Thursday, October 14, 2010

China's poverty reduction gains

The left cannot ignore China’s poverty reduction achievements

By Reihana Mohideen

China’s achievements in reducing poverty have been outstanding. From 1978 – when the restructuring of the Chinese economy began -- to 2007 the incidence of rural poverty dropped from 30.7 percent in 1978 to 1.6 percent in 2007. The biggest drop took place between 1978 and 1984 when the number of rural poor almost halved, from 250 million in 1978 to 125 million in 1985. During this period the per capita net income of farmers grew at an annual rate 16.5 percent. Urban poverty, measured by an international standard poverty line of US$1 per day, reduced from 31.5% in 1990 to 10.4% in 2005. No other third world country has achieved so much and made such a significant contribution to reducing global poverty, as China has, over this period.

Between 1978 and 2007 per capita income has increased significantly. Inflation adjusted per-capita disposable income of urban residents grew at the average annual rate of 7.2% for urban residents and at 7.1% for rural residents. While the gap between the rural and urban areas still continues (and has even increased across some development indicators), the fact remains that virtually the entire population has been able to greatly increase consumption of food, clothing and shelter. According to the United Nations “China now has largely eliminated absolute poverty and is meeting the food and clothing needs of its 1.3 billion people”.

And despite the significant gaps between rural and urban areas, between richer and poor regions, migrant and other workers and the increasing class divisions, there is a degree of equalisation of income growth which even has many capitalist commentators bewildered. Higher household incomes has allowed for improvements in nutrition, clothing and housing. Examples include a significant reduction in undernourishment: in 1981 some 30% of China’s population was undernourished and this dropped to 12% by 1997; between 1990 and 2005 the prevalence of underweight children fell from 19.1% to 6.9% and stunting in children under the age of five fell from 33.4% to 10.5%. The greatest reduction in child malnutrition took place in rural China. The country’s under-five child mortality rates dropped steadily from 40 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 18.1 in 2007 – far lower than third world averages. Maternal mortality (that directly impacts on child mortality) dropped from 53 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 36.6 in 2007 – well below third world averages of 440 per 100,000 live births. China’s average life expectancy was 71.4 years in 2000, higher than averages for third world countries.

These are significant gains for third world countries today and especially so given the sheer numbers of women and children that it involves given the size of China’s population. This is partly related to a massive increase in healthcare spending – total per capita spending on healthcare from all sources – government, private households social -- increased by 1300 per cent from 1978 to 2006. While the effective privatization of healthcare resulted in a massive shift in the responsibility of healthcare spending on to private households, nevertheless, even government spending increased by nearly 700%, to 7.9 times the 1978 levels, an average annual increase of 7.7%.

There are major inequalities that continue to widen in China as a result of the restructuring of the economy along capitalist lines. The state which was previously responsible for almost 100% of health expenditure now only contributes around 18% of total expenditure (compared to over 70% in Western Europe) and large sections of the population especially in rural areas could not afford healthcare. In an attempt to address these inequalities in 2009 the government announced major healthcare reforms, including the provision of basic health insurance cover for 90% of the population.

Class differences are widening along with income gaps. In 2006 the per capita disposable income of the richest 10 percent of families was 9 times more than the poorest 10%. The urban-rural income gap continues to widen – 2.8 to 1 in 2000 to 3.3 to 1 in 2007. The per capital GDP in Shanghai was 65,347 Yuan in 2007 compared to Guizhou at 6,835 Yuan in the west. While Shanghai and Beijing have attained levels of development closer to the industrialized countries such as Portugal, poorer provinces like Guizhou are comparable to Botswana and Namibia. Gender gaps are widening in sex ratio at birth, with the number of new born male children and numbers of female children widening over time, with no sign of declining (these trends will be analysed in future articles). Nevertheless, the fact remains that the country has made major strides in reducing poverty, on a human scale that no other third world country has achieved, and which is perhaps historically unprecedented.

Despite the restructuring of the education sector which resulted in individuals taking primary responsibility for education costs, China has made remarkable progress in its education indicators, partly due to subsequent measures to partially reverse the earlier restructuring policy. Between 1994 and 2001 less than 2% of resources came from national government, with town and township governments responsible for nearly four fifth of China’s compulsory education costs. Because local government revenues barely covered staff salaries the financial burden fell on the people who had to start paying fees, resulting in increasing drop-out rates of poor students, especially in the rural areas and poorer provinces. In a partial policy reversal the central government exempted rural students in western China (where dropout rates were high) from tuition and miscellaneous fees, and by 2007 the government had decided to waive fees for rural compulsory education throughout the country, and provide free text books and boarding expenses. In 2008 fees were waived for urban compulsory education as well. In 2005 the annual education budget was 2.5% of a vastly expanded GDP – a 60 fold increase from 7.5 billion Yuan in 1978 (around 2% of the GDP) to 453 billion Yuan in 2005.

Enrollment rates have increased – 99% at primary school level and 95% at junior middle-school – and adult literacy rates rose to over 90% in 2006, higher than the global average of 78%. The average number of years of schooling received by people 15 years and over rose from 5.3 years in 1982 to 8.5 years in 2005.

The socialist movement, especially in the Asia region, must study and attempt to understand these developments. Simply placing China in the ‘going capitalist’ basket and ignoring developments in the country is a big mistake. Undoubtedly the gains of the great Chinese revolution of 1949 has laid the basis for these developments, including land reform that broke the back of landlordism and semi-feudal relations in the countryside (unlike in the Philippines or even India today) and which laid the basis for major strides in human development, so that when capitalist restructuring was introduced the levels of health, education and life expectancy, for example, were better than for a majority of third world countries at the time. And even today there are several third world countries who are yet to achieve the levels of development achieved by China in 1980.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What's wrong with the conditional cash transfer program?

Or three reasons to do it differently

The Asian Development Bank is loaning the Philippine government $400,000 million to implement it’s conditional cash transfer program, known as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). The conditional health and education cash grants will be provided to poor households by the DSWD, to mothers and/orpregnant women of eligible households, who will receive the cash grants for up to 5 years subject to the eligibility criteria and compliance. Transfers are paid quarterly, directly into women beneficiaries' accounts established in the Land Bank of the Philippines. The 4Ps includes two types of transfers: one related to health and one to education.

Poor households with children 0–14 years old and/or pregnant women are eligible for a health grant currently set at P500 per household per month (for 12 months per year). The conditionalities are: (i) all children 0–5 years old attend the health center to obtain services established by the Department of Health (DOH) according to their age, including immunizations; (ii) pregnant women attend the health center according to DOH protocol, including delivery by skilled personnel and postnatal care; (iii) children 6–14 years old comply with deworming protocol at schools; and (iv) the household grantee (mother) and/or spouse attend family development sessions at least once a month.

Poor households with children 6–14 years old are eligible for the education grant. The education transfer is P300 ($7) per child per month (for 10 months per year), for up to a maximum of three children. Beneficiary households will receive the education transfer for each child from 6 to 14 years of age as long as they are enrolled in primary or secondary school and maintain a class attendance rate of at least 85% every month.

Eligible households can receive both the health and education grants. The average transfer per household is estimated at 23% of the average annual household income.

So far it sounds so good. But let’s analyze the package and the conditional cash transfer instrument further.

Firstly, this is a loan being borrowed by the government to be repaid over a twenty five year period, i.e. a debt that burdens future generations. Furthermore, this is a high interest ADB loan, a part of the ordinary capital resources loans, which charges near market interest rates. The ADB also provides Asian development fund loans, on concessional rates and grants (as opposed to loans) to developing countries. The government and it’s negotiating team should not borrow loans at market rates for such a program, but demand that the ADB provides the government with grant funding instead. If the ADB wants to assist us with our social programs and wants to strengthen the country’s social protection system, let it provide us grant funding – ‘free’ money – instead of loans, especially non-concessional loans, that only serve to increase this country’s debt burden.

The government negotiators should stand firm on this. If the Philippines does not qualify for grants, then insist on changing the terms with the ADB and other international finance institutions.

The country’s historic national debt and the automatic debt appropriation law that sacrifices the budget to loan repayments, should make the government more circumspect. The government should apply the utmost caution in negotiating more burdensome loans.

Secondly, even the ADB admits that the “ Key causes of poverty in the Philippines include high inequality and chronic underinvestment in physical and human capital, especially health and education. As a result, the Philippines is lagging on progress in non-income MDG targets for universal primary education, maternal mortality, and access to reproductive health services.” International donor agencies are in a mild panic as they face the prospect of countries not being able to achieve the less-than-minimum millennium development goals or MDGs. They will pressure us to recklessly get into debt to borrow to try and meet these targets. But this also provides us with an opportunity – to be firm and negotiate conditions that benefit the country in the short and long run. Also, if the new President and government has political capital in the eyes of the international community, why not use this to extract grants, rather than loans.

Thirdly, these conditional cash transfers are short-term measures – essentially anti-crisis measures – to mitigate risks and negative impacts. Therefore borrowing and getting into debt for short-term impacts is short-sighted and even reckless. We need long-term solutions. This means we must increase investments, starting with the national budget, on health and education.

The government should immediately double the national budget on health and education. The Philippines spends only around 6.4% on health as a percentage of total government expenditure, compared to our neighbour Thailand, for example, that spends 11.3%, or China with 9.9%. (UNDP 2009)

A longer-term measure is to provide universal health care and education. The problem with the poverty targeting instruments of the ADB and other IFIs is that in the name of targeting the ‘poorest of the poor’ it effectively excludes large sections of the poor (also referred to as ‘low-income’) thus depriving them of their fundamental and inalienable human right to a decent education and healthcare. Several countries in our region provide universal healthcare, such as Vietnam, which is already ahead of several of its MDG targets, Malaysia, Thailand and the two countries with the largest populations in the world, India and China. So why not us? Let us once again place this issue on the agenda – universal health care for all.

Finally, we need to once again raise the issue of repealing the automatic debt appropriation law. This is fundamental to increasing social investments and addressing structural inequalities that prevent the poor from accessing affordable and quality health care and education.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Disaster Management

The Case of New Zealand, Haiti and the ‘Cuban way’

By Reihana Mohideen

Comparisons must be made between the impact of the earthquake in New Zealand and the quake that hit Haiti in January and the nature of a global system that harbors these inequalities should be exposed over and over again. Haiti – a population of around 9 million -- some 250,000 people died in the earthquake and (according to government figures) 200,000 were injured and one million were made homeless. Some eight months later disaster still grips peoples lives. Fortunately, but in a staggering contrast, no lives were lost in New Zealand, although the earthquake was of a similar magnitude (7 on the Richter scale).

New Zealand’s building codes set a world standard in seismic building regulations and are incorporated into the building codes of several countries, including the Caribbean Uniform Building Code. Haiti, on the other hand, had no known building regulations. According to a report provided to the Global Task Force on Building Codes by a member of a disaster risk management team that visited Haiti prior to the earthquake in 2009, Haiti reportedly has some building regulations, but they were not focused on building safety and were rarely implemented. Haitian civil engineers and architects said that any codes used for professionally designed and constructed private buildings would not be Haitian - but would depend on where that person studied (USA being most common). Donor funded buildings are usually built to a standard stipulated by the donor or by the professional in charge. The State University’s engineering curriculum did not have any substantive elements on building codes.

The Philippines is one of the countries most vulnerable to earthquakes and studies have found that the country’s school children are especially vulnerable due to sub-standard building construction. Tens of thousands of people could die, in Manila alone, from an earthquake of the magnitude that hit Haiti and New Zealand. The building industry is riddled with corruption, undermining the implementation of building industry safety standards and regulations. The urban poor, who are a significant proportion of the urban population, live in hovel-like structures that are assembled with flimsy pieces of card board, wood and discarded roofing materials, easily washed away by rains and typhoons. Typhoon Ondoy that hit the country in October last year, killing thousands and displacing tens of thousands of people, gives us a terrifying preview of what an earthquake could unleash.

But the problems faced by those of us living in Third World countries in coping with disasters goes beyond the inadequacy of building regulations. The basic problem is poverty. A glance at the UN’s ranking of countries based on its Human Development Index (a measurement of education, life expectancy and income) is an indicator of the problem. Haiti’s ranking is 149 to New Zealand’s ranking of 20 (out of 182 countries). Philippines ranking is 105. The massive numbers of lives lost in disasters is a direct result of poverty. The poor in the Third World are more vulnerable, including to climate-change induced disasters, than those in the industrialized countries.

However, even a poor country can take effective measures to mitigate the loss of lives and injuries if there is political will in government to prioritize protecting the lives of its’ people. If New Zealand sets the world standard with its seismically safe buildings, then Cuba sets the world standard on how a poor country can save lives during disasters. And the Cuban example has been acknowledged and praised even by those not partial to the Cuban revolution, such as the United Nations, which identifies Cuba as a case study in disaster risk management. Between 1996 and 2002, six major hurricanes hit Cuba killing 16 people out of the total 665 deaths in the affected countries. Hurricane Charlie killed four people in Cuba and 30 people in Florida. When Hurricane Ivan threatened Cuba, the country evacuated 1.9 million people, 17% of the population, over 15 days. All shelters were staffed with nurses, and doctors were sent to the high risk areas. Then President Fidel Castro went to the highest risk region to assist the effort. No one was seriously injured or killed as a result of the hurricane.

According to the International Secretariat for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the United Nations body that focuses on disaster reduction, “the Cuban way could easily be applied to other countries with similar economic conditions and even in countries with greater resources that do not manage to protect their population as well as Cuba does”. The ISDR says that Cuba is an example that the vulnerability of people can effectively be reduced with low-cost measures and strong determination. According to the ISDR the Cuban authorities are determined to implement disaster reduction policies in Cuba. “It is part of their development planning and their culture, which play a key role in saving lives and livelihoods. This illustrates the importance of a strong political will … Leaders of countries around the world have at their disposal the knowledge needed to reduce risk and vulnerability to hazards. Even poor countries are not entirely without options to mitigate or prevent the consequences of hazards. What is often lacking are concrete programs of action and the political will to implement policies and measures.”

This Cuban “political will”, however, does not emanate from particular individuals or even governments. The “Cuban way” is the logic of a society – an entire social, economic and cultural system – that places human beings and their needs as its central and fundamental priority. Cuba’s economy and society are based on socialist principles prioritizing people before imperialist profits resulting in the highest levels of human solidarity and culture. Haiti, in contrast to Cuba, tragically and despite it’s heroic and historic struggles against colonial slavery, has been exploited for decades by imperialism, which has intervened in it’s political affairs with impunity, supporting coups and organizing military interventions to overthrow pro-people governments, a history that we in the Philippines are familiar with as a result of our own semi-colonial relationship with and dependence on the United States.

The Cuban government is unique in that it has paid an equal amount of attention to the structural and physical aspects of disaster preparedness, but has also created a “culture of safety” through successful education and awareness campaigns. The ISDR points to education as one of the main reasons for the low level of hurricane mortality rate in Cuba compared to its neighbors. Disaster preparedness, prevention and response are part of the general education curriculum. People in schools, universities and workplaces are continuously informed and trained to cope with natural hazards. From their early age, all Cubans are taught how to behave as hurricanes approach the island. They also have, every year, a two-day training session in risk reduction for hurricanes, complete with simulation exercises and concrete preparation actions. This facilitates the mobilization of their communities at the local level when a hurricane hits Cuba. Cuba’s entire adult population is literate and therefore can access educational materials about disasters. The Cuban Red Cross, which provides teaching material, is reinforced by training courses and disaster drills for parents in the workplace, as well as by radio and television broadcasts.

There is an adequate road system in the country that facilitates speedy evacuation and building codes are enforced, which reduce the element of highly vulnerable substandard construction. Approximately 95 per cent of the households in the country have electricity and therefore can access information about disasters through radio and television. Most importantly the Cuban population is mobilized through a range of social, professional and political organizations in the country that provide structures that can quickly mobilize the entire population in disaster.

All these features of Cubas’ disaster management program are direct results of the gains of the Cuban revolution, which has created one of the most socially conscious, educated and politically organized and mobilized people in the world. We, in the Philippines, have much to learn from the “Cuban way”.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Hostage Killings: When Life is Cheap

Most Filipinos are shocked and angry at the outcome of the hostage taking and believe that the authorities bungled up the operations thus costing the lives of the seven tourists from Hongkong. But then most Filipinos are a compassionate people who also feel a sense of responsibility and even duty towards their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, such humane values are not emblematic of the state institutions in this country – the law enforcement agencies and other government institutions, legislative and executive.

On the contrary, the experience of ordinary people is the systematic violation of their rights by these very same institutions that have a reputation for being corrupt, inefficient, anti-people and inhumane with respect to the treatment that they mete out to their ordinary citizens. Members of the law enforcement agencies, for example, are known to break the very laws that they are meant to enforce. Instead of protecting the rights and even lives of the masa they violate these rights, including peoples lives (witness the recent torture of a petty thief at the hands of the police).

Life, especially those of the poor, is ‘cheap’ in this country. Governments/institutions have abrogated their responsibility to protect poor peoples lives, as seen by the preventable loss of lives due to ‘accidents’, floods and landslides, the regular capsizing of overcrowded boats and the drowning of hundreds, the continuing extra-judicial killing of activists and journalists and the millions of lives wasted by poverty.

This cheapening and degradation of human life in this country has once again been dramatically exposed, and this time in the international arena, with the loss of lives of overseas nationals. The problem is not merely one of better training and equipment for the PNP. It's deeper and more fundamental, tied to the very nature and culture of these institutions, whose structures, internal culture and practice is not geared towards fulfilling their social and human obligations. Their internal functions and culture are in fact the very anti-thesis of anything social -- they are anti-social.

Some governments still carry out their responsibility of protecting their citizens with a certain degree of commitment and efficiency and hence the reaction of the Hongkong authorities to the killings of their nationals on Philippine soil. If the loss of lives were those of Filipino nationals, one cannot help but wonder if the Philippine authorities would respond in the same way – with indignation and anger at the loss of Filipino lives and doing everything in their power to protect the needs and interests of their citizens. Successive governments indifference to protecting the lives of Filipino citizens inside and outside the country -- such as that of overseas Filipino workers -- indicates that this will not be the case.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Philippines Facing Election Failure

The country faces a possible failure of elections on May 10 due to the inability of the Filipino elite to ensure a resolution to the political crisis through elections and the general incompetence of a corruption ridden, elite-controlled, weak state to conduct credible elections, above all one based on a fully automated voting system.

Only five days before the elections the major test run of the equipment has failed. In several precincts around the country, for example, votes cast for the opposition Liberal Party candidate Noynoy Aquino, were counted as votes for the candidate backed by the government party Lakas Kampi CMD’s (Christian Muslim Democrats), Gilbert Teodoro.

In one important aspect, i.e. the public trust in the electoral commission to conduct credible elections, the elections have already failed. People are extremely distrustful of the electoral commission and its credibility is virtually in tatters. The commission is suspected of being manipulated by the president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (known as GMA in the Philippines) to serve her personal political interests and several commissioners are known to be in the pay of GMA.

The prospect of a failure of elections has unnerved the elite, including the elite opposition. Various elite factions have come up with a chaotic plethora of alternatives to save the system, ranging from the postponement of elections, to a full manual count of the votes.

Arroyo, one of the most unpopular presidents in Philippine history, has faced several impeachment attempts, the wrath of a mass movement that has persistently called for her ouster and several military mutinies by junior officer opposed to her government. She has survived this all, partly due to her ability to buy-off a majority in congress through her plunder of presidential resources, while the sullen anger of the masses against the government has grown. If she no longer controls government, she will face a number of corruption and plunder charges that will see her convicted and jailed, as was the case with the former president Estrada. Therefore there’s a very strong possibility that she will manipulate the election results to hold onto power indefinitely. This could include changing the constitution to install her as a Prime Minister, thereby extending her control of government and protecting the interests of the Arroyo political dynasty.

The failure of the May 10 elections could lead to the explosion of another political crisis. While Noynoy Aquino leading the ‘yellow forces’ has indicated his support for ‘peoples power’, there is also a question mark about the capacity of Noynoy Aquino and the Liberal Party to be able to mobilize peoples power. While Noynoy has substantial middle class support, Estrada who is the runner-up in the polls, continues to command significant support amongst the urban poor. Is there a possibility of a Noynoy-Estrada alliance? The political situation is chaotic and unpredictable. Anything seems to be a possibility at this stage.

Meanwhile election related violence continues with killings reported in various localities around the country. Many of the culprits of the Maguindanao massacre – the worst case of recent election related violence in the country in which 57 people including 32 journalists were massacred – were initially acquitted by the Justice Secretary of the Arroyo government, while one of the murderers continues to vacation in ‘jail’.

Mutinous groupings continue to exist in the military, several of them also supporting various factions of the elite. A right-wing option is also a real danger: a right-wing ‘Generals coup’, orchestrated by the ruthlessly Machiavellian Secretary of National Defense Norberto Gonzales.

Ultimately it’s the deep divisions amongst the elite that drive the political crisis. The left and the mass movement are still on the sidelines, monitoring the developments, but in reactive mode. If an election failure results in triggering the masses into action, this could break open the situation for the left. A major challenge for the left continues to be its ability to force open the divisions amongst the elite. Key to this is mobilising the masses for an anti-elite resolution to the crisis i.e. sustained, nationwide, mass protests drawing the urban poor, laboring masses and the middle-classes onto the streets. This needs to be based on calls that expose the true nature of the problem – the system of elite rule – and for a transitional government based on an alliance of the most consistent anti-Arroyo forces, which has as its main responsibility the clean up of the electoral and political system through fundamental reforms, before conducting credible elections.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Military Rebels in the Philippine Elections

The Philippine Left and the 2010 Elections (Comment piece No. 4)

Based on an interview with well-known Marxist Francisco Nemenzo.

An important political development in recent years as a result of the widespread opposition to the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is the radicalisation of junior officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which has drawn a new generation into progressive politics. Several military rebel groups have recently emerged. These include the Magdalo, led by Lt. Col. Antonio Trillanes, currently imprisoned by the Arroyo government and Para sa Bayan, whose key leaders are also in jail. Trillanes contested the 2007 senate elections while imprisoned, with little or no resources or publicity, and still managed to garner around 11 million votes to win a senate seat (which is the official count, so the actual vote is very likely to be higher than this). General Daniel Lim, who was recently acknowledged as the leader of the various military rebel groupings including the Magdalo and Para sa Bayan, is also running for a senate position in the May 10 elections this year, albeit from behind bars. Colonel Ariel Querebin, currently imprisoned by the Arroyo government, is also running for a senate position. Lt. SG. James Layug, recently released Magdalo leader, is running for a congress seat in Taguig (Second District).

Francisco Nemenzo, well-known Marxist and the former President of the University of the Philippines, is active in the campaign to elect Danny Lim and is featured in television advertisements in support of Lim. In a recent letter to staff and students of the University of the Philippines, entitled ‘How I will vote’, Nemenzo explains his support for Danny Lim: “Of almost 90 contestants for 12 senatorial seats, General Danilo Lim stands out. He is not the soldier we love to hate. He exemplifies a thinking military officer who sees his job as defending the Filipino people, not protecting their oppressors. He is painfully aware of what is wrong with the military and police, but he is not one who merely growls without doing something about it. In February 2006 he made the bold decision to withdraw support from Gloria Maca¬pagal Arroyo, outraged by the revelation in the Garci tapes that soldiers were used to cheat in the 2004 elections. When Arroyo’s minions in the House of Representatives aborted the impeachment process, he realized that defiance was a patriotic act. He reminded himself that he swore allegiance to the republic, not to the incumbent President.”

“Danilo Lim is one of the few respected generals in the armed forces. His military education in West Point heightened his sense of nationalism instead of turning him into a little brown American. He earned exemplary combat record as an officer of the Scout Rangers. He was teaching mathematics in the Philippine Military Academy when he helped organize the Young Officers Union. He is a man of impeccable integrity and was never involved in human rights violation. Danny Lim would have been a strong contender for AFP chief-of-staff had he sold his soul to GMA. When it came to a crunch, he heeded the people’s clamor for the ouster of his commander-in-chief.”

“Now that Danny Lim is pursuing his advocacy for system change in the electoral arena, I shall vote for him and the three other senatorial candidates who stood for the ouster of the illegitimate president in 2006. If elected, they will symbolize our continuing struggle for a just, democratic, modernized and independent nation.”

The military rebels, like the left, have been unable to put up a unified ticket. According to Nemenzo “They [the military rebels] had different origins. There seems to be a difference between the Philippine Military Academy 1990 batch and the batches after 1995. They also had different field experiences: the Scout Rangers, the Marines, the SWAG, the Air Force the regular navy, etc.”

Nemenzo’s assessment is that the military rebels were “never united organizationally” but unlike the left which “was once united but split, distinct groups [amongst the military rebels] are easier to unify than former comrades.”

Nemenzo is also supporting Col. Ariel Querebin, Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan leader running on the senate ticket of the Liberal Party presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino) and JV Bautista (Sanlakas and Partido Lakas ng Masa, running on the senate ticket of the former president Erap Estrada)

In his letter Nemenzo also explains his position on the electoral system: “I do not consider elections as the essence of democracy; in most instances they serve as a fa├žade for oligarchy. I cannot even consider elections in the Philippines a “simula ng pagbabago”. Change will not come as a result of the coming elections, regardless of who wins. The colossal prob¬lems we face today are rooted the system of elite rule. For as long as this system prevails, any change will be superficial and its benefits will not trickle down to the masses.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Philippine Left and the 2010 Elections (Comment piece Number 3)

Ric Reyes for Pasig Mayor: A hallmark electoral campaign for the left

Ric Reyes’[1] campaign for Mayor of Pasig was formally launched at a 5000 strong local rally on March 26. The march, the biggest to be held in that city for many years, snaked it’s way on a ‘long march’ through the working class sections of Pasig. Ric Reyes campaign is a flag mark campaign for the left – an example of how to conduct a united, principled and effective electoral intervention. The campaign unites local mass leaders and activists of Akbayan and the Partido Lakas ng Masa, in a tactical alliance with the local ‘yellow forces’ of the Liberal Party, whose national Presidential candidate is Noynoy Aquino. The local chapter of the Magdalo, one of the political formations formed by military rebels who attempted to lead a military mutiny against Gloria Macapagal Aorroyo, are also supporting the campaign.

Pasig, Ric’s home town, is one of the four richest cities in Metro Manila, with a city government budget of around P5.2 billion in 2010. The city’s political institutions have been in the clutches of a local political clan, the Eusebios, for some 18 years. The clan has controlled the mayoralty of the city over that period, the position oscillating between the father Eusebio, mother and now the son, who is standing again for re-election. The political clan has controlled the Vice Mayor’s position, the entire City Council and even the heads of the local barangays – the Barangay Captain’s positions – for most of this period. The clan runs homeowners associations, interfere in the elections of the local mass organizations, such as the jeepney and tricycle drivers associations, through a combination of patronage politics and terror tactics.

Barangay Pinagbuhatan, the barangay where Ric’s campaign was launched, is controlled by a henchman of the Eusebio’s who has used terror tactics to quell any local resistance, including the liquidation of a number of local leaders. In 2004, an opposition congressional candidate, who was on his way to winning the congressional seat of Pasig, was gunned down and assassinated.

Electoral results are constantly manipulated, using various tricks in the book (standard fare of electoral politics in the country) including buying ‘excess’ ballots from the National Printing Office. On one occasion the certificate of canvass filed by the local electoral commission office had a total number of votes counted, which exceeded the total number of votes cast, by thirty thousand.

According to Ric Reyes, “The Pasig campaign is a good example of the left uniting together. The local Liberal party also has many progressive members, who used to be with the left. Many former activists, individuals, have also come out to support the campaign.” The campaign has mobilized many new activists, with around 300 people working on the campaign on a daily basis. Even some of the local leaders of the Reaffirmists (Maoists, who reaffirm the CPP strategic line of protracted peoples war) are expressing ‘tactical support’ for the campaign.

“Right from the start I made it clear to people that this is a ‘poor man’s’ campaign to oust a dynasty. A dynasty that has taken care of the local roads (which involve lucrative business contracts), but not the people in the area. The state of the hospitals in Pasig are dismal, with people even having to buy their own alcohol (disinfectant) because this is not being provided to them. The public school system is in a mess and there’s a drop-out rate of some 25% at elementary and high school. The city is also a well-known drug den and is one of the main distribution centres for drugs in Metro Manila. The first step to deal with the drug problem in Pasig, is to oust the drug lord controlling the city hall.”

“As for the jobs generated by the city government, these are ‘patronage’ jobs – casual and ‘volunteers’ who are on miserable allowances of around P2000/month. In the city hall bureaucracy, there are people who have been working there for 15 to 17 years who are casuals on three month long contracts, without regular jobs.

“The Eusebios don’t only resort to physical harassment, but also demand ‘grease’ money (payment of bribes) from small businesses who need to have their licences renewed every year, for example. Many businesses, including wealthier ones in Ortigas, complain about this type of harassment as well. Stall vendors in the markets, side-walk vendors, can be thrown out and harassed. Tricycle drivers are victimized and have to pay large fines of P500 for minor violations.”

The city hall’s budget meetings are held in Shanghai and Hongkong. The Eusebios have also accumulated a massive amount of wealth through local plunder and are said to own mansions in London, San Francisco and New York.

Ric Reyes campaign is called “Pasig Libre: Tayo ang Pagbabago” (Free Pasig! We Are for Change!) The campaign will be based on house-to-house campaigning, and mobilizing the people around local issues, such as the threatened demolition of some 15,000 urban poor families living along the flood ways of the Pasig river. The campaign is also attempting to minimize the possibilities of cheating, by checking on the voters lists to make sure they are not padded with false voters and with legitimate voters excluded. The campaign committee is attempting to set up a separate organization to ensure that the voters’ lists and the counting of the ballot is secured.

[1] Ric Reyes is a well-known leader of the revolutionary socialist movement in the Philippines. He was a leader of the Rejectionist movement that left the CPP in the early 1990s, repudiating the CPP’s undemocratic party practices and their line of armed struggle, via protracted peoples war.

Friday, March 12, 2010

CPP-NPA Permit to Campaign Fees: Fundraising or Opportunism?

The Philippine Left and the 2010 Elections
(A series of commentaries on left electoral tactics in the lead-up to the May 10, 2010 Philippine elections.)

The issue of the New Peoples Army collecting ‘permit to campaign fees’ (euphemistically named ‘revolutionary taxes’ by the CPP) from capitalist trapo politicians wanting to campaign in NPA strongholds has once again resurfaced in the lead-up to the May 2010 elections. The fees buy these trapo politicians a ‘permit to campaign’ in NPA areas. According to a February 5 Dateline news report, documents obtained from an NPA leader arrested in January this year, pegs the taxes from P30 million for a presidential candidate to P5000 for a candidate for local council. It’s a well-known ‘secret’ in the left that this practice of tax collection during elections is a lucrative source of fundraising for the CPP-NPA.

A March 12 statement issued by the CPP (;refer=ndfev;lang=eng) while denying that the CPP ‘simply accepts bribes to let reactionary politicians win in the election’, at the same time indirectly justifies the practice by claiming that “there are already two governments in the country, two different laws, two different systems of life. If the reactionaries want to campaign in the areas controlled by the revolutionary movement, they must recognize the revolutionary government.” Following the logic of this argument, one can justifiably also ask why a revolutionary government should allow a politician belonging to a reactionary government to campaign in its ‘sovereign territory’? Contrast the NPA practice to that of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an armed liberation movement, struggling for self-determination of the Bangsa Moro people in Mindanao. The MILF doesn’t open up its base for money to reactionary politicians during election campaigns, so why should the NPA?

The left rhetoric of the CPP-NPA notwithstanding, this is yet another example of the opportunist electoral politics that permeates the left’s electoral tactics in this country. According to some sources several NPA fighters themselves are extremely critical of this practice. Opening up their areas compromises the security of these NPA bases, increases the vulnerability of their cadre who have to collect the money and opens up the organization to military exposure and attacks.

The electoral debacle of the Philippine left

(A comment piece: the first in a series of commentaries in the lead-up to the May 10, 2010 elections, in the Philippines.)

While Latin America has opened up a new socialist front for the 21st century and we have the most recent victory of the united left coalition in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio (FA – Broad Front), led by a former leader of the Tupamaros Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica, winning the Presidency in November 2009, the Philippines left, by contrast, is a tragic and even horrible spectacle going into the May 2010 elections.

While the left is undeniably present in the electoral arena, the main tactic pursued is to vie for positions in the senate tickets of pro-capitalist trapo (traditional politicians) presidential candidates who are the frontrunners in the polls, i.e. the tickets of Noynoy Aquino the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party (which is carrying an Akbayan senate candidate), Manny Villar, the presidential candidate of the Nacionalista Party (which is carrying two senators for the Bayan bloc) and the previously ousted former president Joseph Estrada of the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (which is running a Sanlakas senate candidate). The left candidates on these tickets have unequivocally thrown their support behind these presidential candidates. And the platforms of these presidential candidates have little or no resemblance to the progressive agenda that the mass movements in the Philippines have campaigned for in the last few decades – whether it be the demands of the labor movement, the urban poor, the peasant movement, the women’s movement or any of the anti-neoliberal demands raised by the mass movements throughout the decades of 1990s and 2000. At the local level the situation is even more disgusting with all the left parties without exception involved in unprincipled dealings with capitalist politicians bartering for votes and money – sometimes also known as ‘take the money and run’ tactics.

The left is badly divided and unable to form an electoral front, to put forward an independent left position in the coming elections, during a period of deep crisis in the elite political establishment and social system. The main reason is the deep sectarianism and mistrust that divides the left. The left would rather deal with capitalist politicians – many of whom are thugs and gangsters – than deal with one another. This deep and long-running sectarian politics prevents the left from forming even a minimal alliance in the electoral arena. The left today is unable to unite effectively to support even one-single progressive candidate – from senator to local councillor. The conduct of the Philippine left in these elections is a testimony to the poisonously divisive impact of left sectarianism. It’s a tragic example of how this sectarianism completely disarms the working class and progressive movement in a period when elite rule in this country is facing the most severe crisis since the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1980s.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Women Dying from the Asian 'Miracle'

System Change a Must to Save Women’s Lives

Despite the fanfare about Asia’s ‘miracle economies’ the problem of ‘missing women and girls’ is actually growing, according to the UNDP-sponsored 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report. These ‘missing’ girls and women are a result of the abortion of girl fetuses and women dying through sheer neglect – underfed and starved and not receiving adequate health care. The birth gender disparity is the highest in East Asia, home of the Asian ‘miracle’ economies, where 119 boys are born for every 100 girls. China and India, much touted for their economic success, account for 85 million of these 100 million ‘missing’ women.

South Asia – which includes India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh – is one of the worst regions in the world (just above impoverished sub-Saharan Africa) in gender equality relating to health, education and employment for women. It has the highest women’s illiteracy levels in the world with almost half of all adult women illiterate. South Asian women are also expected to die five years earlier than men. The region has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 500 women dying for every 100,000 live births – these rates are higher only in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nearly half of the countries in South Asia and some 60% of the countries in the Pacific have no laws against domestic violence. In India and Pakistan fewer than 35% of women do paid work. Pay gaps between female and male wages are as high as 54%.

The Asian miracle economies were built on the sweat and blood of women’s labour – the ‘nimble fingers’ in the garment and textile, electronics and other light manufacturing industries. This super-exploitation of women continues to mark the ‘economic progress’ of the emerging Asian economic ‘super-powers’, such as India and China. The message is clear: the system must be changed to ensure the basic survival of women and girls.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Renewing Socialist Feminism Today

Renewing Socialist Feminism Today

Women and Revolution: Renewing Socialist Feminism Today

(These are notes from a talk delivered at a Socialist Dialogue forum in the Philippines to mark International Women's Day.)

The women’s movement, the leadership, needs to start to talk about revolution and socialism again. The movement is subsumed by ‘advocacies, i.e. negotiating, through a series of compromises, for minor reforms within the existing status quo. Major issues of system-change and anti-capitalist alternatives are hardly addressed today.

Has the system delivered? For a minority, yes. For a majority of women, No! We have formal equality (anti-discrimination legislation, etc) but not real social and economic equality. The gap between women in the North and South widening. The class gap amongst women increased and continues increasing.

Why does the women’s movement need to start talking about revolution/system change? Because of the conjuncture we face today.

a. The system is in deep crisis. Economic: Greece, Portugal show the deep cracks, poverty is increasing. Socially: health, education, environment and human survival under threat. It’s not the time to play around the edges of the system. Now’s the time to challenge it.

b. Because we are witnessing the renewal of socialism in Latin America -- in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba continues.

In the Philippines poor children die at three times the rate of the children of the rich, according to latest UN data. Under-five mortality rates are 66 child deaths to every 1000 live births amongst the poor, compared to 21 child deaths to every 1000 births amongst the rich. The largest wealth disparity for under-five mortality rates is in the Philippines, compared to any other country in the Asia-Pacific region. Child mortality is linked to the health and welfare of the mothers. Maternal mortality rates in the Philippines show little or no improvement and are unlikely to meet even the ‘less than minimum’ Millennium Development Goals. If there is one single reason that we need a comprehensive, modern reproductive health bill and RH program meeting international best standards and practice, this is it. A reproductive health program, which is free and accessible to poor women, which gives mothers a range of choices and educates them about these choices, saves poor children’s lives.

Also in the Philippines, we have supposedly progressed on gender and governance issues: we elect women presidents and have one of the highest proportions of women in Congress, compared to other countries in the region. And yet this has not translated into concrete gains for a majority of working and poor women. The system of elite rule that exploits and oppresses working and poor women is still in place. Women have entered the ‘masters house’ – Congress and government – but instead of throwing out the master, bringing down his house and building a new home for all, these women represent the master’s interests, i.e. the patriarchal system of elite rule. So the issue is not merely one of women’s participation, but one of genuine representation – in whose political social and economic interests, do these women govern?

There is (and never has been) an artificial divide between women’s issues and other issues. Every issue today, big and small, is a women’s issue. Poverty and the economic crisis, job losses and contractualization, health care and reproductive health, education, oil prices, corruption, governance, the illegitimate debt, war, militarism, violence, climate change and the environmental crisis – these are all women’s issues. After all, women are the ones who tend to be the hardest hit by these issues -- from the economic crisis, during which a majority of workers laid off in industries such as electronics are women, to climate-change induced disasters such as flooding, where the casualty rates tend to be higher for women and children.

So how society is organized and in whose interests? Who controls the political system? Who runs the economy? These are all issues that are extremely important to women. These are, in fact, life and death issues for women.

Socialist feminism in its broadest sense is an inclusive project.

· All socialist feminists would see class as central to women’s lives and women’s oppression. Some of us would see class as fundamental from the point of view of explaining the historical origins of women’s oppression, for example. Others refuse to give primacy to any one factor over the other.

· Women’s oppression, however, is not simply reduced to economic exploitation, i.e. the extraction of surplus value. This also applies to national/ethnic or racial oppression.

· All these aspects of society are inextricably linked, i.e. class is always gendered and ‘raced’.

We also need to focus on the inter-relationship between reproductive unpaid labor, paid labor and capital, and not so much on the separation of these categories, as we have done in the past. Capital, wants the lowest possible necessary labor. But, capital would like to expand -- unpaid necessary labor. While capital does not pay for this reproductive labor, it benefits by it. The more work that is done free in the household, the less the wage has to be. As the purchaser of labor power, capital gains from the unpaid labor of women within the household. And the more capital drives down wages and intensifies the workday for wage-laborers, the greater the burden placed on the household to maintain workers.

Women need to make a breach in the system of elite/capitalist rule. We need to link our immediate demands to system change and an end to elite rule. We need to have the perspective of mobilizing masses of women, not just our own base, but hundreds of thousands, to make a breach in the system. Latin America shows us that this can be done.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sleeping with the Enemy?

Hillary Clinton, the Taliban and Gender Politics

“You don’t make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies.”, declared Hillary Clinton in a CNN interview, as she justified NATO efforts to bribe Taliban fighters into laying down their arms, with a brazenness that would have made Machiavelli blush. Clinton was referring to the $140 million ‘Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund’ announced at the International Conference on Afghanistan hosted by the British government on January 28 this year.

The fund is supposedly targeted at buying off ‘mid-level leaders’ of the Taliban. What’s actually on the agenda, however, is negotiations with the top Taliban leadership to draw them back into government in a possible ‘power-sharing arrangement’ with the government of Hamid Karzai. The UN Mission head in Afghanistan, for instance, had meetings with the leadership of the Taliban in the days leading up to the Conference and Hillary Clinton had been briefed about these negotiations beforehand.

Attempts by the US and NATO to have negotiations with the Taliban are, of course, not new. The fact that such negotiations have been taking place for several years now, has been an open ‘secret’ in government, NATO and UN circles in Kabul. What should not pass without comment, however, is that Hillary Clinton, who also promotes herself as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, is now leading the implementation of this strategy.

Lest we forget, the symbol of the ‘liberation’ of Afghanistan by US and NATO troops, were happy images of chador-less Afghan women. The NATO invasion was all about getting rid of these ‘women-hating, Al-Qaeda lovers’, was the propaganda. Gender equity was on the banner headline of the UN agencies, UNIFEM, UNDP and others, who poured in on the coat tails of the occupation forces. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into thousands of ‘gender and development’ and ‘violence against women’ projects and programs. The NATO occupation was made synonymous with the liberation of Afghan women from the Taliban.

So is Hillary Clinton now really sleeping with the ‘enemy’, as she describes the Taliban? Not really. Given that the US government created the Taliban in the first place, it could be a case of merely patching up a rift between former bedfellows. Whether the Taliban sees this as such, however, is an entirely different matter.

As feminists, we must reaffirm that women’s rights can only be best guaranteed, in a genuinely sovereign Afghanistan and not under the boots of an imperialist occupation force. Hillary Clinton and the US-NATO governments attempts to draw the Taliban back into government is a case in point. This is why we need to expose the hypocrisy of an ‘establishment feminism’ that falsely speaks in our name.