Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


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

OMG I Married an Activist

October 10th, 2016

Published by Manila Today

What the title really means is “Oh my Gabriela I married an activist.” No, I didn’t marry a person named Gabriela but my wife is a member of the Gabriela women’s group. To my non-Filipino friends, Gabriela is an activist group known for its uncompromising, über defense of women’s rights. Its members chose the name Gabriela in honor of Gabriela Silang, a folk heroine from Ilocos who fought Spanish colonialists.

Before proceeding, I’d like to emphasize that I’m using the OMG expression as a positive exclamation. It’s like this: OMG I won the lottery prize! And not like this: OMG who is this person sleeping in my room? But quite like this: OMG is it the time of the month already?

There’s really no surprise about her activism since I’m also a proud and even unrepentant national democratic activist. I knew from the start the kind of life I will endure, oops, celebrate with her. It’s not as if she deliberately hid her activism to lure me into submission. So this is not a candy piece about an innocent soul screaming for justice after learning about the truth of his better half. Neither is this an erotic expose of the exotic world of underground activists. First, we are not in the underground; and second, the love life of activists is not really esoteric. We meet, we fall in love, we fall out of love, we fall in love again, and then we die. But love is defined broadly here; love that suffuses the personal and political, love that colors the marital and class struggle.

I am writing this partly in reaction to social media memes that claim to instruct us about the magic and mysteries of love. Indeed, most of the time they are feel-good moral invocations that boost middle-class romantic relations. They are funny, witty, and ultimately celebratory notions of modern romance. But I find many of them unsatisfactory and even naïve. Indeed, love may be a universal theme and force for good but it rarely resembles the fairy tales of our bedtime stories and the lives of pop culture idols.

For every hashtag that promotes progressive love, there are dozens peddling a feudal concept of romance. How can we move on when we are hostaged by a delightful throwback of disempowering mementoes of the past? There must be a decisive rupturing with the old to embrace the promise of the authentic new. The preceding statement applies to both love and politics. But can we ever truly liberate ourselves that will finally allow us to claim the future? Ahh, here lies the duplicity of so-called modern love (and politics): it relegates the past to insignificance when it encounters something new and seemingly attractive yet it achingly seeks the return of lost time when life suddenly becomes dull and difficult. It is irritatingly, irresistibly, insatiable. Love moves or flows in a continuum and perhaps the best way to grasp its essence is to experience its brutal total impact in a dialectical way. Dialectics? Relax, it’s just dialectics. The past merging with the present and future. The past breaking through the contradictions to give way to the present and future. The future returning to the past. Who better to explain this concept than an activist reared in the art and science of creating truths? And what can be more fun than testing this theory in real life?

The activist who understands that the personal reflects the political and vice versa. The activist lover who seeks the rational amid the frenzy of subjective emotions. The ‘full time’ lover in the age of ephemerality. The couple committed to and united by the ideals of justice and equality

A war is always raging somewhere but sometimes we choose to be oblivious to what’s happening around us. But alas, when we open our eyes to reality, the world becomes more than knowable; it is suddenly transformed into an object ready to be transformed into something else. Then, we join the ranks of various anonymous collectives so that this world-without-name will soon emerge. In the course of waging this long struggle, we meet fellow travelers who will remain our best of friends and comrades. A most special gift is crossing paths with a person who will, to put it mildly, overwhelm your inner being. But exchanging affections is just one of the pleasurable things you will do with this person. The best part is taking this life journey with him or her. Proletarian victory aside, the ultimate prize of the revolution is embracing the struggle with the love of your life.

Much has been said about two individuals overcoming their differences in the name of love. It is a celebrated love story and charming proof of our shared humanity. Without doubt, love can come from the unlikeliest sources. Perhaps no two persons are alike so that they can find it easier to love another being. Isn’t the feeling of completeness one of the unconscious desires of a person seeking love? I do not strongly contest this assertion. But let me also argue that it isn’t enough for lovers to transcend their differences. After the acceptance and compromise or during the non-stop struggle over this issue, the two lovers must learn and promise to share something essential. Perhaps a fundamental aim to guide their lives. A higher cause to strengthen their union. A vision of an ideal life that will inspire the couple to become better individuals.

Differences are normal and exciting but a shared perspective is perhaps more enduring. A couple, activist or not, giving their very best to the fulfillment of an intangible goal is perhaps leading a happier and more contented life over a couple hostaged by pecuniary desires.

I have no other example to offer other than what I experience everyday in my married life. Let me say a few words about my wife, my activist wife: As more and more people are tragically succumbing to the inhuman dictates of vulgar materialism, I derive a humble pride that my wife and I are not slaves to this pestering virus that destroys solidarities and relationships. I am prouder, much much prouder in fact, that my wife is an activist like me – studying dialectics, empowering the grassroots, and fighting for a new future.

There are life challenges to surmount, everyday petty battles that consume our energies, societal obligations to fulfill in the old decaying order – but the prospect of surviving all of these with my wife by my side while pursuing the political struggle for genuine social change is my daily boost that allows me to face the harsh world with more confidence and happiness.


Written for the Global Voices Community Page

When I joined Global Voices in 2006, my aim was only to blog the underreported stories from the Philippines. Ten years and 3,000 posts later, I’m still with Global Voices; writing stories not just about my country, but also about the Southeast Asian region.

I used the word ‘blog’ to capture the experience of many people like me who recognized the value of blogging as an effective medium to share ideas and discuss politics. Today, social media has replaced blogging, but there was a time when the latter represented the popular and innovative side of the Internet.

As a blogger in 2006, it was easy to appreciate the potential of Global Voices. Here was a global network of bloggers who understood the importance of exchanging narratives, promoting marginalized voices, and defending free speech. Here was a fascinating group of ‘amateur writers’ (remember the journalism vs. blogging debate?) who were maximizing the online frontier to make the world more knowable. Here I found my virtual home.

After a few months of contributing for Global Voices, I realized that it’s not just a website offering opportunities for writing. Because aside from being a pioneering citizen media platform, it’s also a vibrant online hub where collaborations produce outstanding news and feature stories, where every author is regarded as a valued member of the community, and where digital encounters lead to unexpected friendships.

Global Voices has a unique newsroom. Its editors, authors, and translators are based all over the world. We seldom meet, but when we do, we are like old friends who never ran out of stories to tell about each other.

Global Voices played a meaningful part in broadening my perspective as a writer and activist. Before becoming a volunteer author of Global Voices, I wrote mainly to emphasize my views with little regard for the opinion of others. But writing for Global Voices convinced me to change this attitude. Rather than merely being content in imposing my belief on others, the better alternative is to seek multiple viewpoints. It didn’t stop me from writing what I truly believe, but it enriched my thinking habits. For example, it led me to accept that my opinion may be important (and probably correct), but it can always be improved by comparing it to contrary views.

When I became the Southeast Asia editor of Global Voices in 2008, I realized that I had been using the Internet mainly to learn more about what’s happening in the Philippines instead of acquiring a greater interest about other places and unfamiliar cultures.

Thanks to Global Voices, I became an enthusiast of Southeast Asian affairs. I gained a better knowledge of the Asia-Pacific — its politics, economy, and socio-cultural dynamics. I was also able to study the impact of the Internet in the region. When something significant or controversial happens in the politics of the Philippines, I try to find the same phenomenon in other countries of Southeast Asia. And what I realized is that there’s always a regional trend to discover, a shared heritage between two warring countries, a similar political demand among oppressed minorities.

When I became a member of the Philippine Congress in 2009, I continued my work with Global Voices. Looking back, I am thankful that I made this decision because writing for Global Voices allowed me to continue expanding my outlook instead of focusing on Philippine issues alone.

When a repressive anti-cybercrime bill was deliberated in the Philippine Congress in 2011, I opposed it and cited the experience of other countries which are implementing the same legislation. For reference, I studied the in-depth reports of Global Voices Advocacy on cybercrime laws in the world.

After ten memorable years of writing for Global Voices, I am proud that this Internet organization continues to be a fun and welcoming community. I am privileged to be in the company of creative and intelligent individuals whose work and life stories provide a daily inspiration to me and countless others.

What motivates me to write for Global Voices is not only eagerness to help explain the real situation in Southeast Asia. Another reason is to highlight the interesting stories, censored topics, and heroic struggles of various peoples in the region as my special way of acknowledging the diligent work of my colleagues all over the world who are also doing the same thing.

My simple wish is that when they read stories from Southeast Asia, they also get to experience what I always feel from reading their work: that the world may be plagued today by preventable miseries, but there is hope as long as people are doing something to change it. That by naming the problem, by giving a voice to the voiceless, and by documenting the fight for truth, we are making an impact in the lives of many.

Here’s to ten more years of finding more happiness and inspiration through the stories of Global Voices.

Published by Manila Today

Hungry farmers asking for rice. Typhoon victims decrying government neglect. Netizens marching against corruption.

These protests unmasked the ‘Daang Matuwid’ program as an empty slogan of a regime that insidiously perpetuates foreign dominance and elite oppression in the country. It is only now we appreciate the full and potent significance of these grassroots protests. If not for these daring political actions, Aquino would have easily fooled many into believing that he performed well as president.

Despite the demonization of dissent in the country, protesters persevered in asserting their democratic rights. They showed creativity too through events like One Billion Rising and innovations like selfie and even planking protests. In Mindanao, the funeral march for a revolutionary leader became a political event that criticized the government’s counter-insurgency program.

But the most impressive example of political activism was the brave decision of the Lumad who defied state-sponsored violence and corporate plunder in their communities. Together with farmers struggling against climate injustice, these rural heroes became the fiercest and most credible critics of the Aquino regime.

1. Million People March

An impressive massive gathering of citizens in Luneta which forced the government to abolish the notorious Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel system in Congress. Outstanding example of an online initiative which led to a powerful political action in the offline world. The anti-pork movement became broader as it waged war against other forms of PDAF in the bureaucracy. Aquino ran on an anti-corruption platform but he would step down as a leader who implemented an unconstitutional presidential pork program and had the largest pork barrel among all presidents. Hence, the tag ‘pork barrel king’.

2. People Surge

Thousands marched in Samar and Leyte (also in Estancia, Iloilo) in 2014 and 2015 to protest the government’s failure to provide immediate and just assistance to victims of supertyphoon Yolanda that struck in 2013. Various community assemblies were held in the region before marching in town centers and symbolically converging in San Juanico Bridge. Solidarity protests were organized by Waray groups and concerned citizens across the country. People Surge gave voice to calamity survivors who were neglected by the national government. After Yolanda, the world was quick to give aid but the Aquino government did not distribute these funds properly. Aquino would be known as the president who bungled the rescue, recovery, and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of Yolanda. A true disaster king.

3. Barug Katawhan

Mindanao’s southern region was badly damaged by typhoon Pablo in 2012. After months of waiting for the government to deliver its promise of livelihood assistance, thousands of farmers stormed the warehouse of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Davao. Then they distributed sacks of rice and sardine packs to fellow protesters. For DSWD officials, it was an act of looting. But for Barug Katawhan, it was a collective action of typhoon victims in protest against the government’s slow response to the urgent plea for relief by typhoon victims.

4. Drought protests in Mindanao

Because of the El Niño weather phenomenon, a state of calamity has been declared in several provinces of Mindanao. This means local officials are authorized to use special funds in order to provide assistance to affected residents. But food aid did not arrive in many towns forcing farmers to stage provocative protests like establishing road blockades and barricades. The protest of North Cotabato farmers was violently dispersed which instantly became the symbol of the rural poor struggling against feudal exploitation and state brutality. Similar protests were held in Bukidnon and South Cotabato but the local agencies in these provinces were able to resolve the issue by releasing sacks of rice and seedlings to the farmers.

5. Campus strike against education budget cuts

Students, teachers, and administrators of ALL state universities and colleges conducted a nationwide campus strike in protest against the budget cuts in the higher education sector. The historic action in 2010 reflected the destructive legacy of the neoliberal dogma in policymaking. Even essential services like education and health were subjected to privatization schemes and reduced public subsidies. The campus strike rallied other sectors in society to question the budget priorities of the state. The following year, campus protests were organized again to call for a higher education budget. Some students went on to ‘occupy’ Mendiola by camping near the presidential gate.

6. People Power versus mining

Several municipalities and provinces across the country, especially in Luzon, were able to block the entry of mining companies by holding ‘People Power’ assemblies. These protests, though far from the country’s capital, highlighted the growing people’s resistance against large-scale mining operations. Aquino issued an executive order which barred local governments from passing laws that contravene the national government’s mining policies. He also authorized mining firms to secure the services of the military and paramilitary groups that exacerbated the militarization problem in the countryside. Despite the pro-mining bias of the president and many local politicians, it did not stop the people from condemning the dirty impact of the extractive industry on the country’s environment, economy, and politics.

7. ‘Stop Lumad Killings’

Displaced from their villages because of militarization, thousands of Lumad tribes from CARAGA and Davao regions sought shelter in city centers. Some of them arrived in Manila to give testimony on how the government is destroying the way of life of our indigenous peoples. Lumad leaders were reportedly harassed and killed because of the various tribes’ refusal to allow logging and mining activities in their communities. The Manilakbayan protest in 2015 garnered broad support from various institutions and personalities in Metro Manila. The campaign also called for the reopening of Lumad schools that have either been occupied or destroyed by state troops.

8. Fish holiday

The fish ban on municipal waters provoked fish operators and their workers to organize a series of nationally-coordinated protests. The fish holiday succeeded in generating public discussion about the amendments to the Fisheries Code that included restrictions in fishing in municipal waters for subsistence and distance demarcations for commercial fishing. These restrictions effectively hurt, if not kill, the livelihood of small fishers and other local producers. It is purportedly a necessary measure to preserve marine resources but fish operators believe it is a knee-jerk reaction of authorities to the decision of the European Union to downgrade the trade rating of the Philippines. If fishers cannot fish, where would we get our daily fish supply? Instead of protecting local businesses, the government once again promoted the economic interest of other countries. In Metro Manila, the fish holiday closed off parts of the Navotas Fish Port and the fishers’ protest march to the presidential palace numbered to thousands.

9. Stop K-12

Students, teachers, and parents launched different forms of protests against the hasty implementation of the poorly designed K-12 education reform. Thousands joined rallies in front of the Supreme Court and near Malacañang Palace to call for the junking of the program. Among the most consistent were teachers deploring the removal of Filipino and History subjects in the curriculum. The campaign is not yet over since many groups are challenging the new president to review the program and allow high school students to graduate. A big protest is also being readied in time for the opening of the new school year in the coming weeks.

10. Anti-Apec

The police tried but failed to stop protesters from getting near Pasay, the venue of the 2015 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. The protest gathered many sectors including the Lumad from Mindanao, anti-mining advocates from the ‘Defend the North’ network, and anti-globalization activists from other countries. The APEC summit hosted by the Philippines inconvenienced thousands of Metro Manila residents but its bigger crime was the further imposition of unjust and onerous trade and economic policies.

If there is something good to say about the 6-year presidency of Noynoy Aquino, it is the joining together of nameless change workers, unsung heroes to protest the epic incompetence and insensitivity of the ruling Liberal Party. Aquino’s abhorrent leadership inspired the people to organize and mount massive demonstrations across the country.

Published by Bulatlat

1. A civil war has been raging in the countryside since 1969. Landlessness, feudal exploitation, state brutality against the poor and marginalized – these are some of the issues that led to the formation of the New People’s Army. An armed force of the poor, by the poor, and for the poor which succeeded in establishing nationwide presence during the anti-dictatorship struggle.

Today, the government makes contradictory claims about the NPA being a spent force already while continuing to be the country’s top security threat.

The government denigrates the armed struggle of the NPA by criminalizing its revolutionary political activities. But the NPA views itself as part of the resistance movement battling despotic landlords, warlords, rapacious multinational mining and plantation companies, and government-sponsored mercenaries.

2. The peace talks started after the ouster of Marcos and the release of political prisoners in 1986. It is important to emphasize that first, the negotiation is between the government of Cory Aquino and the National Democratic Front, which is an alliance of revolutionary forces; and second, the aim of the peace talks is to address the roots of the armed conflict (poverty, injustice, oppression) and not to force the surrender of the NPA.

The NDF withdrew from the peace negotiations after the police fired shots and killed 13 protesting farmers near the presidential palace in 1987. But informal talks between the NDF and the Cory Aquino government continued.

3. Important peace documents were finalized during the term of President Fidel Ramos. Some of these key papers include the following:

-The Hague Declaration identified the substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations: human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces;

-The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or JASIG ensured the continuity of the peace process by providing protection and immunity to peace consultants and security staff of the NDF and the government;

– The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL is the first landmark agreement of the peace process. It is proof that the peace talks can produce concrete results. President Joseph Estrada signed the CARHRIHL in 1998.

4. The peace talks are conducted in a neutral venue outside the country to facilitate the security of the negotiators and their personnel. During the 1986 peace talks in Manila, NDF members and consultants were subjected to state surveillance, harassment, and other forms of intimidation.

Since 2001, Norway has been serving as a third party facilitator of the peace talks.

Joma Sison, the chief consultant of the NDF, is living in exile in Europe after his passport was canceled by the Cory Aquino government in 1988. At that time, he was on a lecture tour in The Netherlands.

5. The arrest of JASIG-protected NDF leaders has undermined the peace process. More than 15 NDF consultants are currently in jail because of trumped-up charges. Although the NDF has clarified that the release of political prisoners is not a precondition to resume the peace talks, it asserts that the government is under obligation to release detained NDF peace consultants as stipulated in the JASIG.

6. The government of President Benigno Aquino III has refused to recognize the validity of previous peace agreements. Aquino’s peace negotiators wanted to ignore past agreements which they ridiculed as “documents of perpetual division.” They also demanded the NPA to declare a ceasefire.

The NDF reminded the Aquino government about the importance of honoring past agreements in order to build trust and confidence in the peace process. Besides, how can the previous agreements “perpetuate division” when they provide the framework on how to properly conduct the peace talks?

Nevertheless, the NDF advanced several recommendations on how to fast track the peace process without ignoring the substantive content of the previous agreements. If the Aquino government is sincere, the NDF said a final peace pact can be signed in less than a year. Instead of a ceasefire, the NDF is offering a truce and a government of national unity based on mutually acceptable terms and principles.

However, Aquino and his peace advisers have outrightly rejected these novel proposals coming from the NDF.

7. The next major agenda in the peace negotiations will tackle the social and economic reforms that are needed to resolve the structural inequalities in Philippine society. This is likely to be contentious since the government is expected to defend its neoliberal economic policies (privatization, deregulation, free trade, debt dependency). Meanwhile, the NDF is pushing for genuine land reform and national industrialization which are deemed obsolete by Aquino’s spokesperson even if these are bourgeois concepts. To be clear, the core of NDF’s economic program will not transform the Philippines into a socialist state; rather, it seeks to develop the country’s productive capacities and unleash the full potential of the local economy while uplifting the living conditions of workers, farmers, and other marginalized sectors.

8. The idea that the Philippines will endeavor to rebuild its economy by shunning neoliberal economic prescriptions is expected to provoke the opposition of oligarchs, multinational capitalists, and foreign financial speculators. They will most likely actively campaign to stop the peace talks from reaching its final phase. Beware, they are powerful and wealthy spoilers. They have evil ties with politicians, bureaucratic leaders, and high-ranking officers in the military and police. They can use their clout in the media, church, and academe to whip up anti-communist hysteria.

Not all institutions are working to promote the peace process. The United States government, for example, has revived its listing of the NPA as a terrorist group. The last time this happened led to the scuttling of peace talks between the NDF and the government of President Gloria Arroyo.

But the biggest threat to achieving peace comes within the government. Aquino’s peace advisers are accused of being rabid anti-communist which partly explains why they deliberately stalled the peace talks. They endorse the doctrine that NDF forces are already irrelevant and that the NPA armed struggle can be defeated through military offensive and delivery of socio-civic projects in the rural areas.

9. There is high optimism that the peace talks will prosper under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte who has maintained close links with the NDF and NPA in his capacity as mayor of Davao City. Duterte is also openly identifying himself as a socialist and Leftist. He has vowed to release political prisoners and resume the peace talks. He also guaranteed a safe pass to Joma Sison, his political science professor in college, so that the rebel leader can go home and pursue the implementation of the peace process in the Philippines.

Duterte is also praised for appointing Leftist personalities in his Cabinet. That the Communist Party has nominees working in the Cabinet is unprecedented in Philippine history.

10. As stated earlier, the goal of the peace talks should be finding ways to end the armed conflict by addressing the structural problems of Philippine society. Unfortunately, past and present governments only seek the capitulation of the revolutionary forces.

What is to be done under the Duterte administration? We have to add our voices supporting the resumption of the peace talks. We have to encourage both parties to use this historic opportunity to draft and sign agreements that will lead to significant reforms in society.

Most importantly, we must participate in the peace process. We must discuss the peace agenda. We must formulate specific sectoral and political demands as our contribution to the peace negotiations. How can we end poverty? How can we develop the rural economy? What kind of services should the state provide to citizens? What are the policies and laws that oppress our people?

The peace talks have never been and should never be exclusive to NDF and representatives of the elected government. It is a public process requiring public participation and democratic consensus. We need to embrace it as an act of politics that can potentially spark a genuine transformation in Philippine society. Make peace a reality in our lifetime.

Thailand’s ruling junta got what it wanted on August 7: the public approval of a constitution that will reinforce military rule in the country. The same constitution also contains provisions that could further curtail the people’s right to freedom of expression.

Some are questioning the result of the referendum because the opposition was prevented by the government from campaigning against the draft constitution. The junta has passed an absurd law criminalizing any activity that could persuade the people to vote in favor or against the constitution. This law was invoked in detaining more than 100 individuals accused of spreading lies and undermining the stability of the country.

A day after the approval of the constitution, the European Union and the U.S. State Department urged Thailand to lift restrictions on civil liberties, especially concerning freedom of expression, to jumpstart the country’s democratic transition. But even if Thailand renews its pledge to honor media freedom, its new constitution institutionalizes a culture of censorship and state control over the media sector.

Read more at The Diplomat

Thailand’s New Constitution: A Threat to Religious Freedom?

Thailand’s new constitution, approved by majority of voters last month, threatens to undermine religious harmony in the country because of a provision that mandates the state to promote Theravada Buddhism.

Section 67 of the constitution is seen by some religious leaders as being biased in favor of Buddhism because it orders the state to protect Buddhism, “which has long been professed by the Thai people.”

Thailand’s new constitution is supposed to boost the government’s national reconciliation program and engender unity in the country. But the clause on religion has already caused division because of its perceived bias against the religion of minority groups. Worse, the proposed remedy of the government could stifle religious freedom by prescribing the teaching of “correct” Buddhism.

Read more at The Diplomat

Published by Bulatlat

In the hierarchy of political evils, single issue activism does not figure, and rightfully so. There’s less barbarism in the world because of the heroic work of individuals who never gave up fighting for their chosen advocacy in life. But we cannot deny the rise of a particular brand of activism that reduces politics into a struggle for a single issue. Some people equate political work with lobbying for a micro reform in the bureaucracy. This is supposed to be the inclusive, democratic, and practical kind of activism in the 21st century. Nevertheless, it can be argued that this type of activism is an example of lame politics but there’s really nothing substantially wrong with it.

Single issue activism turns into creepy conservatism if it is done to reject a comprehensive political practice in order not to disrupt the status quo. A so-called smart activism that focuses on a specific advocacy irrespective of what’s happening in society. A political battle launched supposedly in the name of the public even if its rallying call is divorced from the everyday conditions of the masses.

It is an NGO which celebrates government collaboration even during political crisis moments. It is a network of civil society organizations endorsing the passage of a token legislation as if it’s the equivalent of the smashing of status and class privileges. It is the pursuit of some bureaucratic tweaking while mispresenting it as an act of social transformation. It is promoting a specialized knowledge of society while ridiculing the narratives of national liberation movements. Or it is having a total grasp of the political situation but choosing to be an expert at micro resistance.

Still, all things considered, the preceding do not constitute a fundamental political crime.

Single issue activism becomes an anti-people phenomenon if it is deliberately promoted to dilute the people’s struggle in favor of elite interest. It is conspiring to ratify an NGO-friendly issue to redirect political noise away from the politician in power or trapo allies. It is using state resources to amplify public interest on a specific issue with the end goal of preventing opposition forces from hounding the ruling party.

Corruption at the highest level? The president is busy with a civil society-sponsored legislation. Peasant unrest? The bureaucracy has already responded to the demands of legitimate NGOs.

Imagine if all political groups would only stick to their core organizational objectives. Imagine if all NGOs would not advocate beyond what their foreign funders want them to achieve. Imagine non-political associations teaching passivity in the grassroots while state terror is directly and indirectly enforced.

At a time when multitasking is already a popular concept in group dynamics, there exist political formations which cannot or refuse to engage in multiple political campaigns. There are small and big NGOs whose raison d’etre is the advancement of a single issue. They claim to have perfected the art and science of political lobbying yet they couldn’t or wouldn’t use this expertise to support revolutionary organizations. In fact, many of them disdain radicalism as a counter-productive idealism since they prefer the predictable routine of struggling for only a single reform at any given time.

Even a social catastrophe or a looming breakdown of political order couldn’t persuade these so-called activists from abandoning the single issue framework. The convenient alternative for them is to recalibrate the analysis of the political situation so that the single issue advocacy can be justified as a possible political solution.

But there’s an element of deception involved here since it gives false hope to the people that pursuing some reforms here and there within the boundaries of the state would lead to substantial change.

Single issue activism is necessary but it has its limitations. It always needs to be complemented by a broader political goal. It has to be linked to the radical mass movement if its full potential as an act of people empowerment can be realized.

Single issue activism has to be subsumed by radical collective politics. Otherwise, it will be easy for the state to dominate single issue NGOs and make them subservient to the self-serving needs of mainstream political parties. Radicalism is quite simple: combine the reformism of one sector with another sector, then advance a political demand that does not merely require some bureaucratic adjustments. Radicals do engage in a struggle for reforms but believe that man is capable of achieving greater political victories instead of merely begging for crumbs from the state.

Indeed, espousing doable and little interventions that would improve our society yields concrete results. This is the continuing appeal of single issue activism: making people think that change can be instantly measured. That change in one sector can spark a cataclysm in the national and even international community. That the gap between the center and the periphery can be bridged through a simple implementation of reforms by well-meaning individuals and charity groups.

Perhaps it is possible. But what is certain is that history can be made much quicker if we mix the seemingly disparate cases of single issue ‘activisms’ until a more comprehensive and progressive type of politics becomes visible and viable in the community.

If single issue activism can already make an impact on politics, think what unlimited activism can accomplish. Only politicians and reactionaries prefer small doses of activism. We should show to them what real resistance is all about.

Published by Manila Today

How should we remember the year 2015?

The year started on an exhilarating occasion when Pope Francis arrived and uplifted the spirits of many Filipinos and it will end as we celebrate our victory in the Miss Universe pageant. In between these memorable moments, there were numerous events that captured our attention. Many trended on old and new media but some were underreported. As we look back and remember these events, we choose to highlight the collective struggles of the Filipino people and the continuing search for genuine change especially now that we are soon entering the election campaign period.

1. #StopLumadKillings

Before 2015, the Lumad were either exoticized or ignored because of their so-called primitive culture and remote location in war-torn Mindanao. In October, following the latest spate of Lumad killings in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, the Lumad launched a month-long protest caravan from Mindanao to Manila to expose the brutal occupation of their lands by mining and corporate giants and state forces. They set up camps and organized protest actions all over Metro Manila which garnered broad support to the campaign against closure of alternative Lumad schools, militarization, environment plunder, and government neglect in the countryside. Today, the term Lumad has become synonymous with resistance; indigenous peoples who are standing up against state-sponsored oppression.

2. #NasaanAngPangulo

The Mamasapano encounter on January 25 would go down in history as the ‘ground zero’ of presidential blunder. First, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III authorized a suspended police officer to coordinate an anti-terror operation. Second, the plan was finalized without taking into consideration its negative impact to the ongoing peace talks with Moro rebels. Third, foreign troops were involved in the operation. When it was time to welcome and honor the 44 police fatalities in the Mamasapano clash, the president chose instead to open a Japanese car plant. Further, a presidential dialogue with the families of 44 fallen Special Action Force commandos revealed the height of insensitivity of the President with his parries like “namatayan din ako ng ama kaya quits na tayo.” Filipinos boiled over and demands for justice and accountability rang across the land.

3. #SaveMaryJane

Arrested for drug trafficking, Mary Jane Veloso has been in detention and death row since 2010 and is scheduled for execution in Indonesia on April 29. The nation and the world united in the call to save Mary Jane, a victim of human and drug trafficking. Migrante and allied groups launched a campaign to save the life of Mary Jane, holding vigil up to the last minute, while the Philippine government had given up hope days before the scheduled execution. National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) injected new life to the case and represented Veloso, who initially lost her case in the Indonesian courts having no translator and no knowledge of the legal proceedings. Veloso’s appeal was strongly endorsed by Filipinos and global migrant groups and it convinced Indonesian authorities to accord a stay of execution and allow more time to reinvestigate the case.

4. Kentex

At least 72 workers died in a fire in a Valenzuela footwear factory on May 13. The tragedy exposed the rampant contractualization in the labor sector, the existence of workplaces operating like sweatshops and substandard working conditions, and the criminal accountability of the government for allowing situations like these to persist. Kentex is a grim reminder of capitalist exploitation, bureaucratic inefficiency, and the systematic pauperization of the working classes. Several months after the Kentex inferno, no establishment even in the notorious enclave of ‘sweatshop’ factories in Valenzuela has been pinned down for endangering the lives of workers.

5. Fish holiday against the fish ban

The amended Fisheries Code banned commercial fishing within municipal waters, effectively banning poor fishermen and small boats to make a livelihood out of fishing. It was done supposedly to preserve marine resources. But what really emboldened authorities to act was the threat from the European Union, which was seeking to protect its own fish industry. The amendments also made conducive the opening the waters to foreign businesses that wish to enter the fishing industry in the country, as pushed by the multilateral meetings such as the APEC. Various fishing groups and local businesses in Navotas coalesced and launched street actions and fluvial protests across the country. A successful fish holiday in Navotas and other fish ports and a 5,000-strong rally to Mendiola drew attention to the issue and plight of fishers who, unknown to many, are the poorest of the poor in the country.

6. Manila Market privatization

President ‘Mayor’ Joseph Estrada wanted to modernize Manila’s 22 public markets by demolishing these historic structures and bidding out operations to big private contractors. Naturally, stall owners and small vendors resisted and the public supported them by reminding Estrada about the social and economic value of having a publicly-owned market in a community. Consumers worried about the increase in prices of basic commodities. The Manila market privatization demonstrated how the Public-Private-Partnership model is displacing micro and small enterprises in favor of tycoons, friends, and possibly even campaign donors of politicians. Vendors and stall owners of Quinta Market, first to be displaced and demolished, launched successful Market Holidays in September. The market holiday protests prompted Mayor Estrada to grant dialogues, deny any programs of privatization of Manila markets and dish out promises that the current vendors will not be adversely affected by the planned developments. The demolition of other public markets was also suspended.

7. #APECtado

The Philippines spent 10 billion pesos during its hosting of the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). And instead of making Filipinos proud, the Manila APEC hosting inconvenienced many because of overkill security measures such as anti-poor street clearing operations, flight cancellations, weeklong class and work suspensions, business closures, road blockades and designation of exclusive APEC lanes. Metro Manila residents felt literally #APECtado with the APEC summit. These measures also resulted to a temporary overhaul of Metro Manila: a place with low density of people, without traffic, and without paupers. Those that are not deemed beautiful to the eye were literally covered up, such as protest assemblies and urban poor communities.

Meanwhile, issues of poverty and underdevelopment despite decades of pushing globalization in the country were exposed by sectors that have been burdened and have been fighting it for a long time. Workers’ wages steadily decreased and working conditions worsened while labor is contractualized or exported. Farmers grew poorer as they were not subsidized or made to plant for-export or cash crops that do not promote food production in the country. Indigenous peoples and peasants experienced all forms of oppression as mining threatens to kill their culture. Youth are herded to become part of a ‘docile work force’ through education reforms and programs. Small businesses and entrepreneurs close down or become engulfed by big and foreign businesses that monopolize all avenues of trade. Despite overkill security and coverup measures, the anti-APEC rally was heard at the Philippine International Convention Center where economic leaders of 21 countries were gathered.

8. People Surge during Yolanda anniversary

Thousands of Typhoon Yolanda victims led by People Surge movement marched in the streets of Tacloban on November 8. Two years after the typhoon and storm surge that killed more than 6,000 in Eastern Visayas and provinces in Southern Tagalog region, they protested the failure of the government to deliver on its promise of rebuilding the damaged houses of Yolanda survivors, providing livelihood, and distributing relief to those who are still living in makeshift camps. They also criticized the social welfare agency for burying rotten relief goods which reflected the criminal inefficiency of the BS Aquino government.

9. COP21 and climate justice

Public interest to the results of the Paris climate deal proved that the issue of climate change has already become a mainstream agenda. In the Philippines, the issue is relevant because of the country’s vulnerability to the harsh impact of climate change. Earlier this year, many Filipinos appreciated the primer of Pope Francis on environmental degradation. And before the year ended, a thousand bikers in Manila echoed the call for climate justice or why developed nations should be held accountable for polluting the Earth.

10. Anti-mining protests in Luzon

After staging a ‘people power’ assembly in Batangas and Mindoro, Lobo residents succeeded in persuading local officials to revoke a permit granted to a mining company. The mining operation threatens to pollute the Verde Island passage which is the center of the center of marine biodiversity in the world. Also noteworthy were the people’s actions against destructive mining in Nueva Vizcaya, Cagayan, and Ilocos. Many of these campaigners marched towards Manila as part of the ‘Defend the North’ campaign during the anti-APEC mobilization.

11. #StopK12

Aside from the legal petitions against K-12, the unspoken chaos in classrooms and schools exposed the government’s blunder in hastily implementing this ambitious education program to superficially subscribe to standards of development set by the government’s creditors and international aid agencies. The K-12 aggravates an already inferior system of education: teachers are in danger of losing their jobs; modules and facilities are inadequate; many schools lack resources to offer senior high that may result to a number of out-of-school youth; senior high is then relegated to private schools that charge as high as P 30,000 per year; and Filipino and history subjects are demoted from the curriculum and labor export is directly promoted to produce a docile, semi skilled work force suited to the needs of businesses and corporations. Parents, teachers, and students have banded together to oppose K-12 and unmask the colonial features of this program.

12. Human rights violations

The number of political prisoners swelled to more than 500 during the term of Aquino. Dissent is criminalized by arresting activists and veteran revolutionaries on trumped-up cases. Despite the fact that his family was a victim of political persecution, Aquino did not end the fascistic tactics of his predecessors in addressing the political demands of the revolutionary movement. The result is the continued extrajudicial killing, kidnapping, and harassment of suspected communists and their civilian sympathizers by state agents.

Peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) were stalled, following the Philippine government’s guised demands of capitulation from the NDF and non-adherence to Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and other earlier signed agreements. The Aquino administration also violated the peace talks gains with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with the Operation Exodus / Wolverine resulting to the Mamasapano Encounter that killed 69 and displaced thousands. The passage of the promised Bangsamoro Basic Law has also been derailed, that may as well be only a much-vaunted achievement of this administration. The peace talks could be roads to ending systemic and state-sponsored human rights violations as well as addressing roots of poverty and civil war in the country that the Philippine government has (yet) to sincerely pursue.

13. Daang Perwisyo

On the road, commuters are hostaged by hellish traffic gridlocks. Train ticket prices went up this year but riding the MRT or LRT is still a torturous experience. President Aquino has twice declared he will let himself be run over the train should some promised developments not happen at the time he declared. Twice, the promises were undelivered and twice near the deadlines his spokespersons asked the public to not take the president’s pronouncements literally. Manila airport became notorious for tanim-bala although the Aquino administration insisted that the issue is exaggerated. Overseas Filipino workers, foreigners and travellers were detained for a single live ammunition found in their luggage that most (if not all) did not acknowledge bringing with them. Investigations in this revealed the existence of the scam but identified no organized group or syndicate perpetrating the tanim-bala scam. For returning overseas workers, they fear the customs inspector more than the turbulence in the air. Balikbayan boxes were ordered opened for inspection by the Bureau of Customs where some were reported robbed. Fortunately, the government heeded the online and offline message of the people: Hands off our balikbayan boxes! Despite the travel woes and daily suffering of Filipino commuters, no member of the Aquino cabinet has been sacked for inflicting these hardships and for the failure to resolve these problems. There was not even an apology!

14. US and China intervention

US intervention in the Philippines revealed itself this year in these manners: involvement of US soldiers in the planning and execution of Operation Exodus / Wolverine that resulted to the Mamasapano encounter; the watering down of the implementation of the sentence of US soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton convicted of killing transgender Jennifer Laude; the continuing joint military exercises via the Visiting Forces Agreement; and, the planned expansion of basing and increase US military presence while passing US military expenditures in the Philippines to Philippine coffers through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement among others. Protests against Chinese government encroachments in Philippine territory were held at the Chinese Embassy. The Philippine government insists on the diplomatic route and activists heed it to toughen up its resolve, possibly by way of economic sanctions, as Chinese incursions on Philippine territory expand.

The surprise box-office hit historical film Heneral Luna shuttled nationalist sentiments. It debunked the ideological assertion that nationalism is already passé and that embracing the doctrines of globalization is more relevant today. Heneral Luna memes became popular in addressing contemporary issues from corruption to foreign military intervention.

15. Labor actions against contractualization

There were symbolic victories this year against the pernicious practice of labor contractualization. Laudable are the workers of Tanduay and the GMA-7 media workers who persevered and achieved legal victories in the struggle against contractualization. Their fight is not yet over, but it is an inspiration to all workers who are battling corporate abuse and the law, which legalizes labor contractualization.

We bid farewell to the year 2015 as we look forward to the Filipino people’s continuing unities and struggles for genuine national development and social change.

Published by Bulatlat

It is public knowledge that the Left became a divided movement in the early 1990s. Most remained as national democrats while the rest splintered into various factions. Those who refused to reaffirm the Natdem principles became vociferous critics of the tactics and methods of what they refer to as the Stalinist wing of the Philippine Left. Two decades later, they are still fixated over the alleged massive errors, blunders, and political irrelevance of the Natdem movement.

That they continue to echo this line of thinking is quite surprising unless they admit that their fanatic rejection of the Natdem is crucial in preserving their political existence. But the intensified propaganda against the Natdems is not only vicious and malicious; the recent tirades appear to be government-backed as well. They are consistent in portraying the Natdem as the embodiment of evil Leftist in society; yet this narrative is self-serving since it ignores an obvious issue involving the Left today: the grand betrayal committed by a self-proclaimed Leftist bloc which agreed to be a junior partner of the reactionary regime.

They continue to ridicule the Natdem’s ‘obsolete’ way of thinking without acknowledging the following:

– That they were not prevented from challenging and supplanting the theories and practical legacy of the Natdem in the grassroots;
– That they have institutional (academic and religious) support in discrediting the Natdem movement;
– That they received ample foreign funding in sustaining their political work;
– That their doctrines were endorsed by opinion-making apparatuses such as the media, mainstream book publishing industry, and the global civil society;
-That they collaborated with successive bourgeois governments in demonizing the Natdem; and
– That they partnered with the Liberal Party and became a partisan state actor.

Yet they have the temerity to denounce the Communist Party and the New People’s Army as the recidivist superbads of Philippine politics.

They had enough time and resources to prove that their theories are superior and feasible. They were given the opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of promoting bureaucratic reforms, parliamentary work, and peaceful transition to socialism.

But after two decades, they have nothing to offer other than shameful, unprincipled collaboration. Real existing reformism as exemplified by the yellow Left ends in blatant political sell-out. Ask Walden Bello.

By subsuming their politics to the bureaucratic demands of the state, they degenerated into a cabal of deodorizer cadres of the ruling party. They became politicians pretending to be progressives who discourage and disempower the masses from continuing the struggle for social transformation. Instead of advancing the politics of revolution, they assumed the role of hired ideologues to counter the Natdem movement. In other words, they aligned their aims with the rise to power of a bourgeois party.

Rewarded by the state for their canine loyalty, they could have pushed the militant section of the Left into obscurity. They could have gained the initiative in the grassroots. They could have destroyed the political infrastructure of the Natdem across the country.

But they utterly, bitterly failed.

All the funds used to displace the Natdem in the communities; all the NGOs created to tame the fighting capabilities of the marginalized; the deployment of the fascist machinery of the state to malign, hunt, expose, and arrest activists and revolutionaries – all these Rightist schemes to defeat the Natdem, in the name of what? Political stability and silence of the oppressed in support of elite democracy.

In the wake of post-Edsa Rightist resurgence, the yellow Left chose the side of the reactionaries (their alliance is christened as ‘reigning reform coalition’) to realize the group’s socialist objectives. But in practice, it uncritically defended the regime’s anti-people programs such as public-private-partnerships and development aggression in the countryside. Instead of maintaining its political independence and integrity, it willingly served as an attack dog of Malacanang.

If only an honest evaluation of its political record were done, the yellow Left could have easily recognized how its nice-sounding theories on responsible and democratic activism are not being realized on the ground.

Many of its cadres are detached from the grassroots, its leaders are experts on finance generation; and when they attend international conferences, they misrepresent themselves as struggling Leftists who are building the foundations of a democratic society while spewing out intrigues against the Natdems.

Unable to establish a formidable support among the grassroots without using the resources of the reactionary state, the yellow Left accused the Natdem of terrorizing and manipulating the masa. Instead of pursuing a critical appraisal of its work, it turned to the lazy tactic of red-baiting.

Because of the yellow Left’s delusion that it represents the humanistic tradition of the revolution, it distorts the Natdem brand of politics.

Party discipline? It is rigid Stalinist purging.
Holistic view of history? Deceptive metanarrative.
Marxist-Leninist-Maoist analysis? Dogmatic paradigm.

Instead of a coherent and comprehensive reading of the political situation, they opted for a so-called postmodern and pluralist perspective. They dismissed Joma Sison in favor of micro academic specializations and abstract language games. It would have been less controversial if they restricted these theoretical ‘innovations’ within the university, but these were introduced to the public as the emergence of the new Left.

The yellow Left only has contempt for its ideological adversaries that is why it couldn’t understand why the Natdemn movement continues to inspire support from various sectors and regions across the nation. It spreads the lie about how the Natdem has been artificially boosting its political strength through undemocratic and violent methods.

Coopted already by the reactionary state, the yellow Left has already forgotten how a people’s movement can thrive by relying on the sincere affections and collective struggle of the masses. It mimicked the oppressors’ cynical view of resistance movements and grassroots organizing. Every political action is deemed suspicious if it questions the noble motives of the Liberal Party. Mass struggles in the peripheries are rebuffed if Natdems are involved in the campaign.

Despite the vilification campaign and state-sponsored attacks, Natdems continue to stand up for their beliefs while waging the honorable fight for a socialist future. For the yellow Left, it is proof of the Natdem’s irrational tendency. But for the working classes, it reinforces the credibility of the Natdem to lead the struggle for genuine independence and democracy.

At the risk of creating a stereotype, I dare say a yellow Leftist is someone who rejects the politics of the Natdem while embracing the status quo. An activist who is intolerant of dissent coming from the margins, a pluralist who plays with competing theories as long as it does not involve Maoism, and a law-abiding citizen who dreams that politicians will pass socialist laws. In other words, a yellow Leftist is the personification of the anti-Left.

Written for The Diplomat

This week, in an address to Parliament, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong identified key reforms in the electoral system which he believes would lead to greater political stability.

In summary, he proposed to raise the minimum number of opposition members of parliament (MPs), grant voting power to non-constituency MPs, reduce or merge group representation constituencies while creating more single member constituencies, review the qualifying criteria for the elected president, and strengthen the role of the Council of Presidential Advisors.

Lee, who is head of the ruling People’s Action Party which has been in power since 1959 and clinched a landslide election victory last year, said the proposed reforms “aim to strengthen the (political) system to make it more open and contestable, to keep it accountable to the people, to go into the next 50 years with the best chance of making a success of Singapore.”

If Lee Hsien Loong’s proposed constitutional amendments are passed, Singapore will have at least 21 non-ruling MPs in the next government. Furthermore, the non-constituency MPs will finally have full voting powers on key matters of governance such as constitutional changes, supply bills, money bills, votes of no confidence, and also removing a president from office.

Because of their restricted power in the current system, non-constituency MPs are viewed by many as second class legislators. Lee said he was seeking to change this perception by allowing more opposition voices in parliament.

“We will be aiding the opposition, giving their best losers more exposure and very possibly building them up for the next General Election. But I believe that in this phase of our political development this is good for the government and good for Singapore,” he said.

Lee also discussed the role of the elected president. He reminded the public that “the President is neither the Government nor is he the Opposition. He is a custodian, he is a goalkeeper.” As stabilizer of the political system, the president not only has ceremonial duties but has other powers including the ability to authorize the use of the country’s reserves.

Lee said he believed it is time to review the criteria for choosing the country’s president. Since the president has important decisions to make regarding the financial situation of the entire nation and the next generation, it would make sense for the person holding this position to have senior management competence and experience, preferably someone who led a big company or assumed key positions in the government or the private sector. The prime minister also hopes to devise a mechanism where those from minority groups can be elected as president.

But the prime minister rejected the view of some scholars that it is better for the parliament to appoint the president. He insisted that the president should have the people’s mandate to effectively exercise his or her custodial powers.

Reacting to the prime minister’s speech, the Singapore Democratic Party demanded an overhaul of the country’s political system.

“The electoral system is not for the PAP to tweak and adjust. A democratic election system requires a free media, freedom of speech and assembly, and a transparent electoral process.”

One of the group’s recommendations is to abolish the group representation constituencies which they said has enabled the ruling party to draw constituency boundaries to its advantage and to disproportionately dominate Parliament in number.

Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore has earlier written about the need to elect a president from minority groups.

“In a multiracial society such as ours, there is also merit in rotating the president among the different ethnic groups,” Mahbubani said.

Since Lee has initiated the discussion about the reforms needed to keep the political system relevant, this should be an opportunity for political parties, especially the opposition, to articulate their ideas on how to improve Singapore’s democracy. It should also encourage citizen groups to gather counterproposals from the grassroots on how to rethink Singapore’s political institutions.

New Singapore Law Slammed as Attack on Free Speech

Activists are warning that Singapore’s proposed contempt of court law, which seeks to promote the independence of the judiciary, threatens to further undermine free speech in the prosperous city state.

The Singapore Parliament first tackled the Administration of Justice (Protection) bill last July 11, and it will resume deliberations on August 15. The government has clarified that the bill merely consolidates various rulings with respect to prejudicing court matters, disobeying court orders, and scandalizing the courts.

However, the bill imposes a severe penalty of $100,000 or a jail term of three years, or both, for individuals found guilty of disrespecting the courts.

Critics of the bill are wary of the vague definition of contempt of court. They are also concerned about some overly broad provisions that could be arbitrarily used to harass and detain activists. For example, the bill defines contempt of court as any action that “poses a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermined.

Read more at The Diplomat

Written for New Mandala

Mong Palatino explores the many sides to the Philippines’ new President, revealing there is far more that meets the eye than Trump comparisons alone can offer.

The landslide victory of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in the recent Philippine presidential election has been reported already across the world. Perhaps many in Southeast Asia are asking: Who is Duterte?

The reaction is understandable. After all, it was only five months ago when Duterte announced his bid for the presidency.

Duterte’s electoral success is historic and politically significant for the Philippines. Not only did Duterte receive the most number of votes in the history of the Philippines, he is also set to become the first president from Mindanao.

Mindanao is the country’s second biggest island known for its rich natural resources but plagued by poverty and numerous local conflicts. When Mindanao people speak of historical injustice, they are referring to the state-sponsored displacement of Muslims from their homeland and the continuing plunder of the island’s wealth by corrupt politicians from ‘Imperial Manila.’

Duterte’s victory suddenly gave hope that the national government will start to prioritize the needs of Mindanao. Duterte, who claims to understand the history of the Muslim struggle for self-determination, also promises to pursue the peace process in Mindanao.

That a politician from Mindanao will assume the presidency on June 30 is unprecedented in Philippine politics. It’s like a Buddhist mayor sympathetic to the self-determination struggle of Thailand’s ‘Deep South’ becoming prime minister.

Unfortunately, Duterte’s anti-crime platform is given more attention by the mainstream global media. Because of his aggressive methods to rid Davao of crimes and his plan to kill all drug lords once he becomes president, he is called the ‘Punisher’ and Dirty Harry’. Perhaps he deserves the nicknames and he has no one to blame but himself if the world thinks his only crusade is to enforce discipline and order in society. He is like Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who believes that reforms can be achieved through extralegal and even authoritarian means.

Like Prayut, Duterte’s scandalous statements ridiculing women and the LGBT sector often attract wide condemnation. Both Prayut and Duterte think that crass talk can make them more popular among ordinary citizens. But when commentators condemn Duterte’s behaviour, most fail to mention his similarity with Prayut. Right or wrong, Duterte is often compared to American presidential candidate and business tycoon Donald Trump.

The comparison is inaccurate and unfair to Duterte. First, he is not a billionaire. Second, he does not mouth anti-Muslim statements. Third, he is proud of his so-called Leftist background. And fourth, he has been serving the country as an elected leader for three decades already.

If making politically-incorrect pronouncements is the measure for comparison, Duterte’s image is closer to Prayut or Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The latter is like Duterte, a veteran politician who uses obscene language to ridicule his critics and political enemies.

But perhaps matching Duterte with Trump can also help to make the Filipino leader realize that his public antics are increasingly being viewed by many as offensive and divisive.

Persuading Duterte to abandon his ‘Trump’ reputation is easy. He only needs to remember his record as a politician who has consistently worked well with progressive groups and NGOs in drafting social welfare programs for the poor. Unlike Trump who is part of America’s traditional elite, Duterte is seen as an ‘outsider’ who challenged the rule of oligarchs and big landlords in the Philippines.

In many ways, Duterte is like Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo. Both made a name by being effective city mayors before running for a national position. Both gained popular support among the poor and the youth. And both tapped into the widespread frustration of ordinary voters against the inefficiencies and inequities of the bureaucracy.

The Philippines today is like Indonesia in 2014 after the electoral victory of Jokowi. There’s high expectation that Duterte will deliver change and uplift the conditions of the poor and marginalized.

Duterte is no democracy icon like Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi but many Filipinos now see him as a leader who will lead the struggle against elite oppression, criminality, and corruption.

The defeat of the military-backed party in Myanmar remains the most meaningful political event in Southeast Asia in recent years but Duterte’s rise to power is a political phenomenon that deserves serious attention too. Indeed, Duterte has cultivated a strongman image like Hun Sen and Prayut; but unlike the two, he gained power in a more democratic way similar to how Jokowi and Suu Kyi’s party won a convincing mandate to lead in their countries.

There’s a persistent anti-communist bias in the Philippines, and in the whole Southeast Asian region as well, but here’s an incoming president who introduces himself as Leftist or socialist. If Duterte turns out to be a real socialist, will this start a trend in Southeast Asia?

Will he become a genuine reformer or will he degenerate into a conservative populist? He has six years to establish his true legacy but this early he is already facing corruption allegations. It’s noteworthy to mention that his rivals are suspicious about his bank transactions. The issue is quite similar to the ‘political donations’ received by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in his dollar bank accounts. Although, to be fair to Duterte, Najib’s corruption scandal is definitely far worse.

Duterte’s detractors want to unseat him already even if he has not yet taken his oath as president. His supporters, however, expect him to bring change in three to six months which is part of his election campaign pledge. Of course substantial change is difficult to achieve in six months but he must try to show some concrete results during this period if he wants to retain the support of the majority who voted him to power.

Duterte is more than just the Trump of East Asia. To understand his politics, it’s useful to compare him to other leaders in the region. And once we see the many sides of Duterte, he appears less scary; although he remains an enigmatic political figure who can either strengthen or destroy democracy in the Philippines.