Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


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

The Philippine police has released some statistics confirming the extensive reach of the government’s “war on drugs.”

Dubbed as “Project Double Barrel Alpha,” the anti-drug campaign is a top priority of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who assumed power last July 1.

Could this mean more deaths, arrests, police visits, and extrajudicial killings until 2022? Fighting illegal drugs and criminality deserves public support but how can the people approve the killing of innocent children? How can justice prevail if impunity involving state forces is elevated as a de facto doctrine of the government?

Read more at The Diplomat

Impunity and Death Under a Duterte Presidency

In less than six months after becoming president, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte has gained global notoriety for launching a bloody ‘war on drugs’. But actually, and frighteningly for Filipinos, this is only one facet of Duterte’s blatant disregard for human rights.

But as things stand today, Duterte’s reformist outlook is overshadowed by his brutal rejection of human rights concerns under his administration. The specter of death has become an everyday reality for ordinary Filipinos targeted by the ill-conceived ‘war on drugs’. Many activists and rural villagers continue to be accused of being communist sympathizers, political prisoners are held hostage by a government that refuses to correct the injustices of the past, and the president himself threatens to undermine the civil liberties of the people in order to achieve total victory in the so-called ‘war on drugs’.

Excerpt of my contributed piece to the magazine edition of The Diplomat

Several governments and political parties in Southeast Asia have raised the issue of foreign intervention this year.

In Malaysia, the police are probing some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for receiving funds from a foundation owned by American businessman George Soros allegedly in order to topple the ruling party which has been in power since the 1950s. Meanwhile, leaders of Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines have accused the European Union and the United States of hypocritically using human rights issues to justify foreign intervention. And in Myanmar, radical Buddhist monks denounced the role of the United Nations and former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan in addressing the Rohingya refugee crisis which they insist should remain a domestic matter.

In summary, while it is generally appropriate and relevant to repel the interventionist policy of global superpowers, it is equally rational to be critical every time corrupt and tyrannical leaders raise the specter of real and imagined foreign interventions in their countries.

Read more at The Diplomat

2016 is the year of the Mindanaon

February 10th, 2017

Published by Bulatlat

President Rodrigo Duterte is the man of the year; but this is not his year, this is the year of the Mindanaon.

Duterte is the Mindanaon who made history when he became president of the Philippines. This alone is enough to recognize Duterte’s enormous impact in the local political landscape.

But beyond the Duterte persona, it is more important to highlight the potentially radical symbolism of his victory. A Mindanaon politician disrupting the electoral plans of Manila-based political parties, an outsider dominating the political center, an elected president who flaunts his friendly ties with Muslim and communist rebels.

Lest we attribute Duterte’s victory to his frequent headline-grabbing outbursts, it is useful to understand how the so-called Davao’s ‘Dirty Harry’ came to embody the aspirations of ordinary Filipinos.

Duterte is part of Mindanao’s ruling elite but he was seen by many as a non-traditional leader who is determined to challenge the oppressive status quo. Duterte, the politician, articulated what people wanted to hear during the campaign period. But this could only become effective if there’s a popular resentment against the mainstream political system.

Duterte’s rise to power was made possible because the people overwhelmingly rejected the corruption, incompetence, and criminal rottenness of big political parties. Through Duterte, many voters felt they could finally beat the trapos and landlords in government.

But the people’s resistance didn’t end in the voting centers. Again, it was another Mindanaon who personified the struggle for meaningful change in society. This Mindanaon is the Lumad.

Displaced by development aggression, they chose to fight rather than surrender to the tyranny of transnational beasts and paramilitary thugs.

If the narrative of the Lumad campaign is familiar, it is because it reflects the history of Mindanao and the Mindanaon people. How the violence of a colonial army and the greed of corporations plaguing the land inspired the gallant resistance of the native population.

The Lumad today are rightfully acknowledged as the Mindanaons who are asserting their independence and defending their heritage.

For example, rather than passively waiting for Duterte’s goodwill, the Lumad embarked on a militant protest caravan (Lakbayan) from Mindanao to Manila in order to present their legitimate demands to the national government.

This defiant political stance has become a sterling example of the people’s heroic struggle for national democracy. If in the past, indigenous people are pitied because of their marginalization, today they are recognized as brave warriors resisting subjugation.

Supporting the Lumad struggle is the revolutionary New People’s Army. If news reports are accurate, it seems the NPA has a solid base in Mindanao. And this army composed mainly of landless peasants has thrived in recent months and in the past year despite the deployment of supersized battalions in several regions of Mindanao.

The NPA has a nationwide presence but it is in Mindanao where its strength is most apparent. In the eyes of the exploiting classes, this is a troubling indicator of political instability. But the oppressed appreciate the growing strength of the NPA because it means liberation is near. And while total victory is not yet imminent, at least an army exists whose raison d’être is the defense of the weak against plunderers, despotic landlords, and hired goons.

The spirit of resistance is alive in Mindanao. The historic struggle for lasting peace, genuine prosperity, and people empowerment continues in the hills and valleys of Mindanao.

What a rare historic moment and opportunity that while the liberation movement is gaining ground, a Mindanaon is at the helm of the Manila government.

Will Duterte deliver deadly blows to the corrupt system dominated by a few families and subservient to the dictates of foreigners? Will he honor the legacy of the Mindanaon, the fighting subaltern?

Sometimes we see glimpses of this outstanding Mindanaon. This is Duterte threatening large-scale miners, drug lord protectors in the military and police, and rapacious oligarchs. Like a true Mindanaon, Duterte understood the necessity of talking peace and initiating reforms as a basis to achieve peace based on justice. Perhaps as a Mindanaon, Duterte felt it is relevant to identify and correct historical injustices. This attitude is evident in his repeated assertion to pursue an independent foreign policy which he premised on the need to end the country’s unequal relationship with the United States.

But there is another side of Duterte which does not reflect the long-term interest of the Mindanaon. This is Duterte disregarding the plea of human rights groups to rethink the bloody ‘war on drugs’. The politician Duterte endorsed the hero’s burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. And despite his posturing as a socialist, he has not repudiated the anti-poor economic policies of his predecessors.

Will the Mindanaon president succumb to the seductive appeal of Imperial Manila? Or will he remember the progressive heritage of being a Mindanaon, the Mindanaon who battles colonizers and imperialists? Will he join forces with the Lumad in expelling the evil miners and foreign plantation owners? Will he make peace with the NPA by implementing land reform and addressing the socio-economic needs of the people?

Duterte made history this year by becoming president. But the future of Mindanao, the future of this country, will not be decided by him. It is the struggle of the people, the Lumad, and the revolutionary forces which illumines the way to a brighter future. Duterte, the Mindanaon, has to choose whether he wants to preserve the present which his politician friends prefer or he can side with the people in building a society where genuine freedom, democracy, and justice reign supreme.

Published by the official student publication of Isabela State University in 2015

Nasaan ba ang Mamasapano? Sa Maguindanao, pero saan yun sa mapa? Kaya ang unang gagawin sa smartphone o laptop, hanapin ang lugar ng engkwentro. Magsaliksik ukol sa Tukanalipao. Magbasa ng balita tungkol sa mga komunidad na apektado ng kaguluhan. May mga paaralan bang ginawang evacuation center? Ano ang nangyari sa mga barangay sa Mamasapano pagkatapos ng trahedya noong Enero 25?

At dahil impormasyon ang hanap natin, i-download ang ulat ng Board of Inquiry ng Philippine National Police at opisyal na rekomendasyon ng Senado. Isa-isahin ang mga kongklusyon ng dalawang ulat. Alamin kung bakit may mabigat na responsibilidad si Pangulong Noynoy Aquino.

Para balanse, balikan ang mga talumpati ng pangulo hinggil sa isyu. Ang teksto ng mga ito ay mababasa sa Huwag magtaka kung iba-iba ang sinasabi ng pangulo sa kanyang mga pahayag. Minsan si Purisima ang may sala, minsan si Napenas, pero kailanman hindi tinukoy ang sariling responsibilidad at maging papel ng mga sundalong Amerikano.

Higit na lalabo ang mga pangyayari kung isasama ang palitan ng text ni Aquino at Purisima. Ano ba talaga ang totoo? Ang hindi maikakaila, tuwirang nakipag-usap si Aquino kay Purisima, isang suspendidong heneral. Ilegal ito at malinaw na paglabag sa chain of command.

Bago tuluyang mawalan ng interes sa Mamasapano dahil hindi na masikmura ang mga kasinungalingan, maglaan ng panahon upang alamin ang kalagayan ng mga bakwit sa Maguindanao at iba pang lugar sa Mindanao. Kahit napatay na si Marwan, nagpapatuloy ang kaguluhan sa probinsiya. May de facto all-out war na pinasiklab ng pamahalaan. Ayon sa mga ulat, mahigit 120,000 residente ang lumikas na ng kanilang mga tahanan dahil sa gera.

Bakit ba may gera?

Kaugnay ng tanong na ito, bakit ba nag-aaklas ang mga Moro? Dakila ang kanilang pagtanggol ng kanilang lupain at kultura mula pa noong panahon ng mga dayuhang kolonyalista. At hindi natapos ang sigalot kahit lumaya na ang Pilipinas. Nagpatuloy ang kahirapan, kawalan ng katarungan, at pang-aapi sa Mindanao. Kung tutuusin, kahirapan at hindi ang kinakatawan ng mga tulad ni Marwan ang orihinal na terorismo sa isla. Para matapos ang gera, dapat mawala din ang sistematikong pang-aabuso sa mga Moro.

Sa isang banda ay tinutugunan na ito ng nagpapatuloy na usapang pangkapayapaan sa pagitan ng pamahalaan at Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Pero dapat ang kapayapaan ay nakabatay sa katarungang panlipunan. Kaya pagkatapos balikan ang kasaysayan ng Moro, isunod ang pagrebyu sa mga dokumento na may kinalaman sa ARMM at Bangsamoro Basic Law. Solusyon ba ng BBL o lilikha lamang ito ng panibagong kaguluhan?

Pag-isipang mabuti kung bakit interesado ang Amerika sa usapang pangkapayapaan. Pero huwag palampasin ang naging susing papel nito sa naganap na trahedya sa Mamasapano. Dapat maging kritikal na tayo sa lumalawak na pakikialam o panghihimasok ng Amerika sa mga usaping lokal. Nangyayari ito kasi may mga kasunduang nagpapahintulot nito tulad ng Visiting Forces Agreement at Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Kailangang ibasura na ang mga dokumentong ito o kaya sa minimum ay rebyuhin ng pamahalaan.

Sana hindi matapos sa indibidwal na pagbabasa ang pakikisangkot natin sa usaping ito. Pagkatapos matutunan ang mahabang pakikibaka ng Moro, at pagkatapos maunawaan ang sinapit ng mga nagdaan at kasalukuyang negosasyon para sa kapayapaan, sikaping ibahagi sa iba ang impormasyong nakalap natin. Mag-organisa ng mga talakayan, porum, debate, at mga aksiyong pangkampus bilang pagpapakita ng ating suporta sa adyendang pangkapayapaan.

Tunay at pangmatagalang kapayapaan

Idagdag natin ang ating boses sa panawagang ilabas ang katotohanan. Nasaan ang pananagutan? Katarungan? Dapat ituloy ang pagdinig sa Kongreso dahil may mga detalyeng kailangang isiwalat tulad ng naging papel ng Amerika sa operasyon.

Maghanap ng mga lider Moro sa loob at labas ng ating mga komunidad at sila’y kausapin hinggil sa kanilang pagtingin sa isyu. Kapag may pagkakataon, makipamuhay sa mga komunidad na Moro. Malakas ang kontra-Moro na kamalayan sa maraming Pilipino at mabisa itong mababasag kung personal nating uunawain ang buhay at kulturang Moro.

Makipag-ugnayan sa ibang paaralan, tumulay sa mga grupong kabataan tulad ng Youth Act Now, at sama-samang magplano kung paano ba palalawakin ang hanay ng mamamayang sumisigaw para sa kapayapaan, katotohanan, katarungan, at pananagutan.

Maraming paraan at pamamaraan kung paano ito itatambol sa ating rehiyon at maging sa pambansang lebel. Pwede sa tri-media, nariyan din ang Internet, pwede rin naman ipadaan sa tulong ng lokal na pamahalaan, at mga institusyong pangsimbahan. Kabigin ang suporta ng karaniwang mamamayan. Ipaliwanag sa kanila kung bakit ang trahedya sa Mamasapano ay pambansang usapin o kung ano ang kahulugan nito sa ating pagpapalakas ng demokrasya, kapayapaan, at katarungan sa bansa.

Kahit malayo ang Mamasapano, hindi mahirap intindihin ang maraming usaping nakadikit dito. Kahirapan? Kawalan ng lupa? Korupsiyon? Bagsak na kabuhayan? Militarisasyon? Hindi ba’t mga maiinit na usapin din ito sa Luzon? Kaya ngayong panahon ng tag-init, tumungo tayo sa mga komunidad at sumabak sa laban ng maralita, pesante, at karaniwang mamamayan.

Huwag na sanang maulit ang trahedya sa Mamasapano. At huwag na nating hintyain na pumutok ang bagong Mamasapano, sa Mindanao man o sa Luzon.

Paano isusulong ang kapayapaan sa bansa? Simulan natin sa ating mga komunidad. Ito ang ating munting ambag upang ang sakripisyo ng maraming Pilipinong nagbuwis ng buhay para sa kapayapaan at pagbabago, noon hanggang ngayon, ay hindi mawalan ng saysay.

Twenty-five years have passed since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Cambodia and paved the way for the restoration of democratic institutions in the country. How has Cambodia fared so far?

Various groups, including some of the 18 parties that signed the agreement, commemorated the anniversary last October to highlight the most pressing political issues that continue to beleaguer the country.

There is consensus about the relevance of the agreement and its historic role in establishing the country’s constitution and the subsequent holding of elections in 1993. But critics bewail the failure of the Hun Sen government, which has been in power for three decades already, to implement the substantial provisions of the agreement, which would have strengthened democratic rule in the country.

Read more at The Diplomat

Thailand’s Draconian Cyber Law Sparks Rights Fears

Thailand’s parliament has unanimously approved the bill amending the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, raising fears that it will lead to greater censorship and an Internet crackdown.

The amended law was approved by a parliament whose members were appointed by the military, which grabbed power in a coup in May 2014.

Thailand’s government has argued in the past that revising the law is necessary to combat cyber crimes, but it dismissed the petition of human rights groups and the media sector to remove the law’s draconian provisions. The parliament unanimously passed the amendments despite the submission of an online petition with more than 370,000 signatures urging the government to consider the critique of various stakeholders about the proposed legislation.

Read more at The Diplomat

Published by Bulatlat

The untold first mission of many activists does not involve the smashing of the bourgeois state or the ‘bombarding of the headquarters’ of the repressive government; their first instinct is to go home and confess their political conversion to their parents or guardians.

It is a delicate and difficult duty. Delicate because parents could easily misunderstand the youthful idealism of their children as naivete. Difficult because activists do not want to be a burden to their families. How will the parents react?

The new recruit may feel confident about his early exposure to radical discourse but he knows it isn’t enough to win the support of his parents. Jargons won’t impress parents who fear for the safety of their children.

The activist has to speak like a child without sounding childish, he needs to assert his autonomy without alienating the family, he hopes to remain calm and rational as he passionately plead for understanding.

But can he deliver the right words without becoming preachy, arrogant, and dogmatic?

There are so many new exotic words to use or brag but are they effective? How best to argue that she is rebelling against society and not against her dear parents, that she is proud of her family, that she is grateful for her upbringing, and that she is happy.

Can she explain the contradiction in her decision to renounce the decadence of the status quo while preserving meaningful ties with her traditional family?

How lucky the few activists who get the opportunity to talk candidly about their peculiar life choices with their families. Because for many activists, they simply couldn’t speak properly and bravely in front of their parents, the original authority figures in their lives.

All these unexpressed sentiments could linger and haunt the family for years until it only becomes an unspoken hurt between the parent and child activist. How ironic and depressing that the articulate activist has many names for the old and new world yet he has little or nothing to say at all in front of his parents

Perhaps she is overwhelmed with guilt. She feels she has betrayed a sacred bond when she chose to prioritize the collective or commune over the family. After all, her parents have sacrificed their own dreams and endured numerous pains in life so that she can succeed in the world, yet she unequivocally speaks of changing it. She mentions the struggle to build a better society when all her parents wanted was for society to recognize their child.

How sudden and strange the transformation of the child who shouts slogans like ‘learn from the masses” (how about learning from mothers?) and ‘serve the people’ (did she forget how to serve the parents first?). The child they shielded from violence is calling for a revolutionary war. The mild-mannered teenager has become a street agitator.

But while the activist is dealing with and overthinking his guilt, his parents continued to behave and act as, well, parents. The much-desired consent was not explicitly given but who needs it when the parents never disavowed their prodigal son. They silently acknowledged his activism and made sure the family will stay intact.

After some time, the reluctant sympathizers of the mass movement would become staunch supporters of the Cause. Their home, a shelter for activists in trouble. Their resources are shared with the collective. They became instant parents and counselors to many progressives.

How does the child activist repay the kindness and generosity of her parents? By proving that the decision to pursue activism is also a tribute to all fathers and mothers who wanted only the best for their children.

Like their parents, activists work hard so that no children will suffer from preventable miseries. They devote the best years of their lives battling injustice and oppression. Isn’t this commitment similar to the heroic sacrifice of parents?

Activists become activists not because they feel resentment against their parents; on the contrary, they embraced activism also in honor of their parents.

Perhaps the activist sees his parents while in the company of farmers, workers, and the toiling masses in the grassroots. He seeks the empowerment of the oppressed in the same way he yearns to promote the welfare of his now aging parents.

Activists rarely mention their parents when they are engaged in political work. But it doesn’t mean they think less about them. Behind every grim and determined looking activist is most likely a child thankful that his parents have trusted him with the freedom to choose the activist way of life. An activist who evaluates his self not only in relation to his work as a full time political organizer and proletarian cadre but also whether he continues to live up to the expectations of his beloved parents.

Published by Fair Observer

How has Rodrigo Duterte fared as president of the Philippines 100 days after taking office?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is hitting headlines for all the wrong reasons. He has threatened to pull the Philippines out of the United Nations (UN); he has ridiculed diplomats; he is unapologetic for making rape jokes; and the most serious case against him is his alleged involvement in the spate of drug-related extrajudicial killings across the country.

Yet this seemingly madman on the loose is also the same statesman who has brokered a landmark peace initiative with communist rebels barely two months after assuming the presidency. In fact, Duterte has already achieved what his predecessors in the past 30 years have failed or refused to do: Draft an indefinite ceasefire agreement with the group behind Asia’s longest-running insurgency.

So, how do we make sense of Duterte’s contradictory priorities? Is he a ruthless killer of petty drug lords who is intent on hiding his misdeeds by presenting himself as a peacemaker? Or is he a sincere reformer whose commitment to upholding peace and prosperity for the benefit of all is overshadowed by the vicious “war on drugs”?

Dirty Harry from Davao

Duterte was mayor of Davao City for three decades before becoming a prominent national figure in 2015 when he ran for president. He claims to have made Davao a safer city for both residents and investors by fighting crime and corruption. His tough methods against criminal suspects earned him both praise and criticism. He was called “Dirty Harry” and “The Punisher” by the media, while some human rights advocates tagged him as the real brains behind the notorious vigilante group known as Davao Death Squad.

Due to his anti-crime advocacy, various groups in the capital Manila urged him to run for president. The clamor snowballed into a popular grassroots movement, which led to his electoral victory in May 2016.

Duterte’s win was phenomenal. The political and cultural significance of his rise to power is quite similar to the victory of US President Barack Obama in 2008.

The new leader of the Philippines defeated the administration candidate and other politicians with bigger political machineries and resources. Duterte became the first president from Mindanao, an impoverished island that symbolizes the oppression of Muslims and other minorities by the Manila-based elite.

During the campaign, Duterte condemned the oligarchs for perpetuating poverty, and he mocked the ineffective and corrupt leadership of traditional politicians.

His populist messaging worked because he was seen as an underdog candidate, an outsider challenging the status quo, a man of the masses, and a simple mayor from a city in the remote region of Mindanao. Other candidates also promised change, but Duterte’s nonconformist brand of leadership proved to be more popular and credible.

His principal campaign tactic was to focus on his crusade against organized crime—in particular, his plan to wipe out drug syndicates. Duterte vowed to accomplish this in three to six months. He warned that it would be a brutal war against the drug protectors, financiers and their well-entrenched operators on the ground.

There were those who thought Duterte was simply making a sensational remark to attract more votes. It may be true, but as things stand today, it seems the president is hell-bent on fulfilling his bloody promise.

Extrajudicial Killings

The killings started a few days after the May election. Suspected drug peddlers were found dead almost daily in the streets—their bodies covered with piece of cardboard containing a message that implored the public to reject illegal drugs. Some believe the killings were the handiwork of dirty cops who wanted to silence potential witnesses who might expose their links to drug cartels. Others think the police were sending a message of support to the incoming president’s plan to launch an all-out war on illegal drugs.

After Duterte became president on June 30, the killings intensified. Some of the killings were attributed to the police and vigilante groups. In other cases, the police reasoned that criminal gangs could be involved due to their attempts to liquidate rivals. But the majority of killings involved suspected drug mules and pushers who were killed after violently resisting arrest or while under police custody.

Duterte blamed drug lords for the rampant killings. He praised the police for the vigorous campaign to eliminate the scourge of illegal drugs in communities. He released a list of politicians, judges and police generals who have suspected ties to drug lords.

Only two months after the inauguration of the new government, almost 2,000 suspected drug operators had been were killed by the police. The number of dead bodies continues to rise every day. Disturbingly, the majority of dead drug pushers were from urban poor barangays (villages).

The human rights community was quick to denounce the extrajudicial killings, which have mainly victimized the poor and powerless. Lawyers pressed for the respect of due process. Some senators voiced alarm over the sudden rise of drug-related deaths. Activists reminded Duterte about the futility of the militarist approach in solving the drug menace if the people’s socioeconomic needs are not addressed.

But President Duterte and the police are relentless as they refuse to acknowledge the traumatic and terroristic impact of their violent anti-drug campaign in poor communities.

Duterte: The Trump of the Philippines

Aside from his uncompromising stance, Duterte has hit back at critics whom he maliciously accused of being supporters of drug lords and criminals. He has insulted opposition lawmakers and mocked the work of human rights groups, and he has threatened to declare martial law if the Supreme Court challenges his anti-drug campaign.

When UN agencies issued a statement of concern about the extrajudicial killings, Duterte retorted that the United Nations is “inutile” in solving conflicts across the world. He cursed at diplomats, telling them to stop interfering in Philippine affairs.

Duterte has been compared to US presidential candidate Donald Trump because of his politically incorrect and provocative remarks that undermine the international rule of law.

The comparison, which was detailed in an article at Fair Observer, is not apt and accurate. Duterte has been wrongly depicted as another crazy upstart Third World dictator who resembles the rise of Trump and Trump-like leaders in politics. The global media’s fascination over Duterte’s perceived similarities to Trump is a disservice to those who genuinely seek to persuade the Filipino leader to abandon his ill-conceived “war on drugs.”

Indeed, both Duterte and Trump use foul language to intimidate the public and their enemies, and both are guilty of offending women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. But their personal and political backgrounds are totally different.

Duterte has served his country as a lawyer and civil servant for more than three decades. He is not a billionaire; he is not part of the mainstream elite; he has good relations with the Muslim community; and he claims to be a leftist and a socialist who intends to smash the rule of oligarchs.

Trump is merely a candidate who spreads fear by making nasty comments, while Duterte is already at the helm of the government. Trump is a recent spectacle, while Duterte has been displaying his uncouth manners as a well-seasoned politician—he could a better leader than Trump because of his consistently good record as a local chief executive.

Legacy of Peace

Duterte’s pledge to promote peace in the land, for example, has often been overlooked. While he continues to be pilloried in the press for the violent unfolding of his “war on drugs,” his government negotiators have quietly but successfully initiated a ceasefire agreement with the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF)—so much so that Muslim separatists have been convinced to go back to the negotiating table.

Instead of launching a total war against rebels, he has placed more emphasis on peace negotiations. He released a number of political prisoners, which led to the resumption of stalled peace talks between the government and the NDF.

On August 26, the two sides agreed to “implement a unilateral ceasefire for an indefinite period.” Both parties say they are now drafting a comprehensive peace agreement, which they hope to sign and implement in the next 12 months. If the peace treaty is signed, it would be similar to the historic agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

The announcement of an indefinite ceasefire today is already a welcome development. If implemented properly, the ceasefire can provide immediate relief to militarized communities.

The Maoist-inspired New People’s Army, which has been fighting the Philippine government since 1969, operates in more than 70 provinces. A ceasefire in hostilities between the New People’s Army and government troops is a goodwill measure, which can instantly benefit residents in conflict areas. This is also a good opportunity to peacefully address the roots of the armed conflict such as landlessness, development aggression and systemic corruption.

That Duterte succeeded in negotiating a ceasefire is proof not only of his decisive leadership, but also his commitment to improve the lives of Filipinos. Unlike his predecessors who simply wanted to crush the rebels with military might, President Duterte understood that the insurgency can never be defeated as long as extreme poverty continues to stalk the land. That is why he opted to talk peace with the rebels, hoping that it would lead to the resolution of the armed conflict.

Duterte’s One True ‘War’

The peace talks are also a proper venue to discuss the necessary social and economic reforms that can uplift the lives of the poor.

Raising the quality of living in the Philippines, especially in rural regions, is the best alternative to the current framework of the government’s “war on drugs.” The best incentive for the poor to reject the quick money schemes offered by the illicit drug trade is to provide them with stable jobs, livelihood and adequate social services.

Duterte risks the loss of popular support to his government if the anti-drug campaign is not overhauled. His allies in the peace movement are, in fact, upset over the unabated extrajudicial killings. Communists have denounced the president’s war on drugs as anti-poor and anti-people. Activists are wary because the killings could be used as a precedent to stifle dissent in the future.

President Duterte’s laudable peace efforts will be meaningless if impunity is not ended and human rights abuses continue to worsen. He can fight drugs and lay the groundwork for peace at the same time without curtailing rights. If he can reason with rebels, he should also be more aggressive in mobilizing the public to his campaign against drug consumption and pushing.

The war against poverty is the true war that Duterte needs to prioritize in order to successfully combat illegal drugs in the Philippines. This is the best path to achieve a just and lasting peace.

A Red rage and Duterte

December 22nd, 2016

Published by New Mandala

Can the Philippines’ new president end a communist insurgency that’s been fought for almost 50 years?

The government of Rodrigo Duterte and the communist-led National Democratic Front have agreed to resume stalled peace talks this month. Will this finally resolve the armed conflict in the Philippines? A quick glance at the conflict’s history will help us predict its future.

A guerrilla war has been raging in the Philippine countryside since 1969 between the Maoist-inspired New People’s Army and government troops. The war is caused, among others, by extreme poverty and deprivation in the country, especially in rural areas.

The rebels gained a nationwide following in the 1970s and early 1980s when Martial Law was imposed across the Philippines. In 1986, the People Power movement finally deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the new government of Cory Aquino initiated peace talks with the rebels while vowing to pursue meaningful reforms in governance and economic policies.

The peace talks bogged down after the NDF withdrew from the negotiations in the wake of the killing of 13 protesting farmers near the presidential palace in 1987. Informal talks continued but no agreements were signed until the end of Aquino’s term in 1992.

It was during the term of President Fidel Ramos, a former military general, when formal peace talks restarted, leading to the finalisation of several important peace documents. These were The Hague Declaration, which identified the substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL.

But two months after signing CARHRIHL in 1998, President Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against NPA and Muslim rebels. Like Marcos, in 2001 a popular people’s movement ousted him.

President Gloria Arroyo, who succeeded Estrada, resumed talks with the NDF but became disinterested when her government lobbied to make the Philippines the second front in the United States-led ‘War on Terror’. The US included the NPA and NDF leaders in the list of global terrorists, which gave the Arroyo government another reason to abandon the talks.

When Arroyo was reelected in 2004, she agreed to establish a Joint Monitoring Committee to implement the provisions of CARHRIHL. But the peace talks didn’t move forward until the end of her term in 2010. A year after her reelection victory, she lost popular political support because of widespread allegations of electoral fraud, corruption, and human rights violations.

Instead of pursuing peace talks, the Arroyo government advocated the defeat of the NPA by destroying or weakening its purported support base in the civilian population. This new doctrine in the counterinsurgency drive led to rampant human rights abuses in the provinces. Hundreds of activists were killed and disappeared because of their suspected links to NPA rebels.

Arroyo’s successor, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, initially appeared interested in talking peace with the Reds. Many encouraged him to conclude the peace process that began during the term of his mother.

Some preliminary talks were made in 2011 but they didn’t result in anything substantial. Both parties accused each other of being insincere. The NDF protested the continuing arrest of its peace consultants and other high-ranking members of the NPA.

Meanwhile, the Aquino government wanted to ignore previously signed peace agreements in order to develop a better framework on how to conduct the peace talks. It also challenged the NPA to declare a ceasefire as a goodwill measure.

Aquino’s peace panel said the NDF’s demand to release political prisoners prevented the resumption of the peace talks. On the other hand, the NDF blamed Aquino for refusing to acknowledge several of its proposals on how to accelerate the regular track of the peace negotiations.

Aquino’s peace legacy is mixed. His government made significant achievements in finalising a peace agreement with the Bangsamoro in Muslim Mindanao. But he failed to advance the peace process with the Reds.

Prospects for peace under Duterte

In the past three decades, some landmark agreements concerning human rights were signed between the government and the NDF; but overall, the peace talks yielded little in resolving one of the world’s longest communist insurgencies. Despite the military assertion that the NPA is already a spent force, the rebels continue to operate in many provinces across the country.

Therefore, there is valid reason to push for the resumption of the suspended peace talks, particularly since it will bring immediate relief in militarised communities. It will also provide concrete opportunities for all stakeholders to share their views and proposals on how to promote genuine development, unity and justice in the country.

Fortunately, President Duterte has identified peace as a top priority of his administration. It is noteworthy to mention that the new government and the NDF have already agreed to resume the peace talks this month. Duterte also said that he is considering the release of political prisoners, particularly NDF peace consultants. In other words, the roadblocks to restarting the peace process in the past decade have been removed already.

But Duterte should learn from the experience and shortcomings of his predecessors. It is not enough to simply renew the talks with the Reds. He must see to it that it will produce real benefits for the people who are living in conflict areas. He must also be ready to consider the NDF and NPA as potential allies in addressing the chronic poverty, hunger, landlessness, corruption, and rampant criminality in the country.

Unlike past presidents who harbor strong anti-communist bias, Duterte seems capable of rethinking the government’s peace strategy since he claims to be a socialist. In addition to this, he also has maintained good relations with the NPA in Davao.

Talking peace is the better response to the NPA threat instead of continuing the repressive counterinsurgency campaigns of past governments, which only succeeded in driving more peasants and indigenous peoples to join the rebels.

Understandably, Duterte’s war on drugs and other crimes is given more coverage by the global media. But Duterte’s admirable aim to establish a lasting peace in the provinces deserves special attention too.

Published by Bulatlat

There are competing conceptions of the good life, but mainstream institutions bombard us with the dangerous ideology that the only way to achieve happiness and success is to acquire material possessions or gain fame in society.

In schools and workplaces, we are told to get ahead of others or else we become pitiful losers in the rat race. Meanwhile, the media and popular culture glorify the lives of self-made billionaires whose rags-to-riches biographies are hailed as exemplary achievements in the modern era.

Thankfully, this self-centered life goal is disputed from time to time by contrary philosophies that enjoin us to cultivate a broader perspective. But this corrective teaching comes only in trickles while we are drowning in the ‘disneyworld’ of the capitalist brainwashing machine. For every reminder to think of others over the self, there are hundreds of images, texts, and codes that instruct and even seduce us to do otherwise. The me-first mantra is almost embedded in everyday life that we are no longer shocked by it.

Then there are the so-called experts of moderation. Essentially, they uphold the status quo but they caution against excessive individualism. They preach the politically-correct value of helping others without altering the exploitative relations that engender social injustice. They also insist that the ‘others’ should behave properly to deserve the charity of society.

These are the individuals who hoard overrated goods and worship material riches in life but they obsessively assuage their guilt by feigning concern for the poor. For them, living the good life is accumulating some petty assets while giving something back to the community. Many of these individuals have a desperate desire for public recognition. In the age of social media, they want to be ‘seen’ enjoying the ‘good life’.

But is it a fundamental evil? Perhaps not. Mainstream society might even elevate this ethic as worthy of emulation. But it is non-conformism at its dullest manifestation.

Getting rich while doing good, what is wrong with it? Nothing. Except that real existing individualism has given us a world inhabited by the privileged few who live in luxury on one hand, and the majority who are plagued by preventable miseries on the other.

The prevailing concept of the good life would do nothing to subvert the situation today. It makes some people feel good about their lives while the rest of the world continue to suffer from extreme deprivation.

It is certainly possible to construct a better world than this.

What is then our alternative vision of the good life? And can we realistically embody the ideal?

The ‘good life’ is selfless devotion to uplift the marginalized and a lifelong struggle to build a just and peaceful society.

To the question about the practicality of fulfilling this vision, we have already known many individuals who symbolize this noble aspiration. In our long history of anti-colonial and anti-dictatorship struggle, we call them heroes. Today, these are the political prisoners who are persecuted because of their beliefs and life-affirming decision to serve the people, the poor, and the proletarian class.

The recently released political prisoners are veteran activists who fought Martial Law and paved the way for the restoration of some of our democratic rights. They are more than revolutionary leaders, they are walking icons of democracy. Apparently, detention didn’t dampen their fighting resolve. The young idealists who dreamed of liberating the landless poor from feudal bondage and foreign oppression continue to struggle for national democracy in their senior years.

Unlike some of their former comrades who became ‘progressive’ apologists of the bureaucracy, these political prisoners never abandoned radicalism. They shunned wealth creation to focus on wealth distribution. They became leaders of a revolutionary party that gained nationwide presence and following yet they disdained personal fame in favor of collective leadership.

They endured numerous hardships and long years of separation from their loved ones as they waged war against multiple social evils.

Is this not clear proof of the viability of living the good life? That we can attain fulfillment by serving the people. That service to others requires sacrifice and continuous struggle. That it is through activism that we affirm our solidarity with others. That finding inner peace, which is the ‘holy grail’ for many professionals today, is best done by fighting for a just peace in society.

We are thankful to the political prisoners for showing us the positive legacy of radicalism. They proved how life inside the revolution could thrive even under the harshest political conditions. More importantly, they demonstrated the value of simple living and non-stop dissent as a creative alternative framework of modern life.

Indeed, there are various interpretations of what it means to live the good life. We tried the dominant approach which encouraged us to get rich and glorious but it only led to disastrous results for the great majority. Perhaps it is time to choose a different approach, a new path, a rethinking of the concept.

Live the good life, but let’s do it the activist way this time. The activist who serves the people and not the politicians or the capitalist class. The activist who follows the mass line, who integrates with farmers and workers, who supports and even joins the people’s army in the countryside. The activist who builds the foundations of a new democracy so that exploitation of man by man will cease. The activist who participates in anonymous collectives working day and night to hasten the arrival of a brighter future. Yes, this is the good life!

Published by Manila Today

Some scholars scoff at President Rodrigo Duterte’s repeated pronouncements that he is a Leftist, a socialist. The skepticism is understandable since no president of the Republic has ever made a claim about being an advocate of Leftist politics.

Maybe the scholars have a different concept of what it means to be a Leftist in the Philippines. Hence, they could not readily accept a politician’s confession about his real ideological leaning. Perhaps the politician is delusional, or he is deliberately distorting the idea of the Left.

Ironic that the scholars promoting pluralism are now seemingly protective of the politics of the Left. Can’t Duterte invoke pluralism to propagate his views about the Left? Perhaps he can mimic the pluralists who like mixing contradictory but nice-sounding theories while naming their work as a legacy of the new, democratic, inclusive Left.

Meanwhile, the National Democrats (NatDems), the supposed guardians of the true Marxist-Leninist-Maoist doctrine, are openly praising Duterte’s admission of his Leftist bias.

Unlike some academics who dismiss Duterte’s brand of Leftist politics, the NatDems have welcomed the opportunity to clarify and explain the meaning of national democracy and socialism.

Before the rise of Duterte, many Filipinos erroneously assumed that esoteric terms such as socialism, Left, and oligarchy can be freely discussed in the academe and online media but not in mainstream politics. We can question the sincerity of Duterte, the politician; but we must at least give him credit for defanging the poisonous impact of red-baiting. Suddenly, it’s quite normal to talk about the progressive stance of the Left and Leftists in the bureaucracy. Raising clenched fists is cool once more.

Hopefully, there will be no more overpaid political operators urging Leftist leaders to hide their Red image and dilute their radical politics. We can now argue that voters are ready to support national candidates espousing Leftist politics. Through Duterte, the public was instantly made aware that a Leftist is not just the typical street rallyist, angry pamphleteer, indignant college professor, multitasking NGOist, and opposition lawmaker. A Leftist is also someone who can lead the government.

Indeed, there are various shades of the Left. Some of them are well-entrenched in the corporate media and academe who identify themselves as heirs of the noble tradition of the Left. Yet they spend more time attacking the politics and activities of real existing Left in the Philippines than popularizing Marxist teachings. They are anti-Left pretending to be Left. They endorse the Yellow Left whose claim to fame is their notorious, unprincipled collaboration with the previous regime.

Then there are so-called Leftists who exaggerate their impact on local politics even if they have no significant ties with the grassroots. They ridicule and demonize the mass movement while portraying themselves as victims of Stalinism and other imaginary crimes in the global community. Their foreign funders are too naïve.

The Yellow Left’s anti-Duterte crusade is buoyed largely by its canine devotion to the previous government. Pathetic and opportunistic that its leadership suddenly remembered the value of dissent after their political patron is no longer in power.

Between these polite Leftists celebrated by the ruling class and the self-styled Leftist Duterte, whose politics will advance the socialist cause?

For the NatDem movement, the choice is clear. Choose the side which has allied with the revolutionary forces in promoting the welfare of the people. Choose the political force capable of uniting the people against foreign domination, feudal oppression, and systemic corruption. Choose the ‘Left’ which has a record of acknowledging and respecting the politics of the NatDem Left.

The Duterte brand is the superior choice over the Yellowists if the aim is to strengthen and expand the influence of the revolutionary movement in the country.

Thanks to the Yellow Left, the NatDem movement is aware of the creeping dangers of reformism and political cooptation.

Duterte’s openness to the Left is often cited in the media. What is not highlighted is the critical interaction between the new government and Leftist organizations. Rallies and mass actions are still being organized across the country. Activists are still studying dialectics, not Dutertism. The people’s campaign for a democratic and patriotic change is not anchored on lobbying for bureaucratic reforms but mainly through militant, political struggle.

The Left continues to reject the reactionary character of the ruling system. First and last, it upholds the people’s interest and not the blind perpetuation of the state machinery. Its mass organizations have already pointed out several weaknesses of the new government even if it maintains a friendly relationship with the president. At one point, a Duterte loyalist in the Cabinet even publicly derided NatDem leaders for criticizing the macroeconomic policies of the president’s money experts.

Yes, the NatDem is supporting the pro-people programs of the Duterte administration; but it is not willing to abandon and compromise its comprehensive platform for social transformation. The revolution continues.