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.

Candidates belonging to the coalition endorsed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte won in the senate amid reports of widespread vote tampering and other irregularities documented on election day.

Election monitoring groups said there were more cases of faulty vote counting machines this year compared to the 2016 election. Local poll officials solved the issue by replacing the malfunctioning machines, but this already caused a delay which disenfranchised many voters.

Written for The Diplomat magazine. Read more

Midterm Elections in the Philippines: The Risk of a Pyrrhic Duterte Victory

Majority of the senatorial candidates endorsed by the coalition headed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are doing well in mainstream surveys. Many of them are popular re-electionist senators who come from established political dynasties which means their election victory is almost assured, barring any unforeseen major scandal or crisis in the next three weeks.

But among the candidates who have soared high in the surveys are former presidential aide Bong Go and former police general Ronald Bato. These two are closely associated with Duterte. Go is known as the ‘national photobomber’ because he is often seen accompanying Duterte in official events. Meanwhile, Bato is the police general who gained global notoriety for enforcing Duterte’s bloody ‘war on drugs’.

Written for The Diplomat Magazine. Read more

Cheers and jeers: Tainted elections, Liu Xia’s release, and court rulings in the Asia-Pacific

Pakistanis and Cambodians vote amid claims of irregularities; Chinese poet Liu Xia is free; Malaysia withdraws sedition cases against cartoonist Zunar; disappointing court rulings in Burma and Indonesia; and Singapore holds its 10th Pink Dot LGBTQI+ event. Read more

Freedom and Fury: Tep Vanny, “Fake News” law repealed, LGBTQI portraits removed

In August, rights advocates celebrated the release of Cambodian land rights activist Tep Vanny and the repeal of Malaysia’s anti-Fake News law; but they condemned the crackdown on student protests in Bangladesh, Google’s alleged complicity with China’s censors, and genocide in Burma. Read more.

Outrage over jailed journalists and activists, two big wins for LGBTQI+, and more

Protests take place in Burma, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and West Papua; new laws threaten online free expression in Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Nepal; and same-sex relations decriminalized in India, as Hong Kong starts process of recognising same-sex spouses in visa proceedings. Read more

Published by Bulatlat

When you see a rally, you assume it is a hakot crowd. Maybe you think rallies are similar to the assemblies organized by trapos during campaign sorties. But only politicians pay people to attend events and their own self-serving rallies. Unfortunately, too, there are educated people who insist that urban poor rallyists get paid for marching in the streets. It reflects an elitist thinking because the same people wouldn’t accuse Ateneo students who protested against drug-related killings of receiving cash to join a rally.

When you see a rally, you dismiss it as another anti-government action. Hence, it is anti-progress and part of destabilization. On the contrary, activists want so-called development to benefit all. They also demand an equal and efficient delivery of vital government services. They condemn abuse of power, corruption, and betrayal of public interest. They are actually protesting against authorities who are undermining the integrity of the government. Interestingly, nobody accused Iglesia ni Cristo members of being anti-government when they set-up camp at Padre Faura and Edsa Shaw several years ago. Why can’t we acknowledge that activists have legitimate grievances when they protest in the streets?

When you hear activists criticizing the president, you describe them as perennial and nuisance critics of the government. And you urge them to stop being a problem by being part of the solution. But shouldn’t we support people whose lifelong commitment is to protect and advance our rights and welfare? Unless you think politicians can be fully trusted in the management of our country, then we should at least recognize the persistence of activists to correct what is wrong and change what needs to be done in our society. You easily get offended by the slogans and complaints of activists when the real problem is the recidivist behavior of politicians who keep on vowing to uplift our lives and continue to make empty promises because they even get praised for their tiresome lies.

When you see a rally, you condemn it as violent. And you were able to confirm this when reports broadcast the clash between the police and protesters. Yet it is always the police who violently disperse rallies while activists only defend themselves and their right to express their views. But an uneventful protest (read: no tension with the police) is still considered violent and even unlawful. All activities that challenge the status quo is condemned as chaotic, a threat to our values, and terribly out-of-place in the modern world. What is tragic is that you think rallies are violent yet you fail or feel powerless to fight the structures that oppress many. Worse, you believe ordinary citizens have no right to fight back against law enforcers even if the latter were acting in behalf of evil trapos and greedy oligarchs.

When you see activists on media, you mock them as epal or papansin. Do you respond the same way when politicians speak on TV? Do you deride the rich, famous, and other members of the elite when news reports feature their views? We should probe our negative reaction: Is it because the activist articulated a contrarian perspective or is it because we feel the working classes and those who represent them have no right to speak?

What is common with these examples of anti-activist bias? They all reinforce the point of view of the reactionary ultra-rich. They reiterate how politicians think and their stubborn and dogmatic belief on how people should behave in the community. They represent years of absorbing conservative ideas propagated as the normal and modern way of interpreting the world.

Only those who exploit the poor are afraid of the ‘specter’ of the coming together of the masses to break the chains of bondage and modern slavery. They demonize the struggle of the poor to preserve the present and they use their massive but ill-gotten resources to brainwash the rest of society with their anti-poor bias.

We may think we are being wise in denigrating activists and rallies but most likely it is the result of an inception engineered by those who stand to benefit from discouraging the people to be more critical, assertive, and militant.

Unlearning the anti-activist bias does not mean we need to be activists or we have to embrace their advocacies. We simply have to acknowledge the right of the people to practice dissent and that this is crucial in enabling real democracy.

Speculation is running rampant in the Philippines regarding Duterte’s health, not to mention political forces aiming to see him removed.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year single term is scheduled to end in 2022, but there has been speculation about his capability to finish his mandate.

In the past 30 years, two of five Philippine presidents have been removed from office through “People Power” uprisings. That means there’s always a possibility that the incumbent president could suffer the same fate. In the case of Duterte, many of his critics believe this is a realistic possibility and that either resignation or forced removal could end Duterte’s term early. Some have also suggested the president’s health is poor and could cut his presidency short.

Written for The Diplomat magazine. Read more…

The Philippines’ Extrajudicial Killing Problem

Extrajudicial killings in the Philippines are more than simply a product of the war on drugs.

On November 6, 2018, human rights lawyer Ben Ramos was gunned down on the central Philippine island of Negros. His killing was a reminder that extrajudicial killings have continued with impunity under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, beyond the so-called war on drugs that continues to dominate headlines.

Duterte has gained international notoriety for waging a “war on drugs” that has killed thousands. Though the police say less than 5,000 have been killed during anti-drug operations, some human rights groups believe that the number has already reached more than 20,000

Written for The Diplomat magazine. Read more….

Civil society groups, the independent media, and grassroots activists have shown resilience in the past several months, struggling hard to push for reforms in governance, the protection of human rights, and the reversal of laws that are impeding the country’s transition to democracy.

Whether Cambodians will vote or avoid going to the polling stations in record numbers remains to be seen. But whatever happens on election day, it’s undeniable that there remains much to be done before full democracy is realized in Cambodia.

Read more on IFEX

Cambodia’s human rights record under spotlight in third Universal Periodic Review

Cambodia is among the 41 states whose human rights records are under scrutiny at the ongoing 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group. Cambodia’s report was delivered on 30 January by the Cambodian Human Rights Committee headed by Mr. Keo Remy, who is also an attaché to the country’s prime minister.

Facilitating the session on 30 January are rapporteurs from Senegal, Pakistan and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The report about Cambodia’s UPR proceedings will be released on 1 February. The final outcome of the 32nd session, including the response of the government, will be adopted by the plenary of the Human Rights Council in June 2019.

Read more on IFEX

Published by Kodao

A plaque honoring Philippines’s Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) was installed at the Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, USA last May 1 at the monument honoring workers whose deaths led to several labor reforms, including the implementation of an eight-hour work day.

The installation of the plaque was organized by the Illinois Labor History Society.

Raymond Palatino Bagong Alyansang Makabayan represented KMU during the activity. Below is the text of Mong’s speech:

Salute to the working class of the United States! Salute to all working peoples of the world! Mabuhay!

It is an honor to represent the Kilusang Mayo Uno or May First Movement of the Philippines.
Today, we honor the Haymarket workers whose martyrdom did not only pave the way for labor reforms, but more importantly, it empowered and inspired the growth of the labor movement all over the world.

So powerful was the legacy of May One that it eventually became the International Workers Day.
The Philippine labor movement acknowledged the heroism of the Haymarket martyrs when its largest and most militant labor federation chose the name Kilusang Mayo Uno or May First Movement to unite all workers in the Philippines and lead the struggle of the working class.

KMU was established to strengthen the ranks of Filipino workers at a time when the country was under a dictatorship. KMU led the workers in resisting tyranny and linked arms with the farmers, the urban poor, and other freedom-loving Filipinos in ousting a dictator from power.

Since then, the KMU has been at the forefront of the labor movement, and it has consistently and bravely asserted, without compromise, the just demands of workers for higher wages, decent work, safe workplaces; and it has been a strong voice in pushing for democratic rights, an end to feudal oppression in the rural regions of the Philippines, the resistance against foreign control of the local economy, and the realization of the people’s national democratic aspirations.

For almost four decades now, the KMU has been an influential force in the people’s struggle for real democracy and lasting peace in the Philippines.

And so it is fitting that, as we place a KMU marker here in Chicago, we dedicate this in honor of all who devoted the best years of their lives, many of them even sacrificed their lives, in pursuing the revolutionary struggle for national democracy.

This plaque is also for the Filipino migrant farmers who arrived here in the US in the early 20th century. Some of them would become pioneers in union organizing. Their work is remembered today as we continue to fight for immigrant rights and the improvement of conditions of all migrant workers in the US.

This is for the assembly workers in the Philippines’ export processing zones who are toiling in sweatshop conditions, the plantation workers of Mindanao who are herded in militarized camps, the service sector employees denied of benefits, the migrant workers who are forced to be separated from their families because of poverty, underdevelopment, and unjust immigration policies. This is for all the working classes who do not surrender and who continue to march forward to fight for change.

This is for the labor organizers in the Philippines who are fighting a rising dictatorship amid nonstop attacks by state forces. Some of them are in prison yet the only crime they committed was to promote the welfare of workers.

In response, we proudly assert that union organizing is not a crime. Empowering the grassroots is not a crime. Standing up for migrant rights is not a crime.

The real criminal act is the exploitation of the working class, the greedy appropriation of profits and surplus value while workers are subjected to slave-like relations, and the collusion of big capitalists and corrupt politicians in violating labor rights.

KMU stands in solidarity with the American working class in challenging the neoliberal economic policies that drive down wages, destroy unions, and harm the health and well-being of workers.

KMU joins all workers in the world in smashing this inhumane system that perpetuates oppression and inequality.

The capitalists have money, the police, the courts, and dirty politicians; but the workers are stronger because we have unity and solidarity and the peoples of the world are one with us in building a better future, a beautiful tomorrow where there is real peace, justice, democracy, and respect for human dignity.

Long live the working class! Mabuhay ang uring manggagawa!

Published by Pinoy Weekly, 12 May 2018

The ‘Stop the Killings’ caravan organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – United States chapter conducted a rally in Portland on May 5, 2018. Speakers of the rally included community leaders, human rights, activist, a representative of Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Bayan Metro Manila Chairman Mong Palatino. Below is the text of Mong’s speech:

Our dear friends, allies and kasamas, thank you for coming and for showing support to the ‘Stop the Killings’ campaign.

There were those who wanted to silence our voices by preventing one of our speakers, Jerome Aba, from joining the caravan. But they failed because despite his deportation, Jerome was still able to deliver his message; and more importantly, he succeeded in uniting various groups here in the United States to denounce the torture he endured and the impact of the so-called war on terror on the civilian population in Mindanao.

Our caravan started in D.C. before coming to New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Seattle, and now in Portland, Oregon. From East to West of the U.S., we were overwhelmed by the warm welcome shown by the American people to our delegation. We met legislators, church leaders, university professors, union officials, students, migrant activists, journalists, and kababayans who all expressed concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines.

Here in Portland, we held meetings and informal caucuses about President Rodrigo Duterte’s triple wars – the misnamed ‘war on drugs’, the war on terror, and the all-out-war against communist rebels. But all these should be known as a war against the poor because they involve the massive use of force to arbitrarily kill thousands of urban poor residents, hundreds of landless farmers, indigenous peoples, while forcing the evacuation of almost half a million residents of Marawi.

These wars have nothing to do with protecting the people and defending democracy. The truth is that these wars reflect the tyrannical rule of Duterte who wants to instill fear in society and deter people from opposing his unpopular policies.

Duterte is aware that his anti-people policies – from imposing higher taxes, reneging on his promise to end labor contractualization, allowing foreign military buildup, to changing the constitution – would generate intense political backlash. The use of repressive tactics is clearly intended to prevent citizens from challenging these unpopular programs and Duterte’s insulting pronouncements against women, the LGBT, and indigenous peoples.

Aside from the triple wars, Duterte is also attacking the free press, the critical members of the political opposition, the chief justice, and the organized Left. He even branded many activists as terrorists.

The killing spree, the widespread human rights abuses, and the undermining of civil liberties are done to promote the selfish agenda of Duterte and the ruling party. This deadly regime is propped up by foreign powers, big business, and dynastic oligarchs who all seek the establishment of an authoritarian government which would enable them to grab more power and profit at the expense of the working people.

They stand to benefit from the rise of a dictatorship which would eliminate any opposition to destructive mining operations, expansion of palm oil plantations, exploitation of cheap labor, plunder of the country’s resources and invasion of our territories.

Our mission here in the US is to raise awareness about these issues and explain that the human rights atrocities committed by state forces are not limited to the bloody anti-drug campaign.

We are here to appeal for your support in reminding your government about its role in enabling Duterte’s triple wars.

We are here seeking more voices who will join the clamor for the resumption of the peace process, the implementation of genuine land reform, the building of an economy that will uplift the conditions of all Filipinos, and the advancement of the people’s national democratic aspirations.

We are thankful for the opportunity to share the stories of the urban poor, the farmers, the Moro, and the Lumad. We are extremely touched by messages of solidarity which give us hope as we continue the struggle for human rights protection and democratic reforms in society.

Seeing all of you here today affirms our faith in the power of solidarity.

We know you are one with us in our call to stop the killings in the Philippines, and the withdrawal of US military aid and the deployment of war drones that are being used in Duterte’s repressive wars.

We are friends, allies and kasamas in the common struggle for respect for rights and dignity.

From Portland to Mindanao, we stand up for the rights of the Lumad and migrants.

From the US to the Philippines, we raise the banner of the people’s movement resisting tyranny, opposing wars of aggression, and fighting a brutal system that separates families, dehumanizes social relations, and kills the poor.

And so from both sides of the Pacific, we say, stop the raids, stop the killings!
Long live international solidarity! Mabuhay!

Written for Bulatlat

‘Resistance is Our Right, Solidarity is Our Duty’ was the call to action printed on t-shirts, tote bags, and flyers distributed during our speaking tour across the United States about the human rights situation in the Philippines.

It meaningfully captured the political orientation guiding Filipino activists in the US: The legitimacy of practicing dissent and the accompanying obligation to support the national democratic struggle in the homeland.

This was my initial understanding of the slogan until I met both Filipino-Americans and non-Filipinos who had been working hard to raise awareness about the Lumad, the plight of landless farmers, and the destructive impact of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal wars against the people.

It was then I realized the real significance of that one-liner and what it meant to many. The astonishing and remarkable coming together of Americans, even those who have no Filipino ancestry, to advance the cause of democracy and people empowerment in the Philippines.

Indeed, the slogan is not country-specific. Here was a group of Americans from diverse backgrounds who would later join the global condemnation of the massacre in Gaza. But they were also part of the growing number of Americans who have committed to raising the banner of people’s resistance in the Philippines.

It was inspiring to meet Americans who uphold solidarity as a full-time advocacy. Internationalists in the most positive sense who, at the same time, have also pledged to fight side by side Filipinos in overthrowing the yoke of neocolonialism and feudal oppression in the Philippines.

Part of my admiration for these dedicated activists of the Philippine cause is their resolve to learn more about the revolutionary past of Filipinos and their intention to make it relevant again. Today. In America.

Out of the hundreds, if not thousands of political struggles and other real existing movements in the world today, they chose to walk with their kasamas in the Philippines. They speak of adobo, sinigang, and most importantly, makibaka. They see the Philippines not as a tourist destination waiting to be explored but a home, their home where US-backed regimes have oppressed the people for so long.

But doing solidarity is more than just volunteering for a social event. It demands greater attention, time, and sacrifice. It is a political work that must be undertaken while battling the many evils that plague American society.

What is the place of solidarity when the political question of the day is linked to domestic affairs?

There is state-sponsored violence in the Philippines but it is no more horrific than the rising levels of violence in the US today. Think of the gun control issue, police brutality, and proliferation of race-based hate crimes. Eviction of the poor in Manila and other urban centers mirrors the intensifying gentrification in American cities. Workers are exploited, the gap between the rich and poor is widening, and the political system of both countries are tragically hostaged by elite interest.

Which political task should be prioritized?

I grappled with this question during the initial phase of the caravan but I quickly got my answer after learning about the work of activists doing solidarity work for the Philippines.

Perhaps I framed the question in the wrong way. Solidarity should not be seen as the opposite of addressing local political issues. Solidarity should be integrated into the comprehensive political work of activists. And if I may add, it should be considered as one of the core principles to strengthening the resistance of the grassroots.

Building solidarity networks, establishing new ties, and making friends on the other side of the continent enhance the depth and resilience of community organizing in the US. Solidarity is a useful antidote to parochialism and individualism since it anchors political organizing on a broader set of objectives.

Solidarity is not a matter of strengthening our ranks to support the struggle of marginalized classes in the remote parts of the world, but an enlightening political duty that ultimately contributes to our resistance against homegrown enemies of the people. It is never about extending aid to seemingly powerless victims but a life-affirming act of humanity, the collective pursuit of a progressive type of politics which also boosts the prospects of our local struggles.

Thus the vigorous campaign of Filipino activists and allies not just for Lumad rights, but also the protection of immigrant rights, the demand for adequate welfare services, mobilizing the community against skyrocketing house rent, fighting discrimination and racism, and challenging US militarism. Solidarity should never be a hindrance for us to embark on campaigns that require urgent action today.

Seen from this perspective, solidarity becomes an even more beautiful and powerful word. Our duty, our right, our commitment. Solidarity is resistance. Solidarity and resistance from both sides of the Pacific.

Written for Bulatlat

Adulting is commonly understood as an act of taking a new and bigger responsibility in life. It also refers to a millennial who defied expectations by suddenly performing an important task in the household or community.

In many ways, it is being self-aware and responsible at the same time with 21st-century characteristics. Teenagers becoming responsible as self-caring individuals and flaunting this as a spectacle worthy of peer praise.

It must be pointed out that the generation before us became responsible young adults without needing or directing attention to what they were doing. Most of the time, it involved membership in a group and devoting their selves in support of a special cause. It meant young people going to war, building a union, forming a commune, manning the barricades, and joining the uprising. Yet there was no need to use the word adulting under these circumstances. They simply had to grow up, face life’s challenges, and become an adult in the company of others.

Can you imagine a young graduate in the 1940s describing his decision to fight the Nazis as adulting? Similarly, the word adulting probably never crossed the minds of individuals paying taxes during World War II.

There were many words used to describe what the young did when they fought the dictatorship in the 1970s but adulting was not one of them.

Adulting as we understand it today only became knowable after the methodical restructuring of the economy that boosted the hegemony of big business while undercutting the labor movement and the solidarity of groups in the peripheries of society. Crucial to the success of this conservative agenda is the mainstreaming of values that glorify financial success and selfish individualism. We have to thank our schools, the media, and other opinion-making institutions for the inception of these beliefs during our formative years.

Adulting is essentially a celebration of individual achievement. A person gleefully announcing and making visible his petty success.

Adulting activities are neither wrong nor harmful yet it is revealing that they are anchored on the motivation to promote the self.

A person performs this or that mundane task not for the glory of the nation or a collective, and even the family, but only for herself. The indoctrination we received was so massive and pervasive that we no longer view this as unusual, immoral, and counterproductive.

A society is always disrupted by young people taking more responsibilities in life. ‘Adulting’ in the 20th century saw young people immersed in wars, revolutions, and social movements that challenged the established order. It meant changing the world. In contrast, adulting today is more or less about changing the wallpapers in our houses.

Those in power and their apologists who hoard the riches of our community are never threatened by adulting. How can they view adulting with contempt if it merely involves young people overcoming their inadequacies in the modern world?

Young adults finally accepting their designated role in society, law-abiding individuals conforming to the demands of their elders, and millennials becoming conscious of their purchasing power without being critical to the unequal and exploitative relations that dominate today.

Behold the new adults who are now physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to fix what ails the imperfect world. The brainwashed population equating self-improvement and self-care with social responsibility. Tech-savvy individuals who thrive in the social network, whether online or offline, yet arrogates the credit for his success to his so-called self-sacrifice.

Can adulting ever be subversive? Can it lead us to be woke? Only if we rethink what it means to be a responsible adult living in this day and age when there’s plenty of information about hunger and poverty yet preventable miseries continue to plague the world. Only if we link adulting to the daily struggles of the poor and oppressed. Only if we question the need for adulting until it’s replaced by a more liberating word that captures the idealism of the young, their anger, energy, passion, and commitment to conquer and change the world. The day when adulting ceases to appear relevant because everybody is focused on making life more meaningful for both adults and non-adults.

Written for The Diplomat

Singapore’s intolerance of dissent was put into the spotlight this month when authorities briefly detained a prominent activist for organizing “illegal assemblies.”

According to the police, activist Jolovan Wham committed seven offenses for participating in a candle lighting vigil outside a prison complex, organizing a silent protest inside a train, and conducting a forum whose speakers included Hong Kong pro-democracy leader, Joshua Wong, speaking via Skype.

Meanwhile, Wham’s case is being closely monitored by many because a conviction could inspire the police to pursue other “recalcitrant” activists, especially those who have been consistently demanding political reforms in the PAP-led government. But the overwhelming support received by Wham from various groups and institutions inside and outside of Singapore should also make the government rethink its policies and recent decisions that directly and indirectly suppress contrary voices.

If not, then authorities are only provoking more citizens to perform acts of “recalcitrance,” which could broaden into a movement capable of weakening or even dislodging the PAP in the next election.

Read more….