Monthly Archives: January 2009

Is the Philippines part of Southeast Asia?

Are Filipinos Asians or Pacific Islanders? Is the Philippines part of Southeast Asia, Oceania or the Pacific Islands? Officially, Filipinos are categorized as Asians and the Philippines is part of Southeast Asia. But describing Filipinos as Pacific Islanders is not wrong.

For a long time, Filipinos were known as Pacific Islanders. The Philippines used to be called the Philippine Islands of the Pacific. Tourism officials in the country have been enticing tourists around the world to visit the Islands Philippines.

The Philippines is detached from mainland Asia. When the Americans first arrived there more than a century ago, they described the Philippine Islands as “orphans of the Pacific.” Perhaps they were referring to the geographical distance of the country from the inland Asian continent.

Composed of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippine archipelagic state was a political creation of Western colonizers. It was Spain during the 16th century which united the major islands of the Philippines. If Spain hadn’t occupied the islands, the Philippine nation state would not have existed.

Luzon, the largest island in the north of the Philippines, could have been a territory of China or Taiwan today. Mindanao in the south could have been a province of Malaysia or Indonesia. The formation of a bigger nation state composed of the Philippine Islands, Taiwan and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia could have been another possibility.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines, the inhabitants of the islands had little contact with mainland Asia. Trade with China and Indochina was limited to a few islands. Cultural interaction was almost non-existent. It was only Mindanao Island which had an active political, economic and cultural relationship with Borneo. Islam was introduced in the south Philippines through this connection.

Mindanao was not effectively colonized by Spain. It was only much later, during the American occupation in the early 20th century to be exact, that it was officially integrated with the rest of the islands. It was Mindanao, not the Philippines, which had close links with other Malay kingdoms.

The Philippines was assimilated to mainland Asia through the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. The products of the Far East were transported to the Americas and Europe through this trade route. Exotic goods from China and other parts of Asia were shipped first to Manila before being loaded onto galleon ships bound for Acapulco, Mexico.

This kind of trading relationship between the Philippines and mainland Asia provided little opportunity for deep cultural and political association between the inhabitants of these territories. Centuries of Western occupation had isolated the Filipinos from their Asian neighbors.

Philippine society evolved differently from other Asian nations. For example, the Philippines is the only Christian-dominated nation in Asia. The blending of Western and native cultures created a unique Philippine society which is neither Western nor Asian. A scholar described this process as the bastardization of Filipino culture.

Many Filipinos are unsure about their identity. They believe they are Asians but many of them feel closer to the West, especially the United States. They seem to be prouder of their Western upbringing than their Asian personality. Colonial mentality has been identified as one of the negative traits of many Filipinos.

Southeast Asia is defined as a geographical concept in the Philippines. But other than this, Southeast Asia is almost an empty signifier. Filipinos couldn’t appreciate nor understand the cultural and religious practices of their neighbors. They are unaware of Indochina politics.

The Philippines was used as a launching pad of the United States during the Vietnam War. While panic swept the rest of the region when Cambodia and Thailand almost went into war over a border dispute a few months ago, the Philippines did not express a sense of alarm over the situation.

It is merely by geographical accident that the Philippines has come to be linked with Southeast Asia. This is unfortunate since the Philippines’ detachment from mainland Southeast Asia could have been maximized to exert political leadership in the region.

By not being involved with the numerous squabbles in Indochina, the Philippines could have played the role of an objective arbiter of conflicts in the region. But Filipinos seem to be more interested in political events in the West.

The Philippines should strengthen its ties with its neighbors. Its location is not a hindrance to promote a more meaningful relationship with other countries in the region. It should recognize that its isolation in the Pacific is partly a result of colonial politics in the past.

The Philippines’ 20th Century: Imperialism and Revolution

“The participation of hitherto ignored people in the political life of France is a social fact that will honour the whole of the close of the nineteenth century.” – Stephane Mallarme

Thesis. The Philippine-American War was the beginning of the 20th century in the Philippines. Since then, the forces of imperialism and revolution have been fighting for supremacy in this part of the world. Imperialism is dominant but its hegemony is not total. The 20th century has not yet ended in the Philippines. The success of the national liberation movement or its absolute defeat will usher in a new historical century.

Genesis. According to some western historians, the “long 19th century” ended on 1914 (start of the First World War). The “short 20th century” began on 1917 (victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia) and ended on 1991 (fall of Soviet Union). This periodization is not applicable to the Philippines. Indeed, the First World War and the Russian Revolution were historical events that shook the world, including the Philippines. But during this period, the politics and ideologies of the new century were already introduced in the Philippines.

The 20th century began with the fighting of American and Filipino forces in 1899. The occupation of the Philippines was among the early indicators which confirmed the United States’ new global status as an imperialist power. But the Filipino people were determined not to be colonized again by another western power. They waged a gallant resistance to the invading army of the US. The David and Goliath battle between the forces of imperialism and the ragtag army of Filipino freedom-fighters started the 20th century in the Philippines.

Praxis. When the Americans arrived in the Philippines, they expected the “barbarous” Filipinos to accept the civilizing mission of the United States. The imperialists were unaware that the rebellious spirit of the 1896 revolution was very much alive in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people. The indios have recently defeated the mighty Hispanics. The battle scars were still fresh. The natives were ready to defend the country’s independence.

The Americans used brutal tactics to defeat the revolutionary forces in the Philippines. The generals of the liberation army were captured but many soldiers were able to elude the American dragnet. This setback didn’t wipe out the resistance movement. The grassroots were mobilized through various forms of struggle. For example, labor agitation was reported as early as 1902. Peasant unrests did not cease in the countryside.

The next flashpoint was the formation of a communist party in the late 1920s. This symbolized several things: Revolutionary practice has matured; an internationalist outlook was developed among the ranks of Filipino revolutionaries; and the movement’s goals included not just the attainment of the country’s independence, but also the remaking of the whole society. The strength of the anti-imperialist radical party was tested in the 1930s. During the 2nd World War, it was part of the united front against the Japanese occupation. The communist-led Huk was the primary liberation army which fought the Japanese troops. After the Great War, the Huks were disowned by the reactionary classes.

Metastases. US Imperialism modified its colonial policy by granting formal independence to the Philippines in 1946. It maintained its domination in the country by sponsoring various puppet regimes from 1946 up to the present.

The US-backed state machinery was able to defeat the communist Huks in the 1950s. But imperialism was triumphant for a few years already. The revolutionary movement rebounded in the 1960s. In 1968 the communist party was re-established. The following year a liberation army was reconstituted.

Imperialism’s most infamous agents were Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Arroyo. In the eyes of the imperialist masters, they were the most effective puppet presidents in post-war Philippines. But these unpopular dictators, even if they are thoroughly despised by the other factions of the ruling class, should not be categorized as aberrations of the system. They represent the system. The ruling class and imperialism will always produce Marcoses and Arroyos every time their hegemony is effectively challenged in the country.

The semi-feudal and semi-colonial Philippines was experiencing a deep political and economic crisis in the 1960s. Two decades of neocolonialism have weakened the system’s support base. The revolution was seen by many as a better alternative to the decaying social order. Marcos, the strongman, was tapped by imperialism to restore an appearance of normalcy in society.

Imperialism rejoiced when a member of the ruling class replaced Marcos in 1986. The pre-Marcos oligarchs were back in power. But after almost two decades of neocolonialism, the system was in crisis again in 2001. Estrada had to be replaced by Arroyo to stabilize the system. But imperialism needed to discredit the politics of People Power (II and III) since the latter’s untapped revolutionary potential was already seen a serious threat to the system.

Imperialism needed Marcos and Arroyo to revive its weakening control in the country; and to defeat the seemingly unbeatable and invincible revolutionary movement. This we ask: Were Marcos and Arroyo the best the system could offer to defeat the revolution? If Marcos’ New Society and Arroyo’s Strong Republic were the only alternatives the system could establish, then socialism remains the greatest hope of the future.

Matrix. As long as Imperialism is dominant, the cycle will not end. There will be Marcoses and Arroyos in the future. To end this curse, the system must be defeated. The revolution has to succeed. The revolution remains the only genuine alternative to imperialism.

The history of the left is not only about factions and stunning defeats. The left has rebounded many times. It experienced humiliating political losses, many times these were self-inflicted, but it has always proven its capability to revive its fighting strength. The left could still win the war against imperialism.

There is a global economic recession. Imperialism is in crisis. The puppet regime is distrusted. There is an opportunity for the revolutionary forces to raise the level of fighting of the people. The crucial date is 2010. Political forces are trying to be the dominant party after 2010. They are expected to exploit the public hatred against Arroyo, and the political indifference of many sections of the population, to grab the leadership in the country.

Will there be change next year? If imperialism is not defeated, the status quo will remain. It may even emerge stronger next year.

The challenge is not to lose sight of the primary goal: defeat imperialism. End the 20th century. Victory to the revolution.

Floods devastate Asia-Pacific islands

The first great natural disaster of the year in the Asia-Pacific region was the series of flooding disasters which struck Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines during the early weeks of January. A minor flooding calamity also hit Brunei.

The Western Division of Fiji’s Viti Levu, the country’s largest island, was badly affected by the flooding. At least 10,000 people were housed in schools used as temporary shelters. Water and electricity services were scarce in some parts of the country for several days. A state of emergency was declared by the government in the wake of the disaster.

Flash floods hit the major cities of northern Mindanao in the Philippines on the first day of the New Year. Mindanao Island is located in the southernmost part of the country. At least 30,000 individuals were affected by the disaster.

A second wave of flooding submerged the region last week. Strong rains produced flash floods and deadly landslides in the southern provinces. Officials reported that 80 percent of the villages in the major city of the region were damaged by the flooding. At least 100,000 people were displaced by the flooding catastrophe.

Thirteen provinces in Indonesia were hit by flooding. The floods were reported in several districts of West Nusa Tenggara, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo and Sulawesi provinces. More than 50,000 people had to be evacuated to safer places. Many parts of Jakarta were inundated with seawater. Flooding is normal in the nation’s capital but some bloggers have observed that the recent flooding was “unseasonably early.”

Flooding disrupted the lives of thousands of residents in Malaysia’s Sarawak state, especially in the areas of Bau, Kuching and Sibu. Almost 10,000 people were forced to move to higher ground because of rising water levels. In some parts of the state, flood waters rose to 14 feet. More than 8,000 people in the Bau District were evacuated in 24 temporary shelters. Authorities were forced to shut down 119 schools.

The disaster areas are all located in the southern region of the Asia-Pacific. While tropical storms and flooding are frequent in this part of the world, it is rare that flooding calamities have occurred almost simultaneously. Today’s flooding disaster is not as enormous as the 2004 Asian tsunami, but many bloggers have described the recent flooding as the worst that ever happened in their countries.

The January flooding in Sarawak, Malaysia was worse than the disastrous flooding in 2004. In fact, this year’s flooding was said to be the worst in 20 years. The flooding in northern Mindanao in the Philippines was also unprecedented. The damage caused by the flooding was described by local officials as reaching humanitarian crisis proportions.

What caused the floods? Non-stop rains led to the overflowing of rivers and other bodies of water which flooded the low-lying areas of the affected regions. But there may be other factors as well. Many have insisted that the series of floods was also a manmade disaster caused by garbage pollution, poor infrastructure, urban development, and ineffective flood control programs.

Global warming was also cited as another cause of the freak weather patterns in the region. For example, tropical Philippines is experiencing an unusual cold weather spell.

But if the flooding created enormous casualties, why was there no sense of panic in these countries? Maybe the inhabitants of these islands have learned to expect flooding as a constant but unwelcome visitor in their communities. Maybe they were also unaware of the flooding disasters in neighboring countries.

There have been consistent media reports about the flooding in each of the cited countries, but few have mentioned that the flooding disasters were a region-wide calamity. News reports were mainly focused on specific countries. If concerned citizens and government officials were informed about the regional character of the calamity, maybe they would have initiated region-wide programs to address the flooding problem and its aftermath.

That the flooding tragedies occurred mainly in the provinces and rural areas of Malaysia and the Philippines is another possible explanation why few people were concerned about the flooding. Since the political and economic centers of these countries were unaffected by the flooding, there was no reason for the government and media to sound the alarm. The flooding calamities were trivialized. They were not reported as a top national and international concern.

The best sources of information about the flooding are to be found on the Internet. Citizen journalists in the provinces were active in reporting about their experiences while floodwaters were rising in their towns. They uploaded pictures and videos of the impact.

Filipino bloggers have launched a donation drive through Plurk and other social networking sites. Some bloggers in Fiji have criticized the government for its delayed response to the crisis.

Bloggers accused mainstream media of underreporting the flood destruction in the provinces. They couldn’t understand why the media was prioritizing other mundane local issues while many rural communities were under flood waters. Some even questioned the local media’s obsession with Gaza and Barack Obama’s inauguration while their own fellow citizens were suffering in the provinces.

The floodwaters are already gone in the affected areas but the tragedy lingers. It will take some time before local businesses could bounce back. Students couldn’t yet return to school. Roads have to be cleaned, homes have to be repaired, flood canals have to be reconstructed and more temporary evacuation centers are still required. Where would cash-strapped governments find the resources to finance these projects?

Related entries:

Refugee nation
The perfect storm

Drug testing redux

I was a former student leader in the Philippines. Human rights promotion was one of our major advocacies. One particular issue which we campaigned was our opposition to the drug testing proposal of the government. It is unfortunate that the government wants to resurrect this unnecessary measure. Below are some of the statements we published regarding this issue.

Students oppose drug testing in schools (2002)

It is punitive, arbitrary and discriminatory.

This was the comment of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) in reference to the "draconian measures" included in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 signed into law recently by President Arroyo.

Article III section 35 of the new law obliges students in secondary and college levels to undergo drug testing upon recommendation of a faculty or school authority; while section 42 empowers the same school officials in apprehending students suspected of using illegal drugs.

"These provisions may be abused by unpopular school heads and teachers against some of their students whom they may not have a good relationship. The said provisions discriminate against delinquents, emotionally-troubled children, fraternity members, activists, gangsters and other students the school may want to get rid of," warned Raymond Palatino of NUSP.

Palatino also gave an example of working students who often miss classes and look weary, tired and unmotivated inside the classroom can be easily suspected as drug users. Students who slept late because they have to study for their exams and attended classes with drowsy eyes could be accused of being involved with illicit drug trade.

"The law does not give any criteria in judging a student if he/she is a drug user or not. It depends solely on the subjective judgment of school officials and teachers," Palatino added. "Drug testing may lead us to identify a few drug users but there is no doubt we will haul a big number of innocent students who after taking the drug test will have to cope with the stigma of being accused as a drug dependent."

The NUSP is questioning the whole process of requiring students to undergo drug testing saying this is an "infringement of our basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution." The student group will appeal this matter to the Supreme Court.

Palatino also hit back at legislators who promised to omit the said provisions. Palatino said "the Lower House version of the law eliminated drug testing of students and we have the word of Cong. Miguel Zubiri, the principal author of the law, that he will fight for the exclusion of the provisions in the Bicameral meeting. Cong. Zubiri should explain why the law was passed without him giving a fight against the provisions in question."

The NUSP clarifies that students are very eager to join the battle against illegal drug trade and use in the country since it also victimizes their fellow youth "but they are rejecting the regulatory measures proposed by the government which seek to punish the victims instead of running after drug pushers outside the school and preventing drug use in the first place."


Students to question the constitutionality of drug testing before the Supreme Court (2002)

Students opposed to the implementation of drug testing in schools will question Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 before the Supreme Court next week arguing that Section 36 of Article III is an intrusion to the privacy of individuals.

The National Union of Students of the Philippines will also ask the High Court to stop the Department of Education and the Department of Interior and Local Government from commencing with their plan to conduct the drug tests next month until the matter is resolved by the Court.

The student group said undergoing drug test is a "humiliating experience" for the students and can disturb the learning conditions inside schools. Palatino added it may breed discrimination against students, especially those who have issues against the school administration and faculty.

NUSP is worried that the program may be abused by school authorities who intend to use it against their detractors since schools will be given the freedom on how to conduct tests in their campuses.

NUSP president Raymond Palatino is also questioning the effectiveness of drug testing to curb drug use among the youth saying that the United States which started conducting drug tests in schools in 1998 are already planning to abandon the program since it failed to deter drug use among their students.

A recent study published by the respected Journal of School Health in the US last May revealed that drug use in schools which conducted drug tests is the same with schools that did not implement the program. The US National Institute of Health funded research was done by researchers of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

Palatino said the government will only waste precious taxpayers’ money by implementing a program whose scientific validity is being questioned in other countries.

"Scarce education budget must be wisely used. Government resources must be used to buy basic school needs like textbooks, classrooms and facilities and not for the expensive and ineffective drug testing program," Palatino said.

Palatino believes drug testing in schools can be abused by corrupt bureaucrats by signing juicy contracts with monopoly drug testing centers and companies.

The student leader is instead urging Education officials to focus their time and energy in instituting a program that will include drug education in the curriculum of schools.

The NUSP said the government must trust teachers and students that they can deter drug use and can name drug users even without the drug test.

The NUSP clarifies that students are very eager to join the battle against illegal drug trade and use in the country since it also victimizes their fellow youth "but they are rejecting the regulatory measures proposed by the government which seek to punish the victims instead of running after drug pushers outside the school and preventing drug use in the first place."


Position Paper on the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002

We recognize the complexity and gravity of illicit trade and use of dangerous drugs in the country. Despite laws and programs initiated by the government to curb this social menace, drug trafficking continues to be a major problem that victimizes the poor majority, especially the youth and students.

The failure to solve this problem can explain the obsession of the state to impose regulatory and punitive measures without undertaking serious efforts to prevent drug abuse in the first place.

It is in this context that we view the proposed Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 as another measure that seeks to solve the drug problem but fails to look into the heart of the issue.

Since we represent the youth sector, we take note of provisions in the bill which we believe will have adverse effects on our sector.

1. Article III Section 35 requires a student of secondary and tertiary school to undergo drug testing if a member of the faculty recommends him/her to take the test. This provision is punitive, arbitrary and discriminatory. Since no initial evidence is demanded in recommending a student for drug testing, this provision is subject to abuse by teachers who bear a grudge against one of his/her students.

A working student who often miss his/her class and looks weary, tired and unmotivated inside the classroom can be easily suspected as a drug user by an uncritical professor. Students who are bored studying because of poor learning conditions and thus lead an unconventional lifestyle (but not necessarily illegal activities) like wearing tattoos and dyed hairs could be recommended for testing.

We urge our lawmakers to visit our schools and they will realize that this provision will be misused by teachers and school authorities who are fixated with purging the institution with students they normally label as social deviants like delinquents, emotionally-troubled children, fratmen, activists, and gangsters.

2. Section 42 empowers school heads, supervisors, teachers and security officers to apprehend or arrest students found violating the provisions in this bill. Again, this is punitive, arbitrary and discriminatory. What will stop school authorities from using this provision to harass and punish students they deem as nuisance and bad influence in their school like fraternity members and activist organizations? Empowering the armed security officers is dangerous in a hostile school community especially if the school administration is unpopular among students and teachers.

These provisions will not solve the proliferation of illicit drug use in schools. Our efforts should be geared towards ensuring that our youth have access to education and the learning environment must be inspiring and motivating. The best way to banish compelling reasons to use drugs is to reduce poverty and unemployment levels in the country.


The problem with the anti-drug campaign (2004)

We are extremely distressed over the present frenzied campaign of the government against drug trafficking and abuse. While we laud the objective of leading the youth and students away from harm induced by drug addiction, we can’t help but complain that this campaign has led to some unacceptable and deplorable consequences.

From the time the government has named the university belt area in Manila as one of the "hot spots" in its anti-drug war, the academic atmosphere in the country’s university town center was disrupted by the big deployment and presence of police troops in the area. Policemen are dizzyingly visible on every street and nook. They are even manning the entrance gates of schools.

Are we under martial rule? Is this the meaning a strong republic?

Perhaps the government might care to ponder why illegal drugs proliferated in the university belt area despite the constant formidable presence of police in the vicinity, not to mention its proximity to the Western Police District General Headquarters. It would be beneficial to the public if the government would first conduct a morality check and exhaustive re-examination on all police personnel. It would erase doubts that they coddle drug pushers whose illegal products were able to land in the hands of many innocent students.

We are doubting the effectiveness of the iron fist approach of the government to the drug problem because it ensares only the small drug pushers and drug users while drug lords and big suppliers remain free to conduct their illegal business.

The de facto militarization of the university belt does not bode well for the education of the students. It heightens the repressive character of schools located here whose penal-like security measures are anathema to a liberal education. We fear the abnormal enormous police presence in the area compounded by the ever-present security personnel inside schools will soon desensitize and condition the behavior of students to acquiescence and submission. This may be the latent aim of the government in its anti-drug war in the university belt: to control the student population in the place where traditionally the peoples’ protest marches against the government are held.

We suggest two things to solve the drug menace. First, the government must have the political will to arrest, prosecute and punish big time drug lords and their financial and political backers. Second, provide the youth with relevant social services which include quality education, sustained health agenda and a comprehensive sports program to drive them away from the temptation of using illegal drugs.

If we are able to realize these requisites, there will be no more need for the repulsive shame campaign of Mayor Alfredo Lim against suspected small time drug peddlers. At present, the real shame is on the government which deprives its young population of a decent education, life-sustaining activities and a bright future to look forward to.

Related entries:

Get high with drugs
Dirty U-belt

1986 and 2001

The left was ready for battle in 1986. The Martial Law years have strengthened the movement. The left has accumulated significant victories in the fight against the dictatorship. Its leadership in the anti-Marcos coalition was recognized. Its cadres were active among the grassroots. Its high political prestige was felt throughout the country.

The left was ready for battle too in 2001. The Second Great Rectification Movement in the 1990s, which was mainly an education campaign, has revitalized the movement. Activists were theoretically prepared to combat the ideological offensives against the left. The rallying cry was to relive the radical spirit of the First Quarter Storm: learn from the masses, serve the people, launch the cultural revolution. At the end of the 1990s, the rejuvenated left has scored big victories in the political arena. Mass mobilizations were on the rise and the people’s war in the countryside was intensifying.

(Mass mobilizations: Anti-Chacha assembly in 1997, Anti-Visiting Forces Agreement rallies in 1998, Civil liberties rally in 1999, P125 wage hike campaign in 1999. People’s War: In 1992, President Fidel Ramos transferred the anti-insurgency campaign to the jurisdiction of the police. Before the end of his term, Ramos ordered the military to re-assume the leadership in the war against the reds. The government was forced to admit that the insurgency was no longer a police problem. It was again the country’s top security threat)


There are two major criticisms against the left’s participation in the 1986 People Power uprising: Mainstream commentators have accused the left of being absent in Edsa. Its contingent in the rallies was said to be pitiful. Second, the left’s boycott policy was blamed for its failure to grab a more leading role in the governance of the country when Marcos was ousted from power.

The left has already adequately answered these issues. The left was present in Edsa. Its members stayed in Edsa for many days. Left-leaning groups held a rally outside the Palace when Marcos fled the country. Dismissing the left’s participation and leadership in Edsa was a malicious and erroneous accusation.

The boycott error was recognized by the left. But critics have exaggerated this tactical error. They have underestimated other factors which contributed to the weakening of the left. They ignored the maneuvering of the reactionary Aquino government. They overlooked the left’s internal debate over political and organization tactics. The left has pinpointed many other policies which affected the fighting power of the mass base. But critics up to this day have remained obsessive about the left’s boycott error.

If there was no boycott policy, could the left have succeeded in wrestling the leadership in government? Leaders of the left have clarified that the strength of the revolutionary movement at that time was not sufficient enough to be able to defeat the reactionary state machinery. Leftists who abandoned the movement have criticized their ex-comrades for rejecting their proposals to adopt the political practices of other countries. The reply of the movement was brief but direct: these models were not applicable to Philippine conditions. The movement reminded them that conducting a revolution is not mere wishful thinking. Besides, they have blatantly ignored that the political strategies of the Philippine revolutionary movement could be presented as original contributions to Marxist theory.

Again, mainstream commentators attempted to downplay the role of the left in the 2001 People Power uprising. They identified Arroyo’s oath-taking in Edsa as the most crucial episode in the historic event. They disregarded the left-initiated march to Mendiola from Edsa. Estrada left Malacanang when it was shown on TV screens that thousands of people have began marching towards the Palace. Another spin was to describe Edsa as a texters’ revolt. The aim was to emphasize the spontaneous character of the uprising and ignore the obvious organized strength of the left in the rallies.

But they couldn’t cite a flaw in the left’s united front work. The left was a leading voice in the broad united formation against the Estrada government. Its role was recognized by all political forces. When the generals defected, the leaders who responded in Edsa were Joey Lina, Dinky Soliman, and Satur Ocampo. The nationwide popularity of the left was validated when Bayan Muna topped the partylist polls in 2001.

Ex-leftists (many became Estrada’s Cabinet members and civil society rackeeters) have denounced the movement’s bureaucratized practices for its failure to feel the pulse of the masses in 1986. According to them, these Stalinist/undemocratic practices prevented the left from sensing the irrationality/unpopularity of the boycott policy. Thus, the movement failed to exercise creative leadership in mobilizing the grassroots. The same accusation resurfaced in 2001 when the left was criticized for its failure to attract Estrada’s masa supporters in Edsa Tres.

The left has always recognized the importance of being more aggressive in organizing the masses. The aim of the progressive forces has always been to reach out the masa. Edsa Tres was a wake-up call for the left that there were bigger tasks ahead in mobilizing the majority of the unorganized and unreached poor. The left accepted the challenge. Meanwhile, the ex-leftist critics were more satisfied in ill-judging the movement while refusing to recognize the overall success of the left in articulating the voices of the oppressed and organizing the poor and exploited in society. Their viewpoints were also uncritical. They overestimated the supposed weakness of the left’s tactics while ignoring the dynamics of class struggle and hegemony in a semi-feudal society like the Philippines; and they failed to highlight the divisive and violent maneuvering of the reactionary classes.


There were activists in the 1980s who identified the anti-Marcos campaign as the principal revolutionary task of the movement. They expected the victory of the revolution once Marcos was removed from power. When Aquino replaced Marcos instead of barangay soviets, they vented their disappointment by ridiculing the supposed dogmatism of the left.

The rectification movement clarified that ousting presidents is not synonymous with national liberation. Through great political and collective actions like the 1986 People Power, progressive forces are able to accumulate strength and the masses learn to trust their collective and class power. The exploitative system weakens every time a reactionary leader is ousted.

The left was already united on these principles when a new People Power uprising erupted in 2001. There was no illusion among the ranks of activists that a socialist government would replace Estrada. The priority of the left at that time was to initiate discussion on this Leninist formulation:

“For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way.”

A so-called democratic space offered by Aquino in 1986 paved the way for the legal left to work for reforms within the ruling system. Political detainees were released and NGOs proliferated. Some of the cadres were enamored by this line of work. They soon abandoned the mass movement by opting to become full time lobbyists, office-based activists and racketeers. Some of them became rabid anti-communists who made a living by echoing the government propaganda against the left.

There was a semblance of democratic space too in 2001. Peace talks were revived between government and rebel forces. The left was allowed to participate in the partylist elections. Reactionary elements expected the legal left to ditch the parliament of the streets; while the underground left was persuaded to give up their armed struggle. The ruling class has misperceived its enemy. The left in 2001 was more consolidated than in previous years. It has recently concluded a successful education campaign (that lasted for several years) which affirmed the need for a national democratic revolution. The left has repudiated reformism and opportunism. It vowed to prioritize street politics and grassroots organizing over parliamentary work.

In 1986 many Filipinos thought they pioneered the launching of nonviolent political movements in the world. They believed the 1986 People Power inspired the peaceful uprisings in other countries, especially in Eastern Europe. The global symbol of this era was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Since communism was discredited around the world, the ruling class in the Philippines predicted the natural death (self-destruction) of the local insurgency. The anti-subversion law was repealed, amnesty was given to rebel returnees, and police handled the anti-insurgency campaign. They didn’t anticipate the left’s rectification movement.

In 2001 many Filipinos hoped the second People Power would again inspire similar movements in the world. They/We were wrong. The second People Power was barely noticed because a few months after the event, 9/11 took place. The politics of people power was displaced by the War on Terror campaign. The ever pragmatic Gloria Arroyo began to dissociate her government from the unreliable civil society. The president has moved further to the right. The military establishment has successfully convinced Arroyo to use the popular anti-terror campaign to defeat the reds. The ideology and tactics of the War on Terror were adopted by the state. This led to the killings of leftist activists in the legal arena. Human rights violations worsened in the country as the military became more aggressive and brutal in eliminating the suspected communist terrorists and their sympathizers.

The human rights atrocities committed by the government against the left after 2001 should be cited as proof that the left, even if it was fully integrated in the broad united front of forces opposing a reactionary regime, will always be targeted for liquidation by the reactionary and fascist elements of the state. Even if there was no boycott policy in 1986, the reactionary state would still have found various means, including violent tactics, to isolate the radical left in the political arena.

In many ways, 2001 was the left’s attempt to correct its blunders in 1986. The left was unconsciously trying to prove that its brand of radical politics was inclusive and flexible. More importantly, it wanted to participate in a broad People Power movement without losing sight of its revolutionary vision. The left was humiliated in 1986; there was a chance to redeem its bruised ego in 2001. The left became a divided movement after 1986; there was an opportunity to reverse this trend in 2001. It seems that for the left there was only one very long Edsa revolution between 1986 and 2001.

Related entries:

Bundok, dagat, pulitika
Committed generations
Obama effect
Longest-running insurgency in Asia
Seven years

“Let Gaza Live”

Senior citizen sets on fire a Singapore lawmaker and Cambodia: Liberation Day or Invasion Day? – posts written for Global Voices

January 10, 2009 – More than 5,000 protesters marched in the streets of San Francisco, California to condemn Israel’s military occupation of Palestine lands and to show solidarity for the struggling citizens of Gaza. The march was part of a nationwide protest in the United States. Protest actions were registered in 50 other American cities; the biggest crowd was in Washington.

The memorable slogans were the following:

Let Gaza Live
No War for Empire
Occupation is the crime
Genocide is not justice
From the rivers to the sea, Palestine will be free
We are all Gaza

Jewish organizations participated in the rally as well. They chanted these slogans:

Occupation and subjugation, not in our name
Siege and starvation, not in our name
We stand with humanity

The march was peaceful, lively, and well-organized. The participants included many non-political members of the community. I met several rallyists who learned about the activity through Facebook. It is regrettable that mainstream media did not give an accurate figure of the crowd. In fact a picket was conducted in front of a newspaper office to deplore the corporate media’s bias against the protests. (Can we do that in front of Inquirer, ABS-CBN and GMA-7?)

The rally’s main organizer announced that the next major assembly will be on March – in time for the 6th anniversary of the brutal US-led invasion of Iraq. The emcee asked for donations which will be used to pay for the cost of staging the rally. The organizers spent $15,000 during that day (convert it into pesos). There were collection drums (nasanay tayo sa collection boxes) around the public plaza. Books, T-shirts, pins, newspapers were sold in various tents.

Filipino groups led by Anakbayan-East Bay were present in the rally. Rhonda Ramiro of Bayan-USA represented the Filipino community in the program proper. Ramiro echoed the support of the Filipinos to the growing international demand for an immediate cessation of Israel offensives in Gaza. She compared the massacre in Palestine to the intense militarization in Philippine cities and provinces. She also criticized the shameful support given by the US government to Israel.

In the program many speakers denounced imperialism and the actions of the ruling class. They mentioned the military-industrial complex. A politician presented an alternative policy framework to promote peace in the Middle East. Students demanded the withdrawal of US military aid for Israel. A scholar spoke about two conflicting narratives: the narrative of those in power; and the narrative of the oppressed. There were protest poems, songs, rituals, and effigies (pero hindi sinunog). Hindi ata kinanta ang International.

Gaza is alive. Our struggle is Gaza. We are all Gaza. Imperyalismo ibagsak!

Check the album. Click here and here for more pictures. 

Related entries:

Elmer Labog
Prop 8
Immigration in USA
Saddam and Gloria

Labanan sa tubigan

Ayon kay Mic Camba, “Ang Filipinas ay may kulturang tubig.” Eto ang kanyang paliwanag:

“Kung babalikan ang kasaysayan ng bansa, ang Barangay ay isang malaking barko na binubuo na madaming pamilya / komunidad. Maging sa Manunggul Jar, ang tapayan na pinaglalagyan ng mga buto ng patay noong sinaunang panahon, ay kakikitaan ng bangka sa takip nito (pinaniniwalaan na isang mahabang paglalakbay ang kamatayan). Ang konsepto ng Vanua sa mga Ivatan (ng Batanes) ay paggawa ng isang port / pier, may kaugnayan muli sa tubig. Idagdag pa ang sari-saring pangalan ng bayan at probinsya ng bansa na nakabatay rin sa tubig. Halimbawa: Tagalog = Taga-ilog, Pampanga = Pampang, Pasig = beach (pansinin ang salitang ugat ng dalampasigan).”

Tanyag sa buong mundo ang mga marinong Pilipino, noon at lalo na ngayon. Mainam daw ang kasanayan ng ating mga marino. Hindi ito nakapagtataka dahil arkipelago ang Pilipinas. Natural lamang ang paglalayag sa tubig.

Pero bihirang pag-usapan ang kulturang tubig sa bansa. Madalas ang talakayan tungkol sa tubig ay may kinalaman sa kalikasan, kabuhayan, at mga sakuna. Hindi madalas maugnay ang tubig sa kasaysayan at pulitikal na praktika. Bakit kaya?

Dahil umaapaw ang tubig sa ating paligid, hindi napapansin ng marami ang papel nito sa ating mga komunidad. Ito ay constant at karaniwan sa ating buhay. Ito ay nariyan lamang – sa ilalim ng lupa, sa taas ng bundok, sa katabing probinsiya, sa kabilang bahagi ng pulo. Ikumpara ang tubig sa langis: Ang huli na bihirang matagpuan sa bansa ay palaging tema ng mga pulitikal na diskusyon.

Pero kahit hindi tampok na tampok ang kulturang tubig sa mga usapan, batid ng mga Pilipino ang kahulugan nito. Nasa likod ito ng ating diwa. Nasa bokabularyo natin ang tubig.

Hindi lamang usapin sa lupa at pag-aari sa lupa ang mitsa ng mga pag-aalsa sa kasaysayan ng bansa. May kinalaman din ang sigalot sa tubig: pag-angkin ng iilan sa baybaying dagat, pagkontrol sa agos ng tubig, pagharang sa irigasyon, pagwasak sa mga palaisdaan, pagsalaula sa katubigan.

Ang pyudal na pagsasamantala sa lipunan ay hindi lamang nakabatay sa pagnanakaw ng lupa; simbolo rin ng pyudal na dominasyon ang kapangyarihang ipagkait sa marami ang biyaya ng tubig. Magkaugnay ang tubig at lupa. Ang pagkamkam sa mga yamang ito ng iilan ang nagtulak sa marami na lumaban.

Mayaman ang karanasan ng mga Pilipino sa paglulunsad ng mga rebolusyon. Naging larangan ng paghihimagsik ang bundok, patag, at katubigan. Pero hindi buo ang naratibo ng paglaban sa katubigan. Hindi matingkad ang kasaysayan ng pakikidigmang katubigan sa bansa.


Mahusay na ginamit ng mga Moro ang tubig upang talunin ang mga dayuhang mananakop. Pinagharian nila ang katubigan sa paligid ng Mindanao. Natumbok nila ang pinakamabilis na direksiyon upang lumikas (patungong Brunei) kung sakaling manaig ang kaaway. Pinalubog nila ang mas malalaking barko ng kaaway. Inatake rin nila ang nakakalat na kampo ng mga Kastila sa Visayas at ilang bahagi ng Luzon. Kinilala silang mga pirata imbes na mga mandirigmang nais lamang ipagtanggol ang kanilang sinasakupan. Hanggang ngayo’y nanatili ang taguri sa Moro bilang mga pirata/terorista sa dagat.

Isang halimbawa lamang ito ng pakikidigma sa katubigan. Interesado akong lumikom pa ng mga datos hinggil sa paksang ito. Paano ginamit ang tubig upang hamunin ang kapangyarihan ng mga Kastila sa ibang rehiyon, lalo na sa Visayas? Ano ang papel ng tubig sa paghihimagsik sa Luzon: May matingkad bang mga labanan sa Manila Bay (maliban sa pekeng digmaan ng Estados Unidos at Espanya noong 1898)? Mayroon bang mga lihim at tampok na tunggalian sa Ilog Pasig at Lawa ng Laguna?

Malaki ang potensiyal ng pakikidigmang katubigan sa isang arkipelago. May tiyak itong lugar sa teorya ng digmang bayan sa kasalukuyan. Dapat lamanin ng teorya kung anong mga katubigan ang pwedeng “languyin” ng mga gerilya upang maabot ang mas maraming larangan; tukuyin ang mga katubigang pwedeng paglunsaran ng mga opensiba; alamin ang mga katubigang may stratehikong papel upang mahatak, mahati, mapahina ang pwersa ng kaaway. Saan malakas at mahina ang kaaway? Paano iipunin ang mga kagamitang pandigma sa tubig? Paano pagdudugtungin ang mga tubig sa buong arkipelago? Paano pag-uugnayin ang mga sonang gerilya sa tubig?


Hindi ko kayang sagutin ang mga tanong na ito. Pero pwedeng magbalangkas ng panukala kung paano magagamit ang katubigan upang higit na palakasin ang mga pagkilos ng legal na kilusang masa sa Mega Manila.

Sa silangan ng Mega Manila ay matatagpuan ang kabundukan ng Sierra Madre. Nandito ang probinsiya ng Rizal. Nasa hilaga ng rehiyon ang Bulacan at Pampanga. Nasa timog ang Laguna at Cavite. May mahigpit na kontrol ang estado sa lahat ng mga espasyong ito. Naperpekto na ng mga alagad ng Estado ang taktika kung paano hahadlangan ang mga pwersang nais sumugod sa Maynila. May naipon na silang karanasan kung paano bibiguin ang mga magrarali at magkukudeta. Halimbawa: May mga checkpoint sa North at South Expressway, Fairview/Bulacan, Coastal Road hanggang Tagaytay, Tanay at Montalban sa Rizal; at naging permanente na ang kapkapan at inspeksiyon ng mga pulis/militar sa mga terminal ng bus.

May mga mapanlikhang paraan kung paano makakalusot sa legal na barikada ng Estado. Pero hindi ito epektibo sa lahat ng panahon at mangilan-ngilan lamang ang makakagawa nito. Kailangang humanap ng ibang daan papasok ng siyudad.

Kung pahirapan ang daang lupa, may isang alternatibo: daang tubig. Ang Mega Manila ay napapaligiran ng tubig. Nariyan ang Manila Bay, Laguna Lake at Pasig River. Tingan sa google map ang posisyon ng mga katubigang ito at ang lapit ng mga ito sa Mega Manila (pwede ngang idagdag kung tutuusin ang Taal Lake).

Pinakamahalaga ang Manila Bay. Mula sa Manila Bay ay pwedeng magbangka papuntang Cavite sa Timog; at Bulacan, Bataan at Pampanga sa Hilaga. Para sa mga nakatira sa Metro Manila, ang imahen nila ng Manila Bay ay yung katubigang nasa harap lamang ng Roxas Boulevard, Coastal Road at Pier. Dahil ang tingin ng mga tao ay paloob at papasok ng siyudad, bihirang makita ang palabas na tanawin. Napakalawak ng Manila Bay. Sakop nito ang mga karatig na probinsiya. Pwede itong gamitin ng mga nasa probinsiya papasok ng siyudad. Ginawa na ito ng mga aktibisdang mangingisda mula Bacoor papuntang Senado sa Pasay. Nang tinalo ng mga Kastila ang mga rajah ng Maynila, lumikas ang huli papuntang Pampanga sa pamamagitan ng Manila Bay.

Matagal ng inabandona ng marami ang Pasig River. Pero maganda ang lokasyon nito. Ang haba nito ay isang adbantahe para makapaglakbay ang mga tao sa sentro ng Maynila. Ang likod ng Malakanyang ay Pasig River (Si Erap ay tumakas ng Palasyo sa pamamagitan ng ilog). Maraming komunidad ang nakatayo sa gilid ng ilog. Karamihan ng mga nakatira rito ay mga mahihirap at manggagawa na nagtatrabaho sa mga pabrikang matatagpuan din sa tabi ng ilog. Malaking potensiyal sa pag-oorganisa at pagpapakilos ng masa.

Mula sa mga nagtataasang gusali sa Ortigas at Fort ay tanaw na ang Laguna Lake. Hindi na ito espasyo ng probinsiyal. Nasa likod lang ito ng bakuran ng Mega Manila. Higit na malaki ang lawa kaysa sa buong Metro Manila. Pero hindi nakikita ng mga tao ang pulitikal at ekonomikong papel ng katubigang ito. Mula Laguna Lake ay maaaring tumbukin ang Cavite, Rizal, timog at silangang bahagi ng Metro Manila. Pwedeng sumugod ang mga ralyista mula timog katagalugan sa pamamagitan ng lawa.

Posibleng marating ang Maynila ng mga nagbangka sa Laguna Lake. Tagusan ang lawa hanggang Pasig River. Nasubukan ko na ito. Mula Binangonan ay nagbangka kami papuntang Pasig. Pagdating sa Pasig River ay pwedeng dumiretso sa Maynila. Ang mga nagbangka sa Manila Bay ay pwede ring pumasok sa Pasig River. Magkakaugnay ang mga katubigang ito. Pwedeng magsalubong ang mga bangka malapit sa Malakanyang. Tiyak masosorpresa ang mga awtoridad.

Madumi’t mabaho – imbakan na ng basura ang Manila Bay, Pasig River at Laguna Lake. Mga patay na katubigan. Pwes, ito ay buhayin. Gawin itong mahiwaga, mapanganib para sa mga may hawak ng kapangyarihan. Angkinin ito ng lubusan ng mga inaapi.


Una at huli, uri, uri, uri ang mapagpasya. Dapat unahin ang pag-aanalisa at paghubog sa galaw ng mga puwersa sa lipunan. Tama. Samantala, sa mga aktuwal na labanan, may papel ang kaalaman at matalinong paggamit ng heograpiya.

Aanhin pa ang mga magagaling na marino kung alipin lang sila ng monopolyo kapital. Hanggang kailan mananatiling pasibo ang kulturang tubig ng mga Pilipino? Papayag ba ang mga progresibo na Kapital lamang ang umaangkin ng katubigan? Na ang silbi ng huli sa siyudad ay halos wala kundi maging tambakan ng basura?

Kubkubin ang Maynila mula sa kabundukan at katubigan.

Related entries:

Bundok, dagat, pulitika
Peasant revolts
Imperial Manila
Street tactics

The politics of oil, rice and milk

Malaysia: Praise for the mysterious masked man, Philippines: Phenomenal video protests, and Malaysia: Campaign to boycott US goods – posts written for Global Voices.

The year 2008 will be remembered in the future for two world-changing events: U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s electoral victory and the Wall Street crash. The year was also memorable because many people became aware of global problems when things such as oil, rice and milk surprisingly and suddenly attained immense political value.

In many parts of the world, especially in Asia, the problematic economy was indicated by the rising price of rice, which is the staple food of most Asians. Take rice off the table and it could spark uprisings. A “rice revolution” erupted in Bangladesh when workers protested against skyrocketing food prices.

The rice price crisis triggered widespread panic in both rich and poor countries in Asia. To prevent social unrest, many governments vowed to review their agricultural trade policies and land reform programs.

Then and now, oil remains a precious and dangerous political commodity whose price fluctuations have tremendously impacted the stability of big and small economies. Last year, fluctuating oil prices surprised everybody from a record high of almost US$150 per barrel in July to a low of US$50 in December.

Price speculation was clearly behind the erratic behavior of the oil distribution market. High oil prices, however, produced some positive results. Governments are now more aggressive in tapping alternative energy sources, consumers have modified their lifestyles to reduce dependence on oil, and oil companies have promised more transparency in their financial transactions.

Milk became a symbol of infant deaths last year when several China-made milk products were found contaminated with traces of the harmful chemical melamine.

Recently, the guilty milk companies in China issued statements of apology for producing tainted goods. But the damage had been done already with thousands of babies afflicted with kidney and urinary ailments after drinking the tainted milk. The scandal also affected China’s export industry.

If there was a positive consequence to the milk scare, it was increased consumer awareness of food safety issues. Besides milk, many Chinese food products are now subject to stricter regulations in many countries. Several health groups also used the issue to prove that breast milk is superior to infant formula milk products.

In the United States, the subprime mortgage woes resulted in the foreclosure of properties. Thousands of Americans lost their homes, unable to pay their mortgages. The debacle in the real estate sector hit financial institutions and heavy losses triggered a global crisis.

If there was something to be proud of last year, it was the electoral victory of Barack Obama. A majority of Americans, captivated by Obama’s promise of change, voted in his support. His historic victory has since inspired many young people in other countries to believe that change can also happen in their lifetime. The old phrase, “When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold,” could be given a new positive meaning. When Americans voted for Obama, the rest of the world applauded.

Last year, the Olympic Torch and the shoes of Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi became the two most important symbols of protest. Popular social networking website Facebook also deserves a special mention for being a vehicle for various protest campaigns. Egypt’s general strike last April was announced through Facebook.

The Olympic Torch relay around the world was delayed several times because of numerous protest actions. Activists disrupted the torch relays to highlight China’s poor human rights record. Many groups used creative and daring tactics during the torch relay parades to draw the attention of people to atrocities committed by the Chinese government.

The Iraqi journalist who threw a pair of shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad is a hero to many Arabs. He has since also earned the admiration of many activists around the world. The shoe throwing was significant as it symbolized the anger of many people against the foreign policies of Bush.

The politicized objects of the past year – rice, oil, milk, the election ballot, the Olympic Torch and shoes – gave people a new understanding of the problems, issues and events in the world. The future seemed bleak when rice and oil prices rose, milk was tainted and homes confiscated by banks. Hope came in the form of votes and frustration was expressed by throwing shoes.

The year 2009 has not begun well. The situation in Gaza is a warning that killing machines and other objects of mass destruction will probably dominate the world this year.

Related entries:

2008 Southeast Asia
The shoe, the shoe
Rice revolution

The committed generations

Those born in the 1920s became the combatants and victims of the Second World War. Both the rich and poor left their families in order to fight the Japanese army. The arrival of the war gave them no option. The sudden Japanese invasion overwhelmed everybody, including the American masters. There was little or no time to reflect; young Filipinos were compelled to act. They had to abandon their homes, join the army, and sacrifice their lives. Many of them died in Bataan and Capas. The war produced countless widows, orphans, and an altered breed of traumatized young Filipinos. Later, these survivors would be known as war veterans: the desperate individuals seeking recognition and pension from the United States government. They were the Filipino youth of the war years: The generation which served the country by defending the country’s freedom; they who suffered the brutalities of an insane war; they who witnessed the humbling of mighty America; they who saw how the beautiful city of Manila was ransacked by Japanese and American forces.

Agatha Christie once wrote: “The war years do not seem like real years…They were a nightmare in which reality stopped.” Reality also stopped for many Filipinos who survived the war. It would take years, even decades, before many of them could write and talk about their war experience. Unable to exorcise the horrors of war, the young survivors turned their attention to the urgent task of physically rebuilding the country. The youth kept themselves busy in order to overcome the war trauma.

Those born in the 1930s also suffered during the war. They were only children during the war. The lucky ones died; the unfortunate survivors became orphans. They lost many of their friends. The war forced them to mature quickly. They were given adult tasks during the reconstruction years. Together with the 1920s generation, they helped in rebuilding the country. They became the Filipino youth whose historical task was to create a new Philippines. They were young adults when the country gained formal independence in 1946. They were the first generation which tasted the bittersweet fruit of freedom; the young citizens of an independent Philippines. But the aftermath of war dampened the celebration. The youth’s first impulse was to reconstruct the country. Their concern was the present, not the future: To forget the traumatic episodes of the past; and focus on reviving the shattered cities of the present.

Later, political and social institutions were re-established in the infant republic. The 1930s generation participated in the nation-building process in the 1950s. The youth were active in politics: they joined political parties, supported populist politicians (Magsaysay), and even flirted with radical organizations (most notably, the old Communist Party). They became the initial followers of the nationalist crusade launched by Senator Claro M. Recto.

Those born in the 1940s became the youth activists of the 1960s. They ridiculed the optimism of the uneventful 1950s. The youth opposed the Vietnam War. They condemned the government’s silence towards the U.S. invasion of Vietnam. Why? Because they hated America? Unlikely. They knew that armed intervention by foreign countries would always end in tragedy. Innocent civilians would suffer. Human casualties would be huge. They didn’t want another war. They knew about the pain suffered by their parents – their parents and relatives who survived the Second World War.

The youth activists of the 1960s praised Recto’s nationalist teachings. They were serious students of Philippine history. They refused to limit their idealism inside the campuses. They went to the grassroots. They linked up with trade unions and peasant groups, especially those which have connections with the old Communist Party. They identified the three ills that plague society: imperialism, bureaucrat capitalism and feudalism. They aimed to continue the unfinished revolution of 1896 by launching a national democratic revolution with a socialist perspective. They were the young people who at the end of the 1960s would re-establish the Communist Party.

The 1960s was a turbulent period. Young people were dissatisfied with the kind of Philippine society that evolved after the war. They pointed out the disparity of what the elders were preaching about the supposed progress in the country to the everyday poverty in the Philippines. They blamed old politicians for the inequality, poverty, and injustice which were prevalent in society. They demanded reforms, they mobilized in the thousands to push for change – in short they wanted a revolution.

Those born in the 1950s would participate in the historic First Quarter Storm of the early 1970s. They too believed in the necessity of a revolution. They saw themselves as part of an International radical movement. They studied the works of nationalist historians. They were inspired by the cultural revolution in China, the anti-war movement in Europe and America, and the national liberation struggles in different parts of the Third World. They supported the rising national democratic movement. They didn’t merely demand the removal of President Ferdinand Marcos; they wanted a system change.

Martial Law was the government’s response to quell the rebellion. But it didn’t frighten the First Quarter Stormers. Thousands of young activists joined the underground resistance movement. Many of them were the best and brightest of their generation. Both the rich and poor went to the hills to participate in the armed struggle. They were willing to risk their lives to serve the people, the peasants, the proletariat, the masses. They became the outstanding modern martyrs of the country. Many of them were children of the generation which survived the Second World War.

Despite the terror tactics of the Marcos regime, the young guerillas persevered in their revolutionary work. Their energy, creativity, idealism, and fighting will were among the factors which sustained the anti-Marcos movement. Their confidence in the masses and adherence to organizational discipline saved the newly established communist movement from being destroyed by the superior military power of the reactionary government.

The First Quarter Stormers were young Filipinos who defied the dictator. They were not afraid of Marcos and martial law. They were not afraid to be called revolutionaries.

Those born in the 1960s were the youth who joined the 1986 People Power uprising. They were part of the anti-Marcos struggle. Many became leftist activists. The left was the most consistent and credible opposition group during the Marcos years.

Students of this generation fought for the restoration of their rights: the right to organize, freedom of expression and academic freedom. The Democratic Reform Movement during the early 1980s became widespread in schools across the country. Student protests forced the military to leave the campuses.

The campaign to oust Marcos became stronger after the assassination of opposition figure Senator Ninoy Aquino in 1983. Ninoy’s death inspired more young people to join the opposition. Youth rallyists were able to march towards Mendiola, the first time since Martial Law was declared in 1972. They volunteered during the 1986 snap elections to protect Cory Aquino’s votes. They were among the first to gather in EDSA. They marched near Malacanang when Marcos left the palace.

The school age years of this generation coincided with the ascendancy of the Marcos dictatorship. They knew only one president: Marcos. They knew only one enemy: Marcos. There was only one evil: Marcos. If the system did not work, it was because of corrupt and despotic leaders like Marcos. Marcos was the symbol of the system. There were those who believed that the ouster of Marcos would lead to substantial changes in the system.

After the downfall of Marcos, young activists continued to fight for system change. Many stayed with the left. There were also activists who tested the so-called democratic space offered by the new government. They created NGOs to lobby for reforms in various government agencies. Some of them soon rejected the mass movement and people’s war to embrace reformism. Their radical idealism was converted into moderate activism.

Marcos left an impoverished nation. Rebuilding a new society seemed very difficult. The youth were euphoric that Marcos was gone but they found the challenge of nation-building too complicated and disappointing. The bureaucracy has low credibility, the economy was too weak, and social institutions were damaged. It didn’t help that the new government was soon exposed as another puppet of local and foreign oligarchs. The youth became disillusioned. Suddenly, working and migrating abroad became an attractive option. And so they left in droves.

Those born in the 1970s up to the early 1980s belong to the EDSA Dos generation. My generation. Our generation. Growing up was difficult because there was no evil regime whom we could fight. Marcos was already ousted and he soon died in another country. Wars and dictators were gone (we soon learned they only assumed different names and appearances). Where would we channel our excess emotions, energies and desires?

Politics was a turn-off. Joining the government was not popular – we didn’t want to be associated with dirty politicians and inefficient public officials. The left was in disarray. Both the left and right were unappealing.

Our parents were supposed to teach us about the anti-Marcos struggle. But many of them have already left the country as Overseas Contract Workers. Our informal education was provided by TV and video games (later the internet).

Since grade school, we were taught to support the nation-building process. Somehow, many were convinced by the ideology that being productive and taxpaying citizens were the minimum duties of a responsible Filipino. That being a better person contributes to the welfare of society. And so we shunned collective actions and radical politics. We abandoned politics to the professionals. We aspired to become the glorified and rich individuals of our communities. We could also work in other countries and at the same time send remittances back home.

Then we became known as Generation X, the lost generation, the apathetic youth. We were ridiculed by the elders for our apparent lack of social responsibility.

What was our reply to this criticism? We organized numerous politically-correct campaigns. We became involved with charities, volunteer groups, and fundraising dinners for different causes. Students were encouraged by school administrators to become idealists by sending letters to politicians and by building houses for the poor. There were various cute little ways to assuage our social guilt. The reactionary State could tolerate these petty subversive acts.

Then came Joseph Estrada. He was no Marcos but he could be compared to the evil one. He was corrupt, alcoholic, womanizer, gambler, college dropout, fascist, and he wanted to bury Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Estrada deserved to be ousted. He was our Marcos.

Cory was too moral; Ramos was an effective diplomat who he hid his evil pangs very well; but Erap was, well, very Erap. He was laughable, foolish. We were embarrassed that he was the president of the Republic.

And so we participated in the movement to oust Erap. Edsa Dos was our answer to FQS and People Power. It was our heroic attempt to prove that we were not apathetic; that we were also patriotic citizens of the country; that we could also organize direct political actions which could topple an unpopular government.

There was an available formula for this kind of political participation. We borrowed elements of the agitprop tactics of the 1970s, the street politics of the early 1980s and the 1986 People Power script. We merged them with not-so-grim-and-determined slogans, new age outdoor rallies, and stylish and outlandish protest acts. We even brought out our cool gadgets (cell phones). The peaceful uprising was staged with parental and religious consent and it was broadcasted by the sympathetic media. Finally, we were no longer the silent generation.

But the celebration was short lived. A monster came out of the closet; Gloria Arroyo spoiled the party. She emerged as the genuine political reincarnation of Marcos, not Erap. Our mistake was to overlook Arroyo’s nefarious class character. We failed to present a more revolutionary agenda and alternative. We mechanically copied the politics of EDSA; including its major defects.

We tried to correct our blunder through the Magdalo, 2004 elections, Hello Garci protests, and impeachment attempts. But Arroyo was a formidable enemy. She was/is more ruthless/clever than Marcos.

Those born in the mid-1980s up to the early 1990s are the new breed of dissenters. They are our new hope. They must condemn our shortcomings. They should mock our virtual rallies. They should radicalize our political practices. They should combine/imbibe the survival instinct of the 20s and 30s generation, the militant idealism of the 40s generation, the revolutionary romanticism of First Quarter Stormers, the cosmopolitan radicalism of the 60s generation, and our tenacious optimism.

Meanwhile, the oldies must continue to fight. The spark is out there.

Related entries:

Youth activism
Student activism
Conjugal dictators

Sartre. Cuba.

Links: The blog of the British ambassador to Vietnam. Time for action and a new paradigm to deal with Indonesia’s poverty. Funny toilets in Thailand. How skin colors are viewed in Cambodian society.

I have a confession. I didn’t read Jean-Paul Sartre in college. I only learned about his philosophical and literary works through other authors. I even thought he was the author of The Plague. Nakakahiya, di ba?

Last November I was able to read two books by Sartre: The Wall (collection of short stories) and Sartre on Cuba.

Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the success of the Cuban revolution, I will highlight Sartre’s book on Cuba.

The book is not simply about Sartre’s views on the Cuban revolution. The book sheds more light on its author than its subject. At the height of the Cold War, the famous existentialist philosopher visited Cuba to witness the new government, its leaders, and its peoples. His presence inside communist Cuba was a political statement. That he published a book about the young revolution was further proof of his admiration for the revolutionaries who led the uprising in Cuba.

The book includes Sartre’s analysis of Cuban society – its backwardness before the revolution, its political and economic conditions which made revolution necessary, and its reactions to the radical programs of the new government.

Sartre said that “To discover the truth of this capital (Havana), I would have to see things upside down.” And what did he learn?

That Cuba is an “archipelago of fire against the black glass of the sea.” That the “insane protuberances” (skycrapers) of Havana are false symbols of wealth. That Cuba became a “diabetic island” when the American masters imposed the planting of a single crop (cane) on the island.

By studying Cuba, Sartre was able to give a very apt description of neocolonialism…

“I had misunderstood everything. What I took to be signs of wealth were, in fact, signs of dependence and poverty. At each ringing of the telephone, at each twinkling of a neon, a small piece of a dollar left the island and formed, on the American continent, a whole dollar with the other pieces which were waiting for it.”

and the meaning of revolution:

“Revolution is a strong medicine. A society breaks its bones with hammer blows, demolishes its structures, overthrows its institutions, transforms the regime of property and redistributes its wealth, orients its production along other principles, attempts to increase its rate of growth as rapidly as possible, and, in the very moment of most radical destruction, seeks to reconstruct, to give itself by bone grafts a new skeleton. The remedy is extreme; and is often necessary to impose it by violence.”

Sartre was impressed by the youthfulness/idealism of Cuba’s leaders. The work ethics of the new leaders surprised him (they were sleeping in their offices, their meetings could last till midnight). How did Sartre describe the young Fidel Castro?

“He is at once the island, the men, the livestock, the plants, and the land, and a particular islander. In this individual the national situations will always be passionately lived, in fury or in pleasure.”

The U.S. was and still is the Cuban revolution’s principal enemy:

“If the U.S. didn’t exist, the Cuban revolution would perhaps invent it. It is the U.S. which preserves Cuba’s freshness and originality.”

Sartre explained the futility of trying to defeat the revolution:

“By trying to crush the revolution, the enemy allowed it convert itself into what it was…a movement – which began in the form of a putsch – saw its objectives disappear one after another, each time discovering new objectives, more popular and more profound; in a word more revolutionary.”

Summing up what he learned from the Cuban revolution, Sartre affirmed the capacity of man to change the conditions of his life:

“Man is capable of changing the conditions of his life…he can do it only if he stops thinking of himself and stops loving himself as a separate individual who is proud of his differences and perfectly important, so that he may transform himself into the people, and through the people into a free person in the midst of all the rest.”

Sartre asked Castro what is the meaning of a professional revolutionary. Castro’s reply: “It means I can’t stand injustice.”

We can’t stand injustice. Let’s become professional revolutionaries.

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