Cha-cha, martial law in the works as Filipinos suffer price hikes, plunging income

Mining Act
Indigenous peoples bear the immediate effects of large-scale foreign mining in the country. Lowlanders and the prospect of future industrialization are the next to be hit. In this photo, Lumad from Mindanao tear up copies of chacha proposal that would further expand TNCs’ mining rights. (Photo by M. Salamat / Bulatlat)

“It’s not about federalism … it’s about tyranny.”

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

‘MANILA – With the much touted 6.8 percent GDP translating into more profits for corporations and the “Build, Build, Build” thrust of the Duterte administration benefiting the construction and related industries, the Duterte government appears bent on pursuing the same neoliberal economics of its predecessors. Different from ‘change is coming,’ it rejects, like the previous administrations, the pro-worker proposals such as banning contractualization and legislating a substantial national minimum wage.

Meanwhile, in Congress, the president’s supermajority is fast-tracking their stated priority bills. These include the bills and resolutions seeking to intensify repression (example: the bills amending anti-terror laws, national ID, etc.); further open the country to foreign businesses (cha-cha); and increase the ordinary citizens’ share in paying the cost of running the government and its projects while the big businesses are getting more tax perks (TRAIN 1 and 2).

Worsening draconian laws

Last week, the House Committees on Public Order and Safety and National Defense and Security jointly considered H.B. 7141 (“An Act Amending Republic Act No. 9372 entitled “An Act to Secure the State and Protect our People from Terrorism,” otherwise known as the “Human Security Act of 2007”) and H.B. 5507 (“An Act Declaring as Unlawful the Membership in any Philippine Court-Proscribed or United Nations Security Council-Designated Terrorist Organization and Providing Penalties Therefor”), both introduced by Rep. Amado Espino, Jr. of Pangasinan.

According to ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, the two committees have already held two hearings on the measures. In both times, it invited only law enforcement and national security agencies. No human rights groups, civil libertarians, lawyers’ groups, and other concerned citizens were able to participate. An indicator of how soon they want to pass bills, Tinio said a technical working group will be convened to come up with a consolidated draft while Congress is on a break.

The bills provide for a much broader and less rigorous definition of terrorism; place the military on equal footing with police in law enforcement; allow for proscription of individuals and organizations as terrorists and seizure of assets without trial; criminalize mere membership or intended membership in proscribed organizations; impose the death penalty on certain acts, despite existing treaty obligations prohibiting the Philippine state from doing so; remove safeguards against abuse of surveillance powers granted to law enforcement officials; remove safeguards against abuse of prisoners while in detention; extend the period of detention without charges under certain circumstances from three days to 30 days; and introduce restrictions on free expression.

Congress ratified, also last week, the bicameral report on the proposed National ID system. This is the farthest reach of this bill in its history of failed attempts by previous administrations. The consolidated bill is now just awaiting the signature of President Duterte to become a law. It will cost an estimated P30-billion ($573.53 M) and five years to implement using biometrics of all citizens and resident aliens in the Philippines. It promises the people easy access to government services, a promise questioned by the Makabayan bloc in Congress which warned about its likely use more for government surveillance and control of the citizenry.

‘Continuing moves to cha-cha a threat to PH development’

While the proposed draconian laws are being prioritized in Congress, on the ground, the peoples’ resistance to ‘Build Build Build’ and neoliberal policies are being met with militarization and martial law. Workers’ strikes and demands for wage hikes, peasants’ bungkalan and land reform, IP schools, defense of watershed areas and opposition to large-scale mines, to name a few, are encountering military and police operations. The same human and natural resources being fought over here are what’s at stake in the Duterte administration’s economic cha-cha.

In a forum dubbed as ‘Cha-cha and the Economy: For the Better?’, Former Bayan Muna Congressman Neri Colmenares said the transnational corporations will not just give up on the economic aspect of the proposed charter change that has been foiled numerous times by public protests.

“From the perspective of TNCs, this is it,” Colmenares told Bulatlat. He said the TNCs likely view Duterte as capable of forcing the passage of the cha-cha.

Based on the state of the Philippine economy discussed at the forum led by research group IBON last week, the Duterte government’s siding with the oligarchs and TNCs shows starkly in its TRAIN law, for example. Here, the country’s poor are taxed more while the taxes of the rich are to be cut (in TRAIN 2). Siding with the rich is evident also, according to workers’ groups, in the Duterte administration’s maintaining contractualization and cheap wage policy.

According to Kerlan Fanagel, Lumad leader of Pasaka from Southern Mindanao, the Duterte administration in its actions and cha-cha proposals are all but deleting the indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination and ancestral lands. In return, the Duterte administration, supported by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, are expanding TNC plantations, ‘development projects’ benefiting TNCs and the oligarchs.

Unlike past administrations which bowed down to public pressure against cha-cha, the Duterte administration has not yet given up or withdrawn or stopped its activities for cha-cha, Colmenares said. He pointed to House Resolutions 1109 and 2009 seeking to amend the 1987 Constitution, which have been approved by Congress.

The contents of the proposed cha-cha are being mislabeled to make it palatable to the public, Colmenares said. But all these are falsehoods. In a commentary about the content of economic cha-cha in 2014, Sonny Africa, IBON’s executive director, also said the “charter change proponents are misinformed.”

“It’s not about federalism … it’s about tyranny,” Colmenares said. He added that cha-cha is all about power, term extension, self-serving provisions where the current politicians in power will benefit through a hold-over in their current posts and through expanded perks of being in power.

An approved cha-cha will postpone elections and thus extend the term of those in power now, Colmenares said. He said the martial law in Mindanao and cha-cha are closely linked — the repressiveness and lack of transparency of martial law facilitate the hand over of portions of Philippine territories to foreign TNCs at the expense of IPs, peasants, and workers.

With martial law still in force in Mindanao, and proposals intensifying the repressive powers of existing laws, such as the anti-terror law, are making headway in Congress, do the people opposing these ever get tired and contemplate giving up?

“Sometimes you feel this way but you press on,” replied Colmenares.

Coming from Bayan Muna, where hundreds of members have been murdered allegedly by state troops leery of dissent, “We trust in the capacity of the Filipino people to change society,” Colmenares said at a forum on cha-cha.

The forum concluded by introducing the “people economics,” a set of nationalist policies starkly different from the undemocratic approaches of neoliberal policies to running the economy. ()

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