Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beyond internet activism

Beyond internet activism
By Mong Palatino
August 8, 2013

The opposite of internet activism is not street activism but no-activism. Online petitions and political hashtags are indispensable in the campaign for change while non-action is a convenient option that only serves the interest of status quo.

Internet activism is sometimes equated with impotence but at least it exists. There are no TV activists and newspaper activists but there are internet activists. Why is this so? Because corporate ownership of mainstream media has made it impossible for the people to dictate the agenda in major media networks. Meanwhile, the internet has become truly social by allowing the people to create and exchange cyber tools that can be used for political purposes.

We are still in the stage of experimentation on how the internet can be redirected and reshaped to serve the community. Various forces are still competing for dominance in the online world at a time when corporate conglomerates and government bodies are not yet able to impose an absolute hegemony on how we use and practice the potential of the internet technology.

Indeed, because of intensified militarization and commodification, the internet has become a more dangerous place than ever where the space for independent thought and practice is under threat. But since total government regulation is still unenforceable at the moment, this technology should not be easily surrendered to the enemy. The internet-plus-activism equation must be continually pursued.

And the undeniable fact is that among the most resolute and creative practitioners of internet activism in the country are the militant activists of the parliament of the streets. They have been consistently maximizing the most effective social media tools to promote their causes and recruit members. They have successfully initiated several campaigns that combine the offline and online to make a greater political impact such as the text jokes at the height of Edsa Dos, Hello Garci ringtones, and disappearing Facebook profiles. Activists are as tech-savvy as they are often caricatured to be grim and determined. Connecting, networking, collaborating, crowdsourcing – these are actually popular keywords of traditional activism.

Internet activism became a real reality not because activists have stopped shouting and marching in the streets in order to join the so-called virtual rallies in wired world. On the contrary, activists continued to ‘occupy’ the streets while they actively shared apps and status updates online. In other words, offline activism is inevitably online as well. This is internet activism. This is activism in the 21st century.

But what separates activists from internet worshippers is the belief of the former that what really matters in the end is the political empowerment of the people. And to do this, the grassroots must learn to struggle and fight for broader political goals. They must organize not just their inbox but the whole society.

Unfortunately, there are self-proclaimed internet activists who also claim to empower the citizens but emphatically reject politics. They simply want the magic of IT to deliver the message minus the radical threat of politics. They aim to restrict the scope of internet activism by focusing on issues that can be accommodated by mainstream media. Their political strategy consists of dismissing street politics and depoliticizing the content of internet activism, or what is left of it. They engage in infinite conversations about peripheral social issues, or political concerns that do not address the roots of injustice and inequality in society. They gossip about the lifestyle of the rich, they ridicule the poor, and they assuage their guilt by lampooning corrupt politicians and shady public characters.

This brand of internet activism is embraced by closet conservatives, pseudo-reformists, and even by politicians who pretend to be social media enthusiasts.

Politics-less internet activism, not internet activism, is the problem that must be dealt with decisively. The challenge should not be simply about exhorting the netizens to support the masses but to restore politics proper in online activism.

What’s the use of persuading a Twitter user to attend an offline event organized by the state to distract the attention of the public and weaken the fighting enthusiasm of the online citizens? There is little to celebrate if netizens turned off their gadgets and integrated in the communities just so that they can spread the doctrine of cash transfers and self-demolition. This is activism that disempowers the poor and it should be outrightly rejected.

Internet activism must remain political, subversive or revolutionary even. If necessary, it must not be afraid to cut links with corporate sponsors, state functionaries, and knowledge-producing institutions to promote digital democracy. It must aggressively espouse the truth even if it would disrupt the comforts of the networks and even if it would contradict popular opinion. Otherwise, it would degenerate into a useless but arrogant drone.

Mong Palatino is an activist, blogger, and representative of Kabataan (Youth) Partylist in the 14th and 15th Congress of the Philippines. He is the Philippines’ first blogger turned legislator and the first elected youth representative in the legislative body. As a student leader, he chaired the UP Diliman University Student Council in 2000 and was national president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines in 2001. He was former news editor of, a leading local web portal and columnist for from 2007-2009. He is currently the regional editor for Southeast Asia of Global Voices Online, a pioneering social media platform. He also writes a political column for the ASEAN Beat of The Diplomat web magazine. His column “Question Everything” will appear weekly at

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cacique diplomacy

Cacique diplomacy
March 12, 2013
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Why is it taking forever for Malacanang to state whether it acknowledges the official claim of the Philippines to Sabah and will pursue it with vigor or will drop it like a hot potato?

Many are beginning to surmise that the Aquino regime is not all convinced that the Sabah claim has merit and his description of it as a “hopeless cause” is not just a slip of the tongue indicating “ignorance or incompetence” as Sultan Jamalul Kiram III suspects but his regime’s point of view and even policy on the matter.

The objective of the so-called study ordered by Mr. Aquino appears to be to find holes in the claim rather than determine its veracity and validity. Otherwise, why has the “study” not come up with anything at all so far? Surely the DFA and other government agencies can dig up the documentation on the Philippines’ Sabah claim whilst Mr. Aquino consults the many experts that have specialized in scholarly, legal and historical, study of the same.

The Aquino regime’s indifference to the Philippines’ Sabah claim underlies his 1) disdain over Sultanate’s political act of asserting their claim of ownership; 2) belief that this is merely part of a grand conspiracy by his political enemies to make trouble, in particular to throw a monkey wrench into the GPH-MILF peace negotiations; 3) refusal to negotiate in earnest with the Sultanate’s heirs instead resorting to publicly-aired ultimatums and threats of criminal prosecution against Sultan Kiram III and other “co-conspirators”; 4) speaking and acting as if he fully concedes Malaysia’s sovereignty over Sabah, that is, the Sultanate’s unarmed followers and members of its “Royal Security Forces” are the transgressors and the Malaysian government is justified in using all-out force to exterminate them.

Too bad for Mr. Aquino it is not going to be easy to rewrite the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history with regard to North Borneo now Sabah.

The facts are clear and incontrovertible. The Sulu Sultanate came to own and rule over North Borneo in 1704 when the Sulu Sultan’s relative, the Sultan of Brunei, granted the territory to the former in return for helping him quell his enemies.

In 1878, the Sulu Sultanate entered into a lease agreement with the British North Borneo Company, a private trading company; for a consideration of 5000 Malayan dollars per year, the BNBC could exploit and develop North Borneo’s natural resources and administer the territory in the Sultanate’s behalf. This was upped to 5300 dollars in 1903 when Sultan Jamalul Kiram II signed a document leasing additional islands in the vicinity of the mainland of North Borneo.

Subsequently, the British Crown in collusion with the BNBC deliberately misinterpreted the term “padyak” in the 1878 agreement to mean “cession” instead of “lease” in order for the British to land grab North Borneo and falsely claim dominion or sovereignty over it.

The Sulu Sultanate came under the control of Spain in the 1880s but not North Borneo. The 1885 Madrid Protocol signed by Great Britain, Germany and Spain consolidated Spain’s continued sway over the Philippine islands while Spain renounced all claims of sovereignty over the territories of Borneo belonging to the Sultan of Sulu.

The United States officially notified Great Britain that North Borneo remained part of the Sulu Sultanate in 1906 and 1920; nevertheless, Britain proceeded to annex North Borneo as a colony in 1946.

The 1935 Constitution defined Philippine territory to include “all other areas which belong to the Philippines on the basis of historical rights and legal claims” and thus effectively covered North Borneo. The Sulu Sultanate’s act of ceding sovereignty to the Republic of the Philippines on 12 September 1962, during the Diosdado Macapagal administration authorized the Philippine government to file the Sabah claim with the United Nations and other international forums.

The so-called plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the British colonialists and their Malayan subalterns in 1963 predictably resulted in a vote in favor of Sabah’s incorporation in the Federation of Malaysia. And so it came to pass that when Malaysia was formed in 1963, Britain’s illegal annexation of North Borneo was bequeathed to the new Malaysian state.

It is evident from the above that the Philippines has a solid claim to sovereignty over Sabah, to say the least. What is incomprehensible to many is why Presidents Macapagal and Marcos, who showed some interest in pursuing the claim at the beginning of their terms, eventually backed off. Successive regimes after Marcos chose to let the claim lie dormant, with Ramos and Estrada ordering “studies” on the bases and prospects for pursuing the claims, without any concrete or at least announced results.

The answer lies in the fact that the Philippine government’s foreign policy is still very much aligned with and influenced, if not dictated by US foreign policy and national interest. Thus, attempts to explain various regimes’ position on Sabah purely on the basis or in the context of Philippine national interest prove inadequate. Oftentimes, what is good for the US is misrepresented as good for the Philippines, too, especially on questions of “regional peace and stability”. What the US says is good for “regional peace and stability”, is good for the Philippines too.

With respect to Sabah, Philippine regimes invariably relegated the Philippine claim to the back burner to avoid confrontation with Malaysia or even antagonizing it in any way. Especially so since 1974 when Malaysia started playing a key role in the Organization of Islamic Conference’s intervention in the peace negotiations between the GRP and the MNLF, and more so since 2001 when Malaysia became the official Third Party Facilitator in the GPH-MILF talks.

This partly explains why Aquino, more than his predecessors, evidently has no interest in supporting the Kirams in renewing the Philippines’ claim to Sabah. As the Framework Agreement nears completion with most of the annexes agreed upon by the GPH and MILF panels, this is not the best time to incur the displeasure, if not ire, of the Third Party Facilitator, Malaysia. At the very least, it would appear to be an unpardonable act of ingratitude. At worst, Malaysia could retaliate and put the agreement in peril.

But this does not explain why Aquino has gone a lot farther to the extent of clearly siding with Malaysia. Not only has Aquino refused to acknowledge the peaceful intent of the Sultanate’s expedition to Sabah he has desisted from supporting the Kirams’ mostly symbolic and political move. He has threatened them with arrest and prosecution, broadcast his supposed doubts on the legitimacy even of their royal lineage, and practically accuses them of acting only at the behest of and in conspiracy with the much discredited Arroyos.

Mr. Aquino had virtually given the Malaysian government the green light to use coercive and armed means to end the stand-off and crush the Filipinos.

To top it all, Mr. Aquino has chosen to do a Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of the bloody outcome of his regime’s hard-line position against the Kirams. He has since relegated the handling of the Sabah crisis to his underlings while he blithely campaigns for his senatorial candidates and indulges in pontificating about the Sultan’s culpability for the ignominious end of his followers in Sabah.

Many who are still trying to understand the actuation and statements of Mr. Aquino with the assumption that his standpoint derives from the national interest are bound to be stumped and confused forever. In truth, Mr. Aquino’s derisive attitude can only be traced to his cacique upbringing and mindset.

Mr. Aquino, scion of landed elites and heir to the Cojuangco-Aquino political dynasty, can readily sympathize with the land grab of North Borneo perpetrated by the Malaysian state and ruling elite, because this is something he can relate to in light of the experience of the clan’s Hacienda Luisita. He is dealing with the Kirams in much the same way he and his clan has dealt with the Hacienda’s farm workers and tenants for decades – using deceit and force – to maintain an unjust status quo. #

Published in Business World
8-9 March 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Philippines between two greedy giants

An Interview

The Philippines between two greedy giants
January 22, 2013

Interview with Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Founding Chairman, Communist Party of the Philippines

By John Toledo
Features Editor, Philippine Collegian

1. Historically, who are the original claimants of the West Philippine Sea? Where did this dispute come from? Who are the claimants today?

Prof. Jose Maria Sison (JMS): Let us first put into context what you refer to as the West Philippine Sea. The Spratlys are a group of 250 islets plus the shoals and reefs spread over 265,542 square kilometers. They are claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. The part of the Spratlys claimed by the Phiippines is what it calls the Kalayaan group of islets located in the West Philippine Sea.

China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim ownership of all the Spratlys supposedly since ancient times on the basis of historical references, seasonal visits by their fishermen and assertions of claims against colonizers as well as yielding of the Spratlys by the Japanese to the French and thus to Vietnam in the San Francisco peace treaty after World War II. Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines claim parts of the Spratlys that are geographically closest to them and within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) plus prehistorical and historical claims that the islets concerned have long been the fishing grounds of their respective fishermen.

2. Why is the West Philippine Sea being claimed by China and Philippines? Is it economically and politically useful? Why or why not?

China arrogantly claims not only the entire Spratlys but also the entire sea south and east of China as its property and by making military shows of strength to assert its claims. But the Kalayaan group of islets, the Recto (Reed ) and Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) are all within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines under the UNCLOS. It is wrong for China to claim these.

In economic terms, the contested islets and shoals and the waters around them are at least rich fishing grounds and sources of corals but they also have a high potential as sources of gas and oil. The Recto Bank is well known for having rich gas and oil deposits as a result of explorations. In political and military terms, the contested islets and shoals can serve as outposts for military vessels and for controlling navigation and commerce or evoking power and influence.

3. Why is US joining in the conflict? Why is it strategic for US to support the Philippines with many armed forces and materials?

The US is fishing in troubled waters. As a matter of fact, it is responsible for stirring up trouble in the first place. It has undertaken controlled trouble-making just to make the Philippine reactionary puppet government run to it for support, to have the reason for entrenching US military forces in the Philippines and to have the Philippines as a base for influencing policies and development within China. The US has strategic objectives in using the Philippines as a strategic base in the US encirclement of China.

4. Is it logically possible that China will wage war on the Philippines because of this West Philippine Sea dispute? Or is it just a ploy for US to wage war with China? Why or why not?

China will not wage war on the Philippines but it will continue to take calculated actions, including shows of force, to discourage and prevent Philippine attempts to control and occupy the contested islets and develop the gas and oil resources there. Neither will the US wage war with China to support the Philippines in the territorial dispute. It has far more economic and political interests in good relations with China than in those with the Philippines.

The US has repeatedly proclaimed that it is neutral in the territorial dispute between China and Philippines. The most it can say is that it is militarily entrenching itself in the Philippines in order to discourage China from attacking the Philippines. However, it will not act militarily against the calculated military moves of China to prevent Philippine attempts to explore and develop the gas and oil resources in the contested islets and shoals.

But China and the US might even make a deal to exploit the gas and oil resources for the benefit of US and Chinese corporations and some big comprador Filipino-Chinese firms or the Indonesian-Chinese firm (Salim group) being managed by Manuel V. Pangilinan. The whole world knows that the mineral ores of the Philippines are being wantonly excavated by US, Japanese, Canadian, Australian, Swiss, Chinese and other foreign firms, together with their big comprador allies. And China has been a major destination of the mineral ores.

In an attempt to look nationalist, the US-Aquino regime is obviously play-acting against China over the well-hyped territorial disputes. It is well within the bounds of the collaboration between the US and China. The US is steering the Philippine government towards the attainment of the narrow self-interest and strategic objectives of the US.

One more reason why the US is entrenching itself militarily in the Philippines and using this as part of the US encirclement of China is not to wage war soon but to influence policies and developments in China. The US is trying to realize the complete privatization of the most strategic state-owned enterprises in China and to promote the liberalization of Chinese politics to the point of doing away with the authoritarian rule and causing the weakening or even disintegration of the bureaucrat monopoly capitalism.

5. What are the implications of the Sino-Philippine territorial dispute in relation to the sovereignty of the Philippines?

What is tragic about the Philippine ruling system of big compradors and landlords is that it is weak and servile to imperialist powers and that both the US and China take advantage of the Philippines. The US pretends to protect the Philippines but it is a bantay salakay. Having long become a capitalist country, China cannot be expected to be a gentle and generous giant.

The Filipino people can best assert their national sovereignty and defend their territorial integrity by overthrowing the ruling system and establishing a people´s democratic state that is truly independent and democratic, determined to carry out land reform and industrialization, realizes social justice and aims for socialism. Such a state is capable of using effective diplomacy and defending its territory against intruders. ###