Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

While COVID-19 cases are surging, authorities are brutally demolishing houses in urban poor communities.

As residents adopt safety measures during the pandemic, the DILG treacherously lifted the ban on demolitions which quickly led to the destruction of houses in some barangays in Quezon City and heightened the tension in some areas in Manila and Taguig where demolition threats have been made.

It is inhumane to enforce demolition orders at a time when we are facing a pandemic. The poor lost jobs, livelihood, and are barely surviving while desperately in need of health care and other social services yet authorities are callously allowing the demolition to proceed.

Instead of displacing the poor from their homes, the government should provide relief and other stimulus packages. At the minimum, there should be a moratorium in demolitions while we are reeling from a public health crisis.

The government also demonstrated its bias against the poor as it continues to implement ‘solutions’ intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus but are detrimental to the welfare of the working poor.
Stakeholders should have been consulted about the impact of the uniform night curfew on workers and small businesses in the informal economy.

We deplore the continuing excessive deployment of police in barangays to enforce health protocols. Hard lockdown measures are counter-productive especially if medical solutions are not applied such as systematic mass testing, tracing, and treatment.

The Duterte government’s militarized approach in dealing with the pandemic has proven to be ineffective. It continues to rely on this model because of its criminal negligence in procuring and rolling out enough vaccines for the local population.

Instead of promoting accountability, authorities are spinning the narrative that the poor are pasaway and should be blamed for the COVID-19 surge. Massive arrests targeting ordinary citizens are being carried out. In some communities, restrictions hamper the movement of residents and deprive them of livelihood opportunities. The absurd ‘wall’ erected by Bucor in Muntinlupa exemplifies the repressive and anti-poor policies of the government.

We reiterate our urgent demand to prioritize a science-based, medical approach in addressing the pandemic surge. Government’s response should be transparent, inclusive, and not punitive.
We cannot survive the pandemic as long as the Duterte government is in power. We deserve better than this murderous regime whose only solution is to implement unlimited lockdown measures and silence those who are criticizing the abuses of those in power.

Published by Bulatlat

Biking became necessary during the first month of the pandemic lockdown in 2020 when the government prohibited even jeepneys and tricycles from being out in the streets. It became a lifesaver for frontliners and convenient option for those who needed a faster and safe way to move around the city to access essential services.

In my case, walking would have been fine but the scorching summer heat made it unbearable. I needed to finish my errands quickly in the morning which would require several stops in stores, offices, and banks in nearby barangays. Biking solved the problem plus it allowed me to evade random inspections from overzealous tanods and police in their camouflage uniforms. Later, I realized that pedaling my way around the city was inspired too by a desire to renew my enthusiasm for biking which I last felt during my teenage years in the mid 1990s.

I got a pre-loved folding bike because I was intrigued by the design and amazed by its simplicity and functionality. It saved storage space and can be loaded in taxis and trains. It is convenient for bimodal transport especially during the rainy season. Parking in most malls is free and the added advantage of a foldie is that it can be strolled inside buildings and malls.

Biking boosts the health and a money saver even if you constantly yearn to buy upgrades. It proved to be a wise investment which yielded multiple returns in terms of greater awareness about your body, a more focused mind, enhanced productivity, and a small sense of satisfaction that you are doing something to save the planet one pedal at a time.

As a resident of Metro Manila who seldom visit the provinces, I deem it more rational to bike instead of owning a car amid nonstop increases in oil and gas prices. Biking is a relief instead of enduring the daily “carmageddon”. Car maintenance is expensive while real estate landlords and LGUs have devised ingenious ways of collecting parking fees.

The pandemic lockdown has made the benefits of biking more apparent. The boom in bike sales was accompanied by the expansion of bike lanes and the gradual rollout of infrastructure catered to the growing number of bike riders. This was remarkable considering the insanity and terror induced by Rodrigo Duterte’s militarized lockdown policy.

The fun of biking is undercut by the constant reminder that our roads are unsafe. Major thoroughfares may have bike lanes but this is wishful thinking in most secondary roads. Bike lanes are merely a slim extension of existing roads where potholes, manholes, and even open drainages are often located. It is used too as an emergency lane and frequently “patronized” by motorcycle riders.

As a folding biker, bimodal commute is practical. However, this requires extra patience given the chaotic state of the urban transport system. It is not enough to memorize a route or train station network since it’s more crucial of having an updated mental map of functioning escalators, elevators, and well-maintained parking facilities.

Local and national urban planners will certainly take notice of the growing community of bikers and may this hopefully translate into better services and the building of bike-friendly hubs.

As bikers become more visible on the road, car drivers and even pedestrians are slowly acknowledging that it is not reckless for a two-wheeled vehicle to use the same space dominated by four-wheeled vehicles. Changing mindsets will take time but this can be hastened by the collective assertion of the biking community. This power is seen in the public shaming of irresponsible and arrogant car owners, and can be directed as well to engage authorities and big business owners in drafting policies, blueprints, and long-term investments intended to incentivize bike transport.

There are bike-specific issues that succeeded in rallying the support of riders. And there are broader advocacies that saw bikers lend their voice (and legs) in solidarity with cause-oriented groups. The ongoing conversation about transforming the Metro into a green Metropolis patterned after Europe’s welfare states is an opportunity to highlight that building the ideal city of bikers is more than just a matter of lane conversions and traffic rerouting but linked to fundamental issues such as good governance, comprehensive local development, and community empowerment.

July 2023: Journalists and activists from China and Pakistan targeted by transnational repression, prolonged internet shutdown in Manipur hides extent of communal violence, Cambodia blocked websites after disqualifying the opposition, and defiant Afghan women protested against repressive Taliban policies. Read more

August 2023. Taliban marks its second year in power amid worsening repression targeting women and media, Pakistan adopts several laws designed to enable broader censorship and social media control, and an Australian journalist pens a ‘love letter’ from a Chinese prison. Read more.

September 2023. Across Asia, groups are stepping up their campaigns for access to information amid disturbing enactment of repressive cyber laws. There are several encouraging updates such as an acquittal of Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa, the revival of banned Cambodian media outlet VOD, and the release of detained journalists in Pakistan, Vietnam and China. Read more.

Written for The Diplomat

The Philippine government will allow the screening of the Hollywood film “Barbie” after arriving at a conclusion that it does not clearly show China’s controversial “nine-dash line.”

Perhaps Filipino legislators should focus on responding to the provocative words of Chinese diplomats instead of interpreting doodles, crayon drawings, and fictional maps in movies.

Read more

Philippine Senate Probes Afghan Refugee Deal

Written for The Diplomat

If the formal request of the United States government is granted, at least 50,000 Afghans fleeing from Taliban rule will soon arrive in the Philippines, where they are expected to stay for at least two months while awaiting their special immigrant visas. Most of the refugees are former employees of the U.S. government in Afghanistan.

But the issue is more than just extending assistance to refugees since there are potentially serious ramifications on security, sovereignty, and transparency in financing. Also, building shelters for those displaced by war is a sensitive topic in a country where decades of local armed conflicts have disrupted the lives of thousands. Some might even think that the government is ready to house foreign refugees while residents in Marawi City, which was attacked by Islamic State-linked groups in 2017, have yet to go home in order to rebuild their houses.

Read more

Written for The Diplomat

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff has disclosed that some retired officers have been agitating against the government of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., while in Congress, the House Speaker lashed out against key allies of the president.

The realignment in the House leadership and even the destabilization rumors are telltale signs that Marcos’ “unity” government rests on fragile foundations.

Read more

Cracks Appear in the Philippines’ Unity Government

Written for The Diplomat

An apparent rift among allies of Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. could undermine his “unity” government barely a year after being sworn into power.

Congress will adjourn this week but the battle for political supremacy will continue. The second State of the Nation address of Marcos in July will likely reveal which power blocs emerged stronger and weaker as politicians scramble for position ahead of the midterm election in 2025 and the presidential election in 2028.

Read more

Ship of State

May 12th, 2024

Published by Bulatlat

In the opening pages of Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo, the steamer Tabo was likened to the ship of state where the presence of the ilustrado classes at the upper deck and the indios at the lower deck alluded to inequality in society. The Tabo was slow like the progress of the country under Spanish colonialism. Adopting Rizal’s creative way of analyzing the state of affairs, we can say that the present-day Tabo is represented by several ships that made the headlines over the past months.
First, the MT Princess Empress which sank in the waters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, and caused a massive oil spill in the area and nearby provinces. The oil tanker was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel when it sank due to engine trouble. The oil spill destroyed marine habitats and undermined the livelihoods of residents in coastal communities and tourism destinations. Later, it was revealed that the ship owner lacked permits, the government was criticized for being slow in responding to the disaster, and the oil slick reached the shores of Palawan.

Another tragedy involved MV Lady Mary Joy 3 which caught fire and killed 33 passengers in Basilan. Reports described it as a “floating inferno” after the ferry carrying more than 200 passengers en route to Sulu was hit by a fire in the evening. It was a stark reminder of the precarious state of maritime travel in the country.

Ship-related accidents seem to be on the rise. News of passenger ships running aground has been reported in Camotes and Ozamis. MV Diamond Highway, an abandoned cargo vessel that used to transport second-hand luxury vehicles, was destroyed by fire last month in Lapu-Lapu City. The ship ran aground in Cebu during a storm in 2021.

As an archipelagic country, the country should boast of having a robust sea travel and shipbuilding industry. But these disasters mirror the backward conditions of the maritime transport sector and the failure to connect our islands and stimulate sustainable coastal trading.

They also reflect our dependence on imported surplus ships. This is more evident in the warships that we acquired from the United States. During the recent Balikatan war exercises between Filipino and American troops, one of the activities involved the sinking of a decommissioned donated warship named BRP Pangasinan, which is reported as a Miguel Malvar corvette of the Philippine Navy. It was a painful confirmation of how the Philippines has been a recipient of surplus equipment from its supposedly equal treaty partner; and a reminder of the heroism of revolutionaries like Malvar who was the last Filipino general to surrender during the Philippine-American war. The symbolism was hard to ignore: an American weapon attacking a ‘Malvar’.

Another powerful interloper is the Chinese navy which bullies our coast guard and conducts illegal patrols in our waters. Its vessels enter our maritime borders and they constantly harass our fisherfolk.

To deter the aggressive behavior of China, the Philippine government allowed the expanded military presence of the United States. Our officials peddle the spin that the military basing of a nuclear superpower will lead to deterrence rather than an escalation of tension in the region.

The protest of Masinloc fishers highlighted the lack of attention given to ordinary people as officials relish their token role in the geopolitical ‘game of thrones’ in the Asia-Pacific. On one hand, they are bullied by oversized Chinese vessels in our own territory; but they are also barred from fishing during Balikatan war games. Dynamite fishing has been outlawed yet US troops used a missile to blow up a warship in Zambales.

The Philippines finds itself in a hotspot as the United States and China vie for supremacy in this part of the world. Assertion of sovereignty is the basic principle in foreign policy. Unfortunately, our officials interpret this by equating our national interest with the imperialist agenda of the United States.

We are bombarded with images of sunken tankers, destroyed ferries, and belligerent navy warships. So far, it has been a challenging year. But the sight of fishing boats protesting the disruption caused by military exercises with foreign troops gave a glimmer of hope to those who believe that it is only through our own collective will and action that we can steer our ship of state towards a better future.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

Myanmar’s junta and the Philippines’ Duterte government are among the worst violators of human rights today.

After grabbing power on February 1, the Tatmadaw (armed forces) detained the country’s duly elected leaders and brutally suppressed the anti-coup resistance.

The Philippines is among the many countries which expressed concern over the escalation of violence in Myanmar. It even asked Myanmar authorities not to use ‘excessive violence’ against ‘unarmed protesters’. Yet it rejected the UN resolution condemning the actions of the Tatmadaw.

Our diplomats feign concern about the situation in Myanmar but silent while our own security forces have been on a rampage since 2016. From Tokhang killings to raids targeting the homes and offices of activists, our police have resorted to violence in waging a crackdown on dissenters.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has called for the release of Myanmar State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi while oblivious to the jailing of opposition forces in the Philippines like Senator Leila de Lima and consultants of the National Democratic Front.

The usurpation of power by the junta in Myanmar should alert us to the dangers of having a military-dominated Cabinet and the continuing militarization of the bureaucracy.

Before the coup, Myanmar’s military gained notoriety for the atrocities it committed against the Rohingya. To a certain extent, its genocidal treatment of the ethnic minority mirrors the Duterte government’s policy towards the Lumad and peasant communities covered by the all-out-war against communists and their suspected sympathizers.

Both the Philippines and Myanmar should face global scrutiny for their bloody human rights record. As repression worsens in these two countries, the people are rising up to demand justice and accountability. China’s support for these repressive regimes is also deplored. From Mandalay to Manila, pro-democracy forces are raising the flags of resistance against the authoritarianism of the Tatmadaw and Duterte.

April 2023. Fiji’s media victory, Vietnam’s “Kafkaesque trial”, and World Press Freedom Day in the Asia-Pacific: A historic win for the media in Fiji, a “Kafkaesque trial” in Vietnam, a Taiwanese publisher detained in China, a new law threatens free speech in India, and IFEX members across Asia-Pacific mark World Press Freedom Day. Read more

May 2023. Pakistan’s crisis, Hong Kong’s library purge, Chinese censorship (no laughing matter) and some good news. Pakistan’s political crisis has turned violent as authorities blocked internet services, China’s crackdown on dissent targeted commentators and comedians, Hong Kong has purged libraries of books written by pro-democracy advocates, and several court decisions affirmed the legality of same-sex marriages. Read more

June 2023. Repression and resistance in Asia: ‘Freedom will always win’: Repressive laws and policies target journalists, poets, rappers, and comedians across Asia. The decline of media freedom in India was highlighted during the United States visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There were several legal victories in Hong Kong and Australia while local protests erupted in China. New platforms promoting the right to information were launched in Southeast Asia. Read more

Written for The Diplomat

An opposition lawmaker has filed a criminal complaint against former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for making “grave threats” against some members of Congress on his TV show.

A day after the House of Representatives confirmed the removal of the confidential funds of Vice President Sara Duterte, the former president, her father, lambasted lawmakers and singled out House Deputy Minority Leader and Act Teachers Party-list Representative France Castro as among those who exposed the questionable items in the government’s budget bill.

Castro’s complaint is significant because it could embolden other opposition figures to file separate complaints or revive previous cases against the former president to demand accountability. More importantly, it serves as a timely reminder to other public officials and their supporters to refrain from incitement and the spreading of online hate speech against critics of government policies and abuse of power.

Read more

Duterte Makes Another Threat After Receiving Subpoena

Written for The Diplomat

A Quezon City prosecutor has issued a subpoena against former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is facing a criminal complaint filed by ACT Teachers Partylist Representative France Castro.

If Duterte’s recent TV show is a gauge of his legal tactics, it seems he is unfazed by the summons as he continued to attack Castro and other leftist lawmakers. His former spokesperson also belittled the complaint and pointed out that Duterte is not capable of killing anyone because of his old age and existing political conditions.

The criminal complaint and the release of De Lima from detention have reinvigorated the clamor for justice, which could inspire other members of the opposition to demand accountability from Duterte and other high-ranking officials of his administration.

Read more

Written for The Diplomat

Opposition lawmakers in the Philippines are questioning the use of confidential funds by Vice President Sara Duterte in 2022, which they claim were in some cases even allocated by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. without the authorization of Congress.

Naturally, it doesn’t look good that almost five billion pesos are allotted for the CIF of Marcos, Duterte, and an increasing number of agencies at a time when the government’s economic managers are proposing to reconsider free college education because of its alleged negative impact on the national treasury. Under the same budget proposal, funds for several specialty hospitals will be slashed as well.

After the Senate hearing, Duterte lashed back at critics and defended the use of CIF. Maybe she should listen to the advice of a veteran legislator who urged her to voluntarily withdraw the CIF in her budget proposal and use it instead to address the basic problems besetting the education sector.

Read more

Philippine Vice President Defends Use of Confidential Funds

Written for The Diplomat

Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte has defended her use of confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) and accused her critics of being “enemies of the state.”

President Ferdinand Marcos has remained silent on the issue although his Executive Secretary has assured the public that the use of CIF by Duterte in 2022 did not violate the law.

Despite the removal of the CIF of Duterte and other civilian agencies, the Senate can still restore these funds in the next two months. Another option for the Senate is to reallocate the funds instead to social services, food subsidies, and salary increases for public workers.

Read more