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.

August 2019: News blackout and rising repression in Kashmir and West Papua. Read more

September 2019: September strikes: Climate actions, student protests, and landmark court rulings. Read more

October 2019: Protests condemn communications blackout, police violence, and government secrecy laws. Read more.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

Bayan Metro Manila calls for the urgent release of political prisoners as a humane response to save lives and contain the spread of COVID-19.

The country’s jails are notorious for being congested which makes social and physical distancing difficult to implement.

The conditions in city jails have deteriorated over the years especially after the government intensified its ‘war on drugs’.

Many drug suspects and users, who are mostly from urban poor communities deprived of legal aid, are detained in overcrowded cells awaiting the disposition of their cases.

A virus outbreak in prisons could strain the resources of the government which is already scrambling to address the impact of COVID-19.

It is a health crisis waiting to explode if no immediate action is enforced.

There are specific proposals that the government can consider such as the mass release of prisoners who are elderly, sick, and pregnant; the early release of those who have almost served their prison sentences; and the release of political prisoners – also known as ‘prisoners of conscience’ or those who are incarcerated because of their political beliefs.

The United Nations has made a similar appeal to governments across the world. Some countries were even ahead of the UN in allowing the mass release of prisoners. Global human rights groups have appealed for the freedom of journalists and activists facing trumped up cases.

The Philippines have 602 political prisoners, 209 of them were arrested under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. We call for their collective release not only because of the COVID-19 threat but also because of the unjust basis of their continuing detention.

We ask for the immediate release of Reina Nasino and Cora Agovida on humanitarian grounds. Both are currently detained at the female dorm of the Manila City Jail. Nasino is five months pregnant while Cora is a breastfeeding mother. Ina is a member of Kadamay Manila and Cora is the spokesperson of Gabriela Metro Manila – both are chapters of Bayan Metro Manila.

Cora and her husband, Michael Tan Bartolome, was arrested in front of their children on 31 October 2019 inside their home in Manila during a raid conducted by the CIDG. Michael is a Kadamay organizer. Both are facing illegal possession of firearms and expolosives charges, which are clearly based on fabricated evidence. Like many political prisoners, they were arrested for their activism. In the case of Cora and Michael, they were targeted because of their political organizing in Manila communities saturated by Tokhang operations. Cora was also active in opposing the reclamation of Manila Bay. In fact, she was planning a protest action with environmentalists a day before her arrest.

Ina and her two other companions – Alma Moran of Manila Workers Unity and Ram Carlo Bautista, campaign director of Bayan Manila – were arrested on 5 November during another early morning CIDG operation. Ina was a student activist before becoming an organizer of workers and urban poor communities in the Manila port area. Ina was arrested when the Bayan Manila office was raided by the police although her name is not included in the warrant of arrest presented by the arresting officer. During that time, Ina was not yet aware about her pregnancy.

The early release of Cora and Ina is not only just, it is humane. Cora has not seen her two children aged 10 and 2 after her arrest. After the cancellation of visiting privileges in response to COVID-19, Ina’s family and friends could not properly monitor her health and the status of her pregnancy.

Bayan Metro Manila also joins other peace advocates in calling for the release of National Democratic peace consultants. The declaration of unilateral ceasefire by the Duterte government and the NDF has revived the prospect of resuming the peace process. We ask both sides to continue the negotiation, fight COVID-19, and address the roots of the armed conflict and the poor state of the country’s healthcare system. Releasing political prisoners is an important step in building a peaceful future.

Published by Bulatlat

Inspired by the success of the broad people’s movement that ousted the corrupt presidency of Joseph Estrada in January 2001, many activists became more determined to campaign for the congressional bid of Bayan Muna partylist. Everybody was excited to volunteer and make history by sending three Leftist leaders to Congress. It may appear easy but there was no certainty during that time. The last time the Left fielded candidates in mainstream elections was in 1987, campaign resources were limited, and Rightist elements were maliciously campaigning against BM and its nominees. Despite the odds, BM topped the partylist race.

During the campaign period, we helped the BM national headquarters in reaching out to young voters by conducting various public education activities. My term as UP student council president has already ended and I was preparing to become a full-time activist as a leader of the National Union of Students of the Philippines.

Campaigning for BM provided us with direct knowledge and experience about managing a national election machinery. This was crucial in our decision to establish a youth partylist after the elections. More importantly, it taught us how to turn a progressive vision of politics into an electoral agenda without rejecting militant activism and compromising our basic principles.

As BM-Youth campaigners, we saw the election as an effective platform to broadcast our programs, organize young voters, and expand our presence in schools and communities. We formed new alliances, learned some of the intricacies of electoral tactics, and improved our way of communicating our messages to different types of voters.

This was before the arrival of fast internet and the ubiquitous use of social media. The only virtual type of mass campaigning was through the blasting of free SMS to friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

To be candid, we were not really sure whether we were going to succeed in converting our campaign activities into actual votes.

Years later, I discovered that I still have a copy of my political diary about our election campaign activities in 2001. Reviewing my notes rekindled fond memories of our road trip from Manila to Bicol with the legendary Ka Bel as our driver and tour guide. I am sharing this now so that readers can get a glimpse of the political landscape in 2001 and also our way of campaigning through the tried and tested tactic of directly engaging the most number of voters.

March 6 – Polytechnic University of the Philippines organized an assembly in support of alumnus Ka Satur Ocampo, the number one nominee of BM.

March 8 – Philippine Daily Inquirer published our letter to the editor about the situation of young people under the new government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

March 9 – I joined Crispin ‘Ka Bel’ Beltran, the chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno, in Albay for a province-wide campaign caravan. We met barangay and municipal officials at his hometown in Bacacay. We attended a dinner meeting with Legazpi City officials.

March 10 – We went to Tabaco before meeting several LGU leaders of nearby municipalities. We had a lunch meeting with the mayor and other officials of Tiwi.

March 11 – Motorcade around Legazpi City. I delivered a solidarity message during the BM-Albay convention at St. Aquinas University.

March 15 – Picket in front of the Supreme Court asking for a special registration for first-time voters. BM filed a petition led by Atty. Neri Colmenares. We proceeded to Comelec where we joined workers who were also campaigning on the same issue.

March 17 – Press conference at Kapihan sa Cypress also on the issue of special registration for voters.

March 19 – We attended a meeting by the House of Representatives subcommittee on elections for the special registration of voters. BM-Youth held a picket protest outside the gates of Batasan.

March 20 – Senate picket by BM-Youth on the issue of special registration.

March 21 – Another senate picket on the same issue.

March 22 – After an interview on the issue of special registration at Talk TV, I joined the panel on voters’ education at St. Camillus Seminary in Marikina.

March 24 – We launched the BM-Youth at Plaza Miranda with Ka Bel as main speaker. We marched from Quiapo area to Plaza Sta. Cruz. There was also a press conference at Kapihan sa Cypress on the prison escape of convicted murderer Norberto Manero.

March 25 – BM launching in Meycauayan, Bulacan.

March 31 – Youth summit in Caloocan.

April 2 – BM-Youth convention at YMCA building

April 3 – Talk TV guesting on the state of Philippine education.

April 5 – I represented BM at the ‘Kalbaryo ng Mamamayan’ rally in Mendiola.

April 7 – Our letter to the editor about youth participation in elections was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

April 8 – ANC MOPC guesting on the role of the youth in elections. I also attended a community assembly organized by BM-Sta Mesa in Guadalcanal.

April 10 – Supreme Court picket on the disqualification of bogus partylist groups. I was also a guest of 100.3 FM The Hive Pinoyexchange program and talked about the partylist system.

April 11 – Cavite sortie: Bayan leaders press conference at 9 a.m. Then we conducted a house-to-house campaign in Dasmariñas from 12 to 3 p.m. Kalbaryo march from St. Angelus, Bacoor to a plaza near the coastal road from 4 to 6 p.m. Misang Bayan was our final program for the day.

April 14 – Delivered a tribute during the wake of a partylist volunteer in Sapang Palay, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan

April 15 – BM-Youth organized an ‘Easter Egg Hunt’ protest at Plaza Miranda by featuring the rotten eggheads of ‘trapo’ politicians.

April 16 – Supreme Court picket protest calling for the disqualification of fake partylist groups.

April 18 – Attended the Solidarity Peace Conference at Westin Philippine Plaza. We also talked about Estrada’s arrest at the Isyu 101 TV program.

April 19 – I was emcee during the BM endorsement of senatorial candidates.

April 20 – Speaker at the Baguio chapter convention of BM-Youth.

April 23 – Fluvial parade protest organized by Pamalakaya from Laguna Lake to Pasig River. We started from Binangonan, Rizal and sailed towards Napindan Dam in Pasig. Fisherfolk blamed the dam for the deterioration of the lake which negatively affected their livelihood.

April 24-25 – National convention of the College Editors Guild in Bohol where I facilitated a workshop about the peace talks aside from giving voters’ education.

April 27 – Picket protest and noise barrage in Cubao against the maneuvering of the Estrada camp to reclaim power.

April 28 – Motorcade with senatorial candidate Perfecto Yasay from Lagro to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. We also attended a community assembly in Area B of Sapang Palay.

April 30 – Press conference of Edsa Dos groups in San Beda in response to the political mobilization of the pro-Estrada camp.

May 1 – Labor Day rally at Liwasang Bonifacio, then caravan from Manila to Ortigas, EDSA.

May 3 – I was emcee during the BM press conference against the attempt of the Estrada faction to regain the presidency.

May 4 – I represented BM at the ABS-CBN news online chat program. I also talked about political dynasties in the DZRJ radio program of Ruth Cervantes and Sonia Capio.

May 6 – BM motorcade in Camanava area.

May 10 – I represented BM-Youth at the BM miting de avance.

May 11 – BM press conference denouncing the state-sponsored attacks against our partylist campaigners.

May 12 – Voters’ education in Sta. Quiteria, Caloocan sponsored by the Parish Pastoral Council

May 15 – I talked about the role of young people in the polls at the Eleksyon 2001 live coverage of GMA-7.

May 17 – Supreme Court picket protest demanding action on the BM petition for the disqualification of fake partylist groups.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

Bayan Metro Manila deplores the passage of Republic Act 11469 which gives additional special powers to President Rodrigo Duterte in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

We reiterate that granting more powers to the president is unnecessary. What we urgently need today is a comprehensive emergency action by the government and not delegating more powers to a president who has consistently demonstrated his lack of respect for human rights and due process.

The government is deceiving the public when it claims that the new law will now enable various agencies to expedite COVID-19 measures to ease the suffering of millions who are now living under quarantine. It is liable for its stubborn refusal to conduct mass testing, the fast delivery of aid, immediate protection for frontliners, and lifting of repressive lockdown restrictions – all of which can be enforced by the president even without the special powers which he now possess.

In addition to what we have already stated in our critique of the bill, we condemn the insertion of a dangerous provision which seeks to criminalize the spreading of ‘fake news’. This can be easily abused and misapplied by authorities to target critics of the government.

Section 6 of the law penalizes “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion…”

The section also penalizes those who create online content for phishing operations and the sending of fraudulent emails. But this is already covered under existing laws against cyber crimes.

Who will define if a content is fake news? DDS bloggers?

Who will determine if a post about COVID-19 promotes chaos and anarchy? The Presidential Communications Group which labels critics and activists as dilawans, rebels, terrorists, and traitors?

This provision can be invoked by authorities to sow fear and prevent people from expressing what they feel and think about the COVID-19 measures of the government.

There are daily reports and social media posts of residents exposing the impact of the lockdown, the deteriorating situation of frontliners, and the slow and inadequate delivery of government assistance – will authorities flag this type of content as ‘false information’?

When some hospitals raised the shortage of medical protective equipment, the House Speaker told media that the report is ‘fake news’. When the #ProtestFromHome trended on Twitter, the police responded by accusing people’s organizations which initiated the online campaign of being anti-Filipino.

The real ‘fake news’ peddlers are state-backed trolls who are polluting the cyberspace with their nasty comments and lies.

But unlike the government which intends to criminalize free speech, our response to ‘fake news’ is to counter it with verified information, educating the public about COVID-19, engaging social media platforms to improve their fact-checking process, and reporting state actors who are deliberately spewing out lies and hate speech.

Undermining the independence of LGUs

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

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

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

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

Published by Manila Today

Speech of Bayan Metro Manila Chairperson Mong Palatino during the Malaya Mixer event at Precious Blood Catholic Church in Los Angeles, California in May 2018. Mong is part of the ‘Stop the Killings’ speaking tour organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines – United States chapter.

It has been a very memorable, uplifting, and enlightening speaking tour and we’d like to acknowledge Malaya and ICHRP-US chapter for organizing this caravan.

Most probably you already heard or read what I have to say because this is the last leg of the tour. Please visit ICHRP-US page on Facebook to access our videos.

Instead of giving my usual presentation, I’d like to digress because I want to give tribute to all mothers in this room. Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s quite difficult to explain the real impact of the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines. How to convey in a few words the devastating effect of President Rodrigo Duterte’s killing machinery on families and communities? I used maps and gave historical overview in my presentations, Ka Bong Labog of Kilusang Mayo Uno highlighted the attacks on labor, and Junance Fritzi Magbanua of Save Our Schools gave testimony about the displacement of Lumad villages. Overall, I believe we were able to deliver our message about the urgency of ending the killings in the Philippines.

But it will also be helpful if we think of our mothers when we refer to the victims of human rights abuses. Let us pause and think of all the mothers whose children were killed in the so-called ‘war on drugs’, think of the mothers of Marawi whose families are still prevented from returning to their homes, think of the mothers of Lumad children whose schools are terrorized by state troops, think of the mothers of political prisoners, think of mothers who are unjustly detained and facing political persecution.

Think of the mothers of all victims of extrajudicial killings. They have no time to properly grieve for their children because their lives too are in danger. They need our empathy, sympathy, and solidarity. But all they got from Duterte and his minions was smug indifference. These callous, cruel, and unrepentant politicians who continue to arrogantly defend the government’s repressive wars against the poor. Inhuman is the only word I can think of to describe their behavior.

Throughout the duration of the tour, we repeatedly demanded to stop the killings of farmers, the Lumad, church leaders, environment defenders, and human rights activists. But in light of the unimaginable and deeply troubling events in the Philippines yesterday, when the incumbent Chief Justice was removed from her position, we have to add that the government should stop killing our democracy. Because this is precisely what Duterte is doing to our democracy: killing of checks and balance, killing of due process, killing of the integrity and independence of the bureaucracy.

Lumuluha ang ating Inang Bayan sa nangyayari sa ating pamahalaan.

This government wants to kill our future, our sense of hope, and our belief in the power of humanity.

But Duterte is wrong if he thinks the people will not resist.

What is our source of inspiration in defying this deadly regime?

Indeed, Mother’s Day is appropriated by Big Business and its commercialization undermines its noble meaning. But this Sunday, let Mother’s Day rekindle our sense of hope and our commitment in the struggle for a better future. Mothers are resilient and strong, and a mother’s love for her child is pure.

Remember the mothers of the Katipunan, the mothers who fought during the Philippine-American War, the mothers who joined the Huk during World War II, the mothers who defeated the Marcos dictatorship, the mothers who supported the People Power. Let us remember the mother of Duterte who opposed Martial Law.

We thank the mothers of activists who opened the comfort of their homes to the children of the revolution. I have one mother but I have hundreds, thousands of mothers in the people’s movement. Long live the mothers of the resistance!

Long live the people’s struggle for the liberation of the Motherland!

To protest from our homes is justified amid the glaring negligence of the government in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

The leadership of the Philippine National Police should listen to the valid demands of residents who are suffering under the enhanced community quarantine. It should respect the people’s right to express grievance over the slow response and inadequate assistance by the national government.

On 22 March 2020, Kadamay Metro Manila and other people’s organizations in Metro Manila organized a #ProtestFromHome campaign to press their urgent demands such as free mass testing, food assistance, and the lifting of repressive lockdown restrictions. The campaign gathered popular support and the hashtag became the top trending topic on Twitter.

Instead of acknowledging the daily hardships that inspired many to join the virtual rally, a PNP Facebook page chose to malign Kadamay by accusing the urban poor group of being unpatriotic, violent, and divisive.

The PNP was wrong to condemn Kadamay members who merely exercised their constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. It was a peaceful and creative show of dissent organized inside houses which rallied the public to share their own frustration over the government’s failure to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Social media users merely voiced out their conditions under lockdown but the police responded by demonizing the online action. It depicted Kadamay as a criminal group aiming to sow disruption and it even illegally posted photos of social media users who used the protest hashtag.

The irresponsible Facebook post of PNP reveals its intolerance and diabolical intent to silence critics of the Duterte government. It joins the president’s other apologists in trying to evade blame for the COVID-19 crisis by pointing an accusing finger at activists and those who are exposing the incompetence of authorities.

It confirms our earlier assertion that the decision to rely on the police and the military in enforcing measures aimed at containing the virus was really intended to prevent people from showing defiance.

It makes the recent passage of the law giving extra powers to the president a terrifying development. If an online protest organized inside houses quickly provoked the PNP to sow hatred against activists, we fear that the police will be more aggressive in attacking critics by charging the latter of spreading ‘false information’ under the new law.

The PNP is wrong if it thinks its terror and trolling tactics will scare us and discourage us from speaking truth to power. On the contrary, we are set to join another online protest this Wednesday, 25 March, as we continue to push for mass testing, food aid, and a comprehensive response to the COVID-19 crisis.

We advise the PNP to redirect its rage to VIP politicians who immediately got tested for COVID-19 at the expense of genuine frontliners instead of harassing internet users and activist groups.

We ask all freedom-loving Filipinos to resist the PNP’s muzzling of free speech. We call on all those who are angered by the government’s incompetence to join the Kalampagan by posting their specific demands on social media. The fight against COVID-19 will succeed if we will push for better governance. There is hope if we will fight as one.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

Despite the landslide victory of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s party in the 2019 midterm elections, he still faces several serious challenges that could potentially undermine his government in 2020. The Southeast Asian country next holds general elections in 2022.

Duterte’s strong showing in midterm elections last year, following the presidential election victory that propelled him to power in 2016, reinforced the reality that he remains popular in the Philippines. But those victories also may have obscured the challenges he faces and will likely continue to face in his remaining years in office.

Leading those challenges are allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. For instance, most prominently, Duterte stands accused of abetting crimes against humanity through his aggressive “war against drugs,” which has killed more than 5,000 drug suspects. Human rights groups say Duterte’s security forces made arbitrary arrests and engaged in extrajudicial killings that primarily targeted the poor.

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Has Duterte Really Played His Last Peace Card With the Communist Rebels?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte contradicted himself again by declaring that he is open to resuming peace talks with communist rebels.

After assuming power in 2016, Duterte started talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), which has been waging Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency. But he terminated the talks in 2017, ordered the arrest of NDF peace negotiators, and launched an all-out war against rebels.

His Martial Law declaration in Mindanao was aimed at defeating communist-led armed groups on the island. He declared a state of lawlessness in several regions such as Negros, Samar, and Bicol which led to the deployment of more government troops in an apparent mission to liquidate insurgency hotspots.

Duterte formed a national task force to end the local armed conflict. He mobilized the bureaucracy and local government units to reject communists and their sympathizers. He was joined by the military in redtagging groups accused of directly and indirectly supporting communists. He asked foreign institutions to include the Communist Party in the list of terrorist groups.

Duterte may have his own partisan reasons for restarting the talks but peace advocates must not lose focus in advancing their own demands. These include the easing of military operations in communities, the release of activists accused of being communist rebels, and pursuing accountability for the human rights abuses committed by state forces in the past three years. This is also the right time to remind both the NDF and the government to address the roots of the armed conflict and come out with a real blueprint in bringing just peace and progress in all the regions of the country

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Published by Bulatlat

Reports about the alleged brainwashing of students by activist groups reminded me of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a popular text elucidating the role of education in social change. The book criticizes the dominant teaching methods which are undemocratic while proposing an alternative concept of pedagogy. It has become a valuable handbook for social workers and educators who are committed to ending inequality in society. It can be a guide to improve teaching, and more importantly, make teaching a more democratic practice. It can lead to better interaction with students by motivating the latter to speak out and share their stories which can enhance learning for both the students and teacher. The book inspires the teacher to respect the knowledge possessed by individuals and enjoins the oppressed to be part of the struggle for freedom. It encourages teachers not to be tools of oppression in an exploitative society.

A society such as ours has sanctioned a culture of passivity. But a ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ can help the downtrodden to articulate their suffering and begin to understand social reality and how to change their present condition. This kind of pedagogy advances the cause of humanity by liberating not just the oppressed but also the oppressor.

There should be reflection on the part of the oppressed and oppressor about their roles in society. One way to achieve this is through ‘dialogic education’. People should start engaging in sincere dialogue. However, the vocabulary of the oppressed must be articulated and used in the learning process. Otherwise, they will remain alienated in the struggle for genuine freedom. Through dialogue, the oppressed can express and use their own language. The oppressed must learn and internalize how to liberate themselves from different forms of oppression. A concrete alternative is the pursuit of action guided by informed analysis or the fusion of theory and practice which is also known as praxis. This allows the people to give importance to their daily activities since it is integrated and highlighted in the production of knowledge. Through this effort, the oppressor is deprived of the means to privilege certain forms and types of elite knowledge.

Freire criticized the ‘banking concept’ of education as an instrument of oppression. This refers to the predominant pedagogic method which privileges the power and knowledge possessed by the teacher. Students are viewed as ‘empty’ individuals without any relevant stories or knowledge to share. Teachers ‘deposit’ knowledge to students by monopolizing the teaching process inside the classroom. Freire argued that every individual, teacher or student, has a ‘cultural capital’ or a particular worldview which can be shared with the rest of the community. But the banking method of education downplays the ability of individuals, especially the oppressed, to articulate their beliefs, culture, knowledge and life stories. This method presumes that there are individuals who can impose their thinking since they are knowledgeable of the things that are essential in life on one hand; and there are groups of ignorant people who must remain docile and inarticulate since they possess no knowledge of the world on the other.

Through dialogue, reflection, questioning, action, and especially through praxis, this type of education can be an instrument of liberation. When individuals begin to realize their oppression, they are motivated to act. And when they begin to use the language that is relevant to their lives, it gives them the power to dare and act decisively.

Reading Freire enhanced our understanding of the Maoist concept of ‘mass line’ and the slogan ‘learn from the masses’. Applied to our propaganda and education work, we embark on conscientization activities anchored on the daily struggles of the people in the grassroots. The ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ is grasped through political organizing. It is through this process where individuals are able to identify, unlearn, and shatter the prevailing dogmas, myths, and jargons which often lead to a radical awakening about what must be done in light of the structural inequalities in society. Guided by a different type of political education, the individual can choose to become part of a collective action targeting the destruction of an unjust social order. The vision of a new future is realized through mass work, immersion in the mass movement, and direct democratic engagement in the streets and other political battlefields. It is a moral crusade requiring the remolding of the self, and political action with immediate and lasting consequences in society. And the ‘influencers’ here are not the armchair intellectuals but the ‘organic intellectuals’ represented by peasant activists, union leaders, urban poor organizers, and human rights defenders who are laying the foundations of a better world.

If activists reject the accusation that our political work is tantamount to brainwashing, it is because we are consciously espousing a democratic kind of pedagogy. We are ready to correct methods of teaching and organizing if our weaknesses are clearly pointed out. But the prominent critics of activism not only fail to substantiate their allegations, but they also represent the most brutal and conservative forces in society which abhor progressive politics and dismiss national democratic agitation as criminal extremism.

This is an opportunity for activists to make a deeper reflection on our work by affirming our adherence to democracy and people empowerment and renouncing tendencies that alienate us from the public. But this is also a good time to offer an open mind about what activism really means in our society, its impact on our history and politics, and understanding why the reactionary forces and their class apologists will celebrate if activism is continually demonized, criminalized, and rendered unpopular.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

Congress will reap a whirlwind public backlash as it approved a carte blanche package of special powers to President Rodrigo Duterte in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of using the special session to ensure that realigned funds will be used in the fight against COVID-19, Congress chose to abdicate its role as fiscalizer by giving the ‘power of the purse’ to the president. Instead of demanding an itemized list of essential expenses such as the procurement of testing kits and the delivery of food relief, Congress waived that right and allowed the president to amass an unchecked greater authority over the national budget sans a detailed plan on how to stop the further spread of the virus.

The session became a self-serving spectacle that gave Duterte a bigger hoard to be dispensed to loyal legislators. It is hypocritical for Congress to feign concern over the struggling health sector when it connived with the president in slashing the funds of public hospitals in 2019. The same cabal of politicians who allowed the misprioritization of government expenditure in favor of debt-servicing and bloated military funding.

The president has enough powers to deal with the crisis but the government was slow and bungled its response which made it desperate to seek additional emergency powers. This is a clear attempt to avoid accountability over its criminally negligent actions and inactions. It was unprepared and incompetent in containing COVID-19 which Congress rewarded with a law giving more powers to the president.

The president wanted more leeway in addressing a public health crisis but this should be considered without compromising the ‘checks and balances’ in government. After all, this government is not known for upholding human rights and respecting due process based on how it implemented the bloody ‘war on drugs’, Martial Law in Mindanao, and the military’s counterinsurgency campaign.

After the imposition of a Luzon-wide lockdown, many residents rightfully complained of how their civil liberties were curtailed by law enforcers in the name of preserving public safety. We fear that a leadership with a militarist mindset and a government which has shown little empathy for the common tao will use the emergency powers to weaponize the COVID-19 campaign by centralizing political control and silencing the opposition.

For these reasons, we cast doubt that the ‘unli’ special powers of Duterte will be put to good use. To quote the government spokesperson in charge of explaining the parameters of the enhanced community quarantine, ‘when in doubt, no.’

We call on all Filipinos in quarantine to reject the emergency powers of Duterte and continue to assert our legitimate demands: Mass testing, food assistance, and the lifting of unnecessary lockdown restrictions. Let’s protest from our homes and communities to call for urgent relief, defend our rights, and protect our health. Let’s heal together by fighting as one!

Cambodia is among the 41 states whose human rights records are under scrutiny at the ongoing 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group. Cambodia’s report was delivered on 30 January.

Cambodia is among the 41 states whose human rights records are under scrutiny at the ongoing 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group. Cambodia’s report was delivered on 30 January by the Cambodian Human Rights Committee headed by Mr. Keo Remy, who is also an attaché to the country’s prime minister.

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Pakistan denies entry to CPJ program coordinator Steven Butler

Media and human rights groups including IFEX members condemn Pakistan’s decision to prevent the entry of Steven Butler, who was scheduled to speak at a human rights conference

On 17 October the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler was refused entry into Pakistan, despite having a valid visa. Butler was told by airport authorities in Lahore that his document was voided because his name was “on a stop list of the Interior Ministry.”

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