Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a filipino activist, former legislator, and blogger/analyst of southeast asian affairs. he lives in manila

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy pronouncements have spurred intense interest and debates abroad, but few are commenting about his economic agenda.

Right or wrong, Duterte has chosen to define the first year of his presidency by pursuing his so-called ‘War on Drugs’ and declaring a “separation” from the United States, an old ally and former colonial ruler of the Philippines.

Some analysts are worried that Duterte’s controversial policies and rants could scare away investors and hamper the growth of the local economy. For some critics of the government, there are already disturbing indicators such as the depreciation of the peso’s value and reported losses in the stock market. They believe these troubles could be a negative impact of the government’s misguided priorities.

In summary, ‘Dutertenomics’ reaffirms the economic reforms initiated by the Aquino government. The country’s big business groups are generally happy with it, but not Duterte’s leftist allies. Nevertheless, Duterte’s posturing as a nationalist and socialist means there is still opportunity to push for alternative policies that could potentially overhaul the country’s economic profile in the next few years.

Read more at The Diplomat

Progress in the Philippine Peace Process Under Duterte

The second round of the peace talks between the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) ended with both parties agreeing on the framework and outline of the proposed agreements on socioeconomic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. The negotiations were conducted in Norway.

Duterte’s tirades against the United States are unprecedented in Philippine history. But Duterte became an instant inspiration for those who wanted the Philippines to rethink its close ties with its former colonial master. Deliberate or not, Duterte’s nationalist outburst also enhanced the prospects of achieving peace with communist rebels.

Duterte’s human rights record is an international embarrassment. But if he wants something positive to highlight in his first 100 days in the presidential palace, he can mention the peace process. So far, he has already outperformed his immediate predecessors in terms of achieving a semblance of peace in the Philippines.

Read more at The Diplomat

Published by Bulatlat

CARHRIHL, JASIG and The Hague Declaration – these are important peace documents signed by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front. If the peace talks will resume next month, the next agenda should tackle CASER.

What is the meaning and significance of these terms? If these agreements are crucial to the peace process, why did the BS Aquino government ignore them?

The Hague Declaration

Signed on September 1, 1992, the two-page document provides the framework of the peace process. It identified the substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations. These include human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

It is a statement of both parties affirming the need to address and resolve the roots of the armed conflict instead of merely requiring armed groups to surrender their weapons to the state.

The Aquino government ridiculed it as a “document of perpetual division” forgetting that the declaration actually specified the sequence and conduct of the peace negotiations which would lead to the resolution of the armed struggle.

JASIG

It stands for “Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees”. It is basically an identification system that gives protection to security consultants of both parties. JASIG-protected individuals are given the freedom to discuss and promote the peace negotiations across the country. They cannot be arrested or charged in the courts. JASIG ensures the continuity of the peace talks by assuring both parties that their negotiators and consultants can move and speak freely in relation to their role in the peace process.

The Aquino government tried to nullify the JASIG by declaring it as inoperative. The army and police forces refused to honor the JASIG by arresting NDF consultants based on trumped-up cases. Aquino’s peace adviser even accused the NDF of using the JASIG to force the release of detained NPA members.

But the truth is that the NDF is not invoking the JASIG every time an activist or revolutionary leader is arrested. Out of more than 500 political prisoners, the NDF has named only 18 JASIG cardholders who ought to be released immediately as stipulated in the signed peace agreement.

CARHRIHL

The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law is a landmark agreement signed in 1998. It recognized the need to apply human rights principles when responding to the armed conflict. It obligated both parties – the NDF and the government – to promote the respect of and adherence to international humanitarian law among its forces. It emphasized the urgency of protecting the civilian population.

It specified the duty of both parties to probe all cases of human rights abuses. It asserted the right of victims and survivors to seek indemnification. A joint monitoring committee was set up in 2004 to receive and investigate human rights complaints.

CARHRIHL also compelled the government to repeal repressive laws and decrees such as authorizing checkpoints and warrantless searches, allowing the filing of charges of illegal possession of firearms with respect to political offenses, requiring physicians to report cases of patients with gunshot wounds to the police/military, restricting and controlling the right to peaceful assembly, legalizing the Citizens’ Armed Force Geographical Units, and allowing the imposition of food blockades.

As expected, the government didn’t deliver on this commitment.

The agreement also “recognize the right of the people to demand the reduction of military expenditures and the rechanneling of savings from such reduction towards social, economic and cultural development.”

CARHRIHL was mainly disregarded by the governments of Gloria Arroyo and BS Aquino which deprived ordinary Filipinos of the opportunity to invoke its progressive provisions in order to advance human rights protection in the country.

It is unfortunate because the CARHRIHL could have served as a model to other war-torn countries. In fact, the European Parliament passed a resolution in 1999 praising both the NDF and the government for signing this “outstanding” peace agreement.

Trivia: The phrase “persons deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict” is repeated several times in the CARHRIHL. It simply means “prisoners of war”.

CASER

Some experts believe the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms or CASER will be the most important document in the peace process because it aims to resolve the historical and structural inequities in Philippine society.

Before the suspension of the peace talks, the government panel has initially identified its priorities: “asset reform and improvement of the human resource base (agrarian, fishery and urban land reform) and agricultural development; and private sector-led industrialization that seeks to generate livelihood, full employment and quality jobs.”

For its part, the NDF listed economic sovereignty and national patrimony, agrarian reform and agricultural development, national industrialization and economic development, economic planning, rights of the working people, livelihood and social services, environmental protection plus rehabilitation and compensation.

But the CASER drafts of both parties have yet to be updated and presented to the public.

This is the perfect opportunity for the public to advance concrete proposals on how to address chronic poverty, hunger, jobless growth, labor export, rural deprivation, homelessness, wealth disparity, and environmental deterioration. We have to discuss what kind of economic reforms are needed to uplift the lives of the majority. We have to ask and engage the government about its concept of “private sector-led industrialization.” We have to clarify NDF’s economic planning program. There is still time to influence how both parties will present and finalize the CASER.

CAPCR and EoH/DoF

Meanwhile, the special track of the peace talks could pave the way for the acceleration of the peace process by convening a separate committee to discuss the remaining agenda as identified in The Hague Declaration. The next two agreements after CASER are the Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR), and the draft treaty on end of hostilities and disposition of forces (EoH/DoF).

Forty years ago on October 6, more than 40 student protesters were killed inside the Tha Prajan campus of Thammasat University. The identity of the killers is unknown to this day but the attack was led by state forces and an anti-communist mob.

The casualties could be higher because no official probe has been made by the government to find out the truth about the incidents leading to the massacre. What we have are testimonies from the few survivors and journalists who documented the brutality of the attack.

After 40 years, survivors of the massacre and the relatives of the dead victims continue to seek justice. It is a lonely battle because this tragic episode is not mentioned in Thailand’s history books. The military, which staged a coup after the massacre, has conspired with successive governments up to the present to hide the truth about the massacre.

Read more at The Diplomat

Singapore’s Presidential Review: Change You Should Believe in?

Last January, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told parliament about the need to implement some reforms in the country’s political system which would entail some constitutional amendments.

In support of the proposal to strengthen the country’s elected presidency system, a constitutional commission headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon was established. After six months of conducting consultations and reviewing 107 submissions from the public, the commission submitted its official recommendations to the government last week.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has indicated that his government is willing to adopt most if not all of the measures proposed by the commission. In a television interview, he also addressed some of the issues related to the elected presidency.

Read more at The Diplomat

Peace talks have been successfully initiated in Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines – three Southeast Asian countries where local wars and ethnic armed conflicts have been in existence for several decades.

The peace initiatives in Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines are off to a good start. Will it all lead to the resolution of armed conflicts in the region? Aside from sustaining the peace process, the more crucial factor is the willingness of the ruling parties in Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines to implement social and political reforms that will redound to the benefit of ordinary citizens, especially those living in the margins of society.

Read more at The Diplomat

ASEAN’s Olympic Triumph

Southeast Asian countries bagged 18 Olympic medals in Rio de Janeiro: five golds, ten silvers, and three bronzes.

The gold medals were won in badminton, swimming, weightlifting, and shooting. Singapore and Vietnam finally each won their first gold medal since joining the Olympic Games.

Hopefully, the outstanding performance of Southeast Asian athletes in Rio will inspire greater public support and government funding for sports programs in the region. One hopes that this could lead to better training and more modern facilities for sports enthusiasts and future Olympic champions.

Read more at The Diplomat

Myanmar’s nationalist Buddhist group known as The Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) has suddenly found itself losing support from government officials and the online community.

First, Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein boldly declared in public that Ma Ba Tha is “unnecessary and redundant” since there is already a government agency tasked to oversee the activities of Buddhism in the country. This is the first time that a government official has dared to speak out against the influential Buddhist group.

Myanmar’s new government has several disappointing moments as it marks its first 100 days in power. But the initiative of some officials to curb hate speech and religious intolerance by rejecting the Buddhist hardliners is laudable

Read more at The Diplomat

US Lawsuit Against Malaysia’s 1MDB: Who Is ‘Official 1’?

The United States Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against some individuals accused of using an investment firm owned by the Malaysian government to steal more than $1 billion.

The lawsuit also mentioned a certain “Malaysian Official 1,” prompting many to ask if it refers to Prime Minister Najib Razak since he has control over the 1Malaysian Development Berhad (1MDB) investment firm and his stepson is one of the accused.

The lawsuit aims to recover some 17 assets in the United States, which have been allegedly acquired through 1MDB funds.

There seems little debate about the identity of “Malaysian Official 1.” For majority of Malaysians, it’s none other than Najib. Hopefully, the U.S. DOJ report will help Malaysians retrieve the stolen funds and assets; and more importantly, seek justice against the well-entrenched kleptocrats.

Read more at The Diplomat

OMG I Married an Activist

October 10th, 2016

Published by Manila Today

What the title really means is “Oh my Gabriela I married an activist.” No, I didn’t marry a person named Gabriela but my wife is a member of the Gabriela women’s group. To my non-Filipino friends, Gabriela is an activist group known for its uncompromising, über defense of women’s rights. Its members chose the name Gabriela in honor of Gabriela Silang, a folk heroine from Ilocos who fought Spanish colonialists.

Before proceeding, I’d like to emphasize that I’m using the OMG expression as a positive exclamation. It’s like this: OMG I won the lottery prize! And not like this: OMG who is this person sleeping in my room? But quite like this: OMG is it the time of the month already?

There’s really no surprise about her activism since I’m also a proud and even unrepentant national democratic activist. I knew from the start the kind of life I will endure, oops, celebrate with her. It’s not as if she deliberately hid her activism to lure me into submission. So this is not a candy piece about an innocent soul screaming for justice after learning about the truth of his better half. Neither is this an erotic expose of the exotic world of underground activists. First, we are not in the underground; and second, the love life of activists is not really esoteric. We meet, we fall in love, we fall out of love, we fall in love again, and then we die. But love is defined broadly here; love that suffuses the personal and political, love that colors the marital and class struggle.

I am writing this partly in reaction to social media memes that claim to instruct us about the magic and mysteries of love. Indeed, most of the time they are feel-good moral invocations that boost middle-class romantic relations. They are funny, witty, and ultimately celebratory notions of modern romance. But I find many of them unsatisfactory and even naïve. Indeed, love may be a universal theme and force for good but it rarely resembles the fairy tales of our bedtime stories and the lives of pop culture idols.

For every hashtag that promotes progressive love, there are dozens peddling a feudal concept of romance. How can we move on when we are hostaged by a delightful throwback of disempowering mementoes of the past? There must be a decisive rupturing with the old to embrace the promise of the authentic new. The preceding statement applies to both love and politics. But can we ever truly liberate ourselves that will finally allow us to claim the future? Ahh, here lies the duplicity of so-called modern love (and politics): it relegates the past to insignificance when it encounters something new and seemingly attractive yet it achingly seeks the return of lost time when life suddenly becomes dull and difficult. It is irritatingly, irresistibly, insatiable. Love moves or flows in a continuum and perhaps the best way to grasp its essence is to experience its brutal total impact in a dialectical way. Dialectics? Relax, it’s just dialectics. The past merging with the present and future. The past breaking through the contradictions to give way to the present and future. The future returning to the past. Who better to explain this concept than an activist reared in the art and science of creating truths? And what can be more fun than testing this theory in real life?

The activist who understands that the personal reflects the political and vice versa. The activist lover who seeks the rational amid the frenzy of subjective emotions. The ‘full time’ lover in the age of ephemerality. The couple committed to and united by the ideals of justice and equality

A war is always raging somewhere but sometimes we choose to be oblivious to what’s happening around us. But alas, when we open our eyes to reality, the world becomes more than knowable; it is suddenly transformed into an object ready to be transformed into something else. Then, we join the ranks of various anonymous collectives so that this world-without-name will soon emerge. In the course of waging this long struggle, we meet fellow travelers who will remain our best of friends and comrades. A most special gift is crossing paths with a person who will, to put it mildly, overwhelm your inner being. But exchanging affections is just one of the pleasurable things you will do with this person. The best part is taking this life journey with him or her. Proletarian victory aside, the ultimate prize of the revolution is embracing the struggle with the love of your life.

Much has been said about two individuals overcoming their differences in the name of love. It is a celebrated love story and charming proof of our shared humanity. Without doubt, love can come from the unlikeliest sources. Perhaps no two persons are alike so that they can find it easier to love another being. Isn’t the feeling of completeness one of the unconscious desires of a person seeking love? I do not strongly contest this assertion. But let me also argue that it isn’t enough for lovers to transcend their differences. After the acceptance and compromise or during the non-stop struggle over this issue, the two lovers must learn and promise to share something essential. Perhaps a fundamental aim to guide their lives. A higher cause to strengthen their union. A vision of an ideal life that will inspire the couple to become better individuals.

Differences are normal and exciting but a shared perspective is perhaps more enduring. A couple, activist or not, giving their very best to the fulfillment of an intangible goal is perhaps leading a happier and more contented life over a couple hostaged by pecuniary desires.

I have no other example to offer other than what I experience everyday in my married life. Let me say a few words about my wife, my activist wife: As more and more people are tragically succumbing to the inhuman dictates of vulgar materialism, I derive a humble pride that my wife and I are not slaves to this pestering virus that destroys solidarities and relationships. I am prouder, much much prouder in fact, that my wife is an activist like me – studying dialectics, empowering the grassroots, and fighting for a new future.

There are life challenges to surmount, everyday petty battles that consume our energies, societal obligations to fulfill in the old decaying order – but the prospect of surviving all of these with my wife by my side while pursuing the political struggle for genuine social change is my daily boost that allows me to face the harsh world with more confidence and happiness.

mongmean

Written for the Global Voices Community Page

When I joined Global Voices in 2006, my aim was only to blog the underreported stories from the Philippines. Ten years and 3,000 posts later, I’m still with Global Voices; writing stories not just about my country, but also about the Southeast Asian region.

I used the word ‘blog’ to capture the experience of many people like me who recognized the value of blogging as an effective medium to share ideas and discuss politics. Today, social media has replaced blogging, but there was a time when the latter represented the popular and innovative side of the Internet.

As a blogger in 2006, it was easy to appreciate the potential of Global Voices. Here was a global network of bloggers who understood the importance of exchanging narratives, promoting marginalized voices, and defending free speech. Here was a fascinating group of ‘amateur writers’ (remember the journalism vs. blogging debate?) who were maximizing the online frontier to make the world more knowable. Here I found my virtual home.

After a few months of contributing for Global Voices, I realized that it’s not just a website offering opportunities for writing. Because aside from being a pioneering citizen media platform, it’s also a vibrant online hub where collaborations produce outstanding news and feature stories, where every author is regarded as a valued member of the community, and where digital encounters lead to unexpected friendships.

Global Voices has a unique newsroom. Its editors, authors, and translators are based all over the world. We seldom meet, but when we do, we are like old friends who never ran out of stories to tell about each other.

Global Voices played a meaningful part in broadening my perspective as a writer and activist. Before becoming a volunteer author of Global Voices, I wrote mainly to emphasize my views with little regard for the opinion of others. But writing for Global Voices convinced me to change this attitude. Rather than merely being content in imposing my belief on others, the better alternative is to seek multiple viewpoints. It didn’t stop me from writing what I truly believe, but it enriched my thinking habits. For example, it led me to accept that my opinion may be important (and probably correct), but it can always be improved by comparing it to contrary views.

When I became the Southeast Asia editor of Global Voices in 2008, I realized that I had been using the Internet mainly to learn more about what’s happening in the Philippines instead of acquiring a greater interest about other places and unfamiliar cultures.

Thanks to Global Voices, I became an enthusiast of Southeast Asian affairs. I gained a better knowledge of the Asia-Pacific — its politics, economy, and socio-cultural dynamics. I was also able to study the impact of the Internet in the region. When something significant or controversial happens in the politics of the Philippines, I try to find the same phenomenon in other countries of Southeast Asia. And what I realized is that there’s always a regional trend to discover, a shared heritage between two warring countries, a similar political demand among oppressed minorities.

When I became a member of the Philippine Congress in 2009, I continued my work with Global Voices. Looking back, I am thankful that I made this decision because writing for Global Voices allowed me to continue expanding my outlook instead of focusing on Philippine issues alone.

When a repressive anti-cybercrime bill was deliberated in the Philippine Congress in 2011, I opposed it and cited the experience of other countries which are implementing the same legislation. For reference, I studied the in-depth reports of Global Voices Advocacy on cybercrime laws in the world.

After ten memorable years of writing for Global Voices, I am proud that this Internet organization continues to be a fun and welcoming community. I am privileged to be in the company of creative and intelligent individuals whose work and life stories provide a daily inspiration to me and countless others.

What motivates me to write for Global Voices is not only eagerness to help explain the real situation in Southeast Asia. Another reason is to highlight the interesting stories, censored topics, and heroic struggles of various peoples in the region as my special way of acknowledging the diligent work of my colleagues all over the world who are also doing the same thing.

My simple wish is that when they read stories from Southeast Asia, they also get to experience what I always feel from reading their work: that the world may be plagued today by preventable miseries, but there is hope as long as people are doing something to change it. That by naming the problem, by giving a voice to the voiceless, and by documenting the fight for truth, we are making an impact in the lives of many.

Here’s to ten more years of finding more happiness and inspiration through the stories of Global Voices.

Published by Manila Today

Hungry farmers asking for rice. Typhoon victims decrying government neglect. Netizens marching against corruption.

These protests unmasked the ‘Daang Matuwid’ program as an empty slogan of a regime that insidiously perpetuates foreign dominance and elite oppression in the country. It is only now we appreciate the full and potent significance of these grassroots protests. If not for these daring political actions, Aquino would have easily fooled many into believing that he performed well as president.

Despite the demonization of dissent in the country, protesters persevered in asserting their democratic rights. They showed creativity too through events like One Billion Rising and innovations like selfie and even planking protests. In Mindanao, the funeral march for a revolutionary leader became a political event that criticized the government’s counter-insurgency program.

But the most impressive example of political activism was the brave decision of the Lumad who defied state-sponsored violence and corporate plunder in their communities. Together with farmers struggling against climate injustice, these rural heroes became the fiercest and most credible critics of the Aquino regime.

1. Million People March

An impressive massive gathering of citizens in Luneta which forced the government to abolish the notorious Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel system in Congress. Outstanding example of an online initiative which led to a powerful political action in the offline world. The anti-pork movement became broader as it waged war against other forms of PDAF in the bureaucracy. Aquino ran on an anti-corruption platform but he would step down as a leader who implemented an unconstitutional presidential pork program and had the largest pork barrel among all presidents. Hence, the tag ‘pork barrel king’.

2. People Surge

Thousands marched in Samar and Leyte (also in Estancia, Iloilo) in 2014 and 2015 to protest the government’s failure to provide immediate and just assistance to victims of supertyphoon Yolanda that struck in 2013. Various community assemblies were held in the region before marching in town centers and symbolically converging in San Juanico Bridge. Solidarity protests were organized by Waray groups and concerned citizens across the country. People Surge gave voice to calamity survivors who were neglected by the national government. After Yolanda, the world was quick to give aid but the Aquino government did not distribute these funds properly. Aquino would be known as the president who bungled the rescue, recovery, and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of Yolanda. A true disaster king.

3. Barug Katawhan

Mindanao’s southern region was badly damaged by typhoon Pablo in 2012. After months of waiting for the government to deliver its promise of livelihood assistance, thousands of farmers stormed the warehouse of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Davao. Then they distributed sacks of rice and sardine packs to fellow protesters. For DSWD officials, it was an act of looting. But for Barug Katawhan, it was a collective action of typhoon victims in protest against the government’s slow response to the urgent plea for relief by typhoon victims.

4. Drought protests in Mindanao

Because of the El Niño weather phenomenon, a state of calamity has been declared in several provinces of Mindanao. This means local officials are authorized to use special funds in order to provide assistance to affected residents. But food aid did not arrive in many towns forcing farmers to stage provocative protests like establishing road blockades and barricades. The protest of North Cotabato farmers was violently dispersed which instantly became the symbol of the rural poor struggling against feudal exploitation and state brutality. Similar protests were held in Bukidnon and South Cotabato but the local agencies in these provinces were able to resolve the issue by releasing sacks of rice and seedlings to the farmers.

5. Campus strike against education budget cuts

Students, teachers, and administrators of ALL state universities and colleges conducted a nationwide campus strike in protest against the budget cuts in the higher education sector. The historic action in 2010 reflected the destructive legacy of the neoliberal dogma in policymaking. Even essential services like education and health were subjected to privatization schemes and reduced public subsidies. The campus strike rallied other sectors in society to question the budget priorities of the state. The following year, campus protests were organized again to call for a higher education budget. Some students went on to ‘occupy’ Mendiola by camping near the presidential gate.

6. People Power versus mining

Several municipalities and provinces across the country, especially in Luzon, were able to block the entry of mining companies by holding ‘People Power’ assemblies. These protests, though far from the country’s capital, highlighted the growing people’s resistance against large-scale mining operations. Aquino issued an executive order which barred local governments from passing laws that contravene the national government’s mining policies. He also authorized mining firms to secure the services of the military and paramilitary groups that exacerbated the militarization problem in the countryside. Despite the pro-mining bias of the president and many local politicians, it did not stop the people from condemning the dirty impact of the extractive industry on the country’s environment, economy, and politics.

7. ‘Stop Lumad Killings’

Displaced from their villages because of militarization, thousands of Lumad tribes from CARAGA and Davao regions sought shelter in city centers. Some of them arrived in Manila to give testimony on how the government is destroying the way of life of our indigenous peoples. Lumad leaders were reportedly harassed and killed because of the various tribes’ refusal to allow logging and mining activities in their communities. The Manilakbayan protest in 2015 garnered broad support from various institutions and personalities in Metro Manila. The campaign also called for the reopening of Lumad schools that have either been occupied or destroyed by state troops.

8. Fish holiday

The fish ban on municipal waters provoked fish operators and their workers to organize a series of nationally-coordinated protests. The fish holiday succeeded in generating public discussion about the amendments to the Fisheries Code that included restrictions in fishing in municipal waters for subsistence and distance demarcations for commercial fishing. These restrictions effectively hurt, if not kill, the livelihood of small fishers and other local producers. It is purportedly a necessary measure to preserve marine resources but fish operators believe it is a knee-jerk reaction of authorities to the decision of the European Union to downgrade the trade rating of the Philippines. If fishers cannot fish, where would we get our daily fish supply? Instead of protecting local businesses, the government once again promoted the economic interest of other countries. In Metro Manila, the fish holiday closed off parts of the Navotas Fish Port and the fishers’ protest march to the presidential palace numbered to thousands.

9. Stop K-12

Students, teachers, and parents launched different forms of protests against the hasty implementation of the poorly designed K-12 education reform. Thousands joined rallies in front of the Supreme Court and near Malacañang Palace to call for the junking of the program. Among the most consistent were teachers deploring the removal of Filipino and History subjects in the curriculum. The campaign is not yet over since many groups are challenging the new president to review the program and allow high school students to graduate. A big protest is also being readied in time for the opening of the new school year in the coming weeks.

10. Anti-Apec

The police tried but failed to stop protesters from getting near Pasay, the venue of the 2015 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. The protest gathered many sectors including the Lumad from Mindanao, anti-mining advocates from the ‘Defend the North’ network, and anti-globalization activists from other countries. The APEC summit hosted by the Philippines inconvenienced thousands of Metro Manila residents but its bigger crime was the further imposition of unjust and onerous trade and economic policies.

If there is something good to say about the 6-year presidency of Noynoy Aquino, it is the joining together of nameless change workers, unsung heroes to protest the epic incompetence and insensitivity of the ruling Liberal Party. Aquino’s abhorrent leadership inspired the people to organize and mount massive demonstrations across the country.

Published by Bulatlat

1. A civil war has been raging in the countryside since 1969. Landlessness, feudal exploitation, state brutality against the poor and marginalized – these are some of the issues that led to the formation of the New People’s Army. An armed force of the poor, by the poor, and for the poor which succeeded in establishing nationwide presence during the anti-dictatorship struggle.

Today, the government makes contradictory claims about the NPA being a spent force already while continuing to be the country’s top security threat.

The government denigrates the armed struggle of the NPA by criminalizing its revolutionary political activities. But the NPA views itself as part of the resistance movement battling despotic landlords, warlords, rapacious multinational mining and plantation companies, and government-sponsored mercenaries.

2. The peace talks started after the ouster of Marcos and the release of political prisoners in 1986. It is important to emphasize that first, the negotiation is between the government of Cory Aquino and the National Democratic Front, which is an alliance of revolutionary forces; and second, the aim of the peace talks is to address the roots of the armed conflict (poverty, injustice, oppression) and not to force the surrender of the NPA.

The NDF withdrew from the peace negotiations after the police fired shots and killed 13 protesting farmers near the presidential palace in 1987. But informal talks between the NDF and the Cory Aquino government continued.

3. Important peace documents were finalized during the term of President Fidel Ramos. Some of these key papers include the following:

-The Hague Declaration identified the substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations: human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces;

-The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or JASIG ensured the continuity of the peace process by providing protection and immunity to peace consultants and security staff of the NDF and the government;

– The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL is the first landmark agreement of the peace process. It is proof that the peace talks can produce concrete results. President Joseph Estrada signed the CARHRIHL in 1998.

4. The peace talks are conducted in a neutral venue outside the country to facilitate the security of the negotiators and their personnel. During the 1986 peace talks in Manila, NDF members and consultants were subjected to state surveillance, harassment, and other forms of intimidation.

Since 2001, Norway has been serving as a third party facilitator of the peace talks.

Joma Sison, the chief consultant of the NDF, is living in exile in Europe after his passport was canceled by the Cory Aquino government in 1988. At that time, he was on a lecture tour in The Netherlands.

5. The arrest of JASIG-protected NDF leaders has undermined the peace process. More than 15 NDF consultants are currently in jail because of trumped-up charges. Although the NDF has clarified that the release of political prisoners is not a precondition to resume the peace talks, it asserts that the government is under obligation to release detained NDF peace consultants as stipulated in the JASIG.

6. The government of President Benigno Aquino III has refused to recognize the validity of previous peace agreements. Aquino’s peace negotiators wanted to ignore past agreements which they ridiculed as “documents of perpetual division.” They also demanded the NPA to declare a ceasefire.

The NDF reminded the Aquino government about the importance of honoring past agreements in order to build trust and confidence in the peace process. Besides, how can the previous agreements “perpetuate division” when they provide the framework on how to properly conduct the peace talks?

Nevertheless, the NDF advanced several recommendations on how to fast track the peace process without ignoring the substantive content of the previous agreements. If the Aquino government is sincere, the NDF said a final peace pact can be signed in less than a year. Instead of a ceasefire, the NDF is offering a truce and a government of national unity based on mutually acceptable terms and principles.

However, Aquino and his peace advisers have outrightly rejected these novel proposals coming from the NDF.

7. The next major agenda in the peace negotiations will tackle the social and economic reforms that are needed to resolve the structural inequalities in Philippine society. This is likely to be contentious since the government is expected to defend its neoliberal economic policies (privatization, deregulation, free trade, debt dependency). Meanwhile, the NDF is pushing for genuine land reform and national industrialization which are deemed obsolete by Aquino’s spokesperson even if these are bourgeois concepts. To be clear, the core of NDF’s economic program will not transform the Philippines into a socialist state; rather, it seeks to develop the country’s productive capacities and unleash the full potential of the local economy while uplifting the living conditions of workers, farmers, and other marginalized sectors.

8. The idea that the Philippines will endeavor to rebuild its economy by shunning neoliberal economic prescriptions is expected to provoke the opposition of oligarchs, multinational capitalists, and foreign financial speculators. They will most likely actively campaign to stop the peace talks from reaching its final phase. Beware, they are powerful and wealthy spoilers. They have evil ties with politicians, bureaucratic leaders, and high-ranking officers in the military and police. They can use their clout in the media, church, and academe to whip up anti-communist hysteria.

Not all institutions are working to promote the peace process. The United States government, for example, has revived its listing of the NPA as a terrorist group. The last time this happened led to the scuttling of peace talks between the NDF and the government of President Gloria Arroyo.

But the biggest threat to achieving peace comes within the government. Aquino’s peace advisers are accused of being rabid anti-communist which partly explains why they deliberately stalled the peace talks. They endorse the doctrine that NDF forces are already irrelevant and that the NPA armed struggle can be defeated through military offensive and delivery of socio-civic projects in the rural areas.

9. There is high optimism that the peace talks will prosper under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte who has maintained close links with the NDF and NPA in his capacity as mayor of Davao City. Duterte is also openly identifying himself as a socialist and Leftist. He has vowed to release political prisoners and resume the peace talks. He also guaranteed a safe pass to Joma Sison, his political science professor in college, so that the rebel leader can go home and pursue the implementation of the peace process in the Philippines.

Duterte is also praised for appointing Leftist personalities in his Cabinet. That the Communist Party has nominees working in the Cabinet is unprecedented in Philippine history.

10. As stated earlier, the goal of the peace talks should be finding ways to end the armed conflict by addressing the structural problems of Philippine society. Unfortunately, past and present governments only seek the capitulation of the revolutionary forces.

What is to be done under the Duterte administration? We have to add our voices supporting the resumption of the peace talks. We have to encourage both parties to use this historic opportunity to draft and sign agreements that will lead to significant reforms in society.

Most importantly, we must participate in the peace process. We must discuss the peace agenda. We must formulate specific sectoral and political demands as our contribution to the peace negotiations. How can we end poverty? How can we develop the rural economy? What kind of services should the state provide to citizens? What are the policies and laws that oppress our people?

The peace talks have never been and should never be exclusive to NDF and representatives of the elected government. It is a public process requiring public participation and democratic consensus. We need to embrace it as an act of politics that can potentially spark a genuine transformation in Philippine society. Make peace a reality in our lifetime.

Thailand’s ruling junta got what it wanted on August 7: the public approval of a constitution that will reinforce military rule in the country. The same constitution also contains provisions that could further curtail the people’s right to freedom of expression.

Some are questioning the result of the referendum because the opposition was prevented by the government from campaigning against the draft constitution. The junta has passed an absurd law criminalizing any activity that could persuade the people to vote in favor or against the constitution. This law was invoked in detaining more than 100 individuals accused of spreading lies and undermining the stability of the country.

A day after the approval of the constitution, the European Union and the U.S. State Department urged Thailand to lift restrictions on civil liberties, especially concerning freedom of expression, to jumpstart the country’s democratic transition. But even if Thailand renews its pledge to honor media freedom, its new constitution institutionalizes a culture of censorship and state control over the media sector.

Read more at The Diplomat

Thailand’s New Constitution: A Threat to Religious Freedom?

Thailand’s new constitution, approved by majority of voters last month, threatens to undermine religious harmony in the country because of a provision that mandates the state to promote Theravada Buddhism.

Section 67 of the constitution is seen by some religious leaders as being biased in favor of Buddhism because it orders the state to protect Buddhism, “which has long been professed by the Thai people.”

Thailand’s new constitution is supposed to boost the government’s national reconciliation program and engender unity in the country. But the clause on religion has already caused division because of its perceived bias against the religion of minority groups. Worse, the proposed remedy of the government could stifle religious freedom by prescribing the teaching of “correct” Buddhism.

Read more at The Diplomat