peace talks, after all, is the culmination of the military and security establishment’s relentless campaign to undermine the peace efforts by the NPA, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Amid the peace negotiations and indefinite unilateral ceasefire separately declared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the NPA, the AFP under the executive supervision of the Defense Secretary, occupied some 500 barrios nationwide and pursued combat operations against the NPA.

Apparently meant to provoke the NPA, Lorenzana has actively spread the propaganda that these combat operations are anti-criminality initiatives of the police, assisted by the AFP, against supposed lawless elements.

In addition, it can also be assumed that it was the defense and military establishment headed by Lorenzana that convinced Duterte to renege on his earlier commitments to release the political prisoners.

The increasingly untenable unilateral ceasefire and issue of political prisoners proved to be the really thorny issues in the peace talks from the onset until its eventual termination by Duterte.

The role and agenda of Lorenzana in sabotaging the peace talks – which based on the last joint statement of the NDFP and government panels were moving positively overall and faster than expected despite the contentious issues – is better understood by exposing what is at stake for US imperialism and the latter’s ties with Duterte’s Defense chief.

For all the scathing remarks of Duterte against former US President Barack Obama and the independent foreign policy rhetoric, the volatile President isn’t the biggest foe of US imperialism in the Philippines. It is still the CPP-NPA-NDFP, and its revolution for national democracy and sovereignty that the US and its string of trusty puppet regimes have failed to defeat in the past 48 years.

A successful peace agreement with the revolutionary groups would seriously impair US imperialism’s strategic political, military and economic interests in the country and region. At a time of prolonged global monopoly capitalist crisis, rise of China and its strengthening alliance with Russia, and America’s own uncertainties under a Trump regime, it is crucial for US imperialism to protect its dominant position in its neo-colonies like the Philippines.

And here comes Lorenzana, a retired Philippine Army General, as US imperialism’s reliable point man.

For most part of the past two decades, Lorenzana was based in Washington DC. He was the Philippines’ defense and armed forces attaché from 2002 to 2004 and special representative for veterans’ affairs from 2004 to 2015. (Read Lorenzana’s profile on the Defense department’s website)

Among his tasks was to supervise and monitor the bilateral military relations between the Philippines and the US. It covers the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), military exercises, military aid, training, and foreign military sales.

Lorenzana was among those who developed the terms of reference (TOR) for the Balikatan exercises in 2002. That TOR was the first in Balikatan history that allowed US involvement in domestic combat operations.

The US State Department trained Lorenzana on crisis management. The US Armed Forces bestowed on him the Legion of Merit, a military honor for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements”.

It’s not only in the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP that Lorenzana capably played his role as US imperialism’s point man. Remember how he tempered Duterte’s tirades against the US and threats of rescinding the VFA and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and stopping the military exercises with the US?

Now, we ended up with the US building military facilities inside agreed locations under the EDCA as announced recently by Lorenzana, of course, as well as 258 joint exercises with the US military this year under the VFA.

But it is important to stress that Lorenzana’s key role in promoting the interests of US imperialism does not absolve President Duterte of accountability in the scuttled peace talks and the continuing US military presence and intervention. As President, the ultimate and biggest accountability still rests on him.

By Lorenzana’s own account, he and the President first became close when he was assigned in Davao in the late 1980s to lead counterinsurgency operations against the NPA. A product of that stint of Lorenzana in Davao was State sponsorship of the anti-communist vigilante group Alsa Masa, which laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU).

That all-out war obviously did not result in the decisive downfall of the NPA, only in the breakdown of human rights and rule of law. ###

CPP founding anniversary: Peace talks is Duterte’s best option against 48-year old insurgency

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Photo by Southern Tagalog Exposure

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) warned the Duterte administration that it may be forced to soon withdraw its declared unilateral ceasefire amid the continuing armed operations of the military and unfulfilled commitment of the President to release all political prisoners. The CPP made the statement as it marks the 48th anniversary of its establishment today, December 26. (Read here)

About half a million Filipinos in more than 500 barrios nationwide are affected by military presence and alleged human rights atrocities and repression after units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) occupied their areas, in violation of the military’s own unilateral truce and apparently taking advantage of the rebel-declared ceasefire. Meanwhile, some 400 political prisoners remain in detention in various jails around the country.

One week after becoming the clear winner of the 2016 presidential polls, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would seek general amnesty for all political prisoners. The move was seen as a confidence-building measure in pursuing peace talks with the CPP, its political arm the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and its armed unit New People’s Army (NPA). (Watch here)

Before Duterte’s official inauguration last June, his then incoming Labor chief and peace panel chair also said that the new government would release political prisoners covered by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) even before a general amnesty is granted. Also to be released early supposedly are the elderly and sick on humanitarian reasons. (Read here) The JASIG is a 1995 agreement produced by the peace talks between the NDFP and the then Ramos administration. It prohibits the state from arresting or persecuting rebels who are participating in the negotiations as NDFP consultants. (Read here) Just early this month, Duterte reportedly again committed the release of 165 elderly and sick political prisoners during a meeting in Davao City with top NDFP officials. (Read here)

But now six months into his presidency, only one political prisoner has been released through presidential pardon under Duterte. No detainee has been freed because of JASIG or for humanitarian grounds, much less through general amnesty, with one elderly and sick political prisoner already succumbing to poor health. The 19 NDFP peace talks consultants were temporarily released on bail while another 21 political prisoners won their cases in courts or availed of legal remedies. Further, 15 new political prisoners were illegally arrested and detained since Duterte became President. (Read here)

Meanwhile, despite its own declaration of ceasefire, the AFP continues to militarize the rural areas and to conduct armed and intelligence operations, the CPP claims. The notorious Oplan Bayanihan, according to reports, will not be discontinued by the Duterte administration but will even intensify albeit with “minor additions” in the light of the ongoing peace talks. (Read here) Duterte’s appointment of the controversial and alleged human rights violator General Eduardo Año as the new AFP chief also signals that the anti-communist counterinsurgency campaign targeting the civil and political rights of civilians, including through extrajudicial killings of activists, will remain. (Read here)

It seems that instead of creating a more conducive environment for the peace talks, the Duterte administration is making it even more difficult for the already complicated negotiation on social and economic reforms – the agenda in the upcoming round of talks – to succeed. Coupled with its repressive and bloody drug war that targets the poor and powerless, avowed commitment to continue the neoliberal economic policies that impoverish the people, and role in completing the political comeback of the despised Marcoses, the Duterte administration is in fact creating conditions for greater social conflict and unrest.

The NPA ceasefire, which at more than 100 days is now the longest in its almost five-decade existence, shows the eagerness of the revolutionary groups to negotiate a peace agreement with Duterte that will address the roots of what is essentially a civil war being waged by landless peasants and other oppressed and exploited classes in Philippine society. Despite flip-flopping on his earlier commitments on a general amnesty for all political detainees and the release of those who are elderly and sick, the NDFP still expressed willingness to discuss Duterte’s call for a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Duterte should not throw away this opportunity. For almost five decades, six regimes with support from the world’s richest economy and most powerful military, the US, have used brutal dictatorship and all-out war, ruthless extrajudicial methods as well as treacherous propaganda to end the civil war, but to no avail.

Despite being up against the formidable machinery and resources of the state and its imperialist backers, the NPA today, under CPP leadership, is said to operate in more than 70 provinces covering hundreds of municipalities and thousands of barangays nationwide and can supposedly move freely in 80% of Philippine territory – a claim bolstered by its string of successful tactical offensives in recent years. (Read here) Indeed, it appears that the negotiating table is the Duterte administration’s best option against the longest running and most resilient insurgency in the region. ###

US aid and imperialism

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Photo from The Philippine Star

For daring the US and others to withdraw their aid, President Rodrigo Duterte has been called a “psychopath”. For those whose way of thinking has been systematically warped by colonialism and neocolonialism/imperialism, it is plain madness. As a poor country, why would we shun the “altruism” of rich countries like the US?

On the contrary, the US would rather not stop its aid program here. Since our nominal independence from the US’s colonial rule 70 years ago, patronage through economic and military aid has been a key component of enduring US imperialist domination and plunder of the Philippines.

Beyond altruism

Data from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) show that from 2001 to 2014, total economic aid to the Philippines reached more than US$1.94 billion (in current prices). Total military aid during the same period reached almost US$566.11 million. That’s a combined US$2.51 billion in 14 years. Annually, the US disbursed US$138.95 million in economic aid and US$40.44 million in military aid or a combined $179.39 million every year from 2001 to 2014.

For 2015, preliminary USAID data show that the US disbursed $180.62 million in economic aid. There’s no 2015 data yet on military aid from the USAID online database. Reports, however, say that US military assistance for the Philippines was about US$50 million last year that will reportedly rise to US$79 million in 2016, on top of another US$42 million from the new US-Southeast Asia Maritime Initiative.

Further, note that US assistance to the Philippines has grown quite substantially under President Barack Obama and his declared US pivot to Asia. From 2010 to 2014, US economic aid increased by almost 15% in real terms annually. Military aid grew by almost 8% a year during the same period.

(US economic and military aid data since 1946 can be generated from USAID’s reports & data)

And we’re counting just the bilateral aid from the US. The US is also a major contributor to multilateral bodies like the World Bank and agencies of the United Nations (UN), which provide development aid to the Philippines as well.

That’s a lot of aid money that Duterte would be foregoing if the he will really spurn American patronage.

But as mentioned, there’s more to foreign aid than the simple altruism of donors. Aid, especially US aid, is used not for development cooperation but to advance the interests and agenda of the donor and deepen their patron-client relationship with the aid recipient. It is an effective neocolonial tool to foster continued dependence and subservience, and steer domestic policy making in directions that the donor wants. Lastly, aid is also a means for the US to directly create profit-making opportunities for their transnational corporations (TNCs).

Education, health, disaster relief

Remember how the US used the public education system as an integral part of their colonization campaign in the Philippines? It was far more successful in making Filipinos subservient to the colonizers than using purely military might. Colonial education was so effective that many Filipinos could not imagine life without the US. Just look at the reaction to Duterte’s stance on independent foreign policy.

It continues to this day through, among others, the use of foreign assistance. Classified by purpose, the largest bilateral US aid disbursed to the Philippines in 2015 was in Primary Education at US$25.33 million. Almost half of this amount, US$12.49 million, went to the Basa Pilipinas project of the USAID. Through this project, the US develops and distributes teaching and learning materials, English books and reading materials, etc. for local teachers to use for their Grades 1-3 pupils. Another US$5.35 million in US aid was also disbursed for Higher Education in 2015. (See Chart 1)

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The second biggest chunk of US aid disbursement last year went to Material Relief Assistance and Services with US$20.37 million. They also disbursed US$3.84 million for Disaster Prevention and Preparedness; US$1.92 million for Emergency Food Aid; and more than US$1 million for Relief Coordination, Protection and Support Services.

The US has been using disaster relief to justify and expand their military presence in disaster-prone countries like the Philippines. The controversial Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), for instance, was justified using the pretext of humanitarian aid and disaster relief. American troops can base in military facilities here so they can preposition not just their weapons and war machines but also “humanitarian relief supplies”. (Read for instance, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statement on EDCA made last July 2016)

Family Planning also traditionally gets a big portion of US aid with disbursement reaching US$17.08 million in 2015. Related sectors also got significant amounts such as Reproductive Health Care (US$3.94 million) and Population Policy and Administrative Management (US$0.43 million).

Population control has long been a strategy of US imperialism in the Philippines. In 1974, the USAID and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), among others, produced the “Kissinger Report”. It said that population growth threatens US access to the natural resources of poor countries. A large population of youth must also be controlled because they are most likely to challenge US imperialism. The Philippines is one of 13 countries identified in the Kissinger Report as primary targets of US-led population control efforts.

Public health is another major sector that the US has been long supporting in the country. In 2015, the US disbursed US$16.04 million in aid for Tuberculosis Control and more than US$0.90 million for STD Control including HIV/AIDS. A productive and efficient (and, of course, cheap) labor force is one of the primary resources that US imperialism exploits for super profits. Control of infectious diseases like TB and AIDS helps ensure an efficient workforce, which poor countries with weak public health systems due to imperialist plunder and underdevelopment could not afford

Plus, big US pharmaceutical companies that have monopoly over patented drugs used in these health programs are assured of markets. In the Philippines, for instance, the anti-TB campaign is a partnership between USAID and Johnson & Johnson, an American pharmaceutical and consumer goods giant.

Aid and policymaking

But the biggest impact of US aid in the Philippines is on how national economic policies and priorities are determined. Obama, for instance, introduced the Partnership for Growth (PFG) initiative. It is an aid program participated in and coordinated by the USAID, State Department, Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) and other US agencies as well as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and various UN bodies.

Through the PFG, the US deepens its role in national policy making such as through the five-year Joint Country Action Plan (JCAP), which identified priority areas for policy reforms in the Philippines. These include trade and investment liberalization, deregulation, effective enforcement of contracts with private business (such as those engaging in public-private partnership or PPP), as well as fiscal and judicial reforms.

An example of how US steers internal policy-making is the PFG’s centerpiece program in the Philippines, which is the $433.91-million grant from the MCC. The MCC is a highly conditional aid and requires the Philippines to, among others, maintain so-called “economic freedom” to continue receiving the grant.

One of the indicators of economic freedom, as designed by the MCC, is the Trade Policy Indicator. It measures the country’s openness to international trade based on average tariff rates and non-tariff barriers (e.g. trade quotas, production subsidies, government procurement procedures, anti-dumping, local content requirements, etc.) to trade. The “Compact” or agreement between the Philippine government (as represented then by the Aquino administration) and MCC is that the latter may suspend or terminate the grant if the country fails to reverse its policies that are inconsistent with the Trade Policy Indicator and other indicators designed by the MCC.

Also part of the implementation of the PFG is The Arangkada Philippines Project (TAPP) of the USAID and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham). Through the USAID-funded TAPP, AmCham is pushing for 471 specific recommendations that promote the interest of foreign corporations in the country through greater liberalization, deregulation, privatization and denationalization. These are contained in the comprehensive advocacy paper “Arangkada Philippines 2010: A business perspective” prepared by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines (JFC), of which AmCham is a key member.

Under the TAPP, the JFC has been producing Legislation Policy Briefs that identify broad recommendations for Congress and the Executive. Among the many proposals of the JFC is the lifting of constitutional restrictions on foreign investments through Charter change (Cha-cha).

All these are in preparation for the country’s future membership in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The TPP is an ambitious free trade deal and the latest campaign of US imperialism to further deepen and consolidate its economic domination in Asia Pacific in the face of a rising China. Just last March 2016, the US Chamber of Commerce, with funding from USAID under the PFG’s five-year US$12.84-million Trade-Related Assistance for Development (TRADE) project, released its “readiness assessment” of Philippine membership in the TPP.

The said report examined the “consistency of the country’s existing policy framework with the agreement’s requirements, and the implied changes that may be necessary if the Philippines is to meet these requirements”. As expected, one of the “implied changes” is liberalization through Cha-cha. (The full report may be downloaded here)

Military patronage

Lastly, the US employs military aid not to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but to maintain its influence and control over our military. US military aid mostly comes in the form of Foreign Military Financing (FMF). Under the FMF, the US provides grants and loans to help the Philippines buy US-made weapons and defense equipment as well as acquiring defense services and military training.

In 2014, US$50 million in FMF was disbursed by the US to the Philippines out of the total US$57 million in military aid that year. The Philippines is traditionally one of the largest recipients of FMF among all US allies. It ranked fifth in 2014 in terms of FMF behind Egypt, Israel, Pakistan and Jordan. The country also accounted for 64% of US FMF in East Asia and the Pacific. (Data here)

However, military items that the country gets under the FMF and other US military aid programs are either surplus or second-hand and antiquated military articles. They are also not actually given for free but are sold at a discount (with a portion of the amount shouldered or waived by the US through the FMF).

Examples include the five-decade old US Coast Guard vessels (“Hamilton-class cutters”) that the US Navy has retired and sold to the Philippines. Since 2012, the Philippines has already bought two of these decommissioned ships for about US$25 million – and a third one is expected soon – through the FMF, Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Excess Defense Article (EDA) programs.

The weapons systems of the ships have also been removed by the US prior to their turnover to the Philippine Navy. The country had to separately purchase from the US the vessels’ weapons and guns as well as additional technology including radar system, anti-ship missile system, etc. US military aid thus also means more business for the US military industrial complex.

Aside from FMF, other US military aid programs in the Philippines include counter-narcotics, military education and training, cooperative threat reduction, and counter-terrorism fellowship program. (See Chart 2)

arn-07-us-aid-and-imperialism-oct-2016-chart-2

Along with annual military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), military aid fosters complete dependence of the AFP on US military technology, hardware and expertise. It also helps justify the continued presence of American troops in the country. But despite decades of US military patronage, the AFP remains one of the weakest and least modernized in the region. The Abu Sayyaf that the US has long been using to legitimize their military presence in the country persists and continues to terrorize the people.

Mutual respect, sovereignty

Foreign aid is not necessarily bad. It is, in fact, an important element of cooperation among countries to promote development. But as the case of US aid in the Philippines illustrates, aid could also be used to perpetuate the skewed relationship between the donor and recipient, between the colonial master and colony.

Such unequal, oppressive and exploitative relation between the US and the Philippines is the real reason why the country is underdeveloped and Filipinos are starving. If the Duterte administration rejects US aid to pursue a truly independent foreign policy and nurture development cooperation with other countries based on mutual respect and sovereignty, then we are already taking the initial steps to address the underlying causes of our poverty and hunger. ###

More than meets the eye: People’s fact-finding on Mamasapano

Photo from Tudla Productions
Photo from Tudla Productions

Life Interrupted: Civilian communities terrorized by commando assault in Mamasapano

Initial Report of the People’s Fact-Finding Mission
Mamasapano, Maguindanao
February 9-11, 2015

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are participating in ongoing peace talks. Prior to the signing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) last year, signed agreements between both parties were already in effect, one of which was the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities signed on July 1997. This agreement established the mechanisms to prevent hostilities between the armed forces of both parties, in order to prevent danger to civilian populations.

Despite these agreements, the encounter between the PNP-SAF and the MILF forces in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25 suggests the agreement on the cessation of hostilities was violated. The loss of civilian life during the incident raises serious questions regarding violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, which are investigated in this report.

The reports and testimonies gathered regarding the presence of US personnel in the area during the encounter attests to the continuing ‘War on Terror’ campaign of the US and Philippine governments, which have undermined the peace talks and the rights of innocent civilians.

There is more to the Mamasapano incident than meets the eye.

While the media coverage have so far mainly focused on the death of the 44 police commandos after the botched operation on January 25, little has been publicly said about the Moro communities in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. But on the ground, reports of human rights abuses, violations of the International Humanitarian Law during combat, and involvement of US military personnel were persistent. Spurred by these reports from the commnunities, Suara Bangsamoro, Kalinaw Mindanao and Kawagib initiated a People’s Fact-Finding Mission in affected barangays of Mamasapano, Maguindanao on February 9 to 11, 2015.

About 100 individuals participated in the mission, which included Moro leaders, human rights advocates, children’s rights advocates, church leaders, youth leaders, labor leaders, women leaders, and alternative journalists. Two progressive parliamentarians from Makabayan bloc – Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan – also spearheaded the mission.

The People’s Fact-Finding Mission covered four affected barangays in Mamasapano, Maguindanao where initial reports of abuses came from: Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan, Pimbalkan and Tuka. These covered about 5,000 individuals in the said barangays. The mission was able to collect 11 sworn affidavits, as well as recorded testimonies, photographs and videos of the interviews with witnesses and affected individuals, as well as photographs of the affected areas.

Among the cases of human rights violations, as well as violations of the International Humanitarian Law, that the Mission was able to document are the following:

  • Extra-judicial Killings
  • Frustrated Extra-judicial Killings
  • Forced Evacuation
  • Destruction of Properties
  • Divestment of Properties
  • Child Rights Violations

The Mission was also able to gather sworn affidavits from residents of the affected barangays who testified to the use of drones before and during the botched police operation on Jan. 25. In addition to these, it was also able to gather testimonies of various witnesses in Brgy. Tukanalipao who said they saw the body of at least one (1) US personnel (purportedly military) among the other remains of SAF commandos in the aftermath of the bloody encounters. Undoubtedly, this direct US involvment in a military/police operation in the Philippines amounts to a clear violation of the country’s national sovereignty.

Highlight Cases:

Extra-judicial Killings & Frustrated Extra-judicial Killings

At around four in the morning of January 25, farmer Badrudin Langalan, 18, just came from his farm and was on his way to charge his cellphone at the Tukanalipao proper when he was ostensibly chanced upon the position of the blocking force of SAF members before he was able to cross the wooden bridge. Later in the day, after the encounters and when residents started to bring the bodies of fallen SAF members to the barangay proper, Badrudin’s lifeless body was found among the fallen SAF members, his hands and feet were bound.

Meanwhile, around the same time that Badrudin chanced upon SAF members, Sarah Pananggulon, 8 years old, was sleeping with her parents and younger brother in their house in Sitio Inugog, Brgy. Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town when they were awaken by loud explosions and gunshots outside their house. They realized armed individuals whom they later identified as members of the Special Action Force (SAF) were shooting in their direction. Sarah was shot on her side, while her parents, Samrah Sampulna and Pananggulon Mamasalaga, were wounded as they tried to evacuate from their houses.

Forced Evacuation & Indiscriminate Firing

Farmers Iskak Salao, 48, and Saada Teb, 25, were residents of Sitio Inugog, Brgy. Tukanalipao. They were sleeping in their respective houses when they and their neighbors heard gunshots. Iskak, Saada and many others were compelled to evacuate from their houses, as members of SAF fired upon their location. Saada, a mute and a student of the Mahad (one of 330 Arabic students in nearby madrasah in Brgy. Inugog), was hit by a bullet. Since then, the students and the Arabic teachers have not resumed classes and residents remain evacuees because of fear that their community will be again assaulted.

Meanwhile, Amina Kamiron, 40, lives in Tukanalipao proper, which is a few kilometers away from the site of encounters. She was taking her bath when she heard loud gunshots. She was shocked and fell on the floor. Amina was brought to hospital and is still recuperating, as of this writing.

At around nine in the morning of Jan. 25, residents of Tukanalipao proper who live along the main road were forced to evacuate from their homes when SAF tanks stationed along the main road began indiscriminately firing on their houses. They showed to the Mission members the holes in their concrete houses which were supposedly caused by gunshots from the tanks.

An estimated 1,500 residents of different barangays also hastily evacuated to nearby communities where they had relatives, according to the ARMM HEART program of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Divestment of Properties

Several residents who live along the highway in Brgy. Tuka complained that SAF members, who were stationed along the highway during the entire time of the encounters, had divested them of their properties. At four in the morning, Saneah Solaiman, 25, complained that SAF members allegedly divested Saneah of her belongings—among others, three pots, cups, kettle and goods from her sari-sari store.

ARMM HEART data revealed that P300,000 worth of farm crops were destroyed during the encounters, while more than a million pesos worth of properties were partially or fully damaged. Six (6) houses were partially damaged.

Other faces of grief

The women shared the ordeals they and their children had to go through to escape the fighting. There was indiscriminate firing and they had to either crawl or dash to safer grounds, some with a baby or toddler in hand. The women who lost their husbands told the FFM of the grief and the economic uncertainty they now face.

The wives of the saheed (martyrs), four elements of the MILF who were fired upon and killed upon by an unidentified SAF element while they were sleeping in a pangguiamanan (mosque-hut) near the tulay na kahoy (wooden bridge) at two in the afternoon of January 25 in Brgy. Tukanalipao, also told their worries to the fact-finding team through a discussion group with the women’s team. Their husbands who were killed are Omar Dagadas, 24; Ali Ismael, 25; Mosif Hassim, 22; and a certain Rasul, 21, were members of the 105th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Child Rights Violations

Classes in elementary and high school students of different public schools in the various barangays were disrupted by the heavy fighting on January 25. School officials of Linantangan Elementary School in Tukanalipao proper told the Mission that the said school was forced to cancel classes for two weeks after the incident.

According to ARMM HEART, 13 schools with 5,963 students and 124 teachers were affected by the bloody encounters. Aside from this, classes for the 300 Mahad/Arabic students were also disrupted.

During the psychosocial intervention to the children affected, the team found out that children are traumatized due to the incident and their consequent evacuation. According to the children, the encounter occurred because the PNP SAF did not inform the community and the MILF regarding their operation. They also narrated some of their experiences. They also recalled the deafening sounds of gunfire and how they evacuated. Most of the children were among those families who were temporarily displaced due to the incident. According to them, they stayed in several houses and barangay centers that served as the temporary evacuation center for two days and were only able to attend class a week after the incident. Many of them are still afraid, especially during night time. According to them, they fear nightfall as the incident might happen again. Their daily routines disrupted specially on education and economic aspect and they have the feeling of insecurity. Up to this time, many pupils have not reported back to school.

Deep US involvement

The Mission was able to interview, on condition of anonymity, some witnesses who said they saw one Caucasian (“white-skinned, long, blue-eyed, and had narrow, long noses”) who died among the SAF members in Brgy. Tukanalipao. Meanwhile, several residents from Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan, Lusay and Tuka submitted sworn affidavits that state that they saw drones fly above their communities for at least seven (7) days before the bloody encounters on Jan. 25. One witness said that the drone would hover above their houses, sometimes waking them up at night. Meanwhile, residents of Brgy. Tuka and Brgy. Pidsandawan called the drones “airplanes” that twinkled at night time. However, the night before the clash the sound of the drones was exceptionally noisy and busy. The drones, they said, were gone after Jan. 25.

Preliminary Findings: 

  • The PNP-SAF police operation undermined the civilian community and GPH-MILF peace process;
  • There was a violation of the ceasefire agreement or the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities that resulted in a breach in the peace negotiations and human rights violations;
  • The lives of the residents have yet to return to normal, the farmers cannot easily go back to their farms for fear of possible clashes, and unexploded bombs continue to reside in local fields;
  • There is no normalcy in the lives of child residents, as evidenced by the significant decline in the attendance of students in elementary schools;
  • Further investigation should be undertaken into the role of the US government in the Mamasapano incident, based on the following reports: that US troops were seen during retrieval operations; that drones were heard and seen flying before and during the police operation; and that possible Caucasians were sighted with the PNP-SAF during operations, including the body of an alleged Caucasian among the slain PNP-SAF;

Recommendations:

  • The government must indemnify, give justice to the victims of human rights violations and be held accountable for the Mamasapano encounter;
  • Violations in the ceasefire agreement should be seriously looked into;
  • US participation in the Mamasapano incident must be investigated;
  • Call for an independent body, such as a truth commission or a people’s movement for truth and accountability, to probe deeper into the Mamasapano incident.

Aside from initiators Suara Bangsamoro, Kalinaw Mindanao and Kawagib, other groups from various provinces in Mindanao as well as national organizations joined the mission, namely:

KARAPATAN-Southern Mindanao Region
KARAPATAN-Socksargens
KARAPATAN-West Mindanao
Gabriela Women’s Partylist
Children’s Rehabilitation Center
Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao
Kilusang Mayo Uno
Nonoy Librado Development Foundation
Sisters Association in Mindanao
Oblates of Notre Dame
Social Ministry Episcopal Diocese for Southern Philipppines
Cotabato Annual Conference – United Church of Christ in the Philippines
United Methodist Church in the Philippines
Liga ng Kabataang Moro
League of Filipino Students
Anakbayan
CLANS
DIRECT
Panalipdan-Southern Mindanao
Community-Based Health Services Association
Anakpawis Partylist
Bayan Muna Partylist
Alternative media outfits Pinoy Weekly, Radyo Ni Juan Network and Kilab Multimedia