Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reclaiming public services

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In the country last week were experts who spoke about how public services have been or are being reclaimed by citizens who had been in the grip of private enterprises that made profit out of dispensing public services. The gathering was a good prelude to this week’s activities commemorating 1986 People Power that reclaimed freedom and democracy and ended more than a decade of tyranny and martial rule.

The event was initiated by the Asia Europe Peoples Forum’s Thematic Circle on Social Justice. Founded in 1996, AEPF is an interregional network of people’s movements, trade unions, activists, scholars and parliamentarians in Asia and Europe. I have been in on its activities these many years, attending some of its events here and abroad — how it engages governments in Asia and Europe on issues such as social and economic justice, trade and corporate accountability, climate justice, peace, security, democracy and human rights.

Tackled at the recent event was how public services are increasingly becoming inaccessible to millions worldwide. Healthcare, education, water, electricity, housing and transportation — services indispensable to a life of dignity and security — have become expensive while in private hands and as states continue to cut subsidies.

Privatization, marketization and commodification, AEPF notes, have become conditions imposed by multilateral financial institutions for financially strapped borrower-countries. States relinquish to profit-making private corporations the task and duty to provide public services. Public-private partnerships (PPP) have become the name of the game. Vulnerable sectors such as the unemployed, the sick and elderly, those with disabilities, and ethnic minorities are affected by private-sector takeover.

If the state, the duty bearer, cannot guarantee democratization of public services, what are the “doable alternatives” in which people can take part? How do people “reclaim” the services that the state is supposed to deliver? (I could not help thinking of the almost-daily multiple breakdown of the MRT system on Edsa, the metro’s main artery, which hundreds of thousands distressed commuters navigate daily.)

The “reclaim” concept is not new and has not remained a concept. It is, in fact, doable, as proven by successful cases in countries where people’s resolve and participation made them possible. Speakers at the gathering shared their experiences and insights.

The research and advocacy group Transnational Institute (TNI) has recorded at least 835 examples of what it calls “(re)municipalization of public services” worldwide in recent years, which involved more than 1,600 cities in 45 countries. TNI uses “(re)municipalization” to refer to “the process of bringing previously private or privatized services which are under private control and management at the local level.” Other newly coined terms are “renationalization” and “deprivatization.” The latter is “an overarching term for remunicipalization, renationalization and citizen-led reclaiming of public services, all of which are oriented towards fighting against the ills of privatization.”

To cite a few cases: In Oslo, Norway, waste collection was taken from a service provider and remunicipalized in 2017. In 2015, the government of the newly elected Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, India, began delivering on its promises of affordable healthcare by putting up 1,000 community clinics.

Grenoble (France) became a pioneer in water remunicipalization when it ended a corrupt contract with a multinational provider in the early 2000s. In Lithuania, central heating was remunicipalized after investigation showed manipulation of heating prices.

The book “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation” (2017), edited by Satoko Kishimoto and Olivier Petitjean, is a great reference for “untold stories” on reclaiming successes.

Ongoing beside the People Power Monument on Edsa are round-the-clock, nine-day fasting and prayer activities, called “Dasal at Ayuno Laban sa ChaCha, Para sa Demokrasya: Pagaamin, Pagtitika, Pagbabago at Pagkakaisa.” It is led by Gomburza, a group of priests, religious and lay people who believe in prayer and action to make this country a better place for all.

Join the prayers and reflections at any time of day or night. The activities end before noon of Feb. 25, the 32nd anniversary of People Power. I was present at the Feb. 22, 1986, breakaway press conference in Camp Aguinaldo and the rest of the days that spelled the beginning of the end.#

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Dead in the freezer

"Dead in the water” is an expression that refers to something bereft of any outcome or future, like a crippled ship with nowhere to go but the dark depths below. In politics, it would apply to bills killed before they could see the light of day. And because yesterday was Valentine’s Day and also Ash Wednesday, the phrase might well apply to a starting fire reduced to a pile of ashes before it had a chance to become a lovely conflagration.
Seriously, the phrase kept repeating itself in my mind. “Dead in the water” and “dead in the freezer” do rhyme, I thought to myself, while wrapping my head around what happened to a Filipino domestic helper in Kuwait, Joanna Demafelis, whose corpse — ice-hard and preserved — was found in a freezer.
“Dead in the freezer” could well be an expression to refer to what could happen to overseas Filipino workers bent on setting off to parts unknown, aka the Middle East, where many of our compatriots suffer unspeakable cruelty in the hands of their employers who are also Muslims.
In using the expression, I am not trivializing the plight of the likes of Demafelis. I am, in fact, livid with rage. But I am not hearing about such a case for the first time, someone might tell me. I say, first time or not, my rage is undiminished. But yes, this is the first time we learn about a dead OFW found inside a freezer. But not the first time about fly-by-night recruiters and neglectful government agencies.

As a journalist, I have written a number of feature stories on OFWs — from an abused Filipino domestic helper who killed a Saudi princess to the so-called “japayukis” to the spouses and children they have left behind, etc. I had thought of putting these OFW stories between covers, but I later decided on a variety of stories instead.
We will keep on telling the stories until there are no more. Centuries from now, when Filipinos in the Philippines have long enjoyed living in a different country of the same name (and the descendants of Filipinos in the diaspora as well) and they read about OFWs, they might find themselves shedding tears over the travails of their ancestors. Like we do when we read Carlos Bulosan’s “America is in the Heart.”
As I said, I again find myself wrapping my head around the abuses committed against OFWs, the domestic workers particularly, and I ask: What is it about them, how are they regarded, and why are they treated with such cruelty? But even more importantly, what is it about their employers that they must subject their household workers to such habitual abuse? There is in many of them the intent, the habit, to inflict suffering. What kind of human beings are they? How do they regard those in their household employ? As slaves?
Some things need to be said. I might have reason to believe that the employers who are Muslims regard non-Muslims in their employ as unbelievers, infidels and therefore worthy to be exterminated or wiped off the face of the earth. A mindset? Am I right or am I right? Somebody should write a dissertation on why I should not think so. And don’t bring up the Crusades because we now have the International Declaration on Human Rights.
In the case of Demafelis’ employers, a Syrian-Lebanese couple living in Kuwait and who left the country a year ago after stuffing her corpse in the freezer, I presume they are Muslims. If proven guilty they deserve the worst punishment that the Koran prescribes for those who kill helpless innocents. Hey, there is no paradise and waiting virgins for you
I do not delight in listening to President Duterte’s trash talk but if there was a time that I wish he had cussed more than he did, it was when he spoke about Demafelis’ fate and called the Kuwaiti government to account for the abuses committed against OFWs. >:*#&X?!< That many OFWs are driven to end their misery by jumping off high-rise buildings is proof of their loneliness and helplessness aggravated by constant abuse.#

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Vaccine phobia; Flavier on my mind

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The bag of excrement has hit the ceiling fan. Vaccine phobia and a lynch mob, just to name a few toxic concerns, have been spawned, virus-like, because of the Senate and House hearings these past weeks on the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy and fueled by other motivated parties. Pardon the mixed metaphors.

While the continuing hearings on the antidengue vaccine manufactured by French big pharma Sanofi Pasteur are shedding light on the why, who, where, when, how and how much (with all the blame-throwing and finger-pointing), these have also generated misplaced panic among the populace. Add to these the seemingly “differently motivated” parties who delight in arousing strong emotions among the already worried parents whose children, either seropositive or seronegative, have been given the vaccine, some completely (in three doses) and others not.

One thing is a success — the rousing of fear for anything spelled v-a-c-c-i-n-e. The panic arose from the reported 14 deaths out of more than 830,000 vaccinated, deaths which have yet to be directly attributed to Dengvaxia.

No less than Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has called for sobriety, noting with concern that even deworming is now looked upon with suspicion. Good thing that Duque, also a health secretary during the Arroyo administration, is not the type to grandstand, sow distrust, or throw mud at his immediate predecessors to make pogi points for himself.

"It behooves us to allow only evidence-based information to influence decisions,” Duque said at the hearing two days ago. I caught Sen. JV Ejercito saying we should “bring back the confidence” in vaccination programs. It’s the right thing to say while the ceiling fan is spreading the sh*t.

This is not to say there is no one to blame. There are many, Sanofi Pasteur among them. But the toxic thing about it is how the situation is being exploited to create another situation—that of panic, genuine or feigned, for some ulterior purpose.

Gee, I really miss the late former-health-secretary-turned-senator Juan “Let’s DOH it!” Flavier’s down-home wisdom and folksy humor. What questions would he ask at the Senate inquiry? What would he tell the protagonists, the antagonists, the rabble-rousers? An expert in public health and a communication whiz who had spent much of his life as a doctor in the grassroots sector, he always had a gem of a thought for every situation.

To detoxify and make myself smile, I pulled out one of Flavier’s seven books (all autographed). Here is his “Parable of the Diagnoses” to learn from. (I had to delete the next half of this column to give it space.)

“Three barrio albularyos sat together exchanging experiences, recent cases and sure-fire treatments. Soon their conversation shifted to bragging about their special abilities to diagnose patients just by looking at them.

"An elderly woman who overheard their claims had an excellent suggestion. ‘There is a man walking slowly towards us with a peculiar gait, holding his waist. You each state your diagnosis and then we can verify directly with him what ails him. Then we will know who made the best diagnosis.’ The albularyos agreed and observed the approaching man.

“The first albularyo decided fast. ‘He has a stomach ache. Look at the way he holds his waist.’ The second then announced his own diagnosis.

“No, not stomach ache. He has a back ache because of his hunched appearance.’ The third was ready with his own pronouncement. ‘You are both wrong. He is suffering from rheumatism of the right knee. Notice how he limps.’

“Soon the man was just across from them. The woman asked him: ‘Ano ho ang nararamdaman ninyo? May sakit ba kayo?’ “The man looked surprised and straightened up. ‘Wala ho akong nararamdaman. At lalo namang wala akong sakit. Papunta lang ako sa palikuran para dumumi.’

“All three men could not help laughing at their wrong presumptions. The elderly woman admonished them: ‘Kaya kayo, sa uli uli ay huwag gamut nang gamut. Tanungin muna ang dinaramdam ng pasyente para malaman ang sakit. Ganoon din sa nayon, huwag paunlad nang paunlad ng proyekto. Tanungin muna ang suliranin at pangangailangan ng tao.’”

I say, wise woman.#

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pope Francis on fake news

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Call it synchronicity. While I was going over Pope Francis’ advance message for World Communications Day, the hearing of the Senate committee on public information and mass media was starting, with its chair Sen. Grace Poe conducting.

It was difficult to get my eyes and ears off the TV set, especially with the jaw-dropping presentation of Maria Ressa, CEO of the beleaguered online news network Rappler, who showed how the “fake news ecosystem” was spawned during the 2016 election campaign and exposed a state-sponsored online hate and harassment campaign “to silence and intimidate.”
 There were inputs from journalists, bloggers, techies, lawyers, senators and Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and his colleagues who maintain personal blogs while being paid with taxpayer money.

The inputs came in the form of questions, answers, opinions, information and even confrontations and accusations. The exchanges were far from heated compared with the hearings on drugs, sex, bribery and corruption, but if one listened well there was a lot of information to be derived. And also insights on what has become of us in this woebegone country.

The topic was fake news in social and mainstream media — its definition, sources, purveyors and recipients, the technology involved, how it has shaped politics, the toxicity it has generated, etc.

Clearly, there was a gray area in social media beyond the reach of the law, and the potential for enormous good and enormous evil.

I noticed the attempt to replace the words “fake news” with misinformation and disinformation, which are euphemisms for lies, falsehoods and untruths.

So “swak na swak” (apropos) is Pope Francis’ message released last week, which is “The truth will set your free (from John 8:32),” with focus on fake news and “journalism for peace.” The Pope’s message is traditionally released on Feb. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of Catholic journalists. It is timed months before World Communications Day (May 13 this year), the Sunday before Pentecost, to give church groups months to prepare.

World Communications Day was launched in 1967 during the pontificate of Blessed Pope Paul VI, who had the prescience to see the power of media for cultural transformation.

Pope Francis (who has had his share of bad-mouthing from President Duterte) said that “the capacity to twist the truth is symptomatic of our condition, both as individuals and communities… In today’s fast changing world of communications and digital systems, we are witnessing the spread of what has come to be known as ‘fake news.’”

Fake news, he said, “refers to the spreading of disinformation online or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on nonexistent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.

“The effectiveness of fake news is primarily due to its ability to mimic real news, to seem plausible. Secondly, this false but believable news is ‘captious,’ inasmuch as it grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices, and exploiting instantaneous emotions like anxiety, contempt, anger and frustration. The ability to spread such fake news often relies on a manipulative use of the social networks and the way they function. Untrue stories can spread so quickly that even authoritative denials fail to contain the damage.”

Praiseworthy, the Pope added, are the efforts at helping people “take an active part in unmasking falsehoods” and “those institutional and legal initiatives aimed at developing regulations for curbing the phenomenon… Yet preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment.”

Fake news, the Pope stressed, are rooted in thirst for power and greed. If responsibility is the answer to fake news, then the weight rests on those “whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protector of news.” Theirs is not just a job, he said. “It is a mission.”

He ends by borrowing from the structure and cadence of the famous Prayer of St. Francis: “Where there is shouting, let us practice listening… where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity … where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.” #