Mong Palatino

activist, two-term member of philippine congress, southeast asian blogger

About

@mongster is an activist and former legislator who represented Kabataan (Youth) Partylist in the 14th and 15th Congress of the Philippines

Written for The Diplomat

Cambodia presented its human rights report before the United Nations Office in Geneva amid growing allegations that abuses are being systematically committed by state forces. The UN committee acknowledged that Cambodia has introduced some reforms in recent years, in particular land reform and registration of indigenous communal lands. But it also expressed dissatisfaction with the answers given by the Cambodian representatives, especially over the issue of impunity and extrajudicial killings.

The Cambodian government was represented by Ney Samol, Permanent Representative of Cambodia to the UN Office at Geneva, and Mak Sambath, president of the National Human Rights Committee of Cambodia.

The committee tackled several issues that seek to probe the role of the Cambodian government in addressing the rising number of human rights violations across the country in the past two decades.

One panel member asked why the police seemed hesitant to aggressively pursue investigations involving trafficking cases. Related to women’s issues, another panel expert expressed concern about the plight of women workers in the garment sector. The panel also cited a report published by Cambodia’s Minister of Women’s Affairs in 2012 and 2013 which mentioned that 35 percent of men had used some form of physical violence against women. It confirmed news reports of increasing incidences of domestic violence, rape, and acid attacks.

Cambodia was praised for abolishing death penalty but an expert observed that “there was still a gap between law and practice with regard to the right to life.” Proof of this is the unsolved murder cases of 12 journalists.

Cambodia was pressed to improve its policies concerning civil and political rights. The committee enumerated several laws and programs that limit free speech and assembly on the grounds of defamation, disinformation and incitement. Journalists were in fact threatened with detention and prosecution for purportedly spreading disinformation. Two other draft laws, cybercrime and civil society regulation, could also undermine citizen rights. An expert urged Cambodia to involve the public in finalizing these measures.

The committee also demanded more information about Cambodia’s prison system. Finally, it encouraged the government to respect the integrity and independence of the judiciary.

Cambodia firmly denied that activists are persecuted in the country. According to the government side, everyone in Cambodia is free to conduct political work as exemplified by the more than 1,000 NGOs that focus on human rights. Overall, there are more than 4,000 NGOs allowed to operate in the country, and these groups are not forbidden to criticize government policies.

The government also informed the committee that prison visits are regularly made to prevent torture. It claimed that it has been “working tirelessly” to solve the cases of disappeared and murdered journalists. It insisted that there’s no impunity in Cambodia.

It reminded the committee that Cambodia has been cooperating with international bodies to monitor the country’s compliance with human rights agreements. So far, Cambodia has already welcomed five special rapporteurs.

At one point of the proceedings, the Cambodian panel was combative. Asked about the gender imbalance in the government delegation, the Cambodian representative retorted that all five special rapporteurs to Cambodia had also been male, just like all secretary-generals of the UN.

The representative went on to defend the country’s record in upholding women’s rights by mentioning that some 20 percent of women were in leading positions in Cambodia’s public institutions.

Finally, the Cambodian government stressed that protests or public gatherings that threaten “security and stability” are temporarily prohibited.

Cambodia’s report to the UN was criticized by Licadho, a local human rights group. It noted that the report “lacks any connection to the present situation on the ground and reflects the authorities’ unwillingness to seriously acknowledge and address serious and systematic human rights violations.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, an international watchdog, submitted several recommendations to the UN pertaining to the human rights situation in Cambodia. Some of these included the establishment of an independent commission to investigate irregularities in the 2013 elections, the opening of the media sector to independent and opposition voices, and a lifting of all arbitrary bans on freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Thailand’s New Law Could Be Worse than Martial Law

Written for The Diplomat

The decision of the Thailand government to lift martial law on April 1 has failed to appease critics after General Prayuth Chan-ocha signed a new law that imposed harsher security measures across the country.

Martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 to restore order in the nation’s capital, which was besieged at the time by street clashes between pro-government and opposition forces. Two days later, a coup was launched by Prayuth, who established a government called the National Council of Peace and Order. The NCPO drafted an interim Constitution that was used to appoint government bodies including the legislature. Prayuth’s appointees subsequently named him as the country’s prime minister. But despite the existence of civilian agencies, martial law was retained.

The government was probably hoping to deflect international criticism when it revoked martial law this week. Yet it is hoping to restore confidence by replacing martial law with Order Number 3/2558 (3/2015), which invoked article 44 of the interim constitution to justify the enactment of extraordinary security-related measures. For some critics, the new order is akin to the draconian provisions of Thailand’s 1959 charter, which gave the military leader vast powers to persecute and prosecute the opposition.

The new order provides the appointment of “peace and order maintenance officers” from the ranks of the military who are given broad powers to defend the security of the state. These army personnel can search homes, summon and arrest troublemakers, confiscate property, and detain suspected individuals in special premises for up to seven days even without judicial authority.

Article 5 of the order could further undermine free speech in the country. The provision reads: “Peacekeeping Officers are empowered to issue orders prohibiting the propagation of any item of news or the sale or distribution of any book or publication or material likely to cause public alarm or which contains false information likely to cause public misunderstanding to the detriment of national security or public order.” (Unofficial translation by iLaw, the Freedom of Expression Documentation Center)

Thailand media groups described the article as a “greater threat to press freedom and freedom of expression than the lifted Martial Law.”

“Civilians are also at risk, as people who communicates and discusses topics through online social media that contain information viewed by the authorities as threat to national security, cause of public alarm, spreading of false information or public misunderstanding will be punished on the same condition,” the media groups warned in a joint statement signed by the Thai Journalists Association, National Press Council of Thailand, Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association, and News Broadcasting Council of Thailand.

They urged the NCPO to clarify the intent of the article and provide a more specific definition of “national security threat” and “dissemination of false information.”

Freedom of assembly is still curtailed, as stated in article 12 of the order which bans “political gatherings of five or more persons.” Referring to this provision, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance asked: “If the aim of the order is to lift martial law, why are such activities still banned and what are the criteria for giving permissions to such gatherings?”

Meanwhile, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reminded the public that the order didn’t remove martial law in the southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and the four districts in Songkhla. A Muslim separatist movement is currently active in the southern region.

Anusorn Iamsa-ard, spokesperson for the former ruling Pheu Thai Party, likened the lifting of martial law and the enactment of the new order as “running away from a tiger into a crocodile.” Sathit Pitutecha, deputy chairman of the Democrat Party, warned NCPO that the order “will destroy the confidence of both domestic and foreign communities, especially the international communities, who will only see Thailand as more of a dictatorship.”

Even the National Human Rights Commission, which rarely criticizes the NCPO, issued a statement about the detrimental impact of the measure. “The PM has to be cautious about falling into the trap of having so much authority, which could lead to criticism later on. During a time that the country is trying to promote national reform and solve inequality issues, I doubt that it’s suitable to use Article 44 or martial law,” said NHRC Commissioner Niran Pitakwatchara.

Instead of assuring the international community about its commitment to democratic transition, Thailand further damaged its reputation by choosing to affirm its restrictive policies.

“Normally I would warmly welcome the lifting of martial law, but I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited powers on the current Prime Minister without any judicial oversight at all,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Sinulat para sa Manila Today

Dahil nagtitiwala siya sa masa; dahil kinakalinga siya ng masa

Kaibigan ng mga inaapi, kaaway ng mga ilustradong kontrabida sa lipunan. Hindi umaastang bayani, sa halip ay nakasandig sa lakas ng mamamayang pumipiglas. Mayroon siyang barkada na ang tawag niya ay kolektib, mayroon siyang ugnay mula siyudad hanggang probinsiya na tinukoy niyang mass base, at ang motto niya sa buhay ay sundin ang linyang masa. Sabi niya, hindi habag (at hashtag) ang kailangan ng mahirap kundi ang pagsulong ng kanilang pakikibaka. Tinanong siya minsan ng crush mo, pwede ba akong lumahok sa pakikibakang ito? At ang kanyang sagot, palayain mo muna ang puso kong binihag mo.

Dahil siya ay palaban; dahil siya ay lumalaban

Hindi naman siya basag-ulo at bodybuilder pero lagi siyang nang-aaway. Wala siyang pasensiya sa mga kurakot, sa mga pulitikong abusado sa kapangyarihan, sa mga nangangamkam ng lupa, sa mga nanghahamak sa karapatan ng manggagawa, sa mga sunud-sunuran sa dikta ng dayuhan. Tila hindi sapat para sa kanya ang magpahayag ng galit; sa tuwina ay may kasunod itong pagkilos, pag-oorganisa, pagbaklas. May nagliliyab na poot sa kanyang dibdib. At ang hangad niya ay pasiklabin ang apoy na ito at paramihin ang mga pusong umaalab hanggang magluwal ng bagong liwanag sa lipunan.

Dahil prinsipyo ang kanyang ginto

Halos walang bisyo at hindi sabit sa mga uso dahil kadalasan kulang o walang pambili ng luho. Dahil wala naman siyang romantikong pagtingin sa buhay mahirap; sadyang natutunan na lamang niyang huwag sambahin ang mga materyal na bagay. Kung gayon, ano ang kanyang pinagmamalaking yaman? Dunong-paaralan, diploma? Kahit trapong pulpol mayroon niyan. Pero ang prinsipyong di-nabibili, yan ang kanyang sinisikap isabuhay at higit na pinagyayaman. Natatangi dahil may paninindigang marupok at mapagkunwari. Pero ang kanyang pamantayan ay maging tunay na lingkod bayan at rebolusyonaryo. Lagi niyang sambit, simpleng pamumuhay at puspusang pakikibaka. Paano yan, romantiko na’y mandirigma pa.

Dahil marunong siyang umako ng kanyang kahinaan at pagkakamali

Kaugnay ng sinundang talata, maaaring isiping nagpapanggap na perpektong karakter ang aktibista. Subalit hindi. Tao rin na may kapintasan. At maraming masusumbat sa kanya: sa kanyang pakikitungo sa kapwa, sa kanyang aktitud sa mga praktikal na usapin, sa kanyang tila malagim na tanaw sa buhay. Pero may silbi ang husga dahil pinagmuni-munian niya ito at umakma sa mga punang natanggap. Ang tawag niya dun ay pagpapanibagong-hubog. Minsan may dinaluhan siyang group therapy na kung saan ang mga sumali ay nagpuna sa aktitud ng iba habang nagpuna rin sila sa kanilang sarili. At pagkatapos nito’y tila higit na tumibay ang motibasyong makibaka, lumaban, at umibig.

Dahil binabaka niya ang pyudal na kultura at pagsasamantala

Pwede bang maging “maginoo pero medyo bastos”? Magalang pero lihim na arogante sa relasyon? Bukas ang isip sa mga bagong ideya pero hindi sa kasarian? Inaangat sa pedestal ang kababaihan subalit ayaw silang pakawalan sa kulungan ng kusina’t kama? Ang palusot ng marami ay pamana diumano ng depektibong kultura; hindi pa daw tayo handa sa makabagong sensibilidad. Subalit umaalma ang aktibistang tutol sa diskriminasyon. Kung pyudal ang kaisipan, bakit hindi ito baguhin? Kung ang kultura ay mapang-api’t dekadente, bakit hindi ugatin ang sanhi nito at pangibabawan? 2015 na, kahit ang burgis na pananaw sa pakikipagrelasyon ay dapat ng ibasura.

Dahil habang pinaglilingkuran niya ang sambayanan, inaalay niya ang natitirang lahat-lahat sa kanyang iniirog

Hindi kaya siya napapahandsgod magmahal? Mahal niya ang manggagawa, ang magsasaka, ang masang lumalaban, at iba pang mga taong hindi niya kakilala subalit kakapit-bisig niya sa parlyamento ng kalye. Namamangha ka’t di makapinawala na pagkatapos magpamalas ng pag-ibig sa bayan, siya ay nakapaglalaan pa ng pambihirang pag-ibig sa isang indibidwal, sa kanyang sinisinta. May puwang sa kanyang puso na hindi pwedeng angkinin ninuman, kahit ni Inang Bayan. Ang puso ng tibak ay alay sa bayan subalit ang tibok nito ay para lamang sa kanyang pinakaiisang minamahal.

Dahil pangmatagalan ang kanyang perspektiba kaya’t handa siyang maghintay hanggang magtagumpay

Mahaba raw ang pakikibaka, matagalan daw ang digmang bayan, at siya ay buong loob na magpapakatatag. Handa raw niya ialay ang lahat-lahat sa kilusang masa habang bitbit ang pangako ng pag-ibig. Kung hindi pa ukol ngayon, bakit manlulumo samantalang hindi pa nasusulat ang kuwento ng hinaharap. At bakit hihintayin ang wakas samantalang pwedeng umusbong ang pagmamahalan sa panahon ng digma. Maraming sangandaan sa mahabang byahe, at ang daan ay tigib ng panganib, subalit sa kahuli-hulihan ang kanyang katapatan sa ideya ng rebolusyon at pag-ibig ang huhubog ng kanyang bukas.

Dahil dalisay at dakila ang kanyang pag-ibig

Paalala ni Bonifacio: “Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa?” Wagas dahil bakit mo mamahalin ang isang daang milyong nilalang na hindi mo pa naman nakikita. Dagdag pa’y walang katiyakan na makakatanggap ka ng gantimpalang mangingibig. Subalit patuloy ang pag-alay ng buhay para sa bayan. Mga bayani at karaniwang tao – lahat sila, lahat tayo nagmamahal kahit pilit dinudungisan ng mga mapang-api ang pagsangkot sa pakikibaka ng masa. Ang gusto ng ilan, pag-ibig na mababaw, pakitang-tao na gumagampan diumano ng tungkulin para sa bayan. Subalit para sa aktibistang nagmamahal, hindi uubra ang mga ganitong simbolismo at posturang walang silbi. Dapat tapat sa panata. Dapat ramdam ng mamamayang bumubuo sa bayan. Dapat pag-ibig na marubdob, mabagsik subalit matamis.

Dahil ang pag-ibig niya ay mapagpalaya

Tulad sa telenobela, masayang pagtatapos ang pangarap niya. Pero ligaya na hindi pangdalawang tao lamang. Pag-ibig na mapagbigay, nagsasariling mundo subalit bumabago ng mundo. Aanhin ang saya ng dalawang puso kung mayroong dalawang bilyon na lugmok sa pagdurusang pwede namang maiwasan o tapusin. Kaya ang pag-ibig niya ay para sa isa at para rin sa lahat. Pag-ibig na bumibihag at nagpapalaya. Sa isang lipunang marahas, pag-ibig at pakikibaka ang tanging pag-asa na magpapalaya sa lahat.

Written for The Diplomat

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has made two contrasting pledges with regard to the Sedition Act of 1948. First, during the election period in 2012, he vowed to repeal the archaic law. Then, two years later, he announced that the law would be strengthened to preserve domestic harmony. Last Friday, Najib’s allies in parliament upheld the latter when they passed a bill that made several amendments to the Sedition Act.

Some government critics will no doubt be relieved that the amendments included the removal of provisions that make it seditious to criticize the government and the judiciary. Overall, though, the new law represents a greater threat to human rights and free speech. The maximum jail term for general sedition cases has been increased from three to seven years. A new provision allows for a penalty of up to 20 years for seditious activities that result in physical harm or destruction of property.

The government argues that the new law is necessary to prevent malicious individuals from using the Internet to cause divisions in society. In particular, the law is said to be the government’s response to the demand of certain groups in Sabah and Sarawak to secede from the Malaysian Federation.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi admitted this in a statement given to media. “Last time, there was no Internet and non-verbal communication over social media. Those days, we didn’t have groups of people inciting people (in Sabah and Sarawak) to get out of Malaysia.”

But the government’s determination to maintain unity was affirmed at the expense of establishing a environment conducive to a free media.

One of the amendments empowers the Sessions Court to issue a prohibition order on a seditious publication that would “likely lead to bodily injury or damage to property” or that “appears to be promoting feeling of ill will, hostility or hatred” between different races or classes on the grounds of religion.”

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IJM) warned in a statement that the ambiguity of the terms “likely” and “appears” could be open to abuse and misinterpretation. It also finds the prohibition order to be “an unfairly harsh punishment,” especially since it has no expiry date.

Another amendment allows the court to issue an order to remove seditious content from publications issued by electronic means, such as online publications. Those who are found to be “propagating” seditious messages will be prohibited from accessing any electronic device.

The IJM said this particular provision will have a negative impact on online journalism: “The inability to access tools of the trade will mean online journalists’ careers are at risk and threatens the existence of legitimate news portals. The prohibition on ‘propagating’ seditious speech or their publication also means that online news portals cannot share allegedly seditious remarks on social media and RSS feeds will cease to exist, further silencing discussion on policies and issues which are of national interest.”

For Janarthani Arumugam, president of EMPOWER, a media advocacy group, the term “propagation” is too broad, and could be invoked to silence online users: “One assumes that a retweet and a Facebook share would be considered as propagation. Would these broad and vague terms also make it an offence for journalists, activists, and ordinary people to quote allegedly “seditious words” when commenting on or criticizing them in any publication?”

Even the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is concerned about these provisions: “These proposals are particularly worrying given that the Sedition Act has been applied in many instances to curb the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression in Malaysia.”

He was probably referring to the scores of critics, journalists, academics, activists, and opposition politicians who had been arrested in recent months for alleged sedition.

The new Sedition Act makes it possible for citizens to freely criticize government officials but it doesn’t mean it has ceased to be a tool for repression. For former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, laws like the Sedition Act “are made not to maintain harmony, but to maintain the government in power.”

Malaysian Opposition Rallies for Anwar

Written for The Diplomat

Ten thousand Malaysians joined the #KitaLawan (We Fight) rally last Saturday to press for the release of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. It was Malaysia’s first major rally of the year, and was organized in response to the high court decision affirming the sodomy conviction of Anwar.

Anwar is serving a five-year sentence after he was found guilty of the sodomy charge filed by a former aide. But Anwar said the case was politically motivated and he accused the judges of “bowing to the powers” in “murdering the judiciary.”

The number of people who attended the rally was impressive, since the police had earlier warned organizers that they might be arrested for sedition.

“If they are gathering to intimidate the government, and others, this is wrong,” said police Deputy Inspector-General Noor Rashid Ibrahim.

But this didn’t deter ordinary Malaysians from showing up in the streets and gathering in front of the Kuala Lumpur City Center. To their credit, the police also exercised restraint during the actual event and allowed the program to end peacefully.

“We are proud to hold the record of (our rallies) causing no damage to public property, not having ever caused unrest and we have gathered with noble intentions, and shown courage to resist continued oppression,” said Batu MP Tian Chua as reported by alternative news magazine Malaysiakini.

The rally also overcame the reported reluctance of some members of the opposition to give full support to the event. Some even instructed opposition politicians to focus on constituency work instead of joining the march.

But Malaysian NGOs, activists, and concerned citizens who marched in the streets showed that the #KitaLawan rally was more than just a pro-Anwar mobilization; instead, it also became a political event that united various groups against the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Opposition coalition president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was inspired by the crowd that joined on March 7.

“At first we were saddened, but now our spirits have been renewed and we will continue the struggle. Anwar’s imprisonment has given us more push to continue our struggle,” she said.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, a second-term MP and the opposition leader’s eldest daughter, opined in an interview with Global Voices that #KitaLawan represented the aspiration of Malaysians to restore democratic rule in the country. “Any regime that imprisons it’s opposition leader does not practice democracy. The rally is a manifestation of the undercurrent of support for reforms and change in this country. In particular the change of the ruling elite.”

#KitaLawan rallies were also held by Malaysian migrants and students in other countries. In London, one of the speakers in the solidarity action was former British minister of state for trade Richard Needham.

But not everybody was happy with the Saturday rally. Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang urged the police to arrest the organizers of the “illegal assembly” and for causing traffic jams and livelihood losses in the city. “They have no right to disrupt the lives of other Malaysians. If they wish to demonstrate, then do it peacefully in a stadium,” he said.

Last Saturday’s #KitaLawan rally was smaller compared with the hundreds of thousands that joined the Bersih and Reformasi democracy actions in the past. But the movement is still starting and it has the potential to gather and mobilize a broader segment of the population, especially those who are already disappointed with the leadership of the ruling coalition. This is a promising year for Malaysia’s democratic forces.

Written for Bulatlat

Start by insinuating that it’s evil to be associated with the Left, for example ‘Beware of Left-leaning groups’. There’s no need to elaborate; simply insert the term ‘Left’ in a sentence to warn innocent minds about the threat posed by Leftist individuals, groups, institutions, and ideologies. To make it more convincing, tag the Left with loaded descriptions such as godless, anti-Filipino, anti-democracy, pro-China, and terrorists. Even the seemingly objective word ‘militant’ suggests aggressiveness that furthers the stereotype of the Left as passionate but irrational creatures.

After the initial demonization technique, accuse the Left of trying to sow violence and chaos. Again, there’s no need to back up the charge with evidence. What is effective is to isolate the Left by depicting it as a monstrosity in mainstream society. Spread fear in the hearts of the people about the trouble that the Left will allegedly bring if it is allowed to operate in the community.

If a Leftist has a sensible proposal, reject it and persuade or even force others to do the same. Why? Because the Left always has a hidden agenda; it is always concocting a conspiracy that will create mayhem in society. If other political forces and traditional politicians are quiet about their political aims, it is called political strategy. But the Left – it cannot be allowed to practice the fine art and science of politics because its goal is disequilibrium, its methods are dictatorial, and its advocates are uncouth. The new order imagined by the Left will be administered by perverted ideologues who have no sense of humor. Watch out, the Left will hijack and subvert our democratic way of life.

In the academe, describe the Left as dogmatists. Ask why it is stubbornly clinging to a single creed and contrast this to your so-called postmodern approach of mixing theories. Proceed by calling them enemies of pluralism and democratic discourse. Label them Stalinists who are intolerant of opposing views. Or present yourself as a scholar who respects multiple perspectives (except the viewpoint of the Left, of course). Or proclaim that all shades of democracy are welcome (but not national democracy).

Debunk the claim of Leftists that their worldview is scientific. Remind them that they don’t have a monopoly of truth and that grand narratives in the social sciences are no longer fashionable. Replace the tired jargons of the Left with post-political, post-ideological categories such as multiculturalism, civil society, and tripartism. It’s already suffocating and boring if we continue to talk about Leftist themes such as alienation, surplus value, and collectivization. Too Western, male-centric, logo-centric, passe. Time to move on by tackling marginal topics such as sexuality, gender roles, and exotic cultures.

The big themes should be replaced by micro politics; and language games rather than social commitment should be the priority of a true scholar.

During debates, it is useful to raise the specter of dead communist leaders like Stalin and Mao. Repeat the standard depiction of these leaders in the bourgeois press as superbads and villains of modern history. Even if the debate is about education reform or labor rights, always try to redirect the discussion towards the crimes against humanity purportedly committed by Stalin, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge. If the Leftist counters by reciting the horrific sins of capitalist regimes, denounce him for deliberately obfuscating the issue.

Remind the Leftist that Marx is a thinker whose ideas are applicable only in the mid-1850s. Ridicule his decision to read a philosopher who wrote the Communist Manifesto in the 19th century. Ignore the Leftist who will argue that if Marx is already irrelevant in the 21st century, then what do you call the teachings of Adam Smith who died in 1790? Should we then stop reading the Greek classics and stick to modern fiction like Twilight? Ignore all these and insist that Marx, and only Marx, has nothing insightful to offer to our students today other than discredited concepts like class struggle.

Hit hard and proudly assert that socialism clearly didn’t work as proven by the demise of Soviet Russia. Instead of socialism, why not embrace the infinite possibilities offered by capitalism? Indeed, why turn our backs on a system that gave us world wars, mass hunger in the age of plenty, wage slavery amid the creepy accumulation of fictitious capital, and totalitarian regimes disguised as liberal democracies?

Question the sincerity of Leftist personalities. Why is Joma enjoying a luxurious life in Europe? (Forget his refugee status). Why are activists patronizing American-made products if they are genuine nationalists? (Adopt a distorted interpretation of their anti-imperialist demand). Why is the Left silent over the bullying behavior of China? (Try googling ‘Bayan Muna against China’). Why did activist legislators use pork barrel funds in the past; they must be corrupt (That’s why they remained poor after three terms in Congress).

After doubting their motives, attack their tactics. Rallies only cause inconvenience, their participation in elections is a case of opportunism, labor unions hurt the economy, the punitive and resistance actions of the New People’s Army are criminal and terroristic. Blame rallies for causing destabilization or scaring away investors. If there’s a broad political event that threatens the ruling order, disrupt it by presenting it as an unholy alliance between the Left and other sinister forces of the elite.

Use the tyranny of numbers to confuse the public about the relevance of the Left. How can the Left legitimately give voice to the poor if its candidates habitually lose in senatorial and local elections? The masses who join rallies only represent a noisy minority manipulated and brainwashed by the Left.

Discredit rallies since these are the visible and most familiar political representations of the Left. Dismiss rallyists as paid protesters (pambili daw ng bigas), deplore protest actions as impotent interventions that only amplify negativity in society, and deny the effectivity of slogans to inspire the public or even clarify a complex social issue. In other words, depict rallies as ordinary and even inferior political actions. Be careful not to leave a hint that joining rallies is an outstanding example of practicing direct democracy. Never ever mention it and instead exaggerate the disastrous impact of rallies on the city’s traffic and garbage problems.

As an indirect stab to the strategies of the Left, give extra attention to other initiatives that seemingly offer durable solutions to national problems by bloating their reach. (Self-help, civic volunteerism, social commerce). Encourage people to look inwardly or to be active in non-political associations instead of supporting the lost causes of the fighting Left.

And since we really believe that the case against the Left is solid, urge the state to be ruthless against it and its sympathizers. Throw the books at them, including the Red Book. Arrest the usual suspects, with or without a valid court order. Good communists are dead communists, or at least make them disappear. And if debating is useless, choose the lazy but tried and tested red baiting option. Activists, dissenters, and other critics might be correct some of the time but unfortunately they are Leftists. The iron fist of the state and its repressive apparatuses should be applied on them if they will not renounce their beliefs. Challenge them to denounce the NPA as a terrorist group, and if they refuse, then they must be one of them. This is how we preserve peace and promote democracy in our freedom-loving society.

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Some really believe that they have witty rants against the Left but many of their arguments are actually unoriginal and formulaic. Some uncritically repeat Cold War rhetoric that never bothered to recognize the dynamism of Leftist movements in the 21st century. Some are too naïve that it’s unnecessary to make a rejoinder. Perhaps they unconsciously absorbed the petty remarks against the Left from schools, mass media, government agencies, and other conservative opinion-making institutions. We were heavily bombarded with anti-Left propaganda, disguised as neutral information, that when we encounter Leftists in our happy community, our impulse is to violently disagree with their views and reject their proposals.

We think the Left is too negative but have we ever wondered why we are too negative when it comes to the Left? Or why do we recoil when we detect a Leftist viewpoint while we are capable of tolerating other philosophies?

The Left is often disparaged for its simplistic analysis of what is happening in our world. Academics mockingly ask, can the Left improve its style and brand? Their student leaders echo the appeal by poking fun at some of the Left’s slogans like ‘Imperyalismo Ibagsak!’

But what if the real necessity today is not the rebranding of the Left but the unlearning of our misconceptions about it? That the greater tragedy is not the stubborn adherence of the Left to its principles and style of work but our refusal to acknowledge that it offers the most cogent and comprehensive political program which can immediately and ultimately empower the weak and downtrodden in the country. If unimpressed by the vocabulary of the Left, can you at least take time to study its substantial agenda for change? Give the Left a chance to turn this society upside down.

We worry too much about the faults and inadequacies of the Left as if we are really concerned about them. As a political movement, the Left should continually assess and review its impact on society, and this includes listening to the valid criticisms raised by supporters and the general public. The Philippine Left cannot survive this long if it’s indifferent to criticisms or if it has failed to update its methods. Let the debates continue, let a hundred mini-rectification movements prosper.

As for the unofficial style guide of ranting against the Left, perhaps the Left’s ideological adversaries already know by now that the revolution cannot be defeated by merely spreading fallacies, innuendos, and malicious intrigues against it.

Written for The Diplomat

Child labor exploitation is worsening in the Philippines. In 2011, the Philippine National Statistics Office reported that there were 5.5 million working children in the country, 2.9 million of whom were working in hazardous industries such as mines and plantations. The agency added that 900,000 children have stopped schooling in order to work. The following year, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) released a survey that showed that one out of four workers in palm oil plantations in northeast Mindanao region were children below 18 years old.

Last month, the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education Research (EILER) published a baseline study which confirmed the prevalence of child labor in mines and plantations in various parts of the country. In plantation communities, about 22.5 percent of households have child workers. In mining towns, child labor incidence was 14 percent. The group noted that the youngest worker interviewed in the study was five years old, although the common age of child workers was 12. The group learned that 76 percent of child laborers have stopped attending school. Most child laborers were working for 10 hours a day, or 13 to 16 hours a day in some extreme cases.

Child laborers in oil palm fields often serve as fruiters, harvesters, haulers, loaders, and uprooters. Meanwhile, child laborers in sugarcane estates work in weeding, harvesting and fetching of water. Banana plantation workers are assigned in bagging and de-leafing duties. Outside banana plantations younger children are involved as banana peelers for rejected bananas which will be dried and processed as animal feeds.

In mines, child laborers usually fetch water, carry sacks of rocks, load thick logs that are used to support the underground tunnels, or become errand boys of regular workers. They are also reserve workers or relievers whenever regular miners cannot come to work.

Girls in mines work in gold panning or provide services to miners such as doing their laundry or cooking meals.

EILER observed that child workers are exposed to extreme weather conditions, long working hours, and harsh environments while using substandard tools and equipment. In plantations, trucks would pick children from their homes and bring them to makeshift tents that are located in nearby provinces to stay and work there from two weeks to one month without their parents. And since most plantations use harmful agro-chemicals, the children are also directly exposed to these threats.

Children in mines are handling dangerous tools and are made to work without personal protective equipment for long hours. They are also vulnerable to social hazards like the use of illegal drugs inside the tunnels to keep them awake for hours.

“The nature of their work which provides very little wages coupled with the fact that they skip school means that child laborers are unable to break from the families’ cycle of poverty, perpetuating the problem of inter-generational poverty among the poor families in the plantation and mining industries,” said Anna Leah Escresa-Colina, executive director of EILER.

She added that low wages, contractualization, and lack of livelihood for families as some of the factors pushing children to work even in hazardous and difficult jobs to augment family incomes.

Ambassador Guy Ledoux of the European Union emphasized that “it is important that dissuasive penalties are imposed in practice on persons who subject children to work in hazardous or exploitative conditions.” The EU provided assistance in conducting the study on child labor in the Philippines.

The EILER study confirmed earlier surveys about the high number of children working in hazardous industries. It also highlighted the failure or inadequacy of government initiatives to address the problem. As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Philippines must be more aggressive in combating the worst forms of child labor in various parts of the country.

Questions Raised About US Anti-Terror Cooperation

Written for The Diplomat

American soldiers did not join in any actual combat but they did provide intelligence, training, real-time information, equipment, and aircraft in a successful but controversial anti-terror operation in southern Philippines.

This was one of the findings of the Board of Inquiry of the Philippine National Police, which was created to probe the operation which killed 67 Filipinos, including 44 members of the police elite unit Special Action Force (SAF). The January 25, 2015 operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao succeeded in killing Bali bomber Zhulkifli Bin Hir/Zulkifli Abhir (Marwan) but was also viewed as a tragedy because of the high number of casualties.

Marwan was a Malaysian citizen who escaped to the Philippines after the Bali bombing. He was a wanted international terrorist with a $5 million bounty placed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The police operation to arrest Marwan raised several issues that have undermined the leadership of President Benigno Aquino III. The president was accused of violating the chain of command when he designated a suspended police general to coordinate the operation. The police general also failed to properly inform the army and even the top leadership of the police about the operation.

Another blunder is the failure to coordinate the planned attack with Muslim separatist rebels who control the area. The rebels are not linked to Marwan and they have a ceasefire agreement with the government. Aside from Marwan’s team, it was the rebels and other private armed groups which figured in a deadly clash with the police.

There is also the issue about the unclear involvement of the Americans in the operation. Residents recalled seeing foreigners and a flying object in their village during the week of the encounter. But an information officer of the U.S. embassy told local media that “no U.S. surveillance drone was used” in the operation.

Last week, the police finally released its report about the Mamasapano incident; and it tackled, among others, the role of the Americans in the operation.

Below are excerpts of the report:

“Six American nationals were at the Tactical Command Post in Shariff Aguak starting on the eve of the operations to provide real-time information (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaisance) to the SAF troops.”

“The US counterparts provided real-time information on the actual movements of friendly and enemy forces in the area of operations…by providing technical equipment and aircraft, which they themselves operated.”

“The severed left index finger of Marwan was sent to two representatives of US-FBI waiting at General Santos City.”

The report emphasized that “there were no armed US troops engaged in combat in the area of operations.” It added that the technical support was valuable because the police “was able to elude large enemy formations, thereby avoiding further casualties.” It also recognized the medical evacuations performed by US personnel. It did, however, note that the decision to submit Marwan’s finger to the FBI is not standard procedure; the DNA sample should have been turned over to the local police crime laboratory.

The report is probably the first time that a government agency has given details about the involvement of the U.S. in local military operations. The implications are also staggering. Based on the report, Americans were aware of an anti-terror operation, while the army, the acting police chief, and the secretary of Interior and Local Government were only informed about it on the day itself, when the attacking forces suffered heavily and needed reinforcement and artillery support. The Americans were even stationed at the Tactical Command Post.

Senator Ralph Recto is curious to learn more about the involvement of the Americans. “Let me clarify: I do not object to the American’s [six] assistance in hunting down terrorists, but in this particular case it seems the US role was extraordinary. Up to what extent can we allow them to play a role?”

“Because it is clear to me, this wasn’t just assistance in providing intelligence; we were given equipment. Look at the situation: the PNP [police] did not coordinate with the AFP [army] but they coordinated with the Americans; there’s something amiss there,” he added.

Congress, which suspended public hearings about the operation, will probably ask for more information about this issue once it resumed sessions.

Aquino’s credibility as leader and commander-in-chief has been eroded because of the Mamasapano operation. It also affected the ongoing peace negotiations with Muslim rebels. As for military cooperation with the U.S., expect rising skepticism among local leaders.

Written for Bulatlat

Some reactionaries in the bureaucracy erroneously assume that their activism in the past makes them intellectually and even morally superior over the present generation of change advocates. Some probably misjudged their bohemian lifestyle as activism or they could have lied about their political record. But there are really existing apostates in various agencies of the government. Some are quiet about their renegade years, some continued to espouse progressive views, but some are disturbingly wicked and unabashedly repressive. Some are more fascist than the fascists; or in the Philippine context, more Marcosian than Marcos, and more Imeldific than Imelda. Worse, they arrogantly insist that they cannot be accused of ignoring the plight of the common tao since they are still guided by activist principles. Scary!

Even scarier is the claim of these former radicals that their new brand of activism deserves state approval. But they easily appear pathetic when compared to the anti-Establishment cause. Perhaps to redeem their political credibility, they often invoke the glorious activism of their yesteryears. There are 50 shades of ‘walking dead’ radicals turned reactionaries but they use almost similar arguments in their ideological battle against their former comrades. For example, they loudly and repeatedly proclaim that activism is already irrelevant, or that it was useful and necessary in the past but no longer valid today. They caricature activists as a pitiful bunch of angry young persons who were indoctrinated or bought to join a lost cause.

Some are tactful in dissing the Left. They recognize the role of activism in politics but they also quickly dismiss it by demonizing the struggle, and tilting the discussion towards the other supposedly superior forms of political engagement. They usually cite the positive legacy of activism in their lives, and some are exhorting the public to respect activists, but they always emphasize the futility of perpetual dissent. According to them, activism is a commitment that must be immediately discarded or diluted to make a concrete impact on real politics. Suddenly, political compromise is elevated as the ethic worth fighting for.

This is a classic case of arrogance and conceit. They really think that other people, most especially the young, are incapable of making rational decisions. That when they became activists, they were motivated by genuine feelings of patriotism, but those who succeeded them were already insincere. From their point of view, history stopped when they abandoned the cause. It means political resistance is already obsolete. How convenient for them to declare the end of an era which coincided with their political conversion. Is it political luck that they happened to be activists when it was still the vogue; and after they renounced their political beliefs, activism also lost its mojo?

Ex-activists who consumed too many perks in the pork-controlled bureaucracy are naturally the rabid defenders of the status quo; hence they cannot be expected to be objective or believable when they sing praises for mainstream politics.

But there are those who climbed the ladder of the bureaucracy because of merit; and those who maintained their integrity and progressive vision while holding enviable positions in high society. Do their life stories invalidate activism? It is dangerous to equate individual advancement with social change. A flourishing career of a single person doesn’t translate into prosperity for the rest of society. There is no evil in desiring success but once you attained your dreams, why stop others from uplifting the conditions of the marginalized? Activism will not deprive you of the chance to gain more opportunities. Activism promises to democratize wealth creation and political participation.

Unfortunately, activism is perceived as a threat by those who wanted to monopolize power and the riches of this world. Even former activists could not tolerate the spread of radicalism since this might disrupt their profiting schemes and the flow of goods in their money-operated world. And so they are aggressively discrediting activism to discourage people from fighting for a better and new world. They wanted to preserve the existing order even if they once championed its dissolution. For them activism is something they can brag to everyone while isolating those who speak and act like activists. And they are ready to decorate the most despotic policies of the party in power with progressive trappings. Opportunistic collaboration seems inadequate to describe their behavior.

Nostalgic activism is a special and powerful act of remembering. It should be promoted to create ripples and waves of solidarity across society. But if it’s used to serve the selfish interests of the elite or to block the forward march of the people’s movement, then it mutates into a monstrous political sentiment. It is activism that disempowers the poor, a defanged activism that looks substantial on paper but actually empty in real life.

However, ex-activists have the right to argue that they cannot remain in a movement which they perceive to be grossly impure, imperfect, and error-prone. They could have stayed, though, and work or struggle with others in strengthening the people’s movement. Instead, they offered their so-called pure hearts and innocent minds in the service of the incorruptible bureaucracy. They couldn’t accept the alleged excesses and shortcomings of the people’s movement and so they chose to become highly paid operators and glorified underlings of saintly trapos and bourgeois political parties.

They gave up eternity in favor of convenience. They succumbed to the ephemeral “servicing of goods” instead of building an entirely new world founded on the principle of just distribution of goods. What they possess are a few overrated tangibles that have little value in making life more meaningful. They wanted to reclaim the activism of their youth; but how can they do that without severing ties with the oppressive state machinery?

Published interview with EngageMedia:

1. Could you describe the work of your organisation?

Global Voices is a citizen media platform that highlights the perspectives and stories of ordinary people, especially those that are not often reported in mainstream media. Our volunteers translate, curate, and explain local narratives as we seek a better understanding of our world. We champion freedom of expression by highlighting the threats to online freedom as well as campaigning to defend free, open, and safe Internet.

2. Why do human rights on the Internet matter to you?

The Internet can empower lives and communities. That is why it must remain open and accessible. Individuals should be free to share their thoughts, develop online tools, and interact with other Internet users. A human rights framework should guide Internet governance to protect individuals and to unleash the democratic potential of the cyberspace.

3. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

There are two challenges in the region: improving Internet access, and fighting all forms of censorship and excessive Internet regulation. Related to these issues, we strive to protect the safety of individuals and institutions which are in the forefront of the campaign to promote Internet rights in their respective countries.

4. How do you interact with individuals and organisations in different sectors, civil society, corporate, tech, govt etc., to forward your goals?

As a former legislator, I am aware of the value of reaching out to policymakers and engaging them on issues that affect the Internet and the media. They should be part of the dialogue on how to protect the Internet and we strive as much as possible to promote this approach.

5. How do you see the Internet rights space evolving in the future?

Unfortunately, the trend in Southeast Asia is quite worrying since governments are inclined to prioritize legislations that would further restrict the media and the Internet. But the business side of expanding the telecommunications sector continues to grow. I think activists, the media sector, the academe, and other stakeholders should team up with telcos and IT firms to influence the Internet policies in the region. They can build a formidable lobby team to discuss human rights and prospects in the Internet sector with government officials and other leaders in the bureaucracy.

6. What do you hope to see achieved at RightsCon Southeast Asia? And why would you encourage people to attend?

RightsCon Southeast Asia is significant because it can come up with concrete proposals, alternative policies, and innovative programs that can be submitted to the ASEAN. The papers can be tabled for discussion in the ASEAN secretariat as the region prepares for the ASEAN 2015 integration. RightsCon is unique opportunity for Southeast Asia experts, leaders, investors and activists to sit down and discuss the crucial issues in the IT sector. It’s also a timely occasion to draft a plan on how to improve, maximize, and protect the positive legacy and potential of the Internet.

Published by Manila Today

I have a cell phone which I use for calling, texting, and taking photos. Sometimes it’s also my alarm clock. That’s all. I never use my phone to download apps or interact with my virtual networks because I don’t have an Internet subscription. Even if there’s a WiFi connection, I rarely go online using my phone. When Smart offered free Internet to its prepaid subscribers (yes, I’m a former congressman who uses prepaid), I accessed it only twice or thrice to check my Twitter feed or read news updates.

Yet I’m all over the cyberspace. I am a blogger and social media enthusiast. I am stalkable via Plurk, Tumblr, Shelfari, and recently I joined Ello. I am an avid Twitterer and Facebooker (Have you liked my fan page yet?). But I do not have an Instagram. I wanted to join it but it requires mobile Internet access.

What then are my reasons for my refusal to apply for mobile data subscription? To be candid, I wanted to save money. I thought that hard-earned cash, even if it involves a few hundred pesos, is better spent on other essential goods. Besides, it’s not as if I will be cut-off from the online world. I have Internet access at home and that is enough, for the moment.

Some friends tease me that I risk being left behind on news and other realtime updates. That’s true but it doesn’t matter. My life will not end if I fail to read about a breaking news incident minutes after it happened. There’s always the late night news; and didn’t I mention that I have Internet access at home?

I always waste 12 hours of my life wandering in the streets of the real world while online news, gossip, and chatter are buzzing; but I can quickly digest all the fun tidbits I missed in a matter of minutes when I get home in the evening. Or I can catch up with the news in the morning through TV, radio, or the ever reliable laptop.

I don’t need to hear or read the news as it happens. For the longest time, man survived even if they didn’t learn the truth of their existence at the proper time. In the 20th century, we went to school or work in the morning and watch the news in the evening. Revolutions succeeded even if instant information was not yet available.

They say mobile Internet makes us more productive and efficient. I agree but it doesn’t mean we become less productive and efficient if we don’t have a smartphone connected to the Internet.

In the context of Metro Manila, what’s the use of a traffic app when all the streets are semi-parking lots? Just travel one hour earlier to reach your destination. Weather? We only have wet and dry season and the sun is always up. If there’s a storm coming, trust me, everybody will tell you about it.

E-books? Fine, smart choice. But I prefer reading printed books; it’s safer and it saves the battery life of my phone. Plus you are allowed to open and read a book inside banks, bayad centers, airplanes, embassies, and other high-security places. They won’t mind even if your book is about terrorism.

I admit I almost got lost in the streets of San Francisco and London in the past month because I didn’t have a mobile map app. But I survived through old school tactic: talking to people and asking for directions. Indeed, there are lunatics out there who might give the wrong advice or geographical idiots who pretend to know more. But I have greater faith in the good of humanity. And even if I got lost, I can always turn around or ask another human being. That’s life. And isn’t it more fun?

After Snowden, we now know that there are worse lunatics listening and monitoring our virtual footprints. To disconnect from the Internet, even for a few hours, is a symbolic and sometimes practical method to protect our privacy and security. This is a non-issue to many people but crucial to activists and dissidents. Actually it should be everyone’s concern because privacy and even anonymity is a precious democratic right. Our schools and institutions should not simply teach our kids how to use their gadgets, but also when to stop and why they should stop using these tech tools from time to time. Unlimited Internet is costly, dangerous, and inhuman.

Perhaps I’m a sentimentalist. There are only few hours in a day when it’s lawful and acceptable to mingle with other people and so why use this opportunity to finger your phone? Can’t you do it later?
If you are a shy person (I would caution the use of the word introvert, which is different from shyness), you can derive pleasure in the company of other living things without socializing. Simply observe their traits, their oddities, feel the presence of the moment, nod, smile, speak a few words, then retreat to a safe distance where you can see everybody – but stop the incessant tapping of your phone since a) it’s impolite; b) you will never improve your people skills; and c) you will fail to validate your secret theory that everyone in the universe is petty and vain.

I’m always online, responding to emails, reading blogs, writing news; and while inside the office I’m still sitting in front of a computer. I want a few hours of space away from the cyberspace. I want time that is not realtime. Sometimes I want to be a lurker not on Facebook but in trains, buses, corridors, theaters, malls, and absorb all the combined wisdom and inanities of the communities I visit.

I want to appreciate a street scene or a countryside vista and respect its uniqueness by simply storing it in my memory. I want to look back at my life not by browsing digital files but by harnessing the power of remembering. I want to make friends who will spend time with me and value my companionship even if our activities are not documented on Facebook. No photo, no video, no status update can faithfully record and describe the ultimate joy of holding your firstborn in your arms.

I’m an advocate of slow blogging. Applied to social media, I prefer to share my thoughts after a brief time has passed. I admire sensible ranters and livebloggers; we need them and they improve online discourse. People like them make mobile Internet a valuable tool. But there are also netizens like me who interact with friends and enemies in the morning and write about these friends and enemies in the evening. I like to make news in the morning and read the news (plus the vitriolic comments) in the evening. I like to be part of an initiative that creates hashtags rather than simply joining a hashtag bandwagon. I like to create history rather than reading or tweeting about it. Or if I were a hippie, I’d say spread love in the morning and make love in the evening.

But the age of mobile Internet has already arrived. It is now the new normal. I was almost tempted to partake in the fun when my high school classmates told me that all of them are now on Viber. As free communication apps continue to proliferate, there will be fewer reasons to reject the allure of Internet-on-the-go, especially for people like me with overseas relatives. Like all popular technologies that preceded it such as TV, computer desktop and texting, the use of mobile Internet will be ubiquitous in society.

One day, and that day may come soon, I will probably apply for mobile Internet. But in the meantime, I am holding my ground. The pressure is mounting but I can always rebuff my friends in Manila by arguing that it’s illogical to pay more when the web service of our local telcos is super slow and erratic. Another reason to delay the inevitable.

Written for The Diplomat

East Timor’s new prime minister, Dr Rui Maria de Araújo, appealed for unity as a way to build a more inclusive and tolerant society. Araújo became the head of the Sixth Constitutional Government after former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão resigned last month.

While taking his oath on February 16, Araújo presented some of his plans for East Timor. First, he vowed to uphold “the essence of democratic values in Timor-Leste: peace, reconciliation, solidarity, pluralism, tolerance and dialogue.” He also spoke about boosting the country’s security. “We will give more attention to the patrol and vigilance of our maritime coast to protect our coral reefs and fish resources from illegal incursions in our sea.”

He praised the leadership of Gusmão, whom he appointed minister for Planning and Strategic Investment. He reminded the public that it was during the term of Gusmão when East Timor became “the first country in the Asia-Pacific region and the third in the entire world to be granted compliance status with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.” Araújo said he will continue to implement the Strategic Plan drafted by his predecessor and that the new government will focus “on better service delivery and on the quality of works, in a manner that is efficient, effective and accountable.”

But Araújo also indirectly mentioned some of the problems left behind by the previous government.

“One of our current difficulties is the lack of data and reliable indicators on the situation of the country. The last official data we have on poverty dates back to 2009 and told us that almost half the population lived below the national poverty line,” he said. He added that “the benefits of economic growth have not reached everyone.”

He also acknowledged the prevalence of corruption and inefficiency in the government. “Our priority is to fight the culture of bureaucratization in public administration, which has become a giant with feet of clay.”

According to Araújo, one of the first tasks of the new government will be to submit declarations of assets with the court and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

“I intend to personally deliver these on behalf of all members of government. When I leave this office, I will lodge another declaration of assets that I promise will show I have not profited from my position. And when I leave this office, I want Timor-Leste to be recognized as a world leader in open, transparent, accountable and ethical government,” he said in a speech delivered before the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Araújo is also expected to implement programs that will empower women. When he was adviser to the Ministry of Finance, he worked to identify women as potential managers and top leaders in the agency. Today, according to Araújo, women represent 32 percent of the leadership team in the office.

But can Araújo deliver on his commitments? Gusmão is confident that his younger successor can lead the country’s transition. Araújo is an opposition member; nevertheless, he was still endorsed by Gusmão because of his proven capabilities.

“His deep knowledge of the financial system, a wide experience which can not be underestimated, on the model applied to capacitate technical staff, implemented during his years in the ministry [Finance] as an adviser, and his integrity, as a person, these are the three relevant elements which are the fundamental reason behind the proposal of his name,” Gusmão wrote in his nomination for Araújo.

Araújo has much reforming to do if he wants to achieve his goals for East Timor. He is right to call for unity but it should not mean being less critical of the policies and programs of the previous government.

Thailand Scores Low on Political Rights

Written for The Diplomat

As expected, Thailand’s political rights rating changed from “partly free” in 2014 to “not free” in the Freedom in the World 2015 report released by democracy watchdog Freedom House. Thailand’s army launched a coup last year that led to the imposition of martial law in the country. The army also suspended the constitution, detained political leaders, controlled the media, and banned public protests.

The report is another troubling reminder of the worsening political situation in Thailand.

The army claimed the coup was necessary to restore stability by ending the intense clashes of various political forces. Indeed, the army dispersed the street protests but the political crisis is far from resolved. The junta merely hid the symptoms of the crisis by punishing anyone who dared to speak out against the government. Order was enforced by eroding the political rights of ordinary citizens.

The junta’s brutal policies are highlighted in an infographic published by independent news portal Prachatai. The image features some of the normal activities that have been suppressed by the government over the past nine months. Those who conducted these peaceful actions were arrested for allegedly undermining national security. The list below, culled from the infographic, reflects the paranoia of the junta leaders on one hand, and the suffering experienced by ordinary Thais on the other:

1. Holding a blank A4 paper or A4 paper with anti-coup messages

2. Covering one’s face, eyes, and mouth

3. Helping arrested protesters

4. Holding “Peace Please” T-shirt

5. Imitating the Hunger Games three-fingered salute

6. Gathering at McDonald’s

7. Reading George Orwell’s 1984 novel

8. Eating sandwiches in public

9. Playing the French national anthem

10. Wearing a Red Shirt while selling crispy fried squid

11. Issuing a statement denouncing the coup

12. Wearing “people” mask

13. Wearing “respect my vote” t-shirt

14. Approaching or being approached by journalists

15. Running for democracy

16. Holding placards that read “holding placards is not a crime”

17. Posting a photo with anti-junta and “No Martial Law” messages on Facebook

18. Holding academic seminars on the political situation

19. Gathering people to watch the premiere of Hunger Games 3

20. Distributing leaflets featuring a poem about democracy

21. Giving three-fingered salutes to Prayuth, the leader of the junta

22. Selling fruit products with (former Prime Minister) Thaksin Shinawatra’s square face logo

The list confirms the accuracy of the report by Freedom House. If simple activities like reading books and watching movies are considered a threat to the national security, how can Thais effectively exercise and assert their political rights?

But the junta seems impervious to international criticism. In recent weeks, the army has been aggressive in silencing dissent. A land rights activist was detained, an opposition leader was visited at his home by an army officer to undergo an “attitude adjustment” session, and a civil society seminar on Internet legislation was interrupted by the presence and surprise participation of soldiers at the meeting.

The junta is also readying the passage of 10 digital economy bills which some activists say could violate the rights of Internet users and mobile phone subscribers in the country. These bills, if passed into law, could further gag the new media and the few remaining critical voices in Thai cyberspace.

These are challenging times for Thailand’s democracy and press freedom advocates. It is up to the international community to push for democratic political reforms in the country.

Written for Bulatlat

Was Edsa Dos a coup, power grab, or an uprising? Was it a farce? It may be all of the above but it’s a political event worth celebrating. Why should we allow the Arroyos, Estradas, Aquinos, and the Catholic bishops to dominate the discussion about what Edsa Dos meant to our country’s history and politics? Let us remember and honor it for what it represented and aspired to achieve. It may not the revolution we wanted it to be but it deserves to be recognized as among the milestones of the people’s movement for genuine democracy and justice. So how should we defend the idea of Edsa Dos? Let me count the ways:

1. The common and understandable critique against Edsa Dos in recent years was that it allowed Gloria Arroyo to assume the presidency. Indeed, Arroyo was a beneficiary of Edsa Dos but only because she was the constitutional successor of Estrada. The people marched in the streets to fight corruption and not because we wanted Arroyo to lead the country. Edsa Dos taught us that there should have been other extralegal options to replace the leadership like creating a transition council or a revolutionary government.

2. It’s convenient to reduce Edsa Dos as a four-day political action that led to the downfall of Estrada. But for many who opposed Estrada, Edsa Dos was a campaign for good governance that saw thousands of people converging in the streets of Mendiola and Ayala, ‘Jericho Marches’ in front of the Senate, and citizen assemblies in the last quarter of 2000. We went to Edsa on January 16, 2001 but we have been protesting in the streets for many months already before that day.

3. Estrada was already unpopular when Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson made his Juetengate expose against Estrada. The first massive street gathering against Estrada took place in 1999, or more than a year before Chavit’s expose, in reaction to the president’s harassment actions and other attacks against the press and people’s civil liberties. Estrada was relentless because a few months after the Makati protest, he unleashed a total war campaign against Muslim rebels that displaced civilian communities in Mindanao.

Estrada alienated his support base when he ignored the workers’ demand for a legislated wage increase; he disappointed his former allies in the anti-bases campaign when he signed the Visiting Forces Agreement; and his slogan “Erap para sa mahirap” was ridiculed because he expanded the globalization policies of his predecessor instead of reversing them.

4. Estrada was forced to leave the presidential palace when the people started the march from Edsa to Mendiola on January 20. Arroyo took her oath in Edsa but the more forceful symbol that week was the long march of the people from Ortigas to Manila in order to surround and reclaim Malacanang. Edsa Dos was not simply a happy gathering of anti-Estrada forces but a political movement that really targeted the storming of the country’s seat of power.

5. It’s misleading to state that Edsa Dos was a people’s uprising that only became successful because of military support. The more accurate formulation is that the military supported Edsa Dos when it became clear that the people have spoken and united against the country’s commander-in-chief. The first point became popular during the Arroyo years that led many to believe that only a military mutiny is required to solve a political impasse. But Edsa was a popular uprising which united diverse groups and the army. A political upsurge with military backing is a potent combination but a military action without organized support from the civilian population will only give us hotel takeovers and young officers running for the senate.

6. Edsa Dos was more than a mini-reunion of some anti-Marcos personalities; it was a broad anti-corruption movement. It was not a noisy political event in imperial Manila; it was a national campaign directed against Estrada. We are flooded with political images that focus on the Edsa Shrine but it doesn’t mean that Edsa Dos activities were restricted within Metro Manila. It was a nationwide upheaval that also paralyzed urban centers and eroded Estrada’s mass appeal. He was certainly detested in Muslim Mindanao. Edsa in Edsa Dos was more than a geographical reference; it became the symbolic name of a national political campaign.

7. Edsa Dos is often described as a remarkable example of middle-class revolt. Then there are those who dismissed it as a mere rambunctious power play of the elite. We do not deny the lively and heroic participation of the middle classes and even some sections of the ruling elite in Edsa Dos. They were there and they mingled with the greater number of people who came from the working classes. Edsa Dos was a true social phenomenon that briefly removed class barriers and allowed the people to fight a common enemy. But to insist that it was a middle class action is to deny (again) the role of the poor and inarticulate in shaping the country’s history.

8. Edsa Dos started the global trend of using mobile phones in protest actions. Through cell phone texting, young people were able to join Edsa Dos with parental consent. Texting facilitated the movement of the crowds and the rapid distribution of anti-Estrada messages and Erap jokes. Anti-Left bashers often use this as an example to assert the alleged superior creativity of virtual activism over traditional street protests. But more than anything else, Edsa was a testament to the enduring power of the mob. Edsa Dos participants didn’t just text their sentiments against Estrada; they marched and texted against corruption. Edsa Dos didn’t invalidate street activism; on the contrary, it reaffirmed the power of collective actions and the value of maximizing new technologies to advance political causes.

Does Edsa Dos deserve to be known as “People Power”? It mobilized the people, it animated the country’s political forces, it aimed to uplift the conditions of the poor, it echoed the narratives of revolution, it led to the ouster of a popular politician. In the eyes of hacienderos, corrupt bureaucrats, and apologists of imperialism, the idea of Edsa Dos is so powerful, radical, and subversive that it needed to be discredited. Therefore, our task is not simply to defend it but also to continue what it aimed to achieve in politics. If Edsa Dos was a failure, it was a failure worth repeating until we could get it right.