When we defied China

Apr 22

originally published by Rappler.com On July 19, 2011, three of my colleagues in Congress and I landed on Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys. Our mission: affirm our country’s sovereignty over nine islands and maritime formations in our possession amidst China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the area. In the days before our trip, Beijing condemned the mission and warned then President Benigno Aquino III to order us to cancel it. The Chinese Ambassador went to the Department of Foreign Affairs to lodge a protest. To his credit, President Aquino made no effort to stop us. Instead, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told the Chinese our government practiced the separation of powers and, besides, we were not doing anything wrong since we were visiting Philippine territory. A few days ago, President Rodrigo Duterte announced to the world that he would go to Pag-asa to raise the Philippine flag on June 12 this year. Then, he did the unthinkable: fearing Beijing’s displeasure, he abruptly backed off. Duterte violated the basic rule of diplomacy when a small country faces a big country: you don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. Practically the whole country supported the President’s initial decision to raise the flag at Pag-asa. There was great relief that the policy of appeasing the beast was finally over. Of course, if there were a credible Chinese threat to prevent Duterte’s visit by force, the President’s retreat would have been understandable. But there was no such threat; the Chinese were not so foolish as to threaten the use of force to prevent Duterte from visiting an island that has had a Filipino community since the late 1970s, when Pag-asa was made a municipality of the province of Palawan. The reason for the presidential retreat was more ignominious: Duterte backed off because he was worried Chinese President Xi Jin Ping might be offended. Born to resist Our visit to Pag-asa lasted no more than four hours. But it was hugely symbolic. The military garrison and community of about sixty people welcomed the congressional party, composed of myself, Representative Teddy Baguilat, and two other members of the 15th Congress. We also had with us then Palawan Governor Abraham Mitra, Pag-asa Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon, and Major General Juancho...

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March, but mourn not the demise of EDSA Republic

Feb 24

originally published by Rappler.com The EDSA Republic’s failure to live up to its promises spawned Dutertismo The EDSA uprising was a memorable step in the Philippines’ struggle for democracy, and for this reason alone, it would be important to pencil it in as a red letter day for the country. Remembering the EDSA uprising, however, should not mean celebrating the EDSA Republic to which it gave birth, as has been the practice institutionalized by the Yellow Establishment over the last 30 years. EDSA was a flawed victory, and its flaws eventually led to its replacement by President Rodrigo Duterte’s barely disguised fascist rule. Indeed, the EDSA Republic’s failure to live up to its promises spawned Dutertismo. There were three unhealthy birthmarks that marred the EDSA Republic: the role of the military, the intervention of the United States, and the leadership of the elite. The prominent role of the military rebels in triggering the insurrection gave them a sense of having a special role in the post-Marcos dispensation. Only after seven failed coups was civilian constitutional rule stabilized. But, in retrospect, military discontent was not as damaging to the EDSA Republic as US patronage and elite hegemony. A US protectorate The US was not only a player; it was a decisive player. Even before the Aquino assassination in 1983, Washington sought to nudge Marcos and the elite opposition to arrive at some compromise. These pressures escalated in 1985, resulting in Marcos’ calling for the snap elections that became the vehicle for the mobilization of the middle class and some of the popular sectors against the regime and paving the way for the military mutiny. At that point powerful forces in Washington overcame President Ronald Reagan’s reluctance to cut Marcos loose and moved to directly remove the dictator from the scene. At an off off-the-record briefing at the State Department in Washington on April 23, 1986, to which I was mistakenly invited, Undersecretary of State Michael Armacost openly boasted of how the US moved during Marcos’ last months in power: “Our objective was to capture… to encourage the democratic forces of the center, then consolidate control by the middle and also win away the soft support of the NPA [New People’s...

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Global poverty down, Philippine poverty remains high

Jun 11

That the poverty situation in the Philippines has not improved has been the cause of much concern lately.  According to the National Statistics Coordination Board, 27.9 percent of the population currently lives below the poverty line, a figure that was practically unchanged from the figure of 28.6 per cent and 28.8 respectively in the first half of 2009 and first semester of 2006, respectively. The figures are all the more disturbing because globally, the poverty situation has actually improved since 2005.   According to the World Bank, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty — on less than $1.25 a day — fell in every developing region from 2005 to 2008.   Moreover, the biggest recession since the Great Depression seems not to have thrown that trend off course.  According to the Bank, “The progress is so drastic that the world has met the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half five years before its 2015 deadline.” Debating the causes of global poverty reduction What accounted for this positive global trend since 2005?  One school of thought is represented by Brookings Institution researchers Laurence Chandy and Geoffrey Gertz, who claim that the “stunning progress” is due to “the rise of globalization, the spread of capitalism and the improving quality of economic governance – which together have enabled the developing world to begin converging on advanced economy incomes after centuries of divergence.  The poor countries that display the greatest success today are those that are engaging with the global economy, allowing market prices to balance supply and demand and to allocate scarce resources, and pursuing sensible and strategic economic policies to spur investment, trade and job creation. It’s this potent combination that sets the current period apart from a history of insipid growth and intractable poverty.”  In short, the key for Getz and Chandy was market-oriented or neoliberal reforms, also known as “structural adjustment,” that radically reduced government intervention, eliminated barriers to trade and capital flows, and promoted privatization. Seemingly convincing, this explanation, when subjected to close analysis, falls apart.  There is another, and indeed, more credible way, of interpreting the results.  The dismal period of little progress from the 1990s to 2005, occurred during the high noon...

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The Hashimoto Controversy and Japan’s Failure to Come to Terms with its Past

May 17

The words were so brazen that they have created a firestorm globally.  This was the comment of Mayor Toru Hashimoto of Osaka, described as “outspoken” and “brash” in the international media, that “comfort women”– the thousands of Asian women who were forced to serve as prostitutes during the Second World War–were “necessary” for the morale of the Japanese troops. “Anyone can understand that the system of comfort women was necessary to provide respite for a group of high-strung, rough and tumble crowd of men braving their lives under a storm of bullets,” Hashimoto said, according to the Wall Street Journal. While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and other political figures were quick to distance themselves from Hashimoto’s remarks, their stance was hypocritical since he was simply mouthing what many in these circles and in the broader population believe to be true.   Moreover, the Osaka mayor’s remarks, moreover, came in the wake of a mass visit in April by some 170 sitting legislators to the Yasukuni Shrine, the home of Japan’s war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals, a ritual that many of its neighbors have blasted as a sign of the country’s unrepentant attitude for its conduct during World War II. Failure to Confront Past Hashimoto and Abe’s behavior ultimately stem from the fact that the country has not really come to terms with its role and behavior during that war.  Japan’s experience is in contrast to that of Germany, where society was subjected to a more or less thorough process of “denazification,” the centerpiece of which was the embedding in the national consciousness of Nazi Germany’s responsibility for the war and for unspeakable atrocities, including the genocide inflicted on the Jewish people. Washington played a role in fostering historical amnesia.  Instead of dethroning the emperor after the Japanese defeat, the US kept Hirohito in power for purposes of political stability, thus exempting the main symbol of Japan’s war aims from retribution, a gesture whose meaning was not lost on the Japanese.  Moreover, the window of opportunity that saw a flurry of US-imposed reforms that destroyed the old imperial army and reduced the power of the bureaucratic and economic elites disappeared with the onset of the Cold War and the...

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Wrong Choice, Again?

Mar 13

The conclave to elect the new Pope was an opportunity for the Catholic Church’s all-male college of cardinals to choose someone who would lead the Church into the 21st century.  Again, they flubbed the opportunity, as they did when they elevated Joseph Ratzinger to his role as Pope Benedict XVI eight years ago. The new Pope, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is, many say, an unreconstructed bigot when it comes to homosexuality.  Gay marriage is, he thinks, a work of the devil, and he even opposes adoption of children by gays as against God’s law.  Equally medieval is his opposition to contraception, a position highlighted by his celebrated clash with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner when she distributed free contraceptives to poor communities.  Tough luck for poor Catholic families who want to practice family planning and for the campaign against HIV-AIDS. What about his stand on predatory priests who abuse children?  According to a Washington Post report, the U.S.-based Bishop Accountability group revealed that a convicted pedophile Fr. Julio Cesar Grassi remains free, “thanks partly to a court filing on his behalf by the Argentine church, which was headed by Bergoglio as archbishop of Buenos Aires.” While he was not involved in a cover-up of sex offenders in the clergy, neither did he take the initiative in fighting clerical pedophilia.  Again the Post: “During most of the 14 years that Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, rights advocates say, he did not take decisive action to protect children or act swiftly when molestation charges surfaced; nor did he extend apologies to the victims of abusive priests after their misconduct came to light…’ He has been totally silent,’ said Ernesto Moreau, a member of Argentina’s UN-affiliated Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and a lawyer who has represented victims in a clergy sexual-abuse case. Victims asked to meet with Bergoglio but were turned down, Moreau said. ‘In that regard, Bergoglio was no different from most of the other bishops in Argentina, or the Vatican itself.’” But perhaps the most glaring evidence that calls into question Bergoglio’s qualifications to be Pope is his record on human rights during the notorious “Dirty War” that the Argentine military junta waged against the political...

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I’ll miss Hugo

Mar 07

I’ll miss Hugo. When I first was introduced to him in Porto Alegre in 2003, he greeted me, “Mi padre,” and said he learned a lot from me. I was dubious about this and thought he was simply buttering me up, like any two-bit politician. Then he started telling me what he learned from Development Debacle, Deglobalization, and Dark Victory.  I was stupefied; the guy actually read my stuff! About two years later, we met again, this time in Caracas.  He told me he was seriously concerned about my safety since he had heard that the Darth Vader Battalion had marked me as a “counterrevolutionary” and targeted me for elimination.  He invited me to cool off in Venezuela, telling me he would take me on a tour of the whole country.  Thank you, I said, but he shouldn’t worry since I was dealing with a bunch of space cadets, though crazy ones.  He asked me through the translator what a “space cadet” was.  I tried my best to explain, then he said, “Ahh, un pendejo,” and roared in laughter. In January 2006, during the World Social Forum in Caracas, he had several of us sit with him on stage and introduced us one by one.  When it came to me, he declared grandiloquently that “in his veins runs the blood of Asian martyrs.”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or crawl under my chair, while he went on to construct an image of me that, wow, I wish were true! The next day, at a forum of representatives of social movements, he asked me what I thought about what was happening in Venezuela. I don’t know what came over me, but I made use of the occasion to criticize his government for going back on its promise not to sign the Declaration of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong in December 2005, which would have led to the third collapse of a WTO ministerial, one that would have been the last nail in the coffin of that anti-development mafia dominated by the North.   “As a revolutionary, you can’t go back on your word,” I said.  He was silent, but that was the last time I got invited to Caracas. The...

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