Published by Manila Today
How should we remember the year 2015?
The year started on an exhilarating occasion when Pope Francis arrived and uplifted the spirits of many Filipinos and it will end as we celebrate our victory in the Miss Universe pageant. In between these memorable moments, there were numerous events that captured our attention. Many trended on old and new media but some were underreported. As we look back and remember these events, we choose to highlight the collective struggles of the Filipino people and the continuing search for genuine change especially now that we are soon entering the election campaign period.
Before 2015, the Lumad were either exoticized or ignored because of their so-called primitive culture and remote location in war-torn Mindanao. In October, following the latest spate of Lumad killings in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, the Lumad launched a month-long protest caravan from Mindanao to Manila to expose the brutal occupation of their lands by mining and corporate giants and state forces. They set up camps and organized protest actions all over Metro Manila which garnered broad support to the campaign against closure of alternative Lumad schools, militarization, environment plunder, and government neglect in the countryside. Today, the term Lumad has become synonymous with resistance; indigenous peoples who are standing up against state-sponsored oppression.
The Mamasapano encounter on January 25 would go down in history as the ‘ground zero’ of presidential blunder. First, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III authorized a suspended police officer to coordinate an anti-terror operation. Second, the plan was finalized without taking into consideration its negative impact to the ongoing peace talks with Moro rebels. Third, foreign troops were involved in the operation. When it was time to welcome and honor the 44 police fatalities in the Mamasapano clash, the president chose instead to open a Japanese car plant. Further, a presidential dialogue with the families of 44 fallen Special Action Force commandos revealed the height of insensitivity of the President with his parries like “namatayan din ako ng ama kaya quits na tayo.” Filipinos boiled over and demands for justice and accountability rang across the land.
Arrested for drug trafficking, Mary Jane Veloso has been in detention and death row since 2010 and is scheduled for execution in Indonesia on April 29. The nation and the world united in the call to save Mary Jane, a victim of human and drug trafficking. Migrante and allied groups launched a campaign to save the life of Mary Jane, holding vigil up to the last minute, while the Philippine government had given up hope days before the scheduled execution. National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) injected new life to the case and represented Veloso, who initially lost her case in the Indonesian courts having no translator and no knowledge of the legal proceedings. Veloso’s appeal was strongly endorsed by Filipinos and global migrant groups and it convinced Indonesian authorities to accord a stay of execution and allow more time to reinvestigate the case.
At least 72 workers died in a fire in a Valenzuela footwear factory on May 13. The tragedy exposed the rampant contractualization in the labor sector, the existence of workplaces operating like sweatshops and substandard working conditions, and the criminal accountability of the government for allowing situations like these to persist. Kentex is a grim reminder of capitalist exploitation, bureaucratic inefficiency, and the systematic pauperization of the working classes. Several months after the Kentex inferno, no establishment even in the notorious enclave of ‘sweatshop’ factories in Valenzuela has been pinned down for endangering the lives of workers.
5. Fish holiday against the fish ban
The amended Fisheries Code banned commercial fishing within municipal waters, effectively banning poor fishermen and small boats to make a livelihood out of fishing. It was done supposedly to preserve marine resources. But what really emboldened authorities to act was the threat from the European Union, which was seeking to protect its own fish industry. The amendments also made conducive the opening the waters to foreign businesses that wish to enter the fishing industry in the country, as pushed by the multilateral meetings such as the APEC. Various fishing groups and local businesses in Navotas coalesced and launched street actions and fluvial protests across the country. A successful fish holiday in Navotas and other fish ports and a 5,000-strong rally to Mendiola drew attention to the issue and plight of fishers who, unknown to many, are the poorest of the poor in the country.
6. Manila Market privatization
President ‘Mayor’ Joseph Estrada wanted to modernize Manila’s 22 public markets by demolishing these historic structures and bidding out operations to big private contractors. Naturally, stall owners and small vendors resisted and the public supported them by reminding Estrada about the social and economic value of having a publicly-owned market in a community. Consumers worried about the increase in prices of basic commodities. The Manila market privatization demonstrated how the Public-Private-Partnership model is displacing micro and small enterprises in favor of tycoons, friends, and possibly even campaign donors of politicians. Vendors and stall owners of Quinta Market, first to be displaced and demolished, launched successful Market Holidays in September. The market holiday protests prompted Mayor Estrada to grant dialogues, deny any programs of privatization of Manila markets and dish out promises that the current vendors will not be adversely affected by the planned developments. The demolition of other public markets was also suspended.
The Philippines spent 10 billion pesos during its hosting of the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). And instead of making Filipinos proud, the Manila APEC hosting inconvenienced many because of overkill security measures such as anti-poor street clearing operations, flight cancellations, weeklong class and work suspensions, business closures, road blockades and designation of exclusive APEC lanes. Metro Manila residents felt literally #APECtado with the APEC summit. These measures also resulted to a temporary overhaul of Metro Manila: a place with low density of people, without traffic, and without paupers. Those that are not deemed beautiful to the eye were literally covered up, such as protest assemblies and urban poor communities.
Meanwhile, issues of poverty and underdevelopment despite decades of pushing globalization in the country were exposed by sectors that have been burdened and have been fighting it for a long time. Workers’ wages steadily decreased and working conditions worsened while labor is contractualized or exported. Farmers grew poorer as they were not subsidized or made to plant for-export or cash crops that do not promote food production in the country. Indigenous peoples and peasants experienced all forms of oppression as mining threatens to kill their culture. Youth are herded to become part of a ‘docile work force’ through education reforms and programs. Small businesses and entrepreneurs close down or become engulfed by big and foreign businesses that monopolize all avenues of trade. Despite overkill security and coverup measures, the anti-APEC rally was heard at the Philippine International Convention Center where economic leaders of 21 countries were gathered.
8. People Surge during Yolanda anniversary
Thousands of Typhoon Yolanda victims led by People Surge movement marched in the streets of Tacloban on November 8. Two years after the typhoon and storm surge that killed more than 6,000 in Eastern Visayas and provinces in Southern Tagalog region, they protested the failure of the government to deliver on its promise of rebuilding the damaged houses of Yolanda survivors, providing livelihood, and distributing relief to those who are still living in makeshift camps. They also criticized the social welfare agency for burying rotten relief goods which reflected the criminal inefficiency of the BS Aquino government.
9. COP21 and climate justice
Public interest to the results of the Paris climate deal proved that the issue of climate change has already become a mainstream agenda. In the Philippines, the issue is relevant because of the country’s vulnerability to the harsh impact of climate change. Earlier this year, many Filipinos appreciated the primer of Pope Francis on environmental degradation. And before the year ended, a thousand bikers in Manila echoed the call for climate justice or why developed nations should be held accountable for polluting the Earth.
10. Anti-mining protests in Luzon
After staging a ‘people power’ assembly in Batangas and Mindoro, Lobo residents succeeded in persuading local officials to revoke a permit granted to a mining company. The mining operation threatens to pollute the Verde Island passage which is the center of the center of marine biodiversity in the world. Also noteworthy were the people’s actions against destructive mining in Nueva Vizcaya, Cagayan, and Ilocos. Many of these campaigners marched towards Manila as part of the ‘Defend the North’ campaign during the anti-APEC mobilization.
Aside from the legal petitions against K-12, the unspoken chaos in classrooms and schools exposed the government’s blunder in hastily implementing this ambitious education program to superficially subscribe to standards of development set by the government’s creditors and international aid agencies. The K-12 aggravates an already inferior system of education: teachers are in danger of losing their jobs; modules and facilities are inadequate; many schools lack resources to offer senior high that may result to a number of out-of-school youth; senior high is then relegated to private schools that charge as high as P 30,000 per year; and Filipino and history subjects are demoted from the curriculum and labor export is directly promoted to produce a docile, semi skilled work force suited to the needs of businesses and corporations. Parents, teachers, and students have banded together to oppose K-12 and unmask the colonial features of this program.
12. Human rights violations
The number of political prisoners swelled to more than 500 during the term of Aquino. Dissent is criminalized by arresting activists and veteran revolutionaries on trumped-up cases. Despite the fact that his family was a victim of political persecution, Aquino did not end the fascistic tactics of his predecessors in addressing the political demands of the revolutionary movement. The result is the continued extrajudicial killing, kidnapping, and harassment of suspected communists and their civilian sympathizers by state agents.
Peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) were stalled, following the Philippine government’s guised demands of capitulation from the NDF and non-adherence to Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and other earlier signed agreements. The Aquino administration also violated the peace talks gains with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with the Operation Exodus / Wolverine resulting to the Mamasapano Encounter that killed 69 and displaced thousands. The passage of the promised Bangsamoro Basic Law has also been derailed, that may as well be only a much-vaunted achievement of this administration. The peace talks could be roads to ending systemic and state-sponsored human rights violations as well as addressing roots of poverty and civil war in the country that the Philippine government has (yet) to sincerely pursue.
13. Daang Perwisyo
On the road, commuters are hostaged by hellish traffic gridlocks. Train ticket prices went up this year but riding the MRT or LRT is still a torturous experience. President Aquino has twice declared he will let himself be run over the train should some promised developments not happen at the time he declared. Twice, the promises were undelivered and twice near the deadlines his spokespersons asked the public to not take the president’s pronouncements literally. Manila airport became notorious for tanim-bala although the Aquino administration insisted that the issue is exaggerated. Overseas Filipino workers, foreigners and travellers were detained for a single live ammunition found in their luggage that most (if not all) did not acknowledge bringing with them. Investigations in this revealed the existence of the scam but identified no organized group or syndicate perpetrating the tanim-bala scam. For returning overseas workers, they fear the customs inspector more than the turbulence in the air. Balikbayan boxes were ordered opened for inspection by the Bureau of Customs where some were reported robbed. Fortunately, the government heeded the online and offline message of the people: Hands off our balikbayan boxes! Despite the travel woes and daily suffering of Filipino commuters, no member of the Aquino cabinet has been sacked for inflicting these hardships and for the failure to resolve these problems. There was not even an apology!
14. US and China intervention
US intervention in the Philippines revealed itself this year in these manners: involvement of US soldiers in the planning and execution of Operation Exodus / Wolverine that resulted to the Mamasapano encounter; the watering down of the implementation of the sentence of US soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton convicted of killing transgender Jennifer Laude; the continuing joint military exercises via the Visiting Forces Agreement; and, the planned expansion of basing and increase US military presence while passing US military expenditures in the Philippines to Philippine coffers through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement among others. Protests against Chinese government encroachments in Philippine territory were held at the Chinese Embassy. The Philippine government insists on the diplomatic route and activists heed it to toughen up its resolve, possibly by way of economic sanctions, as Chinese incursions on Philippine territory expand.
The surprise box-office hit historical film Heneral Luna shuttled nationalist sentiments. It debunked the ideological assertion that nationalism is already passé and that embracing the doctrines of globalization is more relevant today. Heneral Luna memes became popular in addressing contemporary issues from corruption to foreign military intervention.
15. Labor actions against contractualization
There were symbolic victories this year against the pernicious practice of labor contractualization. Laudable are the workers of Tanduay and the GMA-7 media workers who persevered and achieved legal victories in the struggle against contractualization. Their fight is not yet over, but it is an inspiration to all workers who are battling corporate abuse and the law, which legalizes labor contractualization.
We bid farewell to the year 2015 as we look forward to the Filipino people’s continuing unities and struggles for genuine national development and social change.