Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


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

Published by New Mandala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated from Vietnamese by Don Le.

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

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

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

Read more on IFEX

Vietnamese artist Mai Khoi defiant after eviction for Trump protest

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

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

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

Read more on IFEX

Published by Bulatlat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written for The Diplomat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written for The Diplomat

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

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

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

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

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When journalists write about Internet censorship in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is mentioned as a country where citizens and netizens enjoy media freedom. Indeed, compared to other countries in the region, the situation in the Philippines looks better when it comes to upholding free speech. Unlike in Thailand, there’s no Army Cyber Center in the Philippines monitoring ‘illegal’ content on social media; unlike in Vietnam, Filipino bloggers can criticize authorities without being arrested; and unlike in Laos, anti-government posts are not outrightly censored. Activists can post videos lampooning politicians, Facebook users can ‘like’ and ‘share’ photos and videos uploaded by rebel groups, and anyone can call for the extralegal removal of public officials without being censored or penalized. The constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression is widely recognized and promoted in both public and private institutions. Yet, despite these encouraging indicators of media freedom, the Internet landscape in the Philippines cannot be rated as free, but only partly free.

In summary, the Philippines’ Internet landscape is indeed more free compared to its neighbors; but the introduction of repressive laws, the continuing media killings, and the persecution of the independent media under the Duterte government are rapidly eroding the freedoms that empowered the Filipinos in the past to fight tyrants and corrupt leaders.

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New Media and Democracy in the Philippines

The Philippines made its first Internet connection only in 1994 or almost a decade after the restoration of democratic institutions in 1986. It was also the time when the government has deregulated the telecommunications sector to improve the country’s IT infrastructure. Internet access was almost nil but mobile phone connections started to increase in the late 1990s. In particular, Filipinos quickly adapted to the practice of using the SMS of mobile phones because it was a free service. For many Filipinos, the obvious benefit of using mobile phones was the availability of a faster and cheaper way of communicating with friends and relatives, especially for overseas workers. But it was the political impact of using mobile phones which subsequently became evident after Filipinos started sending SMS in large volumes to poke fun at politicians and share their views on various political issues.

Can democracy survive the onslaught of fake news and a ‘weaponized’ Internet? The brief history of the rapid rise of new media in the Philippines is a reminder that despite several challenges Filipinos are still able to make innovative use of computer programs and communication apps to defend democratic aims. Perhaps Duterte’s troll consultants are aware of this lesson which explains their aggressiveness in undermining online criticisms while intimidating independent media.

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Published by Manila Today

*Remarks during the June 2017 United National AntiWar Coalition assembly in Richmond, Virginia

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat. Good morning everyone. Mabuhay!

Or should I say good evening because it’s already past 10 p.m. in the Philippines?

I’d like to share two narratives: first, the narrative of colonialism and/or neocolonialism; and second, which I think is more important for this occasion, the narrative of resistance, specifically the century struggle of the Filipino people to defeat US imperialism.

Let me say that once again: US imperialism.

For me to say US imperialism inside the US in front of many people, this alone would make my trip very meaningful.

But let me first talk about the various ways the US have justified its militarist intervention in the Philippines.

In 1898, the US arrived in the Philippine to liberate us from Spanish colonialism; but we have already defeated the Spanish army and we have just established Asia’s first republic.

President McKinley said America will Christianize Filipinos, but we majority of Filipinos are Catholics, and we remain the only Catholic-dominated nation in Asia today, aside from Timor.

Indeed, America established a public education system, but one of its legacy is to brainwash Filipinos about the supposedly noble motives of Big Brother America.

America is in the Philippines, according to our American educators, to teach Filipinos about democracy, and it’s not really interested with our forests and gold mines. Not to mention a market to dump its surplus products or the control of a strategic sea route to access the Asia-Pacific market.

We are so grateful to America that after World War II, when we gained our token independence, we gave Americans investors the freedom to plunder our natural resources. And to show our hospitality, we extended the lease to Subic and Clark military bases. Clark was the biggest American base outside the US.

What you call military-industrial complex here meant the emergence of a military-entertainment complex in Subic and Clark. In between wars, especially during the Vietnam War, US troops will arrive in the Philippine for “rest and recreation”. The US military expressed its gratitude by leaving a toxic waste legacy in these bases.

In the 1970s, a dictatorship regime emerged in the Philippines which was backed up by the US government. In fact, the US has been instrumental in shaping the electoral results and political events in our country after WWII.

During the Bush years, the Philippine was made a second front in the ‘war on terror’ after Iraq and Afghanistan. It meant the arrival of troops conducting military exercises on our lands. In 2014, our government signed a new deal with the Obama government which allowed the building of US military facilities across the Philippines.

The US said these facilities plus the increased deployment of troops will benefit the Philippines because these will provide quicker and easier access for the disaster-relief efforts of the US military every time a typhoon, earthquake or other calamities will cause destruction in our country. Again, the narrative of neocolonialism disguised as a humanitarian endeavor.

But there’s another narrative I’d like to emphasize. The narrative of the struggle for national liberation.

The Philippine-American war from 1899 to 1902, the nationalist movement during the early years of the 20th century, the peasant uprisings in the 1930s, the people’s army during WWII, the communist Huk rebellion in the 1940s and 1950s, the rise of the national democratic movement in the 1960s, the anti-dictatorship struggle in the 1980s, the People Power in 1986, and the anti-Bases movement which led to the expulsion of US military bases in 1991.

When journalists report about 9/11, I think about 9/16 (September 16, 1991), the day when Filipinos kicked out US bases from our lands.

The struggle is not over because US troops are still conducting military games on our lands, American military facilities are now being constructed in implementation of the Asia pivot, and right now the US is mysteriously undertaking anti-terror, anti-ISIS activities.

Meanwhile, a war is raging in my homeland. There is a vibrant mass movement resisting US military intervention. It is aware that the US government, the US war machine, is supporting the local reactionary forces which are violently suppressing the people’s clamor for lands, decent wages, clean environment, and a democratic government.

The forces of oppression appear to be powerful today but there’s no time to despair and no reason to surrender.

This is my first UNAC and I am truly inspired by the presentations last night and earlier today. When I go back to the Philippines, I will tell my comrades that there’s less reason to be worried about Trump because right here in the US, there are groups like UNAC and peace-loving activists like you who are bravely challenging the US war machine.

That’s why I’m optimistic about our work. Because how can imperialism win if the grassroots all over the world, from Asia and Africa to America, are uniting and joining forces to defeat militarism, racism, and oppression. Imperyalismo ibagsak!

Written for The Diplomat magazine

There is an alleged plot to create political destabilization in the Philippines and remove President Rodrigo Duterte from power. No less than Duterte himself exposed the conspiracy and accused the Left of conniving with the ‘yellows’ in trying to oust him as president. The ‘yellows’ refer to the political forces, led by Liberal Party, which supported the previous government of President Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III.

Duterte’s statement was echoed by Solicitor General Jose Calida who revealed that his office is already preparing a case against those involved in subversive activities.

“Before, it was the Yellows. Then they changed the color to white, and now there are also reds coming in, and members of the clergy are also joining the fray,” Calida told the media.

The anti-Duterte plot may be a distraction but unless the government implements some major policy reforms that would reverse the rising discontent in the country, the alleged destabilization might cease to be a conspiracy and become a real threat.

Read more

Duterte: America’s New ‘Humble Friend’

Written for The Diplomat magazine

“I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when the latter visited Manila on August 7, 2017, for a regional security forum. Duterte met Tillerson in the presidential palace.

Duterte’s statement can be confusing for those who can still remember his infamous speech declaring his “separation” from the U.S. during a state visit to China in 2016.

But for those who closely followed Duterte’s foreign policy pronouncements after the victory of US President Donald Trump last November, the Philippine president’s reassuring words of friendship wouldn’t be a surprise for them already.

Despite Duterte’s perceived anti-Americanism, he is actually turning into a reliable ally of the US military. In fact, the “humble friend of the U.S. in Southeast Asia” has stopped making any reference to his earlier commitment to pursuing an independent foreign policy.

Duterte’s close ties with the U.S. will be further boosted at the end of the year when Trump arrives in the Philippines for the East Asian summit.

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The books I read in 2017

April 15th, 2018

Published by Bulatlat

1. Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro. Impossible not to empathize with her strong female characters, their pursuit of fulfillment and freedom, their overcoming of various tragedies and other challenges in life.

2. How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays, Umberto Eco. The best parts are the funny observations of the scholar-traveler about American culture, bureaucratic inefficiency, and irrelevant academic studies.

3. The Emancipation of Women: From the Writings of V. I. Lenin. The Russian leader’s views on the role of women in the revolution, neomalthusianism, and free love. Also a brief introduction to the policies concerning women during the first years of the Soviet government.

4. Engels Revisited: new feminist essays by Janet Sayers, Mary Evans, Nanneke Redclift. Feminist interpretations on the classic work of Engels about the rise of the state and the ‘world historical defeat of the female sex’.

5. Collection of Essays by George Orwell. Brutally frank reflections on his childhood education, the politics of Dickens, the moral failure of imperialism, the Left during the Spanish War, the legacy of Gandhi, and the peculiar case of English nationalism.

6. Writing Home: Nineteen Writers Remember Their Hometowns, edited by Ruel S. de Vera. Filipino writers pay homage to their childhood years, hometowns, and cultural heritage. Nostalgia overload.

7. A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, Joshua Kurlantzick. The secret war in Laos turned the small country into the most heavily bombed place in the world. Yet, it was deemed a success by the CIA and it has become the template in launching covert wars all over the world. Here’s an explosive history of how the CIA began its notorious paramilitary operations. One character in the book is likened to Colonel Kurtz, the mad American soldier in the film Apocalypse Now. Read my review of the book.

8. Small Is Beautiful, Ernst F. Schumacher. The first half of the book is a critique of the modern economic system, and the last half provides a detailed alternative to transform large-scale companies and how to efficiently manage our societies.

9. Artists in Exile, Jane Katz. Brief profiles and interviews of several dissident artists, exiled activists, refugees, and minorities who sought asylum or are already living in the United States.

10. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera. Enjoyed the wit, irony, and ferocious tenderness of the author contemplating about life, love, and politics during the Cold War era.

11. The Te of Piglet, Benjamin Hoff. Less about the lovable Winnie the Pooh characters since the book deals more about the author’s views on nuclear arms, modern economy, teaching method, and political correctness.

12. Technics and Human Development (The Myth of the Machine), Lewis Mumford. Intriguing, insightful, well-researched alternative history about the history of man. A useful antidote against tool (read: gadget) worshippers which make it relevant today.

13. The Radical Tradition, R.H. Tawney. A collection of essays about adult education, British socialism, nationalization as an economic program, and the lives of some European socialists.

14. Women and Child Care In China: A Firsthand Report by Ruth Sidel. A useful report debunking the persistent propaganda about the supposedly destructive legacy of the cultural revolution in China.

15. Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. In defense of activism; explaining the concrete gains of struggling for rights, justice, and democracy.

16. Love in the Days of Rage by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The spirit of 1968, the turbulent ‘youthquake’ through the eyes and romance of a banker anarchist and a tenured artist in a university.

17. Bit Rot by Douglas Coupland. A humorous take on 21st-century living, interesting views on how Internet has changed our lives for the better, a traveler with fascinating impressions of diverse cultures.

18. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. A family comedy-drama involving two generations of immigrant families in Europe.

19. The Age of Uncertainty by John Kenneth Galbraith. A fascinating overview of economic ideas that shaped the modern world.

20. Revolution at the Gates: Zizek on Lenin: The 1917 Writings by Vladimir Lenin, Slavoj Žižek (Editor). Lenin’s dispatches that steered the Bolshevik revolution to victory in 1917. The second half of the book features the theoretical ramblings of a radical philosopher.

21. India: A Wounded Civilization by V.S. Naipaul. A depressing account of India’s political system, a critical if not unsympathetic view of Gandhi’s legacy, and an indictment of what ails the Third World.

22. Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood. Reflections on writing and the complicated role of writers in society.

23. Ilang Hiwa ng Kahapon by Tomas Ongoco. Classic examples of dupluhan, karagatan, huego de prenda, pilipit-dila, bugtungan, balagtasan, harana, dulawit, and other forgotten forms of Philippine literature.

24. Understanding Southeast Asia: Syncretism in Commonalities by Lindsay Falvey. Overview of region’s trading history, cultural influences, colonial experience, and 21st-century challenges.

25. Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences by Jon Elster. On rational choice, on understanding human behavior and action, on the role of natural selection, and on the link of social institutions, collective action, and unintended consequences.

26. Dialectic of Enlightenment by Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Scholarly treatise on the role of culture in history, the rise of the culture industry in the 20th century, art in the era of mass production and instant communication (TV and radio), the origins of fascism and anti-semitism in politics.

27. Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar by Henri Locard. A whole book dismissing Maoist teachings and Marxist movements, but readable overview of brief rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

28. Why Vietnam Still Matters edited by Jan C. Scruggs. Introducing the madness of the Vietnam War to the generation who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Some testimonies attempt to rationalize the involvement of the US in the Indochina conflict.

29. The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt. The memoirs of a public intellectual which he wrote while suffering from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Lucid thoughts, intelligent reflections, and neat overview of life in the West during the second half of the 20th century.

30. Lenin’s imperialism in the 21st century, edited by Antonio Tujan Jr. Affirming the legacy of Lenin’s book and why it remains an essential document not just to unmask imperialism but also to change the world. Read my review of the book.

31. War Talk by Arundhati Roy. Essays against the Empire, the rise of Hindu nationalism, and celebrating the narrative of resistance.

32. The ABCs of Socialism, edited by Bhaskar Sunkara and illustrations by Phil Wrigglesworth. Introducing key socialist ideas and why a Leftist program remains the best antidote against the sterile thinking in modern politics.

33. The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers by Ann Pettifor. Elucidation of Keynesian thinking and why we need to implement the proposals of Keynes to overcome the destructive impact of neoliberalism.

34. Wars of Extinction: Discrimination & the Lumad Struggle in Mindanao by Arnold P. Alamon. Primer on Lumad resistance; comprehensive, sharp analysis of the people’s struggles in Mindanao amid the relentless plunder of the country’s resources by monopoly capitalism.

35. Marx for Beginners by Rius. Creative illustrations about the life of a radical philosopher, economist, and guru of the working-class.

36. Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space by Keller Easterling. Analyzing the relationship of space, modern economics, infrastructure building and politics. In particular, the political impact of zone building, export zones, and broadband cables

37. Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro. Stories about growing up, life in the suburbs, of women confronting the vicissitudes of life, and of the elderly finding some redemption.

38. Time and the Art of Living by Robert Grudin. Insightful, intelligent, interesting meditations on life and some practical notes on how to understand and manage time.

39. Kabataang Kulturang Popular by Rolando Tolentino. Progressive critique of modern living and the futile fantasies of the middle-class; more importantly, a critical overview of alternative politics and the superiority of revolutionary praxis.

40. Legacies to be Remembered: Southern Tagalog During the Spanish Colonialism, 1565-1898, a book project by Cavite Studies Center and National Historical Institute. Some archival notes on the social and economic history of Mindoro, Calamba, Cavite, Batangas during the Spanish colonial period.

41. The Battle for China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution by Mobo Gao. Debunking the popular criticisms against Mao and the cultural revolution. Defending the radical legacy of Mao and exposing the sham reforms and anti-peasant bias of the ‘capitalist roaders’.

“Wipe your tears, continue your journey.” This quote was made famous by Kem Ley himself; and after his death, it has become the rallying call of his friends and supporters. While many continue to grieve, a growing number of Cambodians are stepping up to embrace his legacy of promoting grassroots activism, transparency and good governance, equality and human rights. Read more at IFEX

After Liu Xiaobo: Tributes, ramped-up censorship, and calls to free Liu Xia

Liu Xiaobo, China’s most renowned political prisoner, died on 13 July 2017 – less than three weeks after he was diagnosed with late stage liver cancer. News of his death quickly inspired writers, activists, and human rights advocates from across the world to honor the legacy of Liu and his unfinished work of promoting democratic reforms in China. Read more at IFEX

Graduation speech, STI Meycauayan, Bulacan. Published by Bulatlat

Isa pong malaking karangalan ang mapiling tagapagsalita ngayong araw na ito. Ispesyal at di malilimutan ang pagtitipong ito. Para sa mga mag-aaral, lubos ang kasiyahan dahil natapos din natin ang kolehiyo sa kabila ng maraming pinagdaanang pagsubok, hindi po ba? Para sa mga magulang, walang papantay sa kanilang galak na makita kayo sa inyong pag-akyat sa entablado mamaya. At para sa mga guro, sulit ang pagod at inalay na dunong dahil nagbunga ang kanilang sakripisyo.

Hindi kayang isalarawan mamaya sa Facebook o Instagram ang nag-uumapaw na emosyon na ramdam ng marami ngayon. Kahit naka FB Live mamaya sa pagkuha ninyo ng diploma, walang app na uubra upang sukatin ang kaligayahan ng bawat isa sa bulwagang ito.

Ang seremonyang ito ay ginagawa hindi lamang upang bigyang pagkilala kayo, mga bagong graduate. Isa itong natatanging aktibidad upang sama-samang magdiwang at magpasalamat dahil nagawa ninyong tapusin ang isang mahalagang yugto sa buhay ng isang tao. Hindi lahat nakakatuntong sa kolehiyo, hindi lahat nakakatapos ng pag-aaral; pero heto kayo at ilang minuto na lamang ay ganap na kayong susulong sa bagong hamon sa buhay.

Kaya bago ang uwian, ang kainan, at pagpost ng litrato sa social media mamaya, dapat unahin natin ang pagkilala sa mga taong nag-ambag sa inyong pag-aaral at naging bahagi ng inyong paglalakbay mula kinder hanggang kolehiyo.

Una, para sa mga kaibigan at kaklase, salamat sa masayang samahan, paminsang-minsang away, araw-araw na asaran, patagong pangongopya, maaasahang sandalan kapag may problema, sapilitang panlilibre ng pamasahe o pagkain, at aminin na natin, lingguhang inuman o pamamasyal sa mall. Kahit sabihin ninyong lagi kayong magrereunion, hindi na kayo madalas na magkikita. Malamang sa FB, pero kaya ba nun higitan ang kwentuhan sa tambayan at tsisimisan sa fastfood? Kaya para sa di malilimutang alaala kasama ang inyong batchmates, palakpak naman diyan.

Para sa inyong mga guro naman, salamat po mga ma’am at sir sa pasensiya, sa oras na inyong binahagi, sa mga payo na inyong binigay, sa kaalaman na tuntungan upang tumuklas pa ng mga bagong aral sa buhay, sa lahat ng hirap, pawis, at friend request na inyong tinanggap, habambuhay po kayong pasasalamatan. Estudyante lamang ang tumatanda, pero ang guro hindi yan nagbabago sa puso ng bawat bata. Para sa aruga, dedikasyon, at tiyaga sa pagtuturo, palakpakan natin ang ating mga propesor.

At para naman sa ating pamilya, kay nanay at tatay, kay ate at kuya, kay lolo at lola, ang diploma ay alay po sa inyo. Lalo na sa ating butihing magulang. Para sa tiwala na kakayaning tapusin ang kolehiyo, para sa suporta mula umpisa hanggang sa pagpili ng isusuot kanina, para sa palagiang pangungulit este pangangamusta kung ano na ang lagay ng pag-aaral, para sa makatwirang pangangaral ng mga dapat unahin sa buhay, para sa pag-unawa kung may pagkukulang, para sa inspirasyon, sa presensiya, sa pagpapakita ng halimbawa kung paano ang bawat problema ay may karampatang solusyon, para sa pagpaparamdam na kami ang dahilan kung bakit kailangang bumangon araw-araw, para po sa inyo ang araw na ito. Ibigay natin ang pinakamalakas na palakpak na pwede nating iparinig sa ating mga magulang.

Ang edukasyon natin ay nagsimula bilang pangarap. Pangarap na simbolo rin ng pagmamahal. Pero hindi sapat na magmahal lamang. Dapat pinaglalaban ito. Sa inyong kaso, hindi ba’t pinagsikapan ninyong marating ang araw na ito pagkatapos ng mahigit isang dekadang pagbabasa, pagsusulat, pagpupuyat, paghahabol ng deadline, pag-apela na madugtungan ang deadline, pagkukumpleto ng requirements, pagkuha’t pagpasa sa mga eksam. Ibig sabihin, ang pangarap ay naging realidad dahil pinaghirapan ninyo itong isakatuparan. Mayroon kayong nilaan na sapat na oras, sobrang pagod at sakripisyo bago ninyo matamasa ang tagumpay ngayong araw na ito. Hindi ba’t mas makabuluhan at mas masaya ang tagumpay kung ito ay binunga ng inyong pagsisikap?

Kung hugot ang kuwento ng inyong buhay, pwede itong tawaging ‘nagmahal, nagsikap, nagtagumpay’

Iyan din ang paalala na nais kong bigyang diin sa araw na ito. Lahat ng biyaya na gusto nating makamit ay dapat ipaglaban. Hindi ito madaling gawin sa panahon na kung saan maraming bagay ay tila pwede makuha sa isang iglap, o instant kumbaga.

Research, search lang. Komunikasyon, realtime. Transportasyon, uber. Pagkain, ready to cook. Pelikula, streaming. Gamit, 3D printing.

Pero sa totoo lang, batay sa karanasan at obserbasyon na rin, ang kaligayahan sa buhay ay hindi instant na natatamasa. Huwag ipagkamali na ang bagong gadget o trending apps ang lulutas sa marami nating problema. Huwag ituring ang materyal na kasangkapan bilang panandang bato kung ano na ang narating o silbi ng isang indibidwal.

Dahil ang dominanteng diskurso ngayon ay pabor sa mabilisang resulta o proseso, ang gusto ng marami ay ganun din ang dapat mangyari sa ating buhay. Dapat instant may kotse na (kaya ayun instant din ang paglubog sa utang), dapat instant mayaman na (kaya ayun, biktima ng pyramid scam), dapat instant sikat at may pangalan na (kaya ayun viral ang scandal sa Internet).

Tanggihan natin ang pag-iisip na pumipigil sa ating makita ang mas masaklaw na mundo. Mahirap gawin pero tandaan hindi lahat ng trending tama. Hindi lahat ng instant ay kailangan. Hindi lahat ng yaman ay kaligayahan ang dinudulot.

May epekto rin ito kung paano natin inuunawa ang nangyayari sa pulitika ng ating bansa. Sa halip na masinop na ugatin at himay-himayin ang mga problema ng komunidad, nagkakasya sa mga instant o shortcut na solusyon. At dahil gusto ng marami ay may makitang instant na resulta, mag-ingat baka ang ibigay sa atin ng mga nasa pamunuan ay pagbabagong walang laman. Ay natokhang na buhay naman o!

Bilang kabataan, tiyak kong marami kayong gustong gawin, mga pangarap na tutuparin, mga tagumpay na aabutin. Gawin natin ito, pero huwag magmadali. Nasa atin ang lahat ng panahon upang makamit natin ang lahat ng ating minimithi sa buhay. Hindi kailangang makipag-unahan at tapakan ang iba. At habang ginugugol natin ang ating buhay sa layuning ito, huwag sana nating kalimutan na maglaan ng panahon, lakas at talino para sa bayan. Buksan ang mata sa realidad ng ating panahon. Pakinggan ang daing ng karaniwang tao. Mag-ambag sa kaginhawaan ng ating mga komunidad. Ang mali na ating nakagisnan ay huwag na nating ipasa sa susunod na salinlahi. Ang lahat ng mali na nangingibabaw ngayon, lahat yan ay pwede nating tuldukan. Nagmumukhang imposible kung ang iniisip kasi natin ay dapat instant alisin na ang bulok sa lipunan. Pero kung ang perspektiba ay pangmatagalan, kung malayo ang tanaw, walang krisis o problema ang hindi natin pwedeng pangibabawan.

Batch 2017, magsimula sa pangarap, balutin ito ng pagmamahal. Matiyagang kumilos, marubdob itong ipaglaban. Matuto mula sa mga kabiguan, bumangon nang may dignidad. Kasama ang iba, hindi nag-iisa. At pagkatapos, ialay ito para sa kapwa. Ito ang tunay na tagumpay na pwede nating ipagmalaki. Ito ang ating tugon, ang ating pasasalamat sa lahat ng tumulong na hubugin ang ating pagkatao bilang mga indibidwal na may talino’t malasakit sa kapwa.

Batch 2017, magmahal, magsumikap, magtagumpay!