The dishrag calling the dust cloth dirty

January 15, 2012. A few days ago, a paper written by ex-President Gloria Arroyo entitled “It’s the economy, student!” was released to the public. In the piece, the ex-President went on great length to champion her economic programs on one hand and to and bash President Aquino for failing to ‘sustain’ the gains she boasts to have accomplished on the other.

What really is the fundamental difference between economic policies of the two? Nothing. President Aquino merely continues the same economic policies of President Arroyo.

Both Presidents’ economic programs adhere to the same dogma of neoliberal globalization. It’s the economy, all right–the economy of big businessmen, foreign investors and their local counterparts. Whether or not ordinary Filipinos benefit from such economic growth is merely incidental. They have a phrase for it–“trickle down” effect. Numbers that proclaim economic growth are rendered meaningless by the fact that poverty has continued to worsen over the decade, so much that the government had to re-define and lower the poverty threshold. The vision of economic prosperity and survival is entirely dependent on foreign investors and all the economic programs of President Aquino and his predecessors are aligned with the agenda of these monopoly capitalists and their local counterparts.

Both Presidents have pushed for the further privatization of public utilities by selling contracts to roads and other public services to private profiteers. Both administrations have strengthened the deregulation of industries imbued with public interest and rejected clamors to repeal the laws that allow such deregulation, from the oil industry (Oil Deregulation Law) to power generation and distribution (EPIRA) to education (Education Act of 1982), which have resulted to public services that are increasingly out of reach to ordinary Filipinos and are increasingly profitable to private corporations.

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Taking the side of neither bully in the school yard

January 5, 2012. Our involvement with the issue of the Chief Justice’s impeachment must not degenerate into taking sides from among the warring political factions of the government, for we must remember that what truly matters is the people’s welfare. Beyond all the cacophony of this political circus, the truth remains that both contending ruling cliques have their own vested agenda. The Aquino and the Arroyo groups have taken advantage and exploited this feud in order to portray themselves as heroes and saints while neither of them genuinely address the basic pursuit of social justice in the country.

To take side with either bully of the schoolyard is not a choice, it is a false dichotomy.

On one hand, if we are truly for judicial integrity and independence, we should welcome the opportunity for the Chief Justice to defend himself against allegations of partiality in an impeachment trial. We should caution against those who portray the impeachment of the Chief Justice as an attack against the Judiciary as an institution and paint several personalities as martyrs. Impeachment per se is not a breach of judicial independence. Impeachment is a mechanism for Congress to fulfill its check and balance function as representatives of the people. It is not a mere surplusage in our Constitution. Our Supreme Court Justices, highly esteemed by some of us as they may be, are not infallible demigods who are immune from scrutiny and criticism, and they remain to be public officials who are accountable to the people.

We should also welcome the impeachment as a step in holding accountable the past administration of former President Arroyo, for it is undeniable that while the Chief Justice is in power, the integrity and impartiality of all Supreme Court decisions with regard the Chief Justice’s former principal, to whom he has served as chief of staff and legal counsel, will be put into question. Judging the pattern of decisions and opinions of the Chief Justice, indeed his impartiality is in doubt.

On the other hand, we should also caution our support for such pursuit of judicial integrity by refusing to throw all our weight behind the Aquino clique, for it is readily apparent that this is a machination to consolidate all branches of government at his disposal, after a consistent pattern of Supreme Court decisions that run against the present administration’s interests, the final straw being that of the decision regarding Hacienda Luisita. Removing an Arroyo-appointed Chief Justice opens the golden opportunity for President Aquino to install his own. In that regard, we should also remain vigilant in the common pursuit of a Supreme Court that is truly an independent entity capable of dispensing legal matters with fairness and justice.

At the end of the day, while we are being made to watch this political circus the prevailing fact remains, President Aquino has no clear program of action to resolve the root causes of massive poverty and injustice in the Philippines but a rehash the same old bankrupt economic framework and political policies of his predecessors, including former President Arroyo. All President Aquino has to show for, laudable as it may be, is a smokescreen of anti-corruption rhetoric. Such is merely a staged showdown between his administration and Arroyo’s which does not address the basic problems of the people. After all, in the final analysis, how different are the two cliques from each other?

* with reference to former President Arroyo’s infamous line in response to critics: “I’m tired of chasing the bullies around the schoolyard!”

[This is a statement I wrote for the Civil Law Student Council of UST with regard to the political issue of the Chief Justice’s impeachment trial]

Budgets, budgets

The past week had been spent largely reading through the 2010 budget proposals of the government and its various departments and agencies. It can get frustrating and confusing, for someone who’s not used to reading accounting sheets and pages full of numbers. After a few days of flipping through the pages and scrutinizing the items, one will eventually get used to it. It is imperative, too, to look at the budget figures over the past years and at government policy declarations, to track the trend of government priorities as reflected in the money it is willing to spend on certain services and projects.

I was focused on writing a budget briefer and interpellation guide for the budget of the state universities and colleges. I wrote about some of my observations in a brief blog entry yesterday. It’s pretty disheartening when one realizes how much money the President has at his/her disposal and discretion. It now becomes more clear to me why politicians are willing to spend billions, even kill, to be President. So much money, so much money.

This week, the budget deliberations in Congress continues. The 2010 budget is a budget that will not primarily be used by the Arroyo administration, since it will end by June 2010. I’m not sure what to make of the enthusiasm then, of pro-Arroyo policy makers and congressmen, when they defend the budget proposals. Do they still think it is their budget? That will only happen if, by some peculiar chance the administration ticket wins, or… I don’t know, some plot is executed to preserve the ruling administration.

Contracting social services, bleeding the people dry

It has always been a priority for the Arroyo administration to “balance the budget”–meaning, to decrease the gap between government revenues and government spending. In plain reading, this is good. Trimming the budget deficit should mean less borrowing, and eventually more money for health, education and other social services. However, the goal of balancing the budget under the Arroyo administration, and even before, has always been to ensure the payment of our debt obligations, unfortunately at the expense of social services spending. To make matters for ordinary citizens worse, in order to balance the budget and earn more revenues, the government, for years, has always put a stress on consumer taxes (E-VAT, sin taxes, proposed text tax) instead of directly taxing corporations and high-income tycoons, instead of taxing imports or plugging the leaks from corruption.

In the age of trade liberalization and globalization, government would rather give rich foreign investors, high-income tycoons and importers tariff cuts, tax holidays and other tax incentives. Aside from taxing the consumer, government has also been selling its assets and privatizing services and public utilities in an effort to hide its poor and lopsided tax effort. This results to private companies concerned largely with profit and not with public service controlling public utilities. Thus, the high power and water rates we experience. When corruption and smuggling comes into the picture, we arrive at the terrible fiscal decay we find ourselves in. Ordinary people are being taxed dry, and yet social services are continuously deteriorating, and despite all these, our debt just keeps growing and growing. Below are some graphs that would illustrate the trend of the government in its budget proposals for the past years.

National Government’s Outstanding Debt Stock (1990-2010*)

National Government Spending Per Capita Per Day (1998-2010*)

graphs from IBON Foundation’s “2010 National Government Budget: Confirming GMA’s Legacy of Fiscal Decay” presentation (*estimated)

The second table just shows how much government has been spending on debt-servicing and selected social services per Filipino per day. For the 2010 Budget, the government will be spending P1.10 per Filipino per day on health, but would be spending P21.75 per Filipino per day on debt-servicing. This is one of the simplest way of showing what the government’s priorities are.

Law students against Cha-cha

We, law students from UP, UST, Lyceum, San Beda, PUP, Arellano, and San Sebastian, united by common ideals, do strongly voice out our opposition to charter change. As students of the law, we recognize the supremacy of the Constitution, the highest law of the land. On it hinges the legality or illegality of all other laws.

We also recognize that it is actually us, the people of the Philippines, who are the true authors of the Constitution, and as such, any move to amend or revise the Constitution should respect the will of the people of the Philippines.

We agree that the law only authorizes three methods of changing the charter, and that it is the intent of the framers of the Constitution that any amendments or revisions must still be ratified by the citizens, thus giving to the citizens a very important role in shaping the highest law of the land.

We generally have nothing against charter change, since it is provided for in the Constitution itself. What we are against is the suspect timing of such a move, which we believe is motivated by the political agenda of those involved, especially the ones who vehemently push for the approval of a Constituent Assembly.

We believe that all this commotion dwells too much on the procedural aspect of charter change, under the assumption that a Constituent Assembly is perfectly legal. Yet any move to change the charter should be done with pure intentions, for the greater good of the republic.

Charter change should not be done to prolong the terms of those currently in power, nor to prostitute our natural resources to the highest bidder, nor to grant absolute power to certain individuals or groups who have had a history of wielding their power for their own personal benefit.

We, the law students of UP, UST, Lyceum, San Beda, PUP, Arellano, and San Sebastian, have come together as an alliance, opposing vehemently all moves to change the Constitution, until such time that the people of the Philippines deem it right. And until then, we shall stand guard over the liberties of the Filipino people, defending those who are ignorant of the law from those who seek to take advantage of them.

Students walk out of classes vs. charter change

As much as I wanted to join the walk-out, I was apprehensive about missing my one class that afternoon. Excessive absences was, after all, a contributory reason as to why I had bad grades last semester. I was supposed to just pass by the AS Lobby and deliver a solidarity speech before going to class in Malcolm Hall.

When I got to the historic lobby, however, the entire hall was full of students in red shirts. A lot of them were new faces, freshmen perhaps. It’s a sight I’m honestly not used to seeing during regular mobilizations in UP. And it was enough to agitate me to join. Unfortunately, it was one of those days when I forget to bring my camera. I’ve lost the habit of always tagging it along with me wherever I go. In any case, posted below are pictures and a video coverage done by Bulatlat. There’s also a slide show of photos, at their site.

Here are photos from the simultaneous mobilization in Baguio, where hundreds of students also walked out of classes to protest against Gloria Arroyo’s charter change attempt. Photos by Ak Riva. Student groups from Cebu and Davao also participated in the nationwide protest action of the youth.

Perhaps it’s been said over and over again–Gloria Arroyo’s charter change does not address the plethora of problems that confront the youth. It does not provide a solution to the rising cost of education in the country, nor does it provide solutions to the crises that besiege not only the youth but different sectors of Philippine society. It even worsens the present conditions by intensifying the policies that have made the lives of Filipinos worse over the past decade, and, as I’ve mentioned, it only further intensifies the local and foreign exploitation of our national industries and our natural resources.

For me these are stronger reasons for us to reject, not only the current attempt at charter change, but any future proposals to liberalize the economic provisions of our constitution. I’m sure, even if we do have new leaders by next year, extraneous political forces will continue to lobby for these changes. Sure, we want Arroyo out by 2010, we want to select new leaders perhaps. But more to the desire to have an elections by 2010, we should also strive to preserve our sovereignty and dignity as a people.

Cha-cha beyond term extension motives

Changing the constitution of different countries worldwide has been in the agenda of the lobbying efforts of multinational financial institutions and corporations the past years, in an effort to open up their national patrimonies and natural resources to foreign exploitation and ownership.

If you think it’s all about the personal and political motives of our politicians, it’s worse than you think. All charter change attempts by all Philippine presidents after Corazon Aquino have a common motif–amendments to our nationalist economic provisions, to allow the wanton foreign exploitation of our natural resources and foreign ownership of our public utilities.

Even with the 1987 Philippine Constitution in place (and its 60-40 ownership restrictions in many national industries), the country’s rich natural resources have only been exploited, through legal loopholes, by local and foreign corporations for profit instead of serving its potential of lifting the millions of Filipinos who continue to suffer from abject poverty out of their tragic situation.

The current attempt at changing the Philippine Constitution will not only seek to extend the Arroyo administration’s hold on power, but will also legitimize the economic plunder of our country. All the more reasons to reject the Arroyo administration’s current attempt at Charter Change.

Faced with Recession, US at the Forefront of Amending RP Constitution

The latest report on Foreign Trade Barriers of March 2009 on the Philippines by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) explicitly states the “[aim to reduce or eliminate] the most important foreign barriers affecting US exports of good and services, foreign direct investment [and] intellectual property rights.”

Apart from Politics, Pressure from WTO, US, EU Drives Cha-Cha Bid

The political dimension of charter change has dominated the national agenda. But the constant driving force behind all the attempts since the last decade to modify the Constitution has been the external pressure coming mainly from the WTO, the US, the EU and other rich countries to create the sort of policy environment that will allow globalization to fully thrive in the Philippines.

US ‘Wish List’ vs Philippine Constitution Behind American Lobby for Cha-Cha

The Americans, like the Europeans, have an inventory of what they call “barriers” in the Philippine Constitution that they want the Arroyo regime to remove through constitutional amendments. Meanwhile, the Constitution will have to conform with the Jpepa, the Philippine-Japan agreement, not the other way around.

GMA Hires Pricey Foreign Consultant for Cha-Cha

On July 25, 2005, Mrs. Arroyo hired the lobbying and representation services of US-based Venable LLP, one of America’s top 100 law firms, for a substantial sum of $75,000 a month, or $900,000 (P50.4 million) for 12 months, to “secure grants and (US) congressional earmarks” for her initiative to “reshape the form of government”¦into a parliamentary federal system.”

Youth Action Day & the 148th anniversary of Jose Rizal’s birth

Kabataan Party-list commemorated last June 19, 2009 the 148th birth anniversary of national hero Jose Rizal and its founding anniversary with a Youth Action Day against the convening of a constituent assembly and charter change.

148th Rizal Birth Anniversary (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09)

The Youth Action Day kicked off with a Morning Jog against Cha-Cha at 8:00 in the morning around Rizal Park. After which, youth and student leaders led by Kabataan Party-list Mong Palatino went back to the Rizal Monument to offer a wreath symbolizing the youth’s respect and honor for the national hero.

Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09)

In the main program held in Luneta, Palatino said that “Rizal should be honored for his patriotism and nationalism and today’s youth should all be made aware of the lessons he bequeathed upon us.”

Palatino said, “It was Rizal who said that “˜There can be no tyrants where there are no slaves.’ His words ring true today when our youth and people are being confronted with attempts to discard democracy and wield a modern-day dictatorship. It is just fitting that we commemorate Rizal Day with the youth’s resounding call against Arroyo’s cha-cha and tyranny.”

Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09) Youth Action Day at Luneta (Jun. 19, '09)

Students from different schools in Metro Manila were in attendance. National youth groups such as the National Union of Students of the Philippines, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, League of Filipino Students, Anakbayan, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, and Kristiyanong Kabataan para sa Bayan were also present. Youth and student leaders capped the program with a Youth Pledge and collective signing of a petition campaign spearheaded by alliance Kabataan Kontra Cha-Cha.

Anti-ConAss Noise Barrage at Katipunan Anti-ConAss Noise Barrage at Katipunan (Jun. 19, '09) Anti-ConAss Noise Barrage at Katipunan (Jun. 19, '09) Anti-ConAss Noise Barrage at Katipunan (Jun. 19, '09) Anti-ConAss Noise Barrage at Katipunan (Jun. 19, '09) Anti-ConAss Noise Barrage at Katipunan (Jun. 19, '09)

In the afternoon, students from the University of the Philippines – Diliman held a noise barrage along Katipunan Avenue to protest against Con-Ass and Charter Change.

Age of Consent

On the issue of the UP Student Code and national issue of the Constituent Assembly

It was modern thinking that placed a high premium on Consent as a foundation of law. Consent has a transformative moral power, but it has its own pitfall: it can transform a wrongful action into a rightful one. If Manny Pacquiao had knocked down Ricky Hatton outside of the ring, he would have been prosecuted for serious physical injuries.

Still, this philosophy stems from the core belief that all men are reasonable, and that Reason will then lead us all to a single, unassailable conclusion. This legal theory, stridently discussed in Malcolm Hall, is relentlessly tested in practice.

We note two particular instances: in proposals for a new code for student discipline in Diliman, and for a constituent assembly to change the Charter. When the UP administration moved for the codification of student rules sometime in 2005, students were only allowed piecemeal participation. In a university where 80% of students are older than 18 years — the age of consent — the lack of active and inclusive student participation is suspect. The drafting of the Code undermines the basic right of students to be consulted, represented, and decide in the formulation of policies that affect their rights and welfare.

UMAKSYON last year joined 100 other student organizations, in submitting to the Board of Regents an 18-point demand “reclaiming the rights of student organizations in the University of the Philippines”. The document specifically demanded student council control over two properties; softer rules on organization and assembly; and secure student representation or participation in important campus activities.

In contrast, the draft Diliman Student Code emphasizes that the use of university facilities and the use of a tambayan is a grant, a privilege. It also offered stricter guidelines on student organizations, and barely promised solutions to staffing and appointment issues of student publications and representatives. What the draft code puts forward is a simpler procedure for discipline cases.

The mismatch is worse on the national arena. Charter change during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has never had the support of the people. Yet still, at a time when citizens are clamoring for economic palliatives — jobs, higher wages, a more beneficial agrarian reform, lower tuition — the Philippine Congress decides to start changing the charter.

Personal political interests have always found their way into the legislature, but never before as daft and brazen. The House of Representatives approved House Resolution 1109, which converts Congress into a Constituent Assembly, before midnight of June 2. The Assembly, which finds no difference between members of the lower and the upper chambers, is legally infirm. It would be, in straightforward terms, a usurpation of power of the Senate by members of the House of Representatives. Standing to benefit from nine years of similar political machinations is Mrs. Arroyo, one of the slyest UP alumni ever to sit in office.

Amidst some of the worst scandals in political history, she was safely tucked in the immunity of public office. Charter change, a new run for office, and a whole motley of exit plans promise to unreasonably, but permanently keep her untouchable. It will be one large question of political survival for Mrs. Arroyo — and for the Filipino people — after June 30, 2010. As we mark every milestone: her last State of the Nation Address in July, election day in May next year, it won’t take a legal education to answer: would Coercion succeed where Consent cannot?

Ugnayan ng Mag-aaral Laban sa Komersyalisasyon (UMAKSYON) UP College of Law

Anti-ConAss rallies in Makati and UP Diliman

Right after lunch time, students, teachers and other members of the University of the Philippines community in Diliman gathered at Quezon Hall to hold a short program and a press conference to condemn the moves of President Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives to convene itself into a Constituent Assembly (ConAss) to amend the 1987 Constitution.

ConAss is not what the country needs. Charter change will not address the youth’s problems with regard to education and job opportunities. We cannot allow this move to push through, seeing it as an initial step in a political scheme to prolong the Arroyo administration’s hold on power. We have witnessed how Arroyo and her allies have betrayed the aspirations of the youth and the rest of the Filipino people for a better government and a better life, and we must reject any move that is simply meant to prolong our agony.

Wala tayong maaasahang pagbabago habang nandiyan si Gloria Arroyo. Either we oust her soon or we boot her and her allies out of office through the 2010 elections.

Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09)

After the program at Quezon Hall, the UP Diliman contingent marched along University Avenue to Philcoa where groups of students and teachers boarded buses and jeepneys to go to the large rally at Makati. I was with my friends from the incoming University Student Council and my blockmates in Law.

Upon reaching Ayala, we walked towards the intersection of Paseo de Roxas and Ayala Avenues where thousands of protesters converged for the rally. Several representatives from political groups, including opposition politicians spoke against ConAss. Several bands also played music as an expression of outrage against ConAss. Students from different universities, and out of school youths broke into discussion groups and turned Paseo de Roxas into a large classroom discussing the socio-political situation of the country. The rally ended promptly at eight in the evening.

Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09) Anti-ConAss Rally (Jun. 10, '09)