Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a filipino activist, former legislator, and blogger/analyst of southeast asian affairs. he lives in manila

Published by Bulatlat

The untold first mission of many activists does not involve the smashing of the bourgeois state or the ‘bombarding of the headquarters’ of the repressive government; their first instinct is to go home and confess their political conversion to their parents or guardians.

It is a delicate and difficult duty. Delicate because parents could easily misunderstand the youthful idealism of their children as naivete. Difficult because activists do not want to be a burden to their families. How will the parents react?

The new recruit may feel confident about his early exposure to radical discourse but he knows it isn’t enough to win the support of his parents. Jargons won’t impress parents who fear for the safety of their children.

The activist has to speak like a child without sounding childish, he needs to assert his autonomy without alienating the family, he hopes to remain calm and rational as he passionately plead for understanding.

But can he deliver the right words without becoming preachy, arrogant, and dogmatic?

There are so many new exotic words to use or brag but are they effective? How best to argue that she is rebelling against society and not against her dear parents, that she is proud of her family, that she is grateful for her upbringing, and that she is happy.

Can she explain the contradiction in her decision to renounce the decadence of the status quo while preserving meaningful ties with her traditional family?

How lucky the few activists who get the opportunity to talk candidly about their peculiar life choices with their families. Because for many activists, they simply couldn’t speak properly and bravely in front of their parents, the original authority figures in their lives.

All these unexpressed sentiments could linger and haunt the family for years until it only becomes an unspoken hurt between the parent and child activist. How ironic and depressing that the articulate activist has many names for the old and new world yet he has little or nothing to say at all in front of his parents

Perhaps she is overwhelmed with guilt. She feels she has betrayed a sacred bond when she chose to prioritize the collective or commune over the family. After all, her parents have sacrificed their own dreams and endured numerous pains in life so that she can succeed in the world, yet she unequivocally speaks of changing it. She mentions the struggle to build a better society when all her parents wanted was for society to recognize their child.

How sudden and strange the transformation of the child who shouts slogans like ‘learn from the masses” (how about learning from mothers?) and ‘serve the people’ (did she forget how to serve the parents first?). The child they shielded from violence is calling for a revolutionary war. The mild-mannered teenager has become a street agitator.

But while the activist is dealing with and overthinking his guilt, his parents continued to behave and act as, well, parents. The much-desired consent was not explicitly given but who needs it when the parents never disavowed their prodigal son. They silently acknowledged his activism and made sure the family will stay intact.

After some time, the reluctant sympathizers of the mass movement would become staunch supporters of the Cause. Their home, a shelter for activists in trouble. Their resources are shared with the collective. They became instant parents and counselors to many progressives.

How does the child activist repay the kindness and generosity of her parents? By proving that the decision to pursue activism is also a tribute to all fathers and mothers who wanted only the best for their children.

Like their parents, activists work hard so that no children will suffer from preventable miseries. They devote the best years of their lives battling injustice and oppression. Isn’t this commitment similar to the heroic sacrifice of parents?

Activists become activists not because they feel resentment against their parents; on the contrary, they embraced activism also in honor of their parents.

Perhaps the activist sees his parents while in the company of farmers, workers, and the toiling masses in the grassroots. He seeks the empowerment of the oppressed in the same way he yearns to promote the welfare of his now aging parents.

Activists rarely mention their parents when they are engaged in political work. But it doesn’t mean they think less about them. Behind every grim and determined looking activist is most likely a child thankful that his parents have trusted him with the freedom to choose the activist way of life. An activist who evaluates his self not only in relation to his work as a full time political organizer and proletarian cadre but also whether he continues to live up to the expectations of his beloved parents.

Published by Fair Observer

How has Rodrigo Duterte fared as president of the Philippines 100 days after taking office?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is hitting headlines for all the wrong reasons. He has threatened to pull the Philippines out of the United Nations (UN); he has ridiculed diplomats; he is unapologetic for making rape jokes; and the most serious case against him is his alleged involvement in the spate of drug-related extrajudicial killings across the country.

Yet this seemingly madman on the loose is also the same statesman who has brokered a landmark peace initiative with communist rebels barely two months after assuming the presidency. In fact, Duterte has already achieved what his predecessors in the past 30 years have failed or refused to do: Draft an indefinite ceasefire agreement with the group behind Asia’s longest-running insurgency.

So, how do we make sense of Duterte’s contradictory priorities? Is he a ruthless killer of petty drug lords who is intent on hiding his misdeeds by presenting himself as a peacemaker? Or is he a sincere reformer whose commitment to upholding peace and prosperity for the benefit of all is overshadowed by the vicious “war on drugs”?

Dirty Harry from Davao

Duterte was mayor of Davao City for three decades before becoming a prominent national figure in 2015 when he ran for president. He claims to have made Davao a safer city for both residents and investors by fighting crime and corruption. His tough methods against criminal suspects earned him both praise and criticism. He was called “Dirty Harry” and “The Punisher” by the media, while some human rights advocates tagged him as the real brains behind the notorious vigilante group known as Davao Death Squad.

Due to his anti-crime advocacy, various groups in the capital Manila urged him to run for president. The clamor snowballed into a popular grassroots movement, which led to his electoral victory in May 2016.

Duterte’s win was phenomenal. The political and cultural significance of his rise to power is quite similar to the victory of US President Barack Obama in 2008.

The new leader of the Philippines defeated the administration candidate and other politicians with bigger political machineries and resources. Duterte became the first president from Mindanao, an impoverished island that symbolizes the oppression of Muslims and other minorities by the Manila-based elite.

During the campaign, Duterte condemned the oligarchs for perpetuating poverty, and he mocked the ineffective and corrupt leadership of traditional politicians.

His populist messaging worked because he was seen as an underdog candidate, an outsider challenging the status quo, a man of the masses, and a simple mayor from a city in the remote region of Mindanao. Other candidates also promised change, but Duterte’s nonconformist brand of leadership proved to be more popular and credible.

His principal campaign tactic was to focus on his crusade against organized crime—in particular, his plan to wipe out drug syndicates. Duterte vowed to accomplish this in three to six months. He warned that it would be a brutal war against the drug protectors, financiers and their well-entrenched operators on the ground.

There were those who thought Duterte was simply making a sensational remark to attract more votes. It may be true, but as things stand today, it seems the president is hell-bent on fulfilling his bloody promise.

Extrajudicial Killings

The killings started a few days after the May election. Suspected drug peddlers were found dead almost daily in the streets—their bodies covered with piece of cardboard containing a message that implored the public to reject illegal drugs. Some believe the killings were the handiwork of dirty cops who wanted to silence potential witnesses who might expose their links to drug cartels. Others think the police were sending a message of support to the incoming president’s plan to launch an all-out war on illegal drugs.

After Duterte became president on June 30, the killings intensified. Some of the killings were attributed to the police and vigilante groups. In other cases, the police reasoned that criminal gangs could be involved due to their attempts to liquidate rivals. But the majority of killings involved suspected drug mules and pushers who were killed after violently resisting arrest or while under police custody.

Duterte blamed drug lords for the rampant killings. He praised the police for the vigorous campaign to eliminate the scourge of illegal drugs in communities. He released a list of politicians, judges and police generals who have suspected ties to drug lords.

Only two months after the inauguration of the new government, almost 2,000 suspected drug operators had been were killed by the police. The number of dead bodies continues to rise every day. Disturbingly, the majority of dead drug pushers were from urban poor barangays (villages).

The human rights community was quick to denounce the extrajudicial killings, which have mainly victimized the poor and powerless. Lawyers pressed for the respect of due process. Some senators voiced alarm over the sudden rise of drug-related deaths. Activists reminded Duterte about the futility of the militarist approach in solving the drug menace if the people’s socioeconomic needs are not addressed.

But President Duterte and the police are relentless as they refuse to acknowledge the traumatic and terroristic impact of their violent anti-drug campaign in poor communities.

Duterte: The Trump of the Philippines

Aside from his uncompromising stance, Duterte has hit back at critics whom he maliciously accused of being supporters of drug lords and criminals. He has insulted opposition lawmakers and mocked the work of human rights groups, and he has threatened to declare martial law if the Supreme Court challenges his anti-drug campaign.

When UN agencies issued a statement of concern about the extrajudicial killings, Duterte retorted that the United Nations is “inutile” in solving conflicts across the world. He cursed at diplomats, telling them to stop interfering in Philippine affairs.

Duterte has been compared to US presidential candidate Donald Trump because of his politically incorrect and provocative remarks that undermine the international rule of law.

The comparison, which was detailed in an article at Fair Observer, is not apt and accurate. Duterte has been wrongly depicted as another crazy upstart Third World dictator who resembles the rise of Trump and Trump-like leaders in politics. The global media’s fascination over Duterte’s perceived similarities to Trump is a disservice to those who genuinely seek to persuade the Filipino leader to abandon his ill-conceived “war on drugs.”

Indeed, both Duterte and Trump use foul language to intimidate the public and their enemies, and both are guilty of offending women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. But their personal and political backgrounds are totally different.

Duterte has served his country as a lawyer and civil servant for more than three decades. He is not a billionaire; he is not part of the mainstream elite; he has good relations with the Muslim community; and he claims to be a leftist and a socialist who intends to smash the rule of oligarchs.

Trump is merely a candidate who spreads fear by making nasty comments, while Duterte is already at the helm of the government. Trump is a recent spectacle, while Duterte has been displaying his uncouth manners as a well-seasoned politician—he could a better leader than Trump because of his consistently good record as a local chief executive.

Legacy of Peace

Duterte’s pledge to promote peace in the land, for example, has often been overlooked. While he continues to be pilloried in the press for the violent unfolding of his “war on drugs,” his government negotiators have quietly but successfully initiated a ceasefire agreement with the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF)—so much so that Muslim separatists have been convinced to go back to the negotiating table.

Instead of launching a total war against rebels, he has placed more emphasis on peace negotiations. He released a number of political prisoners, which led to the resumption of stalled peace talks between the government and the NDF.

On August 26, the two sides agreed to “implement a unilateral ceasefire for an indefinite period.” Both parties say they are now drafting a comprehensive peace agreement, which they hope to sign and implement in the next 12 months. If the peace treaty is signed, it would be similar to the historic agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

The announcement of an indefinite ceasefire today is already a welcome development. If implemented properly, the ceasefire can provide immediate relief to militarized communities.

The Maoist-inspired New People’s Army, which has been fighting the Philippine government since 1969, operates in more than 70 provinces. A ceasefire in hostilities between the New People’s Army and government troops is a goodwill measure, which can instantly benefit residents in conflict areas. This is also a good opportunity to peacefully address the roots of the armed conflict such as landlessness, development aggression and systemic corruption.

That Duterte succeeded in negotiating a ceasefire is proof not only of his decisive leadership, but also his commitment to improve the lives of Filipinos. Unlike his predecessors who simply wanted to crush the rebels with military might, President Duterte understood that the insurgency can never be defeated as long as extreme poverty continues to stalk the land. That is why he opted to talk peace with the rebels, hoping that it would lead to the resolution of the armed conflict.

Duterte’s One True ‘War’

The peace talks are also a proper venue to discuss the necessary social and economic reforms that can uplift the lives of the poor.

Raising the quality of living in the Philippines, especially in rural regions, is the best alternative to the current framework of the government’s “war on drugs.” The best incentive for the poor to reject the quick money schemes offered by the illicit drug trade is to provide them with stable jobs, livelihood and adequate social services.

Duterte risks the loss of popular support to his government if the anti-drug campaign is not overhauled. His allies in the peace movement are, in fact, upset over the unabated extrajudicial killings. Communists have denounced the president’s war on drugs as anti-poor and anti-people. Activists are wary because the killings could be used as a precedent to stifle dissent in the future.

President Duterte’s laudable peace efforts will be meaningless if impunity is not ended and human rights abuses continue to worsen. He can fight drugs and lay the groundwork for peace at the same time without curtailing rights. If he can reason with rebels, he should also be more aggressive in mobilizing the public to his campaign against drug consumption and pushing.

The war against poverty is the true war that Duterte needs to prioritize in order to successfully combat illegal drugs in the Philippines. This is the best path to achieve a just and lasting peace.

A Red rage and Duterte

December 22nd, 2016

Published by New Mandala

Can the Philippines’ new president end a communist insurgency that’s been fought for almost 50 years?

The government of Rodrigo Duterte and the communist-led National Democratic Front have agreed to resume stalled peace talks this month. Will this finally resolve the armed conflict in the Philippines? A quick glance at the conflict’s history will help us predict its future.

A guerrilla war has been raging in the Philippine countryside since 1969 between the Maoist-inspired New People’s Army and government troops. The war is caused, among others, by extreme poverty and deprivation in the country, especially in rural areas.

The rebels gained a nationwide following in the 1970s and early 1980s when Martial Law was imposed across the Philippines. In 1986, the People Power movement finally deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the new government of Cory Aquino initiated peace talks with the rebels while vowing to pursue meaningful reforms in governance and economic policies.

The peace talks bogged down after the NDF withdrew from the negotiations in the wake of the killing of 13 protesting farmers near the presidential palace in 1987. Informal talks continued but no agreements were signed until the end of Aquino’s term in 1992.

It was during the term of President Fidel Ramos, a former military general, when formal peace talks restarted, leading to the finalisation of several important peace documents. These were The Hague Declaration, which identified the substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL.

But two months after signing CARHRIHL in 1998, President Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against NPA and Muslim rebels. Like Marcos, in 2001 a popular people’s movement ousted him.

President Gloria Arroyo, who succeeded Estrada, resumed talks with the NDF but became disinterested when her government lobbied to make the Philippines the second front in the United States-led ‘War on Terror’. The US included the NPA and NDF leaders in the list of global terrorists, which gave the Arroyo government another reason to abandon the talks.

When Arroyo was reelected in 2004, she agreed to establish a Joint Monitoring Committee to implement the provisions of CARHRIHL. But the peace talks didn’t move forward until the end of her term in 2010. A year after her reelection victory, she lost popular political support because of widespread allegations of electoral fraud, corruption, and human rights violations.

Instead of pursuing peace talks, the Arroyo government advocated the defeat of the NPA by destroying or weakening its purported support base in the civilian population. This new doctrine in the counterinsurgency drive led to rampant human rights abuses in the provinces. Hundreds of activists were killed and disappeared because of their suspected links to NPA rebels.

Arroyo’s successor, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, initially appeared interested in talking peace with the Reds. Many encouraged him to conclude the peace process that began during the term of his mother.

Some preliminary talks were made in 2011 but they didn’t result in anything substantial. Both parties accused each other of being insincere. The NDF protested the continuing arrest of its peace consultants and other high-ranking members of the NPA.

Meanwhile, the Aquino government wanted to ignore previously signed peace agreements in order to develop a better framework on how to conduct the peace talks. It also challenged the NPA to declare a ceasefire as a goodwill measure.

Aquino’s peace panel said the NDF’s demand to release political prisoners prevented the resumption of the peace talks. On the other hand, the NDF blamed Aquino for refusing to acknowledge several of its proposals on how to accelerate the regular track of the peace negotiations.

Aquino’s peace legacy is mixed. His government made significant achievements in finalising a peace agreement with the Bangsamoro in Muslim Mindanao. But he failed to advance the peace process with the Reds.

Prospects for peace under Duterte

In the past three decades, some landmark agreements concerning human rights were signed between the government and the NDF; but overall, the peace talks yielded little in resolving one of the world’s longest communist insurgencies. Despite the military assertion that the NPA is already a spent force, the rebels continue to operate in many provinces across the country.

Therefore, there is valid reason to push for the resumption of the suspended peace talks, particularly since it will bring immediate relief in militarised communities. It will also provide concrete opportunities for all stakeholders to share their views and proposals on how to promote genuine development, unity and justice in the country.

Fortunately, President Duterte has identified peace as a top priority of his administration. It is noteworthy to mention that the new government and the NDF have already agreed to resume the peace talks this month. Duterte also said that he is considering the release of political prisoners, particularly NDF peace consultants. In other words, the roadblocks to restarting the peace process in the past decade have been removed already.

But Duterte should learn from the experience and shortcomings of his predecessors. It is not enough to simply renew the talks with the Reds. He must see to it that it will produce real benefits for the people who are living in conflict areas. He must also be ready to consider the NDF and NPA as potential allies in addressing the chronic poverty, hunger, landlessness, corruption, and rampant criminality in the country.

Unlike past presidents who harbor strong anti-communist bias, Duterte seems capable of rethinking the government’s peace strategy since he claims to be a socialist. In addition to this, he also has maintained good relations with the NPA in Davao.

Talking peace is the better response to the NPA threat instead of continuing the repressive counterinsurgency campaigns of past governments, which only succeeded in driving more peasants and indigenous peoples to join the rebels.

Understandably, Duterte’s war on drugs and other crimes is given more coverage by the global media. But Duterte’s admirable aim to establish a lasting peace in the provinces deserves special attention too.

Published by Bulatlat

There are competing conceptions of the good life, but mainstream institutions bombard us with the dangerous ideology that the only way to achieve happiness and success is to acquire material possessions or gain fame in society.

In schools and workplaces, we are told to get ahead of others or else we become pitiful losers in the rat race. Meanwhile, the media and popular culture glorify the lives of self-made billionaires whose rags-to-riches biographies are hailed as exemplary achievements in the modern era.

Thankfully, this self-centered life goal is disputed from time to time by contrary philosophies that enjoin us to cultivate a broader perspective. But this corrective teaching comes only in trickles while we are drowning in the ‘disneyworld’ of the capitalist brainwashing machine. For every reminder to think of others over the self, there are hundreds of images, texts, and codes that instruct and even seduce us to do otherwise. The me-first mantra is almost embedded in everyday life that we are no longer shocked by it.

Then there are the so-called experts of moderation. Essentially, they uphold the status quo but they caution against excessive individualism. They preach the politically-correct value of helping others without altering the exploitative relations that engender social injustice. They also insist that the ‘others’ should behave properly to deserve the charity of society.

These are the individuals who hoard overrated goods and worship material riches in life but they obsessively assuage their guilt by feigning concern for the poor. For them, living the good life is accumulating some petty assets while giving something back to the community. Many of these individuals have a desperate desire for public recognition. In the age of social media, they want to be ‘seen’ enjoying the ‘good life’.

But is it a fundamental evil? Perhaps not. Mainstream society might even elevate this ethic as worthy of emulation. But it is non-conformism at its dullest manifestation.

Getting rich while doing good, what is wrong with it? Nothing. Except that real existing individualism has given us a world inhabited by the privileged few who live in luxury on one hand, and the majority who are plagued by preventable miseries on the other.

The prevailing concept of the good life would do nothing to subvert the situation today. It makes some people feel good about their lives while the rest of the world continue to suffer from extreme deprivation.

It is certainly possible to construct a better world than this.

What is then our alternative vision of the good life? And can we realistically embody the ideal?

The ‘good life’ is selfless devotion to uplift the marginalized and a lifelong struggle to build a just and peaceful society.

To the question about the practicality of fulfilling this vision, we have already known many individuals who symbolize this noble aspiration. In our long history of anti-colonial and anti-dictatorship struggle, we call them heroes. Today, these are the political prisoners who are persecuted because of their beliefs and life-affirming decision to serve the people, the poor, and the proletarian class.

The recently released political prisoners are veteran activists who fought Martial Law and paved the way for the restoration of some of our democratic rights. They are more than revolutionary leaders, they are walking icons of democracy. Apparently, detention didn’t dampen their fighting resolve. The young idealists who dreamed of liberating the landless poor from feudal bondage and foreign oppression continue to struggle for national democracy in their senior years.

Unlike some of their former comrades who became ‘progressive’ apologists of the bureaucracy, these political prisoners never abandoned radicalism. They shunned wealth creation to focus on wealth distribution. They became leaders of a revolutionary party that gained nationwide presence and following yet they disdained personal fame in favor of collective leadership.

They endured numerous hardships and long years of separation from their loved ones as they waged war against multiple social evils.

Is this not clear proof of the viability of living the good life? That we can attain fulfillment by serving the people. That service to others requires sacrifice and continuous struggle. That it is through activism that we affirm our solidarity with others. That finding inner peace, which is the ‘holy grail’ for many professionals today, is best done by fighting for a just peace in society.

We are thankful to the political prisoners for showing us the positive legacy of radicalism. They proved how life inside the revolution could thrive even under the harshest political conditions. More importantly, they demonstrated the value of simple living and non-stop dissent as a creative alternative framework of modern life.

Indeed, there are various interpretations of what it means to live the good life. We tried the dominant approach which encouraged us to get rich and glorious but it only led to disastrous results for the great majority. Perhaps it is time to choose a different approach, a new path, a rethinking of the concept.

Live the good life, but let’s do it the activist way this time. The activist who serves the people and not the politicians or the capitalist class. The activist who follows the mass line, who integrates with farmers and workers, who supports and even joins the people’s army in the countryside. The activist who builds the foundations of a new democracy so that exploitation of man by man will cease. The activist who participates in anonymous collectives working day and night to hasten the arrival of a brighter future. Yes, this is the good life!

Published by Manila Today

Some scholars scoff at President Rodrigo Duterte’s repeated pronouncements that he is a Leftist, a socialist. The skepticism is understandable since no president of the Republic has ever made a claim about being an advocate of Leftist politics.

Maybe the scholars have a different concept of what it means to be a Leftist in the Philippines. Hence, they could not readily accept a politician’s confession about his real ideological leaning. Perhaps the politician is delusional, or he is deliberately distorting the idea of the Left.

Ironic that the scholars promoting pluralism are now seemingly protective of the politics of the Left. Can’t Duterte invoke pluralism to propagate his views about the Left? Perhaps he can mimic the pluralists who like mixing contradictory but nice-sounding theories while naming their work as a legacy of the new, democratic, inclusive Left.

Meanwhile, the National Democrats (NatDems), the supposed guardians of the true Marxist-Leninist-Maoist doctrine, are openly praising Duterte’s admission of his Leftist bias.

Unlike some academics who dismiss Duterte’s brand of Leftist politics, the NatDems have welcomed the opportunity to clarify and explain the meaning of national democracy and socialism.

Before the rise of Duterte, many Filipinos erroneously assumed that esoteric terms such as socialism, Left, and oligarchy can be freely discussed in the academe and online media but not in mainstream politics. We can question the sincerity of Duterte, the politician; but we must at least give him credit for defanging the poisonous impact of red-baiting. Suddenly, it’s quite normal to talk about the progressive stance of the Left and Leftists in the bureaucracy. Raising clenched fists is cool once more.

Hopefully, there will be no more overpaid political operators urging Leftist leaders to hide their Red image and dilute their radical politics. We can now argue that voters are ready to support national candidates espousing Leftist politics. Through Duterte, the public was instantly made aware that a Leftist is not just the typical street rallyist, angry pamphleteer, indignant college professor, multitasking NGOist, and opposition lawmaker. A Leftist is also someone who can lead the government.

Indeed, there are various shades of the Left. Some of them are well-entrenched in the corporate media and academe who identify themselves as heirs of the noble tradition of the Left. Yet they spend more time attacking the politics and activities of real existing Left in the Philippines than popularizing Marxist teachings. They are anti-Left pretending to be Left. They endorse the Yellow Left whose claim to fame is their notorious, unprincipled collaboration with the previous regime.

Then there are so-called Leftists who exaggerate their impact on local politics even if they have no significant ties with the grassroots. They ridicule and demonize the mass movement while portraying themselves as victims of Stalinism and other imaginary crimes in the global community. Their foreign funders are too naïve.

The Yellow Left’s anti-Duterte crusade is buoyed largely by its canine devotion to the previous government. Pathetic and opportunistic that its leadership suddenly remembered the value of dissent after their political patron is no longer in power.

Between these polite Leftists celebrated by the ruling class and the self-styled Leftist Duterte, whose politics will advance the socialist cause?

For the NatDem movement, the choice is clear. Choose the side which has allied with the revolutionary forces in promoting the welfare of the people. Choose the political force capable of uniting the people against foreign domination, feudal oppression, and systemic corruption. Choose the ‘Left’ which has a record of acknowledging and respecting the politics of the NatDem Left.

The Duterte brand is the superior choice over the Yellowists if the aim is to strengthen and expand the influence of the revolutionary movement in the country.

Thanks to the Yellow Left, the NatDem movement is aware of the creeping dangers of reformism and political cooptation.

Duterte’s openness to the Left is often cited in the media. What is not highlighted is the critical interaction between the new government and Leftist organizations. Rallies and mass actions are still being organized across the country. Activists are still studying dialectics, not Dutertism. The people’s campaign for a democratic and patriotic change is not anchored on lobbying for bureaucratic reforms but mainly through militant, political struggle.

The Left continues to reject the reactionary character of the ruling system. First and last, it upholds the people’s interest and not the blind perpetuation of the state machinery. Its mass organizations have already pointed out several weaknesses of the new government even if it maintains a friendly relationship with the president. At one point, a Duterte loyalist in the Cabinet even publicly derided NatDem leaders for criticizing the macroeconomic policies of the president’s money experts.

Yes, the NatDem is supporting the pro-people programs of the Duterte administration; but it is not willing to abandon and compromise its comprehensive platform for social transformation. The revolution continues.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy pronouncements have spurred intense interest and debates abroad, but few are commenting about his economic agenda.

Right or wrong, Duterte has chosen to define the first year of his presidency by pursuing his so-called ‘War on Drugs’ and declaring a “separation” from the United States, an old ally and former colonial ruler of the Philippines.

Some analysts are worried that Duterte’s controversial policies and rants could scare away investors and hamper the growth of the local economy. For some critics of the government, there are already disturbing indicators such as the depreciation of the peso’s value and reported losses in the stock market. They believe these troubles could be a negative impact of the government’s misguided priorities.

In summary, ‘Dutertenomics’ reaffirms the economic reforms initiated by the Aquino government. The country’s big business groups are generally happy with it, but not Duterte’s leftist allies. Nevertheless, Duterte’s posturing as a nationalist and socialist means there is still opportunity to push for alternative policies that could potentially overhaul the country’s economic profile in the next few years.

Read more at The Diplomat

Progress in the Philippine Peace Process Under Duterte

The second round of the peace talks between the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) ended with both parties agreeing on the framework and outline of the proposed agreements on socioeconomic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. The negotiations were conducted in Norway.

Duterte’s tirades against the United States are unprecedented in Philippine history. But Duterte became an instant inspiration for those who wanted the Philippines to rethink its close ties with its former colonial master. Deliberate or not, Duterte’s nationalist outburst also enhanced the prospects of achieving peace with communist rebels.

Duterte’s human rights record is an international embarrassment. But if he wants something positive to highlight in his first 100 days in the presidential palace, he can mention the peace process. So far, he has already outperformed his immediate predecessors in terms of achieving a semblance of peace in the Philippines.

Read more at The Diplomat

Published by Bulatlat

CARHRIHL, JASIG and The Hague Declaration – these are important peace documents signed by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front. If the peace talks will resume next month, the next agenda should tackle CASER.

What is the meaning and significance of these terms? If these agreements are crucial to the peace process, why did the BS Aquino government ignore them?

The Hague Declaration

Signed on September 1, 1992, the two-page document provides the framework of the peace process. It identified the substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations. These include human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

It is a statement of both parties affirming the need to address and resolve the roots of the armed conflict instead of merely requiring armed groups to surrender their weapons to the state.

The Aquino government ridiculed it as a “document of perpetual division” forgetting that the declaration actually specified the sequence and conduct of the peace negotiations which would lead to the resolution of the armed struggle.


It stands for “Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees”. It is basically an identification system that gives protection to security consultants of both parties. JASIG-protected individuals are given the freedom to discuss and promote the peace negotiations across the country. They cannot be arrested or charged in the courts. JASIG ensures the continuity of the peace talks by assuring both parties that their negotiators and consultants can move and speak freely in relation to their role in the peace process.

The Aquino government tried to nullify the JASIG by declaring it as inoperative. The army and police forces refused to honor the JASIG by arresting NDF consultants based on trumped-up cases. Aquino’s peace adviser even accused the NDF of using the JASIG to force the release of detained NPA members.

But the truth is that the NDF is not invoking the JASIG every time an activist or revolutionary leader is arrested. Out of more than 500 political prisoners, the NDF has named only 18 JASIG cardholders who ought to be released immediately as stipulated in the signed peace agreement.


The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law is a landmark agreement signed in 1998. It recognized the need to apply human rights principles when responding to the armed conflict. It obligated both parties – the NDF and the government – to promote the respect of and adherence to international humanitarian law among its forces. It emphasized the urgency of protecting the civilian population.

It specified the duty of both parties to probe all cases of human rights abuses. It asserted the right of victims and survivors to seek indemnification. A joint monitoring committee was set up in 2004 to receive and investigate human rights complaints.

CARHRIHL also compelled the government to repeal repressive laws and decrees such as authorizing checkpoints and warrantless searches, allowing the filing of charges of illegal possession of firearms with respect to political offenses, requiring physicians to report cases of patients with gunshot wounds to the police/military, restricting and controlling the right to peaceful assembly, legalizing the Citizens’ Armed Force Geographical Units, and allowing the imposition of food blockades.

As expected, the government didn’t deliver on this commitment.

The agreement also “recognize the right of the people to demand the reduction of military expenditures and the rechanneling of savings from such reduction towards social, economic and cultural development.”

CARHRIHL was mainly disregarded by the governments of Gloria Arroyo and BS Aquino which deprived ordinary Filipinos of the opportunity to invoke its progressive provisions in order to advance human rights protection in the country.

It is unfortunate because the CARHRIHL could have served as a model to other war-torn countries. In fact, the European Parliament passed a resolution in 1999 praising both the NDF and the government for signing this “outstanding” peace agreement.

Trivia: The phrase “persons deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict” is repeated several times in the CARHRIHL. It simply means “prisoners of war”.


Some experts believe the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms or CASER will be the most important document in the peace process because it aims to resolve the historical and structural inequities in Philippine society.

Before the suspension of the peace talks, the government panel has initially identified its priorities: “asset reform and improvement of the human resource base (agrarian, fishery and urban land reform) and agricultural development; and private sector-led industrialization that seeks to generate livelihood, full employment and quality jobs.”

For its part, the NDF listed economic sovereignty and national patrimony, agrarian reform and agricultural development, national industrialization and economic development, economic planning, rights of the working people, livelihood and social services, environmental protection plus rehabilitation and compensation.

But the CASER drafts of both parties have yet to be updated and presented to the public.

This is the perfect opportunity for the public to advance concrete proposals on how to address chronic poverty, hunger, jobless growth, labor export, rural deprivation, homelessness, wealth disparity, and environmental deterioration. We have to discuss what kind of economic reforms are needed to uplift the lives of the majority. We have to ask and engage the government about its concept of “private sector-led industrialization.” We have to clarify NDF’s economic planning program. There is still time to influence how both parties will present and finalize the CASER.


Meanwhile, the special track of the peace talks could pave the way for the acceleration of the peace process by convening a separate committee to discuss the remaining agenda as identified in The Hague Declaration. The next two agreements after CASER are the Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR), and the draft treaty on end of hostilities and disposition of forces (EoH/DoF).

Forty years ago on October 6, more than 40 student protesters were killed inside the Tha Prajan campus of Thammasat University. The identity of the killers is unknown to this day but the attack was led by state forces and an anti-communist mob.

The casualties could be higher because no official probe has been made by the government to find out the truth about the incidents leading to the massacre. What we have are testimonies from the few survivors and journalists who documented the brutality of the attack.

After 40 years, survivors of the massacre and the relatives of the dead victims continue to seek justice. It is a lonely battle because this tragic episode is not mentioned in Thailand’s history books. The military, which staged a coup after the massacre, has conspired with successive governments up to the present to hide the truth about the massacre.

Read more at The Diplomat

Singapore’s Presidential Review: Change You Should Believe in?

Last January, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told parliament about the need to implement some reforms in the country’s political system which would entail some constitutional amendments.

In support of the proposal to strengthen the country’s elected presidency system, a constitutional commission headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon was established. After six months of conducting consultations and reviewing 107 submissions from the public, the commission submitted its official recommendations to the government last week.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has indicated that his government is willing to adopt most if not all of the measures proposed by the commission. In a television interview, he also addressed some of the issues related to the elected presidency.

Read more at The Diplomat

Peace talks have been successfully initiated in Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines – three Southeast Asian countries where local wars and ethnic armed conflicts have been in existence for several decades.

The peace initiatives in Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines are off to a good start. Will it all lead to the resolution of armed conflicts in the region? Aside from sustaining the peace process, the more crucial factor is the willingness of the ruling parties in Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines to implement social and political reforms that will redound to the benefit of ordinary citizens, especially those living in the margins of society.

Read more at The Diplomat

ASEAN’s Olympic Triumph

Southeast Asian countries bagged 18 Olympic medals in Rio de Janeiro: five golds, ten silvers, and three bronzes.

The gold medals were won in badminton, swimming, weightlifting, and shooting. Singapore and Vietnam finally each won their first gold medal since joining the Olympic Games.

Hopefully, the outstanding performance of Southeast Asian athletes in Rio will inspire greater public support and government funding for sports programs in the region. One hopes that this could lead to better training and more modern facilities for sports enthusiasts and future Olympic champions.

Read more at The Diplomat

Myanmar’s nationalist Buddhist group known as The Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) has suddenly found itself losing support from government officials and the online community.

First, Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein boldly declared in public that Ma Ba Tha is “unnecessary and redundant” since there is already a government agency tasked to oversee the activities of Buddhism in the country. This is the first time that a government official has dared to speak out against the influential Buddhist group.

Myanmar’s new government has several disappointing moments as it marks its first 100 days in power. But the initiative of some officials to curb hate speech and religious intolerance by rejecting the Buddhist hardliners is laudable

Read more at The Diplomat

US Lawsuit Against Malaysia’s 1MDB: Who Is ‘Official 1’?

The United States Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against some individuals accused of using an investment firm owned by the Malaysian government to steal more than $1 billion.

The lawsuit also mentioned a certain “Malaysian Official 1,” prompting many to ask if it refers to Prime Minister Najib Razak since he has control over the 1Malaysian Development Berhad (1MDB) investment firm and his stepson is one of the accused.

The lawsuit aims to recover some 17 assets in the United States, which have been allegedly acquired through 1MDB funds.

There seems little debate about the identity of “Malaysian Official 1.” For majority of Malaysians, it’s none other than Najib. Hopefully, the U.S. DOJ report will help Malaysians retrieve the stolen funds and assets; and more importantly, seek justice against the well-entrenched kleptocrats.

Read more at The Diplomat