Why it’s imperative to exercise caution in making judgments

What is overlooked or given little attention to today’s conversation on human rights violations, poverty, and corruption, among others, in the global South is that these generally are views of the free (or, first) world nations and governments that started so much ahead in the race to development. We forget that back when they were in the same situation, riddled in poverty and rampant corruption, they too employed now-questionable methods to solve those problems. But the difference is that these countries then didn’t have to additionally deal with, for instance, trade sanctions due to, say, domestic labor exploitation in factories producing the goods being traded. And that the continuing poverty in Africa and Asia is interlinked to today’s phenomenon of global ownership of local resources, in other words, there is no way individual smallholders of land or any other contestible domestic resource could compete with the amount and desires of global capital.

The game is hugely biased toward owners and administrators of this capital. Yes, a percentage of first world’s GDPs is allocated to overseas development assistance (ODA) but the lesson learned is that unless locals themselves are capable of financing their own development no amount of ODA pouring in will transform poor communities much less nations. Such capacity entails local ownership of local resources, local leaders and champions with the strategic vision, drive, and initiative, and locals willing to make sacrifices now.

Would today’s first world countries be where they are today without their tenacious and compelling leaders who used their Pied Piper talent to rally the nation toward a singular vision? In no other time in the world than today has it become more urgent that a more honest conversation takes place about the rules of the game and the ways less free countries could truly benefit.


Martial law: whose perspective?

I’m not, never will be, for martial law or any restrictions to liberty and freedom. Even if it’s a benign form of martial law, the fact that civilians are searched or required to present evidence of who or what they are to armed personnel instill an environment of distrust that in turn gives birth to other negative feelings (fear, paranoia, anxiety, more distrust, and the like) and thoughts (am I going crazy? am I the only one distressed over restricted movement?). I can’t help feel angry that I’m searched or asked for identification. Do the checkers really give a hoot about who I am or what I do? No. They only need to see that I am not one of those wanted men and women. The wanted individuals that’s who or what they care about, bottomline, which is why it doesn’t really matter to them if good and law-abiding citizens are made to line up even in scorching high noon heat. Who are being persecuted? But this is my perspective.

I do try, for my own sanity, to understand martial law or forms of restrictions from the perspective of Mindanaoans. They welcome it. People here, Moro and migrants alike, tell me, “people in Manila who are protesting and complaining about martial law here do not know anything, if they want we’ll exchange places, they could come stay here and we’ll go there. See if they don’t embrace martial law.” I have no response to such, just a smile. But I understand now that I’ve been here some time and have gone around in conflict areas where you don’t know if you’re going to be sniped at driving through a village while Michael Learns to Rock is crooning 25 Minutes Too Late in the background, or becoming a secondary victim of a blast in a shop next to the one you’re in. Such does things to your psyche. What more for folks who have been subjected to such a volatile environment for the longest time? I understand, travelling on the Pan-Philippine/Maharlika Highway to and from conflict-ridden areas, why people from Visayas and Luzon would want to build their homes here and why some people here would want to defend it at all cost. This place, this region, is very beautiful. I’m caught by the beauty of it’s landscapes, it’s wilderness. It’s a much-contested space. But I also understand what somebody who’s working in peacebuilding in the region for more than a decade meant when he said “pagod na din ang mga tao dito. Mamamatay tayo na baka hindi pa naayos itong problema (people here are already tired. We’d probably die without the conflict getting resolved).” What a sad, sad thought. I wanted to weep.

Whose voice? Whose agenda? Whose perspective? Whose future? These should guide us as we make a decision or a judgment about what is best for a community.

Happy Independence Day!

As long as I can remember, it used to be that Philippine Independence Day (119th today) is merely a lukewarm celebration of sorts in localities dependent on the budget that a local government has allocated (which corresponds to the extent of regard local government has for the history behind Filipino liberty and freedoms). What my stay in Mindanao at this time has taught me is that independence cannot, should not be taken for granted, ever. Local governments should stage community celebration of this historical event, remembering the people in the past as well as in the present and their sacrifices in order that the country remain free and independent. Independence Day is so much more worth the public celebration than fiestas. Such would be the place to acknowledge past mistakes and our limited humanity, and in the spirit of humility resolve to do better. The aim of this community ritual, like reunions, is for community members to reconnect around a common history and purpose moving forward. We’re always blaming the Spaniards and Americans – colonizers – for our inability to break through poverty (economic as well as in attitude) but, hey, the people and governments who colonized ithe country are long dead or gone and changed. Since then we only had ourselves to blame. Just look at the state of our present-day Congress and local government units. T he other day, while out to do some errands, I had just crossed the street to the grocery when I heard a commotion among people up ahead. It turned out there was a convoy of military trucks going by. They were filled with masked soldiers, and they looked weary. No smiles to the people and vice versa. That was not a familiar sight for me. What’s familiar to me is the images of poker-faced but palpably happy and shiny cadets at the Philippine Military Academy, whether on parade or on their regimental exercise. That image the other day was the result of experiencing realities on the ground, the actual battlefield which for the most part do not jive with what students were taught in school. But, I guess, as in much of life, we don’t run away from life and our duties. We face whatever comes our way. That is the way to live, the only way in order to fully enjoy life and the freedoms that go with human life. The question in the end isn’t what did you do to care for yourself? but rather what did you do for others? Life here in the Islands is so much more safe and free if we all got one another’s back.

Thoreau for the individual Filipino voter

I’m a fan of Thoreau but I don’t subscribe to his belief that government is best which governs not at all.

Even God as professed by the Catholic Church makes Himself an example with a fool-proof internal system of check and balance: the Trinity, or Three Divine Persons in God. As recounted, Jesus, the Son, consulted His Father every time he had to make a decision, in fact, there was nothing He did that wasn’t approved by His Father first. A referencing of one’s authority to that of the other’s featured throughout His human life, showing that, in the context of good and justice, freedom whether of the individual or institution cannot be absolute.

A more practical example: the spatial growth and development of Baguio City. Houses haphazardly trawling the mountains many of which despite annual fees for such are without a coherent system of sewerage and waste disposal. Business establishments such as gravel-and-sand and vulcanizing shops are next-door neighbors to hair salons and restaurants, encroaching on prime residential neighborhoods and highways. Etc. In these, it is apparent that government has for one reason or the other withheld it’s hand in land use planning and zoning resulting to: blight, downgrade of real estate prices, traffic, and the like. In other words, daily hell for the City’s individual citizens.

However, I agree with the thinker when he said

voting is but an expression of majority sentiment and lacks the power of timely action possessed by the individual. The political process results in the election of those who hold office — available men, who accept the process but are not necessarily guided by principle. Thus, the system perpetuates itself and degenerates over time. 

Timely action for me are the effort the individual puts in in as far as his or her political responsibilities are concerned. Elections which the Nation can be proud of is the outcome of that continuing effort.

Elections in this country veer from that standard. Here, it’s a one-off event after which all hopes for a brighter future delegated to one person. As if that’s even remotely possible.

Candidates these days- long time voters wouldn’t know where they’ve sprung from. Political Parties have become just that- a reason to throw a party where there’s no real discussion of platforms, or what Thoreau refers to as principles for change. This lack manifests itself in talks and interviews in broadcast media. There’s no depth and breadth in their speech. In short, and sadly, no real knowledge of their own country or locality and worse, of their own vision.


I mentioned in an earlier post that hunger in the midst of plenty and the availability of technology to mass produce probably is the number one problem the global community has to contend with.

Number two is displacement of persons, a by-product of internal crises. Anybody who has been inside refugee and IDP camps could see that life there is bereft of dignity no matter how external agencies try to make the space and structures imitate home.

The word ‘camp’ itself brings up the pathetic faces of masses of civilian prisoners in WWI who were herded off to god knows where in order to die undeserved criminal deaths.

Similarly, refugee and IDP camps as a whole is purgatory on earth.  A wasteland, in that fearful, confused, and numbed populations who otherwise are in the prime of their lives not to mention millions of children and young people who are just beginning to live wait it out. For what? Nations to declare peace, ceasefire, or truce, and their home government’s action so they could make their way back home, their community, or country. How soon will that be?

That’s the point, the pursuit of personal happiness, what these populations could and would otherwise do with their lives, has been taken out of their control.

Bayan Ko (My Country)

(English Translation)

My country the Philippines
Land of gold and flowers
With love in her palms
She offers beauty and virtue.
And of her modesty and beauty
The foreigner was attracted
O, my country, you were enslaved
Mired in hardship.

Even birds that are free to fly
Cage them and they cry,
Much more a beautiful country
Shall long to be free.
Philippines my beloved,
Cradle of my tears and poverty
I’ll aspire,
To see you truly free.

Thoughts for Independence Day 2014

via philnews

The Philippines will celebrate it’s 166th Independence Day (from Spain) on June 12, with the theme Pagsunod sa Yapak ng mga Dakilang Pilipino, Tungo sa Malawakan at Permanenteng Pagbabago  (‘Following the Footsteps of Great Filipinos, Towards Widespread and Lasting Change.’).

After a 377 years rule, the Spaniards eventually sold this country for several millions to the Americans. Sold!  I’m not sure which one was more traumatic for Filipinos – oppressive rule under the Spaniards or them putting a price on our heads and selling us. Like slaves!  Much of Philippine history is about a people subdued but then out of this emerged the heroism of natives. Filipino writer, F Sionil Jose, recently wrote this article for Philippine Star, Why Are We So Corrupt?  He cited the country’s history – trauma from centuries of repression from colonial rule – as one cause.  I disagree with his point on this.

My observation is that many of us still blame people and events in the distant past. We haven’t gotten over the past, in other words. Painful as it is for us now, that’s what happened, and there’s nothing we could do to change the past. We weren’t there. Blaming people and events of that time is an exercise in futility.

But we can do something with the present and the future as these are within our time spans. What will happen today, tomorrow, weeks afterward, and few years on are to an extent within our control.

Then why are we so corrupt? I offer that it’s because we haven’t freed ourselves from the grip of the past – it’s practices, attitudes, mindset. We’re reincarnating the abuses of the past. Just look at land reform. This is a hand me down from the Spaniards, but we’re still sitting on it, the exact corrupt practice of the past. Social differences in those times are subtly presented in Rizal’s Noli and Fili, the most glaring being the discrepancy between poor uneducated natives (Indios) and wealthy landed families of mestizo blood. Fast forward to today, we find the same ordering on the country’s landscape. Look at public sanitation. The Spaniards didn’t install anything, the Americans did afterward, and what they built, probably rotting now, are still the ones we have — we sat on this one too.

Corruption stems from self love to the extent that all one wants to do is to get, get, and get, in order to render everything mine, mine, mine. If and when corrupt persons give, it’s so that they get, get, and get more for themselves in exchange. I realized that a human being’s wants and desires are endless, the imagination’s the limit, and it is the individual who has the power to set the limit, a cap on things so to speak. As a nation, much has been taken from us and so little given back. Heroism thwarts that. Rizal braved the threats and finally the guns of the Spaniards not to seek personal glorification (though this came about as a result of his act) but out of real concern for others, for his fellow native Filipinos to know freedom even if this meant death for him. It is this extraordinary sense of the other, self sacrifice, that makes him incorruptible, a hero.

This country needs to set itself free from the corrupting influence of it’s past, and redefine itself, from being a victim to one that primarily makes the decisions about it’s present and future.  To do that, it must step out and let go of the prison that is it’s painful and oppressive past and set it’s sights ahead. Free, it must strive for true independence. This entails finding it’s niche in the Region and world, carving it’s own path, defining a better future, a modern history. The country’s taken a few big steps since last year’s independence commemoration, these being the RH Law, removal of the pork barrel allocations, the Senate’s investigation and verdict of the PDAF scam, and pending arrest of public officials involved. Many more of these forward-looking reforms and we’re on toward the future that Filipinos deserve.

NSA mass surveillance, one year on: rebuilding trust

TIME should have a special name for 2013, the year of extraordinary loss of innocence in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA’s far-reaching mass surveillance. The feeling that free people were sold and bought behind their backs for mere thirty coins of gold! The betrayal cuts very deep and one year proved insufficient to fully digest what’s been so far put out there and to understand the ramifications.

We’re again reminded of the core issues, with Edward Snowden’s reappearance in the interview with NBC.  The well-timed NBC interview won him some more supporters from his home country, who now regard him in a more positive light. Obviously, he’s still in asylum, ironically in a country his home government has had a colorful history with. When a white American is in asylum, people and governments elsewhere wonder if it’s not already Armaggedon. In Manila, visa applicants in the kilometer-long line to the US Embassy appear to have it better. But what strikes me the most about his situation is the skewed balance of power: entrenched and well-resourced institutions versus one individual, a young person at that.

If you ask me what his faults in the matter are, it’s that in a world where lines can be blurred and reordered to serve whatever agenda has more firepower, Edward has a very clear sense of right and wrong; in a world where looking away is the practice he’s unflinching in confronting wrongdoing; in a world grown weary, jaded, and desensitized he feels, sees the flowers, and hopes. He comes across as personifying the extolled qualities of his age, Youth.

Hero, or coward? Patriot, or traitor? I see him as a whistleblower. I’m sure NSA has a manual defining who such a person is. Organizations that care about their business, especially public agencies, have whistle-blowing policies. The policy is introduced as part of workforce orientation programs.  A former employer insisted employees are oriented beginning every business cycle.  The logic was that it’s the organization that stands to lose the greatest when internal abuses are tolerated. Whistle-blowers have rights, are given protection (see example here) from discrimination and other retaliatory acts throughout the investigation of the case reported. They have their jobs regardless of the investigating committee’s decision.  If he’s not satisfied with the committee’s decision, he could appeal to the next level of management. Whistle-blowers are a force for good, that’s what manuals on whistle-blowing declare, they sound the whistle because they sincerely believe (or have seen) something’s not right.  Oftentimes and unfortunately for them the persons they’ve blown the whistle on do everything in their power to discredit them. Naturally. So, the longer Edward’s in asylum the more his organization comes off as retaliatory and irresponsible, an embarassing situation for the US Government. Who has oversight of whistleblowers at NSA? This committee should get Snowden home and secure under the organization’s whistleblower protection program.

Pending the decision concerning Snowden, how do we even begin to trust each other again? The destruction left on the global psyche is akin to that left by Haiyan in the Philippine coastal communities. How can we begin not to silently scoff at one another? For me, loss of trust lies at the heart of NSA’s mass surveillance. There are several layers to cover:  between home governments and citizens, between state agencies and legislators, between nations, between a sovereign nation and the US Government, between world oversight organizations and the US Government, between private companies and their customers.    

Not so long ago, Americans and non-Americans alike, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton most of all, were stunned to hear of then President Clinton’s “affair” with the young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.  In the end, the former President went public and issued an apology.  This put out the fire a bit. In the case of the mass surveillance however, ‘sorry’ or such innuendos do not cover it. Such is the depth of betrayal that mere utterance of the word enflames the wounds even more.

But betrayal didn’t only come from the government, but from the ISPs and telecoms as well: Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc. These companies have made themselves equally liable when they gave up their customers’ data, wholesale, on regular intervals, for spying purposes. The account didn’t talk of them putting up a fight, trying to band together, seeking outside help (the UNCHR, say), nor did they activate their organizations’ whistle-blowing policies (i.e. they should’ve been the first to blow the whistle.  They had to wait for Snowden.). These companies could justify that it’s in the provisions of their privacy policies, but how the fuck could’ve customers known that ‘third party’ is the NSA and ‘third party use’ is for intelligence purposes? This is simply not within the usual client-customer contract.  Had customers known that they wouldn’t allow it.

So I’m stunned to read that just recently these companies joined in the ResetTheNet campaign, offering technologies to better protect transactions done on the Net, as if they’ve done nothing of consequence to their own customers. I was, like, wait a moment there, could you at least send your customers formal communication about the campaign and whatever other security measures you plan to put in place or have already? Couldn’t these companies at least sweat out a half page email?  If Facebook is capable to host pop-up ads (users even if they’re irritated put up with it), it can easily figure out ways to personally reach out to it’s gazillion customers.  But then that would mean they’re agreeing that they were involved.

On the home scene, the Philippines is also under mass surveillance (i.e. exchanges over the phone). It is extremely surprising that The government of Bahamas has issued a formal inquiry as to the rationale behind the mass surveillance in it’s territory. There wasn’t news here of the same inquiry made by the Philippine Government in behalf of it’s people. In any case, privacy on telecommunication lines is protected by national law, Republic Act 10173 (An  Act Protecting Individual Personal Information in Information and Communications Systems in the Government and the Private Sector, Creating for This Purpose a National Privacy Commission, and For Other Purposes), but given the fact of the surveillance it’s mention is a moot point. Similarly, security on the Net is covered by the Cybersecurity Law (Republic Act 10175).  Does the Philippine Government know about the mass surveillance?  If so, the Supreme Court should order the installations taken out.  Criminals or persons with records are impervious to being watched, because having broken the law they implicitly know they are. Innocent people are traumatized when they’re treated no differently from criminals.

The Philippines is in the top 3 Internet users worldwide, children and young people making up the majority of individual users. Many CYP are sexually exploited in this space, largely due to peer and parental pressure rooted in poverty. Mass surveillance has not provided would-be victims real-time warning or referral to nearby networks, because the surveillance is supposedly secret and there’s a considerable lag between the time analysts have made sense out of the massive data and them communicating the information on the ground. As how police are depicted in movies, the rescue comes after the fact of the crime. It’s not effective. What’s effective in this case is to educate young users of the Net, their families and communities, and improve capacities of local governments and networks protecting children. At the macro, jobs, of course. Much of the work in catching criminals are done on the ground and if local governments and networks are incapable to do their job, the technology is useless.

On the home front still, the country especially Metropolitan Manila saw a spate of crimes alarming in their frequency and audacity (e.g. shooting of elected local officials to ordinary individuals in the streets at point blank) not to mention the usual headaches (e.g. guerilla activities masterminded by a leader on self exile abroad). This country lives with these every day but because “it’s only the Philippines”, acts terrorizing it’s neighborhoods and the population don’t equal the importance of similar acts done in developed countries. It only gets a reaction when foreign nationals touring the hinterlands are kidnapped.  One wonders if the amassed surveilled data providing leads are shared to the Philippine Government so it could also go after crooks in the country once and for all. Who owns these data? Who benefits?

As mentioned in a previous article, proprietary, ethical, and legal issues are bound to crop up when private information about the entire population of sovereign nations are amassed by another. This is precisely why many in the Philippines cannot move away from viewing the US as imperialist, and many still are in the hinterlands fighting for Communism, the anathema of democracy that the US so represents.  In fact, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), appended by this country and the US finds itself up in the air on counterarguments that it is yet another move by imperialist US on the country.  In light of the Snowden revelations and lack of address on the emerging issues from the US Government, I get their arguments.

Researchers observe rules and procedures when studying human beings or their communities. When researching in foreign soil, they adapt to that country’s rules.  They translate their instruments in the language of the locals.  Etc.  Photographers whose subjects are human beings go by standard practice of seeking permission or informing their subjects of the process.  They don’t just tell, say, women to take off their clothes.  Doctors inform their patients of what they’re putting into their bodies.  Surveillance agencies must have a similar set of basic rules for the trade.

Mass surveillance on unaware populations reminds me of the relentless rounding up of Jews in Hitler’s Germany, of scared neighbors telling on families and other neighbors, of dumping loads of innocent people into camps, like these people have no souls – if the US Government wants the face of an innocent man, woman, child, and young person whose freedoms have been stolen from them, it’s those broken faces. In the context of mass surveillance, the camps are now the databases. Let’s not go back to that time.

Janet Napoles and the PDAF Scam and what this means for Women’s Month

The PDAF scam also brings to fore the role Filipino women played and continue to play in the corruption case, as used or user, or perhaps both.  Their decisions and actions give rise to certain questions:  When power is in a woman’s hands, what will she do with it?  When she’s powerless, how will she go about acquiring power?  These lead to the ultimate question, would she, in the process, have become the very monster under her bed, meaning, the kind of men she and the sisterhood were rah-rah-ing against? 

Janet Napoles has to make a decision, eventually.  And that decision, I imagine, would, at the heart, reflect her own unique brand as a woman – her leanings, belief, attitude, perspective – relative to the men and other women who, up to that moment, played significantly in the shaping of her.  Martha Stewart redeemed herself by going through the consequence of her guilt.  

To be kept in jail, without a verdict of your guilt not even a formal case against you, is the way of victimhood.  To walk into this jail without putting up resistance for the injustice of it is suicide.  To the sisterhood, it means yet another victimization of the gender.  Fight.  Tell your side of the story.  Let it out.  In the proper venue.  Doing this is primarily for your own sake.  Nobody has your protection at the topmost of their mind.  But You.  Woman. 

I believe Martha Stewart had hers as top priority when she and her lawyers shaped her case and negotiated.  Because at the end of her prison term, freedom in all its newness was hers.


I’m presenting another side of Janet Napoles’ case. Hers is not unique though. The former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in a similar situation. She has been in hospital arrest for some time and it appears the courts are content with that. But, that’s not justice. And when I say justice I mean it for both sides: the accused and the victims. The longer the accused is kept in jail without the benefit of trial – it’s illegal by the way – the longer the victims agonize over what should be. The treatment, as this article points out, is especially significant for women given the historical struggle of the sisterhood for equality, power, etc. The impact is a double-edged sword to women. The number of women in power may have relatively increased but the rules that have kept them in their places remain. Maybe not as overt as in the past but still there, in subtle forms.