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.

Enablers of Terror Law

March 5th, 2022

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

We are not surprised that President Rodrigo Duterte has signed the Terror Bill into law.
He is the same leader who brutalized communities with Tokhang, Martial Law in Mindanao, and all-out-war against the communist movement.

He is remorseless for the widespread human rights abuses under his watch. He is intolerant of dissent. He is afraid of rising public anger over the health crisis and the economic recession. His only solution is to spread fear and deter citizens from expressing their sentiments.

Duterte thinks he can survive the remaining two years of his term by signing the Terror Law. He underestimates the people’s outrage.

The rise of a broad opposition in the past month against the draconian bill spells doom for the repressive Duterte government. It reflects growing frustration over Duterte’s leadership, his indifference to the plight of ordinary citizens, his militarist approach in dealing with the pandemic, and his pro-business bias in responding to the recession.

We are ready to level up the resistance as we link arms with all Filipinos who are already exasperated with the fascist and callous Duterte government.

We will also not forget the legislators who voted in favor of the Terror Bill. They are complicit in legitimizing Duterte’s authoritarian regime. They will get their comeuppance come election time. Their names will be shamed for giving this government Martial Law powers in the guise of combatting terrorism.

We challenge the legislators who rejected the bill to join the people in calling for the junking of the law. Stand with the protesters and defend the right to free expression.

We ask our local leaders to be more critical instead of blindly enforcing Duterte’s anti-people policies and programs.

The fight is not over even after the signing of the Terror Law. There are court battles to win, legislators who must be made accountable, human rights violators who must face trial, Palace apologists and cohorts spreading disinformation who need to be exposed, plunderers and fascists who must be punished, and Duterte, the monster-in-chief, who deserves to be ousted for his crimes against the people. The people will prevail. Laban!

April 2021: COVID-19 surges, obstructions to information, coup violence, media convictions, and satire. Addressing India’s COVID-19 surge is made more difficult by authorities censoring information. Myanmar’s junta has resorted to publishing wanted lists, targeting journalists. A satirical playlist led to the brief incarceration of an artist in Malaysia. And Hong Kong’s first conviction around a violent attack during the 2019 protests? An investigative reporter. Read more

May 2021: India’s new digital rules and crackdowns surge in Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The month of May saw the further deterioration of free speech in Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Amid the pandemic surge, India is engaged in a legal battle with tech companies and civil society about its new IT rules. But there were also some victories to inspire us, including the landmark legislation for the protection of journalists in Pakistan’s Sindh province, and Mongolia’s new law for the protection of human rights defenders – the first of its kind in Asia. Read more

June 2021: The demise of press freedom in Hong Kong, Pakistan journalists attacked, and a case against Twitter. The closure of a pro-democracy newspaper after it was raided by the police signals the demise of press freedom in Hong Kong. Pakistani media are alarmed over attacks targeting journalists. Several investigative journalists and Twitter were charged by Indian authorities over a viral video. Read more

Published by Bulatlat

The fun of being in an echo chamber ends the moment we realize it distorts our knowledge of the world. It could take some time and a lot of reflection before we recognize how our online experience is filtered by biases which could prevent us from making good use of the power of the web. We might even think of the bubble as a safe space that reinvigorates our spirit amid the decay in our offline relations. The internet has many uses and one thing it conveniently offers is the boosting of individualism while rebranding it as a platform of empowerment. It poses unique challenges for community building and the pursuit of activism.

Any internet user would find it useful to connect with those who share his or her views and they can mine the web for evidence, memes, and links reinforcing their beliefs. Overwhelmed with googled data, it becomes easier to ignore contrary perspectives. The pleasure of confirming what we know is more appealing than verifying information that appears on our newsfeed. We think we are gaming the system by identifying the tyranny of the algorithm but our digital footprint exposes the user who thrives in the ‘ako chamber’.

What are its features? The spotlight is always the self. A commentary begins and ends with the self. Memes for self-promotion are disguised as a template of dissent. The world wide web is tweaked to make it appear that it is a puny space obsessed with the whims of an individual. How many harbor the illusion that reality in the virtual is triggered by our log-in activities and vanishes the moment we put down our screens?

Anonymity is trivialized as the refuge of the wicked. Yet, the right to be anonymous has fueled the rise of powerful collectives. The internet itself became possible through the linking of networks. The digital infrastructure is a legacy of shared enterprise only to be commandeered by tech entrepreneurs and influencers. Admittedly, the visible self is a more credible profile compared to bots and mindless cyber armies polluting the web. If this empowers individuals and allows them to name what is wrong in the present with the hope of changing the future, then this should be set as our standard when we go online.

But what if the focus on the self does not go beyond the self-serving presentation and the real aspiration consists of nothing more than projecting a spectacle that claims to offer a deeper meaning? When does amplifying our relevance ends so we can begin mentioning the Project, the Cause, the Event? The internet lures us to be enamored with our voice that we tend to forget how advancing an agenda without drowning other voices is possible, and even desirable.

Self-aggrandizement is normalized internet behavior and this alters our perception and methods of doing politics. We adopt tools and develop habits that aim to generate metrics validating visibility, attention, and audience engagement. Political impact is equated with virality. Trends are concocted via sensational hashtags mobilizing individuals to crowdsource a campaign.

There are outstanding examples of how online activism produces a real impact in communities, especially if bureaucracies are persuaded to implement reforms. However, these successes are hard to replicate. Convincing internet users to do more that can disrupt the dynamics of power is even more difficult. Indeed, the influencer wannabes might ask: Why should they persist with others if as individuals they have already made their point? And what’s the use of collaborations if these will blur their unique contributions?

What kind of politics will survive if it’s reformatted into what is viable on social media? It isn’t enough to combine online and offline formulas. We should probe the assumptions that underpin this so-called new type of political organizing. We have to emphasize that not all our activities should end up in a meme, hashtag, category, or trend. The reach of politics cannot be reduced into something that can be counted or predicted by artificial intelligence. Our work is not to inflate attention especially to ourselves and echo what is already known and popular. It is often or it should be about the relentless struggle to define and fight on behalf of what is unnamable, uncategorizable, and even a taboo in the present.

It is a painstaking learning and unlearning process that will take time before results are known. It can never be an ephemeral trend that can appear and disappear but made no difference in the lives of many. It is certainly not about building an army of influencers whose excessive love of self is anathema to our notion of making democracy work for everybody. It eschews selfish individualism and superstar syndrome in favor of an ethic promoting less of self for the emergence of selfless empowered individuals who diligently connect with others in order to build multiple networks of resistance.

Written for The Diplomat

All eyes are on the presidential candidates who will compete in the 2022 Philippine elections, one of whom will succeed President Rodrigo Duterte and lead a government battered by pandemic and economic woes. Also important is the battle for the vice presidency, a position elected separately from the president: the winner will not just become a de facto contender for the 2028 elections but will also become a significant political figure who may choose to play a crucial role in deciding what will happen to Duterte after the end of his term.

Read more

Why are Former Philippine Presidents Running for Lower-Level Posts?

Written for The Diplomat

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement that he is amenable to being considered as a vice presidential candidate in the 2022 elections has ignited fierce debates on whether it is permissible under the 1987 Constitution, which limits presidents to a single six-year term in office.

This matter will be resolved late this year if Duterte pushes through with his candidacy, which is expected to be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Read more

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

On 8 May 2020, Major General Debold Sinas celebrated his birthday with a ‘mañanita’ organized by his subordinates at the National Capital Region Police Office. Sinas claimed that a ‘mañanita’ is a police tradition involving an early morning serenade for the chief who is celebrating his birthday. Sinas’ ‘mañanita’ was widely condemned for violating COVID-19 protocols and for displaying utter insensitivity to the plight of many Filipinos who are reeling from the disruption caused by the pandemic lockdown.

The image of Sinas gleefully welcoming his gang in the early morning led us to recall how his deployment as NCRPO chief in October 2019 immediately resulted in human rights violations targeting activists in Manila.

Two weeks after his appointment, his team conducted a series of raids which led to the arrests of leaders and community organizers of Bayan Metro Manila based on planted evidence and trumped-up charges.

All the raids were done early in the morning with Sinas describing these as successful police operations.

The infamous May ‘mañanita’ was organized for the ‘extraordinary celebration’ of Sinas’ birthday.

Were the October and November raids meant to welcome the appointment of Sinas as NCRPO chief?
His ‘mañanita’ as top cop of Metro Manila?

Sinas gained notoriety in his previous assignment in Negros where he was accused of terrorizing peasant communities and persecuting activist groups.

It is more than a coincidence that what greeted his entry to Manila mirrored his dubious legacy in Negros.

It was Sinas announcing his arrival in the country’s main region by raiding activist offices, arresting leaders of people’s organizations, and demonizing dissenters. It was a tactic straight from the fascist playbook with an unapologetic Sinas leading the crackdown in Manila.

Sinas’ penchant for power and intolerance of dissent led to the incarceration of five of our comrades from Gabriela, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and Kadamay.

One of the victims was Reina Mae “Ina” Asis Nasino, a former student leader at Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST). At the time of her arrest, Ina was based in Tondo as a community organizer of Kadamay. She was actively campaigning for the rights and welfare of the urban poor in Smokey Mountain when the police raided the Bayan Manila office and fabricated evidence against her and two other activists.

Ina was pregnant at the time of her arrest. She is now eight months pregnant confined in the crowded female dormitory of the Manila City Jail.
Her mother is one of the petitioners who asked the Supreme Court to release Ina and 21 other political prisoners on humanitarian grounds.
Ina’s continuing detention is unjust. She did nothing criminal other than fighting for the empowerment of the poor.

The prison condition at Manila City Jail poses a health risk for her and her unborn baby. She needs regular pre-natal check-up and hospitalization for the safe delivery of her baby.

We call for her immediate release. The charges against her should be dropped and she should be allowed to experience motherhood without being subjected to inhumane state persecution.

We enjoin the public to support Ina’s fight for justice. We should not allow Duterte and his power-hungry enforcers in the police and military to misuse the law and their position to attack activists and other critics of the state.

Let us welcome Ina’s baby to the world by vowing to campaign for the freedom of Ina and all political prisoners.

Written for The Diplomat

Opposition groups in the Philippines have joined forces in a bid to defeat the party or anointed successor of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The country’s presidential election is scheduled for May 9, 2022. Duterte is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term, but some of his supporters are urging him to run as vice president if his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, decides to seek the presidency. In recent months, “Run Sara Run” banners have sprouted across the country in public places, despite lockdown restrictions.

The opposition coalition is named 1Sambayan (One Nation/One People), which highlights the call for unity to defeat Duterte, who continues to enjoy high public trust ratings amid allegations that his government bungled its pandemic response.

Read more

Rodrigo Duterte: From Philippine President to Senator?

Written for The Diplomat

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is being asked by his party to run for senator, a move that will certainly upend the 2022 elections.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the president can only serve a single six-year term, but this didn’t stop the PDP-Laban ruling party from nominating Duterte as its vice presidential candidate. However, some legal scholars have opined that Duterte is constitutionally barred from running even for vice president and warned that his candidacy could be questioned in the courts.

Citing a lack of public support and personal qualification, Duterte did not push through with his vice presidential candidacy and instead endorsed Senator Bong Go as vice president. Go is his former aide but continues to accompany him in public events even after becoming a senator in 2019.

Read more

The books I read in 2020

December 31st, 2021

Published by Bulatlat

1. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Thoughtful exposition on universality, differences, cultural patrimony, saving children, changing of perception through affinity with others.

2. Snows of Yesteryear: A Family in War and a Sentimental Education by Elmer A. Ordóñez. Life of an academic, activist, a scholar recollecting the context of the choices and commitments he made from World War II to the anti-Marcos dictatorship.

3. The Community Press And Its Revolutionary Tradition by Georgina Reyes Encanto. Must-read to understand the radical tradition of the Philippine press. Also, the role of the religious press and the Left’s underground press in the resistance against Martial Law.

4. Cleopatra’s Nose: Essays on the Unexpected by Daniel J. Boorstin. Essays on printers, Darwin, the age of machines, and Alexis de Tocqueville.

5. This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation by Barbara Ehrenreich. The lives of the working class, the rich, healthcare in the United States, migrants, and the rise of the religious Right.

6. Sawikaan 2010: Mga Salita ng Taon by Roberto T. Añonuevo (Editor), Romulo P. Baquiran Jr. (Editor) Some of the words include solb, Ampatuan, namumutbol, jejemon, load, unli. Virgilio Almario’s commentary on the difficulties of compiling a dictionary.

7. Obsolescent Capitalism: Contemporary Politics and Global Disorder by Samir Amin. A discussion on the triad of collective imperialism, the link of the center and the peripheries, the idea of catching up or doing differently in the global economy, and a brilliant summary on culturalism (appendix).

8. Field of Mirrors: An Anthology of Philippine American Writers edited by Edwin A. Lozada. Poems, essays vignettes, stories on identity, nostalgia, a tribute to the homeland.

9. Oligarchic Politics: Elections and the Party-List System in the Philippines, edited by Bobby Tuazon. History of political parties in the Philippines, a summary of party list rulings including the oppressive formulas used in determining the number of seats in Congress.

10. Project Sea Hawk: The Barbed Wire Journal by Dolores S. Feria. Testing the human condition during incarceration, life of a political detainee, valuable testimony of Martial Law tyranny, a dose of the Left’s unofficial history in jails.

11. Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement by Craig Scharlin, Lilia V. Villanueva. The manong farm workers, the lives and struggles of union organizers, the role of Filipinos in the labor movement in the United States. Touching, riveting, agitating.

12. Interrogations in Philippine Cultural History by Resil B. Mojares. Fascinating accounts of the Santo Niño’s Sinulog origins, noir in the Philippines, the scholarship of Nick Joaquin, Bonifacio’s Katipunan, and Pascual B. Racuyal – the ‘nuisance’ candidate.

13. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Haley. In defense of militant political activism, uncompromising in rejecting moderation, a counterpoint to the mainstream perspectives on nonviolent struggle. Gripping.

14. sa ibang katawan by Lean Borlongan. Finding place, acceptance in an unjust society through the power of words and struggle

15. Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich. Ahead of its time for its nonconformist exploration on how we make use of tools, ‘new collectivity’ in the industrial era.

16. Pakikiramay: Alay ng mga Makata sa mga Magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita edited by Joi Barrios. Artists expressing solidarity after the 2004 Hacienda Luisita Massacre.

17. Re-Reading Jose Marti (1853-1895): One Hundred Years Later by Julio Rodriguez-Luis (Editor). Marti: a poet, journalist in exile, revolutionary. And the continuing battle over his memory and legacy.

18. Paltiing: Mga Piling Tulang Prosa ni R.B. Abiva. The world comes alive through religious symbolism and social realism.

19. Polaroids from the Dead by Douglas Coupland. Engaging views on denarration, information saturation, post-fame, and harolding. Google what harolding means.

20. The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel J. Boorstin. It took me two years to finish this book. Every page is brimming with intellectual riches. The author’s masterful weaving of narratives, the attention to detail, and mesmerizing chronicle of the rise of the West.

21. Claro M. Recto, 1890-1990: A Centenary Tribute of the Civil Liberties Union, edited by Renato Constantino. The pleasure of reading Recto’s elucidation on economic nationalism and independent foreign policy, his rejoinder against pro-American bureaucrats and intellectuals.

22. From Victory to Defeat: China’s Socialist Road and Capitalist Reversal by Pao-Yu Ching. Interesting insight about the need to reconsider the national bourgeoisie as an ally of the revolution in the era of neoliberalism. Another useful text defending the legacy of Maoism during China’s socialist construction.

23. Ang Aklat Likhaan ng Tula at Maikling Kuwento 1998 by Aurelio S. Agcaoili (Editor), Jose F. Lacaba (Editor). The 1990s and therefore I appreciate the narratives exploring the social impact of labor migration.

24. The Master of Petersburg by J.M. Coetzee. A meditation on father-son relationships, a probe into the mind of a Russian novelist

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

A message to Metro Manila LGU leaders: Reject the Terror Bill, stand up for people’s rights

We ask our Metro Manila LGU leaders to make a stand on the Anti-Terror Bill legislation amid reports that a list of local officials in favor of the bill has been submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte.

We believe that you will also share our concerns if you and other LGU leaders will study the bill using the lens of human rights and people empowerment.

We are against terrorism and recognize its deadly legacy in society. But the government can use existing criminal laws to run after those who spread senseless violence in our communities.

Its passage will revive the ominous features of the Martial Law era.

For example, the bill provides an overbroad and vague definition of terrorism that a lawful protest can be construed as an act of terror. LGU officials who extend solidarity and provide assistance to groups accused of terrorism can be charged under this proposed law.

The bill contains provisions that directly undermines the Bill of Rights, international covenants on human rights protection, and constitutional guarantees on civil liberties.

Amending R.A. 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007 today is untimely while the world is battling a pandemic. Furthermore, our urban poor communities have yet to recover from the distress caused by the controversial ‘war on drugs’ and the strict lockdown restrictions.

We should remind legislators and the Duterte government to focus on passing laws that would enhance the country’s healthcare system, stimulate the local economy, and expand the welfare benefits for citizens affected by COVID-19.

The Terror Bill instills fear at a time when our people need to move forward as empowered citizens in overcoming a public health crisis.

We salute legislators who voted against the bill. We urge them to lead the grassroots information campaign about the dangers of this measure.

We appeal to legislators who voted in favor of the bill to understand why a growing number of voices, including members of their constituency are opposed to the measure.

We call on our city leaders to join us in petitioning President Duterte to veto the terror bill.

New year in Asia-Pacific: Crackdown, state of emergency, and harsh prison convictions. Positive developments in the region such as prison releases and the outlawing of the “virginity test” were overshadowed by mass arrests in Hong Kong, an absurdly long prison term handed out to a Thai elderly woman for “insulting” the king, the silencing of journalists in Vietnam ahead of the Communist Party Congress, and the shocking acquittal of American journalist Daniel Pearl’s murderer in Pakistan. Is this trend a portent of things to come for the rest of the year? Read more

Coup and civil disobedience in Myanmar, farmers’ protests, and #MeToo victory in India. Myanmar’s coup has reversed the country’s democratic transition but citizens are pushing back through a civil disobedience movement. As farmers’ protests gain global attention, Indian authorities are clamping down on journalists and supporters of the movement. A court acquittal in India is a big victory for the #MeToo movement. A Bangladeshi writer dies in prison while a cartoonist fights for his life. Read more

Coup terror in Myanmar, impunity in Afghanistan, and uproar in Bangladesh. Violence escalates in Myanmar, but the people are fighting back. Women journalists are attacked and killed in Afghanistan. Public outrage in Bangladesh over the killing of a writer and torture of a cartoonist in prison. New laws and regulations undermine media freedom and digital rights in Malaysia and India. Read more

Written for The Diplomat

The awarding of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov highlighted the role of independent media outlets in challenging authoritarian governments around the world. In the case of the Philippines, it put a spotlight on how truth-seekers like Ressa have stood their ground in the face of the relentless state-backed attacks targeting the media during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte.

Read more

Olympic Champion Hidilyn Diaz Deserves an Apology From the Philippine Government

Written for The Diplomat

Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history after winning the Philippines’ first-ever gold medal on July 26 at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

After the award ceremony, Diaz talked to the press and shared the challenges she had faced before winning the gold medal. She mentioned her training outside the country, which forced her to be separated from her family; the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on her preparation; and the financial difficulties that led her to publicly ask for sponsorship in 2019.

She also cited how she was wrongfully accused by President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson of belonging to a network of personalities and groups involved in a destabilization plot against the government.

Read more