Monday, June 21, 2021

Ledesma: My country today (First of two parts)

WELCOME delegates and guests to the 31st Association of Southeast Asia Nations summit and the Asean 50th Anniversary. The Philippines is populated by over 105 million people of diverse ethnic tribes and cultures, religious affiliations living in unique harmony.

We are an archipelagic country made up of 7,641 islands with a total area of 301,780 square kilometers. The Philippines is the 34th largest economy in the world, the 13th in Asia and the third largest economy among Asean nations. The largest islands are Luzon where the capital and central government is located and Mindanao, the southern-most island where the President of the Philippines, erstwhile Mayor of Davao City, known in international survey ratings as consistently one of the top 10 most peaceful city in the world. The city is also consistently cited as the Most Child Friendly and most competitive city based on independent surveys. As against the national growth rate of 6.9 percent (WB statistics) Davao City maintains its growth at nine percent.

I have to make a few citations for our guest to be able to appreciate the country which have just gotten rid of the vicious ISIS terrorists and negative propaganda waged by a moribund opposition, which for several decades ruled the country and nearly pushed us on the edge of a failed state by sheer ineptness and acquiescence to corruption and crime.

Over the years, the President of the Philippines always comes from the National Capital Region (NCR) or Luzon. The oligarchy made NCR their exclusive domain and presides who the chief executive will be and where the largest chunk of the government budget will be spent. That is why you see massive infrastructures only in Metro Manila, which is the core territory of NCR. In its periphery too are economic zones. That is why you have a situation where most of the best paying jobs are in NCR. Conversely population and over physical development of MM grew and we see as among the biggest problem that beset Manila is traffic congestion.

Over the years, the given notion is that no one from Mindanao will ever be elected President. I am laying this as a factual predicate to explain the glorious mystery why Duterte, pictured by his irate political adversaries as a killer and a bad-mouth politician who does not know the nuances of diplomatic language and niceties.

For several decades, Filipinos were ruled by peons of the economic elite in Metro Manila. We have a President before, Ramon Magsaysay, who fought for the rural poor. He was dubbed as "the man of the masses." But his reign was abbreviated when he died in a plane crash. Those who followed him later had very little regard for the places outside of NCR. President Ferdinand Marcos made a big difference as he implemented the land reform law under the dictum of land for the actual tillers, massive infrastructures outside of MM, supported farmers with various support program among them Masaganang 99 for rice farmers, masaganang maisan for Corn farmers, biyayang dagat for fishermen, to name a few. In Mindanao, he opened several irrigation projects, opened new concreted road network and energized 80 percent of the entire island, utilizing hydropower as source. But Marcos imposed martial law. His first two years was to be his golden era but soon, that devolved into one of the tragic history in the country when abuse in the military and greed by some of his known cronies reigned.

Marcos was ousted in a bloodless people power led by then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and INP Chief Fidel Ramos. The Edsa event also saw for the first time the participation of the Catholic Church with Manila Cardinal Jaime Sin calling the flocks to join and protect Enrile and Ramos from the military wrath. Of course, things were made easier with flyby of American jets over Malacanang Palace where the ailing Marcos was holding fort. The rest is history. Fifty years had elapsed and sadly, the decadence that followed after him made the dictatorial regime looked better.

President Corazon Aquino came to power not be the mandate derived from the snap elections. She was installed as President by the revolt of about two million Manila inhabitants with the support of Uncle Sam and the Catholic Bishops' of the Philippines. She was the choice because her sponsors knew too well the mawkish attitude of the Filipinos. Ninoy Aquino was assassinated on his return from the USA and the nation grieve and who else would best serve their agenda but the housewife of Aquino.

Her reign as president (to include two years of being a revolutionary leader) did not contribute anything to the country except euphoria the dictator is gone. She was invited to speak in the US Congress and came home as an "icon of democracy." But early on her presidency, she bastardized the agrarian reform program of Marcos with her Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program that mandates land for the landless. Many of the lands landed in the hands of speculators, office workers and wheeler dealers who do not own land, yes, but abhors the smell of the earth. Corporate farms like Hacienda Luisita, which was owned by Aquino-Cojuangco clan, was spared as tenant farmers were made co-owners via stock certificates issued to them. The tenants grudgingly received the paper document but they remained vassals of the hacienda. Farmers protested but they were mowed down by machine guns in Mendiola near Malacanang and in the gates of Hacienda Luisita.

The Cory government failed the people. She freed the CPP/NPA leaders, she discontinued the Bataan Nuclear Plant, she refused to use the standby generators imported by the Marcos government to stave off power shortage, She stopped all the Marcos programs for farmers and fishermen. Manila International Airport was renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport. To insure her absolute hold of the legislative body and the local governments, she declared revolutionary government and proceeded to padlock the parliament and replaced all duly elected local officials. As one of the early sign of her insincerity, she dumped Salvador Laurel with whom she had a covenant that when things settles, the former will be the Prime Minister and run the government while she just become a ceremonial head.

Fidel Ramos came just in the nick of time to save NCR literally from total darkness. Biting the bullet, President Ramos entered into an onerous contract with Independent Power Producer and agreed to buy whatever power generated by the IPP at a price that Metro Manila residents are still made to shoulder to the present.

The regime of Joseph Estrada, a movie actor and populist politician, was abbreviated for his alleged involvement in a gambling scam. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over and restored the economic roadmap of the government. She was, however, hounded by electoral misconduct and a bunch of her Cabinet members (also known as the Hyatt 10) who locked elbows demonstrating their loyalty to her before she said delivered that mellow-dramatic "I am sorry" phrase for calling a Comelec commissioner at the height of the election. The following morning at the break of dawn all 10 jumped ship. She survived that in her presidency but she spent months in government and private hospital when she was indicted later. The cases filed against her were eventually dismissed too.

The election that followed placed Benigno Simeon Aquino III as a presidential bet. Her mother, Cory, died of cancer and the nation was mourning. From the dirge of the necrological march, the excessively sentimental Filipinos elected another Aquino despite his zero performance as congressman and senator. His presidency was wrought with problems. It was the start of the era of decadence for the Philippines. Corruption was institutionalized and crime syndicates emerged unabated. It was bonanza for drug syndicates that enjoyed protection from the higher echelon of the police authority. The lackadaisical attitude of the Aquino government is best illustrated in the statement of its Secretary for the Department of Interior and Local Government which supervise both the Philippine National Police and local government units: "You can buy drugs anywhere in the country. If you want I can take you to Davao City or to Makati and show you where drugs can be purchased." As he spoke, the national penitentiary was actually a virtual distribution point of drugs in the country with the drug inmates enjoying the perks with obvious tolerance of the Department of Justice that supervised it.

Public services too deteriorated. The Aquino functionaries changed rules. It entered into new contract for the supply of car plates, which up to this time can hardly deliver. Supply of new train coaches from Czechoslovakia did not push through because of attempt of Presidential relatives to have a share of the pie of the supply contract.

Elsewhere, the tentacles of terrorist organizations like ISIS permeated the southern region of the Philippines where secessionist fronts lent haven to remnants of Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Queda. In one of what could be the classic idiocy in police operations aimed at capturing dead or alive a Malaysian terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkifli Abdhir alias Marwan, Aquino hatched a plan together with suspended Police Director Alan Purisima and dispatched 300 elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police to get the suspect. So massive was the force it cannot escape detection. While it succeeded in getting Marwan, it unnecessarily wasted the life of 44 SAF officers. Reason, the operations code named Oplan Exodus was kept secret from military forces which could have succored the SAF trapped in the firefight against the Bangsa Moro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the MILF. Even when an SOS had been dispatched to the military forces nearby it was said that higher authorities ordered them to stand down.

So languid was the Aquino government in addressing terrorism in the country that an ISIS caliphate virtually had taken root in the Islamic City of Marawi. The Maute ISIS was joined in by the leader of another vicious terror band of Abu Sayyaf, Isnilon Hapilon, was installed as the Emir of the caliphate.

This was Philippines before Rodrigo Roa Duterte, an iron-willed mayor of Davao City became President. The country was in the edge of a failed state. It was a virtual narco state which even the Human Rights Watch had become so inured to. (To be continued)


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