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.

Civil society groups, the independent media, and grassroots activists have shown resilience in the past several months, struggling hard to push for reforms in governance, the protection of human rights, and the reversal of laws that are impeding the country’s transition to democracy.

Whether Cambodians will vote or avoid going to the polling stations in record numbers remains to be seen. But whatever happens on election day, it’s undeniable that there remains much to be done before full democracy is realized in Cambodia.

Read more on IFEX

Cambodia’s human rights record under spotlight in third Universal Periodic Review

Cambodia is among the 41 states whose human rights records are under scrutiny at the ongoing 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group. Cambodia’s report was delivered on 30 January by the Cambodian Human Rights Committee headed by Mr. Keo Remy, who is also an attaché to the country’s prime minister.

Facilitating the session on 30 January are rapporteurs from Senegal, Pakistan and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The report about Cambodia’s UPR proceedings will be released on 1 February. The final outcome of the 32nd session, including the response of the government, will be adopted by the plenary of the Human Rights Council in June 2019.

Read more on IFEX

Published by Kodao

A plaque honoring Philippines’s Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) was installed at the Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, USA last May 1 at the monument honoring workers whose deaths led to several labor reforms, including the implementation of an eight-hour work day.

The installation of the plaque was organized by the Illinois Labor History Society.

Raymond Palatino Bagong Alyansang Makabayan represented KMU during the activity. Below is the text of Mong’s speech:

Salute to the working class of the United States! Salute to all working peoples of the world! Mabuhay!

It is an honor to represent the Kilusang Mayo Uno or May First Movement of the Philippines.
Today, we honor the Haymarket workers whose martyrdom did not only pave the way for labor reforms, but more importantly, it empowered and inspired the growth of the labor movement all over the world.

So powerful was the legacy of May One that it eventually became the International Workers Day.
The Philippine labor movement acknowledged the heroism of the Haymarket martyrs when its largest and most militant labor federation chose the name Kilusang Mayo Uno or May First Movement to unite all workers in the Philippines and lead the struggle of the working class.

KMU was established to strengthen the ranks of Filipino workers at a time when the country was under a dictatorship. KMU led the workers in resisting tyranny and linked arms with the farmers, the urban poor, and other freedom-loving Filipinos in ousting a dictator from power.

Since then, the KMU has been at the forefront of the labor movement, and it has consistently and bravely asserted, without compromise, the just demands of workers for higher wages, decent work, safe workplaces; and it has been a strong voice in pushing for democratic rights, an end to feudal oppression in the rural regions of the Philippines, the resistance against foreign control of the local economy, and the realization of the people’s national democratic aspirations.

For almost four decades now, the KMU has been an influential force in the people’s struggle for real democracy and lasting peace in the Philippines.

And so it is fitting that, as we place a KMU marker here in Chicago, we dedicate this in honor of all who devoted the best years of their lives, many of them even sacrificed their lives, in pursuing the revolutionary struggle for national democracy.

This plaque is also for the Filipino migrant farmers who arrived here in the US in the early 20th century. Some of them would become pioneers in union organizing. Their work is remembered today as we continue to fight for immigrant rights and the improvement of conditions of all migrant workers in the US.

This is for the assembly workers in the Philippines’ export processing zones who are toiling in sweatshop conditions, the plantation workers of Mindanao who are herded in militarized camps, the service sector employees denied of benefits, the migrant workers who are forced to be separated from their families because of poverty, underdevelopment, and unjust immigration policies. This is for all the working classes who do not surrender and who continue to march forward to fight for change.

This is for the labor organizers in the Philippines who are fighting a rising dictatorship amid nonstop attacks by state forces. Some of them are in prison yet the only crime they committed was to promote the welfare of workers.

In response, we proudly assert that union organizing is not a crime. Empowering the grassroots is not a crime. Standing up for migrant rights is not a crime.

The real criminal act is the exploitation of the working class, the greedy appropriation of profits and surplus value while workers are subjected to slave-like relations, and the collusion of big capitalists and corrupt politicians in violating labor rights.

KMU stands in solidarity with the American working class in challenging the neoliberal economic policies that drive down wages, destroy unions, and harm the health and well-being of workers.

KMU joins all workers in the world in smashing this inhumane system that perpetuates oppression and inequality.

The capitalists have money, the police, the courts, and dirty politicians; but the workers are stronger because we have unity and solidarity and the peoples of the world are one with us in building a better future, a beautiful tomorrow where there is real peace, justice, democracy, and respect for human dignity.

Long live the working class! Mabuhay ang uring manggagawa!

Published by Pinoy Weekly, 12 May 2018

The ‘Stop the Killings’ caravan organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – United States chapter conducted a rally in Portland on May 5, 2018. Speakers of the rally included community leaders, human rights, activist, a representative of Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Bayan Metro Manila Chairman Mong Palatino. Below is the text of Mong’s speech:

Our dear friends, allies and kasamas, thank you for coming and for showing support to the ‘Stop the Killings’ campaign.

There were those who wanted to silence our voices by preventing one of our speakers, Jerome Aba, from joining the caravan. But they failed because despite his deportation, Jerome was still able to deliver his message; and more importantly, he succeeded in uniting various groups here in the United States to denounce the torture he endured and the impact of the so-called war on terror on the civilian population in Mindanao.

Our caravan started in D.C. before coming to New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Seattle, and now in Portland, Oregon. From East to West of the U.S., we were overwhelmed by the warm welcome shown by the American people to our delegation. We met legislators, church leaders, university professors, union officials, students, migrant activists, journalists, and kababayans who all expressed concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines.

Here in Portland, we held meetings and informal caucuses about President Rodrigo Duterte’s triple wars – the misnamed ‘war on drugs’, the war on terror, and the all-out-war against communist rebels. But all these should be known as a war against the poor because they involve the massive use of force to arbitrarily kill thousands of urban poor residents, hundreds of landless farmers, indigenous peoples, while forcing the evacuation of almost half a million residents of Marawi.

These wars have nothing to do with protecting the people and defending democracy. The truth is that these wars reflect the tyrannical rule of Duterte who wants to instill fear in society and deter people from opposing his unpopular policies.

Duterte is aware that his anti-people policies – from imposing higher taxes, reneging on his promise to end labor contractualization, allowing foreign military buildup, to changing the constitution – would generate intense political backlash. The use of repressive tactics is clearly intended to prevent citizens from challenging these unpopular programs and Duterte’s insulting pronouncements against women, the LGBT, and indigenous peoples.

Aside from the triple wars, Duterte is also attacking the free press, the critical members of the political opposition, the chief justice, and the organized Left. He even branded many activists as terrorists.

The killing spree, the widespread human rights abuses, and the undermining of civil liberties are done to promote the selfish agenda of Duterte and the ruling party. This deadly regime is propped up by foreign powers, big business, and dynastic oligarchs who all seek the establishment of an authoritarian government which would enable them to grab more power and profit at the expense of the working people.

They stand to benefit from the rise of a dictatorship which would eliminate any opposition to destructive mining operations, expansion of palm oil plantations, exploitation of cheap labor, plunder of the country’s resources and invasion of our territories.

Our mission here in the US is to raise awareness about these issues and explain that the human rights atrocities committed by state forces are not limited to the bloody anti-drug campaign.

We are here to appeal for your support in reminding your government about its role in enabling Duterte’s triple wars.

We are here seeking more voices who will join the clamor for the resumption of the peace process, the implementation of genuine land reform, the building of an economy that will uplift the conditions of all Filipinos, and the advancement of the people’s national democratic aspirations.

We are thankful for the opportunity to share the stories of the urban poor, the farmers, the Moro, and the Lumad. We are extremely touched by messages of solidarity which give us hope as we continue the struggle for human rights protection and democratic reforms in society.

Seeing all of you here today affirms our faith in the power of solidarity.

We know you are one with us in our call to stop the killings in the Philippines, and the withdrawal of US military aid and the deployment of war drones that are being used in Duterte’s repressive wars.

We are friends, allies and kasamas in the common struggle for respect for rights and dignity.

From Portland to Mindanao, we stand up for the rights of the Lumad and migrants.

From the US to the Philippines, we raise the banner of the people’s movement resisting tyranny, opposing wars of aggression, and fighting a brutal system that separates families, dehumanizes social relations, and kills the poor.

And so from both sides of the Pacific, we say, stop the raids, stop the killings!
Long live international solidarity! Mabuhay!

Written for Bulatlat

‘Resistance is Our Right, Solidarity is Our Duty’ was the call to action printed on t-shirts, tote bags, and flyers distributed during our speaking tour across the United States about the human rights situation in the Philippines.

It meaningfully captured the political orientation guiding Filipino activists in the US: The legitimacy of practicing dissent and the accompanying obligation to support the national democratic struggle in the homeland.

This was my initial understanding of the slogan until I met both Filipino-Americans and non-Filipinos who had been working hard to raise awareness about the Lumad, the plight of landless farmers, and the destructive impact of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal wars against the people.

It was then I realized the real significance of that one-liner and what it meant to many. The astonishing and remarkable coming together of Americans, even those who have no Filipino ancestry, to advance the cause of democracy and people empowerment in the Philippines.

Indeed, the slogan is not country-specific. Here was a group of Americans from diverse backgrounds who would later join the global condemnation of the massacre in Gaza. But they were also part of the growing number of Americans who have committed to raising the banner of people’s resistance in the Philippines.

It was inspiring to meet Americans who uphold solidarity as a full-time advocacy. Internationalists in the most positive sense who, at the same time, have also pledged to fight side by side Filipinos in overthrowing the yoke of neocolonialism and feudal oppression in the Philippines.

Part of my admiration for these dedicated activists of the Philippine cause is their resolve to learn more about the revolutionary past of Filipinos and their intention to make it relevant again. Today. In America.

Out of the hundreds, if not thousands of political struggles and other real existing movements in the world today, they chose to walk with their kasamas in the Philippines. They speak of adobo, sinigang, and most importantly, makibaka. They see the Philippines not as a tourist destination waiting to be explored but a home, their home where US-backed regimes have oppressed the people for so long.

But doing solidarity is more than just volunteering for a social event. It demands greater attention, time, and sacrifice. It is a political work that must be undertaken while battling the many evils that plague American society.

What is the place of solidarity when the political question of the day is linked to domestic affairs?

There is state-sponsored violence in the Philippines but it is no more horrific than the rising levels of violence in the US today. Think of the gun control issue, police brutality, and proliferation of race-based hate crimes. Eviction of the poor in Manila and other urban centers mirrors the intensifying gentrification in American cities. Workers are exploited, the gap between the rich and poor is widening, and the political system of both countries are tragically hostaged by elite interest.

Which political task should be prioritized?

I grappled with this question during the initial phase of the caravan but I quickly got my answer after learning about the work of activists doing solidarity work for the Philippines.

Perhaps I framed the question in the wrong way. Solidarity should not be seen as the opposite of addressing local political issues. Solidarity should be integrated into the comprehensive political work of activists. And if I may add, it should be considered as one of the core principles to strengthening the resistance of the grassroots.

Building solidarity networks, establishing new ties, and making friends on the other side of the continent enhance the depth and resilience of community organizing in the US. Solidarity is a useful antidote to parochialism and individualism since it anchors political organizing on a broader set of objectives.

Solidarity is not a matter of strengthening our ranks to support the struggle of marginalized classes in the remote parts of the world, but an enlightening political duty that ultimately contributes to our resistance against homegrown enemies of the people. It is never about extending aid to seemingly powerless victims but a life-affirming act of humanity, the collective pursuit of a progressive type of politics which also boosts the prospects of our local struggles.

Thus the vigorous campaign of Filipino activists and allies not just for Lumad rights, but also the protection of immigrant rights, the demand for adequate welfare services, mobilizing the community against skyrocketing house rent, fighting discrimination and racism, and challenging US militarism. Solidarity should never be a hindrance for us to embark on campaigns that require urgent action today.

Seen from this perspective, solidarity becomes an even more beautiful and powerful word. Our duty, our right, our commitment. Solidarity is resistance. Solidarity and resistance from both sides of the Pacific.

Written for Bulatlat

Adulting is commonly understood as an act of taking a new and bigger responsibility in life. It also refers to a millennial who defied expectations by suddenly performing an important task in the household or community.

In many ways, it is being self-aware and responsible at the same time with 21st-century characteristics. Teenagers becoming responsible as self-caring individuals and flaunting this as a spectacle worthy of peer praise.

It must be pointed out that the generation before us became responsible young adults without needing or directing attention to what they were doing. Most of the time, it involved membership in a group and devoting their selves in support of a special cause. It meant young people going to war, building a union, forming a commune, manning the barricades, and joining the uprising. Yet there was no need to use the word adulting under these circumstances. They simply had to grow up, face life’s challenges, and become an adult in the company of others.

Can you imagine a young graduate in the 1940s describing his decision to fight the Nazis as adulting? Similarly, the word adulting probably never crossed the minds of individuals paying taxes during World War II.

There were many words used to describe what the young did when they fought the dictatorship in the 1970s but adulting was not one of them.

Adulting as we understand it today only became knowable after the methodical restructuring of the economy that boosted the hegemony of big business while undercutting the labor movement and the solidarity of groups in the peripheries of society. Crucial to the success of this conservative agenda is the mainstreaming of values that glorify financial success and selfish individualism. We have to thank our schools, the media, and other opinion-making institutions for the inception of these beliefs during our formative years.

Adulting is essentially a celebration of individual achievement. A person gleefully announcing and making visible his petty success.

Adulting activities are neither wrong nor harmful yet it is revealing that they are anchored on the motivation to promote the self.

A person performs this or that mundane task not for the glory of the nation or a collective, and even the family, but only for herself. The indoctrination we received was so massive and pervasive that we no longer view this as unusual, immoral, and counterproductive.

A society is always disrupted by young people taking more responsibilities in life. ‘Adulting’ in the 20th century saw young people immersed in wars, revolutions, and social movements that challenged the established order. It meant changing the world. In contrast, adulting today is more or less about changing the wallpapers in our houses.

Those in power and their apologists who hoard the riches of our community are never threatened by adulting. How can they view adulting with contempt if it merely involves young people overcoming their inadequacies in the modern world?

Young adults finally accepting their designated role in society, law-abiding individuals conforming to the demands of their elders, and millennials becoming conscious of their purchasing power without being critical to the unequal and exploitative relations that dominate today.

Behold the new adults who are now physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to fix what ails the imperfect world. The brainwashed population equating self-improvement and self-care with social responsibility. Tech-savvy individuals who thrive in the social network, whether online or offline, yet arrogates the credit for his success to his so-called self-sacrifice.

Can adulting ever be subversive? Can it lead us to be woke? Only if we rethink what it means to be a responsible adult living in this day and age when there’s plenty of information about hunger and poverty yet preventable miseries continue to plague the world. Only if we link adulting to the daily struggles of the poor and oppressed. Only if we question the need for adulting until it’s replaced by a more liberating word that captures the idealism of the young, their anger, energy, passion, and commitment to conquer and change the world. The day when adulting ceases to appear relevant because everybody is focused on making life more meaningful for both adults and non-adults.

Written for The Diplomat

Singapore’s intolerance of dissent was put into the spotlight this month when authorities briefly detained a prominent activist for organizing “illegal assemblies.”

According to the police, activist Jolovan Wham committed seven offenses for participating in a candle lighting vigil outside a prison complex, organizing a silent protest inside a train, and conducting a forum whose speakers included Hong Kong pro-democracy leader, Joshua Wong, speaking via Skype.

Meanwhile, Wham’s case is being closely monitored by many because a conviction could inspire the police to pursue other “recalcitrant” activists, especially those who have been consistently demanding political reforms in the PAP-led government. But the overwhelming support received by Wham from various groups and institutions inside and outside of Singapore should also make the government rethink its policies and recent decisions that directly and indirectly suppress contrary voices.

If not, then authorities are only provoking more citizens to perform acts of “recalcitrance,” which could broaden into a movement capable of weakening or even dislodging the PAP in the next election.

Read more….

Fake news laws, letters to Facebook, and a decline in press freedom rankings: Asia-Pacific in April.
Governments have begun issuing anti-‘fake news’ regulations, groups engaged Facebook about propagating hate speech, decline of press freedom rankings of Asia-Pacific countries, and Pakistan women reclaim public spaces.

Malaysia’s election, Afghan attacks, defiant newspapers: Asia-Pacific in May 
Malaysia’s ruling party defeated, bomb attacks kill nine Afghan journalists, holding Facebook accountable and a movement to counter sexism.

New cybersecurity & terrorism laws erode rights; women fight back; & more media killings: Asia-Pacific
In June: Vietnam’s new Cybersecurity Law, Indonesia’s new Counterterrorism Law and Cambodia’s recent media directive threaten human rights, attacks against media continue, a massive all-women protest takes place in South Korea against ‘spy cam’ porn, and more.

Published by Bulatlat

Beyond the instagrammable image of a fierce-looking activist with a clenched fist is someone rationalizing and constantly reaffirming his fidelity to radical politics.

Activists are stereotyped as dogmatic simpletons who derive a perverse pleasure in organizing rallies. While it is true that public participation in a collective exercise is indeed a thrilling experience, especially if it involves the symbolic exorcism of society’s superbads, it is wrong to reduce activism as mere attendance in anti-government protests.

Activism is a political stance that aims to change the world, and more realistically but seldom acknowledged, the self. The broader goals of dissent are easily and widely depicted but what is not always rendered visible is the almost miraculous transformation of the individual.

Anyone can experience activism through participation in a political action without making a commitment to the cause other than expressing an ephemeral curiosity for an unconventional activity. But to engage in real activism requires nothing less than a complete rethinking of our concept of the self vis-à-vis political engagement.

Thus, the first essential task of an activist is the remolding of the self. This looks quite easy but it is actually a daunting task. A nonstop process of learning and unlearning a particular worldview, the painful rejection of habits and desires necessary to succeed in the modern world, the willful withdrawal from the ‘servicing of goods’, and the immersion of the self in the grassroots.

Intense politicization and conscientization are mistaken for lazy brainwashing schemes. But even if political education is collectively pursued – study sessions, community organizing, mass campaigns – it is always the individual who ultimately decides if he will go forward and embrace the challenging life of a radical.

Behind a grim and determined young activist is probably someone with an admirable resolve, but he can also be like most people who are dealing with conflicting thoughts and emotions. Can he survive this way of life? Can he really give up comfort and the chance to acquire fame and fortune in mainstream society? Is there no other alternative that demands less sacrifice?

The ambivalence lingers even if he is already a full time activist. Imagine his depressing alienation from family, friends, and the majority who thrive and derive enjoyment under the status quo. Besides, there is always the convenient option to abandon activism, reclaim his old life, and diligently work for status and material riches.

The temptation to give up radicalism rises every time a difficulty is encountered in the political life of an activist such as the failure of a mass campaign, the rapid deterioration of the national situation, state fascism, family woes, and even the demoralizing impact of partisan politics.

That is why an activist is not just someone who articulates a set of doctrines but also one who appears and keeps on reappearing against all odds and detours in the journey to affirm and reaffirm his pledge as a radical.

He overcomes personal tragedies and stubborn doubts by merging the self with the collective pursuit of new politics. It is easy to bemoan this as the creepy dissolution of the self by an impersonal force (the Party, the Collective, the Masses). However, this is not a loss of self but the reemergence of the self in the mass movement.

There she finds a new purpose in life, the philosophical tools to help her see the world as it is and what it ought to be, her fellow crusaders and revolutionaries, and a sense of duty to act resolutely. Her inspiration is the resistance of the masses who have no other claim other than to break free from the bondage of poverty, injustice, and other preventable miseries. Her newfound mentors are activist farmers and workers who exemplify what it means to practice “simpleng pamumuhay at puspusang pakikibaka.”

Suddenly, the activist life ceases to be a mere enumeration of daily hardships since there is now a recognition that all these can be endured to ease the suffering of others, and more importantly, to hasten the emergence of a new world.

That the individual focused on accomplishing a set of political objectives, from the seemingly trivial to the strategic, anchors his sense of fulfillment not by counting the tangibles he acquired but the holistic growth of the mass organization.

That personal struggles are best addressed not by escape and solitude but by taking part in the collective struggle to end the oppression of man by man. The willingness to transcend individual battles in the company of strangers turned comrades in order to be part of a bigger battle slaying more ferocious demons in society.

In other words, a life-affirming awareness that self-care enhances nothing but love of self unless it integrates the ethics of how to be a socially-committed individual.

Viewed from this perspective, activism becomes a crucial link between the popular mantra of self-improvement and the urgent task of advancing social transformation.

Published by Bulatlat

The UP Third World Studies Center organized a research workshop on ‘Violence, Human Rights and Democracy in the Philippines.’ I submitted a short essay in response to the workshop question: “Based on your knowledge of and experience in your locality, do you think that the Duterte administration is violent?”

President Rodrigo Duterte has been a “very stable genius” in flaunting the violence of the state in order to perpetuate elite rule in the country. In Metro Manila, this is evident in the Tokhang campaign, the persecution of political activists, and the promotion of a vicious type of propaganda to silence the opposition.

Tokhang Terrorism

Tokhang is an example of how the Duterte government deployed state machineries to terrify the urban population. Under the guise of eradicating the drug menace, Tokhang normalized the expansion of surveillance methods and the extensive basing of the police in urban poor communities. Tokhang soon became notorious because of the killings of suspected drug operators and peddlers during police operations. Instead of removing illegal drugs, it only worsened the state of impunity because of the intensified extrajudicial killings and mass arrests of alleged drug personalities.

Some points for further research:

a. Exact number of Tokhang casualties. Government data can be verified by independent research to determine the number of police raids, arrests, victims of extrajudicial killings, and cases filed in courts.

b. Finding information if a bounty system was enforced that incentivized law enforcement agencies to produce ‘impressive’ results in a short period of time.

c. A mapping initiative of Tokhang incidents correlated with social-economic indicators. Many of the high-profile documented Tokhang cases are located in resettlement areas where income levels of residents remain low, economic opportunities are limited, and delivery of social services are either privatized or acquired through patronage.

Is the wiping out of the drug problem, through the seemingly instant solution promised by Tokhang, intended to obfuscate the failure of the state to uplift the living standards and good governance in the country?

d. Role of LGUs in implementing Tokhang. From the barangay captains who supplied the police with an initial list of drug users and peddlers to city mayors who actively enabled their police to carry out the Tokhang program, there is need to identify the actual involvement of local officials in the government’s anti-drug campaign. Two mayors initially voiced concern about Tokhang but it was only the mayor of Pateros who has consistently appealed for the rethinking of the methods used by the police.

e. Review of drug laws. Determining if there are provisions in the law that undermine the privacy of individuals and other civil liberties through constant surveillance and drug testing, differentiating the penalties for drug possession, and possible application of harm reduction strategies in addressing the drug problem.

f. Highlighting grassroots resistance against Tokhang. ‘Funeral protest marches’ were organized in Manila, Caloocan, and Quezon City by families and friends of Tokhang victims. The Catholic Church held a “Walk for Life’ procession at the Quirino Grandstand. The Movement Against Tyranny gathered thousands in Luneta and denounced the abuses committed under Tokhang. And various groups, most notably the church-led Rise Up network, have been documenting drug-related extrajudicial killings and providing support to the relatives of Tokhang victims.

How effective are these protests? What are the challenges in sustaining the organizing of Tokhang victims? What form of organization or political action is appropriate to broaden the opposition against Tokhang? How can this movement or campaign inspire confidence among the people to expose police abuse, confront the state-backed vigilantes, defeat the rebooting of Tokhang, and demand accountability from the Duterte government?

The Legacy of Marcos and Arroyo

Tokhang is clearly a Duterte prototype of state repression. Aside from terrorizing urban poor communities, Tokhang is used to stifle dissent as well. But he also copied from the political playbook of previous authoritarian regimes. He has publicly confessed his admiration for President Ferdinand Marcos and has committed to the political restoration of the Marcoses. His government is planning to change the constitution and may even expand the scope of Martial Law in Mindanao.

But Duterte’s tactics are not simply a throwback to the Marcos era. The pattern of repression that we are seeing today is eerily familiar to what transpired in the country during the reign of former President Gloria Arroyo.

After the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal in 2005, Arroyo was accused of committing rampant human rights abuses to prevent the opposition from mounting another People Power uprising. Extrajudicial killings became a common term because of the rise in activist killings. Trumped up cases were filed against activists, lawyers, church leaders and those branded as ‘enemies of the state’. In response to the deteriorating human rights situation, the Supreme Court promulgated the Writs of Amparo and Habeas Data as legal tools for the protection of civil liberties.

Some of the military generals who served under Arroyo and those who were implicated in cases of torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings are now part of the Duterte Cabinet. The Inter-Agency Legal Action Group created under Arroyo to prosecute those abetting rebellion was revived in 2017, albeit with another name. Will this lead to the crackdown of the legal mass movement? Will Duterte order the deployment of soldiers in urban poor communities like what Arroyo did in 2006 and 2007? Will the police disperse protests by resurrecting the ‘calibrated preemptive response’ doctrine?


The most prominent apologist of Tokhang and Marcosian methods is no other than Duterte himself. He is not only unrepentant about using repressive measures but he considers this as necessary to reform the nation.

He and his troll army are aggressive in demonizing the opposition, media, the church, UN agencies, human rights defenders, and other critics of the government’s policies. His statements are often outrageous, incoherent, divisive, and offensive; but this could be a deliberate propaganda strategy to confuse and overwhelm the public.

Spew out sensational sound bites while the state is implementing Tokhang, bombing Lumad communities, and attacking the independence and integrity of democratic institutions while protecting the interest of oligarchs and campaign donors.

It is by terrorizing the poor and intimidating other political factions that enabled Duterte and his government to collude with big business in enforcing onerous public-private-partnerships, corporate-driven modernization of public services, regressive taxation, and expansion of plantations by the extractive industry.

If not challenged, this rampaging Duterte government will be further emboldened to institutionalize dictatorship by changing the constitution and allowing the indefinite transition to a so-called federal system of government. The challenge should come from all freedom-loving Filipinos and this can be harnessed in the grassroots.

Published by Manila Today

Sports and wellness centers are booming in many places. It’s already hip to hit the gym after work, invest in commodities affirming metrosexuality, and allot more time to boost self-confidence and inner peace. From Manila to Mumbai and Montreal to Madrid, urban centers are seeing the rise of a visible segment of the population who consider diet, workout, and beauty enhancement as essential features of modern living.

Admittedly, care of the self is not a recent phenomenon. Promotion of health and physical fitness is an old industry. What is seemingly new is the ‘democratization’ of the opportunity to engage in self-improvement. Suddenly, there’s a vibrant mass market for services and products catering to the well-being of health-obsessed individuals.

What made this possible? One factor is the decline of industrial and agricultural production which created a large urban-based service sector and stimulated the demand for young workers possessing a special bundle of marketable skills. Indeed, multinational companies that have already outsourced some of their operations into the peripheries continue to seek cheap and docile labor; but at the same time, they also require young and appealing workers who specialize in interpersonal relations. Think of call center agents, baristas, health professionals, uber partners, and freelancers sustaining the service economy of mega cities.

In developing countries, this trend is mistaken as the emergence of an upward middle class as capitalists re-brand oppressive wage relations into an objective fact of labor dynamics in the so-called sharing or gig economy. That in a globalizing village or ‘flat world’, what is more important is not job security or union building but the cultivation of new skills and the acquisition of certain tangible goods or experience in order to improve the employability and income opportunity of individuals.

The new economy is accurately described as disruptive but economists insist it leads to a greater good. Facilitating the disruption is the rapid innovation in communication and information tools. Individuals supposedly need to maximize the Internet to expand their knowledge base, networks, and business ventures. As workers become more immersed in the social media networks, they are exposed to data sets selling clues and connections about new opportunities and the realtime possibility of succeeding in the transitioning economy.

Behold the 21st-century laborer: overinformed and overexploited, underpaid and underrepresented.

Accompanying the expansion of the service economy is the aggressive normalization of the ideology of individualism. When unions declined in number and influence, individual workers were forced to be responsible to advance their own career and welfare. This complemented the bombardment of ideas that celebrate individualism through films, books, state propaganda, the corporate-led news media, and the schooling establishment.

The worker now finds himself alone in society and he was conditioned to believe that it is rational. To survive, he is told to consume information, improve the presentation of the body and the self, and trust the algorithm of the cyberspace.

Translated into political doctrine, the individual is taught to focus first on the self and the discovery of his real identity in a changing society. Politicians discourage collective initiatives by preaching the urgency of reforming the self before reordering society. Even mainstream religion gives primacy to individual reflection over social action. The supposedly scientific basis of this doctrine is reflected in the so-called ‘invisible hand’ of the market where each action of self-interested individuals contributes to the public good.

This is manifested in the political behavior of individuals who disdain collective resistance in favor of campaigns that require minimal risk, sacrifice, and commitment. Volunteerism or part-time activism is equated with civic duty and even this is added to the list of ‘goods’ that an individual is supposed to experience to enhance his status.

Service to others is reduced into lip service since it is done by prioritizing the self. There’s no more debate whether it is right or wrong for an individual to think first of the self before others. To show fidelity to a cause other than the self is to invite mockery and accusation of being dogmatic or irrational. The idea of selfishness trumps selflessness in the era of selfies.

What is the ethical thing to do? Should individuals renounce the self? Should we strive for anonymity in changing the world? The issue is framed in the wrong and scary way. Here’s an alternative perspective: There are many individuals who find fulfillment by joining others in winning ‘lost causes’. Individuals who learned their true calling by embracing the new and unknown. Those who unleashed their full potential as a person by fighting the inhumanity of the present. Collective struggle does not banish the self but allows it to discover the meaning of happiness, peace of mind, freedom, and life in the company of strangers, fellow travelers, and comrades.