All posts by: Kim

Independence

The Philippines celebrated its 115th Independence Day last June 12. And as expected, there were the usual pronouncements of doubt and mockery whether country was really free or not. Some even went on to entertain revisionist views on the actual date of independence saying that the date is meaningless since the country was only left on its own by the Americans on July 4, 1946.

As someone old enough to have lived at a time when the two biggest American military bases outside the United States were in the country, I find it both odd and funny, that the question on the country’s independence are being noisily raised online by those born after the US bases were booted out of the country.

While I cannot blame these younger Filipinos’ having a revisionist view of history, I cannot understand why they are capable of raising issues on the independence day’s verity and yet they are incapable of understanding the significance of June 12 in the continuing struggle for the country’s independence.

I am of the opinion that those who constantly raise the question whether the country today is independent or not are under the influence of those who fail to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by those who died in the battles against the Spanish, the Americans, the Japanese and even against fellow Filipinos belonging to various sides of political persuasions. And I do think that those who latch on to this view relied only on the perspective of their cynical Philippine history teachers without even trying to understand the country’s history on their own.

A country’s independence day is remembered because it was the day when the people of that territory declared themselves free from oppression of a foreign power. It is a characteristic of state which is reserved only for colonized, enslaved or oppressed nations. But more often than not, that day of declaration of independence marks not the end of the struggle for freedom, but only the beginning. As such it is misleading, as it is wrong to view independence day as the day when freedom from oppression was achieved.

When the Philippines declared its independence on June 12, 1898, it was proclaiming to the world that it will no longer bear the yoke that Spain has placed upon the country for more than three centuries. It was proudly standing up against the oppressor and claiming its right to stand free and proud of all that the Divine has endowed it. At the same time, it was also warning the colonizer that if need be, it will defend its claimed freedom to the death.

While there have always been questions raised on the Act of Declaration itself, specially in the message it contains between the lines and its references to what Aguinaldo always liked calling as the benevolent North American nation. A reading however of some authorities on history (I suggest OD Corpuz’s Saga and Triumph and Floro Quibuyen’s A Nation Aborted), will allow one to have an idea of the dynamics which made these things come to pass. And it will also grant us the understanding how we as a people, often in awe of foreigners, are easily swayed from that which we really want for ourselves, out of our generosity for these new found friends.

But the politics of 1898 should not reduce in any way, the sacrifices of martyrs like Fr. Jose Burgos, Jacinto Zamora and Mariano Gomez in 1872. It should not dilute the blood spilled by selfless Katipuneros who fought in the opening days of the revolution in August 1896. And it should not erase from our memory images of dead revolucionarios in the trenches, the hills and the towns who fought, first against the Spanish and then later against the Americans, to preserve the freedom they have decided to claim for themselves and for future generations of Filipinos.

It is only proper that we, later generations of Filipinos, beneficiaries of the freedoms fought for by our founding fathers and mothers, our revolucionarios, our soldiers, our guerrillas, our activists, remember Independence Day as the day when these selfless Filipinos offered their lives and limbs, their sacred fortunes, for a vision of a free Philippines where their sons and daughters would live in full appreciation of their Divinely-decreed freedoms, able to decide and realize their own destinies.

The independence of a country is not about being totally unencumbered of any debt or affiliation with another, but it is about that country, particularly its people, being able to chart its course towards the future. Independence is about a nation being able to freely decide for itself which relationships with other countries will it best reap benefits and how it shall pursue these relationships.

Back in my childhood days, one of the prevailing themes in movies and books was the relationship between Filipinos and Americans, more particular Filipino women and American servicemen. And there was the constant depiction that the Philippines was what we’d call in Cebuano as “di’ ko beh” or someone who outwardly refuses and yet deep inside desires an object or treatment. Movies depicted how Filipinos blatantly want to be left alone by Americans but pining for the first opportunity to hook up with the man from the Land of the Big PX.

Of course, all that changed on September 16,1991, when the Senate of the Philippines said that it will have no more of American military presence in a country which was free and democratic. And that single act of ending a half century of US domination of Philippine political and military affairs was one manifestation of the country’s never-ending struggle for independence. Since that day, we have been virtually on our own. Floating freely in the Pacific and facing various demands of statehood such as issues in the economy, governance, education and national defense.

A decade later, the Americans returned supposedly under the benevolent purposes of the Global War on Terror. But unlike a century earlier, they are no longer able to claim huge swaths of Filipino land as American. I wonder though how long they plan to continue staying considering that the War on Terror has already eliminated its number one target.

The presence of these American servicemen should wake us up to the reality that struggle for independence never ends. And in the decade since they were expelled out of the country, we have not progressed much in terms of defending our territory. If before we struggled against the Spanish, Americans and Japanese, now we are fighting to stave off the Chinese and Taiwanese from claiming our lands and seas.

These challenges to the territorial integrity of our country now threaten our sovereignty as a people. These encroachments on our lands and waters endanger our independence. And as a nation we must confront these issues soon else we wake up one day and see another flag raised in islands just beyond our weekend beaches.

If we desire to remain free and independent then we must constantly struggle against aggressive countries, ambitious politicians and big business. The celebration of our Independence Day is there to remind us of what others before us fought for. And it should also make us ask ourselves what we should be fighting for.

Who (the hell) is General Tomas Diaz?

Over the weekend, I have been both writhing in agony and ecstatic with laughter going through the comments on the PCIJ video and the answers to @jaredramos’ question on the 1986 People Power Revolution. And the most common immediate reaction I read and had from both old friends on Facebook and followers on Tumbr was : “Who (the hell) is General Tomas Diaz?”

I must say, despite having been a teacher of Philippine history to high school students and having had several classes on the subject in my academic years, I do not know who he is. Perhaps the most common succeeding reaction of viewers of that video was to Google “General Tomas Diaz.” And I think most of them encountered nothing but random names of individuals who live in Spanish-speaking countries or former dependencies of the old empire.

Googling the name after viewing the PCIJ video and holding some reaction of surprise and disgust are mere indicators, not of shock but of an attempt at disassociation from those who gave both bewildering and outrageous answers to a very simple question. As far as I can recall, only one guy in the video gave correct and sensible answers. Most were merely trying to protect what was left of their “image” while the others were very forthcoming and even proud of their ignorance which resulted out of their indolence.

There were some among those who answered @jaredramos’ question who justified the answers of the interview by saying that the blame should be placed on the teachers of those students. That the students were unable to answer the question because their teachers failed to teach them about it. To some extent this view is justified. But only to some extent.

Perhaps the students may not notice it but if one takes a hard look at how Philippine history is being taught in this country, one can see that it is taught in a linear fashion which extends from the discovery of the Tabon Man to the conditions in Pre-Spanish Philippines; to the arrival of Magellan and the Propaganda Movement, the Katipunan, the war for Independence; and the Philippine-American War. Before the teachers and students notice it, the 10 months of the academic year is done.

And so ends the Philippine history lessons for the average freshman in high school. It ends without the student learning about the impact of American colonialism; the Second World War in the Philippines; the post-war reconstruction and independence; corruption during the Quirino administration; the counter-insurgency campaigns during the Magsaysay administration; the price hikes during the Macapagal administration; and the early years of the Marcos adminsitration and its later descent to the darkness of the Martial Law period; the miracle of 1986 People Power; and the struggle for progress in the age of globalization.

A couple of years ago, I wrote something about Ninoy and the Blindspots of History and how the pedagogy employed in the country for teaching Philippine history has hindered the students’ appreciation of their heritage. Back then I supposed that the introduction of better text books and the effort of teachers to incite interest in Philippine history in their students may remedy the blind spots. But looking back, I think that sustaining the current methods of teaching the subject will never yield good results unless a student had more than a year of Philippine history.

While Philippine history is taught in bits and pieces as early as the fourth grade, the bulk and organized teaching of it though only comes in the first year of high school. And it is again taught as one subject for a semester in college (that’s five months long in most, three months in some). And in these various occassions, the methods employed by the teachers may vary in terms of presentation, but the same linear pedagogy is adopted. In the end, the student maybe bombarded with facts about the days of Majapahit and Sri-Vijaya empires, but he or she knows so little about the Martial Law years or the coup attempts during the earlier Aquino administration.

Perhaps, it is time that the academics and scholars in Philippine history consider teaching the subject the other linear way around. Teaching the subject from the contemporary times, coupled with regular discussions of current affairs, and moving back to the older past may incite more interest in the subject, and make more progress than starting subject with discussion of remote facts about the days of the early humans in the caves of Palawan.

Teaching Philippine history from the present to the past instead of the past to the present would allow the students to understand better certain public institutions and social phenomenon. They would understand how the MILF came out of the MNLF and how different these two are from the Abu Sayyaf. They would understand better why the burial of President Marcos is being debated. They would understand better why the 1986 People Power Revolution is being celebrated and why they don’t have classes on that day in February.

Then again, I am just spitballing and my thoughts have yet to be tested to see if they will work or not. But I think that there’s no harm in exploring other ways by which the heritage of the people and the struggles encountered can best be passed on to the younger generation. If the current pedagogy in teaching has produced kids like those in the PCIJ video, then maybe it is time that new ways of teaching be explored.

Beyond the classroom though and being that the Information Age makes almost anything from fashion trends to the latest buzz on celebrities accessible to the youth these days, ignorance on the 1986 People Power Revolution to some extent is inexcusable. If the youth these days can spend time reading on why Justin Beiber had his bangs cut or why The King’s Speech won the Oscars, then what is a few seconds checking on the reason behind a national holiday?

Or maybe Googling and taking note of Charice Pempengco’s episodes in Glee is more important for the younger generation than remembering those who died so that we may post whatever post we want on our blogs today?

You the youth of today, especially the Christians, are being wisely educated to despise your past, your race, your beliefs, and traditions, so that seeing yourselves constantly being humbled and keeping before your eyes your own inferiority, you will obediently place your neck under the yoke and become slaves.

-Kamandagan in Jose Rizal’s Sinagtala and Maria Maligaya

 

Corruption in the ranks

Courage, Integrity, Loyalty – These three words form the backbone of the Philippine Military Academy. Three words which may seem simple and appropriate guides in the noble profession of arms. Over the past few weeks however, the country has seen several exemplars and distortions of these three words. The nation was witness to the courage of a few, the cowardice of several; the integrity of a handful, and the corruption of a group; the loyalty of some men and women to the uniform and the flag, and the servility of a select group to personal and political interests.

Last week’s revelations on corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines by L/Col. George Rabusa and Commission on Audit auditor Heidi Mendoza have shed some light on what had long been rumors and suspicions of ill-gotten wealth and politics of convenience in the armed services. What Rabusa and Mendoza have taken upon themselves as their responsibility to the country is laudable and timely. They have given facts and figures to what many have always suspected to have been happening in the armed forces. Their actions have vindicated Magdalo soldiers and justified their claims of corruption among the brass.

The Aquino administration, in an effort to fight corruption in the armed services, said last week that it is encouraging the men and women in uniform to step forward and report cases of alleged corruption by the their superiors. Now for those who did not spend time wearing the uniform and given the burdens of command, this may seem a welcome development and a step in the right direction. But for those who were and who are in the military, this move by the administration, which encourages soldiers to denounce colleagues and superiors, undermines the very fabric of every military organization since time immemorial – the chain of command.

The chain of command is everything in a military organization. Without its observance and preservation, there would be dissension in ranks, disorganization in the command, and chaos in the service. The possible consequences from encouraging soldiers to rat upon their comrades and their superiors can range from “fragging,” mutinies, and even a coup de’état. Allowing anyone within the chain of command to accuse someone of anything will effectively subvert the armed services. The last instance in history where this was practiced was in Stalin’s Red Army, where the Cheka, and then later the NKVD, encouraged soldiers to report their superiors. The result was the effective elimination of the Russian officer corps, making it easy for Hitler to march up to the Kremlin’s doorstep.

Of course, the talk about eradicating corruption in the military and spit-shining the boots as well as the brass is always easier said than done. Being that the military is a conservative institution, pursuing reforms in the services would be met with silent but firm opposition in some quarters of power. But when those powers are won, and those in soiled uniforms charged and penalized, the rest of the organization will follow. And that would be made possible by the very structure which the Aquino administration might unintentionally destroy: the chain of command.

If the administration would pursue its plans to allow servicemen accuse other servicemen of alleged irregularities, then corruption, which exists in the organization by the apparent misuse of funds by the brass, would be complimented also with another form among the boots. Instead of following their orders and fulfilling their responsibilities, the men and women in uniform would be watching over their shoulder, questioning every command given by superiors, and actively looking at their superiors for actions which can be used to denounce their commanders. Theirs would be corruption in the ranks.

If the Aquino administration and the country’s policy-makers in the Senate and the House of Representatives are bent on curbing if not eradicating corruption in the armed services, then the solution should be proactive instead of reactive. They should address the possible opportunities for corruption, strengthen the military justice system, and properly inculcate in the men and women of the armed services, the values which serve as the motto of the country’s lone military academic institution: courage, integrity, loyalty.

[End]

Justice for the 58!

It’s been a year since 58 people were killed in Ampatuan, Maguindanao and yet despite the short span of time, the memory of the gruesome events of that day seem to slowly slip into oblivion from the Philippines’ collective memory.

In a forum held last week at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications, members of the media, relatives of the victims, and even a representative from the Aquino administration called upon the public to never forget the events on those isolated hills in Maguindanao which shocked the world.

According to veteran journalist and former ABS-CBN Vice President for News Maria Ressa, the Maguindanao Massacre was, in CIA parlance, a blowback. The term first came about after US and British intelligence agencies failed to assess the far-reaching effects of removing Mossadegh in Iran, which eventually resulted to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the installation of Ayatollah Khomeini. Ressa also cited the 9/11 attacks as another case of blowback after the CIA earlier armed and funded the Taliban in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, not realizing that the US would become the later target.

The Maguindanao Massacre was the result of a dysfunctional counter-insurgency strategy where the government armed and financed local political families in the fight against insurgent groups. These families, seeing that their mandate requires every available means to end the insurgency in their areas, exercised their power with impunity, ultimately using it even against ordinary civilians and in the case of the massacre, the media. The rule of impunity by political families in the provinces has been going on since the Marcos years and yet it has largely been passed off as usual or in some cases, acceptable. This climate of tacit approval, or worse apathy, has made the massacre possible. “We have known about it for decades, and we have done nothing much about it,” said Ressa.

But the massacre would not have been brought to the attention of the nation, much more the world, had it not been for the inclusion of journalists among its victims. As the Human Rights Watch report chronicled, there have been other cases of torture and abuse, and summary executions conducted by the Ampatuans long before that fateful day in November. But details of those incidents were merely passed around people and places as rumors, being that nobody who witnessed them was still alive.

Seeing that a new family was willing to challenge the much-feared Ampatuans, Mindanao-based Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter and would have been Maguindanao Massacre victim Aquiles Zunio said he decided to join his colleagues in covering the filing of certificates of candidacy by the Mangudadatus on that day. He only alighted the convoy after knowing that a colleague who was at odds with the Ampatuans also wanted to cover the event. Fearing what might happen to his colleague, Zunio stayed behind to convince him to reconsider. That act of concern saved him from the massacre.

It would be a different case however for Reynafe Momay-Castillo’s father Reynaldo. Reynaldo was a photographer for the Midland Review and he was part of the convoy which was supposed to cover the filing of the Mangudadatu’s certificates of candidacy. Unlike the other victims though, Reynaldo’s body up to now has not been recovered. Despite not having had to opportunity to at least see the body of her father, Reynafe said that it would be important for the people to always “think of the lives that were taken,” and that the people should not let the deaths of the victims mean nothing.

In an effort to continuously push for justice for the massacre victims, several journalists, non-government organizations, and concerned individuals formed the November 23 Movement. National Union of Journalists in the Philippines President Rowena Paraan said that the movement has been instrumental in ensuring continued coverage on the latest developments on the Maguindanao Massacre case. The movement and several of its partners have also been responsible for the studies of not less than 70 of the victims’ children. Aside from their commitments within the country, the movement has also been engaging international organizations and agencies asking them for support and assistance in putting pressure on the Philippine government hasten the resolution of the case.

The problem in resolving the case however lies in the institutional weaknesses of the Philippine justice system. And despite the efforts of the Aquino administration to speed up the prosecution of the case, the agents of the judiciary do not fall under the purview of the President or any of his secretaries. We must not forget that the courts are under the Supreme Court. “We certainly don’t want this trial to last longer than it should,” said Presidential Communications Operations Office Sonny Coloma.

According to the calculations of some of the government prosecutors involved in the case, the resolution might take 6 years in the regional trial court, 6 more in the appellate court, and another 6 in the Supreme Court, a total of 18 years before the victims finally and hopefully get justice. Attorney Rico Ayson, counsel for the massacre victims’ families however hopes that the number of years in each stage could be reduced to 4 years, which would mean 12 years. And this he said can only be possible with sustained public pressure for that long period. Whether or not that is possible remains to be seen.

Ayson was not able to discuss much of the case due to the sub judice doctrine, but he said that at present, there are 196 accused, 46 among them have pleaded not guilty, while some have filed petitions for bail. Unlike preconceived notions about the trial, Ayson said that the hearing on the case itself have yet to begin. The court has been only been hearing the petitions for bail and it would might take a while considering the number of suspects in the case. We must not forget that each of those suspects is entitled to due process accorded by the Constitution. And in the words of Secretary Coloma: “Let us remember that despite our weaknesses, we are still a nation of laws.”

As an addendum to Ressa’s call for public vigilance against dysfunctional socio-political structures, Coloma said that “the burden of protecting journalists does not lie only on the shoulders of media practitioners but on every member of Philippine society.” He said that while media practitioners may exercise some form of power with the stories they make and the institutions they represent, they are still vulnerable to threats, intimidation and harm. That is why every Filipino should also protect journalists as journalists struggle to deliver the truth about every Filipino.

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No VFA

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III delivered his first State of the Nation Address on July 26, 2010. In his speech, he spoke of what little money the country has left; the irregularities in the previous administration; the need for more classrooms, cash transfers, ad social services; and the poor investments his predecessor made in several sectors which were actually not returning any profit. He also called upon Congress to support him in passing measures on fiscal rationalization; land use; witness protection; break-up of monopolies; and the often talked about, but also often forgotten, armed forces modernization. But there was no VFA.

The VFA or Visiting Forces Agreement, a remnant of the Estrada administration’s national security policy and the license given by the Arroyo administration for the, albeit prolonged, visit of US forces in the country remains a burning issue of national sovereignty for most of the country’s nationalists.

Just seven years after the Magnificent 12 of the Philippine Senate voted to reject a news treaty which would allow American forces to stay in the country, the GI Joes were once again, allowed to return to the country for military exercises. The first of these exercises were held in June of 2001. But 9/11 attacks changed the character of the exercises, the troops participating in them, and also the duration of the stay of American forces in the country.

By January of 2002, elements of the Joint Task Force 510 of Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC) headed by Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster arrived in the country and were deployed to Western Mindanao. Later, JTF 510 would be de-activated after the formation of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines or JSOTF-P. With this, the country became another front in the Bush’s administration’s Global War on Terror. In fact, the presence of the US troops in the country and their activities are collectively part of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines.

In November 2002, the country signed another agreement with the United States, the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, which allowed US forces to select locations and build upon these locations, support facilities for their activities in the country. While the agreement was supposedly to be in effect for only five years, it was extended in 2009, after the both Philippine and American negotiators concluded that the arrangement benefitted both parties. The agreement has been viewed by several sectors as “virtual basing” and in violation of the constitutional ban on foreign bases.

But the VFA would be put to test when Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was accused by a Filipino woman under the name Nicole, of rape. The incident, later to be called the Subic Rape Case, served as a litmus paper for the provisions of the agreement which has always been believed by many to serve only the interest of the American government. While the lower court convicted Smith on the charges, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and set him free. The case though, has become another rallying cry for review of the VFA, so much so that Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has waged a personal battle for a review of the agreement.

While protests and criticism of the VFA have become staple activities of progressive groups in the capital, locals in Zamboanga City, Basilan, and Sulu are ambivalent.

In a 2006 report made by David Santos of ABS-CBN Zamboanga on the anniversary of 9/11 a local was asked on what he feels with the presence of American troops, he answered that he felt safe and that the end is near for the Abu Sayyaf. It would be important to point out that the report was made at the height of Oplan Ultimatum or the intensive military operations of the armed forces against the Abu Sayyaf that resulted to the deaths of several of its leaders.

The interviewee’s thoughts are not isolated. There are some in Mindanao who actually think that the presence of American troops is actually needed. The reasons for this feeling vary. Some adhere to this because they lack faith in the integrity of the AFP in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf, especially after the controversial Lamitan siege; others think that the American forces are more sufficiently equipped to conduct more demanding operations against the bandits; and then there are also those who think that the US presence guarantees the creation of a Bangsa Moro state a.k.a. the BJE or the Bangsa Moro Juridical Entity. Of course, the last one is the result of centuries of enmity between Muslims and Christians in this country which can best be understood by reading Samuel K. Tan’s A Critical Decade.

At its 12th year, the Visiting Forces Agreement remains a heated issue of sovereignty, national security, and justice from the halls of power in Metro Manila to the barangays of Basilan and Sulu. It is still one of the rallying cries of the progressive groups whenever they hold protests whether infront of US Embassy, the Congress, or President Aquino’s house on Times Street. Yet the agreement has largely remained in effect and unquestioned. Since it was declared constitutional early this year, not much has been heard from political scientists, the academe, and the policy-makers. And it was not even mentioned in the recent State of the Nation Address.

Aquino should make a definite stand on the VFA.  And he should call for its review If it has achieved or failed its purpose then it should be abrogated. If it has not, then it should be revised and formalized as a treaty with the concurrence of the Senate and the House of representatives. Otherwise, if it remains a treaty, it will always be a bone of contention against the policy of the United States in the Philippines.

With the on-going withdrawal of US troops in Iraq, and the planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by next year, it is not a remote possibility that there would be a reduction, if not full withdrawal of US troops from the country. The problem is if the US maintains its posture against China. Now that would be an entirely different matter.