Mong Palatino

activist, two-term member of philippine congress, southeast asian blogger


@mongster is an activist and former legislator who represented Kabataan (Youth) Partylist in the 14th and 15th Congress of the Philippines

Written for Bulatlat

Start by insinuating that it’s evil to be associated with the Left, for example ‘Beware of Left-leaning groups’. There’s no need to elaborate; simply insert the term ‘Left’ in a sentence to warn innocent minds about the threat posed by Leftist individuals, groups, institutions, and ideologies. To make it more convincing, tag the Left with loaded descriptions such as godless, anti-Filipino, anti-democracy, pro-China, and terrorists. Even the seemingly objective word ‘militant’ suggests aggressiveness that furthers the stereotype of the Left as passionate but irrational creatures.

After the initial demonization technique, accuse the Left of trying to sow violence and chaos. Again, there’s no need to back up the charge with evidence. What is effective is to isolate the Left by depicting it as a monstrosity in mainstream society. Spread fear in the hearts of the people about the trouble that the Left will allegedly bring if it is allowed to operate in the community.

If a Leftist has a sensible proposal, reject it and persuade or even force others to do the same. Why? Because the Left always has a hidden agenda; it is always concocting a conspiracy that will create mayhem in society. If other political forces and traditional politicians are quiet about their political aims, it is called political strategy. But the Left – it cannot be allowed to practice the fine art and science of politics because its goal is disequilibrium, its methods are dictatorial, and its advocates are uncouth. The new order imagined by the Left will be administered by perverted ideologues who have no sense of humor. Watch out, the Left will hijack and subvert our democratic way of life.

In the academe, describe the Left as dogmatists. Ask why it is stubbornly clinging to a single creed and contrast this to your so-called postmodern approach of mixing theories. Proceed by calling them enemies of pluralism and democratic discourse. Label them Stalinists who are intolerant of opposing views. Or present yourself as a scholar who respects multiple perspectives (except the viewpoint of the Left, of course). Or proclaim that all shades of democracy are welcome (but not national democracy).

Debunk the claim of Leftists that their worldview is scientific. Remind them that they don’t have a monopoly of truth and that grand narratives in the social sciences are no longer fashionable. Replace the tired jargons of the Left with post-political, post-ideological categories such as multiculturalism, civil society, and tripartism. It’s already suffocating and boring if we continue to talk about Leftist themes such as alienation, surplus value, and collectivization. Too Western, male-centric, logo-centric, passe. Time to move on by tackling marginal topics such as sexuality, gender roles, and exotic cultures.

The big themes should be replaced by micro politics; and language games rather than social commitment should be the priority of a true scholar.

During debates, it is useful to raise the specter of dead communist leaders like Stalin and Mao. Repeat the standard depiction of these leaders in the bourgeois press as superbads and villains of modern history. Even if the debate is about education reform or labor rights, always try to redirect the discussion towards the crimes against humanity purportedly committed by Stalin, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge. If the Leftist counters by reciting the horrific sins of capitalist regimes, denounce him for deliberately obfuscating the issue.

Remind the Leftist that Marx is a thinker whose ideas are applicable only in the mid-1850s. Ridicule his decision to read a philosopher who wrote the Communist Manifesto in the 19th century. Ignore the Leftist who will argue that if Marx is already irrelevant in the 21st century, then what do you call the teachings of Adam Smith who died in 1790? Should we then stop reading the Greek classics and stick to modern fiction like Twilight? Ignore all these and insist that Marx, and only Marx, has nothing insightful to offer to our students today other than discredited concepts like class struggle.

Hit hard and proudly assert that socialism clearly didn’t work as proven by the demise of Soviet Russia. Instead of socialism, why not embrace the infinite possibilities offered by capitalism? Indeed, why turn our backs on a system that gave us world wars, mass hunger in the age of plenty, wage slavery amid the creepy accumulation of fictitious capital, and totalitarian regimes disguised as liberal democracies?

Question the sincerity of Leftist personalities. Why is Joma enjoying a luxurious life in Europe? (Forget his refugee status). Why are activists patronizing American-made products if they are genuine nationalists? (Adopt a distorted interpretation of their anti-imperialist demand). Why is the Left silent over the bullying behavior of China? (Try googling ‘Bayan Muna against China’). Why did activist legislators use pork barrel funds in the past; they must be corrupt (That’s why they remained poor after three terms in Congress).

After doubting their motives, attack their tactics. Rallies only cause inconvenience, their participation in elections is a case of opportunism, labor unions hurt the economy, the punitive and resistance actions of the New People’s Army are criminal and terroristic. Blame rallies for causing destabilization or scaring away investors. If there’s a broad political event that threatens the ruling order, disrupt it by presenting it as an unholy alliance between the Left and other sinister forces of the elite.

Use the tyranny of numbers to confuse the public about the relevance of the Left. How can the Left legitimately give voice to the poor if its candidates habitually lose in senatorial and local elections? The masses who join rallies only represent a noisy minority manipulated and brainwashed by the Left.

Discredit rallies since these are the visible and most familiar political representations of the Left. Dismiss rallyists as paid protesters (pambili daw ng bigas), deplore protest actions as impotent interventions that only amplify negativity in society, and deny the effectivity of slogans to inspire the public or even clarify a complex social issue. In other words, depict rallies as ordinary and even inferior political actions. Be careful not to leave a hint that joining rallies is an outstanding example of practicing direct democracy. Never ever mention it and instead exaggerate the disastrous impact of rallies on the city’s traffic and garbage problems.

As an indirect stab to the strategies of the Left, give extra attention to other initiatives that seemingly offer durable solutions to national problems by bloating their reach. (Self-help, civic volunteerism, social commerce). Encourage people to look inwardly or to be active in non-political associations instead of supporting the lost causes of the fighting Left.

And since we really believe that the case against the Left is solid, urge the state to be ruthless against it and its sympathizers. Throw the books at them, including the Red Book. Arrest the usual suspects, with or without a valid court order. Good communists are dead communists, or at least make them disappear. And if debating is useless, choose the lazy but tried and tested red baiting option. Activists, dissenters, and other critics might be correct some of the time but unfortunately they are Leftists. The iron fist of the state and its repressive apparatuses should be applied on them if they will not renounce their beliefs. Challenge them to denounce the NPA as a terrorist group, and if they refuse, then they must be one of them. This is how we preserve peace and promote democracy in our freedom-loving society.


Some really believe that they have witty rants against the Left but many of their arguments are actually unoriginal and formulaic. Some uncritically repeat Cold War rhetoric that never bothered to recognize the dynamism of Leftist movements in the 21st century. Some are too naïve that it’s unnecessary to make a rejoinder. Perhaps they unconsciously absorbed the petty remarks against the Left from schools, mass media, government agencies, and other conservative opinion-making institutions. We were heavily bombarded with anti-Left propaganda, disguised as neutral information, that when we encounter Leftists in our happy community, our impulse is to violently disagree with their views and reject their proposals.

We think the Left is too negative but have we ever wondered why we are too negative when it comes to the Left? Or why do we recoil when we detect a Leftist viewpoint while we are capable of tolerating other philosophies?

The Left is often disparaged for its simplistic analysis of what is happening in our world. Academics mockingly ask, can the Left improve its style and brand? Their student leaders echo the appeal by poking fun at some of the Left’s slogans like ‘Imperyalismo Ibagsak!’

But what if the real necessity today is not the rebranding of the Left but the unlearning of our misconceptions about it? That the greater tragedy is not the stubborn adherence of the Left to its principles and style of work but our refusal to acknowledge that it offers the most cogent and comprehensive political program which can immediately and ultimately empower the weak and downtrodden in the country. If unimpressed by the vocabulary of the Left, can you at least take time to study its substantial agenda for change? Give the Left a chance to turn this society upside down.

We worry too much about the faults and inadequacies of the Left as if we are really concerned about them. As a political movement, the Left should continually assess and review its impact on society, and this includes listening to the valid criticisms raised by supporters and the general public. The Philippine Left cannot survive this long if it’s indifferent to criticisms or if it has failed to update its methods. Let the debates continue, let a hundred mini-rectification movements prosper.

As for the unofficial style guide of ranting against the Left, perhaps the Left’s ideological adversaries already know by now that the revolution cannot be defeated by merely spreading fallacies, innuendos, and malicious intrigues against it.

Written for The Diplomat

Child labor exploitation is worsening in the Philippines. In 2011, the Philippine National Statistics Office reported that there were 5.5 million working children in the country, 2.9 million of whom were working in hazardous industries such as mines and plantations. The agency added that 900,000 children have stopped schooling in order to work. The following year, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) released a survey that showed that one out of four workers in palm oil plantations in northeast Mindanao region were children below 18 years old.

Last month, the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education Research (EILER) published a baseline study which confirmed the prevalence of child labor in mines and plantations in various parts of the country. In plantation communities, about 22.5 percent of households have child workers. In mining towns, child labor incidence was 14 percent. The group noted that the youngest worker interviewed in the study was five years old, although the common age of child workers was 12. The group learned that 76 percent of child laborers have stopped attending school. Most child laborers were working for 10 hours a day, or 13 to 16 hours a day in some extreme cases.

Child laborers in oil palm fields often serve as fruiters, harvesters, haulers, loaders, and uprooters. Meanwhile, child laborers in sugarcane estates work in weeding, harvesting and fetching of water. Banana plantation workers are assigned in bagging and de-leafing duties. Outside banana plantations younger children are involved as banana peelers for rejected bananas which will be dried and processed as animal feeds.

In mines, child laborers usually fetch water, carry sacks of rocks, load thick logs that are used to support the underground tunnels, or become errand boys of regular workers. They are also reserve workers or relievers whenever regular miners cannot come to work.

Girls in mines work in gold panning or provide services to miners such as doing their laundry or cooking meals.

EILER observed that child workers are exposed to extreme weather conditions, long working hours, and harsh environments while using substandard tools and equipment. In plantations, trucks would pick children from their homes and bring them to makeshift tents that are located in nearby provinces to stay and work there from two weeks to one month without their parents. And since most plantations use harmful agro-chemicals, the children are also directly exposed to these threats.

Children in mines are handling dangerous tools and are made to work without personal protective equipment for long hours. They are also vulnerable to social hazards like the use of illegal drugs inside the tunnels to keep them awake for hours.

“The nature of their work which provides very little wages coupled with the fact that they skip school means that child laborers are unable to break from the families’ cycle of poverty, perpetuating the problem of inter-generational poverty among the poor families in the plantation and mining industries,” said Anna Leah Escresa-Colina, executive director of EILER.

She added that low wages, contractualization, and lack of livelihood for families as some of the factors pushing children to work even in hazardous and difficult jobs to augment family incomes.

Ambassador Guy Ledoux of the European Union emphasized that “it is important that dissuasive penalties are imposed in practice on persons who subject children to work in hazardous or exploitative conditions.” The EU provided assistance in conducting the study on child labor in the Philippines.

The EILER study confirmed earlier surveys about the high number of children working in hazardous industries. It also highlighted the failure or inadequacy of government initiatives to address the problem. As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Philippines must be more aggressive in combating the worst forms of child labor in various parts of the country.

Questions Raised About US Anti-Terror Cooperation

Written for The Diplomat

American soldiers did not join in any actual combat but they did provide intelligence, training, real-time information, equipment, and aircraft in a successful but controversial anti-terror operation in southern Philippines.

This was one of the findings of the Board of Inquiry of the Philippine National Police, which was created to probe the operation which killed 67 Filipinos, including 44 members of the police elite unit Special Action Force (SAF). The January 25, 2015 operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao succeeded in killing Bali bomber Zhulkifli Bin Hir/Zulkifli Abhir (Marwan) but was also viewed as a tragedy because of the high number of casualties.

Marwan was a Malaysian citizen who escaped to the Philippines after the Bali bombing. He was a wanted international terrorist with a $5 million bounty placed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The police operation to arrest Marwan raised several issues that have undermined the leadership of President Benigno Aquino III. The president was accused of violating the chain of command when he designated a suspended police general to coordinate the operation. The police general also failed to properly inform the army and even the top leadership of the police about the operation.

Another blunder is the failure to coordinate the planned attack with Muslim separatist rebels who control the area. The rebels are not linked to Marwan and they have a ceasefire agreement with the government. Aside from Marwan’s team, it was the rebels and other private armed groups which figured in a deadly clash with the police.

There is also the issue about the unclear involvement of the Americans in the operation. Residents recalled seeing foreigners and a flying object in their village during the week of the encounter. But an information officer of the U.S. embassy told local media that “no U.S. surveillance drone was used” in the operation.

Last week, the police finally released its report about the Mamasapano incident; and it tackled, among others, the role of the Americans in the operation.

Below are excerpts of the report:

“Six American nationals were at the Tactical Command Post in Shariff Aguak starting on the eve of the operations to provide real-time information (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaisance) to the SAF troops.”

“The US counterparts provided real-time information on the actual movements of friendly and enemy forces in the area of operations…by providing technical equipment and aircraft, which they themselves operated.”

“The severed left index finger of Marwan was sent to two representatives of US-FBI waiting at General Santos City.”

The report emphasized that “there were no armed US troops engaged in combat in the area of operations.” It added that the technical support was valuable because the police “was able to elude large enemy formations, thereby avoiding further casualties.” It also recognized the medical evacuations performed by US personnel. It did, however, note that the decision to submit Marwan’s finger to the FBI is not standard procedure; the DNA sample should have been turned over to the local police crime laboratory.

The report is probably the first time that a government agency has given details about the involvement of the U.S. in local military operations. The implications are also staggering. Based on the report, Americans were aware of an anti-terror operation, while the army, the acting police chief, and the secretary of Interior and Local Government were only informed about it on the day itself, when the attacking forces suffered heavily and needed reinforcement and artillery support. The Americans were even stationed at the Tactical Command Post.

Senator Ralph Recto is curious to learn more about the involvement of the Americans. “Let me clarify: I do not object to the American’s [six] assistance in hunting down terrorists, but in this particular case it seems the US role was extraordinary. Up to what extent can we allow them to play a role?”

“Because it is clear to me, this wasn’t just assistance in providing intelligence; we were given equipment. Look at the situation: the PNP [police] did not coordinate with the AFP [army] but they coordinated with the Americans; there’s something amiss there,” he added.

Congress, which suspended public hearings about the operation, will probably ask for more information about this issue once it resumed sessions.

Aquino’s credibility as leader and commander-in-chief has been eroded because of the Mamasapano operation. It also affected the ongoing peace negotiations with Muslim rebels. As for military cooperation with the U.S., expect rising skepticism among local leaders.

Written for Bulatlat

Some reactionaries in the bureaucracy erroneously assume that their activism in the past makes them intellectually and even morally superior over the present generation of change advocates. Some probably misjudged their bohemian lifestyle as activism or they could have lied about their political record. But there are really existing apostates in various agencies of the government. Some are quiet about their renegade years, some continued to espouse progressive views, but some are disturbingly wicked and unabashedly repressive. Some are more fascist than the fascists; or in the Philippine context, more Marcosian than Marcos, and more Imeldific than Imelda. Worse, they arrogantly insist that they cannot be accused of ignoring the plight of the common tao since they are still guided by activist principles. Scary!

Even scarier is the claim of these former radicals that their new brand of activism deserves state approval. But they easily appear pathetic when compared to the anti-Establishment cause. Perhaps to redeem their political credibility, they often invoke the glorious activism of their yesteryears. There are 50 shades of ‘walking dead’ radicals turned reactionaries but they use almost similar arguments in their ideological battle against their former comrades. For example, they loudly and repeatedly proclaim that activism is already irrelevant, or that it was useful and necessary in the past but no longer valid today. They caricature activists as a pitiful bunch of angry young persons who were indoctrinated or bought to join a lost cause.

Some are tactful in dissing the Left. They recognize the role of activism in politics but they also quickly dismiss it by demonizing the struggle, and tilting the discussion towards the other supposedly superior forms of political engagement. They usually cite the positive legacy of activism in their lives, and some are exhorting the public to respect activists, but they always emphasize the futility of perpetual dissent. According to them, activism is a commitment that must be immediately discarded or diluted to make a concrete impact on real politics. Suddenly, political compromise is elevated as the ethic worth fighting for.

This is a classic case of arrogance and conceit. They really think that other people, most especially the young, are incapable of making rational decisions. That when they became activists, they were motivated by genuine feelings of patriotism, but those who succeeded them were already insincere. From their point of view, history stopped when they abandoned the cause. It means political resistance is already obsolete. How convenient for them to declare the end of an era which coincided with their political conversion. Is it political luck that they happened to be activists when it was still the vogue; and after they renounced their political beliefs, activism also lost its mojo?

Ex-activists who consumed too many perks in the pork-controlled bureaucracy are naturally the rabid defenders of the status quo; hence they cannot be expected to be objective or believable when they sing praises for mainstream politics.

But there are those who climbed the ladder of the bureaucracy because of merit; and those who maintained their integrity and progressive vision while holding enviable positions in high society. Do their life stories invalidate activism? It is dangerous to equate individual advancement with social change. A flourishing career of a single person doesn’t translate into prosperity for the rest of society. There is no evil in desiring success but once you attained your dreams, why stop others from uplifting the conditions of the marginalized? Activism will not deprive you of the chance to gain more opportunities. Activism promises to democratize wealth creation and political participation.

Unfortunately, activism is perceived as a threat by those who wanted to monopolize power and the riches of this world. Even former activists could not tolerate the spread of radicalism since this might disrupt their profiting schemes and the flow of goods in their money-operated world. And so they are aggressively discrediting activism to discourage people from fighting for a better and new world. They wanted to preserve the existing order even if they once championed its dissolution. For them activism is something they can brag to everyone while isolating those who speak and act like activists. And they are ready to decorate the most despotic policies of the party in power with progressive trappings. Opportunistic collaboration seems inadequate to describe their behavior.

Nostalgic activism is a special and powerful act of remembering. It should be promoted to create ripples and waves of solidarity across society. But if it’s used to serve the selfish interests of the elite or to block the forward march of the people’s movement, then it mutates into a monstrous political sentiment. It is activism that disempowers the poor, a defanged activism that looks substantial on paper but actually empty in real life.

However, ex-activists have the right to argue that they cannot remain in a movement which they perceive to be grossly impure, imperfect, and error-prone. They could have stayed, though, and work or struggle with others in strengthening the people’s movement. Instead, they offered their so-called pure hearts and innocent minds in the service of the incorruptible bureaucracy. They couldn’t accept the alleged excesses and shortcomings of the people’s movement and so they chose to become highly paid operators and glorified underlings of saintly trapos and bourgeois political parties.

They gave up eternity in favor of convenience. They succumbed to the ephemeral “servicing of goods” instead of building an entirely new world founded on the principle of just distribution of goods. What they possess are a few overrated tangibles that have little value in making life more meaningful. They wanted to reclaim the activism of their youth; but how can they do that without severing ties with the oppressive state machinery?

Published interview with EngageMedia:

1. Could you describe the work of your organisation?

Global Voices is a citizen media platform that highlights the perspectives and stories of ordinary people, especially those that are not often reported in mainstream media. Our volunteers translate, curate, and explain local narratives as we seek a better understanding of our world. We champion freedom of expression by highlighting the threats to online freedom as well as campaigning to defend free, open, and safe Internet.

2. Why do human rights on the Internet matter to you?

The Internet can empower lives and communities. That is why it must remain open and accessible. Individuals should be free to share their thoughts, develop online tools, and interact with other Internet users. A human rights framework should guide Internet governance to protect individuals and to unleash the democratic potential of the cyberspace.

3. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

There are two challenges in the region: improving Internet access, and fighting all forms of censorship and excessive Internet regulation. Related to these issues, we strive to protect the safety of individuals and institutions which are in the forefront of the campaign to promote Internet rights in their respective countries.

4. How do you interact with individuals and organisations in different sectors, civil society, corporate, tech, govt etc., to forward your goals?

As a former legislator, I am aware of the value of reaching out to policymakers and engaging them on issues that affect the Internet and the media. They should be part of the dialogue on how to protect the Internet and we strive as much as possible to promote this approach.

5. How do you see the Internet rights space evolving in the future?

Unfortunately, the trend in Southeast Asia is quite worrying since governments are inclined to prioritize legislations that would further restrict the media and the Internet. But the business side of expanding the telecommunications sector continues to grow. I think activists, the media sector, the academe, and other stakeholders should team up with telcos and IT firms to influence the Internet policies in the region. They can build a formidable lobby team to discuss human rights and prospects in the Internet sector with government officials and other leaders in the bureaucracy.

6. What do you hope to see achieved at RightsCon Southeast Asia? And why would you encourage people to attend?

RightsCon Southeast Asia is significant because it can come up with concrete proposals, alternative policies, and innovative programs that can be submitted to the ASEAN. The papers can be tabled for discussion in the ASEAN secretariat as the region prepares for the ASEAN 2015 integration. RightsCon is unique opportunity for Southeast Asia experts, leaders, investors and activists to sit down and discuss the crucial issues in the IT sector. It’s also a timely occasion to draft a plan on how to improve, maximize, and protect the positive legacy and potential of the Internet.

Published by Manila Today

I have a cell phone which I use for calling, texting, and taking photos. Sometimes it’s also my alarm clock. That’s all. I never use my phone to download apps or interact with my virtual networks because I don’t have an Internet subscription. Even if there’s a WiFi connection, I rarely go online using my phone. When Smart offered free Internet to its prepaid subscribers (yes, I’m a former congressman who uses prepaid), I accessed it only twice or thrice to check my Twitter feed or read news updates.

Yet I’m all over the cyberspace. I am a blogger and social media enthusiast. I am stalkable via Plurk, Tumblr, Shelfari, and recently I joined Ello. I am an avid Twitterer and Facebooker (Have you liked my fan page yet?). But I do not have an Instagram. I wanted to join it but it requires mobile Internet access.

What then are my reasons for my refusal to apply for mobile data subscription? To be candid, I wanted to save money. I thought that hard-earned cash, even if it involves a few hundred pesos, is better spent on other essential goods. Besides, it’s not as if I will be cut-off from the online world. I have Internet access at home and that is enough, for the moment.

Some friends tease me that I risk being left behind on news and other realtime updates. That’s true but it doesn’t matter. My life will not end if I fail to read about a breaking news incident minutes after it happened. There’s always the late night news; and didn’t I mention that I have Internet access at home?

I always waste 12 hours of my life wandering in the streets of the real world while online news, gossip, and chatter are buzzing; but I can quickly digest all the fun tidbits I missed in a matter of minutes when I get home in the evening. Or I can catch up with the news in the morning through TV, radio, or the ever reliable laptop.

I don’t need to hear or read the news as it happens. For the longest time, man survived even if they didn’t learn the truth of their existence at the proper time. In the 20th century, we went to school or work in the morning and watch the news in the evening. Revolutions succeeded even if instant information was not yet available.

They say mobile Internet makes us more productive and efficient. I agree but it doesn’t mean we become less productive and efficient if we don’t have a smartphone connected to the Internet.

In the context of Metro Manila, what’s the use of a traffic app when all the streets are semi-parking lots? Just travel one hour earlier to reach your destination. Weather? We only have wet and dry season and the sun is always up. If there’s a storm coming, trust me, everybody will tell you about it.

E-books? Fine, smart choice. But I prefer reading printed books; it’s safer and it saves the battery life of my phone. Plus you are allowed to open and read a book inside banks, bayad centers, airplanes, embassies, and other high-security places. They won’t mind even if your book is about terrorism.

I admit I almost got lost in the streets of San Francisco and London in the past month because I didn’t have a mobile map app. But I survived through old school tactic: talking to people and asking for directions. Indeed, there are lunatics out there who might give the wrong advice or geographical idiots who pretend to know more. But I have greater faith in the good of humanity. And even if I got lost, I can always turn around or ask another human being. That’s life. And isn’t it more fun?

After Snowden, we now know that there are worse lunatics listening and monitoring our virtual footprints. To disconnect from the Internet, even for a few hours, is a symbolic and sometimes practical method to protect our privacy and security. This is a non-issue to many people but crucial to activists and dissidents. Actually it should be everyone’s concern because privacy and even anonymity is a precious democratic right. Our schools and institutions should not simply teach our kids how to use their gadgets, but also when to stop and why they should stop using these tech tools from time to time. Unlimited Internet is costly, dangerous, and inhuman.

Perhaps I’m a sentimentalist. There are only few hours in a day when it’s lawful and acceptable to mingle with other people and so why use this opportunity to finger your phone? Can’t you do it later?
If you are a shy person (I would caution the use of the word introvert, which is different from shyness), you can derive pleasure in the company of other living things without socializing. Simply observe their traits, their oddities, feel the presence of the moment, nod, smile, speak a few words, then retreat to a safe distance where you can see everybody – but stop the incessant tapping of your phone since a) it’s impolite; b) you will never improve your people skills; and c) you will fail to validate your secret theory that everyone in the universe is petty and vain.

I’m always online, responding to emails, reading blogs, writing news; and while inside the office I’m still sitting in front of a computer. I want a few hours of space away from the cyberspace. I want time that is not realtime. Sometimes I want to be a lurker not on Facebook but in trains, buses, corridors, theaters, malls, and absorb all the combined wisdom and inanities of the communities I visit.

I want to appreciate a street scene or a countryside vista and respect its uniqueness by simply storing it in my memory. I want to look back at my life not by browsing digital files but by harnessing the power of remembering. I want to make friends who will spend time with me and value my companionship even if our activities are not documented on Facebook. No photo, no video, no status update can faithfully record and describe the ultimate joy of holding your firstborn in your arms.

I’m an advocate of slow blogging. Applied to social media, I prefer to share my thoughts after a brief time has passed. I admire sensible ranters and livebloggers; we need them and they improve online discourse. People like them make mobile Internet a valuable tool. But there are also netizens like me who interact with friends and enemies in the morning and write about these friends and enemies in the evening. I like to make news in the morning and read the news (plus the vitriolic comments) in the evening. I like to be part of an initiative that creates hashtags rather than simply joining a hashtag bandwagon. I like to create history rather than reading or tweeting about it. Or if I were a hippie, I’d say spread love in the morning and make love in the evening.

But the age of mobile Internet has already arrived. It is now the new normal. I was almost tempted to partake in the fun when my high school classmates told me that all of them are now on Viber. As free communication apps continue to proliferate, there will be fewer reasons to reject the allure of Internet-on-the-go, especially for people like me with overseas relatives. Like all popular technologies that preceded it such as TV, computer desktop and texting, the use of mobile Internet will be ubiquitous in society.

One day, and that day may come soon, I will probably apply for mobile Internet. But in the meantime, I am holding my ground. The pressure is mounting but I can always rebuff my friends in Manila by arguing that it’s illogical to pay more when the web service of our local telcos is super slow and erratic. Another reason to delay the inevitable.

Written for The Diplomat

East Timor’s new prime minister, Dr Rui Maria de Araújo, appealed for unity as a way to build a more inclusive and tolerant society. Araújo became the head of the Sixth Constitutional Government after former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão resigned last month.

While taking his oath on February 16, Araújo presented some of his plans for East Timor. First, he vowed to uphold “the essence of democratic values in Timor-Leste: peace, reconciliation, solidarity, pluralism, tolerance and dialogue.” He also spoke about boosting the country’s security. “We will give more attention to the patrol and vigilance of our maritime coast to protect our coral reefs and fish resources from illegal incursions in our sea.”

He praised the leadership of Gusmão, whom he appointed minister for Planning and Strategic Investment. He reminded the public that it was during the term of Gusmão when East Timor became “the first country in the Asia-Pacific region and the third in the entire world to be granted compliance status with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.” Araújo said he will continue to implement the Strategic Plan drafted by his predecessor and that the new government will focus “on better service delivery and on the quality of works, in a manner that is efficient, effective and accountable.”

But Araújo also indirectly mentioned some of the problems left behind by the previous government.

“One of our current difficulties is the lack of data and reliable indicators on the situation of the country. The last official data we have on poverty dates back to 2009 and told us that almost half the population lived below the national poverty line,” he said. He added that “the benefits of economic growth have not reached everyone.”

He also acknowledged the prevalence of corruption and inefficiency in the government. “Our priority is to fight the culture of bureaucratization in public administration, which has become a giant with feet of clay.”

According to Araújo, one of the first tasks of the new government will be to submit declarations of assets with the court and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

“I intend to personally deliver these on behalf of all members of government. When I leave this office, I will lodge another declaration of assets that I promise will show I have not profited from my position. And when I leave this office, I want Timor-Leste to be recognized as a world leader in open, transparent, accountable and ethical government,” he said in a speech delivered before the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Araújo is also expected to implement programs that will empower women. When he was adviser to the Ministry of Finance, he worked to identify women as potential managers and top leaders in the agency. Today, according to Araújo, women represent 32 percent of the leadership team in the office.

But can Araújo deliver on his commitments? Gusmão is confident that his younger successor can lead the country’s transition. Araújo is an opposition member; nevertheless, he was still endorsed by Gusmão because of his proven capabilities.

“His deep knowledge of the financial system, a wide experience which can not be underestimated, on the model applied to capacitate technical staff, implemented during his years in the ministry [Finance] as an adviser, and his integrity, as a person, these are the three relevant elements which are the fundamental reason behind the proposal of his name,” Gusmão wrote in his nomination for Araújo.

Araújo has much reforming to do if he wants to achieve his goals for East Timor. He is right to call for unity but it should not mean being less critical of the policies and programs of the previous government.

Thailand Scores Low on Political Rights

Written for The Diplomat

As expected, Thailand’s political rights rating changed from “partly free” in 2014 to “not free” in the Freedom in the World 2015 report released by democracy watchdog Freedom House. Thailand’s army launched a coup last year that led to the imposition of martial law in the country. The army also suspended the constitution, detained political leaders, controlled the media, and banned public protests.

The report is another troubling reminder of the worsening political situation in Thailand.

The army claimed the coup was necessary to restore stability by ending the intense clashes of various political forces. Indeed, the army dispersed the street protests but the political crisis is far from resolved. The junta merely hid the symptoms of the crisis by punishing anyone who dared to speak out against the government. Order was enforced by eroding the political rights of ordinary citizens.

The junta’s brutal policies are highlighted in an infographic published by independent news portal Prachatai. The image features some of the normal activities that have been suppressed by the government over the past nine months. Those who conducted these peaceful actions were arrested for allegedly undermining national security. The list below, culled from the infographic, reflects the paranoia of the junta leaders on one hand, and the suffering experienced by ordinary Thais on the other:

1. Holding a blank A4 paper or A4 paper with anti-coup messages

2. Covering one’s face, eyes, and mouth

3. Helping arrested protesters

4. Holding “Peace Please” T-shirt

5. Imitating the Hunger Games three-fingered salute

6. Gathering at McDonald’s

7. Reading George Orwell’s 1984 novel

8. Eating sandwiches in public

9. Playing the French national anthem

10. Wearing a Red Shirt while selling crispy fried squid

11. Issuing a statement denouncing the coup

12. Wearing “people” mask

13. Wearing “respect my vote” t-shirt

14. Approaching or being approached by journalists

15. Running for democracy

16. Holding placards that read “holding placards is not a crime”

17. Posting a photo with anti-junta and “No Martial Law” messages on Facebook

18. Holding academic seminars on the political situation

19. Gathering people to watch the premiere of Hunger Games 3

20. Distributing leaflets featuring a poem about democracy

21. Giving three-fingered salutes to Prayuth, the leader of the junta

22. Selling fruit products with (former Prime Minister) Thaksin Shinawatra’s square face logo

The list confirms the accuracy of the report by Freedom House. If simple activities like reading books and watching movies are considered a threat to the national security, how can Thais effectively exercise and assert their political rights?

But the junta seems impervious to international criticism. In recent weeks, the army has been aggressive in silencing dissent. A land rights activist was detained, an opposition leader was visited at his home by an army officer to undergo an “attitude adjustment” session, and a civil society seminar on Internet legislation was interrupted by the presence and surprise participation of soldiers at the meeting.

The junta is also readying the passage of 10 digital economy bills which some activists say could violate the rights of Internet users and mobile phone subscribers in the country. These bills, if passed into law, could further gag the new media and the few remaining critical voices in Thai cyberspace.

These are challenging times for Thailand’s democracy and press freedom advocates. It is up to the international community to push for democratic political reforms in the country.

Written for Bulatlat

Was Edsa Dos a coup, power grab, or an uprising? Was it a farce? It may be all of the above but it’s a political event worth celebrating. Why should we allow the Arroyos, Estradas, Aquinos, and the Catholic bishops to dominate the discussion about what Edsa Dos meant to our country’s history and politics? Let us remember and honor it for what it represented and aspired to achieve. It may not the revolution we wanted it to be but it deserves to be recognized as among the milestones of the people’s movement for genuine democracy and justice. So how should we defend the idea of Edsa Dos? Let me count the ways:

1. The common and understandable critique against Edsa Dos in recent years was that it allowed Gloria Arroyo to assume the presidency. Indeed, Arroyo was a beneficiary of Edsa Dos but only because she was the constitutional successor of Estrada. The people marched in the streets to fight corruption and not because we wanted Arroyo to lead the country. Edsa Dos taught us that there should have been other extralegal options to replace the leadership like creating a transition council or a revolutionary government.

2. It’s convenient to reduce Edsa Dos as a four-day political action that led to the downfall of Estrada. But for many who opposed Estrada, Edsa Dos was a campaign for good governance that saw thousands of people converging in the streets of Mendiola and Ayala, ‘Jericho Marches’ in front of the Senate, and citizen assemblies in the last quarter of 2000. We went to Edsa on January 16, 2001 but we have been protesting in the streets for many months already before that day.

3. Estrada was already unpopular when Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson made his Juetengate expose against Estrada. The first massive street gathering against Estrada took place in 1999, or more than a year before Chavit’s expose, in reaction to the president’s harassment actions and other attacks against the press and people’s civil liberties. Estrada was relentless because a few months after the Makati protest, he unleashed a total war campaign against Muslim rebels that displaced civilian communities in Mindanao.

Estrada alienated his support base when he ignored the workers’ demand for a legislated wage increase; he disappointed his former allies in the anti-bases campaign when he signed the Visiting Forces Agreement; and his slogan “Erap para sa mahirap” was ridiculed because he expanded the globalization policies of his predecessor instead of reversing them.

4. Estrada was forced to leave the presidential palace when the people started the march from Edsa to Mendiola on January 20. Arroyo took her oath in Edsa but the more forceful symbol that week was the long march of the people from Ortigas to Manila in order to surround and reclaim Malacanang. Edsa Dos was not simply a happy gathering of anti-Estrada forces but a political movement that really targeted the storming of the country’s seat of power.

5. It’s misleading to state that Edsa Dos was a people’s uprising that only became successful because of military support. The more accurate formulation is that the military supported Edsa Dos when it became clear that the people have spoken and united against the country’s commander-in-chief. The first point became popular during the Arroyo years that led many to believe that only a military mutiny is required to solve a political impasse. But Edsa was a popular uprising which united diverse groups and the army. A political upsurge with military backing is a potent combination but a military action without organized support from the civilian population will only give us hotel takeovers and young officers running for the senate.

6. Edsa Dos was more than a mini-reunion of some anti-Marcos personalities; it was a broad anti-corruption movement. It was not a noisy political event in imperial Manila; it was a national campaign directed against Estrada. We are flooded with political images that focus on the Edsa Shrine but it doesn’t mean that Edsa Dos activities were restricted within Metro Manila. It was a nationwide upheaval that also paralyzed urban centers and eroded Estrada’s mass appeal. He was certainly detested in Muslim Mindanao. Edsa in Edsa Dos was more than a geographical reference; it became the symbolic name of a national political campaign.

7. Edsa Dos is often described as a remarkable example of middle-class revolt. Then there are those who dismissed it as a mere rambunctious power play of the elite. We do not deny the lively and heroic participation of the middle classes and even some sections of the ruling elite in Edsa Dos. They were there and they mingled with the greater number of people who came from the working classes. Edsa Dos was a true social phenomenon that briefly removed class barriers and allowed the people to fight a common enemy. But to insist that it was a middle class action is to deny (again) the role of the poor and inarticulate in shaping the country’s history.

8. Edsa Dos started the global trend of using mobile phones in protest actions. Through cell phone texting, young people were able to join Edsa Dos with parental consent. Texting facilitated the movement of the crowds and the rapid distribution of anti-Estrada messages and Erap jokes. Anti-Left bashers often use this as an example to assert the alleged superior creativity of virtual activism over traditional street protests. But more than anything else, Edsa was a testament to the enduring power of the mob. Edsa Dos participants didn’t just text their sentiments against Estrada; they marched and texted against corruption. Edsa Dos didn’t invalidate street activism; on the contrary, it reaffirmed the power of collective actions and the value of maximizing new technologies to advance political causes.

Does Edsa Dos deserve to be known as “People Power”? It mobilized the people, it animated the country’s political forces, it aimed to uplift the conditions of the poor, it echoed the narratives of revolution, it led to the ouster of a popular politician. In the eyes of hacienderos, corrupt bureaucrats, and apologists of imperialism, the idea of Edsa Dos is so powerful, radical, and subversive that it needed to be discredited. Therefore, our task is not simply to defend it but also to continue what it aimed to achieve in politics. If Edsa Dos was a failure, it was a failure worth repeating until we could get it right.

Written for The Diplomat

U Wirathu, an ultranationalist Buddhist monk from Myanmar, publicly insulted a United Nations human rights envoy who was visiting the country to assess the progress of reforms initiated by the government. The video of Wirathu insulting the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Yanghee Lee, has gone viral in Myanmar.

Wirathu called Lee a whore for allegedly meddling in the affairs of Myanmar. “Just because you hold a position in the United Nations doesn’t make you an honorable woman,” he said.

Wirathu is the leader of the 969 Buddhist national movement that has gained popularity in recent years. It believes that the Rohingya and other Muslims are plotting to dominate Myanmar, which has a predominantly Buddhist population. The Rohingya are one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, according to the U.N. They are mostly Muslims living in Myanmar and other parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia, but the Myanmar government refuses to recognize them as citizens. Many are also denied of basic rights and access to welfare services. There are an estimated 1.3 million Rohingyas living in the country’s Rakhine State.

During her recent visit to the country, Lee said she saw no positive progress on either the conditions of the Rohingya or the tension between many radical Buddhist and Muslim groups. “The atmosphere between Buddhists and Muslims remains hostile. I saw internally displaced persons in Muslim camps living in abysmal conditions with limited access to food, health care and essential services,” she said.

She also warned against the passage of “race and religion” bills that “will legitimize discrimination, in particular against religious and ethnic minorities, and ingrain patriarchal attitudes towards women.” She was referring to bills relating to population control and healthcare, monogamy, religious conversion, and interfaith marriages involving Buddhist women and non-Buddhist men.

Lee’s objection to the proposed legislation angered Wirathu, who denounced the U.N. envoy in a mass assembly for being allegedly biased in favor of the Rohingya.

But Wirathu was quickly criticized for his “sexist” and “insulting” language against Lee. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on the religious and political leaders of Myanmar to “unequivocally condemn all forms of incitement to hatred including this abhorrent public personal attack” against a U.N.-appointed envoy.

Lee herself reacted to the speech, writing in her official report that she was “personally subjected to the kind of sexist intimidation that female human rights defenders experience when advocating on controversial issues.”

Wirathu’s remarks also upset people in Myanmar. Presidential spokesperson and Minister of Information Ye Htut urged the Buddhist monk to focus on the topics of compassion, love, empathy, and good ethics. U Pandavunsa, a famous monk in the country, said that promoting hate speech is against the code of ethics of Buddhist monks. Meanwhile, U Thawbita, a monk who participated in the 2007 Saffron protest, said that Wirathu’s words “could hurt Buddhism very badly.” Khin Zaw Win, the director of the Tampadipa Institute in Yangon, expressed disappointment that “trouble is being fomented by extremists within the Buddhist clergy (but) the government is doing nothing about it.”

Wirathu, however, defended his decision to attack the U.N. envoy. “That was the harshest word (I could think of), so I used it. If I could find a harsher word, I would have used it. It is nothing compared to what she did to our country.” He added in an interview that he was simply “defending” Buddhism, and that he “should be glad that [he] succeeded in making this particular comment.”

“I am delightfully proud,” he added.

The Myanmar government announced that it will investigate the speech of Wirathu against the U.N. rapporteur. Perhaps after conducting a probe on this matter, the Ministry of Religious Affairs can also look into the past activities of nationalist monks that have inflamed communal hatred and violence in various parts of the country. Hopefully, and more importantly, this incident should embolden the country’s leaders to aggressively pursue meaningful and peaceful conversations and initiatives on religion, ethnicity, and civil rights.

Refugee Crisis on Myanmar-China Border

Written for The Diplomat

The renewed hostilities between Burmese troops and the Kokang armed rebel group known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) have killed more than 130 people since February 9. According to the government, the fatalities included 61 military and police officers, and around 72 rebels. The casualties could be higher since the situation in other remote areas has yet to be determined and clashes are still ongoing after the government rejected calls for a ceasefire in the conflict areas.

The last time Kokang was besieged by armed attacks was in 2009 when the army successfully pushed the rebel force out of the region. Many believe that the February 9 offensive in the Laukkai regional capital was an attempt to reclaim the political influence which the rebels lost six years ago.

The government responded by deploying troops in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone; and later, declaring a state of emergency and martial law.

“Launching offensives against a self-administered zone to oust the mandated Kokang autonomous body is an offence to the sovereignty of the zone. We can’t let this happen. We have no plans to negotiate a ceasefire,” said U Zaw Htay, who is a director in the office of the president.

But in an interview with the independent media group Democratic Voices of Burma, rebel spokesman Tun Myat Linn denied that his group is responsible for the chaos and violence that suddenly engulfed the region. “We did not attack the government administration in Laogai. The director of the administration fled on his own initiative. Our troops are quite a distance from the town – we can’t even get close to there,” he said.

The army is also looking into the involvement of other ethnic rebel groups whom they suspect of providing assistance to the Kokang rebels. In particular, it accused the Kachin Independence Army and the Shan State Army-North of joining the combat operations against the army. Some former Chinese soldiers were also allegedly recruited as mercenaries to support the rebels in Kokang. Lieutenant-General Mya Tun Oo from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief urged these groups “to take responsibilities for themselves since the sovereignty of our country is being infringed upon.”

But pinpointing the culprits who instigated the violence in Kokang should take a backseat for now so that the government can focus its efforts on restoring normalcy in the area and addressing the refugee crisis which has already spilled over in the Myanmar-China border.

Estimates vary of the number of civilians forced to flee their homes when the fighting started two weeks ago. Some reports pegged the number of residents who escaped to China at 30,000. But according to a local Laukkai Township MP, more than 40,000 refugees from Kokang have set up temporary shelters in the Myanmar-China border. Meanwhile, The Myanmar Times was able to interview ethnic Han Chinese refugees who claimed that at least 100,000 people had fled Myanmar to escape the fighting.

Among those who were displaced by the clashes were teachers of Kokang. A middle-school teacher was able to share her ordeal with the Eleven media group: “We had to walk for 12 hours to the border region. We met Kokang rebels near Tharmannaw. They seized motorcycles and our mobile phones. We were transported to the border.”

The Irrawaddy also narrated the story of Naing Oo, a refugee worker from Pegu Division: “We had to sell some of our belongings to make some money. Some of us couldn’t even carry clothes or blankets, even though they are sick. We just want no war. Because of war, we lost our jobs, earning no money and instead having to run for our lives.”

Kyaw Myo Tun, also writing for The Irrawaddy, described the situation in the capital of the region: “Abandoned vehicles are riddled with bullet holes. Most apartment buildings and shops are shuttered and locked, with no signs of life inside. Except for the occasional muffled footsteps from one or two people furtively walking down the streets, the silence during the day is deep and lingering.”

There is difficulty in distributing aid to refugees especially after a Red Cross convoy was attacked a few days ago. This prompted Renata Dessallien, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, to ask both the government and rebel forces to prioritize the welfare of innocent civilians: “I appeal to all parties to the conflict to ensure that civilians are protected, and to allow civilians who remain in the conflict zone safe passage out of the Kokang area.”

Perhaps the government should reconsider its earlier position and declare a temporary ceasefire in order to reach the civilians caught in the crossfire and deliver humanitarian relief to thousands of refugees in the border. Peace advocates should also persuade the government to continue to follow the roadmap for peace, especially the signing of political agreements with other ethnic groups in the country.

Written for Bulatlat

1. You grew up fantasizing about life in the United States, the land of milk and honey. You were bombarded with seductive images of first world living courtesy of Hollywood. You and your childhood friends wanted a glimpse and taste of real America. Then you learned that you and your family will go to America someday as immigrants. But the date of your departure is uncertain since the petition can drag for years and years. You were told to live your life in Manila as a long preparation for a new and better life in America.

The waiting period was almost two decades. During the interval, you made several life choices: you finished school, you found a partner, you became a parent, and you discovered what you really wanted to do in this world. But the option to migrate remained since your college degree was seen as an advantage, you were assured that you can marry your girlfriend and petition your child once you received the precious green card, and you can still do in America whatever you wanted to do in this world.
And so you patiently waited, but this time there’s no more naive pining for greener pastures. You have already ceased to marvel about the so-called greatness of Uncle Sam. You have seen beyond the illusions peddled by Hollywood pop culture.

Suddenly, the agonizing long wait was over. The embassy has scheduled an interview. You have waited for this moment since grade school yet at the same time you were overwhelmed with the idea that you’re already finished waiting for the arrival of the new life. What happened next? Part of you did the paper works, intent on moving forward and embracing the promise of the new world; part of you was enveloped with a new kind of fear, confusion, and sadness; and part of you wrestled with guilt: guilt of moving away, guilt of staying behind.

But the visa arrived and you left for the Golden Gate after a few days. You made your decision, a decision made through “inception” since your childhood days, a decision you fatalistically affirmed as an educated family man.

You were lovingly welcomed by your relatives, some of whom you have not seen in almost three decades. You spent the first few weeks rekindling family ties and exploring your new home. You were a tourist resident, a resident acting like a tourist. The newness of everything was simply too much that it almost cancelled out any other emotion that threatened to disrupt your newfound joy.

You had mixed thoughts about the US. You were impressed with the infrastructure, the city planning, the efficiency of the transport system, the welfare it provides to citizens, the promotion of knowledge economy, the seemingly limitless opportunities available in a meritocratic society. (You have not yet visited Europe that time).

But there was another side of America you saw: the pauperization of the middle class, the stagnating wages of workers, the rise of homelessness, the lingering impact of racism, the eerie supremacy of neoliberal values in society.

You made interesting and depressing observations about how some people interact like the incessant inquiries about your residential status, your hourly wage rate, your house rent, and even your insurance plan. You felt like everything was being measured in monetary terms; you felt as if your worth as a person was dependent on the petty material things you accumulate. You were comforted by the niceties of modern civilization and the visible little acts of kindness performed by everyone; yet there’s a coldness somewhere that bothered you. Maybe it’s the sting of paranoia or it could be the gloomy sentiment of an outsider wanting instant acceptance.

But you stayed and made many friends, you were also prepared to do what you wanted to do in this world, and you were ready to settle as a permanent resident.

Nevertheless, you desired more from life and you needed deeper connections, and in your heart you knew they could never be fulfilled by living in America, your home away from home. And when the chance came to return, you took the trip back home.

Back in the Philippines, you learned that there were important life-changing decisions to be made again: Marriage, a new baby, an exciting new political task. But one decision will undo a process that took two decades to complete. You considered making some mental calculations but you felt too distracted all the time and you were swamped with intense feelings of euphoria and guilt. What is rational, irrational? What is moving forward, backward?

It was summertime in Manila and you suddenly missed the cool weather of California. But you can overcome this longing, you told yourself. The same applies to restaurants with their big servings, museums and their free days, buses that ran on time, public libraries and their one dollar book sales, the super fast Internet, the walkable city, the changing landscapes – everything must go, including the American Dream. Everything save the essentials such as family bond, camaraderie, hamburger, and the value of learning from the progressive culture of America.

And then you remembered your two aging parents. Suddenly, you were a child again. A child separated from his overseas parents and whose only Christmas wish every year was to be reunited with his family. And now that the wish was granted, the kid has decided to leave.

You forgot that they waited too for you. They worked and waited for you. You wanted to apologize but you never said it anyway. You were very grateful that they supported your decision. They let go of their prodigal son, their rebel son, so that you can find a better meaning in this world by staying in the homeland. It’s parental love that brought you to America; the same love that gave you the blessing to leave America, and the freedom to pursue your dreams.

2. Download I-407: Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status (Note: The website of the US embassy in Manila does not have a copy of the form), fill out the document, submit it to embassy. There’s no need for an appointment, simply walk in and present your green card.

3. Embassy officials will stamp out the form, they will provide a photocopy of the document including a scanned copy of your green card. Step out of the embassy premises and never look back.

Written for Bulatlat

What did the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan had in common in the 1950s? They all allowed the United States to build military bases in their territories. But in 1991, the Philippines kicked out the bases even if it remained an unabashed admirer of American culture. The expulsion of American troops from Subic and Clark was a legacy of the anti-imperialist movement which emerged in the 1960s until it gained nationwide influence in the next two decades. The Left was a prominent part of this movement that consistently exposed the treacherous puppetry of Filipino politicians and the meddling of the U.S. in our domestic affairs. More importantly, the Left successfully invoked the libertarian tradition espoused by the Propaganda Movement and the Katipunan to mobilize the people against the continued stay of colonial military bases in the country.

As it waged battle against US imperialism, the Left also attacked the bankrupt state of Philippine politics evidenced by an electoral process dominated by dynasties and warlords, a corrupt bureaucracy that mutated into the pork barrel system which we detest today, and a repressive government that brutally protects the filthy interest of the ruling elite. Or in other words, a system of bad governance more accurately termed as bureaucratic capitalism – a state of affairs wherein public officials systematically use their position to accumulate wealth and other privilege.

It isn’t enough to castigate the obviously immoral behavior of some recidivist plunderers and criminals in government. If it were a mere morality issue, the simple solution would be to launch a moral crusade which some well-meaning groups are already doing. But from the start, the Left has been asserting that the issue of corruption should be tackled comprehensively. The problem is not simply caused by mayors extorting money from the business sector, senators making deals with quick cash schemers, and presidents addicted to illegal gambling. The problem is the system that allowed these honorable thieves to assume public office. The root of the crisis is the political infrastructure which confers legitimacy to institutionalized robbery.

But where did traditional politicians get their wealth? Young thieves can eventually become old porkers which give them plenty of opportunities to hoard a fortune. But political power across the country is still retained by a few old rich families. What is the source of their economic power? To answer this, we shall repeat the question at the beginning of this article: What did the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan had in common in the 1950s?

Land reform.

But South Korea and Japan implemented it in just five years. They quickly smashed the feudal means of ownership that broke the economic and political privilege of their landowning classes. After land reform, both Japan and South Korea pursued the path of industrialization.

In the Philippines, land reform was and is still a half-serious initiative. The world’s longest land reform program has failed to redistribute the family-owned farming estates of big landlords and foreign-owned corporate plantations. Rural wealth is still concentrated in the hands of despotic hacienderos which they use to win elections, harass or kill their enemies, and stifle dissent. The Hacienda Luisita massacre was not a case of peasant agitation but landlord hysteria from a family which does not want to give up their class privilege.

This refusal to alter the status quo is a very violent kind of behavior. But the state sanctions this violence which is responsible for the human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, and other horrible crimes inflicted against the poor, the activists, and other truth seekers. The government then seeks to monopolize the use of violence in society by suppressing the idea, the yearning, and the actual organizing for change, while branding critical discourse and engagement as transgressions that harm public order.

Then there are political forces, mostly allied with the party in power, which prefers to spread the illusory message of reconciliation by offering a so-called space for dialogue to end conflict in society. They misread the situation as a simple case of misunderstanding between individuals. It may be partly true but essentially wrong. What is raging in the islands is class struggle. Marx once eloquently wrote that the “history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.”

The mainstream education apparatus has indoctrinated the youth with the poisonous thinking that history is made only by prominent individuals such as kings, presidents, and their glorified subordinates. Because of this biased framework, it rendered invisible the resistance of the weak which is the primemover of history. Fortunately, the Left provided an alternative narrative to view our past and present. Through this perspective, we could gain a better understanding of how our society evolved such as the impact of our colonial experience, the worsening pauperization in the provinces, the glaring inequality between the rich and poor, the feminization of migration, the attack on labor, the rapid destruction of the environment, and the erosion of our cultural heritage. Furthermore, the Leftist philosophy of history also emphasizes the value of the revolutionary struggle of the people in combating the many ills and evils in society.

But the appeal to wage and resolve class struggle in the ballots is still persuasive. There are public intellectuals who acknowledge the problems identified by the Left but insist that elections, and only elections, will give us leaders who are destined to lead the nation to the road of prosperity and lasting peace. Any other solution than electoral parliamentary democracy is deemed irrational, misguided, and impractical. The result is the perpetuation of a discredited system with semi-democratic trappings. Everybody resents this system; and everybody is aghast that we continue to be ruled by the same powerful and pampered clique of caciques or their dummies; but almost everybody among the chattering and twittering classes is willing to endure this suffering as they continue to hope that incremental reforms within the bureaucracy would spur a great transformation in the future.

Everybody except the Left. The Left with its radical dreams and a progressive vision for a new future. The Left and its people power, welgang bayan, lakbayan, the boycott movement, the metro noise barrage, the collective actions in the urban and rural. Another people power? An emphatic yes, but this time, let us embrace its revolutionary promise to the fullest.