#EDSA30 – What did we get?

I was hoping that by now we have learned to divorce the narrative of the EDSA Revolution from the cult of the Aquinos. But I was wrong. Challenging certain personalities’ “saintly attributes” apparently equates to being pro-Marcos, or that we must only subscribe to a specific groupthink or get criticized by attacking the “Spirit of EDSA” – as if the concept of democracy itself is monopolized by a few personalities in history.
Ironic, because that kind of logic is the same propaganda that Marcosian rule brought to the Philippines for several decades: it’s either we subscribe to a single political narrative or get shunned. And while the days of being killed out of your own political convictions isn’t so widespread as before, it begs me to think if the kind of political conditions we have now is any better – that we are ostracized by dominating discourses if we do not toe the line of what ruling classes want us to believe. Maybe this is the “dictatorship in democracy” that Slavoj Zizek talked about with reference to dominating liberal ideologies.
It’s difficult for us “who weren’t there” to appreciate EDSA, simply because that what we’ve been taught for 30 years looks more like a dogmatic mass than actual history. Let’s just forget the fact that Cory’s administration suffered human rights abuses comparable to that of the Marcos administration. Let’s ignore the prevailing oligarchic rule that took over after EDSA to continue the oppressive systems we experience today. Let’s be thankful this, let’s be thankful that ad infinitum.
Yes, I’m thankful that we have greater political freedoms than what we had 30 years ago. But that doesn’t mean we’re no longer allowed to hear the truths of EDSA that, many of which challenge the dominating narrative that is forced upon us every 25th of February. Because the real spirit of EDSA – and that of inclusive democracy – is having the freedom to challenge these dominating discourses. It’s self-contradictory to say that the story of EDSA “is not over” then suddenly impose limits to this story.
That being said, if we want to celebrate the real story of EDSA, here’s where we can start. Let’s go beyond saying never again to Martial Law. Never again to the ghosts of Marcosian rule that try to inch inside our current politics. Never again to a rule of an oligarchy or political dynasties. Never again to poverty. Never again to the political abuses committed by all past administrations, including those that came after Marcos.
When we allow these kinds of narratives to take place in our conversations every time we celebrate EDSA, maybe our current generation would start appreciating what transpired 30 years ago.

Rethinking Mar Roxas

If there is any takeaway from Mar Roxas and Duterte’s slapserye, it only shows that Mar Roxas is the bigger loser of the duel. Indeed, Duterte’s unique charisma has his followers defending him to death. From his daring of Mar Roxas to release his Wharton records to inadvertently cursing the Pope. One makes you think that simply playing Duterte’s game of being tough ass will not work in Mar’s favor.

In fact, Mar Roxas public relations (PR) strategy in totality isn’t really getting him the popularity he needs to win the election. How many times does he have to be a traffic enforcer to relate with the poor? Or he could probably do fist bumps with school children, and bring out this sort of pa-cool vibe with the youth. Maybe he could rely on KatNiel to get the youth vote. But in any case he tries to relate with the masa, the people still don’t buy it.

Mr. Palengke no longer applies

And that’s the problem with Mar Roxas’ campaign strategy. The Liberal Party and his PR team must understand that the voting masa today aren’t as easy to convince compared to before. With communication technologies becoming more accessible to the poor, utilizing the same PR strategy from 10 years back doesn’t work anymore. The masa may enjoy their slapstick teleseryes from time to time, but nonetheless they hold a much higher standard when deciding who to vote for.

Ultimately, what the masa wants is someone who can promise them a decent standard of living without worrying about their children being stuck in the cycle of poverty. This is why they’re willing to vote for someone like Vice President Binay, even if he has allegations of corruption. Just look at how Binay’s PR has emphasized free health care, free education, and other social services in the tune of Only Binay.

We from the middle and upper class will find Binay’s PR as a joke or even unconvincing. And yes, we from the bourgeoisie will easily assume that the masa are so shallow to fall for such promises. But if you’re someone who comes from the lower echelons of society, you’ll see this differently. After all, when you’re constantly hungry and feel as if the system is being unfair towards you, Binay’s promises seems to be the masa’s guaranteed future. They’ll settle with him because the way they see it: “even if he is corrupt, at least he will feed us”.

For Mar Roxas, the masa can only ask how Tuwid Na Daan could feed the poor.

Frankly, Mar Roxas’s gimmicks such as pretending to be a traffic enforcer will not tell the masa how you plan to feed them. It only makes him look even worse.

Who is the real Mar?

So we know that Mar Roxas’ current PR isn’t working, so what can we do about it? For starters, the Liberal Party must go back from scratch and reassess who really is Mar Roxas. Before we look at his experience, we must first look at his character. He’s no masa boy, but everyone – even from the poor – love someone who is likeable as a person.

So what makes Mar Roxas likeable? Is he a good husband? Is he intelligent? He’s obviously rich, but can the Liberal Party machinery show that even a rich man can serve the poor?

When you’re able to emphasize his good traits, it’s time to look at his experience. What did he do in his stint as congressman, DTI Secretary, and heck even as DILG secretary? Of course, the biggest question is how did his policies in his previous positions helped the poor? If it’s true that Mar Roxas authored the cheaper medicines act, his PR could easily relate this achievement by emphasizing how he made medicines more accessible for the common masa. It’s these kinds of things that his commercials should brag, instead of being pa-cool with celebrities.

Dealing with controversies

Moreover, he must answer the hard questions that continue to pound him, particularly his perceived failure to revitalize the MRT and his achilles heel during Yolanda.

I’ve noticed that whenever Mar Roxas talks about his debacle with the MRT, he tends to be too technical. Good for those well informed about trains, but terrible to most who do not understand his jargons. His PR team must find a way to make the technicalities more understandable. If he can do this, the people may just buy it so long as they find it reasonable.

For Yolanda’s case, he must find a way that proves he did more than enough to prevent the catastrophe that took place – and he must package this message in a way that doesn’t sound like he’s blaming someone else. Because people are tired of the blame game when it comes to Yolanda, they want accountability at the forefront of the said issue.

Maybe he could emphasize the fact that Yolanda was the strongest typhoon on record, and therefore he could only do so much as DILG Secretary to prevent the catastrophe. But of course that’s not enough, we know that accountability is what people want. If he needs to apologize for it, even if he believes that he has no need to do so, then so be it. He could apologize, then explain how becoming president will make it easier for him to compensate the victims of the tragedy. He’ll certainly get bruises by doing so, but at least it would lessen his image as an uncaring and heartless person.

The long journey to Malacanang

There is still a long way before the May elections, giving him ample time to prove that he deserves the presidency. It’s surprising that with all the machinery and finances that Mar Roxas has, this has still failed to capture the hearts and minds of the public. Binay and Duterte seem to be the more popular choice. But if Mar wishes to beat them at the popularity game, he must realize that his gimmicks will not win him the presidency.

Tuwid Na Daan will be an insufficient message to get him the votes in 2016. It only worked in 2010 because they were going against a very unpopular and said to be corrupt administration. But people today are looking for stability and a guaranteed future, which for them is just as important – and maybe even more so – as an honest government. Mar Roxas needs to look for another message that will get people’s trust back to him.

But to do so, he must humble himself by recognizing his weaknesses. Only then can he become a formidable presidential candidate. Only then, could we may see a Roxas Administration in 2016.

Senator Cayetano: Defender of the Nation

In the midst of tribulations, a beacon of hope shines for the Philippines: Senator Cayetano, defender of the nation! Young and wise. One who cannot be deceived by falsifications and lies.

Our nation is at peril. Malaysia is at our doorstep, ready to steal our very lands and resources. Only one man can protect our sovereignty – Senator Cayetano! For he knows the lies and deceit of our traitorous peace panel. After all, he sponsored this so-called Bangsamoro Basic Law. Isn’t it great that in the midst of political crisis, he revoked such sponsorship? Surely our people understand. It’s simply politics.

Terrorists and rebellions grow in strength. Of course, the good Senator does not wish for war. But we must die for peace. Our soldiers who have seen war itself should understand this, and he’s sure that those who will be affected by such conflict will understand too. This sacrifice, after all, is for our democracy. For one nation, with one culture under one flag! The Filipino race.

The honorable Senator is also a great diplomat. Because the greatest tool for diplomacy is no diplomacy at all. He knows that to understand the enemy is to believe their lies.Therefore, there is no use in understanding our enemy.

No wonder our peace panel needs to be replaced, they’re too soft and forgiving. They have drank the lies of the MILF. Can they not understand the beliefs of the great Senator when it comes to the the art of negotiations?

If Senator Cayetano had his way with the peace process, it would be a zero-sum game. We can rectify the Moro’s claims of historical injustice if we assert that they lay down their arms and accept their Filipino identity. Otherwise, we pulverize them to kingdom come.

That’s diplomacy, the Senator Cayetano way. It’s simple as that. Such is common when viewing the action-riddled movies that he has watched over the years.

But the challenges of the great Senator become ever so heavier. He has gained critics for his blunt views. He does not mind, however, as they’re all political opportunists or paid hacks of the Malaysian government. It is great to see that his many supporters share the same view.

The Moro question has a simple answer for Senator Cayetano. Either they surrender to the government’s will or be expelled by whatever means necessary. It’s that simple for Senator Cayetano, and it’s quite astonishing why so many treat this decades-old conflict as some sort of complex situation.

Can they not see the simplicity and genius of Senator Cayetano’s proposals? Our current president does not understand, the peace panel does not understand, and neither does Robin Padilla.

So damn the views of Robin Padilla and his fellow Muslims! He’s only against the Senator because of politics. If Muslims had their way, our democracy would have never existed. Just look at our neighbors – Malaysia and Indonesia!

But just imagine if we had Senator Cayetano at the helm of our military. Just imagine, for once, that we have Senator Cayetano as our brave Commander-in-Chief. I’m sure that he will keep his word, that we must be ready to die for our democracy. Of course, we the people should be the first in line. It would be terrible if the great Cayetano is at the very forefront of conflict, when instead he should be leading – at the very comfort of the capital where he’ll be busy creating strategies based on his war movies.

Yet such imaginations are not realized, for now at least. But that’s okay, because without Senator Cayetano we would continue to be blind. If it wasn’t for Senator Cayetano, we wouldn’t know that the MILF were terrorists all along – and that we were actually negotiating with terrorists when it should not be so!

But critics argue that the MILF terrorists were actually “helpful”. Without them and the ad hoc joint action group, they say that it would be difficult for our military to defeat the other terrorist groups like Abu Sayaff.

Senator Cayetano, rightly so, sees through this deception. They’re all the same, for he is an expert with his extensive knowledge on terrorist issues. MILF, Abu Sayaff, BIFF, BFF of the MILF – they’re all the same brand of terrorism just with the different flavors or shades. Just like a hydra, we establish a ceasefire with one group – two more pop out. Whatever agreement or joint action group we have, it becomes useless. Why can’t these deluded peace advocates see the lies?

Ah, but once you agree with the insightful knowledge of Senator Cayetano – you will understand why we can’t pass this so-called Bangsamoro Basic Law. There’s no point in negotiating with the MILF. No matter how many UN-sanctioned agreements they sign, no matter if the international community continues to support this so-called peace process, we cannot trust them .

We can only trust in the hope of one man, and that is Senator Cayetano – Defender of the Nation. Protector of the Filipino Race, and maybe, our next Commander-in-Chief.

The Fallen 44, And A President Who Could Not Weep

The recent resignation of Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Purisma is a good start towards the road to accountability, but it is not enough to calm the calls for justice.

Several days have passed by since the alleged ‘misencounter’ – a word which does not even exist in the English dictionary – between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the PNP Special Action Force (SAF). In truth, it was not a ‘misencounter’, it was a deadly battle between two opposing forces. Sadly, the SAF lost – and they did so big time.

It is still unclear why Marwan was being coddled in alleged MILF territory, nor of the rest of the actual details that took place during the tragic battle. All we have is mere speculation, some of which are being used as a justification for an all-out-war against the MILF. What we are sure of, are the details to which how the Aquino Administration responded.

We have the President and his communications team constantly reminding the country that President Noynoy is “never at fault”. His absence in the first day of the Fallen 44’s funeral? “Let’s not blame the President for that, he is only human!” So his supporters say while the President was prioritizing his trip to Mitsubishi investors over the Fallen 44’s weeping families.

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Men of the Fallen 44

What about the President’s allies? Of course, Malacanang is quick to come to their defense – especially PNP Chief Purisma. But even Malacanang can only do so much to save their allies. It was too late for the PNP Chief. The only option he had left  was resignation.

Yet resignation is too little for justice. When blood is spilled, severe judgments must be made.

If indeed the President wants to continue with the peace process with the MILF, both Malacanang and the MILF must defend its very legitimacy. The only way to defend the peace process’ legitimacy is for both parties to work together in the pursuance of accountability. Indeed, for several lay people – this sounds like a traitorous move.

But it isn’t as simple as branding anyone as a ‘traitor’. If the MILF wishes to become a legitimate partner of the government, it must do so in full cooperation. The MILF has consistently worked with the government particularly in anti-terrorist operations through the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). It was also the MILF that coordinated with the government in order to bring the bodies of the Fallen 44 back to their kin. And indeed, it was also the MILF that provided Marwan’s severed finger for FBI’s DNA testing.

These acts can be seen as MILF’s continuing pursuance of the ceasefire agreement. While it is commendable for the MILF to set up its own group to investigate the Maguindanao encounter, it must go one step further by sharing this information with the government’s own ad hoc investigatory body. If MILF intel leads to tracking down suspects within their own side, then they must also be willing to hand these individuals over to the government’s jurisdiction in the context of the ceasefire agreement.

This looks to be a heavy compromise for the MILF – and it is – but it is a heavier loss for the MILF if the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) loses legitimacy. The rejection of the BBL in the congress would only lead to further conflict, which is neither in the interest of the MILF nor Malacanang.

For Malacanang, its investigation should not lead to white washing. The peace process can only continue if there is public support. The President must show to the public that heads would indeed roll, and that the MILF remains to be an integral partner for the country’s interests.

But so far, many Filipinos remain focused on the tragedy of the Fallen 44. This is partly because the President prefers to concentrate on keeping his ‘not-at-fault’ image intact, instead of pursuing real accountability. But for the President to continue into this route of ‘self-defense’ is not working in anyone’s favor – including himself. All it shows is that he lacks the courage to keep his political allies within the bureaucracy accountable to public interest.

This image only shows a President who refuses to weep, but only smile and ignore the very tragedy that he is faced. What should be done by President Aquino instead is for him to deliver administrative or even criminal liability to whomever ordered the failed operation in the first place. If PNP Purisma was the one who ordered the operation, then certainly resignation is not enough. He must be liable for it, even if it means imprisonment for one of the President’s closest ally.

If real justice is to be given for the Fallen 44, then accountability must be made by both the MILF and Malacanang. Cooperation among both of these parties can serve as the confidence-building measure that would not only bring back the legitimacy of the BBL, but also ensure that war never becomes an option in Mindanao.

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A Moro rebel standing in front of a sign calling for the support of the peace process

Filipinos want further bloodshed, but this is not the solution. Not only would it detract development gains in Mindanao, it would only sow the seeds for more extremist groups to take advantage in the assumption of conflict. Peace must be chosen over war. But we can only have peace if there is genuine accountability given from both sides of the tragedy.

Yet, this still does not answer several more questions. These questions include Marwan’s presence in the alleged MILF camp where the Fallen 44 lost their lives. So far, what we know from intel is that the area where the battle took place is known to be a “hybrid” camp of sort between the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). It is the norm in conflict-ravaged Mindanao for rebel fighters to fight for more than one group. This is usually the case because many of these fighters are victims of the conflict itself. In war, food in the table is more important for them than highfalutin ideology.

Of course, this only leads to further complications to which an originally BIFF mandated objective of coddling Marwan is pinned towards the MILF instead. Either that, or the MILF could be lying. But if the MILF is indeed lying, then what use is Marwan for their interest? This only leads us to more questions than answers. But as far as interest is concerned, the BBL’s salvation is top priority for both the MILF and Malacanang.

As for US involvement in the case itself? That can probably be answered by one outlying strategy: The US Asia Pivot.

And if US Asia Pivot is dictating the presence of Washington’s agents within the area: What does the BBL mean for US interest against China’s growing militarization? How will this define Asia-Pacific’s future? And of course, how will this dictate the future of Mindanao?

More on that in my next blog post!

EDIT (11 March 2015): The continuation to the Bangsamoro Saga!

Pope Francis Is Still Progressive, Even If He Is Against Same-Sex Marriage

Let’s get this straight, I am in no way condoning the Catholic Church’s past or present atrocities – whether it may be direct or structural violence. As an agnostic who adheres to liberal and social democratic lines, I wish to see the Vatican reform itself in order to be one with the 21st Century.

But I am also a pragmatic, I recognize the fact that it would probably take centuries more for the Vatican to realize such reforms like the acceptance of women in priesthood or the Church’s retraction of doctrine against homosexual acts.

It’s these advocacies which have made some of my more non-religious buddies remain critical of Pope Francis’ years in the papacy. Just recently here in Manila, Pope Francis has once again toed the line especially with regards to divorce and same-sex marriage. In his speech in the Manila Cathedral, he said:

“Proclaim the beauty and truth of the Christian message to a society which is tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family. As you know, these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.”  ~ Pope Francis, during his homily in the Manila Cathedral

This is – of course – in reference to the growing grassroots movement in the Philippines, that advocate for the legalization of several policies including divorce and same-sex marriage. Even the Pope made reference to the Charlie Hebdo issue – while he did not claim to justify the violence made by the gunmen, he did claim the he understood their intentions. In his own words:

“[If a friend] says a swear word against my mother, then he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of faith.” ~ Pope Francis, during his courtesy call in the Malacañang Palace

It’s these points of contention that many non-religious circles in Facebook have focused on to strongly criticize Pope Francis’ perceived failure to reform the Catholic Church. But before someone tries to twist my words out of context, does this mean that Pope Francis statements should be free from criticism? Of course not. Frankly, I do disagree with Pope Francis’ defense that religions should be free from criticism. I disagree with the Pope’s stance on same-sex marriage, divorce, and other progressive issues.

But sadly for the militantly non-religious, they are quick to dismiss the very reforms of Pope Francis in favor of their confirmation bias blinded by liberal idealism.

It was Pope Francis who initiated a Synod in 2014, which began debates among the high-ranking Catholic Cardinals and Bishops if unmarried partners – whether straight couples or same-sex – could contribute lessons and values that are acceptable under Church doctrine. Of course, that Synod failed. It was rejected by the more conservative parties of the Vatican.

Yet as a liberal myself, this Synod – although a failure – became an impetus for further dialogue about issues on family-related matters. These issues were left under the rug, so to speak, back when Pope Benedict XVI was still the sovereign authority of the Vatican.

It was also Pope Francis who reminded the Catholic Church itself, to lessen its focus against fighting advocacies of same-sex marriage and return to its roots as an institution that concentrates on more material aspects such as poverty and hunger. This does not mean that the Vatican would retract its stance against same-sex marriage – but what Pope Francis recognizes here is that the Church has wasted time and resources fervently demonizing homosexual acts when such resources could have been strategically used elsewhere.

If you are an ardent follower of Vatican politics, you would see Pope Francis’ reforms with how he handles Church finances. Investments in the Vatican’s several charity organizations have been increased. Donations towards the Vatican have also been increased in pursuit of Pope Francis’ shift from the spiritual matters to material needs.

He has also made the financial regime of the Vatican more transparent, which allowed the Church itself to find several finances that were not originally recorded in the institution’s balance sheet. This is in stark contrast with the several scandals plagued by the Vatican’s finances when the Church was still under the management of Pope Benedict XVI.

Yet, even with these reforms – some of the non-religious are quick to disregard these achievements made by Pope Francis.They argue that if Pope Francis is the supreme sovereign of the Vatican, then it must be easy for him to use his absolute authority to establish real change. Sadly, that’s not how Vatican politics work. In the same way that Barrack Obama is challenged by gridlock due to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, Pope Francis’ authority is checked by hard-line conservatives within the Vatican. The irony of this – some of these non-religious liberals are quick to defend Obama when his reforms are hampered by the Republicans, but are quick to dismiss Pope Francis when his reforms are rejected by Vatican hardliners.

And this is the problem with some of the non-religious circles especially those in Facebook. As a liberal, I sympathize with them when they call for more reforms within the Vatican. Yet, I do recognize that it’s their die-hard adherence to liberalism itself that they lose their pragmatism. In fact, some of these non-religious circles online go against the very fabric of liberal strategy itself by asking such an impossible feat overnight – these people go against the concept of organic change. A concept which has guided liberal strategy ever since.

We must accept the fact that Pope Francis reforms would take years, even decades before they are realized. In the decades that follow when Pope Francis papacy ends, would we see a Vatican that accepts same-sex marriage or divorce? I doubt, because it would honestly take a miracle for the Vatican to change its mindset about this issue.

But would we see a Vatican that’s more open with the possibility of such concepts? A Vatican that can at least tolerate these norms that are slowly being accepted? Maybe so, and we would have Pope Francis to thank for that.

What Pope Francis’ State Visit Means to the Philippines

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(I originally wrote this as a public post in my Facebook account. I felt, however, that this work of mine would be a great political blog post of mine to signify not only my first ‘political blog post’ – but also to ‘welcome’ the start of Pope Francis’ State Visit to the Philippines)

Pope Francis has always been a Pope for the Poor, and his very reforms in returning the Vatican to its roots – to become again the Church of the Poor – is well-founded in his actions and policies. But it depresses me to see that in the midst of Pope Francis’ state visit to the Philippines, the powerful and elite seek to monopolize the State Visit as a means for further prestige and recognition. Damn the poor, our elites say. For our very elite believe in themselves to be the representative of the country. It will be they who would be shaking hands with the Pope for most of his itinerary, not the very marginalized.

But Pope Francis has never been fond of such illusions. Rather than shaking the clean hands of the elite, he prefers to hug the dirty and downtrodden poor. Rather than ceremoniously dining in expensive cuisines with the rich and powerful, he prefers to struggle with the hungry and marginalized sectors of society.

And it’s very sad to hear that our own CBCP – the representing institution of the Vatican in this country – has called on the government to further marginalize the very audience that Pope Francis wishes to speak with. When the CBCP has called on “to clean the streets” in order to give an ideal representation during the Pope’s visit, the government followed through by forcing lowly street vendors away from the vicinities of which the Pope is expected to pass by.

I am not part of the poor, and whoever so reads this post is probably not part of the poor either. But we should not forget the very essence of Pope Francis’ State Visit – it should be focused on the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. The tagline of the visit itself speaks to this theme, “Mercy and Compassion”. The fact that our society remains under the chains of social, economic, and political inequality – just goes to show that all of us need mercy and compassion as an antidote against the ills of our nation.