Category Archives: nation

War and Dissent: Philippine-American War Exhibit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more pictures: click here and here.

Related entries:

US meddler
In other words
Aguinaldo and Imelda

Searching for the Filipino “Obama”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related entries:

Obama effect
Sons and politicians


Links: Khmer Humer. Indonesia’s Battle of Aru Sea. Reflections on Indonesia’s Independence Day. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s richest royal.

China milk scandal and Southeast Asia, a post written for Global Voices. Read the French, Bangla and Chinese translations. The New York Times links to the post. New pictures in my webshots album.

My name is Raymond, maybe most of you already know that. I was named after St. Raymond Nonnatus, of course you didn’t know that. But this post is not about me. What I want to highlight is the use of political terms which start with the letter R. This is a year of Big Rs – recession, reproductive health, renewable energy, and don’t forget – revolution. But let me mention other acronyms first.

RA – Reaffirmists. Back in college, activists were either reaffirmists or rejectionists. Those who supported/reaffirmed the basic principles of the national democratic revolution (with a socialist perspective) were known as reaffirmists. And those who rejected the left’s rectification movement were called rejectionists, or revisionists. This acronym is no longer often used in mainstream media. RA activists are simply referred to as natdem or ND activists.

RB – Rafael Baylosis. UP student leader during the First Quarter Storm. Together with other honor students (there were only 25 cum laude graduates in UP in 1970), RB participated in a protest action during their graduation rites with placards exhorting students to “Serve the People” and denouncing “American Cultural Aggression.” RB is still an activist.

RC – Renato Constantino. Nationalist historian.

RE – Renewable Energy. Thanks to climate change/global warming and rising oil/gas prices, RE is now a special concern of many individuals and institutions. There is a pending RE bill in Congress. Everybody is supporting it, even the oil companies. Most RE advocates are sincere but opportunist politicians and discredited leaders are joining the crusade. Beware.

RH – Reproductive Health. RE is popular; RH is controversial. Many politicians are secretly supporting the RH measure in Congress. But the Catholic Church is opposing the RH bill. What is the Church’s argument: RH is abortion. Maternal health is abortion. Adolescent reproductive health is abortion. Infant care is abortion. Sex education is abortion. And according to them, the Philippines is not overpopulated. And another unbelievable claim: 90 million Filipinos can survive/thrive in Bohol island.

RJ – Refer to RA

RM – Ramon Magsaysay. Former president of the Republic of the Philippines. Man of the masses or CIA agent?

RN – Registered Nurse. Nursing is the most popular college degree in the Philippines. But there is a shortage of qualified health workers in the country. Why? Majority of Filipino RNs are working abroad.

RO – ROTC or Reserve Officers Training Corp. My generation succeeded in the long campaign to remove the dreaded ROTC program as compulsory subject for college students, at least in the private schools. ROTC was replaced by the National Service Training Program. As usual, the military wants to bring back the ROTC program in colleges and universities.

RP – Republic of the Philippines.

RVAT – Reformed Value Added Tax. It’s similar to the bailout program of America. Save the economy by robbing the poor and giving the money to the rich. Spend small amount of money on high profile projects, name the program ‘Katas ng VAT’, while pocket the rest of the booty. Clever.

RX – Cost of prescription drugs in the Philippines is one of the most expensive in the world. Bawal magkasakit – kulang ang duktor, mahal ang gamot, may melamine pa ang gatas. Generics Law is impressive (Australia copied it) but ineffective.

3Rs – Reading, writing, arithmetic for basic education skills. Reduce, reuse, recycle to save the environment. Replace, reduce, refine for the ethical use of animals in scientific procedures.

Big Rs

Reform – The favorite campaign slogan of US presidentiables: change. Change Washington. Change Wall Street. Reform health care. Reform immigration policies. Rhetoric?

Recession – Economists disagree that the US economy is under recession. They do not believe there is an ongoing global recession. They like to call it credit crunch. But the indicators are very obvious: unemployment figures, inflation rates, foreclosure cases, bank losses. What more is needed to convince the eternal optimists that something is terribly wrong with capitalism?

(John Mangun of Businessmirror is angry. “Don’t confuse things,” he reminds the left and the media. He insists the bailout package of the US Federal government is not really a bailout. According to him, the precise term which we should use is “economic rescue plan.” But John is wrong. First, it is not the left and the media which proposed the name of the bailout package. Blame the US Treasury for the wrong choice of term. Second, “economic rescue plan” sounds like a bailout. When is a bailout a bailout? Remember the military general who reprimanded a reporter for describing a US army attack as bombing. The general said, “Don’t call it bombing, it’s air support.” Don’t call it bailout, it’s an economic rescue plan.)

Revolution – The big-R in America is recession. Americans fear a repeat of the 1930 Great Depression. As much as possible, American politicians and economists will deny the existence of a recession. In the Philippines, the word recession does not provoke intense fear among Filipinos. Recession is not a heavy political/economic term in the country. Maybe because “recession” is an everyday reality for many Filipinos.

The big-R in Philippine politics is revolution. By revolution, I mean the real revolution ha. (Not the ampaw revolution of glamorous housebuilders). I’m referring to leftist mass movements and the armed struggles of communist and separatist rebels. Government apologists will deny the quiet but growing advances of revolutionary movements. They will lie to the people about the real strength of the revolutionists. Those who are afraid to lose their comfortable status in society will ridicule the potential of the revolution. Mention the word revolution and it will spark comments from ideologues, pseudo progressives and blind followers of the ruling order about the irrelevance of the left and its purported crimes against humanity.

In America, politicians often lie about the existence of recession. In the Philippines, reactionary forces are convincing themselves that the left is already a spent force.

Related entries:

Go green, go red.
Brain drain in the health sector
UP student council
Don’t get high on drugs
VAT and Arroyo
In other words

Rights and wrongs

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

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

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

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

Or as Slavoj Zizek explains:

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

Ten commandments

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

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

Zizek clarifies:

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

“Potentially infinite extension of rights”

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

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

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

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

Neoliberal regime of rights

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

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

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

Harvey further elucidates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The battleplan according to Harvey:

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

A different regime of rights:

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

The challenge:

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

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

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

Related entries:

Miriam College, human rights
Human rights 2007
Labor rights

Sentimental nationalists*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related entries:

Ideal victims
More hatred in Mindanao

More hatred needed in Mindanao

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

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

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

Slavoj Zizek on transgressions of the public law:

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

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

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

War of fantasies

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

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

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


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

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

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

‘Pathological Narcissism’

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

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

Ethnic difference

Zizek explains a Leninist point:

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

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

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

Third way?

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

Again, here is Zizek:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need Hatred

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

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

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

and Act

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

Zizek adds:

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

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

Related entries:


Ideal victims

Links: Regulation of online political content in Singapore. How to improve traffic in Brunei. Texting and the Cambodia-Thailand border tension. Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

It was former student leader and fellow activist Jpaul Manzanilla who encouraged me to read Slavoj Zizek two years ago. References for the article below include Zizek’s Welcome to the Desert of the Real, The Metastases of Enjoyment, The Fragile Absolute, and Tarrying with the Negative.

First of two parts.

Homo Sacer refers to an individual of Roman Law who may be killed but cannot be offered in a religious ceremony. Philosopher Giorgio Agamben defined it as someone who is alive as a human being but excluded from the political community. A Homo Sacer is not a full citizen. Another philosopher Slavoj Zizek pointed out that a Homo Sacer is “one who is deprived of his or her full humanity being taken care of in a very patronizing way.”

Examples of Homo Sacer figures in Philippine politics: guerilla fighters of the Communist Party, leftists in the military’s Order of Battle, calamity victims, street vendors, squatter colonies, MILF members and sympathizers.

Related to the concept of Homo Sacer is the universalized notion of the victim. Zizek explains:

“The customary image of the victim is that of an innocent-ignorant child or woman paying the price for political-ideological power struggles. Is there anything more non-ideological than this pain of the other in its naked, mute, palpable presence? This perplexed gaze of a starved or wounded child who just stares into the camera, lost and unaware of what is going on around them, is today the sublime image that cancels out all other images.”

A good victim is passive and helpless. Zizek adds:

“The ideal subject-victim is a political subject without a clear agenda, a subject of helpless suffering, sympathizing with all suffering sides in the conflict, caught up in a madness of a local clash that can be pacified only by the intervention of a benevolent power.”

But a victim who decides to fight back, one who is no longer ready to play the role of a good victim, is immediately described as terrorist, fanatical, fundamentalist, intolerant. Zizek discusses the “paradox of victimization”:

“The Other to be protected is good insofar as it remains a victim; the moment it no longer behaves like a victim, but wants to strike back on its own, it magically turns all of a sudden into a terrorist/fundamentalist/drug-trafficking Other.”

Displaced Moro communities in Mindanao are examples of good victims. They are worthy to receive humanitarian aid. But once they decided to fight back, they become cruel terrorists who need to be punished for their excess. Environmental refugees are also good victims. But if they complained of government neglect and when they begin to question the environmental policies of the state, they are suddenly depicted as brainwashed, communist-influenced, irrational refugees.

When Moro rebels resist military offensives, it is cited as proof that the enemies are terrorists. When communist guerrillas attack police/military posts, it is denounced as a terrorist act. Victims are not allowed to defend themselves against the armed component of the state.

“Theft of enjoyment”

A “reflexive politically correct racism” is visible today, in regards to the GRP-MILF debacle. According to Zizek, this “metaracism” refers to the “multicultural perception of (Mindanao) as the terrain of ethnic horrors and intolerance, of primitive irrational warring passions, to be opposed to the post-nation-state liberal-democratic process of solving conflicts through rational negotiation, compromise and mutual respect. Here racism is, as it were, elevated to the second power: it is attributed to the Other, while we occupy the convenient position of a neutral benevolent observer, righteously dismayed at the horrors going on ‘down there’.”

Notice how many Christian politicians and commentators articulated their respect for the culture of the Moro people but this did not stop them from advocating an all-out war policy. This respect is hypocritical. Again, using the words of Zizek, the real sentiment of these politically correct racists is this: “I know very well that the Other’s culture (Moro culture) is worthy of the same respect as my own: nevertheless…[I despise them passionately].”

This reflected racism is more dangerous than downright (or classical) racism.

The logic of the “theft of enjoyment’ can further explain the surprising hatred of many conservative Filipinos against the Moros. Zizek writes:

“We always impute to the ‘other’ an excessive enjoyment: he wants to steal our enjoyment (by ruining our way of life) and/or he has access to some secret, perverse enjoyment.”

Zizek states further that “what ‘bothers’ us in the ‘other’ is that he appears to enjoy a privileged relationship to the object – the other either possesses the object-treasure, having snatched it away from us (which is why we don’t have it), or poses a threat to our possession of the object.”

Zizek argues that what is concealed in this “blaming the other” process is the “traumatic fact that we never possessed what was allegedly stolen from us.”

Politicians have warned that the possible loss of many parts of Mindanao could threaten the national heritage. National heritage? Again, Zizek clarifies that national heritage is nothing but “a kind of ideological fossil created retroactively by the ruling ideology in order to blur its present antagonism.”

Capital is the enemy

The true enemy of the Moro people is not Manila imperialism but monopoly capitalism. The real violence in Mindanao and elsewhere is the “objective, systemic, anonymous violence” imposed by imperialist Capital on the people.

Zizek reminds us that “while capitalism does suspend the power of the old ghosts of tradition, it generates its own monstrous ghosts.” Capitalism and its “reduction of all heavenly chimeras to brutal economic reality generates a spectrality of its own.”

The ideological foundation behind the barbaric exploitation and incredible violence in Mindanao is sustained by capitalist hegemony. The ugly war between MILF-GRP should not distract us from recognizing that a possible solution to the Mindanao question is Socialism.

The ongoing conflict in the south renders visible the violent antagonism in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society. It is this “open chance and undecidable” resistance of the Moro people which makes it possible to integrate and articulate the socialist project in the Mindanao issue.

Related entries:

Urban facelift
Excess and lack
Other radicals

Gloria and Fidel

Links: Cambodian bloggers are called Cloggers. Urbanization without industrialization in Southeast Asia. The “most foolish act ever” in the history of blogosphere. Laos as an extreme vacation site.

I added new blogs and websites in the Mongster Links section. This article was inspired by Kenneth S. Baer ‘s The Spirit of ’78, Stayin’ Alive.

President Gloria Arroyo is often compared to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Both are cunning and ambitious. They are ruthless to their enemies. Their administrations are tainted by corruption and human rights scandals.

But to understand the political and economic crisis today, it is also advisable to review the state of governance in the country after Marcos was ousted in 1986. The term of former President Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) generated most of the problems that continue to bedevil the country today.

Arroyo herself was once a protégé of Ramos. Arroyo was elected senator in 1992; the same year Ramos became president. In 1998 Arroyo ran for vice president under the Lakas-Kampi coalition. Ramos supported Arroyo during Edsa Dos, Edsa Tres, and most importantly, during the “Hello Garci” scandal when Arroyo was almost removed from power. It was Ramos (and former Speaker Jose De Venecia) who saved the Arroyo presidency in 2005.

It isn’t surprising that Arroyo’s economic and political programs are similar to what her eminent adviser implemented in the past. Aside from belonging to the same clique of the ruling elite, both are loyal followers of the neoliberal agenda.

Ramos and Arroyo were accused of electoral fraud. Ramos was charged by Miriam Defensor Santiago, his most prominent rival, of tampering the election results. The allegation was believable. Ramos won with only a lead of 200,000 votes. Arroyo was also accused by the opposition of manipulating the votes in the 2004 elections. Did Arroyo use the electoral machinery (read: dagdag-bawas operations) of Ramos?

Ramos and Arroyo were involved in numerous corruption cases. Ramos got entangled with the PEA-AMARI land scam, Centennial Expo scandal, and the Smokey Housing project mess. Arroyo, presiding over the most corrupt nation in the region, has been linked to various corrupt-ridden projects like the National Broadband Network project, fertilizer distribution, IMPSA power deal and the overpriced Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard. Arroyo should ask Ramos on how to evade plunder charges once she steps down in 2010.

Ramos and his supporters attempted to amend the Constitution in 1997. The plan was to extend the term of Ramos and other incumbent politicians. Arroyo tried the same tactic in 2006. Both leaders failed in their noble/devious scheme to change the 1987 Constitution.

Ramos was conscious of his image as a Martial Law architect. As president of the Republic, he tried to change this image by signing peace agreements with Moro and communist rebels. He pardoned rebel soldiers, granted amnesty to returning NPA rebels and repealed the Anti-Subversion Law. Arroyo is now determined to sign a controversial memorandum of agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is touted as a big step forward in achieving peace in Muslim Mindanao.

Will the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity suffer the same fate of the short-lived Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development which was conceptualized during the Ramos administration? Is BJE the answer to the peace problem in Mindanao? The SPCPD was used by the Ramos government to earn political and pogi points but it did not lead to a lasting peace. Then and now, rightist and opposition politicians are fomenting hatred against the Moros by warning of a Muslim takeover. Then and now, the historical struggle of the Moros for self-determination is being undermined by an insincere and arrogant Manila government.

Ramos was hailed for carrying out economic reforms in the country. He vowed to make the Philippines an industrialized nation at the end of his term. He built flyovers, airports and new roads. He gave tax incentives to foreigners. He established special economic zones. Arroyo, the economist, is praised for the spectacular economic performance of the Philippines during her term. She is confident the country will achieve First World status in the next decade. She built airport terminals, express highways (and u-turn slots) and call center enclaves.

How did Ramos and Arroyo improve the economy? Foreign loans, overseas remittances, and regressive taxes. The Value Added Tax was introduced during the term of Ramos; it was expanded three years ago.

Ramos was responsible for mainstreaming the neoliberal policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization. He sold public assets, including vital industries, which proved to be detrimental not only to the economy but also to consumer welfare. He liberalized the economy, even the agricultural sector, which destroyed the livelihood of domestic manufacturers and small farmers. The Philippines signed the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade through the initiative of then Senator Gloria Arroyo.

The neoliberal economic policies have improved the financial situation of big corporations. But the situation of ordinary Filipinos has worsened. Rising prices of consumer products like fuel, water, electricity, rice, bread, and farm products should be blamed on the privatization and liberalization programs of the government. Ramos encouraged Independent Power Producers to generate electricity at high rates. He allowed the dumping of foreign products in the market. He abandoned national industrialization in favor of a service economy that is dependent on speculative foreign capital.

Arroyo, another fanatical admirer of the neoliberal dogma, has had the chance to reverse the destructive policies of the Ramos government. The Philippine experience with the neoliberal experiment was not good. Consumer welfare was sidestepped in favor of big business. The domestic economy suffered due to trade liberalization. But Arroyo has chosen to ignore the negative impact of neoliberalism. Instead she is pleased that fiscal balance is restored, foreign investors are happy, and big business is supportive of her programs.

Ramos’ overconfidence was tempered by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He could no longer cite a robust economy as a reason to extend his term. The global financial crisis today has also led Arroyo to acknowledge that some of the government’s economic targets will not be achieved. Both Ramos and Arroyo have blamed external conditions for the poor performance of the economy. Arroyo’s problem is bigger: The poor are hungry, jobless and they could barely afford to buy rice for their families. The food and energy crisis have doomed the political ambition of Arroyo.

Arroyo and Marcos are both hated public figures in modern Philippine history. But we should not forget the role of other politicians, especially Ramos, in manufacturing the crisis we are experiencing today.

Related entries:

Gloria and Marcos
Gloria and Cory
Gloria and Erap
Gloria, Gloria, Gloria

Don’t kill the bill; remember the Rizal Bill

Links: Laos as a country of eco-tourism. Funny tips on how to survive the rising cost of living in Indonesia. A Brunei student in London. The first Brunei Climbathon.

My advice to the supporters of the Reproductive Health bill: Ignore the opposition of the Catholic Church. Concentrate on educating the people.

Politicians should disregard the threat of bishops that they will campaign against lawmakers who will support the controversial legislative measure. Rep. Edcel Lagman, the principal author of the “abortion bill”, managed to win in the last elections despite the aggressive campaign conducted by Catholic groups against his candidacy. Gabriela partylist, an advocate of the divorce bill, has two representatives in Congress. President Fidel Ramos finished his term despite endorsing the artificial family program. The Catholic Church wields a big influence on Philippine politics; but this should not be exaggerated.

Catholic Bishops often use public opinion polls to highlight the worsening poverty and hunger in the country. The same opinion polls show that majority of the people are in favor of using contraceptives. Politicians and bishops should respect the choice of couples.

The Catholic Church is not infallible. Remember its opposition to the passage of the Rizal Bill fifty years ago? If the church succeeded during that time, Jose Rizal’s novels would not have been included as required reading materials in colleges and universities.

Historians Renato and Letizia Constantino wrote briefly about the church’s campaign to defeat the Rizal bill in their seminal book, The Continuing Past. Here is a summary:

Senator Claro M. Recto wanted to include Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in the reading list of college students in 1956. The Catholic Church opposed the proposal claiming it would violate freedom of conscience and religion. They said the “novels belong to the past and it would be harmful to read them because they present a false picture of conditions in the country.” A priest, who was introduced in the senate committee hearing as an authority on Rizal, added that the Noli was not a patriotic book since it only contained 25 patriotic passages as opposed to 120 anti-Catholic statements. A Catholic senator argued that he cannot allow his son to read Rizal’s novels for fear that the boy will lose his faith.

The Catholic Church issued a pastoral statement condemning the bill. Priests actively lobbied in the senate to defeat the measure. Bishops warned that pro-Rizal bill politicians would lose in the next elections. Catholic schools vowed to stop operations once the bill is passed. Recto replied by calling for the nationalization of all schools. He described bishops as “modern-day Torquemadas.” He also criticized the interference of the church on state affairs.

The controversy was resolved when the senate accommodated the objections of the Catholic Church. Students can opt not to read the unexpurgated editions of the novels on grounds of religious belief. (Have you heard of anyone who was allowed not to read the unexpurgated text of Rizal’s novels? Is there a Catholic-endorsed footnoted edition of the novels?)

Today students of Catholic schools are reading the unexpurgated editions of the two novels of Rizal. All students are required to study the life and writings of Rizal. A student today will be surprised to learn that just five decades ago the Catholic Church was telling the people not to read the novels of the national hero.

Catholic universities are now the proud defenders of Rizal’s legacy. Catholic priests often cite Rizal and his books to justify their plea for reforms in society.

The Catholic Church which opposed the teaching of Rizal’s novels is the same institution opposing the Reproductive Health bill. The church was wrong when it opposed the Rizal Bill fifty years ago. The church is wrong for opposing the Reproductive Health bill today.

Recto’s motive when he filed the Rizal Bill was not to attack the clergy. He only wanted the students to read the two great novels of the national hero. Through the novels, students would appreciate not only the literary prowess of Rizal but also his political philosophy. The Reproductive Health bill does not endorse abortion. It wants to prevent abortion by promoting child health, maternal care, male involvement in reproductive health, adolescent health, among others.

Lawmakers should ignore the loud objections of the bishops; they should immediately pass the Reproductive Health bill. Even President Arroyo, who once admitted of using contraceptives when she was a young wife, should muster intellectual courage and honesty to confront the irrational opposition of the Catholic Church. History will absolve them. Recto is still recognized by the youth as an outstanding nationalist leader of the country. Do you still remember the bishops and senators who opposed the Rizal Bill?

Fifty years from now, few Filipinos will remember that the Catholic Church once opposed the reproductive health bill, divorce and gay marriages in the country.

Related entries:

Unholy war
Women and Congress
Population debate
Rizal bill

Unholy war vs. abortionists

Links: Cambodia’s new banknote. The Sabah Fest Cultural Show. Yahoo360 is very popular in Vietnam. Cluster bombs in the fields of Laos.

Thank you James for organizing a special briefing on poll automation. Thank you to all the bloggers who attended the event, especially to the students of UP Manila and De La Salle-Dasmariñas. Will write about the event this week.

Was the Catholic Church provoked when it threatened to withhold the giving of communion to politicians supporting the reproductive health bill? I think so.

Normally the church is satisfied in expressing its vehement opposition to the reproductive health bill through press statements and subtle threats directed to politicians. And the Catholic bishops have a direct line to Malacañang. They could easily nudge the devout Catholic and pragmatic president to kill the bill.

But why the sudden severe gesture of withholding communion to reproductive health advocates?
Perhaps the bishops realized that public opinion seems to be in favor of the bill. They panicked when they saw the handwritings on the wall. Bishops are not just bible readers and PAGCOR cash recipients; they are also newspaper readers. They might have read the news story about the priest who received an unusual mass offering: a dead fetus inside a bottle. Maybe this “message in a bottle” was interpreted by the bishops as an act of provocation initiated by diehard reproductive health adherents. And so the bishops replied with their own act of hostility. A message was sent: The bishops will not easily give up the holy war against the “conceptual abortionists.”

There were other instances which could have persuaded the bishops to rethink their political strategy. The dead fetus incident may have jolted the bishops into action but the throwing of a dead baby in a building, the long lines in front of NFA rice stores, and the early campaigning of presidentiables may have convinced church leaders about the need for drastic and early intervention to prevent Congress from approving the reproductive health bill.

How is the food crisis related to the population issue? Rising food prices has forced the government in recent months to review its agricultural policies. At the same time, politicians and several scholars have also raised the issue of overpopulation. They claimed that a high population growth rate worsens hunger and poverty in the country. The long lines in front of NFA rice stores throughout the country highlight the large number of people dependent on subsidized rice. Maybe the bishops realized their enemies might use the daily spectacle in front of NFA stores to explain the difficulty of feeding more than 90 million people. Maybe they sensed that if Congress passed the reproductive health bill, the Catholic faithful, even the hungry poor, will have no qualms in using artificial contraceptive methods. They have to act decisively.

The church is an influential endorser during elections. Politicians are always eager to get the support of Catholic bishops. The church directive to deny communion to select politicians can be construed as an election-related action. Maybe the bishops did not expect that presidential candidates will campaign this early. They were frustrated that the TV ads and media statements of prospective candidates contain no reference to the reproductive health position of the church. Maybe the real intent of the bishops is to compel candidates and political parties to include the population program of the church in their electoral agenda. The church is sending a warning to candidates: “Do not endorse the abortion bill or else you will lose in the elections.” At this early, the church wants to define the issues to be tackled in the 2010 elections.

To block the passage of a legislative measure, the most effective tactic is to secure the vote of the person who controls Congress: President Gloria Arroyo. The church used a very clever and cunning ploy to get the support of the president. A few months ago, Archbishop Oscar Cruz urged the priests not to give communion to public sinners. Many people believe he was referring to Arroyo as one of the public sinners. The controversy has died down, but the threat remains. Now the church wants to deny communion to “abortionists.” If the president supports the reproductive health bill, the bishops can quickly summon the faithful to excommunicate abortionists and public sinners. The president got the message. She has recently endorsed the position of the church on reproductive health. The bishops’ “divine intervention” has worked.

The doctrine of the separation of Church and State is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution. Politicians and commentators are using this argument to oppose the unnecessary meddling of some bishops in the work of Congress. But the church has every right to speak on political, social, and economic issues. It has an obligation to guide the faithful in fighting the evils in society. What we should resist are the extremist, dogmatic and anti-women doctrines of the church. Accusing reproductive health supporters as abortionists is harsh and unfair. It reflects the “terrorist” mindset of some members of the clergy. The church should struggle to become a progressive, not reactionary and conservative force in society.

Most likely the church will succeed in preventing the enactment of a reproductive health bill. Church leaders and their supporters will declare a victory of good versus evil, of life over death. But it’s a sad victory. It is the women and children who will suffer most if a comprehensive reproductive health program is not implemented. Reproductive rights are human rights. The life of the unborn is as sacred as the lives of the living.

Related entries:

Population debate
Religion and politics
Church and economic doctrines