Monthly Archives: September 2008

“Capitalism without capitalism”

To Rachelle Mae, press freedom fighter, youth leader, martyr and servant of the poor….

David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism is a must read in order to understand the global financial crisis. Harvey’s book is the main reference of this article.

“We are all Keynesians now,” Richard Nixon said in the 1970s. Two decades later Bill Clinton could have said “We are all neoliberals now.”

Neoliberalism means “stock values rather than production became the guiding light of economic activity.” Financial players became dominant in the economy (“the power of accountants rather than the engineers”). Banks played bigger roles by creating “fictitious capital.” Wall Street is capitalism’s holy land:

1960s: What was good for GM was good for U.S.
1990s: What was good for Wall Street is all that matters.

Or as Mary Elizabeth Lease puts it: “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.” 

In the 1974 Godfather II film,  a mafia don proclaimed: “Michael, we are bigger than U.S. steel!” He was of course referring to the manufacturing company which used to be the symbol of
capitalist America. Now, it is Wall Street.

To oversimplify things, the ruling order felt threatened by leftist groups asserting more power in society during the 1960s and early 1970s (civil rights movement, affirmative action, social welfare demands). Neoliberalism appealed to the elite because it meant less money for public service and labor and more money for capital. And indeed neoliberalism succeeded in attacking organized labor and restoring class power of the elite.

Ironically, neoliberalism (which is theoretically about little or no state intervention) was established through the coercive and regulatory power of governments. This reveals that “pure neoliberalization does not work,” and more importantly, the U.S. and other rich countries are hypocrites for “behaving as Keynesian while telling everyone to obey neoliberal rules.”

The neoliberal state is the “executive committee of capitalist class interest.” The function of a neoliberal state is simple: Establish corporate welfare over people’s welfare.

Or as Harvey points out: “In the event of a conflict, the typical neoliberal state will tend to side with a good business climate as opposed to either the collective rights (and quality of life) of labor or the capacity of the environment to regenerate itself.”

Never mind the falling wages of workers, inflation, and global warming. Free market will solve these issues. Government regulation will worsen the problem. But if financial institutions are in trouble, taxpayers’ money will be used to rescue these institutions.

The “nationalization” of some American financial institutions has been described as socialism for the rich. Or as Harvey describes public-private partnership: “The state assumes much of the risk while the private sector takes most of the profits.”

Neoliberal policies were imposed on poor countries as condition for aid. The higher degree of neoliberalization, more aid will be given to these “competitive” and “business-friendly nations.” Multilateral funding agencies are the paid mercenaries of neoliberalism. It is interesting that scholar Slavoj Zizek compares the new type of warfare used in the War on Terror to these funding agencies:

“We should note the structural homology between this new warfare-at-a-distance, where the ‘soldier’ (a computer specialist) pushes buttons hundreds of miles away, and the decisions of managerial bodies which affect millions (IMF specialists dictating the conditions a Third World country has to meet in order to deserve financial aid): in both cases, abstraction is inscribed into a very ‘real’ situation – decisions are made which will affect thousands, sometimes causing terrifying havoc and destruction, but the link between these ‘structural’ decisions and the painful reality of millions is broken; the ‘specialists’ taking the decisions are unable to imagine the consequences, since they measure the effects of these decisions in abstract terms (a country can be ‘financially sane’ even if millions in it are starving.)”

Zizek adds how MNCs and TNCs are the obscene double of terror groups:

“Are not ‘international terrorist organizations’ the obscene double of the big multinational corporations – the ultimate rhizomatic machine, omnipresent, albeit with no clear territorial base? Do they not embody the ultimate contradiction, with their particular / exclusive content and their global dynamic functioning?”

The myths of neoliberalism are popularized by mainstream media. Harvey writes:

“With the media dominated by upper-class interests, the myth could be propagated that states failed economically because they were not competitive…If conditions among the lower classes deteriorated, this was because they failed, usually for personal and cultural reasons, to enhance their own human capital. In a Darwinian neoliberal world, the argument went, only the fittest should and do survive.”

If a country’s economy is down, media will highlight the need for more neoliberal reforms. If the government resists, it will be described as undemocratic. Poverty is blamed on the people: They didn’t finish schooling, they lack innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, they have lousy work ethics. Kailangan ang sipag at tiyaga. Blame the individuals, not the system.

And of course the academe is also accountable for promoting a “Darwinian neoliberal world.” Harvey notes that the “Rise of neoliberalism occurred in decades when working-class institutions were in decline and when many progressives were increasingly persuaded that class was a meaningless or at least long defunct category.”

Indeed, neoliberal policies should be included in the “bourgeois pantheon of infamous deeds.” Neoliberalism, which meant the “financialization of everything,” has commodified all aspects of life in today’s world, including labor and other social relations.

Commodification is wrong because it “presumes the existence of property rights over processes, things, and social relations, that a price can be put on them, and that they can be traded subject to legal contract.”

Karl Polanyi warns:

“To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment…would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity “labor power” cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting also the human individuals who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity in psychological, and moral entity ‘man’ attached to that tag. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes deviled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed.”

Zizek reminds us: “If one wants to comprise capitalism as a world system, one must take into account its inherent negation, the infinite judgment on it.” Communism?

Historian Eric Hobsbawm was already alive in the 1930s and he witnessed how the Great Depression discredited the free market ideology. He wonders why this ideology became more fashionable again:

“Those of us who live through the years of the Great Slump still find it almost impossible to understand how the orthodoxies of the pure free market, then so obviously discredited, once again came to preside over a global period of depression in the late 1980s and 1990s, which, once again, they were equally unable to understand or to deal with. Still, this strange phenomenon should remind us of the major characteristic of history which it exemplifies: the incredible shortness of memory of both the theorists and practitioners of economics. It also provides a vivid illustration of society’s need for historians, who are the professional remembrancers of what their fellow-citizens wish to forget.”

Related entries:

A father’s lament
Divine interventions


Thailand/Philippines: The politics of people power

Links: Divorce cases are up in Indonesia because of ‘political differences’. Nuclear option for Malaysia. Improper advertising by an oil company. Media repression in Cambodia.

New pictures in my webshots album: click here and here. Indonesia: Lights, Camera, Elections! – a post written for Global Voices.

UPI-Asia has a new address. Check out the new pages: Blogosphere and Bookshelf.

Because of its bigger economy today, Thailand is no longer compared to the Philippines. But two decades ago both were developing nations with almost the same population levels, poverty rates and economic potential. Thailand may be richer but its social history, political conditions and even many aspects of its economy are almost the same as the Philippines.

Scholars do not often write about the similar political profiles of the two countries. This is understandable. Thailand didn’t experience colonial rule. It has a monarchy. And the military has governed the country for a long time. On the other hand, the Philippines was invaded by three foreign powers. Its population is predominantly Catholic. And it has faithfully adhered to Western-style democracy since it gained formal independence in 1946.

These are obvious differences. But there are also similarities in the modern political history of the two countries. For example, political instability has plagued both Thailand and the Philippines, military adventurism could not be contained, and separatist movements in the southern parts of the two nations remain a big problem.

In the past decade the two countries have produced spectacular citizen uprisings which led to the ouster of Philippine President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.

Estrada was accused of being involved in illegal gambling. Massive street rallies in 2001 forced the military leadership to withdraw support for Estrada. In Thailand, hundreds of thousands of people went to the streets in 2006 to protest the corrupt practices of Thaksin. The military supported the protests by staging a coup.

Estrada is well-loved by the poor. In fact he accused the noisy Manila elite of being at the forefront of the protests against him. Thaksin is popular among the rural poor of Thailand. He claimed it was only the middle class of tiny Bangkok who supported his ouster.

Estrada was replaced by his vice president, Gloria Arroyo. Many Filipinos have not been satisfied with the Arroyo government. Street rallies have become more frequent since 2005. But Arroyo would not give in to the demands for her resignation, asserting that she was elected to serve until 2010.

Thailand elected Samak Sundaravej early this year. Big rallies were launched a few months ago, reaching a peak this month when protesters stormed Thailand’s Government House. The protesters accused Samak of being a puppet of Thaksin. Samak would not resign. He argued that he was elected by a majority of Thai citizens. Samak finally stepped down because a Thailand court found him guilty of violating the Constitution when he appeared in a cooking show while holding public office.

The Philippine court was also instrumental in affirming the ouster of Estrada in 2001. The court upheld the legitimacy of Estrada’s ouster by citing a diary entry of an executive official which revealed that Estrada had agreed to resign in order to preserve peace in the Philippines. The final blow was a cooking show in Thailand and a diary entry in the Philippines.

The Catholic Bishops were unusually silent when various groups began to mobilize and call for the ouster or even impeachment of Arroyo in 2005. The Catholic Church is a very influential political force in the Philippines. Thailand’s highly revered king did not intervene when protesters demanded the removal of Samak. His silence was a very intriguing political statement.

Various commentators have ridiculed the “people power” movements in the Philippines and Thailand. They described the protesters as part of an unruly mob who wanted to impose the arrogant demands of the minority over the will of the majority.

The debates continue: What constitutes genuine people power? How many people should mobilize in the streets to compel a leader to step down from office? If protests are limited mainly to the capital, should they be belittled as the insignificant voice of the minority? Is the holding of elections the best and only solution to resolve political problems? Do unelected political groups have more right to speak on behalf of the people than representative officials of a nation?

Several lessons on people power politics can be highlighted based on what transpired in Thailand and the Philippines. People power should not be reduced to a numbers game. A united and broad range of people’s organizations are needed in order for a mass movement to gain credibility and effectiveness. Mass actions should be both spontaneous and organized. Grassroots participation is important, but they must prove their political independence from elitist groups.

Unlike the Philippines, Thailand doesn’t have a strong leftwing movement. The participation and leadership of leftist groups in mass actions is important since it guarantees that the broad concerns of various marginalized sectors of society are represented. A political movement that claims to represent the people without proposing a leftwing agenda and without the participation of radical groups with real ties to the grassroots could be easily be dominated by elite interests.

The notion of public space has to be defended. The words of Don Mitchell remain more valid than ever: “In public spaces – on street corners or in parks, in the streets during riots and demonstrations – political organizations can represent themselves to a larger population and through this representation give their cries and demands some force. By claiming space in public, by creating public spaces, social groups themselves become public.”

Thailand has a new prime minister. But protesters have vowed to remain in the streets. People power could still blossom in Thailand. Filipino activists should watch closely the events in Thailand.

Related entries:

Thailand at a political crossroad
Battle of the streets

Rights and wrongs

Links: Another ring should be added in the SEA games logo to include East Timor. Child-rearing in Singapore. Philosophy of education in Indonesia. The typical Indonesia’s ‘pisang ambon’ banana variety is no longer available in many stores.

Thailand: Conflict of elites, a post written for Global Voices. It was translated into Bangla. Thank you Portnoy and PJ for announcing the virtual discussion of East Asia bloggers. Thank you Dan for being the resource person. Thank you Oiwan for helping me organize the meeting.

The discourse of universal human rights is a double-edged sword. Note for instance how the invasion of Iraq was justified as a moral campaign to extend the sphere of democracy, civil liberties and justice. While some groups are actively campaigning to ban torture in the world, others use torture to prevent suspected terrorists from violating the human rights of citizens of the developed world.

In other cases, human rights are applicable only to “full citizens”. In the Philippines, soldiers were ordered to attack several communities in Mindanao to defend the rights of Christian Filipinos. Violate the rights of the Moro people in order to protect the “legitimate” Filipinos?

Or as Slavoj Zizek explains:

“Every X has to enjoy these (human) rights insofar as he or she fully deserves the title of ‘human being’, a move which allows us to exclude covertly those who do not fit our criteria (insane, criminals, children, women, other races).”

Ten commandments

It seems human rights are Rights to violate the Ten Commandments, or as Zizek notes how some of the bourgeois-sanctioned rights are used to violate the commandments:

Right to privacy                            – Right to adultery
Right to possess private property  – Right to steal
Freedom of the press and opinion – Right to lie
Right to possess weapons             – Right to kill
Freedom of religious belief            – Right to worship false gods

Zizek clarifies:

“Of course, human Rights do not directly condone the violation of the Ten Commandments – the point is simply that they keep open a marginal ‘grey zone’ which should remain out of reach of (religious or secular) power: in this shady zone, I can violate these commandments, and if power probes into it, catching me with my pants down and trying to prevent my violations, I can cry: ‘Assault on my basic human Rights’.”

“Potentially infinite extension of rights”

It is now politically-correct to invoke all sorts of rights for humans, animals, trees and other living things. Even children now have the right to sue their parents for divorce. In some of the parks in California, dogs have more rights than humans. What’s next, respect the rights of the moon?

The Muslim tradition of celebrating only two feasts, Eid al-fitr and Eid al-Adha, while banning all other celebrations can be instructive. Even birthdays are not openly celebrated in Muslim societies. Maybe this allows many Muslims to allot more time in celebrating the two most important events in their religion.

A Muslim cleric once commented that “Christians have Mother’s Day, an eid (feast) for trees, and an eid for every occasion.” The criticism is valid. Capitalism has commercialized many traditions of Christianity which made many Christians forget the sacredness of some religious feasts, like Christmas.

Perhaps its time to stop naming more rights for all sorts of things and living entities. These politically-correct rights are interesting and cute but they distract us from recognizing, advancing and asserting some of the most important human rights, like the right of workers or the right to political association.

Neoliberal regime of rights

In today’s neoliberal world, the notion of human rights is depoliticized. David Harvey warns that “any political movement that holds individual freedoms to be sacrosanct is vulnerable to incorporation into the neoliberal fold.”

Promoting individual freedom is not wrong. Criticizing the “intrusive state” is proper. But these campaigns should involve the struggle for social justice. Otherwise, they will fall into the “neoliberal trap”.

Respect human rights? The bourgeoisie will reply: Respect my right to own private property!

Harvey further elucidates:

“The neoliberal insistence upon the individual as the foundational element in political-economic life opens the door to individual rights activism. But by focusing on those rights rather than on the creation or recreation of substantive and open democratic governance structures, the opposition cultivates methods that cannot escape the neoliberal frame. Neoliberal concern for the individual trumps any social democratic concern for equality, democracy, and social solidarities.”

Human rights advocacy is not enough. Neoliberalism must be defeated. Harvey adds:

“To live under neoliberalism also means to accept or submit to that bundle of rights necessary for capital accumulation. We live, therefore, in a society in which the inalienable rights of individuals to private property and the profit rate trump any other conception of inalienable rights you can think of.”

What are some of the neoliberal regime of rights: “individual responsibility and liability; independence from state interference; equality of opportunity in the market and before the law; rewards for initiative and entrepreneurial endeavor; care for oneself and one’s own.”

“These derivative rights are appealing. Many of us rely heavily upon them. But we do so much as beggars live off the crumbs from the rich man’s table,” Harvey writes.

A message for the children-loving NGOs who dislike the radical program of the left:

“To accept the neoliberal regime of rights is to accept that we have no alternative except to live under a regime of endless capital accumulation and economic growth no matter what the social, ecological or political consequences. Reciprocally, endless capital accumulation implies that the neoliberal regime of rights must be geographically expanded across the globe by violence and imperialist practices…By hook or by crook, the inalienable rights of private property and the profit rate will be universally established.”

“Between equal rights, force decides.” – Karl Marx

The primary rights under neoliberalism are the rights to private property and the profit rate. Some of the derivative rights include the rights to education, health and freedom of the press. The goal is to make the derivate rights the primary rights in the world. This will disrupt neoliberalism. But since neoliberal fundamentalists won’t allow this change, there will be violent struggles. Therefore, political struggles will always accompany a genuine advocacy of human rights.

The battleplan according to Harvey:

“There is a battle to be fought, not only over which universals and what rights should be invoked in particular situations but also over how universal principles and conceptions of rights should be constructed.”

A different regime of rights:

“An entirely different bundle of rights, to include the right to life chances, to political association and ‘good’ governance, for control over production by the direct producers, to the inviolability and integrity of the human body, to engage in critique without fear of retaliation, to a decent and healthy living environment, to collective control of common property resources, to the production of space, to difference, as well as rights inherent in our status as species beings.”

The challenge:

“But to propose different rights to those held sacrosanct by neoliberalism carries with it, however, the obligation to specify an alternative social process within which such alternative rights can inhere.”

Defeat imperialism, or as argued by Bartholomew and Breakspear (‘Human Rights as Swords of Empire”):

“Recuperate human rights politics as part of a critical cosmopolitan project aimed explicitly against imperialism.”

Related entries:

Miriam College, human rights
Human rights 2007
Labor rights

Thailand at the crossroads

Links: Political parties of Indonesia. Aid effectiveness in East Timor. Impact of blogging in Vietnam. Luang Prabang, Laos’ foremost tourist destination

I wrote this article a few days ago. Things are moving fast in Bangkok. Already, Samak was removed by his party. Maybe next week he will return to power again. Abangan…

The street protests in Bangkok can be easily dismissed as anti-democracy. The protesters who occupied Thailand’s Government House are not only demanding the ouster of an elected leader, they want a Parliament whose members are largely appointed by a governing body. Various commentators from around the world have pointed out that these demands would legitimize mob rule.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy or PAD, which is the organizer of the rallies, is described by the press as right-wing. This is regrettable since just two years ago PAD had a solid base among peoples’ organizations. Many of its members are veteran activists who led the student movement in the early 1970s. What happened to PAD? Is it still a genuine voice of Thailand’s empowered citizens? Or has it regressed into a corrupt organization with strong ties in the military and other factions of the elite?

Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has been portraying himself as a defender of western-style democracy. He has vowed to remain as leader of a free and democratic nation. He was praised for preventing bloodshed in Bangkok by ordering the police to show restraint when engaging the protesters. These are some of the reasons why Samak is secretly supported by foreign residents of Thailand.

There are almost no options available to resolve the political stalemate in Thailand. PAD would not leave the Government House. Samak would not resign. The military does not want to intervene. Thailand’s King, who is revered by all, is surprisingly silent. A referendum was proposed by the ruling party but it was flatly rejected by PAD and the opposition.

The situation in Thailand is volatile. Political forces are still vying for dominance. The current crisis could be used by an ascendant radical force to implement sweeping reforms in Thai society. The progressive movement must grab this opportunity to influence Thai politics. If it failed to seize tactical leadership, reactionary forces or the status quo would prevail.

The most organized group which can challenge the ruling order is PAD. If PAD’s leadership and tactics are not acceptable to grassroots organizations, then the progressive movement must assert its voice inside PAD, which used to be a multisectoral alliance of anti-government groups.

PAD is ridiculed by the foreign media. But local journalists have shown some sympathies to the PAD-led rallies. Samak has accused the local media of being biased in favor of the protesters. Maybe PAD’s statements were understood by the local population which the foreigners could not decipher.

The initial criticism against PAD should be reviewed. While it is correct to highlight the excesses committed by PAD members, they should be put into context. Out of the 25,000 protesters who stormed the Government House, only few people displayed violent behavior. If the police showed restraint, the protesters were generally peaceful as well. Two weeks of continuous protest actions have produced only pockets of violence in the streets of Bangkok.

That PAD is able to sustain its activities for two weeks already is proof of its capability to gather more than enough warm bodies and logistics. It is extremely difficult to organize a big rally, sustain the crowd, and raise resources for the everyday needs of the protesters. Its either PAD has wealthy financiers or it has genuine support from ordinary citizens. This issue is debatable. But it cannot be denied that PAD has committed members who are manning the barricades in Bangkok.

It is also impressive that PAD succeeded in getting the support of airline employees, railway workers and other big unions in the country. PAD has paralyzed three airports and disrupted rail travel for several days. In the eyes of many foreigners and residents as well, these were anarchic activities. These were not good for business. But maybe the protesters really wanted to create a situation of manageable chaos in the country to show the world that Samak could no longer govern effectively.

There are few instances in the world wherein rallyists were able to occupy a government building, disrupt public transportation, and sustain street protests for two weeks. PAD is still in the streets and has promised bigger actions in the future. PAD is aware it has provided a blueprint on how to launch an urban uprising in the 21s century. Note for instance the diploma of ‘New Political Revolution’ being sold by some enterprising individuals to participants of the PAD-led rallies.

PAD has already clarified that it is not against democracy. What it opposes is Western-style capitalism and its excesses. The rough translation of “toon niyom samarn” which is a PAD slogan is “filthy capitalism”. PAD condemns the corrupt practices of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. They accuse Thaksin and other politicians of using the state machinery to enrich themselves.

Perhaps PAD’s disdain against western-style elections is also symbolic for the failure of liberal democracy to solve the problems that afflict a Third World nation like Thailand. Maybe PAD made the mistake of believing that the ouster of Samak, the return of a military-led government, and the establishment of an appointed Parliament are the only possible alternatives to the dominant system. PAD has not lost hope on democracy; it wants a new form of democracy. But it failed to be progressive enough, and it lacked a proper radical imagination, which led to its dependence on the military institution to cure the ills that plague Thai society.

Here enters the need for a progressive mass movement in Thailand. A left-wing agenda needs to be articulated. The anti-government campaign must include a broad range of peoples’ issues and the roots of the political and economic instability must be addressed. Otherwise, the crisis in Thailand will continue to worsen even if a new government is established in the future.

Related entries:

Saucy Samak
Battle of the streets

Sentimental nationalists*

Links: Audio books in Singapore. What is a pencilnosing campaign? Street vendors banned in Vietnam. Nuclear option for Indonesia.

My earlier post for Global Voices was translated into Japanese. Join the virtual discussion of East Asia bloggers about the ongoing political crisis in Thailand. Click here for more details.

Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia early this year was supported by Western powers led by the United States. An angry Russia encouraged South Ossetia and Abkhazia to do the same thing by separating from Georgia. This led to an escalation of conflict in Georgia. Meanwhile, the US insists on backing Georgia while refusing to acknowledge the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

What if one of these days the MILF-led Bangsamoro declared independence from the Republic of the Philippines? Would the US and other major powers in the world recognize the Bangsamoro State? Kosovo, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and now Bangsamoro.

What will be the reaction of ordinary Filipinos and politicians? If a simple autonomy as provided by the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity was loudly rejected by the Manila constituency, a declaration of independence would have produced more jingoism in the country. The BJE debate revealed the undisguised chauvinism of politicians and many commentators. The Moro rebels are to be respected as long as they are willing to surrender their arms, talk peace and accept limited autonomy. But if they started demanding more than a token form of shared governance, if they continue to fight for political rights, they deserve to be wiped out ruthlessly.

Ironically, those who want to kill the MILF rebels by supporting the all-out war military policy are proud ideologues of liberal democracy. Slavoj Zizek notes that “liberal warriors are eager to fight antidemocratic fundamentalism that they will end up discarding freedom and democracy themselves.”

Again, to use the words of Zizek, “what if the true aim of the present (AFP) intrusion into (MILF) territory is not to prevent future terrorist attacks, but in fact to ‘burn the bridges’, to raise the hatred to a level which will prevent a peaceful solution in any foreseeable future.”

The MILF leadership should have learned from the humiliating downfall of MNLF. Peace negotiations that tackle autonomy or self-determination without addressing the roots of poverty and exploitation in the Moro lands are doomed to fail. The MILF should not forget that its prestige and strength are recognized because it continues to wage a guerrilla war in behalf of the dispossessed Moro people. The right to self-determination can never be achieved as long as the current system of political economy is prevailing in the country.

Today is a good opportunity to educate the public about political concepts like the right to self-determination, ancestral domain, and revolutionary violence. Increased media attention on the war in Mindanao should be used by rebel groups to inform the people and the rest of the world about the civil war/people’s war in the Philippines. In fact, mainstream media has raised the level of debate. News reports have actually presented “peace talks or all-out war” as the options to solve the Mindanao problem. During ordinary times, the option of all-out war, the idea of using violence to solve political issues, would never have been included in TV reports. War seems acceptable as long as they are directed against rebels.

The MILF should reply by asserting its principle: Revolutionary violence to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao.

The MILF should continue to condemn the indiscriminate military offensives on civilian Moro communities. It has every right to defend its territories and the lives of its members and supporters.

Few commentators and politicians in Manila accept the MILF’s official statement regarding the human rights violations committed by the group’s “lost commands”. The children-loving, private property-defenders, MILF-hating, peace advocates are the same people who willingly accept the Malacanang statement that the human rights violations committed by rogue elements in the military are not sanctioned by the country’s leadership. The military can deny responsibility for the excesses of its members but the MILF has no right to wash its hands over the wrongdoings of its “lost commands”?

Where is Kumander Kato? The MILF should reply: Where is General Palparan?

Why should we elevate the crimes of the “lost commands” as embodiment of Absolute Evil? Why should they be privileged over other worse crimes committed by the military/police against the Moro people?

Still, the untried solution to the Mindanao question is socialism. The left is MILF’s most reliable friend in its struggle for self-determination. The MILF should not trust the fly-by-night nationalists as represented by Manila politicians/commentators who want to keep Mindanao as part of the puppet republic for, well, sentimental reasons.

It will be a missed historic opportunity and a terrible disappointment if the MILF leadership does not promote the radicalization of politics in its controlled territories. Imperialism, global capitalism, remains the true and single biggest enemy of the Moro people. The struggle for a socialist future is the way forward to promote genuine peace and prosperity in the Moro land.

* I forgot the authors of the book, Sentimental Imperialists.

Related entries:

Ideal victims
More hatred in Mindanao

Peasant revolts

Links: Budget process in East Timor. A briefer on the Cambodian elections. Different types of Durian. Underground Bangkok radio.

First day of State of Emergency in Bangkok, a roundup for Global Voices. Chinese translations of my posts: click here and here.

Reference: Rowena Reyes-Boquiren, Ph.D. History of Colonialism and Struggle: Local Streams in Philippine Nationalism. Education and Development Quarterly. September 1999. pp. 22-33.

More than 20 land reform laws were enacted in the past century to quell peasant revolts. But land struggles have been documented as early as the 16th century.

In June 1571 the King of Macabebes led some 2,000 warriors in Tondo in a 3-day battle against Spanish soldiers. The revolt was mainly against the new political/religious set-up imposed by the Spanish colonizers.

In 1574 Lakan Dula mobilized 10,000 natives in Navotas to oppose the hoarding of food supplies by Spanish officials. The uprising targeted Spanish civil and clerical officials.

In 1585 all Datus of the Pampanga and Tagalog regions joined forces to expel Spanish forces. In 1587 they were assisted by Japanese and Bornean warriors. A famine caused by polo led to numerous revolts in Cagayan and Ilocos.

The Tamblot Revolt in 1621was participated by 2,000 natives of Bohol as a rejection of Catholic religion. Tamblot, a babaylan, promised the natives a life of happiness and prosperity without paying tribute to the Spaniards or dues to the churches.

In 1660 the natives of Pampanga protested against the polo and bandala. The struggle became a campaign to free the natives from Spanish rule. However, they were defeated when a certain chieftain Macapagal cooperated with the colonial rulers. (sounds familiar, eh?)

Another local revolt took place during the same year in Pangasinan when Don Andres Malong (the "King of Pangasinan") led 11,000 peasants in an uprising against the Spanish civil bureaucracy. Pedro Almazan (the "King of Ilocos") was joined by the Isnegs who led the Ilocos Revolt in response to the appeal of Malong.

The Tapar Rebellion in Panay which took place in 1663 was led by a babaylan who preached as a prophet. She promised her followers they won’t be hurt when hit by Spanish bullets; and those who will die in the uprising will live again.

The economic crisis in Cagayan Valley in 1718 was triggered by a crop failure. This led to an uprising. The people were also against the local Alcalde Mayor who was hated for being oppressive.

In 1745 a revolt in the Tagalog regions erupted. The aim was to recover the communal land system and to defeat the expansion of church-owned haciendas.

Juan dela cruz Palaris was a former timawa who became a member of the principalia. In 1762 he led farmers of Pangasinan in a local uprising.

Dagohoy of Bohol was assisted by some members of principalia when he launched his rebellion against the Spanish authorities. The revolt lasted for 80 years.

The Basi Revolt in 1807 was a reaction to the government wine monopoly. The Sarrat Rebellion in 1815 was anti-cacique but it only called for reforms within the context of the Spanish colonial state.

Hermano Pule’s Confradia de San Jose advocated for an armed struggle against the Spanish rulers in 1841. The colorum movement had members in Tayabas, Laguna, and Batangas.

The Guardia de Honor was originally a group created by Dominican priests to promote Christian values in 1872. It became a millenarian movement in Pangasinan and La Union under the leadership of a charismatic faith healer ‘Apo Laqui’.

Papa Isio in Negros (1887-1907) promised his followers that "the lands would be partitioned among the people, that machinery would no longer be permitted on the island, and that nothing but palay would henceforth be planted."

Local revolts challenged American hegemony during the early years of the 20th century. They were also struggles for land ownership. Examples: Santa Iglesia (Pampanga, Bulaca, Tarlac), Pulahanes (Cebu), Papa Rios (Tayabas), Kristong Itim (Manila), Dios Dios and Papa Faustino (Leyte), Papa Pable (Samar), and Yntrencheradista Movement (Iloilo, Negros).

Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan mobilized thousands of farmers, mainly in Luzon. It was clearly an anti-feudal, anti-colonial, and anti-cleric movement. The formation of radical organizations in the 1920s and 1930s with comprehensive political programs was a Katipunan legacy. The merger of the Socialist and Communist Parties linked the peasant struggles to the urban mass movement; and also, to the international fight against imperialism.

Land reform continues to be the major component of the Maoist revolution in the Philippines. Landlessness in the country remains a key issue which fuels the guerilla movement in the countryside. Proposals for land reform laws must be appreciated in the context of the raging peasant unrest (though relatively ignored by mainstream international media) in the Philippines.

But land distribution is simply not enough anymore. Activist farmers are also demanding political and economic reforms. In short, a fundamental change in the basic structures of society. This is radical, but not surprising. Since the 1600s, farmers have supported campaigns which demanded the elimination of oppressive rulers, whether they were Spanish conquistodores, American imperialists, Japanese fascists, Filipino collaborators, opportunists and puppets.

Related entries:

Pampanga warriors
Rice revolution
Hacienda Luisita

More hatred needed in Mindanao

Links: Solar power in Laos. Malaysia’s higher education. Southeast Asia’s largest oceanariums. Commonwealth Women’s Antarctic Expedition

I promise to write a more original piece about the renewed conflicts in Mindanao. In the meantime, enjoy your symptom, este Zizek.

Second of two parts. (First part: Homo Sacer and theft of enjoyment).

Slavoj Zizek on transgressions of the public law:

“What ‘holds together’ a community most deeply is not so much identification with the Law that regulates the community’s normal everyday circuit, but rather identification with a specific form of transgression of the Law, of the Law’s suspension.

What binds Christian communities in many parts of Mindanao is not respect for Islam but hatred towards the Muslim population. Racist policies and attitudes are tolerated as long as they are directed towards the Moro population.

The military institution is binded by a shared belief that torture and other forms of human rights violations are necessary to defeat the enemy. A general accused of committing human rights abuses can be easily forgiven. But a soldier who admits these crimes can be punished by the hierarchy.

War of fantasies

MILF camps have been overrun, as claimed by defense officials. MILF commanders will soon be arrested. Politicians and other rightwing commentators want an all-out war scenario. Zizek warns:

“The object of hatred is, stricto sensu, indestructible: the more we destroy the object in reality, the more powerfully its sublime kernel rises before us.”

The more we destroy the MILF and NPA, the more we are threatened by terrorist threats. So many rebel camps and leaders have been arrested or killed, yet the more we are fearful of the threats they pose on us.


Because “war is always also a war of fantasies.”

Zizek adds: “Our relationship to this traumatic-real kernel of surplus-enjoyment that ‘bothers us’ in the Other is structured in fantasies.”

Are we not always bothered by the odd practices of the Moro people, their marriage laws, religious beliefs, sexual urges, strange diet, illegal businesses? Are we not bothered by the godless ideologues of the Left, Joma Sison’s luxurious lifestyle in Europe, the paranaoia of activists which led to the violent purges in the past?

‘Pathological Narcissism’

It is when “the Other as such is more and more perceived as a potential threat, as encroaching upon the space of my self identity…The Other poses a threat in so far as it is the subject of desire, in so far as it radiates an impenetrable desire that seems to encroach upon the secluded balance of my way of life.”

Isn’t the BJE a threat to our identity as Christian communities? The BJE will destroy the Filipino nation. The BJE threatens our way of life. A clear case of ‘Pathological Narcissism’.

Ethnic difference

Zizek explains a Leninist point:

“In a state of ethnic tension, the apparently ‘neutral’ stance of indifference towards ethnic identity, of reducing all members of a state to mere abstract citizens, in fact favours the largest ethnic group.”

The standard analysis: Moro rebels want to be excluded from the Philippine Republic. They do not want to be called Filipinos. They want a separate Bangsamoro State.

But maybe this desire to break-away from mainland Philippines is the vindictive response of the Moro people whom we have symbolically excluded from the national community. What if the violent wars in the past half-century were attempts of the Moro people to fight their exclusion? And using the words of Zizek, do we, in Manila, have any right to condemn the excluded when they use any means, inclusive of terror, to fight their exclusion?

Third way?

The so-called peace advocates want to be part of the peace process. Even the government is suggesting the participation of ‘neutral’ NGOs to promote a lasting peace in Mindanao.

Again, here is Zizek:

“It is the pacifist position – ‘more bombs and killing never bring peace’ – which is a fake, and that one should heroically endorse the paradox of militaristic pacifism…but the problem with ‘militaristic pacifism/humanism’ lies not in ‘militaristic’ but in ‘humanism/pacifism’: in the way the ‘militaristic’ intervention (in the social struggle) is presented as help to the victims of (ethnic, etc.) hatred and violence, justified directly in depoliticized universal human rights. Consequently, what we need is not a ‘true’ (demilitarized) ‘humanism/pacifism’, but a ‘militaristic’ social intervention divested of its depoliticized humanist/pacifist veneer.”

What exactly is the Third Way? Are they really neutral entities? Whose interests do they serve?

In a somewhat different context, Zizek discusses the notion of the Third Way:

“Crucial here is the curious enigma of the second way: where is the second way today? That is to say: did not the notion of the Third Way emerge at the very moment when –at least in the developed West – all other alternatives, from true conservatism to radical Social Democracy, lost out in the face of the triumphant onslaught of global capitalism and its notion of liberal democracy? Is not the true message of the notion of the Third Way therefore simply that there is no second way, no actual alternative, to global capitalism, so that, in a kind of mocking pseudo-Hegelian negation of negation, this much-praised ‘Third Way’ brings us back to the first and only way – the Third Way is simply global capitalism with a human face, that is, an attempt to minimize the human costs of the global capitalist machinery, whose functioning is left undisturbed.”

What is the first and second ways in the peace process? The first way represents the status quo and the ruling order. The second way is represented by armed rebels. And the Third Way by nonviolent, children-loving, multiperspectivist NGOs.

Paraphrasing Zizek, is not the true message of the notion of the Third Way in the peace process therefore simply that there is no second way, no actual need for armed struggle, so that this much-praised ‘Third Way’ brings us back to the first and only way – the Third Way is simply a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state with a human face, that is, an attempt to minimize the human costs of the puppet state, whose functioning is left undisturbed.

We need Hatred

What then is the solution to ethnic hatred? Zizek has a bold idea:

“The way to fight ethnic hatred effectively is not through its immediate counterpart, ethnic tolerance; on the contrary, what we need is even more hatred, but proper political hatred: hatred directed at the common political enemy.”

The common political enemy/enemies: feudal warlords who prevent the radicalization of Moro groups, Manila government represented by ‘tin pot’ dictator Gloria Arroyo, and imperialism.

and Act

“An act is conceivable only as the intervention of Eternity into time. Historicist evolutionism leads to endless procastination; the situation is always too complex; there are always more aspects to be accounted for; our weighing of the pros and cons is never over…against this stance, the passage to the act involves a gesture of radical and violent simplification.”

Zizek adds:

“An Act always involves a radical risk (the madness of a decision): it is a step into the open, with no guarantee about the final outcome – why? Because an Act retroactively changes the very co-ordinates into which it intervenes. The lack of guarantee is what the critics cannot tolerate: they want an Act without risk – not without empirical risks, but without the much more radical ‘transcendental risk’.”

Again, the answer to the Mindanao question is Socialism: a national democratic revolution with a socialist perspective. This is the Other alternative to the existing exploitative social order.

Related entries:


Southeast Asia’s Olympic performance

I wrote the following roundups: Thailand protesters misunderstood by Western media? and Thailand: People’s coup or putsch? The last post was translated into French.

Two weeks ago we visited Manila Ocean Park and La Mesa Eco Park. Check out the pictures: click here, here, here, here, and here.

Southeast Asian countries garnered 12 medals in the recently concluded 2008 Beijing Olympics. Thailand won two gold medals – in boxing and weightlifting – while Indonesia bagged a gold medal for badminton.

Wushu, or martial arts, was not officially included in the Olympics but it was included as a special event. Southeast Asian countries received 14 medals for Wushu including a gold medal for the Philippines.

After 12 years Malaysia won an Olympic medal. Malaysian badminton player Lee Chong Wei is now a national hero after winning a silver medal in Beijing. He even outshined opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who recently scored a landslide victory in the elections.

Another important victory was the silver medal of Singapore in table tennis. This was Singapore’s first Olympic medal in 48 years. However, some Singaporeans are not celebrating since the victorious players are originally from China. But others think this is a non-issue. They insist that the Olympic medalists are genuine Singaporeans and their victory should be a cause for celebration. Besides, many table tennis players from other countries like France, Italy, Canada and Poland have Chinese roots as well.

Singapore swimmer Tao Li finished fifth in the swimming finals. She was the first Singaporean to reach the Olympic swimming finals. Everybody is expecting her to perform better in 2012.

The most memorable victory was delivered by 33-year-old Thai boxer Somjit Jongjohor. The former world boxing champion almost retired from competitive sports after losing in the 2004 Athens Olympics. He knew this year would be his last chance to bring home a gold medal for Thailand. He trained well, he fought hard, and the veteran boxer succeeded in the end.

He should be cheered as the region’s Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps for embodying the Olympic spirit. However, his victory was spoiled by a rumor that some Thai officials tried to influence the game results. The officials were accused of treason since they allegedly lobbied for the defeat of Thai athletes.

The low Olympic medal output of Southeast Asian countries is not disappointing. Many athletes performed well, especially if we consider the lack of proper sports facilities in the region. For example, Lao swimmers had to contend with limited local resources such as a pool facility half the size of a standard Olympic-size swimming pool.

A news report revealed that Cambodian athletes are receiving only US$30 per month from the government. How can this meager allowance inspire athletes to perform well in the Games? Financial incentives are important too in the training of athletes. For instance, Singapore had promised to give US$800,000 to athletes who brought home a gold medal, and Thailand’s gold winners will receive $550,000.

The saddest news in the Olympics was the exclusion of Brunei. As reported earlier, Brunei officials failed to register their two participating athletes on time. Officials of different government agencies have since then blamed each other for this international embarrassment. Maybe the Brunei government should prepare early for the 2012 London Olympics.

The Philippines should also review its training program. Preparation for the Olympics should not be done a few months before the start of the Games. The opposition is asking sports officials about the seemingly insufficient training received by Olympic athletes despite the financial pledges of various business organizations.

Writer C.V. Tyler has an interesting proposal: A unified Southeast Asian Olympic Team. He explains that fielding a single Southeast Asian team in the 2012 Olympics would promote regional affinity. Another advantage would be the opportunity for top and promising Southeast Asian athletes to train in the most advanced sports facilities in the region.

This proposal should be seriously considered. In the past, the two Koreas joined the Olympics as a single team. Former Soviet states also competed as a single group in the 1990s. There is also a proposal for the European Union to field a unified Olympic team.

Meanwhile, Southeast Asian governments should view the Olympic results as a reflection of the inefficient sports programs in their countries. It is not enough to scout for strong and fast athletes. World champions are not born, they are trained. Governments should allot more funding for sports development.

Related entries:

Southeast Asia’s Olympic aspirations
Sports for all