Greece resists, Philippines submits

Jul 07

originally posted on Rappler The tumultuous events in Greece have invariably triggered questions about the Philippines’ own approach toward its international creditors. The difference is like night and day. If resistance is what the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has offered finance capital, total submission to the creditors’ demands has been the policy of the Philippines ever since the administration of Corazon Aquino. Indeed, the Philippines possesses the distinction of being the only country with an “Automatic Appropriations Law,” which mandates that foreign and domestic creditors have the first cut in the national budget, and only after the amount required for debt servicing has been deducted can the government devote the remainder to its operational, capital, and personnel expenditures. Over the last five years, under the reign of Cory’s son, Pnoy, the government has dutifully turned over from 20 to 22 percent of the national budget to the country’s creditors. How did this sorry state of affairs come to pass? The story begins with the crushing $26.5 billion foreign debt that Mrs. Aquino inherited from the Marcos dictatorship. Debt repayment before development A few months before she came to power, the University of the Philippines School of Economics, in its famous White Paper, had warned: “The search for a recovery program that is consistent with a debt repayment schedule determined by our creditors is a futile one and should therefore be abandoned.” The issue of debt repayment shot to the forefront soon after her assumption of office in early 1986. Without even giving it breathing space, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, at the urging of the country’s commercial creditors, put debt servicing at the top of the new administration’s agenda. Fairly quickly, Aquino faced the choice of devoting the country’s scarce financial resources to development or to debt repayment. Within the government, the first, pro-development, position was espoused by Professor Solita Monsod, then head of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). Opposing her was Central Bank Governor Jose “Jobo” Fernandez, a Marcos holdover, who warned of the risk of “economic retaliation against the country” should it take unilateral actions in defiance of its creditors. Trade credit lines could be withheld, paralyzing foreign trade,...

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Power and Principle: The Vicissitudes of a Sociologist in Parliament

Jul 04

For most of my life, I have been both a sociologist and an activist. After obtaining a PhD in sociology from Princeton in 1975, I plunged into full-time activism, first as part of the movement to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, then as a militant in the international movement against corporate-driven globalization. I returned to academic life in 1994, spending the next 15 years as a professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines at Diliman. In 2009, I became a legislator for a progressive political party in the House of Representatives of the Philippines. The progressive record of the party to which I belong, Akbayan, was forged during its first decade of existence, 1998 to 2009, when it was for the most part in the opposition. In the legislative arena, the party’s crusading spirit was expressed in a series of bills its representatives filed in Congress, the most prominent of which were the Reproductive Health Bill and a bill to reinvigorate the faltering agrarian reform effort. Bills to end discrimination against the LGBT community, institute appropriate land use, extend absentee voting rights to Filipinos overseas, promote security of tenure for workers, and introduce socialized housing to benefit the urban poor were among our other key legislative initiatives. Perhaps the crowning achievement of the party during this period of opposition was the passage of the bill extending agrarian reform, better known as “CARPER” in 2009, an endeavor I participated in as a novice congressman. Akbayan played a central role coordinating the legislative effort with mass actions on the ground, and it was this formula that eventually delivered victory. From Opposition to Ruling Coalition It was with this high profile record of firmly pushing the people’s agenda that the party held its fifth national congress in 2009, when it took up the question of whether it would support the Liberal Party (LP) candidate for the 2010 presidential elections. The debate turned on whether the likely candidate could be relied on to carry out a reform program. It was clear to most Akbayan members that while the LP candidate would most likely not have a left-wing program of wealth redistribution, participatory democracy, and defense of national sovereignty, there...

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Great Power Rivalry Threatens Smaller States in Western Pacific

Jun 25

This content was originally published by teleSUR Tensions in the Asia Pacific are escalating. The latest chapter in the superpower collision is Washington’s strategy of holding low altitude aircraft passes on spots in the South China Sea where China is building military structures over reclaimed land. With the central element of its Grand Strategy being the prevention of the rise of a regional power in the Eurasian landmass that would threaten its global superiority, the US under the Obama administration has put into motion the containment of China via military and economic means. The so-called “Pivot to Asia” has involved the refocusing of Washington’s strategic assets, especially its naval power, on the region, while the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” aims to constrain the rise of China’s economic might. Meanwhile, although China does not aim for global hegemony, it does aim for primacy at a regional level, and the US military assets and its allies on the East Asian littoral and island-chain pose a major obstacle to this ambition. Beijing’s clumsy moves to assert its regional primacy have given the United States the opportunity to reassert itself aggressively in the region, painting itself as an “indispensable” actor to “balance” China’s ambitions. Some smaller states in Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, caught in the middle of this great power rivalry, seek to maximize their political and economic independence by playing off one against the other, though with a weak hand that, as in the case of the Philippines, leads to subordination to the goals of the power it chooses to ally with. Another middling state, North Korea, has chosen to ensure national survival not so much by taking sides but by developing its own nuclear arsenal and adopting a posture of deliberate unpredictability. Vietnam, in line with its traditional posture of self-reliance, has single-handedly challenged Beijing’s incursions into what it considers its maritime territory or exclusive economic zone, engaging in 2014 in a much publicized water cannon battle with Chinese vessels guarding an oil rig that the Chinese had installed in disputed waters. Then there is Japan, an economic power but military protectorate viewed with great suspicion by its neighbors owing to its bloody imperial past that is using the Chinese threat as...

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Man With A Plan: An interview with one of Asia’s leading critics of globalization

Apr 20

Francis Calpotura caught up with Walden Bello at his office at the University of the Philippines where he is a professor of sociology and public administration. How did you first become involved in the World Social Forum? We are one of the founding groups of the World Social Forum. When the first WSF idea was proposed in 2000, Focus on the Global South was asked to join the process, and we jumped on it. We felt the idea of bringing together a counter to Davos was very important. We had a very different view of where the world should be going. We were for liberation, they were for control. Some see the World Social Forum as part of a series of historical initiatives by countries from the Global South that puts forward an alternative to existing economic and political arrangements, much like the Non-Aligned Movement of the 1950s and liberation movements of the past 50 years. Is this an accurate description of WSF’s roots and inspiration? Yes, I think that the idea of having a site where people who represent a wide variety of movements that have been alienated by capitalist-driven globalization could meet and share ideas, affirm themselves, express solidarity and feel that they are part of a global movement. The solidarity aspect of the WSF is very important. The resistance aspect is important as well. At the WSF, you have movements who are concretely fighting the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO—the WSF becomes the site where the planning for the next moves in the campaign against the WTO, the IMF, and the U.S. war effort takes place. What inspiring alternatives are coming out of these discussions and what are the prospects of these taking root in the global arena? Finally, the alternatives—the thinking and the sharing of ideas—about how we structure economies and states differently at the local, national, and international levels blossom at the WSF. This exchange is critical in advancing our collective vision for a new global economic order. Ideally, there will be a meeting of the minds about a vision of what an alternative economic system looks like. But, of course, this rarely happens. Are there tensions between civil societies from the global...

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About Walden

Apr 15

Walden Bello, senior analyst of Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines, is one of the leading critics of the current model of economic globalisation, combining the roles of intellectual and activist. As a human rights and peace campaigner, academic, environmentalist and journalist, and through a combination of courage as a dissident, with an extraordinary breadth of published output and personal charisma, he has made a major contribution to the international case against corporate-driven globalisation. Bello was born in Manila in the Philippines in 1945. He was studying in Princeton for a sociology Ph.D in 1972 when Ferdinand Marcos took power, and plunged into political activism, collecting his Ph.D, but not returning to the university for another 20 years. Over the next two decades, he became a key figure in the international movement to restore democracy in the Philippines, co-ordinating the Anti-Martial Law Coalition and establishing the Philippines Human Rights Lobby in Washington.   He was arrested repeatedly and finally jailed by the US authorities in 1978 for leading the non-violent takeover of the Philippine consulate in San Francisco. He was released three weeks later after a hunger strike to publicise human rights abuses in his home country. While campaigning on human rights he saw how the World Bank and IMF loans and grants were supporting the Marcos regime in power. To expose their role, he took the risk of breaking into the World Bank headquarters in Washington, and brought out 3,000 pages of confidential documents. These provided the material for his book Development Debacle: the World Bank in the Philippines (1982), which became an underground bestseller in the Philippines and contributed to expanding the citizen's movement that eventually deposed Marcos in 1986.   After the fall of Marcos, Bello joined the NGO Food First in the USA, and began to expand his coverage of the Bretton Woods institutions, in particular studying the 'newly industrialised countries' of Asia. His critique of the Asian economic 'miracle', Dragons in Distress, was written six years before the financial collapse that swept through the region. His recent work has been criticising the financial subjugation of developing countries and promoting alternative models of development that would make countries less dependent...

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Walden Bello and “deglobalisation”

Apr 12

So when the “contours” (another favourite expression) of neo-liberal globalisation started to emerge in the mid-1990s, Walden was well-prepared to join the dots and fill in the blanks, thus generating a compelling and explanatory narrative which not only described what was happening, but reached back into history far enough to show that US imperialism and global capitalism didn’t arrive out of the blue, and that the politics that we are living today are the result of deliberate policies and powerful interests.  MULTIPLE PLATFORMS, SINGLE MESSAGE Walden’s essential character is that of an activist although he operates in many arenas: as an academic teaching sociology and political economy; as the honorary president of the Philippines parliamentary party Akbayan, (Citizen’s Action Party), as executive director of Focus on the Global South, and as a columnist and author. There is no schizophrenia in this: each provides a different platform from which to act. The power of Walden’s writing is that he offers compelling arguments, written in simple language, that educate us, and incite us to act. The power of Walden the person is that he is pugilistic and angry when necessary (for example, when debating James Wolfensohn at the Prague Castle during a World Bank meeting), passionate and militant when needed (most recently when speaking to the rally in front of rows of riot police outside the Hong Kong Convention Centre) and pretty unassuming the rest of the time. Walden’s “style” is not simply a matter of personality type, but an active choice about how to engage in politics. He has little time for what he calls the disempowering “apocalyptic” style which ignores all the realties of organising. Nor does he like elitist language which creates a distance between the intellectual and the activists, even while proclaiming a “radical” political position. He describes himself as a radical, in favour of fundamental transformation of the capitalist and imperialist system, and a non-reformist who concedes that “reform can be radical in certain contexts.” Walden is a prolific writer, with a journalist’s instinct for a story and a compulsive need to write. The trajectory of his writing never wavers and his arguments accumulate over time – like a layers of lacquer — with striking consistency...

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