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

Published by Rappler

If there is a country that needs to aggressively fight climate injustice, it must be the Philippines. Its global carbon emissions are minimal yet it is highly vulnerable to the harsh impact of extreme weather events. This was most vividly demonstrated by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) which wrought havoc in central Philippines.

Yolanda reminded the world that the failure to reduce carbon emissions at the global level creates massive catastrophes in small island nations like the Philippines. Haiyan also exposed some of the country’s structural weaknesses such as widespread poverty in the provinces, inept bureaucracy, and deteriorating environment. For many Filipinos, Haiyan was a clear proof about the need to quickly improve disaster risk management and the strict enforcement of environmental laws.

‘Dirty legacy’

But the big elephant in the ground zero of Haiyan is coal. Looking back, it seems there was no sustained discussion in the mainstream media about the dirty legacy of coal. Media commentators spoke bluntly about the slow government relief but they failed to link coal and fossil fuels in general with Yolanda. The public was informed about disaster preparation but not about coal pollution. This is quite disappointing considering that coal is the single biggest contributor to global carbon emissions.

Climate change cannot be explained without mentioning coal. And in recent years, the Philippines has become more dependent on coal in generating its power supply. The Aquino government is guilty of increasing the number of coal projects across the country – 17 ongoing construction of coal plants and 10 slated for expansion. In his 2012 state of the nation address, Aquino singled out the oppositors of the Subic coal plant project for blocking the progress of the local economy.

The government’s addiction to coal reflects several fundamental wrongs in governance: Dirty development model (focus on extractive activities), contradictory laws (Mining Act vis-a-vis total log ban), and privatized energy sector. The Philippines pioneered renewable energy legislation in the region but the government abandoned power generation and left it in the hands of a few favored family tycoons. Naturally, the latter preferred cheap but dirty coal over renewable sources which are abundant in the country.

Disaster risk reduction and preparedness would be rendered meaningless if coal addiction is not eliminated. The ‘No Build Zone’ policy is presented as if coastal habitats pose the greatest danger to the lives of our people in the Visayas. What about large-scale mining, expanding plantations, and coal pollution?

Coal policies should make us more aware of the other manifestations of climate injustice. In the Philippines, it is reflected in the suffering of poor farmers and fisherfolk who have to survive the adverse impact of coal projects on their health and livelihood. It is evident too in the displacement of marginalized communities caused by development aggression and pollutive industries. Worse, the poor are often blamed for choosing to settle in critical habitats and high-risk areas.

Most affected

The poor are more vulnerable to the deadly impact of climate change yet they are either asked to make the greater sacrifice or castigated for being irresponsible residents. Is this not climate injustice too?

The continuing coal addiction of our money-hungry politicians despite the documented negative impact of coal plants highlights the relevance of strong political actions as we battle climate change.

Laws are important, and we need more meaningful green policies, but they lose value if corrupt bureaucrats won’t implement them.

Today, saving the planet is a popular message which enjoins everybody to adopt a green lifestyle. But focusing too much on individual actions, however heroic, would restrict our efforts to check the abuses committed by those in power. A concerned citizen should not be contented with merely planting a tree. He or she must also join others in stopping a politician from signing a permit that would allow large-scale mining in a critical watershed.

Coal pollution can be stopped by directly engaging the proponents of coal. We need an active grassroots to oppose the entry of coal in our communities. The green constituency must target local and national policymakers.

The champions of renewable energy must counter the poisonous propaganda of the coal industry. In other words, People Power politics is the best antidote to coal politics. Political solutions are needed to solve environmental problems.

The rise of coal in a disaster-prone nation is an issue of governance. It is dirty politics at its worst. After Haiyan, it is already insane to stick with coal as if there’s no other alternative. The struggle for climate justice, therefore, is not separate from the people’s campaign for genuine democracy and good governance.

Written for Bulatlat

For the longest time the military has bombarded the public with the propaganda that it is Joma Sison who is leading and controlling the Philippine revolution from his base in Western Europe. This reasoning was accepted without question by many anti-Left intellectuals and they used it to malign natdem activists for allegedly being part of a movement whose leadership is not directly engaged in the daily struggles of the masses. This oft-repeated lie and line would later on become the standard filler in news reports about Joma and the local communist movement.

Nobody noticed it but on March 22, 2014, this malicious tirade was instantly discredited when the military arrested Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria and accused the senior citizen couple of being the top cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. Then, the media suddenly stopped describing Joma as chairman of the CPP and casually reported that the politburo headed by the Tiamzons is firmly established in the country.

Another propaganda peddled by the anti-communists is the supposed grandiose lifestyle of communist leaders. They insinuate that grassroots cadres are being exploited by corrupt senior leaders of the party. Again, this was disproved by the outing of the Tiamzons who were arrested in a provincial farm resort. Apparently, some puppies and kittens were found in the safe house of the ‘luxurious’ couple. Compare the circumstances of their arrest with the Euro generals; compare too their lifestyle with the pabaon and rolex generals. The Tiamzons reminded us that communists are leading the revolution sans luxury cars, mansions, and overrated expensive trappings.

Their arrest made the elderly Tiamzons the new icons of the revolution. Many are curious to know more about the leaders of a movement accused of committing terrorism and crimes against humanity. Never mind that the accusers are the Armed Forces whose terrible deeds during Martial Law are already established through a law signed by BS Aquino; and the United States government, which is the world’s leading expert on how to wage different wars of aggression.

According to the military, the Tiamzons were among the students radicalized during the Marcos years. This point is significant because it confirmed that the communist leadership is dominated by young people who fought the dictator. For many, it is comforting to learn that the communist party is headed by Martial Law activists who struggled hard to restore our democracy. It adds to the credibility of the revolutionary movement while contradicting the stereotype of a group obsessed with spreading senseless violence in the country.

If it is true that the Tiamzons assumed leadership in the 1990s, it means the couple allowed others to represent the party in public. The names Ka Roger, Oris, Parago, Frank, and of course Joma are familiar to the public, but not Benito or Wilma. Political leaders choosing to be anonymous are rare these days. But the CPP is unique since most its core leaders prefer to operate silently. This is a feat considering that the CPP is a major political force with varying influence across the archipelago.

If it is true that Benito is the supremo of the NPA, then he must be regarded as a great military strategist. A guerilla warrior since the 1970s, it is safe to assume that he is one of those responsible for building the NPA as a fighting force despite the aggressive attempts of numerous governments to defeat it. In other words, the guerilla general was able to outwit successive military generals, all of whom were trained by the prestigious Philippine Military Academy.

If it is true that the Tiamzons and Sisons are always disagreeing on political tactics as claimed by the military, then the anti-Left bashers are wrong in their presumptuous assertion that debates are nonexistent in the ‘dogmatic’ party. The intention of those who write about the alleged feud of Tiamzon and Sison is to sow intrigue; although some are simply guilty of irresponsible journalism. But what they unintentionally did was to contradict the formulaic criticism of reactionary commentators about the supposed absence of democratic debates in the party.

The Tiamzons are accused of carrying firearms such as a Colt .45 pistol, a Norinco 9mm pistol, a Kimber 9mm pistol, and Smith and Wesson .357 revolvers. For those who believe that it is only the state which has the exclusive right to use guns, then the Tiamzons must appear to be too violent for them. But the Tiamzons are not terrorists; they are revolutionary leaders fighting with the poor against the terroristic acts of despotic landlords, mining moguls, and warlords. There is no intention to romanticize or glamorize their work but we can’t deny that they are part of the resistance movement, most especially in the countryside. Even the nonviolence advocate Ronald Llamas, the political adviser of Aquino, has to carry AK-47 and M-16 rifles in his car as protection against perceived threats to his life. Let the Tiamzons argue their case but it is too naïve to dismiss them as terrorists simply because they organized and taught the masses to fight for their rights.

Immediately after the Tiamzon arrest was made public, the military boasted that it inflicted a severe blow to the communist movement. Then it asked NPA soldiers to surrender since their leaders have already bee captured. This is standard propaganda spiel. But it misreads the orientation of the communist movement, a party made stronger in the last half-century by collective leadership. It is quite unrealistic (and wishful thinking too) to expect the disintegration of a mass movement on the basis that the military was able to capture some high-ranking cadres of the party. Has the military forgotten already the communist surge in the 1970s and 1980s, which was achieved even when Joma Sison was under solitary confinement? Or perhaps the military statement reflects a failure of analysis to properly distinguish the behavior of mainstream parties and revolutionary parties. We have overemphasized the role played by great individuals in shaping the course of history that made us overlook the continuing relevance of political movements whose primary method and goal involves the collective and massive mobilization of the masses.

What can young people learn from the life story of the Tiamzons? That serving the people or the idea of bringing back something to the community has no age restrictions. That there is a better way of growing old in public service, the Tiamzon way, rather than pursuing the glorious but unprincipled career of reactionary politicians like Enrile. That the communist philosophy is not something to be defeated even if the president and his crony ilk do not understand it or are threatened by it. That yes, communists are also animal lovers.

The people’s decade

April 7th, 2014

Written for Bulatlat

If the future generation will ask us about Philippine politics during the early years of the 21st century, what should we tell them?

Perhaps some historians will name it as Erap’s decade. In 1998, Joseph Estrada became the most popular Philippine president in terms of number of votes. Two years later, he became the first president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was ousted from power in 2001 despite the heroic attempt of his supporters to bring him back to the Palace through the underappreciated Edsa Tres. He was found guilty of plunder and spent almost seven years in detention but he remained popular among the masses and politically influential. His (legal) wife and two children were elected senators, he almost became president again in 2010, and he is now the mayor of the country’s premier city.

Or maybe it was Gloria Arroyo’s decade. After all, she got more votes than Erap in 1998. She benefited from Edsa Dos and became president in 2001. She remained in Malacanang until 2010 which made her the second-longest serving president of the Republic in the past half century. She survived several coup attempts, she faced-off with the country’s most famous actor in the 2004 polls, and she foiled all impeachment cases filed against her. Despite being unloved by the masa, her cabalens elected her to Congress in 2010 and 2013.

But in terms of luck, it’s probably a BS Aquino decade. He was elected congressman in 1998, senator in 2007, president in 2010, and he is still the country’s most eligible bachelor. Because of his support for Gloria, he was appointed Deputy Speaker in 2004, the same year when 13 farmers were massacred in the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita. He became president largely because of the enduring legacy of his parents, the popularity of Kris and James Yap, and the billions of his uncle Danding. His victory in 2010 proved that the Aquinos are the most powerful political dynasty in the country’s modern history.

The Marcos restoration was sealed during this period. Bongbong and Imee dominated Ilocos politics as governor and member of Congress. Twenty-five years after Edsa, the wife and children of the late dictator were holding elected positions in government. Imelda apparently was able to reclaim her sequestered assets because she was the second richest solon in the 15th Congress.

The ambition of Mar Roxas and Manny Villar to become president led to the mini-revival of the Nacionalista-Liberal rivalry in 2010. Mar as Mr Palengke topped the senate race in 2004 while Villar was able to serve as speaker of the Lower House in 1998 and senate president in 2007. In the end, Mar yielded to BS Aquino but he lost to Binay and got married to Korina. Villar, on the other hand, failed to convince the public that he grew up in a ‘dagat ng basura’ and that he is no ‘Villaroyo’. The Nacionalista-Liberal rivalry in 2010 became an electoral coalition in 2013.

It has been a rewarding decade for military adventurists. The coup plotter Trillanes was elected senator despite being incarcerated during the campaign period in 2007. Meanwhile, the fugitive Honasan also won during the same election.

During Erap’s time, there was a silent battle for supremacy among the young traditional politicians represented by the so-called Spice Boys and Bright Boys. Edsa Dos made the Spice Boys popular but many of them got infected by the Gloria virus. Meanwhile, some of the Bright Boys became senators like Alan and Chiz.

Pacquiao conquered the boxing world before joining politics. After an embarrassing defeat in 2007, he moved to another district and became congressman in 2010.

It was also a Manny V. Pangilinan decade. With the backing of some Indonesian friends, he bought top performing local companies and public utilities. He is a celebrated philanthropist, political kingmaker and self-confessed plagiarist. Some are belittling him for being an alleged dummy of a foreign tycoon, but his billions can still do many wonders in the coin-operated Philippine politics.

What about the organized Left? The National Democratic Front signed a comprehensive human rights agreement with the government in 1998. Leftist groups played a big role in the ouster of Estrada, especially in mobilizing people in the streets. Bayan Muna topped the partylist polls in 2001 which inspired other progressive groups amd marginalized sectors to seek representation in the succeeding elections. To the surprise of everybody, the Left became more active in the electoral arena by fielding candidates in the partylist, local elections, and even in the senate race. Meanwhile, the armed communist movement seemed to gain a stronger presence and influence in the Mindanao island.

With regard to the Moro secessionist movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front became the vanguard after the capitulation of the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996. The latter further declined after it failed to deliver reforms through the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. But before the end of Gloria’s term, the MILF leadership abandoned its demand for complete independence.

Looking back, it was not anybody’s decade. It was actually the people’s decade. The people who went to Ayala in 1999 in defense of civil liberties, in particular media freedom. The people who joined Edsa Dos, the masa of Edsa Tres. The college cadets who walked out of their campuses and succeeded in abolishing ROTC. The students who shouted ‘No To Iraq War’ at the Luneta Grandstand in 2003. The anti-Arroyo crowd: the hecklers, truth seekers, and the millions of voters dismayed by the cheating and stealing in the Gloria government. The street protests ignited by the Garci expose, corruption scandals, and Con-Ass. The mourners during the funeral march for FPJ, Ka Bel, Cory, Dolphy, and Jesse Robredo. The opinion poll respondents, audience ratings, and the anonymous online commenters. The social media crowd from bloggers to micro-bloggers. The farmers who marched from Mindanao to Manila, the urban poor defending their homes, the workers resisting the neoliberal machine. The refugees, evacuees, and victims of climate injustice. The Million People March. The People Surge. The people resisting, fighting, advocating, occupying, organizing.

In terms of political discourse, invoking the name of the people seems the most effective in capturing public interest. This seems a natural conclusion today but there was a time when the common theme used by various political forces was to refer to the country’s ‘unfinished revolution.’

Today, assessing the validity of a political campaign or event is done by comparing it with the standards established by People Power. It’s very rare to see or hear politicians speak of the need to continue the unfinished struggle of our forefathers. What they often emphasize is their adherence to the principles of People Power.

Perhaps what is needed today is the fusion of these two powerful themes. The merging of the past and the recent past. Fighting for ‘People Power’ to continue the ‘Unfinished Revolution’. In other words, claiming to speak in behalf of the people, the masa, or the bosses is nothing but empty posturing if it is not complemented by a concrete fidelity to the politics of ‘People Power’ and ‘Unfinished Revolution.’ This is the radically-proper way to understand the meaning of events and icons that dominated the country’s politics in the past decade.

Malaysia is currently confronting its worst crisis caused by its inability to explain the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. The government in particular is accused of being less transparent in presenting updates about the search for the missing MH370. But before Malaysian gained global notoriety for mishandling the situation, it was already facing numerous political scandals and socio-economic difficulties related to several government policies.

It has been a terrible new year for Malaysia. Just a few weeks before the MH370 plane went missing, Malaysia was hit by a water crisis. Drought and water shortages were felt in the areas of Selangor, Johor, Negri Sembilan, and Kedah. Water rationing has been ordered already by the government to serve waterless communities. The dry spell is still felt in many parts of the country.

Another environment challenge is the sudden return of the deadly haze triggered by forest burning in nearby Indonesia. The annual haze often arrives mid-year but it is unusually early today. It is clearly a proof that the haze-affected countries of Southeast Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore – have failed again to implement effective measures to curb air pollution. On the part of Malaysia, residents should ask their government whether Malaysia-based palm oil companies which have agricultural investments in Indonesia were made accountable for contributing to the haze problem in the region.

In relation to disease prevention, Malaysia scored low on restricting the spread of dengue. A dengue scare hit the country last month after 22 people died from dengue fever. This figure was worse compared to previous years.

A few days before the MH370 saga began, young Malaysians were shocked to learn that the government has banned the Bahasa publication of Ultraman, a Japanese comic book, for being a threat to public order. What was Ultraman’s fault? Apparently, the comic book featured a character described as ‘God’ or ‘Elder of all Ultra heroes’. Unfortunately, the word God was translated as Allah in the publication. Officials who banned the comic book said children might be confused when they read Allah. Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, has a controversial law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to God.

But many people believe the government’s response was exaggerated since it could have simply instructed the publisher to fix the translation.

On March 7, a day before the MH370 flight, Malaysian stunned the world after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was convicted guilty of sodomy. It was clearly a case of political harassment aimed at preventing Anwar from filing his candidacy for the coming by-elections. Under Malaysian laws, no person can run for public office if he has a criminal conviction. Malaysia’s sodomy law, a British colonial legacy, is practically already obsolete. Since 1938, there have been only seven sodomy cases, four of which have been filed by the ruling party against Anwar.

The ruling coalition has been in power since the 1950s although it lost the popular vote last year. It still retains majority of seats in the parliament, but the opposition led by Anwar is expected to win in a state assembly by-election.

Malaysians were bitterly debating the merits of Anwar’s conviction and its political impact when the vanished MH370 was first reported on March 8. Since then, the Malaysian government got a severe beating from almost everybody, especially relatives of the missing passengers and those exasperated with Malaysia’s crisis management team.

Perhaps it is unfair to Prime Minister Najib Razak but whether he likes it or not, his term will be remembered and judged by the world with how his government addressed the MH370 crisis. And as long his subordinates continue their disappointing performance during press briefings and other public events, many people around the world are expected to dig deeper into the other scandals hounding the government.

The MH370 crisis is already exposing the fatal flaws of the administration. Perhaps it will not be long before the world will start talking not just about MH370 but also about Anwar, election fraud, corruption, and even Ultraman.

Written for Bulatlat

Public opinion has many uses but it should neither stand for truth nor should it be equated with political standpoint. Sometimes it is overrated despite its ephemerality. Consider the examples below:

- Senator Miriam Santiago is the darling of the press and social media superstar who entertains the public with her intelligent albeit shocking sound bites aimed against her political nemesis. She is also delightfully unforgiving to nincompoops during senate hearings. She is regarded as a highly credible legislator and anti-corruption crusader. But there was a time when her popularity was down that led to her defeat in the senate race (she even lost in her hometown Iloilo province). This was during the Edsa Dos uprising in 2001 when she aggressively supported former President Joseph Estrada. While campaigning, she promised to jump from a plane if Estrada is arrested. But when Estrada was eventually detained, she obviously didn’t carry out her threat and she even bragged that she lied about it. This was a very different Miriam Santiago: unpopular and unprincipled. The same Miriam Santiago who almost won the presidency in 1992, idol of the youth, and recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award.

- No doubt, the superbads of Philippine politics today are Senators Tanda, Sexy, and Pogi. Tanda refers to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the grand dirty old man of Philippine politics. How fleeting is the memory of many people! Just two years ago, Enrile was adored and respected as an elderly statesman who brilliantly presided the Corona impeachment trial.

- He may be the ‘boy pick-up’ who wanted to legalize everything, but a decade ago Secretary Mar Roxas was the heroic Mr Palengke who topped the senate elections. Anyare?

- Just how bad is Gloria Arroyo? During her incumbency, her allies called her ‘lucky bitch’ and ‘she is evil’. But before she became unpopular, she was really a very popular politician. She was the number one senator in 1995 and she got more votes than Estrada in 1998.

What do these examples tell us? First, popularity is not reliable to verify the ‘truthiness’ of a political event. Imagine if we succumbed to the verdict of opinion polls and joined the madlang people on Twitter in praising Enrile in 2012. Second, we need historians to cure our ‘permanent amnesia’ by continually reminding us of the forgotten lessons of history. Third, there are no natural born heroes and villains in politics. There are no permanent virtues; there is only permanent political interest.

Cunning politicians are aware of our short memories and they exploit this weakness by bombarding us with seductive images of the present. They focus their energies on generating instant political effects so that citizens won’t ask questions about the embarrassing past and the illusory future. For them, it is more important to weaken the fighting instinct of the public by deliberately obfuscating the contours of the political field.

Unfortunately for us, the traditional political playbook has been enhanced by ubiquitous information tools which politicians are using to distract our attention. With help from corporate-controlled media, they spread mindless and meaningless McSize political statements that aim to redirect our gaze to nonessential political matters. We actively participate in the information exchange not knowing that we are being disempowered, mentally and politically.

With all the cascading data in the system and in our timelines, why aren’t we better informed? It is because what is being circulated is not knowledge that can enlighten but semi-gibberish content that preys on our emotions. The mind-conditioning techniques of TV have become the new standard and all these are reflected on the Internet. Spread panic, capitalize on fear, use shock and awe images. The result is a community of media consumers immobilized by the chaotic whirling of virtual representations of turmoil.

It’s no surprise that politician-preachers and TV-savvy demagogues have become the major celebrities of our time. Tragic that political chatter in the mediascape is given prominent attention at the expense of more serious political dialogues taking place in society. Tragic too is the uncritical recognition of public opinion as the useful political truth that gives legitimacy to the current situation.

But modern democracy should not be simply about the unfettered distribution and exchange of sentiments. We fought too long and too hard for our democratic rights in order to assert the truth and not merely to conform to what is popular and traditional.

Or let me rephrase the issue this way: Politics is essentially truth-seeking. Your opinion may be popular, viral, and trending; but is it the truth? Politicking politicians are desperately trying to win public opinion but it is a distortion of democratic politics. It is only through revolutionary political practice that we can create new truths and new political events.

Taong 2013 nang tuluyang nahubaran ang rehimen ni BS Aquino bilang numero unong tuta ng imperyalismo, sagad-sagaring korap, tagapagtanggol ng interes ng malaking negosyo, at inutil sa panahon ng krisis at kalamidad. Nalantad si BS Aquino bilang hasyenderong pangulo na pabaya, arogante, at kasabwat ng mga kurakot. Dahil dito, bumuhos sa lansangan ang daan-daang libong masa upang isigaw ang kanilang galit sa sistemang bulok at korap. Higit na tumindi ang poot ng mamamayan nang masaksihan ng marami ang palpak na pamumuno ni BS Aquino nang hinagupit ang bansa ng malalakas na lindol at bagyo na nagdulot ng malaking pinsala at trahedya sa buhay ng maraming Pilipino.

Nawalan ng bisa ang pagbandila ng pamahalaan ni BS Aquino ng paglago diumano ng ekonomiya nang mas tumingkad ang kahirapang dinaranas ng karaniwang tao. Ang malaking agwat sa pagitan ng mayayaman at mahihirap ay natumbok ng balitang hindi lalagpas sa 40 pamilya ang nagmamay-ari ng 75 bahagdan ng ekonomiya. Naging kakatwa ang pagtukoy sa mataas na GDP habang ang mayorya ay dinudukha ng matataas na bayarin, murang pasahod, maduming kapaligiran, at kawalan ng katiyakan sa pabahay at kabuhayan. Kung tutuusin, ang pawis at dugo ng manggagawang Pilipino ang bumubuhay sa ekonomiya ng bansa; at marami sa kanila ang pwersadong makipagsapalaran sa ibang bayan at mahiwalay sa pamilya upang may makain lamang. Sa kabila nito, pinagyayabang ni BS Aquino na dumarami diumano ang nakakaramdam ng kaginhawaan dulot ng mga patakarang pinapatupad ng kanyang pamahalaan.

Samantala, sa kabila ng pagkapanalo ng maraming kandidato ng administrasyon noong nakaraang halalan ay hindi nito napigilan ang pagsidhi ng krisis sa pulitika dahil mas tumampok na usapin ang kawalan ng malinis at epektibong pamumuno sa bansa. Kahit may postura itong malinis at bukas (transparent), lumabas ang katotohanan na ang pamahalaan ni BS Aquino ay walang pinag-iba sa mga nagdaang pamahalaan: madumi, magnanakaw, at ganid. Noong una ay pinagtatanggol pa ni BS Aquino ang pork barrel subalit napilitan ding magdeklara na pabor siya sa pagbuwag ng PDAF nang kumilos ang mamamayan sa kalye. Gayunpaman, tulad ng inaasahan, ayaw pakawalan ni BS Aquino ang presidential pork at DAP na aabot sa isang trilyong piso kada taon. Kailangan ni BS Aquino ang pork upang panatilihin ang kanyang dominasyon sa buong burukrasya habang sistematikong kinakamkam ng kanyang pamilya at mga galamay ang salapi ng mamamayan.

Upang humupa ang galit ng tao sa pork, nangako ang pamahalaan na ito ay ididiretso sa serbisyong sosyal at mga proyektong kailangan ng mga komunidad. Subalit nabunyag ang kahungkagan ng pangakong ito nang sadyang tinago, pinabagal, at nilapatan ng maraming kondisyon ng pamahalaan ang pagbibigay tulong sa mga sinalanta ng bagyong Yolanda. Naging malinaw sa lahat na ang pork, bukod sa kinukurakot, ay ginagamit at patuloy na gagamitin hindi upang paglingkuran ang mamamayan kundi bilang kasangkapang pulitikal ng naghaharing paksyon sa bansa. Bukod dito, hindi nagamit o sadyang hindi ginamit ang trilyong pisong pork ng pangulo upang palakasin ang paghahanda ng bansa sa mga dumarating na sakuna.

At habang abala ang marami kung paano tutulong sa pagbangon ng Samar at Leyte, ginamit itong oportunidad ng tusong rehimeng US-Aquino upang pabilisin at gawing lehitimo ang pagpasok muli at pagtatayo ng base ng mga tropang Amerikano sa bansa.

Dagdag pa, hindi tumutol ang pamahalaan sa pagtaas ng singil sa kuryente at langis sa kabila ng sunud-sunod na kalamidad sa bansa. Tila mas matimbang kay BS Aquino ang pagtatangol ng sobra-sobrang kita ng mga oligarkiyang nag-ambag sa kanyang kandidatura kaysa kapakanan ng mahihirap. Kaugnay nito, sinusulong ang pribatisasyon ng mga ospital, reklamasyon ng mga baybayin, at tax holiday pabor sa mga dambuhalang crony.

Kung mahigpit ang pagtutol ni Aquino sa panukalang dagdag sahod ng manggagawa, kabaligtaran naman ang posisyon nito pagdating sa pagpataw ng mga dagdag na bayarin sa mamamayan. Magtataas ng buwanang singil ang SSS at Philhealth kahit bilyun-bilyon ang kita ng mga institusyong ito at kahit na tumatanggap ng milyon-milyong bonus ang mga opisyal nito. Nakaamba rin ang pagtaas ng pasahe sa MRT at LRT dahil babawasan ng gobyerno ang subsidyo para dito.

Sa Metro Manila, agresibong pinapatupad ang Public-Private-Partnership bilang pamantayan ng pagtataguyod ng mga malalaking proyekto. Tinuturing na negosyo ang pagbibigay serbisyo sa mamamayan kaya ang tinatarget ng mga ahensiya ay pagkamal ng tubo sa halip na pagbutihin at gawing mura ang mga serbisyong publiko.

Laganap din ang banta at aktuwal na kaso ng demolisyon sa mga komunidad na pagtatayuan ng mga sentrong komersiyal imbes na maglaan ng pondo para sa socialized housing. Winawalis ang mga maliliit na manininda sa kanilang mga pwesto kahit walang alternatibong kabuhayang inihahain ang pamahalaan. Bukod dito, unang binabaling ang sisi sa mga maralita kung may malalang pagbaha sa siyudad, at ginagamit itong dahilan upang gibain ang kanilang tirahan, sa halip na ugatin ang problema at tukuyin ang kawalan ng maayos na urban planning at land zoning sa bansa, kahirapan, at historikal na kapabayaan ng pamahalaan.

Sa pagsidhi ng krisis sa lipunan ay ramdam ang bagsik at pasismo ng pamahalaan laban sa mamamayang Pilipino. Tumindi ang militarisasyon sa kanayunan lalo na sa mga malalaking hasyenda, minahan at plantasyon ng mga multinasyonal na korporasyon. Ginamit ang armadong lakas ng estado upang supilin ang pagtutol ng mamamayan sa mga mapanira at maduming operasyon ng malaking negosyo. Hindi binuwag ang private army ng mga despotikong panginoong maylupa at warlord; at sa halip ay hinayaang maghasik ng lagim sa maraming komunidad, lalo na sa mga lugar na may solidong lakas ang mga progresibong pwersa.

Tinangkang ipakete ang Oplan Bayanihan bilang makatao, mapayapa, at makatarungang programa upang biguin ang rebolusyong komunista sa bansa. Ginamit ang wika ng repormiso at pasipismo upang linlangin ang mamamayan na huwag sumapi sa mga radikal na samahan at itakwil ang rebolusyon.

Subalit tulad ng mga naunang counterinsurgency program ng pamahalaan, ang OpBay ay nagbunsod lamang ng matinding karahasan sa bansa. Nagpatuloy ang harassment, pagdukot at pagpaslang sa mga aktibista, mamamahayag, at iba pang may kritikal na tindig sa mga usaping bayan. May pananagutan si BS Aquino sa paglobo ng bilang ng mga biktima ng karahasan mula sa sektor ng mga bata, IP, at kababaihan.

Brutal na binubuwag ng militar ang mga kooperatiba, unyon, at mga progresibong alyansa habang nagkakalat ng black propaganda at taktikang red baiting sa mga paaralan, simbahan, at mga barangay laban sa kilusang pambansa demokratiko.

Pinatindi ang atake sa mga masang organisasyon sa kalunsuran. Sinampahan ng gawa-gawang kaso ang mga hayag na lider masa ng kilusan upang pilayin ang pagsulong ng pakikibakang masa at bahiran ang kredibilidad ng mga progresibo. Higit na naging sopistikado ang paniniktik gamit ang makabagong teknolohiya (CCTV) habang lumiliit ang demokatikong espasyo na kung saan malaya at walang takot na pwedeng magpahayag ang mamamayan.

Pinatunayan ni BS Aquino na wala itong tapat na hangaring magtulak ng tunay na kapayapaan sa bansa dahil sa makitid nitong pananaw hinggil sa usapang pangkapayapaan. Ang balakid sa muling paghaharap ng peace panel ay madaling mawala kung tutuparin lamang ng pamahalaan ang obligasyon nitong palayain ang mga bilanggong pulitikal, partikular ang mga NDF consultant. Subalit sa halip na makipag-usap ay aroganteng pinaninindigan ni BS Aquino at ng militar na may kakayahan itong talunin at lansagin ang rebolusyonaryong kilusan bago matapos ang taong 2016.

Tatlong taon pa lang ang panunungkulan ni BS Aquino subalit kaya na nitong higitan ang mga nagdaang rehimen pagdating sa pagiging sunud-sunuran sa mga dayuhan, kurakot, berdugo, at pabigat sa buhay ng masa. Ang ‘Daang Matuwid’ ay slogang walang silbi na nagdulot lamang ng walang kaparis na kahirapan at karahasan sa mamamayan. Ang gobyerno ni BS Aquino ay nananatiling gobyerno ng mayayaman at mga mapang-api sa lipunan.

Sa kabila ng malakas na impluwensiya ni BS Aquino sa mga konserbatibong institusyon tulad ng mainstream media, mga unibersidad, at simbahan, nabigo itong itago ang kabulukan at baho ng kasalukuyang sistema. Umalingawngaw ang galit ng mamamayan at dumami ang mga tinig na nananawagang patalsikin ang isang pamahalaang inutil at kurakot.

Dapat ipunin ang saloobing ito at itaas ang paglaban ng mamamayan. Ang desperasyon ng masa sa sistemang pumapatay ay dapat hubugin hanggang ito ay maging diwang rebolusyonaryo. Ang tuluy-tuloy na paghamon sa pamahalaan ni BS Aquino hanggang sa ito ay mapabagsak ay bahagi ng pangmatagalang pakikibaka na wakasan ang sistemang mapang-api at itayo ang tunay na demokratikong pamahalaan ng mamamayan.

Written for The Diplomat

Myanmar is scheduled to hold a census next month but local and international monitoring groups are worried that it could inflame ethnic and religious tensions in the country.

The census, supported by several UN agencies, is deemed important because it has been more than 30 years since a nationwide census was conducted. Through the census, Myanmar’s demographic profile can be objectively determined, which would prove useful for policymakers and potential investors in planning for Myanmar’s development needs.

But the census question on ethnic or tribal identification threatens to ignite more conflicts in the country. The census form requires citizens to choose from the 135 ethnic groups identified by the government. This listing, according to some scholars, is a colonial legacy that should have been revamped a long time ago. Several ethnic groups have complained about being lumped with other minorities while others claimed they were dropped from the listing.

For example, the Palaung (Ta’aung) tribe questioned their inclusion as a member of the Shan race.

“We, Ta’aung, settled down in this land before the Shan…We are not the same with other races. We live in mountainous area and have a different culture and language,” according to an official statement issued by the Palaung community.

In Myanmar, most people identify as Burmans. An estimated 40 percent of the population is considered an ethnic minority, with the Shan composing the biggest minority group. The other major groups include the Karen, Karreni, Kachin, Chin, Mon and Arakan.

To avoid misunderstanding, the government is urged to reclassify the listing based on a “democratic consultation” with ethnic communities. And while the government is doing this, some groups wanted the census delayed for another month. The postponement is also necessary to pursue the peace process in some remote areas where a ceasefire has not yet been finalized between government troops and armed rebels.

The concern of ethnic groups is understandable because they might lose political representation if the census adopts the government listing of the country’s ethnic groups. Ethnic minister positions in local parliaments are automatically given to ethnic groups with more than 0.01 percent of the population in the area. The government is accused of deliberately bloating the number of ethnic subgroups to deny representation to some tribes.

But in the case of the Rohingyas, the government continues to treat them as illegal immigrants with no citizenship rights. Kyaw Min of the Democracy and Human Rights Party is appealing for the recognition of Rohinyas, who are mostly Muslims:

“Every human race has its own identity. We have our identity already…This is not just now –we have had it for a long time. But we have found that there is discrimination in the country, which ignores our demand that our identity be recognized.”

One concern about the inclusion of religion in the census is the destabilization it might generate. In particular, the census might confirm that Myanmar has a growing number of Muslims, which could provoke Buddhist extremist groups to incite more hatred and violence against the Muslim population.

Kyaw Thu, head of the civil society consortium Paung Ku, thinks questions on ethnicity and religion should be dropped because the objective of the census is focused on development and economic projects. This reasoning was echoed by Tun Myint Kyaw, local coordinator in Mon State for the European Union-funded Rule of Law Project, who also reminded the government about its earlier commitment to remove the ethnicity and religion category from the national identity card.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group is proposing to limit census questions on age, sex and marital status. The group also warned how communal violence could derail the country’s transition towards a peaceful democracy:

“Myanmar is one of the most diverse countries in the region, and ethnicity is a complex, contested and politically sensitive issue, in a context where ethnic communities have long believed that the government manipulates ethnic categories for political purposes…A poorly timed census that enters into controversial areas of ethnicity and religion in an ill-conceived way will further complicate the situation.”

So much hope has been placed on the 2015 elections, which many believe will determine the success of Myanmar’s political transition. But the legitimacy of the election is endangered if next month’s census substantially alters voting constituencies and ethnic representations in favor of some vested political interest.

There is still time for Myanmar to seriously rethink the content and procedure of the coming census.

East Timor Eyes Tighter Media Control

Written for The Diplomat

To allegedly protect the rights of media practitioners, the government of East Timor is proposing a media law that is now being deliberated in the parliament. But journalists and human rights groups have thumbed down the bill, which they believe would institutionalize excessive regulation of the media sector.

The draft legislation was approved by the Council of Ministers last August but its content was not made public for six months.

The Council of Ministers claimed that the intent of the bill is to guarantee freedom of the press but at the same time it also seeks to make the press more responsible: “Its purpose is primarily to regulate the activity of professionals adequately prepared and ethically responsible, so that they can inform the public objectively and impartially and encourage active and enlightened citizenship by the population, thus contributing to a democratic society.”

But several local media groups have pointed out that the proposed law contains several provisions that directly undermine free speech. For instance, they highlighted Article 7 of the measure which mandates the registration of journalists to be supervised by a Press Council.

For La’o Hamutuk, a local NGO, the creation of a press council is unnecessary: “As freedom of expression is already guaranteed by the Constitution, no Press Council is needed to regulate it. A Council of commercial media organizations and paid journalists can self-regulate their business, including with their Code of Ethics, but their processes cannot be imposed on everyone and should not involve the state, either through financial support or legal enforcement. Furthermore, no journalist should be required to join an organization in order to practice his or her Constitutional rights.”

The group also questioned the provision which would narrow the definition of journalists to those working for corporate media. It insisted that the media landscape has already changed, which means citizen journalists must be recognized too by the government. It rejected the view that journalists who deserve protection are only those “controlled by for-profit media.” It also urged the government to broaden the provision which assured the right to free expression of citizens by replacing the word “citizens” with “everyone.”

La’o Hamutuk is joined by the Journalists Association of Timor-Leste in criticizing the bill for being unconstitutional; in particular the bill allegedly violates Articles 40 and 41 of the Constitution which address the people’s rights and freedom to seek, collect, choose, analyze and disseminate information.

“What we see in these laws is gives an impression that they intend to regulate the press rather than protect the rights of East Timorese journalists,” the Journalists Association of Timor-Leste said.

This position was echoed by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) which already called for a review and even overhaul of the proposed legislation: “Any legislation that would limit the capacity of local and international journalists reporting on East Timor, also limits the public’s right to know and is of great concern to the IFJ. We urge the government to ensure those reservations and perspectives are taken seriously and incorporated into the draft media law.”

Responding to these criticisms, parliament leaders vowed to accept and incorporate the views expressed by various local media and human rights groups. Many hope that the final document will truly reflect the original aim of the measure which is about respecting and advancing the people’s right to free speech.

Otherwise, it would be supremely ironic and tragic for East Timor to lose its independent media, after spending the past 500 years fighting repression, censorship and colonial rule.

Written for Bulatlat

The government is always claiming that the number of poor is decreasing but it cannot deny the phenomenal growth of informal settlers across the country, especially in Metro Manila, in the past decade. According to a study cited by the government-funded Philippine Institute for Development Studies, about 5 percent of Metro Manila residents were living in informal settlements in 2003. The figure went up to more than 10 percent in 2009. Two years later, the Department of Interior and Local Government submitted a report to Malacanang placing the number of informal settlers at 2.7 million or about 25 percent of Metro Manila’s population.

What did these figures prove? First, they highlighted the utter failure of the government’s Balik Probinsiya, social housing, and relocation programs. Second, poverty cannot be adequately measured by family income and household consumption. And third, wealth disparity has worsened between the rural and urban regions, and among the social classes.

It is convenient to blame runaway population growth for the rapid rise in the number of the poor; and in fact, this argument is consistently used to justify population control measures. But this reasoning puts the blame entirely on the poor without addressing the historic inequities and structural defects in society. It must be emphasized that babymaking is not a supreme evil that must be exorcised.

Perhaps a better way to explain the poverty situation in Metro Manila as a starting point is to link it with other social catastrophes such as super typhoon Yolanda and the devastation these caused in the provinces. Weather disturbances and environment disasters are undeniably great factors that contribute to the cycle of inter-generational poverty in the country.

Days after Yolanda wrought havoc in the Visayas, thousands of desperate and traumatized residents fled the region and escaped to Manila. The exodus is poignant since it reflected the historic migration of our people from the countryside to Imperial Manila. We were instantly reminded that rural villagers who chose to settle in Manila (and they compose majority of informal settlers) were probably no different from Yolanda victims who were forced to leave their homes because of unexpected dire circumstances.

Yolanda displaced thousands of Warays and many of them sought refuge in Manila. It is safe to assume that deadly typhoons in recent years such as Pablo, Sendong, Pepeng, Reming, and Frank also forced many farmers and fisherfolk in the typhoon-ravaged provinces to find shelter in Manila.

But extreme weather events are just one of the reasons why informal settlers have grown considerably in the past decade. It cannot explain why the ‘transient poor’ within Metro Manila have become ‘chronic poor’ in a just a few years.

Manila is not an urban paradise or even a livable habitat by international standards; but economic opportunities are unfairly concentrated here. Right or wrong, it is perceived as a better place to live than in the provinces plagued by hunger, malnutrition, militarization, and feudal exploitation. Case in point is boxing champion Manny Paquiao who left Sarangani as a young stowaway in search of a better life in Manila despite the pristine waters, fertile fields, and mineral-rich mountains of his hometown.

The rise of informal settlers in the past decade actually coincided with the mainstreaming of neoliberal policies in various aspects of governance and in the handling of the local economy. The number of homeless and jobless poor swelled in the era of contractualization and unlamented decline of the manufacturing sector. There is a direct link between factory shutdowns and increased pauperization in the former semi-industrial enclaves and working-class districts in various parts of Metro Manila.

Then, the cost of living dramatically surged after the government turned over the operations of public utilities to big business. Higher prices, regressive taxes, and depressed wages became the new norm in a supposedly democratizing and modernizing middle-income society.

Privatization became a methodical blueprint to weaken unions while facilitating the systematic cash transfer from ordinary consumers to the very few mega corporations which control the economy. Development is insanely equated with the billions hoarded by the elite at the expense of the toiling poor.

Meanwhile, land conversions and dubious land reform deals forced many farmers and their families to eke out a living in the city. After years or even decades of subsistence living, many small farmers finally lost their livelihood when cheap and smuggled agricultural products flooded the local market while they receive negligible assistance from the government.

But Metro Manila’s embarrassing poverty is partly hidden by the frenzied construction of residential condominiums, call center hubs, and malls. They are false icons of progress but quite effective in masking the burgeoning poverty in the metropolis.

Unfortunately, informal settlers are not seen as victims of the mad rush to achieve high GDP but recidivist violators of property rights. They are castigated for blocking the growth process by refusing to leave their homes, which have been suddenly rezoned as prime commercial centers.

Today, the poor are given two options: return to the province or relocate to a remote housing area. They are told to self-demolish (actually, there’s no such thing as self-demolition. It is demolition). But they always have the choice to refuse the lesser evil. Indeed, their labor is belittled and their intellectual capacity is ignored in mainstream society; but they can use their collective strength to strike fear in the hearts and minds of their oppressors. They can fight the inhumanity of poverty caused by decades of exploitation and uneven distribution of wealth in society. They can organize their ranks and resist development aggression projects. They can challenge the violent machinations of the state. They can smash the structures of elitist power. In other words, they have every right to avail of the ultimate alternative: Revolution!

Evicting Metro Manila’s informal settlers is defended by bureaucrats and technocrats as a necessity so that we can proceed with our nation-building and wealth creation activities. But informal settlers are not the problem. They are actually part of the solution to the long-pestering crisis afflicting our sad republic.

Written for The Diplomat

Rice is a staple food in Southeast Asia, which explains why many politicians panic when rice farmers are agitated or when consumers complain about high prices. Today, rice farmers in Thailand are protesting after the national government repeatedly failed to pay them under the rice pledging program. In the Philippines, the issue of unabated rice smuggling has alarmed many sectors, prompting government agencies to conduct a thorough investigation about the matter.

Introduced in 2011 after the election victory of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the rice subsidy program involved the government buying the rice output of local farmers at a high price before reselling it to the global market. The program was meant to improve the savings of farmers, although critics derided it as a wasteful populist policy.

The government reduced the subsidy price six months ago to offset the huge losses incurred by the program, but farmers were still assured that they would get paid for their products. But the money didn’t arrive and in fact the delayed payments have already reached 130 billion baht ($4 billion) affecting more than a million farmers.

Burdened with rising debt, desperate and angry rice farmers marched to Bangkok last week demanding payment from the government. They blocked several roads near Bangkok and camped in front of the Ministry of Commerce.

A majority of the farmer-protesters are not affiliated with anti-government groups behind the Bangkok Shutdown campaign, but their arrival in the city has intensified the country’s political crisis.

The opposition has expressed support to the protesting farmers and has initiated a donation campaign to help sustain the protest in the city. The opposition is also blaming corruption under the Yingluck government for the present suffering of rice farmers.

For its part, the government said it was unable to pay farmers because of the ongoing protests.. It urged protesters not to block or occupy government banks.

The government also assured farmers that it would find a way to deliver the payments. It also rejected criticism that the rice subsidy program has become a disastrous populist policy, stating that “[the] ultimate goal of the rice pledging scheme is not the government’s popularity, but simply the upgrade of income security for the better lives of farmers, and for the better future of our posterity since rice farming means growing the better future on our own land without any impact to the country’s monetary and fiscal disciplines.”

Yingluck cannot afford to ignore the farmers since many of them came from villages that supported her party in the recent election. But she should also heed the advice of many economists who earlier warned her administration that the rice subsidy program needs to be revised.

Moving on to the Philippines, rice smuggling has resurfaced as a top political issue after it was reported that 50,000 metric tons of rice was smuggled into the country weekly in 2013. The Philippines was the world’s top rice importer in 2011.

In response, Congress has conducted a probe to pinpoint the suspected rice smugglers in the country. They also urged the government to fast track the resolution of the 157 rice smuggling cases.

“Smuggling is hurting our economy and it is hurting severely the livelihood of our poor rural farmers, who spend their entire days toiling under the sun to ensure that we would have food on our table, only to be thwarted by those who engage in rice smuggling,” said Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Recently, the Department of Justice claimed that it has already arrested the “king of rice smugglers.” But some are doubtful if the government caught the real mastermind behind the smuggling ring. Local traders are also demanding the arrest of other rice smuggling syndicates who are in cahoots with local politicians and customs officials.

What is further needed is the stamping out of corruption in the government’s rice importation program. Perhaps President Benigno Aquino III, who promised rice self-sufficiency before the end of his term in 2016, should look closely into the issue.

Thailand’s protesting rice farmers and the Philippines’ rice smuggling scandal demonstrate why rice is more than just a staple food in Southeast Asia. It is an important political commodity that can affect election results and even ignite a social uprising.

Protests, Strikes Continue in Cambodia

Written for The Diplomat

Garment workers, teachers, and garbage collectors in Cambodia have launched a series of protest actions since December to demand substantial wage hikes and an improvement of their working conditions. The strikes exposed Cambodia’s mounting labor woes and worsening political crisis.

Garment workers conducted a nationwide strike last December to push for a monthly minimum wage of $160, the amount needed to survive in Cambodia based on an estimate provided by the government. Garment workers receive a monthly basic pay of $80. The garment sector is a $5 billion dollar export industry in Cambodia which employs more than 600,000 workers.

The Ministry of Labor said the full wage demand can be granted only in 2018 and a $15 wage hike is more feasible today. Strikes erupted over the measly increase; and the striking workers were later joined by the opposition party which has rejected last year’s election results and has been mobilizing thousands for several months already to call for the ouster of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In response, the government agreed to a $100 minimum wage ($95 basic pay and $5 food allowance) to be implemented next month. But this was rejected by union leaders who vowed to hold more strikes and factory shutdowns.

On January 3, the government ordered a crackdown on the strike. Police violently dispersed and arrested the striking workers. The protest camp of the opposition was also forcibly removed and public gatherings were banned in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. As of February 14 the ban is still in effect after police invoked the policy when it denied a permit to the global One Billion Rising campaign.

The protest crackdown resulted in the deaths of four people and the arrests of 23 workers and activists; 38 were hospitalized during the dispersal, with 25 suffering from bullet wounds.

The strike by garment workers probably inspired teachers to demand a monthly pay of $250 after many teachers complained that they only receive $75 each month. According to the Cambodian Independent Teachers Union, there are 87,000 teachers in the country. Scores of teachers refused to work for a day or two in several provinces, although these protests were small and uncoordinated. Still, the demand highlighted the low salaries of educators which shocked and enraged many people.

Meanwhile, trash piled up for three days in Phnom Penh early this month when more than 400 garbage collectors went on strike to demand $150 in monthly pay, a health bonus, and an overtime pay during weekends. The strike involved workers of Cintri, a subsidiary of the Canadian Firm Cintec, which signed a 50-year exclusive contract in 2002 to collect Phnom Penh’s trash.

After several rounds of negotiations and days of mounting trash in the city, both parties came to an agreement. Street cleaners will now get $90 per month and truck drivers will receive $130. In addition, a health care center will be funded by the company. The uniform fee charged against employees will be scrapped.

The labor strikes in the past two months revealed the degradingly low wages given to Cambodia’s workers. They also gave us a glimpse of the inhumane working and housing conditions of workers, which partly explains why they are easily persuaded by the agitation propaganda of various political forces. But with or without the backing of the opposition, workers have legitimate grievances that the government must quickly address. It’s unfortunate that instead of understanding the situation of workers, the government responded with violent impunity.

Hopefully, the end of the strikes won’t stop policymakers and employers from looking for positive ways to improve the welfare of workers. The strikes may have yielded a slight increase in the basic pay for garment and garbage workers, but that pay is still woefully inadequate to meet the daily cost of living in the country.

Continued increases in the cost of living, as recently lamented by some garment workers, Cambodia may soon face more protests and provocative actions from the labor sector.

How the Left didn’t lose

March 3rd, 2014

Written for Rappler

Not again. Not another formulaic diatribe ridiculing and prophesying the decline, obsolescence, and inevitable doom of the Philippine Left. The Left was supposed to have disintegrated many, many years ago after the fall of Berlin, the internal split in the 1990s, and the rise of neoliberal globalization as the supreme doctrine of our time. But against the wishes of Establishment apologists, the Left not only survived but is resurgent.

It is easy to dismiss the anti-Left rant of Yoly Villanueva-Ong as a condescending and simplistic appraisal of the political legacy of the Left. But, to be fair, she did attempt to historicize the issue and she appreciated the radical meaning of a John Lennon song; thus this rejoinder.

Insulting the Left is a common tactic used by many cheerleaders of the Yellow regime. They mock the Left’s political platform not by disputing its merits but by questioning the sincerity of dead and living leftists; and belittling the right of a supposedly dying movement to make demands of Malacaňang.

Curiously, the Left’s critics are quite obsessed in spreading the propaganda that it is a political force suffering from irrelevance. But is the Left truly a redundant historical necessity? Perhaps we can cite several mainstream political science indicators to answer this question: The Left has representatives in Congress, its electoral base is growing, it has a nationwide organized constituency, it has sympathizers, supporters, and varying political influence in all sectors and in almost all islands of the country, its views and courses of action to controversial issues are sought by mainstream media and its support sought by traditional politicians.

As I write this, news commentators are discussing online libel, the president’s pork, and soaring electricity prices. The Left is actively and directly involved in opposing all these issues whether as petitioners in the Supreme Court, oppositionists in Congress, and consumers condemning the inaction and/or wrong actions of the government. For the well-entrenched, these are nothing but noisy and nuisance interventions. But for ordinary citizens, these are appropriate interventions to protect free speech, curb corruption, and lower the cost of living.

Which is irrelevant? The Left and its stubborn insistence that democratic rights must not be surrendered to the vested interests of the elite and the caprices of politicians? Or those who want the people to abandon dissent and just keep on trusting the “goodness” and “incorruptibility” of the Yellow leadership?

Ong hits the Left for receiving PDAF but failed to mention that the progressive bloc in Congress has never been accused of committing pork-related anomalies. Three-term leftist legislators ended their stint in Congress without being involved in corruption deals; in fact, they were among the very few who remained non-millionaire members of the House of Representatives. (Recall the iconic labor leader, Representative Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran.)

Strangely, Ong wants the Left to be responsible for the 1970s activists who ended up as deodorizers of Gloria Arroyo’s messy regime. This argument actually vindicates the Left. Those who stayed with the mass movement continued to be principled leaders of our country while some of those who broke ties with the Left degenerated into corrupt bureaucrats and some of the worst of traditional politicians. If we use Ong’s reasoning, then perhaps we should also castigate UP, Harvard, and the Catholic Church for educating some of our corrupt leaders many decades ago.

Ong accuses the Left of being unprincipled during election campaigns and hints that the movement abandons its principles in exchange for campaign funds. It must be clarified that the Left does not venture into electoral politics to gain money but to advance its radical reform agenda and win representation on behalf of its marginalized grassroots constituency. There’s no compromising of principles every time we advocate a particular issue during elections. I take pride in the fact that our parties are able to achieve small and big electoral victories at the local and national levels even with very few resources.

Ong echoes the absurd charge that the Left is silent over the China bullying issue. A simple Internet search would reveal that a) Leftist organizations have issued statements and organized protest rallies to condemn the bullying behavior of China; b) Leftist legislators have consistently tackled the issue in Congress; and more importantly c) the Philippine Left has publicly attacked the Chinese Communist Party for being a revisionist party. Filipino communists may be admirers and students of Mao but they do not see themselves as comrades of the current Chinese leadership.

Ong waxes nostalgic about being a product of UP, a university where various ‘isms’ are openly talked about such as Marxism and communism. But this is true because of the bourgeois liberal tradition of UP. Leftist students and teachers in the late fifties and sixties allied with the bourgeois liberals on campus, fighting attempts of the dominant church to infringe on the separation of church and state and flout the academic freedom of the state university.

The truth is, to this day, UP is still a bastion of liberalism, not radicalism. Nevertheless, the latter continues to constitute a vibrant counterculture. For every activist that UP produces, there are many others in the campus who are apolitical or have little interest in the idea of radicalism. And for every revolutionary cadre there are very many more reactionary politicians who hail from UP. (Need we mention the likes of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos?)

Yet those activists and revolutionaries who come from UP have made their difference to the betterment of Philippine society, most especially the exploited and oppressed. And even the more conservative products of UP take pride in UP’s liberal tradition that sees the Left occupy an important place and role in the academe.

Nonetheless, no thanks to sustained anti-communist propaganda emanating from the state and the ruling elite, communism is a dreaded, misunderstood and much maligned word in UP and in the rest of Philippine society. But it is not the “ism” which should be faulted for the many wrongs in our country. In her article, Ong already mentioned imperialism which is one of the supreme evils of our time. The other two are feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism. Unfortunately, many UP graduates contribute to the strengthening of these terrible “isms” in our country either by turning out to be unprincipled leaders in the government or by becoming spin masters who help vision-less politicians win elections by distorting the truth.

As mentioned earlier, Ong raises several issues which have already been leveled against the Left in the past, most notably by Palace propagandists. But her advice to ‘exterminate the dwindling force permanently’ was something new. And quite surprising, especially coming from someone who claims to be convent-educated and a product of UP. Even some of our military leaders would suggest peace and development reforms, however insincere, when they publicly talk about the armed rebellion.

Actually this kind of mentality is the reason why many activists have been harassed, abducted, and killed with impunity even post-martial law and during the supposedly democratic regimes that followed. If the Left is really a spent force, why the need for such a militarist solution? Why not simply let it fade away into oblivion? Ay Pilipinas, ay Pilipinas, kay bagsik!