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.

Published by Manila Today

Here are the top people’s issues and people’s struggles of 2016.

1. Repudiation of Daang Matuwid

The defeat of the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate reflected the seething rage of the people toward the corrupt, inept and callous regime of Daang Matuwid. President Noynoy Aquino started his term in 2010 with a popular mandate but he squandered his legacy when his government expanded the presidential pork, boosted Public-Private-Partnerships to the detriment of ordinary consumers, bungled the post-Yolanda rehabilitation program, and intensified the militarization in mining and plantation areas. Not surprisingly, Aquino’s anointed successor was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

2. Rise of Rodrigo Duterte

He was the last to announce his bid for the presidency and he initially lacked a national political machinery to support his candidacy but Duterte’s non-traditional ways of campaigning endeared him to the public. His phenomenal victory was historic: the first Mindanaon president and the first ‘Leftist’ to occupy the Malacanang Palace. Duterte was seen by many as an outsider who can lead the masses in challenging the Establishment. His victory was a ‘protest vote’ against the oppressive and anti-poor political system.

3. Climate injustice

The prolonged dry season caused by El Niño has exacerbated incidences of hunger, poverty, and deprivation in the countryside. Farmers and other food producers in Mindanao were seeking the urgent release of calamity funds but their desperate pleading was dismissed by bureaucratic gobbledygook and state brutality. The Philippines is vulnerable to the harsh impact of climate change but the situation is made worse by extreme poverty and inequality, bad governance, and environment plunder. Meanwhile, tropical storms wrought havoc in the Bicol region during the last quarter of the year.

4. K-12: Senior High School

Despite the obvious unpreparedness of the education department, the senior high school (SHS) component of K-12 (it should have been named ‘TESDA in High School’) was implemented last June. The number of drop-outs was high even if this was denied by authorities, learning modules were inadequate or inaccurate, and many college teachers in private schools lost their jobs. But the corporate sector found K-12 as a lucrative potential, with tuition in SHS as high or double the rates in college. In addition, the K-12 curriculum directly promotes the labor export policy which would negatively affect the country’s human capital in the succeeding years.

5. #CHexit

China’s bully behavior in the West Philippine Sea was officially recorded in the proceedings of The Permanent Court of Arbitration. The legal victory of the Philippines is part of the continuing struggle of the Filipino people to assert our sovereignty in our lands and territorial waters. Duterte eventually adopted a different strategy in dealing with China but it should not invalidate or undermine the historic significance of the PCA ruling.

6. Oplan Tokhang: The bloody ‘War on Drugs’

Duterte’s ambitious promise to get rid of the drug menace in six months has emboldened the police to launch an aggressive anti-drug campaign. The police claimed that they killed 2,206 drug personalities but they also acknowledged that there were 4,049 victims of vigilante-style killings. More than a million people have already surrendered to authorities but drug-related extrajudicial killings continue to victimize mainly the poor and powerless. Duterte was initially right to run after the big time protectors of drug lords but the campaign soon relapsed into a killing frenzy in urban poor communities and political circus performed by traditional politicians. The ‘War on Drugs’ is bound to fail if the militarist approach will remain dominant instead of addressing the socio-economic needs of the people.

7. Resumption of peace talks with communist rebels

Duterte’s decision to resume the stalled peace negotiations between the government and communist rebels has raised the prospects of achieving just and lasting peace in Philippine society. Duterte endorsed the release of communist leaders and affirmed his support for the previously signed peace documents. The rebels, on the other hand, reciprocated by declaring a unilateral ceasefire. But the earlier optimism to expedite the peace talks has been replaced by less enthusiasm because of the continuing deployment of government troops in rebel-controlled villages, the non-release of political prisoners (especially the sick and elderly), and the impasse on the framework of the socio-economic reforms.

8. Neoliberal economics

There were moments in 2016 when some aspects of neoliberalism became part of mainstream political agenda. During the campaign period, presidential candidates were unanimous in criticizing the dehumanizing features of the contractualization (Endo) labor practice. When he assumed the presidency, Duterte reaffirmed his commitment to end Endo. Duterte also vowed to dismantle the reign of oligarchs. But Duterte’s economic advisers turned out to be fanatical followers of neoliberalism as they espoused the continuation of PPP, the adoption of a win-win formula (read: pro-business) on contractualization, the planned imposition of higher regressive taxes, and the refusal to hike pension and minimum wages. Duterte’s support base among the poor will weaken if his macroeconomic policies will continue to be biased in favor of the elite and big foreign business.

9. #MarcosNoHero

The biggest rally of the year was triggered by Duterte’s collaboration with the Marcoses to bury the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The real aim of the Marcoses is to revise the judgment of history which would allow them to return to power in the future. Duterte underestimated public protests and the emergence of the millennials as an influential voice opposing the hero’s burial for the deposed dictator.

10. Sandugo

The most inspiring political moment of 2016 was the grand assembly of various ethnic groups from all over the country which led to the formation of Sandugo, a national alliance espousing the protection of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples and their right to self-determination. Sandugo is the new icon of indigenous peoples, a united community resisting foreign aggression and state-sponsored violence. Sandugo eschews the exotic stereotype of national minorities, and instead highlights the struggle of their people in defense of their ancestral domain and culture.

11. Donald Trump

His victory confounded and disturbed many people especially immigrants, people of color, and the LGBT community. A conservative leader accused of promoting racist and misogynist views. Despite his image as a corporate tycoon, he was able to gather the support of ordinary voters who felt that the system is not working for them. What will happen once Trump becomes President Trump this month? How will a Trump presidency maintain American hegemony in world affairs? Will he openly support the alleged plot to oust Duterte? Will he deport migrants and foreigners from the US, 3.4M of them Filipinos, and expose the insolvency of the American dream?

12. The Left in Cabinet

A peasant leader overseeing the government’s land distribution program? Unthinkable in the past, but thanks to Duterte’s unprecedented invitation to the Left to work with his government, we now have prominent progressives in the Cabinet. This is also an opportunity for the Left to prove their new brand of leadership and demonstrate their sincerity to fight for the rights and welfare of ordinary Filipinos, whether they are marching in the streets or making laws in Congress, and now implementing policies in the executive branch.

13. Independent foreign policy

Duterte, like no other President the country ever had, hit back at comments and criticisms of the US of how the Philippines is being ran by deploring US in its crimes to the country and the people when we were its direct colony. This sparked spats of nationalism and finally openly addressed continuing US domination and spurred interest in what could be an independent foreign policy. There should be no debate about this issue because it is a basic principle of governance. But after decades of colonial indoctrination, many intellectuals are fearful and doubtful about asserting this principle. Some are even distorting the concept by describing it as a mere anti-American policy or a pro-China initiative. Duterte’s stance to assert the Filipino interest vis-a-vis global superpowers is admirable but it must be matched by concrete actions like the abrogation of unequal military treaties and economic agreements.

14. Human rights violations

Duterte’s human rights record is an international embarrassment. The culture of impunity with respect to state-sponsored killings has worsened under his term. Aside from the drug-related killings mentioned earlier, political killings of activists, journalists, and Lumad leaders did not end under the Duterte presidency. The military is even using the anti-drug campaign to justify the harassment of peasant leaders suspected of supporting rebel groups. There are still more than 400 political prisoners in the country. Duterte’s legislative priorities such as the restoration of death penalty and the lowering of minimum age of criminal responsibility also threaten to undermine the rights of people.

15. Fake news

People cried out to fake news in social media at the time of the US elections, but in the Philippines it has become a concern a bit earlier, most alarmingly also during the the May elections. Fake news is a global dilemma that also affected the country’s political landscape. Various political groups compete for social media attention by maximizing or exploiting the Internet. Some of their loyal supporters are even spreading misinformation and other irresponsible propaganda tactics just to tilt public opinion in their favor. Corporate-led propaganda continues to be dominant, vicious, and slanted as ever but 2016 was the year when online fake news succeeded in influencing the political discourse in a massive way.

16. ‘Free tuition’

Is it really free? Is it really for all? The details of this landmark policy will continue to be debated this year. Stakeholders are not yet finished in determining the applicability of this policy in schools across the country. But a big obstacle was breached in the fight for a free tertiary education. Lawmakers and education officials, reared in the neoliberal school of thought which disavows the giving away of subsidies, have finally articulated the relevance of providing free tuition to college students.

The struggle continues…

What Laos Taught the CIA

December 27th, 2017

Joshua Kurlantzick’s recent book A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA is more than just a retelling of the war in Laos and the role it played in the Vietnam conflict. It narrates the history of how the CIA began its notorious paramilitary operations in Laos and how this became the template for future covert wars organized by the agency in many parts of the world.

One character in the book is likened to Colonel Kurtz, the mad American soldier in the film Apocalypse Now, who in real life was awarded by the CIA for his bravery and service in leading a paramilitary training camp in Laos.

The CIA experiment turned the small landlocked country into the most heavily bombed place in the world and it failed to prevent the victory of communists in both Laos and Vietnam. Yet the CIA deemed it a success.

There are numerous speculations about what the CIA is doing today. Most of the time these are dismissed as part of baseless conspiracy theories. But the publication of studies based on declassified CIA documents has provided the public with better knowledge about the appalling extent and magnitude of U.S. military operations around the world.

But is the CIA really capable of managing wars? And can it really build a local army in a foreign country? Laos offers an answer, but also raises many more other questions.

Read more at The Diplomat

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a number of bold announcements from the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about the state of conflicts in the country that may in fact belie their actual status and broader significance.

Last week, after five months, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared the “liberation” of Marawi City, where a local armed group with suspected ISIS-links has been holed up fighting government troops. Earlier this month, Duterte canceled the infamous Oplan Tokhang (anti-drug campaign) of the police and turned over the mandate to run after drug lords and their operators to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. Meanwhile, Duterte’s army chief vowed to wipe out the long-running communist insurgency before the end of 2018.

But do these announcements really signify the end of Duterte’s triple wars: the war on drugs, the all-out war against communist rebels, and the war against terror in Mindanao?

But that still leaves the question: how will the government manage Duterte’s unfinished wars? Getting a clearer sense of this – beyond empty rhetoric and catchy slogans – will be significant not only to determine the course of Duterte’s presidency, but the outlook for the Philippines as a country.

Read more at The Diplomat

Will Duterte Abandon the Left in the Philippines?

It has become commonplace to refer to Rodrigo Duterte as the Philippines’ first leftist president. Duterte himself has publicly made the claim, much to the alarm of some outside observers as well as some in the Philippines.

In reality, the claim is disputable, and it is not really certain whether he is serious about advancing socialist causes.

What is clear is that Duterte, at least for now, has stopped referring to himself as a leftist and socialist as he did before.

Read more at The Diplomat

Published by Bulatlat

It is common to hear some scholars complain about the Left’s lack of vigor and creativity. They follow this up with an unsolicited advice urging the Left to change its paradigms, replace its language, and overhaul its methods. These condescending but hopefully well-meaning suggestions have become formulaic and are often repeated by mainstream analysts and their followers in other opinion-making institutions.

This is a subtle attack on the politics of the Left. It is not a new thinking but those who articulate these points in roundtable meetings, conferences, and social media platforms seem confident in believing that what they are espousing are original perspectives.

Since the rise of the so-called New Left, which coincided with the mainstreaming of postmodernism in the academe, vilifying the language and narrative of the Left has become a recurring theme of self-proclaimed progressives and non-partisan academics (read: secret Establishment acolytes).

They feign concern about the Left suffering from irrelevance because of its supposedly archaic slogans, dogmatic propaganda, and inflexible politics. To reverse the waning popularity of the Left, they propose a rebranding of its image and the adoption of innovative tactics.

Let’s be more specific. The National Democratic Philippine Left is unfairly criticized for its commitment to fight for its beliefs. It is also inaccurately depicted as a stubborn movement which refuses to review its founding principles and strategies.

Critics of the NatDem Left are miserably obsessed in demanding the repudiation of the movement’s politics. They advocate an ‘alternative’ politics by denigrating the NatDem point of view.

They have repeatedly invoked the tired old arguments against the Left, and ridiculed the legacy of dead and living Leftists. It is their way of proving the imagined obsolete impact and absurd existence of the Natdem Left in the country’s politics.

No one is prevented from criticizing the Natdem Left. In fact, the arguments against the NatDem movement have become the standard media and academic reference in discussing its past and present record.

They had their fun already.

It is time to ask why is it that the NatDem Left is the only political force which is sternly admonished to reexamine its principles. Why not demand the same responsibility and show similar treatment to other Leftist movements? Why is the NatDem Left being compelled to continually correct its worldview but not its ideological rivals? Why is the valid demand to make political parties more relevant and accountable to society directed mainly to the Communist Party and not to other Leftist coalitions and even bourgeois formations?

Then we have scholars who reject the Left’s clear and sharp political program in favor of abstract and playful concepts. They want to enthrall the public instead of organizing the masses to join and lead the revolution. And if the Left is reluctant or slow in participating in the postmodern language games, they are quick to dismiss it as a sterile and inept movement.

But in the hierarchy of evil deeds in the world of politics, is it really supremely horrific that the NatDem Left has chosen to use the word imperialism rather than empire? That it mobilizes the masses through rallies and other militant actions instead of organizing ‘peaceful’ citizen assemblies and tripartite meetings? But aren’t rallies the embodiment of pure democracy?

Those who dismiss the traditional practices of the Left offer moderation and reformism as superior alternatives to the protracted revolution. They are quite aggressive in emphasizing that the Left’s tactics are no longer working. But they have been deliberately silent about the real impact of their ‘alternatives’. They only wanted to discuss the ‘failure’ of the NatDem movement to establish a socialist state but not about the viability and unimpressive reach of their anti-Stalinist political organizing.

Indeed, they succeeded in demonizing the National Democrats but the best they can offer as a showcase of ‘democratic’ Leftist politics is an uncritical collaboration with conservative ruling parties.

What the critics of the NatDem Left refuse to acknowledge is that the movement has always been self-critical about its politics and how it leads the revolution in the country. The NatDem revival was done through a rectification movement in the 1960s which led to the re-establishment of the CPP and the founding of the NPA. It creatively adopted Maoist teachings to the specific conditions of the country.

In the 1990s, another rectification movement generated a major split in the Left. The NatDem publicly apologized for its excesses and blunders while affirming its commitment to continue the people’s war for national liberation.

But it is not true that the NatDem Left is obstinate in implementing a single track in achieving its political agenda. It is directly involved in electoral politics, it is engaged in peace negotiations with the Manila-based government, and since last year it nominated prominent mass leaders to join the Duterte Cabinet. The NatDem Left joining the bureaucracy is quite unthinkable a few years ago but today its electoral and legal political machineries are in place across the country.

The NatDem Left’s priority is the mass movement. For more than five decades, it has developed various forms of collective actions, printed and digital propaganda materials, and urban or rural-based mass organizations with nationwide following. It waged small and big campaigns that produced immediate and long-term victories for the benefit of the masses.

The NatDem movement is always experimenting with its propaganda work, recalibrating its tactics, initiating sector-specific and class-based struggles, and boosting its influence through continuous grassroots organizing. Meanwhile, other Left factions are still fixated over the vocabulary and Maoist bias of the NatDem movement.

When the obvious flexibility of the NatDem Left is mentioned, a scholar retorted by arguing that the essence of the movement’s politics remains unchanged. This is true. And the Left is unapologetic about it because the essence of its politics and its ultimate aim is people’s democracy. Those who want to change this are like anti-Left politicians who nitpick against the movement’s weaknesses but whose real intent is to invalidate the need for waging a revolution.

Published by Channel News Asia

Almost one year since Duterte took over as the Philippines’ President, he continues to enjoy high popularity ratings, despite having a reported reputation as a misogynist and harbouring a questionable attitude towards the importance of human lives.

His crime-fighting agenda may have earned him significant political brownie points before he became president. As mayor of Davao City in the southern island of Mindanao for almost two decades, he made crime-fighting his top priority which made Davao a safer place for both the business community and the local population.

A maverick, he also enlisted the support of various leftist groups in implementing several progressive reforms in Davao, like the passage of a local law to protect the rights of women.

One also has to give him credit for winning the 2016 presidential election despite being the inexperienced underdog, who lacked the political machinery to mount a nationwide campaign. He truly inspired a groundswell of support from ordinary voters who saw themselves in the image of the little known leader from the poverty-stricken, remote island of Mindanao.

In Philippine history, no Mindanaon has ever assumed the role of President before Duterte came along.

Duterte also endeared himself to the masses by using street lingo in his speeches. His platform of fighting illegal drugs resonated with the middle class who felt threatened by rising crime. His bold statements against oligarchs made him more famous among the poor.

He successfully presented himself as an anti-establishment leader who spoke out convincingly against the country’s political system.


But his performance as President leaves one wanting.

On the one hand, Duterte was able to quickly fulfill his promise of combating illegal drugs by aggressively deploying state forces in communities and declaring a war on drugs. The police claimed this succeeded in undermining the operations of drug cartels.

But human rights advocates say this has also triggered a spate of extrajudicial killings that targeted the poor in Manila’s settlements. So Duterte spent his first year in office having to defend the government’s iron fist approach in dealing with the drug menace.

Perhaps he could have appeased some of his critics from other countries, including UN officials, if he only devoted more time emphasising his social reform agenda.

He could have also paid better attention to public opinion, to talk about his policy successes. For instance, he could have explained the political importance of the peace process which he initiated with communist and Moro rebels, the inclusion of leftists in his Cabinet or the removal of close associates accused of corruption.

On the foreign policy front, he could have talked more about his signing of the Paris climate change agreement, the imposition of a new nationwide smoking ban, and his support to auditing destructive large-scale mines.

If Duterte thinks the international press is unfair for focusing on the fire his drug war has come under when reporting his presidency, he has no one to blame but himself and his subordinates for making the anti-drug campaign his pet project.

Beyond issues of public communication however, Duterte seems to have a dubious record when it comes to how much he is willing to accept casualties to achieve his policy aims. While he restarted peace talks with communists in Southern Mindanao, he also ordered the military to launch an all-out war offensive against rebels in February, which displaced thousands of residents in several regions of Mindanao. Activists have recorded 55 cases of political killings in the past 11 months.

More recently, Duterte placed the whole island of Mindanao under martial law after an Islamic State-backed group attacked parts of Marawi City. The number of reported killings, torture cases and arrests without warrants is expected to rise as martial law continues to be in effect.

Although Duterte has strong public support for the current anti-terror operation, reports of massive civilian casualties caused by indiscriminate airstrikes in Marawi and mass arrests in Davao have surfaced.

One thing is for sure. At least imposing martial law succeeded in partly taking off the spotlight on other issues such as the UN probe on Duterte’s war on drugs, his careless remarks about rape and the underlying attitude towards women it betrays, and the quick dismissal by Congress of an impeachment case against Duterte.


Not all 16 million who voted for Duterte will be satisfied with his strong words, or his actions in Marawi and see these as proof of good governance. Filipino people need to see something concrete like an improvement in the economy and the easing of their daily hardships.

Perhaps in anticipation, Duterte’s economic team has rebranded the government’s ambitious infrastructure plan as part of so-called “Dutertenomics”. His advisers are claiming that “Dutertenomics” will improve the lives of Filipinos by building better and bigger transport networks that would connect the rural and the urban regions of the Philippines with the rest of the world.

But it is unclear if the benefits will trickle down to ordinary citizens. Moreover, will Filipino citizens be persuaded to pay more taxes in order to fund the government’s proposed infrastructure projects? Some are also realising how little these projects differ from the macroeconomic strategies of Duterte’s predecessors.


To be fair, one year is not enough to make a conclusive judgment about the Duterte government’s performance. There have been bold initiatives that could potentially transform the future of the country for the better such as the accelerated peace process and the commitment to oppose destructive mining.

Even the controversial anti-drug campaign was initially welcomed by those who assumed that it would target crime bosses after Duterte named several military and police generals accused of protecting drug lords.

But one year is more than enough to observe and be alarmed over the deteriorating situation in the Philippines in terms of casualties and the allegations of killings in Duterte’s war on drugs. If there are grave findings, Duterte will have to be held accountable. He will have to probe and punish state forces involved in extrajudicial killings.

Duterte began his bid for the presidency by impressing the electorate with his pro-poor and nationalist rhetoric. But one year on, we are still waiting for results on this front.
He will have to accelerate economic programmes, for one.

Until rhetoric bears out reality, Duterte the President is far from the candidate Duterte who bravely rallied the poor and powerless in defeating the mighty forces of the elite at the polling stations.

After naming a general as his next secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte quipped that he will soon establish a junta and allow the military to take over the country.

Duterte may be joking but for some of his critics, there’s nothing funny about an idea that could soon be a reality. After all, Duterte now has 12 retired generals holding key positions in his Cabinet. Three of these Cabinet members were named in the past two weeks.

Excerpt of my contributed article to The Diplomat magazine.

Is Duterte Already a Dictator?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly admitted his admiration for former dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country from 1966 to 1986. He allowed Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in 2016 and he recently hinted that his government is open to facilitating a compromise deal with the Marcoses for the return of their ill-gotten wealth in exchange of immunity from prosecution.

It’s one thing to admire the leadership skills of a former president, but it’s quite different and disturbing for an incumbent president to justify authoritarianism in order to solve the country’s problems.

A year after Duterte promised to bring change in the country, his government is accused of killing 13,000 drug suspects, a martial law regime is in effect in Mindanao, critics face trumped-up cases, and the ghost of the authoritarian Marcos rule is being revived. Dictator or not, Duterte has eroded respect and protection of human rights in the country.

Excerpt of my contributed article to The Diplomat magazine.

Published by New Mandala

Section 66 (d) is a controversial clause of the 2013 Telecommunications Law that carries a three-year prison term for defamation made using a communications network. It’s undermining media freedom and is behind a spike in defamation cases, writes Mong Palatino.

Various activist groups and media networks have petitioned the parliament of Myanmar to prioritise the proposed review of the Telecommunications Law. In particular, they wanted to scrap section 66(d) of the law, which they claim is being abused by some officials who wanted to silence critics of the army (Tatmadaw) and the government.

The Telecommunications Law was passed in 2013 to promote foreign investment in Myanmar’s information technology sector. Section 66(d) of the law was originally intended to protect the welfare of technology providers and users, but over the years, it has become a legal basis to charge government critics with defamation.

Section 66(d) states that whoever uses a “telecommunication network to extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb inappropriately influence or intimidate,” if found guilty, can be “punished with imprisonment for a term extending to a maximum of three years, and shall be liable to fine or both.”

In the past three years, section 66(d) has gained notoriety after many officials invoked it every time they were criticised either by the mainstream media or ordinary Internet users. Since 2013, Myanmar courts have received 48 cases related to section 66(d). Last year alone, 29 people have been charged for violating this provision.

Many are disappointed that section 66(d) is still enforced despite the electoral defeat of the military-backed government in 2015. Worse, the new government headed by the former opposition party National League for Democracy has done nothing to amend the law or clarify the vague wording of section 66(d).

Myanmar’s Penal Code already covers defamation but activists think section 66(d) is more repressive. Under the Penal Code, a person guilty of defamation can be detained up to two years, while section 66(d) prescribes a prison term of up to three years. A person charged with violating section 66(d) is also not allowed to post bail.

Analysts also noted that an increasing number of section 66(d) cases involving the military were initiated not directly by army officials but by civilians. This trend has alarmed activists who believe that it has a chilling effect that undermines free speech. For instance, writer Moe Thet War explained how the law has already affected the behaviour of many Internet users in Myanmar.

“Ever since the creation of Section 66(d), citizens have become hesitant to publicly share anything on Facebook, even if they’re actually pointing out someone else’s wrongdoing.”

Human rights groups have long advocated the review of the severe punishment for the crime of defamation. Bo Kyi of the Assistance Association for Political Protection believes that there are other ways to promote responsible exchange of ideas in a democratic society.

“Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law should be removed—it is better for the country’s future if we try to solve problems by discussing them patiently while fostering the culture of democracy and compromise from all sides,” he asserted.

Human rights lawyer U Robert San Aung emphasised that “it is not appropriate that a citizen who criticises someone more powerful should face legal action of this kind.

Activist Ko Maung Saung Kha observed that section 66(d) is invoked excessively while authorities were slow to act on the rising incidences of religious hate speech and online abuse against women.

The controversy over section 66(d) highlights the continuing challenges faced by the media in their struggle to overcome military-enforced censorship and repressive state regulation. Despite the abolition of a media censorship board in 2012, the laws used to silence dissent in society are still used with impunity.

Published by Manila Today

Distinguishing the public from private spaces in Metro Manila is quite confusing. Consider these examples:

Balintawak Market is privately-owned yet we consider it a public market. In fact, Metro Manila’s biggest city has only one government-owned and managed market.

Jeepneys and FX taxis (or now more popularly known as UV Express) are public utility vehicles (PUVs) but the government does not give subsidies to their private operators. These are operated to generate household incomes to huge company profits.

Public trains are bequeathed to government by the original foreign builders and operators and now operated by private corporations that the government had given one too many guarantees. These guarantees include that the private contractor would get the profit they want, that they could demand a fare raise as much and frequently as they wanted and government should pay the difference if the fares are not raised to the amount they demanded and many others.

Tollways are public projects but they were built, operated, and maintained by a few corporations composed of the triumvirate of the government, local business and foreign investor. Using this type of corporation for this build-operate-transfer scheme, a precursor of the public-private partnership, was orchestrated to comply with the constitutional requirement of corporations being majority Filipino-owned and run. Millions of profits through decades of steadily rising public toll fees have gone to the coffers of the government’s public counterparts, while there have always been speculations that it is the foreign investors that truly own these corporations.
What is the category of Bonifacio Global City? A city within a city, a former military base before its conversion into a high-end business and commercial center.

Similarly, Ayala Triangle is a private property of an old Spanish clan but it is open to the public. Sometimes, even political protests are organized here.

There’s a curious, ambiguous term used by many people: semi-private. What does it mean especially when used to describe a hospital or school? That it is a private company but offers cheaper fees? Or that it is public but the services and amenities are comparable to the ones provided by the private sector?

There’s another curious term, perhaps one more familiar inside our public hospitals: micro-private. In the case of our government hospitals, this refers to a service that is purely privately-owned within a public hospital. An example of this would be the high end and not-so-high end technologies and equipment that the government does not have or invest and that could not be catered for free or even at a discounted rate for indigent Filipinos for the sole reason that a private company, and not the government, owns them.

Perhaps the issue doesn’t matter anymore since everything today ends up being privatized. Most of government-funded institutions have become prime targets of corporate takeovers. Public services are outsourced to profit-oriented companies in order to “pursue modernization and efficiency.”
But did the selling of government properties really serve the public interest? Or did it merely facilitate the transfer of tax revenues to the financial elite?

If in the past a public agency is seen as brutally disorganized, the first remedy is to overhaul it. Privatization is the last resort, and in most cases a non-option. But today, even self-sufficient government-owned corporations are sold to the highest bidder. The government is aggressively promoting privatization while creating favorable policies that deepen the influence of the private sector in all matters of governance.

The result is the dominance of the corporate ethos in policymaking and development planning. It seems that the private is the new public. The public exists to make money for the private corporation. And under the new order, the government is the most effective tool to enforce the needs of the free market.

One overall result is a Metro Manila that is retailed out to the fashions of the highest bidders or wealthiest corporations. There is grossly no urban planning. Not even a system that best caters to bolster these free market designs such as an effective transportation system, better traffic flow, fast internet, etc.

The absurdity of our situation today is evident through the Electric Power Industry Reform Act that prohibits the government from building a power plant in order not to distort the competitiveness of the market. The all-powerful government can construct a waiting shed or basketball court but it is forbidden to generate and distribute power to its citizens. What horse manure is this!

That is why it is essential to recapture the idea of the public and clarify or even limit the role of private capital in society.

Basic social services such as health, education, and transportation should remain in the hands of the public. And if a vital industry or sector is under the control of a private company, the state should intervene to break the monopoly. The government should maintain its leading role in the economy.

But the policy prescriptions enumerated in the preceding paragraph are considered taboo under the dominant neoliberal ideology. In fact, the governments of the past three decades have faithfully and fanatically espoused neoliberalism as the country’s development blueprint.

Through state-backed neoliberal propaganda, many people today are dangerously embracing the idea that rapid job creation can be effectively done by offering tax incentives and exemptions to capitalists. That labor rights must be curtailed to entice investments. That the private sector or capital must have the freedom to move in and out cities. That state regulation is abhorred except the ones that boost the dividends of shareholders.

The great success of neoliberalism is to turn citizens into consumers, make public interest compatible with market interest, and persuade the government to promote the corporate agenda.

Metro Manila’s spatial restructuring in recent years was largely influenced by the rise of neoliberalism. Politicians, urban planners, and neoliberal fundamentalists conspired to obtain prime lots in the nation’s largest urban region that can be transformed into so-called business-friendly spaces.

Resettlement housing villages can be rezoned into commercial centers overnight. The urban poor can be displaced from their homes if their land is suddenly targeted for real estate development.

An idle land will remain idle until it becomes a strategic location for developers and contractors. The empty lot could have been used to construct a school, health center, or playground for children but local authorities are more interested to convert the property into a profitable venture in partnership with election campaign donors. Public parks are integrated into the medium-term plans of cities if feasibility studies require them to be developed in order to enhance the local business competitiveness.

Land conversion or modernization is done primarily to attract investors and not to improve the delivery of services to citizens.

For example, the methodical destruction of public markets in Manila is justified as an act of modernization, a change of management that will ostensibly redound to the benefit of the community. Essentially, it is free market doctrine which is at work here. It means the demolition of public markets so that consumers can have the ‘freedom’ to choose between Save More, Puregold, and other corporate-owned supermarkets.

Even the unlamented decline of Metro Manila’s manufacturing hubs is a legacy of neoliberalism. The country repudiated domestic production in favor of free trade or trade liberalization. Factory shutdowns coincided with the government’s sustained push for tariff reductions which led to the dumping of cheaper imported goods to the detriment of local producers.

Today, industrial centers are being converted into malls, condominiums, and call center offices to cater to the service sector economy. This trend is praised as a visible sign of progress but it masks some serious evils such as the pauperization of the working class, the displacement of the very poor and near poor, the phenomenon of jobless growth, the incestuous ties of corrupt politicians and tycoons, the deliberate dismantling of domestic industries, and the total loss of public control over key city spaces.

Corporate-led development is presented as a better and rational alternative over the wasteful and clumsy style of government-led planning. Perhaps it is true but only if we accept the assumption that all development schemes must generate unlimited profits.

Yes, many public projects are notoriously substandard but at least we can make the government accountable. Citizens can demand greater transparency and responsibility. But how do we fulfill these civic duties if the parties involved are faceless corporations which are not elected by the public? How can we reclaim our cities and our future if capitalists own everything in the community and everyone in the upper echelons of the bureaucracy?

The neoliberal political agenda is an attack against the poor, the organized democratic forces, and the collective aspiration to build a city of the people, for the people, and by the people. The alternative cannot be achieved as long as we do not destroy the hegemonic influence of neoliberalism in society. Perhaps a good start is to strengthen the various collectives that can challenge the reign of capital. Let us do this by asserting the right of the public to reshape society.

Published by Bulatlat

The most important peace document submitted by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines contains seven parts and is 82 pages long.

Here’s a summary of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms or CASER:

The preamble links the country’s economic backwardness to its colonial history. But it also highlights the potential to solve underdevelopment by tapping the country’s vast resources;

Part 1 underscores the necessity of developing the economy while focusing on the upliftment of citizens and marginalized sectors in society;

Part 2 proposes the creation of a political authority that will implement CASER even if a new government is elected into power;

Part 3 identifies the essentials of building a strong domestic economy: agrarian reform, national industrialization, and environment protection and rehabilitation.

Part 4 enumerates the people’s rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples. It also discussed the program to promote nationalist culture and literature.

Part 5 explains the meaning of economic sovereignty, independent foreign trade policy, and the urgency of reversing the three-decade doctrine of denationalization.

Final provisions tackles the technical aspects on the implementation of CASER.

Curiously, the New People’s Army is only mentioned four times in the document. What will be its new role once the peace process is finalized? The NPA will be mobilized to implement the land distribution program aside from tapping their labor skill in building an industrial future.

The draft is actually not a listing of concessions demanded by the NDF, but a new blueprint for national and/or nationalist economic development. It is a comprehensive primer about the situation of the grassroots, an alternative history of the local economy, and a program of action to overhaul the political economy.

As a social reform measure, it seeks to provide the following pro-poor services for FREE: land distribution, irrigation, support services to farmers, legal assistance and titling services to single mothers and widows in rural areas, comprehensive child care, education in all levels, continuing training for teachers and health personnel, and health care up to tertiary level.

The regressive Value Added Tax will be abolished. In terms of budget priorities, six percent of the national spending will be allocated to education, five percent to health, and 15 percent to social protection.

But how will the state finance these programs? With regard to fiscal matters, how will it pursue the ambitious goal of building a self-reliant economy?

The funds will be derived from the assets confiscated from despotic big landlords, oppressive foreign plantation owners and cartels, savings from the repudiation of anomalous foreign loans, reduced budget for the military, scrapping of all forms of pork barrel, raising of taxes on alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and luxury goods, review of tax incentives given to big business, and strict regulation of financial activities of transnational corporations.

The term ‘inclusive growth’ is not cited in the document but the means of achieving it are specified through the explicit advocacy of making the economy responsive to the concrete needs of farmers, workers, indigenous peoples and other sectors in the peripheries.

As an economic treatise, it offers a refreshing perspective on economic growth: that it should be based on real production, that it should develop the rural resources and produce an industrial base, that it should enhance sustainability, that the state and not big business which should manage and direct economic planning, that it should strive for an independent foreign trade policy, and that the rights of the people are prioritized.

Let us examine in detail the essentials of developing the local economy: land reform, national industrialization, and environment protection and rehabilitation.

‘La La Land Reform’

Confiscated lands will be distributed for free to small farmers. Aside from haciendas and foreign plantations, abandoned lands owned by churches and schools will be under the land reform program. Even golf courses are targeted for distribution.

The policy of compensation is encouraged so that landlords will be motivated to invest in industrial production. A better compensation package is reserved for professionals, migrant workers, and retirees.

Landowners will be allowed to retain five hectares to be used exclusively for food production and boost rural productivity. Owner-operated fisheries not exceeding three hectares are not subject for distribution. Rich peasants can have surplus lands but they must raise wages of farm workers. Corporate farms will not be dismantled but they can be turned over to a cooperative or rural association.

Land conversion is prohibited to ensure that the country’s food self-sufficiency is not undermined.

Philippine-style Industrial Revolution

Once the rural potential is unleashed, the raw materials will be utilized to revive old industrial centers and build new manufacturing hubs. Instead of merely exporting minerals and other precious finite resources, which is the practice today, these can be used to stimulate local production.

Admittedly, this basic economic principle is no longer popular. The current dogma consigns the Philippines as an exporter of cheap raw materials and labor. Through trade liberalization imposed by rich countries, the country imports food, consumer goods, high value machines; apparently almost everything including trash from Canada.

The preferred employment option is provided by the outsourcing sector. But can this generate enough jobs, raise production, and build a strong economy in the long run? Most mainstream thinkers and policymakers believe the expansion of the service sector is good for the economy. Indeed, outsourcing is booming but real production is declining, especially in the agricultural sector.

CASER rejects this economic model and proposes instead to adopt what rich countries did in the past: protect local producers, build local industries, create stable jobs, and nationalize strategic and vital assets.

What CASER is envisioning is not really a socialist utopia dominated by collectivization and mechanization schemes but a very basic capitalist principle of large-scale production of consumer necessities, intermediate industries, and capital goods.

Below are further clarifications about the CASER reforms related to the business sector:

Is CASER anti-business? Cartels will be dismantled but legitimate businesses have nothing to fear. The state shall continue to support big and small local producers, MSMEs and startups.

Is CASER anti-foreigner? Foreign investments will not be curtailed. Surprisingly, CASER adopts the constitutional provision of limiting foreign equity to 40 percent. However, the retail trade industry will be 100 percent Filipino-owned to prevent foreigners from controlling the distribution of goods in the country.

Similar to what many countries are doing, vital and strategic industries will be nationalized. Foreign-owned investments in these industries will be expropriated except those with good record of treatment of workers and contribution to the domestic economy. These vital industries include but not limited to power generation, water, sanitation, mass transport, telecoms, and mining.

Foreign experts will be hired for five years and foreign technology will be used to develop the country’s scientific capabilities and innovate local industries.

Will CASER end private sector investment in the economy? State economic planning is the general principle but the private sector will continue to perform a big part in developing the economy. According to CASER, investments will be done mainly by the public sector, joint public-private ventures, cooperatives, and individual entrepreneurs.

But private industrial enterprises should have workers’ councils, banks will be reoriented to serve the needs of farmers and the poor, the ‘no union, no strike’ policy in export processing zones will be revoked, and salaries of workers should be indexed to the rising cost of living.

Comprehensive Reform

The third essential component of building a strong economy involves the protection and rehabilitation of the country’s natural resources. CASER wants to end open pit mining, large-scale reclamation, export monocrop production, and logging for export. No mining activities will be allowed in small islands, coastal ecosystems, primary forests, watersheds, and prime agricultural lands.

Growth is meaningless if the welfare of the people is ignored. CASER devotes several sections enumerating the rights of the poor and powerless in society. It lists several draconian laws and repressive agencies that have to be removed in order to uphold democracy and civil liberties.

And finally, CASER promotes the teaching of nationalism among the youth. This last point is not only symbolic but politically significant because one requirement in developing a strong national economy is the emergence of a nationalist sentiment among the population. It isn’t enough that a nationalist economic program exists, the people have to embrace it. The youth must have confidence in the capacity of Filipinos to build a new economy, produce our own needs, enrich the countryside, and create innovative industries.

Is CASER feasible?

Except for the legalization of same-sex marriage, majority of the proposed reforms in the CASER have been implemented already in many rich countries. Land reform and industrialization are political-economic strategies that transformed even small societies into global powers in the 20th century. CASER will not turn the Philippines into a socialist society. CASER is an opportunity to veer away from the tried and tested failure of blindly following the dictates of rich countries which do not want the Philippines to develop its productive base and become a potential competitor in the global market.

Those familiar with Philippine laws and the programs of various public agencies will find it easy to support the progressive framework of CASER. Despite its revolutionary intent, CASER was packaged as a program that both the government and NDF forces can implement in their respective territories. Deliberate or not, CASER echoed many programs, laws, and principles that are already being discussed in the bureaucracy. CASER adopted the progressive advocacies of civil society groups and people’s organizations.

Only the rabid defenders of landlordism and foreign cartels will outrightly reject the proposed reforms in the CASER. Those who fear that the NDF is sinisterly trying to impose its communist outlook should better read the CASER document and be prepared to be disappointed that there’s no reference to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.

But CASER does have bias for the poor and oppressed. For some, this is sufficient proof that it is a ‘communist manifesto’ disguised as a peace document.

The challenge for the Philippine government is to come up with a better CASER proposal or debunk the social reform measures proposed by the NDF. In the meantime, let’s continue talking about CASER and present it as a viable approach to address the roots of underdevelopment and injustice in the country.

According to the 1987 Constitution, Congress is supposed to convene a joint session in order to review the government’s martial law proclamation. But leaders of both houses of Congress said a joint session is unnecessary since the majority are supporting the president’s decision anyway.

This is unfortunate, since there are questions related to martial law that only defense and military officials can answer in a Congress session. And even if these concerns may not be addressed by the Duterte government, they are worth laying out in greater detail because they will likely be explored or exploited by various parties in the Philippines in the coming weeks.

Few would disagree that these are complicated questions with complex answers. But it is exactly because of this reality that the Duterte government must resist sweeping these under the rug and confront them head on. The situation in Marawi is Duterte’s most serious test since he took power last June, and it could have major implications not just for the Philippines’ domestic politics, but also its foreign policy. Questions cannot just be left lingering.

Excerpt of contributed article for The Diplomat magazine

Did Duterte normalize martial law in the Philippines?

In less than a year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the southern part of the country and convinced the Supreme Court to affirm it. He was able to do this without generating widespread opposition while buttressing his hold to power and undermining the alleged destabilization plots against his administration. Martial law’s extension for several more months is also supported by Congress leaders.

The normalization of martial law as a legitimate tool of a sitting president to enforce law and order appears to be a political victory for Duterte, although this has remained unacknowledged.

Duterte got what he wants but not all. He got the backing of several important institutions in the government but not the silence of groups which have consistently fought against the return of martial law. He gave too much confidence to the ‘reformed’ military and ignored the reminder of human rights groups about the bloody record of some of his trusted generals. An extended and expanded martial law is prone to all sorts of abuse especially if the implementers are accused of causing the displacement of indigenous peoples in Mindanao, the violent dispersal of peaceful protests, the kidnapping of activists, and the sabotage of the peace process.

Perhaps the Duterte government is emboldened by his record-high public trust rating and the relatively smaller protests against his decision to declare martial law. This is the time for Duterte to remember what happened to his idol Marcos in the past. Wasn’t Marcos also popular during the early years of martial law, and wasn’t it also true that it took some years before a vibrant protest movement defied the dictatorship?

Excerpt of contributed article for The Diplomat magazine