Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


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

Over the past few weeks, there has been a focus in Cambodia on what one might call an ongoing social media war between the ruling party and its opposition.

The Facebook page of the current Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, who has governed the country for more than three decades, now has more than 3 million ‘likes’, or a million higher compared to the account of now exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy. But Hun Sen has been accused of ‘buying’ support from fake users and click farms in India and the Philippines.

Read more at The Diplomat

Malaysia Broadens Media Crackdown As Political Scandal Worsens

Since last month, the Malaysian government has blocked three news websites and three socio-political blogs. Meanwhile, the police have threatened Internet users who will share satirical clown memes of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib is certainly right in reminding his readers that the Internet is “a powerful tool that can both shape and dismantle a society.”

Perhaps someone should tell the tech-savvy leader that the Internet can also expose terrible secrets of corrupt politicians and oppressive governments. And even if Internet regulation is necessary in some instances, Internet censorship is never acceptable especially if the aim is to hide the truth and prevent the people from speaking about it. After all, isn’t the search for truth part of the so-called greater good that Najib referred to?

Read more at The Diplomat

The books I read in 2015

April 23rd, 2016

Written for Bulatlat

1. In Defence of Politics, Bernard Crick. I disagree with the author’s conservative views and his rejection of communist societies as totalitarian regimes but his treatise on politics, elections, and behavior of political actors allowed me to better understand the worldview of mainstream politicians.

2. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold. A sad novel about a murdered teen and how her family and friends coped with the tragedy. I have no plan of seeing the film version of the book because I want to retain my own interpretation of how the characters and village sceneries look like.

3. The Stories of Eva Luna, Isabel Allende. A collection of short stories inspired by the novel Eva Luna. Vivid storytelling about love, betrayal, injustice, war, the frailty of the human condition; yet all stories celebrate the triumph of the imagination.

4. Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, Tony Judt. A collection of essays and book reviews about modern history of the West, the role of intellectuals (in particular historians), and an indictment against some progressives who chose to be non-critical against the rise of neoconservatism in America and Europe.

5. Working Women of Manila in the 19th Century, Maria Luisa T. Camagay. A documentary about the factory system in old Manila and the livelihood conditions of women. Apparently, those deemed a threat to society were shipped to distant islands and even Davao.

6. From Affluence to Praxis; Philosophy and Social Criticism, Mihailo Markovi. A decent elucidation of Marxist principles and an introduction to so-called humanist Marxism and its application in Yugoslavia.

7. Para kay B, Ricky Lee. Witty, original, poignant, contemporary love story. A delicate handling of the contradictions between the characters of the story and the social world they inhabit.

8. Singsing na Pangkasal, Lazaro Francisco. Still my favorite Tagalog writer. A traditional romantic novel that also provided us with lush descriptions of early 20th century Baguio and Manila, including how people travelled by rail in Central Luzon.

9. Where Monsoons Meet: A People’s History of Malaya, Musimgrafik. An illustrated guide about the colonial subjugation and the struggle for independence in Malaysia. Useful to understand the nationalist sentiment in the region and the roots of some of the racial conflicts in modern Malaysia.

10. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende. Reading this novel is like recalling the past history and fables of colonial Philippines and how these narratives impacted the evolution of modern society. The ending leaves the readers wanting for more.

11. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive, Jodi Dean. The author warns us about the uncritical uses of blogging and how some of our Internet habits are serving the capitalist logic.

12. On the Political, Chantal Mouffe. An intellectual meditation on the nature of politics, the emergence of post-politics paradigms, and a rethinking of the politics of the Left in the global civil society.

13. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Carl Schmitt. Theoretical reflections about the role of leaders during emergency moments and a critique of Liberal politics.

14. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers, Will Durant. This is a relevant and useful text for philosophy students; it provides compelling biographies of great thinkers and how their ideas came to influence/disrupt the societies they are living in. Learn for instance how Plato’s teachings were both adopted by religious orders and communist regimes.

15. On Belief, Slavoj Zizek. The author never disappoints in his entertaining treatment of seemingly disparate subjects such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and Hollywood.

16. Why We Don’t Talk To Each Other Anymore: The De-Voicing of Society, John Locke. The author convincingly argued about the negative consequences of information technology gadgets on how we interact with each other today.

17. Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, Steven Mosher. I endorse the main thesis of the book about the dangers of invoking population dynamics to explain socio-economic problems in the world. A must-read book for reproductive health advocates who aggressively advocate population control.

18. Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, J. K. Rowling. Graduation speech of the author of the Harry Potter series. I didn’t know that she once worked with a human rights organization.

19. Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), Michael Goodwin, David Bach, Joel Bakan, and Dan Burr. An illustrated guide about the history of economy and economic thought. Informative especially the section on the complex financial instruments that led to the housing and financial crisis in the past decade.

20. You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier. The father of virtual reality, Silicon Valley pioneer, and technology guru issuing a ‘manifesto’ against digital tyranny.

21. The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin. Sometimes you just have to grab that slim book, sit down, and relax. Funny read but some of the jokes are too American for me.

22. Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day, Robert Rowland Smith. Everything is political? No, everything is philosophical. A nice way to explain to the general public about the value of reading and understanding philosophy to make sense of what we are doing from morning to evening.

23. How to Be Alone, Jonathan Franzen. Thoughtful and moving essays about family, writing, and bureaucratic inefficiency.

24. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri. Collection of short stories about migrant families and individuals trying to find deeper ties with their new surroundings.

25. The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton. As always, beauty in simplicity. He reminds us that we can have insightful reflections even if we are only doing mundane things in our everyday life. What is needed is a curious mind to see the newness of everything and to appreciate the peculiarity of even a dull moment.

26. Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City, Mark Kingwell. Philosophical musings of the place we inhabit, the space we are creating, and cultural geographies that we are continually redefining. The section on China is illuminating even if it feels like a narration of an encounter with an alien and exotic culture.

27. Hotel World, Ali Smith. Somewhat difficult novel to absorb but overall an enlightening read. Rich with symbols and creative presentation of the narrative.

28. The Tale of the Unknown Island, José Saramago. Proof of the liberating power of imagination and dreams in literary texts.

29. Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier. Fascinating and interesting read about the cost of surrendering our future to software giants. Fortunately, there is an alternative. And the author offers a middle way on how the Internet economy can benefit social media users.

30. Elizabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee. I became a fan of the author in 2014 after reading two of his novels: Summertime and Diary of a Bad Year. Meanwhile, this book features an elderly writer and her struggle to articulate and defend her ideas.

31. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon. Book for all ages (I persuaded my daughter to read this novel). The story of a brave and intelligent young boy determined to know the truth about the death of a dog. His adventures led him to discover other truths about his life.

32. An Invitation to Social Theory, David Inglis, Christopher Thorpe. A useful introduction to various ‘isms’ used in the academe. Every school of thought is adequately explained including its relevance today.

33. Youngblood 4, Philippine Daily Inquirer. I have two articles in this compilation of Youngblood columns. I enjoyed reading the articles of my contemporaries who are also grappling with similar quarter life issues.

34. Economics: A User’s Guide, Ha-Joon Chang. Refreshing take on how developed countries attained their wealth not by promoting free trade but adopting protectionist measures. Somehow, neo-mercantilism appears less primitive and dogmatic.

35. Creative Nonfiction: A Reader, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo (editor). Nick Joaquin’s article on literature and journalism, which is included in this textbook, inspires readers to rethink the compartmentalization of writing and the writing profession.

36. The Great Crash, 1929, John Kenneth Galbraith. Reprinted after the 1987 Wall Street stock market crash, this book should be made compulsory reading to policymakers, traders, and bankers in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

37. What I Came To Say, Raymond Williams. Collection of essays on post-war English literature, English professors, and English politics.

38. Forget Foucault, Jean Baudrillard. A slender book about the real, the symbolic, and the postmodern debate on knowledge and politics.

39. How to watch TV news, Neil Postman. Updated to include the impact of the Internet, the book remains instructive on deciphering the meaning of news broadcast and how the public can resist the disempowering effect of mainstream news.

40. Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, Immanuel Wallerstein and Étienne Balibar. Two radical thinkers address the issue of nationalism and the interplay of race and classes in the modern era. I find Wallerstein’s essays to be more engaging but both authors gave a comprehensive analysis on the relations of classes within nation states.

41. The Good Body, Eve Ensler. Testimony about the irrational expectations for women to subscribe to the ideal (read: patriarchal) notions of beauty.

42. The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani. As a parent, I also have to read what my kids are reading. Hence, this book. Surprisingly enjoyable. And hopefully, young readers will appreciate the philosophical take on what it really means to be good and evil in both the fairy tale and the real world.

43. The Myth of Consumerism, Conrad Lodziak. A plea for back-to-the-basics political economy analysis in discussing the destructive legacy of capitalism in the 21st century.

44. The Social Science Jargon Buster, Zina O’Leary. While reading the book, I realized there are many social science concepts related to Marxism.

45. Tongues on Fire, Conrado de Quiros. Speeches by an activist writer. Unapologetic defense of activism, passionate promotion of critical thinking, patriotic appeal to the young to continue the unfinished work of our heroes.

46. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond. Geography played a major role in the rise and development of human civilizations. Germs killed more Native Americans than guns. Readable book about the rise of agricultural societies and the uneven spread of technology across the world. My favorite book of the year.

47. Dear White People, Justin Simien. When is it ok to touch the hair of black people? Satirical, original, and highly persuasive. I like the term ‘microagression’ to refer to the unspoken everyday conflicts between whites and blacks.

48. Dear Life, Alice Munro. First time to read her and instantly became a fan. Her stories are perfectly written; every word is precise yet rich with meanings. She tackles difficult topics without overwhelming the reader.

49. Coffee with Isaac Newton, Michael White. I didn’t know that Newton became obsessed with the occult and alchemy which helped him in formulating the law of gravity and other scientific discoveries.

50. What Would Socrates Say?: Philosophers answer your questions about love, nothingness, and everything else, Alexander George (editor). Practical questions about life while philosophy professors provide succinct answers based on the teachings of famous philosophers.

51. The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Nicholas G. Carr. A timely book about man’s over reliance on automated things. Time to bring back the human in the so-called Internet of things

In recent years, the “Occupy” movements and “Arab Spring” came to symbolize popular actions for social change across the world. In Southeast Asia, the massive gathering of citizens against an unjust political order is more widely known as an expression and legacy of “People Power.”

The idea of People Power became a potent political force when it led to the ouster of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Many scholars believe that the Philippine brand of uprising – peaceful and spontaneous assembly of ordinary masses – inspired several democracy movements around the world. This trend also influenced the political tactics of opposition parties and grassroots organizations across the Southeast Asian region.

Read more at The Diplomat

What the ‘Death of Democracy’ Means in Southeast Asia

On March 2, 1962, General Ne Win led a coup in Myanmar (then known as Burma) and established a military dictatorship which lasted until 2010. Slightly more than a decade later, on September 21, 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law which allowed him to remain in power until 1986. And just a few years before that, on September 30, 1965, a mutiny led to the killing of some generals which provoked the Indonesian military to retaliate by arresting and killing communists and suspected sympathizers of communist groups across the country.

In Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia, these were historic events which made a lasting political impact. For local scholars and activists, these were the days when democracy died in their countries.

Read more at The Diplomat

Written for New Mandala

On 9 May, an estimated 54 million Filipinos will vote for a new president. Campaigning starts today, with the new president taking office on 30 June. There are five major contenders in the race — Mar Roxas, Jojo Binay, Grace Poe, Miriam Santiago, and Rodrigo Duterte.

With the eventual winner serving for six years, it’s time you got to know them.

Mar Roxas: The Administration Candidate

Mar Roxas, leader of the Liberal Party, is the administration’s preferred candidate. His grandfather was elected president after World War II, his father was a senator in the 1960s, and his brother was a congressman in the 1980s. He belongs to the wealthy Araneta clan and is married to a famous TV personality.

Roxas topped the Senate elections in 2004, and was the original presidential candidate of the Liberal Party, but gave way to now-president Benigno Simeon Aquino in 2009, after the death of his mother, President Cory Aquino prompted a surge in support. Roxas ran for vice president alongside Aquino, but lost. Despite this, Roxas served under the Aquino government as secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications and Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Roxas boasts a clean record and vows to continue the legacy of the Aquino government under the banner of Daang Matuwid (The Straight Path). However, his rivals often bring up his elite background to accuse him of lacking rapport with the poor. He is also ridiculed for underperforming as a Cabinet secretary, bearing the brunt of the people’s frustrations over the worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila, inadequate delivery of social services, and rising cost of living.

Jojo Binay: The Incumbent Vice President

Jojo Binay defeated Roxas by a small margin in 2010. Before becoming vice president, he was mayor of Makati City, the country’s premier financial hub, for more than a decade. Before entering government service in 1986, he was a prominent human rights lawyer who defied the Martial Law regime (the period from 1972 to 1981 when Ferdinand Marcos ruled by decree).

Binay’s activism of yesteryear is overshadowed today by his notorious reputation as a traditional politician. He has been charged with several corruption and plunder cases, although he insists these are all politically-motivated.

As mayor of Makati, Binay offered generous social welfare programs. If elected president, he promises to expand these services for the benefit of the country’s poor, which probably explains his lead in polls. However, Binay’s candidacy continues to be undermined by ongoing accusations that his family has been abusing their political position to amass ill-gotten properties.

Grace Poe: The Neophyte Senator

When Binay’s trust rating spiralled in the face of corruption cases last year, Grace Poe became the leading presidential candidate. Poe topped the Senate elections in 2013, which is attributable to the popularity of her celebrity parents. Her father Fernando Poe Jr, known as the ‘King of Philippine movies’, unsuccessfully ran for president in 2004. Many believe that the Grace Poe’s electoral victory vindicated the name of her father.

Despite being a novice senator, she was quickly recognised as a viable alternative presidential candidate. Poe was even asked by the ruling party to run as vice president with Roxas, and the Left, which rarely endorses candidates, has openly supported her bid for the top job.

After Poe declined the invitation from Roxas, her legal woes began. Several disqualification cases questioning her citizenship were successively filed. The petitioners argue that as a foundling, Poe is unable to establish that she is a natural-born Filipino. Poe’s previous American citizenship, which she only gave up after the death of her father in 2005, was also raised in the court.

These cases are still pending, and have affected and distracted Poe’s campaign. Most probably, Poe will remain in the running, but the citizenship issue will hound her throughout the campaign period.

Miriam Santiago: The Intellectual Politician

Poe has many young supporters, but Senator Miriam Santiago is more popular among students and intellectuals. A seasoned politician, Santiago almost became president in 1992 when she placed second in the presidential election. She won as senator in 1995, 2004, and 2010.

Santiago has cultivated an image of an intelligent, tough-talking civil servant who won’t tolerate corruption and incompetence in the bureaucracy. Yet, her detractors would probably cite the inconsistency in her political record, since she once supported the corruption-tainted governments of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo.

Santiago’s real problem is convincing the public that she is fit to lead, since she is recovering from fifth-stage cancer. In addition, her political party is almost non-existent. Unlike other presidential candidates, she has refused to place TV ads, which are expensive but essential in boosting a campaign. This is Santiago’s way of exposing the unjustness of money politics – a remarkable political act, but will it cost her victory?

Rodrigo Duterte: ‘Dirty Harry’ or Social Reformer?

If Santiago likes to flaunt her intellectual prowess, then Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed “Dirty Harry” by analysts, prefers a reputation as a crime buster who is ready to kill drug lords and kidnappers. As mayor of Davao City for almost two decades, Duterte transformed the city into one of the country’s safest places to live and invest.

Aside from promoting peace and order, his supporters claim Duterte is also responsive to the needs of the poor. But his methods are unconventional, and some human rights groups describe his brand of justice as selective, illegal, and anti-poor. Despite this (or maybe because of this), his fame spread through the nation with many urging him clamour to run against traditional politicians.

The Duterte phenomenon is an indicator of the people’s dissatisfaction with the current political system, dominated by big landlords and rich families.

But Duterte is more than just an anti-crime advocate. Unknown to many, he has close ties with the Left, which he developed while initiating social programs for poor farmers and workers. Because of this, some believe that only Duterte can successfully negotiate a peace treaty with the National Democratic Front –Philippines and end one of the longest-running communist rebellions in the world.

It is unclear whether Duterte has enough resources to mount a nationwide campaign, since he only decided to run for president last December. His biggest concern is winning voters who do not approve of his personal behaviour, style of governance, and some of his proposed programs like the restoration of the death penalty. As for his friends from the Left, they cannot ignore Duterte’s proximity to retired generals and former officials of the unpopular Gloria Arroyo regime.

*Filipinos have been using the grammatically-incorrect word ‘presidentiable’ since the 1990s but it was only last year when it was finally included in the Oxford English Dictionary

Written for Bulatlat

The selfie is both derided and hailed as a popular form of self-expression; but politically-speaking, what does it really signify?

The ‘butterfly effect’ reminds us that a flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. Applied to the taking of selfies, perhaps it is like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings: every selfie generates a disturbance somewhere else.

The selfie effect is political which can be deadlier than a hurricane or tornado.

Each selfie reflects and reinforces the dominance of individualism in contemporary society. This is made possible by the Internet which is ironic since the cyberspace is not a single entity but composed of multiple networks. How social is social media when selfies glorify the individual and not the anonymous multitudes?

But we are not appalled because the ruling ideology promotes competitive individualism. When we pose for a selfie, we think it is a liberating act when in fact it symbolizes our submission to mainstream corporate-sponsored ethos.

As a counter-argument, we can highlight the social uses of selfies. This we can’t deny since there are visible proofs of how selfies are maximized by mass movements across the globe. We can also cite the value of selfies to many individuals who were deprived of the right to assert their identities for a long time. In the past, their concept of self was imposed by others, but selfies allowed them to see their true selves for the first time. Should we deny them this epiphany?

As the taking of selfies becomes more ubiquitous because of mobile internet, there must be a better way of addressing its political role. It is easy to perceive the conservatism of this act but we can’t ignore its positive legacy at the same time.

Perhaps the framing of the debate can be improved. We certainly can’t ban selfies but there’s a need to develop a critical appreciation of this seemingly mundane thing.

Let the so-called social media influencers discuss the proper mechanics and ethics of selfie taking but for those of us who are interested in politics, especially the progressive side of politics, we have broader concerns to tackle.

For example, if selfies promote individualism, we should probe the conditions that allowed this selfish attitude to dominate society. And if selfies empower many lonely individuals, we should question why the smartphone-powered visuals could override other potent acts of solidarity.

It is individualism, not selfies per se, that should trouble us. We live at a time when there’s a breakdown of social institutions and the collective spirit is rejected in favor of self-interest. Technology developers and innovators are primarily in search of commercial success and not philanthropy or social change. When they offer something new, disrupting the social order is far from their minds. The selfie was never conceptualized to challenge the status quo.

Narcisisstic selfies, therefore, should not distract us from our urgent task: Changing the social conditions that put premium on individual glorification over community solidarity.

As stated earlier, we should not ignore the power of selfies to inspire individuals, especially those who have been marginalized in society. Indeed, when individuals cannot find deeper ties around them, they cultivate a stronger sense of the self. If selfies can give an instant feeling of completeness, why stop people from pursuing this harmless addiction in the digital age? But there’s a problem if we simply accept that only selfies can provide a meaningful identity to individuals.

The desire to be seen is perhaps a modern thing and we may wrongly assume that this can be achieved only through selfies. When societies disintegrate or individuals lose collective attachments, we become more aggressive or desperate to give better representation of our lives. We cling to these idealizations for survival. Our task, therefore, is to assert that there are superior alternatives to selfies. We should also demonstrate that community-building is more effective way of creating solidarity among individuals. That political participation reduces or even eliminates the superficial longing for personal aggrandizement.

Or in other words, the idea of excessive selfies will be rendered irrelevant if selfies become unnecessary in the real world. To put it bluntly, no selfie enthusiast will thrive in a community where everyone is immersed in a collective political undertaking.

Taking selfies is already part of our normal routine but why is there a lingering notion that it is awkward or that we have to defend it from time to time? To remove the guilt, we have to identify the roots of this confusion. At the risk of antagonizing the anti-selfies, I dare say that the abnormality lies elsewhere. The real problem is not the selfie or the selfie taker but our society which elevates individual competition as the essence of living. As long as there is a mad scramble for viral selfies, it is a troubling indicator of a society lacking in grassroots solidarity. The solution is not to mock the lonely Internet user but to change what is wrong in the selfie world.

Written for Manila Today

Aside from Joma Sison and the surviving participants of the First Quarter Storm era, no one has come forward to publicly admit that he or she is the leader of the Kabataang Makabayan or KM. There is no roster of KM officers, there are no KM chapters recognized by schools, there are no KM members on Facebook.

Yet KM recently celebrated its 50th founding year. Some of its members staged lightning rallies in Manila, some chapters released an anniversary statement, and some former activists from the 1980s and 1990s gave testimonies about the influence of KM on their lives.

KM is not the oldest existing youth group in the Philippines but its radical contribution and impact to the country’s politics remains unsurpassed. Traditional youth networks focus on individual achievements (e.g. how many of their members became part of Congress or Cabinet) while KM is more concerned on how to mobilize its members in the national democratic struggle. There are no KM greats, no KM heroes, no prominent alumni – everyone is simply KM.

What makes KM relevant in 2015? Aside from the fact that it continues to exist, its political program has remained revolutionary. There are avant-garde political groups but KM is unabashedly revolutionary. It introduced a comprehensive and progressive concept of youth organizing and youth involvement in politics.

KM reminded the youth that there is more to politics than electoral politics. That its task is to name the ills of society, explain the roots of the crisis, join the people’s struggle, and carry out the socialist alternative. What a subversive idea in 1964! Compared to the mainstream values and political thinking today, the KM perspective continues to represent a new type of politics. It is not because KM has stubbornly refused to embrace change, but because the general conditions of the present have remained unchanged since the 1960s. We should add that the conservative ruling class has ruthlessly demonized the KM way of doing politics as irrational, futile, and terroristic.

KM is many things to different people but at least it has a sense of history. It was founded on November 30, Bonifacio Day, to herald the continuity of the 1896 Philippine Revolution. Some have derided the KM for copying the so-called destructive politics of China’s Red Guards. But China’s Cultural Revolution was launched in 1966 while KM was founded two years earlier. It is true that KM members have consistently propagated the teachings of Mao Zedong but they saw themselves from the very beginning as heirs of the Katipunan legacy. The KM is both Katipunero and Red Guard.

Some looked down on KM leaders who became the pioneer cadres of the Communist Party and New People’s Army. But the CPP-NPA was the core of the resistance movement during martial law in the 1970s. The KM was also one of the underground groups which established the National Democratic Front. In a different context, KM was the original proponent of the government’s ‘balik-probinsiya’ (back to the province) program. Even before martial law was declared, KM members were encouraged to serve the people, integrate with the masses in the countryside, and join the agrarian revolution. Many tirelessly worked to create grassroots formations across the archipelago. Most of these initiatives became leading NGOs and people’s organizations that promoted the welfare of the poor and marginalized. There is probably a KM member behind every anti-Marcos NGO that bloomed in the 1970s and 1980s.

Anti-communists can ignore the preceding paragraph but the KM will remain a remarkable political group. No serious student of Philippine politics and history can disregard KM and the “discontents” it caused in semi-feudal and semi-colonial Philippines. No youth group can claim to discover a more radical way of changing the world without first debunking the political legacy of KM.

The problem with KM is that it set a very high standard for young people who wanted to take part in politics. Before KM, young people were told to do charity or to campaign for good-hearted politicians. Nothing wrong with these prescriptions but KM argued that young people are capable of doing greater things for the country and more meaningful actions for the poor such as fighting landlordism, foreign meddling, and systemic corruption in government. Before KM, young people were able to articulate these issues in the government by joining elite-controlled parties or serving at the pleasure of dynasties. But after KM, the youth were able to speak out and assert their rights through various collective actions.

Suddenly, the political practice of the reactionary elite appeared shallow, self-serving, and anti-democratic. KM put to shame the burgis (bourgeois) model of youth leadership.

After KM, young leaders wanting fame, wealth, and privilege in the bureaucracy were mocked. Youth power was redefined by linking it with the merger of youthful idealism and the struggle of the working classes. Or in other words, youth power is realized when young people are immersed in the people’s movement. Youth leadership is not about highly motivated young people assuming key positions in corporate and political institutions, but serving the people in the grassroots.

After KM, it is already laughable and pathetic for young people to beg for crumbs from their elders in the pork-controlled bureaucracy. Why ask for piecemeal reforms when the youth can link arms with the oppressed, bring down the repressive state, and build a more equal society? It was KM which forcefully emphasized that a youth movement obsessed with prettifying the useless bits of reforms introduced by the reactionary state is complicit in preserving the unequal present.

KM rallied the youth to reject the unjust status quo by enjoining them to pursue the path of revolution. The message of KM appealed to many who sincerely hoped for change but were disappointed by the dull choices offered by mainstream politics. The youth wanted more from politics, they were willing to sacrifice more for the country, but politicians only wanted them to vote and support the government. No wonder many students from varied backgrounds became KM members.

The Marcos government saw the phenomenal growth of KM as a threat to the political order. It acknowledged the right of the youth to dissent but only if it would lead to the strengthening of the state. It accused the KM of being a misguided group of youngsters fomenting anti-social activities. To entice the youth away from KM, it formed the Kabataang Barangay or KB.

KM radicalism was shunned in favor of Marcos-approved activism. The youth can join politics at the village level but only if it’s restricted to the activities of KB. This Marcosian ploy was intended to restore the support of the youth and diminish the growing grassroots strength of the KM. It was a bold and costly political experiment that distorted and corrupted the democratic demand of the KM for greater youth involvement or participation in politics. Nevertheless, it lasted for more than four decades. Marcos was ousted in 1986 but the KB was resurrected as Sangguniang Kabataan or SK. The name was changed but its purpose remained the same: Discourage the youth from advancing the politics of revolution by giving them a token role in the bureaucracy.

But over the years, the SK merely became an embarrassing appendage of patronage politics. In 2013, the SK was finally abolished so that bureaucrats can allegedly fix it. Curiously, nobody mourned the death of KB and the SK. KM was once again vindicated. And even more crucial, a dose of KM radicalism is urgently needed to energize the debates regarding SK. How can they fix the SK if the whole political enterprise is moribund? Fix the system and then we can talk of political innovation. And to fix the system, no less than a revolution is required. We are back to KM and the revolution it espoused in 1964.

However, the reformist outlook and practice that dominated the politics of KB and SK still lingers. This is evident in the pronouncements of young trapos, government-backed youth parties, and conservative civic groups. How they clamor for youth representation in all working committees of the state (as if it is the central aim of politics), how they masterfully mimic the idiotic and deceptive language of their elder trapos, how they exaggerate symbolic gestures as great acts of politics, how they pitifully cling to the perks and trappings of the bureaucracy, how they uncritically support the reactionaries in waging war against the progressives, how they peddle illusory hope when the situation demands the overhaul of the beastly machine.

Fortunately, the KM still exists and continues to offer a bright and radical alternative. The red flag is still up which inspires many youth activists to persevere in the struggle. It is difficult to faithfully follow the political model introduced by KM but it is comforting to know that the ideal standard is workable as practiced by the revolutionary members of KM. For those carrying the flags of the mass movement in the urban, the politics of KM is both a lesson and guide on how to resist the corrosive legacy of excessive individualism, reformism, legalism, and even parliamentarism.

Not all youth groups can openly advocate armed struggle in the country but they can benefit from the continuing revolutionary legacy of KM. They can anchor their political aims on some of the programs proposed by KM.

No other youth group has done what KM achieved in the past half century. KM thrived as a legal mass organization for only eight years, and subsequently as an underground group in the past four decades. It survived the dictatorship and the attacks of succeeding regimes. It remained relevant because its cause is the national democratic struggle. What can be more correct than spreading the message of the revolution as the ultimate solution?

Written for The Diplomat

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is seeking apology from those who criticized him in 2012 when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in the organization’s history during Cambodia’s chairmanship.

In 2012, some analysts accused Cambodia, then the ASEAN chair, of blocking efforts to include strong language on maritime disputes in the South China Sea in a regular joint statement so as not to antagonize China, Phnom Penh’s largest trading partner.

Hun Sen discussed the issue in an impromptu speech during a university graduation ceremony on February 5. He claimed that during his meeting with United States Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Cambodia last month, he expressed his exasperation against the unjust accusations hurled against him and Cambodia regarding the failure of ASEAN to preserve its unity in the face of the divisive South China Sea disputes.

“Maybe it is time to return justice to me. I told John Kerry I was disappointed when they [critics] said that Cambodia’s closeness to China was the obstacle to realizing the Code of Conduct in South China Sea,” Hun Sen said.

He added that even when Cambodia was no longer the chair of ASEAN, other countries has also failed to make progress on the issue, including through finalizing a binding code of conduct that has long proven elusive.

“Before Cambodia took its turn, Vietnam and Indonesia were rotating chairs of ASEAN, why couldn’t they realize it? After Cambodia’s turn, Brunei, Myanmar, and Malaysia – did they do it? What could they say about it?”

He described the singling out of Cambodia as an issue of injustice. “Is now not the time that those who attacked Cambodia or me personally apologize to me and repay my justice?” he asked rhetorically.

But during his talk, Hun Sen also hinted his disapproval of a regional agreement to settle the issue.

“ASEAN will not have rights to divide land among them. Vietnam and China would have to sit down and work together. The Philippines and China, or the Philippines and Vietnam, will have to sit down and work out their differences,” he said.

He pointed to how Cambodia and Thailand were able to resolve the dispute over the Preah Vihear temple without involving other ASEAN members.

Finally, Hun Sen cited his long experience handling foreign policy issues. He also asserted that Cambodia is not beholden to either China or the United States

“I was Foreign Minister when I was 27, when some of these analysts were just kids. I wish to reaffirm that the Cambodian foreign policy is independent and sovereign. Cambodia need not seek any country’s input,” he said.

If he is serious about the demand for an apology, perhaps Hun Sen can pursue the matter during the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Sunnylands next week. But he should also take note that during Malaysia’s turn to chair ASEAN last year, the group was able to successfully issue a communique which tackled China’s land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

Thailand’s Junta Has Gone to the Dogs

Written for The Diplomat

A factory worker in Thailand was arrested by authorities for defaming the king’s dog on Facebook.

Before we tackle this bizarre case, we should start with the original controversy: the corruption scandal surrounding the construction of the Rajabhakti Park.

In 2014, the army built seven giant statues of prominent kings in honor of the monarchy. Last month, reports alleged that the project was overpriced and that large kickbacks were given to several officials. The army ordered a probe into the claim but it quickly denied that the project was tainted with corruption.

When this was exposed, many demanded accountability from the junta which seized power in 2014 ostensibly to end corruption in the bureaucracy. To prevent activists and opposition groups from using the park as a staging ground of anti-junta protests, the government ordered the closure of the park for “maintenance.”

But the junta, it seems, was not satisfied with this measure. Last year, on December 8, Thanakorn Siripaiboon was arrested for “liking” and “sharing” an infographic explaining the military’s involvement in the project. Thanakorn was charged with sedition and violating the Computer Crimes Act. The junta warned that other Facebook users who promoted the ‘”anti-government” infographic will be arrested too.

For several days, Thanakorn’s whereabouts were unknown. While his friends were searching for him, a young activist recuperating in a hospital was arrested by the police for committing the same crime. The activist was part of a group which tried to visit the Rajabhakti Park but was blocked by state forces.

It is clear to all that the aim of the junta is to silence the critics of corruption that still persists under its watch. But it has tried to muddle the issue by slapping the activists with a lese majeste case.

On December 14, proceedings in the military court revealed that Thanakorn was also accused of a lese majeste violation. How did Thanakorn insult the monarchy? According to the prosecutor, Thanakorn “shared” a doctored photo of the king on Facebook as well as one that mocked Thong Daeng, one of the pet dogs of the king. Curiously, details of the “illegal” Facebook content were not provided.

If found guilty, Thanakorn can receive a prison sentence of up to 27 years.

This incident once again highlights the need to reform Thailand’s outdated lese majeste law. The law is meant to protect the monarchy but it has been used to justify or hide government repression and other forms of abuses.

Even The Nation, a Thai, English language newspaper, published an editorial describing the lese majeste law as “indefensible.”

“Rather than protecting the institute of the monarchy as intended, the law has been wielded by each successive government in the past decade as a blunt instrument for silencing political opponents,” the editorial declared.

It added that the right to dissent should not be criminalized. “Citizens expressing an opinion, no matter how politically charged, should not be jailed for three years.”

The recent filing of lese majeste cases against government critics and the threat of more cases being filed in the next few days or weeks reflect the deteriorating conditions of democracy in Thailand. While this issue is being deliberated, the former army chief and current prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wanted citizens to write their salaries and jobs on their national ID cards; a proposal which was instantly rejected by many. Fortunately, the government backtracked. But it showed how Thailand’s leaders could easily tinker with the people’s constitutional rights.

Instead of prosecuting corrupt officials implicated in the Rajabhakti Park scandal, the junta chose to protect its ranks while putting a gag on critics and ordinary citizens who merely wish to voice their opinion.

Meanwhile, in related news, a senior police official is seeking asylum in Australia after investigating the role of high ranking officers in the human trafficking operation in Thailand. Learning from the sad story of Thanakorn, perhaps only few will ‘like’ or ‘share’ this news item in Thailand because it can be interpreted as a seditious act.

Suffice to say, this is a disappointing way to end the year in Thailand.

Written for Bulatlat

Our country is on fire yet we continue to rank our islands based on what tourists want.

Should we rejoice when travel magazines list some of our islands as among the must-see places in the world? Yes, of course. But it doesn’t mean we should adopt their standards to measure the relevance of our islands. It also doesn’t justify the brutal transformation of our islands so that we can entice more tourists to spend their dollars here. Imagine if all the 7,107 islands of the Philippines undergo a makeover for tourism branding. Sounds fun for foreigners and investors but a scary scenario for residents and the biodiversity of our islands. Just think of the extreme commercialization of Boracay and its disastrous long-term impact.

Compared to the extractive industries, promoting tourism is a more sustainable development model. Indeed, eco-tourism is thriving and it appears to empower several communities. Should we reject this too? No, our appeal is not to ignore the potential of tourism. Instead, what we advocate is the linking of tourism and progressive politics. Sadly, tourism is hostaged today by narrow elite interest. Tourism is invoked to force the entry of mega projects (read: development aggression), the approval of anomalous pork programs, and the conversion of farm lands which benefit landlords and politicians. The lucky residents are hired or employed in these tourist facilities but the unlucky ones are displaced from their lands.

But if tourism is disruptive, mining is clearly several times more destructive. Isn’t tourism the better option? This is a false choice. Why condemn our people to choose between two economic activities imposed by bureaucrats and corporations? The situation remains the same even if tourism is suddenly repackaged as community-driven or the mining permit involves only small-scale operation. Who decides that the survival of a town depends on choosing between tourism and mining? Let the people have the final say and let them explore other options. In other words, this is an issue of politics or how citizens acquire and challenge power to reshape their present and future.

Is tourism really the best alternative for low-income islanders or is this more profitable for the business sector? Treating tourism as if it’s the only way out of poverty reflects the dominance of the thinking that converting an agricultural or coastal village into a retirement haven or backpackers’ sanctuary can quickly uplift the lives of many. Again, this is the perspective of the elite class reinterpreted as an economic necessity. Why should we readily accept the business proposition that the role of our islands is merely to produce dollar tax revenues? As islanders, surely we have equally important things to do such as exposing the abuses of landlords, resisting feudal practices, organizing farm workers, and building grassroots formations. Tourism as defined by those in power makes us forget that we have political tasks to perform.

This is evident in our distorted knowledge of our islands. We think it’s only natural that islands should conform to the needs of the tourism sector. An island becomes a prime destination if it’s tourist-friendly. When Boracay, Coron, and Malapascua are mentioned, we quickly remember their exotic locations that made them world famous; but we overlook the situation of the indigenous Ati of Boracay, the rapid degradation of Palawan’s last frontier, and the destruction left behind by Haiyan in north Cebu. When we allow tourism to trump everything, we prioritize the normalization of business over the urgent needs of ordinary residents. We ignore the everyday struggles of islanders since we believe it is tourism, not politics, that will make ours islands prosper.

We forget also that corporate tourism erodes the organic links of our islands. There is an unnecessary competition between island resorts. Panglao is presented as the new Boracay while Siargao is known as the preferred getaway of adventurers. Again, this is expected since the main goal is to attract tourists. There is no motivation to connect the islands and restore forgotten ties because profit-making is the ultimate aim of island overlords. A nearby island is seen not as a refuge during crisis moments but as a competitor. Centuries of inter-island linkages are rendered irrelevant in the tourism economy.

Only politics can unite islands and islanders. Politicians have been doing this for various reasons but most of the time to advance a conservative agenda. Think of Gloria Arroyo’s inter-island highway (RoRo), the creation of a Negros region, or the patriotic appeal to assert our sovereignty in the Spratlys. But then there’s progressive politics and its reminder to complete the unfinished revolution. Poverty stalks the islands but resistance can spark unity among the people. Island-wide struggles can be won through solidarity from nearby islands. We can cross waters and fight alongside our fellow islanders. We can expose how mining ravaged the beauty of Rapu-Rapu and Manicani, we can stop the proposed mega dams in Panay, and we can join the masses of Samar and Leyte as they rebuild their lives.

Therefore, another way to promote our islands is to highlight the heroic struggles of our people. This is already being done in Mactan and Corregidor but we can also feature the raging battles against foreign plunder, bureaucratic corruption, and feudal oppression across the islands. Are we not the only archipelagic country in the world where a Maoist guerrilla warfare is being waged in the past four decades?

We have more than 7,000 islands and I refuse to accept the popular assertion that these majestic lands exist only to give tourists the chance to experience paradise on Earth. Our people live on these islands and many of them have endured decades if not centuries of marginalization. Our priority is to end the suffering of the masa by enjoining them in the national struggle for true liberation and social transformation. No island can truly prosper as long as 7,000 other islands are mired in abject poverty. Tourism can bring instant cash to select investors and temporary livelihood to a few residents; but if we want substantial change, we should subsume tourism to the broader objectives of progressive politics and nationalist economics.

In the 20th century, Manila politicians encouraged Luzonians and Christians to populate Muslim Mindanao. A similar campaign of island migration can be implemented again but this time the message is entirely different. We can repeat what the First Quarter Stormers did in the 1970s: return to the countryside to jumpstart the revolution. Return to the islands to intensify the struggle for national democracy. The concept of island mentality can be redefined by imbuing it with a radical content. An islander who advances the politics of change through island-wide struggles, inter-island solidarity, and the national mass movement.

Islanders of the Philippines unite, we have nothing to lose but an archipelago in chains.

Written for The Diplomat

Three new leaders have risen to power in Southeast Asia since 2014: Thailand’s Prayut Chan-o-cha, Indonesia’s Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

In some ways, the three could not be more different. Prayut was the army chief who led a coup and established a new government in Thailand. Jokowi was an ordinary entrepreneur who became mayor of Solo, governor of Jakarta, and president of Indonesia despite having no ties with either the military or Suharto. Suu Kyi is a democracy icon who led her party to victory in the 2015 election.

The three of them emerged victorious by campaigning for genuine reform in their respective countries. Suu Kyi fought long and hard in order to defeat the military-backed party in Myanmar; Jokowi mobilized a young constituency to displace the old order in Indonesia; and Prayut invoked the violent conflict between Thailand’s major political parties to justify the imposition of martial law in the country.

Jokowi’s quick ascension to the presidency boosted Indonesian democracy, while Suu Kyi’s electoral victory assured Myanmar’s transition to modern democracy would continue. Meanwhile, though Prayut’s usurpation of civilian power was condemned by many, some also acknowledged that his new government successfully ended the vicious street clashes in Bangkok and other urban centers in Thailand.

Jokowi and Suu Kyi captured the aspirations of their people to strengthen representative democracy, while Prayut symbolized the lingering influence of authoritarianism in the region. If asked to choose, pro-democracy forces would certainly prefer to replicate the strategies of Jokowi and Suu Kyi in order to end one-party dominance in Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia. Indeed, opposition parties in the region briefly appeared to be headed toward clinching political victory in 2014 and 2015 but the rebellion in the ballots didn’t happen as expected. Perhaps it will take more time before a strong democracy movement can emerge and gain power in these countries.

In the meantime, the Prayut way of politics continues to hold sway in Thailand. Here is a self-proclaimed ‘non-politician’ politician who held on to power by ignoring the democratic process. He presents himself as a reformer who rejects the detested methods of bureaucratic politics. He offers quick (albeit extra-legal) solutions to fix what is wrong in society. Being mocked by the Western media for his politically-incorrect antics has only provoked him to make more offensive remarks in public.

Jokowi’s style is also unusual, though not nearly as crude. Suu Kyi is also non-traditional but not controversial. It is no surprise that unlike Jokowi and Suu Kyi, Prayut is widely condemned outside Thailand.

However, some of Prayut’s methods and manners are surprisingly gaining traction in the region. In the Philippines, a leading presidential candidate is called “Dirty Harry” because of his threat to wipe out criminals by executing them. Like Prayut, he is described as a non-politician who is ready to overhaul society even if his means are questionable or even unconstitutional. In Malaysia, the beleaguered ruling party has enforced draconian measures to silence critics and the opposition. In Cambodia, opposition leaders are harassed by no less than the prime minister.

It is not like Prayut has suddenly become the model of effective leadership. Rather, his methods are becoming less aberrant as more leaders in the region, both elected and unelected, downplay their public adherence to ethics, dialogue, democratic principles, and rule of law. This is a dangerous trend because it misleads people to think that human rights can be abused and democratic traditions can be ignored to allow the leader or the state to build a better nation more effectively. While many in the region wanted their leaders to be like Jokowi and Suu Kyi, the specter of Prayut is too strong to ignore.

Prayut took control when traditional politicians in Thailand failed miserably to uphold civility. The lesson here is that non-politicians like Prayut will always find the mandate to lead when there is a visible breakdown of political order and a subsequent yearning for substantial social change. Sometimes, the situation will produce a Jokowi or a Suu Kyi heroic icon. But there’s always the unfortunate chance that a Prayut figure will rise to grab power.

Jokowi, Suu Kyi, and Prayut are three Southeast Asian leaders that have captured our attention since 2014. Of the three, I fear it is Prayut who will have a greater (though quieter) influence in the region. Though Prayut himself may eventually be discredited, his methods will remain relevant, especially in a region desperately seeking stability.

The challenge is to aggressively promote democratic practices and support progressive movements so that we can prevent the emergence of little and big despots. When there’s real or imagined disintegration of societies, we need to prove that there’s an alternative to governments enforcing blind conformity and discipline. The alternative is what leaders like Prayut aim to subvert: democracy.

Published by Manila Today

Something significant took place on July 30. Metro Manilans crowded the streets as part of a coordinated earthquake drill. Thousands marched toward barangay and city evacuation centers. Various institutions trained their constituents to follow some procedures as directed by the state. Everybody moved to safety. This was a disaster preparation activity, but it also fulfilled several crucial political objectives.

The regional drill in the country’s premier urban hub was conducted in anticipation of the “Big One”, the apocalyptic 7.2-magnitude shaking of the ground that could wipe out entire communities around the dreaded 100-kilometer West Valley Fault. Everywhere else in the world, the anxious anticipation of a “Big One” stems from geological possibilities of an earthquake of magnitude 7 and higher. And since our government agencies came out with the study that it can happen in this lifetime, the Big One of Metro Manila has been built up to secure obedience to government as much as (or even more than) to encourage disaster preparation.

The drill clinched what barangay and school seminars have aimed to achieve in recent years: instill popular awareness about the real dangers of a strong earthquake. Hopefully, it convinced many that the earthquake threat and the devastation it can cause are not based on Hollywood film effects but scientific evidence.

Nobody will admit it but the drill was an act of politics.
Furthermore, its practical value in the future is dependent on politics. Will it work out during crunch time? Politics will be the deciding factor. What is essential is not just leadership in the bureaucracy but political will to mobilize an entire society during crisis moments. What is needed is a political force capable of uniting the community. If the bureaucratic state fails to act quickly, this is an opportunity for other political interests to enhance their influence and legitimacy in the grassroots.

The drill is an outstanding concrete example of the hazards of individualism on one hand and the necessity of regular state intervention on the other. It rejects the dominant thinking of how individuals can afford to be selfish while promoting the greater good. During the drill, participants are told to cooperate, share resources, and act decisively as part of their survival techniques. The participants are reminded that they belong to a community or institution which is contrary to the prevailing mentality that individuals are responsible for their own lives if they want to survive in this world. Survival of the fittest? It’s a taboo attitude in group dynamics. In real life, our survival depends on the existence and strength of active collectives.

Meanwhile, the drill is an affirmation of the integral role of the state in boosting the capacities of high-risk communities. Again, this contravenes the neoliberal prescription against state involvement in activities that can be done by more efficient actors (read: private sector) in society. The drill teaches the public that there are vital aspects of life that cannot be left in the hands of the supposedly free market. The state, not profit-seeking corporations, should supervise disaster preparation, evacuation, and relief distribution. Economists view it as state intervention; but for us, we simply consider it as the primary obligation of the state in power.

If the drill is a political act, does it promote the people’s interest? As an initiative of the ruling state, it’s designed to perpetuate and not restructure the present order. Its political objectives are narrow. It succeeded in advancing the legitimacy of the state to command the population with minimal or no dissent. If disaster drills are effective in controlling the movement of crowds in a large territory like Metro Manila, what can stop the state from using the same methods during political upheavals in the future?

Organizing the drill is convenient for the state in search of credibility. Here is an ambitious yet necessary project that addresses the public clamor for rapid state response during disasters. Finally, the state is doing something right. And look, everybody is participating in the drill.

But after this, another political intervention is required to emphasize the continuing vulnerability of Metro Manila residents. It’s not the absence of disaster drills that put our habitats and lives in danger in our communities. Poverty, inequality, injustice, bad governance – these are the structural deficiencies we need to fix so that we can survive the great earthquake. Is there a drill to address these daily threats?

The government drill should be supported by everyone; but at the same time, we must make some progressive political assertion. Turn the drill into an event that can truly empower our communities. Through people power tactics, question the persistence of poverty, hunger, and landlessness in the country. Identify anomalous public infrastructures. Make the state accountable for the visible signs of corruption in public areas. As the people march toward safety, discuss the lack of adequate welfare services that have weakened the capabilities of the marginalized. For workers in private institutions, there should be an information campaign about labor rights.

After their participation in the recent drill, many felt empowered because they became more knowledgeable about what to do during earthquakes. We should sustain their political education by launching a more comprehensive program on disaster preparation. One of the objectives is to make people realize that many are dying already not because of natural disasters but the low quality of living in Metro Manila and the uneven allocation of resources across the country. And if more are in danger of dying during typhoons or earthquakes, it is mainly caused by maldevelopment, corrupt governance, and historic inequities.

Situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, it’s common knowledge that the Philippines is disaster-prone. It’s already the 21st century but why do many communities still lack the facilities to assist residents during disasters? Why are Filipinos migrating and settling in the overcrowded districts of Metro Manila? Why do unsafe workplaces exist? Why are incomes low? Why are basic services inadequate? Why can’t we solve the perennial flooding?

The Metro Manila earthquake drill addressed only one aspect of disaster preparation. We should compel the state to focus also on how to substantially uplift the living conditions of Metro Manila residents.

It is clear that we cannot conduct this other drill without altering the socio-economic and geo-political conditions in the country. The state in power will obviously reject these political demands. Thus, there is also the need for a new political force that will challenge the reign of the disastrous state.

The metro drill actually gave us a glimpse of how the people can attempt to reclaim political power from the rich and powerful. The people crowding together, the masses marching in the streets, workers disrupted from their routines and occupying establishments, and the transmitting of information signals via church bells, TV and phones. Imagine if the political force orchestrating this drill is a revolutionary party.

What if the Big One we are told to be afraid of is not the earthquake but the coming political revolution? What if the drill is a preview of how the state will react if the political conflagration in the countryside will reach the cities in the future? What if another political force, backed by the mass movement, is able to mount a counterdrill in the metro?

If the drill sounded familiar and the mechanics are easy to understand, it is because we are reminded of previous mobilizations that gathered the masses in Metro Manila.
The drill creates a crowd that turns into a collective when it becomes conscious of its politics.

But whether the revolution will arrive or not, the metro drill should be reconceptualized as a political platform to challenge the oppressive present, an opportunity to demand a pro-poor disaster preparation program, and the unveiling of the agenda for change as we continue the struggle for the establishment of a progressive and resilient society.