During the last three months of the coronavirus pandemic Filipinos have seen at least three significant manifestations of the ruling government’s obsession with its effort to suppress opposition and criticism. First, the the conviction of Rappler chief Maria Ressa for libel, the first of many harassment cases against her currently pending with the courts. Then, the vigorous passage of the “Anti” Terrorism Law, which among other things, allows a council made up of the President’s alter-egos to authorize the warrantless arrest and detention for up to 24 days of any person they may designate and suspect as “terrorists”. Then, just today, the denial by the House of Representatives of a new broadcast franchise to the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, effectively shutting it down and depriving millions of Filipinos, especially those in far-flung islands of this country, of crucial information and entertainment in this pandemic. Other recent manifestations of suppression include violent dispersals and numerous arrests and detentions imposed against ordinary citizens who have taken to the streets their expression of resistance.
I have my own opinion on some of the issues ABS-CBN was implicated in–notably that of its labor policies regarding “talents”, and of the tax avoidance schemes it employs to legally avoid billions in tax assessments. (That being said, my gripe is really with the government’s labor and tax framework that legally allows all this). But now is not the time to discuss all of that, when the public service rendered by the country’s largest and most pervasive broadcaster is ever more important in a public health and economic crisis. Besides, some of the issues thrown at ABS-CBN are for courts to resolve, not for congressmen to speculate on, or at the very least they can be resolved by Congress without shutting down the network and depriving employment to the company’s 11,000 employees.
For the rest of the issues, there is, in my opinion, nothing technically illegal with what ABS-CBN does because, as I’ve mentioned, the very legal framework that exists today allows the conduct of everything the government is alleging against the broadcaster–from the entry of foreign investment in mass media through depositary receipts, to the tax deductions and incentives ABS-CBN is able to claim to save on taxes, to the labor contracting scheme it hires its workers and ‘talents’ under.
Today, Filipinos went to the polls for the midterm elections to elect the country’s new set of lawmakers and local government officials.
In particular, this election will see half of the 24-seat Senate filled up with 12 new Senators, and at least 300 new district and party-list representatives who will serve in the House of Representatives. It is widely perceived that majority of President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies will sweep their respective elections. (To be clear, many of these politicians are already entrenched names in the ruling class, who have simply coalesced en masse under the banner of the President because of his enduring popularity. )
I have not felt as strongly in a general election as I have for this year. It even trumps the 2013 midterm elections where I was party-list nominee for the House of Representatives. That year felt like a contestable election, you know, where contending parties had fighting chances to challenge incumbents, and offer alternatives. This year? There is an overwhelming sense of despair because all odds appear to be stacked against any and all opposition to the current administration.
Do not worry about offending me. From my family, to my school, to the organizations I belong to, to work that I have had to do, I’ve long been in environments where I naturally tend to hold a contrary opinion, or hold on to beliefs my family, friends and colleagues are against. Thus, don’t worry when you argue with me, I’m used to it.
Always, I hold on to my principle of assuming good faith in every man, relying on the basic humanity that binds us all, and the many experiences we all share, despite differences and conflicts. People will always be, to me, more than the sum of their opinions. They are my fellow human beings. As long as we do not breach out basic sense of humanity and good faith in arguing, I am okay.
Take note however, that respecting another person’s opinion doesn’t mean I would just stay silent too. It irks me a lot when people just invoke “respeto lang!” in order to prematurely end debates and conversations. It stifles our pursuit of the truth. If I think some people are wrong, I first try to understand the context of how such wrong opinions have been formed in their minds, but I would also make an effort to challenge these opinions, not because I don’t respect the people who hold them, but because I just really think they’re wrong.
Once again, our politicians and their patrons are peddling the lie that the only path to the economic salvation of the Philippines is through more intensified foreign intervention in the economy and a more intensified liberalization of “key industries”. It is almost like routine, from the administration of President Fidel Ramos, to Joseph Estrada, to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Benigno Aquino III, every year or two, the leaders of both Houses of Congress peddle the proposal of changing the economic provisions of the Constitution in order to liberalize the remaining sectors of the economy with “nationalist restrictions.” True enough, faithful to tradition, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte comes out today, a few weeks before the State of the Nation Address and the opening of the last session of Congress, to promote “charter change.”
This begs the question, is “free market” liberalization the only path to economic prosperity? A brief look at the economic history of today’s prosperous and developed nations will prove that the path to economic prosperity is paved by national industrialization with strong basis in state intervention through regulation and subsidies, and protectionism–quite the opposite of the neoliberal dogma most of these countries now peddle and force upon the throats of the people of the “third world.”
From Europe to East Asia to the United States, the historical fact is that developed countries from the age of colonialism to the industrial revolution to the post-World War 2 era up until today, violated principles of the “free market” and neoliberal economics to establish and protect their industries and develop into today’s “first world” economies.
Those who maliciously link present Chinese government to Filipino leftists are being dishonest. They should know very well that China abandoned its socialist project after the Cultural Revolution in the late 70’s and how the Chinese government has disowned and condemned local communists and persecuted leftists and activists in their own backyard.
If they’re looking for counterparts of Chinese leaders now, they only need to look among the revisionists and roaders and right-wingers among their colleagues. Chinese “communists” even claimed maintaining good relations with the trapo mainstream parties in the Philippines such as the Liberal Party of the Aquino administration.
These people should likewise make up their minds. In same breath they challenge us to follow China’s capitalist reforms and yet accuse us of being on the payroll of the Chinese “communists.” Nothing but malicious bullshit from those out to malign the persistent relevance of the Philippine Left.
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 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.