Monthly Archives: February 2009

Italian Films: Bread and Tulips / Everybody’s Fine

Bread and Tulips

Storyline: When Rosalba missed her tour bus, she decided to take a brief vacation in Venice. She met Fernando, a nice but lonely and suicidal waiter who kindly provided a room for her. She also got a job at a flower shop. Away from household duties and surrounded by amiable persons, Rosalba is enjoying her stay in Venice. She is falling in love too with Fernando. Meanwhile, a plumber-detective was sent by her unfaithful husband to track her down in Venice. When Rosalba learned that one of her children is on drugs, she went home immediately to her family. Fernando followed Rosalba to convince her to return to Venice.

Interpretation: Early in the film, Rosalba’s husband was talking about the lithium ion battery of his new mobile phone. He said the phone can be used for 96 hours without recharging the battery. But throughout the film, this powerful gadget with lithium ion battery was always disrupting communication. It was only when the plumber-detective closed his phone that he was able to express his real emotions to others.

The film is about the failure of individuals to communicate with fellow human beings. This inability to communicate could prove fatal. According to Rosalba, her grandfather died because he crossed an unfinished bridge. Are we building “unfinished bridges” when it comes to human relationships?

Coincidences and chance encounters could sometimes lead to genuine and long lasting relationships. There are many strange but sweet coincidences in the film. For example, the plumber-detective met the masseuse while looking for Rosalba who was staying with Fernando. The masseuse was Fernando’s neighbor. The plumber-detective and the masseuse became lovers at the end of the film. Compare these chance encounters to the kind of relationships in Rosalba’s family. Her husband was having an affair with his sister-in-law; and Rosalba herself felt unloved by her husband and children.

When Fernando first met Rosalba, he told her that his restaurant could only serve cold food because the cook had an inflamed appendix removed. Rosalba, the housewife, is similar to an appendix. Her family treats her like an appendix: unappreciated part of the body. Nobody in her family bothered to look for her in Venice when she extended her vacation. Rosalba was located by the plumber-detective because the latter plastered “missing person” posters all over the town. His inspiration was a “missing dog” poster he saw outside a bar.

Rosalba’s feeling of neglect was symbolized by the departure of the tour bus, the burst appendix and the “missing dog” poster.

There are other curious symbolisms in the film: The picture of Rosalba and her husband which was displayed in the husband’s office was shot in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (allusion to the shaky foundation of their relationship); Venice is a city which really needs plumbing engineers – plumbing is the business of Rosalba’s husband, and Rosalba met the masseuse because the latter had a plumbing problem in her bathroom; Rosalba was reading ‘Huckleberry Finn’ – a book about escape, adventure, and freedom.

Rosalba noticed that Fernando is a passionate individual. He is obviously sexually repressed. His words are revealing: inadequacy, take possession, family nucleus. But maybe it was Fernando’s checkered past which endeared him to Rosalba. He appeared to her as the remoulded and repentant husband. In one of the scenes, Fernando whispers to his grandchild: “I was deaf. I now languish.”

The film is not only for middle-aged individuals who have grown tired of life. It is a film for everybody, especially the young. It reminds us about the value of human communication. It invites us to question our priorities and decisions in life. It dares us to welcome and develop relationships based on chance encounters. And it asserts that yes, everybody needs a time off.

Who is Vera Zasulich? Rosalba was called Vera by the old anarchist at the flower shop because she resembled Vera Zasulich. Who is this woman? The real Vera was a famous Russian anarchist. She acquired renown for trying to kill the Governor-General of St. Petersburg in 1878, she was only 27. After a jury acquitted her, she fled Russia and continued her revolutionary activities outside her beloved country. According to a historian, Vera lived in “cheerful penury and bohemian disorder.” She was a lonely individual. She had no family of her own; only comrades in the revolutionary movement.

Everybody’s Fine

Storyline: Matteo Scuro is an old widower living in Sicily. His five adult children are living in different parts of Italy. He believes they have successful and happy lives. When he visited all of them, he learned that these were not true and that the children lied because they were afraid to disappoint their father.

Interpretation: The character of Matteo Scuro was played by actor Marcello Mastroianni. Marcello’s acting performance is enough reason to watch this film. His portrayal of the seemingly naïve and unhappy Matteo is realistic and touching.

There is one scene in the film which captures Matteo’s predicament: A deer was blocking traffic in the highway. Matteo and his daughter went out of the car to look at the deer. Matteo was looking at himself. He was the deer. He was an old man from Sicily who is ignorant of city life. He is unaware of the linguistic codes of modern living. When a prostitute showed him her legs, he also showed his legs. When a poor man asked for donation by telling Matteo that he has three children, our hero replied by mentioning that he has five children.

Matteo insists it is impossible to die of loneliness in today’s world. He is wrong. His son’s death by suicide should convince him that isolation drives people to death. Matteo himself had witnessed and experienced the alienating effect of urban living.

Matteo is frustrated that he can only speak to his son through an answering machine. Every time he leaves a message in the machine, everything around him freezes. Only Matteo’s voice can be heard. The most intimate conversation Matteo could reach with his son was only through a lifeless object. It was a useless dialogue because the son was already dead.

Later, Matteo saw a baby (his grandchild) in his daughter’s apartment being entertained by TV. Instead of real persons, an object was taking care of the baby. An innocent child is bombarded with images from a TV screen, and later from the washing machine. Both the TV and washing machine appeared the same to the child’s eyes. They both emit empty images.

People are lonely because we have stopped talking to each other. Matteo warns that it would be the end of the world the moment we become dependent on answering machines when communicating with fellow human beings. Man is detached from others. Everybody wants to live in anonymity. When Matteo was mugged in a subway, nobody helped him.

Matteo’s journey around Italy is not only about his painful discovery of the truth regarding his beloved children. Matteo also uncovered the face of modern Italy. He learned that illusion and reality are almost the same. He enjoyed the sight of fireflies outside his son’s apartment only to realize later that the fireflies were fake, a virtual reality. Illusion is used to sustain a particular reality we need in life. Deception is a survival mechanism to mask the painful realities of the real world: The children are fine, the environment is fine, the economy is fine….

The film satirizes the techniques of contemporary politics. One of Matteo’s children is a government staff who drafts speeches for politicians. He rehearses the speeches in an empty room addressing an imaginary audience. In another scene, the baby of Matteo’s daughter mistook a washing machine for TV while the audio speaker of the real TV with static screen features a news report.

Isn’t the news in news reports akin to the “spin” of the washing machine-TV? Empty images, all spin. And isn’t today’s politics similar to the duty of Matteo’s son? Politicians are divorced from their constituents. Most of the time they appear on press conferences. They often address an imaginary audience. Governance is no longer about authorities meeting real citizens in the flesh. Everything is automated. Everything is accomplished by a push button.

Was Matteo completely clueless about the situation of his children? A man who spent 30 years meticulously checking birth certificates should have earlier seen the lies of his children. Matteo, who named his children after famous Opera characters, should have known better that great Operas are either tragic or comic. He should not be surprised that the lives of his children are both tragic and comic.

What if Matteo knew the truth from the very beginning? What if Matteo’s real intention was not to discover the real situation of his kids but to experience the illusion that his kids are doing well in life? Perhaps Matteo felt upset not because his children lied but that they failed to lie convincingly. Since the truth was spoken already, he could no longer continue talking about the illusion; and this disappointed him. The lies were his survival mechanism after his wife died.

Matteo’s eyeglass. What is the symbol of the thick eyeglass? Was it just to make the actor look old in the film? To symbolize Matteo’s inability or refusal to accept the truth about his children? To highlight Matteo’s failure to distinguish truth from the lies? Matteo’s eyeglass is similar to Clark Kent’s eyeglass. Kent’s eyeglass has a hypnotic effect on other people so that they won’t recognize him as the real Superman. What if Matteo’s eyeglass also has a hypnotic effect which prevents his children from discovering that their father already knew the truth?


Virus scare hits Asia

Rising cases of dengue fever, chikungunya, bird flu and ebola viruses were reported in several Asian countries in the past two months. Relax, there are no pandemic threats. Not yet, anyway.

Last month, 4,521 dengue cases and 13 dengue-related deaths were reported in Malaysia. These are alarming numbers. Last year Malaysia recorded 49,335 dengue cases and 112 dengue deaths – the worst in the nation’s history.

Aside from dengue fever, there is another virus that is spreading in several Malaysian states: chikungunya. According to a medical specialist, chikungunya is the latest in a long line of diseases carried by mosquitoes, which include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile encephalitis. These diseases are causing 1 million deaths worldwide every year.

In Singapore, dengue cases were down last year but chikungunya infections were up. Last month, 160 chikungunya cases were reported. This figure is high since only 11 chikungunya cases were registered in 2008. This was confirmed by the Ministry of Health, which already included chikungunya fever in its weekly infectious disease bulletin.

Chikungunya is expected to become endemic in Singapore soon. The World Health Organization has reported that chikungunya has become endemic in several parts of Southeast Asia.

In China, eight people have contracted the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus this year. Five of them are already dead. China has slaughtered more than 13,000 birds in the far west where the outbreak was reported. Officials said the epidemic has been brought under control.

The last recorded bird flu outbreak in China was only in mid-December last year. More than 300,000 fowl in eastern China were killed when the disease was discovered.

Vietnam confirmed that there are nine bird flu-hit provinces in the country. The virus was discovered in more than 30 communes in 16 districts in the nine provinces of Thanh Hoa, Thai Nguyen, Ca Mau, Soc Trang, Nghe An, Hau Giang, Quang Ninh, Bac Ninh and Quang Tri.

To contain the bird flu, Vietnam slaughtered over 30,000 fowl, including 11,500 chickens and 21,000 ducks which had contracted the disease.

Five persons tested positive for the Ebola-Reston virus last month in the northern Philippines. The five individuals were from pig farms in Bulacan, Pangasinan and Valenzuela City, and a slaughterhouse in Pangasinan.

According to health experts, this is the first time the virus has been found outside monkeys. There are five Ebola virus subtypes: Zaire, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Bundibugyo and Reston. The Ebola-Reston virus was first found in the Philippines in the late 1980s.

Filipino health officials claim there has been no evidence that Reston can cause significant illness in humans. But the transmission of the virus from pigs to humans has worried many experts. People are more exposed to pigs than monkeys. If the virus is not contained, more humans might be infected with the disease.

Dengue, chikungunya, bird flu and ebola viruses – these are “diseases of globalization.” The forces of globalization are also causing the transmission of viruses around the world. As economies become more interdependent and as more people travel, local viruses become globalized strains. Technological advances in transportation and communication have expanded and improved the global flow of people, capital and goods – and also, unfortunately, diseases.

Controlling the spread of these viruses should be a top concern of governments. Inefficiency in governance is partly to blame for some of the reported outbreaks. For example, critics slam the “protracted silence” of Malaysia on the dengue epidemic last year. The WHO questions the quality of China’s system in monitoring bird flu viruses. Vietnam’s veterinary agencies are accused of providing inaccurate data on animal vaccinations.

Referring to the spread of chikungunya, the WHO warns that the “socio-economic factors and public health inadequacies that facilitated the spread of this infection continue to exist.” It recommends the strengthening of “national surveillance and response capacity through multisectoral approach and active participation of the communities to prevent and contain this emerging infectious disease.”

Recently, the Malaysian government has launched a dengue awareness campaign in response to the rising number of dengue cases. One of the aims is to combat ignorance of public cleanliness. Residents are also encouraged to welcome fogging operations in their villages.

The Philippines’ Department of Health has added an information page on its website about the dreaded Ebola-Reston virus. It has instructed the public on proper meat handling and preparation to avoid infections from pigs.

It’s only the second month of the year but several alarming outbreaks have been reported already across Asia. This looks like a very interesting but scary year. 

His Manila, their Manila, our Manila

Historian Eric Hobsbawm reminds us that “The reality of empires should not be in the hands of selective nostalgia.” The reality of Spanish and American empires in the Philippines should not be in the hands of selective nostalgia, even if the hands belong to a National Artist.

Nick Joaquin’s Manila, My Manila traces the colorful history of old Manila, his Manila. The book recalls the glory days of Manila and its lost traditions. The author pays homage to great Manilenos and Manilans who created and recreated the distinguished and ever loyal city of Manila for centuries.

Joaquin’s magical prose transports readers to the vanished world of Manila. There, the readers are fascinated by imperial gossips and scandals, melancholy tales of love, pensive descriptions of city structures and districts, and a vivid narration of how Manila residents lived during that distant and lost era. History is never dull, thanks to Joaquin’s imaginative writing. I too am mesmerized by his lyrical portrayal of Manila.

In every chapter Joaquin shocks and amuses the readers with historical tidbits. The Parian is the country’s first mall. The Philippines became the Philippines through the Manila Galleon. The Beatas were the first Filipinas to use the ballots. The 17th century was a metaphysical era, the following century was physical. Katipunan was founded in Binondo, not Tondo. Calle Rosario is Manila’s version of the Wall Street. The Thomasites were not the first batch of American teachers. Grace Park (in Kalookan) was the country’s first factory town. Manilans used to swim in Pasay Beach.

But the book is also an elegant elegy for the colonial legacy of the conquistadores. Joaquin takes to task those ungrateful nationalist historians who dismiss the cultural and social wealth inherited by Filipinos from Spanish and American colonizers. Joaquin is almost persuasive in defending the tools, ideas, institutions, and other social practices implanted by the West in the islands. Without them, Joaquin insists there would be no modern Philippines.

Commissioned by the city government of Manila in the 1980s, the book presents the heroic and subversive activities of Manilenos over the centuries as important episodes yet aberrations of history. Spanish (and later American) activities in Manila and their positive interactions with the locals were more prominent themes in the book. Popular struggles in Manila were cited by the author but he was more forceful in reminding readers about the forgotten and unspoken contributions of our former imperial masters.

Despite its flaws, the book is not entirely unprogressive. Rich with historical facts, the book offers a glimpse of the contradictions in Manila society. The poor, especially the fighting subalterns, may not be the heroes in the book but the social context of their struggles was spelled out by Joaquin. Even Joaquin’s depiction of the immoral lifestyle of some of the Manila’s elite can enlighten the readers about the hypocrisy and rottenness of old Manila. The old Manila described by Joaquin still speaks about the present. Reading Joaquin’s old Manila is still helpful to understand the present social ills.

The book is introduced as a pop history of Manila for the future generations. I agree. Readers, young and old, will definitely enjoy Joaquin’s description of old Manila. His grasp of history is impressive. His revisionism is mildly disturbing but entertaining. Joaquin jolts readers to think and rethink the past through the present. This is a must-read book. However, this should not be treated as the definitive history of Manila. A social and cultural history of Manila from the point of view of the subalterns has yet to be written. There should be no remorse for the demise of colonial empires. The continuing struggles of Manilans and the everyday radical activities and political traditions in Manila as practiced by the poor should be the highlight of this yet-to-be-written book.

At the end of Joaquin’s book, the author hails the different transformations of Manila. The city’s ability to reinvent itself is touted as a sign of hope that Manila’s glory days will be relived in the future. This future should not be anchored on mere nostalgia for the colonial past. Social struggles, then and especially now, define Manila’s identity. Foreign and local oppressors have dominated Manila for centuries. The poor should take control of the city. It is our city, it is our Manila.


War and transportation

Reading Nick Joaquin is always a delightful experience. History comes alive through his creative prose. His writings always invite readers to view historical events with fresh eyes. In his book Manila, My Manila, he wrote how the revolutionary movement in the 19th century used the Manila-Dagupan railway to 1) liberate towns from Spanish colonial bondage; 2) escape from the attacking forces of the US army.

The retreat to North Luzon was facilitated by the railway which was the fastest means of travel in Luzon during that time. It was not surprising that historic battles between Filipino and American troops took place in towns near the railways.

Transportation lines are important during wars. It is an obvious but overlooked fact. Political and military battles are frequent not only in places where exploitation is rampant but also near the major transport routes in the country.

Disrupting transport lines has a high political impact. It undermines the authority of the state and it interrupts the flow of goods and people which intensifies political instability. The fighting image of a non-state group is amplified if it is able to paralyze transport operations in one or several transport zones in the country.

In the past, big rallies in Plaza Miranda, Recto, and Mendiola could seriously destabilize the government because these areas were located in old Manila’s major transport routes. Today, rallies need to be staged in Edsa (the country’s most famous street) in order to rattle Malacanang.

Other important transport lines include the MRT-LRT, Commonwealth, C-5, North and South Luzon expressways, and the very effective political infrastructure of the state: RoRo.

Today, road projects and other transport lines are tainted with corruption (Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, double insertion in Las Pinas, World Bank road project). Opposition political forces should turn these roads into battle zones.



Nick Joaquin’s Manila, My Manila explores the lost grandeur of Intramuros (loob) and the exotic wilderness of Extramuros (labas).

In the past, Intramuros was Manila. It was much later that the suburbs were recognized as territories of Manila. Binondo was a trading post, Parian (Liwasang Bonficio today) was a Chinatown, Paco and Sampaloc were Japanese towns, San Miguel (Malacanang’s location) was a popular recreation area of the elite, Malate was a middle class enclave (during the American era), and Tondo was (and still) the domain of the poor.

Manila became Greater Manila by integrating several towns of Rizal and Bulacan. Then Greater Manila became Metro Manila with 17 municipalities and cities. Today, there is Mega Manila which covers the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, Pampanga and Rizal. Imelda Marcos once envisioned a large political district encompassing the lands between Manila Bay and Tayabas Bay. Urban Manila is expanding quickly by devouring the spaces of the rural.

Metro Manila is already an urban jungle. Green spaces are vanishing. Public parks are sold to mall, condominium, and call center developers in the name of progress. Do you love the smell of smog in the morning?

Are there existing pockets of rural Manila? Dolores Feria (Project Seahawk book) described Novaliches in the early 1970s as a town dotted with rice fields. Ayala Alabang was still a mango orchard in the late 1970s. My lolo used to collect cogon in Fairview. Pasay was famous for its beach resorts. Franciscans established a retirement house in the boondocks of Quezon City.

Manila’s expansion is unstoppable. But development is uneven. The urban-rural geography gap is changing. But poverty gap remains the same.

The cities are invading the countryside. Red power in the countryside should start moving towards the city.

Philippine youth situation (2005)

The Philippines is dominated by young people aged 13-35. Almost 20 million are enrolled in schools; 10 million are out-of-school youth; and 12 million are part of the labor force.

The Constitution, which recognizes the important role of young Filipinos in nation-building, guarantees the protection of the youth’s welfare. But the government continues to implement policies which hamper not only the progress of society but also the realization of the full potential of the youth.

A bright future for today’s youth is no longer possible under a regime which accepts and propagates the cardinal principles of the World Trade Organization: liberalization, deregulation and privatization.

Never has there been a government so callous in glorifying the WTO-sponsored programs of globalization even if there is an overwhelming evidence to show how these policies are destroying the education, employment and culture of the nation.

Paradox of education

It must be noted that the Philippines has a large school participation rate among students. It also has a high (basic) literacy rate. But this remarkable feature of the school system has not been a decisive factor in economic progress. Other Asian countries with less enrollment and low school index have robust economies while the Philippines continue to languish in the margins. This is referred by the scholars as the “paradox” of Philippine education.

The “paradox” can be explained by identifying the main characteristics of Philippine education: it is commercialized, abandoned by the State through decreasing subsidies and responsive to the needs of foreign countries and multinational corporations.

The WTO is further aggravating the crisis in Philippine education as it requires the government to introduce more reforms in the education system.

Main characteristics

Elementary and high school instruction is free and compulsory in the Philippines. But the tertiary level is dominated by the private sector. The government allows tuition increases every year which explains the high drop-out incidence in college (73 percent). Courses offered by schools are determined for their profitability or marketability and not for their contribution to the national economy. The Philippines may be an agricultural nation but most of its students are enrolled in commerce, education and nursing courses.

Aside from its highly commercial nature, Philippine tertiary education is burdened by the pitiful government spending on education. In fact, the Philippines has one of the lowest funding for schools in Asia. It allots education a measly 16 percent (or 2.3 percent of the gross domestic product) of its national budget compared to 70 percent for debt service.

Perhaps the most disappointing orientation of Philippine education is its conformity to the manpower requirements of foreign countries and multinational corporations. This is manifested for example in: 1) the phenomenal increase of nursing and caregiver schools to meet the high demand in Western countries; and 2) the mania of policymakers and even educators to require the use of English as medium of instruction even though various studies explain how the use of the native language can improve student’s comprehension of science and math concepts.

Education for sale

Now here comes the WTO and General Agreement on Trade in Services or GATS.

The Philippines has already committed for the full implementation of GATS in the country. This explains the restructuring of education in recent years and the policies articulated by education bureaucrats on the viability of maintaining public universities.

The WTO and GATS intend, above all else, to transform education from “public good” into a private commodity. In the name of free competition, GATS requires signatory members to eliminate public subsidies in the service sector including education.

This is the reason why funding for social services is decreasing. In fact, the government is conditioning the minds of the public that subsidizing public colleges is a waste of taxpayers’ money. But the government cannot hide its complicity with WTO in destroying public education. The Long Term Higher Education Development Plan 2001-10 of the government aims to achieve the following in the next five years:

• Reduce the number of state universities by 20 percent;
• 6 state universities are semicorporatized in its operation;
• 20 percent of state universities are financially independent;
• 50 percent of state universities have active income generating projects;
• 70 percent of state universities have tuition comparable to private schools;
• 60 percent of state universities are actively collaborating with big industry and business.

We can also cite the enforcement of the Restructured Basic Education Curriculum (which reduced the number of subjects to five: filipino, science, math, english, makabayan) in elementary and high school as the government’s adherence to GATS’ provision of adapting the education system in response to the flexible production nature of big monopoly firms.

Even the government’s charter change proposal is dangerous for education since it has repeatedly proposed the deletion of “ultra-nationalist” provisions in the Constitution. At present, only Filipinos are allowed to own and manage schools in the country. The government may lobby for the removal of this provision since this is a violation of GATS.

Another government approach in fulfillment of its obligation to GATS is its encouragement, support and incredible defense of private schools. It supports initiatives which advance the interests of local and foreign capitalist-educators. By vilifying the quality and “overcrowding” of state universities in the country, the government is hoping the public would support the privatization of educational services.

This is anomalous since privatization of education is undertaken in other countries where education is heavily subsidized by the State while in the Philippines, the government is complaining of spending too much money on education even though 90 percent of tertiary schools are privately owned.

Cheap labor

According to the government’s youth agency, out of 100 Filipino students who enter school, 12 will graduate from college and only 1 will be employed. There is a mismatch in the type of graduates we produce and the available jobs since education caters to the needs of other countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that 1 out of 3 Filipinos (aged 18-25) want to leave the country because their skills are not maximized, appreciated and well-compensated in the Philippines.

According to the same government agency, around 20,000 young Filipinos leave the country everyday in search for better job opportunities. The government promotes overseas deployment of workers as a permanent economic policy even though these Filipinos will be highly vulnerable to various forms of abuses like culture shock, discrimination and harsh working conditions. The exodus of skilled professionals has a negative impact on the economy.

The Philippines is also known for having a large number of educated unemployed. These Filipinos are lured to accept menial jobs and if they are lucky, employment in outsourcing companies which are popular among the youth today.

Young workers complain of cheap wages and poor implementation of labor laws and standards. The government maintains this policy to attract more foreign investors in the country.

There is a slow pace of job creation since the economy is in a seemingly perpetual depression. The government should be faulted for this situation since its more than enthusiastic support for liberalization meant the unrestricted flow of imported products to the detriment of local producers. This is the reason why few jobs are created by the economy.


The debilitating effects of the labor and education policies of the government account for the cynicism and hopelessness which many young Filipinos feel today. They leave the country in droves because they sense no bright future for them in the Philippines. Those who remain are resigned to the destituteness of the country.

The poverty which afflicts the majority forces a large number of youth to commit different anti-social activities. According to a conservative estimate of the government, about 60,000 are pushed into prostitution every year. Almost two million are living in the streets. It is reported that 20,000 are in conflict with the law every year.

The education system molds students into blind worshippers of foreign culture (especially US culture) instead of being proud defenders of our local tradition. The schools, media, Church and government promote conformity instead of critical thinking. Commercialism has almost invaded all facets of Philippine life.

Instead of respecting different cultures and celebrating diversity, which is its earlier promise, globalization has only reduced the world into one big commodity.


The youth movement in the Philippines is dedicated in gathering the biggest number of young Filipinos to oppose the policies of the WTO. It believes that the starting point of the campaign is to inform and educate the public about the real effects of the WTO on the lives of different communities.

The youth movement can bank on its nationwide presence in major schools and communities to succeed in its avowed goals. It can expect to reap major victories because it employs different modes of actions and forms of struggle. Its most important strength is its brave and loyal membership which is decisive in influencing more people to join the movement for meaningful changes in society and the world.

The youth movement faces the real danger of a government with fascist tendencies. The Philippines is a dangerous place for journalists and political activists. Youth organizations must be more than cautious in its grassroots building and other activities where the government deploys military troops.

The youth movement is prepared to sustain its earlier victories in opposing some of the WTO policies in education. It can learn from the creative and sustained actions of high school students when they opposed the proposal of the government to impose additional year for unqualified students even though there is no increase in funding for education. The public indignation over the bloated funding of debt service at the expense of social services must be harnessed into one potent force. The government’s earlier admission that they failed to regulate fees must be maximized to demand more reforms in tuition collection.

Indeed, the future is bleak for Filipino youth because of a government subservient to foreign dictates. But this does not mean the fight is already over. Because the Filipino youth is at the forefront of the battle for a better nation, humane world and a prosperous future. – (December 2005, Hong Kong)

Mysterious objects

Black box. I read this joke somewhere: “You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?!”

It is a good question. Why not build indestructible planes? It may be expensive but at least it will save lives. Unfortunately, economists will insist there is no market for superior planes. Even if the required level of technology is already available to pursue this project, the market won’t allow it.

Aside from financial constraints, creating superior planes is not compatible with the dominant economic system. Commodities have to be perishable. Since amassing superprofits is the goal, capitalists have to continually produce objects that won’t last forever. Products are designed to be useful for a brief time only so that consumers will be forced to buy them again. Technology’s potential is not tapped to the fullest since it is not profitable. For example, wiping out diseases in the world is not passionately and sincerely attempted since it will also eliminate a huge market for pharmaceutical companies. This kind of market logic is bizarre yet it is accepted as a scientific truth.

The existence of the black box is a mystery. It is built to survive even during a crash. Passengers die and plane engines are destroyed during a crash but this “wonderful” little orange object could still function. It eludes death. In fact, its value increases during a plane crash. It becomes more useful after a catastrophe. It is a curious thing.

Isn’t the working class the black box of the capitalist system? Once the capitalist universe disintegrates, the proletariat will still exist. Capitalism’s last inglorious days will be recorded by the proletariat. The working classes are history’s wonderful and curious subjects.

Intelligent pill. First there was the camera pill created by an Israeli company. Now, Philips has invented a “battery-powered, programmable drug capsule” it calls the intelligent pill or iPill. The iPill is one-third medicine and two-thirds microprocessor. It contains a battery, tiny pump and wireless transmitter. The microprocessor is designed to release the medicine content of the pill to specific areas in the body. The iPill can also receive signals from its “outside controller” (most likely the doctor). The iPill is designed to treat digestive tract disorders.

Researchers have cited the possible therapeutic benefits of using the iPill: Precise drug delivery, use of lower doses that minimize side effects, and doctors can stop the capsule from releasing more drugs if the patient’s body is not responding well to the medicine.

Isn’t it interesting that Philips, which makes webcams and cordless phones, is also the same company which developed the iPill? Today, medical specialists are praising the iPill. Soon, the iPill will be used in the same way we are using webcams and cordless phones today. The iPill is a wonder drug capsule but its applications are not limited to the medical industry. The iPill complements the digital lifestyle of the present generation. Perhaps new versions of iPill for the mass market will be developed. This iPill will be the intelligent webcam inside the body; the camera pill which can display the literal inner self of individuals.

Privacy is being redefined by internet users today. Many are not bothered that strangers are “watching” their lives through the different social network sites which are popular today. There will be individuals who will find it amusing that the insides of their bodies can be viewed by the public. Websites will be designed for this new level of virtual reality. (Instead of “view my profile”, the user invites visitors to “view my stomach”). The real will become more real. Strange and scary.

Using the words of Paul Virilio, the iPill is an optical hardware which is both omniscient and omnipresent. The iPill will be used for “optical snooping.” The arrival of the iPill further proves that the information revolution is all about a “revolution of generalized snooping.”

Two news articles from San Francisco Chronicle about the iPill: here and here.

Shrinking balikbayan box. I have already written about the balikbayan boxes of Overseas Filipino Workers. I have defended the unique OFW practice of stuffing the boxes with various imported goods and native delicacies. Today, balikbayan boxes are literally shrinking. Because of airline restrictions, our kababayans are forced to limit their padala when returning home. This is unfair.

Aren’t OFWs the country’s new heroes? These heroes are allowed to bring only 50 lbs of baggage while Euro generals were almost able to walk away with P10 million “pocket money.”

The boxes represent more than the hardwork and sacrifice of our OFWs. These bulky objects are also cultural artifacts. A small piece of Pilipinas (for departing OFWs), and a bit of the foreign country of destination (for arriving OFWs) are contained in the boxes.

Packing and unpacking the boxes have become important family traditions. Tourists have suitcases which contain personal belongings but OFWs have balikbayan boxes which contain personal belongings and goods meant to be shared with others. The boxes and their contents have become symbols of pagmamahal, kapwa, and sakripisyo. OFWs communicate their affections through the boxes. The padala is not only for relatives, but also for friends and neighbors. Sometimes, the arrival of the boxes becomes a community event.

OFWs are loading and unloading their hopes, frustrations, happiness and heartaches in the boxes. These boxes remind them that there is a reason why they are far away from their loved ones. Whether they succeeded or not in fulfilling their dreams abroad, OFWs are comforted by the thought that somewhere in the Philippines, there are loved ones who wait for their arrival and appreciate their unspoken hardships. Through the boxes, OFWs could somehow justify the insane decision of leaving their families at home. It lessens the pain, however brief. A day or a few hours of being less guilty is enough.

A balikbayan box has an immense (and excess) value. But its value cannot be monetized or weighed. Balikbayan boxes strengthen family ties. They help alleviate the pain of OFWs who are consumed with guilt. They reflect the reluctant Filipino traveler in the era of globalization.

The decision of Philippine Airlines to reduce the baggage weight limit per passenger is not only an anti-consumer move, it is also anti-Filipino.

Italian Films: Up the deadly boot / Rome, Open City

Up the deadly boot (2001)
A History channel production, 100 minutes

January 28. The video is about the military campaign of the Allied powers to capture Rome during World War II. Allied troops arrived in Sicily on July 1943; then they invaded Messina and Salerno. The Germans fought back in Anzio. But they were soon defeated. Rome was liberated on May 1944.

The documentary made me realize how little I knew about WWII history. My knowledge of that period is limited to the Philippine experience: the Japanese invasion and occupation of the islands, American humiliation in Corregidor, resistance of Filipinos, and finally liberation of the country.

The military campaign to capture Rome was a deadly march. Germany was prepared to defend its position in Italy. The result was catastrophic. The video proved that during wars, nobody wins. The Germans lost the war, Allied powers lost thousands of soldiers, the Italian countryside was destroyed. Rome was liberated but it was a pyrrhic victory.

The video provides a dry account of what transpired in Italy during 1943-44. Historians were interviewed, military generals were featured, and video clips of dead soldiers and old weapons were shown. The military strategies of both sides were presented. Students will learn a lot about the role of geography during warfare. Allied powers attacked from the sea while the Germans used the mountainous terrain of Italy to fortify their position.

The documentary gives a historical and military background to the Allied campaign to invade Rome and defeat Germany but it doesn’t highlight the viewpoint of Italians. There were only few Italians interviewed or depicted in the documentary. Where were the civilians and partisans? The documentary could have been more powerful if it described the lives of ordinary Italians during that era.

Here enters the appeal and necessity of literature. If history is dull, literature shall bring to life the stories of many individuals who were trapped between the fighting of the Allied and Axis forces. Literature shall narrate the sufferings endured by innocent civilians during the war.

The documentary serves as a good introduction to war literature. Viewers are able to see the battle gears, bomber planes, battleships, tanks, and guns used during WWII. These were the war machines which Italians also saw and evaded in 1943-44.

Suddenly, the plot of Italo Calvino’s The Path to the Spiders’ Nests becomes clearer to me. I now understand better the presence of German soldiers in Italy, the guerilla activities of the Partisans, and the sentiments of ordinary Italians about the war.

I will recommend this video to my friends. But I will tell them that this documentary would be appreciated more if they will also watch Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City.

Rome, Open City (1945)
Directed by Roberto Rossellini, 103 minutes

February 4. Imagine Rome during the end of World War II. The Allied forces are marching towards the city. The local resistance movement could not be defeated. Guerillas have occupied the hills near the capital. The German soldiers, aware of their weakening position, are venting their frustration by being more ruthless to the local population. Meanwhile, a movie is secretly being filmed in the capital. Professional and amateur actors were hired to star in the film. The movie, Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, is about the lives of ordinary Italians during this period. The movie is hailed as Italy’s first major neorealist film.

If given the chance, I would give the film a new title: Just Path. It refers to the conversation between the two lovers in the film, Pina and Francesco. While talking about their engagement, Francesco assures his fiancée that there is nothing wrong with being part of the resistance movement. They are treading on a just path.

The movie featured several characters who have walked the just path by joining the resistance (the mysterious engineer, rebel priest, and the brave children in the parish). There are also others who have chosen the other path by collaborating with the Germans. To support or oppose the foreign power – which is the popular option? Before his execution, the rebel priest murmurs: “It is not difficult to die well. It is difficult to live right.”

The scenes inside the headquarters of the German army are the best moments in the film. There are several rooms in the building which are interconnected: the office of the German major, the interrogation room where torture is applied on uncooperative prisoners and “where heroes become cowards”, and the officers’ room where German officers indulge in merrymaking.

The German major could enter all rooms without realizing the irony of the situation: drinking and gambling in one room, performing official transactions in the adjoining room, and torturing dissidents in the next room. The division of the floor was built to hide the official and unofficial acts of the occupying army.

It was in these rooms where the moral bankruptcy of the German army was exposed. In the officers’ room, a guilt-stricken veteran officer described the Germans as the master race consumed by hatred without hope. In the main office, the priest refused to betray his rebel friends. In the interrogation room, the engineer who defended his principles was killed by the Germans. But this death did not terrify the priest. Instead, the priest mocked the impotent power of the German army. The engineer’s heroic death symbolized the victory of the resistance movement.

The film highlighted the sacrifices given by the murdered protagonists. But even more significant was the continuity of the resistance symbolized by Francesco who remained alive at the end of the film. And the unwanted participation of the children in the resistance points to the proven ability of children to understand which correct political actions they should choose during times of war.

This war drama continues to be relevant. During an interrogation scene, the German officer reminds the priest that the rights of Germany (“the rights of an occupying power”) are being violated by the activities of the resistance movement. This is the same complaint of Israel in Palestine. The implied message is: the rights of the occupying power are more important than the rights of the colonized.

During film break, someone asked, “Will there be a happy ending?” The reply of someone at the back, “Unfortunately, war movies do not have happy endings.” My answer: This is a movie which has a happy ending. The oppressor’s empty power was unmasked; humanity prevailed; and the struggle of the liberation movement was allowed to continue.

Legal repression rampant in Asia

There is a disturbing trend of legal repression in many Asian countries. Human rights abuses are on the rise, the legal profession is under attack and the independence of courts is compromised.

Human rights lawyer and UPI-Asia columnist Basil Fernando has written several articles about the creeping repression in Sri Lanka. State and non-state elements have been harassing human rights lawyers in Sri Lanka. Death squads are on the rise again. The police have taken a leading role in the administration of justice. The violence in Sri Lanka has prompted six former U.S. ambassadors to write the president of Sri Lanka urging the leader to protect the rule of law in the country.

Fernando mentioned that Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defense has uploaded a report on its website in which a group of lawyers was branded as traitors for representing members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. A few months ago, a letter was published by a group called Mahason Balakaya (Battalion of the Ghosts of Death) which threatened lawyers who defend suspected terrorists. The letter warned that, “In the future, all those (who) represent the interests of the terrorists will be subject to the same fate that these terrorists mete out to our innocent people.”

The media in Sri Lanka is also under attack. The veteran editor of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader was killed by four unknown assassins. At least 20 persons raided the premises of Sirasa TV and damaged its communications equipment. Sirasa TV is an important independent media network in Sri Lanka.

Fernando writes that the spate of political killings and harassment in the country is “part of a scheme to physically exterminate parties considered undesirable by the current regime.”

The human rights situation in the Philippines is also worsening. The killings of leftist activists have not stopped. Activist and UPI-Asia columnist Gerry Albert Corpuz has written about the false criminal charges filed by the government against leaders of progressive groups.

Among those who were arrested for multiple murders and attempted murders is a prominent labor lawyer who has handled more than 700 labor cases and other controversial cases involving the president of the republic. More than 20 union and peasant leaders in the Southern Luzon region have been charged with several criminal cases as well.

The aim in filing these absurd cases is to prevent the grassroots leaders from organizing political activities that threaten to further destabilize the corrupt and unpopular incumbent government of the Philippines.

UPI-Asia columnist Awzar Thi has written about the shocking prison sentences given by Myanmar courts to 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 the 88 Generation Students group.

The junta is conveying a message to other dissident groups and individuals that if they continue to join protest actions or write something that embarrasses the junta, they may face a jail term of up to 65 years. A lawyer believes that new criminal laws were invoked so that the junta can tell the international community that Myanmar has no political prisoners in jails, only criminals.

Another writer surmises that the harsh prison terms prove that the junta is “determined to ensure that the elections it plans for 2010 as part of its roadmap to democracy suffer no disruption and that the population will be sufficiently cowed not to repeat what happened in 1990.” The May 1990 general election was won by the opposition party, the National League for Democracy. But the junta has refused to recognize the election results.

Regulating the Internet is also becoming frequent in the region. Thailand has blocked websites that insult the monarchy. Cambodia has threatened to remove a website for showing half-naked Apsaras – female spirits from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Vietnam has introduced new regulations on blogging. Malaysia has arrested bloggers who defy the government.

News reports of rampant human rights abuses in the aforementioned Asian countries are no longer surprising. Media censorship is also not unusual. But the boldness of these states in using shock tactics to punish their enemies is a further cause for alarm. It seems these governments are getting more desperate and barbaric.

This trend is expected to continue, and may in fact worsen, as more Asian countries grapple with the global economic recession. The financial crisis has exacerbated poverty, joblessness, and hopelessness in the region. This drives more people to express anger against ineffective governments. Aside from traditional methods of repression, governments are now using new legal instruments to prevent social unrest in their countries.

The recent and current waves of state-sponsored violence in many Asian countries are “preemptive strikes” against potential political actions by marginalized forces in society. The legal repression serves as a direct warning to all those who will dare challenge the status quo: the state will be ruthless in defeating all threats to its existence.

Governments are not just preparing stimulus packages to revive the struggling economies of their countries. They are also testing the legal instruments to be used to maintain peace and order once the recession turns into a depression. If economic stability seems an impossible objective at the moment, governments will shift their attention to order and survival, which are more realizable goals.

Political scientist Gerald Heeger wrote that “politics in underdeveloped societies has become preeminently a politics in search of order.” Since “development has proved to be an elusive goal, order, in contrast, is both more tangible and, so it seems, more necessary.”

The political killings, harassment of lawyers, and harsh prison terms for dissidents provide a glimpse of the fascist character of many parties in power. Beware of governments that have stopped believing that economic growth is still possible this year. They will now focus their attention on enhancing political control through coercion, repression, and naked brutality. Poverty and violence will be the main stories of the year 2009.

What will be the response of progressive political forces? 

Hello Philippines: The gains and downside of the call center industry

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is confident her country can weather the economic storm brought about by rising food and fuel prices. Arroyo said the Philippines will endeavor to generate compensating gains on the asset side of the economy through the soft commodities it can export. The president was referring to the Business Process Outsourcing, or BPO, industry.

Outsourcing refers to the handing over of specific business processes of big companies from the United States and Europe to outsiders, mostly Asian countries, to cut costs and rationalize operations. The call center sub-sector is the major component of the BPO industry, but other BPO services include transcription, software development and digital content.

Nobody expected the BPO industry to flourish in the Philippines. But it is now recognized as the country’s sunshine industry. Close to 300,000 Filipinos, most of them in their 20s, are employed by BPO companies. Last year, the industry generated US$4.9 billion in revenues.

India is the undisputed global leader in outsourcing investments. But the Philippines is catching up. In 2007 the Philippines was named “Offshoring Destination of the Year” by the United Kingdom’s National Outsourcing Association.

It its 2008 Asian Contact Centre Industry Benchmarking Report, said the Philippine BPO industry will grow by 23 percent. This figure is remarkable compared to that of Malaysia, which is growing only at 17 percent; Singapore, 8 percent; Thailand, 15 percent and India, 10 percent.

Why is the Philippines an ideal investment destination for BPO companies? The Philippines has a large labor pool of college graduates. The Philippines also offers the third lowest cost of operating a call center seat in the world next to India and China.

The Philippines plans to grab 10 percent of the world market for outsourcing operations by the year 2010. The Business Processing Association of the Philippines is optimistic about the prospects of the BPO industry. According to its projection, BPO companies will employ more than 900,000 workers and revenues will reach US$13 billion in the next three years. BPO companies are also expected to contribute to 6.5 percent of the nation’s GDP

It also has an interesting study about the direct and indirect benefits of the BPO industry to the Philippine economy. In 2010 BPO companies will spend US$5 billion in annual salaries and benefits, 2.4 billion Big Mac meals will be consumed, 230,000 middle-class houses will be built, 10 million iPods will be sold, 190 million Bench jeans will be used, 1.2 million indirect jobs will be created and 700,000 classrooms will be constructed from tax earnings.


The Philippine BPO industry needs an additional one million recruits in order to sustain its high growth. Industry players and scholars recognize that there are various obstacles to achieve this goal.

They cite the "insufficient quantity of suitable and willing talent to fuel growth, lack of office space to achieve BPO target expansion, and persistent perception of Philippines as a high-risk investment.”

Prof. Jorge Sibal quoted a 2005 study which identified the prevalence of natural disasters, security threats, data theft, high levels of corruption, slow government bureaucracy, high electricity costs, expensive telecommunications systems and the digital divide in the country as factors why the Philippines is losing competitiveness.

To address the deteriorating language proficiency of students, President Arroyo mandated the use of English language as the medium of instruction in schools. Today, 82 percent percent of offshoring and outsourcing operations take place in Metro Manila. To remedy this overconcentration in the nation’s capital, the government has listed 24 cities as the next-wave centers of the BPO industry. The Cyber Corridor program was also strengthened to help transform the Philippines into an Information Technology-enabled government in Asia.

Not sustainable

Despite being a consistent dollar-earner for the Philippines, some economists believe the BPO industry does not contribute much to the progress of the nation.

Dr. Edgardo Espiritu, an economist and former government minister, cautions the current administration against relying on the BPO as a "major driver of sustained growth." He is worried that call centers make the Philippine "growth prospects too dependent on foreign economic cycles." He warns that BPO investments do not offer much opportunity in terms of technology transfers and linkages with other domestic industries. He notes that the BPO industry has a "limiting effect on the development of human resources in terms of acquiring new learning and skills."

The Philippine Institute for Development Studies cites the case of India whose expansive BPO industry seldom creates intellectual property for Indian firms. Instead of focusing on the BPO sector, the group urges the government to continue supporting the manufacturing sector, “which is the true engine of economic growth.” The Philippines is the only country in the region whose manufacturing sector has declined in the last twenty years.

Analyst Philip M. Lustre Jr. has also warned that the projected victory of Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama in the U.S. presidential elections could weaken the demand for outsourcing services. He thinks that an Obama victory “could lead to a policy shift which could mean a combination of heavy taxes for U.S. firms that export jobs to Asian markets and tax incentives for those firms that keep them in the United States.”

Labor issues

BPO companies may be offering higher salaries but they also confront labor issues. Former BPO employees cite the “lack of career path, uninteresting work and below industry-rate remuneration” as among the reasons why they left the industry.

Since the United States is the biggest market of BPO industry, this requires call center operations during the evening. The call center sub-sector is changing the nightlife of Manila. Bars, restaurants and convenience stores are open every morning to accommodate the night workers. Graveyard shift workers are exposed to many health risks. Many workers complain of fatigue, disorientation and disturbed sleep. Medical specialists point out that disrupting the internal body clock can cause manic depression and heart problems.

BPO employees are also deprived of "socialization opportunities" with family and friends. Dr. Pradnya Kulkarni, who writes for United Press International-Asia, adds that young BPO workers, who receive high salaries, do not have the maturity and emotional capability to handle their wealth. This "sudden wealth syndrome" has led to such high-risk behaviors as loose sexual practices, drug addictions and alcohol abuse.

There is almost no labor union in BPO companies. BPO employees admit that there are many companies which discourage the formation of labor unions.

A 2004 study highlighted some of the frustrating work conditions encountered by call center agents: "Aside from working at ungodly hours, some work at the computer 7.5 hours a day, giving the same answers to the same questions. Workers are exposed to racist and insulting remarks and are not allowed to retaliate or hang up without the team leader’s permission. When dealing with an irate caller, they have to read a script three times to warn the caller of their improper behavior before they can drop the call. Worst, they are not supposed to be Filipinos when they talk to their callers."

Boon or bane?

Aside from nursing, call center jobs will remain the most popular career options for young Filipinos in the next few years. The BPO sector has provided financially-rewarding job opportunities for young graduates to remain in the country. To a certain extent, it helped in limiting the brain drain problem of the Philippines

In order to remain competitive, the Philippine BPO industry needs to focus on innovation. The government has to protect current incentive regime, simplify incentive process and expedite data protection regulation.

But it is also dangerous to exaggerate the importance of the BPO industry. The government should put more emphasis on propelling the domestic economy as a whole rather than making public institutions and laws serve the needs of BPO companies.

It is not certain how long outsourcing will remain a profitable industry. Foreign firms can decide tomorrow if they want to shift outsourcing operations somewhere else. If that day comes, what is the alternative employment for English-speaking and insomniac call center agents? (July 2008)

Philippine BPO Workforce







Contact Center






Back Office






Medical Transcription












Software Development






Engineering Design






Other services












Source: Business Processing Association of the Philippines

Philippine BPO Revenues







Customer Care






Back Office






Medical Transcription












Software Development






Engineering Design






Other services






Revenues $ Million






Source: Business Processing Association of the Philippines

    Annual BPO salary in Asia


Average Salary ($)














Obama’s first day

From Facebook:

Immigrants & Workers demand CHANGE and JUSTICE from Newsom to Obama!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

San Francisco City Hall
please wear white

Join us in bidding GOOD RIDDANCE to the horrific Bush administration and raising our voices to demand:

• a truly sanctuary city
• an end to deportation of immigrant youth
an end to ICE raids
• an end to police collaboration with ICE
• support for immigrant and family services


This post is not exactly about Obama’s activities during his first day as president of the U.S. This is about the rally I attended on January 21.

4pm: Various immigrant groups met inside the SF City Hall to remind city leaders about the need to make SF a truly sanctuary city. Many are alarmed that immigration raids are being conducted in several communities with full knowledge/support of local authorities. Instead of providing services for immigrants, officials are cooperating with ICE which continues to conduct unjust and discriminatory raids and arrests. Even children are being deported by ICE.

4:30pm: Procession starts inside the City Hall. The group serenaded the offices of city supervisors. I joined the community singing in Spanish. David Chiu welcomed the protesters. He said that former president George Bush forgot that the U.S. is a country of immigrants. He also announced the implementation of the city municipal ID system. This was greeted by loud cheering and applause. Undocumented workers can use the municipal ID to avail of vital social services provided by the city. Kudos also to Eric Mar who greeted the protesters outside his office. He also joined the candle lighting ceremony outside the City Hall.

5:30pm: Vigil outside the City Hall. David Campos spoke in the program. He warned that “if immigrant rights are violated in SF, there’s no hope for this country.” There were speeches, and cultural presentations. The Filipino community was represented by the Filipino Community Center and Anakbayan-USA. The program ended around 7pm.

It was a long day for me. In the morning I went to several bargain stores looking for a toy for my anak. I skipped lunch to read and borrow books at the library. I joined the protest event at 4pm. It was also at the same time a free tour inside the famous SF City Hall building. During the program, I met new kasamas and someone gave me a delicious Mexican hot choco.

I am not aware of Obama’s activities during his first day at the White House. But I know what I was doing on that day: I was part of a mobilization demanding change.


Click here to view more pictures.


Part 1: Red-One

Remember Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States? He used to be the most powerful economist in the world. When Greenspan speaks, the capitalist world reacts immediately. The “instantaneous effect” of his speeches would either revive or plunge the stock markets.

In a different context, Joma Sison is the Alan Greenspan of Philippine politics (apologies to Joma). When Joma speaks, his word is interpreted as the official position of the communist movement. Here is how the ‘Joma Effect’ works: Joma issues a political statement which will be quoted by the local media; then Malacanang will accuse Joma of inciting violence; the military will warn of a sinister communist plot; and finally, anti-left intellectuals will ridicule Joma’s “obsolete politics.”

Every word used by Joma is cited by the military as proof of his criminal activities. Every move he makes always attracts condemnation. If he is caught laughing on TV, he is at once denounced as a false communist. When he sings and dances during parties, his critics accuse him of betraying his comrades in the Philippines.

Why do the chattering classes hate Joma Sison? The answer is because he is a communist – the most unrepentant communist in the country. He is not allowed to drink, sing, dance, laugh, and gain weight. He is a communist creature, not a human being. He doesn’t deserve to indulge in these simple pleasures.

Joma is one of the most important political icons in the country. The best proof is provided by the governments of the US, the Netherlands, and the Philippines which are aggressively and obsessively denying Joma his basic rights. If Joma is already irrelevant, then why spend so much time and energy in prosecuting him on concocted charges? Why is he a constant target of cruel demonization campaigns? The actions of these three governments reveal their true sentiments: they feel threatened by Joma’s political ideas and activities. Joma is a threat to the ruling system.

Joma has always been a threat to the establishment. Even as a student, he was a “troublemaker.” His radical activities would always get him into conflict with authorities. He was the most famous youth leader during the 1960s. He became the most wanted man during the 1970s. He was the most important political prisoner during the Martial Law years. He is still the most famous Filipino communist (or a terrorist in the eyes of the state). Joma has been a newsmaker for the past five decades.

Joma is an effective organizer. You may reject his politics but you must recognize his accomplishments as a youth leader. At 20, he started a Marxist study group at the University of the Philippines. He was only 25 when he founded the militant group Kabataang Makabayan; 28 when he published Struggle for National Democracy, the country’s first red book; 29 when he led the re-establishment of the Communist Party; and 30 when he founded the New People’s Army. These institutions continue to play a key role in contemporary Philippine politics.

I must highlight the novelty of Joma’s activities during his youth:

1. Before Joma electrified Philippine politics with his radical activities, the options for idealist young Filipinos were limited to campaigning for bourgeois political parties or participation in religious and charity missions.

2. Joma was not the first Marxist in the Philippines. There were other leftists intellectuals who were Joma’s contemporaries (Is that you Dodong?). But they lacked Joma’s writing proficiency, organizational prowess, and boldness to transform ideas into practice. Joma was not an armchair revolutionary. Joma offered concrete, practical, and radical alternative means on how to launch a revolution.

3. Joma and the activists of his generation proved that the youth could become revolutionaries by vowing to serve the masses, destroy the oppressive system, and build a new socialist society. Compare this revolution to the kind of revolution espoused today by the religious and school owners who brainwash their students into believing that change is possible by building houses for the poor. Distribute relief goods, write open letters, paint houses, and voila, we are idealists and revolutionaries already!

Some of Joma’s critics are sophisticated in hiding their anti-Left bias. There are critics who recognize Joma’s outstanding political record from his SCAUP days up to the 1986 People Power uprising. But after he was released from prison, Joma has allegedly ceased to offer any original or precise political analysis.

So there are two Jomas: the ‘Young Joma’ and the ‘Later Joma’ (a la althusser analysis ba ito?). The Young Joma was radical, revolutionary, hero, and simply brilliant. The Later Joma is dogmatic, power hungry, obsolete, and hopelessly narcissistic.

Let us accept the periodization since it is a historical fact: Joma, the rebel who was based in the Philippines (1959-1987) and Joma, the rebel who was forced into exile in Europe (1988-present). But it is not true that the Young Joma was more revolutionary than the Later Joma. There is only one Joma – the intellectual proletarian revolutionary.

Joma has proven his dedication to the revolutionary cause by being an activist of the national democratic movement for the past five decades. He could have left the movement to become a member of the reactionary governments of Marcos, Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo. He could have been a politico in his home province. He could have retired quietly in the academe. All those terrorist and criminal charges against him would have been dropped quickly if he only renounced his communist beliefs. But he has chosen to remain an uncompromising revolutionary.

Joma, the Maoist, was in Europe while the communist bloc disintegrated in 1989-1991. Maoism was defeated in China; Marxism was discredited around the globe. Joma was among the most resolute intellectuals who clarified that it was not socialism but modern revisionism which crumbled in Eastern Europe. Joma continued to defend the superiority of socialism by writing comprehensive critiques of imperialist globalization. He asserted again and again the primacy of collective, militant and even violent actions in order to defend the proletarian cause. He rallied the Philippine revolutionary movement to confront the ideological offensives of the ruling class.

Joma’s consistency is constantly ridiculed by the apologists of Capital. But Joma’s fidelity to Marxism has taught many activists the value of standing up for one’s principles.

Meanwhile, Joma’s Maoist credentials are not enough to win over the Joma haters. There are ex-activists who support the movement but do not hide their disdain for Joma. There are also those who earn their living by attacking Joma’s politics. These individuals are unlike the reactionary politicians who persecute Joma because of his refusal to reform his Maoist mindset.

These ex-activists-Joma haters assuage their social guilt by declaring sympathies for the legal left. They can afford to be sarcastic in criticizing politicians like Gloria Arroyo but they are ruthless and unfair against Joma. Why? Because Joma has become a symbol of an individual who struggles for a communist utopia. They do not want the creation of a new breed of Jomas. As long as individuals like Joma exist, the fashionable ex-activists will always appear as pseudo-radicals and shallow revolutionaries.

To support Joma and his politics is to affirm the communist idea. Thus the ex-leftist Joma haters who have stopped believing in the proletariat cannot be persuaded to support even the campaign for the protection of Joma’s basic rights. For them, Joma doesn’t deserve human rights because he is the archetypal communist.

To discredit Joma and the local communist movement, the ruling class has to bombard the public with images that distort and obscure Joma’s radical identity. Military propagandists have been using pictures and videos from Joma’s website, especially the pictures of Joma dancing with local showbiz stars, to insinuate that Joma is scandalously enjoying himself in Europe. With help from corporate media, the military wants to portray Joma as an insincere revolutionary. Their intention is to make the public forget the image of a rebel Joma: activist, guerilla, political detainee, torture victim, asylum seeker. The enemy wants to hide its crimes against Joma (he is a human rights victim during the Marcos era) by diverting public attention towards Joma’s “disagreeable lifestyle” in Europe.

What is wrong if Joma is attending parties in Europe? He is a human being too, a social creature. During the Obama inauguration, Pres. Ramos was seen on TV dancing with US Ambassador Kristie Kenney at the US Embassy compound. Nobody complained why the president was waltzing with the imperialist.

Others have petty complaints against Joma. Some of my friends are disappointed with Joma’s writing style. They said his writings are not academic. They are not complex. My answer to them: read his poems. And remember that Joma’s writings are addressed to a particular audience. His works are read by thousands of cadres, peasants, workers, and intellectuals. His statements have to be direct, clear, and precise.

Others are wondering why Joma has not returned home in the Philippines. Well, his passport was cancelled by the Aquino government. The military has admitted that once he is back in the Philippines, hundreds of (false) criminal charges will be filed against him. Joma might be assassinated too. Joma is a revolutionary; but he is not a foolish revolutionary who will surrender easily to the enemies. If the next government is sincere in negotiating for peace with the rebels, Joma might return home. But today, it is impossible for him to land safely in the Philippines. Kung ngayon nga eh na malayo siya sa Pinas ang dami niyang kaso ng murder, ano pa kaya kung nakauwi na siya.

The black propaganda against Joma is hard to combat. Many Filipinos could easily believe the lie that Joma is having a good time in Europe because of the popular perception that life in another country is always better than in the Philippines. Only few are aware of the difficult life of a political refugee.

Many have forgotten that sometimes leaders of nationalist movements have to go into exile in order to avoid persecution at home. Filipinos today are more familiar with the OFW phenomenon. They also believe that OFWs and migrants enjoy a higher standard of living. Unfortunately for Joma, only few Filipinos are informed of his real situation in the Netherlands. This is a challenge for the movement to counteract the malicious smear campaign against Joma.

The current global economic recession provides several opportunities for the Left to advance the socialist alternative. It also validates the analysis of the Left (and Joma) about the bankruptcy of neoliberalism. If Joma seems repetitive in his critiques on capitalism, it is because this economic system has always exhibited the same exploitative features. The defenders of capitalism are now rewording their naïve and anti-poor economic thesis. It is not Joma, but his detractors, who have become irrelevant. In the West, Karl Marx’s Das Kapital is a bestseller again. Joma should re-publish his books.

At 70 years old, Joma is old. But it is only his body which is old. A revolutionary does not get old. Joma Sison, a “fighting materialist,” is theorist of the future, not of the past. His political legacy is assured in the future. This makes his ideas fresh. This makes him young.