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.

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

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has gained global notoriety for launching a bloody “war on drugs” that has already killed more than two thousand Filipinos in less than a year. But the number of killings since Duterte assumed power could be higher if we include the victims of the government’s “all-out war” against communist rebels.

The spate of killings terrorizing communities in both urban and rural areas today is a reminder to review and reject government policies that lead to rampant human rights abuses. It must be emphasized that even before Duterte launched his ill-conceived “war on drugs”, the state is already accused of committing extrajudicial crimes. Aside from endorsing the bloody anti-drug campaign, Duterte has to be made accountable too for failing to stop the extrajudicial killings that have victimized activists, farmers, and human rights defenders.

Read more at The Diplomat

Philippine Plan to Lift Open Pit Mining Ban Can Spark Local Wars

No less than Philippine Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu announced in public that the open pit mining ban will be lifted before the end of 2017.

He made this statement after the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) voted to reverse the ban which was imposed by Cimatu’s predecessor last April. The MICC is a government body mandated to review the country’s mining policies.

This policy shift proved once more the influential voice of the Chamber of Mines in the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. Earlier, the mining group has successfully lobbied for the removal of Gina Lopez as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Duterte is aware that mining plunder in the past has sparked an armed resistance among various tribal groups. This has boosted the strength of communist rebels in remote villages. After defeating an ISIS-backed group in Marawi, can the Duterte government afford another conflict triggered by the expansion of open pit mines?

Read more at The Diplomat

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.