POSTSCRIPT / October 27, 2011 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sang’s visit to draw Phl-Viet comparison

COMPARISON: Two items will stand out during the Oct. 26-28 state visit of Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang: the comparative development of the two neighbors and their handling of Chinese intrusions into disputed areas in the mineral-rich South China Sea.

It will be the first meeting of President Noynoy Aquino and his counterpart. He visited Hanoi a year ago, but Sang was elected president only last July 21. Naturally, Mr. Aquino wants to know if Mr. Sang will honor his predecessor’s commitments on some critical issues.

Viet Nam under Sang recently agreed with China to discuss and settle South China Sea problems between them through bilateral negotiations. Sang’s predecessor, however, has agreed to a multilateral (ASEAN) approach as suggested by the United States.

On development, comparisons are unavoidable. While the Philippine projected growth rate this year has had to be reduced to the 4-5 percent level, Viet Nam had a growth rate of 6.7 percent in 2010 and 5.76 percent in the first nine months of 2011.

Many top agriculturists of Viet Nam learned rice-farming in Los Baños, but the Philippines now imports rice massively from their country. To think that Viet Nam is handicapped by the ravages of decades-long wars against the French and the Americans.

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ZOELLICK VISIT: On the occasion of the visit of World Bank president Robert Zoellick, an independent think tank pointed out that “after over five decades of flawed policy advice and $14.7-billion WB loans, the Philippines remains poor in every sector of the economy.”

Citing the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program, the think tank IBON said CCT continues the “World Bank’s long history of flawed policy-making in the country and deodorizes the much-discredited globalization model.”

Zoellick is visiting a local poor community that has benefitted from the WB-designed and WB-supported CCT doles.

IBON said the CCT program is a “reaction to widespread poverty caused by decades of economic liberalization promoted by the WB and other finance institutions.” It added that the economy has been weakened by dozens of “World Bank structural adjustment programs resulting in jobless growth, record forced migration and chronic poverty.”

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TEMPORARY RELIEF: The CCT, according to IBON, is “a multi-billion peso temporary relief effort that does not address poverty but diverts from the basic socio-economic reforms that the country needs.”

It said the $405-million WB loan for the CCT program is its second largest out of some 250 development loans to the Philippines since 1957. The Philippines will be repaying $500 million on the CCT loan from the bank, according to IBON.

The CCT has been part of a country assistance program and World Bank policy advice since 2009. IBON said this policy advice pushes for higher taxes, lower government spending, health and water privatization, infrastructure privatization through public-private partnerships (PPPs), and agricultural liberalization.

While these policies are packaged as drivers of development, IBON said, the country’s experience has proven that these only worsen poverty.

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WAR&PEACE: It looks now that while one foot of President Aquino is treading the path of negotiated peace, the other foot is tramping the bloodied battlefield.

What the President has launched in the hot spots in the South looks like a mestizo war&peace campaign, not entirely “all-out war” nor “all-out justice” as Malacañang has described it.

While waiting for leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to walk back to the table, the Commander-in-Chief has sent bombers, naval ships, artillery and the whole caboodle to crush “lawless elements” who have left his peace initiative in tatters.

Even while waging war against the enemy, the government has to keep negotiations alive to maintain the myth in the mind of Mr. Arroyo that even rebels and secessionists can be trusted.

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WHERE’S P5-M?: It is inconceivable for President Aquino to order an “all-out war” as hawkish sectors suggest.

Such a move would be interpreted to mean that the President now regrets having flown to Tokyo last Aug. 4 for a one-on-one with MILF leader Murad Ibrahim, and then motivating (some people would say “bribing”) him with P5 million to cooperate.

Malacañang has not said if the P5 million has been released and, if so, to whom. There are also speculations that that fund came indirectly from a secret US budget for carving out in Mindanao a Balkan-style Bangsamoro that would be more hospitable to American security operations.

That prop of a negotiating table has to remain on center stage. To push it aside altogether by declaring an all-out war will mean that the Philippine Chief of State has realized he made a mistake sitting down with Murad and in effect given him comparable status.

For its part in the drama, with Uncle Sam pulling the strings behind the curtains, the MILF must return to talk even while its warriors are fighting government forces in Basilan, Zamboanga, Lanao, and elsewhere.

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SPLITTING HAIR: The government is splitting hair when declaring that its military campaign is aimed only at “criminal elements” – or those who have violated the law — and not against the entire MILF.

Malacañang wants the public to believe that soldiers and policemen had been sent out only to serve warrants, to arrest kidnappers, bandits and those who killed the 19 elite Army soldiers on Basilan last Aug. 18.

But it is obvious that by coddling its rogue members and their relatives, by using the rampage of their field commanders as leverage at the negotiating table, and by refusing to surrender them, the entire MILF has become an accomplice.

In fact, the MILF has taken responsibility and even boasted of the Basilan ambush. At the very least, the MILF can be cited for conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 27, 2011)

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