Monthly Archives: November 2008

Metro Manila and deregulation (Part 1)

Links: New infrastructure projects in Ho Chi Minh City. Myanmar’s traditional medicine practices. School facilities in Singapore during the 1960s and 1970s. Old mosques in Brunei.

Thailand: Rallies and Twitter updates, a post written for Global Voices. Read the French translation. The New York Times links to the post.

For a long time Manila was the political, economic, and cultural capital of the Philippine Islands. After the War, Downtown Manila was the primary business center in the archipelago. Government offices were located nearby. Recreation and trading centers were also close: Luneta park, Divisoria, port area, Avenida, Quiapo. If you were somebody or wanted to be somebody in old Manila, you had to live in Manila (Malate, Paco, San Miguel).

The working classes lived in Sampaloc, Sta Mesa and Sta Ana. (Sampaloc used to host a Japanese migrant community before the War.) The poor Manilenos occupied the sprawling Tondo district. Those who arrived in Manila from the provinces to look for jobs or a better life but failed have built settlements near the ports and along the railway tracks.

Manila was home of both the rich and poor. The country’s axis of power (Intramuros, Escolta and Malacanang – should we add the US Embassy?) existed near the country’s slum paradise (Smokey Mountain and Riles communities).

It was during the 1970s that Manila began to lose its power/appeal. Manila became too small for both the rich and poor. The rich may be dwindling in numbers but the slums were expanding. The poor could already smell the breakfast of their rich neighbors. The old rich, along with the nouveau rich, had to look for new homes.

There was another reason: the ruling order could no longer govern effectively in old Manila. Political forces led by the rising Left have been challenging the status quo with great success. Political rallies in Plaza Miranda could be tolerated; but street riots near Malacanang in Mendiola, and demonstrations in front of the US Embassy were very distressing signs.

Capital of capitalism has become vulnerable; it has to be saved. It has to be transferred; or at least protected from the onslaught of the brown Maoists who were disrupting the Establishment.

Manila has to be quietly vacated by the ruling classes. The super rich built exclusive subdivisions with high walls in San Juan, Makati and parts of Quezon City. Big Business transferred its headquarters to Buendia and then in Ayala. Makati was an odd and risky choice – it was far from the ports, and other transportation lines. Skycrapers were constructed in an open field which was not even close to the country’s old business and trading centers. The old elite were trying to build a different and new Manila, something which would resemble the First World, and more importantly, something which has to be immune from leftist political attacks.

Meanwhile, Marcos hastened the completion of a Government Center in Quezon City. The new Congress building was built on a remote part of Quezon City. He literally isolated the politicians from the angry masses. Isn’t it symbolic that a dumpsite was soon opened near the Batasan?

The suburbs (or what is known as Metro Manila today) were seen as better places to live and invest. Development projects by both the public and private sectors were initiated in Greater Manila. The suburbs were slowly becoming an integral part of Manila. Some zones were identified: the university belt (Morayta, Recto, Mendiola), industrial belt ((Valenzuela, Caloocan), fishing grounds (Malabon, Navotas), financial center (Binondo, Makati).

But Metro Manila’s development was uneven, anarchic. Zones were good on paper but policymakers didn’t implement their development plans. For example, a residential village is dangerously located near an oil depot in Manila. Malls, motels, medium to high rise buildings were built in the oddest places of Metro Manila. An urban poor community can exist beside exclusive and middle class villages while being close to a mall, church, school, market, graveyard, hospital, factory, motel, and municipal hall – and only few would think this kind of development as odd.

Because of the “uneven geographical development” in the country, the poor would always populate large parts of the metropolis. The walls that the rich could erect to prevent the masses from eye-mingling with them have a limit (notice the bamboo walls of Forbes, Dasmarinas subdivisions along EDSA). During the 1980s and 1990s, the rich (domestic and foreign) founded new settlements outside old Metro Manila: Alabang, Laguna, and parts of Cavite.

On the other hand, the politicians were not prepared to establish new centers in nearby provinces. They couldn’t simply adopt the strategy of their rich friends and relatives. Because poverty was impossible to eradicate in Metro Manila, the politicians ordered the relocation of slums to the provinces. Poverty was solved by making the poor invisible to the eyes of the chattering classes. This “beautification program” has not ceased – think of MMDA’s Metro Guwapo.

There is a new strategy today. The rich are reclaiming, or rather, they are reinforcing their ownership of Metro Manila. They are building self-sustaining exclusive communities. The rich and their friends can live and work without leaving their protected “ancestral domains”. Business transactions are done in these mini-cities. Their children can go to schools without socializing with the underprivileged. They entertain their insomniac and hardworking employees by building cafes, malls, hotels, clubs in these exclusive villas. Think of the Fort, Libis, Rockwell, Ortigas, Makati, Marina, Katipunan, and Alabang. Coming soon: North Triangle and UP Commonwealth. The poor can multiply, they can pollute the air and water, they can eat their instant noodles, but the rich already feel safe in their enclaves.

Manila may have expanded into Greater/Metro Manila but it didn’t affect the inequitable distribution of wealth in the metropolis. Metro Manila may be known today as Mega Manila but it still retains the oppressive hierarchy of power which characterized old Manila.

Then and now, Imperial Manila still dictates everything that happens in the archipelago. But inside Imperial Manila, the ruling classes have learned to expand its territories, dominate other spaces and preserve the status quo. The country’s symbols of power have not changed, they have remained centralized; but safety features were integrated into the system. The centers of power are located in Malacanang and Makati (should we add the US Embassy?) but they have also established protected complexes in different parts of Metro Manila. The rising business centers are satellites of the status quo which are protected by the state.

The poor can conduct political actions in Makati’s business center but Ortigas and other exclusive enclaves can briefly assume the leadership in handling the country’s financial affairs. Mendiola was occupied by the poor in May 2001 but it didn’t lead to the downfall of the government.

What is then the best political practice to dismantle the exploitative system? What kind of political actions are most effective inside Imperial Manila whose power structures are centralized and deregulated at the same time?

(To be continued: Space and resistance).

Related entries:

Recto-Doroteo Jose
Fake capital
National roads
Vortex of evil
Malling republic
Street tactics 
Urban development


War and Dissent: Philippine-American War Exhibit

Links: An ancient town in Vietnam is being proposed as a possible UNESCO world heritage site. A Cambodian social worker is among the CNN Hero of the Year nominees. A message for expatriates based in Singapore. Respecting the Bao Ve in Vietnam.

Humanitarian crisis in south Philippines, a post written for Global Voices.

Last week, I persuaded my family to visit the Philippine-American War exhibit at the Presidio Park. The exhibit featured war photos, diaries of soldiers, rare maps and even the resistance to the U.S. invasion of the Philippines.

The United States sent 120,000 troops to occupy the Philippines. It spent $400 million in order to “pacify” and “civilize” the wild Philippines. The war’s overall cost was $1 billion if military pensions are added. During that time, colonialism was referred to as “outward impulses.”

Above: US soldiers marching in San Francisco, California. They were preparing to be shipped to the Philippine Islands. Below: A map of the Philippines prepared by the Americans in 1899. They included Sabah as part of the Philippine territory.

Below: The Philippines is the First Vietnam. Filipino freedom fighters waged a valiant resistance against American invaders. The Americans launched brutal campaigns of suppression which wiped out more than 10 percent of Philippine population (and almost all Carabaos in the country). US soldiers used different forms of torture (including the infamous water cure technique) to defeat the rebels.

Below: An old version of the Philippine flag which was brought by Philippine leader Emilio Aguinaldo to Hong Kong. See also the escape route used by Aguinaldo to evade the American soldiers who were pursuing him relentlessly. The famous Tirad Pass is highlighted at the upper left side of the map, in the Ilocos Region. Aguinaldo was eventually captured in Isabela province.

Political cartoon: See how the Americans justified their invasion of the Philippines. They portrayed Filipinos as barbarians who do not know how to take a bath. Excuse me, araw-araw kami naliligo, noh, kahit malamig at may snow. The intent here was to assure the American public that the military mission in the Philippines was noble.

Above: Political cartoons depicting the White Man’s Burden. See the cartoon showing Uncle Sam carrying his newly adopted babies: Filipino negritos, Cubans, Hawaiians and Samoans. Inside the gates are children from California and Alaska who were earlier adopted by Uncle Sam. A friend of Uncle Sam is England’s John Bull who is carrying the babies from China, Egypt and other colonies.

Below: The Philippines was invaded by the U.S. so that the latter can also access the big China market. Para yang si Magellan: ang hinahanap niya eh Moluccas pero una muna niyang narating ang Visayas.

Above: The Americans gave an offer Filipinos couldn’t refuse – learn from American teachers (Thomasites) or we will kill you. Eh di siyempre pinili natin/namin yung hindi tayo/kami papatayin.

Above: Many Americans opposed the invasion of the Philippines. The Anti –Imperialist League in Boston was one of the groups which criticized the militarist policies of the US government. Mark Twain was a prominent member of the anti-imperialist circle. Read an excerpt of the letter written by an African-American soldier who served in the Philippine-American war.

The exhibit is free. It is open to the public until January 2009. I hope more Filipinos and Fil-Ams will visit the exhibit.

See more pictures: click here and here.

Related entries:

US meddler
In other words
Aguinaldo and Imelda

Unfriendly neighbors in Southeast Asia

Links: Rats invading the fields in west Myanmar. Thailand bans websites that insult the monarchy. Press freedom index in Malaysia. Indonesia’s anti-porn law.

There are numerous border disputes in Southeast Asia. The most well-known case today involves the historic Preah Vihear temple and the four square kilometers of territory around it, which are claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia. Last month, Thai and Cambodian soldiers violently clashed near the controversial temple.

Fortunately the clash produced few deaths and injuries. But unfortunately, it generated ultranationalist and racist sentiments in both countries. Many Thais, including politicians, accused Cambodians of betraying Thailand in the past.

On the other hand, some Cambodians criticized their neighbor for being arrogant. Thailand and Cambodia do not only share borders, they also have a common political and economic history.

The border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia is just one of the many quiet conflicts in Southeast Asia, especially in the Indochina region. There are still unsettled border feuds between Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia today. Recently, a maritime dispute in the Bay of Bengal was reported between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In other parts of the region, the Philippines has not renounced its claim over Sabah, which is part of Malaysia today. Some Filipino scholars believe Malaysia has been secretly supporting the Muslim insurgents in the southern Philippines to protect its interests in Sabah.

This year Singapore was recognized by the World Court as the owner of a tiny but important island in the Singapore Strait, which is also claimed by Malaysia.

These border disputes are partly colonial legacies. Western powers created artificial boundaries in the past which inflamed ethnic rivalries.

It is also understandable why governments today are asserting their geopolitical interests. Each country has to protect its sovereignty and more importantly, it has to secure the territories with abundant resources. But the aggressive behavior of many leaders in the region may also be a tactic to gather domestic support for their unpopular administrations. Nationalism is being invoked for the wrong reasons.

The border disputes in the region signify the lack of camaraderie among Southeast Asians. Every country believes its people are superior over their neighbors. This form of racism seems to be endorsed by social and cultural institutions of many countries in the region. An editor of the Bangkok Post raised this point when he exposed what Thai schools are teaching his daughter:

“Like most Thais, she feels Burma is fierce and heartless, Cambodia cannot be trusted and Laos is inferior to Thailand – because the history textbooks teach her so.”

Many people in Thailand believe they once owned parts of their neighboring countries, making them feel they are the greatest in the region. In a similar way, almost all Filipinos think that other Southeast Asians have learned agriculture by studying in the Philippines.

Last month, homeowners in a village in Singapore protested the construction of a dormitory for migrant workers, citing security concerns, the migrants’ poor hygiene and the negative impact of the building on real estate prices in the area. They have forgotten that many of their ancestors were also migrants and that most of the migrant workers today in Singapore have come from neighboring countries in the region.

The unfriendliness of Southeast Asians to each other is really disappointing. But this condescending behavior toward fellow Southeast Asians is almost no different to what the people in the region are showing to their fellow citizens in their home countries.

The dominant Buddhist Thais are not on good terms with many ethnic Malay Muslims who are living in southern Thailand. The Catholic majority in the Philippines is denying Muslim Filipinos in the southern Philippines their right to self-determination. Many residents of West Papua are asserting their independence from Indonesia. Racism is again a very serious, if not the most important, political issue in multi-ethnic Malaysia.

The unspoken hostility between Southeast Asians makes it difficult and almost impossible to implement region-wide initiatives. For example, there have been proposals for sending a unified team to the Olympics, the use of a single currency like the euro for Europe, and the issuance of a single visa for the whole region.

A divided Southeast Asia does not benefit the interests of each country in the region. It makes it easy for big countries like China, Japan and the United States to obtain advantageous deals from Southeast Asian countries.

The United States has clinched military basing agreements with several Southeast Asian countries; Japan has been successful in acquiring one-sided bilateral economic agreements in the region; and China is acting like the big brother of Southeast Asian nations.

Things could be different if Southeast Asia were united. Powerful countries would rethink their negotiating tactics if they were dealing with a united Southeast Asia, instead of a small country with little economic and political bargaining power.

But many Southeast Asians do not realize this need for unity. They have overlooked the advantages of creating a united regional bloc since they are distracted by trivial conflicts. It seems they prefer to convince themselves that their neighbors are inferior instead of reaching out to their fellow Southeast Asians.

China, Japan and India are among the big powers in Asia. A united Southeast Asia could alter the balance of power in this part of the world.

Related entries:

Solidarity in Southeast Asia
Human rights in Southeast Asia
2008 Olympics

Unmasking poverty

Links: Medical tourism in Indonesia. Advantages of working in Brunei. Impact of Western culture in Laos. Soldiers using Buddha amulets in Thailand.

Myanmar: Long prison terms for dissidents, a post written for Global Voices. Read the French translation.

The Philippines is a poor country. But it seems it is not too poor to qualify for debt relief programs. International finance institutions classify the Philippines as a middle-income country because of its overseas remittances. There is a disconnect between what economists measure and what ordinary Filipinos experience everyday. The alchemists, este, economists, insist that OFW money is proof of economic growth, prosperity. But in reality it signifies dependence, economic bondage, and domestic poverty.

The government, global capital, and their paid mercenaries are doing everything to mask the extent of poverty in the Philippines. To preserve the oppressive status quo, it is important to deceive the people about the grand failure of capitalism in uplifting the conditions in a backward society (read: semifeudal, semicolonial) like the Philippines.

Since it is impossible to hide the truth of poverty in the country, the apologist-pimps concoct various academic hubris to distort the meaning of poverty as we know it.

Politicians often twist words when they discuss poverty. For example, OFWs are now called expats by President Gloria Arroyo. Government agencies redefine economic terms to minimize poverty incidences. For instance, if you’re jobless but not looking for work, then you are not considered unemployed. During a public hearing, a congressman asked the NEDA about the basis of its statement which claimed that more than 80 percent of VAT revenues were paid by the rich. The NEDA representative said that those who earn at least seven thousand pesos a month are considered rich by the government.

Another tried and tested formula is to physically eliminate the poor. Painted walls were built near the highways to hide the dwellings of the poor during the Imeldific days. The MMDA uses Gestapo tactics to deny the poor of opportunities to earn a living in the streets of Metro Manila. Relocation programs do not cease. In the past, Manila’s urban poor residents were relocated to Quezon City, Cavite, Bulacan and Laguna. Smokey Mountain did not disappear; it was transferred to remote Payatas. Soon Payatas and the urban poor communities around it would have to be removed as well since they have become too close to Quezon City’s rising business centers and middle class subdivisions.

There is a new strategy. Well, it is an old ruthless tactic which has been somewhat modified today: Kill the defenders of the poor. Liquidate the activists so that the rest of the population will think twice before challenging the authorities. It works in many ways but in the end it is ineffective.

Poverty indicators: 1970s

What is then the extent of poverty in the country? If the government is to be believed, at least 30 percent of the population are poor. It is definitely a conservative estimate. To measure poverty, economists cite numerous statistics: daily cost of living, minimum wage, inflation, family expenditures, GDP.

There are many good articles exposing the government manipulation of numbers to minimize poverty in the country. I will focus on poverty studies during the 1970s. My primary source is an article written by Edna Formilleza of De La Salle University.

During the early 1970s, one way to measure the poverty threshold was to determine the budget for an inexpensive food basket, as determined by the Food and Nutrition Center. A sample of an official inexpensive menu during that time: tomato egg salad, sweet potatoes, plus five kinds of vegetables. (Walang instant noodles? Hehe).

Here are some selected national poverty indicators in 1973

– 69.9 percent, poverty incidence in the Philippines
– 28.3 percent, households with electricity
– 63.8 percent, households with water pump
– 41.3 percent, households with toilets
– 72.6 percent, households using wood or charcoal for cooking

In 1975 the subsistence standard of living includes “the cost of a basket of goods and services providing nutritional, shelter, health, and educational requirements for the inter-generational survival of the family.” The following are considered as absolute minimum requirements of living:

1. Shelter and clothing for protection against the elements;
2. Health care needs to prevent and recover from diseases prevalent in the community;
3. The level of education necessary to achieve literacy;
4. Abilities and skills needed for minimum degree of social, political and economic participation;
5. Two changes in garment per person per year;
6. Schooling up to Grade VI for children;
7. Inputed cost of rent

In 1978 the NSDB (DOST ata ngayon) and MSSD (DSWD ngayon) conducted a poverty study in the city of Manila. Urban poor residents along Philippine National Railway tracks and esteros were interviewed. Here are some of the findings:

– 42 percent of household heads were unemployed
– 60 percent of household dwellings were shanties (barong-barong)
– 30 percent use public toilets
– 30 percent use ballot (wrap) system for their toilet facility
– radio was the most popular type of communication medium, followed by newspapers and comics


Last year, I was able to read Amartya Sen’s Inequality Reexamined. His arguments are compelling: Measuring low income and income gap to determine poverty level are restrictive in assessing inequality. Sen said “neither approach pays attention to distribution of income among poor.” Even among the poor living below the poverty line, there are those who are poorer than others.

His proposal: “Poverty is better seen in terms of capability failure than in terms of failure to meet the basic needs of specified commodities… to be poor is to have an income below what is adequate for generating the specified levels of capabilities for the person in question.”

Sen is advocating equality of capabilities, not equality of opportunities. He believes it is more practical and correct to judge inequality in terms of the capability to achieve and the freedom to pursue well-being. Possession of primary goods/high income does not guarantee achievements of well-being. Some would have more capability and freedom to pursue their well-being than others.

Sen argued that achievement in capability has to be sought in public policy.

Special economic indicators

Is there a link between leg appeal and prosperity? Writer Caroline Bird notes that skirt sales dropped in 1921 and 1929 – which were periods of economic recession in the United States. Skirt sales rose in 1927, during World War II, and 1965 – which were prosperous times. On the other hand, it has been observed that lipsticks and cupcakes are selling well during hard times.

There is a Big Mac index and Coca Cola index, why not a Starbucks index? Daniel Gross of Slate writes:

"There’s a pretty close correlation between a country having a significant Starbucks presence, especially in its financial capital, and major financial cock-ups…Having a significant Starbucks presence is a pretty significant indicator of the degree of connectedness to the form of highly caffeinated, free-spending capitalism that got us into this mess.

London has 256 Starbucks. Madrid has 48. Paris 36. South Korea has 256. Manhattan alone has nearly 200. Hong Kong has more than 100. Kuala Lumpur has more than 30. Singapore has 57 Starbucks

"There are many spots on the globe where it’s tough to find a Starbucks. And these are precisely the places where banks are surviving.

"In the entire continent of Africa, I count just three (in Egypt), We haven’t heard much about bailouts in Central America, where Starbucks has no presence. South America’s banks may be buckling, but they haven’t broken. Argentina, formerly a financial basket case and now a pocket of relative strength, has just one store. Brazil, with a population of nearly 200 million, has a mere 14.

"Italy hasn’t suffered any major bank failures in part because its banking sector isn’t very active on the international scene. The number of Starbucks there? Zero. And the small countries of Northern Europe, whose banking systems have been largely spared, are largely Starbucks-free. (There are two in Denmark, three in the Netherlands, and none in the Scandinavian trio of Sweden, Finland, and Norway.)"

Ilan ba ang Starbucks sa Pilipinas? Isama pa diyan ang ibang mga tindahan ng kape.

These indicators are interesting and funny but they do not explain the roots of our economic woes. A semifeudal society like the Philippines is always in crisis; that is why the conditions for waging a revolution are always present. Para yang mga ulat trapiko sa TV at radyo: Kailan ba walang trapik sa Metro Manila tuwing umaga’t hapon?

Related entries:

Debt experience
Poverty and system losses
Pikit kape

Immigration, Impeachment

Links: Singapore Digital Media Festival 2008. Myanmar’s socio-economic history documents. Comparing Thai and Taiwanese protesters. Crop failure in cyclone hit areas of Myanmar.

What: Stop the Raids! Stop ICE! (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
When: Halloween
Where: ICE building, Downtown San Francisco

Almost a thousand protesters, most of them young people, converged at Embarcadero Ferry Plaza. The groups/individuals represent various immigrant groups. The rally was a protest against the inhuman raids conducted by ICE. Despite living in a “sanctuary city,” migrant workers have been arrested in San Francisco. The rallyists want the government to end the raids and the deportation of migrant workers.

My favorite slogans in the rally:

Build schools, not borders!
If capital can cross borders, so can we!

Respect migrantsFCCStop the Raids!


After the rally, I went to the Ferry Building – it’s a city landmark. I took some pictures of the Bay Bridge. It’s different from the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s longer and older than the Golden Gate but it’s less popular. I wonder why. Ferry BuildingBay BridgeBridge


Filipino groups accompanied Cong. Jose De Venecia to the Philippine Embassy where he endorsed the impeachment complaint against Pres. Gloria Arroyo. Since 2005-07, I was a signatory to the impeachment cases. But then Speaker of the House Joe De Venecia had been blocking our initiatives. This year I was not a signatory to the impeachment, but I got to witness De Venecia’s signing of the petition.


Some of the groups which witnessed the signing include Bayan USA, Babae, and the Filipino Community Center.

De Venecia is a very unique politician. He made memorable soundbytes during the event:

“I didn’t sign the impeachment before out of delicacy.”
“I’m proposing that the forces of capitalism and socialism to merge forces to solve the economic crisis.”
“I will not run in 2010.” 

Related entries:

Deodorant boys
Family Ties

Searching for the Filipino “Obama”

Links: ASEAN and 2008 World University Rankings. British companies owned by Malaysians. Traditional Lao wedding rituals. Becak – a common transportation in Indonesia.

Reproductive Health debate in the Philippines, a post written for Global Voices. Read the French translation.

When Senator Barack Obama launched his bid for the presidency of the United States last year, it generated a positive global response. In the Philippines it inspired young politicians, especially those who had finished law studies, to compare themselves to the popular Obama. Now that Obama has won the presidential election, it is expected that political parties in the Philippines will adopt the campaign strategies used by the successful Obama team.

A few days ago, a city mayor declared his intention to run for president in the 2010 presidential race. His spokespersons described the mayor as the Philippine version of Obama. Of course they are exaggerating. But it is understandable. Obama is already the most famous leader in the world. Everybody wants to be like Obama, especially in the Philippines, where the American colonial legacy remains very strong.

There will be more candidates identifying themselves as the “Obama” of the Philippines. But the search for the authentic “Filipino Obama” would be difficult, if not impossible. A “Filipino Obama” would have to be a non-Christian, a resident of Mindanao island, and a former community organizer.

The Philippines is a Catholic-dominated country; no Mindanaoan has ever become president of the Philippines; and like in the United States, community organizing is not a popular starting job for Filipino politicians.

There are many “Filipino Obamas” – young leaders who are discriminated against but intelligent and very idealistic. However, they are not known at the national level. It would be impossible for them to succeed in the elections. It would take more years, perhaps decades, for an authentic “Filipino Obama” to win as president. But miracles can still happen.

Instead of looking for Filipino politicians who embody the qualities of Obama, maybe it is better to compare his victory to past events in the Philippines which united the country and inspired the world. It is more useful to remember those great and rare episodes in Philippine history rather than to fruitlessly identify Obama wannabes.

Last Nov. 4 the United States showed the world that it is ready to embrace change by electing its first African-American president. Twenty-two years ago, Filipinos proved that the collective will of the people can remove a dictator from power.

The 2008 U.S. election results brought hope and goodwill to the world. The February 1986 People Power revolt in the Philippines inspired democracy movements around the world. The Americans last week and the Filipinos in 1986 shook the world by initiating bold political actions.

Filipinos are congratulating the Americans for voting Obama and change. Many of them have already forgotten that they too were congratulated by Americans and the citizens of the world for peacefully ousting the oppressive Marcos government in 1986. Through Obama, many Americans feel they can restore the greatness of their country. There was a time when Filipinos felt that way about the 1986 People Power.

Maybe some scholars have exaggerated the global impact of the 1986 People Power. This does not diminish the exemplary courage displayed by the Filipino people in ousting Marcos. And what is more important is that Filipinos actually believed that their revolt ignited the anti-dictatorship struggles in many Third World countries.

Perhaps the messages of solidarity conveyed by many Filipinos to Obama and the American people reflected the Filipinos’ yearning to feel great as a nation again. Filipinos are celebrating Obama’s victory because they believe it was their victory too.

In 1986 American author Roger Rosenblatt, writing for Time magazine, described the Philippines’ People Power in this way: “The theme is in fact our own: that a people released from oppression will, of their natural inclinations, seek human values. Try not to forget what you saw last week. It was ourselves in eruption far away.”

Filipinos are praising Obama’s historic victory in the same way. They saw themselves through the proud Americans who proved that an unthinkable change is possible in our lifetime.

Obama’s victory should not just lead Filipinos to search for perfect candidates who can lead the crusade for change. More importantly, it should make Filipinos remember that they were once the “Obamas” who taught the world to affirm the principles of democracy. They once took the global center stage for valiantly fighting a corrupt and despotic government. Filipinos have already proven that they are capable of inspiring great political ideas and actions around the world.

The task is not just to breed brown versions of Barack Obama. The challenge is to look for inspiration in the past, build strong coalitions in the present, and create a better future. In many ways, Obama has ceased to be a person. He has become an idea.

Related entries:

Obama effect
Sons and politicians

UP, libraries, toilets

Links: Cambodia’s film industry. Water buffaloes are popular again in Laos and Thailand. A cell phone birthday cake in Brunei. A 1952 railway line in Brunei.

French translation of my post about the execution of Bali bombers. New pictures in my webshots album: click here, here, and here.

Alternative title of this post: UP, education, shit. Or UP education stinks? No, I’m just humoring my Filipino readers. Really, this post is literally about the libraries and toilets of the University of the Philippines. More specifically, this is about those memorable moments of my life (Ha!) while inside the libraries and toilets of UP. The time frame: 1996-2000. Location: UP Diliman campus. Let’s start with the toilets.

UP President Dodong Nemenzo will be remembered for two things: he destroyed the General Education program; and he cleaned UP’s infamous stinking toilets. What was it like to use the toilets of UP before Nemenzo became obsessed in upgrading the toilet facilities? Well, the toilets were not really that terrible, except perhaps those in the gym, shopping center, Vinzons and Vanguard. Most toilets were clean and usable. They were old, but not dilapidated. There were no hand sanitizers or soap, tissue, and even hand dryers, but at least most of the water faucets were working.

Looking back, those old toilets proved to be valuable to many students. Before going to class in AS, the toilets served as stop-over sanctuaries for reviewing notes, quick scanning of readings, and copying of assignments. The AS toilets were spacious – the left side of the facilities is for urinating, washing of hands and brushing of hair; the right side is for, well, you know. There were nice stories about the AS toilets: sex scandals, ghost stories, suicide attempts, and Jolina Magdangal sightings (she spent a few semesters in UP).

A UP student should not only memorize the best places to buy and eat food in the big campus. More importantly, one has to determine the toilet facilities which are well-maintained and seldom used by students. The AS toilets are for emergency and quick releases only. But for grand operations, a student who lives outside the campus must carefully choose his/her particular toilet facility.

I was a frequent user of these toilets:

1. College of Education. Of course this was my college. But I have many non-Eduk friends who preferred to use the Eduk toilets. Why? Only few students use the toilets. Maybe they were afraid of ghosts. At mayroong timba, tabo at tubig. Also, majority of Eduk students are graduate students. Their classes start late in the afternoon. There were few undergrad students in the morning. I often used the toilet in the second floor.

2. Bahay ng Alumni. This was a new building during my undergraduate years. There were few events at that time. Water was always available. Very few students use the toilets because the building is far from big colleges.

3. Quezon Hall. It was only during my senior year that I discovered the convenience of using the Quezon Hall toilets. It is the admin building, therefore it is always clean. Very very few students visit the building everyday. And I could choose whether to “pollute” the toilets in the chancellor’s wing or the president’s wing. I felt good every time I used the Quezon Hall toilets. It was like symbolically defying the school authorities. (Ha!)

4. Faculty Center. The toilets were clean. Small, but always quiet. Surprisingly, I never met a single professor inside the FC toilets in all my years in UP.

I’m done with toilets. Now let’s talk about libraries. During our time, research begins in the library, not in the internet. I had fun exploring the libraries of UP. Obviously, the Eduk library was my favorite library. It was the perfect place to read, reflect, and sleep. (May tumutulo nga lang sa bubong kapag umuulan). The book collection was good, except for its Filipiniana section. The library assistants were my friends.

Next to Eduk, I enjoyed going to the main library. I borrowed a lot from the social sciences and Filipiniana sections. Every morning, I read newspapers in the basement (my favorite – Inquirer, TODAY and Teddy Benigno columns). I remember an old lady professor who was always reading the newspapers. She had short boyish hair and she wore dark eyeglasses. Is she still alive? Is she still a frequent visitor of the library?

I also had a wonderful reading experience in the libraries of Masscom and the Asian Center. I donated some books to the CNS library (Vinzons rooftop); but I heard the library was removed already.

Did I steal books from the libraries? Barcodes were not yet introduced so it was easy to steal books. But I always felt guilty of owning library books while denying others the chance to read them.

The first book I read in the Eduk library was the autobiography of Sen. Arturo Tolentino. (Was it Voice of Dissent?). Then I read Doy Laurel’s Neither Trumpets nor Drums. I was never a Cory Aquino fan. Reading Laurel’s book further cemented my negative opinion on the Aquino government. I spent so many hours in the library reviewing the history of the Philippine education system. The library has extensive collection of primary documents on this topic. Then I found classic books on the philosophy of education written by John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Michael Apple, among others. I also became interested on the topic of comparative education systems. I did a lot of reading about the unique education systems of Red China and Soviet Russia.

In the main library, I borrowed magazines, books and other papers about labor migration, First Quarter Storm, history of nationalism as a political thought, and the history of the UP student council. I also reviewed the microfilm copies of El Renacimiento and other pre-war newspapers. I once wrote a paper (someone borrowed it) about the newspapers during and after the 1896 revolution.

During my freshman year, I focused on the history of Philippine education. There was a semester when I became an enthusiastic reader of Eastern philosophy. The following year, I read Agoncillo, Constantino, Majul and other nationalist historians. I read the debates between Reynaldo Ileto and his detractors; Glenn May and the UP Department of History. I attended the lectures of Milagros Guerrero. At one point, I was a fan of Remigio Agpalo and his Pangulo Regime. It was during my third year in UP when I began to read Marxist books and materials of the revolutionary movement. I also started reading more books on Philippine literature. During my senior year, I read many books on cultural studies, and even postmodern theory.

I entered UP to become a high school teacher, but in the process, I almost wanted to become a historian, or a literature teacher, or a political scientist. In the end, I became an apprentice of the national democratic movement (with a socialist perspective ha). But that is another story.

Related entries:

Book hunt
Undergrad books

Redefining the “Obama effect”

Links: A veteran Burmese journalist criticizes bloggers. Opposing the use of breastmilk in ice cream products in Singapore. Vegetarian festival in Thailand. Local software industry in Indonesia.

Southeast Asia celebrates Obama’s victory and Indonesia: Execution of Bali bombers – posts written for Global Voices.

New pictures in my webshots album: click here and here.

This is how many progressives view U.S. president-elect Barack Obama: Despite his African-American heritage, he belongs to the ruling elite of the United States.

Obama went to the finest U.S. schools, where future global leaders are educated. His membership in the Democratic Party means his values, lifestyle, and worldview are acceptable to the ruling class.

Obama can articulate a forceful platform for change without provoking antagonism from conservative and reactionary forces. Obama is not a threat to the establishment, so he was allowed to win. This is an objective assessment of Obama, the politician.

There is another way to analyze Obama’s victory, however. Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci said that when a state suffers from a crisis of hegemony, the situation becomes “delicate and dangerous” and opens the field for “charismatic men of destiny.”

He added: “When the crisis does not find an organic solution, but that of the charismatic leader, it means that a static equilibrium exists; it means that no group, neither the conservatives nor the progressives, has the strength for victory, and that even the conservative group needs a master.”

More importantly, Gramsci pointed out that the rise of a charismatic leader is a symptom of the “immaturity of progressive forces.”

This analysis is applicable to the political situation in the United States. Obama emerged victorious because he was the leader who somehow offered a solution to the crisis of hegemony that is threatening the dominant social relations in the United States. Also, the political mass movement has yet to gain considerable strength in the United States, which allowed popular bourgeois leaders like Obama to become successful.

Obama is not a leftist leader. He may be called socialist by his adversaries but he is not that kind of political animal. He is not “that one.” If Obama does not belong to the radical bloc, should the radical bloc reject him and his brand of politics? Instead of giving a categorical answer of yes or no, let me discuss the impact of Obama and his candidacy on global politics.

Since his resounding election victory, Obama has become a global symbol of hope. When was the last time the world looked upon a single person as an ambassador of hope and change? Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela seem to be the closest examples of great global leaders who inspired many to be forces of good in the modern era.

Obama is already a believable and effective agent of good. Different political forces will try to lead Obama to their sides. The grassroots must act fast. They should try to influence the new leader by highlighting the values practiced by Obama, the community organizer; not Obama, the friend of big business. To paraphrase a philosopher, Obama’s potential radical legacy is much too precious to be left to the fundamentalist freaks.

Obama can be made to be an icon of the minorities battling an oppressive status quo. He has already created ripples in the global political pond. His victory was not only welcomed around the world, it also led many people to reflect about the political conditions in their countries.

For example, an Indonesian blogger wonders whether Indonesians will vote an Obama-like candidate:

"If there is an ‘Obama’ in our country, will we be able to spot him? Or better yet, will we vote for him? In Indonesia, that would make our ‘Obama’ half native Indonesian and half Chinese. Let’s just say, our ‘Obama’ has a Javanese mother from Solo, Central Java, and an Indonesian-Chinese father with ancestors from Fujian province, China.”

A Malaysian politician also makes a similar comment:

"Obama’s historic breakthrough leads many Malaysians to ask whether it is possible for a Chinese, Indian, Kadazan to become the prime minister of Malaysia, although the Constitution is very clear that any Malaysian citizen, regardless of race or religion can become prime minister.

"There will be strong voices who would rise up to say no. Why is Malaysian race relations and nation-building going backwards in the past 50 years as compared to the historic breakthrough in race relations in the United States with Obama’s historic victory in the U.S. presidential elections?"

Obama’s victory is “dangerous” to the status quo because many people are now entertaining subversive ideas. Minorities are now more inspired to challenge the leadership in many countries. The campaign slogan of “change” may be overused in America but in other countries, the mere mention of the word invites state repression.

Obama has energized young people to believe in their idealism and their readiness to shake the foundations of political institutions. Obama has this effect on global politics. This should be welcomed.

In the end, it will be Obama himself who will define his authentic political legacy. He has the chance to bring America closer to the rest of the world. He can deliver great political and economic reforms demanded by workers and the global poor. But if in the future he decides to abandon the crusade for change, then it will become clear that his role in history was to appease the restless masses during these troubled times and distract the working people from mounting bolder political actions which could have brought down the ruling order. History then will not be kind on him.

Related entries:

US meddler
youth vote

Chapter 11 – Thesis 11

Links: Breastfeeding campaign in Indonesia. Regulation of political activities in Singapore. Rituals in Laos and Thailand when moving into a new house. Student initiation ceremonies in Thailand.

Recession hits Singapore, a post written for Global Voices. Read the French translation.

Chapter 11 is part of the bankruptcy code in the United States. Corporations and individuals who are bankrupt can file for Chapter 11. This will give the troubled companies and individuals a court protection while reorganizing their financial assets. In short they will remain in business while finding ways to pay their creditors.

For many bankrupt American corporations, Chapter 11 is a convenient escape method. Last month Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy. With declared assets of $639 billion, Lehman recorded the biggest bankruptcy in the US.

It is expected that Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions (which are very humiliating) will rise in the US as the economy continues to shrink.

The options to solve our economic woes must be expanded. Instead of clinging to Chapter 11 and other limited (degrading) measures offered by capitalism, why not attempt to devise bolder ways of solving our problems. It’s time to accept the need to develop a better kind of economic system. And also admit that Marx-Lenin-Mao are correct.

Reject the Chapter 11 kind of thinking; instead, embrace a Thesis 11 attitude. Karl Marx’s 11th thesis in his Theses On Feuerbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Imagine if more Americans will abandon their Chapter 11 dependence and adopt a Thesis 11 revolutionary mindset. If this is accomplished, we can begin to talk of real change. There is hope after all. There is life after capitalism. Choose life, choose red.


Do we need superheroes? During times of crisis, America leans on superheroes. According to Brad Meltzer, America created Tarzan and Flash Gordon during the Great Depression “to transport people away from the reality of their lives.” Superman saved America during World War II while Spiderman (the movies) was the hero of 9/11. What about Captain America?

And the super heroes in these subprime times: The Dark Knight? Iron Man? The return of Indiana Jones?

Meltzer adds: “We’re a nation starved for heroes. That’s why we nominated these two guys for president: One is a savior by his acts in war (McCain) and one is a savior who offers us hope (Obama).”

In the Philippines, American leaders are the superheroes of Filipino politicians. Erap is Reagan (both were actors), Clinton is a classmate of you know who, Chiz is Obama, and Vilma is Palin. Nyek!

Sociologists have already explained the popularity of fantaserye TV shows in the Philippines. The poor need to believe that someone strong and good will rescue them from their destituteness. Somehow, fantasies are helping the poor to survive. Most of them do not realize that they themselves (in their very excess and lack) are the superheroes which the country need.

To borrow the words of Ka Daning Ramos: Hindi natin kailangang ng mga Captain Barbell, Darna, Mulawin, Sugo at iba pang mga superhero sa telebisyon. Ang mamamayan, ang masang api, ang magsasaka kasama ang mga manggagawa, kakapit-bisig ng iba pang uring inaapi sa lipunan, ang magsusulong ng rebolusyon at magliligtas sa ating kinabukasan.

Also, we do not need a superhero Obama.


Bush, McCain and the Republican Party are supported by neo-conservatives, reactionaries and other unfunny elements in society. Obama and the Democrats belong to the same ruling class. Different factions of the same party. Party of Big Business. The two presidentiables have been criticizing Wall Street banks these past weeks. But after the elections, it is expected that they will be good friends again with Wall Street. These politicians will never forget the Wall Street executives who gave generous campaign contributions.

Let us review some of the campaign contributions of Wall Street employees.

Merrill Lynch                   – $297,000 to McCain and $191,000 to Obama
Lehman Brothers             – $117,500 to McCain and $361,000 to Obama
AIG                                – $647,000 election donation
Washington Mutual          – $428,000 election donation
PAC                                – $600,000 election donation
Fannie Mae                     – $6,550 to McCain and $80,000 to Obama (kaya ba galit si McCain sa Fannie Mae, hehe)

Source: Wall Street Journal, September 16, A6

Do not expect the next American president to be hard on Wall Street. Expect the “incestuous relationship” of White House and Wall Street to continue. We should place our hopes on ourselves, on our struggles. After voting on November, we should fight, fight, fight.


How very disappointing that during these troubled times, magazines are featuring the life story of Warren Buffett, the world’s richest man, in order to inspire Americans to become rich as well.

From his biography, The Snowball, Buffet shares his money-making secrets: While visiting the New York Stock Exchange, the 10-year old Buffet had an epiphany – “That day, a vision of his future was planted. He wanted money.” After reading a book, One Thousand Ways to Make $1000, Buffet started thinking: “If he made $1000, as the book said, and it grew at a yearly rate of 10 percent interest, in 5 years, $1000 would become more than $1600. He could picture the numbers compounding as vividly as the way a snowball grew when he rolled it across the lawn. Warren announced that he would be a millionaire by age 35, an audacious statement for an 11-year old to make.”

Get rich. Desire money like Warren. Dream of becoming a millionaire. Why promote this kind of thinking? Whatever happened to 11-year old kids who dream of becoming a pilot or an astronaut or a superhero? Why portray the yearning to become a millionaire as a normal impulse?

Ganito rin ang ginagawa nila sa Pilipinas. Why praise billionaires who amassed their wealth by exploiting workers and waltzing with dictators?

Do not glorify billionaires. Instead, we should celebrate the lives of revolutionaries, dissidents, genuine visionaries, philosophers, scientists and the fighting poor. Instead of telling them to get rich, we should teach kids how to change the world.

Related entries:

Excess and lack
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