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

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

5 Trends That Define the 2016 Philippine Elections

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

Does the Philippines Have Its Own Donald Trump?

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

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

Nazi Germany Steals Headlines in Philippines Election Debate

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

Written for New Mandala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written for Manila Today

There are multiple social evils that stalk us everyday but the most familiar to all sectors and classes is the insane traffic in Metro Manila. In the past, Edsa was the only notorious symbol of road gridlock. Not anymore. Traffic has spread everywhere like the epal banners of politicians. Even secondary streets are plagued by non-moving vehicles especially during rush hour. No wonder everybody is an expert witness on the causes and manifestations of the daily torture which we call public commuting. And everybody has a plausible theory on how to solve the problem. If everybody is a victim, then who are the villains? The usual suspects are the inept politicians, reckless drivers, absentee traffic enforcers, kotong cops, colorum operators, sidewalk vendors, and jaywalkers. But debating about traffic is always futile because our energies are drained fighting this inconvenient, nasty demon instead of slaying other more ferocious beasts that torment our people. Since we are forced to talk about traffic everyday, it could mislead many people to think that it is our country’s principal problem. Furthermore, some discuss traffic solutions as if they are the ultimate game changer in Philippine society.

Recognizing that we can’t avoid mentioning traffic (and weather) in public conversations, perhaps it can be an opportunity to dig deeper into the issue and relate it to other social concerns. If our normal routine involves riding buses which do not follow traffic rules, then our initial demand may be to ask regulators to run after these lawbreakers. Of course it is right but it reflects a narrow perspective at the same time because it does not substantially address the issue of an inadequate and inefficient public transport system. Discipline will not decongest the city. MRT passenger-warriors are known for being patient despite their miserable situation yet their valor cannot magically install new trains. Thus, the need for a more holistic analysis as to why the traffic situation is seemingly a hopeless case in the country’s premier urban center. To be more specific, the daily traffic jams must be explained in relation to what activists refer to as the three basic ills of society: imperialist control, feudal oppression, and bureaucratic corruption.

Let us start with corruption since it is commonly reported. Mulcting cops and traffic enforcers are abusive officials but they are petty criminals compared to the professional hustlers in high office. CCTV can record kotong operations in the streets but big time swindling happens in the privacy of government offices and luxurious dining rooms. If we despise the traffic ticket issued by a cop desperate to reach a quota, then we have more reasons to fume over the transport contracts and licenses issued by bureaucrats. These may be legal documents but many are scandalously anomalous such as the profit guarantees and fare increases given to the private investors of MRT, LRT, and tollways. Registration permits for new vehicles – cars, buses, taxis, trucks – are given as long as the price is right. Public transport projects are undermined by pork politics and corporate lobbying. Pork is the reason why many roads, sidewalks, bridges, road signs, and lamp posts are substandard or defective. Construction is supposed to stimulate the economy but in the Philippines it is artificially induced a year before election campaigning to raise funds for trapo dynasties. The result is surreal chaos in the streets: a five-minute ride becomes half an hour because of non-stop road and drainage repairs. These politicians only have contempt for the poor and they couldn’t care less if commuters are inconvenienced by bureaucratic decisions or indecisions as long as they receive their proper kickbacks. Meanwhile, tycoon campaign donors are using their influence to redirect public projects in favor of their businesses. Tax revenues are used to build flyovers and train stations that happen to be accessible to malls and casino centers. Ever wonder why there are two Cubao train stations?

But corruption cannot fully explain the congestion in Metro Manila. There are more than 7,000 islands in 80 provinces but why did 12 million people choose to live in a region where a fault line is ripe for movement? This question is often raised to blame the rural poor for migrating in the city. Hence, we have programs like ‘Balik Probinsiya’ which bribes the poor to go back to the provinces where the air is supposed to be clean and land is still cheap but fertile. This is a false solution because it does not acknowledge that urban migration is caused by rural deprivation. Yes, there’s no traffic in the barrio but human trafficking is a specter that lures the poor. Farmers and fisherfolk continue to be the poorest sectors of society. The country’s land reform law has been effective in preserving landlord power in the countryside. Oppressed by landlessness, hunger, and a backward agrarian economy, can we blame the rural poor for wanting to escape this medieval inferno and seek better opportunities in the city? Please remember that world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao left Sarangani to find a job in Manila. Therefore, the long-term solution to unclog Metro Manila is to develop the rural economy. Unfortunately, government resources are concentrated in the urban as policymakers favor a development paradigm that consigns the rural as mere supplier of raw materials in a service-oriented economy. To be more blunt about it, landlords and politicians accumulate wealth in the rural before these are hoarded to the cities or even foreign capitals. Linking the rural and urban is only an afterthought and this is mostly a consequence of haphazard urbanization. We neglected rural production as we quickly acceded to unfair free trade agreements to the detriment of domestic producers. It restricted economic activities which exacerbated the unequal distribution of the country’s wealth. Ever wonder why Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors were evacuated to Manila instead of sending them to nearby cities in the Visayas?

The semi-feudal economy is tied to imperialist control and foreign plunder of our resources. Our politicians were schooled and bribed to equate national interest with the prosperity of imperialist powers. Instead of supporting industrial production, the government focused on producing raw materials and cheap labor to serve the industrial and manpower needs of other countries. Foreign investments in the rural are mainly related to unsustainable extractive activities which have little impact on wealth creation. Rich countries provide conditional loans that redound to their benefit. They submit feasibility proposals and give huge loans to build infrastructure projects as long as we hire their consultants, contractors, and financiers. With regard to developing our national transport system, they provided us with money to build expressways but not railways. Why? Because if we install a rail network connecting Manila to the provinces, it would affect the number of cars we buy from multinational companies which are remitting taxes and other revenues to imperialist countries. Their goal is not to build a strong Philippine economy but to prevent us from developing our own industries which can compete with the goods they are producing.

In other words, traffic is not simply the fault of rich private car owners or erring jeepney drivers. If we want to be more accurate, we have to discuss the link between the daily traffic gridlock and the corruption in the bureaucracy, feudal economy, and the dictates of imperialist powers. Next time that we are hostaged by the nefarious Edsa traffic, let us think not of the MMDA enforcer but his superiors and other non-performing racketeers in the government, the hacienda owner who refuses to distribute lands to tenants, and foreign agents who are here on a mission to extract more profit from our lands and labor.

Since traffic is linked to the political economy, it means the solution is also a question of politics. Authorities are always reminding us to follow traffic rules. Nothing wrong with this prescription but it evades the fundamental issues we raised in this article. More than a traffic czar, we need a clean government committed to reversing the historic inequities caused by feudal despotism and imperialist meddling.

Traffic is not a social problem which can be easily eradicated through simple solutions, (E-jeepneys, modern ticketing system), technological innovations (Uber), fancy proposals (green city), and electing ‘dirty harry’ type of leaders. We can’t embrace the idea of urban renewal while neglecting to push for land reform. The alternative must be comprehensive. Traffic is another reason why we must jumpstart the national democratic struggle whose objective is to liberate us from the bondage of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. Information-savvy politicians only offer token reforms while the situation demands an overhaul of the political and economic system.

As for the general commuters, drivers, pedestrians, riders, bikers, and passengers, our urgent task is to transform road rage into public outrage against the daily traffic, and more importantly, the rotten social system. Let us unite for we have nothing to lose but our beep cards.

Read more at The Diplomat

A housewife was arrested and charged with sedition in Thailand for posting a photo of a red bowl given by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Facebook. She was released after posting a bail of 100,000 baht ($2,800). If found guilty in a military trial, she could face up to seven years in jail.

The red bowl has an inscription which reads: “The situation may be hot, but brothers and sisters may gain coolness from the water inside this bucket.” It is intended for Thaksin’s supporters in north Thailand to be used in the Buddhist water ceremonies during the Songkran festival or Thai New Year this month.

If an ordinary red bowl provokes such an overreaction from the junta, how can Thai citizens be convinced that they can ever express their real views about politics? And if posting photos on Facebook constitutes an act of sedition, how can the ruling junta convince Thais, as well as concerned international observers, that it is still committed to preserving basic freedoms even as it attempts to balance that with concerns about political stability?

The Trouble With Cambodia’s New Law on Trade Unions

Read more at The Diplomat

Cambodia’s National Assembly has adopted a Law on Trade Unions but labor groups, human rights advocates, and opposition politicians warn that it could be used to stifle the workers’ movement in the country.

The law was proposed at a time when workers have been staging sustained protests in factories and in the streets demanding wage increases and improvements in their working conditions. Factory strikes, fainting garment workers, and the political activities of labor groups have attracted widespread international attention, forcing the government to make a commitment to improving the welfare of the country’s workers. Multinational garment companies also pressured the government to ensure that workers are receiving the right amount of wages and benefits.

Written for Bulatlat

News about the 47th anniversary of the Communist Party highlighted the group’s statement about the growing strength of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao on one hand and Malacanang’s dismissal of the claim on the other. This is newsworthy but not really new. Supporters and critics of the armed Left can take their time debating the real numbers of the NPA. What is more interesting in the CPP statement is the discussion of age dynamics in the revolutionary movement.

It is public knowledge but not often emphasized that the CPP was founded by young people (Joma Sison was 29 years old in 1968). The CPP led the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship and pursued revolutionary war which continues up to the present. But understandably, it has divulged only little information about the state of its subjective forces.

Last December 26, the CPP revealed that its senior cadres are literally senior citizens.

“When the Party in the countryside is isolated from the urban areas for a long while, senior Party cadres of more than 60 years at the regional level become predominant.”

It added that “there are central, regional, provincial and guerrilla front Party leading organs whose members are of advanced age and frail health.”

There are several conclusions we can deduce from these statements: Apparently, some of the pioneers of the CPP are still leading the revolution. And some of the baby boomers who defied Martial Law continue to struggle for social transformation despite their old age and weak bodies. While many of these veteran revolutionaries (and hippies) have opted to join the legal mass movement after 1986, the CPP statement confirmed that there were those who stayed in the hills and guerrilla fronts. They belong to the generation whose historic legacy is their life-affirming decision to grow old within the fold of the revolutionary movement.

In view of the foregoing, our mental image of what an NPA combatant looks like must be enhanced by adding the figure of a sixtysomething lolo or lola guiding a team of activist millennials in the jungles of Caraga or Cordillera. This is the ragtag army of Maoist revolutionaries which couldn’t be defeated by the country’s reactionary military.

Another surprising revelation in the CPP statement is the idea of retirement in the movement.

“Senior cadres can opt to retire and, health permitting, be assigned as advisers to the committees to which they previously belonged. The Party must honor the comrades who retire and must provide them with sufficient security and health care.”

Perhaps there was no mention of retirement in the early documents of the CPP because most of the cadres and new recruits of the party during that time were only in their 20s and 30s. Today, it’s possible and practical to discuss retirement since the young CPP cadres of the 1970s are now senior party members who are already in their 60s and 70s battling arthritis and imperialism at the same time.

But how can this eminent revolutionaries retire from politics when they spent their whole lives thinking, dreaming, and winning the revolution?

What is remarkable in the CPP statement is its candid discussion of how the party leadership replenishes its ranks.

“(Party) organs can be rejuvenated by including more members who are young and in their early middle age. A healthy and vigorous combination of young, middle-aged and senior Party cadres must be maintained.”

It even specified an ideal “three-thirds composition of senior, middle-aged and young cadres” in establishing the leadership of its executive committees and staff organs.

It seems the CPP is readying itself for the gradual retirement of its aging cadres and the rise of a new generation of revolutionaries.

“The balance can be maintained by consistently promoting cadres to expand the number of committee members and increase the number of leading committees relative to the expansion of the Party and Party work.”

Interesting times await the CPP as its founding members either retire from revolutionary work (which is highly unlikely) or assume lesser but still crucial role in the underground movement. As they prepare to contemplate semi-retirement in a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society, these senior cadres could be spending more time thinking about the past, present, and future of the revolution which they began when they were young.

Perhaps there’s less reason to worry about the prospects of the revolution because unlike other political parties dominated by a single family or supreme leader, the CPP has a collective leadership which continually trains new cadres. By combining the old and the young in its leading organs, the CPP could be hoping to promote an exciting interplay of wisdom, energy, idealism, and creativity among its ranks.

No revolution has succeeded without the active participation and leadership of the youth. The Katipunan and the CPP were both founded by young revolutionaries. But today, the CPP is already 47 years old and its leaders include senior citizens. It’s an anomaly of history because the communist revolution is supposed to be dead already and old people can’t be possibly still waging war in the countryside.

But against all odds and the expectations of the reactionary elite and their apologists, the Philippine revolution is thriving and even resurgent. What is the secret to its longevity? Perhaps we can answer this question by posing another question: How can you defeat a revolution when you have young, middle-aged, and senior citizens joining forces in order to build a new world?

Over the past few weeks, there has been a focus in Cambodia on what one might call an ongoing social media war between the ruling party and its opposition.

The Facebook page of the current Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, who has governed the country for more than three decades, now has more than 3 million ‘likes’, or a million higher compared to the account of now exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy. But Hun Sen has been accused of ‘buying’ support from fake users and click farms in India and the Philippines.

Read more at The Diplomat

Malaysia Broadens Media Crackdown As Political Scandal Worsens

Since last month, the Malaysian government has blocked three news websites and three socio-political blogs. Meanwhile, the police have threatened Internet users who will share satirical clown memes of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Najib is certainly right in reminding his readers that the Internet is “a powerful tool that can both shape and dismantle a society.”

Perhaps someone should tell the tech-savvy leader that the Internet can also expose terrible secrets of corrupt politicians and oppressive governments. And even if Internet regulation is necessary in some instances, Internet censorship is never acceptable especially if the aim is to hide the truth and prevent the people from speaking about it. After all, isn’t the search for truth part of the so-called greater good that Najib referred to?

Read more at The Diplomat

The books I read in 2015

April 23rd, 2016

Written for Bulatlat

1. In Defence of Politics, Bernard Crick. I disagree with the author’s conservative views and his rejection of communist societies as totalitarian regimes but his treatise on politics, elections, and behavior of political actors allowed me to better understand the worldview of mainstream politicians.

2. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold. A sad novel about a murdered teen and how her family and friends coped with the tragedy. I have no plan of seeing the film version of the book because I want to retain my own interpretation of how the characters and village sceneries look like.

3. The Stories of Eva Luna, Isabel Allende. A collection of short stories inspired by the novel Eva Luna. Vivid storytelling about love, betrayal, injustice, war, the frailty of the human condition; yet all stories celebrate the triumph of the imagination.

4. Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, Tony Judt. A collection of essays and book reviews about modern history of the West, the role of intellectuals (in particular historians), and an indictment against some progressives who chose to be non-critical against the rise of neoconservatism in America and Europe.

5. Working Women of Manila in the 19th Century, Maria Luisa T. Camagay. A documentary about the factory system in old Manila and the livelihood conditions of women. Apparently, those deemed a threat to society were shipped to distant islands and even Davao.

6. From Affluence to Praxis; Philosophy and Social Criticism, Mihailo Markovi. A decent elucidation of Marxist principles and an introduction to so-called humanist Marxism and its application in Yugoslavia.

7. Para kay B, Ricky Lee. Witty, original, poignant, contemporary love story. A delicate handling of the contradictions between the characters of the story and the social world they inhabit.

8. Singsing na Pangkasal, Lazaro Francisco. Still my favorite Tagalog writer. A traditional romantic novel that also provided us with lush descriptions of early 20th century Baguio and Manila, including how people travelled by rail in Central Luzon.

9. Where Monsoons Meet: A People’s History of Malaya, Musimgrafik. An illustrated guide about the colonial subjugation and the struggle for independence in Malaysia. Useful to understand the nationalist sentiment in the region and the roots of some of the racial conflicts in modern Malaysia.

10. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende. Reading this novel is like recalling the past history and fables of colonial Philippines and how these narratives impacted the evolution of modern society. The ending leaves the readers wanting for more.

11. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive, Jodi Dean. The author warns us about the uncritical uses of blogging and how some of our Internet habits are serving the capitalist logic.

12. On the Political, Chantal Mouffe. An intellectual meditation on the nature of politics, the emergence of post-politics paradigms, and a rethinking of the politics of the Left in the global civil society.

13. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Carl Schmitt. Theoretical reflections about the role of leaders during emergency moments and a critique of Liberal politics.

14. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers, Will Durant. This is a relevant and useful text for philosophy students; it provides compelling biographies of great thinkers and how their ideas came to influence/disrupt the societies they are living in. Learn for instance how Plato’s teachings were both adopted by religious orders and communist regimes.

15. On Belief, Slavoj Zizek. The author never disappoints in his entertaining treatment of seemingly disparate subjects such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and Hollywood.

16. Why We Don’t Talk To Each Other Anymore: The De-Voicing of Society, John Locke. The author convincingly argued about the negative consequences of information technology gadgets on how we interact with each other today.

17. Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, Steven Mosher. I endorse the main thesis of the book about the dangers of invoking population dynamics to explain socio-economic problems in the world. A must-read book for reproductive health advocates who aggressively advocate population control.

18. Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, J. K. Rowling. Graduation speech of the author of the Harry Potter series. I didn’t know that she once worked with a human rights organization.

19. Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), Michael Goodwin, David Bach, Joel Bakan, and Dan Burr. An illustrated guide about the history of economy and economic thought. Informative especially the section on the complex financial instruments that led to the housing and financial crisis in the past decade.

20. You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier. The father of virtual reality, Silicon Valley pioneer, and technology guru issuing a ‘manifesto’ against digital tyranny.

21. The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin. Sometimes you just have to grab that slim book, sit down, and relax. Funny read but some of the jokes are too American for me.

22. Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day, Robert Rowland Smith. Everything is political? No, everything is philosophical. A nice way to explain to the general public about the value of reading and understanding philosophy to make sense of what we are doing from morning to evening.

23. How to Be Alone, Jonathan Franzen. Thoughtful and moving essays about family, writing, and bureaucratic inefficiency.

24. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri. Collection of short stories about migrant families and individuals trying to find deeper ties with their new surroundings.

25. The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton. As always, beauty in simplicity. He reminds us that we can have insightful reflections even if we are only doing mundane things in our everyday life. What is needed is a curious mind to see the newness of everything and to appreciate the peculiarity of even a dull moment.

26. Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City, Mark Kingwell. Philosophical musings of the place we inhabit, the space we are creating, and cultural geographies that we are continually redefining. The section on China is illuminating even if it feels like a narration of an encounter with an alien and exotic culture.

27. Hotel World, Ali Smith. Somewhat difficult novel to absorb but overall an enlightening read. Rich with symbols and creative presentation of the narrative.

28. The Tale of the Unknown Island, José Saramago. Proof of the liberating power of imagination and dreams in literary texts.

29. Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier. Fascinating and interesting read about the cost of surrendering our future to software giants. Fortunately, there is an alternative. And the author offers a middle way on how the Internet economy can benefit social media users.

30. Elizabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee. I became a fan of the author in 2014 after reading two of his novels: Summertime and Diary of a Bad Year. Meanwhile, this book features an elderly writer and her struggle to articulate and defend her ideas.

31. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon. Book for all ages (I persuaded my daughter to read this novel). The story of a brave and intelligent young boy determined to know the truth about the death of a dog. His adventures led him to discover other truths about his life.

32. An Invitation to Social Theory, David Inglis, Christopher Thorpe. A useful introduction to various ‘isms’ used in the academe. Every school of thought is adequately explained including its relevance today.

33. Youngblood 4, Philippine Daily Inquirer. I have two articles in this compilation of Youngblood columns. I enjoyed reading the articles of my contemporaries who are also grappling with similar quarter life issues.

34. Economics: A User’s Guide, Ha-Joon Chang. Refreshing take on how developed countries attained their wealth not by promoting free trade but adopting protectionist measures. Somehow, neo-mercantilism appears less primitive and dogmatic.

35. Creative Nonfiction: A Reader, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo (editor). Nick Joaquin’s article on literature and journalism, which is included in this textbook, inspires readers to rethink the compartmentalization of writing and the writing profession.

36. The Great Crash, 1929, John Kenneth Galbraith. Reprinted after the 1987 Wall Street stock market crash, this book should be made compulsory reading to policymakers, traders, and bankers in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

37. What I Came To Say, Raymond Williams. Collection of essays on post-war English literature, English professors, and English politics.

38. Forget Foucault, Jean Baudrillard. A slender book about the real, the symbolic, and the postmodern debate on knowledge and politics.

39. How to watch TV news, Neil Postman. Updated to include the impact of the Internet, the book remains instructive on deciphering the meaning of news broadcast and how the public can resist the disempowering effect of mainstream news.

40. Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, Immanuel Wallerstein and Étienne Balibar. Two radical thinkers address the issue of nationalism and the interplay of race and classes in the modern era. I find Wallerstein’s essays to be more engaging but both authors gave a comprehensive analysis on the relations of classes within nation states.

41. The Good Body, Eve Ensler. Testimony about the irrational expectations for women to subscribe to the ideal (read: patriarchal) notions of beauty.

42. The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani. As a parent, I also have to read what my kids are reading. Hence, this book. Surprisingly enjoyable. And hopefully, young readers will appreciate the philosophical take on what it really means to be good and evil in both the fairy tale and the real world.

43. The Myth of Consumerism, Conrad Lodziak. A plea for back-to-the-basics political economy analysis in discussing the destructive legacy of capitalism in the 21st century.

44. The Social Science Jargon Buster, Zina O’Leary. While reading the book, I realized there are many social science concepts related to Marxism.

45. Tongues on Fire, Conrado de Quiros. Speeches by an activist writer. Unapologetic defense of activism, passionate promotion of critical thinking, patriotic appeal to the young to continue the unfinished work of our heroes.

46. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond. Geography played a major role in the rise and development of human civilizations. Germs killed more Native Americans than guns. Readable book about the rise of agricultural societies and the uneven spread of technology across the world. My favorite book of the year.

47. Dear White People, Justin Simien. When is it ok to touch the hair of black people? Satirical, original, and highly persuasive. I like the term ‘microagression’ to refer to the unspoken everyday conflicts between whites and blacks.

48. Dear Life, Alice Munro. First time to read her and instantly became a fan. Her stories are perfectly written; every word is precise yet rich with meanings. She tackles difficult topics without overwhelming the reader.

49. Coffee with Isaac Newton, Michael White. I didn’t know that Newton became obsessed with the occult and alchemy which helped him in formulating the law of gravity and other scientific discoveries.

50. What Would Socrates Say?: Philosophers answer your questions about love, nothingness, and everything else, Alexander George (editor). Practical questions about life while philosophy professors provide succinct answers based on the teachings of famous philosophers.

51. The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Nicholas G. Carr. A timely book about man’s over reliance on automated things. Time to bring back the human in the so-called Internet of things

In recent years, the “Occupy” movements and “Arab Spring” came to symbolize popular actions for social change across the world. In Southeast Asia, the massive gathering of citizens against an unjust political order is more widely known as an expression and legacy of “People Power.”

The idea of People Power became a potent political force when it led to the ouster of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Many scholars believe that the Philippine brand of uprising – peaceful and spontaneous assembly of ordinary masses – inspired several democracy movements around the world. This trend also influenced the political tactics of opposition parties and grassroots organizations across the Southeast Asian region.

Read more at The Diplomat

What the ‘Death of Democracy’ Means in Southeast Asia

On March 2, 1962, General Ne Win led a coup in Myanmar (then known as Burma) and established a military dictatorship which lasted until 2010. Slightly more than a decade later, on September 21, 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law which allowed him to remain in power until 1986. And just a few years before that, on September 30, 1965, a mutiny led to the killing of some generals which provoked the Indonesian military to retaliate by arresting and killing communists and suspected sympathizers of communist groups across the country.

In Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia, these were historic events which made a lasting political impact. For local scholars and activists, these were the days when democracy died in their countries.

Read more at The Diplomat

Written for New Mandala

On 9 May, an estimated 54 million Filipinos will vote for a new president. Campaigning starts today, with the new president taking office on 30 June. There are five major contenders in the race — Mar Roxas, Jojo Binay, Grace Poe, Miriam Santiago, and Rodrigo Duterte.

With the eventual winner serving for six years, it’s time you got to know them.

Mar Roxas: The Administration Candidate

Mar Roxas, leader of the Liberal Party, is the administration’s preferred candidate. His grandfather was elected president after World War II, his father was a senator in the 1960s, and his brother was a congressman in the 1980s. He belongs to the wealthy Araneta clan and is married to a famous TV personality.

Roxas topped the Senate elections in 2004, and was the original presidential candidate of the Liberal Party, but gave way to now-president Benigno Simeon Aquino in 2009, after the death of his mother, President Cory Aquino prompted a surge in support. Roxas ran for vice president alongside Aquino, but lost. Despite this, Roxas served under the Aquino government as secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications and Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Roxas boasts a clean record and vows to continue the legacy of the Aquino government under the banner of Daang Matuwid (The Straight Path). However, his rivals often bring up his elite background to accuse him of lacking rapport with the poor. He is also ridiculed for underperforming as a Cabinet secretary, bearing the brunt of the people’s frustrations over the worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila, inadequate delivery of social services, and rising cost of living.

Jojo Binay: The Incumbent Vice President

Jojo Binay defeated Roxas by a small margin in 2010. Before becoming vice president, he was mayor of Makati City, the country’s premier financial hub, for more than a decade. Before entering government service in 1986, he was a prominent human rights lawyer who defied the Martial Law regime (the period from 1972 to 1981 when Ferdinand Marcos ruled by decree).

Binay’s activism of yesteryear is overshadowed today by his notorious reputation as a traditional politician. He has been charged with several corruption and plunder cases, although he insists these are all politically-motivated.

As mayor of Makati, Binay offered generous social welfare programs. If elected president, he promises to expand these services for the benefit of the country’s poor, which probably explains his lead in polls. However, Binay’s candidacy continues to be undermined by ongoing accusations that his family has been abusing their political position to amass ill-gotten properties.

Grace Poe: The Neophyte Senator

When Binay’s trust rating spiralled in the face of corruption cases last year, Grace Poe became the leading presidential candidate. Poe topped the Senate elections in 2013, which is attributable to the popularity of her celebrity parents. Her father Fernando Poe Jr, known as the ‘King of Philippine movies’, unsuccessfully ran for president in 2004. Many believe that the Grace Poe’s electoral victory vindicated the name of her father.

Despite being a novice senator, she was quickly recognised as a viable alternative presidential candidate. Poe was even asked by the ruling party to run as vice president with Roxas, and the Left, which rarely endorses candidates, has openly supported her bid for the top job.

After Poe declined the invitation from Roxas, her legal woes began. Several disqualification cases questioning her citizenship were successively filed. The petitioners argue that as a foundling, Poe is unable to establish that she is a natural-born Filipino. Poe’s previous American citizenship, which she only gave up after the death of her father in 2005, was also raised in the court.

These cases are still pending, and have affected and distracted Poe’s campaign. Most probably, Poe will remain in the running, but the citizenship issue will hound her throughout the campaign period.

Miriam Santiago: The Intellectual Politician

Poe has many young supporters, but Senator Miriam Santiago is more popular among students and intellectuals. A seasoned politician, Santiago almost became president in 1992 when she placed second in the presidential election. She won as senator in 1995, 2004, and 2010.

Santiago has cultivated an image of an intelligent, tough-talking civil servant who won’t tolerate corruption and incompetence in the bureaucracy. Yet, her detractors would probably cite the inconsistency in her political record, since she once supported the corruption-tainted governments of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo.

Santiago’s real problem is convincing the public that she is fit to lead, since she is recovering from fifth-stage cancer. In addition, her political party is almost non-existent. Unlike other presidential candidates, she has refused to place TV ads, which are expensive but essential in boosting a campaign. This is Santiago’s way of exposing the unjustness of money politics – a remarkable political act, but will it cost her victory?

Rodrigo Duterte: ‘Dirty Harry’ or Social Reformer?

If Santiago likes to flaunt her intellectual prowess, then Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed “Dirty Harry” by analysts, prefers a reputation as a crime buster who is ready to kill drug lords and kidnappers. As mayor of Davao City for almost two decades, Duterte transformed the city into one of the country’s safest places to live and invest.

Aside from promoting peace and order, his supporters claim Duterte is also responsive to the needs of the poor. But his methods are unconventional, and some human rights groups describe his brand of justice as selective, illegal, and anti-poor. Despite this (or maybe because of this), his fame spread through the nation with many urging him clamour to run against traditional politicians.

The Duterte phenomenon is an indicator of the people’s dissatisfaction with the current political system, dominated by big landlords and rich families.

But Duterte is more than just an anti-crime advocate. Unknown to many, he has close ties with the Left, which he developed while initiating social programs for poor farmers and workers. Because of this, some believe that only Duterte can successfully negotiate a peace treaty with the National Democratic Front –Philippines and end one of the longest-running communist rebellions in the world.

It is unclear whether Duterte has enough resources to mount a nationwide campaign, since he only decided to run for president last December. His biggest concern is winning voters who do not approve of his personal behaviour, style of governance, and some of his proposed programs like the restoration of the death penalty. As for his friends from the Left, they cannot ignore Duterte’s proximity to retired generals and former officials of the unpopular Gloria Arroyo regime.

*Filipinos have been using the grammatically-incorrect word ‘presidentiable’ since the 1990s but it was only last year when it was finally included in the Oxford English Dictionary

Written for Bulatlat

The selfie is both derided and hailed as a popular form of self-expression; but politically-speaking, what does it really signify?

The ‘butterfly effect’ reminds us that a flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. Applied to the taking of selfies, perhaps it is like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings: every selfie generates a disturbance somewhere else.

The selfie effect is political which can be deadlier than a hurricane or tornado.

Each selfie reflects and reinforces the dominance of individualism in contemporary society. This is made possible by the Internet which is ironic since the cyberspace is not a single entity but composed of multiple networks. How social is social media when selfies glorify the individual and not the anonymous multitudes?

But we are not appalled because the ruling ideology promotes competitive individualism. When we pose for a selfie, we think it is a liberating act when in fact it symbolizes our submission to mainstream corporate-sponsored ethos.

As a counter-argument, we can highlight the social uses of selfies. This we can’t deny since there are visible proofs of how selfies are maximized by mass movements across the globe. We can also cite the value of selfies to many individuals who were deprived of the right to assert their identities for a long time. In the past, their concept of self was imposed by others, but selfies allowed them to see their true selves for the first time. Should we deny them this epiphany?

As the taking of selfies becomes more ubiquitous because of mobile internet, there must be a better way of addressing its political role. It is easy to perceive the conservatism of this act but we can’t ignore its positive legacy at the same time.

Perhaps the framing of the debate can be improved. We certainly can’t ban selfies but there’s a need to develop a critical appreciation of this seemingly mundane thing.

Let the so-called social media influencers discuss the proper mechanics and ethics of selfie taking but for those of us who are interested in politics, especially the progressive side of politics, we have broader concerns to tackle.

For example, if selfies promote individualism, we should probe the conditions that allowed this selfish attitude to dominate society. And if selfies empower many lonely individuals, we should question why the smartphone-powered visuals could override other potent acts of solidarity.

It is individualism, not selfies per se, that should trouble us. We live at a time when there’s a breakdown of social institutions and the collective spirit is rejected in favor of self-interest. Technology developers and innovators are primarily in search of commercial success and not philanthropy or social change. When they offer something new, disrupting the social order is far from their minds. The selfie was never conceptualized to challenge the status quo.

Narcisisstic selfies, therefore, should not distract us from our urgent task: Changing the social conditions that put premium on individual glorification over community solidarity.

As stated earlier, we should not ignore the power of selfies to inspire individuals, especially those who have been marginalized in society. Indeed, when individuals cannot find deeper ties around them, they cultivate a stronger sense of the self. If selfies can give an instant feeling of completeness, why stop people from pursuing this harmless addiction in the digital age? But there’s a problem if we simply accept that only selfies can provide a meaningful identity to individuals.

The desire to be seen is perhaps a modern thing and we may wrongly assume that this can be achieved only through selfies. When societies disintegrate or individuals lose collective attachments, we become more aggressive or desperate to give better representation of our lives. We cling to these idealizations for survival. Our task, therefore, is to assert that there are superior alternatives to selfies. We should also demonstrate that community-building is more effective way of creating solidarity among individuals. That political participation reduces or even eliminates the superficial longing for personal aggrandizement.

Or in other words, the idea of excessive selfies will be rendered irrelevant if selfies become unnecessary in the real world. To put it bluntly, no selfie enthusiast will thrive in a community where everyone is immersed in a collective political undertaking.

Taking selfies is already part of our normal routine but why is there a lingering notion that it is awkward or that we have to defend it from time to time? To remove the guilt, we have to identify the roots of this confusion. At the risk of antagonizing the anti-selfies, I dare say that the abnormality lies elsewhere. The real problem is not the selfie or the selfie taker but our society which elevates individual competition as the essence of living. As long as there is a mad scramble for viral selfies, it is a troubling indicator of a society lacking in grassroots solidarity. The solution is not to mock the lonely Internet user but to change what is wrong in the selfie world.