Monthly Archives: August 2008

Saucy Samak and Thai politics

Links: A Brunei cyclist and blogger. Misplaced nationalism in Southeast Asia. Singapore Food Festival 2008. Impact of riing oil prices in Cambodia.

I recently joined Taiwanese, HK and Chinese bloggers in a virtual discussion about the latest corruption scandal in Taiwan. Read Oiwan’s article. Find out why many Taiwanese are talking about Marcos.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has his own peculiar, aggressive, and sometimes funny manner of answering his critics.

While admitting that he was a nominee of former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Samak denied that he is a puppet of the ousted leader. He insisted that it is the opposition that should be charged as being the army’s puppet.

During a heated debate in Parliament, Samak was seen on national television folding an origami bird. Later, he insisted he was listening to the parliamentary discussion while making the origami bird.

When a member of Parliament suggested that Samak take leave and get medical treatment for showing symptoms of mental deficiency and behavior disorder, Samak dared the accuser to compete with him in a brain game or memory test. “Don’t mess with a man called Samak,” the prime minister exclaimed.

During one embarrassing instance, Samak hid in a market’s public toilet for 30 minutes to evade reporters who wanted to ask questions about a rumored Cabinet reshuffle. When he emerged from the toilet, the media were still waiting for him.

Samak shouted at reporters for violating his privacy. He held out his hands so that reporters could smell that he washed them. Then he scolded the media: “It’s awful, it’s shameful. Should I be filmed inside while emptying myself? They should be checked to see if they are insane. This is not human. I was sitting inside, as was my right. Who has a problem? I would like just to shop and go to the toilet, but they kept filming. Are you insane?"

According to journalists who were at the scene, Samak left without paying the fee for using the public bathroom.

This is one of several times when the media were able to witness and report Samak’s famous temper. There was another occasion when Samak became furious after reporters kept on questioning him about a rumored coup. Samak surprised his audience when he stated that, "From now on, when reporters ask me a question, I’ll say ‘I know nothing.’"

When environmentalists opposed the government plan to divert water from a dam in Laos into Thailand, Samak retorted angrily, "I would like to ask them, the environmentalists, rudely: will we do it on their heads?"

To minimize criticism of a planned casino complex in Thailand, Samak clarified that the government is building an entertainment complex, not a casino. He argued that it’s time for Thailand to have an entertainment complex complete with a casino, a sports arena and a convention hall. Critics pointed out that changing the name of the project does not make it acceptable, since it will still house a casino.

Samak’s concept of social injustice is unique. Obviously piqued by the successive rallies conducted by the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy, Samak questioned the media’s faithful coverage of the protest actions. He asked the leaders of the rally members, “Where did you come from? When were you elected and what legal status do you have?” Then he lashed out at media: “The media treats them as if they have equal status with the Cabinet. This annoys me because the media give equal weight to them as what the media attaches to the Cabinet. This is social injustice.”

The Bangkok rallies in June were somewhat similar to the street protests in 2006 prior to the coup that ousted Thaksin. The rallies were successful in undermining Samak’s credibility. At one point, many people thought he was on the way out. In response, Samak warned that he would create street gangs to disrupt the new government if he were forcibly removed from power.

Samak, like his predecessor, is popular among the rural poor. Aside from distributing dole-outs, Samak maximizes the medium of television to win support for his government. He launched his own daily TV show, “Talk Samak Style,” to answer the numerous accusations hurled by anti-government politicians and groups.

Samak was a celebrity chef before becoming a prime minister. He can shop in public markets without being accused of engaging in a cheap publicity stunt. He often uses his cooking skills to entertain foreign leaders. He once cooked for the visiting military leader of Myanmar. He even defended the ruling junta by stating that “killings and suppressions are normal” in Myanmar. He added that the Burmese general is a religious person who practices meditation and prays in the morning.

Samak has a reputation of being a right-winger. He supported the crackdown of leftist student activists in the 1970s. He denied there were many casualties when soldiers invaded a university in 1976. He even claimed that some of the student protesters were working for Vietnamese communists.

Samak is a controversial, contradictory and highly conservative leader. He bullies his opponents. He often reprimands the critical media. And his behavior is sometimes undignified.

Samak’s major achievement is that he is still in power today. When he became the prime minister early this year, commentators predicted that he would not last his term and that he would be ousted after a few months. Well, Samak is still verbally abusing his enemies on TV every night; he still cooks for visiting dignitaries; and he is still making his origami bird in Parliament. In short, he is still the prime minister.

But the year is not yet over. The opposition can still mount a stronger campaign in the next few months. And if it is true that Samak is a puppet of Thaksin, can Samak manage to remain in power once Thaksin decides to support another politician?

Related entries:

Gloria Arroyo
Malaysia’s sex scandals

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Ideal victims

Links: Regulation of online political content in Singapore. How to improve traffic in Brunei. Texting and the Cambodia-Thailand border tension. Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

It was former student leader and fellow activist Jpaul Manzanilla who encouraged me to read Slavoj Zizek two years ago. References for the article below include Zizek’s Welcome to the Desert of the Real, The Metastases of Enjoyment, The Fragile Absolute, and Tarrying with the Negative.

First of two parts.

Homo Sacer refers to an individual of Roman Law who may be killed but cannot be offered in a religious ceremony. Philosopher Giorgio Agamben defined it as someone who is alive as a human being but excluded from the political community. A Homo Sacer is not a full citizen. Another philosopher Slavoj Zizek pointed out that a Homo Sacer is “one who is deprived of his or her full humanity being taken care of in a very patronizing way.”

Examples of Homo Sacer figures in Philippine politics: guerilla fighters of the Communist Party, leftists in the military’s Order of Battle, calamity victims, street vendors, squatter colonies, MILF members and sympathizers.

Related to the concept of Homo Sacer is the universalized notion of the victim. Zizek explains:

“The customary image of the victim is that of an innocent-ignorant child or woman paying the price for political-ideological power struggles. Is there anything more non-ideological than this pain of the other in its naked, mute, palpable presence? This perplexed gaze of a starved or wounded child who just stares into the camera, lost and unaware of what is going on around them, is today the sublime image that cancels out all other images.”

A good victim is passive and helpless. Zizek adds:

“The ideal subject-victim is a political subject without a clear agenda, a subject of helpless suffering, sympathizing with all suffering sides in the conflict, caught up in a madness of a local clash that can be pacified only by the intervention of a benevolent power.”

But a victim who decides to fight back, one who is no longer ready to play the role of a good victim, is immediately described as terrorist, fanatical, fundamentalist, intolerant. Zizek discusses the “paradox of victimization”:

“The Other to be protected is good insofar as it remains a victim; the moment it no longer behaves like a victim, but wants to strike back on its own, it magically turns all of a sudden into a terrorist/fundamentalist/drug-trafficking Other.”

Displaced Moro communities in Mindanao are examples of good victims. They are worthy to receive humanitarian aid. But once they decided to fight back, they become cruel terrorists who need to be punished for their excess. Environmental refugees are also good victims. But if they complained of government neglect and when they begin to question the environmental policies of the state, they are suddenly depicted as brainwashed, communist-influenced, irrational refugees.

When Moro rebels resist military offensives, it is cited as proof that the enemies are terrorists. When communist guerrillas attack police/military posts, it is denounced as a terrorist act. Victims are not allowed to defend themselves against the armed component of the state.

“Theft of enjoyment”

A “reflexive politically correct racism” is visible today, in regards to the GRP-MILF debacle. According to Zizek, this “metaracism” refers to the “multicultural perception of (Mindanao) as the terrain of ethnic horrors and intolerance, of primitive irrational warring passions, to be opposed to the post-nation-state liberal-democratic process of solving conflicts through rational negotiation, compromise and mutual respect. Here racism is, as it were, elevated to the second power: it is attributed to the Other, while we occupy the convenient position of a neutral benevolent observer, righteously dismayed at the horrors going on ‘down there’.”

Notice how many Christian politicians and commentators articulated their respect for the culture of the Moro people but this did not stop them from advocating an all-out war policy. This respect is hypocritical. Again, using the words of Zizek, the real sentiment of these politically correct racists is this: “I know very well that the Other’s culture (Moro culture) is worthy of the same respect as my own: nevertheless…[I despise them passionately].”

This reflected racism is more dangerous than downright (or classical) racism.

The logic of the “theft of enjoyment’ can further explain the surprising hatred of many conservative Filipinos against the Moros. Zizek writes:

“We always impute to the ‘other’ an excessive enjoyment: he wants to steal our enjoyment (by ruining our way of life) and/or he has access to some secret, perverse enjoyment.”

Zizek states further that “what ‘bothers’ us in the ‘other’ is that he appears to enjoy a privileged relationship to the object – the other either possesses the object-treasure, having snatched it away from us (which is why we don’t have it), or poses a threat to our possession of the object.”

Zizek argues that what is concealed in this “blaming the other” process is the “traumatic fact that we never possessed what was allegedly stolen from us.”

Politicians have warned that the possible loss of many parts of Mindanao could threaten the national heritage. National heritage? Again, Zizek clarifies that national heritage is nothing but “a kind of ideological fossil created retroactively by the ruling ideology in order to blur its present antagonism.”

Capital is the enemy

The true enemy of the Moro people is not Manila imperialism but monopoly capitalism. The real violence in Mindanao and elsewhere is the “objective, systemic, anonymous violence” imposed by imperialist Capital on the people.

Zizek reminds us that “while capitalism does suspend the power of the old ghosts of tradition, it generates its own monstrous ghosts.” Capitalism and its “reduction of all heavenly chimeras to brutal economic reality generates a spectrality of its own.”

The ideological foundation behind the barbaric exploitation and incredible violence in Mindanao is sustained by capitalist hegemony. The ugly war between MILF-GRP should not distract us from recognizing that a possible solution to the Mindanao question is Socialism.

The ongoing conflict in the south renders visible the violent antagonism in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society. It is this “open chance and undecidable” resistance of the Moro people which makes it possible to integrate and articulate the socialist project in the Mindanao issue.

Related entries:

Urban facelift
Walls
Excess and lack
Marcos-Arroyo
Marcos-Japan
Other radicals

Bees and economy

Links: Medical care in East Timor. Hydropower plants and dams in Laos. The opposition parties in Singapore.

A poem which elucidates the ideological basis of the modern economy was written more than 300 hundred years ago. In 1705 Doctor Bernard Mandeville wrote a short poem entitled “The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest.” This did not gather any public attention. In 1714 he republished the poem as “Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits.” This was the poem which made the author famous. But scholars during that time still ignored the work. It was only in 1723 when the new edition of the poem was launched with the subtitle “A Search into the Nature of Society” that it elicited a strong reaction from various writers.

Religious leaders described the poem as a nuisance. Mandeville was accused of promoting immorality. But the author did not advocate the propagation of vices. What he wrote was merely a satire on British society which helped explain the paradox of the capitalist economy. Mandeville’s poem influenced the development of English political economy. It was cited by numerous economists and philosophers like Voltaire, Karl Marx, Adam Smith, Malthus and Keynes. The poem remains relevant today.

What was the thesis of Mandeville? The title of the poem was the message: Private Vices, Public Benefits. Greed is good. Vices and selfish motives propel the economy forward. Society benefits if individual vices are tolerated. Isn’t Mandeville’s “private vices” similar to Smith’s concept of self-interest? That if each individual is allowed to pursue his/her own self-interest, this will lead to the creation of more wealth for the community. Mandeville seemed to have unlocked the philosophical basis of capitalism.

Smith and Malthus dismissed Mandeville as a “coarse cynic.” Smith insisted that “egoistic striving and action” are not vices. However, Marx called him an “honest and clear-headed man…infinitely bolder than the philistine apologists of bourgeois society.”

Mandeville argued that excessive spending is beneficial as long as this creates demand and employment. Hoarding wealth (thrift) does not produce economic activities. He wrote how private vices can lead to the benefit of the public through the “dexterous management of a skillful politician.” Mandeville cited the role of government in promoting spending. Isn’t this what Keynes advocated during the Great Depression in the 1930s?

Mandeville used the fable of the bees to deliver his point. He described the hive in this way:

A Spacious Hive well stock’d with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
… No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content

… Vast Numbers thronged the fruitful Hive;
Yet those vast Numbers made ’em thrive
Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other’s Lust and Vanity
Whilst other Millions were employ’d,
To see their Handy-works destroy’d;
They furnish’d half the Universe;
Yet had more Work than Labourers.
Some with vast Stocks, and little Pains
Jump’d into Business of great Gains;
And some were damn’d to Sythes and Spades,
And all those hard laborious Trades
Where willing Wretches daily sweat,
And wear out Strength and Limbs to eat:
Whilst others follow’d Mysteries,
To which few Folks bind Prentices
That want no Stock, but that of Brass,
And may set up without a Cross;
As Sharpers, Parasites, Pimps, Players,
Pick-Pockets, Coiners, Quacks, Sooth-Sayers,
And all those, that, in Enmity
With down-right Working, cunningly
Convert to their own Use the Labour
Of their good-natur’d heedless Neighbour.
These were called Knaves; but, bar the Name,
The grave Industrious were the Same.
All Trades and Places knew some Cheat,
No Calling was without Deceit.

Lust and vanity prevail in society. Fickleness is dominant. Everybody is aiming to dupe his/her neighbor. Some are wealthy despite performing no labor while the rest are condemned to wretched living. Mandeville also wrote about the professional bees. The lawyers are greedy, doctors are after wealth and fame instead of attending to the health of patients, priests are ignorant, justices are bribed, and soldiers want to escape from their duty while accepting double pay.

But society is thriving. Wealth is being created.

Thus every Part was full of Vice,
Yet the whole Mass a Paradice;
Flatter’d in Peace, and fear’d in Wars
They were th’ Esteem of Foreigners,
And lavish of their Wealth and Lives,
The Ballance of all other Hives.
Such were the Blessings of that State;
Their Crimes conspired to make ’em Great;
And Vertue, who from Politicks
Had learn’d a Thousand cunning Tricks,
Was, by their happy Influence,
Made Friends with Vice: And ever since
The Worst of all the Multitude
Did something for the common Good.

Luxury and pride are creating jobs. Vanity is helping the poor. Fickleness is generating wealth.

The Root of evil Avarice,
That damn’d ill-natur’d baneful Vice,
Was Slave to Prodigality,
That Noble Sin; whilst Luxury
Employ’d a Million of the Poor,
And odious Pride a Million more.
Envy it self, and Vanity
Were Ministers of Industry;
Their darling Folly, Fickleness
In Diet, Furniture, and Dress,
That strange ridic’lous Vice, was made
The very Wheel, that turn’d the Trade.
In the hive

… Thus Vice nursed Ingenuity,
Which join’d with Time, and Industry
Had carry’d Life’s Conveniencies,
It’s real Pleasures, Comforts, Ease,
To such a Height, the very Poor
Lived better than the Rich before;
And nothing could be added more:

Then the bees began complaining about the vices. They cursed the politicians, soldiers, lawyers and doctors. They asked God to restore order in the hive. God listened to the bees and He removed the vices, corruption, vanity and evil actions in the community. The result was economic disaster.

The Price of Land, and Houses falls;
…The Building Trade is quite destroy’d,
Artificers are not employ’d;
No Limner for his Art is famed;
Stone-cutters, Carvers are not named.

…The slight and fickle Age is past;
And Cloaths, as well as Fashions last.
Weavers that join’d rich Silk with Plate,
And all the Trades subordinate,
Are gone. Still Peace and Plenty reign,
And every Thing is cheap, tho’ plain:

…As Pride and Luxury decrease,
So by degrees they leave the Seas.
Not Merchants now; but Companies
Remove whole Manufacturies.
All Arts and Crafts neglected lie;
Content the Bane of Industry,
Makes ’em admire their homely Store,
And neither seek, nor covet more.

Unemployment rises, goods are not bought, construction has stopped. Russian economist A.V. Anikin writes: “What a society in which parasites, warmongers, spendthrifts and rogues bring prosperity, and such unqualified virtues as love of peace, honesty, thrift, and moderation lead to economic disaster!”

A similar message was suggested in the Hollywood blockbuster Bee Movie. In the film, humans were found guilty of stealing the honey collected by bees. All honey products are returned to their rightful owners, the bees. The result was chaos. Bees have stopped working. Honey collectors lost their jobs. Flowers died because bees have stopped pollinating. It seems the only way the system can function is to continue the stealing and exploitation committed by humans.

This is the paradox of the modern economy.

Related entries:

Excess and lack
1848-1970

Travelogue: Bicol, Butuan and Oratio Imperata

Links: How is Singapore coping with the food and fuel price crisis? Big foot in Sarawak? How a casino became an entertainment center in Thailand? Human rights situation in Indonesia.

I was in Naga last February, Butuan and Surigao in March, and Albay early this month. Below are some of my travel notes and observations.

The Diocese of Legazpi has instructed the faithful to pray the Oratio Imperata for protection against calamities. Every 30 minutes the prayer is recited over Radyo Veritas. Through the power of prayer, two typhoons (Mina and Frank) changed directions sparing the province of Albay. A Catholic magazine reminds its readers: “The thanksgiving that we felt should strengthen our faith and confidence in God’s almighty and merciful hand.”

The Ilonggos should have prayed harder. They should have recited the Oratio Imperata every Mass like what the Bicolanos from Albay did. But they didn’t pray the Oratio Imperata so God punished them for their lack of belief.

God is merciful. God is powerful. The Spanish colonialists were able to subjugate local armed uprisings for 300 hundred years because God was on their side. Maybe the Catholic indios did not pray as often as the Spaniards. Or maybe God didn’t understand them because they didn’t pray in Spanish.

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Again a reminder from a Catholic magazine: “If nature is ignored and contradicted man cannot do anything about the forces that might ensue from the resulting imbalance. The human being is also part of nature; if same sex unions are allowed, the hidden forces of evil may break down the moral pillars of the family and society.”

Same sex union is evil. Repro health is abortion, hence evil. But SHE who distributes cash donations to bishops is not evil?

Speaking of another evil, Albay recently passed the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance. Albay is a pink province? Congratulations to Governor Joey Salceda. By the way, the governor’s trademark color is green.

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There was a flashflood in Butuan last March. Strong rains battered the eastern part of the country, from Samar and Leyte down to the Caraga region. Strong rains during summer period? Flashfloods in Mindanao?

An interesting sign in front of Bombo Radyo – Butuan: “Notice to PNP, AFP, NPA, MILF, Abu Sayyaf – Please surrender your firearms before entering the station.”

Bombo Radyo is not heard in Manila. But it is popular in the provinces. The radio is known for using drums as a sound effect. Ofcourse in Butuan there was a drum inside the station. By the way, I’ve seen the original Bombo Radyo drum in Iloilo.

The Bayani Fernando virus is spreading. He is actually inspring other local leaders to be more aggressive and ruthless in implementing urban development plans. While in Cagayan de Oro City, I’ve learned that the mayor has been ordering the sweeping demolition of urban poor houses to make way for commercial development. And the MMDA-gestapo style of law enforcement was used as a model by the city government.

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South Luzon buses are fast, efficient and comfortable. They have lazy boy seats. Again, they have lazy boy seats! Night trips are pleasant because you can relax and sleep on a lazy boy seat. There are few passengers, few stopovers and some buses have their own toilets. I prefer Isarog bus line.

By the way, my first trip to Albay was in 2001, during the Bayan Muna election campaign. According to elders, a virgin will be able to see the beauty of Mayon Volcano on his/her visit to Albay. Hmm, I remember admiring the grandeur of Mayon in 2001.

Finally, NAIA-III is now open. Cebu Pacific was right to transfer all its operations to the new terminal. Some suggestions: T3 should host all domestic flights, including the local operations of PAL. The Centennial airport should be used for all international flights. The old MIA should be converted into a cargo hub, or a museum, or a duty free mall.

Free shuttle buses should be available in T3, especially for passengers who need to transfer to T1 and T2. Commercial buses, taxis, perhaps jeepneys too should be allowed to fetch passengers at the arrival gate of T3. Commendable: shuttle buses from T3 to LRT-MRT Edsa.

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Typhoon Reming devastated the Bicol region in 2006. Many towns have not yet recovered from the disaster. There are still evacuation centers housing hundreds of poor and homeless residents. The temporary shelter provided by the government is a 4×4 tent. Nasaan na ang Katas ng VAT?

Kawawang Jlo. Malacanang really planned well on how to undermine (or sabotage) Jun Lozada’s provincial and school sorties. The goal was to prevent Lozada from influencing more students and other middle classes. To cite an example, Lozada was scheduled to speak in a Bicol University forum. Another forum was immediately organized which had Speaker Nograles as speaker. On the day Lozada was supposed to hold a press conference in Legazpi, Mikey Arroyo arrived in the city and called for an emergency caucus of KAMPI officials. Lozada’s visit to the Bicol region was not widely reported by the media.

By the way, what is PGMA’s favorite vacation resort in Bicol: Misibis.

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Agricuture education is declining. Enrolment is down. But don’t worry, nursing enrolment remains high. Even medical education is now a pre-nursing course.

Because of economic recession, fewer students enrolled this year. Even Bicol University, a state university which collects low tuition compared to private schools, has fewer students this semester.

The Episcopalian compound in E. Rodriguez, Quezon City consists of a hospital (St. Lukes), university (Trinity University of Asia), Cathedral Hall, and a seminary house. Soon there will be a Columbary. The community will soon offer complete services to its members: from birth to death.

Related entries:

South Mindanao
North Luzon
Rough roads

Selda

Links: The MRT-LRT of Bangkok. Controversial traditional Arab scarf. Risks of farming in Laos due to Vietnam War-era cluster bombs. Largest mud volcano in the world.

I was inspired to write this article after watching three seasons of Prisonbreak. I blame Lengua, Johnnie and Dion for introducing the TV series to me.

What is the condition of the Philippine prison system? The ideal space of a prison cell is one inmate per 3 square meters. This is unattainable in the Philippines due to limited space. As of May 2008 the country’s jail population is 61,025. This is way above the ideal capacity of 16,315 inmates for the country’s penitentiary facilities.

The National Capital Region has the biggest jail population of 20,746 prisoners. Calabarzon region is second with 8,326 inmates. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has the lowest number of prisoners (345). Despite its reputation as a war zone, ARMM has a low crime rate.

The government has to improve the country’s 1,077 jail facilities. The jail population is increasing at a rate of 5 percent annually. By year 2011 the jail population is expected to reach 76,835.

Prison congestion is a serious problem. It may be one of the reasons why jail riots and diseases are spreading in the country’s prison facilities. The nationwide congestion rate is 271 percent. NCR city jails have very high congestion rates. Caloocan City Jail has 1,645 inmates despite its ideal capacity of only 136 prisoners. Quezon City should only have 415 inmates but its jail population is now 3,026. The ideal number of prisoners in Manila City Jail is 1,347 but the actual number of inmates is 5,534. Makati City and ARMM should be commended since their jailhouses do not have congestion problems.

Last summer more than 1,500 inmates in NCR suffered from various diseases caused by prison congestion and summer heat. Records show that in March, more than 548 inmates in NCR jails suffered from boils (pigsa). Scabies (galis) afflicted 231 inmates, followed by skin allergies that affected 170 inmates.

Other common diseases are fungal infection (alipunga), conjunctivitis (sore eyes), chicken pox (bulutong tubig), body malaise (a feeling of general discomfort or uneasiness), gastroenteritis, arthritis, rheumatism, numbness and other health causing problem due to severe heat. Inmates suffering from hypertension are also at risk especially those in congested jails.

Almost 600 prisoners were escorted to hospitals last April. In NCR alone, 64 inmates were hospitalized. Region 10 also has a large number of inmates (65) who were brought to hospitals.

Why is there prison congestion? What are the factors that caused the jail population to increase? The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology gives the following reasons:

1. Slow disposition of cases in courts;
2. Inability to pay bail;
3. Recidivism;
4. Poverty and unemployment;
5. Increase in the amount of bail bond required by courts.

Improving the prison system should be accompanied by speedy reforms in the judiciary. The Supreme Court has recently announced some bold measures which will help poor prisoners accused of petty crimes to seek legal help. Bayan Muna Partylist has another proposal on how to decongest the country’s jails. The group filed a bill that would institutionalize release of prisoners on recognizance as an option for poor litigants detained while under trial. The Department of Interior and Local Government is supporting this legislative proposal.

Article III, Section 13 of the Constitution allows two modes by which a person under arrest may be released temporarily from detention before conviction: (1) by bail; and (2) by release on recognizance as may be provided by law.

Under the Bayan Muna proposal, applicants for recognizance need the recommendation of two persons of good repute in the barangay where they reside and who shall guarantee their appearance in court. Such application should be endorsed by a recognizance field officer before it is approved by the appropriate regional trial court. Applications for recognizance can be contested by the prosecution.

The two recommending persons and the recognizance field office, as well as barangay officials and community organizations, shall have roles in monitoring the applicant, ensuring his attendance in court and that he/she does not engage in any illegal activities.

Another reform measure which the government should implement is the establishment of separate prison cells for women and minor detainees. Despite the passage of a law that prohibits the detention of minors together with adult prisoners, the BJMP admits it operates 217 jails without separate prison cells for minors. It also has 87 jails without separate jails for female inmates. Minors do not deserve to grow old in a detention facility inhabited by adult prisoners.

The BJMP has initiated a campaign to prevent harsh treatment of prisoners. It launched “Operation Kontra-Balukol to rid jails of abusive prison guards who extort money from newly committed inmates. The campaign also gathers feedback from inmates as to the way jails are being managed in order to improve the quality of services in jails.

The pathetic conditions of city jails are regularly reported by the media. But few people are interested to promote changes in the prison facilities. Even local officials have done little to address the complaints of prisoners. Local governments can manage to ignore the plight of prisoners because rating agencies, political analysts and investors seldom include the status of jails in ranking the competitiveness of cities. For many politicians, prisoners are not important constituents.

This is disappointing since many prisoners who are languishing in congested jails are innocent of the crimes they were charged. Most prisoners are jailed for the crime of robbery, followed by theft. Poverty may be the number one reason why many people are forced to violate the law. The inhumane Philippine prison system, instead of reforming the inmates, could further corrupt the minds and spirit of the accused.

Related entries:

City competitiveness
World competitiveness

Southeast Asia’s Olympic aspirations

Links: How to reduce travel cost in Cambodia. Vietnamese wedding. Criticism of Indonesia’s media. Media freedom in Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Some of my articles have been translated into other languages: Read the posts in French, Italian, Spanish, Malagasy and Chinese.

Close to 200 athletes from the Southeast Asian region are participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Thailand sent the biggest number of athletes, who will compete in 13 sporting events; Myanmar fielded a single athlete who will participate in the archery competition.

During the opening ceremony, Brunei was excluded from joining the event because it failed to register its two participating athletes on time. Brunei’s suspension angered many Bruneians who couldn’t believe the country’s Olympic Committee missed the deadline to register their two athletes in the swimming and track and field events.

Another controversy was the “improper” waving of the Singaporean flag during the opening ceremony. The flag bearer of Singapore made the mistake of dragging the country’s flag on the floor. According to Singapore law, "No person in possession of the Flag shall allow or cause the Flag to touch the floor or ground.” Many Singaporeans accused the flag bearer of not showing enough enthusiasm while performing her duty during the parade.

Adding to the controversy was the fact that the flag bearer was not born and raised in Singapore. Li Jia Wei, Singapore’s flag bearer, is originally from China and migrated to Singapore a few years ago. She is recognized as among the world’s best table tennis players. Because of the flag-dragging incident, Singaporeans on the Internet are questioning her loyalty. Was she paid by the government to migrate to Singapore and win an Olympic gold medal for the country?

Singapore is not the only Southeast Asian country which hired foreign talent to compete in the Olympics. The Philippines has also fielded several athletes who were born, educated and trained in other countries.

Is it unlawful to send foreign athletes to the Olympics? It is not wrong if a person wishes to change his or her citizenship. An athlete can decide to represent another country as long as he or she is sincere in promoting national pride, sportsmanship and the Olympic spirit. But if the hiring of foreign talents is a desperate measure to win gold medals, it becomes less acceptable.

Are Southeast Asian countries desperate to win gold medals? Since the start of the Olympic Games more than 100 years ago, Southeast Asian countries have only won 51 medals overall. The Philippines gave Southeast Asia its first Olympic bronze medal in 1928. Singapore hasn’t won another medal since it got a silver medal in the 1960 Olympics. Thailand and Indonesia are the only countries in the region that have won Olympic gold medals. Indonesia has been winning gold medals since 1992. Thailand won eight medals in the 2004 Athens Games — three golds, one silver and four bronze.

Southeast Asian governments have been increasing the financial incentives for successful Olympians. Malaysia and the Philippines will give more than US$300,000 to athletes who bring home gold medals. But cash rewards are not enough. Critics assert that the failure of the Philippines to win a gold medal in the Olympics is a reflection of the poor sports program in the country. There is no effective program that involves millions of people to excel in sports and develop the mania for physical fitness.

Most of the TV viewers in the region were impressed by China’s preparation for the Olympics. A Malaysian writer expressed pride in China and Asia for the “awesome, fantastic, bombastic, acrobatic, out of this world opening ceremonies.” Another commentator praised China’s decision to change the traditional parade of athletes since it sent a message that China is ready to make its own rules for the world to follow. Many Asians are of the opinion that China hosted what is undoubtedly the best Olympic opening ceremony in history.

The Beijing Olympics has been politicized from the start. Activists have launched a boycott campaign to highlight China’s poor human rights record. A Singaporean writer praised and criticized China’s hosting of the Olympics:

“It’s great to see a fellow Asian country putting up such a wonderful spectacle, but as the Chinese spent millions to make sure their Olympics is a success, I can’t help but think about the millions of people in Darfur who are suffering because of the Chinese continued sponsoring of the genocide there. China may have staged the greatest Olympic opening ceremony ever but they have to look at themselves for assisting in the death of hundreds of thousands of people thousand miles away.”

But others insist the Olympics should be “a celebration of sports and not a bad brew of politics." As the debate rages on, the games have begun. Malaysia pins its gold medal hopes on its badminton players, the Philippines on its boxing and swimming athletes, and Singapore on its table tennis star. Congratulations to Thailand for winning a gold medal in weightlifting.

Related entries:

Sports for all
Sports idols

Talking points: Social Media and Activism

Bahagi ng aking presentasyon sa UP Manila, Hulyo 25, 2008.

1. Kanina ay napakinggan natin ang tunay na kalagayan ng bansa. Pinaliwanag ng mga naunang ispiker ang mga dahilan kung bakit kailangang aktibong makisangkot sa pulitika. Ang tatalakayin ko naman ay kung ano ang iba’t ibang porma ng pakikilahok sa kampanya para sa pagbabago.

2. Marami ang naniniwala na dapat gawing mapanlikha ang aktibismo. Creative activism, ika nga. Pero sa tingin ko eto ay double redundant. Sa totoo lang, ang aktibismo ay isang malikhaing gawain. Para yang creative writing. Sabi ni NVM Gonzales, ang pagsusulat ay isang mapanlikhang proseso. Hindi na kailangang sabihing creative ang writing. Ganun din ang aktibismo. Kailangang laging maging malikhain upang maging epektibo ang aktibismo. Kaya minabuti ko na ang pamagat ng aking maikling presentasyon ay Social media and Activism: o ano ang ilan sa mga gamit ng makabagong teknolohiya sa pagsusulong ng mga adhikain.

3. Magpopokus ako sa dalawa lamang: cell phone at internet. Ang cell phone at internet ay hindi lamang pang sex scandal, showbiz at pornograpiya. May gamit din ito para sa aktibismo. Unahin natin ang cell phone. 60 million cell phone subscriber sa bansa, nagpapadala ng 200 million text araw-araw. Karamihan ng mga Pilipino ay nagtetext. Kahit ata kinder may cell phone. Kaya nga ang number one consumer product ngayon ay hindi na coke, sigarilyo at beer; kundi cell phone load. Noong 1998, hindi namin alam kung ano ang text. Beep ng beeper ang alam namin. Noon, kabisado pa namin ang landline ng mga kaklase namin.

4. Napatunayan ng mga Pilipino na magagamit ang cell phone sa maraming paraan, kahit sa pulitika. Hindi tayo ang texting capital of the world, China pa rin ang wagi. Pero kinikilala ng mundo ang ambag ng mga Pilipino sa mobile activism. Halimbawa:
– Texting at Edsa Dos
– Text jokes
– Text tax 2004
– Hello Garci ringtone

Tayo rin ang nanguna sa mobile banking. Ginaya tayo ng ibang bansa. Naging mahalaga na rin ang texting para sa mga OFWs. Dahil mura at madali, malaking tulong ito sa komunikasyon at kahit sa pagpapadala ng pera para sa mga magkakahiwalay na pamilyang Pilipino.

Basahin: Txtpower, Texting and activism, Message Sent. Basahin din ang artikulong sinulat ni Tonyo Cruz, Texting and other tools of a people in revolt. Mahusay na pinaliwanag ni Cruz ang progresibong paggamit ng cellphone at internet noong Edsa Dos.

5. Sa ibang bansa naman. Nagagamit ang texting sa South Africa para i-monitor ang kalusugan ng mga AIDS victim. Nalalaman ng mga doktor ang mga bagong gamot o bakuna sa pamamagitan ng text. Sa Syria, pinapadalhan ng text ang mga Iraqi refugees para sa detalye ng distribusyon ng mga pagkain at damit. Epektibo ang texting sa relief and rescue mission tuwing may mga sakuna sa Indonesia at Peru. Sa Argentina, sinuportahan ng 1.5 milyon tao ang Forest Law sa pamamagitan ng pagpapadala ng text. Kung may online petition, sa kanila naman ay mayroong text petition.

Basahin: Wireless Technology for Social Change.

6. Marami pang potensiyal ang texting: sa kalusugan, pagtatanggol ng kalikasan at edukasyon. May literary award na ata sa Pilipinas para sa mga tula-text. Sa India nagagamit ito para sa literacy campaign. Magiging mas marami ang gamit ng cell phone sa hinaharap dahil sa mobile internet. Ibig sabihin, pwede kang magsurf sa web kahit saan, kahit kailan gamit ang cell phone.

Basahin: MobileActive, Share Ideas.

7. Kaya pag-usapan na natin ngayon ang internet. Ayon sa Universal McCann Report Wave 3 report (March 2008), sa Pilipinas ay mayroong:

• 3.7 million active internet users (sa tingin ko konserbatibo ang numerong ito)
• 3.3 million read blogs
• 2.3 million bloggers
• 3.14 million uploaded photos
• 2.2 million have uploaded videos
• 3.6 million watch video clips online.
• 2.3 million have downloaded a podcast

8. Kung pag-uusapan ang internet sa Pilipinas, hindi pwedeng hindi mabanggit ang Friendster. Bakit ba baliw na baliw tayo sa Friendster? May ipapakita akong mapa ng mundo tungkol sa paggamit ng mga social networking site sa buong mundo. Malinaw na ang internet ay hindi lamang para sa Friendster.

Marami na atang pag-aaral hinggil sa paggamit ng mga Pilipino sa Friendster. Noong nakaraang halalan, maraming pulitiko ang gumawa ng friendster account. Si Pangulong Arroyo, ang daming friendster account, karamihan o halos lahat ay mga pekeng account na ginawa ng mga pilyong Pilipino. Hindi kaya ito ay isang paraan ng pagpapakita ng galit kay Arroyo? Kailangang pa itong pag-aralan.

Si Sen. Trillanes hindi nakapagkampanya pero ginamit ng kanyang mga tagasuporta ang internet para kumuha ng suporta sa mga tao. Noong napanood natin ang isang nakakainsultong eksena sa Desperate Housewives, libu-libo agad ang pumirma sa online petition na humihingi ng apology sa ABC network. Mabilis ang aksiyon ng TV company.

9. Interesante ang Cute Cats Theory ni Ethan Zuckerman. Para sa kanya, ang mga nalilikhang software sa internet ay nagagamit para sa mga karaniwang hilig natin, tulad ng paglalagay ng litrato ng ating mga pusa sa internet, at higit sa lahat, nagagamit para sa aktibismo.

Mahalagang punto sa Web 2.0: nabibigyan tayo ng pagkakataon na lumikha ng content. Hindi na lang tayo simpleng mambabasa; kundi nag-aambag ng materyal na pwedeng mabasa, mapanood, mapakinggan ng buong mundo.

10. Para magkaroon kayo ng ideya kung paano pa nagagamit ang internet para sa aktibismo, heto ang isang mapa. Popular ngayon ang Twitter at Facebook, hindi lang dahil sila ay libre at madaling gamitin; kundi napapakinabangan ng mga aktibista. Para sa aktibistang gamit ng Twitter – basahin ito, ito, at ito. Para naman sa Facebook, magandang basahin ang artikulong ito. Gusto kong idagdag ang paggamit sa Egypt ng Facebook upang ilunsad ang isang welga.

11. Epektibo ang mga mashup. Ang Google Map at Google Earth ay ginawa hindi lamang para hanapin ang bahay ng mga artista. Sa Bahrain, pinakita ang di-pantay na distribusyon ng lupa (Pwede ito para sa kampanyang GARB ng mga magsasaka). Sa Kenya, ang mapa ay ginagamit upang iulat ang kaguluhan sa mga komunidad. Sa Zimbabwe, ginamit ang mapa sa pagmonitor ng eleksiyon. Una akong nabilib sa mashup nang makita ko ang Tunisian Prison Map (Pwede rin ito gamitin para malaman ng publiko ang lokasyon ng mga political detainee sa Pilipinas). Pwede rin ang mashup para sa pagtatanggol ng kalikasan: tingnan ito at ito.

12. Marami pang pwedeng gawin sa internet. Basahin ang Blogs for a Cause. Tiyak may kanya-kanya kayong naiisip kung paano magagamit ito sa aktibismo. Huwag lang natin kalimutan ang ilan sa mga limitasyon ng teknolohiya:

– Una, maliit pa rin ang bilang ng may access sa internet sa bansa. Mas malaki pa rin ang impluwensiya ng mainstream media;

– Huwag nating ipagkamali na ang problema ng mga Pilipino ay kakulangan ng pambili ng cell phone load at Apple Macbook. Ang batayang kahilingan pa rin ng mga Pilipino ay pagkain, bahay at katarungan;

– Ang teknolohiya ay nagagamit sa mabubuti at masasamang paraan. Karamihan pa rin sa mga kumikitang website ay mga porn site. Kahit ang You Tube at cell phone video naaabuso; halimbawa, canister scandal sa Cebu.

– Nabanggit ko kanina ang pagkakataong binibigay sa tao na lumikha ng materyal sa internet. May panganib dito. Pwedeng maabuso ito ng mga kriminal, sinungaling at mga terorista. Karaniwan ang reklamo ng mga guro sa mga maling impormasyon na mababasa sa Wikipedia.

– Kilalanin ang negatibong epekto ng teknolohiya sa indibidwal, at maging sa pag-aaral ng mga estudyante. Napapahina din ng teknolohiya ang kolektibong pagkilos. Napapatingkad ang indibidwalistang ugali ng kabataan. Sa YM pwede maging invisible ang isang user; hindi siya makikita ng kanyang mga kaibigan. Ayaw siguro pa-istorbo. Ganun din kaya ang aktitud natin sa mga nakikita nating problema sa lipunan: mas pipiliin nating maging invisible? Kunwari wala tayong napansin na mali? (Basahin: Kabataan para sa Bayang Progresibo, Politics of spectacle).

13. Kaya, People Power pa rin. Gamitin ang teknolohiya para isulong ang bagong People Power.

Gloria and Fidel

Links: Cambodian bloggers are called Cloggers. Urbanization without industrialization in Southeast Asia. The “most foolish act ever” in the history of blogosphere. Laos as an extreme vacation site.

I added new blogs and websites in the Mongster Links section. This article was inspired by Kenneth S. Baer ‘s The Spirit of ’78, Stayin’ Alive.

President Gloria Arroyo is often compared to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Both are cunning and ambitious. They are ruthless to their enemies. Their administrations are tainted by corruption and human rights scandals.

But to understand the political and economic crisis today, it is also advisable to review the state of governance in the country after Marcos was ousted in 1986. The term of former President Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) generated most of the problems that continue to bedevil the country today.

Arroyo herself was once a protégé of Ramos. Arroyo was elected senator in 1992; the same year Ramos became president. In 1998 Arroyo ran for vice president under the Lakas-Kampi coalition. Ramos supported Arroyo during Edsa Dos, Edsa Tres, and most importantly, during the “Hello Garci” scandal when Arroyo was almost removed from power. It was Ramos (and former Speaker Jose De Venecia) who saved the Arroyo presidency in 2005.

It isn’t surprising that Arroyo’s economic and political programs are similar to what her eminent adviser implemented in the past. Aside from belonging to the same clique of the ruling elite, both are loyal followers of the neoliberal agenda.

Ramos and Arroyo were accused of electoral fraud. Ramos was charged by Miriam Defensor Santiago, his most prominent rival, of tampering the election results. The allegation was believable. Ramos won with only a lead of 200,000 votes. Arroyo was also accused by the opposition of manipulating the votes in the 2004 elections. Did Arroyo use the electoral machinery (read: dagdag-bawas operations) of Ramos?

Ramos and Arroyo were involved in numerous corruption cases. Ramos got entangled with the PEA-AMARI land scam, Centennial Expo scandal, and the Smokey Housing project mess. Arroyo, presiding over the most corrupt nation in the region, has been linked to various corrupt-ridden projects like the National Broadband Network project, fertilizer distribution, IMPSA power deal and the overpriced Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard. Arroyo should ask Ramos on how to evade plunder charges once she steps down in 2010.

Ramos and his supporters attempted to amend the Constitution in 1997. The plan was to extend the term of Ramos and other incumbent politicians. Arroyo tried the same tactic in 2006. Both leaders failed in their noble/devious scheme to change the 1987 Constitution.

Ramos was conscious of his image as a Martial Law architect. As president of the Republic, he tried to change this image by signing peace agreements with Moro and communist rebels. He pardoned rebel soldiers, granted amnesty to returning NPA rebels and repealed the Anti-Subversion Law. Arroyo is now determined to sign a controversial memorandum of agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is touted as a big step forward in achieving peace in Muslim Mindanao.

Will the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity suffer the same fate of the short-lived Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development which was conceptualized during the Ramos administration? Is BJE the answer to the peace problem in Mindanao? The SPCPD was used by the Ramos government to earn political and pogi points but it did not lead to a lasting peace. Then and now, rightist and opposition politicians are fomenting hatred against the Moros by warning of a Muslim takeover. Then and now, the historical struggle of the Moros for self-determination is being undermined by an insincere and arrogant Manila government.

Ramos was hailed for carrying out economic reforms in the country. He vowed to make the Philippines an industrialized nation at the end of his term. He built flyovers, airports and new roads. He gave tax incentives to foreigners. He established special economic zones. Arroyo, the economist, is praised for the spectacular economic performance of the Philippines during her term. She is confident the country will achieve First World status in the next decade. She built airport terminals, express highways (and u-turn slots) and call center enclaves.

How did Ramos and Arroyo improve the economy? Foreign loans, overseas remittances, and regressive taxes. The Value Added Tax was introduced during the term of Ramos; it was expanded three years ago.

Ramos was responsible for mainstreaming the neoliberal policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization. He sold public assets, including vital industries, which proved to be detrimental not only to the economy but also to consumer welfare. He liberalized the economy, even the agricultural sector, which destroyed the livelihood of domestic manufacturers and small farmers. The Philippines signed the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade through the initiative of then Senator Gloria Arroyo.

The neoliberal economic policies have improved the financial situation of big corporations. But the situation of ordinary Filipinos has worsened. Rising prices of consumer products like fuel, water, electricity, rice, bread, and farm products should be blamed on the privatization and liberalization programs of the government. Ramos encouraged Independent Power Producers to generate electricity at high rates. He allowed the dumping of foreign products in the market. He abandoned national industrialization in favor of a service economy that is dependent on speculative foreign capital.

Arroyo, another fanatical admirer of the neoliberal dogma, has had the chance to reverse the destructive policies of the Ramos government. The Philippine experience with the neoliberal experiment was not good. Consumer welfare was sidestepped in favor of big business. The domestic economy suffered due to trade liberalization. But Arroyo has chosen to ignore the negative impact of neoliberalism. Instead she is pleased that fiscal balance is restored, foreign investors are happy, and big business is supportive of her programs.

Ramos’ overconfidence was tempered by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He could no longer cite a robust economy as a reason to extend his term. The global financial crisis today has also led Arroyo to acknowledge that some of the government’s economic targets will not be achieved. Both Ramos and Arroyo have blamed external conditions for the poor performance of the economy. Arroyo’s problem is bigger: The poor are hungry, jobless and they could barely afford to buy rice for their families. The food and energy crisis have doomed the political ambition of Arroyo.

Arroyo and Marcos are both hated public figures in modern Philippine history. But we should not forget the role of other politicians, especially Ramos, in manufacturing the crisis we are experiencing today.

Related entries:

Gloria and Marcos
Gloria and Cory
Gloria and Erap
Gloria, Gloria, Gloria