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.

One liners, sound bites, SMS and twitter reactions are inferior substitutes to a well-written political manifesto. The essence of a political standpoint can’t be adequately represented by 140 characters or even by hysteric rhetoric. Yes, a charming slogan or a witty phrase, and a fiery quote can agitate a crowd, inspire the electorate, and trigger a movement; but they serve to advance a broader political cause. After delivering the memorable spiel, the immediate task is to articulate the principles that sustain its politics.

Politicians are masters of the word play that’s why they must be constantly challenged to clearly and comprehensively enunciate their politics. The citizen must not always be a netizen who is sometimes content of simply engaging the politician in a twitter conversation. Politics should more than just trolling the most hated public servants or forcing politicians to adopt a campaign hashtag.

But micro politics seems to be the trend. No more political speeches in Plaza Miranda since they are already replaced by Gangnam dance spectacles. No more grand political manifestos since the preference of everybody is merely to chew political status updates in social networking sites. The politician as an ‘effective communicator’ must be ready to reduce his politics in a few words that can be presented on prime time TV, win more ratings for the media, and score high in the trending game. The experts in this reality show are Erap with his jokes and masa appeal, Miriam with her pick-up lines and intellectual reputation, and Chiz with his oratorical style when speaking on national TV.

Sound bites are politics in a hurry. Their purpose is not to enlighten but to entertain and score political points. But they do have a pragmatic value: They make the job of the media easier while enhancing the public image of politicians.

The drafting of sound bites is not always easy. It must be short, sharp yet sexy and spicy. It must sell some idea. Creativity is not enough; one must have a naughty imagination, familiarity with popular culture, and good grasp of the politics of the day. Political writers are actually closet showbiz reporters. There are popular politicians who are skilled in this information warfare.

Below are some of the selected SMS statements I sent to media reporters in 2012:

On the new raffle system of the Comelec. Voter education is still the most important task to avoid confusion in partylist elections. Raffle will eliminate one problem but I can foresee a new controversy: partylist groups asking people to vote for numbers instead of supporting an agenda of marginalized group. Lotto-fication of partylist election, the tyranny of numbers that would further confuse the electorate.

What would you do if today is the end of the world. Watch the sunrise and sunset with my family beside me. Spend fun moments with my two kids, will cook their favorite meals, and read books to them. Write an apology letter to enemies, thank you letter to dear friends. Spend a quiet evening with the love of my life. Read Genesis and then sleep.

On the cash transfer program. Time to review CCT and other so-called poverty alleviation measures. CCT is nothing but a band aid solution whose effectiveness has been exaggerated by the Arroyo and Aquino administrations because they have nothing else to offer end once and for all the inter-generational poverty in the country. To achieve the MDGs, the government should replace the CCT with a comprehensive program to address the roots of poverty and deprivation in the country. CCT will do nothing but worsen destituteness in the country.

On political surveys. Surveys are useful but should not be the basis for electing leaders. Unfortunately, Philippine national elections have degenerated into a popularity contest which gives undue advantage to showbiz starts, dynasties, and the business elite. Voting by popularity should be discarded as a taboo and bad electoral practice. Otherwise, the elections would remain a farcical process dominated by spin masters, black magicians, spoiled brats, and famous emptyheads. Surveys confirm that the senate race is a TV reality game masquerading as a dignified democratic exercise.

On the dominance of political dynasties. What’s good for one family is not necessarily good for the whole country. What’s good for the family business can ruin the democratic promise of elections. Is there no one else? Is this the best that Philippine politics can offer? Are we condemned to be hostaged witnesses to the waltzing and dancing of the same families on the political dance floor? Are there no other animals in the jungle aside from the horse traders, old porkers, political butterflies, corrupt crocs? Where are the angry birds?

Selecting the next DILG head. We have been hostaged by this Binay-Roxas factions since 2010; their squabbling represents partisan politics at its worst. The best man for the DILG post, I think, is someone who will be less immune or less intimidated by the warring factions. Unfortunately, there seems to be no neutral choice anymore since the Roxas-Binay tentacles are already embedded in the bureaucracy.

On the Samar-Balay faction. As a tragicomic political drama, it has no entertainment value. It’s an irritating, unnecessary bickering of factions in the house of the yellow gods. The people are helpless victims as ambitious politicians play out their personal feuds in the political arena. This is bad governance. Divisive, devious, decadent politics.

On the refusal of Congress to release the SALN of House Members. Omerta rules! Sadly, Omerta dominates in the Philippine House of Representatives. We are not supposed to behave like Mafia criminals who lead secret lives because we are elected public servants. Transparency demands that we disclose the SALN; FOI passage crucial in the promotion of good governance; Waiver, the logical next step in the anti-corruption fight after the Corona trial. Nothing to fear if you didn’t steal, nothing to hide if you didn’t commit an illegal act. SALN disclosure a matter of following the intent of the law. Privacy will not be violated. We are merely stating our net worth which every government employee must do; we are not signing up for the Big Brother show.

Waiver signing Hollow victory if anti-corruption fight ends with Corona. House leadership should prove that it’s ready to clean its own backyard by promoting the signing of waiver, which has emerged as an effective transparency tool. At the minimum, disclose SALN to the public. Otherwise, we will become House of Hypocrites. We will appear to be grandstanding, self-righteous politicians during the impeachment trial.

On the reported meddling of some church leaders. This is one divine intervention which we can live without. It’s anathema in a true and vibrant democratic, secular society. Of course religious leaders can preach, they can give spiritual guidance, they can comment on moral matters. They should convert sinner politicians and lead them to the path of goodness. But it’s unholy behavior if they use the sacred power of their church or sect to impose their dogmas on how leaders draft, debate, and vote on public policies. Politicians must listen to the demands of the religious constituency but there are other voices and views which they must consider too. They should ignore threats of election backlash.

On the Tulfo brothers’ threat against the Baretto-Santiago couple. It’s entertaining if it’s a TV soap opera but not funny when media persons issue those strong words on prime time. MTRCB should remind media networks to be more circumspect. Such language is not appropriate to be heard by children and it offends even the sensibilities of many adults. The public deserve quality TV programming, not the ghastly, nauseating type of entertainment disguised as public service.

On the reported ‘shadow cabinet’. PNoy’s dark knights in the Cabinet can easily degenerate into an army of darkness if they are allowed to perform their secret deeds without being accountable to the people

On the proposal to stop the Lady Gaga concert. I am confident that our Filipino youth is matured enough not to follow whatever bad influence that they can see being embodied by Lady Gaga while being able to appreciate her music. We survived 14 years of Martial Law. We can survive two nights of Lady Gaga since not all members of the young generation are going to see the concert.

On K-12 implementation. K-12 should not be rushed. There must be adequate preparation – teacher training, construction of additional classrooms, improvement of facilities. Otherwise, it’s bound to fail. Instead of being a solution, it could worsen the crisis of Philippine education. Crucial to K-12 success is the funding commitment of the government. Sadly, we have yet to see a substantial state investment in basic education. I fear that teachers will be blamed for the chaotic school opening arising from the haphazard implementation of K-12. I agree that K-12 will address the problem of short school cycle but it doesn’t solve the other fundamental problems besetting Philippine education like poor learning environment and high dropout rates.

Budget system. It’s a Marcos-era legacy when the Palace, through the DBM, asserts its control in the chamber. This policy reflects the undemocratic budget process, proof of how difficult it is for even the Speaker to assert his independence from the Palace. It’s time to reform the budget system, [make it] more participatory and transparent, [and push for] less control from Palace

On the Hacienda Luisita ruling of the Supreme Court. It’s unfortunate that the promulgation of the Supreme Court decision on the Hacienda Luisita case will take place at a time when there’s a bitter conflict between the Chief Justice and the president. For a long time farmers have been at the losing end because of partisan politics. The Hacienda case is a social justice issue and if ever the SC decides in favor of small farmers, it must be seen as a delayed legal recognition of the historical right of the hacienda workers; a necessary judicial intervention to end the half-century of criminal landlordism. The SC decision will not only affect the Cojuangcos since it will have a bearing on other haciendas which also adopted the infamous stock distribution option.

On Pacquiao’s decision to join a new political party. Maybe like the great Muhammad Ali, he floats like a butterfly. But as a political butterfly, he could lose the admiration and support of so many young people who expects him to shun the tradpol ways. He must sting like a bee; in short, he should fight and reject trapo politics. I also hope it won’t distract himfrom pursuing his other advocacies like wage hike, eliminating trafficking and sports promotion. After one defeat in the election, after two years of being a politician, and after many years of mingling with other politicians, Manny should know by now his real friends in politics. He should realize that he can already sustain his political career without being dependent on trapos.

On Noynoying. The Palace is out of touch with reality. Noynoying will be ignored by the public if it doesn’t have basis. But Noynoying is no longer an activist initiative, it has been readily embraced and popularized by the public, especially netizens. If the Palace isn’t aware of it, the public, not us activists, who are responsible for the popular usage of the term.

Student survey of impeachment. Senator Santiago should be reminded that the freedom which allows her to entertain us with her sound bites and one-liners is also enjoyed by the rest of the population. They (senator-judges) should appreciate that students are aware and are monitoring the trial everyday… Students also know how to cover their ears when politicians dish out arrogant remarks

Aquino dynasty. Aquino belongs to the most prominent family in the Philippines today – in fact to the most powerful political family in the past half century…Many people, especially presidential supporters, are expecting Noynoy to settle down, have children and continue the legacy of his family dynasty. It may sound feudal, but in the Philippines we simply implement Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. That is, if you’re my relative, you can join politics.

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