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

Written for Bulatlat

Respect for diverse beliefs is one of the prescriptions of political correctness so therefore your decision to become an activist should no longer provoke scandalous reactions. But the menacing tentacles of Red Scare and Philippine-style McCarthyism continue to wield considerable influence in our social institutions. The result is that your activism is publicly tolerated and despised at the same time. You have the right to dissent but your dissenting is deemed pathetic. Sometimes this is reflected in the social ties you cultivate. You have dear friends from school, work, and the community but unknown to you or perhaps you chose to ignore it, some of these friends of yours harbor reactionary and anti-activist views.

Or maybe you are the token activist friend. Your presence absolves the barkada of the sin of apathy; your activism assuages the group guilt induced by their secret worshiping of elitist politics; and your friendship is flaunted to prove their adherence to pluralism.

Yet you refuse to clash with them on divisive political issues. Your attitude is to patiently persuade and enlighten them about the necessity of activism. You seek to understand their politics by attributing it to the hegemony of conservative ideology in society. Can you blame them if they were systematically schooled to reject the Left?

On the other hand, it is crucial to have reliable friends who can provide a lifeline during emergency situations. If there’s a political crackdown, your support network must include friends who will not compromise your safety. These friends are not the friends who can be easily unfriended on social media if their posts annoy you.

It is important, therefore, to keep count of real friends who can become active participants or allies of the people’s movement for social change.

However, it is extremely difficult to distinguish friends who are victims of misinformation from those who are consciously denigrating your activism. But there are some hints that can lead you to rethink how some of your friends are responding to your politics.

To start with, a real friend who is aware of your activism will be naturally curious about what you do and she will most likely ask about some of your causes. Meanwhile, there are some who will sarcastically inquire about your latest anti-government campaign despite your clarification that activism is more than just a rant against politicians in power.

A real friend will readily share resources in support of a cause; others will mockingly ask about your source of funds every time you hold rallies. You initially excuse a friend’s subtle attack since he could be referring to the hakot crowds of trapos. But then you realize he is not a stranger but someone who is supposed to know better that you are capable of doing something beyond pecuniary reasons. There’s a difference between a friend wanting to know more about sustaining an advocacy and a so-called friend insinuating that activists are beholden to a sinister patron.

Related to this, there are friends who will casually point out that some activists are rich forgetting that activism is not restricted to the poor and lower middle classes.

Some will probably accuse you of hypocrisy because of your petty bourgeois lifestyle yet you earlier emphasized that activists are encouraged to live simply but, unlike church people, do not have a vow of poverty. You do not integrate with the basic masses to fetishize poverty but to study the conditions of the poor and mobilize them to end poverty and the exploitation of man by man.

Some will sneer at your ‘Made in America’ consumer goods even if you already explained that the anti-imperialist movement should not be equated with the boycotting of some Western products.

You are surprised to hear your apolitical classmate or relative praising your activist dedication while alluding to the purported luxurious life of communist leader Joma Sison in Europe. You suddenly realized how an insidious government propaganda can be manipulated and disseminated as a believable piece of information.

Sometimes you wonder whether some of your friends are naïve or simply tactless when they invite you to a charity event by reminding you to do something different and effective like giving direct assistance to the needy. They add that unlike rallies, some forms of intervention can immediately and concretely benefit the marginalized. You have mixed thoughts about this invitation: you are delighted to see your friends assume greater social responsibility on one hand; but you are also frustrated to learn that they think rallies are not helping the people on the other. You feel the urge to speak about the dynamics of social movements and how political reforms should be analyzed in a historic way but you fear you might appear arrogant and preachy. Besides, it would take more than a brief rejoinder to counter the dominant thinking that seeks to measure everything in monetary terms. Political advocacy? Did it feed the poor instantly? Did you earn something from this work?

Perhaps the funniest reaction of some of your friends to your activism is to treat you like a brainwashed victim of some mysterious totalitarian sect. In order to save either your soul or sanity, they try to convert you back to ‘reality’ by recommending a bible study or an exorcism-like spiritual session. Some would probably tease you to remember the hedonistic appeal of ordinary civilian life. You appreciate the concern but you candidly assure them that you are normal and rational. Indeed, you may sound esoteric every time you mention uncommon words like praxis and dialectics but it doesn’t mean you are afflicted with a deadly disease. You insist that activism is not a problem but a cure.

And then there are friends who will say nothing against your dream to change the world, some may even volunteer to join your struggle in the future, but they will also insist that change of self is paramount over other matters. Reform the individual first before seeking the reform of society. What a seemingly harmless and logical assertion yet ideologically biased against the progressive cause. Even politicians and the state have no problem echoing this mantra. If we focus too much on ourselves, we risk losing interest in fulfilling our citizen duties. We may inflame self-love, not solidarity. And it’s incorrect to assume that a person cannot change his self and society at the same time. When we link arms with others to build a new world, we are also transformed as individuals. Through activism, you learn the importance of remolding your old worldview and feudal habits.

To conclude, what is the proper attitude toward friends and old acquaintances as we move forward the struggle for meaningful social change? To borrow a few words from an unlikely and even politically-incorrect source, we should keep our friends close and our so-called friends closer. We need friends and allies as we raise the banner of the revolution; and we have our other ‘friends’ whose misconceptions about activism should embolden us to be more aggressive in improving our education and information-awareness campaigns.

Published by Manila Today

The palengke economy is under attack: The amended Fisheries Code bans commercial fishing within 15 kilometers of municipal waters. Meanwhile, several local government units in Metro Manila are privatizing (read: demolishing) public markets.

The fish ban will allegedly stop big operators from depleting our fish stock. Further, it is touted as an environment-friendly legislation to restore our polluted seas.

In Manila, the proposed privatization of 22 public markets aims to modernize the city infrastructure by tapping the support of the corporate sector. Local officials insist that it is more accurate to call the market ordinance as ‘joint venture’ rather than privatization because the government is not selling any public property to prospective investors. The claim is ludicrous because the joint venture as a variant of the build-operate-transfer scheme is essentially a privatization program.

In Quezon City, the Balintawak market demolition is presented as a public welfare ser
vice to protect consumers against unsafe food and unsanitary commercial establishments. The threat of demolition is also reported to be a penalty against the market owners for tax evasion.

The sectors affected by these laws and programs have loudly protested in recent weeks. Fish operators and their workers have declared a ‘fish holiday’ aside from gathering in Mendiola, Luneta, and in front of the Senate. Meanwhile, Manila market stall owners organized a ‘market holiday’ against the planned privatization. They succeeded in persuading the local government to conduct a dialogue and a series of consultations with market officials and other stakeholders.

According to the government and some NGOs, only the big commercial operators will be covered by the fish ban but the nationwide protests showed that the law will displace ordinary fisherfolk and their families.

The Manila vendors’ march was supported by several parishes, homeowners’ associations, and community organizations which disputed the allegation of the local government that opposition politicians are leading the campaign.

The protesters are right to argue that the government is pursuing reforms that will instantly eliminate the jobs and livelihood of thousands of small workers, shopkeepers, and fishers.

The fish ban and market demolition must then be named for what they really are: bureaucratic political acts aimed at removing the small and middle economic players in favor of big and transnational corporate interests.

When the European Union downgraded the trade rating of the Philippines, we panicked and quickly amended the fisheries code so that we can continue exporting our products and earn more Euros. We ignored the unacknowledged fact that the EU was simply protecting its own fish industry. And what is more tragic is that we uncritically accommodated the EU at the expense of our domestic fishers. (Traydor! Punyeta!)

It is not difficult to ascertain how the fish ban will destroy the primary economic activity in our coastal villages. The government is forcing small fishers to compete with big fishing vessels in the open seas. We are prioritizing fish export instead of boosting our food security.

Environment protection is everybody’s concern but it should be accompanied by a comprehensive understanding of the socio-economic context. When we demand the preservation of our marine resources, it should include an analysis of the political and economic conditions. Protect the municipal waters, but for whom? Ban commercial fishing, but for whom?

Every year, the government has been consistent in pointing out that fishers are the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. But it seems determined to make the lives of fishers more destitute by criminalizing their livelihood. Now we know that the enemy of our fisherfolk is not just the oversized quasi-military fishing vessels from China but also our own government.

In the case of Manila, it wanted to modernize the public markets by demolishing these old but valuable structures and replace them with mini-malls or supermarkets. If Manila is interested in demolishing something, it should begin with the ugly Torre de Manila. Modernizing public markets is necessary but it should not dislodge our struggling entrepreneurs.

Is modernization the real goal or is it simply a money-making scheme of politicians and their campaign donors? Does Manila truly lack the financial capability to build and rebuild its markets or is the problem an issue of misplaced priorities?

The Manila market modernization is a localized version of the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) of the national government. It is hailed as an innovative program but it is merely a fancy name for privatization. It hides the sinister intention of spreading the tentacles of big business in the last remaining spaces available for small and medium producers and entrepreneurs.

For greedy capitalists and smugglers, it is not enough that the palengke must be undermined by surrounding it with malls and supermarkets in town centers. The palengke as we know it must go.

The looming demolition of markets in Manila symbolizes the systematic assault on our local economy.

In the past three decades, we embraced trade liberalization even if it destroyed the backbone of our domestic manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Markets were flooded with cheap goods from other countries instead of locally-made products after the government removed trade protection measures.

Balintawak, the grand bagsakan of agricultural products from the North, is perhaps the most popular link between the rural and urban. If demolished, it will disrupt the supply chain which could force other markets in Metro Manila to procure from big traders and smugglers. If transformed into a mall, it means the big business retailer can dictate the prices of goods which could mean smaller profits for independent suppliers and entrepreneurs. Worse, the mall owner can bankrupt local producers by sourcing supplies from other countries.

These are precarious times for small local businesses. We have a callous government bent on serving the needs of big business and foreign companies. It’s bad enough that we have poor infrastructures, high electricity rates, inefficient transport system, and corrupt bureaucracy. Instead of addressing these issues, the government is aggravating the situation by preventing our people from earning a decent living. Its economic doctrine is unabashedly anti-poor and anti-Filipino: Ban fishing, demolish markets. Damn local production, promote lopsided foreign trade.

Policies are “business-friendly” even if these are highly discriminatory against the people, especially the poor. We praise tycoons even if their businesses have weak links to our domestic economy or even if they destroy our environment. They thrive by hiring contractual labor and bribing our politicians. Development is equated with business profit even if workers are subjected to wage slavery. Progress is measured by counting large-scale infrastructures such as the Laguna Lake Expressway Dike and Manila Bay reclamation even if these will uproot residents and fishers from their homes.

A business magazine once featured a car company for the successful sale of an old Japanese SUV brand. It’s heartbreaking because the Philippine car industry exists by marketing the products of another country.

Meanwhile, the genuine local producers are burdened with onerous policies and unjust impositions. Fishers simply want to sell their goods in our local markets and vendors simply want to do business in our cities. But the government is blindly following neoliberal trade prescriptions. Perhaps small producers who are displaced by global competition and economic adjustments can apply for assistance through the conditional cash transfer program. Our people wanted to work with dignity but they are being forced to beg for cash.

Greater tragedies await as we open our country to foreigners who will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November. It is more than a talk event since it will reinforce the economic policies that downgraded our capabilities to produce and develop our own industries. During the APEC summit, think not of foreign dignitaries, Filipino hospitality, and insincere praises for Daang Matuwid. Ignore also deceptive spins such as inclusive growth, transparent governance, and sustainable development. Instead, think of the fisher who can’t fish in our waters, the vendor evicted from a public market, and the farmer who is unable to sell his produce while imported goods flood the country.

What’s behind this so-called “Black Monday” campaign? It began last month when four officers of the human rights group ADHOC and an election official were arrested by the police for allegedly bribing a young woman to remain silent in relation to a sex scandal case involving Kem Sokha, the country’s second most prominent opposition leader. ADHOC insists the group was merely extending legal aid to the woman as part of its advocacy work.

To press for the release of these persons, various groups launched a campaign urging the public to wear a black t-shirt every Monday as a sign of protest against the repressive policies of the state.

Cambodia’s ruling party, which has been in power for three decades already, is claiming that what exists in the country is a so-called pluralist democracy. But the continuing “Black Monday” campaign is a potent reminder that human rights, justice, and democracy are still under attack in the country.

Read more at The Diplomat

Cambodia Rejects Europe’s Human Rights Criticisms

The European Union resolution cited the “escalation of politically motivated charges and judicial harassment of human rights defenders and activists” in Cambodia. Aside from filing several criminal charges against some Members of the Parliament, the Cambodian government also detained four NGO members for allegedly bribing a witness in a sexual scandal case involving an opposition leader.

This legal offensive is seen by many as a systematic crackdown of the opposition by the ruling party, which has been in power in the past three decades.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation immediately issued a statement describing the EU resolution as a document “based on so many false accounts.”

In the past month, Cambodia received a lot of flak for its human rights record and its perceived pro-China policy at the expense of ASEAN unity. While Cambodia is right to assert that its sovereignty as an independent nation must be respected, it also has the obligation to take note of the legitimate concerns raised by various institutions about some of its policies. At the minimum, it has to address these issues and assure the international community that the government is still committed to protect human rights, democracy, and rule of law.

Read more at The Diplomat

Stop Environmental Crimes

June 30th, 2016

Published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer

During the campaign period, then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte promised to solve rampant criminality and corruption in three to six months. He vowed to end the reign of drug lords, kidnap-for-ransom gangs, and other big-time criminal syndicates across the country.

Now that Duterte has been proclaimed as the country’s elected president, we implore him to take a closer look into the environmental crimes that are being committed with impunity. Environmental crimes are worse since they affect the present and succeeding generations, they are more costly in terms of social and economic impact, and they lead to the displacement of the poor and worsen the underdevelopment of the country.

Foreign large-scale logging and mining operations, land conversion, propagation of genetically modified organisms, plastic pollution, plunder of marine resources, poaching and the killing of environmental defenders—these are some of the underreported crimes that, albeit not as sensational and visible as illegal drug use, pose a serious threat to the future of the Filipino people.

We believe that the national leadership should be committed to the protection of our fragile ecosystem to stop the rapid deterioration of our quality of life. The incoming administration should lead—in ending the plunder of our natural resources, in conserving our wildlife, and in upholding animal welfare. More importantly, the incoming administration must draft a national development plan which makes sustainable use of our resources for the development of the Filipino people.

The many environmental crimes that are exacerbating the suffering of the poor can be addressed in three to six months by a government which has the political will to end the greedy, dirty and antipeople activities of monopoly firms, corrupt politicians and multinational entities.

We urge President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to work toward solving the country’s environmental crimes, and demand the following:

– Stop animal cruelty and illegal wildlife trade! Pass more laws protecting wildlife and strictly implement the amended Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act No. 10631) and the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of the Philippines (RA 9147).

– Stop large-scale logging, mining operations and land conversion.

– Stop reclamation! Scrap the national reclamation plan and terminate the Laguna Lake Expressway Dike Project.

– Stop the construction of new coal plants! Focus on renewable energy resources.

– Stop the persecution and killing of environmental defenders.

– Stop plastic pollution. Draft a clear plan for solid waste management. Strictly enforce the Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (RA 9003).

– Stop propagating GMOs. Ensure food security.

– End impunity for environmental crimes. We demand justice for victims of mining operations, lumad killings, oil spills and coral reef destruction; and for the victims of state neglect in climate change response, like the farmers affected by El Niño and the “Yolanda”- stricken communities.

(Nilad is a network of environmental organizations all over Metro Manila fighting the reclamation projects along Manila Bay and Laguna Lake, while Earth Island Institute Philippines focuses on wildlife conservation, marine mammals and animal welfare.)

Suharto and Marcos died several years ago, but their legacy is still being debated. They were humiliated when they were ousted from power yet their names have undergone rehabilitation in recent years.

It is not simply enough to resist proposals recognizing Suharto and Marcos as national heroes. The more important question that requires urgent answering is this: Why are an increasing number of Indonesians and Filipinos still open to naming both dictators as heroes?

Read more at The Diplomat

What’s Behind the New Communist Scares in Indonesia and the Philippines?

There has been a noticeable rise of anti-communist sentiment in Indonesia and the Philippines in the past several months. What gives?

Communists are far from dominating the governments of Indonesia and the Philippines. But there are political forces which are ready to adopt red scare tactics in order to either hide the truth (Indonesia) or bring down an elected leader (Philippines).

Read more at The Diplomat


Talumpating binigkas sa rali noong 2014 State of the Nation Address

Mga kababayan, si Noynoy Aquino kandidato raw para sa Nobel Peace prize. Tama ba yun? Naniniwala po ba kayo na si Aquino ay nagtataguyod ng kapayapaan sa bansa?

Narinig naman po natin ang mga naunang tagapagsalita. Malinaw nilang pinaliwanag ang pananagutan ni Aquino kung bakit lalong tumindi ang kahirapan, kawalan ng katarungan, at korupsiyon sa bansa. Paano magkakaroon ng tunay na kapayapaan kung ang pinuno ng bayan, ang pamahalaan mismo, ay hindi binibigyang solusyon ang mga ugat ng karahasan sa lipunan?

Ang tunggalian sa ating bayan ay hindi naman po mahirap intindihin. Kaya may lumalaban dahil may nangangamkam ng lupa. Kaya may nag-aarmas ay dahil may nandadahas. Kaya may digmaan ay dahil ang inaapi ay naghahanap ng alternatibo, ng pagbabago, ng katarungan.

At sa halip na baguhin ang sistemang mapang-api, ang ginagawa ni Aquino, mula sa simula, ay agresibo itong ipagtanggol. Sa halip na trabaho, dagdag sahod, kabuhayan, pabahay, kalusugan, edukasyon, malinis na pamayanan – ang dala ni Aquino ay demolisyon, militarisasyon, pribatisasyon. Kaunlaran para sa iilan, ang dusa ay para sa karamihan. Kagutuman, kawalan ng trabaho, tumataas na presyo ng bilihin, maduming kapaligiran – hindi po ba ito ang tunay na karahasan na dapat gapiin ng pamahalaan?

Ang gusto ni Aquino ay kapayapaan ng katahimikan. Kaya kapag ang mamamayan ay lumalaban, tumitindig para sa karapatan at tunay na pagbabago, mabilis po itong winawalis ng pamahalaan. Ang mga kumukontra ay kinakasuhan, dinudukot, at pinapaslang.

Walang kapayapaang maasahan sa pangulong utak-pulbura. Walang kapayapaan kung ang pamahalaan ay bulag sa kahirapang dinaranas ng mamamayan.

Hindi tapat si Aquino sa pagsusulong ng usapang pangkapayapaan. Ayaw kilalanin ang mga pinirmahang kasunduan, ayaw talakayin ang adyenda ng panlipunang reporma, at sa halip na palayain ang mga bilanggong pulitikal ay patuloy ang pag-aresto sa mga consultant ng National Democratic Front. Paano susulong ang kapayapaan kung tinalikuran ni Aquino ang proseso ng usapang pangkapayapaan?

At kahit po ang pinirmahang kasunduan ng pamahalaan at Moro Islamic Liberation Front ay kumakaharap pa ng maraming usapin. Habang nakikipagnegosasyon, ay tuluy-tuloy ang pamahalaan sa pagnakaw ng yamang likas sa Mindanao. Binubukas ang mga lupain ng Lumad sa dayuhang pandarambong. Sunud-sunod ang pagbobomba sa mga komunidad sa kanayunan, lalo na sa mga plantation at mining areas. At dahil ang ugat ng kahirapan at sigalot sa Mindanao ay hindi tinutugunan, walang ibang alternatibo ang mamamayang Moro kundi patuloy na ipaglaban ang kanilang hangarin para sa tunay na pagbabago at kaunlaran.

Si Aquino ang numero unong hadlang upang makamit natin ang isang lipunang maunlad at payapa. Si Aquino ang dahilan kung bakit hindi umuusad ang usapang pangkapayapaan. At sa halip na tulungan ang mahirap, sinisisi pa ang mahirap kung bakit sila lumalaban.

Mga kababayan, para sa tunay na kapayapaan, para sa tunay na pagbabago, dapat nang patalsikin ang pangulong kurakot, pabaya, at pasista.

Written for Bulatlat

Philosopher Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest minds in history, taught geography yet his knowledge of the physical world was probably based only on intuition and printed materials since he didn’t travel outside his hometown. This piece of information may be trivial but useful for those who want to debunk the corporate-sponsored reminder that travel is a requisite to broaden the perspective of an individual. We can assert, via the story of Kant, that acquiring truth and knowledge is still possible even if we remain stuck in our homes.

However, this is hardly reassuring since it’s impossible to expect lesser mortals like us to think the same way as Kant. Also, we should not deny the obvious advantage of travel for those who need to be rescued from lethargic parochialism and sedentary lifestyle. Travel is an antidote to learned complacency; the search for the new amid the dullness of the selfsame.

Between permanent solitude and a life of adventure, the latter is more appealing. Indeed, the contemplative mind has a limitless range but knowledge gained through practical experience seems to be more enduring.

Travel, however, has been reduced into the ordinary. The traveler as truth-seeker is now the tourist in search of fun but safe destinations. In the past, travel meant an exploration of the unfamiliar, strange, and exotic. An encounter between the old and the new, an exchange of cultural narratives, a discovery about our shared humanity.

In the 21st century, it appears there’s no more new frontiers to conquer. Of course, this is wrong. But travel or tourism as we know it has been devalued already as a commodity form. Why risk an expedition to reach the unknown and undiscovered when we can simply organize a trip in a popular tourist resort? The motivation to travel is less about studying a place or interacting with its inhabitants but experiencing what has been advertised in the tri-media.

If an iconic image of a place inspires travel, the modern tourist will most likely aspire to repeat what other tourists have done in the past. There’s no compulsion to behave differently. The intent is to take photos that clone the travel albums or journals of other people. The tourist poses for posterity as if he has done something original yet he has merely replicated the experience of others. There’s no shame in doing this but it should not be flaunted as if he discovered Atlantis.

A travel promo is rated low if buyers suffer inconvenience or the trip didn’t deliver the promised thrill (whale shark viewing, deserted coves, surfing waters). But isn’t travel supposed to bring us out of our comfort zone and allow us to witness something new and unexpected? Our vacation suffers not merely because the over hyped place is a disappointment but also because we have an unrealistic expectation of wanting to enjoy the same experience of friends, relatives, and Internet reviewers.

Travel enhances learning but not all travel is an act of enlightenment. If we will merely quote an information about a place that can be easily verified on Google, then the purpose of traveling is defeated. Why spend time and money when the inspiration to travel is induced by a fake trend? A business strategy by the tourism industry cleverly presented to the public as a social phenomenon.

Travel is supposed to be a disruptive act. The big lesson of history is that when strangers meet, conflict arises. There’s no such thing as travelling for travelling sake. There’s no innocent wanderer. Our presence in a place, even if we are only there for a brief visit, reinforces or destabilizes the local political economy. Our behavior affects community relations, domestic livelihood, and political dynamics. In other words, tourism has intended and unintended consequences that fundamentally affect the future of a place. Good if tourism uplifts the well-being of everybody but what if it displaces residents, especially the indigenous peoples?

Travel, tourism and stay cation are therefore political acts. We should strive to develop better reasons for travelling other than echoing the seductive ads of the tourism sector that promise to reward us with a fun and memorable experience. Life is absolutely more than just about completing the bucket list.

Responding to the clamor for greater responsibility, some tourism activities now include grassroots integration, volunteerism, and environment protection. This initiative deserves support until it develops and becomes the mainstream practice.

However, there is danger in believing that this politically-correct brand of tourism is the opposite of the flawed idea of travelling we discussed earlier. Yes, it is sustainable and perhaps responsible tourism, but in the end, it is still tourism in the service of the profit motive. It is an exemplary business practice. But let’s not confuse it with the ideal concept of travel. The best traveler is someone who arrived in a remote place and decided to stay and live among the local population so that she can make a difference in that community. The traveler who becomes a resident, the wanderer who never left, the tourist-turned change advocate. The foreigner or stranger who learns to think, speak, and fight in behalf of the people of his new home. Let this be our travel guide: we go the distance so that we can make this world a better place.

Written for Bulatlat

There is a regular gathering of anti-Marcos activists which briefly unites various shades of the Left. This was impossible to organize in the mid-1990s during the ‘great split’ within the Philippine Left, but today it happens several times a year. Perhaps the passing of time inspired these fierce ideological rivals to set aside their political differences so that they can meet their former friends and comrades in the struggle against the dictatorship.

That they can socialize and reminisce together is a reminder that they once fought for the same Cause. They shared a common experience of spending the formative years of their lives building the people’s resistance against imperialism and other social evils. Regardless of what they are doing today, it cannot be denied that there was a time when they were all part of the militant Left, the national democratic Left.

Unfortunately, we cannot bestow the same recognition to activists who became members of the so-called moderate Left in the 1990s up to the present. Understandably, their views about the Natdem movement are colored by ideological bias. They became avowed Leftists by consciously denigrating the Natdem brand of politics.

But they seemed unaware of how peculiar they appear when they brag about their Leftist credentials. Consider these formulaic soundbites of how they introduce themselves in public: We are activists but we don’t just join rallies and shout slogans; we use intelligent and creative forms of protests. We do not simply condemn the government; we lobby for reforms in the bureaucracy. We are not dogmatic, we believe in pluralism. We advocate non-violence as opposed to militant rah-rah activists who spread mayhem in society. We are the democratic, inclusive Left.

If these words are no longer strange, it is because this way of thinking is precisely what the ruling order prescribes. We can resist but it must be legal, peaceful, and disciplined. Both the moderate Leftists and politicians want an activism emptied of its radical, disruptive essence.

The non-stop clarification about being Left minus the noisy militancy of the Natdem reflects a mindset that desperately seeks recognition and praise from the Establishment (as if it is the real aim of progressive politics).

Maybe the moderate Leftists simply wanted to differentiate themselves from the Natdem but by overemphasizing the small and cute interventions of polite dissenters, they misrepresent these as the only effective and innovative acts of politics. They undermine and reject the efficacy and necessity of collective mass actions. Didn’t they know that the Left survived the brutal retaliation of reactionary forces not by begging for piecemeal reforms or agreeing to speak in behalf of the state among the grassroots but by advocating revolutionary demands and militantly advancing the struggle with the masses?

The moderate Leftist introduces his politics not by denouncing the oppressive system but by demonizing the methods of the Natdem. She speaks about the historic legacy of the Left but is quick to dismiss the role and relevance of the Natdem. He spends more time ridiculing Natdem personalities than resisting the corrosive influence of the imperialist, corrupt bureaucrats, and greedy landlords in society.

The young moderate Leftist is brainwashed into believing that the great scourge of politics is the annoying existence of Maoists and Stalinists in schools, communities, offices, and churches. Thus the ruthless machinations to silence and isolate Natdem activists by invoking the institutional powers and resources of the state. They accuse Natdems of using underhanded ‘Stalinist’ tactics but fail to recognize their undemocratic and arrogant behavior toward individuals who think differently from them.

Consider this example: During some community congregations or small caucuses of various groups and individuals, there is always a self-assured young moderate Leftist who will warn against totalitarianism and the presence of dogmatic groups which found a way to infiltrate the assembly and subvert the non-partisan character of the institution. Then, she will preach about the tired, old strategies of the Natdem Left and the need for a rethinking of political perspectives. She will most likely offer unoriginal but respectful ways to express the sentiments of the group in public. Aside from monopolizing the floor, she ends up imposing her ‘democratic’ and ‘pluralist’ views on others. Nothing wrong really since it’s group dynamics at work but when a Natdem behaves this way, he will be accused of Stalinism, whatever it means.

The young moderate Leftist is an unusual Leftist since he claims to know the situation of the man on the street but is squeamish about the use of street tactics in politics. But can we blame her when she was systematically schooled to distrust the power of the mob. Indeed, she read about the First Quarter Storm and People Power, but she also read that this kind of activism is already obsolete.

Instead of persevering in the militant mass movement, she was told that the new Left must learn to compromise its principles if it wants to succeed in realpolitik. Change can be realized by influencing the agencies of the state. Thus, the bad word collaborationism was repackaged in the vocabulary of the moderate Left as an acceptable and even superior form of political tendency.

It has been 20 years since moderate Leftists and civil society started bragging about the concrete gains of diluting the subversive aims of revolution in favor of compromise and bureaucratic lobbying. During the same period, they never stopped mocking the protracted character of the people’s revolution in the countryside.

Yet they can only boast about some token reforms in some sectors while the overall situation of Philippine society has fundamentally remained the same. Inequality persists, poverty has worsened, landlordism continues to stalk the land, and foreign meddling is embraced as a valid political solution.

Despite the horrific conditions in the country, the moderate Left refuses to sever ties with the ruling party and resume the militant political struggle. Tragic that the moderate Left is an accomplice of reactionaries and conservatives in oppressing our people.

Ah, but such is the arrogance and ignorance of young moderate Leftists as they continue to portray the Natdem Left as the hopelessly stubborn and undemocratic Left.

When there’s an upsurge of reactionary thinking and disturbing political cynicism in society, trust the moderate Left for quickly putting the blame against the Natdem for the latter’s supposedly outmoded and boring politics. They ridicule the fighting capabilities of the Natdem while they join forces with the reactionary state; but they keep on identifying themselves in global civil society meetings as victims of imaginary Stalinist crimes. When asked about the status of the Philippine Left by foreign academics, they exaggerate their political influence while maliciously accusing the Natdem of losing popular support.

Perhaps it is no use being kind anymore (in the name of alliance building) and instead an activist should be more aggressive in correcting the vicious propaganda of both the anti-Left and moderate Left against the militant section of the Left which is being put to task for asserting and affirming the need for revolution.

To young moderate Leftists, even a partylist representative and leader of the ‘democratic’ Left couldn’t stomach the horrendous consequences of uncritical collaboration. Isn’t this a cautionary sign about the bankrupt and rotten character of real existing moderate Left in Philippine politics? There is a better way of serving the people, the Natdem way. It’s time to have more fun and join the mass movement.

There were several surprises in the election results: First, the landslide victory of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who is now set to become the Philippines’ 16th president. Second, the close race between Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr and neophyte Congresswoman Leni Robredo for the vice presidency. And third, the possible entry into the senate of new and young leaders.

Duterte’s electoral success is phenomenal since he will be the first president from Mindanao in the south, the country’s second biggest island plagued by extreme poverty and numerous local conflicts. Duterte, who first became popular last year because of his image as a crime fighter, defeated four other prominent and resource-rich candidates. Duterte introduced himself as a man of the masses and an ordinary politician from the province who is prepared to rid the country of crime and corruption in less than six months. Frustrated by the repeated failures of Manila-based politicians, an overwhelming number of voters gave their support to the tough-talking leader from Davao.

Read more at The Diplomat

5 Trends That Define the 2016 Philippine Elections

After three months, election campaigning will end this week in the Philippines as more than 50 million voters will choose the country’s next president on May 9. While the next few days are crucial to ensure the victory of candidates and political parties, the major narratives of this year’s election have been laid out already. These happenings are expected to guide voters on how they will select the leaders of the country’s new government. Here are five interesting developments during the campaigns:

1. The rise of Duterte. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was the last to announce his candidacy last year, but as of this writing, he is leading in several polls. Whether he wins or not, he has made a tremendous impact on Philippine politics. For the first time, a leader from Mindanao became the top contender for the presidency. He continued to gather attention and support in a Catholic-dominated country despite his public pronouncements that he plans to kill suspected criminals. Some believe his phenomenal rise is a reflection of public disgust against the inefficiencies of the incumbent government. Meanwhile, his supporters attribute his popularity to his pro-poor programs and his intention to dislodge elite rule in the country.

Read more at The Diplomat

Does the Philippines Have Its Own Donald Trump?

Leading Philippine presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte is often compared to American businessman and politician Donald Trump by political analysts. Both are known for their tasteless humor, politically-incorrect views on gender, and populist posturing. Both are also gaining more followers even if many of their statements are widely criticized for being offensive, racist, and divisive.

But comparing the two is also quite inaccurate. Duterte is not a billionaire; he has been a public official since 1986. And unlike Trump, he boasts of having a good relationship with Muslim and communist rebels. It is unfair to Duterte if he is introduced to the world as a mere copycat of Donald Trump.

Even the tag ‘Dirty Harry’ only reflects Duterte’s tough stance on criminality. As mayor of Davao City, Duterte is also known for endorsing progressive policies that benefited his poor constituents.

Read more at The Diplomat

Nazi Germany Steals Headlines in Philippines Election Debate

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels became a trending topic among Filipino Internet users when his name was mentioned by presidential candidates in a televised debate on March 20.

Goebbels first made an appearance when Vice President Jejomar Binay said that the outgoing Aquino administration’s standard bearer Manuel “Mar” Roxas II had already determined that he was guilty of graft and corruption despite the fact that a court had not come to a decision. Goebbels, who served as the propaganda minister of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, is often believed to have said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Read more at The Diplomat

Written for New Mandala

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines like a dictator for two decades until he was ousted by the ‘People Power’ uprising in 1986.

Three decades later, his wife and children hold elected positions in government. Now, his eldest son and namesake is running for vice president. Many people ask, especially international observers, how did the Marcoses achieve a political comeback in a nation known for deposing corrupt despots?

The Marcos family went into exile in Hawaii in 1986, but their friends, allies, cronies, and subordinates remained in the Philippines and weren’t held accountable for their criminal complicity in implementing the brutal policies of the martial law regime.

Joker Arroyo, the executive secretary of President Cory Aquino who replaced Marcos, noted that the persons who visited the presidential palace to lobby and socialise with the stalwarts of the new ruling party were also Marcos minions. As he told Sunday Inquirer Magazine in 1992,

“When I was still in the Guest House, I asked for the logs which listed those who had visited President Marcos. I compared them with those visiting President Aquino. They were the same people – they came from the same companies, shared the same business views, the same mindset, and they went to the same parties.”

That the Marcoses were able to run for public office again reflects the failure of successive post-1986 regimes to decisively prosecute and arrest those responsible for committing atrocious human rights violations and the plundering of the nation’s wealth. Compared to other notorious dictators of the 1970s, such as Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina, Marcos was never indicted with criminal charges and his heirs didn’t spend a single day in prison.

Five presidents (including two Aquinos; the incumbent president is the son of Cory Aquino) were unable to recover most of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth. Imelda, wife of the late dictator and she of the shoes, is one of the richest members of Congress.

If Filipinos mistakenly assume that life during Martial Law was better then part of the blame goes to the post-Marcos governments that restored democratic institutions on one hand but refused to dismantle the rule of oligarchs on the other. Cory, whose family owns one of the largest agricultural estates in the country, passed a land reform law which has several loopholes that allowed landlords to retain control of their vast landholdings.

There were high expectations that People Power would lead to the improvement of the lives of most Filipinos. But post-Marcos governments have fundamentally failed to address poverty, inequality, and corruption. A mere 15 years after the uprising, another president was ousted from power because of corruption.

With post-Marcos leaders turning out to be inferior copies of the original dictator, the Marcoses started winning elections. Imelda became a congresswoman in 1995, and her two children won as governor and congresswoman in 1998. Twelve years later, Bongbong Marcos became a senator of the Republic.

We could interpret Filipinos’ nostalgia for the martial law years as an expression of disgust against those who succeeded Marcos. When some praise the strongman tactics of Marcos, it is commonly described as a desperate longing for peace, stability, and discipline in society. It could also be an indirect condemnation of the incompetent governance of the post-Marcos regimes.

That Bongbong Marcos is leading in some polls, despite the anti-Marcos rhetoric of no less than the incumbent president, is a sign that a segment of the population is seeking to hit back at the ruling party by voting against its sworn enemy. Amid the deteriorating quality of life in the country, despite contrary claims of the government, the high rating of Bongbong should be linked to the growing frustration of many voters to the callousness of some government leaders.

It doesn’t help that the present generation of first- time voters have little or no knowledge of the dark days of Martial Law. Young Filipinos didn’t experience the loss of democracy and civil liberties during the Marcos years. The Philippines doesn’t have a law which makes it a crime to deny that human rights violations were rampant during the reign of Marcos.

It is not simply enough to ask why the Marcoses are back in the political limelight. Equally important is to probe the shameful lack of political will of the post-Marcos governments when it comes to seeking justice, and accountability for the horrors of Martial Law.

The truth is that even if Marcos is the epitome of an evil leader, his sins are not that much different from those committed by his successors in government. Both Marcos and regimes that followed him are liable for perpetuating a deeply flawed, elitist and corrupt political system. Bongbong continues to be unrepentant about the excesses of Martial Law in the same way politicians today are unapologetic for administering an inefficient and unjust political system.

Forgetting the sins of Marcos is unpardonable; but the greater crime is the refusal to put an end to a system of governance designed for the exclusive benefit of big landlords, political dynasties, and business cronies of political parties in power.