I have a new blog!

I have a new blog: www.mongpalatino.com

Please make the necessary adjustments in your blog links and RSS feeds. This old blog will still be maintained as an archive of my blog articles from 2004-2009.

 

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Blog announcement: New URL, New blog

Starting June 19, motime will change its name to splinder. Our blog URLs will be affected. This is very inconvenient. A drastic change. The new URL of my blog will now be http://mongpalatino.us.splinder.com.

I’m now going to set up a new blog. Please wait for my announcement on my twitter, plurk, Global Voices, and facebook pages. By the way, have you seen my membership profile in the website of the House of Representatives?

This old blog will not be deleted. This has been my blog since 2004.

Thank you and goodbye motime.

The case of the disappearing load

Majority of cellphone users in the Philippines are prepaid owners. We experience from time to time the disappearance of our loads; we always receive unsolicited text ads sent by mobile phone companies; and we always thought that setting expiration dates in prepaid cards is legal since it has been implemented ever since texting became a popular activity among Filipinos. The extrajudicial load disappearances are no longer mysterious today.

When Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile delivered a privilege speech about how his load became a victim of dagdag-bawas, majority of Filipinos empathized with him since they also experience the same thing everyday.

Congress, through the ongoing public hearings, can address the following issues:

1. Determine once and for all the legality of imposing an expiration date on prepaid loads. Prepaid cards last 2-3months. But e-loads, which are popular in our communities, are only valid for 1-3 days.

2. Regulate or eliminate the sending of unsolicited text ads to cellphone subscribers. These ads, which entice subscribers to download multimedia icons, are sent almost every hour, sometimes twice every hour, everyday. Subscribers are charged when they read these ads.

3. Set up a mechanism (like a hotline) to properly address customer complaints regarding the loss of their load balance, dropped calls, delayed messages, text ads.

There are two types of cellphone users: Those who check their load balance from time to time – again if you check your balance, the subscriber is charged; and those who do not check the remaining value of their load.

For those who experience load disappearances, subscribers behave in different ways:

1. There are those who do nothing about the loss of their loads. Majority of subscribers behave this way. They are the silent majority. They disregard the loss of P10, P15 since they think they are just small amounts. But if they add up the losses in a month, the peso equivalent of the stolen value becomes higher.

2. There are many frustrated subscribers who don’t know where to lodge their complaint. They end up buying a new prepaid load.

3. There are subscribers who blame themselves for the loss of their loads. They think it has to do with their old cellphone units. Some replace their SIM cards.

4. There are subscribers who assert their right by demanding the replacement of their disappeared load. Only few are aware that subscribers can call the customer service units of mobile phone companies to inquire about their lost load. But calling customer service can be time-consuming, tiresome, and inconvenient.

One of our staff members lost P50 load. a few weeks ago She called the customer service demanding the return of her disappeared load. She was asked to provide her name, address, and cell phone unit. The customer service agent repeatedly asked the caller about the texting and calling record of the complainant for the past 24 hours. The call lasted for more than ten minutes. After 6 hours, the disappeared load was restored. The following day her load balance mysteriously disappeared again. She no longer called customer service again.

There is one subscriber who has been patiently and diligently calling customer service regarding his disappearing load. In fairness to the mobile phone company, his complaint is always acknowledged. But during his last call, his disappeared load was no longer restored because of his frequent calls. Lesson: Don’t always complain. Pero paano kapag talagang laging nawawala ang load mo?

This representation has filed a counterpart resolution in the Lower House to Senate Resolution 1120 that aims to investigate the questionable services provided by some of our telecommunication companies.

A few hours ago I attended a Senate hearing which tackled the speech of Senate President Enrile. Among the invited guests were representatives from major telecommunication companies and the National Telecommunications Commission. Consumer group Txtpower was also in the hearing.

Globe recognized that it has been receiving complaints about the vanishing loads. They received 59 complaints this year, 77 last year, 32 in 2007 and 70 in 2006. Unbelievably and unrealistically small figures! On the other hand, Smart confirmed that they are receiving 100 complaints everyday, or roughly 35,000 a year, about the problem of the vanishing loads.

The NTC has reportedly set-up a hotline since 2002. They claimed that most of the complaints involve requests for assistance on stolen cellphones. For example, only 206 complaints on vanishing loads were registered last year while the total number of complaints was 11,917.

Senators were brutally frank during the public hearing. They warned that Congress can always revise the franchise awarded to telcos if the latter will not rethink their business practices. There will be another hearing next week.

Landlords’ CARPER

“Now the CARP has become a corpse, we, the defunct sponsors of House Bill No. 400, are called upon to render our final function; to serve as pallbearers in the funeral rites of the original House Bill No. 400. As the principal sponsor of the deceased House Bill No. 400, my task is to deliver a final oration on CARP.” – Rep. Bonifacio Gillego, in withdrawing his sponsorship of the CARP bill twenty years ago.

House Bill No. 4077 or the CARPER bill was passed on Third Reading by the House of Representatives last week. A similar bill was also passed by the Senate. The measure is a certified priority bill of President Gloria Arroyo.

I am not a supporter of CARPER. Why would I endorse a measure which will only extend a pro-landlord agrarian reform program? Rep. Edcel Lagman, the principal sponsor, admitted during interpellation that CARPER will not correct the congenital defects of the original CARP.

The weaknesses of CARP are not unknown. There are numerous studies which highlight the institutional failures of the Department of Agrarian Reform and also the inherent defects of CARP. There are many (inserted) loopholes in CARP which favor the interests of hacienderos and multinational corporations. CARP provides legal basis for the displacement of farmers from their lands. CARP allows big landlords to retain ownership and possession of their vast landholdings through land use conversion, crop conversion, and the infamous stock distribution option. Hacienderos can easily appeal for the exemption of their lands from CARP coverage. For example, they can set up an agribusiness or convert their farms into prawn farms and fishponds. Even irrigated rice lands can be converted by landlords which probably contributed to the rice crisis.

It is not surprising that the original CARP has become an effective instrument to protect the property rights of the landed class. CARP was drafted and passed by a Congress dominated by landlords. CARP was signed into law by President Cory Aquino whose family owns the biggest hacienda in Luzon Island. CARP was designed to fail by its proponents.

Today it is almost unanimously recognized that CARP is a failure. Eh bakit natin ngayon gustong pahabain pa ang buhay ng CARP? Why do self-styled progressives and good-natured individuals insist that extending CARP (and introducing token reforms) is the best and only feasible approach to implement a better agrarian reform in the country? It is indicative of a mentality which lacks a proper radical imagination.

I’ve read the original CARPER bill. There is a clear provision for CARP’s extension but there are no well-defined proposals for reforms. It’s CARP extension with no reforms. There is an interesting entry on Rural Women and Gender Responsive Support Services which provides for the protection of rural women rights. But the section does not contain any clear mechanism on how to improve the plight of women workers in the countryside. Motherhood statements are not enough.

Ownership of land is the basic social question in the Philippines. Land disputes fuel the armed discontent in the country. We should abandon our NGO mentality in drafting a bill on agrarian reform. It may work on our other rackets and pet bills but it is not funny when we apply it on agrarian reform. There is no compromise when it comes to land distribution.

Landlord insertions

Landlords were initially opposed to CARPER. They do not want any land reform law, defective or not, which threatens their economic and political interests. During the interpellation period, the landlord bloc was aggressive in pointing out the inconsistencies of CARP and CARPER. They wanted to prevent or delay the passage of CARPER. They were even questioning the quorum of the House from time to time.

But something miraculous and funny happened last week. Landlords stood on the floor to defend and vote for the passage of CARPER. Even the Arroyos spoke in favor of CARPER. During the period of committee and individual amendments, the sponsor enumerated the accepted amendments proposed by the landlord bloc. Since all of the substantial landlord insertions were accepted, the landlords (including the sugar bloc) gave up their opposition to CARPER and ended up voting and defending the Arroyo-backed measure in the floor. These landlords never spoke to defend Con-Ass but they were inspired to rise and express support for CARPER.

The landlord bloc has cleverly inserted amendments which would further dilute the components of CARP. Their accepted proposals will give them more legal basis to exempt their lands from CARP coverage. The amendments will still allow land conversion in favor of landlords, local bureaucrats and foreign corporations. Consider this sweet-sounding, technically precise, seemingly neutral insertion:

“Sec 6…The determination of the size of the land for distribution shall consider crop type, soil type, weather patterns and other pertinent variables or factors which are deemed critical for the success of the beneficiaries.”

“…The DAR shall pursue and implement alternative forms of distribution and ownership.”

Landlords and their powerful friends in the bureaucracy can always come up with a believable land use plan justifying the exclusion of their lands from the distribution component of CARP. Now they can cite crop type, soil type, weather patterns to protect their landholdings. Peasant groups should draft a serious critique to the CARPER amendments inserted by the landlords hours before Congress voted in favor of the bill.

Progressives should not rejoice over the CARPER passage. It is unfortunate that some farmers were deceived into believing that CARPER was passed to serve their interests. We should expose the collaboration of the Arroyos, sugar bloc, and some partylist lawmakers in drafting a bill which further enhances feudal control in the countryside.

During one memorable instance, Rep. Ilagan of Gabriela proposed the nationalization of the vast landholdings owned by multinational corporations. It was a radical suggestion. But the concept of economic nationalization is becoming popular again even in the United States and some European countries. While Ilagan was explaining the rationale of her proposal, I tried to determine the reaction of a lawmaker who is known in some circles as a leftist intellectual. This lawmaker has nice words to say about Hugo Chavez and other Latin American leftist leaders who are nationalizing many industries in their countries. The lawmaker never stood up to defend or reject the Ilagan proposal. The lawmaker also never objected to the landlord insertions.

They said the Philippines has been implementing the longest land reform program in the world. In other countries land reform is swift, revolutionary, and productive. But our concept of land reform is flawed and skewed in favor of traditional elites. Our policymakers are not serious in distributing the agricultural lands; they do not want to lose the lands which are the principal sources of their political and economic domination in the countryside. Are you still surprised why agrarian unrests persist until today?

Instead of the Arroyo-landlord-backed CARPER bill, I am supporting House Bill 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill.

Interpellation

Last Thursday I rose to interpellate Manila Rep. Benny Abante, the principal sponsor of the Right of Reply bill. I focused my interpellation on the inclusion of websites and other electronic devices in the measure. I also inquired about the bill’s impact on the campus press. The interpellation lasted 46 minutes. It was my first time to interpellate a fellow member in the House of Representatives.

Section 1 of HB 3306 (Right of Reply) states, “All persons natural or judicial who are accused directly or indirectly of committing, having committed, or are criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life shall have the right to reply to charges or criticisms published in newspapers, magazines, newsletters or publications circulated commercially or for free, or aired or broadcast over radio, television, websites or through any electronic device.”

The sponsor confirmed that even non-news websites are included in the scope of the bill. This is dangerous. This means even non-journalists will be affected by the measure. This is bad news for bloggers. Sakop din dito ang mga email, social network sites, at mga online forum.

The sponsor mentioned that there is nothing to fear if websites are included in the bill since comments, replies, and exchange of views are already common in the internet. I agreed with the sponsor but I added that publication of comments and replies is voluntary. A blogger can always refuse to upload a statement or reply of a reader. The Right of Reply bill will change the way we maintain our personal websites. It will alter our internet reading habit. It will change the behavior of bloggers, online forum commenters, and website readers as they relate to one another.

I also emphasized the difficulty of identifying news websites in the internet because of the changing media landscape. I spoke about the rise of the new media which is already recognized by many scholars as the future of journalism. I warned the sponsor that the Right of Reply bill might become the first law in the country which would be used to harass, silence, or censor dissident bloggers or website owners.

The sponsor is in favor of creating a regulatory board to oversee the local content of the cyberspace.

I forgot to ask the sponsor about the impact of the bill on anonymous websites. Will the Right of Reply law empower the government to compel a website owner or company to divulge the account information of anonymous website members or users? Gagayahin ba natin ang China?

Texters beware

I asked the sponsor what kind of electronic devices are included in the bill. He mentioned mobile phones. Mag-ingat sa pagforward ng mga text; kasama yan sa Right of Reply.

Even iPods and other mp3 players are included. Don’t forget e-book readers.

I honestly do not know how the government will implement the Right of Reply law if cell phones and other electronic devices are to be included in its scope. The sponsor said these tiny concerns will be solved once the government drafts an Implementing Rules and Regulation document.

The sponsor is also welcoming amendments to improve the bill.

Campus press

Section 3 of the bill states, “The reply of the accused or criticized shall be published or broadcast not later than one day after the reply shall have been delivered to the editorial office of the publication concerned…”

I reminded the sponsor that student organs would not be able to fulfill this legal requirement. There are no campus papers which have a daily circulation. The sponsor replied that the amended version of the bill (a so-called watered-down version of the bill exists somewhere) would allow editors to publish the reply on the next issue of their paper. Pero paano kapag ang nagkaroon ng kontrobersiya ay ang huling isyu ng publikasyon? Pupuwersahin pa rin ba ang susunod na editorial board na maglaan ng espasyo para sa dinedemandang tugon ng taong nagsampa ng kaso? Ang gulo!

Still on the amended version: The new version states that the reply will be published subject to availability of space and airtime. This is not applicable for websites.

Advice

I heard members of the Minority suggesting that we should move to recommit the bill. The committee should first finalize the document. Naguguluhan kami kung ang tinatalakay ba sa plenary ay ang original document o yung tinatawag nilang amended document.

The amended bill is still unacceptable. The country does not need a Right of Reply law, even if it is a watered-down, toothless measure. Only publishers who are cozy with the supreme powers of the land are not afraid of this Right of Reply proposal.

I have to reiterate that the Right of Reply bill which was already passed by the Senate would not just affect journalists and other mainstream media practitioners. The bill involves practically everyone: journalists, bloggers, facebookers, texters, iPod users. We should exercise our Right to Reject this unnecessary, and perhaps unconstitutional measure.

Swine, Sex at mga Pambansang Iskandalo

Talumpating binigkas sa student summit ng National Union of Students of the Philippines sa Kidawalan City, North Cotabato, May 22, 2009.

Maalab na pagbati! Ipinagmamalaki kong sabihing ako’y nagmula sa National Union of Students of the Philippines. Sa NUSP ko natutunan ang ilan sa mga batayang prinsipyo ng pamumuno. Sa NUSP ko nakilala ang marami kong kaibigan at mga kapanalig sa pakikibaka. Taong 1999 noong ako ay naging aktibo sa NUSP. Ang una kong gawain ay maging International Liaison Officer ng grupo. Kapag may bumibisitang mga lider mag-aaral mula sa ibang bansa, ako ang chaperone nila sa paglilibot sa mga kampus. Taong 1999 din nang mahalal ako bilang Vice President for Luzon ng NUSP. Ang Kongreso ng NUSP ay ginanap sa Infanta, Quezon. Taong 1999 din kinaltasan ng badyet ang maraming State Universities and Colleges. Galit na galit ang mga maag-aaral kay dating Pangulong Joseph Estrada. Hindi nakapagtataka’t maraming kabataan ang lumahok sa People Power II.

Taong 1999. Sampung taon na pala ang nakalipas. Marami na sigurong nagbago sa bansa. Noon beeper lang ang gamit ng marami; kaunti lang ang may cell phone. Ngayon kahit mga nasa Kinder may telepono na ring hawak. Noon masaya na kami kapag may dial-up ang internet sa mga kanto; ngayon naka-DSL na ata ang marami. Noon gusto ng maraming tumakbo si Bise Presidente Gloria Arroyo sa pagkapresidente; ngayon nais ng maraming tumakbo palabas ng bansa si Arroyo.

Pero may mga bagay-bagay din na tila hindi nagbabago. Nariyan pa rin ang Eat Bulaga tuwing tanghali. Inaprubahan ang Visiting Forces Agreement noong 1999; hanggang ngayon kontrobersiyal pa rin ang VFA. Si Erap nais palitan ang Konstitusyon sa pamamagitan ng Concord. Ibang pangalan pero Chacha pa rin ito sa esensiya. Hanggang ngayon gusto pa rin ng mga pulitiko ang sayaw ng Chacha. Noong 1999, ramdam pa rin ng Pilipinas ang hagupit ng 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Ngayon may Global Financial Crisis at apektado pa rin ang Pilipinas. Mahirap pa rin ang mahirap. Yumayaman pa rin ang mayaman. Noon, 39.5 milyong piso lamang ang kayamanan ni Arroyo; ngayon aabot na ito sa P79.2 milyon. Hindi nakapagtataka’t ang mga palaban ay patuloy pa ring lumalaban.

Isa sa mga patuloy na lumalaban ay ang NUSP. Palaban, pasaway, pero prinsipyado pa rin ang NUSP. Nasa unahan pa rin ito ng mga laban para sa mga reporma sa edukasyon. Inaabante pa rin nito ang kagalingan ng mga estudyante, kabataan, at ordinaryong mamamayan. Inaabangan pa rin ang boses ng NUSP sa iba’t ibang pagtitipon ng mga makabayang samahan sa bansa. Patuloy na kinikilala ang mahalagang kontribusyon at pamumuno ng NUSP sa student movement sa Pilipinas.

Swine

Ngayong hapon ay naatasan akong magsalita tungkol sa kalagayan ng bansa at adyenda ng kabataan sa halalang 2010. Ano ba ang mga popular na isyu sa kasalukuyan? Magsisimula ako sa dalawa: swine flu at mga sex video ni Hayden Kho.

Mayroon akong teorya; malamang hindi na ito orihinal pero sasabihin ko pa rin. Bakit ba tayo nagpapanic sa A(H1N1)? Bakit tayo galit kay Hayden Kho, samantalang gusto nating panoorin ang kanyang mga sex video?
`
Minsan mahirap tanggapin ang katotohanan. Sabi nga ni Jack Nicholson, we can’t handle the truth. May mga katotohanang nakakalula, mga kumplikadong realidad, mga bagay-bagay na hindi madaling intindihin. Isang paraan upang marehistro ang mga pambihirang realidad sa ating kolektibong isip ay ang paggamit ng mga simbolo; o kaya nama’y paglipat ng ating atensiyon sa ibang bagay na mas madaling bigyan ng kahulugan.

Hindi kaya’t ang swine flu ay isang mekanismo ng tao upang magkaroon tayo ng pagkakataong ilabas ang ating tunay na pangamba hinggil sa nakakatakot na kalagayan ng pandaigdigang ekonomiya. Ang swine flu at ang tinatawag nilang Greater Depression ng 2008 ay iisa: Nagmula sa laboratoryo ng Estados Unidos ang A(H1N1); samantala nagmula rin sa Amerika ang krisis pang-ekonomiya nang bumagsak ang mga higanteng bangko sa Wall Street. Ang swine flu at global crisis ay mabilis na kumakalat sa buong mundo. Wala pang bakunang naiimbento laban sa swine flu; wala pang nakikitang mabilis na solusyon upang guminhawa agad ang pandaigdigang ekonomiya. Upang harangin ang swine flu may mga inilalagay na thermal scanner sa mga daungan at paliparan. Upang makaligtas sa global crisis, ibinabalik ng maraming bansa ang mga safety net, banking regulation, at trade protectionist measure sa kanilang ekonomiya. Pansinin din ang pagpapakete ng mga ulat: Mukhang gusto tayong paniwalain na parehong misteryoso ang swine flu at global crisis; na wala tayong magagawa kundi tanggapin ang patuloy na pagtindi ng problema.

Hindi kaya’t ipinapakita ng swine flu scare ang totoong sentimenyento ng tao sa tinatawag nilang globalisasyon? Hindi kaya’t ang pag-aalala natin sa swine flu ay simbolo ng ating tunay na nararamdaman hinggil sa kalagayan ng ating buhay sa kasalukuyan? Na ang swine flu outbreak ay maging pandemic? Na ang global crisis ay maging Great Depression? Katapusan na ba ng mundo? Darating na ba ang paghuhukom?

Sex

Dumako naman tayo sa isa pang mainit at malaswang usapin. Hindi na bago ang mga sex video. Ang dami ng sex scandals sa bansa. Pero bakit tayo nagagalit kay Hayden Kho? Dahil ba pervert siya? Dahil ba sa pangbababoy niya sa mga kababaihan? Dahil ba sa pagpapakalat niya ng mga sex video? Dahil sintunado siya? Dahil hindi siya marunong magtago ng sikreto?

Hindi kaya’t ang galit ng marami sa sex video ay isang pagpapakita rin ng galit sa sunud-sunod na iskandalong pulitikal sa bansa? Hindi ba’t ang ginawang kabastusan ni Hayden Kho ay katulad din ng pambabastos na ginagawa ng gobyernong Arroyo sa mamamayan? Parehong walang hiya, walang respeto, walang kontrol sa kanilang masamang asal.

Kung tutuusin mas maraming kasalanan, mas maraming iskandalo ang gobyernong Arroyo. Pagnanakaw ng pera ng bayan, korupsiyon sa maraming ahensiya, paglabag sa karapatang pantao, pandaraya sa eleksiyon, pagharang sa katotohanan. Sobrang sakim sa kapangyarihan. Tulad ng mga naglipanang sex video ni Hayden Kho sa internet, marami ring ebidensiya laban sa gobyernong Arroyo. Palaging caught in the act ang Palasyo kapag may niluluto itong kalokohan. Kaso palaging nakakalusot ang Malakanyang. Laging dinadaan sa sindak ang publiko; laging pera ang solusyon upang bilhin ang suporta ng mga pulitiko.

Sobra na. Tama na. Lampas na. Harap-harapan na ang pambabastos. Garapalan na ito. Kaya naman nang lumabas ang mga video ni Hayden Kho, mabilis agad ang pagbuhos ng galit ng tao. Dapat siyang parusahan. Dapat managot sa krimen na kanyang ginawa nang paulit-ulit. Hindi kaya’t ito rin ang ating tunay na tindig sa gobyernong Arroyo? Naibaling natin kay Hayden Kho ang gusto nating gawin sa pervert na pamumuno ng pamahalaan.

Hindi totoong manhid na ang mga Pilipino. May kapasidad pa rin tayong magalit, mainsulto, magpakita ng simpatiya. Sa pamamagitan ng ating kolektibong pagkundena sa pagpapakalat ng mga sex video ay tila nagpahayag rin tayo ng matinding pagkasuklam at pagkamuhi sa maduming gobyerno sa kasalukuyan.

Dahil din sa sex scandal ay nabisto rin ang kawalan ng moral na awtoridad ng pamahalaang ito. Nang sumiklab ang iskandalo ay agad naglabas ng pahayag ang Malakanyang; isa raw itong pagpapakita ng moral outrage. Tama ang narinig ninyo: moral outrage. Kung aalahanin natin, tahimik ang Malakanyang nang lumabas ang balita ng panggagahasa sa isang kababayan nating Pilipina. Tahimik dahil ang inakusahang nanggahasa ay isang Amerikanong sundalo. Patuloy na walang kibo ang Malakanyang sa sunud-sunod na pagdukot at pagpaslang sa mga aktibista, mamamahayag at iba pang kritiko ng pamahalaan. Bakit walang moral outrage laban sa Fertilizer Scam, NBN-ZTE scandal, Hello Garci at Euro Generals?

Mukhang pwede lamang ang moral outrage kung hindi ito patungkol sa bulok na pamamalakad ng gobyerno.

Halalan

Nabanggit ko ang global crisis at mga political scandal na kinakasangkutan ng gobyernong Arroyo dahil may kinalaman ang mga ito sa darating na halalan. Sa tingin ko ito ang dalawang pangunahing salik na makakaapekto sa resulta ng halalan.

Unahin ko na ang krisis sa ekonomiya. Inaasahang titindi pa ang pagsidhi ng krisis. Patuloy na babalik ang mga OFW sa bansa dahil sa lumiliit na bilang ng trabaho sa buong mundo. Dadami pa ang mga pabrikang magsasara, lalo na sa mga Export Processing Zone. Hindi ito magandang balita para sa maraming manggagawa. Sa paghina ng ekonomiya, lalong lulubha ang kahirapan sa bansa. Mabibisto ang malambot na pundasyon ng ekonomiya; mapapatunayang matagal nang nagsisinungaling si Arroyo hinggil sa tunay na kalagayan ng ekonomiya.

Pakikinggan ng masa ang mga lider na may matalas na pagsusuri sa mga programang pang ekonomiya ng gobyernong Arroyo. Papatok ang mga kandidatong may kongkretong programa para sa pagpapaunlad ng ekonomiya. Seseryosohin ng mga botante ang mga grupong may alternatibong adhikain upang isalba ang ekonomiya.

Kung ekonomiya ang nangungunang prayoridad ni Arroyo, sino pa ang maniniwala sa kanya ngayong dapang-dapa na ang ekonomiya ng bansa?

Kaya naman si Gng. Arroyo rin ang isa pang salik sa darating na halalan. Sinumang kandidatong dikit sa kanya ay tiyak na matatalo. Walang matinong kandidatong mangangahas na lumapit sa kanya. Kahit mga kapartido niya lalayuan siya. Parang sumpa ang kanyang basbas. Matutulad siya kay US President George Bush. Hiniling ng mga kapartido niya na huwag siyang aktibong mangampanya kay John Mccain dahil sa kanyang mababang reputasyon. Nakakahiya, di ba? Ikaw ang nakaupong presidente pero walang pumipila para sa iyong suporta.

Mahalagang matuloy ang eleksiyon sa 2010. Pagkakataon ito upang hatulan si Arroyo at ang kanyang mga crony sa gobyerno. Dapat makatikim sila ng TKO sa mga presinto. Pwede ring maghalal ng mga bagong mukha, mga bagong lider na may dala-dalang plataporma ng pagbabago. Sa pamamagitan ng matalinong pagboto, pwede nating patunayan na tayo’y handang-handa na upang baguhin ang uri ng pulitika sa bansa.

Ano ang ating adyenda sa susunod na taon?

Bibiguin natin ang tangka ng gobyernong Arroyo na magtagal pa sa Malakanyang. Agad nating sasampahan siya ng mga kasong kriminal pagbaba niya sa pwesto. Kikilos tayo para sa isang malinis, mapayapa, at mabilis na botohan at bilangan.

Pangunahing adyenda natin ang reporma sa edukasyon. Kayo mismo ay saksi sa mga pang araw-araw na problema ng ating mga eskuwelahan. Kulang-kulang at bulok ang maraming pasilidad sa ating mga eskuwelahan dahil sa mababang badyet sa edukasyon. Halimbawa, kailangan pa rin natin ng 7,087 klasrum sa elementary at hayskul; samantalang kailangan pa ng 2,667 bagong klasrum para sa pre-school level. Kulang tayo ng 63 milyong textbooks, 39,000 guro at walong libong principals. Nasaan ang pondo para sa edukasyon?

May kinalaman sa edukasyon ang problema sa kalusugan ng mga bata. Ayon sa pamahalaan, 21 percent ng mga mag-aaral ay malnourished. Sa elementary, 37 percent ay may iron deficiency anemia, 36 percent ay may vitamin A deficiency, at 67 percent ang may intestinal helminthiasis. Mayroong isang duktor sa bawat 80,000 estudyante; isang dentista sa bawat 20,000 mag-aaral; at isang school nurse sa bawat 5,000 mag-aaral.

Simple lamang ang solusyon sa krisis sa edukasyon: political will.

Ang huling bahagi ng talumpati ay pag-uulit lamang ng huling bahagi din ng talumpating binigkas sa CEGP convention.

Privilege speech

I delivered my first privilege speech last Monday. I discussed the worsening drop-out rates in Philippine schools. I mentioned the government’s failure to guarantee a complete basic education for the Filipino youth.

I cited the latest assessment report on the Philippine compliance to the Millennium Development Goals. The report presented grim statistics on the declining participation of students in schools.

Aside from poverty and inadequate funding for public schools, I also blamed the rising cost of education in the country. I criticized some private schools which charge exorbitant and unnecessary fees.

I urged the Arroyo administration to increase the funding for the education sector, as mandated by the 1987 Constitution. I also asked education officials to implement tuition regulation measures.

The drafting of the speech was a collective effort. Our member groups contributed the latest tuition data. We also used a few quotes from my previous blog articles. We brainstormed the outline of the speech. I am happy that I have competent, hardworking, and intelligent staff members.

No Chacha?

I don’t feel the mood for a Charter Change in the Lower House. There is really no time to dance the ChaCha since Congress will take a recess on June 3. Besides, it’s already election season. Many House members recognize the futility (and stupidity) of trying to postpone the 2010 elections. Some of them are proposing a Constitutional Convention mode in amending the Constitution after the 2010 elections.

The House leadership claims there is time to pass the Chacha proposal on or before June 3. This is correct. The Majority, through the powerful Committee on Rules, decides the Order of Business. They can always move for the inclusion of the Chacha proposal for plenary discussion, debate, and voting.

However, the House of Representatives is too focused on other matters. The Lower House is currently deliberating the controversial Joint Resolution No. 36 which proposes to increase the compensation of government employees. This is a Malacañang priority measure. The period for interpellation has not yet ended. (This issue deserves a separate blogpost.)

The House leadership has also expressed its willingness to tackle these measures on or before June 3: Agrarian Reform Extension, Reproductive Health, and Right of Reply. These are all (very, very) controversial bills. The proponents and opponents of these measures are expected to mount aggressive campaigns inside and outside of plenary for the passage or rejection of these measures. By the way I am a co-author of the Reproductive Health bill.

We only have seven remaining sessions before we take a break. Paano nila ngayon isisingit ang Chacha?

Committee hearings

A senior lawmaker told me that attending committee hearings is equally important to our attendance in the plenary. Through these committee meetings, lawmakers can directly propose amendments to pending bills and resolutions. Members can also block the passage of certain measures at the committee level. We can also listen to the views of invited resource speakers about our proposed legislation.

Last week I attended two committee hearings sponsored by the Committee on Dangerous Drugs and the Committee on Housing and Urban Development. Last Monday I attended a Technical Working Group meeting on the proposed Magna Carta of Students. Yesterday morning I attended a joint executive meeting of the Committee on Higher and Technical Education and Committee on Basic Education. In the afternoon I joined a forum about the P125 wage hike bill sponsored by the Committee on Labor and Employment.

I was surprised by the revelation made by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency about the problems encountered by their office. They don’t have patrol boats, high-grade firearms, and recruitment funds in their fight against big time drug syndicates. I was also surprised to learn that aside from PDEA, there are various government agencies which are also running after druglords – Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group, NBI, and PNP. Yet, the drug menace still persists. At nakakatakas pa ang mga druglord. During the public hearing I asked the concerned agencies to coordinate their efforts and to rationalize their operations. Instead of spreading their meager resources throughout the country, why not identify priority areas where they can focus their operations? Huwag magsiksikan sa Subic.

Campus Press at Halalang 2010

Talumpating binigkas sa 69th National Convention ng College Editors Guild, Lucena City, Mayo 17, 2009.

Pagbati sa College Editors Guild, ang prestihiyoso at pinakamalaking organisasyon ng mga batang mamamahayag sa bansa. Ako po ay galing sa National Union of Students na itinatag noong 1957. Pero ang CEGP, 1931 ipinanganak. Ibig sabihin, 1931 pa lamang ay pinangungunahan na ng CEGP ang student movement sa bansa. Wala nang ibang organisasyon ang kayang tumapat sa naabot ng inyong grupo. Kinikilala na hanggang sa kasalukuyan patuloy ang inyong paglawak at pagkamit ng mga tagumpay sa iba’t ibang laban.

Una kong nakilala ang CEGP noong 1999. Ginulat ng CEGP leaders ang marami nang maglagay sila ng busal sa bibig bilang protesta sa pang-aaway na ginagawa ni dating Pres. Joseph Estrada sa media. Gamit ang islogang “Gag us Not”, pinaunawa ng CEGP sa publiko ang ibig sabihin sistematikong panunupil sa mass media. Kasama rin ang CEGP sa malaking rali na ginawa sa Ayala noong Agosto 1999 upang ipaglaban ang karapatang sibil ng mamamayan.

Naging mahalaga rin ang aktibong papel na ginampanan ng CEGP noong People Power II. Nagkaisa ang campus press sa paglalabas ng mga ispesyal na isyu ng kanilang mga publikasyon upang isiwalat ang mga iskandalong kinakasangkutan ng gobyernong Estrada. Ang mga pahayag ng CEGP ay laging makabuluhan, marubdob at matalino. Laging inaabangan ang mga nilalabas na publikasyon ng CEGP sa mga forum, rali, at loob ng mga kampus.

Pagkatapos ng Edsa Dos ay isa na naming pambansang kampanya ang nilahukan ng CEGP: ang kampanya upang ibasura ang ROTC. Tagumpay ang laban! Dahil sa sama-samang pagkilos ng kabataan, ang ROTC ay hindi na compulsory sa kasalukuyan.

Hindi nawawala ang boses ng CEGP sa pagrerehistro ng tindig nito sa mga pambansang usapin. Laging progresibo ang posisyon ng CEGP: sa isyu ng reporma sa edukasyon, krisis sa ekonomiya, dayaan tuwing halalan, korupsiyon sa pamahalaan, at siyempre sa usapin ng kalayaan sa pamamahayag. Kung iisa-isahin ko ang mga makabayang tindig ng CEGP, baka abutin tayo ng 2010.

Kasama ang CEGP nang binuo namin ang Anak ng Bayan Youth Party noong 2001. Kabilang ang CEGP sa nagbalangkas ng youth agenda ng partido noong 2003. Si Ronalyn Olea, dating tagapangulo ng CEGP, ang 3rd nominee ng Anak ng Bayan noong 2004. Nang lumahok ulit ang partido sa halalan noong 2007, gamit ang bagong pangalan – Kabataan Partylist – kasama pa rin naming ang CEGP. Hindi mabubuo, hindi magtatagumpay ang Kabataan Partylist kung wala ang matayog na suporta ng CEGP.

Sa madaling salita, ang inyong kinatawan ay hindi lang boses ng Kabataan Partylist sa Kongreso. Ako rin po ay kinatawan ng CEGP sa Kongreso.

Ituloy ang eleksiyon

Totoo ang balita. May mga elemento sa lipunan na nais biguin ang ating hangaring matuloy ang eleksiyon sa 2010. Si PGMA ang makikinabang kung hindi matutuloy ang eleksiyon. Nais ninyo bang manatili pa si Arroyo bilang Presidente o Prime Minister? Sa tulong ng media, dapat itambol ang panawagang ituloy ang eleksiyon. Ituloy ang modernisasyon ng eleksiyon. Hindi No-el; kundi Mo-el o modernization of elections.

May mabigat na tungkulin ang media sa darating na halalan. Para magkaroon ng malinis at mapayapang halalan, kailangan natin ng kritikal at malayang palitan ng impormasyon sa bansa. Kailangang malayang makapagsulat at makapagbroadcast ang ating mga mamamahayag. Dapat manaig ang katotohanan. Walang takot na pwedeng ibalita ang mga anomalya sa halalan at pangangampanya.

Kung patuloy na gigipitin ang media, kung patuloy na patatahimikin ang mga palabang boses sa lipunan, kung haharangin ang mga expose, kung igigiit nilang ipatupad ang Right of Reply bill, huwag tayong umasang magiging matahimik, matapat at may kredibilidad ang halalang 2010.

Susi sa pagkakaroon ng halalang may mataas na kredibilidad ang pagtitiyak sa kalayaan ng media. Dapat labanan ang censorship. Kundenahin ang pagpaslang sa mga kasamahan natin sa media. Dapat biguin ang korupsiyon sa industriya. Dapat tukuyin at iwaksi ang dominasyon ng corporate interest sa media.

Malaki ang maitutulong ng media para magkaroon ng mga matalinong talakayan ukol sa eleksiyon. Sa pamamagitan ng media, maaari nating makilala nang husto ang mga kakandidato. Anu-ano ang kanilang posisyon sa mga isyung pambayan? Saan sila pumanig sa mga mahahalagang usapin? Sinu-sino ang nasa likod ng kanilang kandidatura? Ano ang kanilang plataporma para sa kabataan?

Alam ng mga kandidato ang kapangyarihan ng media. Susuyuin ang media. Tutuksuhin ang media. Aalukin kayo ng kayamanan at kapangyarihan. Dapat huwag masilaw, huwag matukso ang media. Pero marami pa rin ang mabibihag ng salapi. Bilangin ninyo ang mga dating kritikal na mamamahayag na ngayo’y nasa tabi na ni PGMA.

Dito higit na tumitingkad ang pangangailangan para sa alternative press.

Alternative media

Kayo ay bahagi ng alternative media. Ang CEGP ay kilalang tagapamandila ng alternatibong pamamahayag sa mga kampus. Dapat sikaping patatagin pa ang alternative media sa bansa.

Kung hindi kayang palabnawin ang malapot na kapit ng Big Business sa mainstream, nariyan ang alternative media na magpapatuloy ng krusada para sa katotohanan. Kung puro kandidatong may pera ang laging binabalita ng mainstream media, nariyan ang alternative media na pwedeng maglaan ng espasyo o airtime para sa mga kandidatong mahihirap ngunit may makabuluhang adhikain.

Malaki ang matutulong ng internet para sa operasyon ng alternative media. Maraming online media ang umaani ng mataas na respeto dahil sa kanilang matapang na pagbabalita. Nais kong ihalimbawa ang Bulatlat at Pinoy Weekly. Yakapin natin ang potensiyal ng Web 2.0 para sa pagsusulong ng katotohanan.

Huwag din natin maliitin ang bloggers. Totoo: marami sa kanila ay walang matinong mensahe na maaaring ibahagi. Marami sa kanila puro copy and paste lamang ang ginagawa sa kanilang mg blog. Pero marami rin ang matatalinong blogger sa bansa. Marami rin ang may tumpak at kritikal na opinyon tungkol sa kalagayan ng bansa. Parami nang parami ang mga blogger na nagiging saksi sa iba’t ibang kaganapan sa lipunan. Dapat hikayatin sila, pati ang iba pang ordinaryong mamamayan, na patuloy na magsulat, magbalita, magblog tungkol sa mga napapanahong usapin.

May tradisyunal, at mayroon ding new media. Pareho natin itong gamitin. Ilan sa mga publikasyon ninyo ang mayroon ng website? Ilan sa inyo ang bloggers? Ilan sa inyo ang gumagamit ng Twitter para sa breaking news? Malamang may Facebook page na ang mga dyaryo ninyo. Ilan ang gumagamit ng podcast? Pwede pa nating pag-aralan kung paano magagamit ang video blogging at mobile blogging sa ating pagbabalita.

Huwag pagbanggain ang tradisyunal at new media. Huwag din kalimutan na kahit sa new media, hindi pa rin nagbabago ang papel ng mamamahayag. Lahat ng ating sinusulat at binabalita ay para sa pagsusulong ng katotohanan. Mga katotohanang pakikinabangan, at dapat pakinabangan, ng publiko.

Kabataan at halalan

Tulad noong 2007 malaking bilang ng mga botante sa 2010 ay mga kabataan. Marami ang first time voters. Sana makaboto sa susunod na taon ang mga hindi nakaboto noong 2004 at 2007. Tinatayang aabot ng 50 bahagdan ang mga kabataang botante sa 2010. Tayong mga kabataan ang pipili kung sino ang papalit na presidente ng bansa. Exciting, di ba? Pero marami tayong tungkuling kailangang gampanan.

Una, kailangang magprehistro agad ang marami sa atin. Hindi automatic ang pagiging botante. Kailangang magparehistro sa Comelec office o sa city hall. Simple lamang ang proseso. Kung nakakainip pumila, magsama ng barkada o kaya’y magdala ng libro. Sana ang unang isyu ng mga dyaryo ninyo ngayong first sem ay may balita tungkol sa voters’ registration.

Kailangan din natin ang maagap na voters’ education. Kailangang ituro ang wastong pagpili ng mga kandidato. Kung matutuloy ang poll automation, dapat ipalaganap ang tamang paraan ng pagboto. Dapat ipaliwanag din kung ano ang partylist system. Pinakamahalagang paksa ang usapin kung bakit kailangang bumoto ang bawat isa. Marami kasi sa atin nagsawa na sa lumang sistema kaya ayaw bumoto tuwing halalan. Kailangan ng tuluy-tuloy na edukasyon upang kumbinsihin ang ating mga kababayan tungkol sa kahalagahan ng pagboto bilang pagtatanggol ng demokrasya. Karapatan at responsibilidad natin ang bumoto.

Pangunahan natin ang pagbubuo ng youth agenda. Iharap natin ito sa mga kandidato. Alamin ang kanilang tugon sa ating panawagan para sa mas mataas na badyet sa edukasyon, kalusugan at pabahay. Ano ang sagot nila sa kawalan ng trabaho sa bansa? Ano ang programa nila sa ekonomiya? Palaganapin natin ang youth agenda.

Idagdag natin ang ating boses para sa isang malinis na halalan. Kailangang ipabatid sa Comelec at sa mga lider ng bansa na gusto natin ng modernong halalan. Ngayon pa lamang ay magbuo na tayo ng mga anti-fraud at anti-violence network. Mahalaga ito upang bantayan ang pagboto at pagbibilang ng mga boto. Ayaw na natin ng mga Hello Garci at Hello Bedol. Ayaw na natin ng mga dagdag-bawas. Ayaw na natin ng karahasan tuwing halalan. Ayaw na natin ng 5G – guns, goons, gold, garci at gloria.

Tayo ang pagbabago

May iba’t ibang inisyatiba upang pukawin ang makabayang damdamin ng kabataan. Positibo ito. Napapansin ko lang na ang binibigyang diin ay may kinalaman sa mga indibidwal na pagkilos ng mga kabataan. Hindi na ito bago. Noon pa man marami na ang nanawagan ng pagbabago batay sa inisyatiba ng bawat isa. Kahit ang Malakanyang, nananawagan na ang pagbabago ay dapat magsimula sa sarili. Ang mga nasa kapangyarihan ay nananawagan rin ng pagbabago – pagbabago sa gawi, sa puso’t isipan. Lumang ideolohiya na ito.

Sinisisi ko ang dominanteng ideolohiya kung bakit popular ang ganitong mensahe. Di ba ito ang turo sa atin – na basta’t maging mabuting tao ka o mamamayan ay sapat na upang guminhawa ang lipunan. Huwag nang makialam sa pulitika; asikasuhin na lamang ang sarili at pamilya. Huwag nang magrali; huwag nang labanan ang dambuhalang sistema. Magsimula sa sarili. Ako mismo. Magpayaman, mamigay ng limos, magvolunteer, magpintura ng mga bahay. Sapat na ang mga ito.

Samantala, sila mismo – silang mga buwaya na nasa gobyerno – ay patuloy na nangangmkam ng yaman ng lipunan. Habang abala tayo sa ating mga sarili, sila mismo ay patuloy na nagkakalat ng lagim dun mismo sa ating mga komunidad. Kaya ang sagot ay hindi ako mismo kundi tayo mismo ang magpapalayas sa mga masasamang elemento ng lipunan. Tayo mismo, sa ating sama-samang pagkilos ang lilikha ng pagbabago sa bansa.

Hindi simple ang manawagan ng pagbabago. Hindi ito nadadaan sa pag-iimbento ng mga makukulay na palamuti sa katawan. May sakripisyong kailangang ibigay ang bawat isa kung nais natin ng tunay na pagbabago. May interes tayong babanggain kung seryoso tayong kikilos para sa pagbabago. Makapangyarihan ang interes na ito. Mabagsik silang kaaway. Mapanganib na laban. Kaya hindi uubra kung nag-iisa lang tayong sisigaw ng pagbabgo. Ikaw mismo ay mabibigo. Dapat kolektibo, dapat sama-samang manawagan ng pagbabago. Dapat pagtulungan natin sa ating mga organisasyon kung anong mga mainam na paraan upang isulong ang pulitika ng pag-asa, pagbabago at pakikibaka.

Bahagi ang CEGP sa ating binuong kilusan: Tayo ang Pagbabago. Layon nating pakilusin ang pinakamalawak na bilang ng mga kabataan – sa paaralan, komunidad, siyudad, probinsiya, pagawaan – upang maging pwersa ng pagbabago sa lipunan. Hindi lamang malinis na halalan ang ating ipaglalaban. Titiyakin din natin na magiging mas maaliwalas ang ating kinabukasan.

Sa ngalan ng Kabataan Partylist, hangad ko ang tagumpay ng inyong pagtitipon sa araw na ito. Binabati ko ang mga lider at miyembro ng CEGP.

Mabuhay ang Guilders!

Committee selections

I asked the Minority Leader to deputize me as member of these committees: Basic Education and Culture, Higher and Technical Education, Good Government and Public Accountability, Information and Communications Technology, Youth and Sports Development, Constitutional Amendments, Public Information, and Dangerous Drugs.

My preferred secondary committees: Human Rights, Natural Resources, Foreign Affairs, The Welfare of Children, and the Special Committee on Millennium Development Goals.

I think we can save money by rationalizing the House committees. For example the Government Enterprises and Privatization Committee can be merged with the Government Reorganization Committee. We only need one education committee to address the needs of the education system. Why separate the committees on Ecology and Natural Resources? (We even have a Special Committee on Reforestation). We should combine the Agrarian Reform and Rural Development Committees.

Some committees reflect the dominant ideology in government. The Committee of Government Enterprises and Privatization is very ideological – it assumes that privatization of government enterprises is an objective and economic necessity. This shows the influential role of the neoliberal school of thought in shaping the policies of the government. If we propose the establishment of a Committee on Nationalization or National Industrialization, most likely it would be rejected for espousing an ideological program.

I also observed that some of the committees reveal the shortcomings of the government. It isn’t enough that we have Mindanao solons – the House has instituted a Committee on Mindanao Affairs. Participatory governance remains a dream that is why we have a Committee on People’s Participation. The Economic Affairs Committee deals with economic development planning but it seems it is not exclusively concerned with solving poverty in the country because there is a separate Committee on Poverty Alleviation. Are we content with establishing committees on issues which we cannot solve?

Quorum

Last Tuesday Rep. Caloy Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya raised an important point in the plenary: lack of quorum in the House. This is an old issue but the Nograles leadership has claimed that the attendance of House members has improved in the past year. Padilla expressed his disappointment that House sessions do not start on time (4pm) because many members are late in entering the plenary. If members cannot attend sessions on time, Padilla proposed to amend the rules so that the Lower Congress can start its sessions at 5pm or 6pm.

Rep. Salvador Escudero of Sorsogon noted that it takes more than an hour to finish the roll call. (What a waste of time!). He has an interesting suggestion: redefine the meaning of quorum. Instead of the standard 50 percent + 1, Escudero wanted quorum to mean 50 + 1 so that there will always be a quorum in the House.

Minority Leader Ronnie Zamora also participated in the discussion by inquiring about the electronic biometric system proposed by former Speaker Jose De Venecia. This would have allowed the House secretariat to quickly determine the number of solons present in the plenary. I was surprised by the reply of the Majority Leader. He said the e-voting test failed. Rep. Antonio Cerilles was flabbergasted as well. He asked, “Why did we pay for something we didn’t test?”

Oo nga naman. Sayang wala si Speaker De Venecia nung Martes.

Voting

The House approved a few bills on Third Reading this week. I abstained during the voting for HB 5241 – "The Investments and Incentives Code of the Philippines." I explained that I have not yet read the bill. However I voted for the approval of the following bills since they have clear and noble objectives:

HB 263 – "An Act to strengthen and propagate foster care for abandoned and neglected children and other children with special needs,”

HB 6052 – "An Act requiring all registered voters whose biometrics have not been captured to appear before the election officer of their place of registration for purposes of having their photographs, fingerprints and signatures captured through the method of biometrics, for purposes of ensuring that the automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) can be utilized to cleanse the records of double or multiple registrants,"

HB 6096 – "An Act requiring all government offices to ensure the release of the retirement benefits of its employees within fifteen days from retirement,"

HB 6076 – "An Act expanding the promotion of breastfeeding, amending for the purpose R.A. 7600, otherwise known as ‘An Act providing incentives to all government and private health institutions with rooming-in and breastfeeding practices and for other purposes,"

Non-automation

I was disturbed by the privilege speech of Rep. Pablo Garcia. He was questioning the constitutionality and legality of automating the 2010 polls. He also doubts the capability of the Commission on Elections to supervise the automation. He warns that the system may break down and we would be unable to elect and proclaim a new President next year.

He sent a letter to Comelec (the letter was also signed by other members of the House) reminding the poll body that Congress has yet to pass a special law that would allow the automation of the polls next year. Garcia enumerated several provisions of the law which mandate a manual system of voting, manual preparation of election returns, and manual transmission of votes. He adds that mixed automation may be possible: manual voting for the local polls, automation for national elections. During the interpellation, Garcia said automation is possible only in the transmission of votes; but not during voting.

In sum, Garcia said the “window of maneuverability is short” for poll automation. It seems that a fully automated election system will not take place next year.

Other matters

I endorsed the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. The petitioners mentioned in the complaint that the Ombudsman and her classmate, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, flunked the bar exam when they first took it in 1973. (Wala lang, natawa lang ako.)

What constitutes a quorum during committee hearings? Watch the YouTube clip showing the debate between Rep. Goilez and Rep. Datumanong.

they exist

Here is an interesting story on how former United States President Ronald Reagan tried to convert his atheist son back to Christianity: He served his son a perfect gourmet dinner; and then asked him if he believed there was a cook.

Reagan should be commended for being creative and imaginative in affirming his spiritual belief. I read that he also used this reasoning to convert former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Maybe I have a simple mind but this anecdote does not directly prove the existence of God. Instead, it proves that cooks, waiters, and farmers exist in this world. It is not wrong for Reagan to argue God’s existence by highlighting the existence of a cook who is able to prepare a perfect gourmet. But he (and we) should also not overlook the obvious fact: the dinner was made possible because there were cooks, waiters, and farmers in the world.

Sometimes in our earnest desire to advance our metaphysical beliefs, we tend to ignore the in-your-face reality around us. Before we interpret too much the spiritual meaning of things, people, and events in our everyday lives, we should first recognize their concrete and symbolic significance in the human and material world. As Terry Eagleton reminds us, “There cannot be professional philosophers unless there are also cooks and stonemasons.”

Go on and believe in God. But are you also ready to believe that workers exist? Are you willing to believe that these humans who create useful commodities also inhabit the planet? That somewhere in a remote and protected enclave, there exists wage-laborers who produce the things we need to survive. That there is nothing mysterious on how the elegant clothes we see in oversized billboards can be bought in department stores. They were made by God’s disciplined army of workers in factories and sweatshops.

The significant contribution of workers in the global economy has been systematically undermined over the past decades. Workers were made invisible while advertisers and financiers were glorified by the corporate media. Consumers were not allowed to understand the labor exploitation which is inherent in the capitalist economy. This is the cover-up of the millennium.

Atheists are criticized for their belief that God does not exist. Let the atheists and the non-atheists debate this issue. My criticism is aimed against God believers who wouldn’t recognize the ungodly realities in the world. There are individuals who insist that a powerful and merciful God definitely exists but deny the existence of poverty and labor exploitation in human society. They could visualize the presence of a supreme being but they are unable to identify how workers are oppressed in the workplace. They feel Christ’s sufferings but they are indifferent to human sufferings in the community. How do you describe these persons: Inglorious bastards? Bourgeois hypocrites?

Labor Day is an opportunity to affirm some fundamental truths: workers exist, modern wage slavery still exists, and the proletarian revolution will be victorious in the future.