Posted tagged ‘Land Reform’


May 5, 2010

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Good evening Fellows! I’m gladdened by the petering in of thunderstorm rains in mega-Manila. The coming end to the hot dry spell spawned by El Niño is in sight, bringing with it a celebratory mood of sorts. Let me cap today’s mood with the peace bonds story.

The ‘peace bonds’ in the Philippines have got nothing to do with peace initiatives to end the decades-old insurgencies. They are financial instruments initiated by a coterie of NGO racketeering ‘intellectual prostitutes’ in the mid-90s, during the term of Fidel Ramos as president (‘92-‘98).  The top honcho of those racketeers is former social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman, now among Noynoy Aquino’s avid supporters.

That decade began with fragmentations of civil society’s major political blocs, from the center Right/Center Left social democrats to the far Left Marxist groups. The insurgent groups weren’t spared of the fragmentations themselves, from north to south of the archipelago we experienced political quakes that tore solid movements asunder.

Being among the far Left groups then, though a moderate among hardliners, I recall well that our coalitions were in the process of brainstorming creative approaches to financing our NGOs’ operations. Europe’s donor streams were drying up as the traditional sources re-channeled a humungous lot of their grant funds to Eastern European countries (for recovery after the collapse of Stalinist states).

The fragmentations caught some of us quite off-guard. Those finance-savvy colleagues of mine joined splinter groups in the progressive forces, with moderate Marxist groups going to the extent of coalitioning with moderate anti-Marxist social democrats or ‘socdems’.

Among those finance-savvy groups were development workers represented by the likes of Dinky Soliman, then among the leading cadres in the ‘socdem’ blocs. News reached my ears that the NGO financier racketeers hatched new instruments such as debt swaps and alternative bonds to finance their groups’ operations.

The peace bonds were hatched from the side of the bloc/coalition represented by Soliman then. Luck of all luck, her brother Isidro Camacho, a financial wiz kid from the banking sector, was appointed as Secretary of Finance by the incumbent chief exec Fidel Ramos.

Around the years 96-98, series of experimentations on the use of debt swaps began to take off. The peace bonds came at the tail end of the Ramos regime and overflowed through Pres. Erap Estrada’s era. To recall, there was the coalition gravitating around the A.R.E. (as the achronym went) mandated to handle the peace bonds.

The scheme called for government to consider funneling funds to civil society groups whose programs would parallel state efforts at economic reforms. The agrarian/food production sector was eyed as the entry point for peace bonds operations, with the funds guaranteed by government itself.

Peace bonds were supposedly initiated to benefit the broadest of marginal sectors and diverse groups that represented them. But as we know it in practice, it was largesse meant only for a certain coalition of political blocs and NGO cronies. It was as huge as a couple of billions at its inception, with nary a public monitoring of where it went thereafter.

Groups representing competing political blocs were a no! no! among the beneficiaries (read: no matter how sincere is your group, you’re disqualified). Experts (professionals, consultants) who were outside the ambit of the controlling group (Soliman & coy) were blocked from participating in the projects (read: no matter how good is the curriculum vitae you submitted, which they will accept, you’re an outsider).

The likes of Dinky Soliman not only benefited from the huge financial largesse, they also landed in the Gloria Arroyo government as top officials. Soliman herself got the plum post of social welfare secretary, an exposure that will endear her to more funding agencies including sources of Official Development Funds or ODA.

Soliman & coy were among the ‘cry wolf’ termites inside the Arroyo government. Dark opportunists all, they bolted the Arroyo government, joined the likes of Drilon & Purissima in drumbeating their ‘cry wolf’ moralizing pretensions. They bolted for no other reason than that, should Arroyo be overthrown, they can regain their former posts in the new administration. (They formed a curiously named Black & White Movement.)

The same financial racketeers were among those who drafted the ‘social reform’ aspect of the agenda of governance of the Liberal Party (the same being mouthed by the mediocre Noynoy Aquino). Needless to say, the same opportunists have released salvos of anti-corruption campaign mottos and calls on Noynoy Aquino’s opponents.

For people who knew where the likes of Soliman are coming from, they’re surely puking at hearing financial mercenaries and crocodiles bandying ‘anti-corruption’ or ‘good governance’ mottos. The mottos are mere clichés, and don’t speak of the true inner states of the crocodiles flaunting them.

Well, the least we can say is that “birds of a feather come together.” Crocodiles bond with fellow crocodiles, and they’ve flocked en masse inside the Noynoy Aquino & Liberal Party camp.

[Philippines, 03 May 2010.]







April 22, 2010

Prof. Erle Frayne D. Argonza

University of the Philippines

This development consultant and social scientist, who shortly served the GMA regime as a director at the Office of External Affairs or OEA, wishes to inform the public of a plain truth regarding the massacre of unionists by the owners-managers of the Hacienda Luisita.

That massacre was hardly warranted, as a back-channel negotiation was going on before the gory day, with Luisita unionists agreeing to withdraw their mass action and return to work. No less than palace demigods called for the backdoor negotiations, which was already in progress before the bloody event took place on November 16, 2004.

I was among the core officers who assisted Sec. Edgardo Pamintuan  organize the newly established OEA in 2004 right after PGMA took her oath (we comprised of assistant secretaries, directors, consultants). The OEA was assigned membership in the political, communications, and intelligence clusters of cabinet, to recall some basic facts.

The OEA had hardly warmed up as a ‘freshman agency’, when a directive came from the Office of the Presidency or OP, for our agency to help resolve the Luisita deadlock. My boss, Sec. Pamintuan or EdPam, had proved his talent at back-channel negotiations, being one such negotiator between the GRP and National Democratic Front, and so the application of the same ‘best practice’ to the Luisita deadlock proved all too facile for the noblesse negotiator.

Most urgently, Sec. Pamintuan instructed his executive team to contact the leadership of the federation to which the local Luisita union belonged, the Kilusang Mayo Uno or KMU. The OEA’s main task was to serve as bridgehead and clearinghouse between the various constituency groups and the OP, a task that it immediately began doing upon its very inception circa 2nd quarter of 2004. Inviting the KMU to a consultative talk was routine task for the OEA, KMU being a long established constituency group representing the labor sector.

We OEA officials felt so glad that the KMU arrived pronto right in our office at the Bahay Ugnayan – Malacañang Palace. Practically the top brass of the federation came. We gave them a warm reception, and our exchanges were very cordial.

After the issues were clarified and the messages exchanged, the federation committed to consult with the local union. The maximum expectation was for the union to withdraw its forces and end the protest, with the quid pro quo that the 300+ union officials and members who were retrenched will be allowed to RTW (return to work). [Note: Luisita’s wage was a pathetic P9.50 per day which the union vehemently protested.]

Amid the intensifying crisis, action was swift as the federation and (local) union did clarify and resolve issues during rush consultations. Finally, to our merriment, the news came to our office that the local union was already decided on withdrawing its forces/dismantling the barricade, and was ready to sit down with Luisita management to communicate their modified demands including RTW.

We were almost at the point of euphoria over the success of the back-channel talk, when the horrifying flash news reached our office that the Philippine National Police stepped in and resorted to brutal and brazen slaying of unarmed unionists and supporters. It was an utterly unnecessary move, in as much as the local union was already in the process of withdrawing its protesting forces and prepared to sit down with the owners & management of the hacienda.

As per reports brought to our office then, the Luisita management, with the complicity of top DOLE officials, called upon the Philippine National Police to disperse the protesting farm workers & supporters. It was clearly an arrogant display of brute force and one-sided communications, with no compunction shown at all during that dreadful moment of firing automatic rifles on unarmed unionists.

Not only human rights were violated on that black day, there was also a clear violation of good governance in a number of ways: (a) authoritarian management that is inappropriate to the current context; (b) distrust of the organized sector of farm workers and their disabling from participation in renovating human resource systems in the hacienda; and, (c) hubris and brazen display of excessive force in resolving a deadlock that was in a near-resolution situation.

We need not even bother to find out whether certain officers of the law are under the payola of the Luisita paymasters. Or, that certain labor inspectors and officials are likewise in the payroll of the same paymasters. Such a system of corruption has been in place for nigh decades, and has never been rooted out.

It is truly bothersome for a co-owner of the Luisita, Noynoy Aquino, to mouth good governance as a banner motto in his campaign for the presidency. The facts about Luisita affairs hardly substantiate Aquino’s claim of “hindi ako magnanakaw.” Cojuanco family’s Luisita is replete with narratives of corruption and blood spilt to sustain operations, rendering moot and delusional any claim by its owners to puritanical moralism.

Good governance is not just about “hindi magnanakaw.” It is a coherent concept that is operationalized as: (a) efficient management; (b) enabling civil society-state dialogue; (c) participative management, observing a partnering modality between labor & management and not a subordinated treatment of labor by managers-owners; (d) low to nil graft/transparency; and, (e) political will in pursuing visions, mission, objectives, and related ends.

Noynoy Aquino represents the cacique class and is a product of an oligarchic lineage and milieu. He reduced ‘good governance’ to a parochial propaganda cliché, a term that he may have little understanding about based on the practice of corporate governance in Luisita.

The last thing that ought to happen in this country is to keep on recycling oligarchic rule, an evil system that is perpetuated by non-thinking voters who are as gullible as those overseas workers sweet-talked by illegal recruiters. It is now time to put an end to this sordid evil, for prolonging it further will bring us down to a Dark Age which happens at the tail end of any oligarchic regime (e.g. classical Greece was destroyed by the Athenian oligarchs’ lust for wars against Persia).

I just hope that, in case Aquino will win the polls, and the greedy grafters and ‘kamag-anak incorporated’ around him will grab juicy state posts in wild abandon, plundering at will like there was no end to  colossal loots, I won’t end up echoing “I told you so.” Honestly, I would, and will sonorously burst with guffaws.

[Philippines, 19 April 2010. Prof. Argonza is an international consultant, academic, and Fellow of the prestigious Asia-wide Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration or EROPA. He is also a long-time grassroots worker, serving marginal sectors for over three decades. See also: IKONOKLAST:]