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

*Remarks during the June 2017 United National AntiWar Coalition assembly in Richmond, Virginia

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat. Good morning everyone. Mabuhay!

Or should I say good evening because it’s already past 10 p.m. in the Philippines?

I’d like to share two narratives: first, the narrative of colonialism and/or neocolonialism; and second, which I think is more important for this occasion, the narrative of resistance, specifically the century struggle of the Filipino people to defeat US imperialism.

Let me say that once again: US imperialism.

For me to say US imperialism inside the US in front of many people, this alone would make my trip very meaningful.

But let me first talk about the various ways the US have justified its militarist intervention in the Philippines.

In 1898, the US arrived in the Philippine to liberate us from Spanish colonialism; but we have already defeated the Spanish army and we have just established Asia’s first republic.

President McKinley said America will Christianize Filipinos, but we majority of Filipinos are Catholics, and we remain the only Catholic-dominated nation in Asia today, aside from Timor.

Indeed, America established a public education system, but one of its legacy is to brainwash Filipinos about the supposedly noble motives of Big Brother America.

America is in the Philippines, according to our American educators, to teach Filipinos about democracy, and it’s not really interested with our forests and gold mines. Not to mention a market to dump its surplus products or the control of a strategic sea route to access the Asia-Pacific market.

We are so grateful to America that after World War II, when we gained our token independence, we gave Americans investors the freedom to plunder our natural resources. And to show our hospitality, we extended the lease to Subic and Clark military bases. Clark was the biggest American base outside the US.

What you call military-industrial complex here meant the emergence of a military-entertainment complex in Subic and Clark. In between wars, especially during the Vietnam War, US troops will arrive in the Philippine for “rest and recreation”. The US military expressed its gratitude by leaving a toxic waste legacy in these bases.

In the 1970s, a dictatorship regime emerged in the Philippines which was backed up by the US government. In fact, the US has been instrumental in shaping the electoral results and political events in our country after WWII.

During the Bush years, the Philippine was made a second front in the ‘war on terror’ after Iraq and Afghanistan. It meant the arrival of troops conducting military exercises on our lands. In 2014, our government signed a new deal with the Obama government which allowed the building of US military facilities across the Philippines.

The US said these facilities plus the increased deployment of troops will benefit the Philippines because these will provide quicker and easier access for the disaster-relief efforts of the US military every time a typhoon, earthquake or other calamities will cause destruction in our country. Again, the narrative of neocolonialism disguised as a humanitarian endeavor.

But there’s another narrative I’d like to emphasize. The narrative of the struggle for national liberation.

The Philippine-American war from 1899 to 1902, the nationalist movement during the early years of the 20th century, the peasant uprisings in the 1930s, the people’s army during WWII, the communist Huk rebellion in the 1940s and 1950s, the rise of the national democratic movement in the 1960s, the anti-dictatorship struggle in the 1980s, the People Power in 1986, and the anti-Bases movement which led to the expulsion of US military bases in 1991.

When journalists report about 9/11, I think about 9/16 (September 16, 1991), the day when Filipinos kicked out US bases from our lands.

The struggle is not over because US troops are still conducting military games on our lands, American military facilities are now being constructed in implementation of the Asia pivot, and right now the US is mysteriously undertaking anti-terror, anti-ISIS activities.

Meanwhile, a war is raging in my homeland. There is a vibrant mass movement resisting US military intervention. It is aware that the US government, the US war machine, is supporting the local reactionary forces which are violently suppressing the people’s clamor for lands, decent wages, clean environment, and a democratic government.

The forces of oppression appear to be powerful today but there’s no time to despair and no reason to surrender.

This is my first UNAC and I am truly inspired by the presentations last night and earlier today. When I go back to the Philippines, I will tell my comrades that there’s less reason to be worried about Trump because right here in the US, there are groups like UNAC and peace-loving activists like you who are bravely challenging the US war machine.

That’s why I’m optimistic about our work. Because how can imperialism win if the grassroots all over the world, from Asia and Africa to America, are uniting and joining forces to defeat militarism, racism, and oppression. Imperyalismo ibagsak!

Written for The Diplomat magazine

There is an alleged plot to create political destabilization in the Philippines and remove President Rodrigo Duterte from power. No less than Duterte himself exposed the conspiracy and accused the Left of conniving with the ‘yellows’ in trying to oust him as president. The ‘yellows’ refer to the political forces, led by Liberal Party, which supported the previous government of President Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III.

Duterte’s statement was echoed by Solicitor General Jose Calida who revealed that his office is already preparing a case against those involved in subversive activities.

“Before, it was the Yellows. Then they changed the color to white, and now there are also reds coming in, and members of the clergy are also joining the fray,” Calida told the media.

The anti-Duterte plot may be a distraction but unless the government implements some major policy reforms that would reverse the rising discontent in the country, the alleged destabilization might cease to be a conspiracy and become a real threat.

Read more

Duterte: America’s New ‘Humble Friend’

Written for The Diplomat magazine

“I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia,” said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when the latter visited Manila on August 7, 2017, for a regional security forum. Duterte met Tillerson in the presidential palace.

Duterte’s statement can be confusing for those who can still remember his infamous speech declaring his “separation” from the U.S. during a state visit to China in 2016.

But for those who closely followed Duterte’s foreign policy pronouncements after the victory of US President Donald Trump last November, the Philippine president’s reassuring words of friendship wouldn’t be a surprise for them already.

Despite Duterte’s perceived anti-Americanism, he is actually turning into a reliable ally of the US military. In fact, the “humble friend of the U.S. in Southeast Asia” has stopped making any reference to his earlier commitment to pursuing an independent foreign policy.

Duterte’s close ties with the U.S. will be further boosted at the end of the year when Trump arrives in the Philippines for the East Asian summit.

Read more

The books I read in 2017

April 15th, 2018

Published by Bulatlat

1. Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro. Impossible not to empathize with her strong female characters, their pursuit of fulfillment and freedom, their overcoming of various tragedies and other challenges in life.

2. How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays, Umberto Eco. The best parts are the funny observations of the scholar-traveler about American culture, bureaucratic inefficiency, and irrelevant academic studies.

3. The Emancipation of Women: From the Writings of V. I. Lenin. The Russian leader’s views on the role of women in the revolution, neomalthusianism, and free love. Also a brief introduction to the policies concerning women during the first years of the Soviet government.

4. Engels Revisited: new feminist essays by Janet Sayers, Mary Evans, Nanneke Redclift. Feminist interpretations on the classic work of Engels about the rise of the state and the ‘world historical defeat of the female sex’.

5. Collection of Essays by George Orwell. Brutally frank reflections on his childhood education, the politics of Dickens, the moral failure of imperialism, the Left during the Spanish War, the legacy of Gandhi, and the peculiar case of English nationalism.

6. Writing Home: Nineteen Writers Remember Their Hometowns, edited by Ruel S. de Vera. Filipino writers pay homage to their childhood years, hometowns, and cultural heritage. Nostalgia overload.

7. A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, Joshua Kurlantzick. The secret war in Laos turned the small country into the most heavily bombed place in the world. Yet, it was deemed a success by the CIA and it has become the template in launching covert wars all over the world. Here’s an explosive history of how the CIA began its notorious paramilitary operations. One character in the book is likened to Colonel Kurtz, the mad American soldier in the film Apocalypse Now. Read my review of the book.

8. Small Is Beautiful, Ernst F. Schumacher. The first half of the book is a critique of the modern economic system, and the last half provides a detailed alternative to transform large-scale companies and how to efficiently manage our societies.

9. Artists in Exile, Jane Katz. Brief profiles and interviews of several dissident artists, exiled activists, refugees, and minorities who sought asylum or are already living in the United States.

10. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera. Enjoyed the wit, irony, and ferocious tenderness of the author contemplating about life, love, and politics during the Cold War era.

11. The Te of Piglet, Benjamin Hoff. Less about the lovable Winnie the Pooh characters since the book deals more about the author’s views on nuclear arms, modern economy, teaching method, and political correctness.

12. Technics and Human Development (The Myth of the Machine), Lewis Mumford. Intriguing, insightful, well-researched alternative history about the history of man. A useful antidote against tool (read: gadget) worshippers which make it relevant today.

13. The Radical Tradition, R.H. Tawney. A collection of essays about adult education, British socialism, nationalization as an economic program, and the lives of some European socialists.

14. Women and Child Care In China: A Firsthand Report by Ruth Sidel. A useful report debunking the persistent propaganda about the supposedly destructive legacy of the cultural revolution in China.

15. Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. In defense of activism; explaining the concrete gains of struggling for rights, justice, and democracy.

16. Love in the Days of Rage by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The spirit of 1968, the turbulent ‘youthquake’ through the eyes and romance of a banker anarchist and a tenured artist in a university.

17. Bit Rot by Douglas Coupland. A humorous take on 21st-century living, interesting views on how Internet has changed our lives for the better, a traveler with fascinating impressions of diverse cultures.

18. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. A family comedy-drama involving two generations of immigrant families in Europe.

19. The Age of Uncertainty by John Kenneth Galbraith. A fascinating overview of economic ideas that shaped the modern world.

20. Revolution at the Gates: Zizek on Lenin: The 1917 Writings by Vladimir Lenin, Slavoj Žižek (Editor). Lenin’s dispatches that steered the Bolshevik revolution to victory in 1917. The second half of the book features the theoretical ramblings of a radical philosopher.

21. India: A Wounded Civilization by V.S. Naipaul. A depressing account of India’s political system, a critical if not unsympathetic view of Gandhi’s legacy, and an indictment of what ails the Third World.

22. Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood. Reflections on writing and the complicated role of writers in society.

23. Ilang Hiwa ng Kahapon by Tomas Ongoco. Classic examples of dupluhan, karagatan, huego de prenda, pilipit-dila, bugtungan, balagtasan, harana, dulawit, and other forgotten forms of Philippine literature.

24. Understanding Southeast Asia: Syncretism in Commonalities by Lindsay Falvey. Overview of region’s trading history, cultural influences, colonial experience, and 21st-century challenges.

25. Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences by Jon Elster. On rational choice, on understanding human behavior and action, on the role of natural selection, and on the link of social institutions, collective action, and unintended consequences.

26. Dialectic of Enlightenment by Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Scholarly treatise on the role of culture in history, the rise of the culture industry in the 20th century, art in the era of mass production and instant communication (TV and radio), the origins of fascism and anti-semitism in politics.

27. Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar by Henri Locard. A whole book dismissing Maoist teachings and Marxist movements, but readable overview of brief rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

28. Why Vietnam Still Matters edited by Jan C. Scruggs. Introducing the madness of the Vietnam War to the generation who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Some testimonies attempt to rationalize the involvement of the US in the Indochina conflict.

29. The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt. The memoirs of a public intellectual which he wrote while suffering from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Lucid thoughts, intelligent reflections, and neat overview of life in the West during the second half of the 20th century.

30. Lenin’s imperialism in the 21st century, edited by Antonio Tujan Jr. Affirming the legacy of Lenin’s book and why it remains an essential document not just to unmask imperialism but also to change the world. Read my review of the book.

31. War Talk by Arundhati Roy. Essays against the Empire, the rise of Hindu nationalism, and celebrating the narrative of resistance.

32. The ABCs of Socialism, edited by Bhaskar Sunkara and illustrations by Phil Wrigglesworth. Introducing key socialist ideas and why a Leftist program remains the best antidote against the sterile thinking in modern politics.

33. The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers by Ann Pettifor. Elucidation of Keynesian thinking and why we need to implement the proposals of Keynes to overcome the destructive impact of neoliberalism.

34. Wars of Extinction: Discrimination & the Lumad Struggle in Mindanao by Arnold P. Alamon. Primer on Lumad resistance; comprehensive, sharp analysis of the people’s struggles in Mindanao amid the relentless plunder of the country’s resources by monopoly capitalism.

35. Marx for Beginners by Rius. Creative illustrations about the life of a radical philosopher, economist, and guru of the working-class.

36. Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space by Keller Easterling. Analyzing the relationship of space, modern economics, infrastructure building and politics. In particular, the political impact of zone building, export zones, and broadband cables

37. Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro. Stories about growing up, life in the suburbs, of women confronting the vicissitudes of life, and of the elderly finding some redemption.

38. Time and the Art of Living by Robert Grudin. Insightful, intelligent, interesting meditations on life and some practical notes on how to understand and manage time.

39. Kabataang Kulturang Popular by Rolando Tolentino. Progressive critique of modern living and the futile fantasies of the middle-class; more importantly, a critical overview of alternative politics and the superiority of revolutionary praxis.

40. Legacies to be Remembered: Southern Tagalog During the Spanish Colonialism, 1565-1898, a book project by Cavite Studies Center and National Historical Institute. Some archival notes on the social and economic history of Mindoro, Calamba, Cavite, Batangas during the Spanish colonial period.

41. The Battle for China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution by Mobo Gao. Debunking the popular criticisms against Mao and the cultural revolution. Defending the radical legacy of Mao and exposing the sham reforms and anti-peasant bias of the ‘capitalist roaders’.

“Wipe your tears, continue your journey.” This quote was made famous by Kem Ley himself; and after his death, it has become the rallying call of his friends and supporters. While many continue to grieve, a growing number of Cambodians are stepping up to embrace his legacy of promoting grassroots activism, transparency and good governance, equality and human rights. Read more at IFEX

After Liu Xiaobo: Tributes, ramped-up censorship, and calls to free Liu Xia

Liu Xiaobo, China’s most renowned political prisoner, died on 13 July 2017 – less than three weeks after he was diagnosed with late stage liver cancer. News of his death quickly inspired writers, activists, and human rights advocates from across the world to honor the legacy of Liu and his unfinished work of promoting democratic reforms in China. Read more at IFEX

Graduation speech, STI Meycauayan, Bulacan. Published by Bulatlat

Isa pong malaking karangalan ang mapiling tagapagsalita ngayong araw na ito. Ispesyal at di malilimutan ang pagtitipong ito. Para sa mga mag-aaral, lubos ang kasiyahan dahil natapos din natin ang kolehiyo sa kabila ng maraming pinagdaanang pagsubok, hindi po ba? Para sa mga magulang, walang papantay sa kanilang galak na makita kayo sa inyong pag-akyat sa entablado mamaya. At para sa mga guro, sulit ang pagod at inalay na dunong dahil nagbunga ang kanilang sakripisyo.

Hindi kayang isalarawan mamaya sa Facebook o Instagram ang nag-uumapaw na emosyon na ramdam ng marami ngayon. Kahit naka FB Live mamaya sa pagkuha ninyo ng diploma, walang app na uubra upang sukatin ang kaligayahan ng bawat isa sa bulwagang ito.

Ang seremonyang ito ay ginagawa hindi lamang upang bigyang pagkilala kayo, mga bagong graduate. Isa itong natatanging aktibidad upang sama-samang magdiwang at magpasalamat dahil nagawa ninyong tapusin ang isang mahalagang yugto sa buhay ng isang tao. Hindi lahat nakakatuntong sa kolehiyo, hindi lahat nakakatapos ng pag-aaral; pero heto kayo at ilang minuto na lamang ay ganap na kayong susulong sa bagong hamon sa buhay.

Kaya bago ang uwian, ang kainan, at pagpost ng litrato sa social media mamaya, dapat unahin natin ang pagkilala sa mga taong nag-ambag sa inyong pag-aaral at naging bahagi ng inyong paglalakbay mula kinder hanggang kolehiyo.

Una, para sa mga kaibigan at kaklase, salamat sa masayang samahan, paminsang-minsang away, araw-araw na asaran, patagong pangongopya, maaasahang sandalan kapag may problema, sapilitang panlilibre ng pamasahe o pagkain, at aminin na natin, lingguhang inuman o pamamasyal sa mall. Kahit sabihin ninyong lagi kayong magrereunion, hindi na kayo madalas na magkikita. Malamang sa FB, pero kaya ba nun higitan ang kwentuhan sa tambayan at tsisimisan sa fastfood? Kaya para sa di malilimutang alaala kasama ang inyong batchmates, palakpak naman diyan.

Para sa inyong mga guro naman, salamat po mga ma’am at sir sa pasensiya, sa oras na inyong binahagi, sa mga payo na inyong binigay, sa kaalaman na tuntungan upang tumuklas pa ng mga bagong aral sa buhay, sa lahat ng hirap, pawis, at friend request na inyong tinanggap, habambuhay po kayong pasasalamatan. Estudyante lamang ang tumatanda, pero ang guro hindi yan nagbabago sa puso ng bawat bata. Para sa aruga, dedikasyon, at tiyaga sa pagtuturo, palakpakan natin ang ating mga propesor.

At para naman sa ating pamilya, kay nanay at tatay, kay ate at kuya, kay lolo at lola, ang diploma ay alay po sa inyo. Lalo na sa ating butihing magulang. Para sa tiwala na kakayaning tapusin ang kolehiyo, para sa suporta mula umpisa hanggang sa pagpili ng isusuot kanina, para sa palagiang pangungulit este pangangamusta kung ano na ang lagay ng pag-aaral, para sa makatwirang pangangaral ng mga dapat unahin sa buhay, para sa pag-unawa kung may pagkukulang, para sa inspirasyon, sa presensiya, sa pagpapakita ng halimbawa kung paano ang bawat problema ay may karampatang solusyon, para sa pagpaparamdam na kami ang dahilan kung bakit kailangang bumangon araw-araw, para po sa inyo ang araw na ito. Ibigay natin ang pinakamalakas na palakpak na pwede nating iparinig sa ating mga magulang.

Ang edukasyon natin ay nagsimula bilang pangarap. Pangarap na simbolo rin ng pagmamahal. Pero hindi sapat na magmahal lamang. Dapat pinaglalaban ito. Sa inyong kaso, hindi ba’t pinagsikapan ninyong marating ang araw na ito pagkatapos ng mahigit isang dekadang pagbabasa, pagsusulat, pagpupuyat, paghahabol ng deadline, pag-apela na madugtungan ang deadline, pagkukumpleto ng requirements, pagkuha’t pagpasa sa mga eksam. Ibig sabihin, ang pangarap ay naging realidad dahil pinaghirapan ninyo itong isakatuparan. Mayroon kayong nilaan na sapat na oras, sobrang pagod at sakripisyo bago ninyo matamasa ang tagumpay ngayong araw na ito. Hindi ba’t mas makabuluhan at mas masaya ang tagumpay kung ito ay binunga ng inyong pagsisikap?

Kung hugot ang kuwento ng inyong buhay, pwede itong tawaging ‘nagmahal, nagsikap, nagtagumpay’

Iyan din ang paalala na nais kong bigyang diin sa araw na ito. Lahat ng biyaya na gusto nating makamit ay dapat ipaglaban. Hindi ito madaling gawin sa panahon na kung saan maraming bagay ay tila pwede makuha sa isang iglap, o instant kumbaga.

Research, search lang. Komunikasyon, realtime. Transportasyon, uber. Pagkain, ready to cook. Pelikula, streaming. Gamit, 3D printing.

Pero sa totoo lang, batay sa karanasan at obserbasyon na rin, ang kaligayahan sa buhay ay hindi instant na natatamasa. Huwag ipagkamali na ang bagong gadget o trending apps ang lulutas sa marami nating problema. Huwag ituring ang materyal na kasangkapan bilang panandang bato kung ano na ang narating o silbi ng isang indibidwal.

Dahil ang dominanteng diskurso ngayon ay pabor sa mabilisang resulta o proseso, ang gusto ng marami ay ganun din ang dapat mangyari sa ating buhay. Dapat instant may kotse na (kaya ayun instant din ang paglubog sa utang), dapat instant mayaman na (kaya ayun, biktima ng pyramid scam), dapat instant sikat at may pangalan na (kaya ayun viral ang scandal sa Internet).

Tanggihan natin ang pag-iisip na pumipigil sa ating makita ang mas masaklaw na mundo. Mahirap gawin pero tandaan hindi lahat ng trending tama. Hindi lahat ng instant ay kailangan. Hindi lahat ng yaman ay kaligayahan ang dinudulot.

May epekto rin ito kung paano natin inuunawa ang nangyayari sa pulitika ng ating bansa. Sa halip na masinop na ugatin at himay-himayin ang mga problema ng komunidad, nagkakasya sa mga instant o shortcut na solusyon. At dahil gusto ng marami ay may makitang instant na resulta, mag-ingat baka ang ibigay sa atin ng mga nasa pamunuan ay pagbabagong walang laman. Ay natokhang na buhay naman o!

Bilang kabataan, tiyak kong marami kayong gustong gawin, mga pangarap na tutuparin, mga tagumpay na aabutin. Gawin natin ito, pero huwag magmadali. Nasa atin ang lahat ng panahon upang makamit natin ang lahat ng ating minimithi sa buhay. Hindi kailangang makipag-unahan at tapakan ang iba. At habang ginugugol natin ang ating buhay sa layuning ito, huwag sana nating kalimutan na maglaan ng panahon, lakas at talino para sa bayan. Buksan ang mata sa realidad ng ating panahon. Pakinggan ang daing ng karaniwang tao. Mag-ambag sa kaginhawaan ng ating mga komunidad. Ang mali na ating nakagisnan ay huwag na nating ipasa sa susunod na salinlahi. Ang lahat ng mali na nangingibabaw ngayon, lahat yan ay pwede nating tuldukan. Nagmumukhang imposible kung ang iniisip kasi natin ay dapat instant alisin na ang bulok sa lipunan. Pero kung ang perspektiba ay pangmatagalan, kung malayo ang tanaw, walang krisis o problema ang hindi natin pwedeng pangibabawan.

Batch 2017, magsimula sa pangarap, balutin ito ng pagmamahal. Matiyagang kumilos, marubdob itong ipaglaban. Matuto mula sa mga kabiguan, bumangon nang may dignidad. Kasama ang iba, hindi nag-iisa. At pagkatapos, ialay ito para sa kapwa. Ito ang tunay na tagumpay na pwede nating ipagmalaki. Ito ang ating tugon, ang ating pasasalamat sa lahat ng tumulong na hubugin ang ating pagkatao bilang mga indibidwal na may talino’t malasakit sa kapwa.

Batch 2017, magmahal, magsumikap, magtagumpay!

For the third time since 2016, the Philippine government has relaunched the controversial anti-drug campaign, known locally as Oplan Tokhang, amid continuing concern that the police-led operations have led to massive human rights abuses.

Tokhang has long been a top priority of President Rodrigo Duterte, who vowed to eradicate illegal drugs in three to six months after his rise to power in 2016.

But soon after it began, Tokhang was unsurprisingly blamed for the spate of extrajudicial killings in urban poor communities, with the police claiming that they were only forced to retaliate because suspected drug operators and peddlers were resisting arrests.

But the relaunch of Tokhang, despite its notorious record, could be less about enhancing the image of the police than a political tool intended to revive panic among the poor and discourage the rest of the population to challenge the president who has already stated his intention to amend the 1987 Constitution this year, a divisive move that could spark a political crisis as the ruling party attempts to further consolidate its power.

Read more at The Diplomat

What’s Next for the Philippines as Duterte Ends Communist Peace Talks?

This week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed a proclamation terminating the peace process with the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF). Though it is still too early to determine exactly what this means for one of Asia’s longest insurgencies, the development bears careful watching in the context of the Duterte administration’s evolving governance of the Philippines.

Though there have been previous pronouncements which have simply suspended peace talks, Duterte’s proclamation signed on November 23 is different because it formally closes the door for now to the resumption of negotiations. In that sense, it represents an end to the peace process for the first time since 1999, when former President Joseph Estrada issued a similar directive and launched an all-out war campaign against communist rebels belonging to the New People’s Army (NPA).

Beyond all this, what really worries many people in the Philippines is the repeated pronouncements of Duterte and his rabid supporters about the establishment of a so-called revolutionary government to solve the country’s problems. Some believe it is being peddled to implement Duterte’s vision of turning the Philippines into a federal state. But there is also the highly probable scenario of Duterte establishing a dictatorship similar to what Marcos did in the past. Seen from this perspective, the conflict with the NPA is something that any authoritarian leader would want to escalate to push the country nearer to a total war scenario and compel the use of extralegal powers of the state.

Read more at The Diplomat

Death in custody of a Nobel laureate, sentencing bloggers, and Pakistan’s UN review. Last July 2018 in the Asia-Pacific region saw the death of China’s most renowned political prisoner, harsh convictions against dissident bloggers in Vietnam, threats to encryption in Australia, concerns about PNG’s cybercrime act, the first ever review of Pakistan’s human rights record by the UN Human Rights Committee, and more. Read more.

Historic court victories on right to privacy in India and LGBTQI+ in South Korea. Historic court rulings in India and South Korea affirming the right to privacy and the equal recognition of LGBTQI+ were among the inspiring stories in the month of August – islands in a sea of relentless attacks against members of the media across the Asia-Pacific region. Read more.

Media murders, illegal anonymity & toxic politics: September in Asia/Pacific. September was a gloomy month for free expression in the region, which saw a surge in media killings in India, the banning of anonymous online comments and chats in China, the closure of a newspaper and dozens of critical radio stations in Cambodia, and the filing of criminal cases against internet users in several countries for ‘insulting’ top government leaders. Read more.

Published by Manila Today

Is the ‘Greater Capital Region’ (GCR) the new National Capital Region (NCR) of the Philippines? This geopolitical category refers to Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog, and Central Luzon. Though it has yet to be officially acknowledged in the bureaucracy, some development planning institutions are already using the term GCR in their feasibility studies.

It reflects the spread of urbanization, the congestion in the NCR, and the continuing in-migration phenomenon. For economists, GCR represents the rapid growth of the local economy. Its share in the country’s GDP is enormous and it reportedly has promising investment potential.

What they fail to mention is that GCR, like NCR before it, embodies the fundamental weaknesses of Philippine political economy such as uneven geographical development, overconcentration of resources in the capital region, neglect of the countryside, backward rural economy caused by land monopoly, extraction of rural wealth by Manila-based dummy companies, unequal distribution of productive capital, and profit accumulation of oligarchs through rent-seeking and violent eviction of the rural poor from their lands.

It will not be long before GCR becomes part of popular discourse, especially when politicians and Local Government Units start to concoct various instant money-making schemes based on this new spatial division.

This is actually how the capital extended its frontiers in the past.

During the long Spanish era, the capital was restricted inside the walls of Intramuros. Then, Old Manila was expanded by absorbing the districts surrounding it. In the 1930s, a new capital city was envisioned which was named Quezon City. After World War II, Manila remained the country’s premier city but the capital region encompassed the suburbs and some towns of Rizal province.

The previously peripheral increasingly became near-center. Greater Manila Area was conceived in response to the changing socio-economic dynamics. Finally, the NCR as we know it incorporated Manila, Quezon City, and 15 other municipalities which later become cities except for Pateros.

In the past two decades, Metro Manila reigned as the official political capital region of the country; but when people talk about the urban economy, they use the term Mega Manila to include Cavite (the country’s most populous province), Laguna, Rizal, and Bulacan.

GCR is the expanded version of Mega Manila. But it is smaller compared to Gloria Arroyo’s Luzon Urban Beltway.

Identifying the political center is mainly an act of politics which means it is being done to pursue the economic interest of the ruling class. The rise of ‘Imperial Manila’ is a legacy of colonialism. That it continued to be the supreme city even after the country gained its independence in 1946 can be attributed to the neocolonial blueprint. The development masterplan didn’t espouse the unleashing of the productive potential of the countryside to spur genuine industrial development. Then and now, the designated role of the Philippines has been to produce raw materials and cheap labor for the benefit of transnational corporations and imperialist countries.

There has been no state-led economic planning program that pushed for the country’s comprehensive development. It must be emphasized that urbanization is not part of a government strategy but the consequence of haphazard development. Capitalists are always seeking to maximize profits which means they are ready to inhabit any place where cheap labor is available. Thus, the sudden transformation of small towns and rural villages into commercial and manufacturing hubs outside NCR. This process intensified when the anti-labor neoliberal doctrine became the most influential discourse in mainstream society.

It is not openly admitted but GCR was conceptualized to boost the opportunities for profit-making of big business in cahoots with corrupt bureaucrats. It seeks to legitimize the invasion of new spaces which requires government approval.

Invoking the ideology of supporting the business agenda ostensibly for the benefit of the greater good, the government has bulldozed its way into erstwhile peripheral areas. Land dispossession is called real estate development, environment plunder is reported as rural productivity, and assembly line sweatshops are hailed as export processing zones.

Progress is equated with corporate upsizing which explains why the initial plan for the GCR requires massive spending on high-impact infrastructure and transportation projects. Again, this is intended to serve the financial elite.

The framework is flawed because it assumes that chronic poverty in the countryside is mainly the result of infrastructure deficiency. Indeed, poor communities can ideally benefit from tollways and ports (unless they are targeted for demolition) but these vital infrastructures will be rendered meaningless if the roots of underdevelopment are not addressed. For instance, an expressway is necessary because it facilitates the faster transfer of goods from the rural to urban; but who will earn more from this type of investment: landlords or their tenants? Build highways and bigger ports to expand mining operations, but for whose benefit?

The so-called GCR is simply another mechanism to extract surplus value from the laboring classes. It is not a neutral description of a geographical space but a partisan mapping and re-territorialization program in favor of big business. It is bound to reproduce, if not worsen, the structural weaknesses of the present. There’s nothing to celebrate if it would only expand the urban poor enclaves and gated subdivisions of the NCR.

It is inevitable that the corporate version of GCR will trigger different degrees of defiance from the grassroots. For example, will farmers and indigenous peoples easily surrender their ancestral homes so that Manila-based executives can live in a green city? Will the fisherfolk accept the rezoning of their communities into a tourism hub? How long will workers endure the unscientific and arbitrary imposition of different minimum wage orders in the GCR?

It is true that colonialism was a brutal force that shaped the semi-feudal characteristics of Philippine society. But the tyranny of the system also generated resistance among the local population. There’s always an interplay between competing forces which often leads to political conflicts. Hegemony is never achieved.

Technocrats, bureaucrats, and their overpaid consultants can never successfully realize their ‘city of dreams’ (remember, too, the Marcosian ‘City of Man’) without the aid of state fascism. They have to contain community opposition, address labor demands, and respond to the clamor of residents. They cannot ignore that people are always moving, displaced families are settling in available open spaces, the destitute are disrupting the fantasyland of the luxurious, and various sectors are ready to fight over small and big grievances.

Unfortunately, they view the actions of the grassroots with suspicion. They fail to recognize how past acts of injustice, institutionalized inequality, and intergenerational poverty can provoke intense reactions among the people. They cannot empathize with democratic movements since they have been inured to reject any initiative that undermines the interest of capital.

But surprisingly, the idea of GCR also offers a rethinking of how people’s struggles across the three biggest regions in Luzon Island can be coordinated in a better and more effective way. Progressives should grasp the political sense of the GCR before politicians are able to coopt the notion for their selfish goals.

The economic aspect of real existing GCR necessitates a review of how some sectors are waging their campaigns. The fact that the biggest concentration of manufacturing workers is no longer in Metro Manila should lead to greater deployment of labor organizers in the Southern Tagalog.

How best to mobilize workers in the service sector? What are the appropriate types of organizing in suburban residential subdivisions? How to link urban community struggles across cities and provinces in a single regional grouping? How to coordinate territorial campaigns that cover the rural and urban? Where would people converge in the GCR to raise their political demands?

For NCR-based activists, the GCR is another reminder that workers’ organizing is no longer confined in 16 cities and a municipality. Due to the oppressive political and economic setups of processing zones, workers have spread and the urban has grown wider.

In many ways, the mass movement in the Philippines is already adjusting to the growing size of the urban in the country’s capital. The organizing among call center workers, the emergence of Lakbayan (caravan) as a frequent tactic to unite rural and urban struggles, and the protest of contractual workers in Laguna are some of the signs of the new normal in political organizing in the urban. Communication and networking logistics are partly provided by information technologies which are already ubiquitous today.

The mass movement also has built-in mechanisms to ensure the unification of people’s campaigns like the program enjoining the youth to live with the masses in peasant communities.

Even the Communist Party of the Philippine’s old regional division of Manila-Rizal was a prescient organizational structure that seemed to anticipate the formation of the NCR.

Once the GCR becomes an official category in the bureaucracy, the political struggle in the country’s capital will also undergo some rebranding.

Today in the NCR, the parliament of the streets represents the most visible form of protest against repressive institutions. But in the GCR, would the world finally take notice that the New People’s Army is waging war right in the heart of the capital?

Political struggles in the NCR are seen by many to be distinct from the conflicts in the remote regions of the country. But in the GCR, the armed revolution is no longer a ‘distant’ reality. The exploiting classes have to contend with the presence of rebels in the political center of the ruling order.

The GCR is an uncritical, celebratory concept of urbanization. It is a bourgeois innovation until it encounters the dynamics of the revolution in the interstices of the rural and urban.

Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte came to power, there have been concerns about his administration’s distortion of online information raised by his opponents. A recent report provides further evidence of what many see as a worrying development.

According to a recent report released by non-government organization Freedom House, the Philippines is among the 30 countries in the world which deploy some form of “manipulation to distort online information.”

Perhaps Duterte can be persuaded too that the alleged continuing existence of a “keyboard army” is not helping him earn credibility among Internet users. Or that an army dedicated to the spread of fake news, hate speech, and online violence can only lead to greater disunity, cynicism, and low public confidence. Unless of course he relishes the idea of being called the Philippines’ “troll-in-chief.”

Read more at The Diplomat

Rising Outrage Over Duterte’s War on Drugs in the Philippines

Public anger is rising in the Philippines over the reported surge of extrajudicial killings that have victimized several children and teenagers.

During his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July, President Rodrigo Duterte signaled the intensification of the “war on drugs,” which he defended as necessary and crucial to fight rampant criminality and corruption across the country.

Duterte’s “war on drugs” has been controversial from the very beginning, since it allegedly involved the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug peddlers and users. The anti-drug operation (Oplan Tokhang) has already killed 7,000 persons, but some human rights groups think that the number of drug-related killings could reach 12,000 if we are going to include the unreported cases.

Some believe the issue of human rights abuses involving children is aimed at distracting the attention of the public after a Senate probe implicated Duterte’s son in the shipment of illegal drugs in the country’s ports. It may be true. But it does not invalidate the urgent demands to rethink Tokhang, to probe and punish police abuse, and to make Duterte accountable for the worsening human rights violations that are taking place across the country

Read more at The Diplomat

This week, as expected, Congress approved Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao. The move is a significant one that has implications for many areas, one of which is the peace process recently terminated with communist rebels, and a proclamation on December 5 declaring the Communist Party (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist groups.

In the December 5 proclamation, Duterte said he ended the peace talks because the CPP-NPA “failed to show sincerity” after “it engaged in acts of violence and hostilities, endangering the lives and properties of innocent people.” Several escalatory moves, including threats against these groups as well as the martial law extension this week, have followed briskly since then.

Complicating the situation is Duterte’s recent pronouncement that he is still open to negotiating with the CPP-NPA, though this is typical of Duterte who flip-flops on major policy issues. Unless he reverses his two proclamations which ended the peace process and designated the CPP-NPA as terrorists, there is little to hope that the prospect of finally ending Asia’s longest-running insurgency will be achieved under Duterte’s term.

Read more at The Diplomat

Why Duterte Extended Martial Law in Mindanao

The Philippine Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of extending martial law in the southern island of Mindanao for one year in support of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign to defeat terrorism.

Duterte declared martial law on May 23 after an armed group with ISIS links attacked Marawi City. Two months later, Congress extended martial law up to December this year after the military encountered some difficulties in urban warfare. Last October, Duterte ended the Marawi siege and proclaimed government victory over ISIS forces.

But a few days before the scheduled termination of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte wrote Congress that he needed another year to combat terrorism. Further, he said that Mindanao remains a “hotbed of rebellion” where “communist terrorists” are committing criminal acts of violence.

Whether Duterte expands martial law or not next year, the Congress vote has boosted support for his administration. It could embolden him to carry out some of his controversial plans like overhauling the constitution or declaring a so-called revolutionary government.

Read more at The Diplomat magazine