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.

Pens vs pork: People’s Initiative puts dead end to Aquino’s ‘Daang Matuwid’ show

First published on Blogwatch

Tens of thousands returned to Luneta Park today to kick off the Luzon leg of the petition for a People’s Initiative bill to abolish the pork barrel system, a year after the mammoth “Million People March” demonstration against widespread corruption in government.

Today’s gathering brings to the fore two main positives for the country’s history: One, Filipino voters transcend their token role as mere source of votes for politicos in the electoral exercise, in a bid to finally end the abuse and misuse of public funds. Two, the Filipino people are taking the anti-corruption drive literally into their hands, which is by far the strongest telltale sign that President Aquino’s sham “Daang Matuwid” show has ended.

The former marks a milestone as regards the electorate’s political maturity while the latter signifies the ruling class’s immaturity in running their business of deceptive politics, believing that empty slogans will still do the trick. But of course Palace spokespersons would be quick to place credit on the President for this growing political movement to end and criminalize pork. They would say the people were inspired by Aquino’s resolve to stamp out corruption in government.

In truth, the people were disillusioned by Aquino’s farcical anti-corruption campaign.  A growing number of Filipinos from the left to the right, south to north, are now rising up, kicking off the long haul to kill pork in all its permutations.

At the center of today’s protests is the petition proposing the enactment of an anti-pork bill that not only bans lump sum funds but also criminalizes the budget schemes. This is premised on the fact that the Chief Executive in collaboration with lawmakers has retained discretionary funds in the 2014 national budget, as the audio recording by ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio of “executive sessions” reveals. Based on the discussions between some agency officials and lawmakers, the latter will still have discretion over the lump sum funds that were realigned to different departments.

In short, pork barrel is still alive and “oinking” despite Supreme Court rulings declaring Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional. This comes as no surprise since the President has remained staunch in his assertion that discretionary funds should be maintained in any national budget.

As if to blunt the impact of the explosive disclosure on the state of “hidden pork” in the budget, President Aquino then began entertaining the thought of term extension and Charter change. But instead of dissuading the public from joining today’s protests, it appears that the contrary resulted. Aquino’s talk of term extension has galvanized the unity of the anti-pork coalition and has attracted to the fold more disillusioned camps and individuals.

Groups behind the People’s Initiative target at least 10 million signatures, or nearly twice the compliance rate of 6 million signatures for the the bill to be considered for approval. Once the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has verified at least 6 million signatures and the referendum successfully conducted, the initiative cannot be vetoed even by the President.

With the People’s Initiative to drive a stake through the heart of the pork barrel system now in full swing, no future Philippine president can lay claim to another anti-corruption rhetoric. Future presidential aspirants would have to invent modern formulations of anti-poverty themes that are disjointed from corruption – that is IF there would be elections as presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda spilled out.

An alternative way to frame the prospects of the 2016 elections would be like this: Assuming that the People’s Initiative will be successful in ridding all forms of pork, will politicos still run for public office? There would be probably be a different “no-el,” but of course the country’s elites will fight tooth and nail to retain the lifelines of graft and plunder in the bureaucracy. Without pork, politicians’ lives in our country would be very boring. They would have no money to splurge for their mansions and mistresses, and no “incentive” to keep patronage transactions well-oiled. It would be the end of Philippine politics, as we know it.

Such ramifications of pork’s demise for ruling families present the reasons why the People’s Initiative will face a very rough sailing and why it requires the broadest support possible. President Aquino is expected to mobilize all institutions albeit cunningly to avert this initiative, with political Charter change as the ace up in his sleeve. Extending his term would buy himself time to maneuver against the anti-pork crusade, aside from sparing himself from potential suits. But then it would also be too politically costly for the ruling clique.

The final war to end patronage politics and corruption has just begun. The lines have been drawn, with Noynoy and his allies and apologists on the wrong side of history.

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.

Napolist of bureaucrat capitalists

first published on

And so the controversial Napoles’ list or “Napolist” is out, at least the conflicting versions of former senator Panfilo Lacson and pork scam whistleblower Benhur Luy.

Did we hear the legislative branch crash to the ground as warned by the rehabilitation czar? There was confusion, but there was certainly no collapse – at least for now.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives was even busy at work rushing the approval of Charter change (Cha-cha) at the plenary on Wednesday as the public grapples with the long list of names in the Napolist. On the sides, Lacson and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago (who was not actually in Lacson’s list) were trading unsavory sound bytes for the press, creating the added distraction. With the Napolist confusion and frenzy in place, the neoliberal lawmakers are revealing more of what they really are: they are not just corrupt, they are “bureaucrat capitalists” at heart using public offices to secure their economic interest and that of foreign businesses, to borrow a term from national democratic activists.

At the precise time when their oath to serve the interest of the Filipino people is being tested, these lawmakers even chose to advance the agenda of foreign business lobbyists frequenting the halls of Congress. They chose to play deaf to the renewed spike in public dissent over the pork barrel scam. They instead danced to their favorite Cha-cha tune while the pork scam storm rages outside, in a fitting affirmation of their devout belief that foreign investments will solve the country’s problems.

The chambers of landlords and local businessmen, which we wish had collapsed as soon as the lists were out, are engineering a different collapse under Cha-cha. It is not the kind that will cut short their political careers but the broader, much wicked type that will see the local economy crash and burn and thousands of workers thrown into joblessness.

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Why Noynoy won’t leave Times St.

It used to be a calm middle class neighborhood spared from jeepneys and other modes of public transport. On a normal day, private vehicles would come and go very rarely. The sign of the times, however, indicate that it is also home to the press, politics, people, and later on, protests.

President-apparent Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has repeatedly expressed that he wants to stay in his one-story home on No. 25 Times St., Quezon City while working as the President of the Republic of the Philippines. It’s for his “spiritual and psychological well-being,” he said in a recent press conference. As to what he really meant by that, the news didn’t elaborate.

Such statement could trigger the imagination of a playful, albeit wicked mind (like mine). Is there a customized mini-clinic for Noynoy on Times St.? An isolation room? Perhaps a cabinet full of drugs, syringes, plus cigarettes. Or his set of favorite DVDs and CDs which he can play whenever he wants instant escapism from nagging political affairs.

Or simply because he would be delirious and run amok in Malacañang because he would feel uncomfortable. He probably does not want to give the Palace a worse reputation and make it a bedlam after being the playground of little devil.

Whatever his reasons are, Noynoy obviously wants to keep it private.

Home to secret talks?

Just as how he kept talks with foreign dignitaries, including US ambassador Harry Thomas, private. As owner of the house, Noynoy definitely has the command on how and when media can cover him and his activities on Times St. The media can just rely on the visitor’s description of what went on inside after ambushing them as the gate opens.

Of course there are also closed door meetings in Malacañang, wherein members of the media are barred from covering the actual meet. But hosting talks on Times St. further complicates the public’s access to information and to President. Simply closing the gate would perfectly lead to a “closed gate meeting.” The private and the public becomes entangled in an orgy. Whatever happened to his often-uttered “transparency”?

It would appear that Noynoy becomes more accessible to the media and to the people in his home. But it’s actually not. It’s his private place.  If he really wants to “touch base” with the people and show transparency, he must live in Payatas, not in his middle class crib.

So will Times St. be also home to sweetheart privatization deals, planning of counter-insurgency measures, and pleasant talks with US envoys? Yes, it will.

Near Big Brothers’s house

Just as Malacañang has Kalayaan Hall (which holds the Office of the Press Secretary), Noynoy’s residence is a few meters away from media giant ABS-CBN’s main building. He can drive in just a breeze to the station’s news center whenever he has interviews or official declarations.

So does this mean that the state-run National Broadcasting Network should say goodbye to the airwaves? Let’s just wait and see.

If ever Noynoy wants to have guest appearances in Pinoy Big Brother (maybe to lecture housemates about “Daang Matuwid” or to simply take a dip at the pool to calm his nerves), then he can also do as he wish. But it would really be too much if he announces that he wants to make Big Brother’s house his second home.