Monthly Archives: December 2008

Southeast Asia’s newsmakers of 2008

The big story of the year in Southeast Asia was the global economic downturn. A rice and food price crisis hit the region last summer, compounded by the dramatic rise of oil and gas prices. When prices of these commodities began to stabilize, Wall Street announced the crash of several banks and major financial institutions in the United States.

The recession in the United States was felt in Southeast Asia, affecting the real estate, financial services and export industries in the region. Singapore was the first Asian country to experience recession this year. Because of the negative economic indicators, many began to worry that the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998 would plague the region again.

Some of the memorable events which captured the gloomy economic outlook of the times were the following: Thousands of Filipinos queuing for a kilo of subsidized rice across the Philippines; scores of poor Indonesians in East Java dying in a stampede while waiting for alms; and Singapore investors publicly protesting when their incomes were lost in the wake of the Wall Street crash.

The economic downturn has produced a few encouraging developments: It forced consumers to save money; entrepreneurs have started to look for innovative ways of doing business; and policymakers have admitted that there is a need to rethink their economic philosophies.

The past year was also a period of escalating domestic political upheavals in the region. Malaysia’s opposition party managed to secure several more seats in the Parliament during the elections last March. Party leaders even claimed that they were ready to form a new government.

The Philippines was rocked by a corruption scandal early this year. The First Family was implicated in the controversy. The President of East Timor survived an assassination attempt.

It was a chaotic year for Thailand: Two prime ministers were forced to step down from power; the country almost went into war with Cambodia over a border dispute; and the airport crisis a few weeks ago has weakened the dollar-earning tourism industry.

During hard and harsh times, people are more willing to express their anger in public. The year 2008 was also a year of provocative protest actions. Last June thousands of Malaysians protested in the streets against the government decision to reduce fuel subsidies and raise fuel prices. This was followed by succeeding protest activities which highlighted the opposition to the repressive laws of the government like the Internal Security Act. Fuel protests were also registered in Indonesia.

There were two major protest actions in the Philippines this year: Last February, an estimated crowd of about 80,000 gathered in Metro Manila’s financial district to express disgust over the alleged involvement of the First Family in a scandal-ridden national broadband network deal. Two weeks ago, thousands went to the same venue to protest the controversial proposal by administration lawmakers to amend the Constitution so that the term of incumbent politicians, including that of the president, would be extended.

The most famous protest action of the year was organized by Thailand’s People Alliance for Democracy. The group was able to mobilize thousands of people every day from August to December. The protesters succeeded in occupying the Government House, Parliament Building, and lastly the two major airports in Bangkok. Their determination and stubbornness were helpful in persuading the courts to rule against the interest of the ruling government. The group has vowed to return to the streets if they don’t see reforms in government.

When people are protesting in the streets, most likely governments would initiate measures to discourage these activities. In Myanmar the junta ordered the arrest of more than 60 people for participating in activities deemed subversive by the government.

The detainees were sentenced to long years of imprisonment. The prison terms were unbelievable: two years for reporting about the cyclone aid effort; six years for sending false information abroad; 20 years for keeping defaced images of national leaders in an email inbox; and 65 years for five monks and 14 members of 88 Generation Students group.

Thailand has charged several foreigners for allegedly violating a lese majeste law. Indonesia’s recently passed anti-porn law was criticized because of its possible negative impact on free speech and traditional art.

The armed conflict between Philippine government troops and Muslim separatist rebels in several areas of Mindanao Island has displaced more than half a million innocent civilians. Mindanao is located in the southern Philippines. The conflict escalated when the two parties failed to sign a draft peace agreement last August.

Media harassment cases have been reported in the whole region. Internet users have experienced many forms of censorship as well. Prominent bloggers and some journalists in Malaysia and Myanmar were arrested for refusing to toe the line set by the government.

Vietnam wants to introduce some new regulations on blogging. Thailand is blocking Web sites that purportedly insult the monarchy. Jakarta’s police want Internet shops to record their customers’ IDs in a guest book to prevent cyber crime.

Natural calamities were big news as well. A destructive cyclone hit Myanmar last May. More than 100,000 people were killed. Myanmar is still suffering as cyclone refugees continue to suffer from hunger and illnesses. The junta’s incompetence was another disaster which worsened the situation. The government relief work was too slow and inadequate. The junta even considered refusing international aid.

Floods killed scores of people in northern and central Vietnam last November. It was the worst flooding in the country in almost 25 years. A landslide in Kuala Lumpur this month was linked to the negligence of government authorities and irresponsible hillside developers.

Who are the newsmakers of the year? Thailand’s PAD protesters for showing resoluteness. Their legacy is still under question but their bravery must be recognized. Former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra is another newsmaker. He was ousted from power two years ago but his name continues to inspire animosity, love, cynicism and devotion among Thai citizens.

Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim scored a landslide electoral victory despite being accused of another sodomy charge. Cambodia’s Hun Sen was reelected this year; but the opposition claimed there was massive electoral fraud. The Philippine’s Gloria Arroyo has survived another impeachment attempt.

The region’s athletes who participated in the Beijing Olympics should be commended. After 12 years Malaysia won an Olympic medal. Another important victory was the silver medal of Singapore in table tennis. This was Singapore’s first Olympic medal in 48 years. Sadly, Brunei failed to participate in the games.

The China milk scandal was a big issue in the region too. China is the major trading partner of Southeast Asian nations. China-made milk products, and later even other food items, were scrutinized, strictly regulated and banned.

The U.S. presidential election was closely monitored in the region. Both candidates – John McCain and Barack Obama – are popular in the region. McCain was a former Navy pilot during the Vietnam War while Obama lived in Jakarta for five years. Obama’s victory inspired many people to reflect about the need for change in their local politics.

For Southeast Asia, 2008 was a year of terrible disasters, both natural and manmade. Rice consumption was reduced, milk products were contaminated with melamine, jobs were lost, bloggers were arrested and homes were destroyed. But the situation is not hopeless. The people expect reforms in governance. They are ready to mobilize for change, and if needed, throw shoes at politicians during press conferences.

Related entries:

Yearender 2005
Yearender 2006
Yearender 2007

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Bundok, dagat, pulitika

Part 1: Loob-labas
Part 2: Looban, pagsasamantala, pag-aalsa

Sa Pilipinas, subersibo ang mga pahayag na ito: Aakyat ako ng bundok. Mamumundok ako.

Ang pag-akyat sa bundok o ang pagnanais na umakyat ng bundok ay may radikal na kahulugan, maliban na lamang kung miyembro ka ng isang mountaineering club.

Bakit bundok? Tinanong minsan si George Mallory kung bakit gusto niyang akyatin ang Mt. Everest. Ang kanyang sagot diumano: Because it is there. Ganito rin ba ang dahilan ng mga Pilipinong namumundok? Si Chairman Mong, este Chairman Mao ang nagbigay ng tumpak na sagot: Umakyat ng bundok dahil andun ang masa. Because the masses are there.

Ang bundok ay simbolo ng kanayunan, ng probinsiya, ng malawak na espasyong tinitirhan ng masa, ng tagong teritoryong hindi madaling bagtasin ng kaaway.

Pero bakit napakapulitikal agad ang dating ng pahayag na “mamumundok ako” kaysa sa tila napakapangkaraniwang “pupunta ako ng bukid” o “uuwi ako ng probinsiya”? Anong tipo ng mistikal na kapangyarihan meron sa bundok upang ito ay maugnay sa radikal na praktika?

Walang ibang misteryo kundi ang historikal na karanasan ng mga Pilipino.

Sa mahabang panahon, matapang na tinunggali ng mga Moro ang mga Kastilang mananakop. Matagumpay at buong giting nilang pinagtanggol/binakuran ang kanilang mga lupain. Pero marami ring labanang nanaig ang mga superyor na kagamitang-pandigma ng mga dayuhan. Sa mga pagkakataong ito, iniiwan ng mga Moro ang kanilang mga komunidad sa baybaying-dagat at dun sila sa mga bundok nagtatayo ng mga pansamantalang kampo. Sa bundok nagpapalakas ng puwersa ang mga Moro; dun pinaplano kung paano muling susugod at lalabanan ang mga dayuhan.

Masalimuot ang proseso ng kolonisasyon. May nagpasakop; may lumaban pero nabigo kaya nagpasakop; may lumaban, nabigo, pero sa halip na magpasakop, sila ay namundok. Ang paglikas sa bundok ay pagtalikod sa pamumuno ng mga Kastila. Ito ang karanasan ng mga Igorot sa Kordilyera.

Hindi mapayapa ang paghahari ng mga Kastila sa Pilipinas. Laging may pag-aaklas. Laging may lumalaban. Kadalasan, usapin sa lupa, pag-aari sa lupa, ang tema ng pagbabalikwas ng mga indio. Sunod dito ang poot laban sa mga abusadong Kastila. Kadalasan, namumundok ang mga rebelde. Hindi ba’t ang mga tulisan at iba pang kaaway ng batas (halimbawa: Kapitan Pablo) sa mga nobela ni Jose Rizal ay laging nagtatago sa kagubatan.

Ang mga Katipunero ay nagpupulong sa mga kuweba ng Montalban. Ang hudyat ng pag-aalsa ay pinagtibay sa mga kagubatan (Balara, Balintawak). Upang hindi madakip ng mga Amerikano, nagtago si Aguinaldo sa bundok ng Kordilyera at lumikas siya papuntang Isabela.

Noong World War II, sa kagubatan ng Bataan at Zambales nakipagtagisan ng lakas ang mga Pilipino at Amerikano laban sa mga Hapon. Sa mga bundok binuo ang Hukbalahap, ang pangunahing armadong pwersang lumaban para sa kalayaan ng bansa. Ang huling dakilang laban ng mga komunistang Huk ay naganap sa bundok Arayat ng Pampanga.

Mula 1969 inangkin ng mga armadong komunista ang kabundukan/kanayunan bilang larangan ng pakikidigma. Naging kilala ang NPA bilang mga rebeldeng namumugad sa bundok.

Hanggang ngayon ang bundok ay mapanganib at mahiwaga. Tahanan pa rin ito ng mga subersibo. Mga taong labas. Sinumang nawawalan ng pag-asa sa sistema ay laging nagbabanta: Mamumundok na lang ako. Hindi ba, Robin Padilla?

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Abante ang praktika ng pamumundok ng mga Moro noong panahon ng Kastila at ng mga komunista sa kasalukuyan.

Ang mga Moro ay hindi lang lumilikas sa bundok kapag nagagapi ng mga Kastila. Lumilipat sila ng isla: sa mga islang pinaghaharian ng kanilang sultanato, sa mga teritoryong kaibigan ng sultanato, at maging sa ibang kaharian (Brunei). Patunay ito na may malakas at sopistikadong pulitikal na organisasyon ang mga Moro noon.

Ano ang sitwasyon sa Luzon at Visayas? Namumundok ang mga indio, pero dun lang sa mga bundok na kanilang nakikita. Bihira ang nagtangkang lumikas sa ibang pulo dahil ang kanilang pulitikal na organisasyon ay limitado. Bihira ang nag-ambisyong palayain ang maraming pulo na pinaghaharian ng mga Kastila. Ang pangunahing motibo ng pag-aaklas ay madalas nakasentro sa pagpapalaya ng maliit na bayan o probinsiya. Sa madaling salita, wala pang pambansang kamalayan o pambansang imahinasyon na kailangan para isulong ang isang panlipunang himagsikan.

Kaya radikal ang diwang pulitikal ng mga propagandista at katipunero. Mayroon silang pambansang imahinasyon, pambansang programa ng himagsikan. Mayroon silang layuning pag-isahin ang mga pulo upang labanan ang mga dayuhan. May disenyo (blueprint) kung paano magagamit ang mga “bundok” upang lusubin ang Maynila. May nabuong teorya ng paghihimagsik na may partikularidad sa kalagayan ng bansa noon.

Kaya patuloy tayong nagtataka. Sa kabila ng inisyal at matagumpay na pagtatangka ng mga rebolusyonaryo noong 1896-1898 na magbalangkas ng teorya ng rebolusyon, bakit ang mga sumunod na henerasyon ng mga rebolusyonaryo ay tila nagkulang sa kanilang misyon na higit pang pagyamanin ang teoryang ito? Pagkatapos umusbong ang isang pambansang diwa noong panahon ng himagsikan laban sa mga Kastila, bakit kailangang maganap ang mga patalong labanan sa Bataan at Arayat? Na para bang hindi naganap ang 1896, himagsikang may pambansang anyo. Bakit ang larangan ng pakikidigma ay nasentro sa isang lugar lamang? Walang pag-uugnay ng mga bundok, ng mga pulo, ng pagmamaksima sa katangiang pang-arkipelago ng Pilipinas.

Kaya naman tinuturing na mahalagang akda ang dokumentong sinulat ni Amado Guerrero: Specific Characteristics of our People’s War. Dito binalangkas ni Guerrero ang partikular na katangian ng rebolusyong Pilipino. Higit na napansin ng marami ang paglilinaw ni Guerrero sa tipo ng rebolusyong sinusulong ng CPP (pambansa-demokratiko na bagong tibo, may sosyalistang perspektiba, bahagi ng anti-imperyalistang laban) at kung anong klaseng reaksiyunaryo ang gobyerno ni Marcos.

Pero hindi na ito bago. Nakasaad na ang mga ito sa mga naunang dokumento ng partido. Kung gayon, ano ang kontribusyon ng akdang ito sa teorya ng pakikidigma?

Inabante ni Guerrero ang teorya ng pamumundok sa Pilipinas. Mula sa punto de bista ng isang rebolusyonaryong lider, higit niyang pinaunlad ang teorya kung paano magtatagumpay ang rebolusyon sa isang arkipelago: Paano pag-uugnayin ang mga pulo, ang mga bundok, saan magtatayo ng mga larangan, anong mga pulo ang dapat bigyan ng prayoridad, saan magtatayo ng kampo ang pamunuan, ano ang silbi ng mga bundok sa rebolusyon, ano ang adbantahe ng pulu-pulong katangian ng bansa. Pinatunayan ni Guerrero at ng praktika ng CPP na posible ang matagalang digmang bayan sa isang bansa katulad ng Pilipinas (arkipelago, walang dayuhang mananakop).

Kahit ang mga kritiko ni Guerrero at mga beteranong lider ng huk ay kinilala ang orihinal at tumpak na analisis sa akdang ito.

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Pero bakit sa bundok lang? Paano ang digmaan sa karagatan? Nabanggit ni Guerrero ang kawastuhan ng sea warfare sa Visayas. Maikli lamang ang kanyang paliwanag dito.

May potensiyal pang pagyamanin ang temang ito. Sa mga dokumento ng CPP na mababasa sa internet ay nababanggit na nilalanguyan din ng mga rebelde ang katubigan. May pangangailangang ipunin ang karanasan ng CPP sa sea warfare at ihapag ito na dagdag sa teorya ng pakikidigma.

Kadalasan, ang taguri sa Pilipinas ay isang bansang binubuo ng 7,107 isla (low tide, di ba Charlene?). Medyo ibahin natin ang ating tingin: imbes sa mga isla, ipokus natin ang ating tanaw sa mga katubigan. Itong mga katubigang ito ay may natural na dugtong, mula Luzon hanggang Mindanao. Ang paligid ng tubig ay 7,107 isla. Malawak ang katubigan; madilim, mapanganib, mahiwaga at higit sa lahat, hindi kayang sakupin ng kaaway.

Susi sa tagumpay ng mga Moro noong panahon ng Kastila ang mapanlikhang paggamit ng tubig upang talunin ang mga mananakop. Tubig para lumikas, tubig para lusubin ang mga kampo ng kaaway.

Ngayon, ginagamit ng mga bandidong grupo sa Mindanao tulad ng Abu Sayyaf ang tubig upang gumawa ng krimen. Pinapatunayan ng mga pirata (Somalia) at smuggler (Subic, Cagayan) na posibleng biguin ang puwersa ng estado sa katubigan.

Kadalasan, ang sea warfare ay nauugnay sa mga terorista at kriminal. Dapat angkinin ng mga rebolusyonaryo ang katubigan. Ipakilala ang rebolusyonaryong pakikidigma sa karagatan. Ipakita ang ugnay ng bundok sa mga katubigan – ilog, lawa, dagat. Magbalangkas ng plano kung paano ang espasyo ng katubigan ay gagamitin para sa rebolusyon. Bakit? Because the masses are there: mangingisda at kanilang pamilya, manlalakbay. At kung hahatakin ang kaaway sa tubig, luluwag ang kalagayan sa iba pang espasyo ng digmaan.

Kaya matalino ang nag-isip ng RORO. Pinag-isa ang mga isla. Gumawa ng mga tulay para idugtong ang mga tao, produkto, at mga instrumento ng Estado sa ibabaw ng tubig. Ang tubig, kahit mahiwaga, malawak at mapanganib, ay napaamo ng Estado. Ano ang sagot ng kilusan sa RORO ng reaksiyunaryong pamahalaan?

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Pero ang bundok ay hindi lamang para sa mga naghihimagsik.

Kung ang bundok ay simbolo ng oposisyon sa dayuhang pananakop, ang pagtahak ng daan upang marating ito ay isang kolonyalistang proyekto. Kung gayon, ang Kennon Road patungong Baguio na pinagawa ng mga Amerikano ay isa mga unang tangka upang lubusin ang pananakop sa Pilipinas. Pagkatapos makumpleto ang daan, higit na pinag-ibayo ang proseso ng pag-aangkin ng Estado sa mga kabundukan.

Dalawa ang layunin ng Estado kung bakit gusto nilang angkinin ang mga bundok: gapiin ang oposisyon/rebolusyon; at nakawin ang yamang likas ng bansa para sa personal na kapakinabangan ng mga panginoong maylupa, pambansang burgesya, burukrata kapitalista at mga imperyalista.

Palaging mapanira ang dinudulot ng kasakiman. Nasaksihan natin ang epekto ng labis na pagtotroso. Nakakabahala ang malawakang pagmimina ngayon. Parang hindi nangyari ang delubyo sa Ormoc, Rapu-Rapu at Marinduque.

Insulto sa rebolusyon ang mga mapanirang gawain ng Estado sa mga kabundukan. Dapat namamayani sa mga bundok ang mga rebelde pero tila nagtatagumpay ang mga reaksiyunaryo. Indikasyon ito na hindi papayagan basta-basta ng Estado ang subersibong pamumundok. Nais nitong alisin ang pulitikal na halaga ng konsepto ng pamumundok. Nagpapatuloy ang tunggalian.

Dahil sa kasakimang nabanggit, higit na nagiging makatwiran ang pamumundok. Inuudyok ang masa na paigtingin ang pamumundok. Ang susunod na pagguho ng lupa mula sa kabundukan ay maaaring iba na ang hugis at anyo. Imbes na rumaragasang lupa, ibang putik ang guguho. Sumabog na ang bulkan.

Related entries:

Peasant revolts
Muslims in the Philippines
Losing the war
Preserve mineral wealth
Fishy waters

Poetas. Parolas. Panunuluyan

Southeast Asia: The shoe, the shoe and Philippines: Fisherman saved by dolphins and whales – posts written for Global Voices.

December 6. I went to the San Francisco Public Library – to borrow books; to find some quiet place where nobody would bother me about my views about the Pacquiao-dela Hoya boxing match; and to attend a poetry reading.

I did borrow a few books. I was able to escape from overexcited boxing fans. And I enjoyed the poetry reading. The poets were Luisa A. Igloria, Barbara Jane Reyes, Karen Llagas, and Joi Barrios.

I’m familiar with the poems and plays written by Joi. I’ve also seen and heard her perform in public assemblies. Then and now, I’m a big fan of her poems of love and struggles.

The poetry reading event gave me the opportunity to read a sample of the literary works of some of the award-winning Filipino-American writers. I’m fascinated by the themes they have chosen. Frankly, they used many metaphors which I couldn’t understand. That is why after the event, I promised to read a few poems written by Fil-Am writers before I go to sleep. It’s one way of demystifying the difficult linguistic codes and symbols.

During the open forum, I think the issue of identity was briefly discussed. Who are the audience of Fil-Am writers? And it is also a question for myself. Lately, I’ve noticed that I no longer think of Filipinos as the primary readers whom I want to reach. I’m still resolving this question.

December 13 morning. Thousands of Obama-Biden community networks held meetings across the United States to gather the sentiments of the grassroots about what to do with their organization. I attended the San Francisco meeting. What did I learn? During the campaign period the tasks were simpler; there was only one goal: the electoral victory of Obama. Now the grassroots are unsure about their actual relationship to the new administration. What will be the new functions of these local networks? What will be the effective structure of the national organization? How can they sustain the participation of the volunteers? The challenge is to tap the voices of community formations, minority groups, and the netizens. Judging from what I witnessed in the meeting and from what I have been reading in the newspapers, the new tasks will not be easy to accomplish.

 

December 13 evening. Parol Lantern Parade and Festival. I saw some beautiful parols. Kudos to the city of San Fernando, Pampanga for sending their own delegation to the event. Groups like the Veterans Equity Center, Gabriela, and Filipino Community Center also participated in the parade.

A short but lively program was held at the St. Patrick’s Church. The highlight was the staging of the Panunuluyan (asking for lodgings). The actors/actresses were senior citizens and homeless residents of the community. I learned that the actors themselves conceptualized the enactment of the play. They internalized the social meaning of the Panunuluyan by comparing the experience of Mary and Joseph, who were looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem, to their personal and daily struggles of looking for a home.

The message of Panunuluyan is very timely especially at a time when foreclosure cases are up in America.

Click here and here to view more pictures.

  

Related entries:

Homeless in America
Obama effect

Looban, pagsasamantala, pag-aalsa

Part 1: Loob-labas.

Tatlong halimbawa ng espasyo ang tatalakayin ko sa artikulong ito: looban ng sementeryo, engklabo, at mga sonang gerilya.

Sementeryo

Marami akong hiniram na punto kay Jose Saramago sa aking pagbabasa ng kanyang nobela: All the Names.

Nililibing ang mga patay sa mga hanggagan ng siyudad. Kailangang malayo sa sentro ang mga sementeryo pero di dapat kalayuan para mabisita ang mga patay ng kanilang mga kamag-anak at kaibigan. Kung gayon, ang mga lumang sementeryo ay mga historikal na espasyo: nalalaman natin kung hanggang saan ang inabot ng urbanisasyon noon; at saan nagsisimula ang espasyo ng probinsiyal.

Minamarkahan ng mga lumang sementeryo kung saan ang hangganan ng loob at labas sa lumang siyudad. Maaaring matukoy kung saan ang sentro ng mga bayan.

Puwede rin nating masilip ang tanaw sa hinaharap ng mga ninuno natin: kung positibo ang kanilang paniniwala sa pag-unlad, mas malayo sa sentro ng siyudad ang mga lumang sementeryo. Pero kung madilim ang kanilang hula sa kinabukasan, higit na malapit sa sentro ang mga tinatayong sementeryo.

Ang paglawak ng sementeryo ay nakabatay sa pag-usbong ng mga siyudad. Habang lumalaki ang populasyon, tumataas ang lebel ng sibilisasyon, lumalago ang ekonomiya – lumalawak din ang sakop at loob ng mga sementeryo. Ang mga katabing sakahan at bakanteng lupa ay ginagawang bahagi ng sementeryo.

Pero darating ang panahon na kakailanganing lagyan ng bakuran ang sementeryo. Bakit? Dahil sa patuloy na paglaki ng mga siyudad, ang mga lupa sa paligid ng mga sementeryo ay ginagawang tirahan at mga komersiyal na espasyo. Kung dati rati’y natatanaw mula sa mga sementeryo ang malawak na bukirin ng kanayunan, ngayon pinalilibutan ito ng sementong kagubatan. Maaaring sabihin na ito ay batas ng pag-unlad.

Kapag itinakda na ang hangganan ng mga sementeryo, nagbubunsod ito ng pagbabago sa loob. Kumikipot ang mga daanan, binabansot ang mga puntod, pinag-iisa ang puntod ng mga pamilya, nagtatayo ng “condominium” para mailibing ang mas maraming tao.

Halimbawa: ang North at South Cemeteries ng Metro Manila. Ang espasyo sa pagitan ng dalawang sementeryong ito ay sumasakop sa loob ng lumang Metro Manila. Ang labas ng Metro Manila ay nagsisimula sa labas din ng mga sementeryong ito. Dati, pinalilibutan ang mga ito ng malalawak na damuhan. Ngayon, napalitan ito ng mga barung-barong at matatayog na gusali. Saksi ang mga sementeryong ito sa pagbabago sa siyudad.

Ano pa ang sinisimbolo ng mga lumang sementeryo: Ang mga ito ay buhay na patotoo sa kakitiran ng imahinasyon ng tao. May panahong inakala ng mga tao na ang pag-unlad ay aabot lamang sa espasyong sinasakupan ng mga sementeryo. Para bang ang mensahe ay ganito: Hanggang dito na lamang ang pag-unlad, dito magwawakas ang buhay ng lipunan, ng kasaysayan.

Kung gayon, hindi lang pagpanaw ang simbolo ng mga sementeryo. Higit pa ang silbi nito para sa mga nabubuhay, kaysa sa mga humimlay na. May buhay sa mga espasyong matagal ng minarkahang para sa mga nawalan na ng buhay.

Engklabo

Para sa bahaging ito, nakakuha ako ng inspirasyon sa pagbabasa ng aklat ni Naomi Klein: No Logo; at binalikan ko ang aking pakikipagtalastasan sa mga manggagawa ng Export Processing Zone sa Rosario, Cavite noong 2005.

Matindi ang pagsasamantala sa loob ng mga engklabo. Tinutukoy ko ang mga nagsulputang Export Processing Zone sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng bansa. Nasa loob ito ng teritoryo ng Pilipinas pero tila nasa labas sila ng jurisdiction ng mga ahensiya ng pamahalaan. Ang mga kumpanya dito ay halos walang binabayarang buwis; at hindi pinapatupad ang mga batas ng paggawa (minimum wage, karapatan sa pag-uunyon). Parang mga embassy, opisina ng UN, at mga tagong kampo ng militar. Nasa mapa ng Pilipinas pero hindi sakop ng batas ng bansa.

Protektadong looban ang mga engklabo. Mahalaga daw sa ekonomiya ng bansa ang kita mula sa paglalabas (export) ng mga produkto mula sa assembly line sa loob ng mga engklabo. Pansinin ang ginamit na termino: assembly line at hindi manufacturing industry. Tama ang obserbasyon ni Klein: Walang makikitang usok mula sa loob ng mga engklabo. Hindi kasi mga pabrika ang makikita sa mga loobang ito. Walang bagong kagamitang nililikha na kailangang para sa industriyalisasyon ng lipunan.

Kung ang paglago ng sementeryo ay nakabatay sa paglawak ng siyudad, ang loob naman ng engklabo ay hindi apektado kung ano ang nangyayari sa kanyang labas. Magkaroon man ng pagbabago ng liderato, bumaha, o manalo si Pacquiao, may ibang ritmo ng buhay o dinamikong sinusunod ang mga engklabo. Tuloy ang paggana ng assembly line, tuloy ang kontraktuwalisasyon, tuloy ang pasok ng mga manggagawa, lalo na kung peak season sa Amerika at Europa. 24/7 kumbaga. Ibig sabihin, tuloy ang pagsasamantala.

Samantala, ang labas ay binabago ng mga aktibidad sa loob ng engklabo. Halimbawa, nagkaroon ng pundamental na transpormasyon sa Rosario, Cavite nang tinayo ang isang EPZ dito. Ang mga bukid ay naging barung-barong. Nagsulputan ang mga masisikip na dormitoryo ng mga manggagawa. Nawala ang mga magsasaka, naging migrant town ang bayan. Dumating ang mga magsasaka mula sa ibang bayan upang maging manggagawa sa EPZ.

Lumaki ang populasyon ng Rosario dahil sa EPZ. Pero hindi nadagdagan ang kita ng lokal na pamahalaan. Walang legal at pinansiyal na pananagutan diumano ang EPZ sa mga pagbabagong naganap sa Rosario. Ayaw kilalanin ng EPZ ang mga masasamang dinulot ng pagpasok nito sa bayan ng Rosario tulad ng paglala ng polusyon at kahirapan.

Ayaw kumilos ng pamahalaan. Malayong magbago ang tindig ng pamahalaan. Ang estado ay nariyan upang pangalagaan ang interes ng kapitalista. Paano babaguhin ang di-pantay na relasyon sa loob-labas ng mga engklabo? – Sa pamamagitan ng pag-oorganisa sa mga manggagawa ng EPZ. Ang mga manggagawa ay nagbubuo ng mga organisasyon sa labas ng EPZ: Unyon sa labas. Isa itong epektibong halimbawa kung paano babaguhin ng labas ang loob; kung paano pupwersahin ng labas ang pagbabago sa loob.

Sona

Maraming looban sa kanayunan. Maraming looban sa labas. Ang tinutukoy ko ang loob ng mga sonang gerilya. Ang paglabas, ang pagtahak sa landas ng labas ay pagpasok din sa isang espasyo ng loob. Ang mga taong-labas ay mga taong-loob din. Ang mga loobang ito sa kanayunan ay kinakatakutan ng naghaharing uri, kinukutya, minamaliit, kinakaila. Bakit? Dahil ang paglawak ng mga loobang ito ay hudyat din ng paghina ng kapit ng Kapital sa bansa. Ibig sabihin, gumugulong ang proseso ng pagbubuo ng mga bagong loob at bagong labas.

Ugnay

Sementeryo, engklabo, sonang gerilya?

Hindi ba’t ang proletaryo, tagahukay ng puntod ng kapitalismo, ay minsang nang hinusgahan na tapos na ang kanyang historikal na misyon na gapiin ang pwersa ng kapitalismo? Laos na raw ang teorya’t praktika na umaasa sa pag-aalsa ng manggagawa upang baguhin ang lipunan. Tapos na ang kasaysayan. Nailibing na ang sosyalistang mithiin ng proletaryo.

Pero nariyan pa rin ang proletaryo. Nariyan pa rin ang pagsasamantala sa manggagawa. Buhay pa rin ang mga engklabong pumapatay sa mga manggagawa. Paano sasabihing lipas na ang rebolusyong proletaryo kung ang kondisyon upang maisakatuparan ito ay hindi pa rin nawawala? Hangga’t nananatiling mabangis ang kapitalismo, higit na nagiging makatwiran ang pagsusulong ng alternatibo nito: sosyalismo.

Ang tanaw ng proletaryo ay lagi sa hinaharap. Kaya ang pagnanais niya na palayain ang kanyang uri sa pamamagitan ng pag-aalsa ay nananatiling buhay.

Related entries:

Cavite EPZA workers
Tulay lupa
Space and resistance

On shoes and politics

Links: The economic philosophy of Singapore’s leaders. Cambodia’s 55th Independence Day. Shortcomings of Singapore education. Examples of Vietnamese legends.

Politician bloggers in the Philippines, a post written for Global Voices. Subscribe to the mailing list of Global Voices.

Because of the courageous example shown by Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, shoes will quickly become an icon of protests in the world. Activists will soon consider using shoes as a protest tool in their activities. This is bad news for politicians, especially the unpopular ones, who will now think twice before appearing in public.

What was more revealing in the incident – in which al-Zaidi threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad – was not the shoe throwing itself but Bush’s response. He dismissed the protest action as a non-event. He even described it as a normal act in a free society. Perhaps he wanted to prove that Iraq is now a democratic nation.

Bush overlooked the radical meaning of the act. He was ignorant of the significance of the throwing of shoes as a symbol of insult in Arab culture. Bush misunderstood the act in the same way that he miscalculated the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why was Bush in Iraq? Did he expect to be welcomed as a liberator in this part of the world? Perhaps Bush was not aware of the deep hatred felt by many Iraqis against him. Perhaps he was misled by his advisers into believing that the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq has been successful in stabilizing the country.

During the recent presidential election campaign, U.S. defense officials claimed that their policies in Iraq have been producing positive results. They argued that the United States could now refocus its “war on terror” campaign back to Afghanistan. Surprisingly and unfortunately, the American press did not question these statements.

In the past weeks President-elect Barack Obama has been quietly affirming some of the policies of his predecessor by appointing officials who are closely identified with the latter. Perhaps by visiting a “peaceful” Iraq, Bush wanted to show his successor that the current Iraq strategy is working well.

Hopefully, the shoe-throwing incident will remind the American public how the image of the United States has deteriorated under the Bush administration; and more importantly, convince Obama to enact drastic changes in foreign policy.

The act was also positive since it gave a new face to the resistance against the invasion of Iraq. Muntadar al-Zaidi is not the stereotyped anti-American militant. He is a journalist who had earned enough credentials to be admitted to the press conference. His act proved that the middle-class and educated Iraqis are also opposed to the U.S. invasion of their country.

This is not the first time that shoes have acquired a political image. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was reported to have owned a pair of lucky shoes which he wore for 10 years. It was discovered that former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos left behind 2,700 pairs of shoes in the presidential palace after her husband was ousted from power in 1986. Recently, the decline of the Philippine shoe industry has been cited as proof of the destructive impact of neoliberal economic policies.

Imelda’s shoes are now exhibited in a museum. Displaying the shoes is one way to make the younger Filipinos remember that the Marcoses practiced a lavish lifestyle while their countrymen suffered in poverty. Possessing several pairs of shoes is now deemed controversial especially if the owner is a public official. Shoe collection has been associated with corruption, abuse of power and extravagance.

Marikina City used to be the shoe capital of the Philippines. A decade ago, the city was producing 15 million pairs of shoes. Employment in the shoe industry reached more than 100,000. Today the city is producing less than 6 million pairs of shoes while people employed by the industry are now less than 50,000.

The decline of the shoe industry is blamed on unfair foreign competition and the neoliberal economic policies of the government. The demise of the shoe industry has been linked to the weakening of other domestic industries, especially the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

What is the connection between the Baghdad incident, Imelda’s shoes and the Philippine shoe industry? Shoes and other mundane objects we use everyday can be effectively integrated into various political projects. If used properly, they have the power to generate political awareness among the people and even to be transformed into weapons of hate against public figures.

Who would have thought that shoes would be associated with corruption and disastrous economic policies? Who would have thought of using shoes to attack an enemy? The pen may be mightier than the sword but shoes are more powerful especially if thrown at a politician during a press conference. Now it is possible to rethink how ordinary objects can be appropriated as symbols of struggle.

Related entries:

Saddam and Gloria
Smuggling in the Philippines
Marcos-Arroyo

Leader. Labor. Labog

Philippine labor leader Elmer “Bong” Labog completed a successful speaking tour in the United States and Canada a few weeks ago. Ka Bong was the first leader of the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno who was able to enter the U.S.

Ka Bong spoke in different schools and churches; he met several American labor leaders; and he linked up with many Filipino groups in the West Coast.

In his lectures, Ka Bong presented the grim situation of Filipino workers. He discussed the extent of poverty in the Philippines. He explained the negative impact of neoliberal policies on the Philippine economy. He exposed the systematic campaign of the Arroyo government to undermine the labor movement – he cited the brutal assassination of labor leaders, the filing of false criminal charges against progressive groups, and the illegal arrest of labor lawyer Remigio Saladero.

Ka Bong was very eloquent in his speeches. Maybe he was inspired since he was always introduced as the youngest chairperson ever elected in the KMU history. Talagang mas bata siya kung ikukumpara kay Ka Bel, Ka Lando at Ka Bert.

Ka Bong used humor to clarify some concepts; he used the Filipino language when he wanted to emphasize a point (tuta ng imperalismo); and he could link the relationship of monopoly capitalism to the P125 wage hike campaign without being too academic. He was not boring; in fact he was popular with the young audience.

Ka Bong surprised some of the foreigners when he claimed that Filipino workers can explain neoliberalism by using one word: LAPIDA. (acronym for Liberalization, Privatization, Deregulation). When the non-Filipinos learned what lapida means, they nodded in agreement to the choice of the word. In another instance, Ka Bong mentioned that Filipino workers are receiving a different kind of living wage. He called it “libing wage.”

What was Ka Bong’s reaction to the victory of Barack Obama? Ka Bong reminded his listeners about the need to sustain the movement for fundamental change. He urged ordinary Americans, especially the workers, to pressure the new government to deliver reforms in governance. Ka Bong highlighted the significance of building a strong mass movement that would force Obama to consider the signing of political and economic policies in favor of the poor.

Ka Bong invited the audience, especially the Fil-Am students, to visit the Philippines. He told the young people about the relationship of the national democratic struggle in the Philippines to the global fight against imperialism.

Ka Bong attended numerous gatherings in California. I was able to listen to his lectures in San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley. Of course mayroon ding send-off party para kay ka Bong.

Ka Bong is one of the most admired leaders of the Left. He said that after finishing his term, he wanted to be a community organizer. Click here to view more pictures of Ka Bong in the USA

Related entries:

Ka Bel
Labor pains

Loob-Labas

Links: A blog promoting the local products of East Timor. A Burmese monk writes to the UN. Myanmar’s astrology blogs. Refugees in east Myanmar.

Sinulat ko ang artikulong ito pagkatapos kong mabasa ang tula ni Romulo Sandoval: Byahe.

Kapag sasabihin ng isang taga-Mandaluyong kung saang lungsod siya nakatira, malamang ay tatanungin siya ng kanyang kausap: “Taga-Mandaluyong ka? Saan? Loob o labas?” Sabay tawa ng kausap.

Isa itong biro. Kilala kasi ang Mandaluyong bilang lugar kung saan nakatayo ang National Center for Mental Health. Madalas tinutukso ang mga taga-Mandaluyong na sila ay nakatira sa “loob” ng Mental.

Lumang biro na ito. Ginagamit pa kaya ito? Nandun pa ba ang Mental sa Mandaluyong? Minsan kasing nabalita na ibebenta/ililipat na ng gobyerno ang ospital. At saka mukhang ang Mandaluyong ay higit na kilala na ngayon dahil sa Megamall (na isa ring tipo ng Mental). Hindi ba’t si Ben’s Burjer ay residente rin ng Mandaluyong?

Babalikan natin ang Mandaluyong. Dumako muna tayo sa Muntinlupa. Ganun din ang biro sa mga taga-Muntinlupa. Biro kung sila ba ay nakatira sa loob o labas ng New Bilibid Prison. Sa katunayan ang kulungan ay kilala din bilang Munti.

Pero mukhang hindi na masyadong tinutukso ang mga taga-Muntinlupa kung sila ay nakatira sa loob o labas. Hindi na lang kasi Munti ang sikat sa siyudad. Noong dekada sisenta at otsenta ay dumami ang mga tinayong pabrika sa Muntinlupa. Kung ang Valenzuela ang industrial town ng hilagang Metro Manila, ang katumbas nito sa timog ay Muntinlupa. Ang tanyag na tirahan ng mga mayayaman at makapangyarihan – Ayala Alabang – ay matatagpuan din sa Muntinlupa.

Maaaring sabihin ngayon na may tatlong kulungan sa Muntinlupa: Bilibid para sa mga mahihirap na kriminal, mga pabrikang kinalalagyan ng mga pinupulubing manggagawa, at ang eksklusibong tirahan ng mga mayayamang kriminal, este negosyante.

Ang bagong loob-labas

Ang mga salitang “loob” at “labas” ang ginagamit na panturo ng direksiyon sa Metro Manila. Mayroong loob at labas sa bawat siyudad. Bihirang gamitin ang mga salitang hilaga, timog, kanluran, silangan upang tukuyin ang direksiyon sa siyudad. Hindi kasi alam kung saan ang sentro. Saan nga ba ang sentro ng Metro Manila? Walang point of reference. Kaya marahil nagkakasya na lamang sa paggamit ng mga kategoryang loob at labas.

Ngayon ang “loob” at “labas” ay mahirap na rin gamitin. Saan ang hangganan ng loob ng Metro Manila? Saan nagsisimula ang labas? Ang dating labas ay loob na ngayon (Mega Manila).

Ang mga dating loob ay nilabas. Naglipat ng loob sa ibang loob. Halimbawa: ang loob ng Intramuros ay nilabas (simbahan, eskuwelahan); sumikip ang loob ng university belt kaya nagtayo ng ala-Ubelt sa ibang lugar (Katipunan, Aurora, Alabang); inspirasyon ang loob ng Makati nang itinayo ang loob ng Ortigas, Libis, Fort.

Sa kaso ng Mandaluyong at Muntinlupa, ang labas ay naging loob. Ang palagiang nagmamasid na Estado (Big Brother) ay kumukontrol sa kilos ng bawat indibidwal sa Metro Manila. Ang mga regulasyon sa loob ng Mental at Munti ay nilabas sa siyudad dahil ang turing sa mga tao ay baliw at kriminal. Bakit pa papasok sa loob kung ang labas naman ay para ding loob?

Looban

May mga looban na hindi nagbabago o pilit na hinahadlangan ang pagbabago. Mga dating loob na nananatili at pinananatiling loob. Malinaw ang hangganan/teritoryo ng mga loobang ito.

Ang looban ng komyu ay kadalasang tahanan ng mga maralitang tagalungsod. Sabi nila, ang mga nakatira dito ay halang ang bituka at iisa ang kidney. Bakit kaya? Dahil kumakain sila ng instant noodles at aso? Mga taga loobang kumakain ng lamang-loob.

Ang looban ay pugad diumano ng masasamang elemento. Lagi itong sinusuyod ng mga mapanupil na pwersa ng estado – hinahanay, nililipol ang mga mangmang, baliw at kriminal ng lipunan: adik, pusher, holdaper, rapist. Tinatarget din ang mga subersibo. Para daw sa kaayusan, ang loobang ito ay dapat dahasin. Dapat itong buwagin kung kakayanin. Ilayo, ilabas.

May isa pang looban. Protektadong looban. Makapangyarihang looban. Marangyang looban. Halimbawa: Ang loob ng Central Business District. Ang loob ng Kapital. Ang opisina ng mga burukruta-kapitalista, alagad ng mga imperyalista, at pambansang burgesya.

Ang looban ng mga eksklusibong subdibisyon ng mayayaman ay sagrado. Off-limits dito ang mga ordinaryong nilalang. Kahit ang arogansiya ng MMDA ay di uubra sa mga loobang ito. Pwedeng isipin at tangkain ng mga opisyal ang paglilipat ng makasaysayang Monumento ni Bonifacio sa Caloocan upang pagaanin ang trapiko pero putangina ninyo kung gagalawin ninyo ang bakod ng Corinthians Village sa EDSA. Korte ang magdedesisyon.

Sa ngalan ng kaunlaran, dapat daw gibain ang looban ng mga maralita. Gawin itong kalsada, parking lot o shopping center. Pero bawal galawin ang looban ng Forbes Park. Bawal itong daanan ng mga mortal. Bawal din itong tingnan. Kaya naglagay sila ng matataas na bakod. Kahit ang mga nakasakay sa MRT ay bakod na kawayan lang ang masisilayan nila.

Maraming baliw sa looban ng mayayaman. (Baliw marahil sa pera, baliw sa kasakiman). Ang pinapakasalan daw kasi ng ilang mayayaman ay mga kamag-anak din nila para raw ang yaman ng pamilya ay hindi lumabas at mapunta sa ibang lahi. Kaya minsan nagkakaanak sila na may sira ang bait. May mga balita rin ng krimen sa mga loobang ito. Mga adik na anak na binabaril ang mga kasambahay; mga don/donyang nagmamaltrato ng katulong; mga hindi nagbabayad ng tamang buwis.

Sa totoo lang, ang ugat ng kasamaan, pagsasamantala sa Islands Philippines ay nakasentro sa looban ng mga subdibisyong ito. Dito nakatira ang mga smuggler, jueteng lord, drug lord, landlord, darklord at iba pang lords. Dito pinagpapasyahan kung paano nanakawin ang pera ng bayan o paano isusulong ang Chacha.

Labasan

Delikado ang labas ng Metro Manila. Sa labas ng siyudad ay may mas malakas na pwersa ang mga taong labas. Nasa labas ang mga pugante, rebelde, terorista. Magulo ang labas. Walang kinikilalang batas dito.

Tinutugis ang mga taong labas. Paano sila nakikilala?

Dati ang sakop ng loob ay kung ano ang nasa paligid ng simbahan. Hanggat naririnig ng mga residente ang tunog ng kampana ng simbahan, sila ay nasa loob. Ang mga malayo sa simbahan ay ayaw pasakop sa pamumuno ng Diyos at mga Espanyol. Mga walang Diyos, mga ayaw sumunod sa batas. Sila ay dapat parusahan.

Ngayon ang kampana ay napalitan ng cell phone tower. Tinatayo ang mga ito upang sakupin ang lahat-lahat, lalo na ang labas. Ang signal ng cell phone ay indikasyon diumano ng kaunlaran; ng paghahatid ng loob sa labas. Kaya dapat daw ipagbunyi’t pangalagaan ang mga istrukturang ito. Ang totoo: Ito ay instrumento ng dominasyon; ginagamit upang tukuyin ang mga taong-labas. Hindi nakapagtataka’t ginagawa itong target ng mga taong labas.

Kapag nagsasalubong ang loob at labas, umuusad ang kasaysayan. Dapat itong kilalanin; pabilisin ang pagtatagpo ng mga puwersang magkasalungat. Ang hatid nito ay bagong loob, bagong labas.

At ano ang hinaharap? Ang labas ay magiging loob. Ang loob ay papasukin ng labas. Ang looban ay aangkinin natin. Ang loob. Ang labas. Lahat-lahat.

Related entries:

Space and resistance
Recto-Doroteo Jose
Octoberfest
Malling republic
Vortex of evil
Open the gates
Billboard suicide

Rethinking the Bangkok protests

Links: Examples of health-related projects in Brunei. The importance of not losing face in Thai society. The largest Facebook group in Singapore. The bindabaat practice in Laos.

Two posts for Global Voices: Thailand political crisis: Reactions from the region and Thailand: Foreigner who stayed in the airport blockade.

It was the judiciary that ordered Thailand’s unpopular ruling party to be disbanded on Tuesday, but it was the daily protests by the People’s Alliance for Democracy that made the national leadership almost powerless to govern. Today, PAD is both popular and unpopular. It was able to oust the government, but its victory is questioned by many analysts in Bangkok and around the world.

PAD is criticized for using undemocratic tactics to achieve its goals. Despite its insistence that it espouses nonviolence, PAD has been accused of instigating violent acts that have affected innocent civilians and members of the press. By shutting down Bangkok’s two major airports last week, PAD inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of passengers in Thailand and nearby countries.

The airport takeovers have weakened Thailand’s tourist industry. PAD’s daring activities in the past few months have scared local and foreign investors, which has worsened the country’s economic problems.

PAD defends its extralegal actions by citing the futility of demanding institutional reforms under a government it labeled as a proxy of ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra. But PAD’s moral ascendancy to speak on behalf of oppressed Thais is doubted because of its incestuous ties to other sections of the elite, particularly Bangkok’s business bosses, military generals and the royal family.

Others have already discussed the dangerous ideals promoted by PAD. Critics have written about the fascist leanings of PAD and its secret financiers. Meanwhile, it is also important to point out the relevance of the Bangkok protests to ongoing and future political actions in the country and in different parts of the world.

If PAD were a genuine radical group, would the media still describe the airport takeover as irresponsible and unwise? If this happened in Myanmar, would we still condemn the actions of the anti-government protesters? Or would we focus more on the wrongdoings committed by the junta? If PAD’s effective street tactics were adopted by insurgents in Iraq, what would be our reaction?

People power uprisings will always be bothersome, especially to disinterested individuals and groups. We have to review our attitude toward PAD. Are we angry at PAD because it rejects free elections? Are we against PAD’s support for a military takeover? Or is our anger directed mainly at the annoying street protests and airport takeover?

It is crucial to distinguish the undemocratic philosophy of PAD and the group’s right to use extralegal means to fight what it believes to be a despotic government. Failure to highlight the validity of mass assemblies and provocative collective actions today would probably lead us to reject similar political practices in the future, even if they are organized by genuine radical groups.

Another factor that has contributed to the unpopularity of PAD is the use of unflattering names by the academe and media to describe the group. PAD’s political identity is somewhat ambiguous. The group has been called fascist, royalist, cultist, elitist, anti-poor, terrorist and anarchist. These labels are correct and at the same time wrong.

PAD is more than just an urban-based movement that worships the king. It has a constituency that sincerely believes in justice, empowerment and democracy. For many years, it has demonstrated an impressive record of mobilizing the middle class through peaceful means. And do groups with devoted and disciplined followers always have to be described as cults?

This is the dilemma. There seems to be no precise term to accurately describe the politics of PAD. The available terms are often used by the West to describe extremist political movements. Using these inadequate terms to identify PAD does not often allow the public to properly understand the crisis in Thailand. This kind of dilemma was noted by a European scholar who said that “we lack the very language to articulate our ‘unfreedom.’”

PAD may be unworthy to lead the democracy movement in Thailand, but that does not mean that the issues it raised against the government were false. There is corruption, poverty and injustice in Thai society. Electoral fraud is a valid issue. Bribery, cronyism and abuse of power are rampant.

Unfortunately, these problems are not properly understood by the reading public in the world. Their information about the Bangkok protests has been obscured by our uncritical and simplistic use of labels to identify the political forces in Thailand. Maybe it is more convenient to describe PAD as fascist and royalist than to elaborate on the many problems afflicting Thailand.

PAD may be irrational for advocating a refined form of dictatorship. On the other hand, we should recognize that our practice of naming things in Thailand according to what we think they are is also not completely rational.

Related entries:

Bangkok protesters
People Power
In other words

Don’t hate

The second most important issue in the recently concluded US elections was California’s Proposition 8 – Ban on same sex marriage. Because of its legal implications, Prop 8 became a national issue. Supporters and opponents of Prop 8 waged aggressive campaigns to entice California voters to their side. Campaign contributions reached more than $70 million (convert it into pesos) which were mostly spent on TV ads. In the end voters approved the controversial proposition.

Why was it approved in liberal California? Maybe voters were confused. Maybe they wrongly assumed that a vote for Prop 8 is a vote of support for same sex marriage. Some of my friends and relatives made this mistake.

Church groups, mainly the Roman Catholic and Mormon Churches, also conducted vigorous campaigns in favor of Prop 8. The church vote was the crucial factor which guaranteed the victory of Prop 8.

Initial surveys revealed that Prop 8 would be rejected by California voters. But after weeks of bombarding TV viewers with very persuasive but misleading ads (defend traditional marriage, respect marriage, same sex marriage will be taught in elementary schools), advocates of Prop 8 have already gained the advantage in the polls. Many pro-Obama supporters who wanted change in America even voted for the passage of Prop 8.

Perhaps same sex marriage supporters underestimated the organizing power of the church. They also became complacent since they assumed that a discriminatory proposal such as Prop 8 would be rejected by educated, mature, and politically-correct California voters. The ads linking the Prop 8 to racist measures in the past came very late. Prop 8 was not effectively identified as a civil rights issue.

After the elections, a protest action in San Francisco was held against Prop 8. Three weeks ago (November 15), coordinated nationwide actions were organized. In downtown San Francisco the assembly was held in front of City Hall.

    

 

     

I learned about the protest through Facebook. I went to City Hall but I didn’t meet a single friend or colleague. Maybe they were in the other protest centers. The rally gave me the chance to observe how Americans are conducting their rallies. The banners were colorful, big and they contained creative slogans and images. The sound system was not that good. There were many organized delegations but most of the participants were unorganized. Many rallyists used their clothing to deliver the message.

Some of my favorite slogans:

“I’m straight, I’m Catholic, but I don’t hate”
“Don’t mess up Dumbledore’s rights”
“Don’t be a Gaycist”
“Same sex marriage will ruin my life, not yours”
“Defend marriage, outlaw divorce, infidelity”

Reports said the next battle will be in the courts. It should still be in the streets and communities. And to be more effective, the campaign should be linked to the civil rights movement. Click here to view more pictures


Related entries:

Ibang rali ito
Turn-off TV
Blog works
San Francisco

Bangkok’s notorious protesters

Global Voices has created a special coverage page about the airport chaos in Bangkok. I wrote these roundups:

Thailand: Airports reopen but crisis not yet over
Thailand: Airport crisis hurting ordinary persons. The New York Times links to the post.
Thailand: How will the airport chaos end? Read the French translation.
Sleepless and stranded in Thailand. Read the Spanish translation.
Thailand: Airport takeover and Twitter. Read the Italian translation.
Thailand: Protesters occupy airports. Read the Spanish translation.


Anti-government protesters led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy finally attained their goal of ousting the Thai government on Tuesday, after conducting provocative street actions for several months and demanding the removal of the elected government, believing it to be a proxy of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Constitutional Court disbanded the three main parties in the ruling coalition on Tuesday, after finding them guilty of electoral fraud. It also banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from politics for five years, along with other top party leaders, forcing the selection of a new head of government.

There is no doubt that PAD’s pressure was instrumental in bringing about this outcome. The group had upped the ante last month and vowed to push for a “final battle” campaign to remove the elected government. On Nov. 24 they were able to surround the Parliament building. The following day they took over a major airport in Bangkok. On Thursday they occupied Bangkok’s second major airport, paralyzing air travel in the country. These actions stunned the world.

On Wednesday the protesters withdrew from the airports, after eight days of occupation, and air traffic began to flow again.

The airport takeover was bold but not surprising. The group that succeeded in mobilizing thousands of people in the streets for several months could surely manage to shut down the country’s airports. This is the same group that overran Thailand’s Government House last August.

That PAD and its leaders could continue their street actions despite the concerted efforts of different government agencies to undermine the group is solid proof of its organizational prowess. The persistence of its supporters to advocate for change and to act without fear is simply astonishing.

PAD was right in choosing the airport for staging its decisive battle against the government. The new airport was a pet project of Thaksin’s. During the 2006 coup, the poor construction of the airport was mentioned as one of the lapses of the Thaksin administration. Most important of all, occupying the airport would embarrass the Thai government. It would prove the ineptness of the leadership, its failure to properly implement the laws, and its lack of support from many sections of the population.

Bangkok is a major transport hub in Asia. The airport takeover stranded more than 300,000 passengers in Thailand. The travel plans of thousands of tourists from nearby countries were affected as well. The airport protest actions were not meant to elicit domestic support. PAD was aiming for a global audience. It wanted to convince world leaders that extralegal reform was needed to end the political crisis in the country.

PAD prepared well for the airport siege. It had adequate supplies, manpower and other emergency logistics needed to secure the airport facilities. A member of PAD claimed they could have remained inside the airport for many months without going hungry. But PAD did not anticipate one thing: The Mumbai terror attack.

On the same day Bangkok protesters occupied the airport, scores of gunmen unleashed a terror campaign in the city of Mumbai, India. Almost 200 were killed and 300 were injured. Bangkok’s airport surprise received less global attention than the Mumbai attacks. It didn’t help that the airport takeover was described by many as a terrorist act. PAD was compared to the terrorist group which claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mumbai.

PAD has been called many names but only a few have called them a terrorist group in the past. The Mumbai tragedy has somewhat influenced the vocabulary and sentiments of everybody. It is now difficult to imagine PAD protesters as peace loving, passionate and idealistic individuals. Disrupting public order is perceived as less romantic and revolutionary today.

Even if unconnected, the horrendous events in Mumbai can be indirectly linked to the airport chaos in Bangkok by many persons. Both were violent, illegal and they happened at the same time. This makes the airport takeover more unacceptable.

Assuming that PAD can defend its actions, it cannot deny its close ties to powerful sections in the military. PAD also has very rich supporters; it is not the political organization of the poor and exploited. The urban middle class, once the core supporters of PAD, are also beginning to distance themselves from the group. PAD has reinterpreted democracy by shunning free elections and asking the military to launch a coup.

PAD should be commended for having launched a series of big street actions in the past months. Organizing these actions is not easy even if there are available financial resources. The group was able to sustain its campaign by mobilizing thousands of ardent supporters. It succeeded in attacking several physical symbols of power like the Government House, Parliament building, homes of Cabinet ministers, and finally the airports. PAD has accomplished what any genuine revolutionary group would have done even in other places.

But there have been no solidarity statements for PAD from progressive organizations around the world. No human rights group has promoted its cause. Perhaps PAD failed to capture the imagination of radicals in other countries. Or maybe the radicals knew that PAD’s goals were not worth endorsing.

Related entries:

Samak
Thailand at the crossroads
Thailand and Philippines