Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Here are the highlights of the people’s struggles in Metro Manila in 2018.

Labor Unrest

The labor sector initiated breakthrough actions in 2018. Taking cue from government pronouncements rejecting contractualization, labor groups stepped up its organizing among contractuals. It led to workers asserting their right to unionize in response to the duplicitous move of capitalists to outsource their responsibility to regularize the workforce in their companies. Instead of recognizing the legitimate demand of their own workers, multibillion enterprises such as PLDT, Jollibee, Slord, and NutriAsia chose to deploy legal and extralegal machinations just to avoid incurring additional expenses for complying with labor regulations.

Hundreds of PLDT employees, some of them had been with the company for several years already, set up camp outside their offices after receiving termination notices. Workers at Jollibee’s commissary and warehouse in Paranaque also established a protest camp demanding their regularization. Meanwhile, workers have successfully maintained a camp outside the factory gate of the Manila-Navotas port area where they highlight the numerous labor violations committed by Slord, the maker of UniPak sardines.

The strike of NutriAsia workers in Bulacan drew popular support from labor groups and other sectors in Metro Manila. In particular, students organized solidarity visits and indignation rallies after the violent dispersal of the strike.

Another major labor action involved the lakbayan and setting up of a protest camp in Mendiola and subsequently at the Liwasang Bonifacio by Sumifru banana workers from the Davao region. This camp also sustained support from various sectors in the capital region.

Labor groups have been consistent in exposing Duterte’s claim that he is advocating the rights of workers or that he is doing something to end contractualization. Failing to appease and convince the labor sector, Duterte turned to red baiting and threatened to attack unions under the banner of the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno.

United Labor

Duterte‘s tirades against labor were clearly meant to obfuscate his failure to fulfill his 2016 election campaign pledges, specifically his commitment to end the practice of endo. He also wanted to preempt consumer dissatisfaction over higher taxes by attacking organized labor, the unemployed (through Oplan Galugad), and Leftist critics.

But his intransigence and arrogance only succeeded in fomenting unity among erstwhile rival labor groups. Setting aside their political differences, the country’s largest labor centers made a united stand against contractualization by marching together during the May 1 Labor Day celebration.

It was an impressive display of labor unity which only became possible because of Duterte’s flip-flopping attitude towards the demand of workers. Duterte’s anti-oligarchy rhetoric was also exposed as populist posturing which is not backed by a concrete program on how to dismantle cartels and other monopoly industries.

Duterte signed an Executive Order prohibiting contractualization but labor groups were quick to point out that it is a redundant and impotent measure. The wage boards also approved a minimal increase for workers but again labor groups condemned this as insulting and inadequate to cope with rising cost of living caused by the regressive TRAIN law.

In 2018, the labor sector demonstrated the importance of solid organizing to assert the rights of workers. It also proved why alliance-building is crucial in directly engaging a government which has no plan to betray its loyalty to big business so that it can empower workers.

United People’s Sona

Inspired by the Labor Day unity march, various people’s organizations worked hard to make this happen again in time for the State of the Nation Address. They succeeded and the result is the historic United People’s Sona where groups from all sides of the political spectrum joined forces and marched as one against the creeping return of authoritarianism amid plans to change the constitution and adopt a federal system of government.

Gloria Arroyo’s election as House Speaker was highlighted that day but what was not given prominent attention was the biggest ever anti-Duterte protest representing a wide array of forces.

The Sona protest gathered groups and individuals who agreed to unite in order to block the rise of another dictatorship. It initially seemed impossible to bridge the gap between rival political blocs but Duterte’s bloody rule and gangster-type of leadership made it necessary for all democracy-loving citizens to link arms with other concerned Filipinos and defend our rights and liberties.

Fearing the repeat of a similar protest, the government concocted a so-called Red October plot to break the ranks of the opposition. This exposed not just Duterte’s paranoia but also the weakness of a government sensing its isolation from broad segments of the population.

Defiant Critics

Duterte’s deterioration into a monstrous icon only made him more rabid against critics. Political discourse is at the lowest with Duterte preferring to badmouth enemies and slander critics instead of pursuing a healthy debate based on a rational exchange of views. Duterte’s tactic is to use his authority to demonize groups and individuals who are perceived to be a threat to his government. He has his ‘usual suspects’ which include the media, church leaders, some members of the opposition, human rights groups, and the organized Left.

But Duterte and his subordinates wrongly assumed that they can silence dissenting voices. Because nstead of being intimidated, critics chose to fight back. The labor sector assembled as one on Labor Day. Women groups banded together and proclaimed #BabaeAko against Duterte’s misogyny. Media refused the sterile comfort of self-censorship to assert free speech. The church is standing its ground against Duterte’s relentless verbal attacks. Lawyers condemned the killings of their colleagues by speaking out against impunity. Despite the filing of trumped up cases against Leftist leaders, activists continue to organize and mobilize in the grassroots versus state terror, corruption in the bureaucracy, and foreign meddling. Even university officials risked courting a Palace reprisal by shooting down the military conspiracy about the alleged plot of communists to spark destabilization in Metro Manila campuses.

Duterte is desperate to project an image of invincibility, a strongman who is feared by many, and a popular leader who is beloved by the poor. All these fentanyl-driven fantasies failed in 2018. The key to disrupting this evil Palace agenda is the stubborn resistance of groups which rejected compromise and cooptation.

The cumulative effect of small and big protests against state persecution is the undermining of Duterte’s appeal and influence. Protests were able to expose ‘Tatay Digong’ as a laughable madman, a leader with no heart for the struggling poor, a power-obsessed maniac intolerant of criticism, a sexist and misogynist, and a sick man addicted to painkillers.

Resistance against ‘Build, Build, Build’

After the unmentionable failure of the anti-drug campaign and the hilarious anti-corruption drive, Duterte is catching at straws for credibility. How can he identify himself as a leader of the masses if his priority legislation meant lower taxes for the rich and higher consumer taxes for the working poor? Perhaps in a bid to offer some visible achievement to the public, Duterte has expedited the unveiling of his Manila-centric infrastructure projects.

But since his so-called ‘build, build, build’ program is anchored on foreign debt meant to serve foreign interests, it is only a matter of time that groups will start to oppose this massive spending program. And who better to lead the opposition than the residents, villagers, and indigenous peoples who are threatened with displacement by these projects?

We heard and saw them in 2018. They articulated the anti-poor and anti-people features of Duterte’s ‘build, build, build’ program.

They organized protests and went around Metro Manila exposing the destruction to be caused by dams in Rizal, an Olympic village in Tarlac, and the continuing expansion of the extractive industry in Lumad areas in Mindanao.

In Manila and Quezon City, residents affected by the NLEX-SLEX connector and PNR ‘modernization’ have launched a movement to stop the eviction of their homes. Fisherfolk and environment groups have reaffirmed their opposition to the approval of new reclamation projects in Manila Bay covering the cities of Pasay and Manila.

These are new and bold initiatives and they are expected to mobilize stronger opposition and inspire residents in other Metro Manila communities to oppose Duterte’s ‘build, build, build’ projects.

Confronting the bully in Malacanang

There was widespread outrage after a video of a student bullying his classmates went viral. Many saw the similarity between the bully student and the shameful behavior of the country’s president. Duterte was called the country’s ‘baddest bully’ for his wild antics, divisive remarks, and policies that led to human rights abuses. But like the student in the viral video, this Palace bully is already being made to account for his actions.

2018 will be remembered as the year when many citizens from all ranks of life stood up to defy Duterte. This citizen-driven movement is gaining momentum across the country and is expected to deliver more powerful blows against the bully-in-chief and tyrant in Malacanang.

Published by Bulatlat

Introduksiyon sa aklat na ‘Strengthen the People’s Struggle against Imperialism and Reaction’ na binasa noong Pebrero 8, 2019, UP Diliman, Solair

Ang problema kay Jose Maria Sison ay naglatag siya ng mataas na pamantayan kung paano suriin ang pulitikal na kalagayan ng bansa. Pagkatapos mo siyang basahin, tatatak sa iyo ang kanyang kumprehensibo at matalas na gagap sa pulitika. Bilang mga aktibista, binabasa at inaalam natin ang sinasabi ng maraming tao, kabilang ang mga tinatawag nating intelektuwal at political analyst. Marami sa kanila ay may matalinong paghahabi ng mga pangyayari, armado ng samu’t saring datos, at interesante ang sinusulong na diskurso. Pero parang kulang ang mensahe, parang hindi natutumbok ang kabuuan at hindi nadidiin kung ano ang dapat gawin. Sa madaling salita, hindi sila tulad ni Jose Maria Sison na kung paano sa kanyang mga sulatin ay binabasag ang dominanteng naratibo at kasing halaga nito’y naghahain ng progresibong alternatibo.

Ang problema kay Jose Maria Sison ay pinakita niya na posible ang maging teorista nang hindi kailangang maging kumplikado. Sabi ng ilang kritiko, simplistiko ang mga pormulasyon ni Jose Maria Sison. Maaaring simple, oo; pero simplistiko, hindi. Dahil malalim ang hugot ng kanyang pag-iisip at nakabatay sa teorya ang kanyang inaabanteng pananaw. Pero ang artikulasyon ng mga punto ay madaling maunawaan kahit ng mga karaniwang mamababasa na hindi pamilyar sa wika ng akademya. Kaya masasabing mabisa ang kanyang paraan. Uso ngayon ang pagbabawas ng mga bagay na hindi natin kailangan (decluttering) na pinasikat ng tinatawag na #KonMari. Pero hindi si #KonMari kundi ang ehemplo ni #JoseMari ang pwede nating gabay. Na sa pagsusulat ay winawaksi ang sobra-sobrang mabulaklaking mga salita at iniiwasan ang mga pagsusuring lumilika ng kalituhan sa halip na makapaglinaw ng mga usapin. Sumulat upang magpukaw, makapag-organisa, at magpakilos. Sabi ni #KonMari, spark joy. Ayon naman kay #JoseMari, spark a revolution.

Ang problema kay Jose Maria Sison ay consistent ang kanyang tinuturo mula dekada sisenta hanggang sa kasalukuyan. Sabi ulit ng ilang kritiko, paulit-ulit na lang ang mga sinusulat ni Jose Maria Sison. Totoo, ang daloy ng kanyang mga pundamental na argumento ay hindi nagbago. Subalit ang esensiya naman ng mga bagay-bagay ay hindi rin naman nagbago. Ang sitwasyon natin noon ay totoo pa rin para sa kasalukuyan. Kahit naman yung ilang mga iskolar ay naglagay lang ng palamuti sa kanilang mga sinusulat at nilangkapan ng mga postmodernistang tingin pero ang laman naman ay ampaw. Madaling gawin ni Jose Maria Sison ang ginagawa ng mga pulitiko at iba pang apologist ng sistema na pabagu-bago at urung-sulong ang pag-unawa sa nangyayari sa bansa; pero kung ang mga aklat ni Jose Maria Sison ang batayan, mas pinili niyang tukuyin ang katotohanan at isiwalat ang kabulukan ng sistema. At hindi rin naman totoong paulit-ulit ang kanyang mga sinusulat. Nakaangkla ang kanyang argumento sa partikular at kongkretong kalagayan, sa umiinog at pumipihit na sitwasyon, sa mga posibilidad na pwedeng pabilisin o hulmahin ng mga taong lumalaban. Ang imperyalismong kanyang sinuri noong 1960s ay patuloy niyang kinukundena ngayon subalit nakatuon sa partikular na layuning pampulitika na magkaiba noon at ngayon. Maaaring noon, ang suri sa imperyalismo ay nasa balangkas kung paano magsilbi sa kampanyang rektipikasyon; at ngayon naman ay kung paano higit na palakasin (resurgence) ang kilusang masa.

Ang problema kay Jose Maria Sison ay hinahanap ang kanyang boses at interbensiyon bilang pantapat sa mga atake ni Rodrigo Duterte. Bukod sa dati niyang estudyante si Digong, humahataw ang kanyang mga banat at epektibong antidote ito sa mga lasong pinapakalat ng pangulo at ng Malakanyang. Kaya niyang hubaran ang mga pagpopostura’t kasinungalingan ng rehimen. Madali niyang nauugnay ang krisis ng kasalukuyan sa mga sumusulpot na iskandalo at kung paano dapat ito hamunin ng kilusang mapagpalaya.

Ang problema kay Jose Maria Sison ay nilinaw niya ang kawastuhan ng pakikibaka kahit sa panahong walang lantarang banta ng diktadurya sa bansa. Si Duterte, walang pagpapanggap na siya ay diktador, maka-Marcos, at kriminal. Pero ang kanyang sinundan ay nagpakilalang demokratiko at kumikilala sa karapatang pantao. Makatwiran pa ba ang pambansang demokratikong linya ng pakikibaka sa panahong may espasyo diumano ang mga progresibong pwersa sa paghubog ng demokrasya sa bansa? Sa librong ito na naglalaman ng mga artikulong sinulat noong 2014 at 2015, tinukoy ni Jose Maria Sison ang patuloy na pag-iral ng isang sistemang kontra-manggagawa, kontra-magsasaka, at kontra-maralita. Bilang tagapangulo ng International League of Peoples’ Struggle, inaral ni Jose Maria Sison ang relasyon ng mga bansa, ang mga kontradiksiyon sa sistema ng kapitalismo, at ang epekto nito sa pulitika ng bansa. Kaya mainam itong gabay upang higit na maunawaan ang nangyayari ngayon sa Venezuela, ang pivot to Asia ng Estados Unidos, ang pag-angat ng Tsina bilang superpower, ang dinaanang proseso ng usapang pangkapayapaan, ang buod ng kasaysayan ng mahabang pakikibaka sa bansa, at ang iba’t ibang manipestasyon ng krisis sa ekonomiya.

Ang problema kay Jose Maria Sison, ngayon higit kailanman, ang kanyang mga sulatin ay sandata ng mamamayan laban sa reaksyon at gabay sa pagpapatuloy ng rebolusyon sa bansa.

Ang problema kay Jose Maria Sison ay patuloy siyang kinamumuhian ng naghaharing uri. At ang librong ito, kasama ang iba pang inilulunsad sa araw na ito, ay patunay kung bakit hanggang sa kasalukuyan at kahit sa edad na 80, siya ay nananatiling isang haligi at mahalagang boses ng rebolusyon sa Pilipinas.

Indonesia’s decision to go ahead with its plan to transfer the seat of power from Jakarta to East Kalimantan has renewed earlier debates about whether it’s also time for the Philippine government to leave Manila and look for another capital.

Like Jakarta, Manila is notorious for its swelling population and an expanding urban area grappling with limited resources. Metro Manila is constantly plagued by flooding, traffic congestion, bureaucratic corruption, and rising criminality. The capital is rapidly becoming unlivable as it struggles to survive in an economy characterized by deep inequalities, stagnant production, and backward agriculture.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Can a New UN Resolution Stop the Killings in the Philippines?

On July 11, 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution sponsored by Iceland that calls for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. The resolution spotlighted efforts by the international community to address the human rights abuses brought about by the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Iceland-sponsored resolution asks the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive report about the situation in the Philippines and submit it to the UNHRC in June 2020.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

The books I read in 2018

November 16th, 2019

Published by Bulatlat

1. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Utopian vision of society but eerily familiar to those who are living in the 21st century.

2. Utos ng Hari by Jun Cruz Reyes. Stories of the everyman in the urban, survival as resistance, the common tao and his struggles against alienation.

3. Pulang Mandirigma: Images of the New People’s Army. Powerful images depicting the extraordinary lives of NPA soldiers who are waging Asia’s longest-running communist revolution.

4. Dissent and Counter-Consciousness by Renato Constantino. Essays on Philippine history, postwar politics, activism, and the importance of upholding nationalism.

5. Against Everything: On Dishonest Times by Mark Greif. Insightful essays on health, media, rap, American politics, the absurdity of the police, and the relevance of Thoreau.

6. Buhay sibilyan : at iba pang kwento ng kabayanihan sa loob at labas ng bayan, 1896-1902 / Ronaldo B Mactal. Stories of survival and resistance by ordinary Filipinos during the revolution against Spanish colonialism and American invasion of the Philippines. Noteworthy to mention is the chapter about the hardships encountered by revolutionaries in exile.

7. A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros. A good read on the benefits and politics of walking. It includes the reflections of famous walkers like Rimbaud, Kant, and Nietzsche.

8. The Real Thing: Stories and Sketches by Doris Lessing. Vivid portrayals of individuals experiencing pain and surviving life from teenage pregnancy to loss of love.

9. Resistance and Revolution in the Cordillera, edited by Delfin Tolentino Jr. Short pieces on the struggles of the Igorot people, local histories of several villages in the Cordillera.

10. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. We can benefit from unlocking the cosmological constant, the cosmic perspective, simplifying the meaning of quarks, pulsars, the hamburger and Saturn

11. Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! by Douglas Coupland. A biography of McLuhan as a way to understand his complex thinking.

12. Lives of the Poets: A Novella and Six Stories by E.L. Doctorow. Connected stories but each part can stand alone containing enough mystery and reference about modern living.

13. Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It: Wisdom of the Great Philosophers on How to Live by Daniel Klein. Useful, witty introduction to the work of some philosophers and how their teachings continue to be relevant.

14. War Dances by Sherman Alexie. Poems and short stories about modern America written from the point of view of a Native American. Sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, but never dull.

15. Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield. Progressive introduction to so-called tech innovations such as blockchains, augmented reality, digital fabrication, and autonomous transport. I appreciate the terms ‘fully automated luxury communism’ and ‘unnecessariat’ discussed in the book.

16. Yesterday’s Weather by Anne Enright. Stories about relationships in crisis, family trials, intrigues, women contemplating the irony of living.

17. Friendly Fire. Alaa Al Aswany. Laying bare the stuff of modern life in modern Egypt. A writer’s sincere homage to society, a plea for a rethinking of today’s dominant values.

18. A Green History of the World: The Environment & the Collapse of Great Civilizations by Clive Ponting. Author won’t directly say it but this is a brief history of the destructive impact of capitalism.

19. Ang Aklat Likhaan ng Tula at Maikling Kuwento 1996 by Joi Barrios (Poetry Editor), Jun Cruz Reyes (Fiction Editor). Modern narratives that uplift and probe the human condition, a glimpse of the everyday lives of ordinary Filipinos.

20. The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. Trust the crowds but not really from a vantage point that I am expecting. Case studies cited are useful for sociology students.

21. Democracy by Joan Didion. A political novel about an American family during the post-World War II era up to the end of Vietnam War.

22. Synthetic culture and development by Renato Constantino. A good guide to studying decolonization, promoting nationalist education and culture.

23. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee. A modern tale about our past in order to understand the present.

24. McLuhan: Hot & Cold: a Critical Symposium with Rebuttal by Marshall McLuhan. Published in the 1960s by scholars dissecting the writings of McLuhan.

25. Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life by Steven E. Landsburg. He is against recycling and other rationalizations of modern economics from a conservative standpoint.

26. Panata sa Paglaya: Mga Tula ni Ka Randy Echanis, kapamilya at mga tagasuporta. His poems narrating his daily routines and reflections inside the crowded Manila city jail are really memorable.

27. Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier. I didn’t but as always, his analysis is helpful to understand what Silicon Valley is really doing to our minds and pockets.

28. Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation by Terri Favro. An honest, critical review of our fascination with robots. An early appraisal of AI and how it can impact our lives soon.

29. Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali. Frank answers to socially-relevant issues. An overview of Pakistan’s modern politics, US foreign policy, and the Palestine question.

30. Voices of Time: A Life in Stories by Eduardo Galeano. Seeing his world and our world through an empowering, inspiring perspective.

31. W. Somerset Maugham: Four Short Stories by W. Somerset Maugham with illustrations by Henri Matisse. Funny stories with amusing plot twists.

32. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Ah the delight of just sitting on a couch and absorbing the author’s wonderful sketches of real and imaginary cities.

33. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Forget Internet life coaches. Read this philosopher’s practical wisdom on understanding life.

34. Literature And Existentialism by Jean-Paul Sartre. On reading, on writing, for whom, for what end.

35. The Capture of Manila: The Glorious History of August the Thirteenth, 1898 by Lt. Col. I.E.F.YS. Translation by Pacita Fernandez. A very long introduction then a short recap of how revolutionaries captured the towns surrounding Intramuros.

36. Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution by Mary Gabriel. Page turner especially after the 1871 events. The sacrifices made by the family for the cause of the working-class, for the revolution.

37. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose by Alice Munro. I hated Flo at the beginning but soon empathized with her character. A novel? A short story collection? Deep, moving, intelligent.

38. Tncs Por Biginers by Ibon Databank Phil. Clear, concise, creative. Yes, some of the humor is outdated but not the sharp analysis. Understand transfer pricing in a very enlightening way.

Published by Bulatlat

I joined the Center for Nationalist Studies in 1997, became an active member of STAND UP in 1998, and declared my commitment to be a full-time activist after graduation in 2000. I enrolled for a master’s degree but decided to discontinue pursuing this during the ‘Oust Estrada’ campaign.

As a full-time activist, it meant having work but without a regular salary. Our work doesn’t provide remuneration and we even have to help in raising campaign resources. Looking back, perhaps I could have done some freelance job (raket) but it didn’t figure in my priorities during that time.

We were focused on immersing ourselves in the mass movement. We were overeager students of what we believe was radical politics. And we felt that the nation’s politics at that time demanded greater attention and sacrifice. The Left was reenergizing itself through a rectification movement, a populist president was removed from office through ‘People Power’, and we were inspired by the election victory of Bayan Muna.

There’s almost no lull in waging mass campaigns on sectoral and people’s issues. After the 2001 elections, there was a vigorous movement calling for the abolition of ROTC. Meanwhile, community-based groups led the clamor against exorbitant power rates. Gloria Arroyo endorsed the ‘war on terror’ after 9/11 and expanded the presence of foreign military troops in the country. If rallying in response to these issues reflected the espousal of an anti-government agenda, then we plead guilty. But it is a simplistic and inaccurate accusation because it reduces activism into mere agitprop against politicians in power. It denies the role of activism not just in the pursuit of reforms but also how it empowers those living in the margins of society.

Indeed, protest rallies are the visible manifestation of activism and represent pure democracy in action. But activists are aware that there are also other means to advance a progressive type of politics in other arenas of struggle. If rallies are given prominence, it is because they directly intervene in politics while strengthening the collective voice of its participants and the ‘imagined community’ of dissenters.

When activists organize rallies, they do not just think of the logistics but more importantly, the political sense and aim of the protest. Rallies are often the culmination of a particular campaign, serving as the focal point of political engagement. Beyond the technical requirements of holding rallies, there has to be a sustained and coordinated education initiative, effective messaging strategy, alliance formation, legal preparation, and membership expansion. Activists multitask in carrying out their comprehensive political work. No work is too small or too big for dedicated activists.

It is a creative and collaborative endeavor. Repeated planning sessions, consultations, and even late-night meetings to assess the political situation and the status of our organized forces. We discuss and debate the tactical objectives of our campaigns, the methods of organizing, the means to attain our target mobilization, and the forms of our propaganda materials.

Slogans are formulated, press statements are readied, and pamphlets/flyers are prepared for wide dissemination. These are continually scrutinized vis-a-vis the intended political effect. Did they agitate the masses? Did the media quote the statements? Did state officials respond already? Perhaps the analysis is wrong, perhaps a better phrasing is needed, perhaps the font is too small.

Our critique of the social situation has to be refined for the general population. The local campaign is linked to the broader political struggle. We test ideas and our practices while aiming to retain the clarity, sharpness, and correctness of our political line. We conduct lobbying in aid of the political struggle. We form partnerships to solidify our fighting capacity. We work with various community members to learn from their conditions and establish the basis on how to implement our political education program.

It is methodical, thorough, repetitive, but never dull. That’s why those who lampoon the mundaneness of rallies are either clueless commenters, misinformed keyboard analysts, or apologists of the state.

We are not passive members of the resistance. As full-time activists, we do not just find ourselves in the middle of a raging political conflict; but the more apt description is that we situate ourselves in the struggle to master the dialectics of politics, excel in praxis, and win the revolution.

Time is both a friend and foe. We scramble for time to fulfill our duties. The day is always never enough for the many things, scenarios, encounters, and outcomes we wanted to achieve. We greet the day filled with proletarian enthusiasm but we often go back to the headquarters infected with existential disillusionment. Our scientific workplan didn’t deliver, our organizational gains are too puny to measure, our mastery of the political terrain is negligent. In other days, we fail to properly read the situation and it overwhelms us. Our source of despair is the knowledge that the tiniest of our errors translate into the prolonged misery of the masses whom we vowed to serve.

Our defeatist outlook is tempered by a collective evaluation of our work. And from this new knowledge, we develop a better plan to overcome our shortcomings, conquer self-doubt, and seize the new day. We celebrate and seek to accumulate even the small victories as we anchor them to the protracted struggle for genuine emancipation.

There was no concept of self-care or life-work balance that guided our daily routine during that time but the best of our days were spent doing politics. We viewed life and its contradictions through the lens of politics. But we didn’t wallow in abstractions because there were always practical questions that needed to be resolved. Every day was a new opportunity to shed aspects of life that embraced selfish individualism. Oh, what a difficult, painful transition. You attend parties, reunions, and family dinners hoping that you could contribute more other than your keen political viewpoints.

You do not stop feeling inadequate but you’re more at peace after surviving different types of political upheavals. In time, you will appreciate the value of friends lending support, the family as your generous refuge, and kasamas as your guide (gabay) in the struggle.

Will I do this again if given the chance to rethink the choices I made with my life? There was no certainty of success. There was no promise of reward. Only the idea that I will be joining an army of radicals and dreamers. And from the inside, we fashioned the template of resistance into something that will hasten the arrival of the future. We constantly failed, but we kept on marching forward, always and still determined to make the impossible possible. Proud that I sided with the good ones, the Natdems. The formative years as a full-time activist which gave me the confidence, courage, and progressive perspective to advance the cause of the revolution whether inside the halls of Congress, the streets of Manila, or in the interstices of the rural and urban.

Published by Bulatlat

When is it acceptable to red tag an activist in the Philippines? Never, unless you are among the rabid state-backed forces advocating the prohibition of communist philosophy and the violent persecution of individuals and groups accused of advancing communist causes. It is politically-incorrect even if the intent is to ridicule the supposedly ‘obsolete’ politics of the Communist Party. It is never a harmless act in the context of Philippine politics.

Redbaiting was aggressively used to attack Leftist and Left-leaning forces during the Cold War era. Even nationalist leaders like Senator Claro M. Recto were tagged as communists for espousing an independent foreign policy in the 1950s. Congress replicated the McCarthyist witch hunt trial which targeted suspected communists but was described as a campaign to expose “anti-Filipino” activities in the academe and the bureaucracy. It is ironic that this anti-communist drive led to protests organized by students who would later re-establish the CPP in 1968.

The dictator Ferdinand Marcos invoked the communist specter to justify the imposition of Martial Law. He tapped the strong anti-communist sentiment in the military hierarchy to hunt down and silence the burgeoning opposition led by communists and their alleged sympathizers. This unleashed a wave of violence across the country, victimizing thousands of civilians accused of resisting Marcos’ New Society and collaborating with communists who were called enemies of the state.

Marcos was ousted in 1986 but the anti-communist doctrine that guided the growth and actions of the military remained intact.

The Martial Law implementer Fidel Ramos repealed the Anti-Subversion Law which means membership in the CPP is no longer a crime. This legal reform is a sham since, in the eyes of the military and other reactionary forces, the CPP is a criminal network and a security threat which must be vanquished.

The rise to power of Gloria Arroyo saw the government parroting the “war on terror” of the United States which led to the branding of the CPP as a terrorist group. It was during this period when the counterinsurgency program identified the liquidation of the supposed civilian support system of the New People’s Army as a key link in defeating the armed struggle in the countryside. It enabled the likes of Palparan to consider the work of activists as equal to what NPA combatants are doing which resulted in the surge of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Hundreds of activists were reportedly included in the military’s Order of Battle. Their names and faces were plastered on wanted posters. They were demonized in black propaganda operations in schools, churches, and communities. They were slapped with trumped-up cases and subjected to intense surveillance and arbitrary arrests.

The human rights situation deteriorated into an alarming level which forced the Supreme Court to promulgate the Writ of Amparo and Writ of Habeas Data as legal protection measures. Human rights became a major election issue in 2007.

If these counterinsurgency tactics seem familiar, it is because a similar model was applied in the brutal implementation of Tokhang in 2016 and 2017. Drug users in government watch lists, drug dealers demonized as subhuman by no less than the president, and soon the drug suspects were killed by the police, vigilantes, and riding in tandems.

Arroyo’s henchmen are back as trusted subordinates of Rodrigo Duterte. They are whipping anti-communist hysteria to normalize “all-out war” operations while deceptively talking about peace and reconciliation. The CPP is still considered as a terrorist group, anti-Filipino, and security threat whose leaders and members are outrightly denounced as murderers, extortionists, and arsonists.

The black propaganda machinery of the state has polluted the Internet with content intended to obfuscate the intensifying attacks against activists and other critics of the government. The ‘red menace’ is conveniently blamed for destabilizing the government.

Redbaiting reflects a lazy mentality but it is a tried and tested lethal weapon. Politicians point to communist infiltration every time they ran out of arguments in debates. It is convenient for them because they know the enduring legacy of ‘red scare’ in the country and the ideological support they can get from various influential opinion-making institutions.

That is why it is disheartening to see non-state actors echoing the military propaganda about the work of activists. Not content with rejecting the campaigns of activists, they had to insinuate that these activists are CPP and NPA fronts. This is classic redbaiting extracted from a page in the counterinsurgency playbook of the military.

It is a partisan statement articulated in a way to project objectivity. A seemingly inoffensive argument that has fatal consequences. It ignores the history of what the anti-Left establishment is capable of doing to preserve its hegemony.

A redbaiter thinks he or she is merely asserting an academic statement but it is irresponsibly naïve because it assumes that the words uttered have no deadly impact in our political context. That a redbaiting statement will not be documented, recorded, archived, and can be easily revived by the state and state-funded ideologues to harm activists. At a time when the tools of disinformation could reach millions in an instant, there is a real danger of converting a redbaiting meme into a vicious spin to provoke violence against activists.

Some resort to redbaiting out of spite against activists without thinking that what he or she did could be weaponized against a group of people who may be full-time activists and lifelong change advocates but are not part of the underground movement.

There are redbaiters who experienced the horrors Martial Law but have no qualms in calling activists as CPP cadres. There are those who preach about political-correctness and the careful consideration not to offend the sensitivities of vulnerable individuals but are callous in tagging their ideological rivals as CPP automatons and appear to be oblivious to the fact that an increasing number of activists are being harassed and killed by state forces.

There are redbaiters who demand transparency and challenge the CPP to go legal and adopt the practices of the so-called New Left and other social movements in the world. But they speak as if the political situation in the countries they mentioned is the same with what we have in the Philippines. They refuse to recognize the particularity of the national liberation movement. They claim to represent a disinterested position even if their political advocacy and affiliation are biased against the national democratic movement.

No one has stopped them from lampooning the CPP in local and international platforms. But they turned their valid right to criticize into a cheap redbaiting ploy to attack activists. It is therefore not a surprise to learn that the state has used their work to develop a propaganda material and even legal evidence to persecute militant activists while praising the politics of the moderates.

No one has stopped them too from mocking the methods and aims of activists. But perhaps they think they can quickly accelerate their personal and political careers by naming the CPP-NPA supporters in public. Some believe it is an exercise in truth-telling, some assume they are being witty, while others equate redbaiting with defeating the “undemocratic” Left.

They might think they have sophisticated reasons and motivations but in the end it is all in the aid of counter-revolution in real existing politics. It is essentially an act to weaken the people’s resistance. It is a choice, political standpoint, and deliberate act of taking side and thus it is ultimately reactionary in a society where there is a sharpening political conflict.

In other words, a redbaiter exposes his personal and political degeneration.

What can we learn from the history of redbaiting in the Philippines? That it is a potent tool in legitimizing violence but at the same time ineffective in stifling dissent. And that it is about defending the present but it has never succeeded in preventing the people from struggling for a different future.

Published by Bulatlat

It is easy to identify Filipino leftist groups and leaders by reading and watching the news but an ordinary citizen will find it more challenging to recognize rightists.

Leftists are outrightly named and oftentimes insulted in news reports and commentaries in mainstream media. They are the ‘usual suspects’ in Philippine politics whose radical agenda is demonized as anti-Filipino and even utopian while their methods are deemed by authorities to be violent and destructive.

As for rightists, their brand of politics is rarely acknowledged. There are no screaming headlines about what rightists are proposing in congress, there are no prominent politicians who are always tagged as rightists, and there are no reports highlighting researches, dossiers, and advisories spreading suspicion about right-wing agenda.

If the standard articles about the left are replete with historical references, and even condescendingly pinpoint the alleged political blunders of the movement, most articles about rightists leave readers with little knowledge about the bloody legacy of anti-left political forces.

It is as if a glaring error in objective writing is committed if the left is not directly or indirectly made accountable for its past and present actions, while it is acceptable to write about rightists and fail to mention their history and current role in Philippine politics.

Aside from naming leftists and lumping them with all leftists in the world (whether living or dead, Western, Russian or Chinese), the language used to describe them are often derogatory. Leftists are ‘militant’ (but online and offline foreign media equate the word militant with a terrorist or combatant), an NPA-influenced community is ‘infested’ by rebels, and rallyists are reduced to being ‘anti-government protesters’.

Rightists, on the other hand, can espouse their agenda without being defensive about their political label since this is overlooked. Reports focus more on their concrete proposals and not their ideology. Some reports even highlight the personal circumstances of trapo rightists rather than their political orientation.

If Leftists are proud of their leftist tag, so far no rightist politician has ever spoken so openly about their political identity. It does not help that reports neglect to inform the public about the politics of the right.

In many countries, it is common to read profiles of both leftists and rightists. Reports are consistent in naming the proper political backgrounds of politicians. The distinct programs of the left and the right are explained to the public. They are made to understand that choosing either the left or the right is a valid political choice. Hence, it is possible to become a leftist without being red-baited.

But in the Philippines, only leftists are forced to confess their politics and failure to speak about it makes them guilty of hiding a sinister motive. On the other hand, conservative political actors can underperform, break laws, and make a mockery of the political system without being introduced as part of the rightist bloc.

Imagine the impact of this one-sided framing of discourse on the general public. Young citizens are bombarded with daily reports about what regular politicians are doing and these are contrasted to what leftist groups and leaders are offering as alternative.

Citizens are exposed to a lopsided political education that normalizes rightist machinations while vilifying leftist organizing.

They might end up thinking that the unnamed extreme rightwing dominance in politics is what counts as the only rational way of life, and that the presence of the organized left in mainstream society constitutes an aberration. That there is only one fundamentalist manifestation of politics: leftwing aggression. Because of this, many might find it acceptable that a cabal of well-funded reactionary rightists can claim political power but reject the agitation of leftists as a threat to democracy.

A leftist is seen as a person ready to indoctrinate the public with her socialist or communist beliefs. She is linked to suspicious groups conspiring against the Republic. But a real existing rightist is rendered hidden from public gaze. When citizens encounter a rightist politician, they fail to see a person already succeeding in imposing his dogmatic political beliefs in the bureaucracy. They don’t even see him as a political actor with ideological bias. They are also unable to connect the ties between rightist politicians with the country’s old and new oppressors. How could they suspect rightists if they were made blind to see politicians for what they really represent? Instead, they were taught to be critical of groups striving to manipulate the public with their ideological propaganda. In the case of the Philippines, the left and only the left is the only political force which is constantly named and condemned at the same time for promoting its ideology in mainstream society.

Will naming rightists in politics undermine their nefarious influence? Perhaps not. But we will be doing a public service because it will help clarify the basic affiliations of politicians and various partisan groups.

In the meantime, we should review our political awakening and try to remember if our initial reluctance to study the politics of the left was really motivated by a deep distrust of radicalism or could it be the outcome of years of being mind-conditioned by a political culture dominated by reactionary rightist forces.

Asia-Pacific in November: Hong Kong freedom under siege, APEC, Rappler indictment, and same-sex marriage referendum loss in Taiwan. Hong Kong’s free speech is under attack, media restrictions at APEC summit, Rappler indicted, Shahidul Alam is free on bail, Pakistan court overturns blasphemy conviction, and disappointing referendum loss for same-sex marriage advocates in Taiwan.

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Twitter crackdown, defamation surge, electoral attacks, encryption, and transgender bill opposition. China’s social media crackdown, a surge in worrying defamation cases in Southeast Asia, press freedom violations during Bangladesh polls, encryption legislation in Australia, and transgender bill opposition in India.

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Cambodia’s third UPR, Thailand’s ‘Twitter storm’, and Pakistan’s transgender Pride. Cambodia’s human rights record was reviewed at the UN, Thailand’s Twitter users supported the campaign of refugee seekers from Saudi and Bahrain, Pakistan held its first transgender pride march, and new cyber laws take effect in Vietnam and Fiji.

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If the aim of the media attacks is to distract and mute the opposition, so far it is not succeeding. But it sends a dangerous message about how far this government is capable of doing to stretch the limits of the law to run after its critics.

Written for The Diplomat Magazine

Why Philippine Politics Could Heat Up in 2019

Observers are paying keen attention to see if Philippine politics heats up in 2019, particularly with the upcoming midterm elections that will serve as a litmus test for President Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity. But even before the May elections, there are five additional reasons why Philippine politics could intensify in 2019.

Written for The Diplomat

‘Groundhog Day’ in Congress

September 22nd, 2019

Written for Bulatlat

Of all the films in all the cable channels in all the world, they had to show the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day inside the members’ lounge of the Philippine House of Representatives.

Seeing the character Phil Connors enduring an ‘eternal recurrence’ in the movie made me realize that it’s an apt metaphor for Congress politics.

Imagine being stuck in a similar time loop but the setting is a Congress session day. In my case, it was a surreal experience that lasted four years. What’s a typical day of a congressman trapped in a Groundhog Day?

Let’s begin with an annoying ride along Commonwealth where trapo tarpaulins and self-serving MMDA signages offend your sensibilities.

Turning right before Sandiganbayan, one could quickly observe the stark contrast between the spacious Batasan complex, the House of millionaires, and the densely populated urban poor communities surrounding it.

You enter the VIP parking littered with gas guzzlers and luxury vehicles.

You walk through the south wing lobby swarming with official and unofficial transactions.

An old porker greets you in the hallway but forgets your name. A young dynast you unintentionally ignored because he is rarely seen at work.

Overworked House employees trying their best to be friendly, amateur lobbyists struggling to deliver an elevator pitch, professional seekers of financial aid, bright college contemporaries working for reactionary politicians, activists-turned office consultants and ‘operators’, barangay leaders on tour, Gloria Arroyo, Imelda Marcos.

Inside the office room: a pile of documents waiting to be signed and discarded, solicitation letters, invitations, constituency primers, newsletters, magazines, Senate reports, Malacanang publications, agency notices, House memos. A member informing colleagues that he wants his name to be called in a particular way.

Some computer work to be done before the start of committee hearings. Quick scan of email, monitoring of online news, responding to querries, reacting to headlines, formulating attention-grabbing sound bites – all these while grappling with slow Internet connection and a centralized sound system broadcasting songs that do not really inspire productivity.

At nine in the morning, you leave your room to attend a committee hearing. But what greeted you was an almost empty meeting room. You were asked to help with the proceedings for lack of quorum. Apparently, other members were in another ‘important’ hearing wherein the agenda is controversial enough to merit media attention and Palace intervention.

The meeting was uneventful made worse by some nonsensical banter between members, a flurry of sexist jokes, boring presentations, and long-winding debates which could only end up with the chair creating a technical working group so that the real work will be done by others.

Lunch is a time to prepare for the plenary session. A speech that needs to be finalized, a bill ready for filing or interpellation, a consultation session with advocates.

But this is also when colleagues or the office of the House Speaker often schedule an informal caucus. You are confident that you can do all these things, and you tried to juggle priorities but it is always unsuccessful.

You chose to attend an extended lunch meeting but you instantly regret this decision for the lost time which could have been better used to write, read, or talk to constituents. Instead, you are hostaged in a room dominated by politicians who incessantly talk about their good deeds and heroic exploits. You excused yourself by going to the restroom and you see a confused-looking man in a Barong Tagalog. You are reminded that even if you feel alienated from what you are doing, the world sees you as one of the men and women in the other room. You went back to perform your role and pretended to be engrossed in the conversation while waiting for the 4 p.m. session.

Congress life officially begins at four in the afternoon. But the session is suspended the moment it is opened in order to wait for tardy members. If the plenary hall is quiet, the members’ lounge is abuzz with serious and hilarious conversations. This is where members mix food and politics. The ‘other plenary’ where unfinished debates are negotiated, off-the-record transactions are settled, and a place to rest without being seen by the public. Interesting topics are discussed here such as Malacanang intrigues, basketball games, BGC parties, budget glitches, and election tactics. On this particular day you were seated with three landlords who were talking about a flooding disaster in South America and its possible impact on the prices of agricultural exports. You wanted to reply but you were uncertain whether they were referring to the calamity victims or the higher profits they will earn from their haciendas.

Meanwhile, at the plenary, the privilege hour has started. You were third on the list of speakers that day. You and your team spent two weeks preparing for the speech. You invited student leaders to listen in the gallery. To ease your anxiety, you paced the session floor exchanging brief greetings with members and getting news updates from reporters near the plenary lobby.

Suddenly, the privilege hour was suspended to give way for the passage of certain bills and resolutions. The measures under deliberation were swiftly approved by the body even if warm bodies at the plenary were clearly not adequate to constitute a quorum. But members mysteriously filled the floor when a bill certified as a Palace priority was announced by the presiding officer. It took almost half an hour to finish counting the ayes and nayes for this particular bill because the minority decided to play its part by raising procedural questions about it.

The privilege hour was resumed but the members present on the floor also quickly disappeared. By the time you were recognized to speak, it was already past seven in the evening and there were only a handful of members who were still in attendance.

You delivered your speech which was subsequently entered into the records, and then another speaker was called. After a few minutes the session was adjourned.

You thanked the students who waited for your speech. You gave a media interview about an issue not related to what transpired in the House. You talked to some civil society groups which plan to organize an exhibit in the House.

You decided to take a brief stop at the lounge before heading back to your room. A colleague at your table was remarking about how democracy is working despite the flaws in the system. That Congress is the embodiment of this democracy where dissenting views are heard and the people are allowed to participate in the proceedings. You barely heard his other words because you were already watching Groundhog Day on TV.

You felt a terrible sense of deja vu. This already happened: you sitting in the lounge musing about life in Congress, the plenary session enabling a Palace agenda, the informal caucuses in aid of inter-party power struggles, the supposedly inclusive committee hearings, the dynasties you met throughout the day, Gloria Arroyo, Imelda Marcos. It was 2012 but you were sure it was like 2009.

In the film, it was love that allowed Phil Connors to escape the time loop. Love also holds the key to survive a ‘Groundhog Day’ in Congress. Love in the form of knowledge that what matters most is the movement of people working for social transformation outside the halls of Congress. That the time loop in the bureaucracy is a self-preservation mechanism of the ruling faction in control of the oppressive system. That there is an alternative to the banality of everyday politics in Congress, that a superior political movement is necessary and possible, that imagining a new reality must start by being woke and awake in working towards a progressive future in society.