Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Here, Being

I understand the comfort of going through life in sleepwalk. We do so many things unconsciously anyway. Wake up, pee, have breakfast, read the paper, shower, get dressed, go to work, go home, have dinner, find some amusements on TV or online, go to sleep, and if we’re lucky, dream something so marvelous we wake in mourning. The sun rises some hours after and the same route is travelled again. There is comfort in the regularity, the surety of going through life this way. We make plans, set some personal goals and hope life cooperates.

Thing is, I cannot function without some sort of discomfort. I cannot function in equilibrium, of going through the motions, of playing my part in the movements of everything else. In a flatline, there are no dips and no peaks from which to propel oneself forward. The flatness of the landscape may offer sure footing and a life planned accordingly, and to some this may constitute happiness, but the flatness may also be perceived as blank if not bleak.

Is it truly instinctual to avoid pain? That all of humanity’s history, individually and collectively, has been shaped by this fundamental need to flee from that which causes anxieties – fear, discomfort, unknowns? Do we find shelter then in the absence of fear, in comfort, in knowing? But to do so would be to align one’s body to the shape of the masses, never to stray from the sure beat of the music to which it dances. Perhaps there is a happiness to be had, to be engulfed in the warmth of this body, in easy camaraderie, in solidarity. But is it a life lived authentically? To meld with the conformities of a life lived ‘happily’, does one not just as easily dissolve?

Can we not accept then, that the terrain on which we walk shifts ceaselessly? Or flirt with the possibility that there is nothing on which to walk and to accept that nothing is permanent so that nothing may be taken for granted? I want to live in this state of discomfort, even as I battle the urge to join everyone else and just be ‘happy.’

Monday, March 30, 2009

Doomed to Leisure

The violence of mass consumption is a slow burn. It sticks to the skin and slowly eats away at the flesh. An array of objects and symbols subject the person in a battery of seduction. The senses are bombarded with loud, garish ploys designed to gain attention, engage in play and finally to seal the transaction. It picks away at your body, leaving none but bone.

Consider the conspicuous image of the girl, red-mouth puckered, sporting the shiny lip gloss. One is assaulted by her pixie eyes, her supple skin and that mouth ready to perform. The violence is in rendering in the victim a lack. That is, of pixie eyes and supple skin rendered perfect by the magic of image manipulators. A woman needs that lip gloss. A man needs that girl. Purchase to fulfil that mass of unarticulated desires.

Consider the image of a grinning heterosexual couple on a green field, flanked on either side by playing children and that dream house. So and so Realty is ready to gift you your dreams. All that you must want. All that you have worked for and have saved monies for is plastered on the giant wall. The anxieties of the norm slice through your fragile ego, articulating your lack, your deviance.

Consider the gadget framed in the vitrine. The shiny metallic glint signals to you the untold pleasures that can be had playing with it. You enter the store and play the simpering suitor, admiring it, caressing it as its pimp sings you its praises. It was created to cater especially to your needs, needful creature that you are. And you must have it to take home to play.

The phantasmagoria of consumption colonises all of the public domain, from one end of this metropolis to the other. Upon entering these churches both extravagant and small, one is forced to genuflect, to lay supplicant to the play of spectacle, to the blaring noise of sounds bouncing off shiny coated floors and walls. The faces of other worshippers are laid bare by harsh fluorescent lights. All are zombie-dead, sheep herded by things that facilitate movement from one space of consumption to the next. The MRT, the roadways, the escalators, the civilised spaces of this city - habitable, walkable, driveable – all lead to these places of worship.

Frankly, I am sick of all this.


Read also The Depoliticisation of the Filipino and the Marketisation of Everything and In Response to Resty O.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Road to Perdition

This interview of Prof. David Harvey and Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch made me want to review the origins of this crisis. Harvey claims that now that America has only five banks standing, this consitutes a consolidation of class power in that country.

Contrary to what some have been saying, this has been a crisis thirty years in the making. Whilst we in the developing world have been in permanent crisis in for decades, Capitalism has come full circle and landed square in the heart of the world's largest economy.


Capitalism’s ‘Golden Age’ in the 50’s and 60’s saw expansion and growth. Between 1950 and 1975, income per person in the developing countries increased by 3% annually on average, accelerating from 2% in the 1950’s to 3.4% in the 1960’s. In the developed countries GDP and GDP per person grew almost twice as fast as in any previous period since 1820.

This was a stable regime of accumulation regulationists termed Fordism. If Fordism was the regime of accumulation, then the mode of regulation, indeed the mechanisms that enabled such a system to work, were the Bretton Woods institutions.

A regime of accumulation, according to Regulation theory, is a period where crisis is put on hold, where crisis, indeed, is ‘regulated.’ Tensions of the contradictory social relations are managed by politically instituted compromises.

Within the core, national models of capitalisms meant the State’s support of national industries and class compromise between the State, Capital and Labour (Corporatism). With these compromises, Capital’s mass production had a steady market in Labour’s increased purchasing power due to rising wages. Because Capitalism’s survival is based on continued growth in profits, and domestic markets could only grow so much, expansion is necessary. Crisis is defined as lack of growth.

Regulationists generally agree that in the 70’s the world broke away from the old regime of accumulation. This was a crisis-prone period, one where the old mode of regulation (i.e. the Bretton Woods System) no longer worked to continually expand profits. The 70’s therefore saw a painful transition to Capitalism’s latest form.


Whereas the State was mainly concerned with juggling conflicting class interests within the national territory and resolving these conflicts as best it can within the domestic context, internationalisation meant the destruction of national capital and national labour compromise brokered by the State.

With capital’s logic of expansion in search of cheaper cost of production and more markets, production was increasingly internationalised. The very first multinational corporations were born in the 60s. The economic orthodoxy of ‘comparative advantage’ or specialisation made “less sense” as corporations’ production globalised.

As American firms went abroad, their banks followed. To remain competitive, European and Japanese multinationals followed suit as well. And so did their banks. Even when doing financial transactions abroad, MNCs tended to act out ‘nationalistically.’ Japanese firms borrowed from Japanese banks, German firms from German banks and so on. Banks wanted to escape financial regulation, taxation and capital controls. US banks went to Europe to escape the legal reach of the nation-state.

Inadvertently, American monetary policies enacted by the Federal Reserve in the 60’s, which were meant to keep capital at home, effected the opposite. The Voluntary Foreign Credit Restraint Program, which was designed to curb foreign firms and governments borrowing from US banks, and the Foreign Direct Investment Program, which limited the amount of capital US firms could send abroad, were what caused US banks to leave in the first place, taking residence in Europe.

American capital surpluses ‘hiding out’ in Europe saw the growth of Euromarkets. The Euromarkets are “an organized market for foreign currency deposits. To take the example of dollar deposits, a Eurodollar deposit is no more…than dollars deposited in a bank outside the US (Kapstein, 1994: 32).” Estimates saw the growth of the Eurodollar market from $20 billion in 1964 to $305 billion in 1973.

In the late 60s, the US dollar was overvalued, capital was exiting American shores and the Vietnam War was draining the American economy. The announcement of 1971 did not take long in coming, and exchange rates were set free to ‘float.’ On August 15, 1971, President Nixon announced the dollar was no longer freely convertible to gold, effectively abolishing the fixed exchange rate system. Currencies were allowed to float letting ‘markets’ dictate values of currencies according to the laws of supply and demand. The Bretton Woods system had collapsed.

This unilateral decision was a political one. The impact, made in defence of American national interest, was nevertheless felt world-wide.

Globalisation of production corresponded with the corollary globalisation of finance. As the leading capitalist power, the United States’ decision to abandon the old regime of accumulation for continued growth of its corporations was perhaps best manifested in its abandonment of the mode of regulation.

Period of Transition: Loose Capital

The only successful group in the developing world able to change the terms of exchange using ‘commodity’ power were the oil-exporting countries of the Middle East. The newly-established Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quadrupled oil prices from $2.48 to $11.65 per barrel in 1973.

The oil crisis of the 70s affected all oil-importing countries in the world, both rich and poor. There was severe recession in the West resulting to depression in demand for developing country exports, further spurring the deteriorating terms of trade. The decreased income of developing countries resulted to large-scale borrowing to finance balance of payments deficits.

The oil-exporting countries of the OPEC on the other hand, saw a prodigious increase in income estimated at $125 billion in the years 1974 to 1976 alone. $48 billion were invested in government paper, portfolio and long-term direct investments in the industrial countries. $49 billion, or 37 percent of total, were deposited in private commercial banks in New York and London.

The depression in the ‘real’ economy and the prodigious growth of financial markets via MNCs’ Euromarket deposits and OPEC’s ‘petrodollar’ deposits in multinational banks were the contradictory trends of the 70s. Both these two trends gave birth to a new regime of accumulation, one where growth is based on the expansion and accumulation of ‘fictitious’ capital.

Highly liquid, banks began lending to non-oil-exporting developing countries. Prior to the crisis, banks were wary of lending to these poor countries. In the 60s however, they seemed capable of servicing debt due to growth and rising exports. Further, banks had limited markets “in the slowly growing developed countries (Spero 1990: 167).” From 1970 to 1983 "the share of bank loans in total long-term financing increased from 4 percent to 22 percent (Singer & Ansari 1988: 220)."

Here it is important to note that banks were not operating on their own, but had active encouragement from governments and the IMF “which saw [lending] as a mechanism for recycling (Spero 1990: 167).”

The IMF enacted a mechanism to facilitate lending to the Third World. The ‘Facility to Assist Members in Payments Difficulties from the Initial Impact of Increased Costs of Imports of Petroleum and Petroleum Products,’ was in effect a "multilateral program to recycle petrodollars through 1975.” At first hesitant, the United States later acceded to the IMF’s proposal.

By the end of the 70s, governments in the Third World looked increasingly unable to make payments, incurring new debts to service old ones. The IMF played a central role in managing the ‘Debt Crisis.’ Two strategies were formulated and applied to all debtor countries to ensure that they could make their payments. These were the Brady and Baker Plans respectively. Both were named after US Treasury Secretaries.

The 1982 Brady Plan aimed to decrease government spending and increase tax collection. To garner increased revenues, governments should also seek to improve exports and devalue their currencies to make exporting more attractive for domestic enterprises. By 1984, the Brady Plan was not working as effectively as planned since these governments still had difficulty making payments. Its assumption that the problem was only a matter of lack of liquidity on the part of the debtors was a misdiagnosis of the problem.

The second strategy, the Baker Plan, was more aggressive in restructuring debtor economies in order to ensure their debts would be serviced. These structural changes would ostensibly make their economies more efficient, generating more revenues and being better able to pay debt. The IMF made further disbursements of capital conditional on enacting these changes.

In taking steps to resolve the Debt Crisis, i.e. making sure overexposed banks would recoup their investments, the IMF played an increasingly political, indeed politicised, role in the global economy. From its early mandate of merely overseeing a stable international monetary system it had not only transformed into a mediator between debtors and creditors with a demonstrable bias for the latter, but also into an unaccountable, unelected house of economists imposing economic policy on governments and polities far, far away.

Financial Liberalisation and More Crisis

The ‘Debt Crisis’ of the 80s faded into memory as banks were assured by their governments and the IMF that their loans would get paid, rescheduled perhaps, but paid nonetheless. Capital shortage for the Third and Fourth Worlds, however, would not go away. The 90s presented a different kind of crises and indebtedness. If capital was owed to banks in the 80s, today they are owed to literally hundreds of thousands of private individuals investing in ‘emerging markets’ and all kinds of funds.

Governments ‘freed’ money capital by removing restrictions on international capital movements. The very first to do so were Canada, Swtizerland and Germany in 1973. In 1974 the US did the same, followed by the Britain in 1979, Japan in 1980, France and Italy in 1990 and Spain and Portugal in 1992.

In Economic orthodoxy, the freedom of financial markets were supposed to effect a redistribution of capital world-wide. Capital was supposed to “flow from capital-rich developed countries to opportunity-rich emerging countries (Eatwell 1997: 11).” Not only that, markets were also expected to discipline governments for greater ‘efficiency.’

The IMF itself advocated deregulation of capital controls among members. Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer claimed capital account liberalisation would “outweigh the potential costs," hence the need to adapt “economic policies and institutions, particularly the financial system [to] operate in a world of liberalised capital markets (Singh 2003: 195).” Its sister institution, the World Bank also encouraged opening capital markets to foreign portfolio investment. Interestingly, China had not liberalised its capital account, but has maintained economic growth for the last two decades.

The result was the permutation of money into what Marx might recognise as ‘fictitious capital.’ The last thirty years has seen the creation of credit and wealth never before witnessed in Capitalism’s history. From 1975 to 1994, the stock of international bank lending from grew from $265 billion to $4200 billion despite crises. This is perhaps because of the nature of the debtors themselves. Unlike businesses or individuals that can declare bankruptcy, Sovereign states will always be able to pay as long as tax payers are born every day.

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) estimated the value of exchange traded derivative products at $13.5 trillion in 1999. Over-the-counter (OTC) transactions, i.e. private transactions between institutions was estimated at $72.6 trillion (Nesvetailova 2005: 400).

Increasingly, investments have moved away from the “bricks and mortar” kind to short-term portfolio investments, the kind that can pull out quickly at the first sign (imagined or not) of trouble. The most obscure, highly ‘conceptualised’ capital circling the globe today such as swaps, options, derivatives and futures, are perhaps better explained by mathematicians than the space in this discussion allows. Indeed this ‘electronic herd’ of money managers, armed with computers, use algorithms and pure mathematical formulae to ‘read the mind’ of the market.

Increasingly, the way these highly liquid forms of capital move have little to do with the real economy. Investors wanting a quick return would prefer portfolio investments over FDI because they are easily recoupable with a few strokes on computer keyboard.

Surreptitiously, the phrases ‘economic fundamentals’ or ‘the real economy’ as distinct from the weird world of high finance…Indeed the financial sector is now often dismissed as a casino society where speculators play out their compulsive habits.

The past decade has seen one financial crisis after the next as rogue capital chase profit opportunities across the globe. Like the tide, money instruments ebb and flow in the developing world with the whims of the market. Their flow triggered imaginary ‘prosperity’ in the hands of local capital and there was some growth due to increased local consumption. Their ebb triggered crashes in Mexico in 1994, Asia in 1997, Brazil in 1998, Russia in 1999 and Argentina in 2001.

Calculations, Encounters

Her hair caught the light from the overhead lamp, reflecting on my eyes, my friend of a decade. Her gaiety, aided by red wine married to 7-up, was infectious. The world was swimming all throughout dinner, and over pasta and cheesecake we traded stories of the latest. She’ll be playing chaperone/tour guide to a bunch of students off to Spain this summer. She spoke of A., apparently her amigo con derecho a roce, whom she left in Valladolid a year and a half ago. The tone of her voice communicated regret and a longing she seemed to suppress. She recounted his calls, on her phone and on Skype, suggesting they go here and there, that they do this and that, once she lands on Spanish soil.

I don’t want to be anyone’s amiga con derecho a roce, she said, eyes wide as saucers. I told her to weigh the benefits of seeing him again, and all that this would entail, with the losses of the aftermath. Although she didn’t say it, I sensed the latter far outweighed the former, and after the sojourn, she would come back to the Philippines with a twice broken heart. Laughing she said she would attempt to control her compulsions and would refuse to see him at all cost. I tried to sound supportive of her decision, but I knew then as I know now, that she would probably succumb to her compulsions. The completely rational will dictate that the best sex of her life (so far) could not possibly compensate for the weeks-long recuperation of the mental and emotional investments women make when they decide to go en couple, even for so brief a period.

What follows then is a costly decision – one that goes against gains-losses calculations. She would lose more than she would gain, and all for a few weeks of an encounter. But then we all make decisions based on the utility of the things we do, and on what we ascribe value. The rational will lay out that the activity “romantic encounter” is not useful in the larger scheme of things. The rational will dictate that the condition “walking about with a hollowed-out chest cavity” for weeks on end is the exact opposite of useful. Well then, should she choose to go ahead with this encounter anyway, then it may reflect what she values, and the weight she ascribes on perceived gains and losses. If she sees A. again, then she values the time spent with him more than the world of hurt that would follow. It is not a rational decision, but it is, I suggest, a question of what one holds dear and what one deems important. It is a valuational decision. People should be, not mere means and ends, but experiences incarnées, embodied, to take with us on our life's journey.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


A queer thing happens, rarely.
When the spirit divorces the body.
All that is solid, melts into air,
afloat in the ether it dances the square,
in absolute ecstasy.
That hollowed-out shell is spell-bound, content.
Breathing suspended,
muscles frozen in waiting.
As the essence spirits away meaning.
Splitting reason.

Beats and notes and words strung together
Marshall feelings to muster
thoughts to comfort
What cannot be had in liquor
Must be had by other means
And if hacking away, smashing
At keys, release
And if hacking away, smashing
At keys will force the spirit
Back in harmony with the body
Then let the motion of these fingers
Beg release
Then let the motion of these fingers
Beg surcease.
A queer thing happens, rarely.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ateneo Student Body Support the RH Bill

A survey conducted by the Ateneo Statistics Circle shows that 70 percent of the student body are supportive of the Reproductive Health Bill. In addition, the Ateneo Students Leaders, Ateneo Economics Association, Ateneo Social Science Circle and Ateneo Debate Society issued separate petitions supporting the position of the 69 Ateneo faculty advocating the passage of the bill.

Ateneo Statistics Circle Survey on RH

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unsolicited Acts of Kindess

Deep brown from baking under the sun all day, the young man was cheerful in rendering his unsolicited service. I eased the car into the parking slot near a commercial centre, something I would’ve been able to do without his assistance. But there he was, teeth absurdly white, framed as they were by his dark smiling face. I gave him a nod as I got out of the car to honor our unspoken service transaction. Manila isn’t short of informal laborers eking a living at the margins. The Unsolicited Parking Attendant is no different from the men offering to clean your windshield or the girls proffering fragrant blooms at intersections. They who cannot be gainfully employed by our broken system. They who rely on middle class largesse. My largesse.

The consumer haven was predictably cool and noisy and unavoidable. All we need in life is here available – including dental services. I went up the top floor to see Doc Jackie, only to leave immediately as our appointment had apparently been re-set for Tuesday. Her services I needed, but could not be had today.

I walked around for a bit looking coldly at the brightly-colored things, the pitter-patter of my feet muffled by the best of American pop kitsch. The things were screaming loudly to be heard. They were begging to be taken off the shelf and to be taken home to be worn, to be displayed, to be coddled. I wanted none of them, save a pair of summery flip-flops which I took off the shelf to be taken out to wear, to display and to coddle.

Rummaging for my keys, I walked slowly back to my parking space. And there stood Unsolicited Parking Attendant, no less cheery, no less enthusiastic under the almost-noon sun. In slow-mo horror my mouth fell open. I had forgotten to lock my car door. Frantic I looked to the backseat. Sigh of relief. My lappie – my life, my papers, my work – was safe inside. I looked to the young man standing some feet away in deference. He flashed me a smile that spoke to me of quiet dignity. I nodded once more and sat in the car checking for anything that may have been stolen. We were about to close our service transaction. Had I locked my door I would’ve handed him a ten peso coin for standing under the sun and looking after my car along with dozens of others. I did not want to pay for his unsolicited kindness and so cracking my door open I thanked him and made a joke about hunger and forgetfulness. Satisfied I made him feel my gratitude, as a human being would feel for any other, I fished for a hundred peso bill. He must have mouths to feed after all.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tori Amos - Putting the Damage On

When I was thinking of a name for this blog over six years ago I was drinking coffee and listening to Tori Amos' Spark. So simple yes?

From the gem of an album Boys for Pele, one of my favourites.

Nota Bene

Writing is taking a little a photograph to capture a moment’s thought or mood or rhyme. Round and round ideas often swim in the head. Some days they crystallize perfectly and the words assemble themselves to form coherence. Good little soldiers, off to battle. More than anything they are auditory. They are perfect in cadence, in rhythm.

Some days they won’t sit still, flirting beyond grasp. The ache as they slip away is cotton-mouthed drunken frustration.

But there’s always comfort in the click of the keys, as the letters line up in formation. The dark lines slip and slide on the white sheet, there they lay, little babies fast asleep.

Gone are the days when words come in cheap comfort. It is more difficult now to write from the gut. Age tempers everything. Age makes one careful, circumspect, measured. How I miss now, the sureness of youth. When the things that matter are painfully crystal and all else recede in the shade.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Fruits of Her Labor

The troops were assembling, a batallion of women from the communities. The heat of the afternoon sun was merciless, pricking the skin. There I sat next to a battle-weary colleague, a seasoned activist in his thirties. Cool in his shades he says, we should be organising for the nationalisation of the oil industry. Stung, I replied - this isn't as sexy, but just as important. No such thing as high politics or low politics, to my mind. The battle ground is culture - values, norms, standards. The scale is the micro and gendered politics of the home. At stake are bodies of women and what can and cannot be done with their reproductive functions. What a jaded, unfortunate thing to say, I thought, for someone who'd been at this far longer than I have.

Our purple bandanas were a meagre protection from the sun, but I put one on my head anyway. A lady in a brightly-coloured top was distributing them to rows of six to five. Another colleague looks through the lenses of his camera, documenting the preparations for the short march to the House. Through the scope he scanned the ladies hoisting their brightly-coloured placards. The booming voice of a community leader could be heard among the ranks, practising the chant of the march. I thought, nobody would hear the chanting, but it was probably more for the marchers than for anyone else, to keep energy from flagging.

As with many aspects of this country, the politics of gender is as multi-faceted and conflicted as our democratic process, our national project, our class formations and alliances, our cuisine. A developing country which regularly ranks high in alleviating gender inequality, it nevertheless thrives from the perpetuation of traditional roles of women. Many Filipinas leave their homes only to perform similar domestic roles elsewhere. The only difference is, for mothering young children or caring for the sick and elderly of others, they gain a handsome remuneration. The migrant Filipina’s remittances purchase the labour of other women to take care of those she left behind.

Women’s labour earn most of this country’s foreign exchange, as migrants and as workers in the electronics industry. Women constitute 74 percent of electronics industry workers, amassing more than $27 billion a year in exports for the Philippines. Semiconductors account for over 70 percent of Philippine exports (McKay 2006). In the wet dreams of the foreign investor, the docile Filipina would never think to organise a union as the rent-seeking local government would never think to enforce labour standards. There she sits, quietly assembling the micro parts of the chip, her nimble little fingers and eye for detail put to good use.

The President is a woman, the matriarch of the Philippine household. Reflective of our quasi-feudal society, the fruits of her labour accrue to her husband, her children and their myriad hangers-on. Meanwhile the government she has inherited perpetuates the export of women’s labour of care – nannies, care-givers, nurses, entertainers, teachers, sex workers. She wants to export more than a million this year. Typical of many of this country’s contradictions, a woman wearing the pants in her home leeches blood from the domesticity of other women.

The two o’clock sun reflects heat from the cement road on the way to Batasan. Cars honk their horns in derision or solidarity, I don’t know. Reproductive health always elicits snickers. Apparently it isn’t serious business when a woman has no choice what happens to her own body. But then, a woman constantly pregnant and home-bound is the ultimate expression of Filipino domesticity.

McKay S. (2006). "Hard Drives and Glass Ceilings: Gender and Stratification in High-Tech Production." Gender & Society 20(2), pp 207-35

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Womanhood, Othering

It may be doing development work for women, it may be because I no longer see exclusively from the privileged position of a bourgeois female, it may also be because I have experienced being in the position of ‘Other’ that I am sensitive to every perceived slight to my womanhood. Having grown up with a strong figure of a mother – who spoke her mind as she wanted and cared little for what others thought – I only realized later on that my model of femininity isn’t the norm. I also realized very late in life that I am afforded many advantages, even as a woman, because of my privileged position in this societal context.

It is only when you travel overseas, stripped of the context in which others perceive you, that you fully realize what it means to be the ‘Other.’ In postcolonial literature, the colonial ‘Other’ is not and cannot be the metropolitan ‘Self.’ Colonial relationships are unidirectional with one determining and imposing standards on the other. In our (still) complicated relationship with the United States for example, one is developed and one is not. One is mature, the other immature. The Other articulates a lack of what the Self possesses – wealth, democracy , freedom. In this unidirectional relationship lies hierarchies of power.

The same principle can be applied to the relationship of men and women. Othering has been easily adapted in feminist literature for obvious reasons. In biblical imaging for example, a woman is nothing but an appendage – a complement and helpmate to the fully-formed man. She can never self-articulate independently. Her being, her identity is forever pegged to the standard set by the male Self. If she wants to attain the same level of ‘Selfhood’ the male possesses, she must strive to be as masculine as possible. Her being woman can never be the standard.

I was 20 when I was harassed by an old man, probably in his 50s, in a park in Madrid. In the Philippines, my demeanor, the way I speak, my very appearance may have accorded me some protection against such an act. But as it was, I was young, female and not white in a park chatting with my equally young, female friend. Having only rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, I sat uncomprehending as the old man spoke rapidly while he swayed unsteadily on his feet. There was no mistaking the tone of his voice. I responded in English, telling him I could not understand what he was saying. As he ranted for a few minutes more, I was comforted by the fact that it was still light, and there were other people still in the park.

Probably incensed at my incomprehension and my blank face, the old drunkard finally gave up and walked away. I looked to my friend who spoke Spanish. Without hesitation she told me he just wanted to know my name and where I lived. As I looked blankly at him, or probably because I didn’t behave in the welcoming way he expected, he remarked that I was stand-offish and that he knew I was a Filipina servidora, and didn’t I want to marry a Spaniard?

I may have been too young to fully process what had happened. What was novel was the feeling of inadequacy – that there was something wrong with me for being female, for being young, for being Filipina, and for being a servidora. In that particular context, all four identities took an equivalence. The underlying connotation, communicated by his tone, was something akin to being contemptible and unsavory.

In the Philippines, we come to expect to be treated with decorum by the underclasses. In a highly hierarchical society such as ours, a person of perceived low standing – a waiter, a janitor, a maid - would behave a certain way to remind us both of each other’s position. We may be so gracious and polite as to treat the Other with respect and courtesy – but get offended when he behaves in an ‘uppity’ manner. We are offended when the Other acts out of place and so we react to reinforce the hierarchy between.

Having lived for sixteen months in a different societal context, I was stripped of layers of my identity which accorded me a privileged position - my (over)education, my not belonging to the Filipino underclass, my skin color. In Australia I was an Other. Young, female and Asian. In the white man’s imaginary, an Asian woman behaves a certain way. And in Australia, if you’re Filipina and look Chinese or Thai at the same time, you may well be someone’s mail-order bride and all that implies.

I had drastically gone down the ladder of positional power. It is a refreshing, novel perspective. For the first time I knew what it felt to be invisible, in a certain professor’s class, among certain peers, in the supermarket. Australian idealism values equality, multiculturalism and giving people a fair chance. These are ideals, however, and do not always apply.

Perhaps the most enlightening has been discovering aspects of my femininity that were previously matter-of-fact and unproblematic. Having met males from all over the world during my studies, I was constantly reminded, in small, inconspicuous ways, of how I was not behaving as I should. Progressive males will re- assess, and you literally feel a change in their behavior. Regressive males will then proceed to patronize or ignore you altogether. Being patronized was a novelty I would not soon forget.

A Filipino male is usually protective and careful of a crying woman. I had never before been made to feel like a simpering weakling as I showed emotion in the class of a (bigoted) Scotsman. I was female and was reacting irrationally to images of violence in the Middle East. Growing up, tears had always been a sign of empathy and a way to communicate distress. For the first time, and what a novelty it was, tears were a sign of inadequacy to the unemotional, rational male.

Perhaps the most difficult lesson I had to learn, having been in a relationship with a young man who probably got into a relationship with me to fight off his latent misogyny (among other things) and because he said he wanted to be with a woman of substance for a change, is to assert my womanhood without crushing the male ego. Oh and what a fragile thing it is.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Land (In)justice

Republic Act No. 8532, which extended the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program funding from 1998 to 2008, expired in June last year.Because funding expired before land acquisition and distribution has been completed, Congress sought to extend its funding by issuing two consecutive joint resolutions which were intended to cover the periods July 1 to December 31, 2008 and January 1 to June 30, 2009. These resolutions were promulgated/enacted to ostensibly allow Congress ample time to act on proposed bills HB 4077 and SB 2666.

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law’s animus is derived from the highest law of the land. The 1987 Philippine Constitution clearly manifests that it is the State’s duty to “promote comprehensive rural development and agrarian reform (Article 2, Section 21)” and to “undertake the just distribution of all agricultural lands (Article 13, Section 4).” CARL is the legal basis for carrying out agrarian reform in general and the land acquisition and distribution process in particular. Four chapters in this landmark legislation directly address the LAD process.

There are three main modes of private lands acquisition, namely the Voluntary Offer-to-Sell, Voluntary Land Transfer and Compulsory Acquisition. CA implies that in theory, private lands can and are appropriated by the state despite landlord opposition. Both the VOS and VLT are schemes which operate in the environment of the State’s legitimate power to acquire landholdings. CARL nevertheless provides incentives for land owners to voluntarily sell their landholdings to the state with just compensation.

In the Jan 27, 2009 hearing of the House Committee on Agrarian Reform, DAR Secretary Pangandaman presented rough estimates of land acquisition accomplishments as of December 2008:

VOS – 598,519 hectares
VLT – 705,634 hectares
CA – 284,753 hectares

Since 2002 there has been a trend towards voluntary modes of acquisition, veering away from CA. LAD under CA has been painfully slow in the last ten years. This is testament not only to the slow and unwieldy bureaucratic process but also to the resistance of landowners.

DAR estimates that of the total LAD balance of 1.2 million hectares, eighty percent are concentrated in five provinces - Negros Occidental, the two Camarines provinces, and the two Lanao provinces.

On December 17, 2008 legislators signed the House Joint Resolution 19 (now HJR1). It extends the funding coverage of CARP for six more months to complete the acquisition and distribution of private lands while Congress mulls the pending agrarian reform bills. This extension is limited to holdings whose owners have already signified wanting to sell their lands through the VOS and VLT schemes. The resolution also continues funding for support services to agrarian reform beneficiaries.

The resolution has in essence stopped funding for LAD under CA. In January the Department of Agrarian Reform issued a memorandum circular which intended to stop LAD under the CA scheme since funding has essentially been stopped by the HJR 19. The resolution has lapsed into law on January 30, after President Arroyo chose not to sign it.

There are two vital components of land reform - state acquisition of lands and their distribution and also the provision of support to make agricultural production viable and sustainable. Both components are dependent on state action - or inaction. HJR 19 manifests the need for time to further assess various studies proposed by the academe and researchers for “appropriate amendments to the existing agrarian reform law.” The next six months should then be used for legislators to resurrect the CARP bill with extension and reforms.

Agrarian reform is key to not only laying the policy directive to ease inequality and poverty, a largely rural phenomenon but also to raise the country’s agricultural productivity, ensure food security and pave the way to rural modernization.