From Syria to Surigao del Sur: Lumad victims need your rage, too

First published on Blogwatch

Artwork by Prof. Neil Doloricon

Artwork by Prof. Neil Doloricon

In quite a poignant and disturbing tone, the image of a dead Syrian boy washed ashore echoed across globe, drawing attention to Europe’s stance on migrants and refugees. Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi fled war-torn Syria with the hope of finding refuge in Europe, a hope shared by many other refugees displaced by years of internal war and foreign interventionist operations led by the US and European countries. He however ended up drowning in the Mediterranean Sea like several other refugees.

Aylan’s image made rounds on social media, sending a jolt to the consciousness of those who had never seen injustice and cruel border politics as vivid as the photo of a lifeless young refugee with head down on the sand. Many Filipino netizens expressed grief and rage, circulating the heart-breaking photo and urging the powerful EU bloc to have a heart.

But as we look and mourn over Aylan’s tragic death, we should not miss out the horrid details of terror and injustice happening in our own soil. Right at home, our Lumad brothers and sisters are being driven away from their ancestral lands in bloody fashion.

In the town Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Manobo children and their families were forcibly taken out of their homes and rounded around 4 a.m. on Sept. 1 by Bagani paramilitary forces to see a horror show. They were made to witness the point-black execution of tribal leader Dionel Campos and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo. The perpetrators also bound Emerito Samarca or Tay Emok, the alternative school’s executive director, by the neck and limbs in the faculty room, then stabbed him in the chest and slit his throat open. Paramilitary forces warned the children and their families to leave their village immediately or all of them would suffer the fate of the three people, whom they accused of being supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA).

In Pangantucan, Bukidnon, five people were shot one by one by soldiers in the afternoon of August 18 – as witnessed by a 15-year-old Manobo boy.  Seventy-year-old Herminio Samia, his sons Joebert and Emir, and his relatives Norman and Elmer were accused by the military of being communist rebels, and that their deaths were the result of an alleged legitimate encounter. But human rights group Karapatan disputed the Army’s claim, saying they were innocent victims of the government’s Oplan Bayanihan which is patterned after the US counterinsurgency (COIN) plan.

Samarca, Campos and Sinzo, and dozens more in other tribal communities were not simply killed. They were massacred with the aim of sowing terrror among Lumad communities in what was the latest in the string of attacks against lumads in Mindanao. What makes their grisly deaths more revolting is the fact that the Aquino government would not directly own the bloody operations nor express any sign of condemnation on the killings. The 4th Infantry Battalion, which is operating in Surigao del Sur, simply dared rights groups to file charges against them.

Aylan, too, did not die simply because of Europe’s strict policy on migrants and refugees. He was first a victim of US and European intervention in Syria with the goal of dismantling the Assad regime.  Garikai Chengu of Global Research even argues that the ISIS Terror Group is created by Washington in the same way that it trained Al-Qaeda. There were several accounts too of US and British Special Forces dressing up as ISIS rebels to fight Assad in Syria.

Back home, the relentless massacre of tribal people by paramilitary forces point to the utter failure of President Aquino to keep his promise of dismantling paramilitary groups and private armies. This is the same president who has failed to exact justice over the massacre in Maguindano of 58 people by paramilitary groups despite sitting in power for five years now. This is also the president who brandished his vow for peace in Mindanao through the much-hyped Bangsamoro political project, but will be stepping out of power with mercenary paramilitaries still on the loose and wreaking havoc on many communities in Mindanao.

Against this backdrop of terror and impunity in Mindanao, children actually suffer the most – their innocence torn by bloodbaths before their own eyes. They have this shock which they cannot express at all, and a burning urge to ask why terrible things happen to their communities. They have their learning and upbringing disrupted, as they were driven away from their homes and schools. They are supposedly the heirs of the beautiful Mindanao. But at their very young age, they are forcibly shackled to fear and mental disarray, incapacitated by the escalating attacks by armed men on their villages.

We don’t need to gaze as far as Europe to be reminded that a boy is being killed, families are being displaced, and dreams are being extinguished by structural terror and injustice. We just have to look at our Lumad brothers and sisters – whose brutal executions barely land on the banner headline or top topics on Facebook and Twitter. They are the faceless victims in our midst. They need your grief and rage, too.

Aquino’s DAP speech: Same smug defense of a badass budget scheme

First published on Blogwatch

It was more of the same smug defense of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) replete with fallacious analogy and “good faith” rhetoric. The only difference was that this time, President Aquino ate up nearly 30 minutes of precious primetime news to prove his presidential arrogance before the viewing public.

Rather than save his sagging political capital, Aquino just isolated himself from many of his “bosses” who think that threatening a war with the judiciary in a televised speech is the least that the nation need at this crucial point.

Exactly two weeks after the SC declared the key provisions of DAP unconstitutional, the President did not offer any added value to discussions about the chief executive’s badass realignment of funds to projects of his choosing. He miserably failed to demonstrate the DAP-economic growth nexus, or to just even show a bird’s eye view of DAP-funded projects simplified in pie charts. Details about DAP remain in the dark.

The President is even unsure how to really defend his case – insisting the constitutionality of the program at one point and then citing expediency’s sake over the rule of law at the other. If this is a preview of how the Palace would flip-flop in its motion for reconsideration, we could then expect another 13-0 in the offing.

What Aquino only made clear is that 1) his head is still buried in the heap of his self-serving interpretations of the law 2) DAP funds are purely discretionary, and that he will defy budget allocations at will.

“Ang hangad po natin: Huwag patagalin ang pagpapatupad sa isang proyekto. Ang pinagkasunduan ng buong Gabinete tungkol sa kani-kanilang budget: Use it or lose it. At kung malinaw na hindi talaga ninyo magagamit ngayong taon ang pondong inilaan para sa inyo, maliwanag na savings na ‘yan.”

It appears that the President did not really read the SC’s ruling even as he encouraged the public to read it. The high court has made it clear: DAP funds are not savings. Hence Aquino’s citation of Section 39 of the 1987 Administration Code during his speech is clearly a waste of time, if not a dumb take on the issue.

Good results can’t remedy DAP’s legal defects

Moreover Aquino is keeping a false faith that DAP’s good results on the ground will be enough to convince the magistrates on the scheme’s supposed constitutionality. While realignments under DAP can indeed produce higher electrification rates of communities and construction of more classrooms, the question still remains: were the realignments in line with the processes set out in the law? Good intentions and good results cannot in any way cure the legal infirmities that dot the DAP design. They are, at best, only sweeteners to the brazen violation of the Constitution.

Reasoning out that not a single cent of funds pooled under DAP went to corruption would also not qualify as defense. Again, what is in question is the manner by which funds were realigned since DAP took effect in 2011. The high court is resoundingly clear on the unconstitutionality of the 1) withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies 2) cross-border transfers of savings of the executive department to other branches 3) funding of projects, activities, programs not covered by appropriations.

DAPatronage politics

What is alarming is that Aquino is insisting on this budget distortion practice in line with his whims supposedly to bankroll projects that need funding. You see, under DAP, the President can pull out funds at will from an ongoing project and call it “savings.” He can instantly create items for immediate funding without going through the budget process, or distribute it to lawmakers depending on their political allegiance.

Could this be the reason why many of our lawmakers are not raising a howl on how the President has usurped the Congress’ power of the purse? It is strange that lawmakers feel not the slightest insult that they spend hours deliberating on the budget trying to insert their projects and yet the President can have the last laugh in the form of “disbursement acceleration.” Maybe because they benefitted from DAP too.

This brings us to bigger problem about DAP: When billions of people’s money – more than ten times allegedly stolen by Janet Lim-Napoles and partner lawmakers – are pooled under the discretion of the President, institutions could be held hostage to a single person’s political agenda. We saw it during the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona. We saw billions of our hard-earned money go to financing the President’s political vendetta. As per lawmakers’ confessions about the President’s bribe from DAP, the gears of political patronage did turn at that time.

To be fair, the President needs all the discretionary funds that it can have to bribe all institutions to avert his administration’s impending doom. But he should understand that political honeymoon cannot be bought nowadays. He can hire more spinmeisters and bribe senators, state auditors and even justices – but the voices of reason will still rise up in the streets to call for his resignation.

How PH workers are tapping social media in gutsy ways

Originally published at Blogwatch

bring back NXP 24

Photo by IOHSAD

There is some sort of alienation when new tech gadgets are rolled out from assembly lines and into the bustling marketplace. Electronics workers rarely make out the most of these tools to at least be heard in the vast social media sea. In the daily grind, they work to produce communication tools which the middle class use to share a wide range of content, from selfies to scrumptious desserts and social commentaries.

Now this is something new: the workers who make your smartphones, tablets and PCs are tapping these same tools to present a different story to these gadgets. Seeing the potential of social media to push for advocacies, workers are now bringing the issues of meager wages, contractualization and union-busting closer to the general public.

Take the #bringbackNXP24 for instance, a campaign that calls for the reinstatement of 24 illegally dismissed union officers and for the resumption of stalled bargaining talks in electronics firm NXP Semiconductors in Cabuyao, Laguna. In around three weeks’ time, the Facebook page has drawn over 1,000 likes and boasts of active daily engagement among its base and outer circles – something unusual for a relatively unpopular campaign and for a labor issue in the Philippines at that.

#bringbackNXP24

Last May 5, the 24 union leaders were illegally dismissed by the company for merely spending the regular April holidays (April ) with their families. NXP Semiconductors describes the workers’ decision not to work on a regular holiday as “illegal strike.” But the union maintains that the management’s move is meant to derail the ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

“The union demands a significant wage hike for workers – an 8% increase, while the management wants only a 3.5% raise. The union also insists that contractual employees be regularized, to which the company disagrees,” the campaign’s Change.org petition reads.

#bringbackNXP24, which is the brainchild of a circle of labor advocates, has now become the buzzword and battle cry of thousands of NXP workers and their supporters. It is now part of the “unselfies” of trade unionists and labor advocates from Australia, Hongkong, China to Belgium. It is in the placards carried by workers during their protests. It is even spraypainted on the company’s white walls inside the Light Industry Science Park (LISP) in Cabuyao, a sign of defiance against the economic zones’ strict “no union, no strike” policy.

The inspiring thing about the campaign is that NXP workers themselves are the ones sharing updates inside the company. Just recently, a worker uploaded a photo of the latest company memo that tries to sow confusion among the 1,500-strong workforce. In another instance, a worker uploaded a photo of the company’s anti-union message contained in a paper strip.

#May1Fight

Ahead of this year’s Labor Day commemoration, Filipino workers and labor advocates embarked on an enterprising initiative to mark the special day in social media alongside the democratic protest actions in Manila and key cities. Through #May1Fight, netizens were encouraged to support the workers’ cause by sharing Labor Day memes, photos and messages, which were later compiled in a Storify post.

Interestingly, the initiative piqued the interest of mainstream media and bloggers. Philstar.com reported that #May1Fight drew over 400 tweets on May 1 as tracked by analytics tool Hashtracking. Again, this is a remarkable baby step for a breakthrough labor advocacy initiative on social media in the Philippines.

Raising workers’ capacities

To complement and sustain these initiatives, at least two projects are focused on raising capacities of Filipino workers to use social media and citizen journalism to amplify their voices and to influence policymakers.

Contractuals for Change Media Media Collective (CCMC), a project by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), is conducting social media trainings among contractual workers, who constitute the majority of the workforce yet voiceless and not represented by existing unions. The project is supported by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) and Otto per Mille.

Another initiative, WORKINGCAST, targets unionists for social media and photojournalism sessions to help workers document cases of work-related accidents and union activities. The project is run by the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), a Manila-based labor NGO. More often than not, work-related injuries are easily swept under the rug by erring companies, as traditional media cannot immediately access company premises. Hence, the project seeks to shed light on numerous health and safety violations in the workplaces that lead to terrible injuries or even death of workers.

During Saturday’s celebration of Social Media Day, Filipino workers and their supporters vow to take part in the #boomPH activities at SM Aura. They will carry their demands for regularization and higher wages loud and proud, alongside equally important causes in the vibrant local social media landscape.

Tumultuous disturbance

first published on Blogwatch.ph

It was not the usual platitudes at the podium by the President, who seemed to be caught off guard during his Independence Day speech in Naga City by a brief chanting some 40 feet away. The words “Patalsikin ang pork barrel king! Walang pagbabago sa Pilipinas” rang through the mass of civil bodies and involuntarily filled in the two-second gap. In that brief moment, 19-year-old Ateneo de Naga student Emmanuel Pio Mijares seemed to deliver a dagger that disrupted Aquino’s thoughts and disturbed his imagined peace.

It was tumultuous disturbance but not in the way conjured by the President’s security personnel and the local police. It was tumultuous because there’s the precise political context that made Mijares’ statements extra explosive.

At that precise moment when President Aquino was weaving independence, freedom, democracy and justice into a nine-minute speech, Mijares stood out as real-life test of such grand concepts. On the same day, various groups launched protest actions to demand justice and accountability over the pork barrel scam. Ironically, the powers-that-be chose the hard-line treatment, making injustice and imprisonment of a heckler the theme of the day. Mijares was forcibly dragged out of the venue, was thrown to jail, and slapped with two criminal charges (on tumults and other disturbance, and direct assault). It couldn’t be more ironic.

Yet in a society where political opposition, especially as expressed by activists in Mijares’ mold, are met with ferocity, the consequence of the Independence Day “disturbance” is not surprising at all. The incident presents a preview of the Aquino government’s treatment of anyone who sharply questions the status quo, even if not expressed in a chanting fit amid a presidential speech. Even under this regime, critics are not just manhandled. I know several activists who have been killed or abducted under Aquino’s watch for their advocacies on human rights, labor, and environment. As Marocharim wrote:

“What Pio Mijares did is still a political act, a political expression, and it speaks volumes about the kind of political action you can expect from those who share his beliefs. Yet the treatment of him speaks something about the kind of politics that this administration subscribes to. The latter is far more damning than the former.”

Mijares could have just been ushered out of the venue and maybe verbally reprimanded. President Aquino could have just done an adlib, citing Mijares’ acts as indicator of democracy. He could have just requested his defenders on social media to lecture Mijares on Proper Decorum 101. But the highest official of the land was clearly caught off guard. While Mijares was prepared to face the consequences, Aquino seemed to be unprepared to handle the permutations of democracy which he ceremonially cites. And probably too, “pork barrel king” hurt him, because it is somehow true. Remember the first time President Aquino reacted to the “pork barrel king” tag? He was fuming mad.

The fact that Mijares was charged with tumultuous disturbance and direct assault for merely chanting and holding out a banner tells a lot about Aquino’s leadership. Why on Earth should he be charged as such? Like a hurt big guy, Aquino seems bent at making the kid suffer and at parading him as example of how speech disruptors would be treated. But rather than create an image of a trustworthy leadership, such response to Mijares’ heckling clearly presents a threatened childish leadership. It’s the kind that heavily values political alliances and friendships in this trying pork scam crunch time, yet imposes the full force of law on young unarmed hecklers.

What’s at stake in Mijares’ case isn’t the foundations of civility and respect for those in positions of power, but the very foundations of our free expression and democracy. Mijares presents a fine litmus test, in which his loss would mean criminalization of heckling. Conversely, it’s not as if letting Mijares scot-free would encourage rebellion and make public institutions and the head of state less worthy of respect. It is the President’s soft handling of allies tagged in the pork barrel scam that make the Palace less worthy of respect. Mijares’ bold move was just an expression of the public trust deficit to institutions right now.

The short supply of public trust to public officials isn’t something that will happen following Mijares’ acts. It has been around since the pork barrel scam erupted last year, and it is not hard to sense it in the buzz in barbershops and campuses. If this government is indeed worried about losing any semblance of authority and respect, then it should diligently pursue a case against its allies in the same depth and extent as that of the anti-Pogi, Tanda and Sexy crusade. President Aquino should spare no one in the pork barrel scam, not even his close friend Budget chief Butch Abad.  He should order the dropping of charges against Mijares, to at least assure that this government still values free expression and tolerates dissent of citizens, even in heckling form.

But heck, the Aquino administration finds it really hard to prove its “Daang Matuwid.” At the current rate of things, the young heckler activist’s slogan trumps the bankrupt yellow rhetoric. And in pursuing the prosecution of Mijares, the Palace, with the Naga police as proxy, is waging a political battle it can never win.

PH workers are racing to the bottom, not to Boracay

First published in Blogwatch.ph

Days ahead of Labor Day, #Laboracay has been making a buzz in social media. To my dismay, it has nothing to do with the essence of the International Workers’ Day but has everything to describe middle class fantasies: a holiday spent in Boracay island, complete with the imagery of half-naked bodies dipped in crystal-clear waters. Netizens who were too excited for their Labor Day trip embarked on a #Laboracay barrage much earlier, bragging their gym routines or flaunting their swim wear. Good thing Boracay Hater compiled all their petty concerns into a hilarious post.

By bragging their #Laboracay escapade, they are also flaunting their skimpy ignorance of what Labor Day really is – which is about the massacre of protesting workers who asserted the eight-hour workday and other rights at work which most Boracay-goers are enjoying. But we cannot blame them, for their ignorance is only shaped by a socio-economic structure that is increasingly reversing the gains of workers’ movements and burrowing labour and unionism in oblivion.

We can however at least remind Boracay-goers a few things about the issues and struggle of Filipino workers, who with their poverty wages cannot actually afford even a promo Boracay trip.

From the previous regimes up to the current Aquino administration, Filipino workers are increasingly forced to race to the bottom as wage levels hardly catch up with rising prices of commodities and basic services. Current average daily basic pay of Filipino workers is only at P348.75, or just enough to buy two Grande Java Chip Frappucino. The average wage is way short of the conservative estimate of the family living wage (or the amount needed for a family to meet basic needs), which is at P1,068 as of last year.

infographic workers

Skewed wage system

The situation is made worse by a highly skewed regional wage setting based on the Wage Rationalization Act: the farther you go from Metro Manila, the lower the minimum wage is even if prices of goods and services are more or less the same. Such setting granted companies the flexibility to relocate areas with the cheapest labor, spurring an exodus of production firms from Metro Manila to Calabarzon, Central Luzon and Davao where labor costs are cheaper for the same kind of work. In a sense, this arrangement made extraction of higher profits and higher rate of exploitation possible.

Just in case Boracay-goers won’t dare ask the hotel staff and waiters, the current daily minimum wage in Aklan is P287 for companies with more than 10 workers (P6,888 a month) and P245 for companies with less than 10 workers (P5,880). I presume they are paid lower than these rates, as companies normally do not comply with the mandatory minimum wage. And jobs in the tourism sector are highly volatile, as employees are trimmed as off-peak season sets in.

Still in line with saving on labor costs, an ever increasing number of companies are using contractual work arrangements to extract higher profits and evade paying benefits and union formation of employees. Contractualization is most prevalent in construction (81.21 percent), hotels and food service activities (50.26 percent) and manufacturing (48.64 percent), and is being implemented under various modalities – from labor outsourcing to creation of labor cooperatives.

Jobless growth

In terms of employment, the number of jobless Filipinos has been hovering near the 3-million mark despite the slew of job fairs and emergency employment programs unloaded by the Aquino administration in the past four years. In January, unemployment rate hit a nine-month high at 7.5 percent despite the economy’s strong showing at 7.2 percent GDP growth last year. I already explained the enigma behind the jobless growth in a previous post, and I expect the Aquino administration to continue to overlook what is really wrong with its jobs paradigm especially now that it is so eager to press the Charter change (Cha-cha) button as soon as Congress resumes session on May 5.

Depressed wages, rising contractualization and severe joblessness remain unaddressed by President Aquino who seems to be contented with hyped job fairs and a bankrupt investment-driven job generation. His oblivion of the Filipino workers’ plight is certainly much worse than those who indulge in #Laboracay.

Today, workers will not be enjoying a luxurious time in Boracay. They will be the men and women busily serving the Laboracay-goers. In Manila and elsewhere, they will be in throngs marching on the streets, fighting for labor rights. In social media, their will register their common voice simultaneously with massive protests via #May1Fight. #

Post-Yolanda: Aquino’s disaster conspiracy with World Bank, ADB

first published on Blogwatch

Image

Filipinos will foot an even bigger foreign debt bill in the coming years as some development agencies opted to dump multi-billion loans instead of providing full financial grants to the victims of super typhoon Yolanda. It is strange that the Aquino government – which brags of realigned and unused pork funds in billions – readily accepted the new debt ties.

In the minds of the skeptical few, why do we have to accept new loans to pursue rehabilitation efforts when there are billions of foreign aid pouring in and when there are also billions of discretionary funds, now mostly under the President’s control in the wake of the abolition of the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) program?

A month after Yolanda ripped through the country, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) signed a $500-million emergency loan to provide support in shelter and reconstruction, power restoration, livelihood, resettlement and psychosocial care, and environment protection. The loan was the first phase of its “support” for the typhoon victims.

ADB fueling corruption?

The ADB then pledged an additional $372-million loan and a $23-million grant, bringing the total financial package to about $900 million (P39.9 billion). The additional $372-million loan will support the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS), a program under Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman which is tainted with anomalies. A former employee at the DSWD bared that funds under the program were allegedly misused by some government officials. Continue reading

On the crying cop and the SONA cop-out

first published on Blogwatch.ph

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It was a story of compassion, of political epiphany, of a law enforcer coming to terms with the inherent contradictions of his job – realizing the futility of force in confronting a sea of legitimate demands for higher wages and decent housing. But as it turned out, several users on social media and even respected journalists saw it in a different light. The story was reduced to a foreigner yelling at a cop, as if it happened just at any street corner in Manila. The context of a People’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) rally being violently dispersed by throngs of cops was cropped out.

And then there was a story bigger than the crying cop. PO1 Joselito Sevilla became the victim of foreign activist’s mere yelling.

As expected, the new packaging in 140 characters sold like hotcakes, soliciting all kinds of indignation and racism on Facebook and Twitter against foreign activist Thomas van Beersum, who only sought to stop the police from beating and shoving Filipino protesters. Calls for deportation were issued, while others threatened to maul the foreign activist. None inquired whether there is something in Beersum’s breath that smelled like onions. They simply jumped into the bandwagon without looking at the facts and the circumstances.

Mainstream journalists on Twitter meanwhile helped fan the selective nationalism against Beersum, questioning Beersum’s right to yell at cops based merely on his nationality. Based on their assumption, they should also be as adamant in defending Filipino call center agents who are being yelled at daily by their foreign customers. They should be raving about abusive foreign employers and supervisors who reprimand Filipino workers for failing to meet the daily production quota. They should be angry at the Aquino government’s policy of peddling Filipino workers to abusive work relations either in BPO hubs or foreign households. But they are not. They are angry only at Beersum.

When Aquino’s Charter change pushes through, they should not be surprised that more foreigner-yelling-at-Filipino scenarios will unfold, even in newsrooms.

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