Posts Tagged ‘Benigno Aquino III’

During last week’s SC oral arguments, the Solicitor General said that the Disbursement Acceleration Program no longer exists thus making the petitions before the court moot. The line was new insofar as we’ve never heard this from the President, during his televised defense of DAP or during media interviews. Of course it is a bit of a stretch to argue that the petitions should be thrown out because the DAP has been terminated as early as mid-2013. Constitutional issues remain.

More importantly, accountability issues remain. Look at how DAP was probably used in 2012 based on a memorandum from the Department of Budget and Management.

In a memorandum to the President dated June 25, 2012, DBM secretary Butch Abad sought authority to utilize government savings (DAP) for “big ticket projects” such as the “National Road Projects” in the President’s home province of Tarlac amounting to P2 billion. No other lucky province received such allotment for that year based on the memo. The project had prior approval by the President.

DBMs Abad also recommended the use of DAP to fund the fraud-tainted Tulay ng Pangulo para sa Kaunlaran project which began under the Arroyo administration. Around P1.8 billion was recommended for this, where P500 million will be sourced from DAR. The project had prior approval by the President.

Abad sought authority to use pooled government savings to fund “urgent” and “critical” projects such as a P5 billion Tourism Road Infrastructure Project, along with “priority local projects” nationwide amounting to an additional P8.295 billion. We suspect that these “priority local projects”, often considered priorities upon the recommendation of politicians, could be where the pork for lawmakers goes. At the time of the memo, the projects have not yet been approved by the President.

Some P1.6 billion meanwhile was supposed to be allotted for the “Capability Requirements for the Operations of the Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea”. Another P1 billion was allotted as a credit facility exclusively for agrarian reform beneficiaries, through the Land Bank in coordination with the Department of Agriculture. Both projects had prior approval of the President at the time the memo was submitted.

From the above, DAP has all the markings of presidential pork. It is a mechanism used to pool so-called “savings” then utilize these for “priority local projects” that are often upon the recommendation of the local and national politicians. Abad said that some 116 projects were funded through the DAP. All of these projects had presidential approval, he said.

One justice had asked Abad if the allegations of bribery during the Corona impeachment were true. Abad said there was no bribery and that the DAP funds did not go directly to the lawmakers.

Maybe. But isn’t that what the PDAF was all about? Those accused of corruption in the PDAF always say that they never touched the money; that they simply recommended projects and that implementation was done by government agencies. Yet everyone knows that in the course of implementation, the money does always end up with the politician. DAP is no different, especially when the budget secretary says politicians merely “recommend”.

DAP the stimulus mechanism may be “dead” according to the DBM, but the presidential authority used to pool “savings”, and utilize these for items not included in the General Appropriations Act, that’s a different matter altogether. The authority to utilize “savings” for the pet projects of politicians remains. That authority, if we are to believe the Solicitor General, is a valid exercise of presidential prerogative.

DAP’s not dead. And so is the corruption that comes with this serving of presidential pork.

Tacloban City, Leyte airport damaged by Yolanda

Photo by AP

In the aftermath of Yolanda/Haiyan’s devastation, many are now asking about the apparently slow pace of government’s response to the needs of the hundreds of thousands of storm victims, especially in Eastern Visayas. Just last November 11, Aquino went on national TV to appeal for understanding amid the apparent inadequacy of government’s efforts.

The November 11 speech is a far cry from the November 7 speech, delivered on the eve of Yolanda’s landfall, and apparently drafted to assure the nation that government was doing its job to prepare the people for the impact of the storm.

From his November 7 speech, we can get the following points.

1. The National Government was aware of the strength of the storm and its impact on the communities. Aquino said they were monitoring the threat (banta) of a storm surge where water levels can rise 5 to 6 meters in some areas. However, the National Government thru the NDRRMC, apparently left it to the LGU’s to interpret the information that was being given them, and to make plans according to their interpretation. Gawin na po natin ang ating magagawa habang hindi pa lumalapag si Yolanda. Uulitin ko po: Seryosong peligro ito, at maaaring mabawasan ang epekto kung gagamitin natin ang impormasyon upang maghanda,” Aquino said. The apparently decentralized and not-so-hands-on approach would later on prove to be problematic. In an interview by CNN, Tacloban Mayor Alfredo Romualdez said that “if authorities had given a different sort of warning before the storm, comparing it to a tsunami instead of merely calling it a typhoon, more people may have survived. We’ve done drills on tsunami. And we do (tsunami) drills, almost 80% of them really get out. Storm surge, they don’t understand,” Romualdez said.

2. The National Government said that it already prepositioned relief goods and that its air and naval assets were already on standby. Fully mission capable po ang tatlo nating C130 upang rumesponde sa nangangailangan. Naka-standby na rin po ang 32 na eroplano at helicopter ng ating Air Force. Nakapusisyon na po ang 20 barko mula sa ating Philippine Navy sa Cebu, Bicol, Cavite, at Zamboanga. Ang mga relief goods ay naka-preposition na rinsa karamihan ng mga apektado o maaaring maapektuhang lalawiganFive days after the storm hit the first coastal town in Eastern Samar, relief has not reached many of the devastated villages. Hunger is on the rise. PNP Chief Allan Purisima in one interview said that the prepositioned relief goods were also flooded and swept away, indicating that the government may have underestimated the impact of the storm.

3. After leaving it to the LGU’s and concerned people to interpret the information, the National Government seemed prepared to lay the blame on the people if there are many casualties. Marami na po tayong pinagdaanan sa taong ito; tulungan na po sana natin at huwag nang pahirapan ang ating mga Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils at kanilang mga personnel,” Aquino said.

 It should therefore come as no surprise that Aquino faulted the LGU’s a day after the storm hit, describing Tacloban as ill-prepared for the storm surge.

However, two days after the storm, it became clear it was the National Government who had not done enough. In the days after the first footage of the devastation were aired on national media, the National Government sought to highlight looting and downplay the number of the deaths, the acute shortage of supplies, widespread hunger and the inability of government to respond to the needs of many of the victims. And the promised aid contained in the President’s November 7 speech did not materialize.

Aquino went on air again to deliver a speech to the nation on November 11. He starts off with praising the National Government’s efforts and downplaying the impact of the storm on several provinces. Nagpapasalamat po tayo sa mga dalubhasa mula sa PAGASA, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Phivolcs, at DOST, na kumalap at nagbigay ng tama at detalyadong impormasyon na naging dahilan upang makapaghanda nang maayos ang ating mga kababayan. Ito ang nagbigay-daan para sa iniuulat na mababang casualty count mula sa ilang mga probinsyang dinaanan din ng bagyo, tulad ng Oriental at Occidental Mindoro, Negros Occidental, Palawan, Aklan, at Romblon, kung saan maagang nakapaghanda ang lokal na pamahalaan. How the president can still claim credit for lower casualties in some areas while there’s a mind-boggling number of deaths in other areas is truly unbelievable.  The president can use this statement to feel good about what he’s done, but the people are hardly convinced and their worries hardly assuaged.

Bagaman nakapagtala ng mababang casualty count sa maraming mga probinsyang dinaanan ni Yolanda, sa mga lugar naman na tila naembudo ang bagyong ito, talaga naman pong malaki ang pinsalang nasaksihan nati,” Aquino said. Not only is the statement a form of pampalubag-loob for the people, it also provides a way out for the national government. When the casualty figures are low, government claims credit and says it is due to the timely information they provided to the provinces. When casualty rates are high, government blames nature. But as Romualdez mentioned, there may be a disconnect between the information being provided and the capacity of the local government units to interpret such information.

As pointed out by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, the National Government failed to prepare the nation for the storm surges brought about by Yolanda despite the available information. The national government could have laid down clear, unequivocal guidelines and enforced these guidelines rather than leave it to LGU’s on how they choose to interpret data. It is not enough that the President refer the people to websites on the eve of the storm (Para sa dagdag na kaalaman, pumunta po tayo sa mga website ng PAGASA, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, at ng Project NOAH upang makita kung gaano kaapektado ang inyong komunidad sa pagdating ng bagyo). It is not enough to say on national TV that his speech was the last warning (Magsilbi rin po sanang babala ang pahayag na ito sa ating mga LGU: Seryosong peligro po ang kinakaharap ng inyong mga nasasakupan).

In his November 11 speech, gone were the references to air and naval assets or the supposedly prepositioned relief goods. Aquino instead makes references to the distribution of family food packs, saying that as of that date, 24,000 packs have been distributed to 8 of the biggest baranggays in Tacloban City. Problem is, Tacloban has a population of more than 220,000. And there were many more people outside Tacloban who were reeling from hunger and sickness.

The mass movement in the Philippines and abroad is currently undertaking a massive relief campaign for Yolanda victims. Thousands of activists are being mobilized to raise funds, resources and distribute relief goods and supplies for victims. Private organizations have been helping in a huge way. However, these efforts do not change the fact that the primary responsibility for relief and rehabilitation still rests with the government. So as we do our share to help the victims, we must also continue to call on the Aquino administration to do its job and do it right.

The people of Eastern Visayas are now victims several times over. By the poverty from the unequal socio-economic relations, making the region the 3rd poorest in the country and number one when it comes to incidence of hunger even before the typhoon hit. By the corrupt politicians who looted public funds as seen from the pork barrel scam. And by super storm Yolanda and the slow and inadequate government response.

The news reports are becoming frustrating as the days go by. Everyone but the national government seems to know something is not right. CNN’s Anderson Cooper had this much to say of the situation.  “As to who’s in charge of the Philippine side of the whole operation, that is not really clear. I’m just surprised that on this day 5, maybe I’ve gotten here late, that things would be well in hand. It does not seem like that.”

Yolanda is to Aquino as Katrina was to Bush.  And at some point after things start to stabilize, there must be an audit of the government’s  preparation and response to the super storm.  As Cooper went on to say in his November 13 report,  “The people in Tacloban have great dignity and deserve better than what they have gotten.”###

Photo by Raul Banias

Photo by PDI

First thing I read today was the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s shocking banner story “Cory Aquino’s ‘glowing legacy’: Aquino kin back immediate distribution of land”.

The headline somehow makes it appear that land distribution was the intention all along of former president Cory Aquino when she embarked on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program some 25 years ago. That all this time, the Luisita landlords had the best intentions for the farm workers. And that, by implication, if the first Aquino regime wanted this, then surely the second Aquino regime shared the same vision.

The statements of the counsel for the Hacienda Luisita made me sick to my stomach, as I’m sure it did other farmer advocates.

“The Cojuangco family expresses its full confidence that the Supreme Court decision regarding the fate of Hacienda Luisita is a just resolution for all parties concerned,” said Antonio Ligon, hacienda counsel and spokesperson.

“Now that the high court maintains that land distribution is the only resolution, the Cojuangco family guarantees its full cooperation in the expeditious completion of this process and put all other issues to rest,” he said.

While the family had sought a reconsideration of the high tribunal’s Nov. 22, 2011, ruling, Ligon said the court’s final decision on the decades-old dispute was “a verdict the Cojuangco family embraces.”

“(This) should be a glowing legacy for the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino,” he said.

“It cannot be argued that Mrs. Aquino made decisive moves to place Hacienda Luisita in the 1980s under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program although the preference of farmer-beneficiaries for stock distribution option (SDO) prevailed in at least three referendums over land distribution.”

Now that the farmers are on the verge of claiming the land that is rightfully theirs, the Luisita management wants to rewrite history, give itself a pat on the back, and perhaps make the current president look good in the process. (Why PDI editors dignify and give so much space to HLI’s gratuitous and self-serving statements, I really don’t know.)

“Glowing legacy” ba kamo? How about a legacy of deception and failure? Because that’s what the last 25 years of Mrs. Aquino’s CARP has amounted to for the farmers of Luisita. The way the Luisita management speaks, it’s as if they had the best intentions for the farmers at the onset; that the management, like Cory, really wanted land reform.

Cripes, if this were true, then the farmers were wrong to rise up against the Cojuangco-Aquinos. The strike in 2004 was totally unncecessary. The massacre of strikers and the assassination of farmers’ supporters, all those were for naught because, as Ligon says, Mrs. Aquino had wanted to place the sugar estate under her government’s land reform program from the start.

Wow, that’s even worse than Joel Rocamora claiming that this is a victory for Benigno Aquino’s land reform program. (Isa pa itong mga nakikisakay na tagumpay daw ng CARPER itong Luisita ruling).

Anyone familiar with Cory Aquino’s CARP knows that a provision in the law allowed landlords to retain control of their estates by subjecting these to a “Stock Distribution Option”. Under this scheme, farmers will be given shares of stocks instead of actual land. The scheme ensured that effective control of the land remained with the big landlords. Such was the case in Luisita where the shares of the farmers amounted to only 33% while the Cojuangco-Aquino management was able to bloat its shares to 66%. From that time on, farmers worked in miserable and oppressive conditions.

The failure of the SDO to improve the lives of farmers became the subject of a strike by farmworkers, a decision by the DAR, the PARC and eventually, the Supreme Court. The final ruling of the SC effectively junked the SDO and paved the way for actual land distribution. The SC ruling is a partial rebuke of the SDO of Cory Aquino’s CARP.

Now that farmers are getting their due, the Luisita management wishes us to believe in its benevolence.  HLI tries to assure us of its full cooperation with the decision. It is after all, a decision that the Cojuangco family “embraces”.


The statement that HLI will cooperate is also calibrated to take the heat off President Benigno Aquino III who up to now has not released a statement on the matter. Ligon wants to end public speculation on whether Aquino will press his family to comply with the decision.

For the record, the HLI management has never stopped scheming and maneuvering to retain their vast estate. They are notorious for not showing good faith. One time, it drafted a sham “compromise agreement” and gave token amounts of money to the farmers for them to sign the pact, in order to preempt the decision the High Court. We have not forgotten that. Up to the end, the HLI management even makes mention of three sham referendums that allegedly affirmed the farmers’ support for the SDO.

If there appears to be a change of tone in the statements of HLI, it’s because they know that there a very little legal options left for them at the moment. They know that they have been soundly defeated in the main legal arena. They know that there is overwhelming public support for the farmers of Luisita.

I end this piece by paraphrasing a message from a journalist friend who has watched the legal developments closely. He says that the victory of the Luisita struggle “is a glowing legacy of the national democratic peasant movement” in forwarding the cause of genuine land reform.

This victory belongs to the farmers and the people, and not to any landlord/president, past or present. To those like Ligon and the HLI management who are claiming otherwise, di na kayo nahiya. Ang kupal lang.

On April 19, activists aligned with the national democratic movement are expected to picket the Chinese embassy in the Philippines. Prior to this, militant and anti-imperialist groups have expressed strong opposition to China’s bullying in Scarborough Shoal. A resolution opposing China’s incursions has been filed by progressive partylist groups in the House of Representatives. China’s latest statements however show that it is adamant in asserting its questionable claims on Scarborough Shoal.

We oppose in no uncertain terms the incursions and aggressive behavior of China towards Philippine territory. The aggressive moves are the undeniable results of China’s bourgeois leadership who now appear to have imperialist ambitions in the region.

As a matter of principle, the Filipino people must assert Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity against all efforts to undermine them. In the same spirit, we staunchly oppose both the Aquino regime and the US when they use the dispute as justification for the expanded and increased presence of US troops in the Philippines. US intervention is also a violation of our national sovereignty. In fact, it is the US who has the worst track record in undermining Philippine sovereignty.

Meanwhile, we express solidarity with the oppressed peoples of China who are fighting China’s capitalist ruling class as well as US imperialist exploitation. At the end of the day, China’s bourgeois ruling elite and US imperialism, despite their contradictions, are united in advancing the interests of the capitalist class against the interests of the Chinese and Filipino oppressed classes.

As we fight efforts to undermine Philippine sovereignty on all fronts, we believe that both the Chinese and Filipino people share a common aspiration for genuine peace and development in the region.   Image

The problem is not so much that activists are “having a hard time attacking government policies”, but that people like Joel Rocamora and his Akbayan friends are having a difficult time seeing anything wrong with the Aquino administration despite the overwhelming evidence staring them in the face.

“Noynoying” is not simply a personal attack on Aquino but rather an assessment of the kind of government that we have today, one that is grossly insensitive to the plight of the Filipino people. Aquino represents that kind of government. He is the main articulator of its policies. He’s the one not acting when he is expected to act. More than being funny, there’s a truth to the term “noynoying” and that’s probably the reason why it has caught on in social media.

For one who heads the National Anti-Poverty Commission, an agency that supposedly is attuned to the needs of the poor, Rocamora apparently sees nothing wrong with Aquino’s refusal to scrap or lower the VAT on oil. Rocamora sees nothing wrong with Aquino’s rejection of a P125 wage increase–a measure that would greatly help Rocomora’s supposed constituents. The NAPC chair sees nothing disturbing with the Aquino government’s oft-repeated response of “wala tayong magagawa”, whether it’s about oil prices or tuition increases.   (Neither do we see Rocamora’s Akbayan friends protesting in the streets against economic ills, not like they used to anyway).

Rocamora attempts to explain Aquino’s different priorities at this stage of his presidency. “The bulk of PNoy’s time is spent on economic issues… but getting at GMA and Corona, earlier Merceditas Gutierrez, is necessary to dismantle the apparatus of impunity put together by GMA for her cabal”.

Unfortunately, Aquino’s performance has been found wanting on both economic issues and the issue of making GMA accountable. “Dismantling immunity” remains all talk as Arroyo is yet to be made accountable for the bigger crimes of plunder, gross human rights violations and wholesale electoral fraud. And when Rocamora says the bulk of Aquino’s time is spent on economic issues, does he mean the “conditional cash transfer” and “pantawid pasada”, because that’s a lot of time spent of palliatives.

What Rocamora wants us to believe is that Aquino is working hard and that it’s only the activists (national democrats) with their ideological blinders who refuse to see this.

“They see reforms as obstacles to the realization of their illusory revolution. But they cannot oppose specific reforms with massive public support. They cannot oppose the government’s victory on Hacienda Luisita redistribution, so they push for a collective title for the farmers,” Rocamora said.

A collective “Wah?!” would not be enough.

Rocamora distorts the facts in the Luisita dispute to make it appear that the activists and their struggle are threatened by Aquino’s so-called “reforms”. (Anu daw, government victory ang Luisita redistribution? Di ba mga magbubukid ang lumaban at nagbuwis ng buhay para dun?). If anything, the struggle in Luisita shows the limitations of the farmer’s options under the current legal processes and government programs.

There have been many in the past who predicted the demise and irrelevance of the Left, often citing “democratic reforms” as the basis.  Rocamora is not the first, and probably won’t be the last. Budget Secretary Butch Abad said as much last week. (And why spend so much energy calling something supposedly irrelevant as, well… irrelevant?)

Ah, if the national democratic Left was as irrelevant as Rocamora and Abad claim, why is it that a “leftist-conceived” term like “noynoying” gained wide currency? It’s because the NatDems are not alone in saying it. They’re joined by everyone else who feels government is not doing enough or anything at all.

The youth activists just gave a name to a collective sentiment that was already there (and in so doing, showed they are more sensitive to the public pulse than the well-oiled Palace communications group). This is something that Malacanang has failed to understand. Indeed, none so blind as those who will not see or are “noynoying”. ###

For one who claims he is unaffected by the “noynoying” protests, President Benigno Aquino III sure is trying hard to prove he has accomplished something in 21 months in office. He claims he has “statistics” on his side.

“Pumunta kayo ng mall, tingnan ninyo ang hila ng taong may dala-dalang packages na binili sila versus ‘yung namamasyal lang sa mall. At pati sila parang nadadama na mas marami nga ring may pera para pambili sa mga produktong ‘yon,” the President said.

“When you go around Metro Manila, or elsewhere sa mga sorties natin, pansinin ninyo ‘yung dami ng mga buildings, ‘yung mga fences na nakalagay kung ano ang tinatayo nila diyan. Tapos ‘yung ‘pag sa construction, kunwari sa Fort, doon ko nakikita nang madalas, hindi lang tumatakbo ‘yung mga crane ng Saturday, Sunday, pati gabi, nilalagyan pa ng advertisement ng construction company,” he said.

“I’ve been in office for 21 months and the record was broken 21 times,” Mr. Aquino said, referring to the stock exchange index.

Surely, the President cannot claim progress just because the stock market is up and because he thinks there are more actual shoppers than window shoppers in malls nowadays. Aquino’s claims regarding the economy betray a shallow appreciation of the economic difficulties many of our people face. If this is progress for Aquino, then the poor are in big trouble. It would appear no help is forthcoming.

The stock market has ceased to be an indicator of growth of the real economy as its rise is often triggered by speculative investments that have no productive output. As for his take on shoppers, it would be interesting to know what mall the President has actually observed to reach the conclusion that there are now more real shoppers than window shoppers.

Aquino has also gone on to justify his intransigence on the VAT on oil saying that making oil cheaper encourages consumption, implying of course that this is bad. We simply cannot have consumers buying more oil and using their vehicles more often which causes more traffic. Ah, there are endless reasons why the VAT should stay and why economic suffering is ok.

It is Aquino and his officials who appear to be living in a different world, a place where there are only happy mall-goers, rosy stock market indices and busy construction sites that point to economic growth. In this world, oil prices are not a problem no matter how high they get. Poverty is just a state of mind and unemployment is fiction.

Be thankful Mr. President that today’s protests are still tinged with humor. There might come a time when there will only be anger over your government’s inaction.    ###

P.S. The truth has a funny way of biting you in the behind…as seen from this classic video.

Recent revelations that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Anti-Money Laundering Council may have been involved in the leak of bank documents of Chief Justice Renato Corona are disturbing to say the least. According to the PSBank, who has a lot to lose by admitting it was the source of the leak, a source of the leakage may have been the audit conducted by BSP with the help from an AMLC expert.

While the Chief Justice has yet to satisfactorily explain the contents of his bank accounts (saying he will do so “in due time”, whatever the heck that means), Malacanang is exposing its fingerprints all over the impeachment drive.

The major players in the impeachment process, both the Chief Justice and the President, seem to have engaged in less than honest means in advancing their positions. In particular, the alleged involvement of the BSP and AMLC indicate that the prime movers of the impeachment in Malacanang may have taken some shortcuts in trying to secure evidence against Corona. The BSP and AMLC have as expected denied any involvement in any leak.

While we still believe Corona should be held accountable for his undeclared wealth and other misdeeds involving GMA, we cannot help but be troubled by the actions of the Executive. The shortcuts taken by the Palace can end up undermining crucial aspects of the case. Even if the AMLC and BSP deny that they are the source of the leak, the perception is that the Aquino government will use all means, even if questionable, to get its way. Even if the AMLC and BSP say that he audit happened before the impeachment trial (Sept-Nov 2011), we know that the removal of Corona was already being contemplated as early as 2010.

It appears also that those in the Palace believe that they can get away with almost anything just because their cause is “popular”. In the case of the watchlist order against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, many anti-GMA personalities and groups pointed out the concept of a watchlist order was problematic to say the least and that the proper way to prevent GMA from leaving the country was by filing a case in court against her. (Those critical of the watchlist order can recall how the same was used against people like Satur Ocampo who was prevented by the Arroyo regime from leaving the country on flimsy grounds.) The GMA watchlist seemed convenient (or necessary) since at the time, after nearly 500 days in office, Aquino still had no case filed in court against Arroyo.

It may be the same situation  in the case of the Chief Justice. While there may appear to be public support for the drive to make Corona accountable, the actions of the Executive and its allies– from the alleged legal shortcuts to ill-prepared prosecutors with tangled up stories– all threaten to undermine what should be a legitimate cause for accountability.

President Benigno Aquino III’s repeated attacks on Chief Justice Renato Corona are the equivalent of bromidic sermons from a regime that has accomplished little despite its lofty pronouncements. It is a recycled “daang matuwid” speech that has lost credibility among the people.

Even with his anti-Corona/anti-corruption rhetoric, it is clear that Aquino’s regime has done little to advance meaningful reforms in the country. It is sheer demagoguery to hail the impeachment of the Chief Justice as central to his administration’s reform plans, especially when the regime has failed to act on many other social issues and concerns. Aquino simply lacks the moral ascendancy to give a lecture on good governance and justice.

It is naïve and even deceptive to say that the impeachment of the Chief Justice will result in a government that would provide for the people, or that it would lead to a reformed Supreme Court.

Aquino is clearly overstating the impact of the impeachment vis-à-vis the many problems of the country. While it is correct that high officials should be made accountable for their misdeeds, and that the Chief Justice is no exception, Aquino is pulling our leg when he says that the mere impeachment of Corona sets the stage for major reforms.

Aquino’s “good governance” rhetoric rings hollow given his failure to prosecute Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo for her crimes such as gross human rights violations, plunder and wholesale electoral fraud. Moreover, the impeachment of Corona does not necessarily ensure the full accountability of the former president. That job still rests primarily with the Executive who is supposed to be filing the cases against GMA.

It is also ridiculous for Aquino to claim that when he speaks, he does so “for a sizeable number of our people”. While public opinion may tend to favor the impeachment of the Chief Justice, this does not necessarily mean that the public’s reasons for supporting the impeachment are the same as Aquino’s. The Aquino camp’s motives have up to now been suspect. Questions continue to arise over the supposed maneuvers of the Liberal Party for 2016 as well as Aquino’s counterstrike against the SC for the Luisita decision.

Ah, if only Aquino dissed the oil deregulation law, human rights violators, and the lack of budget for social services as much as he disses Corona, perhaps his ranting could still have some use. Unfortunately, Aquino is using the impeachment trial to compensate for his utter lack of accomplishments in governance and reforms, nearly two years into his 6-year term.

We thus urge the public to be ever vigilant with the developments in the impeachment trial. As we demand accountability for the Chief Justice and oppose moves to suppress the truth, we should also be critical of the maneuverings of the Aquino regime that is out to use the process for its own self-serving ends. We must continue to press Aquino to address issues outside the narrow confines of the impeachment trial. In particular, we must continue to demand true accountability in cases involving GMA and her cohorts. We must demand that the regime address the problems of the economy, human rights abuses and violations of our sovereignty. The SC meanwhile will also not be insulated from the peoples’ protests as struggles for land reform and other issues  continue.

Whatever the results of the trial, Aquino will not be able to escape the people’s demands for social justice that go beyond rhetoric and cosmetic changes. ###

PS. Next week will be Rep. Neri Colmenares’ turn to present evidence on Article 7 of the impeachment. This involves Corona’s actions that led to the infamous TRO on GMA’s watchlist order. This is the first and maybe last time that the issue of GMA will actually be discussed in the impeachment trial. This is something worth supporting.

President Benigno Aquino III finally commented on the Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmers. While careful not to comment on the actual merits of the decision for he has not read the 57-page ruling, Aquino did say two things that struck me.

First he said that “Sa agrarian reform, ang hinahabol ay dalawang  bagay: number one, i-empower mo ung magsasaka upang magkaroon siya ng sariling lupang sasakahin. Okay yung parteng iyon, Ang pangalawang bagay ay: ‘wag natin ubusin ang capital. Ibig sabihin, meron ding just compensation para naman yung dating nagmamay-ari ng lupa ay hindi mo inaagawan ng lupa, bayaran mo ng tama.”

Spoken like a true hacendero.

The proposition that the big landlords of Luisita should be justly compensated is patently unjust. Just look at the history of how the Cojuangco’s acquired the land through a government loan on condition that the land will eventually be distributed to the farmers. Look at how the Luisita landowners evaded land reform by foisting on the farmers the deceptive “stock distribution option” instead of actual land distribution. Just look at how the farm workers toiled on the land under the SDO while the owners reaped the gains and the farmers took home P9.50/day.

“Sana ma-meet yung two objectives. Hindi dapat yung may pinapaboran na isang sektor at isasakripisyo ang isa.  Kailangan sabay-sabay ang lahat ng sector”, he added.

Well ain’t that sheer demagoguery?

To say that the interests of landlords are being sacrificed is like saying Gloria Arroyo is kawawa for being unjustly persecuted. For decades, there was only the interest of the landlord that was advanced. You can see that quite clearly in the economic state of the farm workers versus the affluent living of the majority stockholders of HLI. Now that farmers have a chance to get a small measure of social justice, the president is concerned that landlord interests are not getting the proper consideration that they deserve, that these interests would be sacrificed.

The farmers have earned the right to own the land, for free. The land has been paid for through decades of uncompensated hard work. In the first place, the acquisition of the land by the Cojuangco’s has been assailed as being anomalous.

The second thing he said that struck me was “I don’t think I am competent to comment, I haven’t read the decision… and there are other pressing matters before my table.”

The biggest agrarian dispute in years has been “resolved” by the SC and the president says he has “other pressing matters” before him. This statement should be taken as a sign by all that land reform is not a pressing concern for this administration. Never was, never will be. I pity the DAR and Sol-Gen who  also appealed the decision of the SC along with the farmers. Seems they’re not getting much support from their Chief Executive. The least Aquino could have done was to publicly congratulate his own people, but then that would mean turning his back on his class.

Today we heard Benigno Aquino III speak not as president representing the people, but as a member of the landlord class. We are hardly surprised.

Just compensation? Try telling that to 80-year old Virginia Paligutan who’s son died a red fighter in 2005, six years before the SC ruling. Or to the families of the massacre victims and martyrs of Luisita.

Photo from Bulatllat

While the nation welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court ordering the actual land distribution of Hacienda Luisita, the SC decision presents several problems and challenges for farmers and advocates of land reform. The decision highlights the limitations and problems with government’s land reform program CARPER.

  1. The SC decision ordered the compensation of the owners of Hacienda Luisita. By “owners”, we mean the Cojuangco-Aquino family. They will be compensated for the 4, 335 hectares that will be distributed to the farmers. If each hectare is valued at 1,000,000, the Cojuangco’s will receive P4.3 billion. The government will advance a certain amount, and the farmers will have to pay the entire amount through an amortization scheme. No less than President Benigno Aquino III stressed the importance of “just compensation” for the landowners. He also invoked CARPER as the basis for this “just compensation”. What is unjust in this scheme is that the vast estate was unjustly acquired by the Cojuangco’s through a government loan from the GSIS and Central Bank. Public funds were used to acquire the estate with the condition that land would eventually be distributed to the farmers. Furthermore, the farm workers have paid for the value of the land through their sweat and blood, working on the estate for several decades without receiving any of the supposed fruits of their labor. Over the years, the Cojuangco’s got richer and the farm workers were mired deeper in destitution. There is therefore nothing just in paying the Cojuangco’s P4.335 billion which will come from public funds and the pockets of the long-exploited farm workers. The farmers demand that the land be distributed for free.
  2. The SC decision did not rule that the Stock Distribution Option scheme was unconstitutional. Only Chief Justice Renato Corona supported the junking of the SDO. It would have been a landmark victory for thousands of other farmers nationwide if the SDO itself, this loophole in the agrarian reform program of the first Aquino regime, was altogether junked. The SDO has been abused by big landlords who wanted to evade land reform and actual land distribution. Instead of actual land distribution, farmers are swindled through shares of stock.
  3. The SC decision exempted the 500 hectare land purchased by RCBC. This is controversial because RCBC knew that the land in question was the subject of an agrarian dispute, yet it entered into a transaction with the Luisita management to acquire the land. They claimed that they were “innocent purchasers” but facts will reveal that RCBC , Luisita Industrial Park Corporation (a subsidiary of HLI) and Centennary Holdings had interlocking directors or officials. There is also the land conversion order which reclassified this supposedly agricultural land. The HLI management of course earned a hefty sum from this sale.
  4. The SC decision exempted more than 1,000 hectares of land from the coverage of land reform.  Farmers and their lawyers have challenged the basis of this exemption and have pushed that land reform cover at least 6,443 hectares.
  5. The P1.3 billion payment by management to the farmers from the earnings of land sale (RCBC, SCTEX) will still be subjected to a lot of accounting wizardry. This amount can still go down if HLI shows that it spent the money for legitimate corporate expenses and taxes.

This is not a victory for CARPER. Quite the opposite, what happens in the next few months will show that CARPER will make genuine land reform even more difficult, nay impossible.

It is now the collective struggle of the farmers which will ensure that their legal victory (land distribution) will truly be beneficial for all farmer beneficiaries.