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

Published by Manila Today

We grew up singing the Philippine national anthem; in fact we can only recite the beautiful prose of Lupang Hinirang if we quietly sing it. Today, when the use of LCD projectors is already common, we sing and watch the national anthem in schools, movie theaters, public halls, and government buildings. Aside from displaying the flag, a video must accompany the playing of the anthem to inspire the crowd. In many cases, the video also serves as the substitute flag.

The national anthem does not have an official music video. Whether we realize it or not, we are actually honoring the nation by watching a video interpretation of Lupang Hinirang. There is only one song but numerous video versions. However, it does not matter if the video is of poor or good quality, or whether it is made by a small or big production, or performed by amateurs or professionals. We always stand up to sing, listen, and watch the anthem. When we sing, we affirm our citizenship together with other Filipinos in the crowd; when we listen, we relive the founding moments of the Republic; and when we watch, we are bombarded with powerful images that condition our thinking about the nation’s past, the political situation today, and the challenges of nation-building.

But many do not recognize the propaganda value of the video since they assume that it is a simple rendition of a song about our glorious history. They will readily describe the video as patriotic and entertaining without being conscious of its ideological content. They often prefer to overlook the overt and covert meanings in the video; but it doesn’t mean the material has no impact on their thinking.

Thus, watching the video is always an act of politics. It’s either we accept and promote the narrative in the video, or reject and replace it through critical engagement.

There are several popular videos produced by mainstream media networks and government agencies which are available online. Their reach is significant since they are repeatedly shown in theaters, social activities, and free TV. Showbiz artists also played leading roles in these videos which make them extremely popular among the youth and the general public. Their influence will continue to grow since playing the national anthem has top billing in all public and private events across the country.

What is the message of these videos? Whose viewpoint is highlighted? How do they define the task of nation building?

History Lessons

Perhaps it’s inevitable that most of the videos will focus on our struggle for independence to represent the birth of the Philippine nation. After all, the national anthem was written during the revolution against Spanish colonialism. The young should be continually reminded that we became free because we fought hard for this right. The video produced by GMA-7 even included the 1986 Edsa uprising as a legacy of this radical tradition.

However, there are obvious gaps in presenting our history such as the lack of reference to the local struggles in many islands before 1872, or the defiance of our indigenous peoples. Viewers might also get the impression that history is made by great men instead of the great mass of people who are resisting and creating history at the same time.

But overall, the Lupang Hinirang videos are instructive in emphasizing the value of dissent in establishing our modern Republic.

Presidents

The role played by prominent individuals in shaping our history in the past century is exaggerated and distorted in the video produced by the PCSO, Office of the Press Secretary and Philippine Information Agency. The legacy of every president is identified by using keywords which are simplistic and even misleading. For example, the achievement of Marcos is “Infrastructure”. For students who often watch this clip in schools and movie theaters, they will be conditioned to believe that “Infrastructure” is the great legacy of Marcos and not the brutal Martial Law regime. Estrada is described as a “Centennial President” which is factual but his more important credential which the future generation should remember was his plunder case and eventual ouster from office.

Migration

Another problematic theme is the depiction of overseas migration as a natural phenomenon. This is evident in the station ID of GMA-7 and partly endorsed by the video produced by ABS-CBN. Since these videos also provided a historical narrative of the Philippines, the migration of Filipinos in the late 20th century might be interpreted as an acceptable evolution or indicator of progress in society.

Perhaps the intent of ABS-CBN is to show the strength of the Filipino identity by filming our kababayans singing Lupang Hinirang in San Francisco, Dubai, and New York. Indeed, it is not wrong to promote pride and nationalism, and we salute this initiative. But migration is presented without problematizing the issue. We see migrants in the video but not the sad history of migration and its troubling impact on the social fabric of our nation.

The GMA-7 video is an indirect endorsement of labor export. It showed images of POEA, passport, and overseas workers such as health workers, maritime personnel, hotel receptionists, and Middle East engineers. It echoes the state doctrine by calling these workers our modern heroes.

After fighting foreign invaders in the past, the Filipino today is working for foreigners. We should commend the representation if it is a critique of social policies (Walang Natira by Gloc-9) but it is a naïve acceptance and celebration of the globalization ideology. And this is supposed to be a video of our national anthem?

Continuing Resistance

Symbols are important to make the past relevant and motivate Filipinos to continue the fight for a better future. Unfortunately, the videos hardly evoke a new vision which could boost the movement for change in society. They make reference to radical episodes of our history but they do not link these to the current struggles of our people. The present is divorced from the past (with the exception of religion). There is no dreaming of the future. We see only symbols of the present that supposedly constitute modern society such as exotic beaches, idyllic farming villages, happy couples, smiling children, and hardworking migrant workers. We can’t also ignore how some of the videos were concluded by showing the SM Mall of Asia globe icon.

The Lupang Hinirang is a marching song of the revolution. It exhorts the people to fight for the motherland and to make sacrifices for the benefit of the community. Every time we sing it, we feel more patriotic. And every time we see the videos, we become more grateful to our heroes. But there is a disconnect between the radical verse of Lupang Hinirang and the contradictory images in the unofficial music videos of the anthem.

There is a proliferation of videos that pay tribute to Lupang Hinirang but many of them are simply reinforcing the official ideology of the state. Some are creatively endorsing a progressive culture but unwilling to break free from the fetters of the ruling system.

But the activist in me makes me optimistic that one of these days, we will be able to return the subversive in Lupang Hinirang. That aside from bayang magiliw, our people will easily recall that if there is a mang-aapi – both foreign and especially local, we are ready to make the supreme sacrifice for the nation. Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo.

Written for Bulatlat

He had you at “power to the people!” and then he said he wanted to “occupy” your heart, and that you are his 99 percent. Yet you find his world quite exotic, his vocabulary sometimes confusing, although he seems sincere given his passionate determination to fight for his beliefs. Indeed, it is difficult to reject someone whose heart bleeds for the weak and inarticulate. But like all rational beings, you have lingering doubts not just with his integrity but also with the life he has chosen. Is he for keeps? Will you join his Cause? The final decision is of course up to you, recognizing that the act of falling in love is ruled by subjective emotions. But in the meantime, it might prove useful to gain a better knowledge about the activism of your “part time” or “full time” lover.

1. How and where did you meet each other?

a. At a coffee shop in Quezon City. His group was protesting the interventionist agenda of the United States and China.

b. Mendiola in Manila, near Gate 7 of Malacañang Palace. His group joined a multisectoral rally opposing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which would allow the return of US troops and facilities in the country.

c. Quezon Memorial Circle. His group conducted a flash mob urging rich countries like the US and Japan to reduce carbon emissions.

2. What is he reading today?

a. Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016. According to him, the progressive blueprint of the “reigning reform coalition.”

b. Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. He insists that the book, an international bestseller, offers a flawed alternative especially when compared to Marx’s Das Capital.

c. 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do to Help Our Country by Alex Lacson. And he goes on preaching that change should start with the individual.

3. Who is his inspiration as a leader?

a. Noynoy Aquino. Allegedly sincere, honest, and reformist.

b. Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran. Working class hero. Incorruptible, principled, revolutionary.

c. Mahatma Gandhi. Nonviolence advocate.

4. What is he saying about the Disbursement Acceleration Program?

a. He praises the government for releasing the list of DAP-funded projects. He also urges Aquino, the implementer of DAP, to continue the budget reforms of his “daang matuwid” regime. He is convinced that Aquino never used the DAP worth 237 billion pesos as pork or as a tool for political patronage.

b. He wants the Aquino government to be made accountable for implementing an unconstitutional budget program. He supports the plunder case against Abad, the author and architect of DAP. He is campaigning for the People’s Initiative against pork since he believes that Aquino and Congress are unwilling to completely dismantle the pork barrel system.

c. After cursing all the corrupt politicians, he enjoins his friends to campaign for the lowering of taxes, bemoaning the fact that professionals and businesses are overtaxed by a corrupt bureaucracy.

5. Does he support a second term for Aquino?

a. First, he wanted Aquino to “clarify” his statement. Then he expressed “openness” to the proposed second term to sustain the momentum for reforms.

b. Hell no! He warned the people to guard against a creeping yellow dictatorship.

c. No. He reminded Aquino to preserve the legacy of his parents who both fought a dictator.

6. Did you go out last August 25, during the National Heroes Day?

a. Yes, he took you to Ateneo to participate in a forum about the need to continue the crusade for reforms (read: term extension)

b. Yes, you both went to Luneta to sign the PI against pork (read: anti-Aquino)

c. Yes, you both organized an activity with some friends in support of a charity (read: ice bucket challenge)

7. What was his reaction when the three impeachment complaints against Aquino were thrown out by Congress?

a. He cheered the decision of the 54 legislators, majority of whom had been rabid supporters of Gloria Arroyo, and hailed it as a vote of confidence for the clean and transparent government of Aquino.

b. He lambasted the DAP beneficiaries for disregarding the evidence and supporting documents presented by the complainants.

c. He was disappointed since a supposedly independent branch of government hurriedly dismissed the impeachment without requiring Aquino to answer the serious allegations raised by the complainants.

8. Does he like movies?

a. Yes, some of his simple-living friends are fond of buying DVDs in wholesale. Some are even ready to spend 2,000 pesos in just one transaction.

b. Yes, he was recently talking about “The Guerrilla is a Poet” and “Barber’s Tales”.

c. Yes, he tracks and supports various film festivals although he often rants against Filipino movies shown during the Christmas season.

9. What is his view about guns and politics?

a. Oh he abhors guns too much including the idea of mobilizing the people to take up arms against the government. He believes that the use of guns is not a legitimate option in the democratic struggle. Curiously, he rejects the people’s prerogative to use arms in the defense of their communities, but he sees nothing irregular with a Cabinet member and so-called nonviolence advocate carrying AK-47 and M-16 rifles in his SUV as protection against perceived threats to his life.

b. He recognizes the right of the people to arm themselves against the attacks of the reactionary state and various private armies of warlords and despotic landlords. He sees armed struggle as both a form of resistance and political solution in response to a situation where the ruling classes are brutally preventing the people from altering the repressive status quo.

c. He wants stricter gun control, he prefers to use guns for sporting events, and he is horrified by the rising crime rates across the country.

10. Does he agree with the statement that the Conditional Cash Transfer program is an effective anti-poverty program?

a. First, he says no. Then he will retract his statement. He will even praise the CCT as an innovative grassroots approach undertaken by the government.

b. No. He will point out that it does not address the roots of inter-generational poverty in the country. He will reject it as a band-aid solution which is being used by the government to buy the political support of the poor.

c. Most likely he will urge the government to rechannel the dole outs to strengthen social services and the foundations of the domestic economy.

11. Does he advocate gender rights?

a. Yes, he supports sexuality and gender rights. He actively campaigned for the passage of the Reproductive Health bill. However, he is hesitant to subsume gender to the political class struggle believing that identity issues have an independent dynamic.

b. Yes, he believes in RH, divorce, and the ending of discrimination based on gender. And he asserts that we must decisively destroy the political economic base that breeds a patriarchal culture. End feudal bondage by advancing the social revolution.

c. Yes, he believes in the equality of sexes and the proper recognition of feminist rights through legislation and other state-sponsored measures.

12. Does he join rallies?

a. Yes. Although he avoids political actions that would make him appear disrespectful to authorities such as lightning rallies, heckling, and burning of effigies.

b. Yes. He is an unrepentant advocate of People Power politics as he anchors the achievement of his political goals on the strength of the mass movement or the mass mobilization of the people.

c. Yes, as long as it is peaceful, lawful, colorful, environment-friendly, children-free, politician-free and will not cause traffic.

*****

If most of his answers are letter A, it means he belongs to an activist group which has already identified itself as a “junior partner” of the government. He called it critical collaboration but it is dismissed by other political forces as a case of shameful sell-out. It is one thing to push for reforms within the bureaucracy but it is already opportunism when you compromise your principles just to give absolute support to a conservative landlord president in exchange for some petty spoils from the pork largesse. Armchair intellectuals suddenly became respectable when the pro-Aquino activists turned to coffee house activism during Obama’s visit last April. It’s activism which mutated into a tragedy and farce.

If most of his answers are letter C, it means he is affiliated with middle-class activism. His direct political engagement is not consistent since his advocacies are few and specific. He often makes intelligent political posturing but sometimes it is fueled by a naïve worldview. Still, it is an intervention worth celebrating. He distrusts politicians but willing to work with government agencies to advance some reforms. However, it is rare that his networks have deep connections with the basic sectors and marginalized forces in society.

If most of his answers are letter B, it means he is a radical activist, and most probably a member or supporter of the national democratic movement. Mainstream media often refers to it as the extreme Left. He is an activist with a comprehensive critique of society and a revolutionary vision as he demands the total disruption and remaking of the moribund social order.

So what type of activist is your friend? The choice is yours, but here’s one advice: If love is a commitment, then choose the activist whose fidelity to the Cause is beyond question. Why surrender yourself to some petty reformism when you can embrace the promise of an authentic radicalism?

Written for The Diplomat

Myanmar is changing and changing in the right direction.

These were the exact words used by Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin when he spoke at the United Nations General Assembly of world leaders in New York on September 29, 2014.

He declared that “positive changes” and “winds of change” have spread across Myanmar in the past three years, which have become the solid foundations of a democratic state.

The foreign minister mentioned three waves of reforms initiated by the government: The first was the “peaceful transformation from the military government to a multiparty democratic system.” The second involved economic, administrative and private-sector development reforms. And the third is supposed to deliver benefits to the people by fulfilling their socio-economic needs.

It was the first wave of reforms that impressed the international community when Myanmar granted amnesties, released political prisoners, conducted elections, abolished press censorship, and allowed private newspapers to publish again.

But many of these reforms were questioned in recent months when state forces were accused of violating the rights of citizens, especially those who were protesting against government policies. The new UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, reported last July that there is a shrinking of democratic space for civil society and the media. The censorship board has been abolished but media persecution continues as critical journalists are either charged in the courts or detained for doing their job. There is media space but as the independent newspaper The Irrawaddy clarifies, “the limits of that space are still decided by the state.”

Another issue that Myanmar confronted in the past year is the ethnic and religious violence that has displaced Rohingya Muslims. The intermittent clashes between radical Buddhist groups and some Muslims also reflected the deep divide and continuing tension between several ethnic communities.

Perhaps in response to the accusation that the government is conspiring with Buddhists in attacking Muslim villages, the foreign minister urged critics to acknowledge the efforts of the government to bring peace and harmony in the country. “The history, the diversity and the complexity of the issue must be fully understood before jumping to conclusion. The situation should not be looked at in a superficial manner. The international community should contribute pragmatically and objectively to find a durable solution.”

He then enumerated several measures implemented by the government to promote human rights, such as the enactment of a new media law, granting of presidential amnesties, endorsement of a zero tolerance policy on the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war, prevention of recruitment of underage children in the army, and the revamping of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to make it more independent.

Related to this, the foreign minister asserted that it is time to remove Myanmar in the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council. “All major concerns related to human rights have been addressed to a larger extent in the new Myanmar. We have now reached the middle tier of the human rights ladder.”

Reacting to this statement, various activist groups highlighted the continuing “systematic rights abuses” perpetrated by the army and police against the civilian population. They also pointed out that the local human rights body was replaced with individuals affiliated with high officials. They were allegedly not consulted about this reshuffle.

Perhaps anticipating the voices of opposition, the foreign minister appealed for understanding, since Myanmar “democracy is still in its infancy” and that “the government has a long to-do list with limited capacity.” He assured global leaders that the Myanmar government is not complacent and that it’s aware of the challenges in reforming and building a democratic state. He also asked for fairness. “The development in Myanmar should also be viewed in a more balanced and objective manner.”

Indeed, the international community should encourage the wave of reforms to continue in the “new Myanmar.” It should recognize the decision of the Union Parliament to approve Myanmar’s accession to the Biological Weapons Convention (1972), and take note that Myanmar is currently the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; a daunting task since this is a crucial period for the regional grouping as it moves towards full integration next year. The world can also hope that the 14 peace agreements signed by the government will lead to a genuine national reconciliation and end the world’s longest ongoing civil war. And we can all get on board with Myanmar’s plan to graduate from Least Developed Countries status.

But the contrary voices that dispute the glowing report on Myanmar at the UN meeting should not be dismissed. They are valid since they seek to present what ordinary Burmese are experiencing on the ground. Myanmar should sit down with these groups, listen to their perspectives, and work with them in pursuing the reforms which are essential to make democracy a genuine phenomenon in the country.

Singapore Bans Documentary on Political Exiles

Written for The Diplomat

A 70-minute documentary on aging exiles reminiscing about their youth and dreams for Singapore has been banned by the government as a threat to national security.

The documentary, To Singapore, With Love by independent filmmaker Tan Pin Pin, featured interviews with political exiles who have been living outside Singapore for the past 35 to 50 years. But Singaporean residents won’t be able to watch these interviews and hear the stories of some of the prominent members of the country’s pioneer generation.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) explained that it classified the film as “Not Allowed for All Ratings” because it distorted the truth about a period in Singapore history: “The individuals featured in the film gave the impression that they are being unfairly denied their right to return to Singapore. They were not forced to leave Singapore, nor are they being prevented from returning.”

It added that the activists, opposition leaders and communists who challenged the leadership of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in the 1960s and 1970s are free to return to Singapore as long as they are willing to account for the criminal offences they committed in the past.

PAP has been Singapore’s ruling party since the late 1950s. According to the official history propagated by PAP, Singapore’s meteoric rise as a prosperous independent state was made possible after it defeated a communist plot to overthrow the government in the 1960s.

Director Tan Pin Pin expressed disappointment that her film, which received favorable reviews in many countries, will not have a public screening in Singapore. She said the film was made with the intent of helping Singaporeans gain a better understanding of their society.

“I wanted to understand how we became who we are by addressing what was banished and unspoken for. Perhaps what remains could be the essence of us today. I was also hoping that the film would open up a national conversation to allow us to understand ourselves as a nation better too,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

Indeed, the film could spark more interest about what really happened in Singapore in the 1960s. Aside from the PAP version of history, there is another viewpoint that accuses the PAP of brutally eliminating the political opposition in the 1960s. The PAP also allegedly labeled its critics as communists in order to consolidate political power.

Even if this is not true, many artists who signed an online petition believe that there are insufficient grounds to censor Tan Pin Pin’s film. “We would like to suggest that rather than banning the documentary, authorities release their version of the events in question, so that viewers can make up their own minds,” the petition declared.

For Tan Wah Piow, one of the exiles interviewed in the film, the ban has exposed PAP’s intolerance for other narratives of history. After watching the film, historian Pingtjin Thum disagreed with the censors that the film poses a threat to national security since what all the interviewees “have in common is a deep, abiding love for Singapore.”

Singapore will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary as a free nation and perhaps PAP should use this momentous occasion to promote reconciliation with its former enemies, especially those who were forced to go into exile many decades ago. Perhaps it’s time to recognize the role of banished leaders and marginalized groups in the making of modern Singapore.

Written for Manila Today

Two generations have dominated and are still dominating the early years of the 21st century. To borrow a few terms from American pop sociology, these are the baby boomers (our parents) and the millennials (our children). We stand in between these two generations which are separated by half a century. We act like a bridge that links the senior citizen baby boomers and the teenager millennials who continue to interact with each other despite their age gap in order to survive today.

Baby boomers

The baby boomers grew up in the turbulent years of the 1960s and early 1970s with many of them becoming anti-war activists and hippie rebels. Their radicalism pushed the civil rights movement into the mainstream and ushered the golden age of militant activism. But it also triggered a reactionary backlash in the 1980s that came to be known as neoliberalism. During this time, many of the baby boomers have become middle-aged professionals who replaced their limitless dreams of changing the world with the yuppie goals of owning a sports car, a house in the suburbs, a high-paying career, and a God-fearing family. But like economic bubbles, these middle class fantasies turned into nightmare when the proud baby boomers suddenly found themselves losing their homes, their jobs, and their life savings in the past two decades.

Today, they are already in their 60s yet they are forced to delay their retirement to pay for their health care and mortgage. They compete for jobs that give low wages without benefits; and they are desperately fighting to remain productive and relevant since there are no more unions that will fight for their welfare.

Millennials

Meanwhile, as the aging baby boomers struggle for subsistence in the selfie world, the millennials are infecting society with their youthful exuberance and naïve outlook in life. Like all the young people before them, they are still imbued with a rebellious spirit which is reflected in dizzying creative outbursts. But they were born at a time when excessive individualism has become the norm and self-centeredness is no longer seen as a sinful virtue. The young baby boomers thrived as a crowd while the millennials are always seeking recognition as trendsetting individuals.

The youth today are clueless about the power and relevance of the many since they grew up during the methodical destruction of collectives in society while the power of the one was being elevated as the supreme philosophy of our time. Sadly, this crass individualism is reinforced by the ubiquitous use of information technologies. Digital natives are so enamored with their app-hungry gadgets which prevented them from experiencing a more meaningful interaction with other members of the community.

Everything and everyone ends up being digitized today, and the millennials think it is fun without being aware of its thrilling impact on life in this world.

Bridge generation

What, then, shall we call ourselves – we who are no longer young but not yet old? We who dread the passing of the old world, we who disdain the reckless rise of the young, and we who claim that the future is ours for the taking. Are we doomed to affirm the legacy of the baby boomers while confronting the raging cultural revolution that will ultimately benefit the millennials? Is this our curse? We seem to be in the interregnum between great upheavals. Perhaps our historical role is to connect the old and new worlds.
We bridge the generation that experienced the horrors of war and the generation today that plays virtual wars. We were told by our elders to revive the affluent past yet we experienced only the fading away of this world. Our young could only refer to it as the mythical gilded age. Nation-building was the task of citizens who belonged in a collective (family, union, cooperative, club) but today it is supposedly the combined achievement of anonymous citizens. The mysterious “invisible hand”, it seems, has prevailed over the clinched fist at the moment.

Digital Natives

Our formative years were influenced by the omnipresent electronic media, and we thought we were the prophets who will herald the explosive growth of the mediaverse. We were nourished by the language of the old media and quickly learned the codes of the new media. But the millennials showed greater hyperactivity and natural adeptness in using the social media. When we were young, we used the typewriter bequeathed by the baby boomers whereas the millennials are using smartphones to process information. Even the desktop (that wonderful, complex machine that made our college years very productive) is now considered by the very young as an ancient computer model. The baby boomers are trying to be lola techies but at least many of them are still asserting the superior way of enjoying life in the real world as opposed to finding pleasure through simulation and automation.

Marcos Babies

In the Philippine context, it seems inevitable that our bridging role would appear to be political. We didn’t directly experience and witness the brutalities of Martial Law but our parents did. And despite their best efforts to hide from us what was really happening during that time, we internalized the rules of dictatorship through the behavior of people around us. We entered school while society was recuperating from the deadly blows inflicted by the Marcos regime. We can never testify about the human rights violations perpetrated by the state in the 1970s but we can attest how the repressive regime affected the lives of ordinary people and how it unleashed an irreversible damage in society.

It is our duty, therefore, to preserve the stories of traumatized survivors and tortured victims of the violent Martial Law regime. And we must share this narrative to the youth who learned about the history of Martial Law only through badly-written textbooks and slanted news reports. Indeed, how can they believe the First Quarter Stormers that Marcos was a horrible leader when those who him were either incompetent, corrupt, and dictatorial? If we fail to make them understand what it means to live under military rule, they will be vulnerable to the neo-Marcosian propaganda that we need an authoritarian state in order to impose discipline, order, and progress in the country.

“Lost Generation”

It is our generation who must have the imagination and boldness to propose the scrapping of the labor export policy. It was during our childhood years when the Philippines started exporting labor in a massive scale. When it proved to be financially rewarding for the bankrupt state, it became a permanent economic policy. We were overwhelmed with inspiring anecdotes of poor families which became instantly rich when one family member migrated and worked in another country. This and the aggressive promotion by the government triggered an exodus of workers. It was only much later when we realized that our obsession with the income aspect of migration has prevented us from understanding the more deleterious consequences of sending our people away. But by that time, labor export has ceased to be an aberration as it already transformed into a mainstream phenomenon.

Today, nobody is shocked anymore that 5,000 Filipinos leave every day to become overseas contract workers. The millenials even perceive it as an ordinary fact of life. Public debate is focused on making migration policies less inhuman instead of addressing the root causes of poverty, low productivity and joblessness in the country.

But after four decades of promoting overseas migration, the Philippines has remained a poor and backward nation. Indeed, remittances have become lifeline subsidies for individual families and the national economy, but they were earned at what expense? The country lost its precious human resources, although these could be offset by providing skills training to the youth. But for the children and families of migrant workers, what they lost can never be recovered. Imagine children growing up without their parents and separated families fighting alienation through weekly telephone chats. We belonged to these families and we were part of the generation that survived remote parenting. We are the “walking wounded” and living witnesses of how migration can both uplift and dislocate the lives of millions. It is tragic that a new generation has emerged believing that they can fulfill their dreams by becoming second class citizens in a foreign country.

Our task, therefore, is to provoke the millennials by showing them the pitfalls of becoming a “lost generation.”

Clash of generations

We bridge because we aspire to be one. We learn from the battles waged by each generation instead of focusing on the so-called clash of generations. Solidarity is more precious than blaming the old and ridiculing the young. And so we borrow from the passionate activism of the baby boomers and the cyber innovation of the millennials remembering that it is only through struggle that we remain young. In many ways, we are all baby boomers and millennials now – daring, inventive, fighter. Let us join the baby boomers in their last great battle for immortality; and let us link arms and share hashtags with the digital natives. The 20th century has ended; let us make this new century a better world for the next generation.

Written for The Diplomat

Aside from reaching out to his political opponents, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo spent his first week as Indonesia’s president-elect thanking volunteers and asking netizens to choose the members of his Cabinet.

Jokowi was proclaimed winner on July 22 by the Electoral Commission after he received 71 million votes, or 53 percent of total votes cast in the presidential election. He defeated former general Prabowo Subianto, who got 46.8 percent of the votes.

Jokowi was mayor of the city of Solo before he was elected governor of Jakarta, the country’s capital. As a politician, he became famous for his non-traditional methods of leadership, like making unannounced visits to government offices to check if civil servants were working efficiently.

Jokowi’s victory was instantly hailed as a big boost to Indonesia’s democracy, since it is the first time that the country’s president will have no ties to either the military or Suharto, who ruled as dictator for more than three decades.

The poor easily identified with Jokowi, who was born in a river bank slum. During the campaign, Jokowi often remarked to the delight of the listening crowd that he is just a “simple man who is skinny and who eats sweetened green bean soup and boiled bananas for breakfast.” Many were also inspired by his success as a furniture seller before entering politics. Meanwhile, young people found hope in his agenda of reform.

Jokowi’s victory speech highlighted the renewed volunteerism and optimism among the youth. “This presidential election has sparked new optimism for us, for this nation. Free souls and political responsibilities blossom within the souls of the new generation. The long-lost voluntarism (sic) is now back with a new spirit.”

And to encourage greater citizen participation, Jokowi surprised citizens when he asked Facebook users to vote for the 34 persons who should join his Cabinet. Jokowi’s social media team said this unprecedented and innovative proposal, dubbed the “People’s Choice for an Alternative Cabinet,” aims to encourage volunteers and citizens to continue influencing the political movement started by the president. During the first day of the poll, more than 18,000 online participants visited the website, which caused it to crash.

After his proclamation, Jokowi called for national reconciliation in a bid to persuade Prabowo supporters to recognize his victory. “No more number one or number two. All is one, for Indonesia,” he said. Jokowi has to expand his political base since his party does not control the majority of seats in the parliament.

Another problem for Jokowi is Prabowo’s refusal to concede defeat. In fact, Prabowo’s party has filed an election protest citing massive fraud and voting irregularities that allegedly distorted the results. Prabowo claimed that they have almost one million documents and 52,000 witnesses to prove that about 21 million votes were either lost or counted in favor of Jokowi.

Prabowo’s rejection of Jokowi’s proclamation initially caused the Indonesian stock market to plunge. However, Prabowo instructed his supporters not to provoke violence in challenging the election results. “We will continue our struggle to save the republic of Indonesia. We aim for real democracy, we want justice, and we’re willing to put everything on stake for the sake of justice. Now we continue our struggle through the legal way, the constitutional way.”

Jokowi is expected to survive this legal challenge and his inauguration as president is scheduled for October 22.

Indeed, a new era has begun in Indonesia. Here’s hoping it will continue to strengthen the country’s commitment to democracy.

Vietnamese Activists Get Three Years in Prison for ‘Obstructing Traffic’

Written for The Diplomat

Three Vietnamese activists were found guilty by a local court of “serious obstruction to traffic” when they rode their motorbikes last February from Ho Chi Minh City to Dong Thap province to visit a former political prisoner.

Prominent Vietnamese activist blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang was given a three-year prison sentence while her two other companions, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh and Nguyen Van Minh, received jail terms of two years and 2.5 years, respectively. The one-day trial was held six months after the three were arrested.

Twenty-one other activists took part in the activity last February but only three were charged for violating Article 245 (causing public disorder).

Bui Thi Minh Hang is a popular anti-China activist who is also a vocal critic of the government’s policies on land, religion and human rights. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh is a fellow activist-blogger. Nguyen Van Minh is a Hao Hao Buddhist sect follower and an activist for religious freedom. Many believe that Bui Thi Minh Hang was the real target of the police but the two other activists were also arrested to avoid accusations that authorities are unfairly persecuting anti-government activists.

More than one hundred friends, supporters and relatives of the three prisoners went to Dong Thap province to show support during the trial, but the police blocked them from the hearing, making further arrests.

According to Ngoc Nhi Nguyen, almost all of the visitors had been “stopped, harassed, threatened, barricaded, and even beaten up and arrested by the police.” He reported that anyone taking photos near the courthouse had their phones or cameras confiscated. Many were also arrested and herded inside waiting police buses and taken to an unknown location.

“The Vietnamese government is obviously too scared to allow its citizens to even come near the building housing the Court room, let alone allowing them inside to watch the proceed of the supposedly open trial,” he added.

There was also another report that some of the relatives were harassed by police the night before the scheduled hearing.

The unreasonable long prison sentence and the crackdown on the peaceful protest during the trial were quickly condemned by global human rights groups. They pointed out that the Vietnamese government, as a new member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, should be a model in respecting the human rights of its citizens.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, chided Vietnam for using traffic laws to prosecute the pro-democracy activists. “The Vietnamese government is now resorting to bogus traffic offenses to criminally prosecute activists. The authorities should recognize this case is not worth the international ridicule it will cause and drop the charges immediately.”

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, called on Vietnam to release without conditions all those who were detained by the police. He described the dispersal as “another attempt to punish peaceful activism in Vietnam.”

Even the U.S. embassy in Vietnam has issued a statement expressing concern over the guilty verdict given to the activist bloggers. “The use of public disorder laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is alarming.”

Vietnam has been criticized in the past for its severe treatment of dissident bloggers and pro-democracy activists. The recent prosecution involving a prominent activist blogger and an advocate of religious freedom will likely trigger international outrage, especially from those worried about the country’s worsening state of human rights and free speech.

Written for The Diplomat

Published by The Diplomat

The good: Five million people in Myanmar signed a petition asking Parliament to remove the undemocratic provisions in the 2008 Constitution. The bad: Thai military authorities enacted an interim constitution that gives sweeping powers to the army. The half-serious: Philippine President Benigno Aquino III hinted that he is open to the idea of amending the Constitution amid declining popularity ratings.

Myanmar’s opposition party the National League for Democracy and activist network 88 Generation Peace and Open Society were able to gather 4,953,093 signatures in more than 300 townships across the country in support of the petition to amend certain provisions of the Constitution that perpetuate the military dictatorship.

They focused on Article 436 of the Constitution, which stipulates that any constitutional amendment requires the approval of 75 percent of Parliament. This means that any amendment would need the army’s concurrence, since 25 percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for the military. Perhaps the opposition is particularly interested in deleting Article 436 because the provision makes it difficult to scrap Article 59(F), which bars Myanmar citizens with foreign spouses and foreign-born children from running for president or vice president. It is Article 59(F) that is stopping opposition leader and global democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president in 2015, since she was married to a British national.

Constitutional reform is seen by the opposition as essential to Myanmar’s transition to democracy. Even the Parliament has formed a Joint Committee to Review the Constitution, and this body recently recommended the amendment of more than 450 of the 457 articles in the Constitution, including article 436. For Khin Zaw Win, director of the policy advocacy group Tampadipa Institute, the charter needs to be revised to allow for more decentralization and a devolution of power.

Myanmar’s government is lukewarm about the proposal to amend the Constitution, but it cannot simply ignore the voice of five million voters. Indeed, the proposed constitutional reform could reduce the ability of the military to influence Parliament, but it would certainly encourage the greater participation of opposition forces in the governance of the country.

Alongside five million people in Myanmar signing a petition to draft a new constitution, the Thai military government (known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)) has enacted an interim constitution without popular approval.

The drafting of a new constitution was supposed to signal the country’s transition to civilian rule after the army launched a coup last May. But based on the 48 articles of the Constitution issued by the NCPO, it seems the military will retain considerable power in the new government.

The constitution mandates the creation of several bodies that would govern the country, namely the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, the Constitutional Drafting Committee, and the NCPO. It is the NCPO, or military leadership, which will choose the members of these bodies.

Moreover, the constitution has placed several restrictions on selecting members of the legislative assembly. For example, a person who was a member of a political party in the last three years cannot join the body. Since politicians belonging to the major political parties are barred by the Constitution from serving in the government, military officials and their allies will dominate the interim government.

The Thai Citizens Against Dictatorship described the Constitution as Thailand’s “most anti-democratic constitution in half a century.” They zeroed in on Article 44, which empowers the NCPO to intervene in almost all aspects of governance. Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also questioned this provision. “Article 44 clearly states that the power has binding effect in legislative and judiciary aspects, without a process to challenge or scrutinize them. That means it’s the ability to issue a law or reverse a court verdict.”

The army earlier vowed to implement political and electoral reforms before handing power back to the civilian government. But the enactment of the interim constitution has doused hopes that the military is ready to give up power and allow Thailand to successfully reclaim its democracy.

As for democracy, it became a trending topic in the Philippines last week after President Benigno Aquino III revealed in an exclusive media interview that he is now amenable to a proposed amendment to the 1987 Constitution so that he can run for a second term, by removing term-limits for elected officials. Some of his former supporters reminded him that his mother fought hard to prevent the return of a dictatorship by including a term-limit provision for politicians in the 1987 Constitution.

There were proposals to amend the Constitution as early as 2010, but Aquino remained indifferent to these initiatives. So why suddenly change position now.

The president’s allies argued that Aquino should be allowed to run for a second term in 2016 so that he can continue to implement his reform agenda. For his part, Aquino said charter change should be implemented to limit the vast powers of the Supreme Court, which recently declared that Aquino’s budget reform program was unconstitutional.

However, there are those who think Aquino declared support for charter change in order not to become a lame duck president, whose term will expire in less than two years. His critics also described Aquino’s statement as a ploy to distract public attention from the corruption and impeachment cases that Aquino is currently facing. His ratings are down amid allegations that he continued to distribute pork barrel funds to legislators and political allies, despite the Supreme Court order declaring this funding mechanism to be a violation of the Constitution.

Whatever his intentions, Aquino seems unwilling to stop his public supporters and allies in Congress from pushing the charter change.

If 2013 was the year of elections and protest upheavals in Southeast Asia, it seems 2014 will be known as the year of constitutional reforms. Charter reforms usually happen because there is a strong public desire, and the goal is often to strengthen democratic rule. However, these initiatives can also be manipulated to serve the interests of the ruling clique. In the end, it is the citizens who must decide whether or not charter amendments are genuinely needed.

Published by Bulatlat

1. President Noynoy Aquino is sincere in abolishing the pork barrel system. PDAF (legislative pork) was abolished but the funds were embedded in the national budget. DAP (presidential pork) was discontinued but the unconstitutional principles that sustained it were maliciously inserted in the 2015 General Appropriations Bill. Aquino adopted and expanded the crooked practices of his predecessors like bloating the budget with lump sums and other non-itemized unprogrammed funds. The People’s Initiative (PI) would have been unnecessary if Aquino had completely dismantled the foundations of corruption in the budget system.

2. It is only the Left which continues to insist that pork is still intact in the budget. There are eight major groups which launched the PI – each has specific proposals on how to eradicate corruption in the country. But they all arrived at the same conclusion that Aquino and his allies have continued to distribute pork through various insidious means. They have conflicting political views, some of them are even against the move to impeach or oust Aquino, but what bonded them together was their collective outrage over pork politics. It’s either the Left is incredibly good at brainwashing the other PI proponents or there is a genuine disgust against pork and its current permutations.

3. Anti-pork groups have no clear alternatives. But the demands of activist groups have been very well articulated already since last year: Scrap pork, prosecute the thieves, and rechannel funds to social services. Then they filed two cases in the Supreme Court to invalidate the PDAF and DAP which should have been enough to prove that they are really determined to win the fight against pork. But after winning in the Supreme Court (not once, but twice), they wanted a guarantee that the pork monster will not be revived in the future. Thus, the PI – a proposed bill that criminalizes and penalizes the introduction of all types of pork in the national budget. The bill also restores the dignified meaning of ‘savings’ as against Abad’s distorted interpretation of the term. In addition, it provides the procedure for accessing the special funds and it enumerates the illegal acts in implementing or amending the appropriations law.

4. The intolerant Left is incapable of working with other groups. The PI is a collaboration of various political and civic groups, including the Left. The Left participated in drafting the PI petition and it helped in organizing the People’s Congress, launching the sign-up drive, and building the campaign machinery across the country. The PI proved that activists are ready to join hands, link arms, and sign their names together with religious groups, academics, lawyers, netizens, and all those involved and interested in the struggle for change in society. We are different in so many ways but our shared humanity including our noble vision of the world is enough reason to march forward; united and eager to claim a brighter future.

5. Representative democracy is true democracy. Agree, assuming that elections in the country are truly free and political dynasties do not lord it over Philippine politics. But because generally, Philippine elections and politics could not be characterised as genuinely free and representative, it is imperative on the people to continue exerting political pressure on all branches of government – executive, legislative, judicial – to push for the people’s rights, interests and welfare. If government officials refuse to heed the call of the people then there is the option of direct democracy. The people themselves would have to wield its power to propose legislation through PI. From the point of view of those who enjoy the spoils of power, this is mob democracy. For those who are allied with the ruling clique, this is a mere anti-Aquino plot. But for ordinary citizens, this is pure democracy at work. Hopefully, history will judge it as a brilliant experiment to deepen the roots of democracy in the polis.

6. The Left is using the pork issue to advance a sinister agenda. Ever since the Left mobilized its ranks to push for the total scrapping of pork, it has been unfairly accused by yellow pundits and reactionary intellectuals of exploiting the issue to carry out an evil plan. But they are silent about the specifics of this supposedly devious ploy. They are satisfied in echoing the propaganda of Malacanang that the Left is out to destroy democracy, bring down the government, and spread mayhem in the country. The Left does not hide its disdain for the rotten political system and it is not alone in clamoring for the overhaul of the country’s political economy. But to argue that it exists to destroy democracy is a misguided judgment. What could be more democratic than asking people to express their sentiments in the streets? Petitioning the Supreme Court will undermine democracy? How is constitutional democracy threatened by the PI?

The irony of our situation today is that it is the president, the protector of the constitution, who has been found guilty of implementing an unconstitutional budget program; while the Left, the subversive of society, is affiliated with a campaign that seeks to strengthen the principles of the country’s fundamental law. It is the president who is the real threat to our democratic way of life.

7. Aquino is a good leader who listens to his bosses. The PI exposed this as an empty boast. He vowed to abolish pork but corruption has persisted. He stubbornly defended DAP which was used as a tool for political patronage. And instead of accounting the DAP funds, he refused to be express remorse. He even claimed that the bosses wanted him to run for a second term. The bosses are demanding accountability but Aquino responded by offering the second term proposal. For many groups, this was the convincing proof that Aquino cannot be trusted anymore to continue the crusade for a clean government. The PI was a response of the frustrated constituency after Aquino showed his unwillingness to heed the call of the bosses for a thorough sweep of the corrupt bureaucracy.

8. The Left is rigidly focused on its outmoded beliefs and practices. The PI is not part of the Left’s founding programs. It is not a core demand of its mass organizations. Ten years ago, would you expect the Left to be leading a PI campaign? The radical Left is part of a movement seeking direct and substantive reforms using the framework provided by the constitution? Perhaps it is time to revise the textbook stereotype about the Left being a static movement.

9. The anti-pork movement is mainly a political noise in Metro Manila. The PI was launched in Cebu. There were more than a thousand delegates in the People’s Congress representing all regions in the country. Sign-up events were simultaneously done in various provinces last August 25. Support for the PI came from broad segments of the population, including institutions such as universities, churches, and some local government units.

10. Only Aquino can unite the people. And his preferred indicator of unity is the wearing of yellow ribbons. But to be fair, it is because of his intransigence that inspired our groups to coalesce and launch the PI. So yes, he is effective in uniting the people, including those who are not supposed to work with each other and embark on a common political platform.

Popularity is not enough to sustain a leader’s political capital. He must always strive to be credible. In the case of Aquino, his insincerity to fight corruption has forced his erstwhile supporters to find an alternative to continue the struggle for reforms. Today, it is the PI which has the most promising potential in unleashing a wave of democratic reforms in the governance of the country. To think that it is the people (six million to be exact), and not just one person, who will determine the success of this movement is a already a precious albeit risky idea, All things considered, the PI is a struggle worth signing and fighting for.

1. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) was reestablished on December 26, 1968 in Alaminos, Pangasinan. Its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), was formed on March 29, 1969 in Capas, Tarlac. The revolutionary alliance, National Democratic Front (NDF), was founded on April 24, 1973. The CPP-NPA-NDF view armed revolution as the effective and ultimate solution to replace the existing system which they believe is already beyond redemption.

Since its inception, the CPP has been inspired by the teachings of communist leaders Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Lenin and most especially Mao Zedong, because of the country’s similarities to the conditions in China before the victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949. The early leaders of the NPA came from veteran members of the Huk army, which led the Filipino resistance against the invading Japanese force during World War II, peasants and the youth. The NDF laid out its 10-point program (later expanded into a 12-point program) as basis of unity in establishing a people’s democratic republic.

2. The Maoist military strategy of encircling the cities from the countryside was adopted by the CPP which was unprecedented because no archipelagic nation has ever done this. The NPA preserved its strength and thrived even under the harsh conditions during Martial Law. It waged a nationwide guerrilla war without the geographical advantage of Vietnam whose neighboring states were either communist or anti-American.

3. In the 1980s, most of the communist parties in Southeast Asia have been already defeated or disbanded but the CPP achieved remarkable military strength and political influence during this period. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has even claimed that the NPA reached its peak in 1986 when the number of its fighters was estimated to be about 25,000 across the country. The NPA has denied that it reached this size although a few years ago it made a declaration that it already surpassed its armed strength in the 1980s in terms of number of fighters with high powered rifles.

4. The reestablishment of the CPP was a legacy of the rectification movement initiated by young activists who summed up the bitter experience of the old Communist Party (Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, 1930) which suffered significant political losses in the 1950s. Three decades later, the CPP would launch another rectification campaign to reaffirm its founding principles.

When the Soviet bloc disintegrated, the CPP was among the few communist parties in the world which continued to defend Marxism. It argued that revisionism, not socialism, which was discredited when Soviet Russia collapsed in the 1990s.

The CPP became the first Philippine political party to admit that it committed serious political errors in the 1980s. According to the CPP, these grave mistakes led to the substantial reduction of its mass base and mass support most especially in the provinces. It also apologized for the excesses and human rights violations perpetrated by some NPA units.

The rectification campaign lasted throughout the 1990s which the CPP credited for the resurgence of the local mass movement. The Philippine government will be the first to dispute this but what is certain is that the CPP has remained a major political force in the country; and after 45 years, it continues to lead the world’s longest Maoist revolution.

5. The CPP benefited from the revival of progressive activism in the 1960s which came to be known as the national democratic movement. The ND movement was partly inspired by the “Second Propaganda Movement” advocated by Filipino statesman and nationalist intellectual Claro M Recto.

6. The revolutionary political program of the CPP is its major advantage over the dull, elitist and anti-people agenda of mainstream trapo parties. Land reform continues to be its centerpiece program in the countryside, thus the continuing support of poor farmers for the armed revolution. Then and now, its commitment to end inequality and oppression has attracted the support of many sectors and intellectuals. Women’s rights, gender equality, IP empowerment, environment protection, workers rights, socialized housing, free education, free healthcare – and many other advocacies we hear today have been articulated already by the cadres of the CPP-NPA-NDF in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

7. Through its nationwide network that can reach the remotest parts of the archipelago, the CPP has immensely contributed to the spread and development of the Filipino language. From the start, the CPP has consciously and creatively used the language of the masses in its publications, organizational documents, and community activities. It has also pushed for the preservation, enrichment and popularization of our cultural heritage, especially the protection of IP practices.

The political practices of the CPP also had a profound impact in the academe. Marxism and its related subject matters became proper academic disciplines after the CPP gained strength and influence in the 1970s. It also encouraged the mainstreaming of nationalist historiography and radical scholarship by challenging academics to merge theory and practice, revise the colonial orientation of Philippine education and make university researches relevant and responsive to the concrete needs of the Filipino people.

8. The peace talks between the NDF and successive Philippine governments started in 1986. Both parties signed several agreements including the landmark agreement known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL in 1998.

9. The CPP was outlawed which prevented it from participating in the elections or revealing the identities of its leading cadres and members. But even if membership in the CPP is no longer a crime today, it is still dangerous to express support for the CPP because of the continuing irrational red scare in the mainstream bureaucracy, especially in the armed forces.

The CPP has rejected the current reactionary electoral politics since it views the exercise as futile and a sham democratic ritual manipulated by the moneyed and warlord elite parties. It said that it respected the decision of some progressive and patriotic forces to join the reactionary elections but it remained firm in asserting that the principal form of struggle to achieve genuine change is still the protracted people’s war.

10. Joma Sison is the founding chairman of the CPP. In 1986, he was listed by the Bibliographical Dictionary of Marxism (London) as among the most important 200 Marxists since the 1848 Communist Manifesto. Sison sought asylum in the Netherlands after Cory Aquino cancelled his passport while he was in a lecture tour in Europe in 1988.

Last March, the Philippine army claimed that it arrested the top cadres of the CPP: Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria.

The people’s war is currently not yet strong enough to topple the ruling system but as long as the dominant system continues to be in tatters, the revolutionary upheaval promised by the CPP-NPA-NDF will remain a formidable alternative that gives hope to the masses, including this author.

Written for The Diplomat

The Malaysian government revealed that it is studying a proposal to ban Facebook, in response to the rising number of abuses reported on the popular social network.

Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek made the announcement after a Facebook user posted a doctored photo of a road accident which insulted Malaysian King Tuanku Abdul Halim.

“If the people are of the opinion that Facebook should be closed, we are prepared to look into the matter,” said Shabery. But the minister also admitted that blocking Facebook is “radical and quite impossible” considering there are more than 15 million Facebook users in Malaysia.

Netizens and activists quickly lambasted the ministry for contemplating the social network’s closure. For free speech advocate Masjaliza Hamzah, the proposal to ban Facebook is another proof of the government’s distorted view of the Internet. Woon King Chai of the Centre for a Better Tomorrow wrote that it is unnecessary to censor Facebook since the majority of users are responsible. “Is the minister also suggesting that cars should be banned in Malaysia too because they cause road accidents and fatalities?”

Shabery acknowledged that there are only 2,000 cases of abuse reported by Facebook users.

Many also reminded the government of the overall positive impact of Facebook in society. Aside from providing a platform for youth interaction, Facebook has also boosted business opportunities in Malaysia.

As an alternative to closing down Facebook, some have suggested the registration of Facebook accounts with the government and the amendment of the Sedition Act to cover those who use social media to spread religious hate speech. But the problem with these proposals is that even if they do not advocate the absolute censorship of Facebook, they also pose a threat to free speech.

Meanwhile, the national police force reported that it has already formed a task force to monitor and take action against those who abuse social media to spread racist remarks and hate speech.

Shabery’s idea of a Facebook ban is not entirely new. Two weeks ago, Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for the censorship of the Internet to protect public morality.

Mahathir has already been advocating a stricter regulation of the Internet for several months, but he reiterated his demand after claiming that his article about the Jews and the conflict in Palestine has been “prevented from being linked to Facebook without any explanation.

“The internet is not the free alternative to the state-controlled print and electronic media it is touted to be. It is subject to even more censorship than Governments could exercise. The people who host these platforms and servers can censor,” wrote Mahathir in his widely read blog.

His post was likely blocked because it was reported for abuse after he described the Jews as behaving worse than the Nazis.

Mahathir argued that Internet censorship is needed to protect children and the public from being exposed to dangerous topics.

“Incest, child sex, sex with animals, sexual parties, sex in public and many other practices which we still feel are wrong will soon be a part of the expression of freedom and equality. All these will [be] promoted on the internet. I don’t care how sacred is freedom but I think the time has come for Governments, at least the Malaysian Government to censor the internet,” he wrote.

Mahathir’s contention that his post was blocked by Facebook is indeed a cause for concern, but his proposed remedy – the absolute censorship of the web – is alarmist, and an extreme approach to advocating a safer Internet. He should recall the bill he signed in 1999, which laid down the framework as to why the Internet must remain open and free for the benefit of society.

Internet freedom in Malaysia is essential since mainstream media is already heavily regulated by the state. No less than Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has repeatedly assured the public that online free speech will never be curtailed. But Najib should advise the government’s ministers, retired politicians, and other influential authorities to refrain from making direct and indirect threats about undermining that freedom.

Malaysian Leaders Unite for Justice in MH17 Downing

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After the historic victory of Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo in the Indonesian presidential election, the most significant news story of the week in Southeast Asia is the coming together of Malaysian politicians to condemn the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 that killed 298 passengers and crew members.

Malaysia’s parliament held an emergency session on July 23 and unanimously approved a motion condemning those responsible for firing a missile that led to the crash of MH17 in eastern Ukraine during its flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The motion also called for a “comprehensive investigation to be carried out to bring those responsible to justice.” In a rare moment in Malaysian politics, leaders of the ruling and opposition parties set aside partisan differences to pass the resolution.

The opposition even praised Prime Minister Najib Razak for his success in clinching a deal with eastern Ukrainian rebels to allow Malaysia to secure the MH17 black box and the remains of the victims. The agreement would also make it possible for a Malaysia-led team to investigate the crash site, although this has yet to happen as of this writing.

The deal that Najib secretly negotiated with the rebels was hailed by many analysts as a diplomatic coup for Malaysia. On his Facebook page, Najib explained why he chose a quiet approach in dealing with the rebels.

“These were extraordinary circumstances which called for extraordinary measures. There were risks involved in pursuing this agreement. But we felt an obligation to explore all avenues to break the impasse, and secure the return of the remains and the black boxes. After meeting the families, I felt that we owed it to them to act,” he wrote.

Najib also assured the public that the deal was finalized without giving any concessions to the rebels.

No party has claimed responsibility for the MH17 crash, although Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of being guilty of the fatal missile launch. Malaysia has not made any accusations yet, and its position since last week has been to ask for an independent probe into the disaster.

Members of parliament like Wee Choo Keong commended Najib’s decision to shun a combative attitude while coordinating with the other countries involved in the disaster. “Under normal circumstances, the ‘popular’ or easiest way out for any PM was to go along with the power[s] that be by condemning another nation on the shooting down of MH17, but our PM did not embark on such irresponsible act,” the parliamentarian noted on his website.

Malaysian leaders were joined by ordinary citizens who have been actively demanding the prosecution of those who ordered the shooting down of the passenger plane. Writer V Shuman noted how the MH17 tragedy has almost miraculously united Malaysian society.

“This tragedy has united Malaysians in grieving, across racial and religious divide[s] as well as political leanings. We see, after a long time, a rare occasion where politicians and their supporters, and even racial and religious bigots, have stopped spouting nonsense and bickering among themselves,” he wrote.

But bigger challenges lie ahead, since there are fears that the evidence of the crash has been tampered with already. Malaysia may have to decisively confront the superpower countries involved in the crash and the wider Ukrainian conflict, once the independent probe has done its work. In the meantime, Malaysia should continue to prioritize the return of the victims’ remains to their respective home countries.

Written for Bulatlat

The annual state of the nation address is a must read for all citizens who are eager to know the president’s self-rated accomplishment report and priority programs. It is also relevant for what it fails to mention or what the president refuses to acknowledge. It is both a historical document and a propaganda material that can serve or undermine the political interest of the ruling party. It is useful to monitor the country’s development, the reforms instituted by every government, and the varied excuses of past leaders as to why they failed to uplift the living conditions of our people.

Admittedly, the Sona is packed with beautifully-written lies and inspiring rhetoric. But there are few times when it can provide a glimpse of truth and this is usually the first Sona of the new president who is intent on highlighting the woes he inherited from his predecessor. Read for instance the inaugural Sona speeches of Presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos.

But what is deeply troubling and tragic in the Sona speeches of Macapagal and Marcos in the 1960s is the surreal similarities of the country’s conditions during that time and the present. It is as if the social problems mentioned by both presidents have simply mutated into more sinister forms. Many of the quotes I selected from these Sona speeches are familiar because they echo today’s headlines such as corruption and immorality in high places, poverty in the rural areas, and bureaucratic failure to address the country’s problems.

Some of the Sona excerpts are interesting because they refer to issues which are no longer reported like cattle theft and pirate attacks around Manila Bay; or the vision of the government during that time (science community in Taguig). There were proposals and bold reforms that remain a dream to this day like eradicating smuggling, completing the land reform, and extending the railways to the North.

Finally, these Sona speeches validate the continuing struggle of Filipinos for genuine change. How come succeeding presidents have failed to solve the country’s decades-old problems? It is because the solutions offered by the status quo have never changed all this time. Onward with the revolution.

January 22, 1962 Diosdado Macapagal

“It is a wasted effort to steep the young in virtue and morality only to let them realize as they grow up that their elders are neither moral nor virtuous.”

“This is indeed a nation of contrasts where very few regions and communities enjoy affluence in contrast to widespread poverty in others.”

“(I propose) the creation of an Anti-Smuggling Office to eradicate smuggling activities that seriously deprive the National Treasury of due customs and internal revenue receipts.”

January 28, 1963

“The government was bankrupt…Graft and corruption had seeped into every nook and crevice of the government, both national and local. The people had assumed an attitude of cynicism, an attitude that made them shrug off corruption as inevitable.”

“As long as the President of the Republic abides by the decisions of the Supreme Court, there can be and there will be no dictatorships in this country.”

“We issued an executive order prohibiting government officials from having official transactions with any of the President’s immediate relatives.”

“Among the nationals, we took action on the following persons: 1) those who utilized organized political power to build business empires, and vice-versa; 2) those who misused public trust to amass wealth; 3) those who evaded the payment of taxes; 4) those who perpetrated smuggling; 5) those who committed copra overpricing.”

“The law can be justly merciless too, in its retribution on those who believe that they are above the law.”

“The ‘tong’ system in which businessmen made regular payments to government officials has ended…The commission of graft at the higher echelons has been virtually terminated.”

“Our pledge during the campaign was not to lower the prices but to stop rising prices…This is evidenced by our posters and radio jingles all over the country which cried: ‘Stop corruption! Stop rising prices!”

“The time has come to abolish tenancy in our farms…we must now do away with tenancy which has become the centuries-old tattoo of economic slavery and social degradation for the man who tills the farm.”

January 27, 1964

“We must increase the minimum wage while assuring a reasonable margin of profit for employers.”

January 25, 1965

“The Filipino way of life consists of three minimum elements, namely, the system of freedom, the love for peace and the sustenance of the rule of law.”

“The expansion projects of the Philippine National Railways would extend its lines by 310 kilometers from Nueva Ecija to Cagayan in the North.”

“An area comprising about one hectare of Manila Bay in Navotas, Rizal was reserved as a fisheries development center…Pier 14 was declared for the exclusive use of fishing vessels.”

“The ‘Operation Barrio Titulo’ was designed to deliver land titles otherwise lying idle in the Offices of the Registers of Deeds.”

“Considerable headway has also been made in combating cattle theft. 696 rustlers have been arrested and 1,554 animals recovered, some 81 percent of the total stolen.”

“Our (Sabah) claim has been bolstered by the written support of Indonesia and the formal commitment of Malaysia to settle it by peaceful means, particularly through the World Court.”

“(I proposed a bill) to reduce Congressional allowances to a level that would be satisfactory to the people.”

January 24, 1966 Ferdinand Marcos

“Congress is the ‘seat of reason’ and the Executive is the ‘seat of will.’ Reason without the power of will is impotent, and will unaided by reason degenerates into brute and force.”

“Election – the noble process of manifesting the mandate of the majority’s will – has been degraded into a contest of the rich and the unscrupulous. Apparently, only by a miracle, so the observers say, has the deserving but penurious candidate won in an election.”
“Our industries are suffering from being too thin in capital base, too fat in accounts receivables, too starved for credit and too drained of profits.”

“There is a very disturbing upsurge in the incidence of criminality in our country. The crime clock indicates murder and homicide every hour, theft every 30 minutes, robbery every hour, sexual offenses, estafa and falsification every two hours.”

January 23, 1967

“The crisis consisted in a bankrupt government with a raided treasury, debt-ridden government corporation, inefficient agricultural, smuggling, lawlessness, rising prices, declining terms of trade.”

“The whole year of 1966 no releases for what is commonly referred to as the ‘pork barrel’ were made notwithstanding political importunings.”

“My countrymen, we are in Vietnam because we want to survive in freedom.”
“We have a gap in agriculture to bridge. This may well be called the ‘dry gap.’

“We have proposed the establishment of an International Research Institute for Coconut similar to the IRRI.”

“It is needless to remind you of the evil effects of forest vandalism…We are destroying resources with wanton indifference.”

“Our allocation for public education is 30 percent of the total annual budget of the National Government.”

“We are no longer what we always believed we were – a nation of incompetents and failures. We have become a nation of achievers.”

“An increasing number of piratical raids in Manila Bay and the Visayas-Mindanao area has also been noted.”

“On my instructions, the Social Security Commission and the Department of Labor have undertaken a study toward the institution of an unemployment insurance scheme for the first time in the Philippines.”

“It is unfortunate that many valid liberal causes have been denounced as communistic by those among us of an authoritarian bent; and equally unfortunate that the essentially conspiratorial character of Philippines Communism has been taken too lightly by others.”

“To those who seek to overthrow the Government, we shall respond in the only language they know – the language of firmness. But to those who are merely misguided and are sincerely working to uplift the common man, we offer the loving embrace of our people in a common effort to build a just and affording society.”

“We used to pride ourselves in being a generation of fighters. Today, we are called upon to become a generation of builders.”

“Today, the great epic of national development is working itself out in terms of a thousand acts of courage and faith day after day among our countrymen, and the whole society is the theater of action.”

January 22, 1968

“All major services of the Armed Forces have been utilized in the peace and order drive, resulting in the immediate breakup of pirate gangs in the Visayas and Mindanao. The government today is coping more effectively with the menace from roving Huk bands, smuggling syndicates, carnapping groups, kidnapping, rape and robbery, hoodlums and teenage gangs.”

January 27, 1969

“The year 1968 saw the end of frustration, resignation, cynicism and indolence, of complacency, and of indifference, the chief obstacles to Philippine progress. On the other hand, the past year marked the beginning of purposive, concerted action for national progress, the beginning of our national metamorphosis.”

“In 1968, the New Filipino and the New Filipinism came into being.”

“The political structure that was erected during the first half of the century, save for a few insignificant alterations, has remained unchanged to the present day. The inefficiency and the immorality in government are partly due to this defective political system.”

“A breakthrough in rice production enabled us to export the staple for the first time in our history.”

“At the end of 1969, we expect all of Central Luzon to be a land reform area.”
“A survey in Mindanao in 1966 showed that 60 percent of our people die without ever seeing a doctor or a nurse.”

“Until 1965, the Philippines was one of the three countries in Asia with the poorest telecommunications system”

“Already in existence are 21 telegraph stations, 25 radio-telegraph stations, two radio stations, and eight telegraph-telephone stations.”

“A Department of Labor study on the ‘brain drain’ problem has brought to light the exploitation of our doctors and nurses abroad under the exchange visitors program, and the unrestricted migration of technicians and skilled workers of developed countries.”

“To help hard-pressed parents, we scrapped textbook rentals in public intermediate schools.”

“During my state visit to three neighboring countries, I also proposed a University of Asia.”

“I am gratified that despite upheavals on campuses all over the world, our students have been more responsible. They demonstrate, but peaceably; they engage in the national dialogue over important issues and they are responsive to the challenges of nation-building. And it is precisely for this reason that I have initiated the move to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18 years.”

“On April 6, 1968, we proclaimed 35 hectares located at Bicutan, Taguig, Rizal, as the site of the Philippine Science Community.”

“We welcome the new, purposeful militancy and dynamism of our youth and students. We must enlist their energies, their talents and their idealism to the cause of orderly progress and change, to the cause of expanding freedom and welfare for all our people.”

“I am creating a national youth commission which shall advise the President on youth and student affairs…I propose passage of a Magna Carta for students.”

“I propose a complete and immediate embargo on all luxury and non-essential goods. The continuous and unrestricted importation of such goods strains our foreign reserves, corrupts the tastes of our people, and diminishes our capital resources for the development of agriculture and industry.”

“We shall initiate immediately a program to remove our major military camps from the metropolitan area to new sites farther from the centers of population.”

“Political and social institutions that merely perpetuate entrenched privileges based on the accident of birth must be remolded or replaced with new ones that promote genuine democracy.”

“The democratic dialogue must be preserved. The clash of ideas is the glory and the safeguard of democracy.”