Tag Archives: Walden Bello

[People] Lessons despots never learn -by Walden Bello

Lessons despots never learn
Walden Bello

At the wake of former National Bureau of Investigation “counter-terrorism” chief Raul Manguerra, Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra said that he regretted Manguerra’s demise because “the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Law is about to enter a critical phase.”

Skewed priorities

The priorities of the Duterte administration could not be clearer. Even as it has shown tremendous incompetence in managing the country’s recovery from the recent devastating typhoons and in containing the spread of COVID-19, it has displayed great efficiency in its assault on democratic rights. Its skewed priorities show an uncanny resemblance to those of Duterte’s soul brother, Donald Trump, who has all but forgotten his responsibility for containing the rampaging pandemic in the US, focusing and obsessing instead with overturning the results of the recent fair, democratic elections.

It was perhaps not coincidental that 7 people, including a media personality and 6 union organizers, were arrested on December 10, Human Rights Day, since Duterte is known to revel in blatantly expressing his contempt for human rights. The arrests coincided with the killing by government agents of two individuals tagged as “NPA leaders” in Surigao del Sur, and came after earlier fatal shootings and arrests of other suspected “CPP-NPA terrorists.”

Duterte himself has taken a starring role in the current “red-tagging” campaign spearheaded by the military. At a recent press briefing, he engaged in his specialty, making scurrilous remarks, by comparing the left-wing Makabayan Bloc Representative Carlos Zarate to “dog shit.” His headline-grabbing attacks represent a 180 degree turn for a man, who, early in his presidency, appointed people associated with the bloc to cabinet positions. Meanwhile, his minions in Congress have behaved in classic attack dog fashion: Senate President Tito Sotto III, for instance, converted a Senate hearing into a courtroom when he exhibited prosecutorial zeal in an unsuccessful effort to get former Congressman Teddy Casiño to admit that several progressive civil society organizations are “recruiting grounds for the CPP-NPA.”

Not surprisingly, Duterte and Sotto’s rhetorical offensive has been accompanied by an online campaign to get the House of Representatives to throw out Makabayan Bloc representatives as “enemies of the state.” Over the last few years, Malacañang’s online propaganda machine, funded with hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, has become a formidable social media force in a country where 96% of the population have access to Facebook.

The strategic target

The Communist Party and the New People’s Army constitute a remote threat to the government. However, the Duterte administration and the military consider them convenient targets at this point since years and years of anti-communist socialization have demonized them. Duterte and the military’s intention is to make persecution of the CPP-NPA — and figures and organizations that have been indiscriminately and, without proof, identified with them — an object lesson for the broad opposition.

Indeed, at the same time that the military and police were killing and arresting left-wing activists, the civilian arm of the regime brought a second charge of cyber libel against Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, apparently sadistically timing her arrest so that she would not be able to post bail and be forced to spend the night in jail. (Fortunately, she posted bail shortly before the deadline.) Also around the same period, Youtube videos portraying Manila Mayor “Isko” Moreno as an “NDF consultant” suddenly popped up after he ordered posters “unwelcoming” the CPP-NDF in Manila taken down because he did not want to “sow hatred” in his city.

Dual purpose weapon

The anti-Moreno videos, which also pandered to anti-LGBTQ prejudices by calling the mayor a “barbie,” are interesting since they appear to serve a dual purpose: to frighten Moreno from making statements and moves in support of democratic rights, and to preemptively sink his candidacy for president in the coming 2022 elections and thus remove him as a threat to the president’s anointed successor, his daughter Sara Duterte. There could be no more blatant a display of how Duterte’s authoritarian agenda has meshed with his dynastic aims.

The message from the administration is loud and clear: criticize and oppose us and you will be at the receiving end of our weapons, both violent and “legal.”

Duterte and his gang have made only one fatal miscalculation: people who truly value democratic rights will not buckle down, and, as shown during the Marcos martial law period, their resistance will only grow. The president and the military are engaged in a self-defeating campaign. But then, that’s a lesson despots never learn.

The article was also posted at Rappler.com

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[People] Coronavirus and the Death of ‘Connectivity’ -by Walden Bello

The Great Recession could have killed globalization, but China emerged as the champion of a new global “connectivity.” With the coronavirus, that phase is finished.

The Covid 19 pandemic is the second major crisis of globalization in a decade. The first was the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, from which the global economy took years to reach a semblance of recovery. We did not learn our lessons from the first, and this is perhaps why the impact of the second has been even more massive.

Trillions of dollars of paper wealth went up in smoke during the 2008 crisis, but few cried for the out-of-control financial players who had triggered the crisis. More serious were the impacts on the real economy.

Tens of millions of people lost their jobs, with 25 million in China alone in the second half of 2008. Air cargo plunged 20 percent in one year. Global supply chains, many of whose links were in China, were severely disrupted.

The Economist lamented that the “integration of the world economy is in retreat on almost every front,” adding that “some critics of capitalism seem happy about it—like Walden Bello, a Philippine economist, who can perhaps claim to have coined the word [deglobalization] with his book, Deglobalization: Ideas for a New World Economy.”

Click the link below to read full story:

Coronavirus and the Death of ‘Connectivity’

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[From the web] Iceland 1, China 0: The diplomatic significance of the U.N. Human Rights Council vote on the Philippines -RAPPLER.com

The UNHRC vote was the first great test of Duterte’s diplomatic investment in China, and it proved disastrous: China simply could not deliver the votes

The denouement of the United Nations Human Rights Council vote instructing its High Commissioner to “prepare a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines” was as ridiculous as the vote was significant. President Rodrigo Duterte was left uttering his most nonsensical remarks ever, saying that the reason Iceland, the main sponsor, filed the resolution was because “they have nothing to eat in Iceland but ice.”

Philippines’ worst diplomatic defeat

Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teddyboy Locsin was left spluttering about “far reaching consequences” for the governments that had voted for the resolution. The consequences for Locsin are, however, anything but ridiculous. Duterte does not like being made a fool of, especially internationally, and it will not be surprising if Locsin, an amateur diplomat who has led the Philippine government to its worst diplomatic defeat ever, were to be replaced by a more experienced hand, according to Department of Foreign Affairs professionals who could barely conceal their glee at their titular boss’ humiliation.

Equally as significant as the setback of the Duterte administration was the stinging defeat of its main backer in the UNHRC: China. The optics, for one, were pretty bad: Iceland, one of the world’s smallest countries, had, in David versus Goliath fashion, drubbed the world’s largest. To governments across the board, the vote showed that Chinese diplomacy was, to use Mao Zedong’s words, a “paper tiger.”

Read more @www.rappler.com

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[People] Déjà vu: Why I am strongly against our signing the Paris climate deal -By Walden Bello

Déjà vu: Why I am strongly against our signing the Paris climate deal

‘The reality is that this is a deal crafted to suit the United States, China, and other big emitters’
Walden Bello
Published at Rappler
November 06, 2016

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.orgOn the Paris Climate Agreement, I beg to disagree with the assertion that it is a milestone on the way to stopping or slowing down climate change. This is propaganda. The reality is that this is a deal crafted to suit the United States, China, and other big emitters to legitimize their stubborn refusal to make the very deep cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions that are necessary to prevent the global mean temperature from going beyond 2 degrees Celsius that would bring about massive cataclysmic changes in the climate.

Owing to pressure from the big emitters, what we have in the Paris Agreement are not obligatory commitments to cut emissions but non-binding voluntary “intended nationally determined contributions.” Indeed, even before the Paris negotiations, the US and China had already made a separate deal that undermined the multilateral process: their non-binding deal exempted China from reducing its emissions until 2030 and committed the US to a miserly 26% to 28% emissions cut from 2005 levels! Practically all serious climate scientists have already denounced these so-called commitments as grossly inadequate in the light of drastic weather changes that are just around the corner.

Instead of a robust financing mechanism to assist poor countries adjust to climate change, we have a Green Climate Fund that is starved of funds and to which contributions by the developed (Annex 1) countries are indeterminate and voluntary. And while the Agreement rhetorically recognizes that developing countries have been damaged by the emissions of the rich countries, it also says that the so-called Loss and Damage provision “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.”

What the Paris deal is partial to are schemes favored by corporations like carbon trading, carbon offsets, and tree planting programs like REDD+. These are false solutions that only deflect attention from the need for deep binding commitments by the developed countries.

We are back in 1994, when we warned against ratifying the World Trade Organization agreement, but the Ramos administration went ahead and ratified it, saying not ratifying it would cut the Philippines off from the rest of the world and calling opponents like me all sorts of names. Twenty-two years later, our agriculture and industry have been destroyed by the trade liberalization that ensued, and indeed, the consensus of developing countries now is that the WTO simply functioned as a mechanism for the North to resubordinate the rising economies of the South. Now the same Fidel Ramos is again calling on the government to approve another unequal agreement!

We cannot afford to make the same mistake.

I don’t know and don’t care to know why President Rodrigo Duterte is opposed to signing the Paris Agreement. All I know is that whoever were the head of state today, I would recommend against signing the deal. Indeed, if the Philippine government does not sign on, this would encourage other developing country governments to withhold their signatures and expose the fact that the emperor wears no clothes.
No deal is better than a bad deal, and the Paris Climate Agreement is a bad deal. – Rappler.com

A climate advocate, former congressman Walden Bello was one of the leaders of the national movement against the ratification of the World Trade Organization Agreement in 1994.

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[People] Lupa at Hustisya para sa mga Magsasaka: Mensahe ni Walden Bello sa paglulunsad ng Martsa ng Magsasaka

Lupa at Hustisya para sa mga Magsasaka: Mensahe ni Walden Bello sa paglulunsad ng Martsa ng Magsasaka
12 April 2016

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.orgIsang maalab na pagbati sa inyong lahat. Narito tayo ngayon sa Sariaya upang ilunsad ang isang martsa na naglalayong kalampagin at gisingin ang ating gobyerno. Gobyernong patuloy na isinasawalang bahala ang sunod-sunod na dagok na naglulugmok sa sektor agraryo sa gutom, kawalan ng katarungan, at pagkait sa karapatan sa lupa.

Nagulantang ang bansa sa bangis na ipinakita ng pamahalaan sa mga kapatid nating magbubukid na nagprotesta sa Kidapawan. Nakalulungkot na kailangan pang humantong sa ganitong uri ng karahasan bago mapansin ng buong bayan ang krisis na kinasasangkutan ng mga magsasaka—hindi lang sa Mindanao kundi sa buong Pilipinas.

Dito lang sa Sariaya, nakaamba ang pagkabawi ng Certificate of Land Ownership (CLOA) na sumasakop sa 4,800 ektarya. Halos apat na libong pamilya ang mawawalan ng lupang binubungkal kapag maisapinal ang pagkansela ng kanilang CLOA. Sa Leyte naman, hindi pa rin hawak ng labing apat na libong magbubukid ang mahigit labindalawang libong CLOA na dapat ay naipamahagi nila, at naiulat na ng DAR na accomplished land distribution. Dahil wala sa kanila ang kanilang CLOA, hindi makatanggap ng tulong ang mga magbubukid nang nasalanta sila ng bagyong Yolanda. Walang habas pa rin ang kumbersyon ng lupa at kakulangan sa suportang serbisyo na ilang dekada na ring pinapasan ninyong magsasaka. At hindi pa rin umuusad ang ipinangakong pagsasakumpleto sa implementasyon ng repormang agraryo sa bisa ng CARPER. At tulad ng nakita natin sa Kidapawan, hindi lang karapatang agraryo kundi pati karapatang pantao ng mga magsasaka ang niyuyarakan ng mga puwersa ng pamahalaan. Nang may 300 pamilya ng magsasaka ang napalayas sa Hacienda Dolores, Porac, Pampanga noong 2014, dalawa ang pinatay, habang ikinulong at hindi pa nakakalaya hanggang ngayon ang pinuno nila.

Kaisa at kaagapay ninyo ako sa inyong pakikibaka. Batid ninyo na sa aking panunungkulan sa Kongreso, repormang agraryo at rural development ang isa sa mga naging pangunahing tutok ko. Kung palaring mahalal sa Senado ngayong Mayo, maaasahan ninyo ang patuloy kong pagkakampeon sa inyong interes. Ngunit hindi lang ako ang tumatakbo, at hindi lang Senado ang ating ihahalal ngayong Mayo. Kailangan nating usigin at usisain ang lahat ng mga tumatakbo—lalo na para sa pagka-Pangulo—kung ano ang maitutugon nila, hindi lamang sa karahasan at kawalan ng katarungang nagaganap laban sa inyong ranggo ngayon. Kailangan din nilang ipahayag kung ano ang posisyon nila ukol sa kapalaran ng CARPER at ng coco levy funds (kasama na ang 20% San Miguel Corporation shares na iginawad kay Danding Cojuangco ng Korte Suprema). Tandaan din natin na ang susunod na Pangulo ay mag-aappoint ng hanggang 10 Supreme Court justices sa loob ng kanyang termino. Marapat lang nating matamo ngayon pa lang ang kanilang panata at commitment upang masingil natin ang sinumang mahalal.

Sa ganang akin, manalo man ako o matalo, hindi ako titigil sa pagtataguyod sa minimithi nating lahat—repormang pansakahan, seguridad sa pagkain, at masagana at maunlad na kita at kabuhayan para sa ating mga magsasaka. Mabuhay ang martsa ng magsasaka! Alam kong simula pa lang ito ng tuloy-tuloy na pagkilos ng lahat ng batayang sektor, kasama na ang ating mga kapatid na manggagawa sa darating na Mayo Uno. Sa maigting na pakikibaka ng ating pinagakaisang puwersa, matatamo rin natin ang dignidad sa kanayunan at sa buong bayan. Mabuhay tayong lahat!

 

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[People] The Tyranny of Global Finance By Walden Bello

The Tyranny of Global Finance
By Walden Bello
January 19, 2016

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.orgAgainst all expectations, financial capital has emerged even stronger after the financial crisis having staved off regulation and putting the blame on public spending. But its victory is likely a pyrrhic one as a new crisis looms, one in which the global public could learn from victories such as reforms in Iceland and finally reassert its control over money.

Nearly eight years after the outbreak of the global financial crisis, it is evident that those who were responsible for bringing it about have managed to go completely scot-free. Not only that, they have been able to get governments to stick the costs of the crisis and the burden of the recovery on their victims.

Finance capital has not simply shrugged off popular anger and staved off government efforts to regulate it, as in the USA. It has also used the power of the state to quell democratic revolts against it, as in Greece. Finance capital has been the single biggest factor discrediting liberal democracy in the last few years. In the face-off between democracy and finance, there have been few instances in which the latter has prevailed, indeed, only one: Iceland.

Wall Street under assault

When the ground from under Wall Street opened up in autumn 2008, there was much talk of letting the banks get their just desserts, jailing the “banksters”, and imposing draconian regulation. There was deep disgust with the massive $700 billion bailout of the country’s biggest banks by the Bush Administration on the rationale that they were “too big to fail”. The move was rightfully condemned in many quarters as being concocted by Wall Street’s men in Washington, chief of whom was Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, whose earlier incarnation was CEO of the premier investment bank Goldman Sachs.

There were widespread expectations that with Barack Obama taking over as president in the depths of the crisis and the Democrats winning control of the House and Senate, banking reform was just around the corner. The new president captured the mood of the country when he warned Wall Street, “My administration is the only thing that stands between you and the pitchforks”.1

Domestic support in the USA for fundamental financial reform was accompanied by international clamour for tougher regulation of the banks.

When the G-20 met in Pittsburgh in the depths of the financial maelstrom in November 2009, two measures were uppermost in the reform agenda approved by the participants. One was maintaining powerful stimulus programmes to ignite economic recovery. The other was to effectively regulate the financial sector. As the G-20 Leaders’ Communiqué put it, “Where reckless behavior and a lack of responsibility led to crisis, we will not allow a return to banking as usual”.2

Defensive warfare

Finance capital and its allies were able to contain both thrusts and launch a counter-offensive that made citizens pay the price for the economic mess.

The first line of defence was to get the government to rescue the banks from the financial mess they had created. The banks flatly refused Washington’s pressure on them to mount a collective defence with their own resources. Then they got their advocates in Washington to argue that they were “too big to fail” – that is, that any one of them going down would bring the whole global financial system with it.

Using the massive collapse of stock prices triggered by Lehman Brothers going under, finance capital’s representatives were able to blackmail both liberals and the far-right in Congress to approve the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Nationalisation of the banks, which could have been an option that would not involve what ‘Nobel’ Economics Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz would characterise as “a great robbery of the American people”3 was dismissed as being inconsistent with “American” values.

The incoming Obama Administration promised substantive reform, but by engaging in the defensive anti-regulatory war that they had mastered in Congress over decades, the banks were able, in 2009 and 2010, to gut the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of three key items that were seen as necessary for genuine reform: downsizing the banks; institutionally separating commercial from investment banking; and banning most derivatives and effectively regulating the so-called “shadow banking system” that had brought on the crisis. According to Cornell University’s Jonathan Kirshner,

“[The] Dodd Frank regulatory reforms, and provisions such as the Volcker rule, designed to restrict the types of risky investments that banks would be allowed to engage in, have … been watered down (or at least waterboarded into submission) by a cascade of exceptions, exemptions, qualifications, and vague language… And what few teeth remain are utterly dependent for application on the (very suspect) will of regulators.”4

Decisive in securing this outcome was what Cornelia Woll termed finance capital’s “structural power”. One dimension of this power was the $344 million the industry spent lobbying the US Congress in the first nine months of 2009, when legislators were taking up financial reform.5 Senator Chris Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, alone received $2.8 million in contributions from Wall Street in 2007–2008.

But perhaps equally powerful as Wall Street’s entrenched congressional lobby were powerful voices in the new Obama Administration who were sympathetic to the bankers, notably Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Council of Economic Advisors’ head Larry Summers, both of whom had served as close associates of Robert Rubin, who had successive incarnations as co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, Bill Clinton’s Treasury chief, and chairman and senior counsellor of Citigroup.

More than anyone else, Rubin has, over the last two decades, symbolised the Wall Street–Washington connection that dismantled the New Deal controls on finance capital and paved the way for the 2008 implosion. Over a period of nearly 20 years, Wall Street had consolidated its control over the US Treasury Department, and the appointment of individuals that had served in Goldman Sachs, the most aggressive investment bank on Wall Street, to high positions became the most visible display of the structural power of finance capital. Rubin and Hank Paulson, George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury, were merely the tip of the Goldman Sachs iceberg at the centre of Washington politics.

While traditional fraudsters such as Bernie Madoff were prosecuted and jailed, the chiefs and lieutenants of the biggest financial institutions, who had caused infinitely greater damage, were untouched. The worst punishment that the CEOs of the errant financial institutions got was a few million dollars shaved off their multi-million dollar severance packages.

Changing the narrative

Finance capital not only successfully resisted effective re-regulation by deploying its structural power. It was also able to successfully wield its ideological power, or perhaps more accurately, it was able to hitch its defence to the dominant neoliberal ideology. Wall Street was able to change the narrative about the causes of the financial crisis, throwing the blame entirely on the state.

This is best illustrated in the case of Europe. As in the USA, the financial crisis in Europe was a supply-driven crisis, as the big European banks sought high-profit, quick-return substitutes for the low returns on investment in industry and agriculture, such as real-estate lending and speculation in financial derivatives, or placed their surplus funds in highyield bonds sold by governments. This is not to say that there was not an element or irresponsibility on the part of some governments, such as the case of Greece. It is to say, however, that the search for profits by ultra-competitive financial actors was the major driver of capital flows. As Martin Sandbu writes in his superb analysis of the European debt crisis,

“From the late 1990’s, banks and other financial institutions throughout the world – not just in the Eurozone – engaged in an enormous ramp-up of lending which governments did little to restrain. More than anything, it is this global credit bubble that is to blame for the compression of borrowing costs everywhere, inside the euro and outside it. If financial markets priced a loan to Athens as if it were as safe as one to Berlin, this was because financial actors got caught up in a hunt for returns in which they abandoned any sensitivity to risk.”6

In the case of Greece, German and French private banks held some 70% of the country’s 290 billion euro debt at the beginning of the crisis. German banks were great buyers of the toxic sub-prime assets from US financial institutions, and they applied the same enthusiasm to buying Greek government bonds.

For their part, even as the financial crisis unfolded, French banks, according to the Bank of International Settlements, increased their lending to Greece by 23%, to Spain by 11%, and to Portugal by 26%. Indeed, in their drive to raise more and more profits from lending to governments, local banks, and property developers, Europe’s banks poured $2.5 trillion into Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

It is said that the fact that these countries’ were in the Eurozone “deceived” the banks into thinking that their loans were safe since they had embraced the same tough rules for membership in the same currency union to which Europe’s strongest economy, Germany, belonged. More likely, however, a government’s membership in the Eurozone provided the much-needed justification for unleashing the tremendous surplus funds the banks possessed that would create no profits by simply lying in their vaults.

Besieged as having plunged the world into a financial maelstrom, finance capital was desperate to change the narrative in the aftermath of the financial implosion of 2008. This opportunity emerged with two developments between 2009 and 2010. One was the announcement by Dubai in late 2009 that it could no longer pay the debts it incurred in building its ultra-modern luxury oasis for the global elite in the Persian Gulf. Dubai’s default, analyst James Rickards notes, “became contagious, spreading to Europe and Greece in particular”.7

The other event, coming on the heels of the Dubai debacle, was the discovery that Greece, via complex financial deals engineered by the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs in 2001, had fudged its debt and deficit figures in order keep within the strict rules for Eurozone membership. Greece’s debt in 2007, before the financial crisis, amounted to 290 billion euros, which was equivalent to 107% of its gross domestic product. Yet, the banks did not show signs they were particularly worried about it then and continued to pour money into the country.

The debt-to- GDP ratio rose to 148% in 2010, bringing the country to the brink of a sovereign debt crisis. Focused on protecting the banks, the European authorities’ approach to stabilising Greece’s finances was not to penalise the creditors for irresponsible lending but to get citizens to shoulder all the costs of adjustment. Equally important, finance capital and Brussels used Greece’s crisis to ram through an assessment that a sovereign debt crisis had also overtaken Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, although these countries had debt-to-GDP ratios that were rather low and, in the case of Spain and Ireland, lower than Germany’s.

Sovereign debt is debt that a state is responsible for paying off, whether or not the state took the loan. Ever since the debt crises of the 1980s authorities have enforced the rule that the state must assume responsibility for debt to international creditors that cannot be repaid by its private sector. In his superb book Austerity, Mark Blyth writes,

“… sovereign debt crises are almost always ‘credit booms gone bust.’ They develop in the private sector and end up in the public sector. The causation is clear. Banking bubbles and busts cause sovereign debt crises. Period. To reverse the causation and blame the sovereign for the bond market crisis, as policy makers in Europe have repeatedly done to enable a policy of austerity that isn’t working, begs the question, why keep doing it.”8

Why indeed? The answer is that this operation has promoted a strong counter-narrative about the causes of the financial crisis, where the banks are the victims while states are the villains, a narrative that enables the banks to simultaneously escape haircuts for their irresponsible lending and oppose the imposition of state restraints on their activities.

Painting Greece as America’s future

The changed narrative, focusing on the “profligate state” rather than unregulated private finance as the cause of the financial crisis, quickly made its way to the USA, where it was used not only to derail real banking reform but also to prevent the enactment of an effective stimulus programme in 2010.
Brandishing the image of the USA becoming like Greece if the government increased its debt load by going into deficit spending, the Republicans succeeded in bringing about a US version of the austerity programmes that were imposed as the solution in Southern Europe. Christina Romer, the head of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, estimated that it would take a $1.8 trillion to reverse the recession.9 Obama approved only less than half, or $787 billion, placating the Republican opposition but preventing an early recovery.

Thus the cost of the follies of Wall Street fell not on banks but on ordinary Americans, with the unemployed reaching nearly 10% of the workforce in 2011 and youth unemployment reaching over 20%. While weak, the Obama stimulus, coupled with aggressive monetary loosening by the Federal Reserve, prevented the economic situation from getting worse, but the recovery of the next few years was extremely fragile. Moreover, Wall Street’s hijacking of the crisis discourse convinced some sectors of the population that it was the Obama Administration’s pallid Keynesian policies that were responsible for the continuing stagnation.

Why Wall Street won

The triumph of Wall Street in reversing the popular surge against it following the outbreak of the financial crisis was evident in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. The US statistics were clear: 95% of income gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the top 1%; median income was $4,000 lower in 2014 than in 2000; concentration of financial assets increased after 2009, with the four largest banks owning assets that came to nearly 50% of GDP.

Yet regulating Wall Street was not an issue in the Republican primary debates while in the Democratic debates, it was a side issue, despite the efforts of candidate Bernie Sanders to make it the centre-piece.

In sum, looking back at the evolution of the financial crisis over the last eight years, one can say that finance capital successfully staved off popularly backed efforts on the part of the state to effectively regulate them by resorting to three strategies.

One was blackmail. Basically, Wall Street and its allies in government successfully sold the line to Congress that they were too big to fail, that is, allowing any one of them to go under would bring down the whole global financial system.

Second, by activating its well-entrenched structural power, through massive lobbying of Congress and mobilising its allies in the Executive, Wall Street was able to prevent the Frank–Dodd financial reform act from containing provisions that would effectively control its most dangerous speculative operations.

Third, finance capital successfully deployed the ascendant neoliberal ideology to shift the discourse on the causes of the crisis from a populist one centred on the greed of banks to a neoliberal one focused on “fiscal irresponsibility” on the part of the state. The US fiscal situation, the banks and neoliberals argue, was simply that of Greece writ large. The political institutions of one of the world’s most advanced liberal democracies were no match for the structural power and ideological resources of the financial establishment.

As Cornelia Woll writes, “For the administration and Congress, the main lesson from the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 was that they had only very limited means to pressure the financial industry into behavior that appeared urgently necessary for the survival of the entire sector and the economy as a whole”.10

Finance capital puts down a popular uprising

The US case is an example of how finance capital has been able to fend off efforts on the part of the state to exercise effective regulation of its most volatile and dangerous speculative activities, despite massive anger at the banks. In Europe, finance capital showed its most ugly face, where it harnessed the power of the state – indeed, the collective power of 18 Eurozone states led by Germany – to crush peoples’ efforts to control their economic destiny.

More than in the so-called liberal market economies of the USA and UK, the relationships among the state, finance, and industry are exceedingly close in Germany, France, and other European economies that political analysts call “coordinated market economies”.11 Technocrats, bankers, and industrialists have powerful interwoven interests, with the state prioritising the interests of the financial sector.

Thus, it is not surprising that the German government took a leading role in promoting the interests of German finance capital during the struggle between Greece and its creditors. Behind the troika, of the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission (EC), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that were formally negotiating with the Greeks, lay the power of the German state, which was principally concerned with salvaging the German banks that had loaned billions of euros to the Greek government and Greek banks.

The conflict between Greece and its creditors finally came to the boil in 2015, when the Troika sought to blackmail Greece into accepting a deal whereby it would get 86 billion euros in return for a set of draconian measures that included deeper wage cuts, bigger pension cuts, more layoffs in government offices, and more cutbacks in government services. The conditions were imposed on an economy that was already in depression. The GDP fell by 25% between 2008 and 2015, one million jobs were lost between 2008 and 2013, unemployment stood at 26% in 2015, with youth unemployment at a mind-numbing 52%.

It was clear even to the IMF that the conditions of the new bailout would kill off any rise in domestic demand necessary for the economy to grow. One IMF analysis admitted that the Fund had not anticipated the extent of the damage wrought by the austerity straitjacket in which the country has been placed since 2010. Another confidential memo acknowledged that what Greece needed most of all was not more austerity but debt relief.12 It was, moreover, clear that the 86 billion euro bailout for Greece would be of little help since practically all of it – some 90%, by some estimates – would find its way back to the country’s key creditors (the ECB, the IMF and German and French banks) as debt service or for recapitalising Greek banks.13

Even President Obama had weighed in and called the Eurozone demands untenable: “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression…At some point there has to be a growth strategy in order for them to pay off their debts to eliminate some of their deficits”.14

Given these dire prospects, it is not surprising that the negotiations with the Eurozone countries ended with a Greek revolt, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called in June 2015 for a referendum on the bailout in which over 60% of the Greek people rejected the deal. But in a slap at the democratic will of the badly battered Greeks, the German government, acting to protect the interests of German and European finance capital, warned that it would add further conditions, forcing Tsipras back to the negotiating table. Tsipras, knowing that while the electorate rejected the deal, they would not support a withdrawal from the euro, which would have resulted from rejecting the Eurozone offer was forced into a humiliating surrender. The tumultuous relationship between the Eurozone authorities and the people of Greece, noted one observer, reflected the “determination to insulate policy from any democratic deliberation”.15

“It was, at best, an infantilization of the Greek people at the hands of Europe’s and Greece’s own political elite: until citizens were mature enough to support actions to which there was “no alternative,” the correct choice would be made for them. This attitude – not so much the primacy of politics over markets as the dominance of technocracy over democracy – would define relations between Greece and the Eurozone…”16

That democracy was the ultimate casualty of the Eurozone-Greece face-off was also the opinion of the Financial Times columnist, Wolfgang Munchau:

“By forcing Alexis Tsipras into a humiliating defeat, Greece’s creditors have done a lot more than bring about regime change in Greece or endanger its relations with the Eurozone. They have destroyed the Eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union. In doing so they reverted to the nationalist European power struggles of the 19th and early 20th century. They demoted the Eurozone into a toxic fixed exchange-rate system, with a shared single currency, run in the interests of Germany, held together by the threat of absolute destitution for those who challenge the prevailing order. The best thing that can be said of the weekend is the brutal honesty of those perpetrating this regime change.”17

Why the German-led Eurozone imposed a Carthaginian peace on Greece will long be discussed, but it is clear that key motives were to save the European financial elite from the consequences of their irresponsible policies, enforcing the iron principle of full debt repayment, and crucifying Greece to dissuade others, such as the Spaniards, Irish, and Portuguese, from revolting against debt slavery.

As Karl Otto Pöhl, a former head of Germany’s Bundesbank, admitted some time back, the draconian exercise in Greece was about “protecting German banks, but especially the French banks, from debt write-offs”.18

The subjugation of the Greeks is the latest victory notched up by finance capital since it began its scorched-earth counter-offensive against forces seeking to constrain and regulate it for bringing about the financial crisis that broke in 2008. Yet, its victory is likely to be Pyrrhic, an extremely costly affair that is likely to lead to a greater disaster.

Democracy and Finance

In October 2015, Iceland’s judicial system sent the heads of the country’s biggest banks to jail, along with 23 of their lieutenants. The sentencing was the culmination of a process in which Iceland took a different course from the USA and the rest of Europe. It let the banks go under instead of bailing them out as “too big to fail”. It did engage in bailout operations but these were to rescue ordinary citizens rather than bankers, forgiving mortgage debts that went above 110% of the actual value of the home linked to the loan.19 The economy of Iceland did not collapse when its biggest banks were allowed to fail.

As one article pointed out, Iceland returned to economic growth much faster than skeptics expected after breaking from the conciliatory approach toward financial industry actors that most countries took in the wake of the global collapse. The tiny economy’s growth rate outpaced the average for European countries in 2012. It halved its unemployment rate since the peak of the crisis.20

What happened in Iceland commanded attention because it was a contrast to what happened elsewhere.
That the country was able to tame the finance industry was perhaps due to several factors. One was the relatively small scale of its democracy. With a population of only 329,000 people, most of them in the capital city, Reykjavik, Iceland’s elected officials were susceptible to very direct pressure from the electorate, many of whom had suffered massive losses.

Another is that with finance having emerged relatively recently as the main driver of the economy, the financial elite had not achieved the massive structural and ideological power that finance capital had achieved in the USA, the UK and the rest of Europe.

Iceland pointed to the possibilities of democratic control of the banks. But it was the exception to the rule. Elsewhere finance capital got off scot-free. This is not only unjust and tragic. It is dangerous. Advocates for democratic control of finance have an urgent task of mobilising the people, since without effective regulation the chances of another big financial crisis are exceedingly great. The combination of deep austerity-induced recession or stagnation that grips much of Europe and the USA and the absence of financial reform is deadly.

The prolonged stagnation and the prospect of deflation have discouraged investment in the real economy to expand goods and services. Thus the financial institutions have all the more reason to do what they did prior to 2008 that triggered the current crisis: engage in intense speculative operations designed to make super-profits from the difference between the inflated price of assets and derivatives based on assets and the real value of these assets before the law of gravity causes the inevitable crash.

With the move to reregulate finance halted, the creation of new bubbles is more than likely, what with derivatives trading continuing unabated owing to the lack of effective regulation. The non-transparent derivatives market is now estimated to total $707 trillion, or significantly higher than the $548 billion in 2008, according to analyst Jenny Walsh. “The market has grown so unfathomably vast, the global economy is at risk of massive damage should even a small percentage of contracts go sour. Its size and potential influence are difficult just to comprehend, let alone assess.”21

Former US Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt, the former chairman of the SEC, agreed, telling one writer that none of the post-2008 reforms has “significantly diminished the likelihood of financial crises”.22 Advocates for democratic control of finance have an urgent task of mobilising the people, since without effective regulation the chances of another big financial crisis are exceedingly great.

With the interests of finance capital now the driving force of the big Western democracies, and virtually unchecked, the question then is not if another bubble will burst but when. Then the next question is, will it take this coming crisis to finally achieve what the reaction of the 2008 financial crisis failed to do – place finance capital under restraints? In his classic book The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi talked about the “double movement” whereby the excesses of capital create a counter-movement among the people, which forces the state to restrain and regulate it.23

The failure of the current institutional arrangements of liberal democracy to promote the counter-movement in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis probably means that the next crisis might trigger no less than a fundamental institutional reconfiguration of society’s relation to finance capital, indeed, to Capital itself.

(Footnotes in State of Power)

*TNI Associate Walden Bello is co-chair of the board of directors of Focus on the Global South. The author of co-author of 20 books, he is also an Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

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[People] SE Asia: Home to Ethnic Cleansing, Slavery, and Hazardous Work By Walden Bello

SE Asia: Home to Ethnic Cleansing, Slavery, and Hazardous Work
By Walden Bello*

The sorry state of human and labor rights in the region was driven home by three events that captured the world’s attention in the last three months. In the late 20th century, Southeast Asia was seen as a region of “tiger economies” that were the envy of the world. That narrative has vanished. Today, the area is regarded by many as a site of ethnic cleansing, great inequality, and super-exploited labor.

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.org

The sorry state of human and labor rights in the region was driven home by three events that captured the world’s attention in the last three months. Dominating the news was the appalling situation of several thousand Rohingya fleeing violent persecution in Myanmar or Burma. Hiring smugglers to carry them to safety by sea, the Rohingya found themselves floating in the high seas, unable to land as neighboring states refused to accept them.

As if the plight of the Rohingyas were not shocking enough, an island in Indonesia was revealed to have illegal fish factories operated with Burmese and Thai forced labor. Relatives of many those kept captive on the island of Benjina had given up hope that they would ever be found. The nightmare turned out to be merely the tip of a multimillion dollar industry built on the backs of slaves with the complicity of Thai and Indonesian authorities.

Then, on May 13, the nightmare of the horrific Bangladesh blaze in November 2012 that immolated scores of garment workers in a factory with no emergency exits, was repeated in the Philippines. Seventy-two workers perished in the Philippines’ worst factory fire, trapped in building with barred windows and no emergency exits. The tragedy exposed once more the extremely unsafe conditions in which unorganized workers are forced to labor for a pittance in the urban industrial belts of Southeast Asia.

Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar

The Rohingya diaspora in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea is the culmination of three years of riots and violent attacks directed at this Muslim minority, who make up 30 percent of the Myanmar state of Rakhine. Tensions between the Rohingya and the Buddhist majority have been building for years, but with the easing of military control as the country makes its jerky transition to democracy, friction has given way to violence, oftentimes sparked by wild allegations of Rohingya men raping Buddhist women. Considering the 1.3 million Rohingya as stateless intruders from neighboring Bangladesh, the military has largely left them to the tender mercies of Buddhist mobs that have often been led by monks. The result has been the region’s worst case of ethnic cleansing.

To escape brutal persecution, many Rohingya have increasingly resorted to flight, contracting smugglers and traffickers to bring them by sea and land to other countries. This option has turned out to be as perilous as staying. Traffickers have sold many Rohingya, along with other Burmese, as forced labor to the notorious Thai fishing industry. Some 7000 crammed into fragile boats have been floating aimlessly in the Indian Ocean and Andaman Sea, their attempts to make landfall prevented by the navies of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

With pressure exerted on them by other the United Nations and international bodies, Myanmar’s neighbors have recently softened their stance. The Philippines said it considered the Rohingya as refugees and offered to take some 3000 of them. Heavily criticized for turning away the Rohingya, Malaysia and Indonesia grudgingly agreed to also provide the refugees temporary shelter. Thailand, however, made clear it would not offer them asylum, a hardline stance that was also adopted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Voices from all over the globe, including the United Nations General Assembly, have called on the Myanmar government to end the ethnic cleansing and give citizenship rights to the Rohingya. One voice, however, has been notably silent, that of Nobel Prize laureate Auung Sang Suu Kyi. Never in the last three years has she spoken on behalf of the Rohingya, even if only to ask her Buddhist compatriots to stop persecuting them. Owing to international pressure, her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has, finally and grudgingly, called for citizenship for the Rohingya, but the statement was not issued in her name. Much speculation on her silence centers on her not wanting to offend the country’s Buddhist majority whose votes her party needs in Burma’s coming electoral contests and she herself would need should she be allowed to run for president by the military. But the longer “Daw Suu,” as she is known in Burma, stays silent, the more people will come to the conclusion that she herself does not believe the Rohingya deserve to be citizens, the more she will be regarded as complicit in genocide, the more her status as a global moral icon will be eroded.

Slave Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry

What a superb Associated Press investigative report on forced labor in the Indonesian island of Benjina that appeared in March of this year did was to call world attention to what many in Southeast Asia regarded as one of the region’s dirty secrets: the dependence of the Thai fishing industry on slavery. The resort to slave labor, according to a report by the International Labor Organization and the Asian Research Center for Migration of Chulalongkorn University, stems from profits being squeezed by smaller catches, higher fuel costs, and the reluctance of Thais to be employed in what is increasingly perceived as low-paid hazardous work involving long periods at sea. Foreign workers, especially from Burma and Cambodia, have been the solution for Thai fishing and canning factories, and smuggling networks have sprang up to recruit workers in the two countries. Deception is almost invariably involved, with prospective workers told they will be hired in construction or agriculture at relatively high rates of pay only to find themselves at the end of the journey sold to fishing vessels working for a pittance or nothing.

Once in the hands of traffickers, undocumented workers are treated brutally, and recently discovered mass graves, reportedly containing the remains of hundreds of people along smuggling routes in Thailand and Malaysia are mute testimony to what happens to those who get sick, meet accidents, or resist.

Government officials are often worse than useless for exploited migrants. As the ILO-Asian Research Center for Migration notes, “The direct involvement and/or facilitation of law enforcement officials in these crimes is a significant problem that has remained inadequately addressed. Although authorities reportedly investigated several cases of complicity by law enforcements officials during 2011-2012, no prosecutions or convictions were carried through.” Not surprisingly, “rather than seeking out protection for abuses or filing complaints to the proper authorities, many migrant fishers will choose to keep quiet out of fear of blacklisting, arrest or deportation.”

The Philippines: A Decimated Working Class

Government complicity was also instrumental in the Philippines’ worst factory fire on May 13. An investigation carried out by the author, which included interviews with some 30 survivors, revealed that the factory, Kentex, was issued clearances for occupational and fire safety by the relevant national and local authorities despite the fact that it had no emergency exits, the windows were barred, no fire drills were conducted, and no serious fire inspections were carried out.

The obviously lax enforcement of safety regulations is not accidental, according to observers. Kentex incarnated the Philippine government’s stance of going easy on capitalists since they are seen to be the source of growth, wealth, and jobs.

The ruling ideology of neoliberalism, which would eliminate as much regulation of capital as possible, was also evident in the work force of the firm, which produced “Havanas” or flipflops and other footwear for the domestic market and for export. According to the survivors, some 20 per cent of the work force were casual workers or “pakyawan,” including some minors brought in by their mothers to earn some extra money for the family for the summer. They received 202 pesos (US$4.50) for a day’s work, or less than half the current minimum wage for the national capital region.

Another 40 to 60 per cent were contractual workers people recruited by a “manpower agency,” an organization devised to allow employers to avoid regularization of workers and their unionization. While these non-unionized workers received the minimum daily wage of 481 pesos ($10.8), the agency skimmed off the required social security, health, and housing benefits provided by the employer. “They don’t pay our monthly installments,” was the angry response of the survivors when I raised the issue.

At the most, 20 per cent of the workers were regular workers who were members of a union. But as one of the union members himself volunteered, cynically, “We are a company union.” Kentex is a microcosm of labor-capital relations in the Philippines and much of Southeast Asia today.

The trend toward contractualization, pushed by local and foreign investors, accommodated by government, and legitimized by economists, has led to the disorganization and de-unionization of the labor force. Today, only about 10 per cent of the Philippine work force is organized, with one prominent labor leader admitting that, “Ironically, labor unions are not as politically strong today as during the dictatorial regime of President Marcos.”

In his “State of the Nation” address in July of last year, President Benigno Aquino III boasted that there were only two cases of workers’ strikes in 2013 and only one in 2014. That the president considered this news as positive only showed how detached from workers’ reality he was, for the radical reduction of the number of strikes does not come from improving living standards but from the weakening of labor’s bargaining power owing to pro-management policies, government failure of enforce labor laws, and aggressive union-busting by employers.

Legislative efforts to reverse contractualization by limiting the number of workers a firm may hire to 20 percent or less have either died in committee or failed to make it to plenary deliberations in the Philippines’ House of Representatives. In a dialogue with labor leaders in 2013, Aquino himself said he opposed limits to contractualization since this would “eliminate 10 million jobs.” Challenged by the astonished labor leaders, the president could not name his source for his claim.

However, a growing number of economic analysts, like Jesus Felipe of the Asian Development Bank, are departing from this orthodox view. According to them, it is precisely the absence of a dynamic internal market owing to the lack of purchasing power by a large segment of the labor force that are doomed to low wages that accounts for the inability of the Philippine economy to achieve sustained take-off.

Some labor leaders see a silver lining in the Kentex tragedy. “The 72 lives lost were a terrible, terrible loss,” said Josua Mata, secretary general of the labor federation Sentro. “But if this tragedy brings to the national consciousness the unacceptable state to which management and government have reduced our workers and inaugurates an era of reform, then their sacrifice might not be in vain.” That remains to be seen.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is scheduled to become “one integrated regional economy” by the end of 2015. No one is celebrating the occasion except perhaps the diplomats that negotiated the agreement. Pundits remark cynically that instead of integrating dynamic tiger economies, ASEAN integration will pool together societies with unsolved, deep-seated social problems.

Until his resignation from the House of Representatives of the Republic of the Philippines two months ago owing to differences with the Aquino administration, Telesur columnist Walden Bello chaired the House Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs and was one of the principal authors of the Security of Tenure Bill designed to end contractualization.

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address:
http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/SE-Asia–Home-to-Ethnic-Cleansing-Slavery-and-Hazardous-Work-20150528-0052.html. If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. teleSUR English

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[People] President Misses the Empathy Boat Again as Valenzuela Factory Fire Shocks the World By Walden Bello

President Misses the Empathy Boat Again as Valenzuela Factory Fire Shocks the World
By Walden Bello*

From Rappler, May 17, 2015

The fire that hit the Kentex manufacturing plant in Valenzuela produced the worst factory fire in the country’s history. Some 72 workers, the majority women, perished in the blaze, but the president did not show up to comfort the survivors and the families of the dead after the tragedy. For some, his absence was reminiscent of his failure to attend the somber homecoming of the SAF 44 last January. For others, his behavior was in stark contrast to his rushing to the posh Serendra 2 shortly after an explosion there on May 31, 2013.

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.org

It is hard to ignore the reality that the man does have a problem emphatizing, much less sympathizing, with the lower classes. Attending wakes of the well to do is something he does regularly, but when it came to that of Jennifer Laude, the transgender woman slain by a US marine, he stayed away, giving as his excuse that he did not attend the funerals of people he did not know. Is the same elite syndrome at work again?

A Pro-Management, Anti-Worker Administration

Perhaps Aquino has not appeared in Valenzuela out of a subliminal avoidance of the terrible truth that the Kentex factory fire symbolizes: the anti-worker stance that his administration and those of his predecessors have followed over the last three decades.

Talking to a group of 30 survivors on Friday afternoon, the fruits of the entrenched pro-management posture of the government were much in evidence. Most of the 72 workers who died were trapped on the second floor. The fire started by the sparks from a welding job landing on drums of combustible chemicals snaked up the main exit from the first floor. Driven to the rear, the workers found no other exit and were consumed by the flames. The 45 or so who survived nearly did not make it: on the first floor, they got out only because they accidentally found the key to a locked rear door lying on a table.

The survivors unanimously attested to the fact that they had not received instructions in case of fire and not undergone fire drills, nor were they aware of any safety inspectors visiting the factory. Yet in her first response to the fire, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the factory had passed safety inspections in September 2014.

The obviously lax enforcement of safety regulations is not accidental. It stems from the state’s stance of going easy on capitalists since they are seen to be the source of growth, wealth, and jobs.

Neoliberalism and Cheap Labor

Neoliberalism, or a philosophy that would eliminate as much regulation of capital as possible, was also evident in the work force of Kentex, a firm owned by Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs that produced “Havanas” or flipflops and other footwear for the domestic market and for export. According to the survivors, some 20 per cent of the work force were contractual workers or “pakyawan,” including some minors brought in by their mothers to earn some extra money for the family for the summer. They received 202 pesos for a day’s work, or less than half the current minimum wage for the national capital region.

Another 40 to 60 per cent were people recruited by an agency, CJC Manpower Services. While these non-unionized workers received the minimum daily wage of 481 pesos, the agency skimmed off the required social security, Philhealth, and Pag-ibig benefits provided by the employer. “Hindi kami hinuhulugan” was the angry response of the survivors when I raised the issue. “They don’t pay our monthly installments.”

At the most, 20 per cent of the workers were regular workers who were members of a union. But as one of the union members himself volunteered, cynically, “We are a company union.”

A Decimated Working Class

The trend toward contractualization, pushed by local and foreign investors, accommodated by government, and legitimized by economists, has led to the disorganization and de-unionization of the labor force. Today, only about 10 per cent of the work force is organized, with one prominent labor leader admitting that, “Ironically, labor unions are not as politically strong today as during the dictatorial regime of President Marcos, when Blas Ople was Labor minister.”

In his last State of the Nation address on July 28 last year, the president boasted that there were only two cases of workers’ strikes in 2013 and only one in 2014. That the president considered this news as positive only showed how detached from workers’ reality he is, for the radical reduction of the number of strikes does not come from improving living standards but from the weakening of labor’s bargaining power owing to pro-management policies, government failure of enforce labor laws, and aggressive union-busting by employers.

Legislative efforts to reverse contractualization by limiting the number of workers a firm may hire to 20 per cent or less have either died in committee or failed to make it to the House floor in the last two Congresses. In a dialogue with labor leaders in 2013, Aquino himself said he opposed limits to contractualization since this would eliminate 10 million jobs. Challenged by the astonished labor leaders, the president could not name his source for his claim.

However, a growing number of economic analysts, like Jesus Felipe of the Asian Development Bank, are departing from this orthodox view. According to them, it is precisely the absence of a dynamic internal market owing to the lack of purchasing power by a large segment of the labor force that are doomed to low wages that accounts for the inability of the economic to achieve sustained take-off.

Some labor leaders see a silver lining in the Valenzuela tragedy. “The 72 lives lost were a terrible, terrible loss,” said Josua Mata, secretary general of the labor federation Sentro. “But if this tragedy brings to the national consciousness the unacceptable state to which management and government have reduced our workers and inaugurates an era of reform, then their sacrifice might not be in vain.”

One can only hope he is right.

*Until his resignation from the House of Representatives two months ago owing to differences with the Aquino administration, Walden Bello chaired the House Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs and was one of the principal authors of the Security of Tenure Bill.

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[People] The power problem: a Shell-driven crisis by Walden Bello

Afterthoughts
The power problem: a Shell-driven crisis
Walden Bello
Inquirer.net
November 22, 2014

When Malacañang asked Congress for emergency powers to address a power crisis that it expected in the summer months of 2015, the impression given was that the country was facing a massive demand that would outrun available supply. In its request, the administration invoked Article 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira), which states that the chief executive, “upon determination of a shortage of supply of electricity, may ask Congress for authority through a joint resolution, to establish additional generating capacity under such terms and conditions as it may approve.”

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.org

Not surprisingly, both the public and lawmakers felt that indeed the country would be facing a national emergency come early 2015.

Crying Wolf

However, from the hearings conducted by the House Committee on Energy on October 19 and November 18, the officials of the Department of Energy (DOE) were forced to admit that: 1) the so-called crisis was based not on projections that the demand for electricity in the period would exceed supply or available capacity but that meeting the peak demand would cut into and bring down the required reserves of electric power that must be maintained; and 2) that what would bring down reserves below the critical level would be the shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas fields for maintenance from mid-March to mid-April 2015.
Malampaya’s gas feeds into into three Luzon power generators–Sta. Rita, San Lorenzo, and Ilijan–so that a shutdown from maintenance would withdraw over 1000 MW of installed capacity.

While the Department of Energy has factored unexpected power outages in its projection of power supply, the key factor behind the expected shortfall is Malampaya’s temporarily going out of commission for maintenance and upgrading by its operator, Shell Inc.

A Shell-driven artificial crisis

Thus, as the House hearings revealed, the so-called crisis was not one of demand exceeding supply but one brought about by the decision of a transnational corporation to conduct its maintenance at the time of the year when demand is greatest, thus creating an artificial deficit not in available generating capacity, as the public was led to believe, but in required regulating reserves. Moreover, the deficit in required reserves would disappear if Shell were to move its maintenance to later in the year, when peak demand would be lower and more capacity would come onstream with new power plants becoming operational.

In response to questions from members of the Committee, DOE personnel said that, in fact, the scheduled maintenance could take place later in the year, as in November or December. Shell, however, wanted to undertake maintenance in March and April, when the seas are reportedly calmer.

This did not strike some members of the Committee as a good excuse, since the last time Shell did maintenance on Malampaya was during the latter part of the year, from November to December 2013. Moreover, for an oil company that is used to doing maintenance and expansion work in the most adverse conditions in the Arctic and the North Sea, having rough seas does not count as an excuse. Pressed, DOE personnel admitted that the executive could in fact tell Shell to conduct its upgrading and maintenance later in the year, and that Shell, in fact, admitted this.

So why could the DOE not press Shell to do its maintenance work on Malampaya at a more suitable time for the country that would eliminate the need for giving the president emergency powers to fill a projected reserves deficit? The question did not receive a satisfactory answer, though DOE Secretary Jericho Petilla did make a contorted effort to explain. Shell’s presence at the hearings could have given lawmakers a chance to come to the root of the problem, but for some reason the request made by the legislators for the DOE to have Shell present at the Nov 18 hearing was not acted upon. They then voted without having heard a word from what one congressman characterized as the invisible but most critical actor in the whole affair.

A triumvirate of foreign players

Shell is not the only transnational giant whose behavior has had a negative bearing on our energy security. Indonesian-owned Meralco will be at the center of the Interruptible Load Program (ILP) that will provide the substitute generating capacity withdrawn from the grid during should the House grant the president emergency powers. Under ILP, enterprises that have their own generating sets will voluntarily withdraw from the grid so as to allow other consumers access to power that would otherwise go to them. Since it distributes some 70 per cent of electricity in Luzon, it is unavoidable that Meralco, one of the most abusive monopolies in the country, will be a key player and thus be one of the recipients of the massive government subsidy for private sector participants that the proposed law would authorize to put the ILP system in place.

To Shell and Meralco as foreign players with a negative impact on our power system, one must add the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), which operates the National Transmission Corporation that monopolizes the transmission of electric power throughout the archipelago. NGCP is a private entity that is controlled by a Chinese state firm, the State Grid Corporation of China. During the hearings, conflict between the DOE and the NGCP broke out in the open when the DOE complained about the lack of accurate data on power capacity from NGCP.

The secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) earlier complained about the very slow transfer of technology from Chinese operators to Filipino technicians in the system operator. Most important is the question: with our country having serious territorial dispute with the People’s Republic of China in the West Philippine Sea, is it acceptable from the perspective of national security that our transmission grid is in the hands of a Chinese state corporation that responds primarily to the interests of the Chinese state?

This possibility might presently be remote, but one cannot discount a scenario wherein on orders from Beijing, NGCP could literally bring the country to its knees owing to its monopoly over power transmission.

The real challenge

The debate over the granting of emergency powers to the president has not only exposed the unhealthy impact of foreign entities on our energy security; it has also revealed the vastly diminished role of the government in managing the national energy system.

Planning has fallen by the wayside, with the government now reliant on individual corporate players’ plans, based on profitability, to introduce new generating capacity to meet rising national demand. Secretary Petilla admitted as much when he said the ability to meet rising demand was dependent on private players’ promises on when their new units would go online. Indeed, the government’s ability to forecast demand is now largely dependent on data provided by private sector players.

What we are experiencing is the fiasco brought about by the indiscriminate grant to the private sector of most of the power to manage and operate the country’s energy system by Epira. Epira is a domestic monument to the illusions of privatization that were shredded by the global economic crisis that began in 2008.

Instead of more efficiency, lower prices, and more competition, Epira has delivered higher prices, oligopoly, and a less efficient system.

Replacing or fundamentally amending the dysfunctional Epira is what Congress should be doing, not addressing an artificial crisis created by a foreign transnational. Unfortunately, the likely result of what is now the inevitable granting of emergency powers to the president will be to delay even more addressing the central challenge to meeting our energy security. I am willing to bet that despite much populist rhetoric from members of Congress, the 16th Congress will not tackle Epira reform.

*Walden Bello represents Akbayan in the House of Representatives, where he is a member of the Committee on Energy.

Source: http://opinion.inquirer.net/80348/the-power-problem-a-shell-driven-crisis#ixzz3JniFxAiM
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[From the web] Hon. Walden Bello: Justice for Cocoy Tulawie, Uphold Human Rights in Mindanao -MPC

Hon. Walden Bello: Justice for Cocoy Tulawie, Uphold Human Rights in Mindanao

Prof. Walden Bello visiting Cocoy at the Davao City Police Office on March 9, 2012 -Photo by MPC

Prof. Walden Bello visiting Cocoy at the Davao City Police Office on March 9, 2012 -Photo by MPC

June 5, 2012 – Prof. Walden Bello, AKBAYAN Party-list Representative delivered a privileged speech at the Congress on Cocoy Tulawie case. Below is the full text of his speech:

“It is alarming how the legal mantra “innocent until proven guilty” holds no water in some parts of the country. In fact, we are confronted with the reality that sees human rights advocates jailed and prosecuted as criminals by precisely the same people that they try to call to account. We are confronted with the reality that human rights defenders, even as they fight for the rights of others, must prove their innocence to be cleared of guilt. Clearly, the culture of impunity persists. And this culture allows for members of political and economic powerhouses to violate the rights of ordinary Filipinos, and quash voices of dissent with an even more severe force against transparency, accountability and democracy. This culture creates a vicious cycle and it targets those who lay their life on the line to empower people to live a life of dignity.

MPC

Human rights groups have observed the increasing criminalisation of human rights defenders across the country. In a report by the International Peace Observers Network (IPON), elites have systematically filed criminal cases against advocates and this has been particularly effective in silencing those who try to claim what is rightfully theirs. This effort is employed by elites across the board, from issues of land reform and the redistribution of agricultural lands to the tillers, to issues of peace and stemming the tide of violence in political hotspots like ARMM.

A very important illustration of the human rights predicament we are in is the case of Sulu human rights defender Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie. Today, Mr. Tulawie languishes in jail for standing up against the abuses of local government officials; he is in jail for a crime whose witnesses already admitted to having been forced to make false testimonies against him.

All this begs the question, who is Mr. Tulawie and what has he done to earn the ire of local powerful and influential local interests?

Mr. Tulawie is a leader in the human rights movement in Sulu. Through his organization, Bawgbug, Cocoy led the protests against violations against the dignity and life of ordinary Filipinos. He sought to make local government leaders and the military accountable for their abuse of power. In particular, he spoke vehemently against human rights violations incurred by the military in its attempt to contain the Abu Sayyaf and has called for investigations of the same. To protect individual liberties and take a stand against institutionalized discriminatory religious profiling, he led the opposition to the plan to impose an ID system in Sulu. He has likewise raised his voice against the increasing incidence of gang rapes and sexual violence against women that involved sons of influential families and the Civilian Emergency Forces in Sulu at a time when the local government would rather sweep the incidences under the rug. He also openly engaged and criticized Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan for the warrantless arrests and the violation of civil liberties that ensued during the 2009 State of Emergency in Sulu.

Read full article @www.mpc.org.ph

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[People] The human face of Philippine poverty. By Fr. Shay Cullen

The human face of Philippine poverty
By Fr. Shay Cullen

Reggie is the human face of poverty in the Philippines. He and his family lived on the edge of total poverty until typhoon Haiyan pushed him and his family into absolute poverty this November 2013. He is a 17 year-old jobless youth whose home was taken away by the 245 kilometer per hour wind. Then, his dignity was taken away by human traffickers who forced him and six other youth from Cebu into unpaid labor on a fishing boat and then abandoned them hungry and unpaid. Then he sunk into even greater poverty when his freedom and human rights were taken from him by the authorities when they jailed him for being a vagrant. He was rescued from illegal imprisonment recently.

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But the one image that haunts me is that of Edgar. One of the poorest of the poor and typical of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos is Edgar, a street boy, skinny, emaciated skeletal, the human no one wants to look at. He was found wounded on the street. He had in his possession one pair of shorts to cover his otherwise naked body. He had nothing else in this world. A reality so shocking where the obese are more numerous than the 1.2 billion poor that live on less than US$2 a day.

The Philippines, with its towering condominiums, wealth and opulence of the ruling elite is the poorest nation of Asia for its population size. It is the one country that has not made progress in reducing poverty unlike other Asian countries despite economic growth that only benefits the rich.

There are 29 million Filipinos living below the poverty line based on figures released by the government statistics office. The population is more or less 105 million and 27.9 percent in 2013 are living below the poverty line. This is almost the same as it was four to seven years ago. Walden Bello in his writings Afterthoughts says that the rest of the world has made great improvement since 2005 to 2008 in reducing poverty as the World Bank declared, “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.”

The Philippines has not made any such strides and the roots of poverty are found in the concentration of economic and fiscal power in the hands of a few powerful families. Debt is a tool of control. Getting poor countries into debt was a deliberate policy by rich nations to have economic and political influence over developing nations by ensnaring them in webs of foreign debt administered by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Other developing nations began to resist the power and control that the developed nations exercised over them by the chains of debt.

The worldwide campaign to cancel debt succeeded in exposing this tactic and nations refused to pay or had it restructured and changed economic policy for one that gave real freedom and growth that favoured the poor. But the Philippine elite, forever subservient, made debt servicing their obedient obligation. This slavery to the debt masters consumes as much as twenty five percent of the national budget leaving little for other investments in infrastructure and rural development where the majority of the poor live.

The Philippines has remained enmeshed in the debt trap and makes no effort to throw it off. The Philippine government and their backers are clinging to an economic ideology that allows multinationals to exploit the economy and natural resources and makes them all richer and the rest of the nation poorer. The Philippine Congress passed mining laws for example, that gave the international mining corporations unprecedented privileges that many claim are unconstitutional. They destroy the environment with open pit excavations, cut forests causing landslides and disasters and entire villages and communities are uprooted and driven into poverty. Last week, truck loads of fresh cut forest logs came from Tangub, in Northern Mindanao heading for Molave. More evidence of this very corrupt practice going on in public view.

The poor are driven from the impoverished countryside to urban slums where their children, some as young as 13 years old end up in the sex trade exploited by local and foreign sex tourists with government leaders allowing it and profiting from the outrage. Tourism is more fun in the Philippines, they say.

Poverty is allowed to grow by the greed of the dynastic families that hold a monopoly of political power backed by the military. They passed laws that allowed members of Congress to have huge lump sums of money from the national treasury for their so-called projects in their constituencies. However, most of it was siphoned off into their private accounts through fake projects. The scandal has dominated the headlines for months as one sordid revelation of corruption at the highest levels follows another.

Meanwhile, in a desperate effort to meet the UN millennium goals to reduce poverty, the government has been implementing the Conditional Cash Transfer Program. This hand out project, despite its shortcomings, is helping to prevent poor urban families from falling into abject poverty. It’s a temporary life jacket to keep them afloat in an ocean of deprivation and hunger. What is needed is a pro-poor economic policy change that will put job creation for the poor and land distribution (with support), at the center of economic policy.

This will help create a strong lower and middle class with spending power that will, in turn, create more employment. The wealth will be distributed instead of concentrating among a few at the top. The Philippines will remain among the most backward and poorest of nations unless there’s a dedicated pro-poor government in power and that is not likely in the foreseeable future.

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[People] Post-2015 Development Assessment: Proposed goals and indicators By Walden Bello

Post-2015 Development Assessment: Proposed goals and indicators
By Walden Bello

from my latest piece, “Post-2015 Development Assessment: Proposed goals and indicators,” which appears in Development, 2013, 56(1), (93–102) © 2013 Society for International Development 1011-6370/13 http://www.sidint.net/development/

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.org

In this article, we argue that the MDG process, which has played a vital role in helping create a global intolerance for high levels of poverty, inequality and marginalization, must be complemented by a development assessment exer- cise that is focused on the structural factors preventing development and poverty reduction from taking place on a sustained basis. Such an exercise, we contend, must rest on a paradigm that has a critical component and a prescriptive com- ponent. The absence of such a paradigm is what limited the usefulness of the MDG exercise.

While mainly external in origin, these structures articulate with internal structures and forces to create stubborn obstacles to reform. Corporate-driven globalization facilitated by neoliberal ideo- logical prescriptions has been the central cause of the spread of poverty and the entrenchment of inequality, the most important dimension of which is inequality among countries. Fundamentally, what the world has been traversing in recent years is a crisis of capitalism caused by its tendency towards overproduction or excess capacity.

Development assessment must, however, be based not only on a critique but on a paradigm of
development that contains the goals or features of an economy that is considered desirable from the point of view of equity and sustainability.

While there are many important features of such an economy, the assessment proposed here focuses on seven dimensions for which indicators are suggested. These seven dimensions are climate stabilization, financial reregulation, inequal ity reduction, food security, decommodification, social protection, and industrialization.

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[Press Release] Suspension of pork must lead to its abolition -Akbayan

Suspension of pork must lead to its abolition

akbayan_logo

Akbayan Partylist today said President Benigno Simeon Aquino’s decision to suspend the release of the pork barrel fund “must lead to its total and unconditional abolition.”

“We welcome President Aquino‘s decision to suspend the release of the pork barrel to lawmakers until the probe on the pork barrel scam is completed. This decision effectively abolishes the pork barrel since any effort to restore it will meet massive public opposition,” according to Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello.

“The decision also serve as a strong disincentive to many rascals who are entertaining running for Congress. We hope that suspension of the pork will not be a substitute for punishing those senators and congressmen who were Napoles‘ accomplices. They must go to jail,” Bello said.

However, Bello reminded the President that the suspension of the release of the pork barrel must lead to its complete phase-out.

“Suspension must lead to abolition. While the President has already categorically stated that he is not in favor of abolishing the pork barrel, we will not relent in persuading him to drop the pork. President Aquino must go further and scrap the PDAF completely,” Bello said.

Source: akbayan.org.ph

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[In the news] Why an independent probe into ‘OFW sexploitation’ is a must | ABS-CBN News

Why an independent probe into ‘OFW sexploitation’ is a must | ABS-CBN News.

by Jon Carlos Rodriguez, ABS-CBNnews.com

June 22, 2013

ABS-CBN_News_&_Current_Affairs.png

MANILA – Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello on Saturday reiterated the need to form an independent body that will probe allegations of prostitution and molestation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by labor officials in the Middle East.

Bello said investigations conducted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) may not be credible because their personnel are involved in the accusations.

Malacañang earlier said the DFA is already looking into the allegations, and that foreign affairs officials can be trusted.

But Bello believes this is “bad advice.”

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[People] When authority is perverse, abuse is rife. by Fr. Shay Cullen

When authority is perverse, abuse is rife.
Fr. Shay Cullen

19 June 2013

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It’s all about power and fear. Several impoverished, abused, cheated and beaten Filipino female workers taking shelter in Middle Eastern Philippine embassies have been allegedly sexually assaulted and prostituted by some corrupt and depraved embassy officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to Walden Bello, the sociologist turned Congressman in a press conference in Manila recently. He named two of the officials and gave the nick-name of a third. Yet many more have been involved in this despicable and criminal activity and dozens of young women have been violated.

They are vulnerable, lonely, isolated in a foreign country, and victims of physical and sexual abuse by their foreign employers. They escaped and ran for help and shelter to the Philippine embassies in Jordan, Syria and Kuwait. These young women, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), are totally dependent on the Embassy officials when they take them into the embassy shelter with promises that the Philippine Government would protect and repatriate them.

Instead of being helped, many of them were subjected to humiliating and shameful sexual exploitation by corrupt and depraved officials themselves. Not only were they forced to perform sexual acts with some officials, but they were sold into sexual slavery in the city from which the embassy officials earned a lot of money.

Representative Walden Bello told a news conference that his source is a high official of the Department of Foreign affairs and he named names. The young victims were too scared and helpless to resist the power of the government officials. Just imagine what most likely went on in the embassy shelters to coerce and threaten them into submission and docility. They likely received threats of dire punishment if they told anyone about it.

Imagine it might have happened like this to a fictional young woman named Rosa.

Embassy Official in a closed embassy room: “Rosa, I will help you get home to the Philippines, you can earn some money, just let’s have a little fun first.”

Rosa tries to resist: “No, no, please don’t touch me, leave me alone, that’s what the evil employer did to me; he raped me, don’t, don’t.”

Official, pulling an angry stern face: “You are here under my power, if you don’t do as I say, I will send you back out to your employer and the authorities, you will be on the street without documents or passport, do you understand? You will be arrested and jailed.”

Rosa: “Please sir, don’t do that, I want to go home I have not seen my family for years, I have nothing, no money, no job, no food. I have been cheated, robbed and raped, please don’t cancel my air ticket”.
She was by now crying and howling, tears streaming down her face but the official seemed to be aroused by her distress and moved to sexually exploit her.

Most of the Embassy employees had to know about it, but remained silent or worse, may have been involved too. Why did they not blow the whistle and come to the rescue of the women? Their silence can only be understood as approval, or they were silenced by threats and fear. A culture of fear of higher authority can overpower the moral values of even a strongest and most spiritual person. Courage and belief in human dignity and rights and know how to get help is what is needed.

The young women are silent also, fear has a paralyzing power to subjugate and render people unable to resist or speak against the exploiter or abuser. Some government authority figures have an arrogant sense of superiority; they tend to trivialize sexual crimes.

The worst part of all this is that the suffering victims are treated as if they are an enemy, a hostile ungrateful beneficiary out to hurt the man. We can imagine an arrogant rapist official scolding his abused victim.

“You are an ungrateful brat, no better than a prostitute, you should feel honored that I, an important official and your superior, would lower myself to have sex with the likes of you, an impoverished non-person. You should be grateful for the help we have for you here instead of protesting and complaining”.

Such depravity and criminality leaves the normal person breathless, angry and bewildered. But for those in positions of power and ascendency whether it be government, church or in the family, the abuse of power by threats of dire punishment against the weak and helpless creates deeply held fear.

The poor know the rich and powerful can murder and rape with impunity. For the powerful, it seems an entitlement, a privilege of power. The senior Philippine embassy officials in Jordan, Syria and Kuwait have been recalled to answer the complaints. Not before their time.

E-mail shaycullen@preda.org, letters send to: St. Columban’s, Widney Manor road, Solihull, B93 9AB, UK.

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Universe, The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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[People] FOI: Waiting for the Hail Mary Pass By Walden Bello

FOI: Waiting for the Hail Mary Pass By Walden Bello
Philippine Daily Inquirer
January 25, 2013

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.orgWhile the Senate has passed the Freedom of Information Bill (before its members descended into a deadly knife-fight), the House of Representatives still has to bring the FOI bill to the plenary for debate.

Why the bill seems to be headed for a fiasco similar to what happened to it on the last day the 14th Congress, when a quorum call was made to scuttle its ratification, is traced by some of the bill’s advocates to the lack of enthusiasm for it on the part of key players in the House and Malacanang. Others fault the majority of House members, who, they say, would much rather engage in early electoral campaigning than attend session to assure a quorum.

Whatever the reasons, the bill’s sponsors in the House are still hanging on to the Speaker’s observation that in that chamber, “things usually come together in the last three days.”

At this juncture, here are some thoughts, of a more reflective, theoretical kind, on the importance of having a Freedom of Information Act.

The state predates democracy, and at the heart of the state is the bureaucracy. Thus it is not surprising that the development of the modern state has been marked by a struggle between the bureaucratic principle and the democratic principle. In the Philippines, we embraced democracy as our principle of governance, but the Philippine state at independence also carried the baggage of the authoritarian bureaucratic state of the Spanish and American colonial periods.

Public information has been one of the battlefields between bureaucracy and democracy. Bureaucracy thrives on secrecy. For authoritarian bureaucrats, secrecy is essential to their practice of governance from the top. From their perspective, the less the people know, the better for governance and public order.

The democratic revolution turned this authoritarian maxim on its head. The more people knew, the better they could govern themselves. The practices of bureaucracy, however, die hard, and bureaucratic elites have been loath to yield knowledge, for they realize that knowledge is power, and the less the masses know, the less powerful they are.

This is why democracy is a constant struggle not only for self-government, but for transparency, for gaining knowledge of the affairs of the state without which citizens cannot effectively govern themselves. This is why the fight for the Freedom of Information Act is a necessary step in the struggle for a mature democratic state. This is why transparency is intertwined with democracy. This is why authoritarian elites fear transparency, for they are, at heart, suspicious of and fear democracy.

With the passage of the FOI Act, the Philippines will join the ranks of the 95 countries that Wikipedia claims now have Freedom of Information legislation. Many of these countries became democracies later than the Philippines, yet some of these late-democratic states have overtaken us and become more mature democracies than we are.

Passing the bill is our passport to joining the ranks of mature democracies. Not passing it means we remain in the company of bureaucratic authoritarian states like the People’s Republic of China, which have erected non-transparency as a principle of their systems of authoritarian governance.

The bureaucratic elite says that the FOI will compromise national security. On the contrary, it will make the Philippine Republic a stronger republic. The bureaucrats say the FOI will make it hard for them to govern. On the contrary, it will force officials to govern correctly and without the seduction of corruption, which thrives in the dark. The bureaucrats say the FOI is not necessary. On the contrary, without the transparency that the FOI sheds on the affairs of state, our democracy will eventually come under threat.

In football, there is a phenomenon called the “Hail Mary pass,” a long, desperate pass in the last few seconds that results in a winning goal. Will the quarterback finally unleash that pass to the many receivers waiting to score the touchdown for FOI that will be one of the crowning glories of the 15th Congress?

*INQUIRER.net columnist Walden Bello is a member of the House of Representatives. He can be reached at waldenbello@yahoo.com.

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[People] Agrarian reform and the urban illusion By Walden Bello

Agrarian reform and the urban illusion By Walden Bello
INQUIRER.net
January 11, 2013

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.orgThere 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.

Productivity and Justice

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 is the reason the land reform program has lost the dynamism it regained when the CARPER law was passed in 2009.

It seems that the dominant view in the administration is that agricultural development is principally a productivity issue and not a social justice concern, that what is important is making the investments in physical infrastructure, marketing, and credit that will unleash the potential of agricultural entrepreneurs. The problem with this perspective is that production cannot be separated from justice. The main element that would unleash the productive potential of our millions of farmers is security of tenure over their land. Moreover, poverty-stricken tenant farmers and rural workers who have long been in the chains of feudal relations need assistance from government to be transformed into vibrant small farmers responding to market incentives. You do not create farmer entrepreneurs overnight. This is why Section 13 of CARPER provided that at least forty percent (40%) of all appropriations for agrarian reform during the five (5) year extension period would be immediately set aside and made available for support services. If there is one thing we can learn from the experiences of successful agrarian reform in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, it is that land redistribution, secure property rights, and production assistance or subsidies for support services make up the formula for a dynamic agricultural sector. The absence of one of these factors is what torpedoed many other land reform efforts in the Philippines and elsewhere.

Focusing on the City

But the problem goes beyond a narrow focus on productivity on the part of some administration technocrats. Much development thinking in the country today is centered on improving the atmosphere for business activities in the city, promoting the dynamism of the real estate industry, supporting the growth of financial services, and attracting more investment in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO’s) activities. It is on servicing the needs of a growing globalized middle class. In this mindset, agriculture is an afterthought, and food security is one that can be met with increased imports. In this paradigm, the over 50 per cent of the people that live in the countryside are not regarded as a dynamic source of development, the main engine of which is seen to lie in urban economic activities fuelled by foreign investment and OFW remittances. From this perspective, the bulk of the population that remains in agriculture is “excess baggage” constituting a drag on economic takeoff.

Urban Real Estate as Source of Wealth

But the neglect of agriculture is not simply a development paradigm problem. The truth of the matter is that the most dynamic sectors of our economic elite have lost interest in agriculture as a source of wealth. As sociologist Kenneth Cardenas argues, “Filipino capitalists are going back to land as a source of wealth, but instead of using it as a base for a rural, cash-crop-oriented economy, it is being used for urban development.” The highest rate of returns on investment come from shopping malls, office buildings, and middle and upper class housing. Yet even as the most energetic sectors of the upper class have moved into urban real estate development, seeking to capture demand for housing fueled by the billions of dollars in OFW remittances, their less enterprising brethren cling on to rural land, less and less for production and more and more for speculation or security. Increasingly, it is mainly small producers and rural workers that have an interest in making a living from farming, and even large numbers of them are abandoning the countryside for what they see as the lack of opportunities owing to continuing inequalities and the absence of incentives. Their logic is compelling: better to take your chances in Saudi Arabia than scratch a living from land from which you can get evicted any time.

It is a big mistake to write off the countryside instead of seeing it as a central source of economic dynamism–one that can be a key engine of our economy if its base were a population of prosperous small farming families. The aim of agrarian reform, one must remind our production-oriented policymakers, is not only to achieve social justice but to creative the incentives that will make agriculture a vibrant trigger of economic development and avoid the emergence of a lopsided urban-driven economy. Indeed, one can go further and say that without a just settlement in the countryside, not only will urban-driven development be economically unsustainable; it will continually be threatened by political instability spawned by protracted injustice in the countryside. The generation of farmers that won the struggle for CARP and CARPER may be succeeded by a younger generation angered by the failure of its implementation.

It is an illusion to think that the countryside will remain quiet for long.

*INQUIRER.net columnist Walden Bello is a representative of Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party) in the House of Representatives. He can be reached at waldenbell@yahoo.com.

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[People] The historic RH vote: How a democracy manages conflict over values By Walden Bello

The historic RH vote: How a democracy manages conflict over values By Walden Bello
INQUIRER.net
December 15, 2012

Walden Bello word.world-citizenship.orgWhen the presiding officer, Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III, arrived at my name and asked for my vote during the historic House of Representatives’ vote on the Reproductive Health Bill last Wednesday night, December 12, I replied in the affirmative and walked towards the rostrum to explain my vote.

He then posed the standard question, “What is the pleasure of the gentleman from Akbayan?” To which I replied, “I hesitate to answer that question since ‘pleasure’ has become a controversial word during the last few days’ debate.”

It was my attempt to inject some humor into a proceeding that had become like a tense basketball game, where one team maintained a slight edge but could not quite pull away owing to the tenacity of the other side. Some of the other statements that evening drew more laughter than my intervention, probably because they were inadvertently funny, as when Rep. Thelma Almario of Surigao del Sur expressed her sanguine wish that “in my lifetime we will have enough Filipinos so we can ‘Filipinize’ the whole world.”

Or when Congressman Dong Gonzalez of Pampanga hoped his parents would know he had fulfilled their dying wish that he vote against the RH Bill “in case they’re now flitting around in this hall.”

Conflict of Values

Apart from such moments of light humor, the situation was deadly serious, and much of the country stayed glued to the voting via television or the internet. To many on both sides of the RH debate, the outcome of the vote would either be a national triumph or national tragedy. Unlike other major legislative encounters in the last few years, the RH debate was not over national security. Neither was it about clashing economic interests, nor about different political visions about the future of the country. It was about a clash of values or beliefs on key social relationships: the relationship of the state to the family, the relationship of the church to the state, and the responsibility of the State towards its citizens.

Many of the anti-RH legislators rose that historic evening to express the deep beliefs that informed their scorched earth efforts to block the bill till the very end. Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro and Rep. Pablo Garcia of Cebu claimed it was anti-constitutional because in their view, it was against life, the right to which is protected by the constitution. Rep. Amado Bagatsing said that between a church that was over 2000 years old and a state that was just a few decades old, he was taking the side of his church. Earlier in the RH debate, Bagatsing earned the distinction of claiming that “contraception is abortion.”

Yet the debate showed that conservatism on the use of contraceptives has its roots not only in religious conviction, but in personal circumstances. Not a few members recounted how they were part of poor large families—in the case of Congressman Dong Gonzalez, 12 siblings—where parents and children pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. Their message was if they could do it through hard work, why couldn’t other poor families, why should the state promote smaller families via the provision of contraceptives?

On the pro-RH side, the articulation of fundamental values was equally impassioned. These were the values mainly of the liberal tradition. For Rep. Edcel Lagman, whose 14-year-long leadership in promoting the bill will be remembered as a legislative epic, the key principle was the state’s right to “benignly intervene” in the reproductive area, as in other dimensions of individual and social life, to promote the collective interest. This intervention was being done in the service of free choice. Providing access to contraceptives to the poor was the liberal state’s way of assuring that couples could in fact exercise free and informed choice in deciding the size of their families and the spacing of their children.

Rep. Emmeline Aglipay of party Diwa spoke for many on the pro-RH side when she said she was casting her vote “for reason and against ignorance.” For Rep. Linbelle Ruth Villarica of Bulacan, the bill was a necessary step forward in the struggle for women’s rights and women’s welfare. Rep. Angelo Palmones said that by the time the legislators finished voting for the measure, another 14 women would have died owing to the maternal health complications addressed by the bill. Several said that the bill was not only pro-life, but “pro-quality of life” owing to its presumed effect on reducing poverty.

It was left up to two Mindanao legislators to bravely bring up the issue of population management, which the anti-RH side had made into a bogeyman, with their shrill warnings against “population control.” Rep. Tupay Loong of

Sulu asserted that uncontrolled population growth had become a hindrance to national development and necessitated action on the part of the state. In the view of Rep. Joey Zubiri of Bukidnon, the last congressman to speak, the RH bill was necessary because “population growth has become the number one national security problem” that had to be addressed by the state.

Democracy and Value Clashes

Coming out of Wednesday’s night debate, which saw the bill win by a vote of 113 to 104, with three abstentions, I can only be grateful that we have a democratic process whose rules are internalized by most Filipinos, particularly the principle that the majority rules.

Conficts over basic values often turn into bloody wars. Take the wars of the reformation in 17th century Europe or the current fundamentalist-instigated conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the rules of representative democracy have not taken hold. We may have fundamentalists on the anti-RH side, but thank god, they believe in the rules of democracy.

Hopefully, the third reading of the RH bill will proceed smoothly in the House and the Senate will approve its version next week, so we can a bill that can be reconciled and ratified early in January and ready for the president’s signature.

History

I will look back with pride to the 15th Congress that passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Bill. Indeed, even if no other bill I am associated were to be passed in this Congress, the victory of this long overdue measure, which will enable our country to have greater capacity to confront the challenges of the 21st century, will be enough to bring me immense satisfaction.

It was probably this sense of history-in-the-making and his wish to be part of it that made one of my colleagues, notorious for his absenteeism, to emerge out of the woodwork to vote for the bill. Hopefully, he won’t vanish again.

INQUIRER.net columnist Walden Bello represents the party Akbayan in the House of Representatives.

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[Press Release] Likas-Yaman caravan: Pass the Alternative Minerals Management Bill!

Likas-Yaman caravan: Pass the Alternative Minerals Management Bill!

IPs, farmers, fisherfolks and church leaders bring their calls before the 15th Congress

Two thousand supporters from communities in Metro Manila joined the 350-strong leaders of indigenous communities, farmers, fisherfolks and church leaders and marched towards the House of Representatives to call on legislators to pass the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB).

Today is the last day of a 4-day caravan, which started last October 14 from Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya and culminates today. Part of the whole day program will be a stopover at the House of Representatives to have a dialogue with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. and at the same time hold a creative action outside.

The dialogue is in time for the deliberation and consolidation of the minerals management bills currently lodged at the House Committee on Natural Resources set to be discussed and adopted this afternoon.

Long-time champions of AMMB – Reps. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Carlos Padilla, Kaka Bag-ao, Walden Bello, Rufus Rodriguez, and Erin Tañada will be joining the representatives of the contingent in the dialogue.

“I call on my fellow legislators to urgently pass the alternative minerals management bill that would repeal the Mining Act of 1995,” Rep. Baguilat said. He further reiterates, “it is time to correct the historical injustices committed against indigenous peoples and give due justice to their struggles. We should throw away our long standing colonial framework in mineral extraction and institute a rational needs-based mineral governance that would cater to our sustainable development.”

Carmen Ananayo, an IP woman from Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya, also said that the passage of AMMB is pro-women because with mining, violence in affected communities escalates and the indigenous women are the first to become victims of this aggression.

Apart from the passage of AMMB, the contingent also calls for the following: (1) revocation of the FTAAs of OceanaGold Philippines Inc for the Didipio Gold and Copper Project and SMI/Xstrata for the Tampakan Copper Gold Mining Project and (2) moratorium on all large-scale mining operations in the country.

After the dialogue with legislators, the contingent will meet more supporters from different stops (Sto. Domingo Parish, Welcome Rotonda and UST, España. From this point, the Likas-Yaman caravan contingent will march towards Malacañang in Mendiola with the aim of a dialogue with President Nonoy Aquino III.

The Mendiola program will start with a mass and continue with a cultural night.

SOS-Yamang Bayan Network is a national, multi-sectoral movement is composed of mining-affected communities, national peoples alliances, environmental organizations and networks, church-based organizations, human rights organizations, national NGOs, sectoral organizations from the indigenous peoples, youth, women, farmers, Congressional representatives, known leaders and personalities advocating for the repealing of the Mining Act of 1995 and the enactment of the Alternative Minerals Management Bill.

For more information, contact the SOS-Yamang Bayan Network Secretariat through
Gerry Arances, 0939.241.5575, gerry.arances@lrcksk.org
Farah Sevilla, 0915.331.3361, policy@alyansatigilmina.net

All submissions are republished and redistributed in the same way that it was originally published online and sent to us. We may edit submission in a way that does not alter or change the original material.

Human Rights Online Philippines does not hold copyright over these materials. Author/s and original source/s of information are retained including the URL contained within the tagline and byline of the articles, news information, photos etc.

 

[In the news] Overwhelming case for the RH bill -INQUIRER.net

Overwhelming case for the RH bill.

By Kaka Bag-ao, Teddy Baguilat Walden Bello and Kimi Cojuangco
Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 13, 2012

To its critics, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RH) bill is the devilish product of a foreign conspiracy. The principal plotters in this conspiracy are three: the United Nations, the goal of which is allegedly to legalize abortion; the United States, which seeks to control the populations of developing countries in line with the so-called Kissinger Doctrine; and “Big Pharma,” or the Western transnational firms that stand to make tremendous profits from the sale of contraceptives.

In this scenario painted by  anti-RH groups, the United Nations, United States and Big Pharma have somehow managed to bribe, intimidate or fool people like President Aquino, Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Santiago, Rep. Edcel Lagman and the over 100 authors of the RH bill in the House of Representatives to do their bidding.

How it has come about that some of the strongest critics of the United States and transnational corporations have been transmogrified into the latter’s stooges is unexplained, prompting some wags to liken the anti-RH plot line to that of the Hollywood film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Read full article @ opinion.inquirer.net

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