Thursday, January 27, 2005

Buhay na Patay

Isinulat noong Miyerkules ng gabi.

Sa mga araw na ito, pakiramdam ko'y parang 'sang zombie. Naglalakad ng kay bagal, lumo, walang direksyon at lagiang bakante ang mukha. Nauuubusan na yata ako ng lakas, upos na kandila. "Steady lang Sparks, isipon mo ang kinabukasan. Halawin mo ang insipirasyon mula rito." Ngunit pilit ma'ng hawiin ang makapal na hamog na nagkukubli ng bukas, ginugupo ng tamlay ng ngayon.

Bakit ba, sa tuwinang lalabas ako upang magparoo't parito sa lungsod na semento't sangkatutak na tao, nais ko na lamang sa isantabi'y umupo at hayaang dumaloy ang panahon. Wala na bang iba? Pare-parehong kulay, amoy at pigura?

Sa isang lugar sa lungsod, maraming nakahandusay sa kalye, parang mga buhay na patay, kay papayat, kay dudungis. Sa tuwinang sila'y madaraanan, kumukurot ang inggit. Sapagkat sila, walang bukas na iniisip. Sapagkat sila, walang magulang o kapatid, walang trabahong dapat pagbutihin, walang babayarin. Sapagkat sila, wala nang hinihintay kundi ang magpakailanmang

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Worthless Filipino

"The disease is in so deep, I see no cure in this lifetime."

It was almost like drunken ranting, the three of us, born in different decades, united in our despair. We were one in the general diagnosis that this little group of islands is rotten. And it seemed nothing could be done but jump ship or sink with the boat.

It started, as the past Wednesday evenings since the beginning of this semester, with an exchange of ideas on theories of public finance and fiscal policy. There is effort to keep it cool and academic, but as the evening wore on, the biting commentaries came as bone-chilling as the cold air-conditioning. While my fascination for how these things work is, at this point in my life, insatiable, it seems the deeper I dig, the more I realize how impossible it is to see past so much filth unearthed. I know I am fast approaching the breaking point. That moment when you’ve seen and heard and learned so much, you no longer care.

Syntax of Sin Taxes

Since eleven professors from the UP School of Economics have declared the Philippines in debt crisis last August, the media mileage has come and gone as glibly as the December pronouncement of the Arroyo administration that we are no longer in danger. It’s as if to say, “We are no longer in dire straights, so ditch the money-pinching because some ol’-fashioned Christmas spending would do everyone some good.”

More than the belt-tightening and the “heroic” dole-outs of certain people from Congress, an overhaul of the outdated and notoriously corrupt tax system would have done the trick. But in the Philippines, nothing is ever easy.

“Sin taxes” were expected to generate billions of pesos in extra income, but mainly, so we can show our creditors we can pay. Various protests were made, the dumbest of which was: “Sin taxes are anti-poor!” What in the holy fuck. That’s why they’re called sin taxes. They’re supposed to levy a high fee for indulging in things that are baaad for you; namely alcohol and tobacco. Indeed, we’ve one of the lowest prices of alcoholic beverages in the region, maybe even the world. God forbid our tambays and kanto-boys be deprived of their only means of rest and relaxation. God forbid we save some lungs of those who cannot afford hospital bills, from putrefaction.

The sin taxes bill was swiftly “handled” in December of last year and a watered-down version is the result, and indeed, was expected. Now there is all this ruckus about a 20% increase in VAT. With the downgrade in Standard and Not-So-Poor’s credit rating, the Philippine government is desperate to raise capital not only to pay for our $54 billion debt but to keep the state-apparatus running (if not working). The whole atmosphere in this great capital of ours is DESPERATE.

Fiscal Policy 101

Money is the root of evil. Money makes the world go round. Money is also the lifeblood of States. Capital accumulation, no matter which ideology, is key in development. Without money, there is no State. And since another way of politically and socially organizing ourselves has not yet been invented, then there is no escaping our government.

There are three ways for government to raise money:

1. Taxation

Contrary to what some politicians might like to project, those waiting sheds, roads, elementary school-buildings and basketball courts were not donations from their good and kindly hearts. And so we should not feel indebted to the current politico-of-the-term whose names are boldly emblazoned on their outstanding accomplishments. We shouldn’t be thankful for useless decorations and signboards because we, all three million of us income taxpayers, paid for them.

2. Borrowing

Since the Marcos years, borrowing seems to be the preferred mode of raising funds for national use. And later, I will explain why.

3. Printing Money

While printing money may be a useful short-term solution, no sane government will risk inflation. Too many peso-bills running after a fixed number of goods is not good.

The Philippines, like other developing countries, has difficulty in “capital formation” or simply--making money. This is due to:

1. Low levels of profits, incomes and savings

2. Widespread poverty: most of the incomes will be spent and not enough will be put in banks. Add to the fact that Filipinos do not seem to have the “culture of savings.” Instead we have the culture of mindless consumption—a nasty effect of our off-colored colonial past. Well, among other things.

3. Rich people in our poor country have greater propensity to consume luxury goods, engage in real estate speculation or foreign exchange, all of which are not productive. In short, we’ve an elite as irresponsibly waldas as the rest of us. Since they lead, who are we not to follow?

And so the vicious cycle of low incomes—high consumption—low savings—low rates of capital formation continues while no less than a senator is wasting precious national resources on the investigation of the Chief of Police’s “rude” behavior. What legislators like him should concern themselves about should be provision of things like; social overhead capital. Although I doubt this certain senator, his senator mother, or even his ex-president father, has even heard of such.

What is social overhead capital (SOC)?

SOC is education, health, power and irrigation facilities, roads. Since no private investors will sink down huge amounts of money for these public goods, then the government will have to do it. SOC is necessary for private economic activity to prosper, indeed, for all of us to function. It improves human capital. In the Philippines, SOC was miniscule to begin with, and now rapidly dwindling if the premier State University’s budget is any indication.


Of the three ways of capital formation mentioned above (taxation, borrowing, printing), taxation is the most effective, but also the most difficult. Why? Who in her right mind would voluntarily give up her hard-earned money to be given to the openly corrupt State? Nobody. And so every month our taxes are automatically deducted from our salaries through direct taxation and all goods we consume through indirect taxation or Value-Added-Tax.

While in other countries tax payment is a social contract; a binding act of trust between a government and its people, in the Philippines tax payment is a painful, agonizing, excruciating process. Who wants to make contributions to the payment of the Mayor’s new sports car? To the District Representative’s new mansion? To the Governor’s new mistress?

Why should we freely and whole-heartedly part with our peso when there are alleged billion-peso tax evasion cases of certain high-profile rich people? Oh, the Filipino rich. They who are most susceptible to taxation also have the means and power to evade them.

Debt Toll

The numerous incredibly poor don’t pay taxes. The many poor engaged in the underground economy don’t pay taxes. The microscopic middle class who can’t avoid taxes have been and are continuing to flee the country, and the rich don’t pay taxes and are not taxed enough. Well then, how will the State finance anything? Thank IMF and international creditors for foreign loans.

While taxation is the most effective means to raise money, Borrowing is the easiest. How so?

1. Public Borrowing allows debt payment to be delayed. Indeed, payment is deferred to “future” taxpayers, i.e. unborn Filipinos who are not here to protest bearing such burden.

2. The government that does not tax current tax payers (a.k.a. voters) incurs a political boon to the present administration (a.k.a “pogi points). It also passes the political burden to future governments to make the painful tax collection.

3. A politician need only concern himself with his current term. A politician will borrow now to make ends meet and finance government activities. To hell with interest rates and the future. When the time to pay comes, we’d all be dead anyway.

Given this logic, what government will not resort to borrowing when it can pass the burden of payment to future generations? Will the Philippines ever re-pay its $54 billion debt? Probably never. Will we at least reduce it? With peso devaluation, probably never.

Debt isn’t an evil thing to be abhorred and avoided at all costs. Debt can be good because it allows expansion of consumption possibilities. Debt is useful if used in productive activities, invested in infrastructure that will generate money to pay the debt in the future. Have we made our debts work for us? NO. A classic example is the $1.2 billion worth nuclear power plant in Bataan that has not produced a single watt of energy.

Breaking Point?

Ignorance is bliss, is it not? This way I could look to the skies in frustration and beg for the Lord's mercy rather than look to my fellow women and men for answers. I do not have to lament missed opporunities and human frustrations. Or I could simply jump ship and join the throngs fighting tooth-and-limb to migrate.

There might be hope in the Filipino diaspora. But often the Filipino diaspora is forgetful of its roots and offers nothing but apathy, or worse, contempt for its former home. If this doesn't speak of a fundamental flaw in all of us, I do not know what does.

If they find it so easy to cast off their Filipino citizenship, all too eager to be Americans, Candians, Australians, Europeans, then what is the Filipino worth?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Being a practitioner of language teaching and learning, I am particularly susceptible to the power of words. While the postmodern beckons convincingly, my favorite Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm writes:

History needs to be defended against those who deny its capacity to help us understand the world, and because new developments in the sciences have transformed the historiographical agenda.

Methodologically, the major negative development has been the construction of a set of barriers between what happened in history and our capacity to observe and understand it. It is denied that there is any reality that is objectively there and not constructed by the observer for different and changing purposes. It is claimed that we can never penetrate beyond the limitations of language.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


The Greatest Path to Nirvana

I've rediscovered Nirvana, that favorite band of old. I was a precocious fourteen-year old when I was first lured by the hypnotic music of these pioneering grunge musicians.

For a whole year I was a guitar-toting wannabe rock chick in an all-girl Catholic school, fashionably morose, proudly brandishing the calluses on my fingertips. I strummed and sang, lived and breathed Nirvana with a small group of similarly-inclined girl friends.

Then on April 1994, the group's front man put a shotgun in his mouth and fired. For months it was all I and my girl friends talked about. I shed tears, and listening over and over to the band's Unplugged album I realized it was too much for a young and impressionable girl like me to handle. I stopped listening to Nirvana altogether when I realized I had repeatedly toyed with the idea of killing myself more times than might have been prudent. As Butch suggested, Kurt channeled his anger well through their music.

Fast forward ten years later. I'm much older, hopefully wiser and better able to control suicidal tendencies should they arise. A decade has passed, Kurt's widow has disgraced herself and her husband's legacy one time too many, grunge has come and gone, empty hip hop is the new pop, but Nirvana still rocks.

Monday, January 10, 2005

TV Time: One

The TV is watching me. It has held me in thrall for quite a few hours now and it won’t let me go. I’ve been flipping through channels like mad and I am joyous there are so many.

There is always my favorite free channel, the BBC. I swear, when Britons speak they sound better informed and smarter than Americans do when they speak the exact same language. It must be the way they seem to enunciate each word where Americans let them roll off their tongues and come out their noses. Much like someone pounding away at a typewriter packs more conviction than someone flicking her fingers on a keyboard. Tack, tack, tack. Clip, clip, clip. Hear the difference?

I’ve a ton of work to be done, quizzes to check and papers to grade. But my body has been frozen in front of my television screen. There are simply too many interesting things to watch. Don’t you love the National Geographic? I swear these animals seem more human than I previously thought they were.

Before I thought animals were organisms motivated only by basic needs which are programmed into their much simpler brains to ensure their survival. But then here comes the National Geographic telling me certain animals, a monkey species in Japan, even certain hummingbirds, exhibit homosexual behavior! So instead of males shacking up with females, they instead seek out other males and simulate sexual activity. The way I understood the “logic” behind this “deviance” however was that two males unhampered by a reproducing female (who could not leave the nest) could then gather more food for the “family unit.” Purely functional then. I wonder if they enjoy the sex as much if at all.

I was shocked, aghast. Gay monkeys and birds were beyond my comprehension and previously unimaginable! But if the National Geographic tells me so, then I am convinced. What other proof need I?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Tula ng Bagong Taon

Nilalanghap ang samyo ng gatas na iniinom
At ninamnan ang sindi ng sigarilyong tangan
Saglit na ugoy ng katahimikan
Panandalian man ay walang 'sing inam.

Malay na walang kaba't agam-agam
Naghahanda sa lagablab ng kapanahunan
Ano mang dalhin ng kinabukasan,
Sige lang.

In pretty, straight-forward prose, I found this little gem. Here are some of the highlights. Read on.

A Hacker Manifesto by Mackenzie Wark

As the abstraction of private property was extended to information, it produced the hacker class as a class. Hackers must sell their capacity for abstraction to a class that owns the means of production, the vectoralist class - the emergent ruling class of our time.

The vectorialist class is waging an intensive struggle to dispossess hackers of their intellectual property. Patents and copyrights all end up in the hands, not of their creators, but of the vectoralist class that owns the means of realising the value of these abstractions. The vectoralist class struggles to monopolise abstraction.

Hackers find themselves dispossessed both individually, and as a class. Hackers come piecemeal to struggle against the particular forms in which abstraction is commodified and made into the private property of the vectoralist class.

Production produces all things, and all producers of things. Production produces not only the object of the production process, but also the producer as subject. Hacking is the production of production. The hack produces a production of a new kind, which has as its result a singular and unique product, and a singular and unique producer.

Information, like land or capital, becomes a form of property monopolised by a class of vectoralists, so named because they control the vectors along which information is abstracted, just as capitalists control the material means with which goods are produced, and pastoralists the land with which food is produced. Information circulated within working class culture as a social property belonging to all. But when information in turn becomes a form of private property, workers are dispossessed of it, and must buy their own culture back from its owners, the vectoralist class. The whole of time, time itself, becomes a commodified experience.

The hacker class, producer of new abstractions, becomes more important to each successive ruling class, as each depends more and more on information as a resource. The hacker class arises out of the transformation of information into property, in the form of intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, copyright and the moral right of authors.

Education is slavery, it enchains the mind and makes it a resource for class power. When the ruling class preaches the necessity of an education it invariably means an education in necessity. Education is not the same as knowledge. Nor is it the necessary means to acquire knowledge. Education is the organisation of knowledge within the constraints of scarcity.

Education 'disciplines' knowledge, segregating it into homogenous 'fields', presided over by suitably 'qualified' guardians charged with policing the representation of the field. One may acquire an education, as if it were a thing, but one becomes knowledgeable, through a process of transformation. Knowledge, as such, is only ever partially captured by education, its practice always eludes and exceeds it.

Where the capitalist class sees education as a means to an end, the vectoralist class sees it as an end in itself. It sees opportunities to make education a profitable industry in its own right, based on the securing of intellectual property as a form of private property. To the vectoralists, education, like culture, is just 'content' for commodification.

The very nature of the hack gives the hacker a crisis of identity. The hacker searches for a representation of what it is to be a hacker in the identities of other classes. Some see themselves as vectoralists, trading on the scarcity of their property. Some see themselves as workers, but as privileged ones in a hierarchy of wage earners. The hacker class has produces itself as itself, but not for itself. It does not (yet) possess a consciousness of its consciousness. It is not aware of its own virtuality. It has to distinguish between its competitive interest in the hack, and its collective interest in discovering a relation among hackers that expresses an open and ongoing future.

The arrest of the free flow of information means the enslavement of the world to the interests of those who profit from information's scarcity, the vectoral class. The enslavement of information means the enslavement of its producers to the interests of its owners. It is the hacker class that taps the virtuality of information, but it is the vectoralist class that owns and controls the means of production of information on an industrial scale. Privatising culture, education and communication as commodified content, distorts and deforms its free development, and prevents the very concept of its freedom from its own free development. While information remains subordinated to ownership, it is not possible for its producers to freely calculate their interests, or to discover what the true freedom of information might potentially produce in the world.

Free information must be free in all its aspects - as a stock, as a flow, and as a vector. The stock of information is the raw material out of which history is abstracted. The flow of information is the raw material out of which the present is abstracted, a present that forms the horizon the abstract line of an historical knowledge crosses, indicating a future in its sights.

The politics of representation is always the politics of the state. The state is nothing but the policing of representation's adequacy to the body of what it represents.

And always, what is excluded even from this enlightened, imaginary state, would be those who refuse representation, namely, the hacker class as a class. To hack is to refuse representation, to make matters express themselves otherwise. To hack is always to produce a difference, if only a minute difference, in the production of information. To hack is to trouble the object or the subject, by transforming in some way the very process of production by which objects and subjects come into being and recognise each other by their representations.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

When the Dead Walk Among the Living

It was nothing short of horrifying. Horrifying. On the day where the whole university commemorated her death and her father's, she walked the quad, clad in black, her hair pulled away from her pale face.

I'd been talking about her in my morning classes, joking with my students. "You may be alive now...but who knows next semester?" A smatter of hesitant laughs. Deaths are a matter of fact to me nowadays. There is no mystery or fear left after all the deaths I've experienced in the past months. But Thursday, I was not prepared for.

Smoking my after-lunch cigarette, I and a few students litter the smoker's pocket. The wind was a mite cool and the skies overcast. A few puffs and I notice her on one of the pathways. From afar I recognized her features. My God. Dead girl walking.

Suffused with a cold kind of panic, I continue to puff away, avoiding eye contact with her approaching. From the periphery of my averted eyes I saw her sit on one of the stone benches. She seemed so alive. Please Lord, let her not speak to me. But me being who I am, "gifted" with certain abilities, I knew I wouldn't be so lucky. But this was the first time any spirit had ever manifested fully.

I was leaning down to kill my cigarette when she catches my eye. "Hi Ma'am. Do you remember me?" If I were prone to cold sweats, I'd have sweat pools by this time. "Of course." Maybe because she dropped my class last sem, maybe because she had such a difficult time with me, her restless ghost came to pay me visit.

"I didn't know Spanish this sem was so difficult."

"Oh, ok. I've to go, I have class." With no backward glance I hurry back up the department, panic barely contained with each step. Such a powerful haunting! Where the fuck was the class list?

All along I'd thought it was my former student who died in Phuket two weeks past. Same name. Same spelling. Different middle name. I really shoudn't watch so many Asian horror flicks so I wouldn't see dead people, walking around like regular people, even if they were still very fucking much alive.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

She was a perky, pretty chinita with long wavy hair. Sheepish smiles when I called on her and she hadn't a clue. It was a game of "Who Is..?" to memorize nationalities and professions. God, and I remember her for not knowing who Albert Einstein was. He's a physicist Shar. I'm sorry your young life was taken away by arbitrary tectonic activity and even more arbitrary Phuket waves. Here's to you and Albert. May you meet in the afterlife.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

What Wooden Cocks May Bring

Natural disasters happen here all the time, and we Filipinos are so goddamned used to it we really don't give a hooting fuck if it happens elsewhere. My favorite columnist is ranting about just how insensitive we can be:

I was completely embarrassed when BBC reported on how the world celebrated New Year's Eve, which was that most of it did not celebrate it at all. On one hand, it showed Filipinos dancing in Ayala and exploding firecrackers in their homes. On the other it showed Indonesians, Thais, Sri Lankans, and even the peoples of countries who had not fallen victim to the earthquake and tsunami holding candles or prostrating themselves in temples in supplication or silent prayer for the dead. Sweden cancelled all traditional festivities and declared its intention to donate whatever money it could raise from it to the victims.

I say, what else is new? People die in catastrophes all the time, livelihood and property destroyed. For all we know people drop dead in hunger on our streets somewhere. We take it all in stride and make merry anyway, because exploding firecrackers is escape. Imbibing liters of alcohol is escape. Shouldn't we at least thank the government for making sure the "sin taxes" won't significantly raise the prices of booze? Because well, wouldn't that be anti-poor? And God knows they'll be needing lots more of that for the coming year.

The disasters and tragedies in the dying days of 2004 are portent of things to come. And believe me people, 2005 will be worse. So say all my professors (who incidentally are also NGO and GO consultants), so say my classmates (who are diplomats, civil society workers and government employees) so say my students (both the rich and the poor ones), so say my family, so says my dog. Ah, isn't ignorance bliss?

But for the mean time there is nothing left to do but explode firecrackers, abuse our livers and then prepare for the brunt of the worst to come. Here's to not killing ourselves in 2005. Cheers.