Friday, January 30, 2009

Pulse Asia Survey on Reproductive Health and the RH Bill

8 out of 10 Filipinos think government should not only educate couples regarding modern methods of family planning but also provide them with services and materials on these methods.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


This time of year two divergent discourses about the state of the world and the direction it should take compete with each other at the transplanetary level. The goliath World Economic Forum is as old and as establishment as the World Social Forum is gauche and alternative. The former traces its roots to European business elites powwowing up the Swiss mountains in the 1970s, the latter to the unprecedented solidarity of the world’s social movements in the run up to the 1999 WTO summit in Seattle.

The motor of the world’s economic logic has truly made everything go global. Work, culture, people, money, commodities, crises, terror, climate change, resources, solutions, ideals, life, love, hope. From its birthplace in the British Isle five centuries past, Capitalism has proven to be an enduring means with which humanity produces and reproduces its reason for being. Much to the dismay of Uncle Karl, Capitalism is here to stay for as long as its contradictions are regulated by the institutions which govern the world today. Times like these call for deep soul-searching, when the system is ululating its swan’s song, the rot of its innards exposed for all to see. Where has history taken us? And do we want those who are yet born to tread the same path? When we have produced and consumed all the Earth can offer, where to next?

The dynamism with which the machine has created all the wonders of the modern age all came at a price. As the world has never been more materially abundant, so too has it seen the wretched multiply. Do we really need all that we have? And must we continue to pay such a steep price to acquire them? At what price security? At what price borders? At what price silly comforts? At what price the blemish-free banana?

All that was solid has melted into air. The tangibility of the modern age now rests on the liquidity of the new age. Capital is disperse, the State a lean, mean enforcing machine, and Labor is now scouring the Earth for livelihood. Even the inert is now open for pillage by marauding opportunists. Land for lease, if not for sale. Classes lay horizontal, alliances traversing borders. The money-mongers in this Third World hole now have more in common with the ones in London than with the Filipino hawking his goods down the street.

In Davos meet the alliances of those who own and run the world, in Brazil those who yearn for an alternative. Ensconced in their snowy enclave CEOs, Prime Ministers, financiers, media moguls and global institutions assess the damage they have wrought and seek to find a remedy. The usual band-aid measures may no longer suffice as we hemorrhage, and hemorrhage. In Belém 100,000 converge to once more lay claim to the global public sphere and to manifest the need for a more democratic means with which we govern ourselves and with which we steward the planet to equitably and sustainably partake of its wealth.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's America

Had America chosen to elect the Republican, it would have been on the wrong side of history. At a time when the world’s interconnections have never been more evident, a septuagenarian in the White House would have been anachronism. A relic of the Cold War, McCain would not have had the cognitive capacity to situate himself and his country in the fabric of the global community. His would be a punitive, paranaoïque America – suspicious of everyone and everything.

Barack Obama is not only shiny-new and palpably earnest. He is the embodiment of what the United States has lost in the last eight years – a moral force that would unmistakably do the right thing. He also embodies American exceptionalism – that national myth that puts the American experience in the realm of the extraordinary – head and shoulders above the rest. Yes that “shining beacon” on top of the hill. Indeed where else could a black man have been elected President outside of the Dark Continent?

His inaugural address is properly resolute and sober. He speaks of the rocky road ahead, an America at the heart of the impending global depression. He calls on the people to draw deep from the well of America’s history – a collective memory of valor in the face of immense difficulty. He is credible, authentic, when he makes this call. His life’s story is an exemplar – a slice of American spunk and grit. A complete one hundred eighty degree turn from the Bush era’s fear of the ‘Other’, Obama owns the triumphs of multiculturalism. He pays tribute to the first immigrants from Europe, and the millions more who would follow to build the nation.

The rest of the speech draw images of an America once again ready to engage the world. He extends a hand to Muslims, and to millions watching around the globe. Never have I seen a US president so acutely aware of America’s place in the world, and indeed, the moral role it must play. Obama very calmly takes on the mantle of messianic America - with all its strength and its weaknesses. As pretenders wait in the wings, we welcome Obama's America - an inclusive power with a leadership that seeks to dialogue where others shoot before asking questions. We shall have to take Barack for his word - that he will seek to build bridges rather than nuking them.

In choosing Barack Obama, the United States once more flexes that weapon no amount of defense spending would ever muster. No other country - not federated Europe, not nascent China nor the resurgent Russia has ever quite possessed nor wielded the might of the American ideal.

Monday, January 12, 2009

For Gaza

Excerpts of a paper I wrote for a communications elective some time ago about how the American public was primed to go to war in Iraq. Over two dozen theories. Imagine that.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been there since before most of us were born. I imagine it will remain so in the forseeable future. What we can do as people who have no direct interest in the escalation of hostilities since Christmas is to be critical of what we read before we "choose sides." I have been accused of defending Islamists etc. etc. Yes, our brains just might be linguistically configured to frame reality as a narrative - a story. But surely, we cannot simply cast characters as protagonists and antagonists. It would not matter if our judgments were cast in a movie house. But this. Lives are at stake.


The War for Hegemonic Meanings

Cultural Studies’ concepts of hegemony and culture wars are useful in piercing through the Clash of Civilisations rhetoric and formulating alternative courses of action that do not necessarily end in waging or supporting military action.

Briefly, the paradigm makes two core assumptions; that culture is part of all human behaviour and the society has hierarchies of power. Culture, as it is created and consumed, is shaped by dominant groups to win the non-dominant groups’ compliance to the status quo. Hegemony, drawn from Gramsci’s work on coercion and consent, problematises the relations between meaning and power. The drawing of consent consolidates political power.

Cultural Studies assumes that the media is not a neutral carrier of culture. It is a tool for dominant ideologies through its functional power of controlling the flow of information. It follows then that the media is an important site in the battle for the creation of meanings and identities, what Stuart Hall calls the ‘theatre of struggle’.

Marco Tarchi (2001) systematically reveals how the dominant groups in the United States were able to win the battle for the hegemonic meaning of the September 11 attacks to achieve multiple goals. The attacks were reified to justify the use of force, to rally support domestically and internationally, to classify who were the players, and to define what was at stake. He notes that in the media, there seemed to have been an automatic mechanism for self-disciplining - an internal logic to how the coverage was conducted:

The new war has suddenly been prepared, justified, and administered competently
by ‘Western’ media, which has internalised and automated the codes of NATO
propaganda. All of this has taken place without specific directives, which helps
understand the depth of the homogenisation of contents and of the media’s mode
of expression in this part of the world (Tarchi 2001: 169).

The concentration of media coverage on the World Trade Centre towers, rather than the Pentagon, achieved two goals. First, it gained sympathy from the international community as photos of the ‘innocent’ civilians were beamed world-wide, their deaths rendered more tragic than deaths elsewhere. Second, it served to ‘decontextualise’ the historical precedent of the existence of Al Qaeda – both a product and a consequence of the heart of the US military machine.

President Bush’s use of language helped define who were the protagonists and who were the bad guys. In his first statement after the attacks he used the word ‘evil’ five times. He would “eradicate evil from the world,” and “smoke out and pursue…evil-doers, those barbaric people.”

To make sure that there was no ambiguity, Bush categorically made us choose, “either you’re with us or against us” in the US-led effort to quash “the War against Freedom.” His pronouncements simultaneously forced the international community to identify with the United States and defined that ‘freedom’ was at stake. In the bid to win consent for what it was about to do, the Bush administration transmuted the attack against the US to the attack against the whole of Western civilisation and anyone who valued freedom. ‘Freedom’ is never explicitly defined. Whose freedom needed defending? What kind of freedom needed defending?

Making the Frame Work for the War on Terror

Framing is the selection of certain images, facts and developments over others and assembling them in a certain order to promote a particular interpretation of events. It also entails the conscious use of language to evoke ideas. A complete frame is able to perform four functions; define the problem, provide causes, give moral judgment and promote solutions. It enables the condensing of complex issues to simple, easily digestible narratives.

The events of 9/11 signalled a ‘critical culture shift’ in the way US mass media frame issues of national security. American perceptions of global terrorism have changed more than the reality of terrorism. For example, studies from the US State Department show that the incidences of terrorism have actually fallen in the past decade.

In the previous section we have outlined the dominant groups’ ascription of meaning to 9/11 – that it triggered a war between Good and Evil and there was an urgent need to defend ‘Freedom.’ How has this hegemonic interpretation been operationalised in the media? How has a set of profoundly complex issues, in the context of decades-long historical events and involving millions of lives in different continents, been framed?

Following Entman’s framing functions, how has the problem been defined? The problem, if George Bush is to be believed, is that these Islamic evil-doers hated the West for its freedoms.

What is the cause of the problem? To unravel the complexity of causal factors, let us first begin with journalistic omissions. The problem is not caused by US military presence in the Middle East since the first Gulf war. It is not caused by the deaths of as many as half a million Iraqis as a consequence of US-sponsored trade embargoes. It is not caused by the resentment in the Arab world over the decades-long Israeli conflict and the perceived injustice of Palestinians losing their land. It is not caused by foreign powers’ struggle to control the region and its most precious resource.

Instead, what are the framed causes given? That ‘Islamic civilisation’ is inherently incompatible with the ‘West,’ and the differences between the two are the source of the former’s envy and hatred. That Islam is a religion that drives its practitioners to extremism. The fact that it is a centuries old creed which has had as many permutations as Christianity, the fact that it is practiced by over a billion people in varied cultural contexts across the globe, is glossed over. Islam is one just as the West is one.

Edward Saïd’s scholarship on Orientalism details the systematic manufacture of the ‘Other.’ The project of separating the Western ‘Self’ from the Islamic ‘Other’ entails omissions in history, extirpating all traces and influence of the ‘Other,’ denying cultural borrowings, denying commonalities. Only after having successfully excised the foreign in the ‘Self’ can the West declare its superiority.

Because Islamic civilisation breeds fundamentalists and terrorists and because it practices a backward, regressive religion, it is imperative for the West, led by the embattled United States, to set its people free. The choice of words to frame the issue is telling. The Pentagon first named the war against terror ‘Operation Infinite Justice’ inferring that the use of armed force is just. As supreme leader of the morally righteous America, George Bush “will not waver” in this “test of the nation’s faith.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Authenticity and Mar Roxas

Our circuitous route took us to the non-event, Jester, Marocharim and I. A non-event which was fruitful in that at our bodies were nourished with food and drinks. On the way I said I was nervous and didn't know why. I had no expectations and with good reason. To expect anything would have led to disappointment. I was not disappointed. Non-events do no such thing.

The Senator is more goodlooking in person, although he lacks any kind of gravitas a charismatic leader would need to govern. While young and theoretically promising, he would not be able to command me to jump off a building. One question after the next, the good senator parried well with DJB, Ding and the others. I noticed he had a ready answer for each query, not pausing to think or reflect. Idle chatter it was, his answers to all questions were as vacuous as the space he occupied - devoid of truth or principles, devoid of warmth or subjectivity. Technically his answers were to be expected from a politician - at first impression weighty, but in essence hollow.

I did not get to ask him all the questions ruminating in my head, although he did talk about two of my pet issues. On the Reproductive Health bill, the senator does not seem to think that the Church mattered much, when in reality the clergy is the single biggest lobby against its passage. Twice I asked him what he thought about state support in providing family planning services, and twice he refused to answer - in the circuitous manner politicians do. On the State's labour export policy, the Senator did not even recognize that it was problematic. For him it was fact, a permanent feature of the Philippine social landscape.

I asked him, if and when he does announce his candidacy for the highest office in the land, why I should vote for him. His simple answer was that he was the best.

The best? Given that we take "the best" at face value, then is he the best this society has produced to run for President? Now that, I found disappointing. He may be the best technocrat there is, but you have a whole bureaucracy for the nitty-gritty. I need a leader who can offer me vision and a sense of proportion. A leader whose call for unity I would follow. A leader who struggles to inspire. A leader with a pulse.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Bubuyog Tonite: De la Paz, di nagkasya sa payong - tumawag ng resbak. Mga kamag-anak nagdala ng baseball bat, steak knife at palo-palo

Ayon kay Department of Agrarian Reform Nasser Pangandaman Sr., ang nakatatandang manlalaro ng golf na si Delfin De la Paz ang nagpasimuno ng bugbugang naganap sa Valley Golf Club noong kapaskuhan.

Hindi umano nagkasya si De la Paz sa paghataw ng payong sa anak ng DAR Secretary na si Dayunior, bagkus ay tumawag pa ng resbak. Sa loob ng clubhouse naganap ang ikalawang yugto ng bakbakan kung saan hinarap na muli ng 56 años na golfer, sampu ng kanyang matipunong 14 años na anak na si Bino at ang talaga namang fit-na-fit na manghahataw na si Bambee, si Mayor Dayunior at ang tropang body guards nito.

Lakas loob na ipinagtanggol ni Dayunior ang sarili, sa talaga namang kahindik-hindik na galit ng mga De la Paz. Buti na lamang at hindi nakapasok sa club house ang resbak ng mga De la Paz - na nagdala pa umano ng baseball bat, steak knife at palo-palo. Hindi nga naman maipagkakaila ang takot at nerbiyos na naramadaman ng mga Pangandaman kung kaya't bumunot ng baril ang mga bodyguard ng mga ito. Sa pagtatanggol sa sarili, hindi nga naman maiiwasang magkasakitan at magtamo ng mga pasa at duguang tainga ang tatay at ang bata.

Sa kasulukayan ay humihingi ng kaunting hinahon ang DAR Secretary mula sa walang habas na pangangawawa ng mga bloggers sa pamilya nito. Nasasaktan daw ang damdamin ng pamilya sa bala ng mga maaanghang na pananalita na tinamo dahil sa bugbugang naganap.

Ang di magkamayaw na mga Pangandaman ay talaga namang nalugmok na sa kailaliman ng pagkabalisa na'ng pati ang mga magsasakang Pilipino ay humingi ng pagtiwalag nito sa puwesto. Ang mga walang habas at malupit na mga magsasaka ay 'di na raw dapat pa'ng sumawsaw sa isyu. Manahimik na lamang sila at magdildil ng asin sa mga said na bukirin at naibasura na nga naman ang Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Resentment and Cultural Oppression

The French word ressentiment which translates to the English word "resentment" literally means to "feel again." Doomed to repetition, resentment towards this society's emptied culture and cyclical politics can be at times overwhelming. Many have found the solution to this often crippling frustration. To relieve oneself of ressentiment one must deaden feeling.

And so here we breathe, creatures of routine, carving superficial predictabilty and stability to live our lives. But is it truly living? To endure so much for the sake of superficial order is slow suicide. Doth we protest much?

To tamp down expectations, indeed to have no expectations at all from what is external is supposedly pragmatic. So here we retreat to the sanctity of the private spaces we occupy - our homes, our work, our leisure. Our heads buried in sand, we inhale. The world will somehow right itself without us doing, like magic.

Hypocrites or fools? Are we so comatose as to have abandoned all conceptions of the ideal? Subservient slaves we are, comfortably rolling in the filth in which we live. As everyone is now equally dirty, we seek not what is clean. No expectations of triumph, good will or trust in each other's capacity for public good. No sense of what is just and moral without faith in god - who will magically, without our doing, make things right.

Why bother, some say. Why indeed? In this day and age this easily remedied by trading one form of slavery for another. The magic of transporting oneself to another locality has its advantages - better wages, better living. The sacrifices may be more than incalculable for some, but no matter. No better life can be imagined in this locality, and so it must be sought elsewhere. And yet we return. We return out of duty, guilt or gloating.

So our barren imaginations cannot conceive of a better way of life, aside from inane platitudes of those who would seek greatness where there is none.

I resent that there is not more. I resent that we cannot imagine more. I resent that we dare not more. I resent.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Let's Talk About Golf

A live Rock Ed Radio forum on violence on or off the golf course and how we are - in general.

Panelists are peace advocate Bobby Garcia, PLM President Adel Tamano, AdMU Prof and Ladlad Party Chair Danton Remoto.

Discussion moderated by Lourd de Veyra and Gang Badoy

Friday, 2 Jan 2009.
Route 196
Katipunan Rd, Blue Ridge Stretch
near Shell gas station corner past from White Plains

Don't miss this explosive night.