Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

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

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Church leaders are among the victims of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in the Philippines. Some bishops are now speaking about a bankrupt moral leadership in the country and they warned that Duterte is preparing to impose a dictatorial government. If the attacks and killings of priests continue, it could inspire more church leaders to combine their spiritual activities and support to the people’s clamor for justice. In other words, Duterte is risking his presidency by provoking the wrath of holy men and women across the country.

Why Duterte Wanted to Talk Peace with the Reds Again

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s order on April 4 to resume the peace process with communist rebels baffled many since the government has a pending court petition which seeks to declare the Communist Party (CPP) and its armed wing as terrorists.

Duterte’s advisers probably underestimated the capacity of the broad peace constituency in demanding a review of the government’s social and economic policies. Despite this, news of the revival of the peace process should still be welcomed as a positive development in asserting the implementation of reforms necessary to address the root causes of the long-running insurgency. Indeed, Duterte may have his own self-serving agenda in pursuing peace; but this should not stop peace advocates from campaigning for justice, protection of civil liberties, and the strengthening of democracy while the talks are ongoing.

Published by Manila Today

Time is an important currency.

A farmer relies on weather patterns to plan the cultivation of his land, a worker’s monthly wage is calculated through the bundy clock, and a modern day speculator accumulates virtual cash by engaging in realtime trading. Based on the preceding, many would probably assume that the digitization of everything leads to progress. The truth is that realtime processes obfuscate the massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the hoarding filthy rich. This is done not by raising productive capacities in the real economy but through instant gambling made possible by capitalist games like stock market investments. Again, based on these examples, many would probably continue to prefer realtime stealing over the backbreaking agrarian and industrial living.

And so we must discuss the real-life consequences of making money through financial wizardry: Let’s take the case of a speculator who became an overnight millionaire or billionaire. He could use the money to buy cheap lands in both rural and urban areas, turning his fake wealth into a tangible entity and even making it capable of pump-priming some parts of the local economy. But absent a long-term plan to develop an industrial base, the production of new capital is used to invade spaces that would generate quick profits. Thus the dizzying construction of condominiums which masks the housing crisis, the rise of call centers instead of manufacturing plants, and the confirmation of the ideology that raising virtual money is all that matters in life.

What the buzz over realtime innovation does not reveal is the continuing existence of labor exploitation in the real economy. That virtual transactions are not entirely wireless because real wires are required to be buried and hoisted somewhere in order to connect through the cyberspace. It is in these analog zones that capitalism as we know it solidifies the system that creates and appropriates the surplus value created by labor.

Think of peasants rendered obsolete during tiempo muerto (dead season) in the sugarcane fields, agency-hired workers in sweatshops despite the eight-hour work regulation, subcontractuals slaving to fulfill the piece-rate quota, and migrant Filipinos bound by a time-specific contract. These are real people in the real economy whose time, energy, and labor power are used not just to speed up the profiteering mechanism of turbocapitalism, but also to establish the backbone of what we call realtime transactions.

The regulation of time is indeed a disruptive act. Every device or mechanism that reorganizes and recalibrates economic relations in a specific socio-historical milieu is more than just a technological breakthrough, but also a political intervention that involves the retooling of time.

More than a century ago, the telegraph revolutionized how people communicate which boosted global commerce and conflict at the same time. Today’s telegraph is the Internet.

As the world becomes more connected and transformed into a so-called global village, transnational corporations emerge more powerful by investing in remote spaces where labor is cheap and strictly controlled. This is facilitated by developing technologies that control time and spatial dynamics.

In the 1980s and 1990s factories started to close shop as investors relocated to nearby countries in the East Asian region where minimum wage is cheaper. This is also the same period when free trade doctrine made the country more dependent on imports instead of developing its manufacturing potential.

In the current global production chain, the designated role of the Philippines is to export precious but raw materials, provide manpower needs of aging economies, and host outsourcing operations. The last item is credited for the booming service sector of the economy. It’s mainly an urban-based phenomenon which links call centers to customers from other countries, mainly the United States. Even Business Process Outsourcing centers in the provinces referred to by technocrats as next wave cities are serving the industry needs of other countries and not the rural economy.

The local urban economy is partially sustained by the spending habits of young employees and the real estate requirements of the BPO sector. Meanwhile, the market has been conditioned to absorb the rejected and redundant goods of exporting nations.

But can the Philippines develop a strong and inclusive economy through this blueprint without reviving its agricultural and industrial sectors?

Fantastic but also quite absurd that local workers are interacting with customers from other countries and facilitating consumer inquiries through realtime transactions.

Indeed, it led to faster and more efficient operations for big corporations; and short-term work opportunities for skilled workers in a semi-feudal society. But, at what cost?

The rise of an industry delinked from domestic production, the massive deployment of office-based employees in air-conditioned sweatshops, the normalization of the graveyard shift, and the validation of the neoliberal dogma which rejects the building of an industrial economy.

A million educated working population literally sleeping during the day because they work in the evening. Realtime interactions are innovative but for workers responding to overseas calls, they have to adjust their body clocks in order to function properly during the graveyard shift.

Night life is changing in the cities, stores operating all day and all night are increasing, malls are proliferating, and imports (read: smuggling) are catching up with the high demand for consumer goods courtesy of a workforce with petty cash to spare.

What is the impact of this changing lifestyle on urban politics? In the 20th century, industrial workers gather en masse after work in the afternoon or early evening to discuss politics and union building. This method of political organizing has spawned a powerful labor movement that gave it varying influence in society to demand concessions from both capitalists and politicians.

But when the anti-worker doctrine of neoliberalism rose to prominence in the 1980s, it reinforced perverse individualism in society. The mainstreaming of the Internet has made it even more challenging to consolidate the political power of the working class.

Realtime economy diffuses the strength of labor, collective actions of the multitude are idealized while undermining the legacy of the proletariat, and politicization is carried out through superficial virtual means. How can people express solidarity if realtime processes generate micro divisions in all layers of society?

Realtime appears to operate beyond the jurisdictions of politics. It is even seen as above politics and economics. The state is governed by bureaucratic procedures, red tape, and election dynamics. Non-state actors deal with these factors in calendaring their campaigns. Even the revolutionary movement is conducting predictable annual actions related to party milestones and historical occasions.

Meanwhile, realtime seems broader, free from physical and institutional restraints, available to all, and thus empowering. It’s obviously a naïve perspective because an Internet shutdown can be easily managed by the state. Cell phone jamming during religious events has clearly demonstrated this. Besides, Internet penetration remains low which is unsurprising given the poor infrastructure and obscene exclusion of the poor in society.

But beyond the technical aspect of the Internet, what realtime offers is the seductive appeal of instantaneous political engagement. Realtime is supposedly useful for citizens unable to directly participate in bureaucratic affairs but are now able to interact, albeit virtually, with agencies and some civil servants. Realtime assures public feedback and even administrative attention; a crucial outcome that traditional politics has pledged to fulfill but unable to realize. Hence, virtual communication is presented as a substantial aspect of democratic politics. Interaction among citizens, even among trolls and paid partisans, is exaggerated as a form of political struggle that mimics class-based struggles in the real world.

But political transformation is a long process. Political struggles that advance the cause of the grassroots do not produce instant solutions and overnight societal changes. Realtime amplifies public outrage but it does not capture the whole essence of political resistance. Beyond clickbaits and memes, resistance movements and revolutions demand greater commitment and sacrifice to change the present by hastening the arrival of the future. Realtime politics does not exist. An intense conversation on hyperdrive does not elevate it as the space where conflicts in the real world are waged. Politics is anchored on changing the power dynamics.

Realtime is political in the sense that it obscures the ideological battlefield by naming itself as the 21st-century arena where forces collide for dominance. Even Internet activism is a misnomer because every online initiative has to be translated into an offline intervention.

If not realtime, what then constitutes radical politics in the time of Facebook and fake news?

The NPA burning of cell phone towers is more than real, it is symbolic. It recalls the political situation during the Spanish era when church bell towers were used to signify the domain of the colonizers. Those beyond the reach of church bells were considered rebels, pagans, barbarians. The cell phone towers today are intruding into the space of the rural where Maoist revolutionaries are building Red power. This is where the urban-based capitalist machinery, which peddles realtime innovation, encounters the real revolution.

Blocked, banned and muzzled: Asia’s tough month. The month of October saw the banning of websites, books, mass organisations, and, in the weeks leading up to the International Day to End Impunity For Crimes Against Journalists, on 2 November, an uptick in attempts to silence independent media by governments intent on eliminating what they deem ‘threats’ to national unity and public order.

Ending impunity and defending democracy: November in Asia-Pacific. Cambodian democracy takes a hit, while IFEX members mark IDEI in Nepal, Pakistan, Mongolia, Australia and make strides against gender-related violence

Defiant cartoonists, detained foreign journalists, and ‘recalcitrant’ activists: December in Asia-Pacific. December was a tough month for free speech advocates across the Asia-pacific region: Several cartoonists faced state persecution, two Vietnamese bloggers received harsh prison terms, foreign journalists were detained in Kashmir and Burma, China remains the ‘world’s worst abuser of internet freedom’, and Singapore detained a ‘recalcitrant’ activist.

Published by Manila Today

President Rodrigo Duterte thinks that he can usurp more power by using the machineries of death and destruction. In 2017, this fascist approach led to greater disorder as Duterte completely exposed himself as a rabid human rights violator, corrupt trapo [traditional politician], protector of oligarchs, and puppet of imperialist powers.

But while Duterte was on a self-destruct mode, the people faced this madness with various acts of resistance. Instead of cowering in silence, the people confronted the fentanyl-addicted dictator by mounting protests from Mendiola to Davao.

2017 was not merely about Duterte’s ramblings, his inane and deadly ways of governance, and his unfunny flip-flopping on social welfare issues. It was also the year when more people embarked on the path of resistance by joining the Lakbayan, Kampuhan, and Occupy protests.

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Written for The Diplomat

Over the past few weeks, as the Philippine Congress has deliberated amendments to the anti-terror law, critics have expressed concerns that it would trample the people’s civil liberties and further enable a descent into dictatorial rule under President Rodrigo Duterte. Those concerns merit closer examination in terms of both the issue itself as well as the broader political context in the Philippines.

The anti-terror law was passed in 2007, amid protests by activists who raised alarm over the vague provisions of the measure which they claimed would be used by authorities to persecute the critics of then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

But it is expected that the amended law can be Duterte’s legal tool not only in the ‘war on terror’ but also in his ‘all-out war’ against communist rebels whom he branded as terrorists in 2017. Duterte once threatened to detain the ‘legal fronts’ of communists aside from ordering the release of a terror list which included leaders of activist groups, former legislators, and even a United Nations Special Rapporteur.

Given all this, it is understandable that there are concerns that the new terror law — which broadens the definition of terrorism, expanded the powers of the State, and removed the provisions intended to protect human rights — threatens to further undermine democracy in the Philippines and remove the legal obstacles for Duterte and the ruling party to establish a full-blown authoritarianism.

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The Trouble With Duterte’s New Terror List

Written for The Diplomat

he Philippines’ Department of Justice (DOJ) has petitioned a Manila court to declare the Communist Party (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorist groups. Though the move is far from surprising, it is nonetheless troubling as it comes amid broader questions being raised about the government under President Rodrigo Duterte.

The petition was filed two months after Duterte terminated the peace process with communists. The government has also listed around 600 persons who are alleged to be leaders of the CPP and NPA.

The petition reiterated Duterte’s earlier proclamation declaring the CPP and NPA as terrorists for engaging in the criminal acts of “murder, kidnapping, arson and other activities for purpose of sowing terror and panic.” The CPP and NPA are accused of being “organized for the purpose of engaging in terrorism.”

In other words, the terror listing of hundreds of activists and NGO leaders could be part of an insidious plot to subvert democracy, impose authoritarianism through constitutional reforms, and attack those who dare oppose the rule of Duterte and the ruling party.

Given all this, it would seem wise for Duterte and the DOJ to reconsider this latest legal maneuver to undermine the CPP and NPA. Instead, they should seriously study the suggestion of their allies in both houses of Congress who proposed the resumption of the peace process with the communists despite Duterte’s non-stop ranting against the Left and DOJ’s proscription petition versus hundreds of activists. That would be a move that would actually contribute to furthering the country’s peace and security.

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Published by Bulatlat

Some 2,600 Moros and indigenous peoples from across the Philippines joined the month-long lakbayan in the capital region to speak out and protest against the continuing oppression perpetrated by state and corporate powers.

Through creative activities and militant assertion, the lakbayan headed by Sandugo succeeded in highlighting the precarious situation of national minorities under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, who assumed power in 2016. Sandugo exposed how Duterte’s increasing reliance on the military led to brutal acts of terror in the provinces, the use of martial law tactics to silence dissent and grassroots organizing in ancestral domains targeted by the extractive industry, and the unbroken feudal rule of despotic landlords in haciendas and corporate plantations.

Thus, the demand to end military occupation of Lumad schools, the lifting of martial law in Mindanao, addressing impunity, and resumption of the stalled peace process between the Duterte government and communist forces.

Sandugo’s lakbayan is familiar because it’s similar to the caravans and camp-out protests regularly organized by peasant groups from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog.

But Sandugo’s lakbayan is bigger in scope and encompasses a broader set of political objectives. It involves the mobilization of mass organizations from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. And since 2012, the Mindanao contingent of the national lakbayan has been returning to the capital every year.

Why do protesters have to cross seas and walk hundreds of kilometers to present their political demands to the national government instead of merely submitting them to local politicians or regional agencies? Why repeat the same form of campaign every year?

The main reason is probably to underscore the inhumanity of displacing indigenous peoples who stand in the way of domestic and foreign plunderers. The persistence of Lakbayanis could be their way of countering the callous attitude of the government to their plight while unmasking the connivance of bureaucrats and state troops with greedy loggers and miners.

The decision to hold an annual lakbayan could mean two things: first, rural oppression has gotten worse; and second, which is hopeful, the people’s resistance in the countryside is gaining strength.

Lakbayan as a form of resistance reflects the uniqueness of the Philippine national democratic struggle. It gives a glimpse of the mass movement in the countryside where the people are supposedly building political power.

It seeks the best and most effective route to reach the capital from the peripheries while touching base with the rural population where the mass movement is relatively weak or facing some difficulties in organizing. It establishes links with potential supporters of the struggle who can provide useful information, supplies, and other logistics.

It educates the masses about the political program of the national democratic struggle. It normalizes the caravan protest as a legitimate political act that can empower and mobilize thousands. It humanizes the rural-based resistance movement.

More importantly, it inspires urban activists to remember their role in contributing to the strength of the rural struggle by integrating with peasants, the IPs, and the masses.

It is also redefining the meaning of outreach. If Manila-based groups often conduct medical, relief, and charity missions in rural areas, lakbayan is quite the reverse since it features the arrival of the oppressed and poor from the provinces into the capital. The camp set-up is not mainly intended to receive donations but as staging ground for political protests. Lakbayan appeals to the public not for mercy but solidarity. The Lakbayanis are victims who are organized and ready to fight for their rights.

In other words, Lakbayan enhances the capacity of mass organizations on how to ‘transport’ the struggle from the remote to the center.

This mobile protest actually deserves greater recognition. It allows us to recall the ‘Long March’ in China and the ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail’ in Vietnam which mobilized thousands in aid of revolution. Is lakbayan a legacy of these historic mobilizations? Did it derive inspiration from how the Chinese and Vietnamese pursued their revolutionary struggles?

Viewed from the perspective of an activist who supports the national democratic struggle, lakbayan appears to be more than just a campaign protest. It could also function as an innovative drill for the anticipated revolutionary upsurge; and an early manifestation of how the people’s resistance will encircle the cities from the countryside. It is an organizing tool, protest tactic, propaganda machinery, and a lobby mechanism. It is building the future by changing the present, a history-in-the-making event.

Lakbayan is on the path of evolving into a stronger movement capable of changing the rural-urban dynamics in the country.

Lakbayan, along with kampuhan and ‘occupy’, symbolizes the people’s striving for a suitable form of political action that will help them fulfill their national democratic aspirations.

Lakbayan signals the people’s unity to surmount the challenges of the geographical, political, and economic divide in order to win the war for true freedom, peace, and justice.

The Sandugo lakbayan, the peasant kampuhan, and the Kadamay occupy are specific examples of how the national liberation is surging forward across the archipelago.

Published by New Mandala

Exiled dissident Dang Xuan Dieu recounts the horror of his imprisonment in Vietnam to Mong Palatino.

I first learned about the case of Vietnamese activist Dang Xuan Dieu in 2014. His friends and supporters were appealing for global support after they learned that Dieu was being mistreated in prison. This was despite a 2013 ruling from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stating that Dieu’s arrest in 2011 violated international laws.

So why was he arrested by the Vietnam government? Dieu is an engineer, contributing citizen journalist for the Vietnam Redemptorist News, and member of Viet Tan which is banned in Vietnam.

He was charged for violating Article 79 of the country’s Penal Code which refers to an attempt to overthrow the government. This law is notorious because it is often used by authorities to silence dissenters.

Dieu is an advocate of peaceful activism to effect change in Vietnam. However, he is considered a national security threat by the Vietnam government, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. But this didn’t stop human rights groups, law scholars and even the European Union from actively campaigning for his release. The international pressure eventually succeeded in persuading the Vietnam government to set him free last January, and Dieu was immediately exiled to France.

I managed to have an e-mail interview with Dieu who shared his prison ordeal and his message to the international community.

[Mong Palatino] Can you briefly narrate the circumstances of your arrest and the case filed against you by the Vietnamese government?

[Dang Dieu] I was detained by Tan Son Nhat Airport security in Saigon and handed over to plainclothes police as I alighted my plane from Thailand on 30 July, 2011. They arrested me without any reason or formal charges nor was there any documentation. They confiscated my possessions including my laptop, mobile phone, money and camera before stripping me to conduct a body examination. On 11 August, 2011 I was formally charged with “conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

After 17 months of investigation, which concluded I was a member of pro-democracy group Viet Tan and participated in a “non-violent struggle” training, I was sentenced to 13 years prison and five years house arrest by Vietnamese authorities on 9 January, 2013.

[MP] Why do you think you received the harshest prison sentence of 13 years?

[DD] I was clearly told by security police before my trial: “If you don’t accept the charges, you will definitely be sentenced to 15 years. If you accept the charges, you would only be sentenced to three to four years, up to you.” Even if my case was fabricated, the sentence was based on me and my confession. So if I “confessed” what would they get in return? In a democratic society people exercising their political rights by forming or participating in a political party is normal. In Vietnam, the Communist Party is afraid of people choosing to participate in Viet Tan or any other political group and so has persecuted me and many others. For me, a 13-year prison sentence isn’t an unexpected ordeal.

[MP] How did you endure the brutal prison conditions for six years?

[DD] Some of the things I endured over the past six years in prison were truly horrific. I currently face issues with my memory, not remembering details and I needed to forget some of the experiences in order to survive prison and be able to hold myself up before I was released.

It was only two days after my arrest that I was placed in a small cell with thugs (one who was sentenced to life for murdering two people) who tortured, extorted money, and forced me to be a slave. They shouted obscenities, terrorised and physically beat me three times; they defamed my family, town and religion for six ongoing months because I chose not to accept the charges and I chose not to wear the prison uniform forced upon me. I pleaded many times to prison authorities to move me to another cell but to no avail. The people in my cell slandered me, making up stories that I was against the prison guards so I was disciplined three times, shackled in a dark, smelly cell with no water to use for 10 days.

The continuous injustices led me and other prisoners to hold multiple hunger strikes, totalling more than 100 days and starving ourselves (only one meal a day) for more than 300 straight days. The first time I held a hunger strike, prison guards didn’t give me water for the first three days. The other times I striked, they prevented me from buying utensils and food for 12 months until intervention from the EU delegation. I have to say, I endured a prison within a prison within a prison.

[MP] What is the situation of other detained democracy activists?

[DD] There have been activists who were released and subsequently detained including Nguyen Van Oai, Le Thanh Tung, Tran Anh Kim and Can Thi Theu.
In relation to the case of 14 Catholic youth in which I was a part of, Ho Duc Hoa and Nguyen Dang Minh Man remain imprisoned, sentenced up to 13 years and eight years respectively in poor prison conditions. There are dozens of elderly activists over 60-years-old who have been sentenced to lengthy terms in extreme prison conditions.

Innocent activists such as Truong Minh Tam and Nguyen Van Oai have been defamed and accused of “deliberate infliction of injury”, “resisting persons on duty”, and “fraudulent appropriation of property.”

[MP] What specific political reforms are urgently needed to protect the rights of bloggers and ordinary citizens?

[DD] Vietnamese authorities have used sweeping national security provisions to silence critics including Articles 79, 88 and 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, which are easily interpreted and applied to charge me and many other political prisoners. These articles need to be removed and Vietnamese authorities must also immediately and unconditionally release all democracy, human rights and land rights activists.

There must be a fundamental reform of the legal system that prevents any form of political organisation outside the Vietnamese Communist Party. It is through this that the protection of human rights can be realised, including the right to form organisations, engage in political advocacy, impart information, and worship freely.

[MP] What is your message to the international community?

[DD] It is heartbreaking to hear about the number of people who have been publicly beaten, humiliated and unjustly detained over the past few years.

I know that the international community’s advocacy work has been important for Vietnamese and in particular, peaceful activists. Releasing prisoners of conscience ahead of schedule is a testament to this. However, the number has been small and many have been exiled overseas. When people are released, the government will continue to arrest others.

I hope the international community will continue to raise their voice, to monitor and to ensure the Vietnam government’s proper treatment of people. Strong international pressure will protect and force Vietnamese authorities to release political prisoners.

I would also like to deeply thank the international human rights organisations, governments and people around the world for their ongoing support and for speaking up about my case and others over the past six years. It is through this that we are able to bring peaceful change in my homeland and my fellow countrymen will have the right to freedom of belief, speech and action and ultimately, choice.

Translated from Vietnamese by Don Le.

Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham is charged with committing seven offences for allegedly organizing illegal assemblies. The police accused him of being a ‘recalcitrant’ who has “repeatedly shown blatant disregard for the law.”

What did Wham do that led the police to bring him to court and issue a public statement denouncing him as a recalcitrant?

“Even though Singapore is a rich country with a high human development index, its lack of freedoms is at odds with its status as a first world country. The International community should urge our government to respect our basic human rights to free expression. Singapore has ratified a few human rights treaties. Civil and political rights are principles which also underpin these treaties.”

Read more on IFEX

Vietnamese artist Mai Khoi defiant after eviction for Trump protest

Vietnamese artist Mai Khoi was evicted from her house hours after she raised a protest banner in Hanoi while United States President Donald Trump’s motorcade was passing. Trump arrived in Vietnam on 11 November 2017 to attend the annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation.

Khoi is a musician whose eccentric lifestyle, unusual fashion, and controversial songs have led many to compare her with Hollywood singer Lady Gaga. She has a large following among young Vietnamese and she was once a winner in the country’s album and song of the year awards.

“I want to practice the right of free expression in Vietnam rather than just talking about the need for freedom of expression. Through a little protest and the violent reactions of the authorities, I showed the world that Việtnam does not have freedom of expression. My protest also is a way of resistance against social norms that restrict freedom of expression.”

Read more on IFEX

Published by Bulatlat

The global ‘Occupy’ movement emerged in the aftermath of the financial and housing crisis that destroyed jobs and displaced millions. It denounced the inequities of the present, the irrational decision to boost neoliberal policies, and the callous attitude towards the rising but preventable poverty in the world.

In support of this trend, several ‘Occupy’ and camp-out actions were organized near Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Various sectors echoed the ‘Occupy’ slogans to highlight the specific demands of the Philippines’ 99 percent. This was in the early years of the previous government of Noynoy Aquino, a corrupt bureaucrat and unrepentant despotic landlord.

‘Occupy’ (aside from the Arab Spring) instantly became the buzzword of activists, but most especially among the organized grassroots challenging the oppressive hegemony of the one percent. Over the years, it retained its power to terrorize the ruling classes which explains why it’s the preferred name for the aggressive, persuasive, and collective actions of the poor.

In 2016 and 2017, Occupy-type actions across the Philippines made headlines again, disrupting mainstream politics, and exposing the supposedly inclusive growth of the local economy as a blatant elitist propaganda.

Some of the prominent ‘Occupy’ protests included the following:

In Bulacan, urban poor group Kadamay led 6,000 homeless families in occupying vacant housing units built by the government but have been idle for five years.

In Tarlac and Negros, tenant farmers occupied haciendas (land estates) and conducted a series of bungkalan (land cultivation) to make productive use of farm lands owned by landlord families which refuse to recognize the right of land reform beneficiaries.

In Yolanda-hit (Haiyan) rural towns of Samar and Leyte, farmers organized tiklos (collective farming) in public lands to survive hunger, poverty, and government neglect.

In the towns ravaged by typhoon Pablo in southern Mindanao, residents occupied houses constructed by the government after these have been unutilized for several years.

Similar ‘Occupy’ actions were also done by farmers in Davao del Norte, El Niño victims in Kidapawan, and Lumad communities resisting the entry of destructive large-scale mining.

It is convenient to categorize these actions as a legacy of the ‘Occupy’ movement that started near Wall Street in New York. At the very least, these reflect the enduring appeal of the ‘Occupy’ movement. But what these actions truly embody is the people’s resistance in the Philippines.

The ‘Occupy’ movement didn’t fade away in the Philippines because it was sustained and continually revived by a vibrant mass movement. The current political relevance of ‘Occupy’ was made possible by the people’s persistent struggle for their national democratic aspirations. Sans the fancy slogans and hip branding, ‘Occupy’ in the Philippines is ultimately linked to the realization of the people’s basic political demands such as the fight for genuine land reform, protection of the grassroots against development aggression, and defense of the country’s patrimony and sovereignty.

Indeed, the protests mentioned imperialism and neoliberalism but what also mobilized the masses were related to their urgent needs such as shelter, food, and livelihood. The ‘Occupy’ is the poor’s DIY emancipation tool.

The protests were both spontaneous and organized. The presence of the militant organized core drew the attention and subsequent participation of the spontaneous crowd.

For those who joined the protests, it was easy for them to understand how their poverty is linked to the appalling corruption in the bureaucracy, unrestrained landgrabbing in the countryside, land ownership by the few, foreign plunder of the country’s resources, and profit-hoarding of big business.

Hence, the anti-elite character of the ‘Occupy’. What could be more subversive in the eyes of the elite than to see the dispossessed and the organized poor occupying a public space and declaring it as people’s property?

As for the fascist elements of the state, they probably viewed the ‘Occupy’ movement as a political nuisance that has to be suppressed. They refused to recognize how ordinary citizens felt empowered by participating in collective actions; preferring instead to simply dismiss the ‘Occupy’ as an unruly mob phenomenon.

It is noteworthy to mention that the ‘Occupy’ protests took place in the peripheries, in contested spaces, in public lands appropriated by private capital.

If ‘Occupy’ appears to be a rural movement, it is because it mirrors the particular character of the people’s protracted resistance in the Philippines. It is in the interstice of the rural and urban where the influence of the oppressors is weaker; and more fundamentally, it is there where the masses are building strength to overthrow the system.

That is why the ‘Occupy’ protests in the Philippines are more than just ephemeral political events. They serve as a learning hub for activists who want to deepen their knowledge of the grassroots while advancing the struggle for national democracy. They link the specific sectoral demands of the poor to the long-term agenda of establishing a just and democratic society. They are also an effective organizing strategy to broaden the political machinery of the mass movement.

Real existing ‘Occupy’ is a showcase of Philippine-style activism, an indubitable proof of the fighting spirit of the poor, a ‘specter’ that haunts the exploiters and their apologists, a genuine politics-in-the-making by grassroots and for the grassroots, and a glimpse of the coming revolution from the countryside to the cities.

Written for The Diplomat

Proposed constitutional amendments in Cambodia and the Philippines could worsen impunity and legitimize authoritarianism in both countries.

Criticized for persecuting the opposition and political dissenters, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are now accused of imposing dictatorship through constitutional reforms.

Unfortunately, tinkering with the constitution seems to be the preference of many Southeast Asian generals and power-hungry leaders who wanted to legitimize their authoritarian governments.

This was done in Myanmar when Burmese generals passed a constitution that reserved seats for the military in the cabinet, parliament, and other agencies of the bureaucracy. Thailand’s junta also passed a constitution that guaranteed military influence in the bureaucracy even if civilian rule is restored in the future.

So what Hun Sen and Duterte are doing is not exactly new. But nor does it excuse them for their undemocratic actions and for attempting to undermine the civil liberties in their countries. This actually makes it more important to closely monitor the efforts of civil society and other forces that are opposing the rise of authoritarianism whether it is in Cambodia, the Philippines, or the rest of Southeast Asia.

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Will Duterte’s ‘Cha-Cha’ Train Lead to Dictatorship in the Philippines?

Written for The Diplomat

The Philippine House of Representatives passed a concurrent resolution that would transform Congress into a Constituent Assembly and empower it to amend the 1987 Constitution. While proponents of charter change (known as “cha-cha” in the Philippines) have hailed it as a positive step in achieving President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to turn the Philippines into a federal state, critics have warned it could lead to authoritarianism or even dictatorship, sparking fears dating back to the rule of strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of the authors of the resolution, said it is time to review the 29-year old Constitution “to make it more attuned and responsive to the demands of present conditions and economic realities.”

The ruling party wanted to finish the charter change deliberation this year and hold a plebiscite for the ratification of the new constitution. The next few months are therefore crucial for both the proponents and opponents of charter change to mobilize public support for their cause.

If Congress is able to convert itself into a Constituent Assembly, its members should reflect on these questions posed by Senator Richard Gordon: “Are we empowering ourselves or are we empowering the people? Are we enabling ourselves or are we enabling the people?”

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