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

Oh The Delights of A Camera Phone :)

Sample the dessert delights on offer by Goldilocks.

This explains why I haven't been seeing any of the barangay tanods lately...

The vehicle with which LTO East Avenue tests an applicant's driving skills: moving 20 meters forward and backward.

A restaurant along Tomas Morato welcomes its patrons


A full-page ad on the Philippine Star. Someone's half-million peso apology for all to see.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

No Past, No Present, No Future

Reading Conrado de Quiros’ column today, I am reminded of a heart-breaking discussion in class lately. De Quiros laments that contrary to what certain Filipino taipans say, the Philippine educational system is heartily responding to demands of industry. Fly-by night institutions as well as established universities have put up countless Nursing schools in the past few years. The problem isn’t supply of skilled workers. The problem is where these workers want to work. We aren’t responding to demands of local industries, but to those of global labor markets. We make teachers, doctors, nurses, scientists and engineers for export.

Many of my students are also bent on gaining their degrees so they can finally migrate abroad in search of a better life. About 2/3 of them can afford their P25,000 per semester tuition because either or both parents are also migrant workers abroad. Yes, they and their parents have given up on this country, but they say they love the Philippines. They just can’t imagine making a decent living here. Yes they will go back when they are old and gray, to die in the embrace of their motherland once their productive years have been spent enriching other societies in other continents far, far away.

In our classes we take a virtual tour of the world, examining and picturing countries we most likely will never see in our lifetime. But always, always, the discussions lead to home as comparisons are inevitably made. We had been talking about the post-colonial obstacles to development and how some countries were more successful than others.

We talked about Japan’s developmental model, copied by many East-Asian tigers; Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea. These countries were proverbial backwaters at the end of the Second World War while the Philippines was second only to Japan in the Asian region. South Korea was ravaged by the civil war in the early 50s, made the war grounds of Cold War rivals the US and the Soviet Union. South Korea is now a successful peripheral state which has made the transition to “late-late” industrialization. And they were able to do it in thirty years. Today, we see how the “good life” has been achieved in countless Koreanovelas on Philippine TV while we are where we are still.

On the surface the Philippines and South Korea share similarities difficult to ignore. Both experienced significant colonial intermediation, although the Philippines has had a much longer colonial history. The two countries were put under hard authoritarian regimes in the 70’s. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972. General Park Chung-Hee coincidentally followed suit less than a month later on October 17. Both countries then “transitioned” to democracy in the mid-80s. Both had similar GDP per capita after the 2nd World War. They also had comparable political institutions installed by the US, particularly a strong executive in a universally elected representative government. Culturally, both exhibit strong familial ties.

I have always wondered why South Korea was able to take advantage of their neocolonial arrangements with the United States. Why it was able to bargain hard for American foreign investment, technology transfers and economic aid. The two largest American bases outside of the US mainland were located here, why couldn’t we do the same as the Koreans? Why weren’t we smart and wily enough to want more?

I had varied answers from my students. Some said maybe we were thankful for having such a benevolent new colonial master. Compared to three centuries of Spanish cruelty and ineptitude, the Yanks were heaven-sent. They educated us, taught us English and gave us the “gift” of democracy even though we were nowhere near ready to run a democratic government.

Some said maybe we were just plain stupid, so enamored of these whites, so convinced of their superiority and of our own inferiority. They had to know what was best for us, their little brown brothers, their poor carbon copies.

Some said maybe we lacked ambition, content with what we had, surviving every day. Happy to be alive and letting God take care of the rest. We had no cause to want more to be more to achieve more. We suffered and suffer still from low expectations. Low expectations from our government, our officials, our country and ourselves.

And so we leave in the tens of thousands each year, expecting nothing, wanting nothing, demanding nothin from our native soil. We take our chances out there, in some obscure corner of the planet, in search of seemingly limitless opportunities. We leave and will continue to do so, repatratriating our hard-earned income to those we leave behind, keeping families afloat, keeping this government afloat, keeping the system afloat.

There is desperation in the air, especially in the last year or so. Since the Hello Garci tapes. Some are so desperate as to peddle cheating on board exams. Some are so desperate as to brave the bullets of Lebanese and Israeli arms. Anything to fulfill our dreams elsewhere. To want more, to be more, to achieve more in an adopted home, in an alien land always far, far away.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Justice Cruz just doesn't know when to quit

Ours is a culture that reveres the old. We used to do this unquestioningly; the young must always give way to the superior knowledge of those who have been around longer. We presume they have experienced more and therefore must have learned more. But cultures change. Now we recognize that wisdom doesn't always come with age.

Based on his most recent column today on the Inquirer, I suppose Justice Isagani Cruz must have been deluged by an outraged "mob" incensed with his "opinions" about what is proper and improper decorum of homosexuals. In the past few weeks the Inquirer has published some of these letters. Many more reactions have certainly been expressed in the Pinoy blogosphere. Many took their cue from Manolo, outing himself unwittingly to the general public. Well, at least to those who do not regularly read his blog (read his "outing" post here).

The heated exchanges between these two Inquirer columnists quieted down a little as more important matters of state had to be critiqued and wrote about. It was quite exciting for a while, people duking it out on the web is always stimulating – readers immediately take sides and participate in the debate. But on a major broadsheet? The stimulating and coolness factor is multiplied.

The Inquirer expressed its own opinion on the issue in an editorial, signaling a cease-fire of sorts between Justice Cruz and Manolo's columns. I thought they let the matter rest. Until today’s column. Oh, Justice Cruz, why don’t you know when to quit???

First, he compares his “daring” to critique to progressives in American history. He mentions the bravery of the press in the Watergate scandal as well as the conviction of a certain Susan B. Anthony who campaigned for the right of women to vote. He then goes on to compare himself to a man who started teaching the theory of evolution in conservative states where the thought of humans evolving from apes was unthinkable. He should have stopped at identifying himself with Joseph McCarthy in his Communist witch-hunt. Because Justice Cruz has no business making comparisons between himself and the progressives he mentioned. These were people who advanced notions of social change and social progress while he advocates a reactionary, regressive view on homosexuality in particular and gender in general. He says he only voices the opinion of the "silent majority" and so he must not be derided for his efforts and should instead be lauded!

In the past weeks, this former justice of our high courts, a singularly erudite man who has (presumably) defended the laws of this land with as much gusto and passion as he has displayed in defending his opinions, has revealed to us that he is a man whose values have remained stuck in the fifties. I feel sorry for older folks who may be perceived in the same light. His own values are not a reflection of older people, but a reflection of who he is.

My immediate superior in a Manila university is a former ambassador in the twilight of his years. Despite the ageing of his body, his mind is as sharp as anyone else’s from our faculty. A few short weeks back, he and I had a heated yet entirely civil argument about whether to include Feminist philosophy in a course syllabus. He did not think there was a need. He thought why should we change what God has made? Why is there a need to teach Feminism? Aren’t Filipinas free to do what they want today? I said women are where they are today because of advances in Feminist political thought in the last century and a half. Women in the past have fought for the rights women enjoy today. There is a need to teach this because not all women in the world enjoy the same privileges we do here. There is a need to include this in our syllabus to show that what it means to be a woman changes. We are no longer “naturally” relegated to hearth and home “naturally” taking care of a gaggle of babies while the men are off to pursue their dreams of greatness. Women are no longer “naturally” perceived inferior.

He understood, he of the old generation. He of the old values where men were manly men and women were of the “fainting” kind. He listened to me, a woman forty years his junior and he understood. And so we have feminist theories in our course syllabus. I credit this to who he is as a human being rather than to his age. He understood that cultures change, that perceptions change, that what it means to be human changes.

Now Justice Cruz? You can e-mail and pester him all you like my friends. That is a lost cause. That is man whose arrogance stems not from his advanced years but from his singular lack of humility that what he knows and believes can’t always possibly be right.