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.

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.

Asia-Pacific welcomes the new year – with declining freedom. A disturbing regional trend in 2017 is still evident in the first month of the new year, which featured a threat to close down Rappler news website in the Philippines, the revival of criminal libel law in Samoa, and the filing of a draconian espionage bill in Australia.

Protests and a court victory amid state of emergency, constitutional amendments and media attacks: Asia-Pacific in February. Pakistan celebrates a court ruling which declared mobile service suspension as illegal, Cambodia’s constitutional amendments threaten free speech, Maldives extends the state of emergency, media attacks in Oceania, and creative protests from Thailand’s #WeWalk to China’s #MeToo campaign.

Women march, an eye-roll breaks the Chinese internet, and worrying new legislation. Some backlashes against marches by women’s groups across Asia-Pacific, a surge in social media censorship in China, Sri Lanka’s state of emergency, journalist killings in India, and passage of repressive laws are highlighted.

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Internet in the Philippines is bemoaned as one of the slowest and most inefficient in the region. Despite the absence of censorship, Internet freedom in the country is only categorized as partly-free because of the unabated media killings, government intimidation of critics, the existence of state-backed online trolls, and the passage of a restrictive anti-cybercrime law.

There have been various suggestions on how to improve the situation. Proposals vary from boosting the privatization of the IT sector by welcoming the entry of a third major telco, legislative remedy, and stronger regulation.

To strengthen Internet freedom, the starting point of any campaign should not focus on legislative reforms, but the overhaul of the political economy of the country’s IT infrastructure and media industry. Instead of blindly pursuing the growth of the IT sector through the tried and tested failure of privatization, the government should be prepared to perform a greater and decisive role in expanding Internet access and promoting consumer welfare. This is different from the state-backed monopoly which was the situation before 1995 because what is being proposed as an alternative entails public-private cooperation. The government is urged to demand accountability from the telcos aside from ensuring that state resources are utilized to build and improve a national broadband network.

Read more

Addressing the migration of Filipino health workers

Written for The Diplomat magazine

Migration of health workers is not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. But in the last two decades, there was a sharp increase in the number of doctors and nurses migrating to other countries which seriously undermined the nation’s capability to provide health services to its people. This matter became a national concern when topnotch doctors began to leave as nurses and hospitals were forced to stop operations due to a lack of qualified health workers. The high worldwide demand for health workers is expected to continue which makes it imperative for ‘donor’ countries like the Philippines to implement policies, procedures, and programs to protect its health human resources.

Managing migration today is crucial to avert a possible collapse of the health care system. Failure to stem the alarming number of migrating doctors and nurses will further cripple the deteriorating health service in the country. This will jeopardize the attainment of development goals which seeks to empower people by eradicating poverty.

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Written for IFEX

Amid the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines, an online news group has been ordered by a government agency to stop operating — a move which many denounce as an attack on press freedom.

Rappler assured its readers that it will not back down in the fight for truth and democracy. 

“We intend to not only contest this through all legal processes available to us, but also to fight for our freedom to do journalism and for your right to be heard through an independent platform like Rappler.” 

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Cartoonist Choi Seong-guk: Expression that breaks down barriers

Written for IFEX

Choi says that prejudice is the biggest concern facing North Korean defectors in the South, and works to challenge this through his popular online cartoon strip, Rodong Shimmun: The Enthusiastic Resettlement Diaries of a Male North Korean Defector.

Choi believes that culture will play a decisive role in the reunification of the two Koreas. 

“Guns and knives are frightening, but culture is more powerful than weaponry. When I consider my experience in the North, selling ‘Korean culture’, I can say that nothing has as big an impact as culture.” 

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Written for The Diplomat Magazine

June 12 will be known in history as the day when United States President Donald Trump met North Korea leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore. But for Filipinos, June 12 is significant because it is the day when revolutionaries declared independence from Spain in 1898.

June 12 is an official holiday and the government celebrates it each year by honoring the heroes of the independence struggle. But this year, various groups mobilized on June 12 to denounce the ‘mendicant’ foreign policy of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The government downplayed the June 12 protest and insisted that it is unnecessary to antagonize China.

Perhaps the government should rethink its response because this indifferent attitude towards legitimate grievances could only spur more anti-Duterte groups to unite despite their ideological differences.

Read more….

Is the Congress Coup in the Philippines a Threat to Duterte?

Written for The Diplomat

In a significant recent development in Philippine politics, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is now the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. Though it is still early days, it is worth examining what this might mean for the country’s political evolution in general as well as the presidency of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in particular.

With respect to Duterte and his presidency, Arroyo supported Duterte’s presidential bid in 2016 and has been an influential member of the so-called ‘super majority’ in Congress for the past two years. Her election as Speaker was not viewed by many as a direct threat to Duterte since it was mainly triggered by a conflict between factions supporting the president.

Perhaps it is a relief for Duterte, then, that the opposition and activists have started reviving their attacks against Arroyo, given that protests against higher taxes, impunity killings, and other unpopular actions of the Duterte government had been continuing to gain momentum beforehand. But Duterte also has reasons to worry. It also means that Arroyo is now perceived to be more than just a political patron but a real contender for the position which she once occupied for nearly a decade.

Read more

Published by Bulatlat

In 1917, Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin published “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” which provided the working class with a theoretical tool to understand the capitalist crisis, the great war in Europe, and socialism as a feasible alternative.

Since then, the book has become a standard Marxist reference in analyzing the global economic situation and in particular, the real cause of the recurring social crisis engendered by capitalism.

Its continuing relevance was recently affirmed by Ibon’s Institute of Political Economy which published “Lenin’s ‘Imperialism’ in the 21st Century,” highlighting the contemporary manifestations of imperialism.

Lenin’s thesis on imperialism was applied in assessing the legacy of neoliberalism, rising militarism, rivalry among superpowers, and the prospect of the global socialist movement.

In the book, Antonio Tujan Jr. discussed how imperialist powers led by the United States exploited neocolonial economies. Paul Quintos explained how the financialization of production could lead to war. Demba Moussa Dembele linked primitive accumulation in Africa to the rise of colonial capitalist powers. Pao-yu Ching traced the history of Chinese integration in the global economy and its impact on workers. Fred Engst debunked some myths about China’s rise as a superpower and its relationship with the US.

Roland G. Simbulan updated the status of the American military empire and hardware. Pio Verzola Jr. focused on inter-imperialist rivalry and the various proxy wars of the 20th century. And finally, Joma Sison gave an overview of the proletarian struggles across the world while emphasizing the superiority of the socialist alternative.

It is instructive that all contributors summarized Lenin’s famous five characteristics of imperialism. More significantly, the contributors updated the features of monopoly capitalism by identifying old and new bubbles such as the tech implosion, the property and housing crisis, and rising debt induced by neoliberal austerity measures.

Lenin expounded his ideas on imperialism by citing economic statistics and other data available during his time. Ibon’s book retained this format by supplementing the descriptive text with the latest information on global trade, production, capital investments, military deployment, and the everyday situation of the working classes.

Also useful was the succinct presentation of how Lenin’s ideas on imperialism reflected the earlier works of progressive economists and thinkers.

Lenin wrote his book during the heyday of the free market doctrine when the Great Depression era was still more than a decade away. He was one of those who saw the inevitable collapse of finance capital and its disastrous implication for the world’s poor, thus, making it more crucial to hasten the revolutionary upsurge.

Ibon’s book proved how Lenin’s ideas on imperialism never became obsolete as these continue to serve as a guide to understanding the geopolitics of the world today. That despite being rebranded by some as neoliberalism, globalization, or empire, there’s no doubt that imperialism is still the supreme scourge in the world that must be vanquished. Lenin’s book is still an effective antidote against those who mindlessly preach about the supposed goodness and invincibility of capitalism.

It is noteworthy to mention that Ibon’s book also devoted special attention to the political and economic consequences of China’s aspiration for global hegemony. Contributors presented a compelling narrative of China’s growing influence in the world while juxtaposing it with the efforts of US imperialism to preserve and even solidify its position. Contributors were meticulous in exposing the underside of capitalism with Chinese characteristics. Or how workers and citizens in the 21st century continue to experience abuse, exploitation, and discrimination as capitalists extract more super profits across the world.

Like Lenin’s original book, Ibon’s book was not just intended for use in the academe. Both were written to aid the workers and other oppressed sectors in their historic battle to defeat imperialism. Both were illuminating, inspiring, and agitating. Imperialism was demystified, dissected, and deplored through a comprehensive critique that also rallied readers to dream and fight for a new world.

The re-publication of Lenin’s book on imperialism is a fitting tribute to the centenary of the October Revolution. It is a testament to the enduring legacy of Lenin as a Marxist theoretician. More so, it validates the necessity of combining theory and practice in building a strong revolutionary movement capable of uniting the oppressed against imperialism and all reactionary regimes.

Published by Bulatlat

What does it mean to live in the era of neoliberalism? It is to recognize that the world is a mess and that I, as an individual, can fix it by being responsible for my life. So far, nothing perverse with this line of thought. Then we add this in the equation: If everybody will behave like I do, making the right life choices and focusing on self-improvement, the world can be a better place to live in, all else being equal.

If this is our guide to ethical living, then it reflects how we unknowingly internalized the logic of neoliberalism. It complements triumphalist individualism that blindly worships the magic of the ‘invisible hand’ of the market while fanatically disavowing the role of the state and other visible collectives in society.

It is one thing to be a responsible individual, but another to think that promoting individualism is the primary solution to society’s woes. It is understandable to blame recidivists, but why expect everybody to stop demanding systemic reforms until we first address our own problems. It is rational to expect the state to be efficient, but to reject the mandate of the state with regard to delivering vital services is quite a fundamentalist (neoliberalist) view.

How did this disturbing ideology of individualism become dominant in society? First, it was made normal through the school sorting machine. Then it became appealing through corporate media and popular culture. The state enforced it through various programs and laws; but its ultimate endorsement is by outsourcing its core functions to the private sector supposedly to motivate citizens in accessing (read: buying) a greater set of public goods.

Reinforcing this ideology is the rapid rise of information technologies that facilitated the further alienation of selfie-obsessed netizens from the rest of society. It gave a false sense of power, but perhaps deeply satisfying, to individuals who can now instantly retrieve information, expand social media influence, and make transactions through mobile internet.

The belief that digital apps enabled netizens to acquire better capital without needing the help of others and the state reveals the pervasive power of the ideology of individualism. But it is at best illusory because what is not rendered visible is the labor of those who installed the fiber optic cables, those who assembled the smartphones, the collective process of training individuals, and the contribution of family, friends and other institutions in making virtual networks popular and possible.

The ubiquitous spread of the so-called digital economy has given the state a persuasive arsenal to pin the blame back to individuals for the deteriorating state of living in society.

This is manifested in statements exhorting the public to continually update themselves with information that can save their lives (disaster advisories) or improve their life chances (job notices or labor trends). This is extended to almost all spheres of life under the purview of the state. Traffic? Seek alternative transport through the information bulletins provided by agencies. Low wages? Acquire financial literacy. High tuition? Publish all fees of schools to improve consumer choice.

Amid the dizzying exchange of digital content, netizens are hypnotized to absorb tons of information hoping that some of these data sets could prove useful to their lives. Information overload is not considered a destructive symptom but an opportunity to transcend the difficulties of modern living.

Hence, the emergence of cyber-addicted individuals who are always searching not just for spectacles, virality, and online notoriety but information that seemingly matter and trends that could potentially equip individuals with the hoped-for power, influence, and advantage over others. The netizen as a modern individual who seeks a better representation of the body and the self in this day and age when everything can be programmed, coded, and fact-checked.

Individuals now spend more attention trying to blend their online and offline profiles, which gives them less time to ponder about politics and the lives of others.

Individuals are distracted by the fantastic offerings of the Internet algorithm instead of the inequalities generated by the power dynamics in society.

Individuals are overawed by the knowledge economy without understanding the political economy of the web.

Individuals are deciphering the flaws in the flow of information and not the global distribution of real and imagined wealth. There is no probing of the structures of inequality and injustice that could easily explain the worsening Internet exclusion in the world.

The state elevated information consumption as an individual duty. This was done at a time when the state was methodically smashing and undermining the social forces in society that traditionally created strong bonds among individuals such as unions and cooperatives. Yet it arrogates upon itself the right to preach about duty and responsibility.

The poor netizen – unemployed, uneducated, and unlisted from receiving social welfare – is an easy prey to state propaganda that his situation is of his own undoing. That it was his failure to connect and access information from publicly available networks that doomed his career. In other words, as mentioned earlier when we were discussing individualism under neoliberalism, the individual failed to take responsibility for his life.

This is the real legacy of neoliberalism in the 21st century. Individuals are frantically googling everything about what is wrong with their lives instead of taking a deeper look at the world around them. Individuals think they are rigging the system by manipulating information on the web, but so far the oppressive structures of power are still existing.

Beyond keywords that unmask neoliberalism, what we need today are solid acts of solidarity, resistance, and revolution.