Carol Pagaduan-Araullo | Continuity

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

As the State-of-the-Nation Address of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III aka “Pnoy” approaches, we are witness to frenzied attempts by his three-headed communications group to orchestrate the “messaging” emanating from Malacanang that will be capped by Monday’s SONA.

Nothing exemplifies the hollowness of the group’s claims that under the Aquino watch “justice is being served…where those responsible for the suffering we have all endured for almost a decade will be held accountable’’ than the impunity which continues to this day with regard to grievous human rights violations perpetrated by the Arroyo administration.

Indeed, after a year in power, the Aquino government has yet to prosecute a single human rights violator from the state security forces. It is an open secret in the AFP and PNP that each army infantry battalion (IB) has an “internal security operations team” or ISOT, usually headed by the battalion intelligence or operations officer and centrally directed by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces (ISAFP), whose task is to carry out the “neutralization” operations against so-called “enemies of the state”.

The non-prosecution of the perpetrators of these dastardly crimes sends the clear signal that they can go on with impunity. Since Aquino came to power, the human rights organization Karapatan has listed 48 extrajudicial killings and 5 enforced disappearances, nearly all of them leaders and activists of progressive organizations and party lists. That adds up to a horrifying rate of nearly one a week, a terrible record for a regime that claims to be a champion of human rights

It also completely belies PNoy’s claims that under Oplan Bayanihan, the deodorized version of Oplan Bantay Laya, the AFP and PNP have become defenders, rather than violators, of human rights.

President Aquino’s handlers are working very hard to drown out reality. They want us to live in a fantasy world bathed in bright yellow where Pnoy is the knight in shining armor slaying the two-headed beast of corruption and poverty left behind by the evil queen Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They want us to believe their simplistic version of what ails Philippine society and that Aquino is just the man — with his supposedly untainted, if undistinguished, track record — to lead us to the path of our salvation.

But what is the real score as far as a growing number of Filipinos are concerned?

Mr. Aquino is not the harbinger of change either in politics or in society at large. He merely presides over the same rotten, oppressive system that he took over from Mrs. Arroyo.

It is a system that tramples on the democratic rights and welfare of 99 per cent of the people in favor of the hacienderos, the big bankers and other domestic partners of multinational corporations (MNCs), the government officials who make public office their private business, the generals and, of course, the monopoly capitalist interests embodied by the foreign MNCs, the international multilateral agencies and the US government.

The Aquino administration wound up its first year in office without showing any sign of prioritizing land reform, creating quality jobs for the long term, upgrading social services and making them universally accessible, developing the rural economy and rehabilitating much less building up domestic industry.

Mr. Aquino – to the delight of US imperialism and the ruling elite – used his high popularity ratings as political capital to implement unpopular decisions such as hikes in rates of public goods and services; maintaining regressive taxation like VAT on oil; not budging on land reform; not budging on wage hikes and contractualization, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to urban poor pleas against demolitions and for decent resettlement; and budget cuts in education, health care and housing.

His underlings gave token statements about reviewing the Visiting Forces Agreement but Mr. Aquino accepts without question the permanent presence of US troops on Philippine soil. He broke protocol recently to welcome the crew of the USS George Washington, one of the mightiest US aircraft carriers and flagship of a US battle group roaming the Western Pacific coast.

He assured foreign investors of wide-open opportunities in public works such as airports, roads and railways as well as in the exploitation of natural resources through so-called Public-Private-Partnerships and even offered unprecedented guarantees.

He continued to make debt servicing a top budget priority even managing to pay eight billion pesos more than the Arroyo regime in his first ten months in office.

To buy the loyalty of the military and police top brass he hiked their budgets by billions of pesos and treaded lightly on corruption scandals and accusations of human rights abuse and violations of international humanitarian law in the conduct of so-called counterinsurgency operations.

Most telling, Aquino’s economic policies are the same old pro-“globalization” policies that have been proven to slow down growth, spur joblessness, shrink incomes and multiply poverty not just in the Philippines but all around the globe. Even his multi-billion peso dole-out programs, the Conditional Cash Tranfers, expanded several times over, are taken from the Arroyo era.

But Mr. Aquino is a “new” and “improved” version of Mrs. Arroyo in the sense that he is what the rotten ruling system so desperately needs to buttress what is already falling apart at the seams and is under constant threat by the unarmed protest movement and the armed struggles being waged by the CPP-NPA-NDF and the MILF.

Mr. Aquino as President is in effect the CEO of the reactionary ruling system. He serves to stabilize the Philippine state by his relatively better capacity (compared to Mrs. Arroyo’s zero credibility) to use deceptive slogans and PR campaigns to blunt criticism, defuse dissent, co-opt opposition and even whip up patriotic fervor (versus Chinese interlopers but never against US meddling) when needed.

It will still take some time for Mr. Aquino to become as odious and isolated as Mrs. Arroyo but at the rate he is going, this may be sooner than later. No amount of public relations gimmickry can appease hungry stomachs, homeless families and victims of injustice.

Of course, anti-Aquino factions of the ruling elite especially those who are pro-Arroyo, pro-Marcos or just plain opportunist will grab at this eventuality to prepare to take their turn at the till.

This is what the people’s movement must prevent and fight hard against, that the ruling system that is exploiting and oppressing the people to intolerable levels will be given another lease on life despite its deep-going crisis.

Published in Business World

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