Posted tagged ‘socialism’

MANILA PEACE UPDATE: BACK-CHANNEL TALK WITH NDF

May 6, 2008

Bro. Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

[Writ 01 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. The author, a professor at the premier University of the Philippines, was a former consultant and senior official at the presidential palace.]

 

Let me share to you some notes about the efficacy of the back-channel strategy as applied to the Peace Talks. By Peace Talks I refer to the on-going negotiations between the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and the rebel groups (National Democratic Front, Moro Islamic Liberation Front). For this briefer, I will focus on the GRP-NDF talks, the NDF being the Maoist movement led by the clandestine Communist Party of the Philippines (founded 1968).

 

The Maoist rebellion here began as soon as the New People’s Army or NPA, the military arm of the CPP, was formed. The Philippines than was predominantly agrarian, landlordism was the main stumbling block to industrial progress, the 1948-launced Import Substitution Industrialization was floundering badly, and mass poverty must have been reaching as much as past the 75% mark. With an agrarian population as base, it wasn’t difficult for the CPP-NPA to justify an armed struggle based on the Maoist strategy of encirclement: build rebel based first in the hinterlands where the enemy forces are weak, then gradually constrict the urban areas (cities, big towns) from the countryside.

 

Almost four (4) decades after the launching of the Maoist rebellion, nowhere is there any site of a victory by the Left rebels. Supposedly, the guerilla fronts have reached past the 3-digit level (160+ as of latest claims by the CPP), but those are largely spread out in rural hinterlands. RP’s population is now around 60% urban and only 40% rural, and urbanization is still spreading fast, mutating the rural landscapes into new mixed-use urban and suburban mini-cities.

 

It is now getting clearer that the Maoist rebellion here has been reduced to a Zapatista-sized rebellion, and its strategy of encirclement has become obviously intractable and nauseatingly archaic. Unless that it shifts in strategy from rural-based armed struggle to urban-based mass movement type, the new Zapatistas of Manila (CPP-NDF) may lose enormous mileage in their campaigns and legitimacy. A rising middle class here will never be able to identify with a movement that tends to diminish the importance of the ‘middle sectors’ in shaping the political wind, most specially in Asia to which Manila is now closely hued to (for many centuries the Philippines was alien to Asia and was more hued to its colonial masters in the West).

 

Often than not, the Peace Talks get stalled. This has been the history of negotiations here. But at least what is clear, as has been shown by the past negotiations with the military rebels and the Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF, is that the GRP talking point is not “surrender all of you or die!” but rather one of negotiated political settlement. It took much time for the GRP to admit to this new precept in peace talks, but state negotiators have to rather take this option as it had proved relatively successful as exemplified by the previous cases.

 

One strategy used by the GRP whenever peace talks get stalled is the ‘back-channel talk’. Often than not, the names of back-channel negotiators are not identified at all in public, or that the information is strictly confidential. Having once moved in the corridors of power as a consultant and later a senior state official at the presidential palace, my very own boss then was among them, and his experiences in the BCT (shortened ‘back-channel talk’) are my basis for assessing the efficacy of the strategy.

I found out, to my own dismay being a patriot who was impatient for results, that the peace talks get stalled every now and then not because of ‘insincerity’ of the ‘other party’ but rather due to the lack of trust by the rebels in the GRP negotiating panel’s composition. One must realize that here in Manila, the ‘nat-dems’ (the Maoist national democrats) had that historical animosities and antipathies with the ‘soc-dems’ (non-Maoist social democrats) who were indeed rabidly anti-communist as any observer would notice. Sadly, before the incumbent president GM Arroyo sat in power, the ‘soc-dems’ were already visible and influential in shaping the contours of peace talks including those held with the Muslim rebels.

 

In 2004, barely had the presidential election campaign commence when the peace talk stalled again. The usual bitter reason raised, as per information coming straight from the rebels to their contacts in the GRP other than the peace panel, was the ‘soc-dem’ presence in that (peace) panel (notably the intelligence top-gun Norberto Gonzales, and another ‘soc-dem’ cabinet member Ging Deles). Before that, in the 1990s, there was the complaint against the ‘opus dei’ negotiators. You see, the NDF can never really trust these negotiators who hinge their loyalty to their Vatican-led spin doctors.

 

The ‘nat-dem’ line is that the ‘soc-dem’ and their predecessors the ‘opus dei’ are clerico-fascist, are rabidly anti-communist and will never trust communists or Marxists of whatever rainbow hue they possess. The cleric-fascists supposedly opt for a total destruction of anything Marxist, much more of Maoists, and cannot be trusted in any way in peace negotiations. Of course, in the open mass media the typical line of the Maoists is that GRP is insincere, a line that the MILF rebels likewise echo.

 

That’s why it pays for any incoming president in particular to review the composition of the peace group that s/he inherits from a previous president. Well, the fact is that all the presidents from Corazon Aquino through Gloria Arroyo owe their victories in one way or another to the support of the ‘Jesuit mafia’ (to whom the ‘soc-dems’ owe allegiance) and the ‘opus dei’ (RP’s version of generalissimo Franco’s phalangists). So nary a president can just consign church players to roach-ridden dust bins, rest assured.  

 

A remedial measure adopted by a president here, which the incumbent particularly and that of the flamboyant Fidel Ramos found efficacious, was the use of BCT negotiators. And the result was even more stunningly successful whenever a BCT negotiator was a former comrade of the Left. Many senior-level officials since the 1990s yet, the rank going to as high as cabinet level, were former ‘nat-dems’ including dozens of former CPP cadres no less. They may have left the underground, but they were still in good faith with their former movements which they never antagonized in any way.

 

As the presidential poll got nearer in 2004, the BCT negotiator then, who is personally known to this writer, got himself busy moving in and out of the country to see the NDF officials face-to-face. There was this particular official session between the NDF and GRP, which the BCT negotiator witnessed, and to the shock of the attendants the NDF officials pulled out pronto even before the session even started. But the rebel officials never left the venue, they simply cuddled at a particular nook and discussed their moves right there.

 

As usual, among the GRP panelists were around three (3) ‘soc-dems’ and one ‘opus dei’, and so the knee-jerk Pavlovian response of the rebels was to back off, as if they perceive some hostile man-eating Martians across the bargaining table. Seeing the urgency of a mediation response, the BCT official immediately admonished the GRP panelists to stay and wait while he moves on to massage the rebel side. He then went over to his former comrades, muscled enough courage and confidence to deal witRih them, and pronounced his lines that fruitful things can come out of the session if only the rebels returned to the table.

 

Well, voila! The rebel officials did return to the table, though without a hint of trust shown to the GRP panelists. The panel wasn’t exactly an entirely ‘socdem’-‘opus dei’ tandem, as the BCT official had pointed to the rebels, and so it was a matter of competent communication of their positions that would matter the most at that historic moment.

 

I was myself very busy then with the presidential campaign, being a consultant and spokesman for the incumbent exec who was running for another 6-year stint when the talks resumed. And I was so exuberantly elated at the rebels’ return to the table. The BCT negotiator, being my direct boss in the campaign (he was also among the top coordinators for the ‘parallel campaign machinery’ of GM Arroyo), then narrated the series of events which never came out of the news.

 

Not only did the rebels return to the ‘nego’ table (nego = negotiations, negotiating) as a result of the success of confidence-building spawned thru the BCT strategy. A week before the presidential poll, the top rebel honcho Jose Maria Sison officially announced that the NDF was supporting the GMA-led team in the elections. ‘Joma’ (as Sison was fondly nick-named) even released a formal memorandum to all CPP cadres and members, to openly vote for Arroyo in her presidential bid.

 

We now have new faces among the GRP panelists here, and the political winds have quite changed since 2004. The GRP-NDF war had resumed, peace talks continue but without verve and mutual trust. But BCT had more than amply proved to be a worthwhile strategy for peace negotiations. We should all look forward to its further application in many cases of conflict resolution—from rebellion-related to labor-related conflicts (settling strikes, lock-outs, barricades).

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DOMAIN OF WEALTH OF NATIONS: BOTH DOMESTIC & OVERSEAS

April 28, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

[Writ 23 March 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

 

 

The antiquated debate regarding which domain should be the main source of national wealth—whether domestic or overseas—is still alive today. In the article of New Nationalism, I argued that in the emerging context of post-industrialism, this debate has become futile and unproductive. Instead of stressing a domestic versus international mindset, I argued for a both/and frame.

 

Admittedly, the overseas domain as a source of wealth is as palatable as it used to be during the era yet of the city-states of Northern Italy (Venice, Florence). This has become the backbone of mercantilism, which in turn became the backbone of nationalist economics. Old Nationalism henceforth carried the pro-mercantilist banner of seeking wealth primarily from international operations. But this time around, this position has to be revised in the light of import-substitution success.

 

In the Philippine case, we have been having it both ways. On the one hand, our manufacturing sector’s products are largely consumed 86% of the time for the domestic market, indicating the optimization of the import-substitution aspect of our development efforts. On the other hand, our overseas employment and investments have been churning out a whopping Net Factor Income from Abroad or NFIA worth 11% of the GDP.

 

New Nationalism, to my mind, should rather have it both ways, as culled from this and other parallel experiences in emerging markets. At this time particularly, Foreign Direct Investments or FDIs by Philippine-owned or controlled companies has begun to take off and contribute to our national coffers. Add to this our exports worth 40% of GDP, and remittances from labor export of worth 10% of GDP, and one can see the broad picture of the potency of the overseas domain as source of national income.

 

Below is the entire subsection on the domains of wealth production culled from the New Nationalism article.

 

Generate wealth from both external and domestic markets.

 

Various stakeholders in the past were divided along the question of what should be the driver of growth & development (demand-side discourse): the external, or internal market? The followers of the ‘externalists’ were the ones behind the export-oriented development strategy, whose rationalizations for massive exports were quite poor recycles of the mercantilist contention that wealth should be produced more from out of the external markets (colonies during the time of empires). The ‘internalists’ were the ones behind import-substitution strategies, whose rationalizations were poor photocopies of Keynesian demand-side formulations.

 

In today’s context, it is wiser to view both the external and domestic markets as synergistic spheres for accumulating national wealth and meeting head-on the demands for delivering welfare. The external market discourse can work only in circumstances where a domestic demand has failed to develop, which in our case was the pre-1990s economy. By the late 1990s, it was clear that a significant change had taken place on the demand side of our economy, as folks were buying a lot of articles of commerce at a time of crisis. The middle class population is rising relative to the entire population, whose households’ needs have become more differentiated and have leaped beyond the bounds of ‘rice-and-galunggong’ expenditures. Today, Filipino families purchase around fifty-three percentum (53%) of their household needs from supermarkets, malls and large retail centers, even as the wet markets and sari-sari stores are declining in importance. These changes are real, and we cannot be blind to them by continuing to harp on an export-driven growth.

 

We must then fast-track large-scale redistribution schemes, such as to witness the rise in purchasing powers of our own people. This cannot be done outright during the next three (3) years, as we face a fiscal dilemma of crisis proportions. But beyond 2007 lies new opportunity fields. The fiscal route to stabilization will have been solidly achieved by then, and the nation can embark on more ambitious endeavors aimed at increasing incomes, reducing unemployment and poverty and increasing domestic consumption.

 

As the domestic market catches up in stabilizing the economy and producing national wealth, stakeholders shouldn’t be remiss in improving the competitiveness of our export products. Our great advantage is that we have ample supplies of skilled labor, with wages still relatively low. The power sector is also quite rich in supply of electricity, even as new projects are now being planned to neutralize possible supply problems in the short run. Hopefully, power supply would stabilize and electricity cost would decrease, contributing thus to rendering our exportable articles more competitive enough. Save for capital goods and petroleum, large volumes of which our producers continue to import, the other factors of production are within our hands to control and manipulate, inclusive of rent and interest rate. It is hereby argued that, with such factors controllable enough, we can optimize conditions for rendering our exportable articles maximally competitive and continue to permit the external market to be a source of substantial wealth. What more if we produce all of our essential capital goods, thus further bringing down the cost of production, given that the price of other factor inputs also go down?

 

EVOLVE SOCIAL MARKETS

April 28, 2008

 

Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

[Writ 23 March 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

 

As already exacerbated in my previous articles, this development expert strongly argues for dirigisme (state intervention). Even in the yogic-mystical terrain, I strongly argue for interventionism in the physical plane, though this paradigm may hold water only here and not necessarily in other dimensions or trans-physical spheres where money economies are absent.

 

Incidentally, we now have emerging models for dirigist paths to sustainable development. For lack of a better term, the model is simply called ‘social market’. It is an integration of state intervention and market-driven economy. Extremes of socialism and laissez faire have both proved as flops. These extreme forms are beyond salvation and are both being junked today. They have become junkshop models.

 

Asia is the best laboratory today for the conscious evolution of ‘social markets’. China, Vietnam, and India are the countries to watch. I just hope that the original ASEAN 6 (Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei) will move towards their respective version of social markets.

 

Maybe before this century will end, the exemplars for the nascent social markets will crystallize all the more. The terminology may change hence. Even the economic context will have mutated. The post-industrial economy or ‘Aquarian economy’ (using mystics’ language) will galvanize all the more though not possibly to its fullest yet.

 

This century may still see the operation of a money economy, hence the operation of a semblance of markets where people will procure the most of information and values in order to fulfill their amenities. The contention of the writer is intended largely for this nascent economy of the current century. The future generations better take on the cudgels for forecasting those that would apply for the future centuries.

 

The essential contention is summarized by the excerpt from the article as shown below.

 

Evolve from ‘capitalist markets’ to ‘social markets’.

 

The ‘capitalist market’ (or simply ‘market’) is the haven of financial predators and market  sharks, while the absence of market is the homestead of the rent-seeker and exclusively-privileged partocrat (single party bureaucrat). As the cases of the ‘mixed economies’ and that of China’s have demonstrated, the market impeccably performs a   pivotal role in stimulating growth & development, and should not be wished away too soon. Rather, we should evolve a market that is not a ‘pure market’ in the classical sense.

 

As experiences world-wide have transparently indicated, leaving everything to the market redounds to: (a) diminished welfare, as indicated by low wages, low accessibility to social services, high unemployment, and massive exploitation of labor; (b) ecological disaster, indicated by environmental degradation, depleted natural resource base, destruction of indigenous communities and their natural habitats; (c) speculation in the capital and realty markets, leading to further instabilities and proneness to shocks, both internal and external; and, (d) lackluster product innovation due to low value given to S&T development, in societies where there is a lack of entrepreneurs, such as the Philippine case demonstrates.

 

The balance lies in developing a ‘social market’, where concern for private initiatives as well as for welfare are harmonized and balanced, while at the same time controlling speculation and optimizing conditions that induce innovations. Within the context of a social market, there should increasingly evolve ‘social enterprises’ or collectively-owned enterprises: cooperatives, people’s corporations, grammin, and other related types that are rising though still at an experimental phase. While private enterprises should continue to prevail, large-scale enterprises should begin to innovate on new physical asset-ownership schemes that would eventually see a large portion of the assets co-owned by ordinary folks and corporate employees. In the long run, the ‘social market’ will be a terrain where both wealth gaining and welfare providing functions will be fused exquisitely, signifying the end of state-induced welfare and the return of welfare functions to communities.