Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


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

Over the past few months, rising scrutiny on Chinese investments in countries ranging from the Maldives to Malaysia has intensified an ongoing conversation in the Philippines about the risks of a Chinese “debt trap” in the country as the government of President Rodrigo Duterte pursues increased engagement with Beijing. This discussion has become more pronounced, with opposition emerging among the legislature and sections of the wider public.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

The Truth About Duterte’s 2020 Budget

In August, it was disclosed that the proposed 2020 budget of the Philippine government allotted a higher percentage to police, military, and other security forces that are expected to bolster the country’s defenses and President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-crime campaign. Supporters of the president have deemed it critical to continue the journey toward a peaceful and progressive Philippines, but critics have warned that the funding boost could be abused, contributing to corruption and human rights violations.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Published by Bulatlat

Yes, I studied Marxism at the university. But all things considered, I believe I spent more time learning about postmodernism and its numerous variations inside classrooms and libraries. I got introduced to the politics of the Left through the writings of anti-Left academics.

No ‘mad Marxist’ indoctrinated me to become an activist. In fact, it took me some time before I was able to identify, resist, and unlearn the conservative bent of my postmodern albeit progressive education.

In the 1970s, Marxism became a popular theme in the academe. It was applied in conducting researches, developing the curriculum, and extending the role of the university in social affairs. In the Philippines, this coincided with the rise of the communist-led resistance to the Martial Law regime.

Marxism was formalized as a proper field of study but its reach went beyond the university through the work of ‘organic intellectuals’ and other cadres of the Maoist-inspired national democratic movement. Popular Marxism was linked to the anti-dictatorship struggle. A Marxist was someone who fought oppressors personified by super evil politicians like Marcos.

Meanwhile, academic Marxism bloomed into various schools of thought which some scholars welcomed as the emergence of the so-called New Left. Unfortunately, one consequence of this was the dismissal of the basic tenets of Marxist ideas and practices under the pretext of either upholding classical Marxism or updating it to the conditions of the modern world.

The Left faced an existential crisis after 1986. It mirrored the global decline of the Soviet bloc until its disintegration in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This was the same time when postmodernist studies flourished and Marxist philosophy was viciously attacked and blamed for the failure of the socialist experiment.

The 1990s was the heyday of neoliberal thinking. It accommodated various ‘isms’ that negated Marxism. Resources were provided to institutions propagating the ‘end of history’ and the blunder of communists everywhere.

This was the popular political perspective when I entered the university in the mid-1990s. Marxism was taught through the lens of academics who were ridiculing the experience of the Philippine Left. Books, journals, magazines, and reading materials celebrated postmodern approaches while dismissing the purported obsolete framework of Marxism. Pluralism was affirmed and all views were declared to be valid except the grand narratives of the Left.

Looking back, it seemed impossible to study Marxism and end up being a Marxist. The required readings in social sciences were mostly slanted against a Marxist interpretation of history and economy. The legacy of the Philippine Left was reduced into a boycott error in 1986. We were exposed to a set of writings lampooning the doctrines and practices of the revolutionary movement. Curiously, there was little reference to the foundational documents of the Left because these were treated as propaganda materials unfit for academic discussion. Instead, we were required to read ‘Leftist’ scholars who specialize in attacking the Left.

We devoured essays and researches highlighting the supposed glaring errors, inconsistencies, and deviations in the documents of the Communist Party and the seminal writings of Joma Sison. The vitriolic attacks waged by the military and other state ideologues against the Left found resonance in the academe.

This was not unusual if we consider the critical appraisal of the Left as an expression of academic freedom. Perhaps the freedom to engage in partisan politics and misidentify anti-Left ranting as objective scholarship. The freedom to fetishize against an entire national liberation movement, nitpick on minor doctrinal arguments, decontextualize criticism, and echo the ethos of the state in evaluating the Left.

Studying under these conditions, we acquired a distorted sense of the Left’s holistic impact on politics; instead, we only saw its fundamental weaknesses and its doomed prospects.

It was thus awkward to read about the misguided Leftists and then bumping into them in hallways and classrooms. The vocabulary I absorbed was patently biased against them and so their presence seemed strange and even a nuisance.

But they were persistent propagandists and after several encounters I found myself joining one of their activities. It’s only later I realized that the Left was undergoing a rectification movement. For some academics, it was an internal purge that divided the Left. But what I saw was an intense political education campaign that mobilized young people to study the classics of Marxism, the history of the unfinished Philippine revolution, and the relevance of Mao’s cultural revolution in understanding the triumph of capitalism in erstwhile communist societies.

Before the era of free downloads and file sharing, we got hold of the collected works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao. Our reading was complemented by collective discussions which also became a venue to debunk the arguments of anti-Left scholars.

Lenin’s ‘Imperialism’ became a useful guide to rethink the concept of globalization and dissect the roots of the Asian Financial Crisis. Sison’s ‘Specific Characteristics of our People’s War’ clarified the uniqueness and general phases of the Maoist revolution in the archipelagic Philippines.

But I was not easily persuaded despite the creative approach of activists in offering alternative courses on philosophy, political economy, and people’s war. Despite my fascination with my new ‘study group’, I was more drawn to my academic classes where I started to feel more confident articulating Marxist terminologies.

I still had my doubts, though. I felt playing an amateurish language game wherein I could cherry pick concepts from various strands of philosophy and flaunt them in debates and essays.

But alas, the Left was not in the game for simply interpreting things and events, and getting involved in politics from a distance. It was consistently in the thick of battle, initiating local and sectoral struggles, and pursuing the national democratic line for social transformation.

As a student of politics and a young citizen wanting to do more in society, the NatDem Left offered something concrete, comprehensive, and radical. There were other Leftist movements as well but I was not impressed by their appeal for peaceful activism (as if this should be the aim of progressive politics). Meanwhile, I couldn’t fathom what anti-Left academics wanted really to achieve in politics aside from making a sinister prognosis about the Natdem movement. They were focusing on the failures of the NatDem Left yet they were quiet about the other factions of the Left.

I was prepared to be disappointed with NatDem politics but instead, I became more immersed in their mass campaigns. I was overwhelmed with several political realizations: Here was a movement making democracy work through collective leadership, here was a political force whose strength is linked to the empowerment of its members in the grassroots, here was history claiming the present to build a new future.

And I was genuinely surprised to learn that anti-Left academics were wrong on many things about the practices of the NatDem Left. Contrary to what I read about them, the NatDem Left acknowledged its mistakes and the excesses it committed. This was one of the early resolutions of the rectification movement. Again, against what I expected, there were nonstop debates within the Left about tactics, strategies, campaign demands, alliances, and analysis of the political situation. There were always new lessons in organizing, victories and defeats in mass struggles, and the constant vigilance over state reprisals. The Left can’t survive, thrive, and surge in many places if it were a dogmatic political force.

It is sad to see anti-Left academics parroting the state rhetoric about the irrelevance of the Left. If the Left is already too weak and isolated, then why build a career ridiculing a supposedly dead and dying movement? Two decades later, the NatDem Left is still a major political force in the country. But the anti-Left academics are still trying their pathetic best to give hope to state apologists and the conservative Establishment about the looming defeat of the revolutionary mass movement. Dream on.

Journalists face growing persecution, an impunity win in Indonesia, and much more…February in Asia: A roundup of key free expression news, based on IFEX member reports. Read more

Women’s Day marchers attacked, Thai media restricted, and report on media killings in Afghanistan. March in Asia: A roundup of key free expression news, based on IFEX member reports. Read more

Social media blackout, ‘Orwellian’ anti-fake news bill, and stoning to death for adultery. April in Asia: A roundup of key free expression news, based on IFEX member reports. Read more

Published by Bulatlat

Metro Manila’s insane traffic congestion is an opportunity to read books. Reading is more productive and relaxing instead of cursing at drivers, enforcers, and pedestrians. It’s less risky than using a smartphone inside jeepneys, UV Express vans, and trains. It’s a matter of adjusting our perspectives. For example, a three-hour ride from Quezon City to Makati during the morning rush can be viewed as a precious time to catch up on our reading goals. When we scan the news or play a game on phones, we absorb visual images which is also a form of reading. Why not instead turn to the traditional way of reading as an alternative to mobile entertainment. Our minds are more focused when reading a book compared to surfing the Internet which bombards us with too much bytes of useless information, mindless distractions, and overrated tasks which can be done at home or work. We cannot eat or drink inside public transport vehicles but we can certainly feed our minds.

Because of inefficient services, we often spend several hours waiting in line. Reading can instantly convert the wasted time into something useful, educational, and even fun. Imagine being trapped in a room without WiFi and there is a long waiting time. Worse, the use of mobile phones is restricted. Reading a book of your choice is more pleasurable than constantly looking at the wall clock. It is better than being forced to watch silly infotainment TV ads. When your name or number is called, you move forward with a positive thought that you spent time wisely by choosing to enrich your knowledge of life and the world. This too has a calming effect which could hopefully prevent you from blaming overworked workers for bureaucratic deficiencies.

Reading in a public place is a nice feeling to experience. No, it won’t make you look lovably smart. People tend to see book readers as geeks. Two decades ago, those who tinker with gadgets in public are viewed as techie nerds. Today, those who hang out in public without a phone in hand are treated with suspicion.

But back to reading, it can enhance your attachment to a place. It can bind your memories of a particular nook to the scenes, characters, and ideas in the book you are reading. A book can make you remember of the smell of an obscure café, the surprising comfort of a wooden park bench, the retro music at the train station, or the cold temperature inside a provincial bus. You recall these impressions not because you read them somewhere but because you experienced them while reading a book. When you take a selfie with a book, it makes visible your intent to read something but it is more meaningful if you both read the book while sensing the reality of the reading moment.

What a delight to claim a space and declare it a reading territory. Marking a spot in public as a designated hub for reading. Think of malls, churches, schools, government buildings, and parks that can be targeted by readers. Smokers can no longer pollute the air with impunity that’s why book readers should inhabit the abandoned smoking corners and transform them into a reading place.

But we are also aware of the diminishing incentives to read. Infrastructures are designed in favor of money-making activities. Unfortunately, reading is not considered as a public activity that can yield significant returns. Thus the need for more aggressive readers to hype the act of reading, inspire others to do the same, and counter the use of smartphones as the ubiquitous way of exhibiting literacy in the 21st century.

This is a huge challenge given the immense popularity of Internet streaming to watch movies, play games, or lurk on social media. Our role is to demonstrate that reading is more fun and healthier than bingeing on Netflix. It takes several hours a day or week to complete a TV series whose storyline is stretched to lure more viewers. We are lulled into thinking that the repackaging of formula fiction is modern entertainment. Indeed, nostalgia works.

There are shows deserving our praise but do we really need to devour dozens of episodes in one sitting just to understand and appreciate impressive plotlines? Each Netflix series we finished watching is equivalent to how many books in terms of hours spent? We think Netflix is more satisfying to consume but books provide the same if not greater amount of drama, better description of people and landscapes, and original stories.

Perhaps e-books represent a wise option. Content downloaded from the cyberspace and is meant to be read. It is viable and increasingly made accessible but if our aim is to achieve some level of work-life balance, reading a printed book offers instant relief from the madness of virtual reality. A few hours of digital detox to soothe our Internet-addicted bodies.

Despite our fast-paced lifestyle, we could still set aside some time to read what’s trending on social media. If this is feasible, there’s more reason to find time for reading books. Motivate others to read. Discuss these books in public. Reading should not be relegated into mere academic pursuit.

Perhaps some are wary of making bad choices when reading books. It’s a risk but less harmful than what is peddled by Hollywood and Netflix. What we can do is persuade readers to be critical of the text they are reading. Yet we do not demand the same thing when people discuss the movies, TV shows, songs, and games they scavenge on the Internet. We assume that books ‘indoctrinate’ so therefore we have to be careful with our selection; but we can be eclectic with our online posting of movies and TV series? There are passive readers and Netflix subscribers but only the former are required to be intelligent and politically-correct about their decisions.

We are back to the basics. Threatened by armies of disinformation, our best weapon is the truth. Reading the truth, deciphering the truth, fighting for the truth. In the age of ephemeral attention, reading is an act we can pursue, promote, and steer towards our other political endeavors.

After the Philippine midterm elections, some members of the opposition party decided to join the majority coalition in Congress. This despite the aggressive campaigning of opposition candidates against the human rights abuses under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

That opposition politicians would quickly affiliate themselves with the ruling party reflects not only the quality of the country’s political party system but also the decrease in the number of voices demanding accountability from the Duterte government.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Is There Really a New Duterte Coup Plot in the Philippines?

Of late, a new wave of speculation has arisen surrounding Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Accusations have emerged that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is conspiring with other political forces, attempting to build a critical mass that will push for Duterte’s ouster from power.

The initial wave began when the Philippine military disclosed that a so-called “Red October” plot is being readied by the CPP in connivance with some members of Liberal Party and Magdalo to force Duterte to declare Martial Law and use this emergency situation to provoke mass uprisings across the country. The Liberal Party was the party that governed the Philippines before Duterte, while Magdalo is composed mostly of former junior officers of the military who tried to launch a coup against the government of former President Gloria Arroyo.

Written for The Diplomat

The 10th anniversary of the single most deadly assault on journalists ever takes place on 23 November. IFEX’s Asia & Pacific Regional Editor Mong Palatino writes about a decade of activism on behalf of the 58 Ampatuan Massacre victims, among them 32 journalists, in this Spark multimedia feature article.

Written for IFEX

Global solidarity for Rappler and Maria Ressa who vow to fight for a free press

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa was arrested on 13 February 2019 for cyber libel regarding an article that was published in May 2012, four months before the Philippine Cyber Crime Prevention Act was signed into law. She was released after posting bail on 14 February.

“When I look back a decade from now, I want to make sure that I have done all I can. We will not duck. We will not hide. We will hold the line.”

Written for IFEX

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

Labor Unrest

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

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

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

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

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

United Labor

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

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

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

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

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

United People’s Sona

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

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

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

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

Defiant Critics

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

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

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

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

Resistance against ‘Build, Build, Build’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confronting the bully in Malacanang

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

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

Published by Bulatlat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written for The Diplomat magazine

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

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

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

Written for The Diplomat magazine

The books I read in 2018

November 16th, 2019

Published by Bulatlat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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