Agrarian reform and the urban illusion

Jan 11

There can be no doubt that the administration of President Benigno Aquino III has made significant strides in terms of reform.  The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act was a major breakthrough, not only for women’s rights but also for development, owing to the central importance of our country’s having a sustainable rate of population growth.  The anti-corruption campaign is creating that confidence in government that is an indispensable ingredient of an economic climate that would encourage investment, both local and foreign. The conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, which now reaches over three million families, is the country’s most successful anti-poverty program, one that the Asian Development Bank has toasted as a model for other countries. Unfortunately, these successes have not been matched by advances in agrarian reform.   Some one million hectares still have to be distributed.  DAR figures show that the average number of hectares distributed under the current administration yearly came to 103,732 hectares, the lowest of the last five administrations.   At this pace, it will be hard for the administration to complete land redistribution by the date mandated by law, June 2014, since to achieve that goal, from January 2011 onwards, the DAR would have to distribute 320,242 hectares per year.  It is difficult to see how president can live up to the promise he made at a meeting with farmers over six months ago that all lands covered by Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reforms Act of 2009 (CARPER) will be distributed to all qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries by the target date. Who the president places at the helm of the agrarian reform effort is undoubtedly critical, and with the program in the doldrums, it might be time for the president to evaluate the performance of his top land reform aides.  But the problem is, in our view, more profound.  Undoubtedly, there are people in the administration that believe in agrarian reform, some of them passionately.  However, there are also those who either do not consider it central to the program of reform or see it as a “sakit ng ulo,” one that one must pay attention to, but largely with palliative rhetoric rather than energetic commitment.  Unfortunately, the latter tendency is dominant, and this...

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Women’s rights: Turning point in India, triumph in Manila

Dec 28

Women’s rights have been in the forefront of international concern over the last few weeks. Up in arms against rape Making the biggest headlines were the massive demonstrations in New Delhi and other cities in India provoked by the brutal gang-rape by six men of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a moving bus in the Indian capital.   The crime, which saw the victim suffer extremely serious wounds in her genitals and intestines, proved to be the trigger for the release of popular anger that had built up over the years over the rise in violence against women. The statistics are horrific.  According to government estimates, almost every 20 minutes, a woman is raped in India.  In New Delhi, dubbed the “rape capital of India,” the incidence of rape rose from 572 in 2011 to 661 so far in 2012.  Of the 256,329 incidents of violent crime reported for 2011, a total of 228,650, or close to 90 percent, were committed against women. What accounts for what one writer describes as the “increasingly predatory sexual culture”?   For some analysts, the rise in sexual aggression is related to male resentment of the erosion of the traditional subordination of women in India’s patriarchal society by women’s increasing role in the work force, their increased mobility, and their growing social and economic empowerment.   Also a major factor has been police laxness in dealing with rape reports and increased impunity by rapists owing to the victims’ feeling that the legal processes are stacked against them and their wish to avoid the stigma associated with being raped or abused.  India is, in this regard, much like other societies, and is little different from, say, the United States, which analyst Shenali Waduge, citing government estimates, says tops the rape chart. Yet the current protests may turn out to be a turning point, for while much of the media reporting has focused on spontaneous demands like the death penalty or chemical castration for rapists and sex offenders, the recent developments may well mark the emergence of a massive militant mass movement in India that will focus on confronting head-on the patriarchal norms propping up the social subordination of women that is at the root of much sexual...

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Why the Philippines cannot afford to be “Like-Minded” in Doha

Dec 01

(This article was co-authored by Richard Javad Heydarian.) Seldom has a global conference been so devoid of positive expectations than the coming United Nations Climate Conference that will take place in Doha, Qatar in late November and early December. People could be forgiven for thinking a joke was being played on them, given that the meeting is being held in Qatar, one of the world’s leading producers of oil—a key reason for the world’s climate woes. But seldom has a meeting been as necessary for the future of the planet as the Doha meeting—also known as “Conference of Parties 18,” or COP 18. It is this massive gap between the planetary emergency and the frustrating realpolitik of climate negotiations that inflames global public opinion, especially against the two top carbon emitters, the United States and China. The Philippine negotiating team in Doha must articulate the interests of developing countries vis a vis these two economic superpowers.  It cannot allow itself to be instrumentalized by either of these intransigent parties, whose carbon waste is a major contributor to the increased frequency of extreme weather events.  The Philippine negotiators, who have not been known for staking out independent positions in the climate negotiations, must be especially wary of China, which is the dominant voice in the core of so-called “Like-minded Countries” in the Group of 77 and China bloc to which our country belongs. The Climate Stalemate The poor prospects for Doha stem, in large part, from the contradictory prescriptions that emerged from last year’s climate summit in Durban, South Africa (COP 17). The meeting approved two instruments. The first enjoins developed or “Annex 1” countries to commit to a second round of cuts under the Kyoto Protocol. The second, the so-called “Durban Platform for Action,” gives both Annex 1 and developing countries until 2015 to make commitments to make greenhouse reductions and until 2020 to begin implementing them. The United States and most other developed countries will go to Doha with little sense of urgency or of responsibility. They prefer to be guided solely by the Durban Platform, which effectively gives them a seven-year “grace period” before taking action on their emissions. Since every year that action is postponed brings...

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Confronting the Continuing Power Crisis

Nov 29

Power rates in the Philippines are the highest in Asia and rank fifth in the world.  Brownouts lasting several hours a day have plagued Mindanao during the last few months and the Department of Energy (DOE) warns of disruptions and shortages in the near future in Luzon.  Thus, it was not surprising that at the hearings on the 2013 budget at the House of Representatives, DOE received the most intensive interpellation of all the executive agencies–far more intensive, in fact, than the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which had been expected to draw most of the legislators’ attention owing to the P44 billion allocation for its Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program. What was surprising, though, was unlike last year, the DOE declared itself open to reexamining the most controversial mechanisms that have, in the opinion of consumer watchdog groups, contributed to the unending ascent of power prices. Delaying Open Access One of these mechanisms is “Open Access” in the retail energy market.  Originally scheduled for implementation this October, an Open Access Regime would allow electricity end-users with an average monthly peak demand of one megawatt (MW) to choose their electricity service supplier.  Labor and consumer groups have charged that with electricity distribution highly monopolized, the power providers will still be able to informally set prices even under open access, thus defeating the purpose of power sector reform, which is to bring down the cost of power.   Moreover, whatever profits they might have to forego in the case of the big industrial users (which will be the users primarily served by an open access regime) can be regained from residential consumers who will not have the same freedom of choice. Interestingly, I was able during the hearings to extract a promise from the DOE that it would consider the deferment of Open Access during the budget deliberations.  After the DOE budget sponsor, Rep. Jun Abaya, made this concession in the formal exchange, then Secretary Rene Almendras went up to me and told me, “We have the same fears about open access.  It won’t work in a captive market.”  And then the most pleasant surprise of all:  shortly after the budget hearings, the Electricity Regulatory Commission (ERC) informed the public...

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China’s Transformation: A Southeast Asian Perspective

Nov 14

Over the last week, China has been undergoing a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.  It is an event that will have major implications for China’s neighbors in Southeast Asia.  Given this, it might be worthwhile to review the changing appreciation of the momentous developments in China on the part of people in our region, using my generation—the so-called “baby boomer generation”–as an example. Many in my generation in Southeast Asia came of age during the tempestuous years of the Mao era, when China was seeking to assert itself as a revolutionary beacon in contrast to the Soviet Union and undergoing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  Many were radicalized by the twin forces of the struggle of the Vietnamese for national liberation against the United States and China’s bid for revolutionary leadership in the third world. Mao and Southeast Asian Youth Throughout Southeast Asia in the 1960’s, young radicals gravitated away from the established pro-Soviet communist parties that had been dominant for four decades and went on to form new communist parties on the Chinese model.  In the Philippines, the Communist Party was reestablished in December 1968 and the New People’s Army was founded in March 1969.  The Chinese imprint was very visible:  the basic strategy was to surround the city from the countryside in a “protracted people’s war,” relying on the peasantry as the main force of the revolution, not the urban working class. Many in my generation were attracted by this vision of revolution that put the emphasis on the armed struggle, as opposed to the centrality of the parliamentary struggle that was then regarded as the trademark of the pro-Soviet communist parties.  I would say, however, that what led some of us to join the organized left in the early 1970’s was not so much its revolutionary promise but its being the only force that seemed capable of resisting the Marcos dictatorship that was foisted on the country in 1972. I think that in so far as being a developmental model during that period, China’s break with the rapid industrialization model espoused by the Soviet Union struck a resonant chord among intellectuals in countries where more than two thirds of the work force was in the countryside and the...

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Obama’s victory: How it happened and what it means

Nov 08

Washington, DC, Nov 7, 2012–The polls had pointed to a very close election, and those of us who gathered around a television set here in a friend’s house in Washington, D.C., expected to be up till 3 a.m. to find out the final results. But by around 11:15 p.m. (US East Coast time), it was all over. All the major television networks projected a victory for Barack Obama in most of the so-called battleground states. In Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and especially the so-called bell-weather state, Ohio, without which no Republican candidate has coasted to victory since 1964, Obama had won a majority, and only in one of those states, Florida, was his edge paper-thin. Both the Obama and Romney campaign had waged a fierce ground war in those states, battling county by county. The Romney offensive was to either retake counties which had gone for Obama in 2008 or reduce his lead there. Obama’s team essentially placed defense, relying essentially on bringing out the vote. Making sure women, African-Americans, and Latinos—Obama’s power base—voted meant bringing thousands of young volunteers from all over the country to drive people to the polls. Talking to voters at Newark Airport I expected the results to be much closer, given my sampling of voters during a brief stopover at Newark’s Liberty Airport on my way down to Washington on election day. Hub airports like Newark are good places to conduct sampling since they bring together people coming from all over the country and from all social classes. My sample was undeniably unscientific, though the ten respondents I talked to in one hour’s time before I had to report to my gate were picked randomly. Five said they were going for Romney, and four for Obama, with one “undecided” voter leaning towards Obama. The pro-Romney people were more heated when talking about why they were going for the Republican candidate. One said, “I’m a fiscal conservative and this president has been taking the country down the path of European socialism.” Another, an avowed born-again Christian woman, said, “I’m against Obama because he’s pro-abortion.” The responses of the pro-Obama people were more moderate. A white bus driver said, “He needs four more years to do what...

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