Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All talk and nothing else

Each time I watch the TV series Mad Men, it reminds me of how the inner circle of advisers to President Benigno Aquino III crudely attempts to market their main man. First, they portrayed him as a crusader against corruption during the election campaign running on the empty mantra of “no corruption, no poverty.” And now, they catapulted him on the United Nations podium as the spokesperson for People Power, as if it were a brand patented by the Aquino family.

Speaking before the 65th UN General Assembly in New York, President Noynoy Aquino enjoined the world to embrace a global version of Filipino People Power in the battle against poverty. As if his mother President Cory Aquino’s ascension to the presidency through the EDSA Revolution was the great equalizer—the total package that could wipe out poverty.

So much for branding.

It’s about time for President Aquino to accept the cruel reality that there are now more poor people in the Philippines than at any other time in its history. Not even his late mother could do anything with the magic of People Power in arresting the rising tide of poverty in the country.

On what moral, political, economic or other grounds then did President Noynoy Aquino invoke that People Power, the one that Filipinos were once proud of and installed his mother to power, could be the vital instrument in achieving “equality and equitable progress in the world?”

Talk is cheap, but not when your government has just received a cheque for US$434 million (P19 billion) as financial assistance from the United States.

The aid was part of an assistance compact under the auspices of the US-run Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who chairs the MCC, said the grant was to be used to build roads and carry out projects aimed at reducing poverty and fighting corruption.

Quite an irony to mention infrastructure and corruption in the same breadth, because our experience in the Philippines would tell us that building roads is a rich minefield for corruption in government.

President Noynoy Aquino was in New York to attend the UN summit on Millennium Development Goals (MDG), an initiative launched by the UN in 2000.

Representatives from all over the world, including heads of states, met to reaffirm their commitment to pursue the MDGs which are targeted for fulfillment by 2015. Here was an auspicious stage for President Aquino to shine by defining his government’s agenda to combat corruption under his mantra of “no corruption, no poverty.” Instead, he blew his chance to be relevant and decided to sell Filipino People Power as a great solution to the world’s social ills.

Does this tell us that he was just running on an empty slogan during the election campaign?

Transparency International (TI), the Berlin-based anti-graft group, has documented cases of corruption and breakdowns in governance as major reasons why many countries are struggling to reach the Millennium Development goals. This was the same group that named former Philippine presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada in the top ten list of most corrupt heads of state in the world.

If President Aquino and his inner sanctum had only found time to read the TI report before proceeding to the UN summit, they could have better appreciated that their campaign slogan of “no corruption, no poverty” would have resonated much more than selling People Power. Transparency International cited hard facts and figures to support its call for governments, donors, and non-governmental organizations to adopt anti-corruption measures in their action plans to reach the Millennium Development goals by 2015.

TI analyzed data from 42 countries where there was a higher incidence of graft and corruption.

For example, TI found out that where more bribes are paid, there is a lower literacy rate among 15- to-24-year-olds—one of the indicators used in tracking progress on the education MDG. It also found out that a rise in reported bribery is linked with higher maternal deaths in 64 countries, regardless of their country’s wealth or investment in health.

According to Transparency International, “corruption is like a regressive tax on needy households that sabotages attempts to eradicate poverty as part of meeting the MDGs.” This is so because poor families suffer more than richer households from demands for small bribes.

TI cited surveys in India where poor people have paid more than $200 million each year to access 11 supposedly-free services, including the police, hospitals, schools and employment benefits.

That sounds and looks like what’s happening in the Philippines.

All President Aquino has to do is to simply gather empirical evidence of the correlation between corruption and poverty, instead of merely mouthing worthless slogans. On the world’s biggest stage, he could have chosen to speak about corruption and how it hampers progress and the attainment of equality. But no, it was safer and better for the sound bites to talk about People Power instead.

When President Aquino returns home from his trip, he had better show to the Filipino people what anti-poverty program his government has, especially since after receiving an infusion of $434 million from the US government to wage his battle against corruption and to reduce poverty.

And should he continue to talk about making use of People Power, he must include the toiling masses, the labourers and farmers in the countryside, not only the influential rich and powerful business sectors of “Imperial Manila,” in mustering the people’s support for any government program to alleviate their conditions.

Otherwise, all the rhetoric about corruption and poverty disintegrates into pure talk and nothing else.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Marcos never left the building

Thirty-eight years ago, Ferdinand Marcos stamped his foot on the dishonour roll of dangerous and invasive species of world dictators.

With the proclamation of martial law on September 21, 1972, Marcos literally obliterated the freedoms the Filipinos fought hard to achieve from the 1896 Revolution against Spain to emancipation from the Japanese occupation after the Second World War.

For almost two decades, Marcos would rule with an iron fist, putting to prisons those who criticized and opposed his regime. The People Power Revolution of 1986 deposed him, forcing him to sneak out to Hawaii, which was as far as he could enter the United States, his principal supporter who propped up his dictatorial and repressive regime.

Marcos’ eldest daughter, Imee, now governor of Ilocos Norte, has called for a “thorough and objective study” of her father’s rule that would take into account the merits of the martial law period and not just its flaws. Imee bragged that her father built better bridges and roads, and better movies were also shown during her father’s time. Poor Imee had no recollection of the almost one thousand Filipinos who involuntarily disappeared and more than 35,000 who were tortured during the Marcos years. Nor she could remember that when her father assumed the presidency in 1965, the country’s foreign debt was less than $1 billion, which shot up to $28 billion after his ouster in 1986.

After his banishment and ultimately his death on the sunny shores of Hawaii, Marcos never really had left the country. His business cronies, political and military supporters were all rehabilitated under Corazon Aquino’s administration. They would eventually take elective positions and assume powerful positions in government. Now, the Marcoses are back in full force: son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Jr. is a newly-minted senator, daughter Imee is the new Ilocos Norte governor, and wife Imelda Marcos is also back in Congress as representative of Ilocos Norte.

Even the self-proclaimed architect of the “Marcos martial law” has stayed in power despite his master’s downfall. Now 86 years old, Juan Ponce Enrile is the current president of the Senate, probably the highest office he would hold until he fades away. Forever the masterful political wizard, Enrile knew how to bestow loyalty to whoever was the president at the time, but he would always remain a faithful “Marcos boy,” in the words of the dictator’s widow, Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.

Enrile is not the only successful Marcos retread. Among the prominent Marcos cronies who made good in politics or business are Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, popular kingmaker and powerful business leader, also the first cousin of the late President Cory Aquino and uncle of the current President Noynoy Aquino; Joseph “Erap” Estrada who became the second president to be ousted by people power like Marcos; Jose de Venecia, former speaker of the House of Representatives and pretender to the presidency; and Lucio Tan, Filipino-Chinese business magnate and billionaire who owns Asia Brewery, Fortune Tobacco, Tanduay Holdings, and Philippine Airlines.

Also included in this M-list is General Eduardo Ermita, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), and said to hold the reins of power known as “little president” during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo where he became defence secretary and executive secretary. Another PMA graduate with strong ties to the strongman from Batac is Senator Panfilo Lacson, known as “torturer” during his time in the military and also once a presidential contender. Now a fugitive from the law, Lacson is wanted for the killing of broadcaster Bubby Dacer. There are many other military officials who are now entrenched in high positions in government that have been linked in one way or another to the Marcos era.

According to the Transparency International’s (TI) “Global Corruption Report 2004,” Ferdinand Marcos (1966-1986) was the second most corrupt head of the state in the world. Marcos allegedly embezzled US$5-10 billion during his presidency. On top of Marcos was Sukarno, president of Indonesia, who embezzled US$35 billion during his rule from 1967 to 1989.

In the same report, Joseph Estrada ranked number 10 as most corrupt head of state. He reportedly amassed US$78-80 million. Like strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Estrada was also ousted by people power 15 years apart of each other. It remains to be seen how the Truth Commission established by President Noynoy Aquino will compare Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with the rest of the heads of state who made it to the international corruption gallery of rogues.

To most fanatical Marcos’s devotees, the dictator is still alive. They could be damned right because many of the people who walked mightily on the landscape of power that Marcos built during his regime continue to hold on to power. Now that members of his own family have returned to power, they could be back with vengeance.

What used to be a poison in the Philippines, the Marcos name now appears to be the most bankable for a son that also rises. After his remarkable showing in the last elections, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. might just be retracing the footprints his father left behind. Remember that the old Marcos was a popular senator in his heyday before being elected president.

The dictator’s son has insisted that he has nothing to apologize about his father and namesake’s 20-year iron-fisted rule of the country, a regime dominated by widespread human rights abuses, embezzlement of billions of dollars from state coffers for the Marcos family’s personal benefit, and wholesale slaughter of democratic institutions.

“My father doesn’t need me to vindicate him,” the son said during his first major interview after amassing more that 13 million votes and securing his seat in the Senate.

To Marcos junior, his father was superior to those who succeeded him. “He was much a better president than they have been,” the 53-year old putative heir to his father’s throne said.

With mother Imelda, 80, winning a seat in Congress, and sister Imee, the governorship of Ilocos Norte province, their family’s stronghold, the Marcos clan is surely at its strongest politically since being overthrown.

To Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the sight of the presidency is within reach. After serving for nine years as Ilocos Norte governor and three years as member of Congress, the son is clearly marching towards his own path to greatness on the national stage.

A Marcos cult is even born in the dictator’s home district of Ilocos Norte where hundreds of devoted followers gather each month to pay homage to the former president. They have their own chapel in a mountain retreat where they meet in identical white flowing robes every month. The second coming of another Marcos to recapture the presidency looks imminent to them.

And check this out. There’s even a Ferdinand E. Marcos on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mediating Luisita: An exercise in futility

Recent events have unravelled a clear pattern that the Philippine Supreme Court is caving in to the hidden but powerful hand of the current occupant in Malacanang.

Recall that last August 18, the Supreme Court convened to decide on the land reform issue at Hacienda Luisita. It was the first agrarian dispute to be heard by justices in open court and involved President Benigno Aquino III’s landlord clan. At issue before the court was the legality of the decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) to revoke Hacienda Luisita’s Stock Distribution Option (SDO). To evade land distribution in 1989, Hacienda Luisita implemented the SDO as one of the non-land transfer schemes allowed in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. The management of Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI) has filed for a temporary restraining order with the Supreme Court, which has been in effect for over four years now.

Since becoming President, Noynoy Aquino has maintained he would keep his “hands off” the Hacienda Luisita issue, despite being the current PARC chair and scion of the majority shareholders of Luisita. But this seems to be changing now as Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and the other associate justices formed a special committee to mediate between HLI and the Hacienda farmers regarding a recent compromise agreement based on the SDO. Corona was appointed Chief Justice by then President Gloria Arroyo just days before the end of her term, and was snubbed by the new President when he chose to swear his oath of office before another justice. The President and the Supreme Court Chief Justice look like they have buried the hatchet and are now moving towards rapprochement. And Hacienda Luisita appears to be at the core of this new friendly and cordial relationship.

One may ask however if the Supreme Court’s decision to order mediation was appropriate given that the conflict between HLI and the farmers had long been the subject of negotiations between the parties, referendums, and even a bloody and deadly farmers’ strike. Mediation usually works in conflict resolution only when the parties are willing to settle their disputes. The Hacienda Luisita land issue has reached an irreconcilable impasse in the conflict between HLI and the farmers. Its acrimonious history has been well defined by intransigence on both sides.

It is also very doubtful if R.A. 9285, the law that institutionalizes alternative dispute resolution in the Philippines, applies in this case, especially when the matter is now in the highest judicial court as a serious question of law. This is the first time that the Supreme Court has formed a mediation panel before issuing its decision.

Mediation or any other effective form of alternative dispute resolution often works wonders when the conflict is fresh and the parties are still willing to sit down and strike a happy compromise. The Supreme Court cannot be an effective gatekeeper for every dispute that enters its door by asking parties in a conflict to sit down again and try to resolve their dispute by themselves. This is better accomplished in the lower courts or even before a dispute becomes a legal proceeding. That is why it is called alternative dispute resolution: solving conflicts out of court and by the parties to a dispute themselves.

By all appearances, the Supreme Court decision to order another mediation of the Hacienda Luisita dispute is a cop-out. First, there is no legal foundation to accept the controversial compromise agreement between HLI and an alleged group of farmers because doing so will pre-empt or render moot any decision upholding the PARC’s earlier invalidation of the SDO. Second, the parties in the dispute before the high court are government lawyers arguing on behalf of PARC and the lawyers of HLI. The farmers who believed they have been defrauded of their rightful share of the Hacienda’s land are not represented, which is clearly a violation of equal protection under the law. Last, the Supreme Court’s recent pronouncement has only made it obvious that it was wilting under the pressure of the President, who still is one of the Hacienda’s major owners contrary to his pronouncement of non-interference.

At this stage of the dispute, the farmers have always maintained that the validity of the stock distribution option cannot be resolved by mediation or by any agreement of the parties. In asking the parties to go back to the negotiation table, the Supreme Court in effect is trying to evade the real issues and ignoring the decision of the PARC regarding the validity of the SDO.

What makes this mediation process suspect or if not an outright joke is the most recent recommendation of the mediation panel to hold another referendum among the farmer beneficiaries. The farm workers would be asked to choose between physical land distribution either to individuals or to a cooperative, on one hand, or remain under the stock distribution option, on the other.

The farmers want the Supreme Court to revoke the SDO and uphold the PARC’s earlier decision to invalidate it. For some twenty years, the SDO has been implemented at Hacienda Luisita but the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council has found that it has failed in its objective of improving the lives of farmers consistent with the government land’s reform program.

Under the 1989 HLI stock distribution option scheme, there is a policy of “no-work no-shares” – meaning, workers who co-own the hacienda do not earn shares if they do not work. According to PARC, this was contrary to law and public policy as the farm workers remain ordinary farmers while the land remains under the full ownership and control of HLI. It concluded that the farm workers’ economic conditions have become onerous, and their lives more miserable.

Another referendum would only be an opportunity for Hacienda Luisita to deceive the farm workers into accepting the SDO through bribes and threats. The management of the Hacienda had already done it recently through the so-called controversial compromise agreement as they have the money to buy out the hard-pressed farmers who have to suffer poverty and indignity for fighting for their rights to own the land they till.

If this were truly an attempt towards mediation, the farmers can refuse to go to another referendum. They can say enough is enough. What then would the Supreme Court do? It cannot force the farmers to accept the recommendation of the mediation panel, for that would violate the true purpose of mediation. Will it then revoke the SDO and uphold the PARC’s decision?

But the real and most important question the justices of the Supreme Court must face is whether they can afford to rebuff the new President. Hacienda Luisita should have been in the hands of the farmers since 1967. In 1985, a Manila trial court ordered the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to the farm workers, only to be reversed by the Court of Appeals when Cory Aquino became president.

The Supreme Court will surely find a way to moderate the conflict, but don’t bet on the highest court giving the farmers their rightful share of the land.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

America wages modern crusade

The year 2010 is the bloodiest yet for the American military since they invaded Afghanistan in 2001. At least 321 American soldiers have been reported killed so far.

In Gainsville, Florida, the Dove World Outreach Centre plans to burn Qurans on church grounds to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. This prompted General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan to condemn the church’s plans to burn Qurans, warning it could endanger troops in Afghanistan.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, General Petraeus said: “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."

The plan to burn Islam’s holy book is not an isolated incident but appears part of a pattern across America to vilify Muslims around the world and portray them as evil. Where has religious tolerance gone? Or the constitutional right to practise one’s religious belief?

It all started when passions across the religious divide flew all over the place concerning the building of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in New York. This was followed by the heated debates between those in favour and against the proposed building or expansion of mosques in California and Tennessee.

The controversy caused by the opposition to the New York Islamic Centre near Ground Zero shows how much America misunderstands Islam, that even those who are not particularly anti-Muslim would think it would be in bad taste or offensive to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Because implicit in all the anger and hostility in this Muslim hysteria is that 9/11 was a religious act. That it was an act by Muslims attacking infidels.

If it were a religious act, one still wonders why the Muslims who hijacked the four airliners chose the targets they picked. They could have flown the planes into packed football or baseball stadiums in the midwest or south if all they wanted was to kill thousands of American infidels. Not the Pentagon or the financial centre of downtown Manhattan. They were attacking symbols of U.S. military might and imperialism. It was clearly not a religious act, but a political act.

As one observer of the hatred of Americans by Muslims said: “It was revenge for decades of American political and military abuse in the Middle East. It works the same all over the world. In the period of the 1950s to the 1980s in Latin America, in response to continuous hateful policies of Washington, there were countless acts of terrorism against American diplomatic and military targets as well as the offices of US corporations; nothing to do with religion.”

Somehow, America and its leaders have to learn that their country is not exempt from history, that their actions have consequences. When America carpet-bombed Iraq and Afghanistan, killing thousands and injuring hundreds of thousands of people, including innocent women and children, such action has tragic ramifications to the citizens of the United States. Internal security has to be beefed up and always on alert that retaliatory attacks are imminent. America reaps what it sows: the wars it wages beget wars against its own people.

Islamic Centre Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is also an American, said that the dispute over a piece of real estate in lower Manhattan “has expanded beyond a piece of real estate and expanded to Islam in America and what it means for America.” The imam hinted that the fierce opposition to the planned mosque and community centre could have serious and disturbing consequences to the minds of many Muslim believers in America. Foremost among them is what their place in American political and civic life is.

During the late 19th century, the forces of religious division in America targeted Roman Catholics, branding them as “alien Romanist” who swore allegiance to the pope in Rome rather than the country. Catholics were pilloried for their rejection of fundamental American values such as freedom of the press and religion.

Hate organizations and conspiracy theories about Jewish influence spread like wildfire in the early part of the 20th century. The Jews were the new target of religious division in America. Anti-Semitic diehards rallied in Madison Square Garden in 1939 against Jews with banners that read: “Stop Jewish Domination of America.”

Reminiscent of the persecution of Catholics and Jews in previous eras, the forces of religious division in America have now turned their hostility towards Muslims in America and everywhere. Mosques and Muslim community centres are being vociferously opposed from New York to Tennessee to California. Tennessee’s Lieutenant Governor even went on the record stating that Islam could be a cult and not a religion; therefore, constitutional guarantees to religious freedom might not apply to Muslims.

Eboo Patel, founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based community service program that tries to reduce religious conflict, aptly summed up the arguments advanced against Muslims today as follows:

• The tenets of Islam are opposed to the values of America.
• Muslims have undue influence with American elites.
• Muslim integration into America is a veiled Islamic invasion.

These charges were the very same arguments levelled against Catholics and Jews before. Patel argued that while the forces of religious division have always been alive in America, this division has never defined America. The core principle of America is that people can live together in unity.

This year, September 11 coincides with the celebration of the finale to Ramadan. In this present climate of Muslim hysteria, Muslims in America want to avoid appearing as if they are celebrating on September 11. Instead, major Muslim organizations have urged mosques and their members to use the day to participate in commemoration events and community service.

The present forces of religious division in America could be likened to the crusades waged by Western Christian Europe over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1291. Recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule was the original goal of the crusades, but those who participated in the crusades used them as an outlet for extreme religious piety. Just like what the Christian Right and fundamentalist Christians in America are doing in inflaming resentment against Muslims. Even U.S. President Barack Obama is being accused as a Muslim, as if a Muslim believer is an enemy of the state.

It is tragic that September 11 will be remembered this year with growing animosity against Muslims. The sad part is not because those who attacked the Twin Towers professed their faith in Islam, but because the tragedy of September 11 and the hopes for interfaith dialogue have been ambushed and manipulated by certain groups that want to exploit ignorance, prejudice and fear in pursuit of a political goal.

Peter Clothier, author and blogger of The Buddha Diaries wrote: “Americans have taken leave of their senses, that they have abandoned their fine principles to ill-thought, knee-jerk reaction to political rhetoric, manipulation and transparent lies….. if there are victors in this, it will be those who sought to destroy the best about this country on that dreadful September 11, 2001, not those who seek to preserve and protect its ideals from the assaults within.”

Sunday, September 05, 2010

America’s policy of endless war

Before he was elected president, Barack Obama called the invasion of Iraq a “dumb war,” a position he took consistent to his opposition to the Iraq war even before being elected as a member of the U.S. Senate. During the presidential campaign, Obama said he would withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months of his presidency. Not only did he fail to fulfill his pledge, but Obama also used his Oval Office address last August 31st as an occasion, according to one writer, to boost America’s official policy of perpetual war.

In declaring an end to combat war in Iraq after seven years of American military occupation, Obama was simply rebranding the war, calling the more than 50,000 combat troops still deployed in Iraq as “transitional” forces dedicated to “training” and “advising” Iraq security forces. Because of the drawdown in Iraq, the U.S., according to Obama, could now redeploy its forces to Afghanistan in order to defeat Al Qaeda, which clearly supports America’s military policy of waging an endless war.

Obama did not declare victory in the Iraq war during his speech. Rightly so, for he opposed the war in the first place because it was launched based on a tissue of lies. Unlike George W. Bush who ridiculously declared victory two months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, despite not finding “weapons of mass destruction,” his casus belli for the invasion. Or failing to establish Iraqi links to Al Qaeda, which the Bush administration propaganda led people to believe Saddam Hussein was preparing to place his alleged WMD in the hands of Al Qaeda to set off “mushroom clouds” over American cities.

The truth is Al Qaeda was never present in Iraq when the U.S. invaded. According to Obama’s own national security, there are fewer than a hundred members of the group left in Afghanistan and unable to coordinate any actions. While Obama did the right thing in disengaging the United States from the war in Iraq, it is mind-boggling that he is repeating in Afghanistan the same mistakes that were made in Iraq.

One lesson many Americans would have finally learned from the U.S. occupation of Iraq is that imperialism does not pay. As the United States under Bush and Obama fiddled with the nonexistent terrorist threat from Iraq, the U.S. economy burned, suffering from a financial meltdown resulting in enormous job losses and foreclosures of thousands of homes. President Obama now realizes that the more urgent task facing him during the midterm elections and his forthcoming re-election in two years is to restore the U.S. economy and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. Otherwise, he continues to be an easy target for the GOP. A sagging economy and endless war abroad are not likely to revive America’s or his fortunes.

But calling the American occupation of Iraq a “remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq" befuddles everyone’s imagination. Almost bankrupting the U.S. economy, the United States has to endure a long and painful recession through nearly a decade of war. Call that remarkable.

On March 10, 2003, ten days before the invasion, George W. Bush promised that “the life of the Iraqi citizen is going to dramatically improve.” Was this achieved after the invasion and during the American occupation?

A New York Times journalist describes it this way: “The year 2003, when the Americans invaded, often echoes in 2010, as they prepare to leave. Little feels linear here these days; the sense of the recurrent is more familiar.”

With long lines at fuel stations, it is one of the greatest of Iraq’s ironies. People must endure long waits for gas in a country with the world’s third largest reserve of oil. Call that remarkable.

Writing for The Guardian, Simon Jenkins concluded that “Iraqis are marginally freer than in 2003, and considerably less secure. Two million remain abroad as refugees from seven years of anarchy, with another 2 million internally displaced. Ironically, almost all Iraqi Christians have had to flee. Under western rule, production of oil – Iraq's staple product – is still below its pre-invasion level, and homes enjoy fewer hours of electricity. This is dreadful.” Call that remarkable, too.

Perhaps, Barack Obama’s Oval Office speech would be remembered most, not for ending the war in Iraq, but for his statement that the military constitutes the “steel” in the “ship of state.” Not the Constitution, not the democratic institutions and neither the democratic rights of the people, but the U.S. armed forces. This is highly disturbing coming from a former professor of constitutional law and a sworn defender of civil rights. Or, perhaps not. Obama presumably must be referring to the power and might of the U.S. military compared to the rest of the world.

The continuing deployment of more than 50,000 American troops in Iraq after its occupation by the United States is not unheard of. This practice of leaving troops or military bases after gaining a foothold in a foreign country they have conquered is integral to American military strategy.

When the United States granted nominal independence to the Philippines in 1946, the Philippine and U.S. governments entered into a military bases agreement that would allow the U.S. to establish and keep military bases in the country. While the primary purpose of the agreement was to provide military assistance to the Philippine government, the bases, particularly Subic Naval Air Base and Clark Air Base supported U.S. global military strategy and were at the centre of Washington’s forward deployment strategy in the Pacific. The bases’ agreement was terminated in 1991 but only to be replaced by another brand of U.S. military intervention through the RP-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows American troops to join with the Philippine armed forces in the war against Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Southern Philippines.

Despite President Obama’s declaration that the United States is finally ending its combat role in Iraq, it does not intend to end its military presence in Iraq. Together with its almost 50,ooo troops still deployed in strategic locations in Iraq, the United States continues to build permanent bases and is fully determined to pursue the original agenda of the Bush administration in March 2003—to impose U.S. hegemony in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. So, all this talk about ending the war is nothing but duplicitous.

History is witness to America’s military folly everywhere. Whenever American troops pull out of every country they have invaded in the name of freedom or chosen by the American military-industrial complex as an arena for displaying their powerful war arsenal, they leave the country in ruins and their people much less freer than they were before. Thus the U.S. war cry goes on: it’s Afghanistan next and more on the line.

As Simon Jenkins aptly wrote in The Guardian, “The west is leaving Iraq in a pool of blood, dust and dollars. It remains wedded to Iraq's twin sister in folly, Afghanistan.”