Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Published by Bulatlat

I joined the Center for Nationalist Studies in 1997, became an active member of STAND UP in 1998, and declared my commitment to be a full-time activist after graduation in 2000. I enrolled for a master’s degree but decided to discontinue pursuing this during the ‘Oust Estrada’ campaign.

As a full-time activist, it meant having work but without a regular salary. Our work doesn’t provide remuneration and we even have to help in raising campaign resources. Looking back, perhaps I could have done some freelance job (raket) but it didn’t figure in my priorities during that time.

We were focused on immersing ourselves in the mass movement. We were overeager students of what we believe was radical politics. And we felt that the nation’s politics at that time demanded greater attention and sacrifice. The Left was reenergizing itself through a rectification movement, a populist president was removed from office through ‘People Power’, and we were inspired by the election victory of Bayan Muna.

There’s almost no lull in waging mass campaigns on sectoral and people’s issues. After the 2001 elections, there was a vigorous movement calling for the abolition of ROTC. Meanwhile, community-based groups led the clamor against exorbitant power rates. Gloria Arroyo endorsed the ‘war on terror’ after 9/11 and expanded the presence of foreign military troops in the country. If rallying in response to these issues reflected the espousal of an anti-government agenda, then we plead guilty. But it is a simplistic and inaccurate accusation because it reduces activism into mere agitprop against politicians in power. It denies the role of activism not just in the pursuit of reforms but also how it empowers those living in the margins of society.

Indeed, protest rallies are the visible manifestation of activism and represent pure democracy in action. But activists are aware that there are also other means to advance a progressive type of politics in other arenas of struggle. If rallies are given prominence, it is because they directly intervene in politics while strengthening the collective voice of its participants and the ‘imagined community’ of dissenters.

When activists organize rallies, they do not just think of the logistics but more importantly, the political sense and aim of the protest. Rallies are often the culmination of a particular campaign, serving as the focal point of political engagement. Beyond the technical requirements of holding rallies, there has to be a sustained and coordinated education initiative, effective messaging strategy, alliance formation, legal preparation, and membership expansion. Activists multitask in carrying out their comprehensive political work. No work is too small or too big for dedicated activists.

It is a creative and collaborative endeavor. Repeated planning sessions, consultations, and even late-night meetings to assess the political situation and the status of our organized forces. We discuss and debate the tactical objectives of our campaigns, the methods of organizing, the means to attain our target mobilization, and the forms of our propaganda materials.

Slogans are formulated, press statements are readied, and pamphlets/flyers are prepared for wide dissemination. These are continually scrutinized vis-a-vis the intended political effect. Did they agitate the masses? Did the media quote the statements? Did state officials respond already? Perhaps the analysis is wrong, perhaps a better phrasing is needed, perhaps the font is too small.

Our critique of the social situation has to be refined for the general population. The local campaign is linked to the broader political struggle. We test ideas and our practices while aiming to retain the clarity, sharpness, and correctness of our political line. We conduct lobbying in aid of the political struggle. We form partnerships to solidify our fighting capacity. We work with various community members to learn from their conditions and establish the basis on how to implement our political education program.

It is methodical, thorough, repetitive, but never dull. That’s why those who lampoon the mundaneness of rallies are either clueless commenters, misinformed keyboard analysts, or apologists of the state.

We are not passive members of the resistance. As full-time activists, we do not just find ourselves in the middle of a raging political conflict; but the more apt description is that we situate ourselves in the struggle to master the dialectics of politics, excel in praxis, and win the revolution.

Time is both a friend and foe. We scramble for time to fulfill our duties. The day is always never enough for the many things, scenarios, encounters, and outcomes we wanted to achieve. We greet the day filled with proletarian enthusiasm but we often go back to the headquarters infected with existential disillusionment. Our scientific workplan didn’t deliver, our organizational gains are too puny to measure, our mastery of the political terrain is negligent. In other days, we fail to properly read the situation and it overwhelms us. Our source of despair is the knowledge that the tiniest of our errors translate into the prolonged misery of the masses whom we vowed to serve.

Our defeatist outlook is tempered by a collective evaluation of our work. And from this new knowledge, we develop a better plan to overcome our shortcomings, conquer self-doubt, and seize the new day. We celebrate and seek to accumulate even the small victories as we anchor them to the protracted struggle for genuine emancipation.

There was no concept of self-care or life-work balance that guided our daily routine during that time but the best of our days were spent doing politics. We viewed life and its contradictions through the lens of politics. But we didn’t wallow in abstractions because there were always practical questions that needed to be resolved. Every day was a new opportunity to shed aspects of life that embraced selfish individualism. Oh, what a difficult, painful transition. You attend parties, reunions, and family dinners hoping that you could contribute more other than your keen political viewpoints.

You do not stop feeling inadequate but you’re more at peace after surviving different types of political upheavals. In time, you will appreciate the value of friends lending support, the family as your generous refuge, and kasamas as your guide (gabay) in the struggle.

Will I do this again if given the chance to rethink the choices I made with my life? There was no certainty of success. There was no promise of reward. Only the idea that I will be joining an army of radicals and dreamers. And from the inside, we fashioned the template of resistance into something that will hasten the arrival of the future. We constantly failed, but we kept on marching forward, always and still determined to make the impossible possible. Proud that I sided with the good ones, the Natdems. The formative years as a full-time activist which gave me the confidence, courage, and progressive perspective to advance the cause of the revolution whether inside the halls of Congress, the streets of Manila, or in the interstices of the rural and urban.

Published by Bulatlat

When is it acceptable to red tag an activist in the Philippines? Never, unless you are among the rabid state-backed forces advocating the prohibition of communist philosophy and the violent persecution of individuals and groups accused of advancing communist causes. It is politically-incorrect even if the intent is to ridicule the supposedly ‘obsolete’ politics of the Communist Party. It is never a harmless act in the context of Philippine politics.

Redbaiting was aggressively used to attack Leftist and Left-leaning forces during the Cold War era. Even nationalist leaders like Senator Claro M. Recto were tagged as communists for espousing an independent foreign policy in the 1950s. Congress replicated the McCarthyist witch hunt trial which targeted suspected communists but was described as a campaign to expose “anti-Filipino” activities in the academe and the bureaucracy. It is ironic that this anti-communist drive led to protests organized by students who would later re-establish the CPP in 1968.

The dictator Ferdinand Marcos invoked the communist specter to justify the imposition of Martial Law. He tapped the strong anti-communist sentiment in the military hierarchy to hunt down and silence the burgeoning opposition led by communists and their alleged sympathizers. This unleashed a wave of violence across the country, victimizing thousands of civilians accused of resisting Marcos’ New Society and collaborating with communists who were called enemies of the state.

Marcos was ousted in 1986 but the anti-communist doctrine that guided the growth and actions of the military remained intact.

The Martial Law implementer Fidel Ramos repealed the Anti-Subversion Law which means membership in the CPP is no longer a crime. This legal reform is a sham since, in the eyes of the military and other reactionary forces, the CPP is a criminal network and a security threat which must be vanquished.

The rise to power of Gloria Arroyo saw the government parroting the “war on terror” of the United States which led to the branding of the CPP as a terrorist group. It was during this period when the counterinsurgency program identified the liquidation of the supposed civilian support system of the New People’s Army as a key link in defeating the armed struggle in the countryside. It enabled the likes of Palparan to consider the work of activists as equal to what NPA combatants are doing which resulted in the surge of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Hundreds of activists were reportedly included in the military’s Order of Battle. Their names and faces were plastered on wanted posters. They were demonized in black propaganda operations in schools, churches, and communities. They were slapped with trumped-up cases and subjected to intense surveillance and arbitrary arrests.

The human rights situation deteriorated into an alarming level which forced the Supreme Court to promulgate the Writ of Amparo and Writ of Habeas Data as legal protection measures. Human rights became a major election issue in 2007.

If these counterinsurgency tactics seem familiar, it is because a similar model was applied in the brutal implementation of Tokhang in 2016 and 2017. Drug users in government watch lists, drug dealers demonized as subhuman by no less than the president, and soon the drug suspects were killed by the police, vigilantes, and riding in tandems.

Arroyo’s henchmen are back as trusted subordinates of Rodrigo Duterte. They are whipping anti-communist hysteria to normalize “all-out war” operations while deceptively talking about peace and reconciliation. The CPP is still considered as a terrorist group, anti-Filipino, and security threat whose leaders and members are outrightly denounced as murderers, extortionists, and arsonists.

The black propaganda machinery of the state has polluted the Internet with content intended to obfuscate the intensifying attacks against activists and other critics of the government. The ‘red menace’ is conveniently blamed for destabilizing the government.

Redbaiting reflects a lazy mentality but it is a tried and tested lethal weapon. Politicians point to communist infiltration every time they ran out of arguments in debates. It is convenient for them because they know the enduring legacy of ‘red scare’ in the country and the ideological support they can get from various influential opinion-making institutions.

That is why it is disheartening to see non-state actors echoing the military propaganda about the work of activists. Not content with rejecting the campaigns of activists, they had to insinuate that these activists are CPP and NPA fronts. This is classic redbaiting extracted from a page in the counterinsurgency playbook of the military.

It is a partisan statement articulated in a way to project objectivity. A seemingly inoffensive argument that has fatal consequences. It ignores the history of what the anti-Left establishment is capable of doing to preserve its hegemony.

A redbaiter thinks he or she is merely asserting an academic statement but it is irresponsibly naïve because it assumes that the words uttered have no deadly impact in our political context. That a redbaiting statement will not be documented, recorded, archived, and can be easily revived by the state and state-funded ideologues to harm activists. At a time when the tools of disinformation could reach millions in an instant, there is a real danger of converting a redbaiting meme into a vicious spin to provoke violence against activists.

Some resort to redbaiting out of spite against activists without thinking that what he or she did could be weaponized against a group of people who may be full-time activists and lifelong change advocates but are not part of the underground movement.

There are redbaiters who experienced the horrors Martial Law but have no qualms in calling activists as CPP cadres. There are those who preach about political-correctness and the careful consideration not to offend the sensitivities of vulnerable individuals but are callous in tagging their ideological rivals as CPP automatons and appear to be oblivious to the fact that an increasing number of activists are being harassed and killed by state forces.

There are redbaiters who demand transparency and challenge the CPP to go legal and adopt the practices of the so-called New Left and other social movements in the world. But they speak as if the political situation in the countries they mentioned is the same with what we have in the Philippines. They refuse to recognize the particularity of the national liberation movement. They claim to represent a disinterested position even if their political advocacy and affiliation are biased against the national democratic movement.

No one has stopped them from lampooning the CPP in local and international platforms. But they turned their valid right to criticize into a cheap redbaiting ploy to attack activists. It is therefore not a surprise to learn that the state has used their work to develop a propaganda material and even legal evidence to persecute militant activists while praising the politics of the moderates.

No one has stopped them too from mocking the methods and aims of activists. But perhaps they think they can quickly accelerate their personal and political careers by naming the CPP-NPA supporters in public. Some believe it is an exercise in truth-telling, some assume they are being witty, while others equate redbaiting with defeating the “undemocratic” Left.

They might think they have sophisticated reasons and motivations but in the end it is all in the aid of counter-revolution in real existing politics. It is essentially an act to weaken the people’s resistance. It is a choice, political standpoint, and deliberate act of taking side and thus it is ultimately reactionary in a society where there is a sharpening political conflict.

In other words, a redbaiter exposes his personal and political degeneration.

What can we learn from the history of redbaiting in the Philippines? That it is a potent tool in legitimizing violence but at the same time ineffective in stifling dissent. And that it is about defending the present but it has never succeeded in preventing the people from struggling for a different future.

Published by Bulatlat

It is easy to identify Filipino leftist groups and leaders by reading and watching the news but an ordinary citizen will find it more challenging to recognize rightists.

Leftists are outrightly named and oftentimes insulted in news reports and commentaries in mainstream media. They are the ‘usual suspects’ in Philippine politics whose radical agenda is demonized as anti-Filipino and even utopian while their methods are deemed by authorities to be violent and destructive.

As for rightists, their brand of politics is rarely acknowledged. There are no screaming headlines about what rightists are proposing in congress, there are no prominent politicians who are always tagged as rightists, and there are no reports highlighting researches, dossiers, and advisories spreading suspicion about right-wing agenda.

If the standard articles about the left are replete with historical references, and even condescendingly pinpoint the alleged political blunders of the movement, most articles about rightists leave readers with little knowledge about the bloody legacy of anti-left political forces.

It is as if a glaring error in objective writing is committed if the left is not directly or indirectly made accountable for its past and present actions, while it is acceptable to write about rightists and fail to mention their history and current role in Philippine politics.

Aside from naming leftists and lumping them with all leftists in the world (whether living or dead, Western, Russian or Chinese), the language used to describe them are often derogatory. Leftists are ‘militant’ (but online and offline foreign media equate the word militant with a terrorist or combatant), an NPA-influenced community is ‘infested’ by rebels, and rallyists are reduced to being ‘anti-government protesters’.

Rightists, on the other hand, can espouse their agenda without being defensive about their political label since this is overlooked. Reports focus more on their concrete proposals and not their ideology. Some reports even highlight the personal circumstances of trapo rightists rather than their political orientation.

If Leftists are proud of their leftist tag, so far no rightist politician has ever spoken so openly about their political identity. It does not help that reports neglect to inform the public about the politics of the right.

In many countries, it is common to read profiles of both leftists and rightists. Reports are consistent in naming the proper political backgrounds of politicians. The distinct programs of the left and the right are explained to the public. They are made to understand that choosing either the left or the right is a valid political choice. Hence, it is possible to become a leftist without being red-baited.

But in the Philippines, only leftists are forced to confess their politics and failure to speak about it makes them guilty of hiding a sinister motive. On the other hand, conservative political actors can underperform, break laws, and make a mockery of the political system without being introduced as part of the rightist bloc.

Imagine the impact of this one-sided framing of discourse on the general public. Young citizens are bombarded with daily reports about what regular politicians are doing and these are contrasted to what leftist groups and leaders are offering as alternative.

Citizens are exposed to a lopsided political education that normalizes rightist machinations while vilifying leftist organizing.

They might end up thinking that the unnamed extreme rightwing dominance in politics is what counts as the only rational way of life, and that the presence of the organized left in mainstream society constitutes an aberration. That there is only one fundamentalist manifestation of politics: leftwing aggression. Because of this, many might find it acceptable that a cabal of well-funded reactionary rightists can claim political power but reject the agitation of leftists as a threat to democracy.

A leftist is seen as a person ready to indoctrinate the public with her socialist or communist beliefs. She is linked to suspicious groups conspiring against the Republic. But a real existing rightist is rendered hidden from public gaze. When citizens encounter a rightist politician, they fail to see a person already succeeding in imposing his dogmatic political beliefs in the bureaucracy. They don’t even see him as a political actor with ideological bias. They are also unable to connect the ties between rightist politicians with the country’s old and new oppressors. How could they suspect rightists if they were made blind to see politicians for what they really represent? Instead, they were taught to be critical of groups striving to manipulate the public with their ideological propaganda. In the case of the Philippines, the left and only the left is the only political force which is constantly named and condemned at the same time for promoting its ideology in mainstream society.

Will naming rightists in politics undermine their nefarious influence? Perhaps not. But we will be doing a public service because it will help clarify the basic affiliations of politicians and various partisan groups.

In the meantime, we should review our political awakening and try to remember if our initial reluctance to study the politics of the left was really motivated by a deep distrust of radicalism or could it be the outcome of years of being mind-conditioned by a political culture dominated by reactionary rightist forces.

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If the aim of the media attacks is to distract and mute the opposition, so far it is not succeeding. But it sends a dangerous message about how far this government is capable of doing to stretch the limits of the law to run after its critics.

Written for The Diplomat Magazine

Why Philippine Politics Could Heat Up in 2019

Observers are paying keen attention to see if Philippine politics heats up in 2019, particularly with the upcoming midterm elections that will serve as a litmus test for President Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity. But even before the May elections, there are five additional reasons why Philippine politics could intensify in 2019.

Written for The Diplomat

‘Groundhog Day’ in Congress

September 22nd, 2019

Written for Bulatlat

Of all the films in all the cable channels in all the world, they had to show the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day inside the members’ lounge of the Philippine House of Representatives.

Seeing the character Phil Connors enduring an ‘eternal recurrence’ in the movie made me realize that it’s an apt metaphor for Congress politics.

Imagine being stuck in a similar time loop but the setting is a Congress session day. In my case, it was a surreal experience that lasted four years. What’s a typical day of a congressman trapped in a Groundhog Day?

Let’s begin with an annoying ride along Commonwealth where trapo tarpaulins and self-serving MMDA signages offend your sensibilities.

Turning right before Sandiganbayan, one could quickly observe the stark contrast between the spacious Batasan complex, the House of millionaires, and the densely populated urban poor communities surrounding it.

You enter the VIP parking littered with gas guzzlers and luxury vehicles.

You walk through the south wing lobby swarming with official and unofficial transactions.

An old porker greets you in the hallway but forgets your name. A young dynast you unintentionally ignored because he is rarely seen at work.

Overworked House employees trying their best to be friendly, amateur lobbyists struggling to deliver an elevator pitch, professional seekers of financial aid, bright college contemporaries working for reactionary politicians, activists-turned office consultants and ‘operators’, barangay leaders on tour, Gloria Arroyo, Imelda Marcos.

Inside the office room: a pile of documents waiting to be signed and discarded, solicitation letters, invitations, constituency primers, newsletters, magazines, Senate reports, Malacanang publications, agency notices, House memos. A member informing colleagues that he wants his name to be called in a particular way.

Some computer work to be done before the start of committee hearings. Quick scan of email, monitoring of online news, responding to querries, reacting to headlines, formulating attention-grabbing sound bites – all these while grappling with slow Internet connection and a centralized sound system broadcasting songs that do not really inspire productivity.

At nine in the morning, you leave your room to attend a committee hearing. But what greeted you was an almost empty meeting room. You were asked to help with the proceedings for lack of quorum. Apparently, other members were in another ‘important’ hearing wherein the agenda is controversial enough to merit media attention and Palace intervention.

The meeting was uneventful made worse by some nonsensical banter between members, a flurry of sexist jokes, boring presentations, and long-winding debates which could only end up with the chair creating a technical working group so that the real work will be done by others.

Lunch is a time to prepare for the plenary session. A speech that needs to be finalized, a bill ready for filing or interpellation, a consultation session with advocates.

But this is also when colleagues or the office of the House Speaker often schedule an informal caucus. You are confident that you can do all these things, and you tried to juggle priorities but it is always unsuccessful.

You chose to attend an extended lunch meeting but you instantly regret this decision for the lost time which could have been better used to write, read, or talk to constituents. Instead, you are hostaged in a room dominated by politicians who incessantly talk about their good deeds and heroic exploits. You excused yourself by going to the restroom and you see a confused-looking man in a Barong Tagalog. You are reminded that even if you feel alienated from what you are doing, the world sees you as one of the men and women in the other room. You went back to perform your role and pretended to be engrossed in the conversation while waiting for the 4 p.m. session.

Congress life officially begins at four in the afternoon. But the session is suspended the moment it is opened in order to wait for tardy members. If the plenary hall is quiet, the members’ lounge is abuzz with serious and hilarious conversations. This is where members mix food and politics. The ‘other plenary’ where unfinished debates are negotiated, off-the-record transactions are settled, and a place to rest without being seen by the public. Interesting topics are discussed here such as Malacanang intrigues, basketball games, BGC parties, budget glitches, and election tactics. On this particular day you were seated with three landlords who were talking about a flooding disaster in South America and its possible impact on the prices of agricultural exports. You wanted to reply but you were uncertain whether they were referring to the calamity victims or the higher profits they will earn from their haciendas.

Meanwhile, at the plenary, the privilege hour has started. You were third on the list of speakers that day. You and your team spent two weeks preparing for the speech. You invited student leaders to listen in the gallery. To ease your anxiety, you paced the session floor exchanging brief greetings with members and getting news updates from reporters near the plenary lobby.

Suddenly, the privilege hour was suspended to give way for the passage of certain bills and resolutions. The measures under deliberation were swiftly approved by the body even if warm bodies at the plenary were clearly not adequate to constitute a quorum. But members mysteriously filled the floor when a bill certified as a Palace priority was announced by the presiding officer. It took almost half an hour to finish counting the ayes and nayes for this particular bill because the minority decided to play its part by raising procedural questions about it.

The privilege hour was resumed but the members present on the floor also quickly disappeared. By the time you were recognized to speak, it was already past seven in the evening and there were only a handful of members who were still in attendance.

You delivered your speech which was subsequently entered into the records, and then another speaker was called. After a few minutes the session was adjourned.

You thanked the students who waited for your speech. You gave a media interview about an issue not related to what transpired in the House. You talked to some civil society groups which plan to organize an exhibit in the House.

You decided to take a brief stop at the lounge before heading back to your room. A colleague at your table was remarking about how democracy is working despite the flaws in the system. That Congress is the embodiment of this democracy where dissenting views are heard and the people are allowed to participate in the proceedings. You barely heard his other words because you were already watching Groundhog Day on TV.

You felt a terrible sense of deja vu. This already happened: you sitting in the lounge musing about life in Congress, the plenary session enabling a Palace agenda, the informal caucuses in aid of inter-party power struggles, the supposedly inclusive committee hearings, the dynasties you met throughout the day, Gloria Arroyo, Imelda Marcos. It was 2012 but you were sure it was like 2009.

In the film, it was love that allowed Phil Connors to escape the time loop. Love also holds the key to survive a ‘Groundhog Day’ in Congress. Love in the form of knowledge that what matters most is the movement of people working for social transformation outside the halls of Congress. That the time loop in the bureaucracy is a self-preservation mechanism of the ruling faction in control of the oppressive system. That there is an alternative to the banality of everyday politics in Congress, that a superior political movement is necessary and possible, that imagining a new reality must start by being woke and awake in working towards a progressive future in society.

So-called “blood money” laws and practices may offer a faster route to a minimum threshold of justice, but legal scholars warn they can also lead to grave abuses while enabling the cycle of killings to continue.

In short, acceptance of offers of blood money could be rendered unnecessary if journalists are secure, laws and regulations exist for their protection, the judicial process is functional, and the state works actively with the media and other stakeholders to uphold free speech.

Continue reading at IFEX website

Reuters reporters walk free as campaign for media reform continues in Myanmar

IFEX members welcome the release of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and press for greater protection of press freedom in Myanmar.

Continue reading at IFEX website

Published by Bulatlat

After his arrest in 1977, Philippine communist leader Joma Sison was presented to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. He could have negotiated his release with his fellow Ilocano by pledging loyalty to the ‘New Society’. He could have altered the course of history by agreeing to surrender his beliefs and disowning the national democratic resistance. But his will to survive and fight for his beliefs kept him in jail for nine years. He was tortured and placed under solitary confinement.

His detractors today deliberately understate Sison’s incarceration as if this was a sacrifice and punishment he deserved to endure as a communist ideologue. They would appear inconsistent and lose credibility in vilifying Sison’s integrity as a person and revolutionary if it’s emphasized that he bravely defied the tyrant as a writer, activist, guerilla, and prisoner.

After his release in 1986, Sison could have been one of the celebrated ‘progressive’ preachers of the so-called democratic space in the new government. But the radical Sison chose to describe things for what they really were. Why obfuscate analysis if the semi-feudal and semi-colonial situation of the country persists. Why glamorize token reformism if the revolutionary demand can be advanced. He was on a lecture tour in Europe exposing the country’s sham democracy when his passport was canceled by the Cory Aquino government.

It was a challenging era for Sison and comrades residing in the West as Maoist exiles. This was during the fall of Berlin, the denigration of Stalin and Mao, and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc. Back in the homeland, a rectification campaign had painfully divided the communist movement.

In the eyes of the ruling classes, the Left was imploding. President Fidel Ramos even repealed the anti-Subversion Law and offered reconciliation to entice the surrender of the remaining communist rebels.

Against these odds, Sison worked hard with other socialists in defending the legacy of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism. They were consistent in pointing out that it was modern revisionism, not socialism, which got discredited in Russia and China. They espoused the continued propagation of Marxist teachings at a time when the academe and mainstream book publishing was vigorously embracing postmodernism and free market globalization.

Meanwhile, Sison also became actively engaged in the peace process in the 1990s. Looking back, Sison could have lobbied for a profitable deal with the Ramos government like what Moro leader Nur Misuari did by accepting a diluted autonomy in response to the demand for self-determination. But what Sison and the National Democratic Front clinched was the passage of a landmark human rights agreement and the drafting of a comprehensive agenda on how to pursue the peace process.

After being tagged as a terrorist in 2002, Sison said he was thinking of retirement to lead a contemplative life. Despite his asylum status, he was detained in The Netherlands in 2007.

He has repeatedly asserted that the revolutionary movement in the Philippines has its own leadership.

But despite his avowal, his senior age, and his obvious distance from the homeland, he is still widely regarded as the leading figure of the Left. He has been living outside the country for three decades yet the military continues to accuse him of giving combat directives to the NPA.

Because he remains an eminent icon of the revolution, he is prone to troll attacks and vitriolic comments from ideological rivals.

He could have stayed silent and retire like what many of his contemporaries are doing now but he remains an active voice in Philippine politics.

His writings became more accessible in the Internet age and he often interacts with the young through social media. He republished his bestselling books on Philippine revolution aside from releasing his new collection of essays and poems. He is the leader of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle while performing a vital role in the local peace process.

As political science professor to President Rodrigo Duterte during the latter’s university days, he could have negotiated a quieter and comfortable position in the new government. But he didn’t’ acquiesce to Duterte’s fentanyl-driven demands of capitulation and loyalty; and because of this, he became a constant target of the president’s incoherent rants.

At 79, Sison is still seen as a top security threat. Duterte wanted Sison’s cooperation in resolving the armed conflict. Sison responded by explaining the significance of resuming the peace talks. We expected this but few failed to recognize the radicalness of this gesture. He was offered a chance to assume an exalted place in mainstream history but he chose the long-term vision and interest of the national democratic movement. Rather than negotiating peace for the surrender of the NPA, Sison and the NDF didn’t back down and instead, they pursued the prioritization of the comprehensive agenda for substantial reforms in the economy and governance.

The enemy was prepared to deal with political actors who can be easily distracted by perks and other spoils of the bureaucracy but they seemed unprepared, perplexed and annoyed by Sison’s notorious indefatigability in pushing for land reform, national industrialization, and amnesty for political prisoners.

Some of Sison’s critics mock him by insisting that he ceased to be politically-relevant after 1986. But three decades later, Sison is still at it; exchanging unpleasantries with no less than the country’s president, a prolific analyst of the global political economy, and an unrepentant militant of the unrelenting national democratic movement.

It seems he has not yet done creating his history.

But despite being a public figure, Sison doesn’t represent his generation. He doesn’t share the life story of most of his friends and relatives who may be nonconformists at one point but never a full-time radical throughout their lives.

His writings have always been unique. Even in his younger days, when his Marxist-inspired writings first shook Philippine politics, many found his prose to be peculiar because of the concepts he introduced (which would later gain popular understanding), the piercing sharpness of his polemics, the unbelievable intelligibility of his political analysis (compared to the unbearable complexity of some academic writing), and the committed partisanship to the cause of the working class.

Sison embodied the life of a revolutionary. Even his detractors must acknowledge how he diligently worked for the realization of his theoretical vision whether he was inside the university, a guerrilla zone, prison cell, or living in exile.

Since he laid down the framework that jumpstarted the national democratic struggle, the ruling classes and their apologists are fanatically demonizing him in a bid to ridicule the activists of the movement.

One of their accusations against Sison is his refusal to compromise his principles. Sison is actually known for advocating different tactics for different situations but he is unyielding when it comes to propositions that would undermine the movement.

Perhaps he is intransigent. But applied to revolutionaries like Sison, this term loses its negative connotation. And if Sison’s credentials as a revolutionary would serve as a benchmark for other revolutionaries, then it behooves us to remember the significance of staying true to our fighting tasks. An insurgent and intransigent in a resurgent resistance. 

Published by The Diplomat

The consequences of Imelda’s conviction continue to spark the realignment of political forces and it could end up in a duel between a Duterte-backed alliance of pro-Marcos groups against an opposition coalition supported by a battle-tested anti-Marcos movement. That is further testament to a broader trend in Philippine politics, where the past can often shape its future

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How the Marcoses returned to power in the Philippines

Written for The Diplomat magazine

The future of the Marcoses is largely dependent on the glory of their past. So far, they refuse to directly acknowledge that glaring crimes took place during that period. This refusal to come to terms with the controversies of the dictatorship era has prevented them from building a powerful, cross-party national constituency that would allow them to finally return home to Malacanang Palace. And instead of expressing remorse, the family has chosen to get on the good side of the incumbent president. It can enhance their political influence for now but it can never silence those who continue to seek for truth and justice.

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Activism After College

August 14th, 2019

Published by Squeeze

For many student activists, the ‘long march’ encounters a fateful challenge immediately after the graduation march.

This is when youthful idealism is tested by mainstream ideologies which many equate with realism.

The lifelong commitment to fight for social justice is suddenly put on hold. Will he resume his role in the struggle or will he submit his résumé to potential employers?

Contrary to the popular notion of the graduate as a resolute achiever who is ready to claim his place in society, this individual is actually besieged by contradictory feelings of euphoria and fear of the unknown. A kindergarten graduate is more hopeful about his success because he knows the next thing to do, which is to get an elementary education.

But what are the options of a college graduate? He thinks his life choices are plenty which includes the pursuit of graduate studies, embarking on a travel adventure, becoming an entrepreneur, and getting his dream career.

But deep inside he knows what everybody else expects him to do: apply for a job, even if it’s an endo job.

Bombarded since childhood by parental preaching that the goal of schooling is to secure a good employment in the future, the new graduate is keen to fulfill this obligation.

All his accumulated knowledge about life on this planet is deemed useful only if it generates a stable financial return.

An activist graduate is not immune from this societal pressure even if he is aware that education should serve a more holistic role in the community instead of simply reducing it as a job preparation phase in life.

He believes in social liberation even if he has yet to unlearn and renounce the feudal values that guided most of his life.

It doesn’t help that his Leftist worldview is intermittently interrupted by a self-praising mentality.

Consider the perspective of a new graduate who sees the self as highly skilled, articulate, tech-savvy, multitasking innovator, and primed for success. At this point in his young life, he is ready to declare that he is going to conquer (instead of changing) the world.

He takes a look back at his undergraduate years to understand how he became an activist. Perhaps he was tutored by an activist scholar, he made friends with activists, and supported several campaigns in the campus. His curiosity for new knowledge was supplemented by radical texts, discussion groups, immersion in the grassroots, and collective actions. Despite its conservative politics, the university provided a space for the nurturing of activist minds.

But after graduation, how can the activist sustain his involvement in radical politics?

His circle of activist friends is already dispersed, he can no longer listen to the lectures of freethinking academics, his library privileges are gone, and he is now officially not young in a place teeming with high school freshness and exuberance.

It is reassuring if he leaves the familiar comfort of the university to face new tasks with fellow activists in other sectors of the mass movement.

There he is thrust into a different environment that required him to quickly adapt, master new habits and the language of community organizing, and devote more time to planning mass campaigns while battling his inner doubts. Sometimes these personal struggles are processed during brutally frank criticism and self-criticism sessions. It helps that a group initiative is countering his vanity, but there’s always a lingering subjective feeling that he is unfairly targeted by an internal disciplinary campaign.

He begins to realize the unglamorous future that awaits him; the romanticized concept of being a radical is replaced by the initial hardships of embracing full-time activism.

His petty bourgeois angsts, which used to be a source of harmless fun among friends interested with existentialism, now appears to be irresponsibly out of place and unproletarian.

But as an aspiring radical, he perseveres. He tries very hard to disprove the popular belief that employment is the only prize for getting a university diploma. His activism is his ‘rebelling’ against a system that punishes the idealism of young people.

During this painful transition, he wrestles with the question of whether he made the right decision in life. Is it rational to spend his productive years earning nothing as an activist? Is it sensible to hurdle almost two decades of formal education just to engage in a non-paying, high-risk, and difficult work of community organizing? Is it reasonable for a college graduate to use his mental abilities for the realization of seemingly utopian political goals? In other words, is he wasting his life?

He makes fast calculations, listing the opportunity cost of choosing radicalism, and comparing it with what he and his fellow activists are doing every day.

He grapples for answers. Seeking inspiration, he delves into the classics of Marxism and later its modern interpretations. He learns more about the lives of philosophers, warriors, and other outstanding individuals who rejected transient pleasures in the fight for eternal truths.

But can these ideas and theoretical reflections ease his ambivalence?

Perhaps yes. But only after spending a substantial time gaining experience in conducting a painstaking mass work in the grassroots.

It is when she stopped thinking about her predicament that allowed her to see the bigger picture affecting her views about life, love, politics, and the prospect of happiness. That the stakes are beyond her need for validation. That the struggle is not about herself joining the Cause but the grounding of real-life consequences of linking arms with the oppressed to destroy the unjust structures in society. That activism is not about emphasizing the self but the collective endeavor to uplift the conditions of the many, especially the marginalized ‘others’.

It is when she truly immersed herself in the struggle that she understood the poetics of resistance. Farmers, workers, and the urban poor giving everything they have to win the revolution. When people act in this way, when they sacrifice more than what is necessary, isn’t this the best example of leading an ethical life?

Her grasp of history is enhanced by her commitment to work with others in changing the present to claim the future. Her political maturity rises with her intense participation in the struggle for a new democracy amid small victories and big losses. She now sees the latter as a temporary setback to achieve greater victories for tomorrow. And she is already better prepared to assume many roles in the mass movement whether as an agitator of the parliament of the streets, a dutiful public servant, or a peasant organizer in the countryside.

She never fully resolved her dilemmas in life. (And she still can’t pay the bills). But this time, her sense of balancing life issues is now rooted in the pursuit of radicalism, and her concept of the self is linked to the empowerment of the grassroots. Her crucial decision in life after college is the affirmation of progressive praxis.