Marching for authentic change

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

As of this, two marches was scheduled to take place on March 8. One was the annual celebration of International Women’s Day led by the militant women of Gabriela. The other is the “March for Justice for SAF 44” organized by the alumni association of the Philippine National Police Academy, with its tangential reference to women through a call for solidarity with the widows left behind by the slain Special Action Force commandoes.

The latter march is noteworthy not just for its novelty but its portent for the status quo and the regime that presides over it; a significant section of the state’s security forces remains restive over what they deem to be the unnecessary sacrifice of 44 of their comrades. Too bad one of the organizers, a Catholic priest who runs to espouse his favored causes, is reported by mass media as already succumbing to intrigues that predict the failure of the policemen’s march because of the unwelcome participation of “leftists” and those with a “political agenda.” (Someone should advise these well-meaning mamang pulis, who have been thrust into the unusual role of citizens with a grievance by no less than their Commander-in-Chief, to not get sidelined by attempts to confuse, gag and otherwise rein them in.)

On the other hand, the women’s yearly march is being held in the midst of the Aquino regime’s worst political crisis in the aftermath of a foreign-hatched, ill-conceived and subsequently botched counterterrorist operation that has cost the lives of 62 combatants and six civilians. The fragile peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is also severely, if not irreparably, damaged.

The bloody Mamasapano clash has punctuated and pretty much exacerbated Aquino’s record of disastrous leadership — the Luneta hostage crisis, the Zamboanga siege, the inept relief and rehabilitation efforts post-Yolanda and other calamities, pork barrel and patronage politics, MRT mishaps and the breakdown of public infrastructure and services, to name a few. Thus, calls for his resignation or ouster have been gaining a lot of traction in a surprisingly short span of time.

The struggle for women’s liberation is firmly embedded in the continuing struggle of the Filipino people for national and social liberation from feudal shackles. This Sunday, the women’s march will be celebrating courageous women all over the world taking their place, alongside the menfolk, in the place of honor — the line of fire.

They are challenging sexual stereotypes and gender oppression. In the Philippines, they are fighting against a decrepit social system perpetuated by the ruling elite in partnership with foreign, notably US, interests. This system has been installing and propping up a series of reactionary, deceptive and repressive regimes since the grant of nominal independence. The regime of Benigno S. C. Aquino III is no exception.

Gabriela and the broader Women for Aquino’s Resignation Now (WARN) will be joined by the multisectoral formation Noynoy Out Now. The group is demanding not just Aquino’s removal from office but the establishment of an interim People’s Council for National Unity, Reform and Peace that will “lead the transition to a new and better government…that better responds to the people’s clamor for political, economic and social reforms.” It says categorically: “It cannot be business as usual.” The group rejects turning power over to the constitutionally sanctioned line of succession, i.e. to the sitting Vice-President, for the remainder of Aquino’s term.

The group refuses, for the time being, to name “who” will take over the helm of government. It says that the People’s Council will be formed “through a democratic process, from the wide array of organizations, groups and individuals involved in the movement to compel Aquino’s resignation.” It believes that there are enough “patriotic Filipinos with a track record of leadership in the people’s movement for democratic reforms, with known probity, integrity and independence” who can step up to the plate and lead at the opportune time.

What is important are the urgent reform measures that such a caretaker or transitional government will undertake in the short time it is envisioned to govern — one to two years. According to Noynoy Out Now, these are: (1) create an independent Truth Commission to investigate and prosecute those accountable for the Mamasapano fiasco; (2) undertake electoral reforms to prevent cheating and fraud, reduce patronage politics and prohibit political dynasties; (3) abolish the pork barrel system and prosecute those responsible for the pork barrel scams; (4) introduce key economic policies to ensure food sufficiency, land reform, national industrialization, higher incomes and basic social services for the poor and middle class; (5) review lop-sided agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement; (6) pursue peace negotiations with the MILF and the National Democratic Front by honoring agreements and addressing the root causes of the armed conflicts.

Filipinos have gone through two successful people’s uprisings dubbed “people power” that have brought about a change in regimes but sorely failed in reforming, if not overhauling, a backward, undemocratic, unjust and corrupt social order. In the meantime, the status quo is being weakened by socio-economic decay and rocked by social unrest, deadly infighting among factions of the ruling elite, and armed conflicts with the communist-led revolutionary movement and Moro secessionist movements.

Even the ruling classes and their foreign backers know that the system is bursting apart at the seams, and thus the opposing factions jostle each other to take the mantle of “reforming” the system while ensuring things remain essentially the same for as long as possible.

There is understandable pessimism or even cynicism among the middle forces (those for whom the system has still something to offer, if not a bright future then a tolerable one) that another stab at reform via “people power” will only lead to more disorder and instability. They are suspicious and leery of opportunists among the so-called Opposition or among the military who may simply wish to grab power. The politically conservative also fear the “militant Left.”

Those among our people whose lives have gone from bad to worse on a daily basis and whose futures are as bleak as ever will embrace the window of opportunity for changing the system that accompanies removing an inept, uncaring and anti-people President like Noynoy Aquino. For they having nothing to lose and much to gain once organized to push for authentic and meaningful societal change.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published in Business World
March 8, 2015

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