Three 50th anniversariesand what each is telling us
AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Think about thought-provoking coincidences. In the second half of this month, beginning the third decade of the 21st century, three 50th anniversaries are being observed by three diverse interest groups. 

Two of the anniversaries pertain to the Filipino people’s struggle against the Marcos dictatorship that hasn’t found closure and how the dictator’s heirs are maneuvering to fully regain their lost power and past glories. The third has to do with the capitalist/imperialist economic system’s pernicious impacts on the living conditions of the world’s poor and middle classes under neoliberal globalization, the excesses of the biggest capitalists and the counter-trends, positive and negative, that these have engendered worldwide.

• Tomorrow, militant political activists (the thinning number of veterans and current activists) start commemorating the 50th anniversary of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970:  the historic upsurge of mass protest actions – spurred by the siege on Malacañang in end-January, dubbed as the “Battle of Mendiola.”  These were led by university students and youths from poor communities in Metro Manila and in urban centers nationwide. Across the country, militant student-youth and sectoral organizations were rapidly organized and mobilized, all assailing Marcos’ corruption and emerging tyrannical rule. The almost weekly demonstrations and “people’s marches” over three months shook the Marcos regime, and gained the admiration and support of a wide range of concerned citizens.

After Marcos declared martial law in 1972, most of the youth activists committed themselves to carry on the fight against the dictatorship to its very end. Hundreds sacrificed their lives in the struggle.

The names of many heroes and martyrs, products of those “nights of rage, disquiet times” are now enshrined at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City.  And today’s activists continue to raise their collective voice, and their clenched fists, vowing to sustain their vehement opposition to the political rehabilitation (courtesy of President Duterte) of the dictator ousted in 1986, and the overweening ambition of his unrepentant, arrogant heirs to recapture Malacañang.

They also rail against the Duterte government’s continuing vilification campaign, threats and harassment against progressive organizations and the state security forces’use of violence against activists. All these, plus wariness that Duterte may impose martial law nationwide, give FQS veterans a sense of déjà vu.

•  A week ago, Cultural Center of the Philippines officials celebrated its 50th anniversary by hosting an “appreciation dinner” for Imelda Marcos, purportedly “to recognize her contribution as founding chair of the institution.” They handed her and each of her three children uniformly beribboned gifts, posing for photographs published in the front page of the Inquirer.

On January 18, the same newspaper came out with an editorial, citing outraged social-media posts describing the CCP event as “shameless,” “unacceptable,” “tacky,” “offensive,” and “a well-planned PR stunt… glorifying corruption.” Referring to the Sandiganbayan’s November 2018 verdict finding Imelda “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of seven counts of graft, it asked: “Could the lavish event, in fact, be another attempt to socially rehabilitate the Marcoses, reminding the masses of those glorious days when Madame fancied herself as a patroness of the arts and engineered to bring world-class artists to Manila?”

It pointed out, though, that among the CCP’s other 50th anniversary activities, the award-winning documentary “The Kingmaker” by Lauren Greenfield will be shown, “in what appears to be an attempt to balance this distasteful tribute with a recounting of the Marcos excesses.”  The more cynical would see this, it added, “as too small a concession, and plain damage control.” 

The next day, that newspaper’s front-page headline story reported that Duterte threatened to arrest and indefinitely detain the owners of two Metro Manila water concessionaires, in the same manner Marcos had done in his time. (“One night, I will arrest them all.”)

• Now ongoing is the third 50th anniversary bash of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the annual gathering of top corporate chief executives, heads of state, and invited guests – 3,000 attending this year, more than 100 of them billionaires – at the Alpine resort of Davos, Switzerland. (Registration fee, $4,000; hotel rooms cost $500 or more a night).  Six days of meetings, forums, cocktails, dinners, and entertainment.

A somber mood, however, hangs over the gathering. Why? Because WEF’s own research affirms other studies’ findings that entrenched inequality across the globe [2,153 billionaires own more wealth than 4.6-billion people, 60 percent of global population – Oxfam Int’l] has spawned “a growing sense of unfairness, precarity, perceived loss of identity and dignity, weakened social fabric, eroding trusts in institutions, disenchantment with political processes and an erosion of the social contract.”

“We cannot deny that there is a general loss of trust and confidence in people… It pains me,” was the acknowledgment by WEF’s founder, Klaus Schwab, a German economist who has presided over all the yearly meetings.  A New York Times special report says: “The elite are worried about the demise of the very ideology long espoused by Mr. Schwab: globalism – the notion that the open exchange of people, products, ideas and services across borders will benefit all.”

In the early 1970s, the report revealed, Schwab had already put forward a “stakeholder theory” which holds that corporations should be responsible not only to stockholders, but to employees, customers, communities, and to the environment. But Schwab failed to push his theory hard enough. “Back then you had to fight against Milton Friedman, who gave a moral justification to profit maximization,” he explains.

What Friedman said in the 1980s – that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business… to engage in activities designed to increase its profits” – became the mantra for neoliberal globalization. Oddly, Schwab rode on the globalization rampage.

But today, Schwab (at 81) now is trying to go back to where he began the WEF – by making “stakeholder capitalism” the theme of this week’s Davos gathering. Can he swing it? Not immediately perhaps, but a Guardian editorial sees a bright prospect. (In fact, fellow STAR columnist Elfren Cruz wrote about “ending capitalism” as it is today in this same space last week.)

Noting that climate emergency, rising nationalism/populism, and “seismic shocks such as Brexit and China’s emergence as an economic superpower” have undermined the case for pursuing business as usual, the Guardian concludes: “There is evidence that, when it comes to defining the bottom line, the huge societal challenges of the 21st century are prompting a rethinking at the vertices of economic decision-making” in the center of western capitalism.

To the Duterte economic team, die-hard adherents of neoliberal globalization: Take note!

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

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