Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Interesting articles of note #4

Ever wonder why most comedians are male? Well, because men are funnier than women. And they better be. Christopher Hitchens writes.

Aside from her obvious charms, I knew there were other reasons why I like Beyonce so much. And here's more reason not to like Paris Hilton.

Speaking of Paris, the French openly vilify the sins of capitalism and yet, secretly offer sacrifices to its altar.

Know your sociopaths from psychopaths here.

And the New York Times released its 6th Annual Year in Ideas:

If you like watching UFC and you're a straight female, its probably because you get your rocks off two half naked men "wrestling" each other. Here's to Sporno.

Ah, the prophets of postmodernity seem right on target, from The Matrix to the hive mind of Wikipedia, welcome Digital Maoism.

Oh this one is brilliant. The CIA fashions a Ziggurat of Zealotry to classify Muslims' potential for terrorism.

Dr. James Wilson once told his best friend Dr. Gregory House, "You need to be kind to people, because you need people." Altruism, or being kind when you don't need to, is ultimately self-serving. If creatures on Earth compete to survive, then why do numerous species sacrifice themselves for others? In the end, it's to ensure the group's survival.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

While We Were Sleeping

In the dead of the night our (mis)representatives have effectively decided to crown themselves (dis)members of a soon-to-be parliamentary government. Crickets were witness to vote-buying among our (dis)honorables.

Newsbreak outlines the plan of action upon transition and other proposals to amend our 1987 constitution:

* President Arroyo will nominate the interim prime minister. The lawmakers, with Vice President De Castro presiding, will “elect” the one nominated by the President. (This is a major point of contention among administration congressmen who are against De Venecia.)

* Despite the shift in the form of government, President Arroyo will retain her powers under a presidential setup until June 30, 2010. She, however, “may delegate” to her nominated prime minister “powers over the Cabinet.”

* At least 10 Cabinet members will be given seats in the interim parliament.

* If the President appoints a lawmaker to the Cabinet, the latter will not lose his or her seat in the interim parliament.

The highlights of the proposed amendments in the section concerning the Legislative Department are:

* Members of the parliament will no longer be representing geo-political districts but constituencies of 300,000 residents each.

* Partylist representatives won’t have to come solely from so-called marginalized sectors. They can be part of any registered national, regional, or political parties or organizations. (This returns the party list system to the original concept provided by the 1987 Constitution and the Party List Law, but which the Supreme Court re-defined in a 2001 decision.)

* The prime minister will be elected by members of the parliament from among themselves (as opposed to the interim PM that President Arroyo will merely nominate.)

* By a vote of two-thirds, the parliament will have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war. (This does away with the provision in the 1987 Constitution that the Supreme Court has the power to review such declaration by the legislature.)

A parliament with the combined powers of the legislative and the executive. The concentration of power in a single body in government. Th possibility of (self)serving office in perpetuity. An electorate that doesn't know what a parliament looks like. A people largely unaware of their democratic rights and duties. Goons more than willing to take advantage. Good luck to us all.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rape, Hypermasculinity and Philippine-American Relations

When I woke up this morning to pick up our copy of the Inquirer from the garage floor where the newspaper man regularly throws it every day, I was pleasantly shocked by the headline; 40 Years in Jail for Smith. I was 99% sure that no American soldier would be convicted yesterday. Not because I doubted “Nicole’s” story, but because the idea of an American being pronounced guilty and serving time in our jails just seemed incredible. After all, my doubt stems from historical experience. As far as our country’s relations with the United States are concerned, we are almost always at the losing end.

When the trials began six months ago, we all knew this was no mere trial of a woman wronged. Nicole’s story is our story. Her fascination with the American soldiers, her friendship with Christopher James Mills, her seduction by these good-looking young men and her ultimate downfall.

All sorts our discourses weave their way into this rape case. The discourse of gender relations, of American militarism, of post-colonial relations, of hypermasculinity and violence.

In the early weeks of the trial, Nicole’s character was as much on trial as the accused. Had she been a prostitute? And if so, did she deserve to be raped? Was it an unavoidable hazard of her “profession?” Even if she was not a sex worker, what did she expect from drinking and dancing with these Joes? The implication that she provoked her assault in the back of that van underlies a certain view of masculinity, one that sees the male as a sexual predator, a slave to his base desires. The female is seen as the passive recipient of the male’s seduction. He proves his masculinity to himself and to his peers by subduing and conquering the woman. A woman who inflames such a desire must yield or suffer the consequences. As the expression goes, an erect penis knows no conscience. We all acknowledge that such behavior literally belongs to the Stone Age, and yet, the attack on the plaintiff’s character is almost always used as a tactic by defendants in rape cases.

The fact that the defendants are American servicemen adds yet another discourse to this story. The United States spent $400 billion this year on defense, the highest in the world and roughly equivalent to the next 15 countries combined. Militarily, it is the most powerful nation on Earth. Military might has traditionally been linked to international relations. In fact, the discipline of IR, barely a hundred years old, has been, for the most part, concerned with war. And wars are fought by men. Women have no place in warfare. They are relegated to the sidelines, presumed safe and shielded from the horrors of severed limbs and blown-up faces. It doesn’t matter that in truth, more people die of economic causes; poverty, starvation, easily-preventable diseases. But men must have their wars and their weapons of destruction. They must have these awesome displays of masculinity. Who has the biggest and most explosive gun? Who can stand the most pain? Who has no qualms to commit violence in the name of the “Motherland,” that symbol of femininity left safe at home?

No doubt, today the United States has the largest penis of all. This penis knows no conscience. It is confident in its subjugation and conquest of others. What it cannot take by wooing and soft words, it takes by force. Such is the story of American imperialism from turn of the 20th century to today.

Was Nicole completely faultless? Did she know she was courting danger by having a few drinks and dancing with these killing machines? Could her rape have been avoided had she behaved more prudently? Had she been born elsewhere, had she not grown up in our post-colonial context with our post-colonial mental maps, then perhaps she would not have consorted with these men. Ours is a story of seduction and false promises. Our culture today is replete with evidence of surrendering to the seduction of a “superior” race. Our indoctrination in the early days has been: All things American is what you little brown brothers must aspire for. American education, government, culture, the American way of life. We are but extensions of the original. The Eve to his Adam.

Was it Nicole’s fault to find these GIs, the baby-faced Smith, seductive? Her mental map dictates that his Caucasian features are attractive and that his twang is adorable. Her mental map dictates the desirability of marrying an American GI, or any Caucasian foreigner for that matter. Like so many of the other girls in the provinces whose mental maps and parents dictate that their only option out of abject poverty and destitution is to marry or prostitute themselves to the seduction of a better life “abroad.”

For the first time in history, the American ambassador is a woman. She hosts cultural events and attends basketball tournaments. She is an attempt to soften the face of the US in the Philippines. She is cordial, smiles a lot and likes to take photos with kids.

Yesterday the US embassy had this to say about the guilty verdict:

The U.S. Embassy notes the decision of the Philippines court in the case of the four U.S. service members accused of involvement in the alleged rape of a Filipina citizen on November 1, 2005.

With their acquittal on criminal charges, Carpentier, Duplantis and Silkwood will return directly to their military unit. Their Commander will now take action regarding the completion of the U.S. military's own investigation of this case. The U.S. will continue to abide by the Visiting Forces Agreement through the completion of all judicial proceedings, including any appeals.

This has been a difficult and emotional matter for all involved, and for their families and friends. The U.S. Government has adhered throughout to the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which provides the framework for U.S.-Philippines cooperation on legal cases involving U.S. service members.

Just now as I write this, the breaking news on Inquirer states the US' formal request to seek custody of Smith. The fight continues.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Humans and Nature

As I sit here inundated with images of people victimized by typhoon Reming, I wonder how many of the casualties and destruction to property could have been prevented. Were these people aware of the danger they were in? Did they not think of evacuating to some place safer? Were they not warned? And if so, did they pay heed? Or did they opt to take their chances with nature, fatalistically crossing their fingers and themselves, hoping for the best?

The Bicol region is no stranger to the caprice of nature. It is often the entryway of many typhoons. Have they not devised emergency measures to mitigate the effects of such calamities in the past few decades? Storm after storm, the TV networks chronicle the same results; people killed senselessly and infrastructure and agriculture destroyed.

The incidence of poverty in this country seems to coincide with the perennial path of these forces of nature. In the 2000 Poverty Estimate of the National Statistical Coordination Board, these regions are included in the 44 poorest provinces in the Philippines.

Region IV: Marinduque, Quezon, Romblon, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro
Region V: Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate, Sorsogon
Region VI: Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Negros Occidental
Region VI: Bohol
Region VIII: Biliran, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Western Samar, Leyte

Fatalism, is a means to adapt to things beyond human control, things like earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, volcano eruptions and typhoons. Fatalism implies living in constant fear of nature. Nature is seen as both provided and destroyer. Its vagaries cannot be understood rationally and so one must learn to live with its desires.

Our people have all sorts of customs and ceremonies in relation to the environment. Often it seems that we plead with it. We pray for rain, we pray for sunshine. We pray for good harvest. We offer sacrifice to nature’s gods. We see ourselves as an integral part of our environment, a decidedly pre-modern view of nature that seems to persist even today.

One of the prerequisites of the march to modernity is Science. Science destroys humanity’s organic relations to nature. Nature is objectified. It is a thing, separate from us human beings. If it seen as an object, then it may be manipulated to suit our purposes. It can be poked and prodded and tamed. With the advent of the sciences, human beings no longer lived in fear of nature, mystified by its seemingly irrational manifestations. The history of capitalism itself is the history of man’s mastery of his environment. Curiously, in other places in the world where capitalism threatens to stretch the limits of nature, people gone back to espousing “environmentalism” and green politics.

If poverty is caused by fatalism which is caused by pre-modern views of the natural world, then what can be done to end poverty in these provinces?

Of course we cannot claim that fatalism and backward notions of nature are the only factors to be considered. There are many others. But culturally, fatalism certainly explains how tragedies wrought by Milenyo and Reming keep occurring in the same provinces year in, year out. Fatalism also explains many other things.

Now flash these images of people pleading for help from their families elsewhere, their families abroad, the local and national government. These TV networks seem to maliciously underline their abject helplessness and we are enjoined to help. As the montage of cadavers, ruined houses and lives unfold, one wonders when calamities such as these will cease making sensational journalism and sensational TV.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Through the Ampalaya Vine

Last Monday the French embassy awarded "treasonous" lolo, former UP President Dodong Nemenzo, a medal of merit. I don't know the particulars of his award since I wasn't invited to the ceremony. My senior colleagues however were able to partake of excellent French cheese and wine at the event held in the ambassador's residence Monday evening. Dodong, recently charged by the government for rebellion, reportedly thanked the French government for appreciating him when his own government didn't. Those Frenchies sure are cheeky. Good luck to presidential front-runner Ségolène Royal of the Parti Socialiste. Should she win, France embraces its first female head of state.


In other chismis, I had been hearing of UP's planned tuition hike for months. UP's undergrad tuition has been pegged at P300 since when I was freshie in 1997. Nine years ago! I think its about time UP makes some adjustments for inflation among other things. Besides I bet at least 50% of the student population can easily afford to pay 18,000++ per semester. And for chrissakes, give them struggling professor's a fighting chance. A favorite mentor of mine who has slaved all her life for the university is a Professor 12 (the highest level). She once said she took home P30,000 a month when her colleagues in Hong Kong made ten times more. Now what kind of pay is that? Randy David, himself a professor at the Sociology Department, makes clear his opinion on the matter.


Now Day 5 of Watergate. Thanks a lot Maynilad. You gave us six months of clear water after a year and a half of little to no water. And now back to no water. So much for corporate responsibility. Lucky the customers of Manila Water. Hah, who decides which zone goes to whom???

Reming is Coming!

Props to Pag-asa for doing an excellent job. Their Milenyo storm warning came in time, although I don't think many people took heed. They announced the imminent onset of El Nino when Paeng and Queenie didn't make it seemly.

Now they announce another super typhoon, Reming, is about to hit Manila. Classes tomorrow have already been suspended. Can't say I'm disappointed :-)

Outside it is warm, even humid. The air is so still you can hear cars zooming by miles away. Calm before the storm eh? Brace your trees, reinforce your roofs and shingles. And for god's sake don't go wandering about if you don't want things to land on you. Here's to minimal damage and casualties. Be safe everyone.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

100 Years in Limbo

In a couple of months I will be leaving the Philippines to study abroad. My greatest concern isn't the fear of the unknown, of living in a foreign land I'd never seen before or of being essentially cut off from all that I know for over a year. My greatest fear is being seduced by first-world comfort and abandoning the imaginary of a better Philippines in my head. It is tough, to hold on to this dream, when becoming my family's sole breadwinner is fast approaching. Dreaming is good if you can afford it.


Manolo offers the work of Victor Sumsky on (incremental) social change in the Philippines for the past hundred years. This short paper makes an incredible observation so simple, so elegant, I'd never heard of it before. The same way as the characters in Rizal's Noli and Fili debate the merits and drawbacks of Reform or Revolution, it is almost funny how we face the same exact dilemma today. Marcos tried building a "Bagong Lipunan" by destroying traditional elites, but has failed in creating new ones. While we are all so proud of the bloodless EDSAs, what has truly changed? While we here in Manila engineer coups and revolutions, the provinces remain unmoved, frozen.

...socially dominant groups selectively “borrow” elements of modernity not so much to transform the existing order as to recreate it in a somewhat different, revitalized form. Instead of a breakthrough into modernity, the result is a passage to neopatrimonialism. In many ways, the Philippine Revolution might serve as an example. Although it subsequently led to the formal introduction of political democracy, the development of modern education and greater upward social mobility for certain sectors of the population, there was no radical change in agrarian relations and the social structure.

It is interesting to think that for the past century our people has been stuck in limbo, still negotiating the choice between Reform and Revolution - incremental, even procedural change or one so violent as to completely rend all that we are and know. In conclusion Sumsky asks whether the dilemma of Reform or Revolution still holds significance today. Are our choices limited to traditional politicking or communist and putschist take-overs? For the past hundred years have we been futilely circling the merry-go-round, where the more things change, the more they stay the same? Or, as Sumsky suggests, is there a third way? If so, who among us will find it?

When we speak of centuries it is tempting to want to be passive victims of time, letting things unfold separate from our mundane lives. But as one wise man said, the point is to change history. While it is tempting to sit back and wash our hands of accountability, while it is tempting to jump ship along with the many, don't you feel as though the time is now? When that opening, that momentous period in time comes don't you want to be there, to seize it?


Fifteen months is a long time to be far away from home. When I come back, I might be a completely different person. In a year's time I hope to read this post with conviction.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When you can't resist replying....

A friend of mine forwarded me this funny tally of vandalism scribbled in UP's cr. Nakakaaliw. Hehe.


College of Fine Arts Wall:
"nobody cares"
somebody answered:
"not even the carebears?"
then another:
"not even kier?"
"not even zoren?"
"not even zorro?"
all written by different people.

AS chairs:
"push button to eject seatmate"
"push button to eject urself"
"push button to kill teacher."
"push button to eject teacher"
....reply: "it's jammed! We're doomed!"

AS cubicle:
"Donate your bulbol here.." tapos may chewing gum na pagdidikitan. ...

AS chair :
"you know bobo? bobo is you!"

AS board, during enlistment of GE subjects:
"Pumila ka ngunit kulang..."

AS 1st floor CR:
"if you forget the past, then you porget the purious.."

AS 1st floor CR uli:
" Im a simple gay "
tapos me sumagot
"sira! Dapat 'Im simple and gay!' Taga peyups ka ba? duh! "
tapos me sumagot ulit (with matching arrow pa na nakaturo dun sa reply)
"sira ka rin! yung simple is used as an adjective tapos yung gay is used as
a noun. kaya ok lang yung simple gay nya!"

Chem chair:
"push button to spray acid on prof's face."
Another chem chair:
"You Boron!!!"

Bio chair:
"Push cadaver to haunt teacher."

Sa Men's CR, facing the urinal:
"Hawak ko saking mga kamay ang kinabukasan ng bayan!"
"the future you are holding is very small."

sa likod ng armchair sa isang room sa GAB:
"takas ng ward 7"

sa cr sa may math building:
may sumagot:
may sumagot pa:

sa math building, sa likod ng isang "teacher's chair" sa 3rd floor:
"BABALA: asawa ni babalu"

sa math 3rd floor, sa isang upuan uli.
"you'll NEVER find what you're looking for"
May nag-reply:
"find x."

sa math 3rd floor, sa isa pang upuan uli.
nakasulat sa armchair:
ta's may sumagot:

3rd floor math cr:
"kaibigan, pagkapatos mong umihi, paki PLUS mo naman, hehehe."
sa loob ng music room.
"maam _______(music prof) boses palaka! "
tas may sumagot
"nakarinig ka na ba ng boses ng palaka "
tas may sumagot uli
"weh "
tas may nag-react uli
"oo, sabi kokak!kokak! "

Wall ng vinzons
"Do not steal. The government hates competition"
men's cr sa Vinzon's:
"remember: the hands that clean this toilet are the same hands that cook
your food."

men's cr waaaay above the urinal:
"if you can reach this, the fire department wants you!"

sa isang upuan:
"f*ck nigs!"
may nagreply:
"who's nigs?"

Sa isang lamesa ng main lib, filipiniana section:
tapos may sumagot...
"mali pang grammar at spelling mo, halatang di ka taga UP"

nietzsche-"god is dead"
God- "Nietzsche is dead!"

Shopping Center sa labas ng PNB:
"in case of emergency break ass and push butt" (nawala ang "gl" at "on")
sa girls' CR:
"Bawal ang vandal Dito!...
Mommy said: First Aid Terramycin"
sa girls' CR uli:
"My boyfriend and I had sex and now I'm pregnant"
"Pray to God"

Friday, November 17, 2006

Oh, Gringo!

Is it me or is there a thinly veiled undercurrent of illicit liaisons and adultery in the media coverage of Gringo Honasan? The very first images of Honasan when the news broke out were of him literally pulling his pants up, then cut to the image of a certain Ingrid Ramos in whose home he was captured. Now the media is teasing us with insinuations of a special relationship with this mystery woman. Is she a "certain kind of friend?" The question of her relationship with Honasan seems to be overshadowing the arrest itself, and its implications. Maybe its because he's incredibly good-looking and seems to exude this...machismo that women of all ages can't help but notice. Well, whatever comes out of his arrest and trial, this 58 year-old, swashbuckling, coup plotter/senator certainly knows how to capture the public's imagination. What an elaborate way to start his senatorial campaign.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Interesting articles of note #3

In the olden days, the rising middle class showed "visibility" by having their portraits painted. Today, you only need You Tube to announce to the world that you have "arrived!"

In this day and age where time is literally money, we maximize our days (sometimes nights) working. Is napping a sign of laziness? Not necessarily, writes Kurt Kleiner.

Scholars debate the merits of the Anyone-can-edit encyclopedia.

Show me your fingers and I'll tell you who you are! British scientists say your digit length holds clues to your physical capabilities.

You know what I hate about Economics? In the past decades, one of its progeny, the Rational Choice theory, thinks to take over the social sciences. Ratchoice says we humans are utility maximizers. Scholars have all sorts of game theories to explain human behavior based on the assumption that when we make decisions, we always "calculate" the best way to make either relative or absolute gains. As if we were machines!

Take for example, the ultimatum game:

IMAGINE that you are sitting next to a complete stranger who has been given £10 to share between the two of you. He must choose how much to keep for himself and how much to give to you.

He can be as selfish or as generous as he likes, with one proviso: if you refuse his offer, neither of you gets any money at all. What would it take for you to turn him down?

If we were purely "calculating" beings then we would make the rational decision of getting something rather than nothing. But scientists say, our brains aren't wired to work that way:

According to standard economic theory, you should cheerfully accept anything you are given. People are assumed to be motivated chiefly by rational self-interest, and refusing any offer, however low, is tantamount to cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Yet in practice derisory offers are declined all the time. Indeed, if the sum is less than £2.50, four out of five of us tell the selfish so-and-so to get lost. We get so angry at his deliberate unfairness that we are prepared to incur a cost to ourselves, purely to punish him.

Home-schooling in the US allow some devout Christian parents the exclusive right to brainwash their children. Amanda Gefter writes.

We laugh when we're happy. But why do we also laugh when we're mad? Scared? Nervous? Sad?

We weep or laugh to purge ourselves of our conscious reactions to words and things, to lessen our discomfort at seeing or imagining evil, a threatening situation, or the flawed and inferior, the stupid, ugly, or absurdly incongruous. Emotion is displaced action, the sort of feelings we get when we want to do something but can't, when we can't fight or flee, as when a loved one dies, and also the sort of feelings we get when we compare ourselves to others and feel we are superior to them. Humour can also be a sort of aggression, as when a defensive, unsure person assigns nicknames to his associates.
And finally, Charo explains how she fixed my laptop problem.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Men and their Sticks and Balls

I've been enjoying the last week of my sembreak watching men do amazing tricks with sticks and balls. The World Pool Championships, held for the first time here in the Philippines, are about to come to a close, but the usual names are nowhere to be seen. The Big Guns, the likes of Efren "Bata" Reyes, Francisco "Django" Bustamante and Alex Pagulayan failed to bring their A game at home court. Pagulayan crashed out early, followed by noticeably shaky Django and Bata. Good news is, new Filipino talents have been given the chance to shine. I watched Jeff De Luna charm the crowd last night, with his barely contained energy evidenced by that MASSIVE break. At 22, he has plenty of time to mature and learn to harness that electric buzz he always seems to bring to the table.

As I write this the lone Filipino left, virtual unknown Ronato Alcano, is fighting to get into the finals. If De Luna is fire, Alcano is icy cool when he plays. He just beat last year's champ the wunderkind Wu Chia Ching. If Alcano is succesful in beating China's Li He Wen, I hope he bears well the weight of this country's expectations in tomorrow's championship match.

Go Ronnie!!!!!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pro-Digital Filmmaker, Anti-Filipino Film-goer

In a feedback article in the Inquirer today, a film student from Cebu is quick to defend Filipino digital filmmakers such as himself, but paradoxically declares his loss of faith in Filipino moviegoers.
Is the Filipino audience still worthy of such a sacrifice? To me, this is the true dark night of Philippine Cinema today, an issue that requires another devil’s advocate.

Me? I have never given up on the Filipino artist, but I have long since given up on the Filipino as a public for art.

Either Eric Tan Florentino has been living under a rock for the past five years, or like my boyfriend, has tendencies to be a "purist" when it comes to his definition of "art."

I don't know about you, but I can barely keep tabs on all sorts of film festivals we have yearly. That these festivals have been wildly popular in the past five years is a clear indication that there is an audience willing to either queue for a long time or pay to see "artsy-fartsy" films.

Film Fest season begins with the French Film fest in July-August and ends with a few more in December. While the French embassy pioneered free film screenings nine or eight years ago, many other embassies have followed suit. The Canadian, Spanish, German, Australian, Italian and the European Union all hold film fests, most for free. We now have the Cinemalaya, the CinemaOne and the Cinemanila.

Now why have these fests become wildly popular in the past few years? Perhaps the Filipino is sick and tired of the usual fare offered by the likes of Mother Lily. Perhaps the Filipino has become more exposed to "exotic" cinema courtesy of piracy.

One thing is for sure Mr. Florentino, don't count the public out. Our definition of "art" may not be as high-brow as yours, but I assure you, we appreciate good film when we see it.

What is "art" anyway? I had an argument once with my boyfriend, an alumnus of Mowelfund, about art films vs. Hollywood flicks. If your film sells like hotcakes does that mean you've sold out? Does it compromise your vision as an artist? On the other hand, if nobody sees your film, what's the point of making it? If your "art" doesn't speak to an audience, then you certainly have a strange notion of what it means to be an "artist."

Rebel Lolo

I had the chance to meet then UP President Dodong Nemenzo a few years back. I was (unfortunately) seated next to him at my rockstar professor's get-together in Silungan. Obviously, I didn't know what to say to him. How can you make conversation with the UP President?!? Well, with all the young people talking across and around him, I'm sure he felt out of place. So after some time he finally stood up and moved elsewhere. Dodong was old then. Much older now. He seemed like a harmless lolo contently watching over his grandchildren. So really its quite ridiculous pinning him with charges of rebellion.


Roland G. Simbulan
Professor and Faculty Regent
U.P. System

I join the U.P. academic community in expressing solidarity and support to our faculty colleague and former University of the Philippines President Francisco "Dodong" Nemenzo, Jr., who is being charged with "rebellion"and "obstruction of justice". The charges are reminiscent of the 1950s when U.P. faculty members who were known to have progressive and nationalist views were witchhunted by the Congressional Committee on "Un-Filipino activities" and accused of being Communists and conspirators. Those hysterical and red-baiting hearings only exposed the intolerance of the Philippine oligarchy and their counterpart American Cold Warriors in the U.S. Embassy, towards peasant and worker unrest which had found sympathetic allies in the academe, especially among our faculty ranks.

The charges against our colleague Dodong Nemenzo only manifest the desperation of the illegal occupant in Malacanang who is now retaliating against leaders of the broad opposition. Dodong Nemenzo is the President of the Laban ng Masa, a coalition of NGOs and people's organizations, which has been actively questionning the legitimacy of the despot in Malacanang in the aftermath of the fraudulent 2004 Presidential elections. Even opposition mayors like Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati are being charged with all kinds of allegations, even while corrupt pro-administration politicians are being acquitted or protected.

The charges of rebellion against our U.P. colleague Nemenzo and 40 others are an attempt to crack down on dissent and to silence the legal opposition. I call on all our colleagues in the U.P. Academic Community to support the ideals and principles which our former University president stands for. Let us resist the violent attacks and harassments from despots who will soon be properly consigned to the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How to Handle Yourself in Government Offices

The English word "bureaucracy" was borrowed from the French word bureaucratie which in turn traces its roots to the word "bureau" which means a desk or a table with lots of drawers.

If we shorten the etymology above, we come up with this nifty equation:

Bureaucracy = Desk with drawers

If you and I were on a similar line of thinking, images evoked in our heads would either be:

1. Rows upon rows of desks with government employees, stamping or signing away but doing essentially nothing.

2. Or, the stereotype of the government employee who has his drawer open waiting for your extra "contribution" to prompt him to do his job.

The Bureaucracy, unfortunately, is unavoidable in any modern society. They are supposed to provide the backbone for any government. They are assured tenure so that they may continue to provide services irrespective of who occupies Malacanang. It is assumed that the Bureaucracy is immune to politics.

Tenure and a modicum of "isolation" from politicians jockeying for position makes for a cadre of government workers who may serve tenure until they die or retire, whichever comes first. You wonder why they wear a certain kind of expression on their faces as they sit behind those desks and windows? Well they have security of employ running at the back of their mind. Whether they actually do work or not, they simply need to show up to get paid.

So you know they have a certain attitude, coupled with a notion that they are entitled to work as slowly and as inefficiently as possible because they are government employees, then what have you got? A bureaucracy that will move as slo.o.o.owly as possible. A bureaucracy that will seek to work as little as possible because there is nothing prompting them to do otherwise. A bureaucracy ripe for all sorts of rent-seeking possibilities.

Now, knowing this, how should we conduct ourselves in any government office? After all, from the time we are born to the day we die, government will charge us something and require us to do the requisite paperwork at an appropriate agency.

Tip #1. What every Filipino should do is to stop looking at government as though it were the enemy. A monstrous entity to be avoided and dodged at all costs, including having to bribe one's way out of a possible quandary.

I learned such an attitude from my parents when I was not quite eighteen. As a new motorist, my father's staunch advise to me was, "Pag nahuli ka ng pulis, lagyan mo na lang para tapos na" (If you were apprehended by the police, just bribe them to have done with it.)

Now, where might this attitude stem from? Perhaps it is knowing that redeeming one's driver's license could take half a day, a punishment in itself. Indeed, apprehending officers might be counting on this, adding an extra incentive for the motorist to just bribe her way out. Another advice I got from my father was, don't ever argue with the officer. Implicit in this piece of advice is assuming the officer is always right. Which isn't always the case.

This "fear" of government I assume, stems from our country's colonial history. After all, in the early days, public administration was colonial administration - meaning our very first contact with the idea of government hardly meant service. The government existed to facilitate as efficiently as possible the extraction of wealth from the these Islands to Spain. Where in other polities, the Government was created by its people, our early government was created by an alien entity to keep natives from "causing trouble." Given that, the natives will indeed have cause to fear government. They would try to avoid having to deal with government as this meant either unnecessary hassle, punishment or worse.

Given that government wasn't there to "serve the people," what could the early civil servants have been like? Perhaps the top officials were Spaniards, but the majority would have to be natives as well. Could we assume that they did their jobs with efficiency and service in mind? Probably not. Since the Spanish Crown was on the other side of the world, then one might assume that public administrators here had free reign to indulge in any money-making scheme as their imaginations could devise.

So, maybe this attitude of fear and mistrust toward government has been carried on for the past centuries. The question is, what should we do about it now?

Tip#2 Every Filipino should always demand good service.

Remember, if you are a taxpayer, then that means those snooty, stiff-lipped sumbitches are in your employ. If you feel that the service could be better, then don't hesitate to call someone out, or make reasonable demands. Of course, you must do so as courteously, but as forcefully, as can be managed. Remember, there is nothing prompting them to do their jobs well other than you. You have to make government work for you.

Which brings us to Tip#3. Demanding good service from government is no easy task. Their misplaced sense of entitlement often serves as a shield between them and the people they supposedly serve. They feel entitled to work inefficiently because they have low pay. That no one is holding a gun to their heads to work in public office is beside the point.

Tip#4. If you feel you are right, then argue your point as insistently but respectfully as possible. I find that speaking to low-ranked employees in straight Filipino helps. It doesn't do well to sport your colegiala slang as this serves to impress your "superiority" over them. And always say you are there to do your civic duty.

Let me tell you about my experience at the LTO a few months back. I had queued for three hours to make the payment and redeem my license. I then found out that prior to release of said license, I was supposed to take a "test." So off I went to the testing center only to be halted by a hazel-eyed security guard right at the door. Apparently, I couldn't go in because I was wearing "tsinelas." Well, my tsinelas happened to be a brightly colored stylish pair, but it didn't pass the security guard's muster. I argued, why didn't they inform the test-takers before hand that no tsinelas were allowed? Why wasn't it prominently posted outside said test center? Why did a pair of pretty tsinelas hamper me from doing my civic duty?!?!?

Because I am a teacher, I do have a flair for dramatics, and if I wanted, my voice could reach an audience of hundreds. Well, at this point, an audience had come to see what all the ruckus was about. A kindly gentleman suggested I go to the cantina to borrow a pair of shoes. I thought, what a ridiculous notion. But such are the avenues open to Filipinos who are unaware of their rights. Such are the solutions to Filipinos who see government as something to be feared, and so must be slyly circumvented. It never occurs to them to confront government head on, on equal footing.

To cut the story short I demanded to speak with someone, and I did, some more persuasion and arguments were made, all delivered in straight Filipino, and so I was finally allowed to take the damn test.

Tip#5. Hold government employees accountable. And how can you do this? By always, always asking for their names and positions.

To tell you another anecdote, yesterday I went to the Philippine Tourism Authority to get my Tax Exemption Certificate. Those traveling courtesy of foreign funding may avail of an exemption. Now it clearly states in their website that one need show proof that travel is funded/provided by a foreign government. So I brought all my documents from AusAID, including the contract which states all my entitlements.

The officer at the window gave my papers a cursory glance of about 5 seconds and pronounced that it wasn't enough proof. She said I needed to get the Australian Embassy to write a letter addressed to them stating that they were funding my airfare. I argued that this was already included in the contract, if she would but look at it. She then goes to consult her supervisor the "Signing Officer" and then came back to me pretty much saying the same thing. I again argued that she only needs to read the damn paper to see that my airfare was covered. So on it went between myself, her and the Signing Officer for about 30 minutes. If they expected me to give up then they expected wrong.

I asked to speak with Signing Officer and finally! he deigns to come to the window. I repeated what I had previously said, pointing to the pertinent parts of the document. I asked for his name. I asked for hers. Signing Officers then says he will consult the Department's Top Dog. Well, since she was female, that would make her the Top Bitch. Finally, after 15 more minutes, I got my papers processed.

On the way home I imagined what it must be like for ordinary Filipinos who do not know their rights and privileges as citizens. Had I not known better, I wouldn't have insisted on what I clearly saw was the logical, rational solution. I imagine other folks trooping to government offices over and over and over, queuing for hours on end to be "serviced." I imagine some who are tempted to just bribe their way out rather than go through the hassle. But the "hassle" is what makes the bureaucracy work for us. We must take time for the "hassle" to keep government employees in check. No one will do so otherwise.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Social (Cyber) Spaces

My computer was out of commission for a week and I felt as though I had lost a limb. Whenever I am away where there's no internet connection I feel worried, restless. I have an inexplicable urge to check my mail, to update my ebay account, to read favorite blogs of "real" friends as well as "virtual" ones, to see what was going on in continents far away. All that information at a flick of a switch. Is this the postmodern condition? Where the real isn't merely made of matter and atoms? Where constant streams of information make reality? Or am I merely a child of this networked generation? A material human being who has managed to extend, at times lose herself into immaterial, virtual space? And so when I find myself cut off from such a space there is a perceptible shrinking of my reality. Back to the tactile, bound by physical geography.

Perhaps we, our generation, are at a cusp of something weirdly fantastical and exciting. The symptoms are but beginning to show, the implications limitless. Our social relations, having been bound by family and later workplace kinships for centuries, are now being complemented, even supplanted, by kinships forged where the information makes the person. Relationships that transcend physical constraints - such as gender and social class. It doesn't matter what you look like in cyberspace. It doesn't matter whether you are rich or poor. All that matters is that you exist.

Perhaps there is a certain cadre of people who are seduced by the virtual. Those who have little interest in the hypocrisies of the material. Those who live in their heads. Dreamers such as I. Anything seems possible in the infinity of cyberspace. And we, dreaming idealists that we are, have found the perfect tool to create social relationships unhampered by deceiving eyes and dismissive first impressions.

I have maintained quite a lengthy "relationship" with a boy eight thousand miles away for quite a while. We shared interests and liked to talk. It was enough, until we grew older, until the endless typing no longer sustained. I've made friends over a local community website. We "eyeballed", we drank, we laughed, we organized Christmas outreach programs. I met my boyfriend through his blog. His words and his mind seduced me, we met and fell in love. My laptop failed me but a week ago, and upon expressing my self-disgust on this blog, a fellow blogger Dominique (who's in Dumaguete) and his friend Charo (thankfully in Manila), volunteered to help.

Yesterday, as I sat transfixed watching Charo's fingers flick and fold in a rhythm which I imagined coincided with the calculations in her head, I couldn't help but be amazed by this emergent social space. There we sat, total strangers never before laying eyes on each other, intent on reaching a common goal - fix the damn computer. I didn't do anything of course, just sat there like a nervous expectant father waiting for his first child to be born while she worked her magic. And voila! Presto, my files are resurrected.

This new social space of the immaterial has helped me in the past seven years to create material relationships unhampered by human faults and biases. This new social space has forced me to unlearn cultural norms hinged on appearances. In this network of human beings there is only shared interests, values and goals. Communication and information dissemination is immediate because virtuality and reality unfold the same.

It makes one think that we in this country are at the dawn of a revolution. A re-ordering of space and proximity. A destruction of old structures that restrict and contain. Are we re-making our social reality as we speak? Aren't you in awe of the possibilities?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Back up them damn files

My laptop has crashed. Three years worth of work and memories. My life is chronicled in that damn computer. I have no back up files. I am fucked, fucked, fucked.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Which Country is the Best Colonizer?!?

I stumbled across a funny little article on Slate courtesy of Manolo. The article lauds a working paper written by two economists from Dartmouth College claiming that “islands with a longer colonial history (and more settlement by Europeans) have higher income per capita and lower infant mortality than other similar islands.”

Intrigued, I go on and download their working paper here. (It’s total crap, so it’s free).

James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote (yes, like in the bible) selected 80 tiny islands in the Atlantic and Pacific. The median population of their database is 14,000. Happily, their database includes Luzon. Yay!

In a nutshell, here are their assertions:

1. These islands have an increased income due to their “exposure” to Europeans because of increased trade.

2. Colonialism was good because it introduced political and economic structures that would later support Democracy; establishment of property rights, a system of government, education.

3. Pre-enlightenment colonizers (à la Magellan) bungled their colonial endeavors while post-Enlightenment colonizers (à la Cook) were somehow more benevolent and more successful.

4. It mattered who the colonizers were. Happily, US colonies outperformed Dutch, British, French and Spanish ones. The Portuguese were the worst of the lot.

If we add up these suppositions, we come to this shocking conclusion: Colonialism is good for you little brown island dwellers! If you want to get rich then you better pray you get American imperialists instead Portuguese ones. You might suffer a little, you may have to swallow your pride and live under American “tutelage” but really, its all for the best. See? Increased per capita GDP!

I don’t know about you, but I tend to disagree with these astonishing!!! conclusions. Let us try to address each assertion mentioned above.

1. Well, since majority of these islands were pre-capitalist societies and most likely were subsistence economies (they didn’t produce extra, they consumed what they made), an increase in “trade” wouldn’t matter to their daily lives. What did matter was when these colonies were forced to produce coffee, sugar, tobacco and bananas for export, all their productive energies were taken away from developing their own indigenous economies and were instead made to service the needs of their colonial masters.

What did matter was when these tiny islands were incorporated into the colonial world economy, they had to sever trade (if any) with their own neighboring territories.

2. Again, this supposes that the European way of organizing polities was the best way; i.e. a “capitalist-democratic” State. And that this winning formula could easily be adopted by societies the world over with little trouble.

I suppose it is difficult to imagine what may have happened had these islands been left alone all these past centuries. Can you imagine what we could be today had Magellan not come? But then you will argue some other European seafarer would have come and so it is moot to imagine another history. We would have been colonized by any other European power anyway. Because Capitalism was born in Western Europe, because the State was born in Western Europe, because Democracy (as it is known today) was born in Western Europe, and Western Europeans would go and conquer practically the whole world in about a couple of hundred years, then ours is a world where Capitalism, the State and Democracy are the standard way of living. God forbid one imagine another world differently. You can get bombed to smithereens thinking that.

3. The Philippines is a living and breathing result of a couple of great powers’ colonial experiments. Both the pre and post-Enlightenment kind. For long and short periods. What are the implications of our mixed typology? Has the American post-enlightenment colonial business corrected the wrongs of the pre-enlightened Spanish? Do 50 Yankee years erase 300 Hispanic ones? Does Luzon have better per capita GDP than, say, Martinique under France? Well according to this paper, no. Luzon has $1,000 compared to Martinique’s $21,000. What does that tell you? 3 centuries trump half a century?

4. The case of Luzon again weakens the findings of Feyrer and Sacerdote’s paper. If US former colonies performed better than, say, British or French ones then how come Singapore (under Britain) and Vietnam (under France) are outperforming us? Oh heck, everyone is outperforming us. Except maybe Africa.

Which brings us back to these economists’ claim that the longer you’ve been colonized the better. Well, most of Africa were "let go" in the 60s, the last to gain freedom among less-developed countries in the world. These days they're in so deep a shit Bono's organizing concerts to have their debt cancelled. And you've got these Hollywood types snapping their fingers on black and white ads. And you've got these other rockstars sporting white arm bands. They're in so deep a shit Angelina and Madonna are adopting their babies!

So, again, let us reiterate that this paper is a misleading, even fallacious piece of crap. A bald-faced propaganda. It is written inelegantly (so says the grad student who has the distinct pleasure of reading many, many, many! journal articles in the past few years) and it makes little sense at best. Which makes you wonder why a professor from Wharton such as Joel Waldfogel would choose to write about this crappy working paper.

Well, because it says colonial empires are good. And American colonial empires even better.

Happy Eid!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Borgy for Mayor!

You really gotta love the Marcoses' audacity. They probably feel like they can do anything they want. Including having 23 year-old model Borgy Manotoc as mayor of Manila. His mother, Representative Imee Marcos was still non-committal on TV last night. Asked what her son could possibly know about politics, she said something like, he's been surrounded by politicos all his life, and so he must've learned something..."like osmosis."

They're probably testing the public's reaction to this news, gauging whether they have support or not. Well, this particular public's reaction is: BLEEEECCCCHHH.

I know people swoon all over him and think he's quite attractive. Don't get me wrong, I think he's pretty good at what he does; pose, pout and look pretty. But what the does he know about anything?!?

Since I know next to nothing about him other than his infamous last name (and all that signifies), I know this for sure. He absolutely refuses to speak Tagalog (at least publicly). So one can conclude that he's either he's too stupid to fit more than one language in his head or; he refuses to speak the language of the people he purports to serve.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bonus Question in Final Exams

What is the most important thing (if any) you have learned in the class of Political & Economic Geography?

My students' earnest, at times hilarious responses:

Christian: The needs of the elites in the society and the exploitation of peasantry in the world now and back then is very similar...without the suppression and exploitation we might not have changes in...the economy.

(I am seriously worried that this student of mine is a fascist-totalitarian in the making. He's brilliant but scary.)

Glaiza: ...explanation of how countries (became) rich and why others are poor became clear.

Nikko: I learned a lot from this very interesting class...I will admit that this subject is really a pain in the ass! But heck! It is good to be a part of it. The very important thing I've learned in this experience is the value of hard work, how important working hard is! I hope that some day I will learn to work hard!

Rosa: Equality - I mean, our opinion is always considered.

Rodelyn: Yung determinasyong mag-aral kahit suko na 'ko. He he he. Ang kagustuhang matuto kahit mahirap.

Crisanta: The single most important thing that I learned in clas was reading a lot. If you do not read then you will answer nothing. Reading three times the chapter would make us understand more the topic. It is hard to read but you should do it.

Raj: The most important thing I learned in this class is striving hard and exerting effort. I was used being "Happy-go-lucky" but it did not work in this class.

Maria: I must admit that this subject was really a tough one. Maybe because I'm not used to answering questions which I need to connect to the real world...how to analyze things/issues and be able to relate it with what is really happening in our world today.

Anna: The most important thing I have learned in class is about American hegemony...It is only now that I have learned that once upon a time the United States was an agricultural country as well. All along I thought that the US has (always been) industrialized from the start...I am also amazed that the US immediately (put together) all the ingredients to industrialize. And they were able to do it in avery short period of time.

Arlie: Devote more time on reading your text...criticize the information you have read...don't be afraid to ask questions...don't be content with what you've just heard!

Loraine: The location of a state is always a factor in its development.

Sherwin: I have learned the significance of political and economic history from the very beginning of the world up to this moment, even the possible future of many states.

(Well, we didn't exactly begin from the Big Bang...more like 5,000 years ago when people started living together in large numbers.)

Maricor: I learned that everything has a connection, from how war starts, how does war affect countries, functions of governmnt and so on.

Krisanta: In order to be able to compete and achieve economic development, underdeveloped and poor countries should not be contented with what they are receiving.

(And my favorite):

Daisy: I believe that there is no such thing as a superior race...I have learned that Europeans are not better than Asians. Asians are brighter than Europeans because in the 12th century the Chinese already developed medicine and paper-making. And I believe that Europeans overtook the Chinese because the Chinese were not greedy enough to conquer the world.

(Well, not yet. But in twenty, thirty years? Who knows?)

Interesting articles of note #2

Does your choice of reading material reaffirm what you already believe? Do we "submit" to the text or do we "examine" it? Are we "moved" by the author, convinced of the truth s/he peddles? When you read, do you do it "critically" or "uncritically?"

If obesity is a disease then Americans have an epidemic. Big Pharma cashes in and invents the thin pill.

Angelina Jolie has set a trend. Madonna gets herself an African baby too.

Uncle Sam recruits Latinos to die in Iraq. The Department of Defense's Joint Advertising and Marketing Research and Studies program (JAMRS) decides Hispanics use their right brain, and so tend to be emotional and non-logical. How can one be "emotionally compelled" to serve in the military?

South Korean Ban Ki-moon is the United Nation's new Secretary General. Will he do a better job than Kofi Annan?

Symptoms of the widening gap between the rich and poor in Brazil- the rich opting to use their helicopters for safety and organized crime lording it over government.

Andrew Potter suggests Pope Benedict XVI, in that infamous speech, likens Christians to atheists. "Because atheists and Christians have reconciled themselves to the primacy of reason, while Muslims cling to a conception of God as completely outside (and unanswerable to) human understanding."

Despite what some may think, humans are still animals. So why are we still threatened to discover we share certain traits with other "inferior" species.

Good news for those always on the go, scientists say skipping breakfast isn't necessarily bad for your health.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Personal is Political

In my adult life I have found that very few people like to talk politics. They say they stay away from politics because it is dirty, illogical and depressing. If it can be avoided, people do not talk politics. It is something they think can be set aside, excluded from their conciousness like some dirty secret best left forgotten. Of course there are always exceptions, there are some who view politics quite passionately, but not quite personally. They frame politics as something that happens in government - in public institutions concerning only public officials. When they turn on the news and read the papers they see politics. But very few people see politics in their private lives.

In the Jesuit university I do not often find the occasion to talk politics because there I teach a foreign language. I am sometimes able to address certain pressing issues especially if they are of national import, such as the February state of the nation emergency. In any case, it is difficult to engage students in discussion, I believe it is because if your family circumstances has afforded you to grow up relatively insulated from ordinary Philippine social life, then why should it concern you? If you do not want of anything, then why shouldn't you sit content where things are? If you are rich then you can afford to be apolitical.

Imagine then my complete and utter suprise when upon commencing to teach in the Intramuros university, I find that students there are as equally apolitical, if not more so. I realize it is because they have little to lose and so care the least. These are young Filipinos who hail from middle to lower-middle class families, those with at least one parent working abroad. They who make up the majority do not care at all to be political. All they are concerned with is gaining their diploma so they may all leave this blighted country and realize their dreams in another social, political and economic space. They have given up the idea that they will ever strike it rich in this country, that they will ever see here the good life. They have their parents', friends' and neighbors' examples to follow.

And so if the elite do not care, and the masses don't either, then who are we left with? Those who are able to mount a formidable election machine to gain public office and then, like rabid vampires, cannibalize precious little State resources. And those who are so wretchedly poor and uneducated that they willingly cash in on such election machines in exchange for their democratic power to scribble names on a piece of paper. In the mean time, those of us in the middle dwindle in numbers as we all plot to jump ship, if not now then in the near future.

My dear friends, are we not well and trully fucked?

Contrary to what is taught in Pol Sci 11, politics is not a struggle that merely occurs in the public domain. Sure, what happens in the Batasang Pambansa is politics. The shenanigans in Malacanang is politics. The arduous/tortuous signature gathering in la Bureaucratie is politics. But what happens in your everyday lives is politics.

To illustrate:

I paid a princely sum of P7,000 ++ to take an exam on May 31. The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) was a requirement for my scholarship application (see below). Although they have a local testing center here (Prometric), only the ETS based in Princeton, New Jersey may release the test results to both the examinee and her chosen institutions. By July my recipients in Australia had already received my test scores. And there I was, checking our mailbox day after day waiting for my own copy. July came and went. Then August. Then September. No ETS envelope ever made it to my mailbox. This is my personal life, my personal dreams and the Philippine Postal Service is so absymal it cannot even effectively serve its purpose, i.e., deliver mail from point A to point B.

Then last June I had to register my car as well as renew my driver's license and again our public institutions have soiled me, extorted money and stolen from me precious hours I can never again retrieve. I spent a total of 4 hours (excluding lunch hour) registering the blighted car and another 3 for my driver's license. I spent P300 of my hard-earned money on a urine test whose veracity may well be in question, P50 on a "medical exam" which comprised of the cursory blood pressure reading and peering at letters on the wall to "test" my eyesight. Some P300 yet again on an emission test. You wonder why people run for public office on so dismal a salary? It is precisely for the opportunity to seek "rents" only public institutions such as the LTO may dole out. Officials may augment their salaries or their patrons' income by replacing services these public institutions should otherwise provide for FREE.

Most recently all our lives ground to a halt when a relatively strong typhoon (by no means a 300kph monster such as...was it Unsang or Dading?) tore our public infrastructure to bits. Some have had to endure having no power or water for days. Many were inconvenienced or worse, killed, by fallen billboards. Do we blame our government's incompetence? Yes. But who elected government? If our taxes make us customers, then shouldn't we demand satisfaction?

Many people think only to endure or escape. But are enduring and escaping the only choices? If it sucks to be Filipino then whose fault is it? If it sucks to live in the Philippines whose fault is it?

The personal is political. Those who fail to grasp this concept unknowling perpetuate political apathy and consequently, this Republic of Ineptitude and Corruption.

I tell my Intramuros students, you want to fly away to some far corner of the globe? You think to escape your roots? I think not. You may not physically be here but you will leave family behind. You will remit billions of dollars a year, and as economic conditions worsen, you will remit even more. Even then your country bleeds you. You will keep this Republic afloat and you will unwittingly keep the very Government you fled, that amoral monster of a cannibal, alive and well and fed. I say kill it. And if you want to slay it, then you stay.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Australian Leadership Awards 2007

I suppose many of us experience self-doubt. Just when I was questioning whether I was on the right path, God throws me for a loop. Or is making sure I stay this course. Or is fucking with me like always.

Anyway, it says in this e-mail I got from AusAID that I won a scholarship from the Australian Leadership Awards. The ALAs are "are awarded to professionals who are already leaders or have a potential to assume leadership roles that can influence social and economic policy reform and development outcomes, both in their own countries and in the Asia and Pacific region." It pays to love your country.

30 slots for PhD candidates and as many as 150 for Masters were open to 34 countries in the Asia-Pacific including the Philippines. And China, India and Indonesia. That's 1/3 of the world's population right there.

I wanted this scholarship so badly I had dragons in my stomach when I first learned about it. When I took the damn TOEFL, when I learned I had been accepted to the only university I applied to (Bond). And so I still can't believe it. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop because this is just too good to be true. They sent me the e-mail by mistake? Or I'll die in the next 2 weeks before I receive my written letter of offer from Canberra. Or said written letter won't make it to Philippine shores because...because....the cargo plane drops from the sky. Or the the AusAID will go bankrupt in the next few months. Or the Australian continent will sink in the ocean. Or I'll wake up.

This has been a long journey, one which started on my first trip abroad when I was not quite 17. I came home full of questions about why this country was the way it was. And then I went to UP, that "breeder of destablizers and naked runners." Against all logic, this university has brainwashed me to love my country.

And now I am here, poised for flight. This is where the cosmos is leading me. I only pray that I am able to fulfill my potential. To stay the course. To follow. To lead.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Interesting articles of note #1

Because either Sideblog no longer works or has deleted by account, I will start a weekly survey of interesting articles on the web. Click and enjoy :)

On the evolutionary front...

While it is clear what evolutionary functions are served by human urges for food and sex, what makes us hard-wired to create and appreciate music? Experts say, its all about sex baby.

What separates our species from the rest is our ability to create meaning. During eclipses, the sun doesn't merely disappear; it was swallowed, it was stolen, it was banished by some monster or god for various reasons - anger, jealousy, hate, passion. But in this day and age of the scientific method and rational thinking, why do superstitious beliefs persist? Apparently, its adaptive and de-stressing.

Contrary to what some might believe, new research say humans use both emotions and reason to make moral decisions.

You have a heart of steel if you didn't feel for Nemo finding his father. But do fish feel pain?

In this era of the postmodern, of disjunctive and mediated relations, of ubiquitous pornography, are human beings masturbating more? Not necessarily, but attitudes towards "self-love" have been changing. Frank Furedi writes:
In an era when passionate relationships come with a health warning, there is considerable scope for endowing solo pleasure with meaning. As a result, masturbation is no longer something you do for pragmatic reasons; rather, it is celebrated as something profound. It is frequently discussed as an activity through which you can discover your sexuality and your identity – the real you. It is portrayed as a unique source of uncomplicated intense pleasure. People are told that knowing how to love yourself comes both chronologically and logically before having relationships with others. ‘My needs come before anything else’ is the slogan that best embodies today’s worship of self-obsession. Sadly, the affirmation of self-love resonates with a powerful mood of alienation from the experience of intimate relations with others.
Around the world in eight clicks...

The world's most aggressive exporter of their own brand of democracy fails to educate citizens equipped to make their model work in their own backyard. How's that for irony?

Here's another reason for us to invest in education; the global economy of the past 10 years is increasingly powered by knowledge, innovation and creativity. In the United States "at the present rate of increase, creative jobs alone will soon eclipse the total number of jobs in all of manufacturing. Already, more than 40 million Americans work in the creative sector, which has grown by 20 million jobs since the 1980s. It accounts for more than $2 trillion USD—or nearly half—of all wages and salaries paid in the U.S."

Much as Europe would like to exorcise their culture and belief systems of everything that is "Other", it cannot deny that it has been shaped by its interactions with the Muslim and Arab world in the past millenium. The Renaissance was powered by exchanges with the East, thanks to waves of soldiers, tradesmen and clergy carrying back with them new knowledge and practices from the "Levant" during the Crusades. It is because of this erroneous and arrogant notion that Europe is unique, that it is has somehow developed all on its own to become the most powerful civilization in the world, that it has trouble dealing with Islam today. In a world post 9/11, Martin Walker surveys Europe's "mosque hysteria."

Brendan O'Neill wonders why Iraqi insurgents seem more interested in committing exhibitionist suicide than articulating clear political actions to establish a new political order. He proposes that these series of seemingly primal and apolitical actions are symptomatic of a crisis in the international order itself - of the crisis of the legitimacy of the nation-state as a viable shell within which people might organize their social, cultural and economic lives.

Long acknowledged as one of the first icons of globalization, McDonald's provides a "postmodern sanctum" to travelers all around the globe - a pitstop where anyone at home and familiar with this fastfood giant may rest to take a respite from the alien culture they are immersed in. Americans in Paris flock to the Golden Arches not so much for the food but because "it creates a smoothly standardized absence of place and culture — a neutral environment that allows travelers to take a psychic time-out from the din of their real surroundings." Rolf Potts writes.

On UNDP development surveys, we're considered a middle-income country if you can believe it. Thanks to some 50 African states in much worse condition than us. Now relegated to the "Fourth World," the dark continent is apparently awash in some $300 billion worth of aid. Despite Bono's and various do-gooders' efforts, Africa is still headed for a downward spiral. You've got to wonder why.

Who's afraid of China's waking dragon? Not the Americans, and not the rest of Asia.

Surprise surprise, Egypt's sex-ed TV program. If this conservative Muslim country can do it, why can't we?

Other news...

Ever wonder why the Bible has so many prostitutes?

Speaking of prostitutes, welcome Pink TV, the porn equivalent of HBO. Oh goody.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Typhoon Milenyo Rips Through Manila

Manila's most powerful typhoon in the last 10 years went by fast and hard, leaving much destruction and debris in its wake. Cars and trucks upturned, roof and concrete walls collapsed, electric posts, trees and those damn billboards falling on electric wires, cars, buildings, houses and people. Those "killer" billboards really have to go.

So far there are 11 dead and 34 missing. Not to mention the damage done to infrastructure.

The morning was relatively peaceful, but winds started picking up by noon. At around 2pm the wind was howling so hard it felt like a horror movie set. There wasn't much rain early on but the 160 kph winds were so fierce our house shook every time a particularly strong gust of wind hit it. I kept looking out, checking on our 20-year old mango tree, I was afraid it would fall over! Electricty went out around 2:15, but mercifully came back on before dark at around 6pm.

Thankfully my neighborhood survived relatively unscathed save for fallen branches, leaves and the occasional gutter strewn about. The rest of the Metro is in much worse shape. You've got to wonder how much of the damage was completely out of our hands and how much of it could've been prevented.

I hear Mayor Atienza's Manila was hardest hit, being directly along the coast of the bay. But really, I'm in Intramuros 4 times a week and I've personally been on a nightmarish drive home where my 9-year old car doubled as an amphibious vehicle. It took only 30 minutes of strong downpour and the streets all around the Manila city hall were about a feet deep in water. And about 2 feet along the streets near the flower market (near Dangwa transco). On that 90 minute drive home I kept thinking, we live in a country that annually welcomes around 20-30 typhoons. Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and the Manila area have perenially been susceptible to floods. Really, couldn't have we done something in the past 20 years to prevent such floods from happening? Aren't there advances in engineering to solve such problems? Can't Manila afford a new sewage system? I'm sure the answer is yes to all of the above. But again, you've got to wonder where your taxes go. You've got to wonder if they've been spent on some official or other's new toys and possessions rather than improving the capital's infrastructure and making life easier for all 12 million of its inhabitants.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

El Presidente Bush es El Diablo!

Addressing the General Assembly, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called George Bush "The Devil." In the hallowed halls of the United Nations, where diplomats are careful to speak mostly Diplomatese, his speech was anything but diplomatic.

Some choice words:

And the devil came here yesterday (crosses himself),


Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.

Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.

I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the president of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.

An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: "The Devil's Recipe."

Read the rest of his speech here.

Forum on Violence Against Movements, Movements Against Violence

College of Social Sciences Student Council
Institute for Popular Democracy

12 September 2006, 1-5 pm, UP Recto Hall

Presentation by Miriam Coronel Ferrer
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of the
Philippines; Co-convener, Sulong CARHRIHL

For centuries, national security options of states straddled between two approaches: one based on power, the other based on peace. The first option, power, may be better said as "power over" or the principle of domination over the groups posing a challenge to the state - its policies, actions, and more fundamentally, its nature. "Power over," at the minimum, aims to neutralize, and at the maximum exterminate, eliminate, subjugate contending forces in the name of the state and its desired attributes - sovereignty, stability, survival. At a glance, this approach seems to be the only logical option for a weak state, whose very weakness forces it to make a show of being strong.

The second approach is peace - that is, to seek peace, peace as a precondition to and/or an outcome of security. This approach is founded on the core values of tolerance, pluralism, and dialogue, the exact opposite of the values in the first approach: intolerance, inclusivity, brute force and monologue. It involves state-building through much needed reforms. Its guiding principle is "do no (more) harm" to the situation as it is.

Collective impact measures

What we have been witnessing in the last years is an internal security approach founded on the state's attempt to dominate and subjugate critical socio-political forces (first option). Its guiding principle is precisely to "do harm".

It incorporates the usual military operations against communist guerillas operating in the countryside. Such an approach relies heavily on the Philippine army whose marching orders are to clear, hold and consolidate (the latter now entailing the participation of state welfare agencies in what effectively is a lopsided application of a "comprehensive approach").

Reports of de facto curfews, arbitrary searches, harassment, imposition of the cedula, mopping up operations, notably in Nueva Ecija, but also elsewhere reflect that the classic counter-insurgency approach of draining the fish of its water continues. To suffocate the fish, the water is contained, drained or rendered unable to resist military pressure.

These methods have been referred to as "collective impact measures." As we have seen, this type of measures intends to hurt the populace in order to render them submissive, not really to finish them off. A local resident who gets killed in the process is, well, seen as collateral damage to the intent.

Collective impact measures also function as "collective punishment". Residents are scolded, chided, threatened for acts deemed sympathetic to the enemy. Read the accounts of the general assemblies recently held in Central Luzon by the military under General Jovito Palparan. Residents are beseeched and courted, entertained with songs and sexy dancers in exchange
for their sympathies. They are urged to speak out despite the asymmetry in the situation: unarmed, poor farmers facing fully armed lieutenants, colonels and generals. And when they do speak out, and complain of abuses of government soldiers, they are reprimanded, accused of already being "influenced" if not themselves NPAs. They become the brunt of displaced aggression, the easy target of traumatized soldiers faced with elusive "enemies."

The unprecedented high number of killings of political activists associated with national democratic organizations (as well as other left-wing groups such as the KPD) in compressed time is part of this "collective punishment" frame. The extrajudicial killings we have seen share the same features of rural community-based counter-guerilla warfare: indiscriminate or dismissive of the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and clouded by "hate language" and demonization of the enemy. A slight difference is that the killings are somewhat disguised, they are not done by men in military uniform, and are individual or tandem acts, whereas the usual counter-insurgency is marked by troops descending in communities (although their name plates may be covered, and their truck plates missing) who seek security and cover in numbers.

The killings' desired impact is the same: fear, paralysis, scuttling of the organizational network, albeit not just in the local but the national sense. The goal is to break the political infrastructure of the movement whose good showing in the past election (under the party list system) and corresponding access to pork barrel funds and a public platform, were, from the point of view of the anti-communist state, alarming. National politics is after all the bigger pond where the fish swim. But here the instructions are straight to the point: kill the fish.

In this power-based approach manifested in collective punitive measures, victory is easy to measure. One is through body count: how many dead and wounded? Another is through weapons count: how many weapons seized? And finally, how many communities, organizations, people neutralized? (We can discuss later how the same tendency is shown by the armed left.)

As we should all know by now, collective impact measures create more problems due to the social tensions and resentment they generate in the communities, and the affected public. They erode the fabric of society, confuse its norms, polarize, and desensitize. They provide fodder to counter-violence, and diminish faith in the system and peaceful change. They are sure-fire formulas for greater violence. They are our own "low-tech" version of weapons of mass destruction which nonetheless leads to the same MAD-ness, or "mutually assured destruction." The victory they lay claim too is short-term, flaky, and one-sided.

Multi-Layered Contexts

Let us not lose sight of the multi-layered contexts of this intensified state violence against a certain social force, its various apparatuses, but ultimately, violence or assault on the citizen at large.

One context is the short term: GMA's political survival. I will not belabor this point since it is already fairly well-established and well-reasoned out.

The long and short of this context is the legitimacy question raised against the GMA administration. Here the national democratic left has played a major role, whether in the attempts at setting off an impeachment process (through its party list members in Congress pushing for it, not once, but twice), or in military coup-cum-street protests that will force GMA to step down (through its waltzing with the malcontents in the military, in a queasy utilitarian alliance between the left and the right). The natdem left has also put blocks (lodging cases in the Supreme Court, protest rallies) to moves to strengthen emergency powers or insulate the presidency from the checks powers in the hands of Congress and the citizens.

It is to the GMA presidency's interest to weaken the multiple machineries of the national democratic left through both judicial (arrest warrants, and actual arrests, e.g., of Crispin Beltran) and extra-judicial means, as well as of all those lined up against her (why stop at one when you can cast a wider net?). At the same time, it is to GMA's interest to feed the loyalty of key state players crucial to her political survival, notably, the military (give them their war, medals, promotions, a free hand), the police (give them their balato), the members of Congress (give them their pork). It is in her interest to join the "coalition of the willing" and the US-led global fight against terrorism in order to get the backing and material support of US President Bush. In this regard, the GMA administration actively lobbied for the inclusion of the CPP-NPA in the list of terrorist organizations of the US and European bodies - even though the CPP-NPA does not as a rule employ terrorist methods like bombings.

But beyond the GMA presidency is the state of affairs of the Philippine state - the more important, larger context. This is a question that will transcend GMA (even if she stays up to 2010), and is related to but distorted by the partisan peddling of charter change. I am referring to the specter of not just a weak state but a disintegrating, failing state, one where governance (led by whomever) increasingly becomes unstable and short-sighted, and reforms impossible.

The prospects of a failed state result from the features of the post-Marcos state that we have inherited, worse off in its fracturedness and the frankensteins that were born out of the Marcos period, -- and how our political elites have selfishly played their games in this situation. It is the bigger context where the wanton use of state violence by both civilian and political leaders, and the military's privileged role in national security and national politics have become even more ominous.

What is a failed state? Rotberg describes it as one marked by enduring violence, though not necessarily always of high level of intensity. It is tense, deeply conflicted, dangerous and contested bitterly by warring factions, with varieties of civil unrest and two or more insurgencies, different degrees of communal discontent and other forms of dissent directed against it and at groups within it. Parts of the territory, notably the peripheral regions, are not under its control. There is high level of physical insecurity among citizens, thus they are armed or they join rebel groups. The society endures a high level of criminal violence, and delivery of socio-economic goods is limited. Its institutions are flawed; its infrastructure, deteriorating or destroyed.

The more recent line from Palparan, said over one ANC program last week, is almost a tacit recognition of our situation as a failing state. Because only in such a state can his explanation for the killings make sense. According to Palparan, the killings are perpetuated by people taking vengeance on the NPA for the latter's abuses. Queried if these people include soldiers, he replied in the positive, saying such soldiers are probably taking revenge for the death of other soldiers. If the state were a viable state, the military with a chain of command, the President the chief executive and implementer of the laws of the land - can this kind of anarchy, can this lame excuse be palpable?

Anti-communism and anti-terrorism

The ideological foundation of and justification for the state's excessive use of violence remains, oddly anachronistic enough, anti-communism. The language of anti-terrorism adds a new more contemporary twist, and locates our domestic wars in the context of the post-9/11 world order.

The language of anti-communism remains effective, given a general antipathy to communism, and an increasing alienation of the citizenry to national politics. To those who have fallen for this anti-communist "rhetorical hysteria" (defined by Wole Soyinka, first African to win the Nobel prize for literature, as the one-dimensional approach to all faces of reality, however varied or internally contradictory) , the killings are not a case of "slaughter of innocents" given that these people are somehow allied with the CPP-NPA. They don't think much about the fact that slaughter remains slaughter; that the basic principle of respect for human life and human dignity is for everyone, including the enemy number one of the state, and yes, including terrorists; that there are rules even in war that must be followed, notably distinction between those who carry arms and those who do not. Meanwhile, businessmen and professionals may be morally aghast at the unabated killings of alleged communists, but are not motivated enough to put pressure to stop it, until somehow, it starts hurting their economic interests, or their immediate environment. The middle class will continue to fight for their own means of survival regardless of the course of Philippine politics.

However, class analysis alone cannot explain part of the lingering potency of anti-communism. Part of the effectiveness of the language of anti-communism and resultant alienation is also due to the CPP-NPA-NDF themselves - their excesses (revolutionary taxation of rich and poor, infliction of punishments) , own pandering of violence and machismo, their inclusivity and dogmatic framing of Philippine society and politics, and their counter-monologue to the state's anti-communist mantra. The purges, the CPP-NPA-NDF hopefully recognizes by now, cannot be simply forgotten without full retribution and honest accounting before former and present comrades and the greater public. The ghosts of murdered comrades will haunt the party forever. And though not particularly convincing to explain away the recent spate of political killings among those who study their politics, and revolting for the disrespect shown the dead lying in mass graves, the purges of the 80s and 90s will remain scraps (war material) to poke around with, in the AFP and police forces' psywar ops.

In all, taken in the context of an untransformed state and reform-resistant state elites, the language of anti-communism coupled with anti-terrorism is actually anti-left (because the communists do not alone make up the Philippine left), and even more broadly, anti anti-status quo. Thus while we have our differences with the communist left, and as human rights advocates, oppose terrorist methods, we cannot tolerate the rhetorical hysteria of anti-communism/ terrorism. We cannot be unconcerned with the killings of branded communists/terroris ts, because the label easily includes all of us unhappy with the status quo, and exercising our rights to express our beliefs.

Ways Out

I have long been asking myself this rhetorical but really incisive question: what is the central political question of today? During the martial law regime and even during EDSA 2, the answer seemed simple enough: Marcos, in the case of the former, and Erap, in the case of the latter. Today, fortunately and unfortunately, we have to find the answers beyond Garci, Gloria and the two Gonzaleses in government.

The political killings is a problem with GMA - her leadership, her policy preferences, her questionable legitimacy based on her ascent to power (EDSA 2 and dubious elections) - but is also a problem that transcends her. Thus, removing GMA can be one short-term solution, but is not enough for the long haul. And neither is the long-haul solution contingent on removing her.

We must resolve how to deal with armed challenges faced by the state: resolution through conquest of power by a dominant force using force, or through sustainable, inclusive peace through peaceful means. The state has been pursuing the former, it's time to put more stake in the latter. But it will only do this if we achieve critical mass in forcing the state to take this direction.

We must work for a sustainable change founded on human rights and dignity - or a peace process alongside pursuit of specific reforms. There are key critical areas where state reforms are needed and where we should spread out and simultaneously intervene: reform of our electoral institutions and processes; reform of the security sector (cleansing and professionalization of the military and police); enhancing governance processes (depoliticization and upgrading of the bureaucracy) , strengthening of local governments leading to greater autonomy; and putting more resources in the educational system so that education is provided for all, and it is the kind of education where the values of human rights and peace are at the core.

Correspondingly, we cannot accept counter-violence as the better nor best way to fight state violence.

Our society is festering in a culture of violence -- violence that begets violence, that dehumanizes the victims and the perpetuators, reduces all fora to monologues, and elevates killing to the status of a national sport. We find in our midst self-righteous protagonists out to lay claim to their rights while blinded by their dogma and politics to the rights of others. There is much to untangle in the orthodoxy of class antagonism, of class struggle being necessarily violent, the state being the instrument of the ruling class, and the primacy of armed struggle in achieving political change. There is much to question about the soundness of the Maoist injunction to encircle the cities from the countryside as the route to revolutionary victory, the national democratic revolution as a stepping stone to a socialist revolution, etc. Certainly, we should discuss these, debate and challenge (but not kill) each other.

Let us have a national debate not to divide us further but in order for us -- state actors, counter-state forces, and ordinary citizens -- to reach some national consensus on how to best achieve social and political change. Without a shared norm or ground rules, and a consensual road map to start as off, we are doomed as a nation.

To conclude, the campaign against political killings of leftwing activists requires focused, case-specific response directed against the perpetrators and their chain of command. It also compels us to ask hard questions about the national security orientation and national security policies of the state and concerned agencies.

But our advocacy should be extended to become a campaign for a peace process; a movement against political violence as a whole, promoting human rights and extracting accountability from all parties (such as what Sulong CARHRIHL aims to do, using the CARHRIHL as framework); a dialogue for norms founded on life-affirming means and ends; a national quest for peace built on respect for human rights.

Human rights, peace, students, development and other groups should come together to work for new politics, the kind of politics that makes a firm stand against political violence.

Buzan, Barry. 1983. People States & Fear, The National Security Problem
in International Relations. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Rotberg, Robert . 2004. When States Fail, Causes and Consequence.
Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Soyinka, Wole. 2004. Climate of Fear. London: Profile Books Ltd.
Stepanova, Ektarina. 2003. Anti-terrorism and Peace-building During and
After Conflict. Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research