Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


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

Suharto and Marcos died several years ago, but their legacy is still being debated. They were humiliated when they were ousted from power yet their names have undergone rehabilitation in recent years.

It is not simply enough to resist proposals recognizing Suharto and Marcos as national heroes. The more important question that requires urgent answering is this: Why are an increasing number of Indonesians and Filipinos still open to naming both dictators as heroes?

Read more at The Diplomat

What’s Behind the New Communist Scares in Indonesia and the Philippines?

There has been a noticeable rise of anti-communist sentiment in Indonesia and the Philippines in the past several months. What gives?

Communists are far from dominating the governments of Indonesia and the Philippines. But there are political forces which are ready to adopt red scare tactics in order to either hide the truth (Indonesia) or bring down an elected leader (Philippines).

Read more at The Diplomat


Talumpating binigkas sa rali noong 2014 State of the Nation Address

Mga kababayan, si Noynoy Aquino kandidato raw para sa Nobel Peace prize. Tama ba yun? Naniniwala po ba kayo na si Aquino ay nagtataguyod ng kapayapaan sa bansa?

Narinig naman po natin ang mga naunang tagapagsalita. Malinaw nilang pinaliwanag ang pananagutan ni Aquino kung bakit lalong tumindi ang kahirapan, kawalan ng katarungan, at korupsiyon sa bansa. Paano magkakaroon ng tunay na kapayapaan kung ang pinuno ng bayan, ang pamahalaan mismo, ay hindi binibigyang solusyon ang mga ugat ng karahasan sa lipunan?

Ang tunggalian sa ating bayan ay hindi naman po mahirap intindihin. Kaya may lumalaban dahil may nangangamkam ng lupa. Kaya may nag-aarmas ay dahil may nandadahas. Kaya may digmaan ay dahil ang inaapi ay naghahanap ng alternatibo, ng pagbabago, ng katarungan.

At sa halip na baguhin ang sistemang mapang-api, ang ginagawa ni Aquino, mula sa simula, ay agresibo itong ipagtanggol. Sa halip na trabaho, dagdag sahod, kabuhayan, pabahay, kalusugan, edukasyon, malinis na pamayanan – ang dala ni Aquino ay demolisyon, militarisasyon, pribatisasyon. Kaunlaran para sa iilan, ang dusa ay para sa karamihan. Kagutuman, kawalan ng trabaho, tumataas na presyo ng bilihin, maduming kapaligiran – hindi po ba ito ang tunay na karahasan na dapat gapiin ng pamahalaan?

Ang gusto ni Aquino ay kapayapaan ng katahimikan. Kaya kapag ang mamamayan ay lumalaban, tumitindig para sa karapatan at tunay na pagbabago, mabilis po itong winawalis ng pamahalaan. Ang mga kumukontra ay kinakasuhan, dinudukot, at pinapaslang.

Walang kapayapaang maasahan sa pangulong utak-pulbura. Walang kapayapaan kung ang pamahalaan ay bulag sa kahirapang dinaranas ng mamamayan.

Hindi tapat si Aquino sa pagsusulong ng usapang pangkapayapaan. Ayaw kilalanin ang mga pinirmahang kasunduan, ayaw talakayin ang adyenda ng panlipunang reporma, at sa halip na palayain ang mga bilanggong pulitikal ay patuloy ang pag-aresto sa mga consultant ng National Democratic Front. Paano susulong ang kapayapaan kung tinalikuran ni Aquino ang proseso ng usapang pangkapayapaan?

At kahit po ang pinirmahang kasunduan ng pamahalaan at Moro Islamic Liberation Front ay kumakaharap pa ng maraming usapin. Habang nakikipagnegosasyon, ay tuluy-tuloy ang pamahalaan sa pagnakaw ng yamang likas sa Mindanao. Binubukas ang mga lupain ng Lumad sa dayuhang pandarambong. Sunud-sunod ang pagbobomba sa mga komunidad sa kanayunan, lalo na sa mga plantation at mining areas. At dahil ang ugat ng kahirapan at sigalot sa Mindanao ay hindi tinutugunan, walang ibang alternatibo ang mamamayang Moro kundi patuloy na ipaglaban ang kanilang hangarin para sa tunay na pagbabago at kaunlaran.

Si Aquino ang numero unong hadlang upang makamit natin ang isang lipunang maunlad at payapa. Si Aquino ang dahilan kung bakit hindi umuusad ang usapang pangkapayapaan. At sa halip na tulungan ang mahirap, sinisisi pa ang mahirap kung bakit sila lumalaban.

Mga kababayan, para sa tunay na kapayapaan, para sa tunay na pagbabago, dapat nang patalsikin ang pangulong kurakot, pabaya, at pasista.

Written for Bulatlat

Philosopher Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest minds in history, taught geography yet his knowledge of the physical world was probably based only on intuition and printed materials since he didn’t travel outside his hometown. This piece of information may be trivial but useful for those who want to debunk the corporate-sponsored reminder that travel is a requisite to broaden the perspective of an individual. We can assert, via the story of Kant, that acquiring truth and knowledge is still possible even if we remain stuck in our homes.

However, this is hardly reassuring since it’s impossible to expect lesser mortals like us to think the same way as Kant. Also, we should not deny the obvious advantage of travel for those who need to be rescued from lethargic parochialism and sedentary lifestyle. Travel is an antidote to learned complacency; the search for the new amid the dullness of the selfsame.

Between permanent solitude and a life of adventure, the latter is more appealing. Indeed, the contemplative mind has a limitless range but knowledge gained through practical experience seems to be more enduring.

Travel, however, has been reduced into the ordinary. The traveler as truth-seeker is now the tourist in search of fun but safe destinations. In the past, travel meant an exploration of the unfamiliar, strange, and exotic. An encounter between the old and the new, an exchange of cultural narratives, a discovery about our shared humanity.

In the 21st century, it appears there’s no more new frontiers to conquer. Of course, this is wrong. But travel or tourism as we know it has been devalued already as a commodity form. Why risk an expedition to reach the unknown and undiscovered when we can simply organize a trip in a popular tourist resort? The motivation to travel is less about studying a place or interacting with its inhabitants but experiencing what has been advertised in the tri-media.

If an iconic image of a place inspires travel, the modern tourist will most likely aspire to repeat what other tourists have done in the past. There’s no compulsion to behave differently. The intent is to take photos that clone the travel albums or journals of other people. The tourist poses for posterity as if he has done something original yet he has merely replicated the experience of others. There’s no shame in doing this but it should not be flaunted as if he discovered Atlantis.

A travel promo is rated low if buyers suffer inconvenience or the trip didn’t deliver the promised thrill (whale shark viewing, deserted coves, surfing waters). But isn’t travel supposed to bring us out of our comfort zone and allow us to witness something new and unexpected? Our vacation suffers not merely because the over hyped place is a disappointment but also because we have an unrealistic expectation of wanting to enjoy the same experience of friends, relatives, and Internet reviewers.

Travel enhances learning but not all travel is an act of enlightenment. If we will merely quote an information about a place that can be easily verified on Google, then the purpose of traveling is defeated. Why spend time and money when the inspiration to travel is induced by a fake trend? A business strategy by the tourism industry cleverly presented to the public as a social phenomenon.

Travel is supposed to be a disruptive act. The big lesson of history is that when strangers meet, conflict arises. There’s no such thing as travelling for travelling sake. There’s no innocent wanderer. Our presence in a place, even if we are only there for a brief visit, reinforces or destabilizes the local political economy. Our behavior affects community relations, domestic livelihood, and political dynamics. In other words, tourism has intended and unintended consequences that fundamentally affect the future of a place. Good if tourism uplifts the well-being of everybody but what if it displaces residents, especially the indigenous peoples?

Travel, tourism and stay cation are therefore political acts. We should strive to develop better reasons for travelling other than echoing the seductive ads of the tourism sector that promise to reward us with a fun and memorable experience. Life is absolutely more than just about completing the bucket list.

Responding to the clamor for greater responsibility, some tourism activities now include grassroots integration, volunteerism, and environment protection. This initiative deserves support until it develops and becomes the mainstream practice.

However, there is danger in believing that this politically-correct brand of tourism is the opposite of the flawed idea of travelling we discussed earlier. Yes, it is sustainable and perhaps responsible tourism, but in the end, it is still tourism in the service of the profit motive. It is an exemplary business practice. But let’s not confuse it with the ideal concept of travel. The best traveler is someone who arrived in a remote place and decided to stay and live among the local population so that she can make a difference in that community. The traveler who becomes a resident, the wanderer who never left, the tourist-turned change advocate. The foreigner or stranger who learns to think, speak, and fight in behalf of the people of his new home. Let this be our travel guide: we go the distance so that we can make this world a better place.

Written for Bulatlat

There is a regular gathering of anti-Marcos activists which briefly unites various shades of the Left. This was impossible to organize in the mid-1990s during the ‘great split’ within the Philippine Left, but today it happens several times a year. Perhaps the passing of time inspired these fierce ideological rivals to set aside their political differences so that they can meet their former friends and comrades in the struggle against the dictatorship.

That they can socialize and reminisce together is a reminder that they once fought for the same Cause. They shared a common experience of spending the formative years of their lives building the people’s resistance against imperialism and other social evils. Regardless of what they are doing today, it cannot be denied that there was a time when they were all part of the militant Left, the national democratic Left.

Unfortunately, we cannot bestow the same recognition to activists who became members of the so-called moderate Left in the 1990s up to the present. Understandably, their views about the Natdem movement are colored by ideological bias. They became avowed Leftists by consciously denigrating the Natdem brand of politics.

But they seemed unaware of how peculiar they appear when they brag about their Leftist credentials. Consider these formulaic soundbites of how they introduce themselves in public: We are activists but we don’t just join rallies and shout slogans; we use intelligent and creative forms of protests. We do not simply condemn the government; we lobby for reforms in the bureaucracy. We are not dogmatic, we believe in pluralism. We advocate non-violence as opposed to militant rah-rah activists who spread mayhem in society. We are the democratic, inclusive Left.

If these words are no longer strange, it is because this way of thinking is precisely what the ruling order prescribes. We can resist but it must be legal, peaceful, and disciplined. Both the moderate Leftists and politicians want an activism emptied of its radical, disruptive essence.

The non-stop clarification about being Left minus the noisy militancy of the Natdem reflects a mindset that desperately seeks recognition and praise from the Establishment (as if it is the real aim of progressive politics).

Maybe the moderate Leftists simply wanted to differentiate themselves from the Natdem but by overemphasizing the small and cute interventions of polite dissenters, they misrepresent these as the only effective and innovative acts of politics. They undermine and reject the efficacy and necessity of collective mass actions. Didn’t they know that the Left survived the brutal retaliation of reactionary forces not by begging for piecemeal reforms or agreeing to speak in behalf of the state among the grassroots but by advocating revolutionary demands and militantly advancing the struggle with the masses?

The moderate Leftist introduces his politics not by denouncing the oppressive system but by demonizing the methods of the Natdem. She speaks about the historic legacy of the Left but is quick to dismiss the role and relevance of the Natdem. He spends more time ridiculing Natdem personalities than resisting the corrosive influence of the imperialist, corrupt bureaucrats, and greedy landlords in society.

The young moderate Leftist is brainwashed into believing that the great scourge of politics is the annoying existence of Maoists and Stalinists in schools, communities, offices, and churches. Thus the ruthless machinations to silence and isolate Natdem activists by invoking the institutional powers and resources of the state. They accuse Natdems of using underhanded ‘Stalinist’ tactics but fail to recognize their undemocratic and arrogant behavior toward individuals who think differently from them.

Consider this example: During some community congregations or small caucuses of various groups and individuals, there is always a self-assured young moderate Leftist who will warn against totalitarianism and the presence of dogmatic groups which found a way to infiltrate the assembly and subvert the non-partisan character of the institution. Then, she will preach about the tired, old strategies of the Natdem Left and the need for a rethinking of political perspectives. She will most likely offer unoriginal but respectful ways to express the sentiments of the group in public. Aside from monopolizing the floor, she ends up imposing her ‘democratic’ and ‘pluralist’ views on others. Nothing wrong really since it’s group dynamics at work but when a Natdem behaves this way, he will be accused of Stalinism, whatever it means.

The young moderate Leftist is an unusual Leftist since he claims to know the situation of the man on the street but is squeamish about the use of street tactics in politics. But can we blame her when she was systematically schooled to distrust the power of the mob. Indeed, she read about the First Quarter Storm and People Power, but she also read that this kind of activism is already obsolete.

Instead of persevering in the militant mass movement, she was told that the new Left must learn to compromise its principles if it wants to succeed in realpolitik. Change can be realized by influencing the agencies of the state. Thus, the bad word collaborationism was repackaged in the vocabulary of the moderate Left as an acceptable and even superior form of political tendency.

It has been 20 years since moderate Leftists and civil society started bragging about the concrete gains of diluting the subversive aims of revolution in favor of compromise and bureaucratic lobbying. During the same period, they never stopped mocking the protracted character of the people’s revolution in the countryside.

Yet they can only boast about some token reforms in some sectors while the overall situation of Philippine society has fundamentally remained the same. Inequality persists, poverty has worsened, landlordism continues to stalk the land, and foreign meddling is embraced as a valid political solution.

Despite the horrific conditions in the country, the moderate Left refuses to sever ties with the ruling party and resume the militant political struggle. Tragic that the moderate Left is an accomplice of reactionaries and conservatives in oppressing our people.

Ah, but such is the arrogance and ignorance of young moderate Leftists as they continue to portray the Natdem Left as the hopelessly stubborn and undemocratic Left.

When there’s an upsurge of reactionary thinking and disturbing political cynicism in society, trust the moderate Left for quickly putting the blame against the Natdem for the latter’s supposedly outmoded and boring politics. They ridicule the fighting capabilities of the Natdem while they join forces with the reactionary state; but they keep on identifying themselves in global civil society meetings as victims of imaginary Stalinist crimes. When asked about the status of the Philippine Left by foreign academics, they exaggerate their political influence while maliciously accusing the Natdem of losing popular support.

Perhaps it is no use being kind anymore (in the name of alliance building) and instead an activist should be more aggressive in correcting the vicious propaganda of both the anti-Left and moderate Left against the militant section of the Left which is being put to task for asserting and affirming the need for revolution.

To young moderate Leftists, even a partylist representative and leader of the ‘democratic’ Left couldn’t stomach the horrendous consequences of uncritical collaboration. Isn’t this a cautionary sign about the bankrupt and rotten character of real existing moderate Left in Philippine politics? There is a better way of serving the people, the Natdem way. It’s time to have more fun and join the mass movement.

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

5 Trends That Define the 2016 Philippine Elections

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

Does the Philippines Have Its Own Donald Trump?

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

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

Nazi Germany Steals Headlines in Philippines Election Debate

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

Written for New Mandala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written for Manila Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at The Diplomat

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

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

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

The Trouble With Cambodia’s New Law on Trade Unions

Read more at The Diplomat

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

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

Written for Bulatlat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Malaysia Broadens Media Crackdown As Political Scandal Worsens

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

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

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

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