A rapid response to President’s 2015 SONA address (also known as the “Cocoon Speech”)

Jul 27

The best parts were his highlighting his kasambahay’s invaluable role and Kaka Bag-ao’s transformation of politics in Dinagat. Not surprisingly, it skirted the hard issues, such as the DAP scandal (since that would reveal double standards in the Daang Matuwid), the Mamasapano raid, the failure of agrarian reform, and the continuing high rate of poverty and inequality. Deafening silence 1: continuing lack of acknowledgment of command responsibility for the 44 SAF and 17 MILF deaths. Deafening silence 2: no support for the Freedom of Information Bill. Much of the speech was reciting of statistics with little context. The part about Filipinos believing we will become a developed country in a few years’ time was meant to be inspirational, but that’s a hard-sell in a country where the daily reality for a very large part–some 28 per cent–is grinding poverty, where workers and farmers have been left behind because, as Dean Tony La Vina said this morning on Punto por Punto, “they were not priorities of the administration.” Some points were downright naive, like claiming that the fact that only 1 strike took place in 2013 was a sign of worker satisfaction (!!!) or that the lower numbers of OFWs deployed last year compared to 2010 showed people were gaining faith in the capacity of the economy to provide jobs and coming back home (!!!!). These last two points show how he is detached from the realities of working class and peasant existence and enmeshed in a ruling class cocoon. Overall, with 10 as tops, I would give the speech a 5.5 for credibility and an 8 for delivery.  Overall feeling: relief that this is the last SONA from him that I’ll have to sit...

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Presentation on Finance Capital and Greece

Jul 26

A few slides from my presentation at the forum on “Understanding the Greek Crisis,” sponsored by Focus on the Global South, Asian Center, University of the Philippines, July 24, 2015. Download

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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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