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CASER - page 2

On the Resumption of the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations

in Statements
By Jose Maria Sison, NDFP Chief Political Consultant
December 9, 2019

I welcome President Duterte’s publicly expressed desire to resume the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and his instruction to Secretary Bello to visit me and consult with me in Utrecht in this regard.

I am pleased that President Duterte has also acknowledged that he is “running out of time” and that he is determined to achieve peace before the end of his term.

It is timely for the GRP and NDFP to celebrate with the Filipino people the season of Christmas and the New Year and to create the favorable atmosphere for peace negotiations by undertaking such goodwill measures as reciprocal unvilateral ceasefires and the release of political prisoners who are elderly and sickly on humanitarian grounds, especially those who shall participate in the peace negotiations.

In my view, the peace negotiations can be resumed in a formal meeting to issue the declaration to reaffirm the agreements that have been forged since 1992, to overcome the presidential issuances and other obstacles that have prevented peace negotiations since 2017 and to set the agenda and schedule for these negotiations and to fullfill political, legal and security requirements.

The GRP and NDFP negotiating panels can pursue further negotiations on the Interim Peace Agreement, with its three components pertaining to coordinated unilateral ceasefires, general amnesty and release of all political prisoners and the sections of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and National Industrialization and Economic Development.

All the remaining sections of the CASER can be negotiated, completed and mutually approved by the GRP and NDFP in a relatively short period of time. Thereafter, the Comprehensive Agreements on Political and Constitutional Reforms and the End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces shall be negotiated, completed and mutually approved. ###

#JustPeace
#SignCASER

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THE SAGAY MASSACRE IN THE CONTEXT OF AGRARIAN REFORM

in Countercurrent
by Tagumpay Felipe 


(Editor’s Note: In one of his recent rambling speeches, President Duterte vowed to carry out agrarian reform, minus the participation of the Left revolutionary movement represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). How he would do that is not clear, considering that the futile amendatory Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reform (CARPeR) has long lapsed without being completed.

What is clear is that Duterte let pass the opportunity to carry out a genuine agrarian reform program, mutually agreed on in a three-month back-channel talks (which he had authorized) and set for signing by the GRP and NDFP peace panels in June 2018. But he unilaterally cancelled the formal talks. Earlier in November 2017, he issued Presidential Proclamation 360 “terminating” the GRP-NDFP peace talks, sans the required notice to the NDFP.

Had he not done that, the infamous Sagay Massacre, the subject of this article, could have been averted.)

On October 20, 2018 nine peasants, including three women and two minors, were brutally massacred in Sagay City, Negros Occidental. They were part of a bigger group of sugar farm workers working on a land cultivation area (LCA) within Hacienda Nene, a 75-hectare plantation.

The LCA is a project of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) to help peasants during the tiempo muerto or dead season, a 4-month period between the sugar cane harvest and the next planting cycle when sugar farm workers have no income. Rather than watch their families starve, the farm workers plant food crops on idle hacienda lands (“bungkalan”) to tide them over this dreaded season.

However, many hacienda owners would have none of this. They violently harass peasants engaged in “bungkalan.”

The National Democratic Front in Negros has since identified the four perpetrators of the Sagay 9 massacre. They are former elements of the renegade Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) who had joined the AFP-directed Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (SCAA) and were in the employ of Negros Occidental governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and his son, Sagay City mayor Alfredo Marañon III.

The Sagay 9 massacre brought to 197 the total number of peasants killed in agrarian-related struggles under the Duterte regime.

With Duterte’s orders to the police and military to shoot peasants engaged in “bungkalan,” the death toll is sure to rise further.

Evils of the hacienda system

The gruesome massacre at Hacienda Nene has once more brought to the fore the utter failure of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to effect social justice through genuine agrarian reform.

For too long, peasants have had to bear the brunt of the evils of the hacienda system. Continuing land monopoly by a handful of landlord families have left peasants severely impoverished, heavily indebted, chronically hungry and poorly nourished.

The fight for land at Hacienda Nene began 30 years ago, when the peasants first petitioned the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to put the estate under land reform coverage in 1988. It took another 26 years for the hacienda to be covered by the program. On June 27, 2014, the DAR issued the Notice of Coverage for the 76 hectares of the 90 hectares of Hacienda Nene. Thanks to landlord-bureaucrats like the Marañons, estates like Hacienda Nene have remained intact, their centuries-old evils kept alive.

The graver responsibility, however, lies with the Duterte regime for having scuttled the peace negotiations and preventing the adoption of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER)’s section on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD).

The draft ARRD was scheduled for signing by the two peace panels as early as November 2017, when Duterte abruptly, unilaterally cancelled the peace talks.

ARRD as key to social justice and economic development

Putting premium on uplifting the countryside is both socially just and economically sensible. Neglecting agricultural development and the welfare of the peasantry means neglecting the largest number of Filipino producers and the single largest sector of the domestic economy. ARRD is thus the key to ending rural poverty and the starting point for rapidly developing the Philippine countryside.

Agrarian reform under the CASER’s section on ARRD calls for breaking land monopolies through expropriation with selective compensation. It covers not only private and public agricultural land but also fishing grounds, fisheries, and aquaculture while recognizing ancestral domain.

The policy of expropriation with compensation was adopted to encourage landlords to invest in industrial and other productive enterprises. It shall also apply to landlords who have a proven record of actively supporting progressive land reform.

The applicability, amount and methods of compensation shall be determined in close consultation with peasant associations and according to the criteria and general guidelines outlined in the CASER.

However, landholdings proven to have been acquired through illegal and fraudulent means— such as land-grabbing, misrepresentation, circumvention of agrarian reform laws, distortion of the history of tenancy, and the use of violence—shall be subject to confiscation without compensation.

Abandoned and idle agricultural lands over the retention limit specified in the CASER shall also be subject to expropriation without compensation.

Surplus landholdings and other means of production of rich peasants and middle peasants shall not be subject to expropriation. Rich and middle peasants shall be required, however, to raise the wages of the farm workers they hire in accordance with the standards set by the peasant associations.

There will be measures to prevent reconcentration of land, such as a prohibition on the sale or mortgaging of distributed land to former owners, money lenders and local officials.

In distributing the land, preference shall be given to immediate family members and relatives of tenants who are willing to cultivate the land and able to make the land as productive as possible, provided their landholdings do not exceed the land retention limit.

In the absence of a member of the immediate family, the peasant association or peasant cooperative of the farmer beneficiary shall be encouraged to purchase the land for cooperativization.

The ARRD moreover prohibits the conversion of land producing food into other use in order to ensure that the country achieves food self-sufficiency.

Notably, the ARRD section of the CASER goes beyond land distribution. Agricultural production shall be developed with ample budgets for developing agricultural science and technology, agricultural credit, irrigation, post-harvest facilities, farm-to-market roads, and marketing support.

The section likewise upholds and promotes the rights of the peasantry, including farm workers and fisherfolk, to living wages, humane work conditions, benefits, and to be free from usury.

The ARRD section identifies 16 rural industries to be targeted for development: coconut, sugar, cacao and coffee, meat processing, fish processing, fruit, spices and vegetable processing, salt and seaweeds processing, dairy products, leather processing, abaca products, bamboo and rattan, clothing and textiles, pottery, furniture, and agricultural by-products processing.

The ARRD would have provided for the free distribution of big landholdings and landed estates, including lands targeted by the GRP for distribution; haciendas controlled by private individuals or entities; disputed lands with local agrarian reform and peasant struggles; and lands already occupied by peasants through various forms of land cultivation and collective farming programs.

In a statement condemning the Sagay 9 massacre, the NDFP’s Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER), which helped draft the ARRD, stressed that the break-up of land monopolies and free land distribution are the “just, necessary and urgent corrective measures to the centuries-old social injustices suffered by the peasantry.”

NDFP RWC-SER: SAGAY 9 MASSACRE UNDERSCORES EVILS OF HACIENDA SYSTEM AND THE NEED FOR GENUINE AGRARIAN REFORM

in Statements
Juliet de Lima
Chairperson, NDFP RWC-SER
22 October 2018

The NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social Economic Reforms (RWC-SER) strongly condemns the massacre of nine peasants, including two minors, in Sagay City, Negros Occidental on the night of October 20.

The victims, who were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), were having supper after working on their land cultivation area in the 75-hectare Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon as part of efforts to stave off hunger during the “tiempo muerto” or dead season in the sugar industry. The peasants plant food crops to feed their families in idle lands that are already covered by, but remain undistributed under the government’s land reform program.

This massacre bring to 197 the total number of peasants killed under the Duterte regime in connection with agrarian struggles.

The murder of the Sagay 9 underscores the evils of the hacienda system and the failure of the GRP to effect social justice through genuine agrarian reform.

As long as a handful of landlords monopolize land ownership and perpetuate their power through force, the Sagay 9 will not be the last victims of agrarian-related violence. Agrarian unrest will persist as the peasant masses continue to suffer from widespread poverty, high indebtedness, severe hunger and malnutrition.

President Rodrigo Duterte and the militarists in his cabinet have blood on their hands for terminating the peace negotiations that would have resulted in the adoption of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER)’s section on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD).

The draft ARRD, which was scheduled for signing last November before Duterte abruptly cancelled the peace talks provides for the free distribution of big landholdings and landed estates including lands targeted by the government for distribution, haciendas that are under the control of private individuals or entities, disputed lands with local agrarian reform and peasant struggles and lands already occupied by farmers through various forms of land cultivation and collective farming activities.

The break-up of land monopolies and free land distribution are the just, necessary and urgent corrective measures to the centuries-old social injustices suffered by the peasantry. ###

#JusticeForSagay9
#StopKillingFarmers

“BBB”: BUILDING THE ROAD TO PERDITION

in Countercurrent
by Tagumpay Felipe

The Duterte regime’s much-touted “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program is purported to be a “game changer” for the Philippines: they said it would accelerate growth towards a modern, industrialized economy. The program comes with a whopping price tag of Php 1.5 trillion, to be funded largely with foreign and local borrowing and increased taxation – both burdens ultimately to be borne by the masses.

Boldly, the regime claims that the BBB will lift 1.5 million Filipinos from poverty every year and reduce poverty incidence from today’s 22% to only 14% by the end of Duterte’s term in 2022.

It aims to achieve that by building as many as 75 infrastructure projects in various parts of the country. It avers that it will serve as the “solid backbone for growth.” Per June 13 reports, the implementation of 30 of the 75 projects are targeted to begin this year.

It is the BBB the Duterte regime invokes as rationale for the new taxes it has imposed this year on goods and services under the Tax Reforms for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.

But there’s a caveat to pursuing such an ambitious program.

Without addressing the country’s fundamental social and economic problems—such as landlessness, social and economic inequity, and multi-dimensional (economic, social, cultural, institutional) injustices—any economic program driven by massive infrastructure-building will primarily serve the interests of big business and the ruling elite, with little, if any, deepgoing improvement in the life of the poor majority.

The BBB’s monstrous tax-and-debt-driven budget easily conjures the image of hapless Filipino masses being crushed by the weight of trillions of pesos worth of concrete and steel.

Worse, instead of promoting self-reliant national development, the BBB program will lead the country on a disastrous road of indebtedness to and dependence on a fast-emerging foreign power: China.

Government tries to placate public unrest stirred by the TRAIN law. It saysthat up to 70% of revenues to be collected will be spent on the BBB. This is on top of other fund sources such as the floating of Php 12 billion in government bonds and a projected $167-billion loan package from China.

Already, the new taxes which took effect this year are being blamed for the highest inflation rates—3.8% in the first quarter of 2018, with a new high of 6.4% in August.

DEBT AND NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY

But the loudest alarms are being raised about the serious repercussions on national sovereignty of getting heavily indebted to China.

Last March Zhuang Guotu, a Chinese academic from Xiamen University, said in an interview with the Global Times that “Chinese loans are usually accompanied by repayment agreements, which use certain natural resources as collateral.”
Duterte’s spokesperson refused to elaborate on that statement, dismissing it as “gossip.” China’s foreign ministry was likewise quick to shoot down Zhuang’s statement as his personal opinion and not reflective of the Chinese government’s policy or practice. But take note that Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s revisionist ruling party.

China’s denial flies more in the face of what has befallen Sri Lanka. Last year Sri Lanka was forced to practically cede its strategic port of Hambantota to China, through a 99-year lease due to its inability to pay off more than $8 billion in debts to Chinese state firms.

Causing further suspicion is the thick veil of secrecy over the Duterte regime’s loan negotiations with China. To date, Duterte’s economic managers have not been transparent on what the actual interest rates, the conditions and repayment terms are of these Chinese loans.

Perhaps part of the reason lies in the fact that the terms are downright indefensible. Only last February, NEDA director general Ernesto Pernia caused an uproar when he admitted that the Duterte government has chosen to secure loans from China despite the far lower interest rates of 0.25% to 0.75% by other lender countries like Japan, as opposed to China’s 2-3%. This means it is 3,000% more costly to borrow from China.

In May last year, an article published by the influential business magazine Forbes warned that “Dutertenomics, fueled by expensive loans from China, will put the Philippines into virtual debt bondage.” It predicted that with the estimated $167-billion infrastructure loans from China added to the Philippines’ current foreign debt of $123 billion, the high interest rates imposed by China could cause the entire debt to balloon to over a trillion US dollars in ten years.

“Once the country has trouble repaying $167 billion in debt, plus interest, to China,” wrote Forbes contributor Anders Corr, “the Philippines will have to give political and economic concessions to China in order to repay annual interest, or renegotiate such a large quantity of debt.”

Corr added that this could include political concessions, such as giving up territory or oil rights in the South China Sea or Benham Rise. Or it could include economic concessions, for example, selling China its national companies, or agreeing to below-market rates on exports to China.

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison has followed up Corrs’ article by lambasting the Duterte regime for accepting not just loans at high commercial rates but also defective and overpriced supplies and services from China.

Upon loan default, Sison pointed out, the Chinese corporations would convert the loans to equity, giving the Chinese further control over Philippine natural resources (including the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Extended Continental Shelf in the West Philippine Sea), the entire Philippine economy and government policies through puppets and dummies.

LINING THE POCKETS

Duterte’s tack, Sison added, is a foolish repeat of the Arroyo regime’s preference for overpriced projects and high-interest loan agreements (such as the anomalous NBN-ZTE deal) that benefited most big compradors and corrupt bureaucrats in both China and the Philippines, including the Arroyo couple.

In a similar vein, Corr pointed out the possibility of Duterte and his influential friends and business associates benefiting from hundreds of millions of dollars in finders’ fees for facilitating the debt deals with China. What Corr has posited could well be the answer to the riddle of why the Duterte government has persistently been going for the Chinese loans even under terms patently detrimental to the national interest.

DRAFT CASER PROVISIONS ON INFRA DEVELOPMENT AND TAXATION

From the NDFP perspective, infrastructure-building should be part of a purposive, strategic economic plan for national development whose implementation shall be democratically decided, publicly transparent, and socially accountable.
In stark contrast to the BBB, this is the spirit of a people-centered economic development path under the NDFP’s draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).

As the Duterte regime has abandoned the GRP-NDFP peace talks, it also scrapped any opportunity to forge the CASER—a would-be historic agreement which aims to “solve the fundamental problems of exploitation, underdevelopment and poverty in order to establish the basis for a just and lasting peace.”

The Duterte government has shown that it is no different from past reactionary regimes that erroneously believed change could be effected merely through infrastructure building, without touching in any way the underdeveloped, agrarian and semi-feudal economic landscape through national industrialization and genuine land reform. Without these necessary changes, any new infrastructure will end up facilitating and reinforcing the classic exchange of Philippine raw materials, semi-manufactured goods and cheap labor for finished products from overseas that has characterized neo-colonial trade and perpetuated the country’s economic backwardness.

In the NDFP’s draft CASER, several provisions call for massive state spending on infrastructure in the push to attain rural development and national industrialization. But it stipulates the creation of mechanisms to ensure the role of people’s organizations in the planning and implementation of infrastructure projects, in both cities and countryside.

The CASER upholds both the necessity of responsible state intervention and making the welfare of the people the center of economic policies.

Taxation is one of several sources mentioned in the CASER for financing the national industrialization drive, including the needed infrastructure support. But it clearly puts in place a progressive tax system that charges lower income taxes on the masses and small firms, and higher income taxes on the wealthy and large corporations.

The CASER provides for the abolition of the value-added tax (VAT) and excise taxes on basic goods and services consumed by the working people. Taxes on luxury goods and services, however, shall be increased, as will consumption taxes on alcoholic drinks, tobacco products, gambling and other socially or economically undesirable items.

The CASER also calls for regulations on public and private foreign borrowing to ensure that foreign loans support national development, and save domestic monetary and exchange rate, financial, and fiscal policy from being hostage to foreign interests due to debt bondage.

And while the CASER calls for breaking the country’s economic dependence on the US and Japan, it warns about developing new dependencies on other foreign powers.

Because Duterte’s ruinous road-building program is heading towards a debt-ridden future, it deserves to be rejected by the Filipino people.

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