Peace workers in Eastern Visayas rising against anti-peace rhetoric

The recent spate of killings and threats directed among the religious have prompted the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform and Kamurayawan: Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace to come up with its most recent leg of the ongoing campaign to have peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines resume. This, after Duterte lashed on the GRP negotiating panel for agreeing to a supposed “stand down” agreement where government troops would be forced to temporarily cease hostilities- This event prompted the indefinite postponement of the talks scheduled to resume this July.

In what the organizers call “the administration’s recent tirade against peace workers”, Duterte’s ire for human right activists bred in the church sector has forced religious and lay alike to voice out their condemnation of priest killings and the persecution of government critics.

“The resumption of peace talks is our bid to put an end to the injustice” said Father Allan Caparro, one of the gathering’s delegates.

During the forum entitled “Advancing Peace based on Justice”, the first two substantial agenda of the peace process were discussed: The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms.

Discussions revolved around how the said documents were formed and what their impact were to the Philippines as a nation imperiled with uneven distribution of resources at the expense of the impoverished majority.

After Katungod Sinirangan Bisayas, one of the invited speakers on the CARHIHL, revealed the recent spate in HRVs nationwide, UCCP Bishop Jerome Baris called on all the religious and lay folk present to continue exposing the obvious disregard for human rights in the Philippines.

“Today, it is not just about human rights violations being an impediment to the peace process. We have reached the point where GRP forces are using human rights violations as a conscious measure to actively prevent the talks from happening.”

In attendance as well were representatives from the Order of Saint Benedict and the Iglesia Filipiniana Independiente who raised brows after noting the recent order from the Department of Justice to have CPP and NDF leaders rearrested in lieu of the indefinite suspension of talks.

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Sister Edita Eslopor, one of the region’s top critics of extra-judicial killings, questioned the possibility of the talks ever resuming due to an unwilling government. Expressing the necessity of coordinated mass actions urging the administration to take the talks seriously, the benedictine nun stressed the importance of ground-level campaign efforts for the talks.

Among the principal demands of the gathering was the release of all political prisoners held hostage in government detention facilities. The forum featured the much awaited book launch of NDF consultant for Eastern Visayas, Edgardo Sarmiento of Northern Samar, entitled “Susmatanon” a children’s story book he wrote inside the maximum security cell housing him.

Delegates to the forum lined up to sign the book as a symbolic gesture in support of his freedom and the freedom of all other illegally detained persons due to trumped up charges filed by the state to suppress the exercise their civil and political rights.

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The forum ended with in thunderous voices calling on an end to human right violations, the release of political prisoners and the resumption of peace talks now!

 

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Abolition of PCGG, an insult to Sag-od massacre victims

Since 1981, the struggle for justice and reparations has been fought vigorously for the past three decades. For the victims, it was a positive sign that while there were still multitudes of claimants unincluded in the list formed by the Human Rights Violations Claims Board (HRVCB), more than eleven thousand victims would receive monetary reparations after their harrowing experience under the Marcos dictatorship. It seemed like only a matter of time until the list would be expanded to accommodate and consider even more cases nationwide.

But shortly after the elating news, the House of Representatives passes on its’ third reading, House Bill 7376 which seeks to abolish the Presidential Commission for Good Governance (PCGG), the agency tasked with recovering ill-gotten wealth of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos and his family. Instead of the PCGG, the bill transfers the reacquisition of Marcos’ illegal riches at the hands of the Office of the Solicitor General.

For the victims of Martial Law, this comes as a low blow especially here in Eastern Visayas where one of the most internationally notorious massacres took place in a small barangay in Las Navas town, Northern Samar called Sag-od. The mass murder was commissioned by no less than the administration’s Defense Minister at the time, Juan Ponce Enrile who owned a large logging firm operating in the province. The military forces involved in the killing spate were initially tasked to protect Enrile’s logging operations but were convinced that the barrio folk were part of subversive groups. 45 people were killed while only 13 survived, 5 among whom were just children.

In 2017, Enriquita Obin who chaired the Justice for Sag-od Massacre Victims Movement expressed her earnest demand that the victims’ historic plight over the infamous Sag-od massacre be addressed by the government. Obin, who is not part of the current HRVCB list, is now compelled to place her share of the reparations’ future to the Solicitor General, Jose Calida, a man who has campaigned side by side with the Marcos camp in the 2016 Presidential Elections.

In essence, the Duterte-led supermajority in Congress has practically shoved off the shelf all hope for the victims to receive compensation promised by the state years ago. The abolition of the PCGG, though in itself was not a guarantee for justice, is tantamount to the administration’s implied declaration that it has no time for the decades-worth of impunity forcibly placed on the shoulders of the dictatorship’s victims.

BAYAN-Eastern Visayas strongly condemns this latest step by the national legislature and demand that such a bill be vetoed and stricken down by the President. In order to prove that such a decision wasn’t of his own work, he must block the piece of legislation from becoming law.

Only by doing this can he prove that he is for justice and public interest, otherwise the people of Eastern Visayas will take it as an insult to the already suffering locals of Sag-od and will hold the President accountable for taking steps that encourage historical revisionism and impunity.

Peaceful elections in Region 8, untrue says BAYAN Eastern Visayas

 

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Armed police officers stationed in a checkpoint along a street in Calbayog City. Photo taken from Calbayog Journal.

 

Based on two reports, one from Police Regional Office 8 and a second from the 8th Infantry Division, the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections held yesterday were generally peaceful.

According to Deputy Regional Director for Operations, PCSUPT Leonardo Ramos Suan, the elections held specifically in the first district of Samar province were generally peaceful. But as early as April 28, a candidate for barangay chairperson was killed in an ambush together with his father in barangay Cabacungan, Calbayog city.

Two local political giants also made headlines after they stood off against each other along the national highway just a few days before the election. Mayor Ronald Aquino and Vice-Governor Jim Tan were seen tailing each other’s convoys in barangay San Policarpio at midnight, May 12.

While there was no exchange of fire, the police blotters from both sides verify that there were attempts to intimidate and tail one another in the dead of the night.

Meanwhile, on May 11 uniformed men in full battle gear and high powered firearms paraded through barangay Capoocan in Calbayog city allegedly kicking on the doors of residences. In the same report, it was indicated that there were election-related killings in Upper Happy Valley area forcing some civilians there to evacuate.

Provincial senior superintendent Nicolas Torre, on the other hand, denies the allegations saying he was there supervising a mere visibility patrol but has yet to confirm the election-related violence in Upper Happy Valley or explained why there was a need to march more than 30 fully armed personnel in an unsuspecting village.

In Eastern Samar, the father of a candidate for the local elections was killed by armed men after being spotted carrying a large sum of money. The victim, a 77-year old Mario Elpedes, was shot dead in barangay Pinanag-on in Borongan city.

Lastly, a man dressed as a police officer was captured in Hinabangan, Samar on May 14 after going around barangay Binobokalan, campaigning for his relatives. Although he was arrested possessing only a toy gun, reports indicate that he was intimidating and harassing voters in the area.

Aside from the above-mentioned cases, there are scattered reports from different media outfits and from communities that have yet to be confirmed. This leads us to conclude that, contrary to the claims of security enforces, elections in the region have remained highly violent. This also means to say that the separately issued statements from the PRO 8 and Major Gen. Raul Farnacio of the 8th ID are either based on false/or a lack of reports or are coverups for the blatant election-related violence which transpired in the region in the past few days.

The Commission on Elections must conduct immediate investigations regarding these reports and hold the perpetrators accountable for tarnishing the democratic exercise of election participation by way of warlordism and the use of private armed groups, goons and criminal mercenary cliques at the expense of the voting public.

Oust Duterte, not Sereno

Statement of indignation over the ouster of Supreme Court

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno

 

 

We are issuing this strongly worded statement to decry the violation of due process stated in the constitution providing that impeachable government officials can only be removed from office by way of an impeachment trial.

We strongly condemn the ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno in the form of the Quo Warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General. The fact that Sol Gen Jose Calida was the one who filed the petition earlier this year is clear evidence that the Duterte administration has a direct hand in the removal of the Chief Justice from her office. It is obvious that the Duterte government is attempting to avoid the fanfare and drama of a full-blown impeachment proceeding and opted instead to transfer the burden of removing Sereno through her own colleagues in the Supreme Court. By making it appear as though she was ousted by the wisdom of the highest court in the land, Duterte has effectively removed himself from the equation and has avoided flack from the wide array of people who stand by justice and the rule of law.

It is clear to us that Duterte is the principal author of the Chief Justice’s removal from office precisely because it is within his best interest especially now that he will have a wider majority in the high court once he appoints the new Chief Justice to take Sereno’s place. This is especially true now that it has become imperative for Duterte to have as tight a grip as ever over the Supreme Court in fear of being persecuted for his human rights violations once his immunity of suit wears off.

Today, we declare boldly that it is Duterte and not Sereno who should be ousted from public office. No other government official has stepped on the rights and welfare of the Filipino people than that of Duterte.

His criminal record of causing the death of thousands dwarfs even that of  Ferdinand Marcos. His treasonous toleration over the Chinese incursion on our sovereign waters merits public disgust. His incompetence over the management of basic social services and his inclination to favor corporate interest over the common good, all of these things mentioned above are enough to say with finality, that Duterte must step down from office. And if he will not, the people will take it from him.

Reference:

JOSHUA MUSICO SAGDULLAS

Secretary General

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-EV

09265974340

 

 

 

 

Militarizing the Civilian Bureaucracy under Duterte

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Militarizing the civilian bureaucracy is integral to Duterte’s OPLAN Kapayapaan and the US Counter Insurgency Plan because in doing so, it fractures the ongoing effort to build the united front against criminal abuses committed by his regime.

We have witnessed it in 2017, when former AFP chief of staff and incumbent DENR secretary Roy Cimatu began work in arming Forrest Rangers and conducting joint forrest patrols with the Western Mindanao Command of the army.

Today, we see it once again in the ”military affiliation” memorandum released by the National Food Authority HR department compelling its employees to fill-up information sheets about themselves as part of the mandatory conscription process to the AFP.

Eastern Visayas is not new to these age-old plans to infiltrate public offices as part of its Integrated Territorial Defense System flooding universities, agencies and our streets with a comprehensive intelligence network. In the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College, a local bulwark of activism and progressive alliances among students and academic staff, a military detachment is based that has had a record of monitoring the activities of activists based in the college. 

The Multi-Sectoral Quick Reaction Team in Samar is another example, where in times of calamity local government units are used as the principle front of the 8th Infantry Division in entering conflict zones where they are conventionally not allowed to tread as per international humanitarian law.

We view this as a gradual but outright attempt to debase the civilian control over public agencies, offices and institutions in preparation for the unfolding dictatorship of the President. We strongly condemn these advances by the military to undermine the civil and political rights of unions in government agencies that have connected their demand for higher wages and better working conditions with the broad mass movement against Duterte’s neoliberal tirade and affront on human rights. Now, of all times, our unity is paramount and our solidarity, priceless.

Expose the militarization of the civilian bureaucracy!

Resist the Crackdown!

Oust the US-Duterte regime!

The road to an unrivaled Duterte

 

It is a wonder how the existing proposals filed in Congress detailing the amendments to the 1987 constitution could have ever been conceived. After all, the idea of the ruling class converging in mind and heart to surrender their control over government to a single man is nothing short of unthinkable. But that is precisely what the impending charter change promises: The dangerous possibility of Duterte becoming an unrivaled dictator for the next decade.

To be sure, there are two proposals that have with it an attached version of what the constitution would look like after the adjournment of the Constituent Assembly. The first is the Resolution of Both Houses no. 8 (RBH 8) and the PDP Laban Constitution. But either way, both are in support of or allows (1) excessive political centralization and encourages (2) all-out economic liberalization. It is frightening to imagine how these two things will translate into actual law and it will be the painstaking task of this article to elaborate.

Charter Change as a monstrosity

RBH 8 is the proposal at bar with the most scandalous and preposterous amendments. There is only one word to describe the impending charter change under the framework of RBH 8: Horrific. Horrific because the last time this kind of power was conferred to one person, more than 3000 people were killed while 34,000 were tortured. Today, the second person in history poised to receive this amount of power has already caused the death of more than 13,000 people and launched a massacre-campaign against activists nationwide even without said powers in the first place.

But what are these powers?

His word is law

Section 6, Article 18 of RBH 8 states that both the House of Representatives and the Senate will automatically be dissolved the moment the new constitution is ratified. Of course, RBH 8 also proposes in one of its articles the creation of a Federal Congress but up until that Congress is convened Duterte will have the power of legislation exclusively in the interim.

When the Federal Congress will be formed and the time targeted for its first session is a question we leave up to the speed of transition from one system of government to another. Still,  if the motivation behind section 6 is what we think it is then the Federal Congress will not be in a hurry to convene anytime soon.

To put it simply, Duterte is not only charged with implementing laws, under the new constitution he can now write them as well. Seems like a throwback to the time when Congress was abolished and Marcos had a presidential decree writing spree, but that’s precisely what it is- the return of Marcosian style legislation.

Setting the path for impunity

Not only does Duterte intend to abolish Congress (if only for the meantime), his cronies in congress are also giving him the power to reorganize if not completely overhaul the judiciary system.

Reorganization of courts means changing their jurisdiction. For example, if the present judiciary is reorganized then the jurisdiction of a division in the Court of Appeals could change from one set of regions to a smaller or larger set. In that respect especially when asserted by a President with both executive and legislative powers, reorganization will require the courtesy resignation of ALL members of the judiciary from the Supreme Court down to the lowest courts of the country.

The resignation of the entire judiciary is nothing short of giving Duterte the liberty to appoint all the new Justices of the Federal Supreme Court, the Regional Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan and the Regional Trial Courts. If this happens, there will be no sense in prosecuting Duterte once he steps down from power because he will be judged by his own appointees at all levels of the judiciary.

Pre-empting the United Front

The broadest united front against fascism and anti-people policies is the best step in scaring off a forthcoming dictatorship because it forces the weakest link among the ruling class to break off and side with the vast majority of people critical of the administration, fragmenting the unity Duterte needs among his allies as the single greatest requisite to get him what he wants. A divided ruling class makes it far more difficult to transition into full blown dictatorship.

But we cannot drive a dent into the ruling class’s unity if professionals and small businessmen don’t side with the basic masses against Duterte. That is why it has become the chief mission of the US-Duterte’s regime to make the formation of the united front impossible especially under RBH 8.

Because RBH 8 demands the reorganization of not only the courts but also of the constitutional commissions (The Commission on Elections, the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit) and other government agencies duly abolished, the employees of these offices will also be displaced. RBH 8 however provides separate benefits for those employed under Congress and everyone else.

The employees of Congress affected by the abolition of the lower and upper houses are offered an enticing retirement package promising a regular government employee a separation fee in the amount of two and a half month’s salary multiplied by the years in government service on top of the usual benefits under the GSIS law.

Meanwhile non-Congressional employees affected by the reorganization process will only receive regular benefits. By doing so, the US-Duterte regime would have succeeded in dividing public opinion against the new constitution and would make it far more difficult for a massive uprising to mount against the gates of Malacanang.

Tearing down the Makabayan

The old electoral process provided a guaranteed number of seats (20 percent of the total) for party lists vying for a spot in the Lower House. This preferential treatment was intended to give marginalized sectors, represented by party lists, a better chance at being elected into Congress.

There is much debate about whether or not this is a good idea, after all the party list system of status quo has been the subject of much criticism from all sides. We believe the Movement Against Tyranny provides the best take on the matter:

“While it is true that the party list system has been hijacked by the rich and the powerful, the solution should have been to cleanse the party list system and strengthen it instead of abolishing it. Many of the people’s issues such as investigation of government corruption, abuse and violation of human rights, protesting against unjust electricity rate hike, high prices of fuel, water and other social services, and many other pro people’s issues have been carried by some progressive party list groups. They have remained credible, incorruptible and consistent in their pro people stand. These issues would not have come to the fore had there been no party list system.”

Essentially, without the preferential treatment our progressive and pro-people party lists will be forced to out-maneuver established and reactionary political groups representing nothing but their narrow class interest, possessing more resources and has favor with the US-Duterte regime.

Whats in it for the rest of the gang?

In the course of reading this article, readers are bound to detect the singular ultimate theme in the impending charter change- Give Duterte all the power. Not just more power, not just greater influence. All of it. Every last drop. That is perhaps the most intriguing element to this political move.

Why is Alvarez, Pimentel and the other stalwarts of PDP-Laban so excited to cede so much political capital and brute force to Duterte?

After all, it’s one thing to recognize that you’re leader is intolerant of dissent. It’s a completely different thing if you foresee yourself dissenting and making legal recommendations to mitigate that. We wonder whats running in the minds of our congressmen, the grandstanding and pompous members of the legislature, for agreeing to this model of government.

For one, we think its because of Congressional stalwarts’ repeated failure to amend the 1987 Constitution in order to remove the ”protectionist economic policies” preventing foreign ownership of land, preventing total foreign ownership of key industrial plants, corporations etc. and the barrier regulating foreign direct investments (FDIs). There were attempts during the time of BS Aquino and even more so in the time of Arroyo but they were unsuccessful. Even towards the end of 2017 Duterte called on Congress to fast track constitutional amendments allowing the unfettered influx of FDIs but to no avail.

One of things to consider is the historic fact that every attempt at Charter Change has always been met with massive public demonstrations from all parts of the country. Although they were organic and organized from the grass roots, the number of people participating in those campaigns since 1996 were used by a fraction of the political elite as a spring board for their political grandstanding against the administration.

We saw this when Corazon Aquino’s bet for her successor, Fidel Ramos, was met with thousands upon thousands of anti-cha cha protesters led by Aquino herself. Other notable attendees were then Vice-President Joseph Estrada and senator Gloria Arroyo.

Quite ironically, during the time of President Estrada, then vice-president Arroyo, and former president Corazon Aquino also joined forces against their past ally in his own attempt at charter change.

Then, the Liberal-clique of Mar Roxas positioned themselves well beside genuine anti-cha cha protesters when they launched their “No to Gloria-Forever Cha Cha”. It should be noted still that LP wasn’t strictly against Charter Change, in fact they drafted a resolution calling for one, but the idea of it happening under the administration they despised was unacceptable.

In other words, the country’s experience with charter change is riddled with small politically elite groups seizing the opportunity provided for by massive public outcry and organized dissent to forward their own agenda. The central government in effect becomes isolated, the most during the time of Arroyo, and becomes unable to push through with the amendments.

This collective and accumulated experience of the ruling class has taught them that in order to succeed, they must instead choose among themselves who they can cluster with and isolate the out layers. After the embarrassing electoral defeat of the Liberal Party as the de facto ruling party from 2010-2016, Duterte and the leaders of PDP-Laban has taken every effort to isolate them and what remains of their allies in the regions. Today, you will witness massive LP territories like in Iloilo and parts of greater Leyte being surrendered to PDP-Laban. The Presidency and its unmatched brutal reputation, its ill-regard for protocol and the rule of law was used as a general threat to the opposition as if to send a message: You are either with us or against us.

New converts were rewarded greatly. Budgetary allocations were promised, political favor and positions in government offered.

The ruling class is, in a sense, at its “best behavior” under the US-Duterte regime. But even if the political center is fond of issuing threats against their opposition, similar events in the past have shown great examples where these smaller factions in the ruling class fight back. But because by now they have realized that the gains of RBH 8 is of paramount importance, they tolerate the excessive centralization without realizing they are reducing their influencing and losing their grip over Philippine politics.

This is what we have to maximize

Now is the time to strike. As the ruling class unwittingly surrenders their strongholds and resources to a single person, the reactionary government gains strength at face value but loses its resilience against the full-force of the people’s democratic movement that is now encircling them from the margins. Unbeknownst to them, PDP-Laban has singled out Duterte as the main target when in the past there were countless. It is clear that we must isolate Duterte from all the rest and deface the iron mask to reveal the rotting and fragile man underneath.

We must dismantle Federalism as the facade for totalitarian rule and expose RBH 8 as the ultimate expression of neoliberalism and its inevitable twin, fascist dictatorship.

It is easy to enable the patriotic sensibilities of the middle class and their progressive tendencies in times where there are obvious threats against their civil liberties. If we widen public consciousness over the repercussions of a single man-government, we can unite them with the basic masses and we can effectively gather multitudes of people and mobilize them at an extraordinary rate to finally call for the ouster of the US-Duterte regime!

We cannot afford any more delays. We must crush the attempt to pass the new charter, we must nip it in the bud and prevent it from taking root. We must present our parallel to the proposed charter, the Comprehensive Agreement for Social and Economic Reforms. By now, the provisions and content of CASER would have already proven more superior compared to the provisions and content of the new charter in all aspects! We must propagate this fact that our program may take root in the hearts and minds of the toiling masses, to give them a sense of ownership over it, to identify its non-passage as a rejection of their democratic interest and to associate the ouster of Duterte and his ilk as concomitant to the rise of a new and better country.

No to Charter Change!

Oust the US-Duterte regime!

We need China? That’s the problem.

Have we reached a point where Malacanang is no longer compelled to posture itself as an instrument of national interest? Is the ruling class so confident in its endeavors, is it so certain of its estimated strength, that it can afford to bargain off our exclusive rights as a nation and openly declare the lack of sovereignty over our own waters?

Harry Roque announced yesterday that the official position of our government towards the incursion of Chinese research vessels in Benham Rise and quite possibly, other parts of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZs) is a simple thumbs up. The government leadership has given the go signal for all out territorial liberalization at an unprecedented scale, from signing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States to announcing our incapacity to exploit our own resources after international bodies and neighboring countries have recognized our right to do so. It is extremely disappointing that we take another step back in asserting our patrimony after decades of unfettered subservience. The difference with the current administration is that it is unapologetic about its inclination towards the surrender of our rights. Duterte does not even have the decency to pretend that the ”mutual cooperation” he strives for is on ”equal terms”. Instead he explains himself by doing the exact opposite and exposing our country’s incapability to manage our own resources and make a stand against international bullies.

All of this, of course, is operating under the background of a multi-billion peso Chinese loan program that is soon to be accessed by the Presidency. The jewel to Duterte’s economic thrusts: His Build Build Build, is a rampage that will almost entirely be funded by the One Belt One Road initiative by China. Not only is Duterte preoccupied with clashing against the world’s biggest economy, he is also at the risk of losing his biggest funder if he so much as takes a step out of line.

The repercussions for speaking out against China? Very little for the Filipino people. The Chinese need the Philippine economy more than ever especially that it has experienced economic stagnation in recent years but is increasing production at an abnormally large rate. It needs an economy with a large market for consumer goods to pour in its surplus capital otherwise China will collapse as the United States has in its rich history of capitalist crisis. But for Duterte, the consequences are dire. Not only is he rapidly losing popular support for his anti-drug campaign, approval for his Martial Law in Mindanao and gaining flack for his tyrannical hunt against peasant-activists, indigenous people and human rights workers, his economic policies under the impetus of neoliberalism is also under wide criticism by the middle class, his leading class buffer. The infrastructure he promised to the public is his Marcos-styled strategy of presenting ”concrete” advances in our economy. His edifices will be his only chance at succeeding in the lie that we are making important strides under his rule. But without China all of this will be impossible.

Our desperation as a people for Chinese aid is synthetic, imagined and illusory. It is a strategy to present a dependency model with an Asian flavor, making it seemingly less foreign and making it easier to present an ”oriental solidarity” against Western Imperialism. Under these conditions we are tempted to forget; China is itself an Imperialist threat and it should not be the attitude of sovereign states to choose between Imperialist powers and who to consider as their official master on the basis of proximity and short-term gains.

But Duterte’s need for China is real. It is a specter that looms over his regime. A haunting image of a humongous hand hovering over him. And so, he packages the horror of Chinese capital and presents it to the country in an attempt at self-preservation. He asserts that Chinese aid is an utmost necessity to the regular Filipino like how a salesman would to a customer. But like any market transaction, when we are aware that consent is manufactured, we can spring the trap before it gets us and freely decline.