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.

We are often reminded by management experts to think out of the box. I agree. But if it’s a Balikbayan Box, think through it. The Balikbayan Box is not an ordinary box. it’s a travel luggage plus more. It’s a mini sari-sari store, OTOP in a box, the concrete ‘objectified’ affirmation that returning to one’s homeland is #morefun in the Philippines.

We all know that stuffing the Balikbayan Box is not simple. The OFW must be able to squeeze inside the small box the essential travel goods and everything that will remind him of his native land – clothes, pictures, immigration documents, food, agimat, religious icons. As baggage limits are reduced everywhere, the natural ingenuity of Filipinos becomes more useful. For returning OFWs, the challenge is to buy the right amount of imported goods as pasalubong for everybody in the village.

The exotic and often excessive content of Balikbayan Boxes does not mean Filipinos are overly materialistic. What it reflects is the nature of Filipino diaspora: our people are forced to be separated from their families because of the lack of livelihood and career opportunities in the country. When they leave, they want to bring something local or native in order not to lose attachment. And when they return, they feel it’s their duty to share their blessings with friends and loved ones.

To think through the Balikbayan Box is not to indulge in the parochial nor does it encourage traditionalist and narrow strategising. On the contrary, it forces us to be both practical and creative, cosmopolitan without losing our cultural ties with the homeland. The Balikbayan Box approach is the Filipino way of thinking out of the box. – February 4, 2013

What 2013 means?

There are two major events this year: The 2013 midterm polls and the 150th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio.

Campaign period will start next week although there was already premature campaigning during the 2012 Corona impeachment. The mainstream coalitions are LP and UNA – both factions are supportive of Pnoy. Where is the true Opposition? The leading senatoriables and even the major candidates in the local elections seem to belong to political dynasties, which further affirms the thesis that Filipinos are the principal practitioners of Einsten’s ‘Theory of Relativity.’

It’s difficult to watch the news today because we can’t decipher if a news story is a spin or not. Politicians are also bombarding us with issues identified by telemarketers and survey firms.

On the part of the administration, it highlights the anti-corruption crusade. Exhibit A: Corona impeached. Exhibit B: Cong. Gloria Arroyo is under hospital arrest. But what happened to the election promise of enacting the FOI proposal into law?

The second part of the equation ‘Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap’ must be given emphasis. We breathe poverty everyday in this country and everyone seems to offer a solution to end this intergeneration curse. But the problem is not merely the wretched conditions of our countrymen; the appalling reality, the inconvenient truth, is the shameful inequality between the super filthy rich and the common tao. Adding more insult is the glorification of promiscuous wealth by corporate-controlled media.

Another tragedy in our distressed islands is the rapid degradation and plunder of our natural resources. Exhibit A: The massacre of Tubbataha Reefs courtesy of the US Navy. Exhibit B: Destructive mining operations in Padcal, Rapu Rapu, Claver. Exhibit C: Reclamation in different parts of the country.

Corruption is reign of greed. The system breeds poverty. And human activities pollute the environment. These are crimes of the new millennium which we inherited from the 20th century. It is called social injustice. What should we do? Who do we call?

Politicians, yes and no. It’s quite self-explanatory. Our intellectuals, but they are migrating and escaping to other lands. Our young citizens, of course! But beware because they often get distracted and hypnotized by the specter of hyper communications. The poor, the workers, the farmers, the small entrepreneurs – yes, in fact they are the most determined to effect real change in our society. Their plight and their struggles remind us that what they deserve to get is not ridicule, not even charity, but solidarity. – February 7, 2013

Environmentalism is not enough

Earlier, I mentioned some problems afflicting the country. I subscribe to the school of thought that these are caused by the structural flaws in our political and economic system. Therefore, no less than an overhaul of the system is required to propel the country forward. In the meantime, it’s also useful to improve our understanding of some of these issues.

For example, while environmentalism is already popular today, many Filipinos continue to act and behave as if our fertile lands and pristine waters are infinite. We take it for granted that our islands are surrounded by clean and fresh water sources that we seem to give little value to activities that promote water preservation. Perhaps our attitude would have been different if we were living in a landlocked country.

Recently, a foreigner suggested that we treat our natural resources like oil. This means the government must learn from the experience of oil-producing nations which are protective of their precious resource. Many of these countries were able to use the revenues generated from oil trading to invest in strategic ventures that would benefit the nation as a whole and substantially uplift the lives of locals.

Can we adopt the same vision in our booming mining sector? Perhaps yes, our mineral resources can be our ‘oil’ which will pave the way for national industrialization, boost economic activities in the provinces, and improve domestic production.

But we must harmonize this vision with another important principle: the value of preserving our natural wealth for the benefit of the next generation. In Romblon where marble mining is thriving, the residents there opposed the entry of a mining firm whose proposed operations would have covered several resource-rich islands. Lesson: A land use plan is needed to determine the areas the can be mined and those that must be ecologically preserved. Furthermore, the consent of the local community is required before development projects are approved. – February 6, 2013

Elephantile Inequality

Let us now discuss poverty. It’s not enough to state that the Philippines remains a poor nation. Some regions are poorer than others. Some islands have greater wealth than others. Economic deprivation is worse in ARMM compared to Luzon regions. The economic divide in the Philippines refers to the North and South. But in terms of income gap, the more accurate division is East-West

I’m mentioning this in reference to glowing news reports that the Philippine is no longer the sick man of East Asia (clap clap). We are now branded as a Rising Tiger. Agree, the economic fundamentals are improving. But what about the trickle-down effect? Are these numbers sustainable, do they have a lasting impact? The big elephant in the room is the elephantile inequality in the country. The Rising Tiger brand would mean nothing if the West part of the country moves ahead and leave behind the East.

Instead of Rising Tiger, I have another suggestion: Isn’t it more accurate to call our country a nation of Angry Birds?

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