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(Following are excerpts of my Keynote Speech as Lead Convenor of Social Watch Philippines at the recent Social Watch General Assembly in Sulo Riviera Hotel, Quezon City – Prof. Briones)
The choice of the Philippines as the venue for the Social Watch General Assembly is meaningful, because its long and rich history of struggles to claim democracy and demand accountability for social and economic justice, resonates with the struggles of many countries in the region and in the world.
The Philippines launched the first revolution in Asia. It was led by Andres Bonifacio who organized the secret society, Katipunan (The Organization) which quickly spread like wildfire after Jose Rizal was accused of leading the revolution and executed. Spain was on the verge of defeat when the United States bought the Philippines for $20 million.
What followed was an episode in the history of our country which is not very well known, even by some of our fellow-Filipinos. This is the Philippine-American war. The Filipinos were not about to give up their newly found freedom when they declared their independence from Spain. The war that ensued was perhaps one of the most vicious and cruel ever fought. The population of the Philippines was decimated and Samar, a major island in the south, was reduced to a “howling wilderness.” Methods used during the Vietnam War were earlier utilized during the Philippines-American War—wholesale burning of villages, and unspeakable means of torture, like the water cure.
Thus, the Philippines became a Commonwealth of the Philippines under the United States, during which she was supposed to be tutored in the ways of democracy prior to political independence. The struggles of the Filipinos did not come to an end. The country was dragged into World War II and taken over by the Japanese. Once more, Filipino guerrillas, among them my father, fought against the Japanese.
During the years of tutelage for democracy, the feudal institutions and system of land ownership begun under Spain erupted into peasant rebellions which persist up to the present time.
In 1946, the Philippines finally gained its political independence amid the horrors of war. However, its economic bondage to the United States continued, leading the Philippines to join the wars of the United States, particularly the Korean War and the War against Vietnam..
In 1972, the Philippines was brought under the heel of Martial Law by Ferdinand E. Marcos. It took 14 years before Filipinos finally united and ousted Marcos and his family by People Power, which has become a special gift of the Filipinos to the world.
The Philippines at present
Why am I sharing with you the history of the Philippines? It is because our history is similar in many ways to the histories of many developing countries. Many of us were ruled by one imperialist country after the other. Many of our economies remain under the control of former rulers and the local elite while social development is at a standstill.
What is the Philippines like 65 years after we declared independence in 1946 and 25 years after our People Power revolution with all its promises of democracy, economic and social justice? Again, you will recognize your own countries and your own regions in the status of the Philippines at present.
Our economy is still characterized by massive problems of inequality, poverty and unemployment. Like many other developing countries it was affected by the global economic crisis even as it has not recovered completely from the debt crisis of the 1980s. Our first quarter GDP growth at 4.9 percent is significantly lower than the 8.4-percent growth of the first quarter of last year. Unemployment and underemployment have remained stagnant.
Inequality continues, along with rising levels of hunger. Social Watch Philippines estimates that the MDG targets on poverty will not be met, along with specific goals in education and nutrition. Even more alarming, while the goals in reduction of infant mortality will be met, the goals in reduction of maternal mortality will probably not be met. This is heartbreaking for us; even if babies survive, what kind of life will they have without their mothers?
The minorities in our country, especially the Muslims and the indigenous people, have the highest levels of poverty, the lowest level of education and the smallest share of the national budget.
Social Watch and Social Watch Philippines
The International Coordinating Committee of Social Watch has suggested that I tell the story of Social Watch. During the 1995 Social Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, civil society organizations which held a parallel summit, recognized the need to hold governments accountable for still another set of promises. These were the promises on social development, particularly gender equity, unemployment and the need to arrest social disintegration. Original members from Asia include Jagadananda of India , Isagani Serrano of the Philippines, and myself. Of course, Roberto Bissio was there. And NOVIB who was with us right from the beginning.
Right from the start, we all agreed to prepare an annual report on the progress of fulfillment of commitments, as well as a report on the state of our respective countries.
I am very proud to state that Asian Social Watch was the first regional Social Watch network to be organized with no less than Roberto Bissio present. The rest is history. We now have regional Social Watch networks in practically all the regions of the world.
In spite of many challenges, Social Watch continues to produce its annual report.
Social Watch has completed the cycle of General Assemblies in the major regions of the world, with Asia and the Philippines as our venue for our fifth assembly.
In 2000, Social Watch participated actively in the events leading to the Millennium Declaration and the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals even as we made it clear that we view the MDGs as “Minimum Development Goals.”
Social Watch Philippines has many stories to share with fellow Watchers. We started by focusing on financing as a major challenge to development. In 2006, after six years of intense campaigns for increased financing for social development, we formed the Alternative Budget Initiative in cooperation with progressive congressmen , senators, and cabinet members. Since then, we successfully increased budget allocations every year in billions of pesos, or hundreds of millions of dollars.
We have not only increased budget allocations. We are starting budget monitoring and tracking. We are unwavering in our campaigns to demand not only budget accountability but also public accountability for both economic and social justice even at great personal risk.
We are campaigning for democratic reforms on three fronts—the campaign for freedom of information, for budget reforms and for reproductive health. We continue monitoring and reporting on the progress of the MDGs and other promises of government.
The future of Social Watch
Today, we formally start our Assembly on the theme: Claiming Democracy: Accountability for Social and Economic Justice. We all claim that our countries are democracies. We all know that some of our countries are moving steadily towards this goal, while others are lagging behind and still others are stagnant. It is the same for social and economic development.
Today, we are going to discuss the future of Social Watch. The world that we watch in 2011 is vastly different from the world we watched in 1995. Ironically, it also remains the same. Democracy remains elusive and economic and social justice remain dreams and myths.
We will craft our strategic plan in the next two days even as there is great diversity among us. We look forward to active participation from all delegates and observers, as well as sound advice from our funders and institutional partners. We will debate what democracy means for our respective countries, the different regions and the global community at this time. We will strategize how to ensure accountability for economic and social justice for all peoples.
The Philippines Weather Bureau has predicted two possible low pressure areas which might develop into typhoons within the week. Not to worry, we will be safe and sound in Sulo Hotel but we predict an outpouring and raining of ideas and whirlwinds of renewed commitments from our networks. Social Watch will be flooded with proposals for strategic directions and new programs. Debates will not be so stormy, of course. In the end however, there will be calm and peace among us as together we face global, as well as regional and national challenges.
The condition in our countries is similar to that of a social cancer. Some are in stage 1, others are in stage 4 requiring radical treatment. It is the duty of Social Watch to inform the global community that we are still beset with this terrible, malignant and dangerous disease. Let me therefore read a few sentences from “Noli Me Tangere,” the book of our national hero, whose 150th anniversary we celebrate this year. In 1886, he wrote,
“Recorded in the history of human sufferings is a cancer of so malignant a character that the least touch irritates it and awakens in it the sharpest pains. Thus, how many times, when in the midst of modern civilizations I have wished to call thee before me, now to accompany me in memories, now to compare thee with other countries, hath thy dear image presented itself showing a social cancer like to that other!
"Desiring thy welfare ….. seeking the best treatment, I will do with thee what the ancients did with their sick, exposing them on the steps of the temple so that every one who came to invoke the Divinity might offer them a remedy.
"……I will strive to reproduce thy condition faithfully, without discriminations; I will raise a part of the veil that covers the evil, sacrificing to truth everything ……”
Let us expose the social cancers in our respective societies. Let us not just watch. Let us act!
(Note: Among those at the Assembly were Social Watch Co-Chairs Emily Sikazwe and Tanya Dawkins, Social Watch Coordinator Roberto Bissio, members of the International Coordinating Committee, delegates and participants from Social Watch networks in 60 countries, delegates and participants from Social Watch Philippines and Alternative Budget Initiative)