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.

For the third time since 2016, the Philippine government has relaunched the controversial anti-drug campaign, known locally as Oplan Tokhang, amid continuing concern that the police-led operations have led to massive human rights abuses.

Tokhang has long been a top priority of President Rodrigo Duterte, who vowed to eradicate illegal drugs in three to six months after his rise to power in 2016.

But soon after it began, Tokhang was unsurprisingly blamed for the spate of extrajudicial killings in urban poor communities, with the police claiming that they were only forced to retaliate because suspected drug operators and peddlers were resisting arrests.

But the relaunch of Tokhang, despite its notorious record, could be less about enhancing the image of the police than a political tool intended to revive panic among the poor and discourage the rest of the population to challenge the president who has already stated his intention to amend the 1987 Constitution this year, a divisive move that could spark a political crisis as the ruling party attempts to further consolidate its power.

Read more at The Diplomat

What’s Next for the Philippines as Duterte Ends Communist Peace Talks?

This week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed a proclamation terminating the peace process with the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF). Though it is still too early to determine exactly what this means for one of Asia’s longest insurgencies, the development bears careful watching in the context of the Duterte administration’s evolving governance of the Philippines.

Though there have been previous pronouncements which have simply suspended peace talks, Duterte’s proclamation signed on November 23 is different because it formally closes the door for now to the resumption of negotiations. In that sense, it represents an end to the peace process for the first time since 1999, when former President Joseph Estrada issued a similar directive and launched an all-out war campaign against communist rebels belonging to the New People’s Army (NPA).

Beyond all this, what really worries many people in the Philippines is the repeated pronouncements of Duterte and his rabid supporters about the establishment of a so-called revolutionary government to solve the country’s problems. Some believe it is being peddled to implement Duterte’s vision of turning the Philippines into a federal state. But there is also the highly probable scenario of Duterte establishing a dictatorship similar to what Marcos did in the past. Seen from this perspective, the conflict with the NPA is something that any authoritarian leader would want to escalate to push the country nearer to a total war scenario and compel the use of extralegal powers of the state.

Read more at The Diplomat

Death in custody of a Nobel laureate, sentencing bloggers, and Pakistan’s UN review. Last July 2018 in the Asia-Pacific region saw the death of China’s most renowned political prisoner, harsh convictions against dissident bloggers in Vietnam, threats to encryption in Australia, concerns about PNG’s cybercrime act, the first ever review of Pakistan’s human rights record by the UN Human Rights Committee, and more. Read more.

Historic court victories on right to privacy in India and LGBTQI+ in South Korea. Historic court rulings in India and South Korea affirming the right to privacy and the equal recognition of LGBTQI+ were among the inspiring stories in the month of August – islands in a sea of relentless attacks against members of the media across the Asia-Pacific region. Read more.

Media murders, illegal anonymity & toxic politics: September in Asia/Pacific. September was a gloomy month for free expression in the region, which saw a surge in media killings in India, the banning of anonymous online comments and chats in China, the closure of a newspaper and dozens of critical radio stations in Cambodia, and the filing of criminal cases against internet users in several countries for ‘insulting’ top government leaders. Read more.

Published by Manila Today

Is the ‘Greater Capital Region’ (GCR) the new National Capital Region (NCR) of the Philippines? This geopolitical category refers to Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog, and Central Luzon. Though it has yet to be officially acknowledged in the bureaucracy, some development planning institutions are already using the term GCR in their feasibility studies.

It reflects the spread of urbanization, the congestion in the NCR, and the continuing in-migration phenomenon. For economists, GCR represents the rapid growth of the local economy. Its share in the country’s GDP is enormous and it reportedly has promising investment potential.

What they fail to mention is that GCR, like NCR before it, embodies the fundamental weaknesses of Philippine political economy such as uneven geographical development, overconcentration of resources in the capital region, neglect of the countryside, backward rural economy caused by land monopoly, extraction of rural wealth by Manila-based dummy companies, unequal distribution of productive capital, and profit accumulation of oligarchs through rent-seeking and violent eviction of the rural poor from their lands.

It will not be long before GCR becomes part of popular discourse, especially when politicians and Local Government Units start to concoct various instant money-making schemes based on this new spatial division.

This is actually how the capital extended its frontiers in the past.

During the long Spanish era, the capital was restricted inside the walls of Intramuros. Then, Old Manila was expanded by absorbing the districts surrounding it. In the 1930s, a new capital city was envisioned which was named Quezon City. After World War II, Manila remained the country’s premier city but the capital region encompassed the suburbs and some towns of Rizal province.

The previously peripheral increasingly became near-center. Greater Manila Area was conceived in response to the changing socio-economic dynamics. Finally, the NCR as we know it incorporated Manila, Quezon City, and 15 other municipalities which later become cities except for Pateros.

In the past two decades, Metro Manila reigned as the official political capital region of the country; but when people talk about the urban economy, they use the term Mega Manila to include Cavite (the country’s most populous province), Laguna, Rizal, and Bulacan.

GCR is the expanded version of Mega Manila. But it is smaller compared to Gloria Arroyo’s Luzon Urban Beltway.

Identifying the political center is mainly an act of politics which means it is being done to pursue the economic interest of the ruling class. The rise of ‘Imperial Manila’ is a legacy of colonialism. That it continued to be the supreme city even after the country gained its independence in 1946 can be attributed to the neocolonial blueprint. The development masterplan didn’t espouse the unleashing of the productive potential of the countryside to spur genuine industrial development. Then and now, the designated role of the Philippines has been to produce raw materials and cheap labor for the benefit of transnational corporations and imperialist countries.

There has been no state-led economic planning program that pushed for the country’s comprehensive development. It must be emphasized that urbanization is not part of a government strategy but the consequence of haphazard development. Capitalists are always seeking to maximize profits which means they are ready to inhabit any place where cheap labor is available. Thus, the sudden transformation of small towns and rural villages into commercial and manufacturing hubs outside NCR. This process intensified when the anti-labor neoliberal doctrine became the most influential discourse in mainstream society.

It is not openly admitted but GCR was conceptualized to boost the opportunities for profit-making of big business in cahoots with corrupt bureaucrats. It seeks to legitimize the invasion of new spaces which requires government approval.

Invoking the ideology of supporting the business agenda ostensibly for the benefit of the greater good, the government has bulldozed its way into erstwhile peripheral areas. Land dispossession is called real estate development, environment plunder is reported as rural productivity, and assembly line sweatshops are hailed as export processing zones.

Progress is equated with corporate upsizing which explains why the initial plan for the GCR requires massive spending on high-impact infrastructure and transportation projects. Again, this is intended to serve the financial elite.

The framework is flawed because it assumes that chronic poverty in the countryside is mainly the result of infrastructure deficiency. Indeed, poor communities can ideally benefit from tollways and ports (unless they are targeted for demolition) but these vital infrastructures will be rendered meaningless if the roots of underdevelopment are not addressed. For instance, an expressway is necessary because it facilitates the faster transfer of goods from the rural to urban; but who will earn more from this type of investment: landlords or their tenants? Build highways and bigger ports to expand mining operations, but for whose benefit?

The so-called GCR is simply another mechanism to extract surplus value from the laboring classes. It is not a neutral description of a geographical space but a partisan mapping and re-territorialization program in favor of big business. It is bound to reproduce, if not worsen, the structural weaknesses of the present. There’s nothing to celebrate if it would only expand the urban poor enclaves and gated subdivisions of the NCR.

It is inevitable that the corporate version of GCR will trigger different degrees of defiance from the grassroots. For example, will farmers and indigenous peoples easily surrender their ancestral homes so that Manila-based executives can live in a green city? Will the fisherfolk accept the rezoning of their communities into a tourism hub? How long will workers endure the unscientific and arbitrary imposition of different minimum wage orders in the GCR?

It is true that colonialism was a brutal force that shaped the semi-feudal characteristics of Philippine society. But the tyranny of the system also generated resistance among the local population. There’s always an interplay between competing forces which often leads to political conflicts. Hegemony is never achieved.

Technocrats, bureaucrats, and their overpaid consultants can never successfully realize their ‘city of dreams’ (remember, too, the Marcosian ‘City of Man’) without the aid of state fascism. They have to contain community opposition, address labor demands, and respond to the clamor of residents. They cannot ignore that people are always moving, displaced families are settling in available open spaces, the destitute are disrupting the fantasyland of the luxurious, and various sectors are ready to fight over small and big grievances.

Unfortunately, they view the actions of the grassroots with suspicion. They fail to recognize how past acts of injustice, institutionalized inequality, and intergenerational poverty can provoke intense reactions among the people. They cannot empathize with democratic movements since they have been inured to reject any initiative that undermines the interest of capital.

But surprisingly, the idea of GCR also offers a rethinking of how people’s struggles across the three biggest regions in Luzon Island can be coordinated in a better and more effective way. Progressives should grasp the political sense of the GCR before politicians are able to coopt the notion for their selfish goals.

The economic aspect of real existing GCR necessitates a review of how some sectors are waging their campaigns. The fact that the biggest concentration of manufacturing workers is no longer in Metro Manila should lead to greater deployment of labor organizers in the Southern Tagalog.

How best to mobilize workers in the service sector? What are the appropriate types of organizing in suburban residential subdivisions? How to link urban community struggles across cities and provinces in a single regional grouping? How to coordinate territorial campaigns that cover the rural and urban? Where would people converge in the GCR to raise their political demands?

For NCR-based activists, the GCR is another reminder that workers’ organizing is no longer confined in 16 cities and a municipality. Due to the oppressive political and economic setups of processing zones, workers have spread and the urban has grown wider.

In many ways, the mass movement in the Philippines is already adjusting to the growing size of the urban in the country’s capital. The organizing among call center workers, the emergence of Lakbayan (caravan) as a frequent tactic to unite rural and urban struggles, and the protest of contractual workers in Laguna are some of the signs of the new normal in political organizing in the urban. Communication and networking logistics are partly provided by information technologies which are already ubiquitous today.

The mass movement also has built-in mechanisms to ensure the unification of people’s campaigns like the program enjoining the youth to live with the masses in peasant communities.

Even the Communist Party of the Philippine’s old regional division of Manila-Rizal was a prescient organizational structure that seemed to anticipate the formation of the NCR.

Once the GCR becomes an official category in the bureaucracy, the political struggle in the country’s capital will also undergo some rebranding.

Today in the NCR, the parliament of the streets represents the most visible form of protest against repressive institutions. But in the GCR, would the world finally take notice that the New People’s Army is waging war right in the heart of the capital?

Political struggles in the NCR are seen by many to be distinct from the conflicts in the remote regions of the country. But in the GCR, the armed revolution is no longer a ‘distant’ reality. The exploiting classes have to contend with the presence of rebels in the political center of the ruling order.

The GCR is an uncritical, celebratory concept of urbanization. It is a bourgeois innovation until it encounters the dynamics of the revolution in the interstices of the rural and urban.

Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte came to power, there have been concerns about his administration’s distortion of online information raised by his opponents. A recent report provides further evidence of what many see as a worrying development.

According to a recent report released by non-government organization Freedom House, the Philippines is among the 30 countries in the world which deploy some form of “manipulation to distort online information.”

Perhaps Duterte can be persuaded too that the alleged continuing existence of a “keyboard army” is not helping him earn credibility among Internet users. Or that an army dedicated to the spread of fake news, hate speech, and online violence can only lead to greater disunity, cynicism, and low public confidence. Unless of course he relishes the idea of being called the Philippines’ “troll-in-chief.”

Read more at The Diplomat

Rising Outrage Over Duterte’s War on Drugs in the Philippines

Public anger is rising in the Philippines over the reported surge of extrajudicial killings that have victimized several children and teenagers.

During his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July, President Rodrigo Duterte signaled the intensification of the “war on drugs,” which he defended as necessary and crucial to fight rampant criminality and corruption across the country.

Duterte’s “war on drugs” has been controversial from the very beginning, since it allegedly involved the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug peddlers and users. The anti-drug operation (Oplan Tokhang) has already killed 7,000 persons, but some human rights groups think that the number of drug-related killings could reach 12,000 if we are going to include the unreported cases.

Some believe the issue of human rights abuses involving children is aimed at distracting the attention of the public after a Senate probe implicated Duterte’s son in the shipment of illegal drugs in the country’s ports. It may be true. But it does not invalidate the urgent demands to rethink Tokhang, to probe and punish police abuse, and to make Duterte accountable for the worsening human rights violations that are taking place across the country

Read more at The Diplomat

This week, as expected, Congress approved Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao. The move is a significant one that has implications for many areas, one of which is the peace process recently terminated with communist rebels, and a proclamation on December 5 declaring the Communist Party (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist groups.

In the December 5 proclamation, Duterte said he ended the peace talks because the CPP-NPA “failed to show sincerity” after “it engaged in acts of violence and hostilities, endangering the lives and properties of innocent people.” Several escalatory moves, including threats against these groups as well as the martial law extension this week, have followed briskly since then.

Complicating the situation is Duterte’s recent pronouncement that he is still open to negotiating with the CPP-NPA, though this is typical of Duterte who flip-flops on major policy issues. Unless he reverses his two proclamations which ended the peace process and designated the CPP-NPA as terrorists, there is little to hope that the prospect of finally ending Asia’s longest-running insurgency will be achieved under Duterte’s term.

Read more at The Diplomat

Why Duterte Extended Martial Law in Mindanao

The Philippine Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of extending martial law in the southern island of Mindanao for one year in support of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign to defeat terrorism.

Duterte declared martial law on May 23 after an armed group with ISIS links attacked Marawi City. Two months later, Congress extended martial law up to December this year after the military encountered some difficulties in urban warfare. Last October, Duterte ended the Marawi siege and proclaimed government victory over ISIS forces.

But a few days before the scheduled termination of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte wrote Congress that he needed another year to combat terrorism. Further, he said that Mindanao remains a “hotbed of rebellion” where “communist terrorists” are committing criminal acts of violence.

Whether Duterte expands martial law or not next year, the Congress vote has boosted support for his administration. It could embolden him to carry out some of his controversial plans like overhauling the constitution or declaring a so-called revolutionary government.

Read more at The Diplomat magazine

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has gained global notoriety for launching a bloody “war on drugs” that has already killed more than two thousand Filipinos in less than a year. But the number of killings since Duterte assumed power could be higher if we include the victims of the government’s “all-out war” against communist rebels.

The spate of killings terrorizing communities in both urban and rural areas today is a reminder to review and reject government policies that lead to rampant human rights abuses. It must be emphasized that even before Duterte launched his ill-conceived “war on drugs”, the state is already accused of committing extrajudicial crimes. Aside from endorsing the bloody anti-drug campaign, Duterte has to be made accountable too for failing to stop the extrajudicial killings that have victimized activists, farmers, and human rights defenders.

Read more at The Diplomat

Philippine Plan to Lift Open Pit Mining Ban Can Spark Local Wars

No less than Philippine Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu announced in public that the open pit mining ban will be lifted before the end of 2017.

He made this statement after the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) voted to reverse the ban which was imposed by Cimatu’s predecessor last April. The MICC is a government body mandated to review the country’s mining policies.

This policy shift proved once more the influential voice of the Chamber of Mines in the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. Earlier, the mining group has successfully lobbied for the removal of Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Duterte is aware that mining plunder in the past has sparked an armed resistance among various tribal groups. This has boosted the strength of communist rebels in remote villages. After defeating an ISIS-backed group in Marawi, can the Duterte government afford another conflict triggered by the expansion of open pit mines?

Read more at The Diplomat

Published by Manila Today

Here are the top people’s issues and people’s struggles of 2016.

1. Repudiation of Daang Matuwid

The defeat of the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate reflected the seething rage of the people toward the corrupt, inept and callous regime of Daang Matuwid. President Noynoy Aquino started his term in 2010 with a popular mandate but he squandered his legacy when his government expanded the presidential pork, boosted Public-Private-Partnerships to the detriment of ordinary consumers, bungled the post-Yolanda rehabilitation program, and intensified the militarization in mining and plantation areas. Not surprisingly, Aquino’s anointed successor was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

2. Rise of Rodrigo Duterte

He was the last to announce his bid for the presidency and he initially lacked a national political machinery to support his candidacy but Duterte’s non-traditional ways of campaigning endeared him to the public. His phenomenal victory was historic: the first Mindanaon president and the first ‘Leftist’ to occupy the Malacanang Palace. Duterte was seen by many as an outsider who can lead the masses in challenging the Establishment. His victory was a ‘protest vote’ against the oppressive and anti-poor political system.

3. Climate injustice

The prolonged dry season caused by El Niño has exacerbated incidences of hunger, poverty, and deprivation in the countryside. Farmers and other food producers in Mindanao were seeking the urgent release of calamity funds but their desperate pleading was dismissed by bureaucratic gobbledygook and state brutality. The Philippines is vulnerable to the harsh impact of climate change but the situation is made worse by extreme poverty and inequality, bad governance, and environment plunder. Meanwhile, tropical storms wrought havoc in the Bicol region during the last quarter of the year.

4. K-12: Senior High School

Despite the obvious unpreparedness of the education department, the senior high school (SHS) component of K-12 (it should have been named ‘TESDA in High School’) was implemented last June. The number of drop-outs was high even if this was denied by authorities, learning modules were inadequate or inaccurate, and many college teachers in private schools lost their jobs. But the corporate sector found K-12 as a lucrative potential, with tuition in SHS as high or double the rates in college. In addition, the K-12 curriculum directly promotes the labor export policy which would negatively affect the country’s human capital in the succeeding years.

5. #CHexit

China’s bully behavior in the West Philippine Sea was officially recorded in the proceedings of The Permanent Court of Arbitration. The legal victory of the Philippines is part of the continuing struggle of the Filipino people to assert our sovereignty in our lands and territorial waters. Duterte eventually adopted a different strategy in dealing with China but it should not invalidate or undermine the historic significance of the PCA ruling.

6. Oplan Tokhang: The bloody ‘War on Drugs’

Duterte’s ambitious promise to get rid of the drug menace in six months has emboldened the police to launch an aggressive anti-drug campaign. The police claimed that they killed 2,206 drug personalities but they also acknowledged that there were 4,049 victims of vigilante-style killings. More than a million people have already surrendered to authorities but drug-related extrajudicial killings continue to victimize mainly the poor and powerless. Duterte was initially right to run after the big time protectors of drug lords but the campaign soon relapsed into a killing frenzy in urban poor communities and political circus performed by traditional politicians. The ‘War on Drugs’ is bound to fail if the militarist approach will remain dominant instead of addressing the socio-economic needs of the people.

7. Resumption of peace talks with communist rebels

Duterte’s decision to resume the stalled peace negotiations between the government and communist rebels has raised the prospects of achieving just and lasting peace in Philippine society. Duterte endorsed the release of communist leaders and affirmed his support for the previously signed peace documents. The rebels, on the other hand, reciprocated by declaring a unilateral ceasefire. But the earlier optimism to expedite the peace talks has been replaced by less enthusiasm because of the continuing deployment of government troops in rebel-controlled villages, the non-release of political prisoners (especially the sick and elderly), and the impasse on the framework of the socio-economic reforms.

8. Neoliberal economics

There were moments in 2016 when some aspects of neoliberalism became part of mainstream political agenda. During the campaign period, presidential candidates were unanimous in criticizing the dehumanizing features of the contractualization (Endo) labor practice. When he assumed the presidency, Duterte reaffirmed his commitment to end Endo. Duterte also vowed to dismantle the reign of oligarchs. But Duterte’s economic advisers turned out to be fanatical followers of neoliberalism as they espoused the continuation of PPP, the adoption of a win-win formula (read: pro-business) on contractualization, the planned imposition of higher regressive taxes, and the refusal to hike pension and minimum wages. Duterte’s support base among the poor will weaken if his macroeconomic policies will continue to be biased in favor of the elite and big foreign business.

9. #MarcosNoHero

The biggest rally of the year was triggered by Duterte’s collaboration with the Marcoses to bury the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The real aim of the Marcoses is to revise the judgment of history which would allow them to return to power in the future. Duterte underestimated public protests and the emergence of the millennials as an influential voice opposing the hero’s burial for the deposed dictator.

10. Sandugo

The most inspiring political moment of 2016 was the grand assembly of various ethnic groups from all over the country which led to the formation of Sandugo, a national alliance espousing the protection of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples and their right to self-determination. Sandugo is the new icon of indigenous peoples, a united community resisting foreign aggression and state-sponsored violence. Sandugo eschews the exotic stereotype of national minorities, and instead highlights the struggle of their people in defense of their ancestral domain and culture.

11. Donald Trump

His victory confounded and disturbed many people especially immigrants, people of color, and the LGBT community. A conservative leader accused of promoting racist and misogynist views. Despite his image as a corporate tycoon, he was able to gather the support of ordinary voters who felt that the system is not working for them. What will happen once Trump becomes President Trump this month? How will a Trump presidency maintain American hegemony in world affairs? Will he openly support the alleged plot to oust Duterte? Will he deport migrants and foreigners from the US, 3.4M of them Filipinos, and expose the insolvency of the American dream?

12. The Left in Cabinet

A peasant leader overseeing the government’s land distribution program? Unthinkable in the past, but thanks to Duterte’s unprecedented invitation to the Left to work with his government, we now have prominent progressives in the Cabinet. This is also an opportunity for the Left to prove their new brand of leadership and demonstrate their sincerity to fight for the rights and welfare of ordinary Filipinos, whether they are marching in the streets or making laws in Congress, and now implementing policies in the executive branch.

13. Independent foreign policy

Duterte, like no other President the country ever had, hit back at comments and criticisms of the US of how the Philippines is being ran by deploring US in its crimes to the country and the people when we were its direct colony. This sparked spats of nationalism and finally openly addressed continuing US domination and spurred interest in what could be an independent foreign policy. There should be no debate about this issue because it is a basic principle of governance. But after decades of colonial indoctrination, many intellectuals are fearful and doubtful about asserting this principle. Some are even distorting the concept by describing it as a mere anti-American policy or a pro-China initiative. Duterte’s stance to assert the Filipino interest vis-a-vis global superpowers is admirable but it must be matched by concrete actions like the abrogation of unequal military treaties and economic agreements.

14. Human rights violations

Duterte’s human rights record is an international embarrassment. The culture of impunity with respect to state-sponsored killings has worsened under his term. Aside from the drug-related killings mentioned earlier, political killings of activists, journalists, and Lumad leaders did not end under the Duterte presidency. The military is even using the anti-drug campaign to justify the harassment of peasant leaders suspected of supporting rebel groups. There are still more than 400 political prisoners in the country. Duterte’s legislative priorities such as the restoration of death penalty and the lowering of minimum age of criminal responsibility also threaten to undermine the rights of people.

15. Fake news

People cried out to fake news in social media at the time of the US elections, but in the Philippines it has become a concern a bit earlier, most alarmingly also during the the May elections. Fake news is a global dilemma that also affected the country’s political landscape. Various political groups compete for social media attention by maximizing or exploiting the Internet. Some of their loyal supporters are even spreading misinformation and other irresponsible propaganda tactics just to tilt public opinion in their favor. Corporate-led propaganda continues to be dominant, vicious, and slanted as ever but 2016 was the year when online fake news succeeded in influencing the political discourse in a massive way.

16. ‘Free tuition’

Is it really free? Is it really for all? The details of this landmark policy will continue to be debated this year. Stakeholders are not yet finished in determining the applicability of this policy in schools across the country. But a big obstacle was breached in the fight for a free tertiary education. Lawmakers and education officials, reared in the neoliberal school of thought which disavows the giving away of subsidies, have finally articulated the relevance of providing free tuition to college students.

The struggle continues…

What Laos Taught the CIA

December 27th, 2017

Joshua Kurlantzick’s recent book A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA is more than just a retelling of the war in Laos and the role it played in the Vietnam conflict. It narrates the history of how the CIA began its notorious paramilitary operations in Laos and how this became the template for future covert wars organized by the agency in many parts of the world.

One character in the book is likened to Colonel Kurtz, the mad American soldier in the film Apocalypse Now, who in real life was awarded by the CIA for his bravery and service in leading a paramilitary training camp in Laos.

The CIA experiment turned the small landlocked country into the most heavily bombed place in the world and it failed to prevent the victory of communists in both Laos and Vietnam. Yet the CIA deemed it a success.

There are numerous speculations about what the CIA is doing today. Most of the time these are dismissed as part of baseless conspiracy theories. But the publication of studies based on declassified CIA documents has provided the public with better knowledge about the appalling extent and magnitude of U.S. military operations around the world.

But is the CIA really capable of managing wars? And can it really build a local army in a foreign country? Laos offers an answer, but also raises many more other questions.

Read more at The Diplomat

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a number of bold announcements from the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about the state of conflicts in the country that may in fact belie their actual status and broader significance.

Last week, after five months, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared the “liberation” of Marawi City, where a local armed group with suspected ISIS-links has been holed up fighting government troops. Earlier this month, Duterte canceled the infamous Oplan Tokhang (anti-drug campaign) of the police and turned over the mandate to run after drug lords and their operators to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. Meanwhile, Duterte’s army chief vowed to wipe out the long-running communist insurgency before the end of 2018.

But do these announcements really signify the end of Duterte’s triple wars: the war on drugs, the all-out war against communist rebels, and the war against terror in Mindanao?

But that still leaves the question: how will the government manage Duterte’s unfinished wars? Getting a clearer sense of this – beyond empty rhetoric and catchy slogans – will be significant not only to determine the course of Duterte’s presidency, but the outlook for the Philippines as a country.

Read more at The Diplomat

Will Duterte Abandon the Left in the Philippines?

It has become commonplace to refer to Rodrigo Duterte as the Philippines’ first leftist president. Duterte himself has publicly made the claim, much to the alarm of some outside observers as well as some in the Philippines.

In reality, the claim is disputable, and it is not really certain whether he is serious about advancing socialist causes.

What is clear is that Duterte, at least for now, has stopped referring to himself as a leftist and socialist as he did before.

Read more at The Diplomat

Published by Bulatlat

It is common to hear some scholars complain about the Left’s lack of vigor and creativity. They follow this up with an unsolicited advice urging the Left to change its paradigms, replace its language, and overhaul its methods. These condescending but hopefully well-meaning suggestions have become formulaic and are often repeated by mainstream analysts and their followers in other opinion-making institutions.

This is a subtle attack on the politics of the Left. It is not a new thinking but those who articulate these points in roundtable meetings, conferences, and social media platforms seem confident in believing that what they are espousing are original perspectives.

Since the rise of the so-called New Left, which coincided with the mainstreaming of postmodernism in the academe, vilifying the language and narrative of the Left has become a recurring theme of self-proclaimed progressives and non-partisan academics (read: secret Establishment acolytes).

They feign concern about the Left suffering from irrelevance because of its supposedly archaic slogans, dogmatic propaganda, and inflexible politics. To reverse the waning popularity of the Left, they propose a rebranding of its image and the adoption of innovative tactics.

Let’s be more specific. The National Democratic Philippine Left is unfairly criticized for its commitment to fight for its beliefs. It is also inaccurately depicted as a stubborn movement which refuses to review its founding principles and strategies.

Critics of the NatDem Left are miserably obsessed in demanding the repudiation of the movement’s politics. They advocate an ‘alternative’ politics by denigrating the NatDem point of view.

They have repeatedly invoked the tired old arguments against the Left, and ridiculed the legacy of dead and living Leftists. It is their way of proving the imagined obsolete impact and absurd existence of the Natdem Left in the country’s politics.

No one is prevented from criticizing the Natdem Left. In fact, the arguments against the NatDem movement have become the standard media and academic reference in discussing its past and present record.

They had their fun already.

It is time to ask why is it that the NatDem Left is the only political force which is sternly admonished to reexamine its principles. Why not demand the same responsibility and show similar treatment to other Leftist movements? Why is the NatDem Left being compelled to continually correct its worldview but not its ideological rivals? Why is the valid demand to make political parties more relevant and accountable to society directed mainly to the Communist Party and not to other Leftist coalitions and even bourgeois formations?

Then we have scholars who reject the Left’s clear and sharp political program in favor of abstract and playful concepts. They want to enthrall the public instead of organizing the masses to join and lead the revolution. And if the Left is reluctant or slow in participating in the postmodern language games, they are quick to dismiss it as a sterile and inept movement.

But in the hierarchy of evil deeds in the world of politics, is it really supremely horrific that the NatDem Left has chosen to use the word imperialism rather than empire? That it mobilizes the masses through rallies and other militant actions instead of organizing ‘peaceful’ citizen assemblies and tripartite meetings? But aren’t rallies the embodiment of pure democracy?

Those who dismiss the traditional practices of the Left offer moderation and reformism as superior alternatives to the protracted revolution. They are quite aggressive in emphasizing that the Left’s tactics are no longer working. But they have been deliberately silent about the real impact of their ‘alternatives’. They only wanted to discuss the ‘failure’ of the NatDem movement to establish a socialist state but not about the viability and unimpressive reach of their anti-Stalinist political organizing.

Indeed, they succeeded in demonizing the National Democrats but the best they can offer as a showcase of ‘democratic’ Leftist politics is an uncritical collaboration with conservative ruling parties.

What the critics of the NatDem Left refuse to acknowledge is that the movement has always been self-critical about its politics and how it leads the revolution in the country. The NatDem revival was done through a rectification movement in the 1960s which led to the re-establishment of the CPP and the founding of the NPA. It creatively adopted Maoist teachings to the specific conditions of the country.

In the 1990s, another rectification movement generated a major split in the Left. The NatDem publicly apologized for its excesses and blunders while affirming its commitment to continue the people’s war for national liberation.

But it is not true that the NatDem Left is obstinate in implementing a single track in achieving its political agenda. It is directly involved in electoral politics, it is engaged in peace negotiations with the Manila-based government, and since last year it nominated prominent mass leaders to join the Duterte Cabinet. The NatDem Left joining the bureaucracy is quite unthinkable a few years ago but today its electoral and legal political machineries are in place across the country.

The NatDem Left’s priority is the mass movement. For more than five decades, it has developed various forms of collective actions, printed and digital propaganda materials, and urban or rural-based mass organizations with nationwide following. It waged small and big campaigns that produced immediate and long-term victories for the benefit of the masses.

The NatDem movement is always experimenting with its propaganda work, recalibrating its tactics, initiating sector-specific and class-based struggles, and boosting its influence through continuous grassroots organizing. Meanwhile, other Left factions are still fixated over the vocabulary and Maoist bias of the NatDem movement.

When the obvious flexibility of the NatDem Left is mentioned, a scholar retorted by arguing that the essence of the movement’s politics remains unchanged. This is true. And the Left is unapologetic about it because the essence of its politics and its ultimate aim is people’s democracy. Those who want to change this are like anti-Left politicians who nitpick against the movement’s weaknesses but whose real intent is to invalidate the need for waging a revolution.