April 2008

With the impending vote by the Philippine Senate to ratify JPEPA, I am re-posting my article, “Brouhaha Over Basura,” which was published two months after JPEPA was signed in Helsinki on September 9, 2006. I believe that the Senate should look into this trade agreement very seriously before deciding on its ratification. Once it’s signed there is no turning back and any damage done to the Philippines would be irreversible.

Perry

November 10, 2006

PerryScope

by Perry Diaz

Brouhaha Over Basura

On September 9, 2006, at the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in Helsinki, Finland, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signed the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). The comprehensive free trade agreement — the first bilateral trade treaty since the parity agreement with the U.S. in 1946 — would be a big boost to the Philippines’ economy. Among the items agreed upon is the employment of nurses and caregivers in Japan. In return, however, the Philippines would allow the entry of toxic and hazardous waste to be dumped on Philippine soil.

Philippine environmentalists pointed out that one of the hazardous waste materials allowed is the highly toxic incinerator ash which is banned by the Basel Convention of which the Philippines and Japan are signatories. The Basel Convention does not allow the exportation of toxic materials to another country unless the government of that country approves it. However, both the Philippines and Japan have not ratified the more stringent Basel Ban amendment which banned trading of all hazardous waste including those that are labeled — or mislabeled — for “recycling.”

Why the Philippine negotiators at the Helsinki confab allowed this to happen is beyond reason. It’s either they’re stupid or ignorant of Philippine law. Republic Act 6969, known as Toxic Substances, Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, which was enacted in 1990, declares: “It is the policy of the State to regulate, restrict or prohibit the importation, manufacture, processing, sale, distribution, use and disposal of chemical substances and mixtures that present unreasonable risk and/or injury to health or the environment, to prohibit the entry, even in transit, of hazardous and nuclear wastes and their disposal into Philippine territorial limits for whatever purpose.” Clearly, the yet-to-be-ratified JPEPA is a violation of Philippine law.

In 2000, four Filipinos representing a firm that imported tons of toxic waste from Japan were sued by the Philippine government. Sinsei Enterprises Inc., the Manila-based partner of a Japanese firm, Nisso Ltd., was suspected of shipping hazardous waste to the Philippines. According to the lawsuit, 122 containers arrived in Manila on July 22, 1999, and were declared to contain 80% “recyclable waste paper” and 20% plastic. The illegal shipment was cleared when it left Japan. However, an inspection of the cargo upon its arrival in Manila revealed hospital waste materials piled under adult diapers, candy wrappers, used sanitary napkins, aluminum foil and noodle cups. Customs inspectors and reporters present during the inspection said that the “smell was so bad that those present threw up and moved away from the containers.” The containers were shipped back to Japan and the Japanese government paid for the expenses. The four accused Filipinos mysteriously disappeared and are still at large today.

Are we looking at the tip of a “stinking” iceberg here? How rampant is the smuggling of hazardous waste in the Philippines? Recently, an investigation by Greenpeace International revealed a massive flow of automobile lead-acid batteries from industrialized countries to Third World countries including the Philippines. Greenpeace reported that the end result of this free trade in toxic waste is the suffering of thousands of workers and children from lead blood poisoning, rivers and air loaded with lead emissions, and big profits for the lead battery brokers and manufacturers. Other toxic waste being dumped in the Philippines are waste oil from South Korea and electronic waste from various countries.

Compounding the illegal importation of toxic waste is the Philippines’ inability — the Philippines has no recycling industry — to dispose or treat its own hazardous waste which is estimated at more than 2.5 million tons a year. Garbage dumps like Payatas in Quezon City are the repository of all kinds of waste including hazardous material. With the anticipated importation of toxic waste from Japan, the health of future generations of Filipinos would be compromised.

Under JPEPA, the Philippines is allowed to export its toxic waste to Japan. But who in Japan would buy them? Japanese society has for centuries branded and isolated waste-handlers, butchers, tanners, and executioners. They are called Burakumin — the “untouchables.” They lived in isolated villages called Buraku — there are 4,000 such villages today. They are placed at the lowest social rank — “Eta” (extreme filth) or “Hinin” (non-human). They are considered polluted and are not allowed to move out of their Buraku. Today, there are 1.17 million Burakumin. It is no wonder that Japan is eager to export its toxic waste — handling waste is taboo in their society.

India’s caste system has similarity to Japan. They, too, have “untouchables” — the Harijan. People who work in unclean occupations — similar to the Burakumin — are looked upon as polluting people. In some regions, even a contact with their shadow was considered as polluting. If someone comes in contact with an “untouchable,” that person is defiled and has to immerse or wash himself or herself with water to be purified. In 1949, the use of the term “untouchable” became illegal and discrimination against them became illegal as well. However, the social stigma against the more than 60 million “untouchables” remains. One “untouchable” — K.R. Narayanan — broke this social barrier and became the President of India in 1997.

With the brouhaha over toxic waste — basura — the Philippine Senate indicated that it would scrutinize the trade agreement with Japan. In reaction to the furor, the Japanese embassy in Manila reassured the Philippine government that they would export toxic waste only if the Philippine government approves it.

What was once a Paradise called the “Pearl of the Orient Seas,” the Philippines is becoming to be the garbage dump of the world — a Payatas on a global scale. Are we going to be the new “untouchables” of the world? There is still time to reverse this massive destruction of our environment. The government has to renegotiate the trade treaty with Japan and remove toxic and hazardous waste as exportable items. And it must also ratify the Basel Ban amendment. It’s time that the government cleans up its act and enforce the Toxic Substances, Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act. As the saying goes, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Gloria, Eva and Juan

The recent trips of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to rural areas doling out goodies to the poor reminds of me of Eva Peron during the reign of her husband, Argentine dictator Juan Peron. Eva Peron — affectionately called “Evita” by Argentina’s descamisados, the “shirtless ones” — became popular with the poor Argentines. She could have been the next President after her husband. But fate was not kind to her for she succumbed to cancer at the young age of 33.

Born poor and out of wedlock, Eva’s rise to power has been the subject of historians. But one thing that most historians would seem to agree on is that Eva was very much part of Peron’s authoritarian style of government called Peronism. The workers and the poor were his base of support; however, it was the popular Eva who was credited for getting their support for Peron.

In 1948, Eva created the Eva Peron Foundation which she funded with 10,000 pesos from her personal funds. The foundation collected donations from workers’ unions and private businesses. Within a few years its assets grew to more than three billion pesos — or about US$200 million at that time. The foundation employed 14,000 workers including 26 priests. It distributed hundreds of thousands of shoes, sewing machines, cooking pots, and other household items. It gave scholarships to the poor and built homes and hospitals. Her supporters called her “Santa Evita.” However, her critics accused her of using the foundation to divert government money into private Swiss bank accounts controlled by her and Peron.

In 1951, Peron was reelected with the help of Eva and her 500,000-member Peronist Feminist Party. It was the first time that women were allowed to vote in Argentina. On May 7, 1952, the Argentine Assembly, which was controlled by Peronistas, gave Eva the official title of “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.” She carried that title until her death on July 26, 1952.

Peron, who was first elected President in 1946, was beset with problems during his second term. High-level corruption, economic problems, and conflict with the Roman Catholic Church had a destabilizing effect on his government. Once one of the top 10 richest countries in the world, its agricultural exports substantially decreased due to the conversion of agricultural lands for industrial use.

In June 1955, anti-Peronists staged a coup d’etat using navy planes. However, the coup failed. That same year, the Roman Catholic Church withdrew its support of Peron’s government for a variety of reasons including the enactment of the controversial divorce law. When Peron expelled two Catholic priests, Pope Pius XII excommunicated him. On September 16, 1955, Peron was ousted by an Army-Navy coup. He escaped to Paraguay and then moved to Panama. He eventually settled in Spain under the protection of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

The new Argentine government conducted an investigation into the corruption in the Peron regime. Of the more than 1,000 suspects, 314 cases were filed in the courts. A government investigation revealed a web of corruption from the top all the way down to the lowest level in the bureaucracy.

The TIME magazine issue of December 19, 1956 said that “Peron did his mother-in-law out of half of her bequest from the late Eva Peron, then with medieval flourish had Evita’s brother, Juan Duarte, killed because he knew too much.” Cronies of Peron profited immensely. In April 1956, the government investigation was abruptly ended without prosecuting anyone. It was believed that the reason for ending the investigation prematurely was that some people being investigated were in the new government.

It’s interesting to note that there seem to be similarities between Gloria Arroyo and Eva and Juan Peron. Like Eva, Gloria has been projecting herself as “pro-poor.” Whenever there is a calamity, Gloria would be there doling out relief goods to the people. At a recent trip to a barrio, Gloria addressed the rice shortage by invoking the Virgin Mary to perform a “miracle” to feed the poor. That’s the Eva Peron in her.

On the other hand, there’s the Juan Peron in her. Behind the walls of Malacanang and shielded by “executive privilege,” Gloria has built — as Romulo Neri has told Senators Ping Lacson and Jamby Madrigal — an intricate web of corruption that permeated at all levels of her government. Neri also disclosed that Gloria’s cronies — he called them “oligarchs” — controlled the Philippines’ major industries. Like Juan Peron, Gloria’s failed economic policies are causing havoc in the country. Like Juan Peron, Gloria is encouraging the conversion of agricultural (rice) land to other land use; thus, increasing the country’s dependency on imported rice. Like Peron, her government reeks with corruption.

Recently, a Pulse Asia survey showed Gloria as the most corrupt president in the history of the Philippines. In another survey, by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), the Philippines was tagged as having the most corrupt economy in Asia. What an inglorious distinction: Most Corrupt President, Most Corrupt Economy.

The looming rice crisis in the Philippines would be Gloria’s biggest challenge in her political life. While the people may not be too concerned with corruption in high places, hunger is the one that would surely hurt them the most. With her lucky streak of surviving coups, impeachment, and a series of corruption scandals, the question is: Would she survive a food crisis?

Recently, she approved a request from the military to sell government-subsidized rice to soldiers, veterans and their dependents at a price lower than that paid by civilians. Gloria knows that her staying in power is contingent on the military’s loyalty. She wants to make sure that the military remains loyal to her… at all cost. The last thing she wants to see happen are hungry — and angry — soldiers.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope

by Perry Diaz

Olympic Torch Dims Over Tibet

When the 11th Olympiad was held in Berlin in 1936, it provided Hitler with a grand opportunity to make Nazi German look good. He tried to project his Third Reich as a peaceful, non-aggressive, and a tolerant society. For two weeks, Germany and Nazism glowed in the limelight. But as soon as the Olympiad concluded, the Nazis were back at their old ways: persecuting the Jews and anyone whom they considered as “non-Aryan.” Within a couple of years, Germany invaded its neighbors and sparked World War II.

The Nazis believed that the mythical Aryan race was real and superior to other humans. In 1938, Hitler sent a anthropological expedition to Tibet to search for the origin of the Aryan race. However, many believed that the expedition was more of a political nature than “anthropological.” After all, the expedition was sponsored by no other than the second most powerful man in the Third Reich, Reichfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. Himmler was the leader of the dreaded SS and architect of the “Final Solution” which systematically annihilated more than six million Jews — the worst genocide the world has ever known.

Christopher Hale in his book, “Himmler’s Crusade: The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Race,” revealed that the purpose of the expedition was “to examine Tibetan nobles for signs of Aryan physiology, undermine the British relationship with the ruling class, and sow the seeds of rebellion among the populace.” Himmler was obsessed in his search of the remnants of the lost Aryan “master race.”

A decade later, Tibet was once again in the limelight. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong took total control of mainland China and established the People’s Republic of China. He then declared that the People’s Liberation Army — formerly Red Army — must liberate all Chinese territories, including Tibet.

On October 7 the following year, Mao sent an invasion force of 80,000 troops to Tibet. The 8,000-strong Tibetan militia was no match against the battle-hardened communist troops. Within two days, Tibetan resistance collapsed. Consequently, Mao imposed a treaty that declared Tibet to be a part of China.

On November 17, 1950, the Tibetan National Assembly installed the 14th Dalai Lama –who was 16 years old at that time — as Tibet’s head of state as well as head of government with full political power. In April 1951, the Dalai Lama sent a delegation to Beijing to negotiate for peace. However, The Chinese told the Tibetan delegation to either sign an accord — the “Agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” — or face a Chinese military offensive. On May 23, 1951, the Tibetan delegation, who were prevented by the Chinese from contacting their Tibetan government during the negotiation — acquiesced and signed the agreement. As Mao once said, “Power comes from the barrel of a gun.” Yes, indeed.

In March 1959, the Tibetans revolted but were brutally crushed by China. The Dalai Lama went into exile in Dharamsala, India. More than 80,000 Tibetans followed him into exile. It was at Dharamsala where he established the Tibetan government-in-exile.

For almost half a century, the international community has turned a blind eye to China’s oppression of religion and genocide against the Tibetan people. Statistics show that more than 17% of the Tibetan people have been killed and 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed in Tibet.

With the upcoming 39th Summer Olympics in Beijing this year, Tibet is once again at the forefront of international debate. The term “Genocide Olympics” is being used by the “Free Tibet” movement to highlight their opposition to China’s repressive rule and genocidal campaign against the Tibetan people and their culture. The issue is the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination. Indeed, “right to self-determination” is the fundamental right of all peoples which is enshrined in the United Nations Charter. In 1961, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution upholding the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination. It was reaffirmed in 1965. Various countries including the European Union have supported the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination. It is sad to say, however, that all this expression of support for the Tibetan people is nothing more than lip service.

Recently, the Olympic Torch relay started in earnest. It was intended to circle the globe as a “symbol of peace and unity.” However, instead of creating global harmony, it has ignited worldwide protests. Indeed, the Olympic Torch run has turned into an event that people use to express their support for the Tibetans’ struggle for independence or to signify their abhorrence of China’s human rights record in Tibet.

China was hoping that the Beijing Summer Olympics would give her the respectability that she wanted so badly. China put forth an expensive public relations and marketing blitz to show the transformation from a dreaded past into an economically progressive and peace-loving nation.

An ancient Chinese expression says, “Evil prevails when good men fail to act.” Well, the good men (or people) of the world have long forsaken Tibet where evil has prevailed for almost half a century. Today, the Beijing Olympics has rejuvenated the “Free Tibet” movement. Inside Tibet, the young Tibetans are more vocal than their passive elders. The question is: would China see the light and allow the Tibetan people to exercise their right to self-determination? Or would China harden her stance and pursue a “final solution” to the prickly Tibetan problem? It’s kind of weird, but somehow history always finds a way of repeating itself.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Rice Shortage: Real or Imagined?

Recently, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said that there is no rice shortage; however; she said that the people will just have to pay more. She claimed that all this talk of “rice shortage” is imaginary. Well, last year the government imported 1.4 million metric tons of rice from Vietnam to fill a 10% shortage in domestic rice production. This year, in an unprecedented call to the Vietnamese president, Arroyo asked for a guarantee of 1.5 million metric tons of rice. With a rapidly diminishing domestic production, the government has to import 20 percent — about 2.5 million metric tons — this year to avert a rice crisis.

It is interesting to note that the world price of rice in 2003 was only $200 per metric ton. Last year it was around $300. Currently at $700 per metric ton, the market price is anticipated to soar to as much as $1,000 per metric ton. That would peg the price of commercial rice in the Philippines at P40 per kilo. Currently, the price of domestic rice supplied by the government-owned National Food Administration (NFA) is P18.00 per kilo and commercial rice is P31.00 per kilo. The question is: Once the supply of domestic rice is depleted, could the people — particularly the poor — afford to buy commercial rice at exorbitant prices?

A few days ago, Vietnam lowered its rice export quota this year from 4.5 million metric tons to 4.4 million metric tons in order to increase its own rice reserves. To date, almost 4 million metric tons have already been exported leaving only half a million metric tons to be sold through December of this year. Obviously, Vietnam would not be able to supply enough rice to the Philippines this year. Where would Arroyo get the rice she needed to prevent a rice crisis?

The rice crisis in the Philippines was bound to happen because of the failed economic policies of President Arroyo. Once a rice-exporting country, the Philippines today is the world’s top importer of rice. A series of events that transpired since Arroyo took over the presidency in 2001 have been discussed as the reasons for the declining domestic rice production. In my opinion, the following were the causes of the looming rice crisis:

1) Hybrid Rice Farming – In 2002, the Arroyo government launched the Hybrid Rice Commercialization Program to increase rice production and thereby achieve rice self-sufficiency. In 2004, at the 4th International Crop Science Congress held in Brisbane, Australia, a group consisting of Flordeliza H. Bordey, Jesusa M. Cabling, Cheryll B. Casiwan, Rowena G. Manalili, Alice B. Mataia, and Guadalupe O. Redondo presented their study titled “Socioeconomic Evaluation of Hybrid Rice Production in the Philippines.” The study showed that hybrid rice farming has higher gross income than the traditional inbred farming. “However,” they said, “the hybrid rice cost of production is significantly higher due to higher seed, fertilizer, pesticide and hired labor cost. Because of these offsetting factors, net profit from the two types of rice farming did not differ significantly.” In 2004, it was reported on www.grain.org that a farmer from Isabela province spent “more than P170,000 for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, and recovered nothing from a local rice hybrid Magilas.” In its report, “Fiasco in the Field: An Update on Hybrid Rice in Asia,” it showed that hybrid rice is being rejected by farmers across Asia.

2) P3-Billion Fertilizer Scam – In December 2005, the Senate joint committees chaired by Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. issued a report which concluded that the P728-million fertilizer fund intended for farmers were diverted by then Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante for the 2004 electoral campaign of President Arroyo. According to the report, collaborative testimonies from Agriculture officials, 13 farmer groups, Commission on Audit officials, the Budget Secretary, and alleged “runners” of Bolante indicated that the “farmers did not get a single farm input or implement” in 2004. The report named Bolante as the “master architect of the scam.” He negotiated the release of funds from the Department of Budget and Management and then authorized the funds’ release. He also wrote the congressmen and local officials of the availability of the funds. According to the Commission on Audit, the “funds went through a circuitous route thus resulting in fragmented accountability.” The joint committees revealed that the P728 million fertilizer fund is just a portion of a larger fund — P2.806 billion — released during the 2004 elections.

3) P3.1-Billion Irrigation Fund – A few days ago, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Movement of Farmers in the Philippines or KMP) asked local government officials to account for P3.1 billion that were released to municipalities for the repair, rehabilitation, and restoration of irrigation systems. KMP said that its chapters have been reporting since June 2007 that no irrigation repair work were done in their regions. KMP claimed that the fund is “missing” and asked Congress to investigate what was done with the money. According to KMP, the Department of Agriculture and the National Irrigation Administration have at least P8.8 billion in irrigation fund but could not explain where the funds went.

4) Biofuels Act – Republic Act 9367, the Biofuels Act, was enacted in 2006 to maximize the production of sugarcane and coconut to supply the needs of bioethanol and coco-biodiesel. The law is perceived to be beneficial to large landowners. To meet the demands, the country needs to convert 177,400 hectares to sugarcane and coconut plantations to augment the existing 167,300 sugarcane farms. Here is the stinger: the law allows large farm owners to get land-use exemption under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

5) Jatropha – In 2006, Arroyo threw her support for the mass plantation of Jatropha tree whose oil can be converted into bio-diesel. In 2007, the government entered into several agro-fuel deals with Chinese companies. The largest was the $3.83-billion contract with Fuhua Group in which 1.2 million hectares of agricultural land — a tenth of the total agricultural land — would be converted into jatropha plantations; thus, drastically reducing rice production.

It is evident that Arroyo’s policy of shifting into biofuels at the expense of rice production and the scams involving the P3-billion fertilizer funds and the P3.1-billion irrigation funds have caused rice production to decline.

At the end of the day, it is not the 7.3% GDP growth that is important, it’s the well-being of the people, particularly the poor. A recent survey conducted by Pulse Asia in February 2008 showed that 71% of Filipinos considered themselves poor or very poor. The survey also showed that 66% of the respondents believed that the economy has worsened in the last three years. Only 11% believed that the economy is better today than in 2005, and 23% said that there has been no change. Something is wrong with the picture.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com