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 on Bayan Metro Manila Facebook page

The first week of quarantine did little to assure the people that the government is on top of the situation and that it can handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

While majority of Luzon residents were quick to stay home under quarantine, the government remained slow in addressing the basic needs of the people.

As food aid was slow to arrive in many cities, many expressed frustration over the lackadaisical response of several LGUs. We share the same sentiment. But we hold the Duterte government accountable for creating this preventable suffering.

Its vague quarantine directives were easily used to sow disinformation and unauthorized barangay-level guidelines which only worsened the panic and unease in many communities.

There was no clear strategy to alleviate the suffering of minimum wage earners, street vendors, and displaced workers who are suddenly deprived of means to survive on a daily basis.

The president’s inconsistent and incoherent statements confused many LGU leaders and other frontliners. First, he appeared to empower LGUs in providing direct service to their constituents, but he later restricted the initiative of innovative LGU leaders by admonishing them to strictly comply with the orders of the national task force.

The Duterte government cannot escape responsibility for its criminally negligible actions and inactions. It slashed the funding of the health sector, it was slow in responding to the COVID-19 threat despite early warnings from other countries, it relied primarily on militarizing the solution to the crisis instead of mobilizing health personnel and community volunteers, and it remains stubborn in refusing to acknowledge the need for a free, massive, and systematic testing to contain the spread of the virus.

We enjoin LGUs to focus on delivering urgent relief to the people instead of expanding curfews and imposing draconian penalties. This includes the rolling out of credible testing kits at the community level if the national government continues to reject the demand for mass testing.

We ask both Houses of Congress, which are scheduled to hold an emergency session, to ensure additional funding for the public health and social welfare sectors. The bloated funding for the lumpsum intelligence funds of various agencies, including those allotted for the Office of the President, must be rechanneled in the campaign against COVID-19. There must be clear conditions that the funds will be earmarked to create quarantine centers, the procurement of testing kits and laboratories, and the delivery of aid to the people.

We urge legislators to resist in giving dictatorial powers to the Duterte government which has a bloody record in upholding human rights in the past four years. We reject the imposition of authoritarian measures which are being peddled in the name of addressing a public health crisis. Our rights should not be placed in lockdown even if we are under quarantine.

We salute all frontliners for their sacrifice, bravery, and dedication in their service to the community. We vow to mobilize Bayan chapters and members if more volunteers are needed by LGUs at the barangay level. We laud members of various people’s organizations which launched an information drive to educate their neighbors about COVID-19

Finally, we ask our kababayans to speak loud and clear from our homes until our voices of anger and dissent are heard in Malacanang Palace. We should expose how the ill-conceived solutions of the government are breeding greater inequality and suffering in our marginalized communities. Let us protest from our homes even as we take special measures in protecting our health and the welfare of our families.

Published by Bulatlat

Wireless communication. What this concept hides is the use of massive manual labor in building the infrastructures that make wireless technologies possible. Workers are the unsung and underpaid heroes of the digital age because of their crucial role in laying the undersea cables that connect the ‘webs’, installing fiber optics, and setting up of telecommunication towers. They are the invisible tech workers whose labor has allowed software programmers to develop machines and apps that lead us closer to a wireless future.

Social media revolution. Thankfully, the ongoing Hong Kong protests are not called ‘Telegram uprising’ in reference to the crucial role of the encrypted messaging app in coordinating rallies across the city. In contrast, ‘Arab Spring’ actions in 2011 were portrayed as ‘Facebook revolution’ or ‘Twitter revolution’ because of the ubiquitous use of these popular platforms during the protests. What is ignored when we hype the reach of social media is the bravery and defiance of the people themselves who march in the streets and risk their lives to fight tyranny. It may be important to identify the tools of the resistance but it should not lead to tech-worship while overlooking the political impact of real people mobilizing and organizing for democracy. Years later, the same tools that supposedly empowered online citizens became weapons of hate and disinformation by despots and populist politicians.

Online engagement brings votes. Tell this to Mocha Uson whose millions of social media followers failed to deliver enough votes for her partylist group. In terms of audience engagement, the metrics of the social media accounts of Uson, senatorial candidate Larry Gadon, and other pro-Duterte ‘influencers’ are impressive. Too impressive that they are often touted as effective propaganda machineries of the president. But the results of the recent elections should make us reconsider the authenticity of their base, the conversion of social media popularity into political clout, and the obsession to compete for attention and virality. More importantly, we are reminded that the best model of ‘audience engagement’ is still direct organizing in communities. Mainstream and social media can broaden reach, but in politics what counts is the solid membership in barangays, districts, cities, and provinces.

Internet presence as good governance. An increasing number of bureaucrats equate transparency with realtime social media reporting. It may be an innovative way to engage constituents but the indicators of honest governance should not be reduced into a mere broadcast of the dull activities of narcissistic politicians. We remember how Palace apologists during the presidency of Noynoy Aquino bragged about their promotion of open governance by citing the proliferation of agency websites, the interaction between netizens and civil servants, and the online uploading of government reports and the president’s speeches. It is perverse transparency when you bombard the public with too many bytes of information, overwhelm the media with fantastic numbers, and entertain voters with Facebook Live inanities. Meanwhile, these ‘transparent’ politicians impose numerous exceptions in the Freedom of Information, while they select only the ‘safe’ documents that can be publicly accessed by the online community, and their meetings with campaign donors and foreign lobbyists are held in secret.

Blame the army of trolls for the spread of disinformation. There is nothing good to say about trolls polluting the cyberspace with their vitriolic nonsense. But by focusing our righteous rage against them, they may have already succeeded by diverting attention away from their financiers and political backers. The target should be the troll-in-chief Duterte who admitted that he hired a cyber army to support his candidacy in 2016. Expose the PR experts and companies behind the network of disinformation, the state-funded influencers directing the loyal mob, and media personalities agitating the DDS with falsehoods and irrational arguments. Ordinary trolls and bots are just a distraction; the real criminals and primary source of so-called ‘fake news’ are the communication mercenaries in corporate offices and government centers.

Shutdown of communications is necessary during crisis moments. Governments are finding it convenient to justify Internet shutdowns by citing national security threats. The response of authorities during terror attacks, racial riots, political destabilization, and even religious festivals is to restrict data and communication services. They argue that this is needed to prevent the sharing of hoaxes which could inflame tension and disrupt the coordination of terrorist cells. What they refuse to understand is that open lines of communication are essential during these emergency situations because people need to access verified information from the media and government. Allowing the government to deprive people of information for an indefinite period could set a dangerous precedent and normalize this authoritarian mandate. The people suffer more especially migrant families, small entrepreneurs, and companies delivering frontline services. Besides, why endorse the fallacy that internet restriction can stop the work of groups with criminal intent?

Virtual hate speech does not lead to offline violence. It is apt to quote the butcher General Jovito Palparan: ‘I didn’t shoot anyone, I just inspired the triggerman.’ This should be a reminder to netizens who may not be nasty trolls with fake accounts but are fanatically provoking violent attacks against individuals and groups which are criticizing the president. Online hate can easily turn into a vicious operation against perceived ‘enemies of the state’. Some think being a notorious keyboard warrior has no real-life consequences. In other countries, we saw how racist narratives are amplified in social media until it led to communal riots and hate crimes. In the Philippines, many victims of extrajudicial killings were first demonized in social media posters, journalists denounced as communists, activists red-tagged as armed rebels, and human rights lawyers criticized by trolls for defending leftists. It is not enough anymore to ask if what we write online is the truth, we must also try to determine if our words can be manipulated, weaponized, and enable death squads to cause harm against activists, farmers, indigenous peoples, and other groups fighting for change in our society.

Sharing of data is harmless. I have nothing to hide. The government downplays the draconian features of the anti-cybercrime law by reminding the public that they have nothing to fear if they committed no crime. The same thinking is at work when tech companies seduce users to accept the sharing of their personal information with third-party servers. The right to privacy is eroded while its link to democratic principles is obfuscated. The result is the creeping emergence of a surveillance society where Big Brother is lurking everywhere and in every app while citizens are voluntarily sharing information to corporate vultures and cyber army centers. Ultimately, it weakens the political power of individuals to challenge how powerful and sinister forces are deploying user data for their narrow interests.

May 2019: ‘Tiananmen Square’ censorship, #LoveWins in Taiwan, Malaysia falters on reforms, and Indonesia’s post-election violence. Read more

June 2019: From Hong Kong to Australia: Protesters and journalists fight back against police violence and intimidation. Read more

July 2019: Hong Kong’s fight for democracy, Pakistan journalists decry rising censorship, and more. Read more

*Binigkas sa Asian Institute of Tourism, UP Diliman, noong Hulyo 16, 2019

Binabati ko ang mga bagong kasapi ng National Service Training Reserve Corps (NSTP). Nagagalak akong magsalita ngayong umaga sa inyong harapan dahil isa po ako sa mga nagtaguyod ng NSTP Law.

Pumasok ako sa Diliman noong 1996. Tinapos ko ang Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) ng dalawang taon para walang abala sa aking upper class years. Sinimulan na noon ang mga programang Community Welfare Training Service at Literacy Training Service bilang alternatibo sa military drills ng ROTC. Bahagi pa rin kami ng infantry division pero may mga linggo na sa halip sa ilalim ng araw ang aming parada ay sa loob kami ng DMST complex, nakikinig sa iba’t ibang lectyur tungkol sa samu’t saring paksa.

Fast forward sa taong 2001. Pagkatapos ng People Power II, biglang pumutok ang isyu ng pagpaslang sa isang ROTC officer sa UST na whistleblower noon sa isyu ng korupsiyon. Nabigla ang marami sa balita, napalitan ito ng galit, at di malaon ay sumiklab ang isang malawak at maingay na panawagang buwagin na ang ROTC.

Nagwalk out ang mga kadete ng UST, at mabilis kumalat ang aksyong ito gamit ang libreng SMS. Nagkaroon bigla ng walkout ng mga ROTC units sa University Belt. At papahuli ba ang mga taga Diliman? Siyempre hindi. Sa isang iglap, isang pambansang kilusan ang nabuo na may partikular na kahilingan. At nagtagumpay ito.

Susi ang pagkilos ng mga kadete. Mahalaga rin ang suporta ng mga guro at admin. At lumikha ito ng pampublikong opinyon na pabor sa pagbuwag ng ROTC. Tinuntungan nito ang ilang taon, ilang dekadang kahilingan ng marami na rebyuhin na ang pangangailangan para sa isang programang nais maghubog ng mga kabataang may disiplina, pagmamahal sa bayan, at malasakit sa komunidad sa pamamagitan ng pagsasanay militar.

Isang mahalagang salik din sa tagumpay ng kampanya ay ang suporta ng bagong pamahalaan ni dating Pangulong Gloria Arroyo. Katatapos lang noon ng Edsa Dos at Edsa Tres at sariwa pa sa balita at alaala ng marami ang imahen ng libu-libong kabataang nagmartsa sa kalye para patalsikin si Estrada.

Kaya masasabi natin na ang pagbuwag sa ROTC ay isa sa mga pamana ng People Power.

Hindi naging madali ang pagsulat ng bagong batas na ipapalit sa ROTC. Ang mga argumento noon ay naririnig ko ulit ngayon sa balita. ‘Yung mga nagtutulak ng mandatory ROTC ay nagsasabing kailangan ito upang idebelop ang ating depensa, magbigay ng bagong kaalaman sa kabataan, maglinang ng mga kadeteng pamilyar sa operasyong militar, at turuan ang nga kabataan na magdebelop ng disiplina, patriyotismo, at paglilingkod sa mga komunidad.

Sa Kongreso ay isa-isa nating sinagot ang pangamba na sa pagkawala ng ROTC ay tuluyang mawawaglit sa isip ng mga kabataan ang halaga ng disiplina, paggalang sa awtoridad at batas, at paglilingkod sa kapwa Pilipino. Hinain natin ang mga alternatibong programa na may layong pukawin ang interes ng kabataan at bigyan sila ng motibasyon na magbigay serbisyo sa bayan. Ituro ang konsepto ng boluntarismo, community integration, social responsibility. Itulak ang mga kabataan na aralin ang kalagayan ng bayan, bigyan sila ng oportunidad na alamin ang pang-araw-araw na buhay ng karaniwang tao, at hikayatin silang mag-ambag ng panahon at ialay ang talino upang baguhin ang lipunan.

At mula dito ay nabuo ang NSTP.

Meron tayong kompromisong ginawa. Hindi tinanggal ang ROTC subalit isa na lang siya sa mga programa na pwedeng kunin o di kunin ng mga kabataan sa kolehiyo. Kaya hindi totoo na nawala ang ROTC. Binigyan lang natin ng kalayaan o choice ang mga pamantasan at mga estudyante kung anong programa ang bibigyan nila ng prayoridad.

Halos dalawang dekada na pala ang NSTP at marami na itong pinagdaanang pagbabago. Pinalawak ang saklaw nito, dinagdagan ng mga paksang pinag-aaralan, inangkla sa mga napapanahong usaping bayan, at nagdisenyo ng mga modyul bilang tugon sa mga bagong hamon at adyenda tulad ng disaster-preparation, good governance, gender equality, at anti-illegal drugs. Isama na natin ang media literacy.

Nalulungkot ako na ang mga balita tungkol sa mandatory ROTC ay hindi sinasama ang komprehensibong saklaw ng NSTP. Na para bang binibitin natin ang edukasyon ng mga kabataan kung hindi sila kukuha ng ROTC. Na may malaking kawalan kung hindi sasabak sa ROTC ang lahat ng mag-aaral sa kolehiyo o senior high school.

Isang mabisang argumento laban sa panunumbalik ng mandatory ROTC ay patunayang sapat na ang NSTP upang magpatapos ng mga estudyanteng ginagabayan ng diwa ng pagmamahal sa bayan at pagkalinga sa kapwa.

Ano ba ang ating papel sa panahon ngayon?

May agresyon sa West Philippine Sea, sinasalaula ang ating yamang likas, tumitindi ang kahirapan, namamatay sa gutom ang ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda, patuloy na lumilikas ng bansa ang ating mga propesyunal. Ano ang ating tugon?

Sasabihin ng mga pulitiko na mahalaga ang boto ng kabataan. Pero hanggang pagboto na lang ba tayo?

Pasasayahin tayo ng ads ng mga korporasyon at hihikayating bumili ng mga produkto. Pero mga malalaking negosyo lang ang nakikinabang sa purchasing power ng lumalagong youth market.

At pangangaralan tayo ng ating pamilya na humanap agad ng trabaho pagkatapos mag-aral. Pero hindi ba ito makitid na pamantayan kung ano ang halaga ng edukasyon sa buhay ng tao?

Kaya para sa akin, ang taglay na lakas ng kabataan ay humubog ng pampublikong opinyon, lumikha ng mga bagong katotohanan, at hamunin ang namamayaning diskurso ng mga nasa kapangyarihan.

Sa darating na Hulyo 22 ay ikaapat na State of the Nation Address ni Pangulong Duterte. Mainam na pagkatataon upang ihapag natin ang tunay na kalagayan ng bayan. Samahan natin ang iba’t ibang sektor at pakinggan ang kanilang mensahe sa araw na ito.

Sa pagbubukas ng bagong kongreso ay silipin ang adyenda ng mambabatas. Payag ba tayo na ibalik ang death penalty, alisin ang term limit ng mga pulitiko, payagang magmay-ari ng lupa ang mga banyaga, at isulong ang pederalismo?

Sa panahong inaatake ang media, ginagawang krimen ang aktbismo, at ang fake news ay pinapakalat ng mga nasa pamahalaan, kailangan natin ng bata-batalyon na mga fact checker at mandirigma ng katotohanan.

Ang ating buhay ay hindi dapat ginu-Google kundi ginugugol sa isang dakilang layunin. Madaling sabihin subalit mahirap gawin dahil sa totoo lang, napakalakas ng hatak ng indibidwalistang pantasya at makasariling konsepto ng pagmamahal sa bayan. Kaya ang aking payo sa inyo ay labanan ito o kaya’y pahinain ang atake nito sa ating pag-iisip. At malaking tulong kung kalahok tayo sa isang advocacy, campaign network, o kilusan na may layong lumikha ng pagbabago sa pamamagitan ng mga kolektibong aksyon. Sa sama-samang pagkilos ay malulugar natin ang ating sarili sa pag-usad ng kasaysayan kasama ang iba pang tumatahak sa landas na ito. Kaya mahalagang pinag-aaralan natin kung ano ang nangyari noon, pero mas mahalaga ay lumikha ng bagong kasaysayan.

Pagbati sa inyong pagtatapos at hangad kong makasama kayo sa marami pang pagtitipon at laban sa labas ng pamantasan.

Over the past few months, rising scrutiny on Chinese investments in countries ranging from the Maldives to Malaysia has intensified an ongoing conversation in the Philippines about the risks of a Chinese “debt trap” in the country as the government of President Rodrigo Duterte pursues increased engagement with Beijing. This discussion has become more pronounced, with opposition emerging among the legislature and sections of the wider public.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

The Truth About Duterte’s 2020 Budget

In August, it was disclosed that the proposed 2020 budget of the Philippine government allotted a higher percentage to police, military, and other security forces that are expected to bolster the country’s defenses and President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-crime campaign. Supporters of the president have deemed it critical to continue the journey toward a peaceful and progressive Philippines, but critics have warned that the funding boost could be abused, contributing to corruption and human rights violations.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Published by Bulatlat

Yes, I studied Marxism at the university. But all things considered, I believe I spent more time learning about postmodernism and its numerous variations inside classrooms and libraries. I got introduced to the politics of the Left through the writings of anti-Left academics.

No ‘mad Marxist’ indoctrinated me to become an activist. In fact, it took me some time before I was able to identify, resist, and unlearn the conservative bent of my postmodern albeit progressive education.

In the 1970s, Marxism became a popular theme in the academe. It was applied in conducting researches, developing the curriculum, and extending the role of the university in social affairs. In the Philippines, this coincided with the rise of the communist-led resistance to the Martial Law regime.

Marxism was formalized as a proper field of study but its reach went beyond the university through the work of ‘organic intellectuals’ and other cadres of the Maoist-inspired national democratic movement. Popular Marxism was linked to the anti-dictatorship struggle. A Marxist was someone who fought oppressors personified by super evil politicians like Marcos.

Meanwhile, academic Marxism bloomed into various schools of thought which some scholars welcomed as the emergence of the so-called New Left. Unfortunately, one consequence of this was the dismissal of the basic tenets of Marxist ideas and practices under the pretext of either upholding classical Marxism or updating it to the conditions of the modern world.

The Left faced an existential crisis after 1986. It mirrored the global decline of the Soviet bloc until its disintegration in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This was the same time when postmodernist studies flourished and Marxist philosophy was viciously attacked and blamed for the failure of the socialist experiment.

The 1990s was the heyday of neoliberal thinking. It accommodated various ‘isms’ that negated Marxism. Resources were provided to institutions propagating the ‘end of history’ and the blunder of communists everywhere.

This was the popular political perspective when I entered the university in the mid-1990s. Marxism was taught through the lens of academics who were ridiculing the experience of the Philippine Left. Books, journals, magazines, and reading materials celebrated postmodern approaches while dismissing the purported obsolete framework of Marxism. Pluralism was affirmed and all views were declared to be valid except the grand narratives of the Left.

Looking back, it seemed impossible to study Marxism and end up being a Marxist. The required readings in social sciences were mostly slanted against a Marxist interpretation of history and economy. The legacy of the Philippine Left was reduced into a boycott error in 1986. We were exposed to a set of writings lampooning the doctrines and practices of the revolutionary movement. Curiously, there was little reference to the foundational documents of the Left because these were treated as propaganda materials unfit for academic discussion. Instead, we were required to read ‘Leftist’ scholars who specialize in attacking the Left.

We devoured essays and researches highlighting the supposed glaring errors, inconsistencies, and deviations in the documents of the Communist Party and the seminal writings of Joma Sison. The vitriolic attacks waged by the military and other state ideologues against the Left found resonance in the academe.

This was not unusual if we consider the critical appraisal of the Left as an expression of academic freedom. Perhaps the freedom to engage in partisan politics and misidentify anti-Left ranting as objective scholarship. The freedom to fetishize against an entire national liberation movement, nitpick on minor doctrinal arguments, decontextualize criticism, and echo the ethos of the state in evaluating the Left.

Studying under these conditions, we acquired a distorted sense of the Left’s holistic impact on politics; instead, we only saw its fundamental weaknesses and its doomed prospects.

It was thus awkward to read about the misguided Leftists and then bumping into them in hallways and classrooms. The vocabulary I absorbed was patently biased against them and so their presence seemed strange and even a nuisance.

But they were persistent propagandists and after several encounters I found myself joining one of their activities. It’s only later I realized that the Left was undergoing a rectification movement. For some academics, it was an internal purge that divided the Left. But what I saw was an intense political education campaign that mobilized young people to study the classics of Marxism, the history of the unfinished Philippine revolution, and the relevance of Mao’s cultural revolution in understanding the triumph of capitalism in erstwhile communist societies.

Before the era of free downloads and file sharing, we got hold of the collected works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao. Our reading was complemented by collective discussions which also became a venue to debunk the arguments of anti-Left scholars.

Lenin’s ‘Imperialism’ became a useful guide to rethink the concept of globalization and dissect the roots of the Asian Financial Crisis. Sison’s ‘Specific Characteristics of our People’s War’ clarified the uniqueness and general phases of the Maoist revolution in the archipelagic Philippines.

But I was not easily persuaded despite the creative approach of activists in offering alternative courses on philosophy, political economy, and people’s war. Despite my fascination with my new ‘study group’, I was more drawn to my academic classes where I started to feel more confident articulating Marxist terminologies.

I still had my doubts, though. I felt playing an amateurish language game wherein I could cherry pick concepts from various strands of philosophy and flaunt them in debates and essays.

But alas, the Left was not in the game for simply interpreting things and events, and getting involved in politics from a distance. It was consistently in the thick of battle, initiating local and sectoral struggles, and pursuing the national democratic line for social transformation.

As a student of politics and a young citizen wanting to do more in society, the NatDem Left offered something concrete, comprehensive, and radical. There were other Leftist movements as well but I was not impressed by their appeal for peaceful activism (as if this should be the aim of progressive politics). Meanwhile, I couldn’t fathom what anti-Left academics wanted really to achieve in politics aside from making a sinister prognosis about the Natdem movement. They were focusing on the failures of the NatDem Left yet they were quiet about the other factions of the Left.

I was prepared to be disappointed with NatDem politics but instead, I became more immersed in their mass campaigns. I was overwhelmed with several political realizations: Here was a movement making democracy work through collective leadership, here was a political force whose strength is linked to the empowerment of its members in the grassroots, here was history claiming the present to build a new future.

And I was genuinely surprised to learn that anti-Left academics were wrong on many things about the practices of the NatDem Left. Contrary to what I read about them, the NatDem Left acknowledged its mistakes and the excesses it committed. This was one of the early resolutions of the rectification movement. Again, against what I expected, there were nonstop debates within the Left about tactics, strategies, campaign demands, alliances, and analysis of the political situation. There were always new lessons in organizing, victories and defeats in mass struggles, and the constant vigilance over state reprisals. The Left can’t survive, thrive, and surge in many places if it were a dogmatic political force.

It is sad to see anti-Left academics parroting the state rhetoric about the irrelevance of the Left. If the Left is already too weak and isolated, then why build a career ridiculing a supposedly dead and dying movement? Two decades later, the NatDem Left is still a major political force in the country. But the anti-Left academics are still trying their pathetic best to give hope to state apologists and the conservative Establishment about the looming defeat of the revolutionary mass movement. Dream on.

Journalists face growing persecution, an impunity win in Indonesia, and much more…February in Asia: A roundup of key free expression news, based on IFEX member reports. Read more

Women’s Day marchers attacked, Thai media restricted, and report on media killings in Afghanistan. March in Asia: A roundup of key free expression news, based on IFEX member reports. Read more

Social media blackout, ‘Orwellian’ anti-fake news bill, and stoning to death for adultery. April in Asia: A roundup of key free expression news, based on IFEX member reports. Read more

Published by Bulatlat

Metro Manila’s insane traffic congestion is an opportunity to read books. Reading is more productive and relaxing instead of cursing at drivers, enforcers, and pedestrians. It’s less risky than using a smartphone inside jeepneys, UV Express vans, and trains. It’s a matter of adjusting our perspectives. For example, a three-hour ride from Quezon City to Makati during the morning rush can be viewed as a precious time to catch up on our reading goals. When we scan the news or play a game on phones, we absorb visual images which is also a form of reading. Why not instead turn to the traditional way of reading as an alternative to mobile entertainment. Our minds are more focused when reading a book compared to surfing the Internet which bombards us with too much bytes of useless information, mindless distractions, and overrated tasks which can be done at home or work. We cannot eat or drink inside public transport vehicles but we can certainly feed our minds.

Because of inefficient services, we often spend several hours waiting in line. Reading can instantly convert the wasted time into something useful, educational, and even fun. Imagine being trapped in a room without WiFi and there is a long waiting time. Worse, the use of mobile phones is restricted. Reading a book of your choice is more pleasurable than constantly looking at the wall clock. It is better than being forced to watch silly infotainment TV ads. When your name or number is called, you move forward with a positive thought that you spent time wisely by choosing to enrich your knowledge of life and the world. This too has a calming effect which could hopefully prevent you from blaming overworked workers for bureaucratic deficiencies.

Reading in a public place is a nice feeling to experience. No, it won’t make you look lovably smart. People tend to see book readers as geeks. Two decades ago, those who tinker with gadgets in public are viewed as techie nerds. Today, those who hang out in public without a phone in hand are treated with suspicion.

But back to reading, it can enhance your attachment to a place. It can bind your memories of a particular nook to the scenes, characters, and ideas in the book you are reading. A book can make you remember of the smell of an obscure café, the surprising comfort of a wooden park bench, the retro music at the train station, or the cold temperature inside a provincial bus. You recall these impressions not because you read them somewhere but because you experienced them while reading a book. When you take a selfie with a book, it makes visible your intent to read something but it is more meaningful if you both read the book while sensing the reality of the reading moment.

What a delight to claim a space and declare it a reading territory. Marking a spot in public as a designated hub for reading. Think of malls, churches, schools, government buildings, and parks that can be targeted by readers. Smokers can no longer pollute the air with impunity that’s why book readers should inhabit the abandoned smoking corners and transform them into a reading place.

But we are also aware of the diminishing incentives to read. Infrastructures are designed in favor of money-making activities. Unfortunately, reading is not considered as a public activity that can yield significant returns. Thus the need for more aggressive readers to hype the act of reading, inspire others to do the same, and counter the use of smartphones as the ubiquitous way of exhibiting literacy in the 21st century.

This is a huge challenge given the immense popularity of Internet streaming to watch movies, play games, or lurk on social media. Our role is to demonstrate that reading is more fun and healthier than bingeing on Netflix. It takes several hours a day or week to complete a TV series whose storyline is stretched to lure more viewers. We are lulled into thinking that the repackaging of formula fiction is modern entertainment. Indeed, nostalgia works.

There are shows deserving our praise but do we really need to devour dozens of episodes in one sitting just to understand and appreciate impressive plotlines? Each Netflix series we finished watching is equivalent to how many books in terms of hours spent? We think Netflix is more satisfying to consume but books provide the same if not greater amount of drama, better description of people and landscapes, and original stories.

Perhaps e-books represent a wise option. Content downloaded from the cyberspace and is meant to be read. It is viable and increasingly made accessible but if our aim is to achieve some level of work-life balance, reading a printed book offers instant relief from the madness of virtual reality. A few hours of digital detox to soothe our Internet-addicted bodies.

Despite our fast-paced lifestyle, we could still set aside some time to read what’s trending on social media. If this is feasible, there’s more reason to find time for reading books. Motivate others to read. Discuss these books in public. Reading should not be relegated into mere academic pursuit.

Perhaps some are wary of making bad choices when reading books. It’s a risk but less harmful than what is peddled by Hollywood and Netflix. What we can do is persuade readers to be critical of the text they are reading. Yet we do not demand the same thing when people discuss the movies, TV shows, songs, and games they scavenge on the Internet. We assume that books ‘indoctrinate’ so therefore we have to be careful with our selection; but we can be eclectic with our online posting of movies and TV series? There are passive readers and Netflix subscribers but only the former are required to be intelligent and politically-correct about their decisions.

We are back to the basics. Threatened by armies of disinformation, our best weapon is the truth. Reading the truth, deciphering the truth, fighting for the truth. In the age of ephemeral attention, reading is an act we can pursue, promote, and steer towards our other political endeavors.

After the Philippine midterm elections, some members of the opposition party decided to join the majority coalition in Congress. This despite the aggressive campaigning of opposition candidates against the human rights abuses under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

That opposition politicians would quickly affiliate themselves with the ruling party reflects not only the quality of the country’s political party system but also the decrease in the number of voices demanding accountability from the Duterte government.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Is There Really a New Duterte Coup Plot in the Philippines?

Of late, a new wave of speculation has arisen surrounding Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Accusations have emerged that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is conspiring with other political forces, attempting to build a critical mass that will push for Duterte’s ouster from power.

The initial wave began when the Philippine military disclosed that a so-called “Red October” plot is being readied by the CPP in connivance with some members of Liberal Party and Magdalo to force Duterte to declare Martial Law and use this emergency situation to provoke mass uprisings across the country. The Liberal Party was the party that governed the Philippines before Duterte, while Magdalo is composed mostly of former junior officers of the military who tried to launch a coup against the government of former President Gloria Arroyo.

Written for The Diplomat

The 10th anniversary of the single most deadly assault on journalists ever takes place on 23 November. IFEX’s Asia & Pacific Regional Editor Mong Palatino writes about a decade of activism on behalf of the 58 Ampatuan Massacre victims, among them 32 journalists, in this Spark multimedia feature article.

Written for IFEX

Global solidarity for Rappler and Maria Ressa who vow to fight for a free press

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa was arrested on 13 February 2019 for cyber libel regarding an article that was published in May 2012, four months before the Philippine Cyber Crime Prevention Act was signed into law. She was released after posting bail on 14 February.

“When I look back a decade from now, I want to make sure that I have done all I can. We will not duck. We will not hide. We will hold the line.”

Written for IFEX