Alternate Realities

Just another WordPress.com weblog

A Manifesto for Our Country, Part 2: Security

Posted by conscientioussubversive on April 5, 2010

An Agenda for 2010: The section that follows is a comprehensive list for what I believe should be the national agenda of any Presidential candidate. While they should take the lead in implementing this, they will require the support of competent public officials to make this a reality, and as such applies to all our public servants.

***

PART 2:

SECURITY

*OUR MILITARY

We have the weakest military in Southeast Asia, and I say this with no qualifiers. We have no operational air superiority fighters, (all our F5s are no longer operational due to lack of maintenance) our navy is in shambles (we only have three 20-year old ex-British peacock class patrol craft as the backbone of our navy, and very little patrol or recon capability), and our army has become a police force.

The fact that it took a US ship operating in our waters to detect a Chinese submarine just outside Subic Bay isn’t just embarrassing, it’s alarming! China is massively expanding its blue water capability and consolidating its structures in the Spratlys, including the construction of aircraft runways. If we are to show the Chinese and other hostile states that we are serious about protecting our sovereignty, we need to modernize our military NOW.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe we should immediately assume a war footing, and I don’t think we should spend on our military at the expense of infrastructure and education. However, there are ways we can modernize smartly to boost the capabilities of our military. For instance:

Instead of focusing on buying expensive maritime patrol craft, we should tap our nascent shipbuilding industry to design and build small, fast patrol craft suitable to both our tropical climate, our indented geography and our extremely long coastlines. Such craft should be capable of speeds up to 50 knots, be equipped with radar and sonar, and have armaments including rapid firing machine guns, and small anti-air and anti-ship missiles. A large number of these small craft could do better to protect our coastal waters from maritime robbery and intrusions than a few large craft. The latter can come once we are stronger economically.

For our air force, we need to improve our radar coverage and position anti-aircraft batteries along strategic points along our coastlines, including mobile anti-air batteries. As we cannot afford to purchase fighter aircraft, having a hailstorm of anti-aircraft rockets could go a long way to deterring airborne incursions.

Finally, our army needs to be downsized and professionalized. We should adopt Singapore’s model of retiring our top officers at the age of 50, allowing them to train junior officers and to do strategic planning at both government and private think tanks. Once they retire, they should leave formal government service and be limited to consulting roles. No more armchair generals lounging at Camp Aguinaldo and living off fat paychecks, or Generals taking on civilian positions in government. They should get a single large retirement fund, and no more. Should they squander this, they should be left on their own.

Our soldiers should abandon large formations and manoeuvres, which are not only outdated, but also inappropriate for our fragmented geography. We should pattern our army after North Vietnam’s, especially in terms of the way it combined mobility and firepower at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. There, General Giap was able to not only surround the stationary French force at the airfield, but he was also able to bring significant artillery bombardments to bear in hidden placements. We need new thinking and fresh ideas to arise, and should encourage young staff officers to develop new strategies for our defence at the Philippine Military Academy. Aside from active defence, our military should also study how it can play a part in disaster preparedness and relief, given the vulnerability of our country to calamities.

*COMMUNIST INSURGENCY

I list this area next because its resolution is heavily dependent on the previous section. If one reads the great works on counterinsurgency and terrorism by esteemed scholars such as David Gallula and Gerard Chaliand, a common point made by all is that counterinsurgencies are won on the political arena, not on the battlefield. For as long as the state is unable to provide political and economic security, (best encapsulated by the concept of Human Security) insurgent groups will remain attractive to the dispossessed.

Thus, reforms in both agriculture and in the governance of communities that contribute to insurgencies will be required to address the grievances of people. Once these grievances are addressed, and trust is restored in local authorities, incentives should be provided for combatants to surrender their arms and to return to the fold of greater society. Recalcitrant insurgents should then be given a final opportunity to surrender peacefully. Otherwise, they should be classified as criminals according to their actions, and be arrested by the police. I am hesitant to recommend the deployment of the army in this case because I believe that this is both an overreaction and counterproductive to the formation of a depoliticized army.

Our military should avoid ‘scorched earth’ tactics and respect the human rights of captured insurgents. I believe it is only when our military can claim the high ground of conduct in fighting our insurgencies that the tide will turn in favor of the government.

*MORO REBELLION

The same recommendations in the previous section also apply to the resolution of the conflict with our Muslim brothers in the south, but there are additional measures that should be implemented.

First, land reform policies should immediately be implemented for the benefit of Muslims and lumads who were displaced from their land as a result of the conflict in Mindanao. Part the of the reason why the conflict in Mindanao broke out in the first place was because the people of Mindanao were systematically disregarded and excluded from the development policies of the nation, and were displaced by colonists coming in from Visayas and Luzon. When they began to compete for land, both sides turned to arms, and soon warlords arose from both camps.

While the proposal that I propose may seem extreme, it seems that no ordinary compromise will ever help resolve the violence in Mindanao. We must initiate a massive arms-for-land campaign in Mindanao, where a survey of untitled or dubiously titled land should reveal which areas should be distributed. Lands targeted for redistribution should mostly be located in areas of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, especially lands owned by provincial warlords. By encouraging the lower ranks of armed groups to turn their weapons in for a chance to legitimately own land, we can weaken the power of warlords and rebel leaders. At the same time, the arms turned in should be used to beef up a special unit of the police force that shall serve as peacekeepers in newly pacified areas. This ‘Constabulary’ should be trained in human rights, but also be equipped with considerable firepower and trained in counter-insurgency tactics to fight warlords who dare to oppose the government.

By offering the carrot of land and peace and order while also carrying the big stick of legitimate armed force, we can strengthen the state and crush the feudalist warlords in Mindanao once and for all.

*CRIME

The root cause of crime in our country is inequality and impunity. When people are deprived of the basic rights of education, housing, health and a job, they will fall prey to desperation. And when the legal system fails to enforce laws punishing those who abuse the system, crime becomes a way of life.

Because corruption in our police and law enforcement encourages impunity, we must address this. One thing we should do is to simplify our bureaucracy and to create clear chains-of-command to ensure that when things go wrong, it is easy to identify who is responsible. Next, we should ensure that our police force is paid high enough that it doesn’t need to take bribes from our citizenry in order to survive. Salaries should be comparable at least to people who work in offices to make policing an honorable profession. In addition, housing, education and health care should be subsidized to a higher degree than ordinary citizens, to encourage people to maintain careers in the police force. Ombudspersons at the municipal level should be established for both ordinary police and citizens to report misconduct and to conduct investigations of corruption anonymously and quickly.

Our criminal laws should also be revamped and simplified. Instead of wordy, vague and ambiguous penalties, most of our laws should be rewritten in both clear English and Filipino to allow the law to be understood better. Instant penalties, payable through banks and post offices to the national government should be imposed in the following areas: traffic violations, littering and pollution, tax offences, building code violations, and in the government: abuses of authority. Clear penalties posted conspicuously in public areas should make it clear that the government, while respecting human rights, will not tolerate misdemeanours that make society less civilized. A national police hotline should be established to report both misdemeanours and violent crimes, linked to municipal precincts. Should police fail to respond in time, they should be reported to ombudspersons for disciplinary probation.

For violent crimes, the police should be permitted to use deadly force against individuals who commit crimes using deadly weapons to intercept criminals in the act. While I do not believe in the death penalty, deadly force should be used to deal with dangerous criminals.

*NATIONAL SOVERIGNTY AND TERRITORY

Our country should redefine our maritime boundaries and territories according to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, ensuring that our archipelagic territory encompasses the waterways between islands and the seabed among them. We should also abandon our implausible claim to Sabah, in exchange for Malaysia agreeing to establish a common customs area between Sabah and Mindanao, and to allow free passage for both Filipino and Malaysian citizens between our territories. In depoliticizing the area, we can encourage economic cooperation and trade between those two territories, allowing both to develop.

We should also shore up defences of our extremities in the Spratlys and Scarborough Reef, establishing radar and surveillance facilities, air defence installations, and hardened defence points. Such equipment should prove to our competitors that we mean business, and should war ever erupt, they can also ensure that our enemies fight long and hard for every inch of Philippine territory.

PART 3: Governance and PART 4: Culture will follow this entry.

Posted in Current Events, Nationalism, Philippine Politics | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The 2010 Elections: A Manifesto for our Country.

Posted by conscientioussubversive on March 6, 2010

For quite some time, I have been developing this article to provide a baseline for what I would like the next President of the Philippines to accomplish, and to allow a comparison between Presidential candidates to make voting easier for all Filipino voters. If you want more from our politicians, ask them to do the things I’ve suggested here, or to make even better plans. After all, in a democracy, our leaders are what we ask of them.

***

Now, more than any time within the last 23 years, we have a chance to repudiate the destructive pillaging of the state that has existed for as long as there has been a state in this country. Not only is our country at the brink of falling behind some of our poorest neighbours at this point, but our population is exploding, our industries have been all but dismantled, 10 million of our compatriots are unemployed, and real poverty has already afflicted more than 1/3 of our total population. The situation is intolerable, and this does not even take our political situation into account.

On September 9, 2009, Benigno Cojuangco Aquino III announced his bid for the Presidency. Soon, other candidates announced their withdrawal from the Presidential race in favor of Aquino. The first person to do this was Manuel Araneta Roxas II, who had already invested considerable resources in running as the standard-bearer of the Liberal party. This was quickly followed by the withdrawals of Eddie Panlilio and Grace Padaca, the (now deposed thanks to the COMELEC) governors of Pampanga and Isabela, respectively. Both had been expected to carry the banner of the collective ‘reform parties’ in the 2010 elections. Other candidates may yet coalesce behind Aquino’s campaign.

The significance of all these events is that a broad spectrum of reform-oriented groups seem to have found a viable champion to carry their cause to the Presidency. The last time this happened was when Corazon Aquino took power in 1986. However, the elder Aquino left an unfinished legacy, tainted by an inability to introduce fundamental changes to economic policy, land reform, civilian control over the military and governance.

With Aquino’s candidacy, a great opportunity beckons: we have a chance to finish what the 1986 EDSA revolution started: a REAL revolution, changing not only our leaders, or the superficial trappings of our government, but the way our government functions, and the policies its implements. Aquino’s election does not guarantee that, but when combined with the movement of intelligent supporters, the election of reform-minded legislators, the selection of a top-notch cabinet, and a relationship between the public and the government characterized by openness and accountability, change is possible.

This event has its naysayers and doubters. I myself was not terribly impressed by Noynoy’s record in the legislature. As I recall, he even said something at his mother’s funeral when asked about running for President in Filipino. Roughly translated and summarized, he said that “he didn’t want to solve the problems that Arroyo had created for the country, as his family had done enough to serve the Philippines”. This was a terribly disappointing beginning for someone with serious ambitions to be President.

Now, with his announcement, Aquino must roll up his sleeves and acknowledge the massive responsibility that awaits him: the construction of a viable platform from the coalition of forces supporting him, and the translation of this platform into action. Even now, what he proposes to do as President remains a question mark. Manuel Quezon III, a prominent political commentator and historian, raised this issue in a post that summarized the party platforms of the country today and of the past.

Without a strong, coherent, and implementable platform, then Aquino’s campaign will be run on nothing but hot air. Some critics have already pointed out that his platform consists largely of ‘motherhood statements’, and few concrete policy proposals. Fortunately, an internet commenter by the name of ‘SoP’, a contributor on Quezon’s blog, provided a useful list of areas that a Presidential platform should be based on. It is this list that I will base my recommendations on.

This list follows below. I have attempted to make it as complete and as detailed as possible, based on my knowledge of Philippine history, political economy and culture, international relations, and some new ideas of my own. In creating this, I hope that all our Presidential candidates are challenged to present concrete solutions for the problems of our country. We’ve survived on promises and dreams for too long.

While I think that Aquino would greatly benefit from adopting a concrete manifesto such as this one, other intelligent and action-oriented candidates such as Richard Gordon or Nicanor Perlas could adopt this to provide a concrete roadmap for their candidacies.

Now is a time for action. George Bernard Shaw once said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to his environment; the unreasonable man adapts the environment to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” If being unreasonable is the price we must pay for progress, then I adopt it wholeheartedly.

An Agenda for 2010: The section that follows is a comprehensive list for what I believe should be the national agenda of any Presidential candidate. While they should take the lead in implementing this, they will require the support of competent public officials to make this a reality, and as such applies to all our public servants.

The list shall be divided into four sections: The Economy, Security, Governance, and Culture. As the list is quite long, the remainder of this article will be published in segments.

***

PART 1

THE ECONOMY

*LAND REFORM

Without any significant progress in land reform and the creation of a more efficient agriculture industry, our country will simply not be able to improve its economic and political stability. The reasons for this will be elaborated below, as I feel that it is more important to explain how better land reform can be achieved.

Our Department of Agriculture (DoA) must integrate the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program into its overall strategy of planning the development of agricultural capacity in the country. In determining the importance of various crops and correspondingly identifying which lands should be reserved for the cultivation of those crops, the DoA should identify areas that cannot be converted for other uses, such as residential and industrial purposes.

Rational planning can help ensure that farmers till the most productive lands and grow the most useful crops. While this is being achieved, the DoA should also prioritize crops and products where we retain a competitive advantage. While I will leave it to other authors to elaborate on this, I believe that we must give priority to coconut oil, rice, fruits and vegetables endemic to the country, and related processing industries (including the use of endemic herbs and plants for processing into useful and affordable medicines).

However, efficiency isn’t the only concern that the DoA should preoccupy itself with. Equity is equally important at ensuring that the benefits of improved agricultural production are shared those who toil on the land. However, this effort should not be piecemeal, as has been the case. The division of agricultural lands into small areas barely large enough to be tilled by a former tenant farmer is a recipe for unsustainability. Few farmers are able to produce enough per capita from their redistributed land to support themselves, and are thus forced to sell these lands back to their original landlords, or to developers.

The solution will require creative means. As part of the problem lies in the inability of small farmer-owned lands to generate sufficient yields, it is of paramount importance to ensure that the shareholders of redistributed land have the means to ensure that their land is used efficiently. To address this, I advocate the creation of mandatory agricultural collectives for the tenant farmers of all farming estates. Uniting individual tenant farmers into a collective with coherent planning and management capacities can help guarantee that the turnover of land from absentee owners to their tenants does not compromise an estate’s economic viability. The creation of collectives should be promoted and be made mandatory by the state, with standards for the size of these in terms of land and farmer population.

Civil society should be involved in the training and oversight of the performance of these collectives to ensure that they perform as expected. For collectives that fail to achieve these goals, their leaders should be removed and elections conducted to appoint head officials (such as the President and the Comptroller), who should then be allowed to appoint their own ‘cabinet’. These measures can help ensure the viability of these collectives.

Then, national agricultural development plans must also incorporate the protection of the environment. Sensitive areas, such as watersheds and areas with high terrestrial and marine biodiversity should not be developed in disruptive ways to ensure that the ecology of these environments are preserved and that environmental disasters are prevented. The government can engage environmental NGOs by giving them seats in a national policy planning body to ensure that environmental concerns are not ignored. To prevent the occurrence of deadlocks in planning, a full consensus should be required for the submission of agricultural plans and strategies for implementation. Deadlines should then be imposed for the achievement of this consensus, varying according to the scale of these plans (national, regional and local plans), with penalties for the entire panel for corresponding delays.

Finally, to catalyze this process, Mr. Aquino should set an example by surrendering his family’s estate for land reform, without reservations. By doing so, Aquino can demonstrate his commitment to reform and send a powerful signal to many less powerful families that they are equal under the law. Even if he is a minority shareholder in Hacienda Luisita, he as a lawmaker has the power to compel his family to divest itself of majority ownership in the estate. This is a non-negotiable, as failure here will greatly weaken the credibility of a future Aquino government.

*AGRICULTURE AND BIOTECH

With regards to coconut oil: despite the fact that we devote more than 1/3 of our farm area to coconut production, it is an industry in decline. Efficiency must be improved by support for farm inputs, the resolution of labor disputes, and by government investment in refinery technology and machinery, to refine coconut oil into more valuable coco-methyl ester (CME). For all you laypersons like me out there, that translates to BIODIESEL. At the moment, we are forced to import a large percentage of our biodiesel, which is insane given the fact that most of our coconut producers are stagnating and the men who till them wallow in poverty. Globalization may be inevitable, but we need to pull our bootstraps up to compete, with government leadership!

Given the rich biodiversity of our country, we should ensure that our universities are able to network with the pharmaceutical and biotech industry to find ways to continue harnessing our indigenous flora for industrial purposes; food, energy, medicine and other applications. Given the fact that we already enjoy the advantage of being the only country that possesses these plants, our tropical climate and the possession of folk wisdom on their use endow us with the means to create an industry that can generate high value jobs and products.

*LINKING THE ACADEME AND INDUSTRY

One of the greatest flaws in our educational system is the near absence of linkages between the academe and educational institutions. Countless undergraduates scramble for internships every year because most of them take degrees with skills that don’t match what industries are looking for. Companies on the other hand fail to take advantage of new technologies and strategies developed at our own universities, stunting innovation.

What we need is a government office that could act as a liaison between the academe and industry. Various departments could be established for different disciplines, i.e. engineering, biosciences, energy, information technology, business and sociology. Then, all companies could register with this department’s database with information about their business upon renewal of their business permits. The companies would be informed via email or regular mail of the different educational institutions doing research in a relevant field. In turn, academic institutions could also register the areas that they do research in with the department periodically. Matching could be done using software based on the two archives, and matches recommended to both parties to allow them to connect with one another. Doing so could provide useful internships for students, usable research for businesses, and innovation for all. The government could also choose to fund research grants in areas deemed critical to national development, as identified in the national long-term plan.

*INFRASTRUCTURE

Its no joke that our infrastructure spending lags behind all of our ASEAN neighbors. We spend less than 3% of our GDP on infrastructure, which is a travesty when compared to countries like Thailand or even Vietnam! But then, we don’t need to look far to see how fall we’ve fallen behind: our main airport possesses a single international runway, with the most discombobulated terminal system in the region. Our city roads resemble the surface of the moon, and we’ve constructed only three expressways in the country (NLEX, SLEX-STAR and the SCTEX) despite having built the first one in the region (NLEX in 1969). Our once extensive railroad system has been cannibalized and neglected, to the point where cargo trucks clog our roads when railroads used to ferry goods between our ports and the city. We have no real or consistent public housing program, our urban transport systems are a mess and don’t interlink properly, and our cities have seen their once tree-lined and orderly lines degrade to sewage clogged canals.

All the major business clubs with a presence in the Philippines all say that the number one deterrent to investing in our country is poor infrastructure. Not corruption, not crime, but infrastructure, and with good reason. Without infrastructure, goods don’t get where they’re supposed to, profits are lost, and businesses lose money. Our neighbors are corrupt too, and this is a problem that we must address as well, but its clear that our comparative disadvantage is our dearth of new infrastructure and poor maintenance of what we have. If this is not addressed, our country will be bypassed and forgotten.

What should be done? First, reallocate the way money is disbursed for infrastructure. Instead of frittering it away on LGU allotments (aka the Pork Barrel), lets either dig up or commission a comprehensive development plan for the whole country, long term! (No 6 or 10-year plans!) What we need is similar to the Winsemius Report that Singapore used to guide its development. Where do we focus development efforts? Biotech? Agriculture? Services? How do we raise money to fund investment in these sectors? How do we reinvest returns from these industries? This is what needs to be set out and set in stone. All our infrastructure related departments should be centralized into a ministry or department of infrastructure, covering transport, urban planning, housing, utilities, and health and education infrastructure. What the other ministries should focus on are programmes and staff management respectively, instead of worrying about buildings and hard infrastructure.

Then, we should focus on the highest priority infrastructure to develop. I would give first priority to interlinking the 3 Manila terminals with a monorail, removing all legal barriers to operating Terminal 3, and relocating all international airlines there. Terminal 2 should properly be our domestic terminal, as it was designed for that purpose. Terminal 1 should be remodelled to be more ergonomic and made into our budget terminal. NAIA can then become our main ‘international commuter’ or city airport, targeting business visitors or tourists heading to Manila. Then, the Northrail system with its terminals at Clark and Fort Bonifacio should be made operational, enabling the government to fully develop DMIA as our main international gateway, with wide and ergonomic terminals, good expressway and rail interconnections, and good radar and baggage handling systems. This should be combined with an open skies policy for our main international gateways to encourage foreign airlines to make Manila and Cebu important international destinations and regional stopovers, increasing tourist and business traffic and making flights more affordable for all Filipinos as well. To counter unfair competition from Middle Eastern Airlines, tariffs will be imposed on airlines that enjoy subsidies from their governments for fuel charges. The tariffs will be imposed on the airline itself, not on customers using the airline, as a form of ‘competition tax’.

While this is being done, the government should reorganize all our rail systems under one command, with all future planning and expansion done centrally. Our ground rail system should be revived and reconnect our ports and industrial zones to take cargo away from the streets and back to the rails. Better intermodal terminals linking different rail lines with bus systems should be developed to allow commuters a choice aside from private transport. Our metropolitan bus and jeepney companies should be combined into a single cooperative with each bus company owning a share proportionate to their bus fleet. This new cooperative should have organized routes and fixed stops (connecting rail stations with neighborhoods) and should pay all employees (especially drivers) a fixed salary, to discourage reckless driving. With the added capital earned from better economies of scale, jeeps should be phased out within 10 years, and replaced with either clean diesel engine buses, natural gas engine buses, or electric powered buses, with external design incorporating Filipino creativity and culture without compromising safety standards (no borloloy lights or heavy metal trinkets please!) With the revival of a usable rail system, long-distance cargo and personal transport will become more affordable for all, boosting commerce and industry. The road taxes collected annually from private car registrations should be detached from the budget of the DPWH and put into a special managed fund for this.

Of course, expressway development should not be ignored, as we need rapid road transport to expand our tourism potential and to allow small businesses to ship goods quickly. Under the Department of Infrastructure, coordinated plans to link the NLEX, SCTEX, Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway all the way from Manila to Baguio should be implemented. The current system of disjointed expressways connected by slip roads is unacceptable. We need straight, uninterrupted access, and simplified toll barriers! Further expressways such as the North East Luzon Expressway linking Tuguegarao to the NCR, as well as the expansion of SLEX to Legazpi should be completed and interlinked with other expressways. New expressways should be constructed in Cebu connecting its northern and southern tips, Panay from Iloilo to Capiz, and in Mindanao from Cagayan de Oro to Davao, and Davao to Zamboanga as demand for transport increases.

The government should provide concrete plans including the location of exits, interchanges and the right-of-way for such projects to private corporations interested to develop them, as well as guaranteeing a minimum period of operation and maintenance to enhance investor confidence, while also ensuring that no private interest alters these plans for their own good. Having concrete, well-defined plans encourages stability and predictability, which entice private investment in infrastructure in areas the government cannot fund itself.

To aid in the acquisition of right of way, our government should reform our land laws to revert all land ownership rights to the government in high density urban areas or in areas critical to industry or transport (as identified in our long-term plan) with current tenants reduced to leaseholders. Should the government choose to develop these areas, lease rights will be terminated with the remaining terms of lease compensated either in cash, tax holidays, or other government services to allow quick use of the land and fair compensation (even when government cash coffers are short).

Our public housing programme should be made into a massive programme to ensure that our squatter programme is forever eliminated. All real-estate taxes should be separated from LGU and national revenue and put into a special managed fund (with accounting oversight) to fund public housing construction and maintenance. In urban areas like Manila, areas identified as key residential areas (near core commercial areas but still far away enough from industrial areas to avoid health risks) should be redeveloped for high-density urban housing, with greenery, access to transport and the availability of public services. Consultants both local and foreign should be brought in to create a comprehensive urban plan for Manila and other major cities in the manner that Filipino urban planners designed Singapore’s new towns. At the same time, historical sites should be preserved and the area around them developed in a manner that is sensitive to the context of that site.

*ENERGY SECURITY

Guess which country generates the largest amount its total energy from renewable power in Southeast Asia? Its not Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia or Singapore, it’s the Philippines! Our country generates over 33% of its power from renewable sources, mainly from hydroelectric and geothermal sources. Thanks to a farsighted energy development programme begun in the 1970’s, the Philippines has created the second largest geothermal capacity in the world after the United States (1.2 gigawatts of power). However, our massive population growth has outstripped current capacity. This year is critical, as shortages have already darkened Mindanao and have begun to hit Luzon. If we don’t fix this now, we may face an exodus of industries from the country.

The passage of our Renewable Energy Law in 2008 was a step in the right direction, but it needs to be augmented by implementation. Given our strengths in renewable energy, the government must aid private investors in setting aside land and efficiently processing permits for the construction of wind farms, geothermal plants, and solar (PV and thin film) farms throughout the country. Studies have already been conducted determining where certain energy technologies are most appropriate, so the government should aid companies in getting power generation projects off the ground and to generate power as quickly as possible. Our Pacific coastline provides a prime location for wind power, as well as Tagaytay ridge.

The government should also ensure that the all power transmission authorities are combined into a single government entity, run for profit to ensure that it does not incur massive debts. This new corporation, perhaps a reconstituted National Transmission Corporation, should buy energy at market prices that are benchmarked to a global index of energy prices for that source, ensuring that power suppliers are compensated fairly and that our government purchases power at competitive rates, lowering our stratospheric electricity prices and encouraging investment.

The government should also form a multi-sectoral commission composed of foreign and local consultants on nuclear energy, representatives from environmental and civil society groups, and academics to study whether we will need nuclear power in the future. While it would be preferable to rely primarily on renewable sources, a backup option in the form of reactivating the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant should be considered in case the power shortage becomes acute before new plants come online. The purpose of this commission should be to examine scientific and economic studies to determine whether the operation of the BNPP is advantageous to the general welfare of our country. The diversity of this commission should enable a balanced assessment of the BNPP, to determine whether it should be reactivated once and for all.

*OVERSEAS FOREIGN WORKERS

Our country relies to a dangerous extent on the toil of our foreign workers. Remittances from OFWs generate one of the single most important sources of foreign exchange for our country. While all other plans for boosting and diversifying our economy are being pursued, we must improve the welfare of our kababayans abroad and make it easy for them to return and to reinvest in our country.

We should abolish all taxes and red tape on remittances sent to our country. Considering how much OFWs sacrifice to send money home with little support from our country, we should allow them to enjoy the fruits of their labor fully.

On the other hand, our government should also restructure OWWA to source part of its funds from licence fees collected from recruitment agencies. Doing so will provide an incentive for the organization to ensure that the industry is well regulated and grows at the same time. The fee should be consolidated into one lump-sum payment and collected annually to simplify paying, and should be audited externally to prevent abuse.

Our diplomatic posts overseas should also ensure that they have a centralized office exclusively dedicated to services, such as passport renewal and issue, voting, registration, and legal assistance. Separated from the main embassy and run like a business, an efficient services post will encourage OFWs to utilize consular services that they are entitled to as Filipino citizens by improving efficiency. As many of our OFWs are abused in overseas workplaces, permanent shelters should be established in consular compounds to shelter them if they cannot find legal residence while cases are pending against their abusers. Our consular offices should also coordinate directly with Philippine law enforcement to arrest unscrupulous recruitment agencies and human traffickers.

Eventually, as our economy diversifies, the government should cease relying on overseas employment, and offer tax holidays, business support programmes and education to help OFWs reintegrate and reinvest in Philippine society.

*POPULATION CONTROL

Our population grows at more than 2% per annum, one of the highest growth rates in the world. At the same time, our arable land is decreasing as more farmland is converted into housing and urban sprawl. The rest of our territory consists of highly mountainous areas and watersheds that we need to preserve to ensure our long-term environmental sustainability. (as Ondoy proved in 2009) If we want to ensure that our country can provide enough food, jobs and services for all, and to ensure that our total population does not outstrip the capacity of our long term economic plan to provide for its, we need a well-managed and comprehensive population programme.

Beyond passing the Reproductive Health Bill, we should have a national campaign to educate people to limit the number of their children to two (or the replacement rate), to provide natural and artificial reproductive health education and tools for free at all public health facilities, and to provide fiscal incentives for families that limit the number of their children by means of tax holidays, lower education and health fees, or subsidies for housing. By using the carrot, we encourage Filipinos to exercise reproductive responsibility, without violating their right to choose to have more children (if they have the means to do so).

*POVERTY ALLEVIATION

Poverty is the single biggest hurdle to developing our country. A population mired in ignorance and deprived of the skills to become self-sufficient generates crime, reduces life expectancy, and leads to social unrest. While the solution to poverty is complex and is answered by a combination of other strategies listed throughout this manifesto, there are certain points specific to poverty reduction that must be made:

First, the government should drop the mendicant attitude it has encouraged with the poor. Politicians are not benefactors. They are public servants. Programs that distribute petty largesse to the poor (i.e. politicians giving away land or food for free without any long term plans) should be banned.

The first step to ending poverty is to ensure that the poor have a stable household that provides them with basic utilities and security, allowing them to focus on work and maintaining their families. For this, the homeless shall first be evaluated whether they have the capability to maintain a household responsibly before given subsidized housing (those with serious criminal records or a history of drug abuse will be subject to rehabilitation, and given low priority).

Housing will be subsidized by the government, but must be managed by a homeowner’s association partially funded by the residents, to ensure that grantees maintain their property. Grantees will be banned from selling their property until 5 years after they are granted a housing unit, and subletting will be regulated. Public housing estates will also incorporate medium-density designs to permit efficient land use, but also maintain open areas for greenery and parks. The ground floors of all housing will be set aside for the provision of community schools, clinics, and homeowners association offices, with spaces available for rent should residents wish to put up businesses. Doing this can ensure the quality of life of all residents, and will encourage entrepreneurship and self-help.

Next, our education system must be reformed to ensure that our manpower is equipped with skills in demand in the marketplace, and to generate innovators and leaders. The education budget will be expanded, from revenue collected from improved fiscal management and from a tax on texts, as recommended by Sen. Richard Gordon. Such an expanded budget will be used to increase teacher’s salaries and to fund expanded training, as well as to purchase books, computers, and other educational resources to equip our schools.

Our national curriculum should be remodelled to emphasize the importance of mathematics and science, with well-funded scholarships in the country and overseas for students to excel in these fields, in exchange for working for the government for a number of years. The curriculum will emphasize skills in engineering, biosciences, energy, information technology, food production and other areas relevant to the propagation and expansion of industries as identified by our national long term plan. The curriculum will be revised every five years to ensure it remains up to date and equips our youth with employable and usable skills.

We must also fix our broken health system. Far too many of our doctors go abroad due to poor compensation, yet too few doctors are present in areas of the country that need them most. For our public health system, an apprenticeship system should be established for young doctors and nurses, especially those on scholarship, to do service in areas that do not have sufficient and competent medical personnel. To make this sustainable, the government should slash income taxes and provide incentives to hospitals for them to hire these doctors and nurses first. Doing so will encourage the demand for health care professionals, and encourage doctors to stay in the country. Our national health system should provide subsidized or free care as determined by an individual’s income. This means-based system should ensure that subsidies go to those who deserve it the most.

All of these measures should be coordinated in concert with other national plans to ensure that all Filipinos have the opportunity to become educated and to live a life free from the fear of disease, homelessness, and poverty.

PART 2: Security will follow this entry.

Posted in Current Events, Philippine Politics | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

A Requiem for Las Islas Filipinas

Posted by conscientioussubversive on January 20, 2010

A land torn apart

By her sons and daughters

A magnificent house rent asunder

By intruder and native alike


Where once was beauty

Now only a shadow remains

Four centuries have taken their toll

Staining her glittering face


She was unique in all the world

Where three continents met

Asian, American and European

She melded all into one


Agrifina Circle, in the 1950's

Tragedy shadowed her past

Yet she took all gracefully

Her people shedding blood for her

Unrewarded and forgotten


Conquistadors and Frayles

GIs and Thomasites

Heitais and Sangleys

Came and left their mark


Torched by fire

Shaken by the earth

Inundated by heaven

Calamities brought her to heel


The Rape of Manila, February 1945

Each time she survived

Rising again from the ashes

Yet mortality stalks her

As her progeny pick her bones


Cumulonimbus clouds over the Pasig River

Her white arches now cracked

Her palisades crumbled by neglect

A crippled dignity now pervades

The Grand Dame of the Orient


Used by many

Loved by few

Where are you now, Manileños?

What now, my kababayans?


Posted in Philippine History | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

A Crime Against Humanity

Posted by conscientioussubversive on November 26, 2009

A Crime Against Humanity

On the 20th of November, 1945, a very special trial began in the city of Nuremberg, Germany.  In that trial, for the first time, officials, officers, and doctors were charged for “crimes against humanity”, where they were personally held accountable for the actions they had committed in their official capacity. They killed, tortured, mutilated, raped, desecrated and stole in the name of the Führerprinzip, or the principle that all order from their Führer had the force of law. The trials closed in April 1949, with twelve death sentences imposed on the defendants held directly responsible for their crimes.

Since then, humanity has striven to advance beyond the Dark Age of Fascism and Militarism that it experienced in the 1940’s. The end of the Cold War in 1991 seemed to herald “A New World Order” as heralded by George Bush the First or the “End of History” as euphorically proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama. This was an illusion. Soon afterwards, civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Haiti, Chechnya, and Sudan yielded millions more victims of genocide. Evil is alive and well in the 21st century.

Yet, I naively believed that these acts of evil were beyond the capacity of my fellow compatriots, my countrymen. Murder, rape, theft and corruption all exist in our society, and I do not deny this. However, I believed that the capacity for heinous, unthinking, grievous atrocities did not exist in our contemporary lupang hinirang

Until Monday, 23 November, just 3 days after the 64th anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremberg Trials.

By now, the story is familiar to most of you. On that day, members of the family of Vice-Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, his campaign staff, lawyers, 12 journalists, and several innocent bystanders in 3 vehicles that were in proximity to the convoy that day were all shot in cold blood. Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, the Mayor of Datu Unsay town, was preparing the contest the 2010 elections, and reportedly viewed Mangudadatu as a threat. To send a message to Mangudadatu, he had the latter’s convoy intercepted. Then, his henchmen shot at close range all the members of the convoy, including the women, one of whom was pregnant. Reports later said that the women were raped, and their bodies desecrated and mutilated.

Among the people murdered were the parents of a young girl, who had been heading to Cotabato City for medical treatment. This couple had nothing to do with the political machinations of the Ampatuans or the Mangudadatus…

Except that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I usually refrain from epithets and insults in this blog, but I take an exception to what happened here. This was barbarism, pure and simple. For a politician to assassinate a rival is one thing, it is another to massacre, rape, torture and desecrate that person’s entire family. To brazenly murder members of the media, 12 in all; and to kill any bystanders who happened to witness the crime takes this beyond the level of murder: This is a crime against humanity.

I do not use the term lightly. In a recent report by the Inquirer, an informant who was an accessory to the crime by taking no action to prevent what happened (lets not mince words here, he didn’t pull the trigger, but he simply let it happen), reported that Ampatuan’s henchmen were just following orders… These words are especially ironic, considering that they were the same words used by Hitler’s henchmen in their defense during the Nuremberg trials.

Here’s my response: SO WHAT? The rest of civilized humanity has long accepted the judgement of that trial, which invalidated that excuse because people are expected to act morally even in extreme situations. We all have a conscience, every single one of us: young or old, poor or rich, Christian, Muslim or atheist. When we do not oppose evil when destiny offers us the opportunity, we are just as complicit in the crime as those who pulled the trigger.

“Boy”, his compatriots, and anyone who was aware of the massacre (yes, I’m referring to the Ampatuan family), bears the responsibility for this heinous crime. While Mayor Ampatuan himself has been taken into custody, the investigation should unearth all those who were part of the massacre, and charge them according to the principles our laws. If our laws are inadequate, then the state should create a tribunal to charge them according to international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions. Whatever we do, we should not let these monsters get away!

To those who have the temerity to urge that ‘special treatment’ and ‘consideration’ be taken in respect of the power of Gov. Ampatuan, there is only one word I can think of to call you: a COWARD. Not just any garden variety coward, mind you, but the kind of moral coward who is afraid to do right in the face of evil. Its one thing to be a coward in the face of certain death on the battlefield, and another to be a representative of the state who doesn’t have the BALLS to do what the state should do. If you wish to determine your total idiocy and incompetence (or in Tagalong, “ang pagkainutil niyo”) by saying that there was “nothing you could have done to prevent the crime”, then you should tender your resignation now before you embarrass yourself further.

A final warning to all those in government now: Don’t think that charging Ampatuan is going to let all of you off the hook. If you do not convict all those responsible and issue them the maximum penalty under the law, you will not only fail to serve justice as guardians of society, but you commit an even more serious crime against the Filipino people: demonstrating that we are an unjust, vicious and barbarous society to the rest of the world, unfit to be called civilized or to stand among our fellow nations. That process has already begun, all one has to do is read the international newswires to see the condemnation our nation has been receiving. The italics are intentional: foreigners don’t see the Arroyo administration as distinct from Filipino society. If things get worse, soon, all Filipinos will have to suffer the indignity of being prejudiced by others, far worse than what we already experience. By condemning innocent Filipinos to this stigma, you will be just as guilty of treason to our country as any traitor in wartime.

To our people: act now, fight for justice, and for God’s sake do not let the Ampatuans get away with their crime. Prove to the world that we are better than those pathetic excuses for human beings! Show them there is more of Efren Peñaranda and Jose Rizal in us than the Ampatuans. Show them we will not let the deaths of those 57 people pass in vain.

You owe it to yourself, your countrymen, and your descendants to prove that these crimes of humanity are not committed by Filipinos, but by monsters who are not fit to be members of our society.

Maguindanao, 25 November 2009

Let us not forget.

Posted in Current Events, Philippine Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Quo vadis, Arroyo?: Attempts to amend the Philippine Constitution in context

Posted by alternaterealitiesph on November 6, 2009

Change the Constitution

What is our Constitution for?

Introduction:

The latest attempt to amend the Philippine Constitution, through House Resolution 1109 of the Philippine Congress, should not be seen as an incident limited to the current political milieu of the Philippines, or to the presidency of Gloria Arroyo alone. Rather, it is the culmination of a long struggle between political forces in the Philippines to create a political order that best suits the power dynamics between ethnic groups, between national and local politicians, and between the legislative and executive officials.

Long seen as the aberrant nation of Southeast Asia, the Philippines has not been a stranger to crises. However, the evolution and development of Philippine democracy provides an instructive case of how an Asian nation has melded Western conceptions of governance and politics with its own culture, and how the resulting fusion continues to produce change. Philippine democracy, far from being static, continues to produce lessons for other nations outside the West that are only beginning to chart their way to democracy. The fact that the Philippine government has undergone several iterations alone is instructive in evaluating how certain forms of government may not be suitable to young nations, especially those with a history of despotism.

A brief history lesson

Philippine liberal nationalist thought had its roots in the rise of the ilustrado movement in the late 19th century, after the liberal revolutions of 1848 in Europe and the opening of the Suez canal allowed ideas to flow and filter through to the only Spanish colony in Asia. This movement culminated in the 1896 Philippine Revolution that briefly attained independence for the country. The revolutionary government formed at Malolos in 1899 established a unicameral national assembly, which also had the power to elect the President. The President, in turn, had his own cabinet, independent of the assembly. This was designed to ensure a strong government that could act decisively, as tensions were becoming apparent with President Emilio Aguinaldo’s erstwhile allies, the Americans under Commodore George Dewey.

The Philippine-American war and the resulting American occupation imposed American institutions and conceptions of democracy on the Philippines. This produced a semi-democratic form of government that incorporated limited suffrage for land-owning men. It also introduced the concept of a bicameral government for the first time: the 1907 Philippine Commission had a bicameral chamber. The Philippine Legislature instituted by the 1916 Jones Law retained the same structure. This setup provided a forum for aspiring Senators such as Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña, who both later became Presidents of the Philippines, to build political capital and to advocate for independence from the US. Both jockeyed for power in the only national elected body in the land until the 1935 Constitution established a nationally elected Presidency. The new Philippine Commonwealth introduced a unicameral National Assembly, which was the second attempt to institute a unicameral legislature, but did not last. On the eve of World War 2, constitutional amendments restored the bicameral structure from before 1935 and allowed the President to seek reelection. The subsequent Japanese invasion spawned a client Philippine Republic with its own constitution, and featured a strong executive, who was appointed by a unicameral national assembly. This was the third attempt to establish a unicameral legislature, which was ultimately short-lived and dispatched upon the return of the Americans and the Commonwealth in 1944. The 1935 Constitution was then restored, paving the way for an independent republic in 1946. For the next 25 years, a stable equilibrium existed between the executive and legislative branches of government, where the Senate checked Presidential power, and where future Presidents built their reputation in the Senate.

However, by the late 1960’s, it was apparent that political decay had set in. While generating political stability, the Constitution also enabled politicians from the rival Nacionalista and Liberal Parties to maintain a patron-client relationship with their constituencies that protected the feudal economic structure of the country. As considerable amounts of money were required to campaign for and win in elections, only those with considerable financial resources could viably run for office. The landowning class was able to monopolize capital in a society that was still fundamentally agricultural, which meant that they had the means to win elections, fairly or not. The lack of a viable opposition within government permitted unfettered rent-seeking. As the landed class passed laws that were nakedly biased towards their interests, the authority they exercised as elected officials effectively legitimized their rent-seeking activities.

The need for reforms was apparent by the end of the decade, and when President Ferdinand Marcos convened a Constitutional Convention in June 1971, reformists saw an opportunity to design a government that could be more accountable and also address social concerns. Interestingly, the list of recommendations that the delegates submitted included a shift to a parliamentary system, with an indirectly elected Prime Minister as a foil to the abuse of Executive power. However, by then, President Marcos already had plans to extend his tenure as President, and declared martial law a little more than a year later on September 21, 1972. In the process, he jailed many of the delegates of the Convention, and forced the remaining ones to modify the Constitution to allow a strong President to rule alongside a weaker Prime Minister. This fourth attempt at establishing a unicameral legislature by amending the Constitution was distorted by Marcos’ imposition of martial law, and the credibility of the civilian government that Marcos finally permitted in 1981 was damaged by the lack of free elections and the subservience of Prime Minister Cesar Virata to Marcos himself.

In due course, Marcos was deposed after it became apparent that his misrule had destabilized the country both politically and economically. President Aquino, wishing to disassociate her new government from the Old Order of Marcos, called for a new constitution. The resulting 1987 Constitution was heavily inspired by the 1935 Constitution, but limited executive powers and prevented the President from seeking reelection. This effectively restored the pre-Marcos political order with all its attending ills. The Congress continued to be dominated by provincial oligarchs, and political reforms proceeded at snail’s pace. The problems of the 1987 system became most apparent during the 2000-2001 impeachment trial of Joseph Estrada. While the impeachment process allowed for a thorough investigation of the misdeeds of the executive, and also allowed the President to defend himself/herself, it was also tortuous and acrimonious, requiring separate majorities in both the lower and upper houses to succeed. As the President’s allies dominated the Senate, there was no possibility that the complaint could succeed. As a result, extra-Constitutional measures were used by Estrada’s opponents, who deposed him in civilian-military coup that was later endorsed by the Supreme Court. At the time, political commentators noted that a parliamentary form of government would have enabled a much simpler method of removing the current head of government, and could have restored public trust in government institutions (even if its personalities were discredited).

In the 22 years since the creation of the 1987 Constitution, Presidents Ramos and Arroyo have both attempted to amend it. Both have ostensibly done so institute reforms. In Ramos’ case: to alter the provisions of the Constitution limiting foreign ownership in specific industries to encourage foreign investment. Arroyo has adopted Ramos’ justification and added her own: to restore a unicameral form of government in order to ensure greater political stability. However, both have been accused of attempting to change the constitution to extend their stay in power. The Philippine experience with President Marcos’ attempts to perpetuate himself in power have reduced the general public’s tolerance to any changes to the Constitution, despite valid calls for constitutional reform.

Beyond rhetoric: the reality

Despite the poisonous rhetoric surrounding current debates on constitutional reform, there is merit to some of the arguments supporting constitutional change. The 1987 Constitution was designed with empowerment foremost in the minds of its framers. To its end, the Constitution supported the creation of stronger and more autonomous local government units. While this helped strengthen the capacity of local governments in shaping the direction of their own socio-economic development, it also created several problems which have now become apparent. For one, the devolution of rural and urban development planning has had disastrous effects for communities with poor planning capacities and insufficient political will. Typhoons Ketsana, Parma, and Lirio exposed the devastating consequences of shelving important infrastructure projects such as floodways and urban drainage systems, as well as the perils of creating weak and divided institutions for responding to natural disasters. In essence, localization and decentralization have contributed to the fragmentation of state responses to security and development challenges, and contribute to the ineffective implementation of policies.

However, one should not go too far to call for the re-establishment of an authoritarian and heavily statist form of government. The problem here is not whether an effective state is centralized or not, but the question of how authority and power are distributed and to who they are distributed to.

Certain functions of government need to be centralized to enable coordination and coherence, in order to achieve certain goals. Areas which require centralization include macroeconomic planning, national defense strategies, standards for infrastructure planning as well as the plans themselves, and standards for education and health. For these areas, parity and consistency matter more than policy independence and local oversight. The establishment of central institutions with sufficient planning and executive power can enable better planning, implementation, and monitoring of policies. Bigger, centralized bodies also have more resources and are thus better equipped to deal with large, complex problems such as economic security and disaster vulnerability.

Areas that should remain decentralized include oversight over the local implementation of infrastructure projects, the power of communities to utilize a generous portion of the taxes and revenue they earn, and the ability of local communities to voice their concerns over development to the national government. What these areas have in common is that they are all concerned with promoting the accountability of national governments to local communities, to ensure optimum outcomes for all actors from the individual in a local community to amalgamated business interests.

As for the question of what political system is best suited for the country, neither the Presidential nor the Parliamentary forms of government have the potential to contribute to better governance unless incentives and penalties for the behavior of public officials are better designed. Greater incentives for performance and the maintenance of law need to be provided, and punishments for illegal behavior and abuse of power need to be increased. This is why I refuse to espouse any specific form of government at this time, as I believe that simply changing the overlying structure of the state will do little to change underlying dysfunctions and inefficiencies.

A Post-mortem

Arroyo Praying

Quo vadis, Arroyo?

However, the utility of constitutional reform depends on the intentions of the leader spearheading them. It is quite clear that President Arroyo and her supporters have not commented on the details of their proposed constitutional reforms. All that has been made clear is that the Presidential system doesn’t work, and that a Parliamentary system will. Exactly how that will happen has not been expressed, and only deepen suspicions that Arroyo wants to use a Parliamentary system as a piggyback to retaining power as an elected Prime Minister. Unless she is able to articulate clarify her intentions, this attempt to amend the Constitution, like so many efforts before it, is doomed to fail.

 

Will the leader who will succeed Arroyo be able to take up this challenge successfully? We shall see.

Posted in Philippine History, Philippine Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

After the Storm: The Deluge

Posted by conscientioussubversive on September 27, 2009

Après l’orage, le déluge.

After the Storm: The Deluge

The Scale of the Devastation

Typhoon Ondoy, also known as Tropical Storm Ketsana, slammed into the Philippines on 26 September 2009.  Actually, it didn’t so much slam into the country as stealthily creep over Luzon. Once it was in position, it rained over 41 cm of water over Manila, dumping one month’s worth of rain in a single day. For a Metro Manila that had seen nothing but rain for days, this was the turning point.

The Marikina river overflowed its banks, rapidly flooding all the low lying areas of that city. In one private subdivision in Marikina (Provident Village), floodwaters reached the roofs of single story buildings in a matter of minutes, forcing people to abandon all their belongings in order to escape. Later, as floodwaters carried the roofs of some residents off into the river itself, a horrific drama unfolded: a bridge pillar ahead blocked their way. The roof smashed into the pillar, sweeping all the people off it into the furious undertow of the river. No one knows how many perished in that one incident alone. In other places of the city, floodwaters reached the level of 20 feet, or over 6 meters. In comparison Hurricane Katrina dumped 8-10 inches of rain on Southwestern Mississippi over the duration of the storm. Typhoon Ondoy added 6 inches on top of that, and the rains haven’t even stopped. Over 250,000 people have been displaced by the disaster, with over a hundred dead, with the toll still climbing.

Downtown Manila and the suburbs have been transformed into vast lakes. EDSA, the main thoroughfare of the city, itself became a vast river of water that stranded traffic for hours. The South Luzon Expressway, a strategic road for millions of people who live in the southern suburbs, was totally closed to traffic. Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport closed on Saturday as its runway was flooded. Cars became dangerous projectiles as floodwaters threw them around like toys at the University of the East in downtown Manila. People working at their offices in Makati were forced to sleep in after Chino Roces Avenue (Buendia), one of its main throughfares, became impassable to all vehicles. People scrambled for shelter in any place they could find. Malls, offices, neighboring residences… The places which have seen floodwaters recede have revealed garbage and thick mud covering all surfaces reached by the floodwater, rendering many homes uninhabitable and ruining all materials belongings. Power, water supplies, and telecommunications were cut off in many parts of the city as infrastructure was destroyed by rising floodwaters which clogged pumping stations and destroyed power lines. Over 80% of a city of over 12 million people has been submerged. The flood is the worst that Manila has faced in its history.

Elitist Reaction

However, all was not well in the upper echelons of Philippine society. Despite the tragedy that had befallen the country, some people chose to prioritize selfish needs even when people were suffering as a direct result of that. The owners of Ever Gotesco Mall in the Pasig-Rizal area refused to open the mall to refugees waiting outside in the rain and rising waters, without water and food for 24 hours. Some Filipinos abroad have made callous comments about the country, suggesting that its ‘sins’ brought the deluge on Manila. The woman wasn’t even original, echoing a comment made by Pat Robertson on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Perhaps most damning was a photo posted by an anonymous person, showing an otherwise unaffected Mikey Arroyo in a liquor store in the posh Rustans’ Department Store purchasing expensive alcohol. Browsing for ‘donations’ perhaps? What disturbed me the most was that in the midst of all the posts on social networking sites, there were Pinoys abroad and at home who could still manage to cheerily chirp about their latest material acquisition or about the latest cool event they were attending. Such oblivion (or perhaps apathy) is simply inexcusable in a world where one can never be truly out of touch.

Its been well documented by writers such as Alfred McCoy, Benedict Anderson, Raul Constantino, and Walden Bello that many of those who belong to our elite have been directly responsible for the rent-seeking, short-sighted, and destructive behavior that has handicapped our country for hundreds of years. However, it is one thing to steal from your countryman, and entirely another to let him die as you stand around doing nothing. That, I believe is perhaps the worst form of violence one can inflict on another human being. The only way these people can redeem themselves, in my opinion, is only by standing up and taking action, either by doing their jobs or by helping those who need them most. No amount of apologies or platitudes can ever replace action. I am not trying to lay the blame for all this entirely on anyone, but I implore all those with the power to act to take swift action to lead rescue and recovery operations.

Getting down to work

Fortunately, these people are still but a small minority in the great Filipino nation. For every idiot out there, there are more than a hundred heroes to take his or her place.

Heroes like a humble office worker who helped organized World Vision’s relief drive on Facebook.

Heroes like a political pundit who collated all the information he could on the disaster on his blog so people would know how to send help and to guide those in danger to safety.

Heroes like hundreds of Filipinos who live beyond the shores of the country, but are at this minute putting together the means to assist their countrymen any way they can.

Heroes like a young woman who was prevented from taking the bar exam by Ondoy, and who rolled up her sleeves as a volunteer distributing food to refugees.

Heroes like the neighbors who opened their doors to their newly homeless brethren who had nowhere else to go.

Heroes like the guy who created an interactive map to allow people to signpost where stranded friends or relatives could be found and rescued.

Heroes like the men who held ropes across flooded thoroughfares so people wouldn’t be carried away by the torrent.

Heroes like the men who rescued old women from rising floodwaters despite the risk to their own lives.

Heroes like the young woman who drove her car through floodwaters to rescue her neighbors, then got out of her car and went back and waded through the waters to rescue more people stranded in her subdivision.

Heroes like the 18 year old who rescued 30 people on his own, including an infant, before succumbing to the floodwaters himself.

These and many other individual heroes unsung continue to do what they can to help. Even the country’s largest conglomerates have committed millions of pesos to assist those affected by the calamity. However, what is most striking is the spontaneous outpouring of action by a concerned citizenry, from all walks of life. Rich or poor, southerner or northerner, Pinoy abroad or at home, all have independently committed themselves to help those in need in any way that they can. Despite our country’s deep political, cultural, and economic divisions, we have united in action in the face of a common and fundamental threat.

Resilience

Perhaps this is what has kept our people going despite all the political and economic depredations we have undergone. For all the disasters man-made and natural inflicted upon us, Filipinos have never truly given up on hope. We all try to survive, even when our worldly belongings have been taken away. Even this does not strip the Pinoy of what is most fundamental: his/her humanity. Refusing to be cowed by fear and cynicism, the Pinoy rises above tragedy and tries to do some good for his neighbor, even if this is as simple as opening his or her door to them.

Many in the developed world have spoken of the concept of ‘resilience’. Resilience, they say, is what modern individuals need to imbibe in order to survive in a world threatened by terrorism and natural disasters. These same people claim that only government tutelage, information campaigns, and considerable financial resources will be able to guarantee that a citizenry remain resilient… and they entirely miss the point.

Resilience isn’t something trained into a people, it is their attitude towards adversity. If they as individuals cannot be counted upon to retain their basic humanity in a time of natural disaster, then they are not resilient. The Philippines has proven this time and time again. Despite our weak political infrastructure, despite our corrupt and inept leaders, and despite our poverty, we as individuals know that when we are called to serve our motherland, we act. This is not something that can be programmed into us. We were born and raised into it, imbibing the cherished values of a society that has not completely lost its heritage.

The storm has arrived. People have gone into action, doing what they can to serve our country. The ball is now in our government’s court, both for those supporting the administration and those who oppose it: will you join the people in helping our country recover from this crisis, or will you disappoint us once more? The time for cooperation and unity has arrived: will you take this opportunity to prove yourselves as responsible stewards of the country?

The action they will take will shape what comes after the storm: a deluge snuffing out the respect that the Philippine public has for them, or the mobilization of the great spirit of volunteerism that has emerged from this crisis.

A deluge of indifference, or a deluge of hope?

Manila, overlooking Taft Avenue, 2003

************

HELPING OUT:

If you wish to help, there are many charities you can support. Filipino or not, if you are a world citizen, we welcome your help. Here is a list of the charities and groups active so far, along with their contact information and their locations.

If you are out of the country, you may course donations through your local Red Cross or Red Crescent, or donate directly to the Philippine National Red Cross here.

For those in Manila and the surrounding areas, you can help report people in need of rescue at Typhoon Ondoy.org. Centers for collection of relief goods are also listed.

Thank you.

Posted in Current Events | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

A Requiem for Cory Aquino

Posted by conscientioussubversive on August 1, 2009

Corazon Aquino was a woman of contrasts and ironies.

Cory Aquino: 1933-2009

Cory Aquino: 1933-2009

Born to a family of privilege, she largely shunned the limelight even as her husband was propelled to the forefront of opposition to the Marcos regime.

While personally above allegations of corruption and abuse of power, her allies and relatives continued to embroil her administration in scandal and ineptitude.

While she helped dismantle the Marcos autocracy, she re-established the rule of oligarchs and provincial warlords that existed long before Marcos came to power.

However, none of this diminishes the powerful ideal that she embodied: that individuals can stand up to tyranny in the face of overwhelming opposition. When she stood up to lead opposition to President Marcos in 1985, the world was in the grip of the Cold War, and oppressive regimes from South Africa to Romania were able to wield power with impunity.

It was Aquino that first proved that those autocracies were not immune to accountability. It was she who proved that people had the right to overthrow governments which had failed to protect their freedom and prosperity. It was she who proved that one did not have to be powerful to defend democracy, and she inspired people from Tiananmen Square to Rangoon to emulate her example.

Though she made many mistakes, she excelled in one thing that the world will remember her for: she never wavered in her faith in democracy. Even when her peers would admonish her for her faith in democracy, she stood fast.

And that demands the world’s respect.

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas, Mabuhay ang demokrasya at kalayaan!

Posted in Philippine History, Philippine Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Weak Country, Strong People

Posted by conscientioussubversive on July 25, 2009

Malolos CongressWeak Country, Strong People

One of Marcos’ great lies was the one he told upon his inauguration in 1966:

“This country can be great again.”

It may seem strange to question this line, considering how innocuous it seems. When compared to Marcos’ other declarations, it compares favourably in terms of patriotism and oratory. Nevertheless, it is damaging because it ignores a simple truth:

While our people have always retained the capacity for greatness; our state, and thus the country it was built on, has always been weak.

Much has been written on our country’s fractious politics, and of how weak and unstable our current political system is. I need not repeat that here. What is more important is how these weaknesses are not limited to the immediately preceding events of 1987 and the Marcos regime that came before it. The fact is our state has been in constant flux from the constant struggle between our conservative political leaders and our politically liberal populace. This struggle, as eloquently framed by Manuel Quezon III, pits an elite that wished to preserve the status quo of wealth and power established during the colonial regime against a well-educated and worldly population keen to attain greater economic prosperity and political influence.

In other countries in Southeast Asia, the battle was won by the elites, who went on to consolidate their political power and to establish an economic order that tossed a few bones to the masses to ensure their acquiescence. Case in point: Malaysia and Singapore. In the former, the UMNO political elites formed an alliance with the economically dominant but politically powerless Chinese community to ensure that ‘business as usual’ (where the two factions supported one another in creating state-supported enterprises) continued while economic inequalities increased. For the latter, the frenetic pace of development in the island state has trickled slowly downwards to the lower classes. Paradoxically, the masses enjoy the highest metropolitan standard of living in the region and simultaneously remain bereft of any guaranteed pensions. Joseph Studwell, in his fascinating and easy-to-read book Asian Godfathers, provides a historical narrative that explains both cases from the perspective of the elite themselves.

In the Philippines, two factors prevented this from happening: the Second World War and the influence of American liberal political values. The first wrought untold destruction on the country, particular on the urban areas of the country and the vital infrastructure of transport, power, and industry. Manila, in particular, was absolutely devastated. It was reported that the city was the most destroyed city in the world after Warsaw was jointly levelled by the Germans and the Russians. This quote, seemingly apocryphal, actually came from General Dwight Eisenhower himself in 1946. Power stations, transmission lines, tranvias, trucks and automobiles, factories and shipping were all destroyed by the war. This essentially crippled the nascent export-oriented industrial sector at a time when a competitive advantage over other countries in the region could have helped the country progress. It also destroyed the both the physical and financial assets of the would-be industrial pioneers, as bombs and wartime inflation wiped out the fortunes of many businesses, not to mention the lives of entrepreneurs.

The second was the byproduct of the institutionalization of American education in the country. While the Americans limited the right to suffrage in the country and largely disenfranchised the masses, they also had to justify their right to remain as ‘stewards’ of the country. They did so by claiming to train and mold the country for eventual independence, and encouraged the emulation of American democratic institutions. Many Filipino schoolchildren of the era learned of American history and democracy, of Washington and Jefferson, and of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. These ideas did not remain idle in the minds of Filipinos, even as they were imperfectly implemented by the Commonwealth political elite. They would prove to be a powerful force in inspiring social reform and change, even if at times the government tried to suppress these ideas.

The two forces combined fragmented the economic and political elite, strengthening the power of rural politicians and hacenderos, while simultaneously preventing wholesale authoritarianism in the country until the arrival of Ferdinand Marcos. Unfortunately, what resulted was a stalemate which provided neither stability nor empowerment. Rent-seeking parasitic elites turned to the central government to act as guarantor of economic privileges and as a source of cheap capital, plundering the state and witholding true power from the central government. Moreover, the elites used the democratic system to allow for the rotation of leadership between the Nacionalista and Liberal parties, which preserved the existing power structure while allowing for a semblance of democracy to exist.

Marcos short-circuited the system by changing the rules of the game. By co-opting the military, he centralized political power in Malacañang and forced both the rural elites and the godfathers of the economy to kowtow to him. At the same time, he was able to ensure the consistency of his policies by disrupting the cycle of elections. This prevented any opposition party from derailing his efforts to restructure both the economy and government. Unfortunately, Marcos did so largely for his own ends, distributing the spoils of wealth to his largely inept cronies and allies. (such as Benedicto, Disini, Menzi and the ever durable Lucio Tan) Continuity was maintained, but this only concentrated wealth further and failed to generate any sustainable economic gains.

The trapo restoration that accompanied the Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo administrations only continued these trends, and aggravated the economic instability of the country by restoring the electoral process without weeding it of its excesses. The destruction of the two-party system ensured a weak presidency that prevented any concrete economic reforms, and contributed to the consistent bending to vested interests that has peaked under Arroyo.

The strong republic is a lie. There has never been a ‘strong and indivisible republic’. In fact, rent-seeking politicians and oligarchs, continue to fight over it precisely because it is the supreme arena, the prize itself. By capturing the state, they gain access to its wealth and legal protection, while also acquiring a strategic advantage over losing rivals in the zero-sum game of politics.

However, all is not lost. Our people are more educated and aware than ever. Even the middle class (which remained largely quiet after the EDSA 2 coup d’etat), has become restive over the incumbent administration’s excesses. Hope remains that a core group of educated leaders transcending class and ethnic divisions will continue to make an impact on society. Witness leaders like Jesse Robredo and Grace Padaca, Tony Meloto and Eddie Panlilio, Filipino labor union leaders, OFWs, activists, intellectuals, progressive entrepreneurs, environmentalists, students, tour guides, historians and technocrats all trying to make a positive impact on society beyond their personal sphere. I may not be able to name all of them, but their contributions continue to redefine the limits of democracy, activism and civic spirit. More importantly, no one needed to tell them what to do: not the government, nor the Church, nor the establishment. In the best traditions of democracy, they acted of their own free will. In time, their efforts will bear fruit, but that topic is for another entry.

Have faith, not in the state, but our people. When our people realize their potential, then shall we construct a state worthy of our name.

Posted in Philippine History, Philippine Politics | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »