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.

‘Groundhog Day’ in Congress

September 22nd, 2019

Written for Bulatlat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading at IFEX website

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

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

Continue reading at IFEX website

Published by Bulatlat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems he has not yet done creating his history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by The Diplomat

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

Read more….

How the Marcoses returned to power in the Philippines

Written for The Diplomat magazine

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

Read more

Activism After College

August 14th, 2019

Published by Squeeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But can these ideas and theoretical reflections ease his ambivalence?

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

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

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

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

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

Published by Bulatlat

Vow of poverty. Activists are encouraged to live simply, but unlike priests, they don’t have a vow of poverty. They don’t fetishize poverty; instead, they work with the poor to fight the structures that engender oppression in society. Indeed, activists renounce material riches and the glorification of wealth but it doesn’t mean they can no longer indulge in simple pleasures like going to movies, eating in restaurants, and singing in videoke bars. Also, activism is a duty and way of life that can be embraced by all sectors, including those who belong to the middle classes and even the rich.

Pro-China. Some accuse activists of being rabid anti-Americans who ignore the transgressions of China. They want activists to stop burning US flags and instead hold demonstrations in front of the Chinese consulate. These are inaccurate and unfair assertions. Activists are not anti-Americans; what they denounce are the destructive policies of the US government. Activists have not been remiss in defending our sovereignty against foreign intruders whether they involve the US military, multinational mining firms, or Chinese bullies. Activists read Mao but they are not supporters of China’s leaders today. In fact, they describe China’s government as revisionist and even anti-Mao.

‘Silent’ activists. Every time there is a public scandal or national crisis, some will complain about the supposed silence of activists and their alleged complicity with the dark forces in society. How ironic that those who reject rallies are egging on activists to protest in the streets against this or that issue. Those who rant against arrogant activists are condescendingly commanding others to carry out a political action. What their sentiments truly reveal is their own political impotence. They seem to forget that they can organize their own protest with or without the participation of activists. But either they can’t do it because they have no organizing work or they refuse to act because they are more comfortable preaching in their virtual worlds. Tragic that they need to outsource political commitment.

Bad citizens and lawbreakers. Activism is not a crime, joining rallies is not against the law, protesting against a government program is not rebellion. Only the state and its clueless apologists will spread the insidious propaganda that activism is disruptive, inutile, illegal, and anti-Filipino. On the contrary, activism embodies what it means to practice responsible citizenship. What better way to inculcate responsibility among the people and especially the youth than to encourage a group of citizens to work together and establish solidarity in order to challenge the wrongdoers and push for reforms in society.

Professional rallyists. Man does not live by bread alone…and rallies. Some think that activists earn their living by organizing rallies. This is another blatant government-sponsored lie. It is wrong to equate activism with mere participation in rallies. It is also wrong to assume that activists spend most of their time attending and coordinating rallies. Activists devote greater attention to talking to people, studying a social problem, lobbying with officials, conducting education and information-awareness campaigns, integrating with the masses in the peripheries, and planning meetings. A rally is the most visible manifestation of what activists are doing but it doesn’t really capture the comprehensive political work of activists. The term ‘activist’ is also half-complete because most have professions. Many are teachers, doctors, artists, writers, government employees, entrepreneurs, lawyers, priests, scientists – nearly every sector in society has a dedicated group of individuals who organize themselves in order to become activists. Some become full-time organizers in urban poor and rural communities. They are like volunteer individuals in charity groups whose advocacy is gratefully acknowledged and supported by their adopted communities. Some turn to freelance work to pay the bills while others rely on the political and financial support provided by their families and close friends. No activist depends on rallies to survive precarious living. No one becomes rich by joining rallies. But everybody becomes ‘richer’ and more fulfilled in life by wielding the weapons of activism to hasten the emergence of a better world and brighter future.

Blind followers. Let’s specify the criticism: Blind followers of an obsolete ideology; and uncritical, robot-like followers of communist leader Joma Sison. What ideology are they referring to? The ideology that unmasks the system of exploitation and mass poverty? The philosophy that combines theory and practice so that the ‘best of all possible worlds’ can be rendered knowable by all? Any critique to the existing system is deemed invalid by those who think we have reached the ‘end of history’ and the only rational action left for us to accomplish is to improve life under the ruling order by demanding some doable, tangible reforms. Hence, the indifference and even ruthless hatred against those who continue to insist that no less than a revolutionary upheaval is needed to uplift the conditions of all. As for Joma, his ideological enemies assume that the Western propaganda against the cult-like following of Stalin and Mao can be used to demonize the revolutionary struggle in the Philippines. It is a standard red-baiting tactic. True, activists read the writings of Joma and they serve as useful guide to better understand the interplay of political forces in Philippine society. But the strength of the people’s resistance in the country is not attributed to how well activists are subscribing to the doctrines laid down by Joma. The National Democratic movement thrives and is even resurgent mainly because of the heroic contribution and sacrifice of its ‘organic intellectuals’ immersed in the grassroots and building real democracy and political power from the countryside to the cities.

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….