Friday, May 14, 2010

From the Philippines Election Delegation - Kyle Todd

May 9, 2010

“Struggling to Own the Land That They Till”

Throughout our visit to Tarlac, Central Luzon, we spent our time in Hacienda Luicita. This 6,435-hectare plantation estate, what locals simply call “Hacienda”, is owned by the Cojuango family, of which presidential favorite Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino is a member. On November, 16, 2004, Hacienda was also the site of a massacre where 7 workers were killed, and over 200 more were injured, during a blockade where farmers were calling for better wages and benefits. On May 9, the PIOM observers had the chance to meet with local labor leaders and activists who continue to advocate for better working conditions and a more equitable and fair system of land distribution and use – continuing the struggle of the November 16 martyrs.

On May 9, we had a chance to meet with the president of the Hacienda farmers union, United Luicita Workers Union (ULWU), the president of a local union of factory workers, the International Wirings Systems Workers Union (IWSWU) and members of MARTIR, an activist group of family members of November 16 martyrs.

Lito Bais, the president of the ULWU, began by telling us about the history of the workers’ movement in Hacienda. He told us about how the Cojuango family obtained the Hacienda land through a loan from the United States, on the condition that the land would eventually be redistributed to the farmers who worked the land. He told us that when the time came land redistribution, the owners gave workers the choice of a “Stock Distribution Option” (SDO). He said that the workers chose the SDO because they were lead to believe that it would be more lucrative for them than communal redistribution. He said that, not only was the SDO a weak deal, but that the workers have not received one centavo of the 30% profit-sharing that was promised through the SDO.

Both the ULWU president and members of the MARTIR group told us about political intimidation that goes on in the Hacienda. While in a public restroom, Bais was met with the barrel of a rifle and told to watch his back. MARTIR member Felix Nacpil stated that military officers harass him almost nightly and unknown community members continually put up propaganda associating activists with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). And, as we would later witness, military detachments are pervasive throughout the area. Bais noted that, given the people’s past experience with state and paramilitary repression, this serves as a heavy-handed deterrent to workers’ movements and progressive political activity.

Leading up to the election, these activists were endorsing the ANAKPAWIS party list. They campaigned hard, and even conducted voter education and formed an anti-fraud group. However, they feared campaigning past dark because, not only do they face intimidation by military and police officers, but also by local paramilitary groups like the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). Local members of our PIOM delegation also noted that the group will likely face increased repression if Noynoy Aquino wins the presidential election, as he has a familial interest in profiting from the Hacienda and preventing any just implementation of land reform or workers’ rights.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Suresh Naidu blogs the Philippine elections!

Cross posted here.

I’m Suresh Naidu, a friend and colleague of Noel. I’ll be guest-blogging the upcoming Philippine elections.

The Philippine  Congress

I’m here in Manila with the NLG component of the People’s International Observers Mission (not as a lawyer, but a fellow traveler). The PIOM is a coordinating group for international election observers, and they are getting us up to speed before sending the 80+ internationals out in teams to various parts of the country on Sunday. (Mine is Mindanao in the south.)

We’re on day 2 of our orientation, and yesterday we got a rundown on Philippine politics and what’s at stake in this election. Two things that need to be established right off the bat: (A) The Philippines is terribly unequal and poor (ranked 105 in the Human Development Index), with a plantation based agricultural sector and a nascent foreign-owned service economy. (B) The government’s policy options all waft out from a noxious cauldron of repression, foreign debt service, and corruption.

The standard academic story (which is probably right) is that Philippine politics is a Frankenstein of local clans and patronage networks welded into political machines by national politicians. Local landowners use their economic (and paramilitary) power to secure votes, in the classic Latin American fashion, and then combine these vote banks across clans and coalitions to form national electoral blocs. The result is that virtually all of Congress is landlord (either urban or rural) controlled, and all the presidential candidates come from the same landowning elite.

Need proof? Imelda Marcos is running for the Congress in her family stronghold of Ilocos Norte, in northern Luzon. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is running for the Senate, which is elected at-large. Meanwhile, the likely winner of the presidential poll, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino (son of former president Cory Aquino), is not just the owner of any plantation in Central Luzon ... he is the owner of the Hacienda Lucita, the site of a 2004 massacre of striking workers.

Ballots, to be counted

The incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA as the acronym-loving population has dubbed her), has epitomized the worse features of Philippine politics, being cartoonishly kleptocratic and corrupt. She is also very good at the Philippine political game. She has faced down impeachment proceedings and coup attempts.

GMA managed to get the Philippines branded the most corrupt country in Asia, and her the most corrupt president in Philippine history. (I would still give that title to Ferdinand Marcos.) In addition, she has stacked the electoral body and the Supreme Court with her allies and used the military to persecute the only source of political innovation permitted by the existing institutions: the left-wing party-lists, which contest the 20% of House seats that are open to “marginalized sectors” and elected at large.

In other words, the job of the election observers is cut out for us. Observers are no panacea for the underlying inequality and weak institutions that are the Philippine colonial inheritance. That said, independent electoral observers can improve the electoral process in the face of repression and widespread fraud. While it is a small contribution towards changing the balance of power between elites and citizens in the Philippines ... it is a small contribution towards the only thing that will ultimately allow badly needed reforms to occur.

More reports to come.