Monthly Archives: November 2007

Panic Mode

Originally published in Tinig (Thanks Ederic). For new readers, Daluyong is the name of my Tinig column. Check also my column for UPI-Asia.

Napukaw ang aking atensiyon sa artikulong sinulat ni Ethan Zuckerman hinggil sa lektyur na binigay ni Dan Gilbert, isang propesor sa Harvard, ukol sa pagsusuri ng tao sa panganib (risk).

Tanong ni Gilbert, bakit hindi natin natutukoy ang mga malalaking pagbabagong idinudulot ng global warming samantalang kaya namang tukuyin ng ating utak ang ilang kongkretong banta sa ating buhay? May apat na dahilang ibinigay si Gilbert kung bakit hindi tayo nagpa-panic sa global warming. Isa-isahin natin ang mga ito:

Una, walang mukha ang global warming. Interesante ang spekulasyon ni Gilbert: “If a plane were struck by lightning and destroyed the World Trade Center, none of us would remember the year it occurred in. If global warming were trying to kill us, our president would be fighting a war on it, with or without congressional approval.”

Pangalawa, hindi kontra ang global warming sa ating moral framework. Mainam ulit ang halimbawa ni Gilbert: “If climate change were caused by gay sex or eating puppies, people would be massing in the streets.”

Pangatlo, mahusay tumugon ang tao sa banta ng kasalukuyan, hindi ng hinaharap. At pang-apat, sensitibo ang tao sa pagbabago sa liwanag, tunog, presyur at bigat; pero sensitibo sa mga relatibong pagbabago at hindi sa mga absolutong pagbabago. Narito ang dagdag na interpretasyon ni Zuckerman:

“When the rate of change of a stimulus is slow, we barely notice those changes. We’d be up in arms about changes that have happened in the past two generations in impurities of our air, water and food. We only tolerate it because it happened so slowly. The problem in reacting to global warming is not that it’s happening so quickly, but because it’s happening so slowly.”

Magagamit ang ilang argumento ni Gilbert upang maunawaan ang aktitud ng publiko sa Pilipinas hinggil sa iba’t ibang isyung panlipunan.

Halimbawa, bakit hindi maingay ang middle class laban sa extrajudicial killings? Bakit biglang buhos ang galit at pagdadalamhati sa Glorietta blast at Batasan bombing samantalang tahimik naman dati kapag may mga bombang sumasabog sa Mindanao? Bakit tayo nandiri sa ginawang pamimigay ng cash gift sa Malakanyang samantalang noon pa man ay matindi na ang korupsiyon sa pamahalaan?

Bago bumulaga ang mga kaso nina Jonas Burgos, Karen Empeño at Sheryl Cadapan, hindi napapansin ng publiko ang ginagawang lingguhang pagdukot at pagpatay sa mga aktibista sa bansa. Paisa-isa ang mga kaso ng pamamaslang. Kailangan munang umabot sa daan-daan ang pinatay bago kilalanin na may malawak na paglabag sa karapatang pantao sa Pilipinas.

Matagal nang problema ang kahirapan sa Pilipinas pero kinailangan pa ang pagpapakamatay ni Marianette Amper upang makumbinsi’t paaminin ang pamahalaan at mayayaman na malawak na ang diskontento sa lipunan. Binigyang mukha ni Amper ang kahirapan at kawalan ng pag-asa ng kabataan sa kasalukuyan. Ang pagpapakamatay ay kontra sa moral framework ng mga Pilipino.

Natutuwa ang pamahalaan sa perang ipinapadala ng mga migranteng Pilipino sa kanilang pamilya. Subalit hindi ito naaalarma sa pangmatagalang negatibong implikasyon ng pagkawala ng mga manggagawa’t propesyunal sa bansa. Hindi kasi biglaan ang negatibong pagbabagong dinudulot ng brain drain.

Mahalaga ang punto ni Gilbert hinggil sa kahinaan ng tao na kilalanin ang mga absolutong pagbabago sa lipunan. Nabibighani tayo sa mga espesyal at madramang kaso ng pagnanakaw, pagpatay, at masamang pamumuno. Pero hindi natin agad nasisipat ang tinutumbok ng mga kasong ito sa pangkalahatang katangian ng pulitika sa bansa. Hindi natin nauugnay ang mga indibidwal na problema sa struktural na depekto ng partikular na sistemang pulitikal na dominate sa lipunan.

Sensitibo tayo sa isyu ng korupsiyon na kinakasangkutan ng isang pulitiko. Pero bakit hindi natin pinapansin ang pananagutan ng uri ng pulitika na namamayani sa ating bansa?

Sabi ni Gilbert, magaling at mabilis tumugon ang tao sa mga bantang personal, imoral at nagaganap ngayon. Kailangang matutunang pag-aralan ang mga bagay-bagay na kahit hindi personal, kahit hindi imoral, kahit hindi banta sa ngayon, pero kung labag sa interes ng mamamayan, dapat itong tutulan, labanan at pigilang makasakit pa ng ating kapwa.

Kahit hindi popular ang isang adhikain, kahit itinuturing na kahangalan ang isang ideya, pero kung pinaniniwalaan nating magdudulot ng malaking epekto sa komunidad, dapat itong suriin pa nang husto. Hindi ba’t ang global warming ay minamaliit dati bilang pseudo-science? Napakarami pang “hangal na ideya” sa lipunan ang dapat iligtas mula sa masamang pagkakaangkop ng mga nasa kapangyarihan.

Related entries:

Politics of underdevelopment
Spectacle politics

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Divine interventions

The Philippines was a colony of Spain for more than three hundred years. Religion was the main weapon used by the Spaniards to subjugate the local population. It would also become Spain’s most enduring legacy to the Philippine nation.

During the struggle for independence in the late 19th century, local uprisings were also directed against abusive Spanish friars. The revolution forced Spain to cede the Philippines to the United States but the Catholic Church remained a powerful political and social force in society. The revolution also failed to confiscate the friar lands throughout the country which constitute the church’s economic clout.

Today, the Philippines is still the only Catholic-dominated nation in Asia. There are no more Spanish clergy in the country but bishops remain very influential in almost all aspects of Philippine social life.

The Catholic Church played crucial roles during the two People Power uprisings in 1986 and 2001 which led to the downfall of Presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada. It was always the strong opposition from bishops which forced politicians to abandon their plans of amending the Constitution in the past ten years.

One of the reasons why President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is still in power despite numerous corruption and other embarrassing scandals hounding her government is because most of the country’s bishops have chosen to remain silent over political issues. Myanmar’s silent Buddhist monks have to teach the silent Philippine bishops how to shepherd the faithful in condemning injustice, bad governance, and repression in society.

Most of Filipino politicians are afraid to antagonize the Catholic hierarchy. But every now and then, some politicians manage to articulate their frustrations over the excessive intervention of church authorities in the political affairs of the country. The church uses its influence to oppose population control programs, reproductive health services, and the divorce law.

Sex scandals have also tarnished the reputation of the Catholic Church. Even a bishop was accused of sexual harassment by his personal secretary. Priests keep a vow of poverty but many of them maintain lifestyles which can be described as luxurious for Philippine standards.

The Catholic Church, despite its weaknesses as an institution, continues to remain relevant in the eyes of the people. In fact, most people are turning to religion “in search for secure moorings in a shifting world.” Like in other parts of the globe, there is a revival of interest in religion in Philippine society.

The Catholic Church does not have a monopoly in the people’s pursuit of religious salvation. Catholic charismatic groups, evangelical Christian formations, protestant churches, Christian born again missionaries and even Islam are enjoying renewed enthusiasm from the people, especially the poor.

In 2004, the leader of an evangelical Christian group ran for president and managed to clinch a respectable showing in the polls. In the recent elections, the top winners in the partylist system were the religious-backed groups. A charismatic group is able to gather more than one million people every week in the national park; something which the Catholic Church has not yet achieved. A Catholic priest defeated two moneyed politicians and became the governor of the home province of President Arroyo.

How do we explain the people’s fanatical participation in new religious formations? Why are evangelical leaders enjoying high popularity these days?

It’s not enough to describe the religious nature of Filipinos. The revival of interest in religion has something to do with the dislocations of the Philippine economy in the past decades. The people are clinging to religious associations hoping to achieve a sense of personal fulfillment in this chaotic and materialistic world.

The extraordinary rise in number of Filipinos leaving the country has changed traditional Filipino institutions, especially the family. More than eight million Filipinos are now working in different parts of the world. Families separated for long periods of time lead to broken marriages, depressed children and dysfunctional family relationships. Migration of workers is destroying the traditional Filipino family, the basic unit of Philippine society.

The neoliberal turn of the economy has ravaged the domestic manufacturing and agricultural sectors of the country. Flexible or contractual labor diminished the organized strength of labor unions. The growth of the service sector created an army of individual workers with little or no sense of collective solidarity.

Individualism and entrepreneurialism as virtues gained prominence. Citizens were transformed into consumers. Government has abandoned social welfare and allowed the free market to take care of peoples’ needs. Ownership of money and the capacity to multiply wealth became the all-encompassing measurement of success in society.

The shifts in the economy have threatened the social stability. Individuals who were once part of a collective like labor unions, farm cooperatives and intact families are now alone, probably unemployed or underemployed and overwhelmed with the consumer culture that pervades society today.

This “individualistic society of transients” generates the longing for common or shared values. Religion becomes attractive to individuals, workers, and consumers who feel alienated in society. As philosopher David Harvey puts it: “In moments of despair or exaltation, who among us can refrain from invoking the time of fame, of myth, of the Gods?”

Filipino politicians and businessmen are aware of the special new role of religious sects today. Economic favors are now granted to friendly religious leaders. Corporations are hiring workers who belong to a big church which disallow members from joining labor unions.

In 1978, the Republican Party of the United States forged an alliance with evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” movement to dominate U.S. politics. This partnership allowed the Republican Party to impose neoliberal prescriptions in the U.S. economy which favored big business at the expense of the working-class movement.

In the Philippines, politicians are linking with church groups to keep the electorate under their command. The public should be wary over this alliance. What will stop politicians from signing “morality” programs with church leaders that would be against to the political and economic interests of the faithful? There is need for non-religious new collectivities and social solidarity groups in Philippine society today.

Related entries:

Mall, migration and economy
Altar Knights
Overpopulated Philippines

Conjugal dictators

Are you in favor of SIM registration? Join the discussion in the Yehey! message boards.

Historians use different models of worldview to document human activities. Histories can be god-centric, human-centric, or idea-centric. Historians are important since they can choose to highlight what events need to be written for the present and next generation.

Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo wrote that periodizing history is done not to compartmentalize history but for the sake of convenience and simplification. What he failed to mention is that this task can also influence public consciousness. In fact, Agoncillo was responsible for making the brief 1896 revolution a major turning point in Philippine history.

Periodizing history generates a particular appreciation of events. New periodizations can promote new thinking of the past. For example, World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1941-1945) are milestones of the 20th century. British historian Eric Hobsbawm suggested that these twin wars can also be viewed as the Thirty Years War (1914-1945) in order to pinpoint the causes that link the two wars.

There are various ways to read Philippine history after 1946. The most popular approach is to identify succeeding presidents and their list of accomplishments or embarrassing scandals. Another common approach is to allot a special reference to the two-decade reign of Ferdinand Marcos.

The usual narrative mentions the following: Liberal democracy allegedly made the Philippines the second richest country in Asia during the 1950s and early 1960s. Marcos rejected liberal democracy in favor of constitutional authoritarianism. Marcos and his cronies became greedy which led to the collapse of the economy. The people revolted, especially after the assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino in 1983. When Marcos was ousted in 1986, democracy was restored. The pre-1972 political and economic systems were upheld.

An alternative reading runs this way: Liberal democracy actually meant the Philippines’ political and economic dependence to foreign imperial powers; and oligarchic control of society. When the prevailing system began to cause irreparable contradictions between factions of the elite and a social revolt seemed imminent, Marcos resorted to dictatorship to preserve the political and economic interests of local and foreign ruling classes. The ill-conceived economic policies of Marcos, plus corruption and cronyism, resulted in a prolonged economic crisis. Human rights violations were also rampant under martial law. The people revolted which led to the downfall of Marcos in 1986. The old sections of the elite, represented by President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, were able to grab control of Philippine society again.

How do we then view Philippine history after1986? Twenty years have passed since the supposed restoration of the “old order” yet the Philippines has not yet regained its former status as the second richest country in Asia. Who is to be blamed for our miseries? Our “bastard culture?” The communists? The Catholic Church? Imperialism?

The convenient scapegoat is Marcos. It is easy to blame Marcos for all the weaknesses of the Philippine state since he is already dead. It is better to start reflecting on the bigger sins of the presidents who succeeded Marcos.

The pardon given by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to former President Joseph Estrada led to a realization that the Philippines has been ruled by conjugal dictators for the past four decades. At the risk of placing more emphasis on rulers rather than social/economic factors as the driving wheels of history, I suggest that we name the following as the conjugal dictators of the country: Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (1965-1986); Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos (1986-1998); Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo (1998-present).

The Ferdinand-Imelda Marcos conjugal dictatorship has been adequately commented already. Let’s proceed to the Aquino-Ramos tandem.

Mainstream media usually reports that Aquino restored democracy while Ramos left a legacy of economic prosperity. The alternative view blames Aquino for human rights violations while Ramos is responsible for the destructive impact of privatization, deregulation and liberalization to the lives of the people.

Aquino, whose family is the biggest landlord of Luzon, implemented a flawed land reform law. Landlessness is a key social issue in the country. The Automatic Appropriations Act was enacted during Aquino’s term which meant bigger allocation for foreign banks and fewer resources for social services. During Aquino’s watch, vigilantes and para-military death squads terrorized many parts of the countryside.

Ramos, who was picked by Aquino as her anointed successor, embraced the free market dogma and implemented an extensive privatization program. Ramos sold numerous public assets and deregulated strategic industries whose detrimental consequences like skyrocketing power and water rates are still being felt by consumers today. Ramos started the trend of allowing the dumping of imported products in the local market which destroyed the domestic manufacturing and agricultural sectors of the economy.

The Aquino-Ramos team was succeeded by the Estrada-Arroyo coalition. Estrada and Arroyo may appear as bitter rivals but their political fates seem intertwined. They represent the worst of Philippine politics. Estrada proved why shallow and incompetent entertainers (and hopefully, broadcasters) should not be allowed to rule the country. Arroyo reminds the public that traditional politicians are still in power and they know best how to undermine democratic institutions.

The Estrada-Arroyo union was secretly forged even in the past years when Estrada was still in jail. This is a very peculiar partnership. Marcos said he loved his wife; Aquino and Ramos are friends; but Estrada and Arroyo hated each other. They need to establish an alliance which can be described as unprincipled and immoral in order to preserve their personal interests.

They need each other to deceive the public, defeat their enemies from other factions of the elite, and gather enough resources to survive public backlash in the near future. In the end, one of them will have to destroy the other. Who will emerge the winner?

How long will the Estrada-Arroyo dictatorship last? The people will still have to write this part of history. Hopefully, the ending will be good.

Related entries:

Marcos as scapegoat
Gloria and Cory
Export the proletariat
Wyatt Erap

Sex and Filipino youth

The Philippines has a very young population. Adolescence is thought to be the healthiest stage of the life cycle, but in this country statistics defy this common observation.

A study by Dr. Corazon M. Raymundo reveals that at least one-third of the 475,000 abortions in the country are attributed to women aged 15-24 years old. Three out of four maternal deaths are from the adolescent group.

Many of the health problems of adolescents are lifestyle-related. About 13 percent of adolescents have thought of committing suicide. More than half of unsuccessful suicide incidents involved the slashing of wrists. About 11 percent of the youth have tried illegal drug substances. The most commonly used illegal drugs are marijuana, rugby, shabu, ecstasy and cough syrup.

According Dr. Raymundo, reproductive health is an important aspect of adolescent health. Threats to adolescent reproductive health include early and unprotected premarital sexual activity, early pregnancy and childbirth, abortion, rape, violence and sexual harassment.

Premarital sex is increasing in the Philippines. The study shows that 20 percent of premarital sex occurs among high school students. Many first sexual encounters are not planned or wanted. Most sexual experiences are unprotected.

Substantial numbers of young people have reproductive health problems but they are not seeking medical help. Painful menstruation among girls and painful urination among boys are the most commonly reported ailments. Sexually active youth have more such problems. One-third of these boys and girls have experienced sexually transmitted infections.

Dr. Raymundo notes that those who smoke, drink, and use drugs are more likely to have sex. Premarital sex is most strongly linked with drug use. This shows that risky behaviors do not occur in isolation, rather they are interconnected.

It is also alarming that many teenagers think AIDS can be cured and still a large percentage thinks they are not vulnerable to AIDS. The government should also look into persistent rumors that AIDS cases are on the rise among call center workers.

Dr. Raymundo reminds the public that teenage pregnancy is another cause for concern because of the special situation of young women in society. By age 18, about 10 percent of teenagers have been pregnant already. The figure rises to 25 percent by age 20.

There is a higher risk that a teenage pregnancy will lead to miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and low birth weight. The baby of a teenage mother is four times more likely to die.

Dr. Raymundo appeals to various stakeholders to help in reducing teenage pregnancy and the negative outcomes of such pregnancy. There is need to create a physical and cultural environment favorable to the promotion of adolescent health. This should lead to a decentralized structure, reduction of mortality and morbidity caused by early sexual activity, sexually transmitted infections, drug use and other risky behaviors.

The government should draft a program on adolescent reproductive health that will integrate sexuality education and fertility awareness in the school curriculum. It should tackle teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS, among other issues.

If the government is amenable to including climate change in the curriculum, why does it continue to object to reproductive health education for students? Unwanted pregnancy and other adolescent problems are serious threats to the well-being and future of the people.

Amending the AIDS Law is important too, since it is silent on the rights protection and provisions for children affected by HIV and AIDS. Girl children are the most affected by these diseases. The amendment should incorporate concerns for special treatment of children with HIV.

Stakeholders should motivate the youth, communities, opinion leaders, political and religious authorities to adopt favorable attitudes vis a vis promotion of youth health. Initiatives should promote the idea that sexual development is an inevitable, normal and important part of adolescent development.

Extra effort should be applied in engaging the powerful Catholic Church and other conservative forces in the "pro-life" camp. Many sectors of Philippine society still consider sex and sexuality as taboo issues. Dr. Raymundo is frustrated that healthy adolescent sexuality is still regarded as promiscuity. She also identified the "moral panic" about sexuality especially with regards to sexuality education and homosexuality.

The Catholic hierarchy is the single biggest stumbling block as to why the Philippines has not yet legislated a comprehensive reproductive health program that would greatly benefit women, youth, children and the people in general. Political parties are afraid to antagonize the influential clerics who could instruct the faithful to disobey public officials and even defeat the electoral chances of obstinate politicians.

There is a shortage of condoms and political will in the Philippines. Politicians and civil society groups should reject the fundamentalist position of the Catholic Church by addressing the rights and needs of the people. Government should provide free reproductive health services, improve maternal health care, offer contraceptive choices and promote fertility education. This is the more genuine "pro-life" position with regards to the population issue.

Related entries:

Overpopulated Philippines
Manila and sex education
Eh kasi bata

Bombastic!

Then: “General, what is happening to our country?”
Now: “Mr. DILG secretary, what is happening to our country?”

This is a memorable year for Philippine Congress which is celebrating its centenary. But this year is also unforgettable because of the following: First, administration lawmakers squabbled over the speakership. The first significant national law they passed was to postpone the barangay elections which was demanded by their village leaders. A bribe was offered to a leftist lawmaker in exchange for support to the fake impeachment complaint against the president. Almost two hundred lawmakers trooped to Malacañang last October to receive cash gifts contained inside brown paper bags. Last week, a bomb exploded in the south wing lobby of the Batasan complex which killed one lawmaker and three other employees of the House. The year has not yet ended but the Lower House seems poised to become the most controversial, explosive (no pun intended), and detestable government institution of the year.

To use an English expression, what a bloody way to celebrate the centenary of the Philippine Congress!

For many years, informal settlers have invaded the area fronting the Batasan. The government demolished the houses to build a police outpost, improve traffic and protect the security of lawmakers. How ironic that just after the new police headquarters was inaugurated this year, a bomber succeeded in destroying the aura of invincibility of the mighty Batasan. The Batasan blast has proven that police or military presence does not remove the threat of terrorism.

After the bombing, Speaker Jose De Venecia was seen and heard on national TV condemning the terrorist act. He assured the public that Congress would not be deterred in its mandate to legislate quality laws. He even boasted that the night before the bombing took place, Congress has already passed the General Appropriations Act. How the victims of the Batasan blast were treated in hospitals was enough proof of the quality of national budgets the Congress has been approving the past few years.

Batasan is located in Quezon City’s largest and most populated district. The blast victims were all rushed to small private hospitals. Later they were transferred to the modern and efficient St. Lukes Medical Center. Why were they not transferred to public hospitals? Is there no public hospital near Batasan? The transfer to St. Lukes sent a very elitist message: lawmakers deserve the best health care while residents of Payatas, Commonwealth, Manggahan and other urban poor enclaves near Batasan can die languishing in small, underfunded community clinics.

Every government, whatever ideology it espouses, should give the best health care to its citizens. That lawmakers could not trust the health services provided by public hospitals underscored the pitiful situation of public health care in the country. Congress is responsible for the insufficient budget of the health sector. The Senate should improve the General Appropriations Act by increasing the funds of public hospitals.

Who ordered the Batasan blast? What are the motives behind the deadly and dastardly act? The usual suspects have been named already. Groups want all angles probed. What are the probable clues?

If methane gas was responsible for the Glorietta 2 blast last month, could this also be the reason for the Batasan explosion? After all, Congress is full of shit (literally and figuratively). Every lawmaker has a toilet in their offices. We have more than 250 toilets in the Batasan complex. Payatas dumpsite is also near.

What about the multinational drug companies? De Venecia also said on TV that Congress was ready to pass the Cheaper Medicines Act so vigorously opposed by big pharmaceutical companies. Were they involved in the explosion? Did they wish to send a strong message to the leadership of the Lower House?

The blast in the south lobby should also remind the public of the premodern electoral system in the country. The election ballots of the controversial 2004 presidential elections were placed in the south lobby. Days before the bomb explosion in Batasan, two high ranking officers of the Commission on Elections were ambushed. Are there individuals or groups who want to liquidate election officers and destroy physical evidence which could be used to pinpoint election irregularities?

Police investigators have not yet dropped the initial assessment that Rep. Wahab Akbar was targeted for assassination. This should be probed further. Why would an assassin take an extra effort to breach the security of the Lower House when he/she can accomplish the task outside the Batasan? If the bomber used a cell phone-detonated bomb, he/she can use this sophisticated weapon in other less secure places frequented by the late Akbar.

Besides, it’s difficult to determine a reliable routine among lawmakers who are attending Lower House sessions which could last for fifteen minutes to fifteen hours. Most lawmakers are also not known of attending sessions dutifully. Is Rep. Akbar a punctilious lawmaker who attends sessions and leaves the Batasan only after the session has ended?

Critics of the government suspected the role of government agents in the Batasan blast. The terrorist act could be a diversionary tactic by a government facing impeachment complaints and corruption scandals. They also believe the explosion was meant to force lawmakers to amend the “toothless” anti-terror law.

The investigation may lead to the arrest and prosecution of the Batasan bombers. The masterminds behind the blast may never be known. Meanwhile, four people are dead, thirteen people are wounded and the rest of the country is still looking for answers.

Related entries:

Bombing spree
Terror in the city 
Congress at work 
I see terrorist people

Octoberfest

14 "Sa loob at labas ng bayan kong sawi
    kaliluha’y siyang nangyayaring hari,
    kagalinga’t bait ay nalulugami,
    ininis sa hukay ng dusa’t pighati."

16 "Nguni ay ang lilo’t masasamang loob
   sa trono ng puri ay iniluluklok
   at sa balang sukab na may asal-hayop
   mabangong insenso ang isinusuob."

341 "Mahigit kang aba sa mapagpunuan
   ng hangal na puno at masamang asal,
   sapagkat ang haring may hangad sa yaman
   ay mariing hampas ng langit sa bayan."

                                      – Francisco Balagtas (Plorante at Laura)

To understand the impeachment complaints filed against Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it is necessary to review the political upheavals which rocked the nation last month.

October is usually an uneventful month in Philippine politics. But last month, a series of unfortunate, unbelievable and explosive events triggered a political crisis which continues to hound the Arroyo presidency today.

First there was the overpriced and anomalous national broadband network contract between the Philippine government and ZTE Corporation of China. The son of the Speaker of the Lower House, who was the losing bidder in the project, testified in the Senate that he was bullied by the First Gentleman to "back-off" from the project.

The Senate was investigating the questionable role of the First Family in the controversial project when Arroyo decided to scrap the deal.

Then there was the distribution of cash gifts inside the presidential palace. After attending a meeting with the president, more than 200 lawmakers and politicians allegedly received cash gifts from unidentified palace functionaries. Two governors confessed that they were given cash gifts contained in a paper bag without an accompanying official receipt from the palace.

Who ordered the distribution of cash gifts? Why were they distributed in the palace? Was the president present while the money was handed out to loyal politicians?

For many days, nobody from the president’s camp admitted that money was indeed given to politicians. They kept on feigning ignorance about the incident. Some politicians said the money was earmarked for community projects.

A few days ago, an officer of the president’s political party said the money was in fact given by the party using private funds. The president was allegedly not informed about the decision to distribute money in the palace.

Most people believe the cash gifts are public funds intended to buy the loyalty of politicians in the wake of the controversy created by the overpriced broadband project.

A few days after the confession of conscience-stricken politicians that they received "illegal" money in the palace, a deadly explosion inside a shopping mall in the country’s financial center killed eleven people and injured more than a hundred shoppers and bystanders.

In the first few days after the blast, the government maintained it was a bomb explosion which could be the handiwork of terrorists. But investigators backtracked on their initial assessment and said methane gas was the cause of the explosion.

A newly-elected senator and former military coup leader insists the blast was instigated by special government agents who wanted to distract attention from the political scandals involving the First Family.

A week after the mall explosion, the son of the Speaker of the Lower House testified again in the Senate and directly implicated President Arroyo in the ZTE controversy. The witness said Arroyo was aware of bribery attempts to expedite the approval of the project but she still instructed her subordinate to approve the contract.

Later that night, Arroyo granted a pardon to former President Joseph Estrada, who was earlier found guilty of plunder by a special anti-graft court. The pardon was unexpected since Estrada was convicted only last September. Many believed it was not offered to promote justice and reconciliation but to ensure the political survival of a beleaguered president.

The long and memorable month of October was very embarrassing for the administration. Bribery scandals, corruption cases, the mall explosion and the unprincipled pardon for Estrada further undermined the very low credibility and legitimacy of the Arroyo government.

The political scandals created a rupture in the ruling coalition, worsened the dissension inside the military establishment, infuriated sections of the powerful Catholic Church and big business, consolidated the opposition and motivated the left to step up the campaign to oust Arroyo from power.

The impeachment is the logical consequence of the political turbulence created by the shameful acts of the administration last month. There is now a growing clamor for the immediate resignation of the president. Some political forces want a snap election to solve the crisis of leadership in the country. Some are back in the streets hoping to mobilize another uprising which could topple the Arroyo government. The military is being closely watched since dissatisfaction among junior officers is growing.

Adding to Arroyo’s woes are the economic problems of the country. Economic statistics may be positive but poverty and hunger are still prevalent. A 12-year-old girl recently committed suicide in the southern Philippines because of poverty. The death of this innocent child was blamed on the ineffective anti-poverty programs of the government. Many people could not fail to notice the disparity of wealth between the corrupt politicians and the ordinary hardworking citizens of the country.

President Arroyo has managed to remain in power despite being the most unpopular leader, based on public trust ratings, in modern Philippine history. To survive one scandal after another, Arroyo has been using the limited resources of the state to buy the loyalty of politicians and military generals. But this option will not be available all the time since the economy is not stable.

Can President Arroyo finish her term in 2010? Can her administration survive the political crisis this year?

Related entries:

Corruption in high places
Citizen complainants
Towers of desolation

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Writ of Amparo as human rights weapon, my article for Global Voices

Blog me if you can

New pictures in my photoblog, click here and here.

Teo Marasigan reminded his readers and critics as well that he has nothing against the use of blogging for political reasons. He gave an outline of his ideas on what should be the right ethics and practice of blogging among activists.

Teo disagreed with many of my viewpoints. He disliked my mentioning of his “palasukong aktitud” towards the use of internet. Ofcourse Teo is not palasuko. I am witness to his remarkable political record as a national democratic activist.

In his earlier essay, Teo wrote the following:

“Oo, larangan ng tunggalian ang Internet – pero dehado ang mga progresibo rito. Oo, mahalaga ang mga petiburgis sa pulitika ng pagbabago dahil madali nilang magagap at maibahagi ang progresibong mga ideya. Oo, nag-iisip na seksiyon nito ang nasa blogosphere. Pero papaling-paling ang mga petiburgis, at dominante sa Internet ang mga puwersang hahatak sa kanila palayo sa pagbabago.”

To emphasize what I have already written before, the dominance of reactionary thinking in the internet and the vaccilating character of the youth should not be used as basis to discourage activists from maximizing the cyberspace. Reactionary influence is stronger in our society but we still believe in the efficacy of our struggles. This was precisely the reason why I used the term palasuko.

I thank Teo for highlighting the contradiction in my essay about viewing blogging as a political act itself vis a vis my rejection of the accusation that activist bloggers have been promoting blogging for blogging sake. Let me clarify my point.

There are many bloggers who are politicized through blogging. By setting up blogs, by writing about mundane concerns, chances are these bloggers will also be motivated to write something political in reaction to the disappointing state of affairs of the country and the world. There are many bloggers who are outraged by what they read or watch in the news and their available outlet is to blog about this frustration. Their political commentaries are read by fellow bloggers who may be inspired to write about the same issues as well. This kind of politicization, facilitated by blogging even without the intervention of activists, was not possible a few years ago. Just imagine how activist bloggers and their networking activities in the internet can be a factor in developing the political consciousness of other young bloggers.

I agree with Teo about the real dangers of irresponsible use of internet to the security of activists. And I reiterate my views on this subject: Offline and online solidarities are our best defense against State surveillance. I cannot allow the threat of Big Brother to alter my internet habits and activities which are quickly becoming a convenient and effective link to other individuals, friends and relatives around the globe.

I disagree with Teo’s observation that activist bloggers are equating progresiveness with use of new technologies. Nor is there a blind worship for capitalist tools. This is tempered by the reality that communications technology in this part of the world is not as accessible in other countries.

Activists are not quickly jumping to the “use this software, application, gadget” bandwagon. This exchange of views between myself and esteemed comrade Teo would have taken place a few years ago if activists are sobrang babaw in embracing technologies. When I started blogging in 2004, it was no longer a novel activity.

Just a few words on technology. Capitalism creates instruments and tools to surmount the crisis of overaccumulation. In the process, these tools become gravediggers since they can be utilized to defeat capitalism. The advancements in technology can facilitate trading among capitalist countries but the same processes can allow workers to establish an International.

Teo’s promotion of an appropriate political practice and ethics of blogging among activists is commendable. I support the articulation of this need. However, I object to the implied notion (and sometimes direct suggestion) that activist bloggers have been irresponsible, uncritical and undiscriminating in the use of blogs.

Almost all activist bloggers have been affirming the primacy of mass struggles over other activities, like blogging. There are no ridiculous efforts to persuade activists in the countryside or those who are planning to integrate with the peasants to blog about their activities. There are no initiatives which identify blogging as the correct revolutionary path.

The encouragement to blog is directed to those activists who have the time, enthusiasm, ability and the means to do it. Blogging is not required among activists but if one is aware of the writing prowess of a fellow activist, is it wrong to invite him/her to blog? I do not know of any activist who wastes his/her time by blogging about politics all day. May mga nilamon ng sistema (at akademya) pero wala pang nilalamon ng blog.

There seems to be a disconnect between what activist bloggers have been doing for the past years and what Teo has been observing. Most activist bloggers have adequately and responsibly appropriated blogging to propagate national democratic political views.

What is most ironic is that when activist bloggers began to experiment with the idea of creating a forum or venue for bloggers to exchange views on different issues of the day; when activist bloggers coalesced with the progressive and highly popular bloggers in the country; when some form of organization can be developed among radical but not necessarily leftist bloggers; that was the time when Teo began to question and ridicule the blog efforts of his activist friends.

For quite some time, blogging practice was limited to individual initiatives. Activist bloggers saw the need to pursue joint activities with other critical and left-leaning bloggers of the country. Teo may have his own concept of blogging practice but other activist bloggers have already shown how bloggers can further develop political blogging in the country.

Over the last few days, I have been reflecting about the blogs and blog activities of activists. I wanted to probe if there is an alarming trend of blog misuse. I wanted to know what provoked Teo to question the blog practice of activists which could prove damning and counter-productive to the goals of our organizations. What reprehensible codes are to be found in the blogs of activists which unleashed the “neo-luddite” apprehensions of Teo? Are activists becoming uncritical bloggers already? Are activists diluting their politics by blogging?

Perhaps I was looking the wrong way or I may be prejudiced already. But in all honesty, I want to say that I am proud of the blogs of my comrades. I admire how activist bloggers have been using blogging to reach out to more people, inform other comrades of our activities and prove that activists offer the best solutions to the country’s problems without compromising their other more important tasks. The most conscientious activist bloggers I know are also the most active protesters in the streets.

Teo has the right to worry about what he sees as disturbing practice of blogging among clueless activists. He said I gave no critical opinion on Twitter, Multiply and Web 2.0. I plead guilty. And I was wrong on that point. Teo, on the other hand, has failed to recognize and appreciate the critical blogging practice of his activist friends and created a false impression that activist bloggers are close to surrendering to the dangerous pleasures of politics-less blogging.

I have reservations for Teo’s Anti-Blog campaign. I like the appeal to expose the capitalist motive behind the sudden rise of blogging. I am with Teo in stressing the limitations of blogging. But I will be careful in formulating an ethics of blogging which will include the doctrine of “do not promote blogging.”

Instead, I am more inclined to direct readers and activists to spare some time in studying how activists from other countries are using blogs and the internet in general to fight censorship and repression. We can learn so much from dissidents from other countries and their practice may be of good use to us today or in the future.

There are benefits of further developing the practice of blogging as one of the available tools of activists, however limited and less potent they seem to be.

I did not mean to offend when I described Teo as an intellectual. I meant it in the Gramscian sense. Blogging among high school students is not a bad idea especially if we note its pedagogic value.

(Ay naku Teo, pag sumagot ka ulit I will reveal your corny jokes and bad singing moments).

Related article: Blogismo

Child-friendly governments

I felt sad after reading the story of Marianette Amper. It shows the extent of hopelessness in Philippine society….

The Philippines is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every administration has committed to building a child-friendly society where children are "nurtured and allowed to grow and develop in dignity."

More than a decade ago, the government adopted a Philippine Plan of Action for Children in order to realize a child-sensitive society. Congress recognized children as a basic sector distinct from youth and students.

There are numerous laws and programs that promote the welfare of children. But children remain the most vulnerable sector in Philippine society. They are the most affected during natural and man-made calamities. About 43.3 percent of the country’s population are children.

More than 4 million families are subsisting below the poverty line. Almost 10 million children are undernourished. Most children are suffering from micronutrient malnutrition. Only 33 percent of children are enrolled in daycare and preschool institutions in the country. More than 1 million children of elementary school age are not enrolled.

Both national and local governments are responsible for crafting programs which seek to protect children in the country. But local governments have the responsibility to deliver basic social services and ensure sustainability of children’s welfare programs. Unfortunately, children are not the top priority of many local governments.

This is the reason why advocacy groups are actively engaging local politicians to promote child-friendly governance in provinces and cities. The goal is to convince more local government units to adopt measures that strengthen compliance to the principles and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Child-Friendly Movement developed a handbook to guide local leaders in mapping their strategies to enhance child-friendly local governance.

Each local government is asked to draft a local development plan for children that will "serve as a blueprint of actions and interventions for children’s rights." Then a local investment plan identifies available resources which can be tapped to finance projects for children. A local code for children is important since there are provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which have not yet been discussed by the Philippine Congress. Local governments can implement measures that provide sanctions for violations of children’s rights.

If there is an annual State of the Nation Address delivered by the Philippine president, local leaders can give a local state of the children report. Local governments can highlight the accomplishments in advancing children’s rights for the past year and the present situation of children in the locality.

As of 2005, almost 100 provinces and cities have adopted their own local development and investment plans for children. Seventy provinces and cities have enacted local codes for children and 74 local governments have already delivered their local state of the children reports.

According to the Council for the Welfare of Children, a city or municipality is child-friendly "if it is able to assure that all children possess survival, development, protection and participation rights and that their needs are realized." A total of 25 indicators have been identified to monitor the fulfillment of these rights.

Survival rights involve the inherent right to life, identity and nationality of children. These also refer to the government’s obligations to provide adequate healthcare, social security and rehabilitation for children. Examples of indicators include registration at birth, exclusive breastfeeding for six months and full immunization.

Protecting children starts with addressing the health of pregnant mothers. Some indicators of maternal health include pre-natal check-ups, immunization against tetanus, birth spacing and presence of trained personnel during childbirth.

Development rights "refer to access to educational opportunities, leisure, cultural activities and freedom of religion." Indicators include attendance of children in early childhood education programs, completion of basic education and mastery of nationally defined skills and competencies.

Protection rights seek to guard children against all forms of abuses, discrimination and exploitation. Indicators highlight the need for the separation of detained children from adult prisoners, elimination of physical and sexual violence in the home and community and giving of functional literacy courses to illiterate parents. Indicators for safe homes include the number of families with access to safe drinking water, iodized salt and sanitary latrines. Both parents should also share responsibility in the care and rearing of children.

Participation rights ensure children’s involvement in decision making in local governments. These also refer to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Are local governments fulfilling these commitments? Do politicians appreciate or understand the importance of these obligations? Is the Philippines a child-friendly society?

Similar to its other international commitments, the Philippines can boast of fulfilling the paperwork and legal requirements in the promotion of children’s welfare. But the government has failed to implement its own policies and programs because of lack of political will. The primary default is the consistent failure to enact a child-friendly budget that would sufficiently address education and health needs of children.

Politicians give little priority to children because they are not voters. An international backlash is sometimes needed to jolt politicians into action. When foreign media began to report the presence of children in adult prison cells, that was the only time politicians began to mount a serious campaign to protect juvenile delinquents.

Children’s rights are the most important human rights. Children are among the most ignored and discriminated against sectors of Philippine society.

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Malling Republic

Hours after the deadly explosion inside Glorietta 2 and when everybody was almost certain that it was a terrorist act, TV reporters described the bomb site as the Philippine’s “Ground Zero.” Some bloggers referred to the incident as 10/19. Perhaps the intention was to strike comparison with the September 11 (9/11) bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Indeed, 9/11 traumatized the world, but most especially United States citizens. The twin buildings epitomized the rise of the U.S. as a global superpower and also the collective aspirations of its people. 9/11 was interpreted as an attack against everything the U.S. symbolized.

The Glorietta 2 explosion killed eleven people and injured more than a hundred innocent individuals. If it was a terrorist attack, the casualties were small and it may be an exaggeration to name the site of the tragedy as “Ground Zero.” In fact, the Glorietta 2 blast was a minor terrorist attack compared to the suicide bombing in Pakistan which killed more than hundred people also on October 19.

But if media exaggerated its reports, the public agreed with them. The blast occurred in Makati, the country’s financial center; the building was owned by the country’s richest family, the Ayalas; and most symbolic of all, it was a mall. Glorietta was a perfect terror target.

The whole country was shocked by this very evil and horrendous act of terrorism. Reactions were instantly expressed through mobile phones, internet and mainstream news reports. The police and military went into full red alert after the blast. The country “united” in condemning the bomb attack.

The response would have been different and calmer if the explosion occurred in Luneta or Plaza Miranda. There would be no reporting of ground zero, mass panic and middle class paranoia.

Just thirty years ago, the Plaza Miranda bombing led to further chaos in Philippine society. Today, terrorists (whether state agents or the usual suspects) would not choose the Plaza Miranda as a target. Things have changed. It is no accident that malls are favorite targets by terrorists in the country today. Malling has become a familiar urban experience to almost all Filipinos. Symbolic public activities are organized in and around malls. An explosion inside a mall, so vividly demonstrated by the Glorietta blast, would create the desired maximum terror effect in the country.

Terrorists are not alone in noting the cultural, social, political and economic significance of malls today. Days before the Glorietta blast, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ignored the brewing political scandal caused by the ill-advised cash distribution in Malacañang by attending the opening night of Trinoma, the country’s newest and most glamorous shopping mall. The visit of a Philippine president in a mall is as important as welcoming the returning overseas Filipino workers in the airport every Christmas.

When Senator Gringo Honasan was released from jail, he chose to jumpstart his reelection bid by greeting shoppers in Megamall. Just recently, the Commission on Elections conducted an information blitz about the barangay elections in malls. Even rebel soldiers during a failed mutiny in 2003 raided Glorietta mall (not military camps like in previous coups) to air their political demands.

Shopping malls have evolved over the years. One does not just go to malls to buy commodities these days but to “experience” malling as well. When SM (Southeast Asia’s biggest mall developer) proudly proclaims “we’ve got it all” as its slogan, it means not just consumer products but different kinds of services which are impossible to find in malls a decade ago.

Aside from grocery shops, cinema houses, food stalls, beauty salons and restaurants, malls now offer medical services. Dentists and dermatologists have clinics in malls. You may enter a mall in the morning and leave in the afternoon with a better nose and whiter skin. Drug stores, health spas and fitness gyms are proliferating too.

Religious services are also offered. A Catholic mass inside malls is televised every Sunday. Muslims tried to build a prayer room in one shopping center but Christian fundamentalists opposed the idea.

Showbiz stars tour malls to promote their new movies and music albums. Concerts and TV programs are often aired in malls.

Cars, condominium units and real estate are sold in malls. The building of residential houses above malls is advertised as a “convenience of living beside a mall.”

Banking, payment of utility bills, police and NBI clearances can be processed in malls nowadays.

Transport groups adjust their operations and traffic is rerouted to serve the needs of malls. Strategic stations of the new LRT and MRT lines are literally connected to malls.

Various events are organized in malls. Sporting activities, job fairs, art exhibits, cultural bazaars and academic book fairs are often held in malls. Mini theme parks and ice skating rinks inside malls prove how fantasies, desires and spectacles can be very profitable. Who needs Disneyland when you have the Mall of Asia in the reclaimed portion of Manila Bay?

The proliferation of malls started in the mid-1980s. UP Professor Jorge Sibal revealed that he once made a feasibility study in the 1970s which concluded that only one shopping mall can thrive in Metro Manila after considering the region’s population size, economy and income of the people. Oh how wrong he was! Malls are thriving today, mall developers are among the richest persons in the country and a mall is accessible in Metro Manila for every twenty-minute ride

Why are malls surviving in a poor country like the Philippines? Why do Filipinos flock to malls despite the rising cost of living? Can somebody please check the indicators? We may be a rich country pretending to be poor.

The answer to this enigma is simple: OFW money. Malls are serving the OFW market. The country has eight million documented overseas workers sending money to their families every month. The money remitted by OFWs is enough to sustain the Philippine economy.

Where do Filipinos invest their money? Sadly, most Filipinos are not eager to save their money in banks, stocks or treasury bonds. Only few OFW families become successful entrepreneurs. We spend our money on consumer products and on other things or “events” which we really do not need. We throw away our money in malls. OFW money is fueling the construction of malls (including motels and café shops) in the country.

The rise of malls also reflected the phenomenal growth of the service sector. Manufacturing is down and the agriculture sector is not progressing either but the service economy has grown tremendously. The most famous representative of the moneyed service sector workers are not the yuppies of the 1980s and 1990s but the insomniac call center agents. Malls are also targetting this young and affluent segment of the economy.

The establishment of a mall in a town or city is often hailed by bureaucrats who salivate over higher tax revenues. Malls also increase the land value of a community. But malls also displace traditional public markets. Ordinary citizens who usually buy fresh vegetables, poultry, fish and other meat products in public markets are now buying these goods in malls. What will happen to small local producers and suppliers? Retail trade (read: ukay-ukay and sari-sari store) cannot compete with super malls. SM scored a symbolic victory when it opened a branch in Baguio City, the nation’s ukay-ukay capital.

Before, economic and political activities flourished around big and old Catholic churches. Then school centers were created (University Belt, Intramuros, Diliman republic, Loyola schools). Valenzuela became famous as a “factory belt” and Muntinlupa-Alabang was the “industrial belt” of the country.

These public spaces were important components of post-war Philippine urban society. Political struggles were developed in these spaces. Today, malls occupy these public spaces. Factories and working class communities are demolished to be replaced by a shopping mall. Schools and churches are surrounded by malls.

Terrorists and politicians have mastered the art of using malls for their narrow and destructive political interests. Right now, citizens are seemingly passive consumers of the malling experience but this is not enough. What is the best political practice in a malling republic? How do we prove that “consumers are always right” without surrendering to the temptation to buy commodities all the time?

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