Friday, June 26, 2009

The Philosopher who would be King

I know Randy David to be an excellent writer and scholar and I have memories of him from his talk show, Public Forum, when I was much younger. While I ‘know’ him from what he has written and said on TV, I have only met him once. Shortly after the Hello Garci scandal broke, I heard him speak in a little powwow along with some people from Akbayan. He did an excellent summation of how the Marcos era destroyed many of our institutions and why we seem to have been in a permanent state of crisis since. Given his audience, he outlined the role of the civil society and of the middle class. For this he admitted he remained a singularly bourgeois scholar. He spoke for well over an hour without notes, without pause. I was impressed. It may well have been any one of his lectures of the past few decades but he delivered it with the surety of one who professes only truth as he saw it.

People who produce knowledge, scholars such as Professor David, are tasked by their vocation to be critical of the status quo. It is the culture of the academe, especially in the social sciences, where all concepts are in a constant state of contestation. This culture of critique, by nature, is questioning. Ideas are an academic’s currency. And ideas are only upheld for as along as they can be convincingly defended. These debates are done in a collegial atmosphere, where truth and malice would be bed partners aberrant.

Today the good professor proclaims his intention to run for public office – an arena where malice is a constant. In politics there are no truths, no ideals. There is only what is pragmatic. And while Professor David is no tyro in the public eye, I worry that he has not the skills to fight the dirty fight in a battle with the most powerful person in the land. He would contest a most skilled politician with an incumbent’s financial and political resources. Asked where he would get the resources to campaign, he blithely replied if he runs maybe it would come.

My admiration for Professor David is not new, and I am ecstatic he has strongly expressed interest in running for Congress in 2010. It is perhaps the natural evolution of one who has over the decades tirelessly described this patch of the world. Frustration after frustration, inutile at the sidelines, he has probably realized the time is ripe to change it.

I would donate P500 pesos to support Professor David as he embarks on an impossible quest to slay a monster. Imagine if there were thousands more of you who would do the same.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Castor and Pollux

The newest additions to our family!

Their proud mum Rune

We now haz six doggies...and a lone cat!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The De-politicizing Tendencies of the Hyperreal

As we spend many of our conscious hours in virtuality, there is a temptation to overstate the importance of goings-on in cyberspace. I say yes, swim in the text, but keep your head above the liquidity and the unmoored relativity of language.

Marocharim, in his posts The Slacker Effect and Mona Lisa Overdrive, questions the triumphalist tendencies of social media over the realm of the real. In a nutshell, he does not think that ‘cyberactivism’ is a substitute for agency in the real world. I will be the first to agree with him, but I do not think that agency in either world need be mutually exclusive. Isn’t the divide between the real and representation artificial? And do they not mutually bleed into each other?

But do let us acknowledge the de-politicizing tendencies Marocharim has pointed out. Here the battle is drawn between the Word and the Flesh - the materiality of modernity and the fluidity of postmodernity.

The debate between structuralists (modernists) and post-structuralists (postmodernists) is not new. The first rests on the certitude that there is truth to be known and all knowledge builds foundations to seek truth. Politics then proceeds from this quest. For example, it is true that that Democracy is a good way of governing a self-ascribed community. It is ‘good’ because it rests on principles of equality and justice. Equality and Justice are truths that rest on the material. They are universal values that must be sought and upheld by all humankind.

The second school has attempted to unravel many of the claims of the modern era. Post-structuralists argue that there is no truth – at least no single version of it. Democracy, at least the dominant version of it, they will argue, is a construct unique to the history of a specific place and time. The specificity which lays claim to universality is a dominating and destructive act. While the work of post-structuralists is useful in revealing the heretofore hidden modes of control and domination in knowledge, the uncertainty this has unleashed has destroyed many of the bases from which we as subjects act. If we are unsure about the values ‘equality’ and ‘justice’, whether it is good or bad given the specificity of this place, time and context, what would motivate us to act? What makes us political?

Another triumph of modernity is placing history in a linear continuum, thus the belief in ‘progress.’ One progresses from point A to point B to point C and so on. Implicit in progression is an assumption that point B, is ‘better’ than point A. Thus we can conclude that progress has eliminated slavery. Slavery is bad. Equality is good.

These are some controversies, for decades still unresolved, between the modern and the postmodern, between the Flesh and the Word.

So let us go back to the earlier problematic posed. Is agency or conscious action in the ocean of texts, that is, the cyberworld, a substitute for conscious action in the real world? Obviously not. It is good (see, I’m making a modernist argument here) to acknowledge the limits of cyberactivism. It is good to acknowledge that the Word will not, by itself, transform the world. A simple reality check will alert us to the fact (again a modern invention) that there are still places in this country with no electricity!

Before we become dispirited about the inherent limits of the Word, let us not forget those who read and write it. To read and write constitute conscious acts. To read and write about politics are political acts. But it is important to note that these are beginnings, not ends in themselves.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Self and Society

Business World today has two excellent columns which, at first glance, do not seem to be interralted. The one written by Marivic Rufino pokes fun at snobbishness in our society. The other by economist Cayetano Paderanga is a melancholic account of how Filipinos have failed at economic development.

Reading the two in succession, I cannot help but see a correlation. While I am not one to privilege cultural explanations over the tremendous limits placed by unseen social forces, structural limits and the burden of history, I cannot but help reflect more and more towards our incomplete nation-building project. Above and beyond materially putting two and two to make four, our consciousness as a single cultural unit - bound and destined by fate towards a singular goal - is far from cohesive.

Rufino hints at a culture that does not lend itself to democratic principles - that is, at core, we are all equals. How does this fit with our on-paper republican ideals?

Paderanga notes:
But now, as the impatience and irascibility of age creep into my sentiments, I start to see that our failure has never been in the resources, the hard work, and the incremental adjustments that we have somehow missed. That somehow we have always found defeat in victory, that we would somehow undercut our own selves, that what we lack is something fundamental. Perhaps, it is the common vision, the common soul, the collective spirit that would make us work really, really hard and work as one with little attention to what is coming to us or our families; that special something that gives meaning to the self-sacrifice for the common good among us. I find this piece missing every time I witness the supreme egoism manifested in traffic snarls where nobody gives in to anybody, or when I see insensitive attention to the public in service areas, or when I witness the high-handed treatment of powerless individuals by powerful interests or officials. In fact, I see it everywhere; sometimes I see it in me. And I start to lose the optimism that my father gave to me.
Is it an inability to see ourselves in each other that is today's social cancer? Far from the sense of community that underlined the Bayanihan spirit of our ancestors, have we devolved into this dog-eat-dog mentality where only the toughest, meaning those willing to do the dirty work, triumph?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Dilemma over People Power

The short Twitter exchange between myself and Doc Emer was taken out of context in Ms. Veneracion’s column on Manila Standard. For the past week I have been glued to the revolution unfolding in Iran. And I tweeted that People Power is one Philippine export our people could be proud of, to which Doc Emer replied “No. They're sick and tired of people power.” I tweeted back, “A shame then. How can people be sick and tired of fighting for freedom?”

Ms. Veneracion in her column reiterates the People Power was not a mass-initiated event. No account of EDSA 1 and EDSA 2 would claim otherwise. I certainly don’t. I also agree with her on the narrowness of People Power’s aims:
Third, the 1986 Edsa Revolution, a.k.a. People Power, was a fight for freedom only in a very narrow sense because its proponents were fighting to free themselves primarily, and the country secondarily, from the tyranny of Marcos.
I would not go so far though, to claim that People Power was manufactured to suit these ends:
It was merely about booting out some people and placing others in their stead. It was never about a long-term empowerment of the masses but merely a monitored empowerment that lasted only long enough to install new protagonists in key positions in government.
I understand Ms. Veneracion’s fear of ‘People Power.’ More than two decades later, the promise of EDSA has been frittered away. It is arguable whether we are better off today than Filipinos who lived through the Marcos regime. She is fearful of what might result from another EDSA revolt, fearful most of political opportunists who might take advantage. We need only look at Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to see that the consequence of our action has installed a President who now rivals Marcos in her hunger for absolute power.

This points then to the limits of People Power, what it is and what it is for. I agree with the characterization of Joel Rocamora, when he says it is a symptom of our ‘low intensity democracy.’ Because our institutions are far from democratic, they are open to monopoly by power holders. The current push for constitutional change, which all political observers interpret to be Arroyo’s bid to remain in power, is testament to this susceptibility to monopoly.

While we can debate over the consequences of People Power, that is, the citizens’ recourse to action when our major institutions – the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary, are co-opted by non-democratic forces - can we cast doubt over the utility, indeed the reason for being, of People Power itself?

I say no. For as long as our political institutions continue to be hi-jacked by a few, for as long as our government cannot and does not reflect what we citizens deem to be good and just way of governing, then the Filipino ought to have recourse for People Power. It ought to remain a legitimate means to air our grievance especially in times of crisis. When our institutions are open and accessible to the will of all, then we may lay the parliament of the streets to rest.

The question then is not whether Conass will trigger People Power, as Ms. Veneracion asks. The question is why must we resort to People Power at all? Why if we have the trappings of a democratic society, must we resort to unleashing the Power of the Powerless? That is, the act of articulating, whether it be on blogs, on Twitter or out on the streets, that the Empress has no clothes?

Eschewing Complacent Realism

Political philosopher David Estlund, on status-quo defenders' fear of Utopian thinking:
I haven’t settled whether perfect people would need laws, courts, police or other hallmarks of normal political conditions. I’ve mainly questioned why that question is supposed to matter. The point isn’t that political theory positively ought to assume moral perfection. It will pay at this point to remind ourselves of the polemical situation. A political theory gives an account of justice, authority, legitimacy or some other central normative political value, and is confronted by an objection on grounds of realism: we all know people won’t act in the ways this theory says that justice, or authority, or legitimacy depend upon. I have argued that it is an adequate reply to point out that the theory never said they would. It only said that there would be no justice or authority or legitimacy unless they did.
And so it pays to ask normative questions, that is, questions about how things ought to be. Read the rest of Estlund's article here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Islam and Democracy

Sections of a paper I wrote many moons ago, when the agenda-setters in world politics were crucifying anything and everything that had to do with Islam. I think it funny now that the color green connotes hope and resistance when some years back the 'red menace' was replaced by the 'green peril.' Too, the cry 'God is great' is no longer deemed a cry of terrorists but of freedom fighters.

Of course this assessment refers specifically to the Arab Muslim world, and I wonder now whether the uprising in Iran is making old timers in the Middle East quake in their boots. Revolution - it is catching.

Post 9/11: Selling Democracy

Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union was unforseen by the leaders of the “free world,” so too were the events leading up to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The 1990s were marked with sub-state instability and civil wars. It was clear that while the likelihood of inter-state conflict may have been diminished with only the United States remaining the lone superpower, insecurity would come from a-territorial elements. The 9/11 attacks showed that stable autocratic allies, while ensuring “stability” in the Middle East and secure access to energy, had not led to a blemish-free Pax Americana.

Discounting questions of the legality of invading Afghanistan and Iraq, and how the United States went about these wars undemocratically, the new foreign policy seems intent on finally integrating “soft” measures with “hard” ones. In an uncharacteristic turnabout from the war rhetoric of a few years back, Condoleeza Rice has admitted that the US has a sixty-year record of supporting “stability at the expense of democracy in...the Middle East.”

Addressing the National Defence University in Washington, President George Bush reiterated the vision of a democratic Middle East.
We know that freedom, by definition, must be chosen, and that the democratic institutions of other nations will not look like our own. Yet we also know that our security increasingly depends on the hope and progress of other nations now simmering in despair and resentment. And that hope and progress is found only in the advance of freedom. This advance is a consistent theme of American strategy -- from the Fourteen Points, to the Four Freedoms, to the Marshall Plan, to the Reagan Doctrine.
Given the history of US intervention in the Arab world, scholars from either side agree that the new American tact suffers greatly from a credibility gap.

The Arab intellectual elite, often educated in the West, express deep suspicion of the US’ democratisation rhetoric. It is troubling that this influential group who are most able to sway public opinion doubt US intentions. US aid to incumbents in the region totalled $250 million in the 90s. These were designed not to rock the status quo as American security concerns required stable (if autocratic) allies.

Some of the foreign policy initiatives meant to foster democratisation include the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) unveiled in 2003. It was meant to assist democratisation “indirectly” through the support of civil society movements advancing education and women’s rights. The initial funding of MEPI at $29 million certainly seems a paltry sum compared to the $250 billion spent on the Iraq war effort thus far.

While the US is prepared to deliver hard solutions alone, it is taking a more inclusive tact on its democratisation drive by bringing up the agenda in multilateral talks and institutions. The United Nations’ Arab Human Development Report of 2002 was downloaded one million times in its first year of release.

Also, another program, the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) was unveiled by the US in the G8 Summit of June 2004 (Hobson 2005). On the cultural front, the launch of Radio Sawa ("Together") and the Al Hurrah ("The free") was meant to initiate young Arabs to American culture.

All these initiatives lead us to the question of whether a democracy can be created through external pressure. The danger in this scenario is that while a polity may be induced to acquire the trappings of democratic institutions, elections being the most visible and readily doable, it remains a question whether “the people” have the capacity to exercise their democratic rights.

“Democracy” and a transition to democracy need to be unpacked. Substantive definitions should go beyond mere electoralism, which essentialises democracy as a ceremony with ballot boxes. A substantive conceptualisation of democracy has to address the state apparatus’ accountability to its people and any “transition” to democracy necessitates changes in the institutionalisation of broad political participation. However, democratisation in the Middle East (and indeed many developing countries today) depend not only on domestic agency and local socio-historical contexts. Increasingly, it also hinges on the enabling or stunting role of external agents in a global context. This leads us then to examine the relationship of internal and external conditions in the Arab world that may open avenues and present obstacles to a transition to democracy.

Crafting Rule of the People

The dominant doctrine for political development in American scholarship today has abandoned questions of political philosophy and theory. Minimalist recommendations are easily measurable and polities can be mapped on a linear progression, moving towards or away from “democracy.” (O’Donnell, Schmitter and Whitehead 1986). Paul Cammack calls this normative commitment to democracy “procedural”:
…A system of government that meets three essential conditions: meaningful and extensive competition among individuals and organized groups (especially political parties) for all positions in government, a highly inclusive level of political participation in selection of leaders and policies (at least through regular and fair elections), a level of civil and political liberties (1997: 219).
“Democracy” is fundamentally a political system that legitimises decisions on the basis of formal, procedural, legal correctness without distinction of content except in respect for civil liberties and the equality before the law of all citizens. There is no reference to substantive justice and no link to a system of ultimate values.

This kind of minimalist prescription has led to a “low intensity democracy” in many newly-democratic societies since the “third wave” (Huntington 1991).

A low intensity democracy is a result of both external and internal pressures. But more than anything, authors Gills and Rocamora claim it is an opening meant to facilitate penetration of global capital. It is an unstable political system as it opens up the political space for mobilisation of elements from both left and right while the state apparatus itself, and the incumbent regime, struggle to maintain political order (1992). Seen through the linear progression of transitologists mentioned earlier (O’Donnell et al), then a low intensity democracy is but a few paces away from “transition.”

The 2005 elections in Iraq revealed that fractures of society are divided along ethno-religious lines. Political liberalisation in a sovereign territory which has not reflexively defined itself as one “nation” can only be susceptible to disintegration or a remapping of borders. Democratic institutions, as they have evolved in the Western model, are meant to foster competition. In a country that has not functioned as a single politico-cultural unit, minimalist democracy exacerbates internal imaginary divisions based on different identities.

A nuanced conceptualisation of democracy and democratisation takes a more multi-dimensional approach. The work of Jean Grugel (2002) and Rueschemeyer, Stephens & Stephens (1992) take into account the economic and societal prerequisites of democratisation and their impact on politics.

While democracy is a political order, its efficacy depends on certain preconditions. In the developing world some modicum of citizens’ economic stability directly impinge on their ability to exercise their democratic rights and duties. Operating on a “one-cannot-eat-one’s-right-to-vote” principle, “citizens” are more than willing to trade the sanctity of the ballot for a week’s worth of grocery money.

In Capitalist Development and Democracy, Rueschemeyer, Stephens and Stephens offer a more textured and complex relationship between capitalist development and democracy. While the authors are cognizant of the democratising powers of capitalist development, they do not simply attribute this to the creation of a middle class, the improvement of education or an increase in the numbers of televisions or telephones per household, “measurables” in modernisation theory.

Transition and consolidation of democracy, according to their framework are contingent on the following:

1. Balance of power among different classes and class coalitions
2. Structure, strength and autonomy of the state apparatus and relations with civil society
3. Impact of transnational power relations (on 1 and 2)

The authors claim that ultimately, the contradictions of capitalism generated pro-democratic forces in their case studies in Latin America and Asia. More importantly, Rueschemeyer Stephens and Stepehens emphasise the fundamental requirement for any functioning democracy to take place - that of a strong institutional separation or differentiation of the realm of politics from the overall system of inequality in society (1992: 42).

Grugel’s Democratisation: A Critical Introduction also favours a conceptual framework on democratisation which examines the dynamic between the political and the economic. Similar to the previous authors mentioned, Grugel also uses three levels of analysis:

1. The State
2. Civil Society
3. Globalisation

A democratic state apparatus is one which has undergone institutional change, representative change and functional transformation (what the state actually does and its functional responsibilities). Some obstacles to the democratisation of the state concern national identity, issues on sovereignty, poor state capacity, authoritarian legacies and political fallout from economic reform.

A viable civil society able to mobilise is based on a strong middle class. Historically, the creation of a middle class was crucial in putting pressure on the state apparatus to maintain its “autonomy” (i.e. relatively insulated from capture by certain factions).

Lastly, economic globalisation is an external pressure to facilitate global trade, production and investment as well as intensify integration of global markets. Globalisation impacts local democratisation in various ways. As countries integrate into the world economy, this reduces political and economic options for countries, especially ones with a weak state apparatus. Globalisation is also a process institutionalised by global regulating bodies, such as the international financial institutions (IFIs), the WTO (even the United Nations), which aim for global liberalisation…Trade liberalisation was expected to create free markets which, in turn, would facilitate the creation of citizenship, a middle class and a civil society (Grugel 2002: 118).” This is certainly the theses of Huntington (1991) and even the likes Thomas Friedman (2005).

On the other hand, globalisation has losers along with the winners:
More influential…in shaping the project of global democratisation, are the pressures generated by the global economy, leading to new patterns of dependence, marginality and exclusion. Along with the creation of a global communications network, these guarantee the diffusion of a stylised image of democracy, alongside the penetration of capitalism, the creation of new markets and trading relationships and the establishment of new modes of consumption. More than anything else, the emergence of a global political economy is responsible for the prevalence of democracy as discourse and ideal, because it is able to penetrate dependent societies and influence mentalities and aspirations (Grugel 2002: 138-139).
While the role of external forces are important in the transition to democracy, the authors mentioned domestic conditions above all must be conducive to political pluralism. External support for democratisation only plays a complementary role to domestic pressures.

Islam, Islamists and Islamic Democracy?


Some authors argue for an “exceptionalist” explanation as to why the Middle East and North Africa have been laggards in democratising. A quick survey of the region certainly illustrates this.

Eight out of twenty-two Arab states are ruled by monarchs, including all 6 in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan and Morocco. Countries not ruled by monarchies are similarly run by quasi-monarchs - Saddam Hussein of Iraq stayed in power for thirty-five years, Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya for thirty-seven years, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen for seven presidential terms (thirty-five years if he finishes the current one), Hosni Mubarak in Egypt for twenty-four years, Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia for thirty years while successor Ben Ali has been in power for nineteen, Hafiz al Asad in Syria for thirty years and his son-successor Bashar now in his sixth year of rule.

In a survey conducted by World Values Study of nine countries with Muslim majorities and their political and social values, the results showed these did not differ much with Western states with regard to approval of democratic performance, approval of democratic leaders and disapproval of strong leaders. What they do differ on are values regarding women, homosexuality, procreation and divorce. Which means the fundamental difference between Islam and the West is not over democracy at all (as Huntington's thesis asserts).

Within the religious text themselves can be found core concepts and bases on which to build a modern yet authentic Democracy. While the commitment to the ideals of modern democracy is underpinned by “moral values” located in a “post-Reformation, market-oriented Christian Europe," this does not necessarily mean that these values are hopelessly irreconcilable with Islam.

While the Qur’an does not provide a specific form of political organisation, it provides guidelines into which political values are desirable – social justice, non-autocratic and consultative governance as well as institutionalising “mercy and compassion in social interactions (Abou El Fadl 2004: 5).” Further, Islam in principle is against absolutism as it draws strength in diversity:
Absolutism in principle is alien to Muslim political thought. Indeed, Muslim society has historically been marked by a high degree of what we would today might call civil society…Ironically these principles of limited governance were broken primarily in the twentieth century by new authoritarian regimes based on Western nation-building principles in which the Leviathan state assumed maximum control over all areas of life to build the all-powerful state (Fuller 2003: 32).
The Islamists who established authoritarian regimes in countries like Iran who insist on a top-down approach of Islam, is a violation of the Qur’anic principle – “there is no compulsion in religion.” (Fuller 2003: 32).

The question of whether “the people” or God should be sovereign can be reconciled by the religion’s own political philosophy. Islam accepts that humans are “vicegerents” i.e. representatives of God on earth, which carries with it the idea that humans are responsible for carrying out God’s justice (as enshrined in Shari’a law for example). Even then, this little conundrum was circumvented by Iran by establishing a theocracy. The Iranian state was supposed to have been “bestowed by God” and as such, matters of the state override religion because the former is already legitimised by God.

This shows that the religious texts are flexible enough to be open to various interpretations. The ulama, or religious leaders, enjoy political legitimacy from their scholarship of religious matters. Ehteshami claims they serve as unique political class (2004: 93). It seems enormous work need to be done by these religious scholars to reclaim their Islam and to work on reconciling what has been written centuries past with the realities of today.

Some indigenous elements for democratisation also include the shura or consultative council (although monarchies such as Saudi Arabia say the consultation is “non-binding”), ijtihad or independent reasoning and ijma or consensus, baica or approval of leaders by the umma, ash-sharica or deliberation of worldly matters and religious matters where god did not make a reference.

In sum, with regard to religio-cultural aspects, there is nothing inherently opposed to Democracy in Islam.

The State

A legacy of colonialism in the Middle East is the mukharabat - a strong state apparatus to safeguard the gains of independence as well as a reaction to the creation and continued existence of Israel. Alkadry calls this “defensive modernisation,” that is, the nation and state building process takes place in the context of external intervention. This kind of nationalist modernisation privileged stability over broad democratic participation.

Another problematic is - what, where and who constitutes the state? There are still border issues as a result of arbitrary colonial partitioning. The most notable ones are between Pakistan-India-Bangladesh, Iraq-Kuwait, Israel-Palestine, Yemen-Saudi, Kurdistan-Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

A result of the forced fragmentation into a multitude of small weak states was the persistence of sub- and supra-state identities that weakened the identification with the state that was needed for stable democracy. In such conditions, where political mobilisation tends to exacerbate communal conflict or empowers supra-state movements threatening the integrity of the state, elites are more likely to resort to authoritarian solutions.

Aside from defensive modernisation and nation-building taking precedence over openness of the polity, a unique socio-political formation in the Middle East is the oil-exporting rentier state. As oil rents finance day-to-day governance and even welfare measures such as free health care and subsidised education, there is little need or pressure for the rentier state, also a monarchy, to agree to power sharing.

However in recent years there are pressures on the stability of rentier monarchies, especially on the fiscal side. Since the 1990s, the Gulf States have been experiencing economic crises coupled with a booming population.

The timeline varies depending on the scientific study one consults, but once the oil disappears, so too will the rentier state. The only option for these countries today is to steadily diversify their economies or pool their resources in a regional grouping. In the end the economy may well be a precipitating factor in reuniting the heart of the Muslim world.

Islamists and Civil Society

A survey of the Arab world and the different socio-economic groupings do not show a promising context for democratisation. Even with interim colonial occupation the social structure of the 19th century remains intact. For example in 1958 Iraq, 68 percent of agricultural lands were owned by 2 percent of total landowners. In Lebanon 2 percent of landowners owned 2/3 of the cultivated lands. In Syria, 2.5 percent of landowners held 45 percent of irrigated and 30 percent of rain-fed land while 70 percent of the total population held no land at all. In Egypt, 2/3 of the land was owned by 5.7 percent of the population (Halperin 2005: 1137).

With regard to the middle class, mostly professionals, its survival is dependent on the state’s munificence. It is a coopted middle class. As there is little diversification in industries, the government is, in many cases, the only employer. For example in Qatar and Kuwait 95 and 99 percent of nationals work for the State. Non-rentier monarchy Egypt, still has 6 million civil servants. There is no labour force to counter traditional elites as these countries also import labour. Saudi Arabia alone employs 6 to 7 million foreign workers.

Since the state apparatus will not broaden access to political power for reasons already given, and there are no “moderate” social forces that can hold the state accountable, then it can be said that Islamists are the closest approximation of “civil society” in the Middle East. Islamic movements gain legitimacy from the local populations by championing them and providing help for the economically marginalised and by consistently pointing out the artificiality of the current state-system and its entrenched elites.

Denied access to political participation, some have even resorted to radical and violent measures to advance their agenda. Increasingly Islamists have been advocating democracy simply because they are easy targets due to its absence. Islamists, as the major opposition to entrenched regimes, languish in prisons in the Muslim world more than any other political group.

Opening access to political participation has consistently given rise to Islamist parties as the strongest opposition as in the case of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Saudi Arabia. Islamists have participated in elections in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Morocco, Palestine and Yemen.

Just as the United States suffers from a credibility gap, so too do Islamists who have actually gained power – the Sudan, Afghanistan and to an extent Iran. There is a legitimate worry that once an Islamist movement is able to take over the state apparatus, that it will abandon its democratising project and reveal its “true colours.”

The Arab World, the United States and Democracy

Evaluating the chances for democratisation in the Middle East has shown that there are no social forces strong enough to exert pressure from the bottom up. The only groups which can be seen as pro-democratic have traditionally been marginalised by US-friendly autocratic regimes and have been put under the spotlight so to speak since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Most peoples in the Middle East see a difference between the Palestinian resistance and genuine terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. It does not help the US cause to unceremoniously lump together Hamas with these terrorist groups.

Some American policymakers have actually admitted that democracy in the Middle East will threaten US interests. Zbigniew Brezinski claims democracy in Egypt will put the Muslim Brotherhood in power. King Fahd's overthrow in Saudi Arabia might put the likes of Bin Laden in power.

The whole region has been in a heightened state of alert and seemingly constant danger since the onset of the Cold War. In such a scenario, it is business as usual for the American military-industrial complex. The US has increased arms sales to its client regime since 2000. 20 of the top 25 recipient countries in 2003 are including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Stability in exchange for the supreme control of authoritarian regimes in the region is no longer considered a viable option for US establishment. However its push for democracy in the Middle East seems to be running contrary to its short-term goals of remaining in the region and maintaining stable access to energy. Should the people be allowed to vote, then the marginalised majority will want to put Islamists in the state apparatus. There are currently no non-Islamist internal/local social forces capable of making the transition to a substantive democratisation as evinced in history.

An externally-imposed democracy will be a democracy in name, but not in fact.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Filipino Transformismo?

It is often difficult for me to read about this country as seen through non-Filipino eyes. Especially from academics. They do not have vested interest in the conclusion of their analysis. All that matters is that their work is able to reasonably substantiate its argument. It would be the same as me making an indictment about the state of democracy in the Arab region for example. I would not hesitate to conclude - chances for substantive change any time soon are slim.

While we must take everything we read with a grain of salt, I am afraid Eva-Lotta Hedman's characterization of the status quo is frighteningly accurate.

In her book In the Name of Civil Society, she describes the Philippine's 'oligarchic democracy':

Observers have variously described democracy in the Philippines in terms of 'factionalism', 'clientelism', 'bossism' and 'caciquism', but the overall pattern has been clear. From municipal mayors to provincial governors to congressmen, senators and presidents, the elected politicians of the Philippines have been drawn from the landowning, commercial and industrial oligarchy of the archipelago, representing its interests both directly and through delegation. Competition for political office has revolved around contestation for the spoils of state power - patronage perks, concessions, discretionary enforcement of regulations - between rival families and factions within this ruling class.

The broad mass of the population, while providing the lion's share of the votes in elections has thus been politically 'disaggregated', drawn into support for local, provincial and national candidates for office through webs of dependence on landlords, patrons and other brokers for votes. Poverty and economic insecurity have combined with a highly decentralized political structure to render the majority of Filipinos susceptible to clientelist, coercive and monetary inducements and pressures during elections, and to thwart electoral efforts by political parties championing the interests of subaltern classes and promoting radical social change.

Meanwhile the prominent role of money in Philippine elections - for buying votes, bribing officials, and otherwise oiling the machinery - has created a structural imperative of fund-raising that guarantees politicians' continuing use of state powers and resources for personal and particularistic benefit and their abiding reliance on landowners, merchants, bankers, and industrialists to fund them. Small wonder that observers have been most impressed by the continuities in this seemingly seamless system of oligarchical democracy in the Philippines, as seen in the close attention paid to 'political dynasties' that have dominated municipalities, congressional districts, and in some cases entire provinces across several generations and many decades.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Middle Forces: An Endangered Species?

It reads like a grade school report rather than a serious bit of news from a government bureaucrat! NSCB Secretary General Virola, in an article peppered with exclamation points, cheerfully announces the Filipino Middle Class is shrinking!

Maybe he thinks to soften the blow by at least producing an entertaining read?

Using the 2006 Family Income and Expenditures Survey as a baseline, the NSCB now estimates a family needs to earn close to half a million pesos to be considered middle class. This figure is double that needed by a family only three years ago, at P246,109 minimum.

Disaggregating families by income groups, the Filipino middle class has steadily shrunk from 23 percent of the population in 1997 to 19.1 percent in 2006.

So, those of us who fall under this income-category are an endangered species. Where have all the middle class gone? It may have been true that some have opted to leave the country to find their fortunes elsewhere. The upward social mobility afforded by emigration, however, seems to have declined in recent years. In 2000 and 2003, more than half of families with OFWs belonged to the middle class. In 2006, only ten percent of families with migrant workers belong to this income group.

Is it logical to assume that many of those who have left the country to work in low-skill jobs overseas belong to low-income groups, and even then they are not able to send enough home to net their families an income of at least a quarter of a million (in 2006). Owing to the global economic downturn, will they be able to send almost half a million this year?

Well, what about those that belonged to the middle-income group who have not left the country? Have they moved up the 0.1 percent richest or have they joined the bottom-dwelling 80.1 percent?

As we ponder the socio-economic groups, let us also consider the socio-political ramifications. The so-called Middle Forces have traditionally been a hegemonic (read legitimate) bloc preventing outright bloodshed between competing political elites (and by proxy economic ones as well) during periods of crisis. Whether the Middle Forces can be seen as truly progressive or merely function as a ‘safety-valve’ to decrease political tension, as evidenced by the two EDSAs, is of course debatable.

But now that our ranks have shrunk vis-à-vis the rest of Philippine society, we may ask ourselves, who will take up the cudgel, either as a truly progressive movement or at least a safety-valve, for when the next political crisis hits?

Sunday, June 14, 2009


In solidarity.

More photos at TehranLive and on Flickr.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Michael Sandel on the Moral Limits of Markets

Political philosopher Michael Sandel delivered his Reith Lecture recently. Are there some things which should not be sold? Do we need to think of ourselves less as consumers and more as citizens?

You'll find the 43-minute lecture here. You'll find the transcription here.

If you're unsure about committing almost an hour of your time, here is the short version. I highly recommend that you listen to the short version first!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Proxies and Avenues of Dissent

He ate his ice cream with a bun while I had mine in a sugar cone, Ricky, a would-be law enforcer. While I agonized over the dilemma of a choice between langka or macapuno, he asked an innocuous question, “Anong meron?” I struggled over how best to explain what last Sunday’s silent protest was for, and as best I could explained what House Resolution 1109 was about. And while I certainly tried to leave the parliamentary jargon out of my explanation, he was quick to follow what, indeed, the silent protest was for.

Stripped of the technicalities, the way he re-explained the situation was crystal. Here you have an administration, led by a tenacious president, too long in power. Here you have allegations of misdeeds comparable only to the abuses of the yet longest self-serving President Marcos. Here you have a country that has yet to exhibit any meaningful indicators of ‘kaginhawahan,’ was his term. Why, indeed, should we suffer more of the same?

His yellowish eyes were wise beyond his age. He couldn’t have been older than me. His little nephew played near the sorbetero, cocooned in blissful ignorance of our conversation, RockEd’s silent protest, and the infamy of June 2. He said he understood what government was doing, all his life having dreamt of being a law-enforcer. He followed politics when he could. Here he was at an avenue in his life where he had to make a choice of a lifetime. He had just past the exam that made a police officer but could not yet quite make the leap.

I know it would change me, he said. I already have friends in the police force. Do you know they make the newbies collect bribe money? All my life I’ve dreamed of being a policeman, to keep order, to dispense justice. But I’m not stupid, I know what goes on in a precinct. If I refuse to join in the shenanigans, I might endanger my life. But if I do, what would be left of me?

I can’t remember all that he said, but I stood there listening to him recount a slice of his life story. I understood too the agony of wanting something better for the country he would serve, and the compromise of the reality of law enforcement and his ideals. Do you know that I studied by heart a book this thick on human rights, he said. Not every cop graduates a criminologist, do you know that? They don’t know that criminals should be treated fairly as the law provides. If I do choose to become a cop, I would do good by not whacking them over the head.

While we ate our ice cream he kept glancing behind me at the silent protesters. He said he understood what we were fighting for, but why were we so silent? I explained that we all understood what we were there for and so there was no need for speeches or programs. I mentioned the big rally on Wednesday and invited him to go. He said he wasn’t much of a rallyist but he would try. And if he couldn’t make it, he asked if I could go on his behalf.

Early afternoon last Wednesday my friend Luisa texted me to offer apologies for not being able to make it to our dinner date. Her tummy wasn’t feeling so good. I’d completely forgotten of course as I was already headed for the Makati rally. She said she would too if she weren’t so sick. I offered to go on her behalf, this friend of mine with whom I witnessed Edsa Dos all those years ago.

I parked my car in the Fort because I didn’t want to be stuck in the traffic re-routing might cause. I need not have bothered of course, because the roads when I arrived and left the Makati CBD were pretty free. I took a cab from Boni High Street and asked to be dropped off at the end of McKinley. Boy, the meter was running fast. Nearing my drop-off point I quizzed the cabbie about the Makati area, whether he got stuck in traffic because of the rally. He said the roads were clear earlier in the day and asked, what rally? I briefly explained that I was going to said rally and outlined the events of June 2. The mild-mannered cabbie then exploded in a rant liberally peppered with expletives. And while he railed about the injustice of the system, of the kurakot politicians, all the same, I noticed his meter slowed.

Under a scaffolding, I sat with friends, smoked some ciggies and listened to personalities speak on the stage. I didn’t care much what Cory Aquino or Danny Lim had to say. I didn’t care for the senators who were there courting the cameras and the crowd. I didn’t care for the congresspeople who came as well, save Risa Baraquel. I didn’t need them to tell me what I already knew anyway. And so I sat, and picked out which sounds I wanted to hear from the spectacle. Curiously it was someone singing a kundiman-type song I appreciated best. The rest was ambient noise.

As we prepared to leave I was told the Stop Con-Ass Facebook group had garnered twenty-three thousand members. I thought, good.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Castrated by Vacuous Argument for the sake of Vacuous Argument

Contrary to what contrarians say, citizens expressing outrage over House Resolution 1109 are the voices in the wilderness, if the small turnout of gatherings and discussions, so far, is any indication.

To take the position that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with term extensions or changing the constitution is ignoring the context of Gloria Arroyo’s past few years in power. This position ignores the broken promise of not running for re-election, the Hello Garci tapes, the desparecidos, the journalist killing sprees, the manufactured ‘People’s Initiative’ for cha-cha some years back, the ZTE-NBN scandal, the invention of ‘Executive Privilege’ over major trade agreements such as JPEPA, the fertilizer funds scandal and many others.

To ignore the context in which HR 1109 has unfolded is intellectually dishonest if done maliciously and most unfortunate if done in complete ignorance. One may argue that there is no direct correlation between the scandals of the past to any intimations of “Gloria Forever.” But politics, as all study of human behavior, is not a science. We cannot know beyond doubt whether this resolution indeed plots to keep incumbents in power indefinitely. And so all we have are indicators – that is, behavior and actions committed in the past and unfolding in the present.

We may presume that this administration should not be judged guilty before the Court of Public Opinion without, as some quarters say, “due process.” As if our public institutions, and the processes they purportedly implement, are blemish-free. As if our public institutions and the rules they enforce have been equally applied to those who govern as well as those governed. As if our public institutions have and always will work for justice and fairness and are not liable to abuse by those who monopolize them. As if our public institutions were mere conveyor belts that say after Step 1 comes Step 2 comes Step 3 then Step 4. To claim such, displays blind ignorance.

I do not know that our opposition is driven by ‘fear’ – by definition an emotional reaction to something that may cause harm or hurt. But is this fear irrational? That is, without reason? Are we afraid, for no reason, that the Specter of Gloria Forever is haunting us?

By accident of nature, humans have evolved to have large brains. We learn. In the course of evolution, we have learned, for example, that when we place our hand on a live stove, it will hurt. We do not actually need to place said hand on said stove repeatedly to know, beyond a doubt, that each time, it will burn.

100 Songs on Shuffle

I was compiling this list last Tuesday afternoon before I was rudely interrupted by the shenanigans of our Tongressmen. Anyway, here it is finally!

This hundred song meme is catching on, so I'm cutting you a slice of my musical tastes. I put my eepahd on shuffle and here's my list! I really like the ones I've youtube-linked to. Everytime they come on, my heart luksong-tiniks. Spread the lurve.

1. Drip, “Kabilugan ng Buwan”
2. Bamboo, “Tatsulok”
3. Yann Tiersen, “Frida”
4. Beatles, “Something”
5. Meat Beat Manifesto, “Suicide”
6. Rivermaya, “Table for Two”
7. Lamb, “Learn”
8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps
9. Bandabardo, “Non Sarai Mai”
10. The Butterfly Effect, “Gone”
11. Tracy Chapman, “This Time”
12. Maria Taylor, “Clean Getaway”
13. The Roots, “Episodes”
14. Incubus, “Anna Molly
15. Black Eyed Peas, “My Humps”
16. Janet Jackson, “Got til its Gone
17. Les Negresses Vertes, “Ignacius”
18. Ten Kens, “Spanish Fly
19. Jose Gonzalez, “Teardrop
20. Robin Thicke, “On and On”
21. Buena Vista Social Club, “Dombe, Dombe”
22. Coldplay, “Viva La Vida”
23. Feist, “L’amour ne dure pas toujours”
24. Micatone, “Nomad (Radio Citizen Remix)”
25. Jason Mraz, “Bella Luna”
26. Kanye West, “Never let me down”
27. Regina Spektor, “Fidelity”
28. Gare du Nord, “How was it for you”
29. Simon and Garfunkel, “Sound of Silence”
30. The Killers, “Believe me Natalie
31. Eraserheads, “Magasin”
32. Adele, “Chasing Pavements”
33. Maroon Five, “Through with you”
34. The Cardigans, “Step on me”
35. Amélie OST, “Soir de fête”
36. Polyphonic Spree, “It’s the sun”
37. Keith Sweat, “Twisted”
38. Deerhoof, “Chandelier Searchlight”
39. Lamb, “Sweet”
40. Les Nubians, “Princesse Nubienne”
41. Citizen Cope, “I’ve seen better days”
42. Mario, “Let me love you”
43. Beck, “Pressure Zone”
44. John Legend, “Please Baby Don’t”
45. Red Hot Chilli Peppers, “Scar Tissue
46. Tori Amos, “Icicle”
47. Pearl Jam, “Alive”
48. Silverchair, “Cicada”
49. U2, “If God will send his angels”
50. Beck, “Asshole”
51. Buffalo Daughter, “Socks, Drugs and Rock and Roll”
52. Kjwan, “Boomerang”
53. Moby, “Run On”
54. U2, “Stay
55. The Killers, “Smile Like You Mean it”
56. Dicta License, “Demokracy”
57. Radiohead, “House of Cards”
58. 311, “Love Song”
59. Nirvana, “Rape Me”
60. Kapatid, “Hanggang Magdamag”
61. Nyko Maca, “Turn my head”
62. Massive Attack, “What your soul sings”
63. Saian Supa Crew, “Ring my bell”
64. Amy Winehouse, “You know I’m no good”
65. Timbaland, “Way I are”
66. Yann Tiersen, “La Crise
67. Amparanoia, “Don't Leave Me Now
68. Air, “Surfing on a Rocket”
69. D’Angelo, “Cruisin”
70. Billie Holiday, “Love for sale”
71. Incubus, “A Crow left of the murder”
72. Susheela Raman, “Mamavatu
73. Black Gandhi, “Pateras”
74. Dixie Chicks, “Lullaby”
75. Oasis, “I believe in all”
76. Sarah McLachlan, “Blackbird”
77. Usher & Alicia Keys, “My Boo”
78. Urbandub, “Soulsearching”
79. Kamikazee, “Petix”
80. Ilhan Ersahin, “Fly
81. Sigur Ros, “Salka”
82. Alphawezen, “Speed of Light”
83. The Organ, “Oh what a feeling
84. Bromheads Jacket, “Turn me on”
85. Beyoncé, “Sweet Dreams”
86. Audioslave, “The Worm”
87. The Mary Onettes, “Lost”
88. Liam Finn, “Better to be”
89. Keysha, “I won’t tell”
90. System of a Down, “Forest”
91. Snow Patrol, “Make this go on forever
92. Bernard Cantat, “A ton étoile”
93. Wyclef Jean, “Electric Avenue”
94. REM, “I am Superman”
95. Cajun Dance Party “The Hill, the View & the Light”
96. Mazzy Star, “Blue Light”
97. Real Fish, "Tainted Love"
98. Live, “Iris”
99. Fuel, “Shimmer
100. Anya Marina, “Sociopath

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Silent Protest against Conass

Turnout was small, but it has to start somewhere :-) Kudos to RockEd for organizing the silent protest.

Gloria Forever: Yeah or Nay?

Randy David frames the events of June 2, 2009 this way:
The real hurdle is how to keep the people in a docile unquestioning state until next year. This is the most difficult to manage. Arroyo’s operators will be banking on public inertia—the state of political exhaustion that comes after a series of unproductive upheavals—to keep the opposition at bay. They will pour money where the votes are—under the cover of economic stimulus—until the people come to a point where they have no strong motive to resist...

...Clearly, the election has begun, ahead of the one scheduled for 2010. And there is only one candidate—Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In this contest, no ballots will be distributed and counted. Only our voices and our feet will matter. We either protest and march, or we pray or make noise. To shut up and stay home in the face of this shameless display of political opportunism is to accept Gloria forever.
What think you?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Busina Laban sa Cha-cha!

Noise barrage after the Con-ask Forum, gate 2.5 at Ateneo. That was fun :-) WOOT!

Guess who that was wearing a white hat at 0:35.

Mga mababaw ang kaligayahan. LOL.

QCPD was just doing their job. A kindly-looking policeman asks questions and scribbles notes in his notepad.

Friday, June 05, 2009

What in the World is Going On with Conass?

If there was anything I took from the Ateneo Forum yesterday, (there wasn't anything new because the speakers' talking points are already online), it was that we need to inform ourselves and each other about what precisely is going on. If you do not understand any of the terms - there's WIKIPEDIA!

To start with, I think the Akbayan Execom statement is a lucid, easy to understand summary what HR1109 is and what is at stake.

Former DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman lays down four scenarios now circulating through emails. She also mentioned these in yesterdays' forum:

Scenario 1: House of Representative (HOR) will set the rules and procedures and proceed to amend the constitution acting now as a Constituent Assembly. After a period of time they bring the amended constitution to COMELEC to request for a plebiscite. A case is brought to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court decides that a Senate less CONASS is valid. Plebiscite continues, it is a yes victory and the election of May 10, 2010 is an election for a parliamentary form of government. GMA runs on a district in Pampanga. She wins and becomes eventually the Prime Minister.This scenario assumes that the outraged and protest from the citizenry is weak.

Scenario 2: HOR convenes as a constituent assembly; a case is filed in the Supreme Court and SC declares that Congress is a bicameral body therefore the Senate is needed. Election fever catches up.A presidential election is held in May 10, 2010.This scenario assumes that there is significant citizen's lobby to stop CONASS and chahcha. The citizen's actions is a major influence in the assessment and judgement of the justices in the Supreme Court.

Scenario 3: HOR convenes as a constituent assembly, there is building outrage from the citizens and more street actions are undertaken.Malacana ng rides on the anger of the people and organizes violent incidents that will then be the basis for emergency rule. This scenario assumes that citizen's actions are not organized and disciplined which creates the conditions for infiltration and manipulated violence from the enemies of democracy.

Scenario 4: HOR convenes as a constituent assembly; a case is filed in the Supreme Court, the debate and deliberation in the Supreme Court takes a long time and it gets overtaken by election on May 10, 2010. GMA runs for Congress in Pampanga she wins, the administration candidates win too. They get the Supreme Court go ahead and convenes a Constituent Assembly, converts Congress into a parliament and GMA is elected as Prime Minister. This scenario assumes that the 2010 election is dominated by the allies of GMA and her candidates wins. This scenario assumes that transactional politics was the dominant practice and cheating, vote buying and killing will be the norm in the election of 2010. This means the citizen's action was weak and we failed to educate and mobilize active citizenship.

And here is the transcript of Father Bernas' interview with Mike Enriquez the other day. Yesterday, while he said there isn't anything to do at this point (legally that is), he said that HR1109 was really something of an "announcement" that the constitution was going to be violated. That is, it hasn't been violated yet.

Here you will find Joel Rocamora's flowchart of what could happen from now on. Also you will read what political analyst Mon Casiple has to say.

Lastly, chills went down my spine when I read Raissa Robles' take on the matter. She outlines the moves Gloria Arroyo has taken so far.

The Arroyo administration rushed to bring home former police Senior Superintendent Cezar Mancao II. He is scheduled to arrive in the Philippines Thursday morning. The haste to resolve a nine-year old double murder case seems inexplicable.

One possible explanation: Mancao will blame the deposed president Joseph Estrada and his key aide, Senator Panfilo Lacson.

When this happens, government will file a murder case against Estrada and order his arrest. Given Estrada's popularity, he and his followers could resist this. Remember that in 2001, when the deposed president was arrested for plunder, his followers mounted a bloody assault on Malacañang Palace.

A similar incident now could be an ostensible reason for Mrs. Arroyo to declare a state of emergency or martial rule. During that period, Congress (which is mostly in Mrs. Arroyo's pocket), would not be abolished. In fact, because it had already conveniently declared itself a constituent assembly, it could be used to propose amendments ostensibly to remedy the emergency. It would see the creation of a new order.

As for the military trying to assert its role to protect and defend the Constitution, last May a changing of the guards took place. Armed Forces Chief of Staff Alexander Yano retired prematurely and gave way to his classmate, Lieutenant General Victor Ibrado. More significantly, Arroyo's most trusted general, Delfin Bangit, became head of the biggest bulk of the military, the 70,000-strong Army.

And when Ibrado retires early next year or even this year, Bangit, the former head of the Presidential Security Group, is widely expected to assume the top post. It's the closest thing to Marcos' General Fabian Ver.

It has been five years since the Hello Garci tapes came out. Some of you may have been too young to understand what was happening then. But in the last five years we have let slip far too many scandals, their stink tracing back all the way to Malacanang. Some may say we are needlessly sowing fear. But surely, it is better to err on the side of caution.

This administration has been daring, encouraged by the lack of push back from the citizenry. The coming days and weeks there will be calls for rallies from various sectors and various fora will be held. Go with your friends and listen to what people have to say.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bloggers on Conass

Alterted by Manolo, and further prodded by Nick of Filipino Voices, I went to Bastusang Pambasa yesterday to tweetcast what was a sorry excuse for deliberations on House Resolution 1109. See also @mlq3's tweetcast here. Pages in the session hall are usually snooty, but I thank the cosmos a kindly one passed by when I needed to plug my computer in one of the two power outlets that can be accessed from the gallery. To this unnamed page, my many thanks.

My liveblog on Filipino Voices can be read here. Manolo and Mon Casiple lay the political landscape vis-a-vis conass. Filipino Voices contributors Cocoy and Marocharim have also said their piece. FV welcomes new contributor Rep. Ruffy Biazon. He writes:
The passage of House Resolution 1109 proposing to amend the Constitution is another blow to the already tarnished reputation of the House of Represenatives. It is appalling that the leadership ignored the sentiments of the people which reject moves to amend the constitution at this time. It gives the House the image that it is callous to public opinion and will only give due attention to matters that pertain to its members’ personal and political agenda.

Ceci publishes the Akbayan Executive Committee statement on the resolution here. Notable in the statement:

Under conditions of legality, if the Supreme Court does what it is supposed to do, it should be easy to stop HR1109. Because Gloria has a long record of illegal moves, in the end, Gloria’s chacha can only be stopped politically.

Jericho asks, "Should we allow ourselves to be conned by these asses?" Indeed. Bikoy recounts how security made it difficult for some to enter the session hall last night, even going so far as to say the session was over when they weren't. Ms. Dado calls on all to oppose cha-cha and lists all signatories of HR1109 here.

From the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines:
SCAP...reminds solons that young people will not hesitate to go out in the streets again to show their indignation of this government’s outright mockery of our country’s democratic institutions and processes.

Dona Victorina gives Adel Tamano blog space. Tamano claims GMA forces in the lower house ultimately want to remove the Senate from the picture. Given their performance on the Hayden Kho scandals and now investigating jewelry scams on socialites, Senate seems to have its collective head up its ass. But Senator Gordon assures us Senate will not allow unicameral action on cha-cha.

Snow World also does a roundup of what happened yesterday. MavEqualizer believes Gloria Arroyo wants to stay on as Prime Minister. Eric says last night was a preview of how Congress will act in a unicameral setting.

From Assembly, the Ateneo political science org:

THE ASSEMBLY standing firmly as an organization in support of a democracy as the rule of the people, grounded upon the Christian value of preferential option for the poor, VEHEMENTLY REJECTS the junking of the land reform bill and the persistent efforts of Arroyo’s allies to change the constitution. The subsequent moves of the House of Representatives, first in the shifting of gears in its legislative action from CARPER towards Cha-Cha, then to the subsequent silencing of mainstream media, employing its capitalist properties to alter the dynamism of our political atmosphere all constitute a violation of authentic community-building and are an affront to human dignity.

For THE ASSEMBLY, however, the issue is not just about the legality or constitutionality of what has happened today. What has happened today is another manifestation of the crisis of the country’s liberal democratic institutions. In fact, the very reality that members of Congress can easily dispose of the people’s agenda in exchange for their own vested interests highlights precisely the problem with the structure of liberal democratic politics – the narrow and highly restricted notion of what constitutes public interest.

This move for charter change proposes a notion of finality in political citizenship by claiming that a change in the constitution will finally resolve issues of injustice. It does not only deepens the chasm between man and his community, but also leaves him docile, acquainted to this solitary polity, creating a majority that is fundamentally fragmented yet legally represented by a House that claims sovereignty from a ghastly constituency.

Politics is a facet of humanity that belongs to the people, not to the institutions that govern them.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

A migrant worker in Hongkong, Jon Mariano wonders what ordinary citizens can do, if they care at all. Sonny Melencio proposes to blockade the House and to not allow member to convene during Sona in July. I sort of like this idea. Like a sit-in. Wexistence remembers Rizal, "This is what Jose Rizal meant when he said an immoral government is matched by a people without morals; an administration without conscience, by grasping and slavish townsmen."

Ivy Eclairs declares an end to apathy and Dementia vehemently says no to it. Woot! TatayK has a cool anti-chacha poster of Concerned Artists of the Philippines. The Mindanao Examiner on anti-chacha mobilizations in Mindanao.

Arnold Padilla says what happened last night was a scandal far worse than Hayden Kho videos. Siyetehan credits Hayden for lack of media coverage last night. Alex Maximo also laments the sad state of coverage.

Samjuan implores us:
Sabi na nga ba masamang pangitain ang paghahain ng mga kaguluhan hinggil sa hayden camera scandals na kumalat sa inarnets eh. Ayan ayan, kaninang madaling araw dito, kagabi sa Pinas, gumuho ang natitirang mga pundasyon ng paguho nang demokrasya ng PIlipinas- Inaprubahan ng walanjong Kongreso ang Con-Ass (Constitutional Assembly). Wooh. Nakakakulot to ng buhok sa kili-kili pramis.

Sana may gawin ang mga tao ditto. Sana naman mabawasan yung mag nagsasabi na pagod na sila sa pulitika, sa rallies, sa pagrereklamo, sa pakikialam sa bayan kahit na wala pa naman silang nagagawang alinman sa mga nabanggit na hakbang ever. Sana di pa lamunin ng lupa ang Pinas. Uuwi pa ako. Anakngteteng umayos ka nga Philippine Government!

Iamstaying alive is not a little mad:

Pakingshet naman tong mga kongresistang to eh ginagawa tayong tanga! Hindi kailangan ng mataas na pinagaralan para malamang ang pagmamadali nilang maging pinal ang House Resolution 11-09 ay may nakapaloob na motibong palawigin ang termino ng pakingshet nating presidente!

Jobarclix announces Rocked's mobilization on Sunday, June 7 at Baywalk.

Meanwhile, I am scratching my head over Arman Gavino's proposed solution to this crisis. Superficialistics fears a return of martial law.

Splice makes his feelings for member of the House explicit. Maybe a little too explicit, lol:
For this inspired madness that will go down in history as one of the worst kinds of legislative proceedings, I salute those behind HR 1109 with both middle fingers, one up the nether region of their body where the sun never shines, and another just in case the hole is too wide for one.

Edicio discloses his literally murderous thoughts about what happend in Congress last night. Rhona Tolentino usually blogs about everyday stuff, like crushes, but today she could not contain being affected.

Hansley Juliano posts tomorrow's forum on HR 1109 in the Ateneo.

CON ASK: A Forum on HR 1109 Possibilities & Challenges on June 04, 2009 (Thursday), 4:00-5:30 pm. at the Colayco Pavillion, MVP Student Leadership Center, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City.

The forum’s main speaker will be former Ateneo Law School Dean and constitutional law expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J.

The forum will be followed through by a noise barrage to express our indignation on HR 1109 at Gate 2.5 of the Ateneo de Manila campus from 5:30-7:00 pm.

For more information about this forum, you may call us at 426-6001 local 4644 and look for Michelle Avelino.

You can get No to Conass badges at Alleba Politics. And La Nueva Liga Filipina on how to hold virtual protests.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Notes! Notes!

As I have been doing nothing but read random articles online, I am reviving my label 'Interesting articles of note' with these gems I stumbled upon today.

First up, 40 Examples of Christian Privilege. I find these particularly notable:

It is likely that state and federal holidays coincide with my religious practices, thereby having little to no impact on my job and/or education.
I can travel without others assuming that I put them at risk because of my religion; nor will my religion put me at risk from others when I travel.

It is likely that I can find items to buy that represent my religious norms and holidays with relative ease (e.g., food, decorations, greeting cards, etc.).

I can be sure that when someone in the media is referring to G-d, they are referring to my (Christian) G-d.

From In Character, a reading list of classics on the virtue of Honesty. This part struck me:

Why was civilized life so overgrown with artifice and calculation, so lacking in wholesome simplicity; why have “our souls become corrupted in proportion as our arts and sciences have advanced toward perfection?” His answer, in his first publication, A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750), was radical: because the rules of civilized life are, at bottom, a defense of the indefensible. The sophistications of manners and morals, of law and theology, exist to justify (or, better, obscure) privilege, with all the comforts and pleasures privilege entails. “Where do all these abuses come from,” Rousseau wrote, “if not from the fatal inequality introduced among men by the distinction of talents and the degradation of virtues?” In a complexly unjust society, simple honesty decays.

What think you of that? Also, as I think of myself as something closer to a Quakerish (or probably utilitarian) than a hedonist, this part, in reference to French novel Dangerous Liaisons, also struck me:
The French word “honnête” has, along with “honest,” the sense of “plainspoken,” “unsophisticated,” “uncalculating,” and even a hint of “slow-witted.”

From the same online magazine, a reading list of the classics on justice, yield this insight:
In the late 1870s, when he was perhaps the world’s most admired writer, Tolstoy recognized that he was what he called a “nihilist.” He had no deep beliefs, no moral compass. So he reread the Gospels. The electrifying thought occurred to him – as it has to surprisingly few others, before or since – that Jesus meant what he said; in particular: “do not resist evildoers by force,” “do not retaliate,” “do not be angry with anyone,” “love your enemies and your country’s enemies,” “do not become rich.” He announced this discovery and pointed out its consequences – “Christianity in its true sense puts an end to government”...


And know the difference in intensity among 'empathy', 'sympathy' and 'compassion' here.
Compassion, according to Aristotle — the first thinker to propose a theory on how it is (or is not) generated in human beings — involves a three-step process. We must see that the suffering is significant, that it is undeserved, and that the sufferer could just as easily be ourselves. (“There but for fortune go I,” as the folk singer Phil Ochs put it.) Without these three conditions in place, the heart remains locked.

So practice of real compassion entails experiencing suffering? Does this mean without suffering one cannot truly be compassionate? The other article hints at an answer:
Compassion is a wonderful thing, human comfort in times of trouble. But it should be built on our suffering with others, not on feeling smug about ourselves. In this, etymology is destiny.

As many Filipinos live in varying conditions that can only be described as deplorable, Compassion, above and beyond all other virtues, should be the first thing we look for in 'public servants.'

On current events is the entertaining shenanigans of Republicans in the US. Sotomayor's Seditious Syllables mocks the conservative party's attacks on Obama Supreme Court appointee Sonia Sotomayor, dipping so low as to imply that there is something fundamentally offensive with how the appointee pronounces her last name! A conservative commentator bearing the name of a real Anglo-sounding last name Krikorian writes:
"Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English...and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to."


And last, China's pollution problem going global. Here are interesting tidbits from this article:
In a mere two and a half decades, China has awakened from Maoist stagnancy to become the world's manufacturer. Among the planet's 193 nations, it is now first in production of coal, steel, cement, and 10 kinds of metal; it produces half the world's cameras and nearly a third of its TVs, and by 2015 may produce the most cars. It boasts factories that can accommodate 200,000 workers, and towns that make 60 percent of the world's buttons, half the world's silk neckties, and half the world's fireworks, respectively.

China is by a wide margin the leading importer of a cornucopia of commodities, including iron ore, steel, copper, tin, zinc, aluminum, and nickel. It is the world's biggest consumer of coal, refrigerators, grain, cell phones, fertilizer, and television sets. It not only leads the world in coal consumption, with 2.5 billion tons in 2006, but uses more than the next three highest-ranked nations—the United States, Russia, and India—combined. China uses half the world's steel and concrete and will probably construct half the world's new buildings over the next decade.

And obviously, a potential market of a billion consumers will want to have their commodity-fetishes fulfilled.

The growing Chinese taste for furs and exotic foods and pets is devastating neighboring countries' populations of gazelles, marmots, foxes, wolves, snow leopards, ibexes, turtles, snakes, egrets, and parrots, while its appetite for shark fin soup is causing drastic declines in shark populations throughout the oceans; according to a study published in Science in March 2007, the absence of the oceans' top predators is causing a resurgence of skates and rays, which are in turn destroying scallop fisheries along America's Eastern Seaboard.

China's new predilection for sushi is even pricing Japan out of the market for bluefin tuna. Enthusiasm for traditional Chinese medicine, including its alleged aphrodisiacs, is causing huge declines in populations of hundreds of animals hunted for their organs—including tigers, pangolins, musk deer, sea horses, and sea dragons. Seeking oil, timber, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, and other natural resources, China is building massive roads, bridges, and dams throughout Africa, often disregarding international environmental and social standards. Finally, China overtook the United States as the world's leading emitter of CO2 in 2006, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

Since Deng Xiao Ping's pronouncement that 'to get rich is glorious' the Chinese have promptly copied the development model of the richest country in the world.

for what the Chinese are chiefly guilty of is emulating the American economic model. From the 1980s on, Chinese policymakers went on foreign-study missions to figure out how developed countries fostered economic growth. As Doug Ogden, former director of the Energy Foundation's China Sustainable Energy Program, puts it, "It's not surprising that the lessons the Chinese drew from their international experiences are often based on sprawl development and private automobile ownership and highly energy-consumptive practices," since the economies they studied all possess those features.

One of the Chinese officials' most fateful choices was to promote the automobile industry as a pillar of China's economy. The decision must have seemed obvious. After all, cars are the foundations of the American, Japanese, and South Korean economies, generating jobs and economic activity.

It's a long read, but please slog through five pages. Its worth it!

And here I always thought that the Chinese, in embracing this economic system to the full, just might fulfill its historic role - that of destroying Capitalism. And bring the rest of us along with it.

Now wait til the Indians really get their act together.