Monthly Archives: December 2006

Blog works in not so mysterious ways

Every time I meet a fellow blogger in person, it validates and sustains my belief in the power of internet to build real relationships. Imagine the thrill I felt when I attended the Global Voices annual meeting in India two weeks ago. There I met bloggers from around the world who understand the language, potential and limits of blogging. There I learned how blogs are effectively used to advance various advocacies.

In Vietnam, a blog was set up to record the plight of street kids. In India, there are bloggers who chronicle the resistance of people living in slums whose houses will be demolished. An outreach program which gave training seminars to university students, journalists and other young people about the effectiveness of blogging was successfully conducted in Kazakhstan. In Brazil, the Ministry of Culture promoted blogging as a tool for children to digitize their culture. A radio show devoted to blogging was put up in Ghana.

Internet censorship is a reality in many countries. In one country, personal blogs are required to be registered with the government. There were bloggers who were arrested because of what they espoused and exposed in their weblogs. Some bloggers lose their work just because they maintain blogs.

Judging blog content is a contentious matter. Should we look down on bloggers just because they chose to write about entertainment, gossip and narrative of their uninteresting lives? The consensus is to respect what bloggers have decided to highlight in their blogs. That bloggers tend to upload videos, podcasts or articles about their favorite food, movies and celebrity news means that these things are important to them. Why should we deny them the right to express what they feel the world should know about their lives?

On the other hand, bloggers should be more responsible and sensitive about what they write since children can visit their sites. People should be more discerning in surfing the internet since pornographic sites are accessible, scams proliferate and bigots roam the cyberspace.

How can we protect children bloggers from these elements? What is the appropriate age for children to blog? How can we protect their privacy? They may be too young to understand that some of their opinion may be offensive to others. Children are already lured by TV shows and video games while they spend less time for exercise and social interaction. Should we then encourage them to blog?

If blogging can facilitate communication around the globe, the language barrier should be addressed. How do we pursue better interaction between the english and non-english speaking bloggers? How do we improve and encourage translation of blog articles? Filipino bloggers prefer to write in English but there should be a platform urging the use of Ilocano, Tagalog, Bisaya, Kapampangan and other Philippine languages in blog writing.

During the Global Voices meeting, there was a proposal to develop a mechanism where a reader can translate a blog article in his/her native language by recording it in the blogsite itself.

There were other remarkable blog promotion ideas:

Encourage senior citizens to blog. These are people who have a lot of stories to tell. Blogging may also help improve their mental faculties.

In Singapore, its student exchange program requires participants to set up a blog to record their experience. Let’s emulate this practice in our student seminars and conferences.

Disaster blogging. Bloggers have been very reliable documenting huge disasters throughout the globe. Rescue teams, mainstream media outlets and government agencies can benefit from disaster blogs. Bloggers can point to areas in need of assistance, accurately assess the impact of a catastrophe from the field and record amazing stories overlooked by news reporters.

Blogging fuels citizen journalism. Oh my news project in South Korea (“Every citizen is a reporter”) is a good example on how to generate news stories submitted by ordinary people. But blogs can also distort the real situation. In Zimbabwe, most of the bloggers have anti-Mugabe sentiments but majority of Zimbabwe citizens are supportive of the leader.

Print edition for blogs? Well, why not? The most popular blogger in Taiwan has already published a book. Let’s hope Filipino bloggers can publish a book not just about jokes.

In Tunisia, a prison map in the web was created by a blogger to show where Tunisian authorities have been jailing political prisoners. We should create a web map to show where extra-judicial killings are rampant throughout the country.

I hope the $100 laptop project will finds its way in the Philippines.

There are real obstacles to the growth of blogging in developing countries, especially in the Philippines. Blogging is seen as an elite activity. Blogging requires a literate person with access to computer and internet connection. How can you convince the poor and hungry Filipinos that blogging can answer their problems? Was it Marx who wrote that humans are species beings, and man needs to eat, find clothing and home first before he/she can pursue other activities?

I think blogging must not be separated from the movement to end poverty, hunger and injustice. We can make blogging an added weapon to make another beautiful, kinder world.


Naughty and nice

Check out the pictures during my stay in India plus some personal photos during my birthday dinner party. Click here, here, and here.

What were the most important events of 2006? Who have been naughty and nice? Allow me to share my list of persons and institutions which made 2006 a memorable year. 

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – Surveys reveal that majority of the people hated her; but who needs popularity anyway if you have the military, money and God on your side. This diminutive but powerful lady survived two impeachment complaints, ‘Hello Garci’ controversy, coup attempts and mass rallies. She denies having any serious illness but she underwent four medical check-ups this year. She provoked intense debates by issuing unconstitutional proclamations like the state of national emergency and E.O. 464 which barred Cabinet members from testifying in Congress without her permission. Whether you like her or not, President Arroyo is determined to stay in Malacañang.

ChaCha – ‘Lobat’ may be the word of the year but ‘ChaCha’ is the most spoken word by Filipino politicians. First there was the Constitutional Commission or Concom which submitted a study for Constitutional reforms. Then Sigaw ng Bayan loudly proclaimed it was able to gather the signatures of more than 6 million Filipinos supporting a people’s initiative to change the Charter. The Supreme Court correctly described it as a ‘grand deception.’ After this stinging defeat, the House of Representatives railroaded ‘ChaCha’ through a proposed Constituent Assembly. The people were angered by this brazen disregard for due process. Malacañang and the Lower House flinched and advocated a Constitutional Convention instead. The Catholic Church spoiled the prayer rally in Luneta and so the Palace is back singing the ChaCha tune.

Environmental disasters – ‘Milenyo’ is the tropical cyclone of the year. It led to the dismantling of giant billboard ads in Metro Manila. But 2006 is also a year of environmental disasters. The most prominent were the Rapu-Rapu mining disaster, Petron oil spill in Guimaras, Biak na Bato mining controversy, toxic fumes in Makati and Bulacan, Mercury poisoning in Parañaque, volcanic eruptions in Bicol, landslides in Southern Leyte and lahar mudflows in Albay. Global warming is the enemy we have to face in the future. Related to environmental pollution was the dengue outbreak in different parts of the country.

The usual suspects – The Queen has many enemies and so the loyal soldiers were busy apprehending, harassing and maligning the usual suspects. Batasan 6 refers to six leftist lawmakers who were accused of conspiring with young military officers to overthrow the Arroyo regime. Erap 5 refers to five pro-Estrada individuals who were illegally arrested and allegedly tortured by the military. Tagaytay 5 refers to five peasant leaders who were linked by the government to communist rebels. The Marines has been cleansing its ranks of ‘mutinous’ officers. Mayor Jejomar Binay was suspended for being a leader of the Opposition but Malacañang backed out of the fight when protests began swelling around Makati city hall. Coup guru and former senator Gringo Honasan was finally captured this year.

Hecklers and egg-pelters – Heckling is not a common form of protest in the Philippines. When it was finally done by a graduating student in front of the President of the country, it made headlines for many days. General Hermogenes Esperon was pelted by eggs and mud by angry students of the University of the Philippines demanding the release of abducted activists in Bulacan. Journalist Victor Agustin did a ‘Cherie Gil’ by dousing activist RC Constantino with a glass of water during a press conference in Makati. Public shaming and social ostracism may emerge as popular and effective forms of small time protests in the country.

Public confessions – Kris Aquino finally confessed her marriage to basketball star James Yap. Borgy Manotoc and Geneva Cruz revealed their ‘innermost’ thoughts and desires. Rachel Alejandro named the guy who claimed her virginity. Rustom Padilla admitted he was gay. Troy Montero said German Moreno was gay. These people revealed many things the public already knew. But what made their (juicy) confessions interesting was that they dared to touch on issues considered as taboo in conservative Philippine society. I hope the virus which compels many people to talk about sensitive topics will afflict those who knew the masterminds behind the killings of Benigno Aquino and Nida Blanca; and hopefully the voices behind the ‘Hello Garci’ audio recording.

Political killings – Aside from being the only Catholic-dominated nation in Asia, the Philippines is the second most dangerous country for journalists next to war torn Iraq. Newsmen were not the only victims of extrajudicial killings. Political activists, human rights lawyers and even lawmakers have been targeted by unknown assassins. There seems to be a systematic and nationwide pattern in majority of the killings. Violence will worsen especially as the election season is approaching.

Athletes and achievers – Filipinos continue to excel in boxing and billiards. Manny Pacquiao bombarded us with his winning punches, trademark songs and product endorsements. Filipinos have finally reached the top of Mt. Everest. Students from the provinces topped the national competency examinations. Young Filipinos won in a robotics world competition.

Nursing scandal – Woe to the nursing graduates of batch 2006 for they will always be stigmatized as the group which cheated in the licensure examinations. The majority did not cheat but the widespread leakage of test answers tainted the results of the examinations. Will this further degrade the quality of higher education? Will this expose the commercialized character of Philippine education?

Nicole – For the older generation, Maggie dela Riva symbolized the brave rape victim who came out in the public to accuse and condemn her attackers. The generation today has ‘Nicole’ who successfully fought for the conviction of a US soldier who raped her in a van a year ago. The rape case had political overtones since it involved an active US soldier who was here to participate in a joint military exercise. The battle is not yet over since the US government is asserting the right to have custody of the convicted soldier.

Merry Christmas everyone! And a Yehey new year!

Related entries:

Memorable rallies of the year
Numbers and politics
Naminghoy ming tanan

Manny Messiah

US soldier convicted of rape, my blog article for Global Voices.

To declare Manny Pacquiao as the most popular icon in the country today may be an understatement. Every time Manny defends his crown in the ring, the streets of Manila are deserted, internet traffic is down and crime rate is almost zero since people from all walks of life are watching the fight inside their homes.

Manny has become the spokesperson of the downtrodden who beat all odds and became a world boxing champion. He is the modern hero of the masses inspiring young people from the provinces who also dream of acquiring fabulous riches and fame. Manny’s almost mythical journey from General Santos City to Manila and finally to Las Vegas is a tale recounted again and again by the media and ordinary folks.

However, Manny’s popularity is exploited by traditional politicians who wish to share the limelight with the local hero. Manny has also chosen to endorse consumer products enticing the poor to buy things they don’t need in life.

Manny could have been the ‘big brother’ of the poor standing up not just against Mexican boxers but also against corrupt public servants and greedy corporate individuals. Manny could have spoken against the iniquitous social order which relegates majority of the hardworking people in the lowest rungs of society.

There are many self-appointed heroes in society. We do not have a shortage of leaders with bleeding hearts for the poor. We can cite a few of them: Erap, FPJ, GMA – all of them have boasted their affinity with the poor. But they were all pretenders. They never knew or felt how was it to be poor. They never experienced hunger, destituteness or bankruptcy. (Moral bankruptcy, perhaps). They just claimed to be the servants of the poor, and we believed them.

But Manny Pacquiao is different. Here we have a genuine working-class hero. Manny knew the cruelty of abject poverty. Early in his life, Manny endured discrimination and penury. Manny has to fight (literally) for his humanity. He has to shed blood, sweat and tears to escape the humiliation of being tagged as poor.

Manny’s stature has a subversive potential. He could effectively rally the masses to march and destroy the oppressive social order. He could rouse the poor to remove the evils of society. He could lead the revolution against poverty.

But Manny refuses to undertake this coveted responsibility. Instead, he relinquishes his duty by allowing the politicians to usurp his popularity among the poor. He continues to be grateful to his ‘patrons’ yet he does not owe anything to these ‘vultures’. The poor looks up to Manny as their Redeemer yet he seems to be unaware of his true power.

Manny needs to be reminded of the tragic story of another working-class hero in Philippine history: Nora Aunor.

Before Manny Pacquiao, there was Nora Aunor. The younger generation may never understand why Nora was called ‘superstar’ or why she was more popular than the very respectful, beautiful and charming Ms. Vilma Santos-Recto. But in her heyday, Nora was the quintessential brown-skinned Filipina thespian.

Like Manny, Nora was a rural girl who tried her luck in the Metro and succeeded. She captivated the country with her singing prowess, country charm/beauty and acting skills. Nora gained fame, wealth and respect. Nora was the hero of the masses.

Patrick Flores (The Dissemination of Nora Aunor) recounts a story told by the late Lino Brocka about Nora: “After the premiere of a film, a big crowd waited for her outside the lobby. People were unruly. Her car was being bumped by the crowd. All she did was put a finger on her lips and raise her right hand, and it was like the parting of the Red Sea. You could hear a pin drop.”

Neferti Tadiar (The Noranian Imaginary) recalls one of the stories about Nora: “One afternoon in a wealthy subdivision in Manila; chaos and crisis suddenly erupt in the peaceful homes of the rich – children are crying, housewives are helplessly stranded, pots are boiling over. It turns out that all the maids working in these households have abandoned their wards, female employers, and domestic duties to watch a ‘shooting’ of a Nora Aunor movie in the neighbourhood.”

Tadiar believed “Nora’s power did not lie in her personification of the babaeng martir as powerless victim of suprahuman forces, but rather it lay in her acting of, and as, the blessed atsay who is able to capture and enact the power and grace of those forces.”

But Nora (like Manny) surrendered her power over the masses by supporting the ruling class. Tadiar wrote further: “The subversive potential of Nora’s popularity (the heretical power of Inang Bayan), of her defining common countenance, might be seen to have been realized in the role of the insurgent woman Redeemer which was, in the wake of Nora’s relinquishment of her mandate, taken up by Corazon Aquino during the February Revolt of 1986…In aligning herself with the authoritarian patriarchal order of the Marcos regime, Nora betrayed and thereby ‘allowed’ Aquino (and the Church, the Military and the Class for which she stood) to usurp and reform, effectively turning it from a revolutionary people’s power to a conservative and stabilizing majestic Marian rule.”

Manny, learn from Nora’s political mistakes. Someday, when you are no longer a prize fighter, your friends in politics will abandon you. The masa will not forget how you gave up your claim as the nation’s Redeemer.

Manny, stop flaunting your wealth. Instead, lead the revolution. Man the frontlines. Man the barricades. Your fans await you.

Related entries:

Sports idols
Sports for all.

Blogging the news

After the cancellation of the 12th ASEAN Summit, the Japanese Prime Minister who carried on with his Manila trip said he understood the decision of the Philippine government. But after a few days, a Japanese foreign minister wrote in his blog that the Philippines lost credibility with the unilateral postponement of the Summit. Are we going to believe the official statement of the Japanese Prime Minister or the blog entry of a high-ranking government official?

This recent case reminds us how blogs are quickly becoming alternative sources of media information. While it is still doubted whether bloggers can be recognized as journalists, the potency of blogging in transmitting information to a broader audience can never be ignored.

Blogging empowers citizens, especially those whose views are sometimes overlooked by the mainstream media. Since the dominant media can only report stories matching traditional criteria, blogging allows people to easily write about their lives or topics which are relevant to their communities.

The most interesting accounts on the destruction wrought by typhoon Milenyo two months ago were written by bloggers. They also live-blogged the boxing match between Erik Morales and our very own Manny Pacquiao. At the height of the ‘Hello Garci’ controversy last year, Malacanang admitted it was ‘not winning the war in the cyberspace’, proof that bloggers have been successful in articulating the peoples’ frustration against the government.

Philippine media has not been ignoring the potential of blogging. Manila Standard hired two bloggers to become regular columnists in the paper. A number of journalists maintain their own blogs. News reporters are now quoting statements and developing news stories from blog articles. News organizations have set up blog sites which led to more interaction with the readers.

But Philippine media has also not been aggressively endorsing the use of blogs to improve media content. A TV station bans its reporters from having personal blogs. Some media practitioners look down on bloggers and refuse to recognize the journalistic output of the latter. News teams have yet to refer to blogs on a daily basis. Gathering of news still requires the sending of press releases through fax or e-mail or the texting of reporters/photographers.

One way to improve integration of blogs with news writing is to make blog content more reliable and sensible. The most popular blogs in the country and elsewhere are those dealing with entertainment and gossip. Most bloggers ignore politics or social issues and tend to concentrate on mundane matters. Of course, every blogger has a right to write anything which interests him/her, whether it’s about the mystery surrounding the president’s health or Borgy Manotoc’s confessions on radio. The challenge is to encourage more bloggers to manifest their views, from time to time, on issues affecting the community. Perhaps we can also advise politicians to blog as well since this can improve public accountability. (This is assuming they know how to write).

On the other hand, the growth of blogging community may be wishful thinking for a country with small number of literate persons with access to phones and computers. Another obstacle is how to convince people grappling with hunger and poverty that blogging can actually make a difference in their lives.

Online journalism is a promising phenomenon faced with real difficulties. In the long run, blogs can improve media content and delivery of news. Blogs do not demean the journalism profession nor do they aim to take over news groups.

Blogging can be a productive activitiy for Filipinos. We must take advantage our familiarity with the English language and the fact that local bloggers are not (yet) harassed by government censors like what is happening in other nations.

Blogging is simple. Write, post, upload. Blogging is powerful. Write, interact, transform.

On the 12th day of Christmas…

Blogging rewards: I will be attending the Global Voices Online Summit in India (December 16-17). I am eager to meet fellow bloggers from other countries and learn/share ideas on how to promote online advocacy. Thanks to Preetam for inviting me to write for Global Voices. Thanks to Ederic for encouraging me to blog.

Last December 12, anti-charter change groups held a protest march from St. Peter’s Parish to Sandiganbayan along Commonwealth Avenue. The protesters could have easily rammed the disorganized and smaller number of policemen blocking the road leading to Batasan Complex but that would be provoking the government to unnecessarily disperse the peaceful assembly. In any case, allow me to highlight the significance of that protest action last Tuesday….

1. Since September 21, there has been no united action by Opposition groups which would gather the most number of people in the streets. In fact, the last time a major protest march was held along Commonwealth Avenue (except during SONAs) was during the 1st impeachment proceeding against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last year.

2. The December 12 action was participated by groups which have been consistently opposing ChaCha, with or without the blessings of the Church. It gave a glimpse of the major political forces which will also mobilize on Sunday.

3. I could not recall a major protest action wherein both the national democrats and the former natdems turned _________(I will be kind not to describe their political orientation) agreed to march together with the natdems occupying the left side of the road and the _________at the right side. The pro-Erap groups I think were at the back.

4. There were new groups, new faces, new leaders, and even new slogans last Tuesday. I saw Noynoy Aquino, Neric Acosta, Erin Tanada and Alan Peter Cayetano. Most of them are Liberal Party members. At one time, Noynoy was standing in front of peasant groups affiliated with Hacienda Luisita workers.

5. The rally created a monstrous traffic jam along Commonwealth Avenue which prevented many members of Congress from attending the Session. This was used by the Majority bloc as a reason to call for an early adjournment. Was it good or bad?

I am aware that motorists and commuters were inconvenienced by the rally last Tuesday. But annoying the public would never be our goal. I hope people would realize that protesters have never planned to hold protest programs in major thoroughfares. We would always demand our right to stage a rally in front of government offices but the police would block our march and this will force us to stop and conduct a protest action in the streets. Yes, there are freedom parks. But we want to address our leaders, not trees. We want to denounce the policies of the government, not shout in front of Quiapo Church. If other countries can tolerate mass actions in front of a President’s office or residence, why can’t this be allowed in the Republic of the Philippines?

The government must allow and respect protest rallies in the following areas:

1. Mendiola – If Gate 7 will be opened, protest actions will not cause traffic nightmare in Espana, Morayta and Recto.

2. Inside the Batasan Complex – Don’t block the people along Commonwealth. Let them enter Batasan Complex where there are idle areas which can be used to hold rallies. I am referring to the big open space near the twin helipad at the back of the Batasan main building. Look how the Senate rallies are not causing traffic jams since protesters are allowed to enter the CCP Complex. Imagine the traffic chaos if rallyists are blocked along Roxas Boulevard.

‘Naminghoy ming tanan’

A new Constitution next week? – my blog entry for Global Voices Online. My wife is a big fan of Philippine Idol; she even brought our almost two-year old kid to watch the Idol wannabes perform at SM Fairview. Check out the pictures. By the way, I met bloggers Ellen Tordesillas and James Jimenez last week.

The year 2006 will be remembered because of powerful tropical cyclones. What was the name of that storm which triggered a landslide in Southern Leyte early this year? Then ‘Milenyo’ wreaked havoc in Luzon two months ago which led to the dismantling of giant billboard ads in Metro Manila. More importantly, it reminded the people of the frightening impact of global warming. ‘Reming’ devastated the Bicol region almost two weeks ago and made ‘lahar’ a buzzword again.

A few days ago, ‘Seniang’ battered Eastern Visayas and forced government to postpone the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu. For the past year, Cebu was spared from strong typhoons. Then ‘Seniang’ arrived and ruined the ‘coming out’ party of Cebu.

More than 900 passengers from 30 commercial ferries were stranded in Cebu City piers. It has been raining all weekend in the city but it was the northern part of Cebu which was hit with strong winds and heavy downpour. Mandaue City was grateful ‘Seniang’ changed course since it already spent its calamity funds for the Summit preparations.

The government invoked the weather disturbance as the alibi why the Summit has to be postponed. (Today, the sun is up, the skies are clear – proof that ‘Seniang’ was just an excuse to cancel the Summit. Any conspiracy theories?). But there are also rumors of terror threats. In fact, five countries advised its citizens not to travel to Cebu during the Summit because of a possible terrorist attack in the province. If the security threat was real, then Cebuanos, not just foreigners, have the right to be informed about their safety.

According to organizers, the postponement of the Summit was a ‘most agonizing decision’ to make. After all, more than P1.07 billion was already spent to prepare for the Summit (according to Tourism Secretary Ace Durano). The Cebu City Mayor has ‘mixed feelings’ over the rescheduling of the event. Although in another interview, he confessed he was frustrated with the decision. The business community was “disappointed and helpless” since they will have to recoup their losses. Architects, engineers, artists and all people who exerted their best to beat the deadline were disappointed as well.

Catering contracts were scrapped, hotel bookings were cancelled, car rentals were withdrawn. Journalists are trying to refund initial travel and accommodation expenses. Foreign diplomats, guests and activists (like me) are rebooking flights to leave Cebu at the soonest time possible. (Con-ass/concon na eh, what am I still doing here?!)

What will happen to the exhibit of towns and other entities at the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC)? Among the wasted preparations: performances for gala night, dinner for state heads’ spouses, and festivals for spouses’ tours.

Many schools ordered the resumption of classes. Too bad for students who already left for their home provinces. What about the four-day work week implemented during the Summit? It seems government workers need to cut short or cancel their vacation plans.

Cebu will have ample time to repair the water leaking at the CICC. Not bad for a building which cost half a billion pesos only. According to government engineers, the leaks were ‘normal’ and part of water-proofing procedure. Indeed, a world-class convention center!

Postponing the Summit may be an agonizing decision; but rescheduling it is a harder task. Nations and heads of states must agree on a date (January 10-13). Can Cebu handle both the Sinulog festival and the Summit in just one month? Is it prepared for heavier traffic and bigger crowd? Local media is worried that after all the preparations made by Cebu, the Summit may take place in Metro Manila in the end.

Related entries:

Hospitality with a Cebuano flavor.
Refugee nation
The day after Milenyo

Con-ass moments

Overheard conversations in the House of Representatives….

A few months ago – Visayas Female legislator: We have to enact measures to encourage health workers to stay in the country. We also need closer coordination with health agencies to improve delivery of health care. The problem is we do not have a parliamentary form of government. If we change the form of government, public officials will become more accountable for their policies, actions and programs.

A few weeks ago – Central Mindanao lawmaker: Naku aalis ako eh. Hindi ako aattend session. Pupunta ako sa caucus sa Malakanyang.
Far south congressman: Bukas na lang yan, pupunta akong Malakanyang ngayon eh.

A few days ago – Central Luzon female representative, around 6pm in casual wear: Uy pakisabi present ako ha. Kanina pa ako 4pm, akala ko matagal pa start kasi wala quorum kanina kaya lumabas ako. Pakisabi ha na present ako.
Porky lawmaker: Nasaan na ang 195? Dapat marami na tayo ngayon.
Ilocano congressman: Dapat payagan na ang speech ng Opposition, 10 minutes lang naman eh. Para matapos na tayo.
Luzon lawmaker: Sir, baka pwede i-delay yung changing ng rules. Huwag ng madaliin ito.

Snapshots: Raul Lambino and JDV near the Planry Hall, unmindful if they are seen together by the public.
Bicolano (and even Albay) congressmen attended the session yesterday. Of course their job is to legislate and not to help in the rescue efforts in their provinces. But since they are also donating basketball courts, waiting sheds and greeting streamers in their districts, saving lives and helping those in need are more important today than attending the session in Congress. Kaso wala bayad kapag absent eh, di ba sir?

Will the Lower House succeed in amending the Constitution through a Constituent Assembly? Will the next few weeks mark the last glorious days of the freest Republic of Asia? The House of Representatives seems determined to ignore the almost unanimous sentiment of the Senate that the support of three-fourths of all members of each Chamber of Congress is first needed before proceeding to change the Constitution.

After the Supreme Court rejected Sigaw ng Bayan’s petition to amend the Constitution through a people’s initiative, many believed that was the end of the road for the Charter Change (ChaCha) campaign. Everyone started to focus on the May 2007 midterm elections. Even politicians can be seen preparing for the coming polls.

Perhaps anti-ChaCha groups were so jubilant over the Supreme Court’s decision which described Sigaw ng Bayan’s petition as a ‘grand deception’ that they failed to anticipate how ChaCha can be resurrected by a group which stands to benefit the most if the Constitution is revised: The House of Representatives.

To use a famous phrase these days, it was a ‘monumental blunder’ that anti-ChaCha advocates underestimated the political viciousness and shrewdness of Congress in its desire to change the Constitution. Or to quote a philosopher from a galaxy far far away, “do not underestimate the power of the dark force”.

People doubt if Congress will push through with ChaCha since surveys reveal that majority of Filipinos are not in favor of amending the Constitution today. But this Congress has proven its stubbornness many times when it ditched popular opinion in favor of pragmatic politics.

This is the Congress which approved an increase in percentage points in the Value Added Tax last year. This is the Congress which twice quashed impeachment complaints against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This is the Congress which has no qualms in reenacting the General Appropriations Act for the past three years since they were insulted by the Senate decision to reduce unnecessary funds allocated for the Office of the President. This is the Congress recently accused by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago of bloating the ‘pork barrel’ in the proposed 2007 national budget. The politicians who will vote in favor of ChaCha are the same politicians who handled the public hearings on juetengate, hello garci and the ethics case involving Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano. Yes, this is the Congress which flaunts its lack of independence by admitting its role in advancing the legislative agenda of the President.

Now, this Congress wants to con us, oops, Con-ass. And most probably they will succeed. They are not afraid of public outrage. Perhaps they already sensed that politics is already not on the minds of many Filipinos these days. After all, it’s already December and everyone is preoccupied with the Holiday activities.

Anti-ChaCha groups will be in Cebu next week to attend mass rallies, conferences and public assemblies in time for the ASEAN Summit. Who will be left in Manila to provide the warm bodies and leadership in staging protest actions in Batasan? The Supreme Court Chief Justice will retire this week. The President may appoint a new Chief Justice who is ‘friendlier’ to the ChaCha agenda of the administration.

The House of Representatives has the numbers, motivation and even sufficient time to mount a coup in amending the Charter. Never mind due process, public support and moral issues. This will be their last act of desperation for political survival since they are aware that if the regular elections will push through in May, pro-administration candidates will be soundly defeated by the Opposition.

Related entries:

The plebiscite question.
Shall we dance the Cha-Cha?

Mareng trapo

In fairness to Ms. Winnie Monsod and UP School of Economics, they have always been consistent in advocating a tuition increase for UP. In fact, there was a similar proposal during my undergraduate years (1996-2000) but this was shelved after it was vigorously protested by students and even national leaders. Aware of the growing opposition in the UP system, Monsod and company are fanatically (and unkindly) criticizing the opposition against the tuition increase plan. In particular, Monsod has been using her columns in the Philippine Daily Inquirer to ridicule student groups at the forefront of the campaign against the tuition hike.

In her column last week, Monsod wrote about the insignificance of the protest rally held by students against the tuition increase. She argued that only 400 out of 25,000 UP Diliman students attended the demonstration. Monsod failed to mention that the rally was supported by student groups, student councils and student publications not only in Diliman but in the whole UP system – from UP Baguio to UP Mindanao.

Monsod should know better that one doesn’t need to mobilize the 25,000 students to show support for a particular cause in UP. During the ‘Estrada Resign’ campaign, before the Chavit expose and when it was not yet popular to chant ‘Erap resign’ in the campus, we were only mobilizing about 100-200 students in front of Oblation. But Monsod never doubted whether UP was really against Estrada. Monsod was even heard on TV and radio talking about how UP really detests the former President.

In the same column, Monsod describes the waving of banners as a waste of time. Yet Monsod was part of the UP contingent which supported a multisectoral rally against suppression of the free press in Ayala in August 1999. She was always present during the anti-Estrada rallies in Mendiola. She even donated food and money in support for the UP delegation. Now she claims rallies contribute to the negative perception of UP.

Perhaps she is really against students participating in street demonstrations. But her political ambition (she is a former senator-wannabe) led her once to show support for mass rallies. Isn’t this a trapo-like quality?

Monsod equated a trapo with intellectual dishonesty and incompetence. She accused the chair of the student council of citing inaccurate information about the UP tuition hike which misleads the public. This coming from an economist (and free market fundamentalist) who indoctrinated generations of leaders that free trade and neoliberal economics are the only solutions to eradicate poverty in the country. And where are we now? It is she, along with her minions who are intellectually dishonest and incompetent. It is Monsod who misleads the public by portraying the UP scholarship program as effective and benign. (It is she who dupes the masa by lending her reputation as scholar in endorsing detergent products.)

Back to the UP tuition issue, the student leader was correct in pointing out that there will be an increase of fees from P300 to P1,000 per unit. The leader was right in arguing that more indigent students will be unable to enter UP.

Monsod debunked this by boasting the UP scholarship program (STFAP) which charges higher fees to richer students while giving stipend to poor students. Since 1989, student groups described the STFAP as a ‘smokescreen’ for tuition increase. This was a very creative form of tuition increase which led to its implementation in all public vocational schools and encouraged in all state universities of the country.

UP STFAP, like all scholarship programs of the government, has failed to prioritize the poor but intelligent students of the land. Remember Julie Albior and Flores Biwang? Topnotchers in the National Achievement Test but were unable to enroll in UP last June since they can’t afford the P300 per unit charged by the university. How many Albior and Biwang will be discouraged to enroll in UP if tuition will be pegged at P1,000 per unit?

UP education must remain accessible to the general public. UP needs more funding from the government. We should discard the US model of higher education and emulate other developed countries which provide heavy subsidies for higher education. There are other sources for funding. Tap the alumni. Pressure the politicians. But don’t pass the financial burden to students.

Higher education is a right. It is a public good. Should we believe institutions like the World Bank which set the framework of discussion that basic/primary education should be the sole focus of governments and not higher education? It is lending institutions like the World Bank which keep on arguing that individuals, and not the State, should pay for higher education.

Related entries:

Private or public education?
Albior and Biwang: Real tragedies of the year

Ang mga payo ni Mareng Winnie

I wrote this article for Tinig in 2003. Monsod may look young and fresh on TV (thanks to modern since) but she is a child of the McCarthyist era. She is a (rabid) partisan of the conservative agenda. She is the sanitized and more acceptable female and scholarly version of Raul Gonzales (pardon the comparison, but this is my opinion). Her role is to defend the status quo. What is worrisome is that she portrays an image of objectivity. Scary. But there are times when we have to call things for what they really are. Globalization is imperialism. Arroyo is a puppet. Palparan is a butcher. Monsod is a reactionary economist….

Nang una kong mabasa ang tatlong payo ni Mareng Winnie Monsod sa mga kabataan kung paano babaguin ang lipunan, bigla kong naalala yung sinabi minsan ni Alejandro Lichauco, isa sa mga kakaunting makabayang ekonomista ng bansa, na dapat daw sunugin ang School of Economics ng UP Diliman dahil dito nanggagaling ang mga ekonomistang baliw na baliw sa teorya ni Adam Smith na siyang sanhi ng di-malutas-lutas na krisis sa kabuhayan ng bansa.

Naalala ko ito dahil si Mareng Winnie ay galing sa School of Economics ng UP at may malaking papel sa direksiyon ng pagpaplano ng ekonomiya ng bansa. Bukod dito ay isa siyang sikat at respetadong broadcaster sa TV at radyo. Pinapahalagahan ang kanyang mga komentaryo sa mga usaping pambansa. Hinahangaan ang kanyang katapangan sa paghahayag ng kanyang opinyon at ang kumplikadong isyu ay nagagawa niyang simple para maunawaan ng karaniwang mamamayan.

Subalit sumobra ata ang kasimplehan ng kanyang payo sa mga kabataan. Kung tutuusin, katanggap-tanggap naman ang mga payo ni Mareng Winnie. Malaya ang bawat isa na sabihin kung sino ang ayaw niyang kandidato para sa 2004. Walang masama kung maging aktibo tayo sa barangay at sumulat sa mga dyaryo para ireklamo ang mga tiwaling opisyal ng bansa. Ang delikado ay kung sasabihing ito lamang ang kayang gawin ng kabataan para mabago ang lipunan.

Marami ang pumuri sa mga payo ni Mareng Winnie. Marami din akong narinig na mga batikos. Isa sa mga puna ay ang pagkakahon sa potensyal ng kabataan na maging salik sa pagbabago ng lipunan sa balangkas lamang ng eleksiyon. Mukhang nakalimutan ni Mareng Winnie na ang Presidenteng kanyang sinusuportahan ngayon ay naluklok sa puwesto sa pamamagitan ng isang malawak na pag-aalsa ng mamamayan, kabilang na ang kabataan. Kung eleksiyon lamang ang ating inaasahang magbabago sa gobyerno, siguro hanggang ngayon ay tumatawag pa rin si Erap sa Debate ni Mareng Winnie at Pareng Oca mula sa kanyang komportableng posisyon sa Malacanang.

Higit sa paglilimita sa kung ano ang kayang iambag ng kabataan sa pagbabago ng lipunan, inilalako ni Mareng Winnie ang kanyang konsepto ng oryentasyon ng kabataan: bumuboto, aktibo sa barangay at tumatawag o sumusulat sa media. Katatapos lamang ng EDSA2 pero hanggang ngayon ay ayaw pa ring kilalanin ng ilan na ang sumbat nila sa kabataang Pilipino na walang pakialam sa problema ng bansa ay napatunayang mali. Hindi ba’t hindi lamang tayo nagkasya noon sa pag-asa sa barangay o media para mapatalsik si Erap? Tayo ay lumabas mismo ng ating mga paaralan at komunidad para makipagkaisa sa iba’t ibang sektor ng ating lipunan hanggang mawala si Erap sa Malacanang. Kasama natin ang mga manggagawa’t magsasaka sa paghahangad ng pagbabago sa pamumuno, at nagwagi tayo. Napatunayan na nating higit pa sa ipinapayo ni Mareng Winnie ang kayang gawin ng kabataan para mabago ang lipunan.

May isa pang delikadong implikasyon ang payo ni Mareng Winnie tungkol kay FPJ. Hindi ko alam kung sinadya niya ito pero ginawa niyang isyu ng personahe at indibidwal ang isang usaping nakabatay dapat sa mga programa ng isang partido para sa mamamayan. Imbes na hikayating maging kritikal ang mga kabataan sa isyu ng pambansang soberenya, patrimonya at demokrasya para malaman kung sino ang karapat-dapat sa 2004, hinusgahan agad ni Mareng Winnie si FPJ at Lacson batay sa pagiging artista ng una at ang parehong pagiging malapit ng dalawa sa pinatalsik na Pangulong Erap. Sa ganitong pagpapakete ng argumento ay makakatakas si GMA (na suportado ni Mareng Winnie) sa kritikal na paghuhusga ng mamamayan at ng kabataan ayon sa kanyang nagawang kabutihan o kasamaan sa bayan.

Tunay ngang nagagawang simple ni Mareng Winnie ang isang kumplikadong usapin. Pero higit sa lahat, ang isang balikong argumento ay napapalabas niyang lohikal at intelehente. Kung ako ang nagbigay ng mga payong ito, baka kahit sa isang tabloid ay hindi ako pansinin. Pero dahil si Mareng Winnie ang nagsalita, sa front page pa ng Inquirer ito lumabas, kahit sabihin na nating nakakainsulto ang mga payo niya.

Hindi ko alam kung sapat na ba ang mga payo ni Mareng Winnie para maniwala tayong tama si Lichauco na dapat na ngang sunugin ang School of Economics n UP. Ang alam ko lang sa pagkakataong ito ay ikinahihiya kong minsan akong naging estudyante ni Winnie Monsod.