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.

Should animal rights activists be concerned with how Filipino politicians describe their enemies as animals?

To bolster his anti-corruption campaign message, senatorial candidate Teofisto Guingona III made a somewhat funny TV ad which showed him punching an animated crocodile. At the end of the video, Guingona shouts that he is angry at crocodiles (‘Galit ako sa buwaya’). Corrupt politicians in the Philippines are often compared to crocodiles.

Critics of vice presidential bet Loren Legarda have lampooned the lady senator as a ‘political butterfly’ in reference to her frequent changing of party affiliations. Members of Congress are called ‘porky’ solons because of their obsession with pork barrel projects. Presidential son Mikey Arroyo was compared to a pig by activists because of his intention to become a partylist representative. Partylist bets are supposed to come from the marginalized sectors of society. The ‘pig’ label is a metaphor for what activists describe as the bastardization of the partylist system. Meanwhile, administration members who are defecting to other parties are called rats who are abandoning a sinking ship.

Political mudslinging by animal-calling is not new. Former presidential daughter Imee Marcos described Malacanang Palace as a snake-pit. President Gloria Arroyo called her critics termites destroying the foundations of the Republic. Senator Miriam Santiago mocked a fellow lady politician by calling her an ‘anonymous little insect.’

If in other countries calling someone chicken is an allusion to the weak character of the person, in the Philippines it means the person is backed by a powerful leader. A candidate who is identified as manok (chicken) of Arroyo means the candidate is a favored candidate of Arroyo. Meanwhile, sisiw (chicks) is a term used by confident candidates to refer to their weak rivals.

Some politicians are proud animal lovers. Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson has opened a mini-zoo in his residential palace. His Siberian and Bengal Tigers are always shown on TV. Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos also uses the tiger as symbol of the city. Former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza prefers the eagle as an icon. One of his campaign slogans is ‘Pagbabalik ng Lawin’ (Return of the Hawk). A group of cockfighters wants to enter congress through the partylist system.

Most animals are gentle beasts but they are often misunderstood by humans. The perceived ferociousness of animals is often compared to the wild behavior of politicians. This is unfair to animals. Maybe animal rights groups should warn politicians and writers to stop abusing the good image of animals. They may be animals but they are not as greedy, slothful and vicious as their human counterparts in politics.

Underworld politics

Gambling lords. Warlords. Drug lords. Despotic landlords.

These are the superstars of the Philippine underworld. Their armed goons and almost limitless wealth make them powerful political kingpins and kingmakers. Businessmen go to them for protection, priests request donations from them and politicians want to be cozy with them. Today, many of these ‘dark lords’ are aspiring for public office. Maybe, like Michael Corleone from the film The Godfather they wanted to be legitimate.

Gambling lords are more popularly known as ‘Jueteng’ lords. Jueteng is an illegal numbers game in the provinces. It is similar to a small town lottery but it is outlawed by the state. There are jueteng winners everyday and most of them are farmers and small income earners who hope to receive extra cash from betting on their favorite numbers. But the bigger winners are jueteng lords who operate the game and collect the dividends every evening. To escape arrest, jueteng lords pay protection money to police, local officials and national politicians. Former President Joseph Estrada was impeached in 2000 because of an allegation that he was receiving jueteng protection money.

Some suspected jueteng lords have crossed-over to mainstream politics. Lilia Pineda, wife of an alleged jueteng boss in Central Luzon, was elected board member of Pampanga, the home province of the president. Pineda’s son is even godson of the president. Pineda is now running for governor. Armand Sanchez of Batangas is another suspected jueteng strongman in the Southern Tagalog region. Sanchez was elected governor of Batangas and is hoping to reclaim his seat this year.

Drug lords are in the limelight today because of a recently released US State Department report which warned that drug money would be used to influence the results of this year’s elections. The value of illegal drug trade in the country is estimated at about $8.4 billion. Government officials admit that narco-politics is already entrenched in various parts of the country. A city mayor in Metro Manila was tagged last month by the police as coddler of suspected drug lords.

A warlord is a broad name for politicians or leaders who control a private army. Warlords are feared because they act as little presidents and little generals in their turf. The most notorious warlord today is Maguindanao leader Andal Ampatuan who is accused of masterminding the gruesome election-related massacre of 57 civilians last November. But Ampatuan is just the kingpin of Maguindanao. There are 85 provinces in the Philippines and each province is dominated by one or several warlords. According to the police, there are at least 112 private armies operating in the country.

Despotic landlords are the royal families of feudal Philippines. These landlords continue to own huge tracts of prime agricultural lands despite the implementation of numerous land reform programs in the past decades. In many provinces, despotic landlords are also the reigning political dynasties and warlords. Landlords who own the biggest land in the province can easily win during elections because majority of voters are their tenants. Activists have accused the Cojuangco-Aquino family, the owner of the biggest family-owned plantation in Southeast Asia, of being despotic landlords who ordered the killing of 14 protesting farmers in 2004.

The other prominent ‘dark lords’ of Philippine politics are the smuggling lords, quarrying lords and fake lords who invoke the name of God during elections.

The underworld bosses become more influential during elections because of their money and armed machinery. Instead of herding them to jail, they are glorified as kingmakers and philanthropists. Some suspected shady characters are even running for public office. The influence of ‘dark lords’ in politics is often compared to the sun. On a cloudy day we do not see the sun yet we feel its mighty presence and harmful ultraviolet rays.

‘Dark lords’ are an anathema in a democratic country like the Philippines. Like the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun which destroy life on the planet, ‘dark lords’ and other underworld untouchables weaken the democratic potential of politics.

One Response to “Animals and dark lords”

  1. Dear Mong,

    Just stumbled across your blog. You are the hope of our nation! May pag-asa ang ating bayan! Mabuhay!

    Please be assured I will be a loyal fan and reader.
    Please refer me or allow me to join any MONG PALATINO FOR PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT MOVEMENT 2016 ! ! ! !

    Please take care and stay healthy.

    NOY Amante
    (Maragtas S.V. Amante)
    Professor, College of Economics & Business
    Hanyang University Erica Campus Ansan City South Korea
    (former professor/Dean, U.P. School of Labor & Industrial Relations (SOLAIR), Diliman, Quezon City ; also formerly with All UP Academic Employees Union (AUPAEU)

    NONOY Amante

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