Monthly Archives: June 2008

Media and human rights

Links: New pictures in my webshots album, here and here. A religious issue as diversion in Indonesia. Robbers using children in Brunei. Social inequality in Thailand.

Human rights reporting was better during the Marcos years.

This was asserted by a TV news editor during a recent media forum on human rights in the Philippines. What was more surprising was the fact that nobody in that room full of veteran journalists disputed the opinion of the senior editor.

What could be the basis of this harsh judgment? Perhaps the minimal media coverage of human rights issues compared to other more popular topics, like Gabby Concepcion and product endorsements of senators. Underreporting of torture could be another reason. Abusive journalists – those who beat suspects and those who stage-manage brutal scenes inside a police post – are giving Philippine Press a bad reputation.

But are these reasons enough to claim that human rights reporting was better during the Marcos era? Is it fair to insist that the style of human rights reporting during that period should still be applied today? Veteran media practitioners should answer these questions.

I have a different opinion. Many journalists are indeed guilty of sacrificing truth and ethics for higher ratings, vanity and money. But I have to cite the positive contribution of media in highlighting the widespread human rights violations in the country, especially under the Arroyo regime. Media should be credited for promoting awareness and interest about the shocking human rights abuses inflicted on activists and other critics of the state. Consistent media reports on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances were instrumental in developing an international campaign to force the government to act on these dastardly crimes against humanity.

The result was swift. The “murderous” Arroyo regime was put on the defensive. The number of human rights abuses declined. Human rights became a national issue once again.

The public became familiar with the terms extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances and to a certain extent, Writ of Amparo. A decade ago, only few would have appreciated the political relevance of these words.

But a cynic may counter: Why praise the media for doing its work? Isn’t the media mandated by law to inform the public about the extraordinary high number of political massacres, assassinations and abductions in the country?

The answer to these inquiries is also simple: Media could have chosen to ignore these stories. They could have preferred not to write about the senseless killings of activists. But they made a brave decision. They reported these unpopular stories. They made Jonas Burgos and his mother the icons of human rights advocacy. The public is still interested about Karen Empeño and Sheryl Cadapan partly because the media is willing to join the search for these missing youth activists.

Writing about human rights is dangerous in this part of the world. New York Times correspondent Carlos H. Conde notes that “human rights and torture are subjects that can emasculate the journalist.” A writer can be called a destabilizer or a communist sympathizer if he/she does not subscribe to the government position. In short, human rights reporting offers few rewards but huge risks. That is why I have to admire the persistence of media in exposing the human rights atrocities perpetrated by state agents.

But why is there a perception about media’s failure to report human rights adequately? Perhaps the public cannot separate the weaknesses of media as a whole (dependence on corporate money, sensational news reporting) and the state of human rights reporting in the country. We apply the negative criticism on media in general to belittle the quality of human rights journalism.

I have another theory. Media has failed to improve the quality of discourse on human rights. Human rights was treated as an ordinary subject requiring traditional news reporting. News stories on human rights contained the elements of basic journalism: Who was killed/abducted/tortured? Who are the suspects? When, where and how did it happen?

But some very important questions were left out: Why was the crime committed? Why are there rampant human rights violations in the country? Why has nobody been prosecuted and punished for violating the human rights of the poor?

Mainstream media reported the crimes and other human rights abuses. But it failed to sufficiently explain the roots of the problem. The public was informed, but not educated about human rights issues.

The media satisfied the public urge to know the number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The public was bombarded with gruesome visual and numerical details of human rights violations.

But the media citizens were not given adequate information on how to be part of the campaign to stop human rights violations in the country. The effect is disturbing: People are angry over the impunity killings but they are clueless on how to stop these crimes. Hence, they feel powerless.

Media critics in the United States are using the term “green fatigue” to describe the condition when “people are too overwhelmed by the command to be ‘green’ to do much about it anymore.”

Is there a “human rights fatigue” in the country brought about by too much dull human rights reporting? Since people are not told to do something about human rights abuses, they do nothing.

The media should learn something from the judiciary. Appalled by too many human rights abuses in the country, the Supreme Court promulgated the Writs of Amparo and Habeas Data. If the Supreme Court acted like the media, it could have been content in issuing an order calling for the quick resolution of human rights cases in the lower courts. But it did more than that. The Supreme Court recognized the need to implement bold measures to address the rising number of human rights violations in the country.

Unlike the Supreme Court, mainstream media preferred to confront the problem of human rights abuses by being traditional. Media could have done more. There was an opportunity to implement a media version of an amparo: Human rights education in the newsroom. A new internal writing guideline or media ethics on human rights reporting.

Maybe we are asking too much. We cannot ask media to solve all our problems. They are after all, mere messengers of truth. But can we at least agree that the protection of human rights requires extraordinary effort on the part of everybody, including the mighty media?

Related entries:

In other words
Political words
Media vs government


Excess and lack

Links: Collecting bras for the rural women of Fiji. Why are credit cards booming in Thailand? The minimum wage in China and Cambodia.

Naku, ito naman si Badiou, pagsamahin ba naman ang philosophy at mathematics. Dumudugo ang ilong ko….

According to Australian author Oliver Feltham, politics in his country constitute a generic “truth procedure” – a process by which concepts are accepted as truths. He writes:

“In Australian governmental discourse the indigenous peoples are always said to be either excessive or lacking: excessive in their political demands, their drain on the public purse, their poverty; lacking in their recognition of the government’s ‘good intentions,’ in their community health standards, in their spirit of enterprise and individual responsibility.”

This analysis is also applicable to Philippine politics. The Philippine government attributes the same characteristics of excess and lack to poor Filipinos. The academe provides ideological support while the media popularizes this type of thinking.

It is common for politicians and mainstream commentators to complain about the excessive political demands of poor Filipinos. They are always asking for more human rights, democracy, rice, jobs, land, housing, cheaper medicines and free education. These popular demands are viewed as irrational since they deplete the resources of the state, which make public services more inefficient.

Aside from being “excessive,” the poor are accused of being ungrateful for the numerous assistance packages provided by the government. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is upset because the poor are always forgetting the pro-poor programs of her administration. The poor are always questioning the noble intentions of the president.

Reactionary scholars insist the poor are to blame for their own poverty since they lack proper education, skills, English language proficiency, good manners, civic virtues, and a sense of entrepreneurship. The poor are not maximizing the opportunities that society provides to everybody.

A variation of this theme is: The poor are multiplying fast. They are extraordinarily fertile. They eat tons of rice. They send too many text messages. Workers buy too many cigarettes and beer. But at the same time, their worldview is parochial and they lack the spirit to succeed in life. (Read: they are stupid and lazy.)

Take for instance the reproach against farmers and overseas Filipinos. During the 1970s, Filipino farmers profited from high agricultural yields. But economists said the farmers didn’t use the money to invest in modern farming machines. Instead, the farmers bought TV sets, washing machines and other home appliances. Now farmers are poorer and the agricultural sector is declining fast.

Overseas Filipinos and their families are also criticized for their wasteful spending habits. They are buying too many consumer goods instead of investing for the future.

It is indeed peculiar that the poor are seen by the elite to be both excessive and lacking. However, the elite’s perception is contradictory, myopic and unfair. The truth is that the elite resents the ability of the poor to “indulge in pleasure” despite their excesses and lacks. The poor are accused of being perverts – they enjoy their excesses and lacks.

What is the implication of this prejudiced viewpoint? The poor are ridiculed as abnormal and incomplete individuals. They are treated as parasitic citizens. They are part of the community but excluded from enjoying genuine economic, social and political privileges. They can vote during elections but the unthinking, emotional, and uneconomic poor do not deserve good governance.

The analysis above can help explain the current cash subsidy program of the government. The insulting dole outs are given to the poor precisely because the elite government views its unfortunate people as both excessive and lacking.

The poor are looked down upon because of their wretched conditions. Token measures are enough to satisfy their minimum needs. After all, they may be numerous but they are unable to comprehend what constitutes effective leadership.

In the eyes of the state, the poor are not mature enough to handle more rights and privileges in a modern democracy. Therefore, pitiful cash subsidies will suffice.

The same thinking governs the policies of the state toward radical activists. The extreme left has excessive demands (agrarian reform, national industrialization, peace negotiations). But they lack sincerity and right attitude. Their ideology is outmoded. They are inherently violent. They cannot be trusted. Their goals cannot be assimilated to mainstream values. Therefore, they must be eliminated from the body politic.

Activists should not be allowed to corrupt the thinking of other Filipinos. And this is what we are witnessing today – the abhorrent slaying and kidnapping of activists and other critics of the state.

There is excessive exploitation in the Philippines but resistance seems to be lacking. Filipinos are angry but they seem to be helpless. The equation should be reversed. The poor should realize that oppression is excessive because they allowed it to happen.

French philosopher Alain Badiou writes that “a truth is solely constituted by rupturing with the order which supports it.” He adds that new perceptions come about through events that reorganize the previously known. The poor, in their very excess/lack, will decide whether it is already time to rupture with the order and create a new event.

Related entries:

Poverty and systems loss
militant activists

Commercial Fallacy

Links: Thailand’s first snowfall. Internet speed in Vietnam. Cabinet members of Singapore and Malaysia compared.

I got this poem from V. Leni of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines. Salamat.

Brain Drain

The Passage is still open
With brain not brawn
The new currency

I Have witnessed
the best minds of our land
pillaged with impunity

Yet they were not taken in terror
The buccaneers of our age
– The Guggenheims, the Rockefellers
the beatific Fords – are subtler

The slaveships of the past
no longer dot our horizon
Today scholarships suffice
to bait the reluctant

And now contained and silenced
With Dollars and Letters of recognition
The once militant
(ensconced in high professorial chairs)
rationalize their position
with talk of blood-money and vengeance

The shrewd American mantis
allows these poor gifted fools
their illusion of screwing her
Accustomed as she is
to eating their brains
while they tickle her bottom

"Bones and Feathers", Cecil Rajendra, Kuala Lumpur, 1978

Sinulat para sa Tinig noong 2003….

Cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health. Drink moderately.

Ang isang pangkaraniwang tagapanood ng TV ay maaaring mabighani ng pantasyang mundong nais likhain sa patalastas ng sigarilyong Fortune o mapaniwala sa pagkakaibigang nabubuo sa pag-inom ng San Miguel Beer subalit sa dulo ng patalastas, at sana’y mapansin ito, ay mababatid niyang hindi ito iniendorso nang buong-buo ng pamahalaan dahil sa masamang idudulot nito sa katawan ng tao. Bagama’t kapos sa sinseridad, kahit paano’y nagagabayan at napoprotektahan ang publiko sa pagpili ng mga produktong bibilhin sa palengke.

Makapangyarihan ang TV sa paghubog ng katotohanan. At kadalasa’y tinatanggap ng madla ang ipinapalabas nito bilang absolutong katotohanan nang walang kritikal na pagsusuri. Kung kaya’t may naiiwan pa akong pagpapahalaga sa mga babala sa mga komersyal bilang minimum na proteksyon sa mga konsumer.

Ganoon na lamang ang laki ng aking pagkabahala sa paglabas ng mga komersyal ng mga eskuwelahan nitong mga nakaraang buwan. Halimbawa, robotics daw ang itinuturo sa isang computer school. Trabaho pagkagraduate ang pangako naman ng isang eskuwelahan. World-class kaliber daw ang mga graduate sa isang pamantasan. Magiging klasmeyt mo si Kristine Hermosa at Juday sa eskuwelahang iniendorso nila.

Hindi ito simpleng paglalahad ng serbisyong inaalok ng mga eskuwelahan; matindi ang panlolokong ginagawa sa kapakanan ng publiko na ikinukubli ng maaamong mukha ng artista, magarbo at tila sopistikadong teknik na ginamit sa patalastas, at ang mismong swabeng epektibidad ng TV sa pagdala ng mensahe sa nakakarami. Pero bago tayo magapalawig dito, kailangang ipaliwanag muna natin ang kahulugan ng pagdami ng komersyal ng mga eskuwelahan.

Una, ito ay tanda ng pagpasok at pagdomina ng malaking negosyo sa sektor ng edukasyon. Hinahalintulad ang edukasyon sa iba pang kalakal na kailangang i-package ng mabuti at ibenta sa publiko batay sa umiiral at persepsyong demand na trabaho. Kung parang kabuteng nagsulputan ang mga computer school noon, ngayon naman ay umuusbong kung saan-saan ang mga caregiver institution dahil ito ang may mataas na demand sa abroad. (Kahit si Amable Aguiluz ng AMA ay itinayo ang St. Augustine para sa paghubog ng mga caregiver).

Pangalawa, ito ay tanda ng desperasyon. Kung tutuusin, hindi problema noon ng mga eskuwelahan ang enrolment. Pangarap ng bawat Pilipino ang makatuntong sa kolehiyo at hindi na kailangang suyuin ang mga kabataan na mag-aral. Subalit dahil sa walang tigil na pagtaas ng matrikula taun-taon, bumulusok nang husto ang enrolment sa malalaking pribadong pamantasan. Idagdag pa ang pagkadismayang idinudulot sa mga kabataan sa nakikita nilang bata-batalyon ng mga nakatapos ng kolehiyo pero wala namang trabaho. Kaya ngayon, sa TV, dyaryo at naglalakihang billboard sa kalye, andyan ang anunsyo ng mga eskuwelahan at ang nilalako nilang tipo ng edukasyon.

Marami ang nabibiktima sa panloloko ng mga eskuwelahan. Enrolment pa lang ay nalulula na ang mga estudyante sa taas ng bayarin. Hinahanap-hanap ang pangakong abanteng pasilidad subalit hindi pala ito pwedeng gamitin ng lahat. Kahit ang kurikulum at eskuwelahan mismo ay hindi pa pala accredited ng CHED. Reklamo sa amin ng mga estudyante sa isang international business school na malaking kabalintunaan diumano ang world-class teaching na inaanunsyo sa TV dahil part time teachers lang ang kinukuha ng eskuwelahan na palaging absent, pagod at hindi marunong magturo. Ang ipinagyayabang na kagyat na trabaho pagkagraduate ay isa palang ilusyon na walang pinagkaiba sa mga komersyal ng axe deodorant.

Dumadaan ba sa screening ang komersyal ng mga eskuwelahan? Kung ang mga patalastas ng gamot ay aprubado muna ng Bureau of Food and Drugs, dapat ganun din sa mga eskuwelahan ng CHED. Libu-libong pera at kinabukasan ng isang kabataan ang nakasalalay sa inaanunsyo ng mga eskuwelahan, tama man o (kadalasan) mali. Dapat pag-isipan ng gobyerno kung paano pangangalagaan ang interes ng publiko. Kailangang ipagbawal – at dapat bigyan ng leksiyon ang mga eskuwelahang tahasang nagsisinungaling sa edukasyong kaya nitong ibigay.

Payag naman kaming ituloy ang pagsahimpapawid ng mga komersyal ng mga eskuwelahan basta’t dapat ilagay sa dulo ang isa sa mga sumusunod na STUDENT WARNING: High tuition fees guaranteed, quality education not inclusive, at contractual employment after graduation assured.

Related entries:

Private and public schools
Turn-off TV
Education and big business

Women and legislation

Links: An expensive item issued by Brunei’s postal service, A Khmer-English online dictionary, How to get a driver’s license in Thailand. GMA News: Gov’t working hard to prop up human rights image 

My wife gave me a copy of Jill’s paper. Jill is a batchmate of mine. We were both members of the student council in 1998. More importantly, we were part of Stand-UP’s university-wide secretariat.

The government boasts that the Philippines ranks high in the list of countries which are promoting gender equality. In another report the Philippines is expected to achieve significant gains in improving gender parity among school-age children. Last year a deputy speaker for women was appointed in the House of Representatives.

Should the local women’s movement celebrate and announce the victory of feminist causes? The emphatic answer is no. Women continue to be marginalized in Philippine society. Feudal culture is still dominant. Women welfare is still not given top priority by the state.

True, the number of women in government is increasing every year. For instance there are 53 women legislators in the House of Representatives today. This is almost one-fourth of the total composition of the Lower House, the highest number in Philippine history. This figure is also outstanding by Asian standards.

But this does not mean that women are more empowered today. The paper of UP College of Law graduate Sandra Jill S. Santos, "Legislation for Women, by Women", clarifies that more women are entering Congress partly because of dynastic politics. Santos writes:

"An estimated 45 percent of the female legislators elected to the 12th Congress were replacements of relatives previously in the House. In the 14th Congress, 15 percent of the congresswomen are wives of congressmen who have just served their third and final terms."

Santos adds that as of 1998, only 130 women legislators have been elected in the century-long history of Philippine Congress. The figure stands for only about 10 percent of the total number of legislators elected. This figure is "statistically negligible." In fact, only 2 female presidents (as opposed to 12 male presidents) had been elected in the country. No female Chief Justice has ever been appointed in the judiciary.

We must ask the women legislators: Do they stand for genuine change? Are they prepared to defeat traditional politics? Will they promote the women agenda? Can they challenge the anti-poor and anti-women platform of their political parties?

Many women politicians are clueless to the troubles afflicting the women sector. What they represent, and ready to defend at all cost, is the oligarchic interest of their families. The best example is President Gloria Arroyo. She courted the women and the poor (Nora Aunor fans) during her reelection bid in 1995 despite advancing a neoliberal economic agenda in the Senate which hurt the women and the poor.

After reviewing the legislative performance of women legislators in the country, Santos noted the following:

"A scrutiny of the bills and laws framed by women in the post-war congress revealed that the congresswomen generally advocated for social amelioration and education rather than what are presently perceived as specific gender concerns. The women of the Post-People Power Congress are credited with promoting legislative agenda that gave more attention to specific women’s issues."

After the fall of Marcos in 1986, women NGOs proliferated in the country. Foreign-funded advocacy groups succeeded in articulating women’s specific concerns inside Congress. The specific women’s issues refer to gender equality, reproductive health, women’s rights violence against women (rape, sexual harassment and trafficking in women) and the protection of an increasing number of women in overseas contract work.

Here are some of the landmark laws for women: Women’s Day Law; Women in Development and Nation-Building Act of 1995; Maternity Benefits Law; Women in Small Business Enterprises Act; Anti-Sexual Harassment Law; Overseas Workers’ Rights Protection; Anti-Rape Law; the Child and Family Courts Act; the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act; the National AIDS Policy Act; the Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000; the Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children Act of 2003; and the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Law.

Despite the passage of these laws, women continue to be discriminated and abused in the country. Legislation of specific women’s issues does not guarantee the upliftment of women. Perhaps it is also crucial to pinpoint the general political, social and economic reforms which should be implemented in order to promote the well-being of women. The tendency to highlight the specific women concerns can sometimes lead us a bit farther away from addressing the roots of women oppression in the country.

It is not wrong to advocate the establishment of women desks in public institutions. But this should not be celebrated as proof of the state’s benevolence towards women. This campaign, along with other politically-correct micro advocacies, if not accompanied by a comprehensive platform for women and social emancipation, can produce a wrong impression that men in our patriarchal society are now starting to recognize women as equals.

This is not an endorsement of the legislative performance of post-war women legislators. This is also not an attempt to diminish the achievements made by post-EDSA Congress. This is only to reiterate what activist women groups are advocating: Women liberation is not isolated from the struggle of the people for genuine freedom and democracy.

In short, it is not enough to fight for women’s reproductive and marital rights. Women are part of the broader fight to assert people’s rights and welfare. It is best that women’s groups should be active in shaping a new political landscape in the country.

Related entries:

Women agenda
Batas Kasambahay
Coping with AIDS

Real and symbolic fences in a borderless world

Thanks Hannah of Bulatlat for writing about the Among Ed bloglaunch. Malaysia: Escalating fuel protests, a roundup for Global Voices. Support Bakit Sira? – a website dedicated to empower Filipino consumers.

According to an online dictionary, the word fence comes from Middle English "fens," short for "defens" which means defense. Perhaps the best example of a fence constructed for defense is the Great Wall of China which protected the northern borders of the Chinese empire.

Fences have cultural functions. Scholars believe the history of civilization is intertwined with the history of the fence. The rise of farming, protection of settlements and private property coincided with the construction of fences.

But the fence is more a manifestation of people’s paranoia. It shows their inability to live peacefully with their neighbors. It also symbolizes the failure of societies to equally distribute the goods of the economy to everyone, especially the poor. Since inequality breeds hatred, the privileged few must be protected (fenced) from the hungry barbarians at the gates.

In the Philippines the most famous historical fence is the Walled City of Intramuros. The fortification was intended to ward off pirates, foreign troops and local dissidents during the Spanish colonial period. The walls were meant to preserve Spanish hegemony in the islands. Inside the walled city, the Spanish colonizers built church cathedrals, convents, universities, and mansion houses.

Like the Spanish colonial rulers, Philippine politicians are also afraid that angry Filipinos will revolt against the established government. This is the reason why Malacanang Palace continues to be heavily fortified. Malacanang is the country’s seat of power yet it is inaccessible to ordinary Filipinos. The last time the palace doors were opened to the poor was more than 50 years ago, during the term of President Ramon Magsaysay.

President Gloria Arroyo, the present occupant of Malacanang, ordered the construction of an electric fence to prevent people from crashing the gates of the palace. During protest rallies, Malacanang is surrounded by container vans so that no one can get near the beleaguered president. The president is afraid of her own people.

The practice of building an exclusive elite community during the Spanish era was continued by succeeding generations in the Philippines. Scholar Benedict Anderson has this observation on the unique urban planning in the country:

“Forbes Park was the first, and still the most celebrated, of these beaux quartiers, which remain sociologically unique in Southeast Asia. Elsewhere in the region luxurious houses are jumbled together with the dwellings of the poor. But the golden ghetto of Forbes Park was policed, as a complex, by armed security guards; access even to its streets required the production of identification papers.”

Indeed, affluent villages in the Philippines are protected by strong and high walls. The poor are denied access to these exclusive subdivisions. Fences were adjusted higher to prevent passengers, pedestrians and motorists using the flyovers, footbridges and the elevated railway from having a glimpse of the mansions in prosperous Makati City. The rich must have their privacy. On the other side of the fence, urban poor homes are demolished to give way for road widening and more parking spaces.

In the economic sphere, the fence is the trade barrier implemented by protectionist or closed economies. Market fundamentalists and free trade adherents want these barriers dismantled. Poor countries like the Philippines are bullied to decrease or remove tariff rates so that rich countries can dump their cheap products. They say the world has become a global village where borderless (fenceless) economies and multinational companies are bringing wondrous benefits to the poor.

The paradox of this doctrine is that developed countries acquired their wealth by building economic fences in the past. These countries supported their local manufacturers by discouraging foreign competition. Now they are lecturing poor countries about the advantages of practicing free trade.

In fact, rich countries are guilty of establishing new trade barriers. They do not want to completely open their economies to free trade. They provide hefty subsidies to their farmers. They impose stringent regulation on imported goods. For example, Filipino tuna producers and banana growers are complaining that rich countries are imposing unreasonable standards which restrict trade. Rich nations are rejecting Filipino products while the Philippine government welcomes their exports.

The Philippines should abandon the economic prescription of the neoliberals. What the country needs are strong fences in order to become a first-world nation. The fences will curb smuggling, which robs honest local traders of their income. The fences will boost the productivity of domestic industries, especially the agricultural sector.

Globalization continues to revolutionize travel and communication. But the movement of people is still unreasonably controlled. Rich countries are establishing fences to push the immigrants away. Border patrols are expanded to guard national territories.

Lobbyists, credit analysts and investment consultants are given access in developing countries to study the situation of poor communities. But the migrant workers in rich countries are subjected to bureaucratic, sometimes unjust, immigration procedures. Capital is free to circulate but the working classes are not allowed to swiftly move in and out of countries.

The truth of globalization is that societies are becoming more and more paranoid. Cases of racism and violence in “tolerant societies” are up. New forms of inequality are developing. Symbolic and literal walls separate immigrant groups, ethnic communities and marginalized communities from those enjoying economic prosperity. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek describes this new form of racism as economic egotism.

Technology has given individuals the chance to fantasize about escaping from the harsh realities of an alienating world. Music players, Internet and video games serve as imaginary walls which prevent people from fully participating in the making of a more liberating society.

Perhaps the most disagreeable persons are the fence sitters. Those who are aware of the real harm brought by divisive and oppressive fences, yet still choose to be on the sidelines, should be condemned for their inaction. To paraphrase Machiavelli, we should not fear the dictator, but the apathy of the people.

Real and symbolic fences are proof that people are still living in an unequal, divided and intolerant world. It is not enough to smash the walls that exclude the impoverished from the rest of society. Some protective economic fences are essential, especially for small and developing countries. The more radical act is to change the iniquitous social conditions of the present.

Related entries:

The gates of Forbes Park
Bakit may suicide sa mga billboard
National roads
Urban facelift


Inspiration for the article….

Batchmates, remember the "fencing" program of ex-UP Pres. Emil Javier? Millions were spent to "fence" the property of UP. Ex-student regent Dennis Longid exposed this unnecessary expense a decade ago. The UP fence along Commonwealth Ave was recently destroyed to give way for the MMDA road widening.

During the mid-1990s, a controversy erupted in the UP campus over the decision of the UP Catholic Chapel to erect a fence around its property. The fence violated (destroyed) the "open" culture of UP. A few years later, the UP protestant chapel also built a fence.

A fence was recently constructed in front of the QC Hall.

People’s Protocol on Climate Change

Thanks Erwin of Inquirer for writing about the Among Ed bloglaunch.

Go green? Go red! Save the environment by defeating imperialism. Do not just mitigate. Do not just adapt. Revolt!

Despite skepticism in certain quarters about the scientific basis of the global warming phenomenon, the issue has mobilized many institutions and individuals to address the deteriorating condition of the global ecosystem. Landmark initiatives were launched to combat global warming. In 1992 the Framework Convention on Climate Change was drafted. Then the succeeding Kyoto Protocol was signed to reduce global carbon emissions.

These efforts have failed to reverse global warming, however. Environmentalists are accusing rich countries like the United States of deliberately ignoring the Kyoto Protocol. But it is also reasonable to criticize the inadequate content and wrong framework of the climate change agreements.

Activist groups are pinpointing the failure of the Kyoto Protocol to include the concerns of the marginalized sectors in the world. They describe the Kyoto Protocol as a “false compromise” since it has not acknowledged the real roots of climate change – neoliberal globalization and the “mad pursuit” of transnational companies for profits.

Thus, the People’s Protocol on Climate Change was initiated. This is a global campaign that aims to provide a venue for grassroots participation in the process of drawing up a post-2012 climate change framework.

The proposal was conceived in Bangkok, Thailand, in October 2007. More than 170 participants in an environmental conference supported a resolution to launch a People’s Protocol on Climate Change. During the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia, alternative workshops were held in East Java to gather more feedback about the proposed climate change agreement.

National and regional assemblies are to be held this year to reflect the demands and sentiments of the people on climate change. The People’s Protocol on Climate Change will be a key instrument for grassroots groups to pressure their governments at the global climate change negotiating table.

This document views the crisis as a social justice issue, and not merely an environmental problem. Global warming is rooted in the overexploitation of resources by northern nations and transnational companies. Or, as explained further in the preamble, “On one hand a privileged global elite engages in reckless profit-driven production and grossly excessive consumption. On the other hand, the mass of humanity is mired in underdevelopment and poverty with merely survival and subsistence consumption, or even less. The powerful industrialized nations of today were built on the severe exploitation of the human and natural resources of the global South. The pursuit of growth and profit is at the core of exploitation, structural poverty and global warming.”

The document notes the inherent conflict between the pronouncements of rich countries that they will curb harmful greenhouse emissions and the free trade agreements they are clinching with poor nations. This analysis is important since China, India and other emerging economies are often criticized today for their rising carbon emissions.

As correctly pointed out by the People’s Protocol, “We must acknowledge the role that Northern consumption plays in driving rapidly increasing Southern emissions. We recognize that a very significant part of supposedly Southern emissions actually result from the energy-intensive operations of Northern transnational companies located in the South for the purposes of exploiting local labor and natural resources.”

The People’s Protocol on Climate Change rejects market-led development as the solution to the global poverty crisis or climate change. It emphasizes the limitations of technological fixes in addressing the climate crisis if current levels of growth and consumption are maintained.

The alternative agreement proposes a paradigm shift away from market-based development models “which perpetuate the exploitation of people and the planet” toward people’s sovereignty over natural resources. The basic principle is to put the needs of the people and the planet above those of global capital.

The People’s Protocol on Climate Change recognizes that many communities around the world are dependent for their survival on their access to and use of natural resources. It is then vital that the specific needs of farming communities, indigenous peoples, coastal communities, and other rural producers should be given special attention in all adaptation efforts. In short, the marginalized peoples, rather than the big foreign companies, must have real access and control over the natural resources. This is the essence of the concept “people’s sovereignty over natural resources.”

The protocol wants rich countries to contribute more to the global mitigation fund. Transnational companies should increase “unconditional financial compensation to directly address the climate crisis in the South.”

Restorative justice is introduced, which requires “distribution of responsibility according to historical per capita emissions, not just on a by-country basis, but more significantly on a by-polluter basis.” Transnational companies, whether they are located in the North or South, must be compelled to pay for the damages they cause to the environment.

At a minimum, there should be an overhaul of international trade and investment rules to promote sustainable development. Production should be based on the actual needs of the people to reduce waste and over-consumption. This will then curb carbon emissions. Polluting industries should also not be transferred from the North to the South.

People’s lifestyles must change. Old habits and views that hurt the environment must be modified. Governments must act quickly by enjoining the support of their constituents, especially the marginalized sectors.

But we must not forget to grasp the bigger, harder and more important challenge: “Climate change crisis is not simply about adaptation and mitigation, but changing the whole economic framework into one of eco-sufficiency and sustainability.”

Related entries:

Coping with climate change
Waterless republic
Holiday trash

Poverty and system losses

In the past the rural poor migrated to the cities, especially in Metro Manila, to look for employment and livelihood opportunities. When there were no more enough jobs for the army of unemployed youth, the government started exporting Filipinos to other countries.

Three decades of exporting labor has not made the Philippines a rich nation. But the monthly remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers, along with incessant foreign borrowing, prevented the total collapse of the local economy. The malling phenomenon is financed by OFW money. Real estate is booming because of OFW investments. More importantly, poor families are able to survive the perpetual economic crisis through the “manna” sent by their OFW relatives.

But migration today is no longer a financially rewarding option for the poor. Foreign companies are requiring college diplomas. Skilled workers are preferred. Professionals are now leaving the country in droves. The unskilled, uneducated, and unrefined poor have less chances of working abroad.

The desperate poor who failed to get a passport, visa and foreign employment contract are now roaming the streets of Metro Manila. Most of them have joined the informal economy. They can be seen on sidewalks, MRT stations, footbridges, narrow alleys, and churchyards. They are regularly harassed by power tripping MMDA personnel and kotong cops.

There is a new option which can bring instant cash to the poor. They can now sell their body organs for a large sum of money. The real message of unregulated medical tourism is this: “Filipino kidneys are for sale.” In the past Filipinos are selling their labor power. Now kidneys and other body organs can be bought as well. If the soul can be traded, will Filipinos sell their souls to the devil?

Smokey Mountain, the garbage dump in Tondo, was the face of poverty in the Philippines during the Marcos era. Succeeding governments were able to transform Smokey Mountain into a residential-commercial district. (“The old apparatus survived by casting off its symbolic clothing” – Slavoj Zizek). Smokey Mountain was replaced by Payatas. And now the Quezon City government wants to develop Payatas too.

Public symbols of poverty must be removed. Poverty must be hidden. Suffering has to be endured privately. What is the indelible proof of poverty today? They can be found on the bodies of the poor. The scar of poverty is the literal wound on the bodies of organ donors. The Holocaust survivors have scars on their arms; the Filipino poor have stitches on their bodies.

Poverty has to be “privatized” but poverty’s impact is public. Hunger is visible in the streets. Children are malnourished. Rice is rationed among the poor and schoolchildren.

Gruesome crime robberies have shocked the nation. Desperate individuals are subverting the rule of law to earn money. But the elite is also guilty of stealing money from the poor and public treasury. They also subvert the rule of law yet they are able to legitimize their crimes. They commit senseless killings of activists and journalists to silence critics. Are the horrid bank robberies the answer of the poor to the horrid scandals committed by the elite? Are we already witnessing the public display of outrage by the poor?

The social volcano will erupt soon. Remember the man who threw a stone at Arroyo’s poster in Mindanao? Frustrated that he failed to get a bag of rice from the National Food Authority, the man turned his rage towards Arroyo’s poster – the president’s symbol of impotence to deliver food to the poor. This is a disquieting sign of the times. They say “a hungry man is an angry man.” Can the government handle the anger of 80 million Filipinos?

The poor – jobless, homeless, hungry and living with only one kidney – are reprimanded by authorities for wasteful consumption of rice. The hungry poor are told to eat and consume less to save the environment. Let them eat biofuels, lifeline subsidy and half-price texting!

The poor are blamed for their own poverty. They should increase their productivity, they should learn new skills, they should think global and act local. Sipag at tiyaga ang kailangan. Therefore if you remain poor, it means you are either lazy, stupid or lacking in fortitude.

Blame the lifestyles of the poor and forget their social circumstances? Don’t be surprised if these greedy, indolent and lavish poor will soon join the ranks of revolutionary fighters in the countryside.

The buzzword today is systems loss. According to a Sun Star report, systems loss refers "to the portion of electricity which is pilfered or is lost during transmission." Usually, urban poor residents are accused of increasing the systems loss of utility firms because of their illegal power and cable connections. We should make a new meaning of systems loss. Instead of denial, the poor will admit that yes, we are responsible for systems losses. Charge us, jail us, punish us, if you dare. But we warn you. It is us, the fighting poor, the rebellious poor, who will bring irreversible losses to this wicked social system.

Related entries:

Recto-Doroteo Jose
Urban facelift
Open the gates
Billboard suicide


“May the Sun cut my body in halves, and may disgrace befall me before the eyes of my wives that they might abhor me if at any time I had been friends to the Spaniards."Tarik Soliman, Pampanga warrior and freedom fighter

Southeast Asia: Series of unfortunate disasters, my roundup for Global Voices. Thanks Mau of Pinoy Weekly for writing about the Jun Lozada blog launch. I recently joined Plurk.

Among Ed is now blogging. Thank you PJ for endorsing Bloggers Kapihan to your friends in Pampanga.

Yesterday 20 Manila-based bloggers and about 30 youth leaders from Pampanga participated in launching the blog of Pampanga Governor Among Ed Panlilio. After the event at the provincial capitol, the group proceeded to the Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies located at the Holy Angel University. Then we visited a quarrying site in Porac, Pampanga.

What are some of the interesting things I learned from the trip to Pampanga?

1. There is a rumor that an election recall will take place in Pampanga. Among Ed is in danger of losing his post. Only the city of San Fernando is supporting the embattled leader. Remember the infamous incident when the mayor of Candaba returned the funding assistance given by Governor Panlilio? Even the recent SK elections were used by Among Ed’s rivals to consolidate their hegemony in the province.

2. Among Ed talked about the need to develop a “critical mass” in order to promote good governance in the country. He mentioned about his regular communication with Isabela Governor Grace Padaca and Naga Mayor Jesse Robredo. This revelation is worthy of note. Are they also discussing the 2010 polls?

3. The number of Filipinos speaking the Kapampangan language is declining. There are fewer students who can understand and read Kapampangan. The reactionary elite’s response: Eh ano, basta marunong magsalita ng wikang Ingles, di ba?

4. Pampanga was the first province created by the Spaniards. In the past Pampanga’s territory included parts of Tarlac, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya. This explains why there are barangays in these provinces where Kapampangan language is dominant.

5. Pampanga was the favorite province of the Spanish colonizers. Every time the colonial regime is under attack, the loyal Kapampangans will defend their Spanish masters. Remember the Macabebes?

6. Bacolor was once described as the Athens and Pompei of the Philippines. Residents of Bacolor were among the richest, artistic and sophisticated in Spanish Philippines. The town has produced pioneering professionals and high-ranking public servants. Bacolor was once named as the capital of the Philippines.

7. Pampanga’s freedom fighters include, among others, Kumander Bilog, Dante Buscayno, Luis Taruc, Felixberto Olalia and Satur Ocampo.

8. Tarlac was once named Nueva Cuenca. FPJ is a Kapampangan. There is a Poracay resort in Porac, Pampanga.

9. Agriculture and quarrying are the top sources of income of Pampanga. Pang-ilan kaya ang jueteng at smuggling? Porac hosts the biggest quarrying site in Pampanga. Everyday more one thousand trucks are entering and leaving the quarry site in Porac alone.

10. Before the term of Among Ed, a barangay in Porac was receiving five thousand pesos a month as its share from the quarrying fees. Now it is receiving a million pesos a month. Porac and Pampanga should draft a masterplan on how to efficiently use the quarrying income to develop the province and improve the lives of the people. The lahar deposit will not last forever.

11. Pinatubo erupted in 1991. But the lahar flow hit several parts of Porac only in 1994. Villages and farming communities were destroyed. Residents have started returning to their villages. My anthropology teacher is correct; the Kapampangans are very resilient.

By the way, I am a Kapampangan. My lola was born in Capas, Tarlac. We are part of the Mendoza clan. I think my family is originally from Concepcion, Tarlac. My father speaks fluent Kapampangan. My favorite kapampangan food: buro.

Related entries:

Burger, fries and Among Ed
Election questions
Southern Mindanao

Rice revolution

Jun Lozada is now blogging. Thank you Erwin of Inquirer and Trina of Abs-Cbn for the write-ups. Bloggers Kapihan will participate and help in launching the blog of Pampanga Governor Among Ed Panlilio. Free transportation and food will be provided to 30 Manila-based bloggers. If you’re interested in joining the trip to Pampanga, please email me or visit our group blog for details.

Rice continues to be more expensive despite the announcement of the agricultural department that local rice production is higher this year. The harvest season failed to stabilize the soaring cost of rice. Perhaps unscrupulous merchants are hoarding supplies again. Or maybe the government has not procured enough rice supplies from local farmers.

This news is disturbing. What will happen during the lean months of the year? What will be the cost of rice when supplies dwindle in the next few months? Strong typhoons are expected to affect rice production. Rice importation is the convenient solution but rice exporting countries like Vietnam and Cambodia are also experiencing food supply problems.

The people should expect the worst during the third quarter of the year. Food prices will continue to go up. Hunger will worsen. Consumer panic will rise. Protests will intensify. The agricultural and economic policies of the government will be questioned.

Malacanang said food riots will never occur in the Philippines. This statement should be clarified. The government should not worry about food riots. It should prepare for peasant uprisings. Mass unrest over rising food prices could lead to revolutionary upheavals.

In the past one hundred years, more than forty land reform programs were implemented by the government in order to quell discontent in the countryside. But these token programs have failed to weaken peasant-led mobilizations. Thousands of farmers have been recruited in the red army of the communist movement. Land reform and food security are the basic programs of the armed left.

Malacanang may be correct when it asserted that food riots are highly unlikely to develop in the Philippines. But who needs food riots when a peasant revolution is gaining strength in the provinces? Food riots will just be a sideshow to the great street battles between the urban proletariat and the defenders of the ruling order.

Rice has the potential to spark an uprising. The August 1945 revolution in Vietnam was led by hungry peasants and urban dwellers who stormed public halls demanding food, rice and independence. The food issue unified the Vietnamese nation and became the launching pad for future armed insurrections.

The slogan in 1945 was very powerful: “Break open the rice stores to avert famine.” This mobilized the masses which ended colonial occupation and paved the way for the establishment of an independent democratic Vietnamese nation.

Scholar Gabriel Kolko further explains the success of the revolution in Vietnam:

“When the Viet Minh declared a general insurrection on August 12, the millions of euphoric people who filled the streets of Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, and dozens of other cities also led to Viet Minh takeovers of villages and towns everywhere. What had initially been a peasant mass movement now merged with the urban population to strike at the crucial organs of the colonial system in the cities.”

Imagine a political force in the Philippines capable of commanding the poor to “Break open the NFA stores to avert famine.” Then the people will be told to occupy the streets, government offices are to be raided, vital public installations are to be seized. The rice and food question will sustain the Philippine revolution.

Perhaps the sudden obsession of the president to pacify the restless masses by promising lower power rates, tuition and text services is a desperate measure on the part of the government to delay the inevitable rebellion of the poor. What this government wants to prevent is not food riots but a people’s war.

Food riots

Food riots are taking place in many parts of the world. These bold actions could inspire local activists to intensify street protests in the country. Consumer groups can learn from the tactics of campaigners in other countries.

A "Rice Revolution" has erupted in Bangladesh last month. Thousands of workers, most of them women, clashed with the police during a rally where the workers protested skyrocketing food prices.

The general strike in Egypt last April started when employees of a textile plant announced plans to go on strike over low salaries and price hikes. A big coalition of workers supported the protest and called a general strike to demand decent living conditions. Consumers “joined” the strike by staying home, while others participated in street processions leading to city squares. The strike was announced through text messages, emails and through the popular social networking platform, Facebook.

The general strike in Egypt can be replicated in the Philippines. It is curious that Egypt is the world’s biggest consumer of bread while the Philippines is the biggest importer of rice.

A few days ago police fired teargas on hundreds of demonstrators protesting against high food prices in Kenya. Fuel protests are spreading in Europe. Fishermen from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and France have gone on strike to protest skyrocketing fuel prices. Ten years after the massive street protests in Jakarta, students are once again leading the rallies in Indonesia today.

Reuters reported that housewives and youth were the frontrunners in the street rallies in Ivory Coast last April. They blocked the roads with barricades and burning tires as a protest against rising food prices. The prime minister of Haiti was forced to resign after food riots gripped the country for many days.

Food protests were also reported in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Yemen and Jordan.

Economists claim the era of cheap food is over. Activists warn the era of elitist politics will soon come to an end too.

Related entries:

Rural agenda
Festival and politics
E-vat and food
Street battles
National road