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.

November 2019: Blackout and landslide: 100 days without internet in Kashmir and election victory in Hong Kong

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December 2019: India protests, internet shutdowns, Ampatuan verdict, and Hong Kong’s “White Christmas”

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Published by Bayan Metro Manila

It’s not the first time that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered law enforcers and state troops to shoot people dead but to hear him give the same directive during his press conference last night was extremely jarring, to say the least.

He was reacting to the protest of some residents in Quezon City who were merely asking for assistance yet he made it appear as if those who joined the action were conspiring to create destabilization.

His outburst was meant to make people forget that the hunger and deprivation affecting millions is caused by the government’s slow action and failure to properly prepare after the lockdown order was imposed in Luzon more than two weeks ago.

He warned against provoking social disturbance but his government is responsible for this. He was given emergency powers and more than 200 billion pesos to deal with the crisis but the government remained slow in distributing food and other relief to poor households.

Millions stayed at home, lost their jobs and livelihoods, and desperately waited for the promised assistance that was not only delayed but also inadequate.

Instead of addressing the bottleneck in the delivery of relief, Duterte directed his anger at those who were asking help from the government. It reflects an authoritarian mindset which projects a leader in control but is actually besieged by a nagging fear that he has already lost hegemony.

Duterte is haunted by the knowledge that his government is incapable of giving the basic needs of the population that is why he has chosen to rely on his trusted generals to be in charge of the COVID-19 task force.

The government is wrong to think that it can contain the virus by spreading fear. It has arrested curfew and quarantine ‘violators’, it filed charges against those who post ‘fake news’, it has summoned officials accused of undermining the efforts of the government, and it is now running after internet users who are criticizing the incompetence of the Duterte presidency.

The president’s order to shoot protesters who will endanger the lives of the police is a serious threat to civil liberties. This was the commander-in-chief giving specific instructions to police and soldiers manning the checkpoints and communities across the country. When the president issued a similar command in the past, it led to more than 5,000 drug-related deaths, displacement and bombing of Lumad communities, massacres in Negros, extrajudicial killings of activists, and other impunity attacks targeting critics of the state.

To prevent social unrest, Duterte must acknowledge the failure of his approach in confronting the country’s social problems. But his militarist thinking and anti-poor bias have polluted his judgment.

Duterte underestimates the people’s capacity to resist as it becomes more rabid in spreading terror. Our only option is to help ourselves by organizing our ranks and together we can beat COVID-19 and the virus in Malacanang.

Activism and life-work balance

September 19th, 2020

Published by Bulatlat

We are swamped with reminders about the need to slow down, refocus our priorities, and reflect on how we make good use of our time so that we live life to the fullest while improving our work productivity. We are told to aspire for a life-work balance to feel good about ourselves, enhance our opportunities, and contribute something back in our communities. Practice holistic living. Cultivate inner peace. Provide for self-care.

These are all ideal goals and sensible maxims that can empower individuals. We become more mature by constantly evaluating our choices. We make better decisions through introspection.

However, self-improvement can turn into a fetter when individuals become too enamored with how they look in the mirror and thereby weaken or even lose their sense of social solidarity. Its potential is eroded if framed to undermine collective bonds in society.

This type of individualism became popular not by accident. It got rebranded as a modern mantra during the methodical destruction of traditional ties in workplaces. The decline of unions and associations forced individuals to fend for themselves and treat everybody as competitors. This coincided with the massive reversal of social welfare programs which slashed subsidies for basic support services.

Instead of challenging the macro policies that condemned all aspects of living under the sway of free-market forces, individuals were told to be more resilient and responsible. Precarity became the reality for an increasing number of working families but the blame is pinned primarily on the failure of individuals to acquire new skills in the 21st century.

Despite the market crashes, bank bailouts, and bursting of property bubbles, what was still made imperative was the adjustment in the attitude of individuals instead of recalibrating the political economy.

Neoliberalism has been discredited several times yet it still reigns supreme as an economic doctrine. It got a friendly boost from the tech and automation sectors which disrupted local economies and rendered many jobs redundant.

Life became harder, especially for minimum wage earners. Jobs offered less protection and security. The role of welfare agencies was greatly diminished.

Despite the economy tipping on the verge of collapse, workers continue to survive on subsistence while desperately trying to become less expendable. They are expected to report for work and fulfill their duties as if the daily challenges they face can be easily ignored. Many are toiling under dire conditions and the solution offered to uplift the plight of laborers is not pay hikes or a comprehensive benefits package but a so-called life-work balance. It essentially transfers the responsibility of sustaining work productivity from capitalists to workers.

Because of this, a concept with real potential to empower individuals is again hijacked by the drive to earn more profits at the expense of labor. The very political act of probing the situation of the self in relation to the wider community is delinked from issues of power, equity, and justice.

Caring for the self should not be the end goal. What’s the purpose of doing this? Para kanino?

Activism can provide useful insight and practical guidance on how to better grasp the link between the personal and the broader set of social relationships. It can sharpen our understanding of the dynamics of changing the self in relation to social transformation.

It is more than just a matter of activism enriching our knowledge about how society works. Rather, it instills a liberating idea about how even ordinary individuals are capable of building a new world based on a more progressive set of values. And it is in the process of making the impossible possible, when individuals meet and work with other dreamers and changemakers, that they realize their full potential as human beings. The self breaking free from restrictions imposed by tradition; the individual immersed in the collective fight for good.

The personal-turned-political; the political learning to be personal. Smashing forced demarcations that sustain the oppressive structures of power. Activism as antidote to the seductive appeal of selfish individualism.

Improving the self is deliberately made part of the political struggle. Often, it is in thick of battle that an activist learns to find the proper balance in life and work. No time is wasted wallowing in prolonged self-doubt once the political priorities are identified. Personal difficulties are resolved with help from fellow activists. Perhaps some problems will continue to persist but the activist self does not allow them to limit what he or she can do in life, especially if the political goal is already set.

The self finds meaning through work with others. Work is made relevant if done for a greater cause. In other words, life-work balance is best achieved through activism.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

After filing charges against so-called ‘quarantine and curfew violators’ authorities are now summoning innovative leaders like Vico Sotto.

It confirms our suspicion that Republic Act 11469, which gives additional special powers to President Rodrigo Duterte in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, is drafted to undermine the independence of LGUs.

The Duterte government should stop using its emergency powers to engage in partisan politics and start doing something useful like the fast distribution of relief to millions of households.
Requiring the Pasig Mayor to leave the frontlines and appear before NBI investigators could hamper the delivery of vital social service programs to poor households in the city. It is needless distraction at a time when local leaders must be focused in performing their duties.

It is a selective application of the law to harass innovative leaders like Vico. The young mayor was praised for arguing the need to allow limited tricycle operations to transport health workers in the city.

Section 6 penalizes LGU officials “disobeying national government policies or directives in imposing quarantines.” It provides for an additional penalty of “perpetual, temporary absolute disqualification from office.”

While we understand the importance of a unified response in dealing with COVID-19, we also recognize that LGUs must be allowed to modify their plan of action to better address the needs of their constituents according to their evidence-based crisis assessment.

This principle is important to uphold especially if the national government standards are not applicable for implementation in some LGUs. This also becomes an imperative doctrine if the national government is delayed in conducting essential solutions like mass testing in communities and deployment of protective measures for frontliners.

Obeying the national government makes sense if it is implementing a comprehensive action plan to fight COVID-19. Disobeying it is a patriotic and humane act if based on a rational review that its purported measures are actually misguided and ineffective.

The Duterte government intends to create fear and deter people from protesting and disobeying its directives through mass arrests and intimidating a popular LGU leader like Vico. It has obviously underestimated the people’s growing outrage over the government’s incompetence in dealing with the public health crisis.

People first before petty politicking. Prioritize relief and not loyalty check for the government.

This is part of a series IFEX is producing on regional experiences with the global problem of information disorder, and what people are doing to counter it.

From blackouts to legislation, from fact-checking to education, Mong Palatino scrutinises some of the most popular responses to the problem of disinformation in his region.

Disinformation may be a global phenomenon, but its impact and the measures used to counter it vary from country to country.

In Asia-Pacific we are experiencing a rapidly changing media environment, and many countries are either in transition or besieged by political turmoil. The growing problem of disinformation clearly exacerbates social tensions and undermines democracy.

Its impact is far-reaching – and some of the proposed solutions are, as well. Maybe too far-reaching. Are measures to address disinformation – or “fake news”, as it is often referred to, negatively impacting freedom of expression and information, and closing civic space?

Several governments have responded with new laws and regulations. Media and civil society groups have launched their own initiatives to tackle the issue. Even tech companies have tweaked their platforms to prevent the spread of so-called ‘fake news’. But many of these efforts to combat disinformation have engendered their own concerns.

In this article I look at some of the most popular tools and practices in dealing with disinformation in the Asia-Pacific region, and ask: Are these solutions working? How are they affecting the lives of ordinary residents?

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The books I read in 2019

August 16th, 2020

Published by Bulatlat

1. Blow-Up and Other Stories by Julio Cortázar, Paul Blackburn (Translator). Unfamiliar, intriguing, but creative narratives and plotlines. Stories about madness, compassion, and complexity of modern living.

2. Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan. The first few pages are surreal, apt description of Payatas. A crime novel, page-turner, and a rare look into the work of NBI and its unacknowledged links with the academe.

3. Salvador by Joan Didion. Reportage of what transpired in El Salvador during a crisis moment. Referencing the United States’ direct and indirect involvement in El Salvador. A backgrounder of the country’s situation which led to the killing of Bishop and now Saint Oscar Romero.

4. History of the Mountain Province by Howard Tyrrell Fry. Historical account of the work of US missionaries in the Cordilleras, the evolution of governance in north Luzon, the story of some wartime guerrillas.

5. Ambagan 2011, Mga Salita Mula sa iba’t ibang Wika sa Filipinas, editors Michael M. Coroza and Galileo S. Zafra. Learn news Filipino words from Ilocano, Kapampangan, Kankanaey, Naga Bicolano, Tagalog Laguna, Tagalog Batangas, Hiligaynon, and Karay-a

6. Serendipities: Language and Lunacy by Umberto Eco. Fascinating analysis of the work of Dante, bible translations, and the enduring ‘force of falsity’.

7. Big Data: Does Size Matter? by Timandra Harkness. How algorithm affects us all, its mutation into surveillance, its impact on the global and local economies – relevant perspectives about how big data is being applied in the world today and near future.

8. Whose Global Village?: Rethinking How Technology Shapes Our World by Ramesh Srinivasan. Because Global Voices is mentioned in the book. Because it reminds us that people, not technologies, are the driving force in building better societies. 9. Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose by Raymond Carver. My favorite parts include his meditation about the life of his father, and his decision to pursue the life of a writer.

10. Language and Power by Gary Ives. Textbook reference on how language plays a role in shaping power dynamics.

11. Siddharta by Hermann Hesse. Filled with teachings about the meaning of life, the pursuit of material things, sacrifice, and service to family and community.

12. Warriors, Poets, Friends: My Life in the Mindanao Mountains by Ka Joven Obrero. Grounded perspectives on life as a guerrilla and revolutionary.

13. You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories by Alice Walker. Stories of women overcoming hardships and other seemingly insurmountable challenges.

14. The Idea of Communism edited by Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Žižek. Reinterpreting previous reinterpretations of classical tenets of Marxism.

15. Daet: Kabikolan’s Bulwark of Nationalism by Daniel Madrid Gerona. Local history that highlights episodes of people’s yearning and struggle for independence.

16. The Financial Crisis in Asia and its impact on the Global Economy: a Philippine Perspective by Alejandro Lichauco. A treatise on an alternative model of economics instead of simply subscribing to neoliberal prescriptions.

17. Sisa’s Vengeance: Jose Rizal: A Radical Interpretation by Epifanio San Juan Jr. On why the works of Rizal continue to capture the public imagination and exploring their symbolism in order to understand the present.

18. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. A fable depicting a familiar theme about the battle between good and evil.

19. Breaking the Silence: A War Memoir by Lourdes R. Montinola. A tender recollection of life in Manila from someone who survived the brutality of World War II. 2

0. Portraits: John Berger on Artists. He gave not just valuable insight into the style of artists but also the social conditions that linked the arts to the community.

21. Strengthen the People’s Struggle against Imperialism and Reaction by Jose Maria Sison. I wrote a review about this book which was published by Bulatlat.

22. Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate by Naomi Klein. Imagine her finishing the day after attending rallies and sitting down to write her reflections.

23. Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich. Sensible critique of the modern health system.

24. Road-side Dog by Czes?aw Mi?osz. Poems and anecdotes on various topics transforming the mundane into something unique and even source of wisdom.

25. On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky. It redirects readers to reconsider Orwell’s socialist leaning; an extended review of the role of anarchism in the Spanish civil war.

26. Liberalism: A Counter-History by Domenico Losurdo. Tour de force review of the shameful past of liberalism as a political philosophy.

27. Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro. Deeply moving stories that inspire nostalgia, imagination, and curiosity about human behavior and our capacity to love and make errors.

28. Salita ng Sandata: Bonifacio’s Legacies to the People’s Struggles, edited by Bienvenido L. Lumbera, Judy Taguiwalo, Rolando B. Tolentino, Gerry Lanuza, Gonzalo Campoamor II. Solid collection of essays validating the role of the Supremo in history and his relevance in modern politics.

29. One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Little stories offering lessons that grow on you.

30. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. I have little knowledge of post-apartheid South Africa but the novel distills the emotional fabric (or baggage) of that era.

31. Identity by Milan Kundera. Get ready to be immersed into the otherworld inhabited by self-doubting lovers.

32. Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking. Surprisingly easy to read reflections from a gifted scientist about his work, his collaboration with other scholars, and the future of science.

33. Adulthood Is a Myth by Sarah Andersen. Funny observations of growing up in the 21st century.

34. Dead Balagtas Tomo 1: Sayaw ng mga Dagat at Lupa by Emiliana Kampilan. Impressive, creative, and intelligent narrative weaving history, geography, and class struggle.

35. Kung Kami’y Magkakapit-bisig: Mga Tula sa Hacienda Luisita by Gelacio Y. Guillermo Jr. Gut-wrenching poems about feudal exploitation in a family-owned plantation, and celebration of class unity in resisting the unjust social order.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

We condemn the police for violently dispersing the peaceful protest of Sitio San Roque residents in Quezon City. We are outraged that the state response to the appeals for relief is terror and brutal detention. This is insensitive, repressive, and inhuman.

This is the result of the national government’s ill-conceived strategy of militarizing the solution to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Earlier, data released by the police clearly showed the militarist framework in managing the Luzon-wide lockdown to contain COVID-19. Instead of assuaging the fears of the public, the police even threatened to continue arresting those who violate curfews and quarantine restrictions.

Instead of imposing fines and filing charges, the police should extend ‘human compassion’ to so-called violators, who are most likely workers and breadwinners seeking food and relief for their families.

They risked breaking the lockdown regulations and even acquiring the infectious disease because of their desperation either to get aid for their families or earn a living. The Duterte government is liable for creating this mass anxiety after it failed to properly plan on how to address the drastic repercussion of the lockdown policy.

The aggressive campaign to arrest quarantine violators is the opposite of the lackluster delivery of relief to poor households. The crisis might have turned out differently if only the government showed more fervor in preparing for mass testing instead of directing the police to conduct mass arrests.

It is infuriating that the public health crisis is being resolved through the repressive lens used by law enforcers. Our people need urgent relief, not hefty fines and other penalties. Food for the hungry and not draconian prison terms. Fake news must be countered with reliable, verifiable information and it should not lead to the criminalization of free speech.

We challenge the police to arrest VIPs and other politicians who broke quarantine protocols. We ask authorities to stop state trolls from spreading hate speech and fake news against critics of the government’s response to COVID-19.

The numbers presented by the police do not reflect the daily suffering endured by citizens who encounter various types of abuses and humiliations in checkpoints and other public places. In the past two weeks, we have documented several cases of right violations in Metro Manila communities.

North Caloocan (Bagong Silang)
March 21, 2020

  • Around 5:30pm, 3 military, 6 police and a barangay official arrested approximately 50 people from different phases in Bagong Silang
  • Their cellphones were confiscated upon arrest and they were then taken to the basketball court for detention
  • They were detained for about 11 hours. Their phones were returned upon their release at around 4:30am the following day.
  • During this period, no quarantine pass was being issued by the barangay

North Caloocan (Bagong silang)
March 21, 2020

  • Tensions rise in a public market in Bagong Silang between the barangay officials and market goers
  • This further escalated when a member of the SWAT was seen pulling-out his gun

South Caloocan (Pajo)

  • Regular military presence and roving ala saturation drive in the streets of Pajo

Navotas West, Navotas
March 26, 2020

  • Youths throwing out their trash were arrested by police
  • Their parents went to the barangay and pleaded that their children weren’t doing anything wrong. They were released around 10:00pm

Catmon, Malabon

  • Barangay officials refuse to release quarantine pass for those who are not members of local/community associations

Manila, Sampaloc/Balic-Balic
March 29, 2020

  • Around 6:40pm, two police officers “visited” the Bayan Manila office in Balic-Balic. They introduced themselves as operatives from Manila Precinct 4 Intelligence Operative Department
  • They inquired about the online campaign for a donation drive and the mass testing campaign posted on the Facebook page of Bayan Manila
  • When asked why they were in civilian clothing, the police officers answered that they are doing intel work and it isn’t necessary that they be in uniform

March 31,2020

  • Residents from a demolished community in Pasay were forcefully taken to a police station
  • On-duty barangay officials and military personnel were present inside the station and were harassing the residents to take down their posts on Facebook regarding the demolition of their homes
  • They were threatened by the police that they would be arrested and detained if they don’t take down their posts

We seek an official investigation into these cases of harassment targeting ordinary citizens and activists.

We are calling for the lifting of the unnecessary lockdown restrictions and instead prioritize the delivery of social welfare programs in our communities.

Bayan Metro Manila
Karapatan Metro Manila

Published by Bulatlat

For the military, activists deserve to be arrested because they are members and supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA). This is easy to dispute. For example, why would the rural-based NPA conduct its training in cities like Bacolod when this can be done in the mountains of Negros? Based on news reports, the NPA does not deny if someone from its ranks is killed or injured during clashes with government troops. The NPA is also quick to acknowledge if Communist Party (CPP) and National Democratic Front leaders, especially peace consultants, are arrested by state forces.

When human rights groups denounce the arbitrary arrest of activists wrongly accused of being NPA combatants, they neither defend nor speak in behalf of the NPA. The NPA has its own team of propagandists.

Failing to defeat the NPA on the battlefield, the military is accused of venting its frustration against unarmed citizens. They justify the arrest of activists by linking the latter with the NPA. This is promoted in the counter-insurgency program which treats activists in urban areas as part of the support network of the NPA. Hence, activists are considered legitimate targets of military and police operations.

The danger with this doctrine is that it treats activism as an illegal political act. It demonizes community organizing by equating street protests with NPA activities. It makes no distinction between the revolutionary program of the CPP-NPA and the comprehensive political alternative proposed by activists. Any group is suspect as long as its advocacy can be interpreted as an endorsement of CPP-NPA politics.

Proof of good citizenship is demanded by taunting groups to denounce the CPP-NPA. The military dares activists: ‘condemn the violence of the CPP-NPA and we will stop the red-tagging.’ Unfortunately, for some political forces, they have no need for this kind of state directive since they share a common hatred against the CPP-NPA. And they do more than redbaiting by advancing a narrative which views state repression as a reprisal against the purportedly pro-NPA politics of National Democratic (NatDem) activists.

When NatDem activists get arrested, there are some who will point out that the ideological affinity of the accused with the CPP-NPA is the cause of the crackdown. These anti-NatDem personalities may have some biting words against Duterte’s brutality but they are also consistent in spreading the partisan idea that persecuted activists are guilty of espousing the ‘violent’ politics of the CPP-NPA. What is ultimately being blamed here is the political stand of the NatDem activist.

The CPP-NPA is the big red elephant in the room. Will the mass arrests stop if the CPP-NPA is denounced by activists? Will there be an end to the extrajudicial killing of activists if they will join the military in propagating against the CPP-NPA?

Duterte, the military, and their apologists want us to believe that the political isolation of the CPP-NPA will lead to peace and sustained development. They are spreading disinformation that the CPP-NPA is preventing the progress of the country and that its activities in the countryside are terrorizing the local population and destabilizing the Republic. If this is the case and if the CPP-NPA is obviously operating outside the law, why are the supposedly law-abiding NatDem activists refusing to support the government’s anti-insurgency drive?

The same reason why there are opposition forces and activist groups in other countries. There is no NPA (or a counterpart revolutionary armed group) or communist-led resistance in many countries but the people’s organizations there are equally if not more determined and militant in asserting their rights. Likewise, their governments are behaving a la Duterte and his mad dogs in arresting activists, stifling dissent, and bullying the opposition.

Uprisings happen because there is tyranny, economic injustice, and the democratic space is being closed. Repressive governments are always targeting the groups which are mobilizing citizens in the streets or those which could emerge as a threat to their reign of terror and greed. With or without the CPP-NPA, there are just reasons for the people to resist and build a strong movement against authoritarian regimes. And paranoid governments would always clamp down on critics and dissenters whether the opposition is religious, the wealthy, foreign-backed, or communist. Or should we expand the ‘crimes’ of the CPP-NPA and blame them too for the massive unrest across the world?

Duterte and the military unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence that saw the deployment of drones and surveillance bombs, Tokhang-style operations, and the weaponization of the bureaucracy and legal processes to suppress the political opposition. They are aggressive and desperate to protect their selfish interests, campaign donors, and foreign patrons. It is convenient for them to rabidly portray the CPP-NPA as the embodiment of political evil rather than allow themselves to be exposed as the true enemies of democracy and genuine reform.

To blame the CPP-NPA for the fentanyl-driven violence ricocheting across the archipelago reflects not only the continued use of uncritical anti-communism to divide the opposition, but also the success of the ruling elite in evading accountability for the crimes they committed against the Filipino people.

There are urgent reasons to keep petty anti-communism in check so that we can form broader movements that can challenge the Duterte tyranny.

In the Philippine context, this means acknowledging the role of the CPP in history when it joined forces with the mainstream political opposition and conservative institutions like the Catholic Church to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship. As a political force, it has a nationwide presence and grassroots organizing that can help gather more people to oppose the atrocities committed by Duterte’s goons in the police and the military. Duterte, a cunning lewd boomer, is aware of the CPP legacy in building a coalition that can unite opposition groups and hijack his plans for 2022 and beyond.

There is no need to be affiliated with the CPP-NPA, or to be part of its so-called legal front, to recognize that its work is directly undermining the popularity and credibility of the Duterte government. It is part of the national liberation movement that has thrived for decades because of its consistent advocacy and organizing on behalf of the country’s marginalized sectors. If some believe that CPP-NPA cadres should be held liable for abuses committed in the past, we should call for the resumption of the peace talks and resolve these issues through the joint human rights monitoring mechanism. There are many ways to exact justice but quietly supporting the arrest of NatDem activists is not one of them.

When Senator Leila de Lima was arrested, NatDem activists rightly denounced it as an attack on all critics of the government instead of reducing it as a mere anti-Yellow plot. When sedition cases were filed against prominent members of the church and some opposition politicians, NatDem activists linked it to the use of trumped-up charges to muzzle those who dare speak out against the excesses of the regime. And in the raging and seemingly non-stop attacks against NatDem groups from Mindanao to Manila, should we be echoing the rants of Duterte and his trolls that activists are criminals, communists, and terrorists merely because they do not conform to our concept of political engagement? Or should we be speaking out in the name of reason, solidarity, and the bigger fight against injustice and tyranny?

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

We are asking utility companies to waive the collection of bills from customers whose lives have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The enhanced community quarantine has prevented many from going out to work and earn a living. The hardest hit are those who belong to the informal sector. Minimum wage workers either lost their jobs or forced to work with reduced hours and income opportunities. Small and micro businesses have been gravely affected as well.

We welcome the announcement of some utility companies to extend the deadline for the payment of bills. But it does little to ease the financial woes of consumers since they still have to pay despite losing their jobs and means of earning a living.

Instead of merely postponing the due date for bills, we ask utility companies not to charge their customers for the month of March.
Instead of granting a mere grace period for the settlement of bills, we ask that the collection be waived altogether.

We are living in a state of calamity whose end is uncertain. We are under a public health emergency which has forced millions to stay at home, use their meager savings to survive, and avail of the government’s limited assistance.

A zero bill from telcos, power, and water firms will greatly reduce the financial burden of consumers. They can use the money to rebuild their livelihoods, find new work, and attend to the health and welfare of their families.
Cancelling the bill will not lead to waste and errant lifestyle since the ‘free service’ has been consumed already.

The COVID-19 outbreak was an unexpected crisis that demanded sacrifice from everybody. We were told to stay at home and comply with other restrictions as part of our civic duty to protect the health and safety of the community. We ask utility companies to do their share by adjusting their profit targets for the year. Waive the collection of bills as their corporate social responsibility pledge. An act of ‘human compassion’ during a difficult time in our lives.

We ask the government to fulfill its promise of lending support to the public by offering incentives to utility companies which will heed our appeal for the non-collection of bills.
We can’t beat COVID-19 together if many are left behind in communities under lockdown struggling to eke a living to pay debts, bills, and other living expenses.

Our appeal to utility companies: Let’s heal together by fighting as one. Lend a helping hand to consumers by charging zero this month.

Written for The Diplomat

When the Philippine government’s solicitor general filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to forfeit the franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s leading broadcaster, the development attracted international headlines. As it should: While Duterte’s efforts to undermine press freedom are longstanding, this is the most serious threat to press freedom since he took up the presidency in 2016.

If the Duterte government succeeds in closing down ABS-CBN, there are fears that it could set a dangerous precedent that can be applied against other critical media networks. Duterte could also threaten smaller media networks to toe the line or else suffer the same fate as the seemingly invincible TV giant.

Duterte’s supporters are trying to link the ABS-CBN case with the president’s earlier statement denouncing the greed of oligarchs. ABS-CBN is owned by a family with extensive business holdings. While Lopez family members do not directly engage in electoral politics, many of their businesses depend on government contracts.

But that should not detract from the fact that the attempt to intimidate or silence ABS-CBN is clearly a partisan ploy to bully the press into submission. There may be valid issues that ABS-CBN needs to address, like its dispute with contractual workers, but it cannot be denied that the government is exploiting the franchise expiration for political reasons.

Most of all, Duterte should not forget that the role of the media is intertwined with the Philippines’ history of popular protest, and that an effort to undermine it may dent his popularity and eventually even lead to his demise. For instance, the massive protests against the very popular former President Joseph Estrada were triggered by his order to remove government ads to a major newspaper in 1999, with the order decried as an attack on the press and civil liberties. History may not repeat itself exactly this time under Duterte, but the president and his administration must understand that they are playing with fire.

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The Fall of the Estradas in the Philippines

Written for The Diplomat

The topline takeaway from the Philippine midterm elections in May was that the coalition endorsed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dominated the Senate race and the local elections. But there were also allies of the president who lost badly in the polls. Perhaps the most prominent political family that surprisingly failed to get an elected position this year is the Estradas of Manila and San Juan. Their electoral defeat was a notable development within the legacy of Philippine dynastic politics.

Most prominently, Manila Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada lost in his re-election bid despite wide name recognition and demonstrated staying power in Philippine politics. In addition, his two sons were unable to clinch their own Senate seats. Estrada’s granddaughter was defeated in San Juan, which marked the first time that the Estrada clan has lost control of the city since 1967.

At this juncture, the Estrada family needs to reflect on its legacy in power. Mayor Estrada promised to revive the glory of Manila in 2013 but he didn’t abandon his traditional concept of governance, which disappointed many of his constituents. His two sons ran for senate seats at the same time, which divided their base and prevented either from getting enough votes. They allowed an inexperienced member of their family to face an old rival in San Juan, which cost them their longtime political base.

Whether or not Duterte’s camp engaged in a power play to slay the mass appeal of the Estradas, the consequence of the electoral loss of the latter is the boosting of the influence and dominance of the Dutertes in local and national politics. In just three years, the Davao-based Dutertes have quickly gained a foothold in the erstwhile fiefdoms of well-entrenched Manila dynasties.

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