1. Musings on Impunity, Tyranny, and the Slaves of Today

    “The child or the youth who tries to be anything else is charged of being vain and presumptuous; the curate ridicules him with cruel sarcasm, his relatives look upon him with fear, and strangers pity him greatly. No going forward! Get in line and follow the crowd.” - Jose Rizal

    I am of mind that most discussions on impunity and broad socio-cultural change in the Philippines have to begin with one of Jose Rizal’s most pointed yet complex quotes:

    So, while the Filipino has not the sufficient energy to proclaim, with head erect and bosom bared, its rights to social life, and to guarantee it with its sacrifices, with its own blood…while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the more iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty - why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worst! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” - Jose Rizal

    The history of democracy is, in a very real sense, the story of abrogating and limiting the power of those in positions of authority. At its most fundamental, revolutionary thought, revolutionary events (and documents) have been about defining the limits of authority and entrenching the concept of individual and collective rights. Globally, the last few centuries have been focused on that very battle. Democracy, with all of its complexities and frailties was the driving force behind the twentieth century; and its power continues to be as inspiring and disconcerting in the twenty-first. But where the twentieth was about instilling the idea of democracy globally, the twenty-first appears to be set up as a battle to both preserve and invigorate democracy as an equitable structure of national governance. 

    Locally, the history of the Philippines, and the Filipino people, over the last two centuries has been about achieving the state that Rizal demanded of all Filipinos: The grace to stand firm in the face of iniquitous action, the strength to soldier on in the face of ideological and political obstacles, and the wit to define a coherent, inclusive political and cultural spectrum. However, the battle within is also the battle without: The continuous effort to ensure that we are not slipping into antiquated norms of power relations and feudal rule, that we continue to move forward in crafting a responsive representative democracy, where elected leaders see their positions as an opportunity to serve and not to rule.

    “Yet to reach that condition it is necessary that there be no tyrannical and no enslaved peoples, it is necessary that man go about freely, that he know how to respect the rights of others in their own individuality and for this there is much blood to be shed…” - Jose Rizal

    Whether we realize it or not, the increasing furor over the Binay-Dasmariñas Village incident touches on much of what has bedeviled the Philippines for the last two centuries: Since the end of the Spanish era, since of the end of the American era, since the end of the Marcos era. We still grapple with the issues that Rizal concisely touched upon: Tyranny as a matter of course, collaboration with authoritarian powers that be for personal gain, the inability to support the rule of law and men (not man). Whether it’s supporting Binay’s ability to move with impunity in his ‘domain’ (an idea that seems more at home in a feudal land, than in a modern representative democracy) or the dismissal of the entire issue on account of antiquated ideas of ‘classicism,’ the form that discourse has taken around the issue has provided insight into the various forms that tyranny continues to be extant in the land. More disheartening is the discovery that some ideologues and pseudo-advocates of social change seem to believe tyranny and impunity are acceptable; that limits on power and authority do not exist, so long as the victim is either wealthy, or tainted by association with money. The forced divisions of classism remain in full force among certain social advocates. Nay, they even gleefully embrace classism as an ideological fact; drawing Manichaeistic divisions of good and evil along class lines. Class warfare remains the norm, when it should have become apparent by now that collaboration and cooperation should be what we are all striving for. 

    Combating impunity and tyranny should be our collective focus; and when people dismiss it as irrelevant for no other reason than the victims are tainted by ‘class’, they are not only supporting tyranny, they are encouraging it to flourish. 

    The people do not complain because they have no voice, do not move because they are lethargic, and you say that they do not suffer, because you have not seen their hearts bleed. But one day you will see and you will hear, and ah! Woe unto them that build their strength on ignorance or in fanaticism; woe unto them who are engaged in deception and work in darkness, believing that all are asleep!” - Jose Rizal

    For me, the central issues surrounding the Binay-Dasma incident are manifold: Human rights (of the security guards), rights of private property owners (feudalism?), and the limits of mayoral power. Disconcertingly little has been remarked by way of how the intrinsic rights of the security guards were infringed upon by the mayor and his convoy. They were threatened, cajoled, and eventually (implicitly) arrested and detained (even if for four hours). Unlawful detention is unlawful detention, whether for four or forty hours. And yet, little has been remarked on this. More disappointingly, not much has come from the national government concerning the actions of police officers during and after the incident. And unsurprisingly, some social advocates and activists have chosen to ignore the infringing of human rights, in favor of adhering to an antiquated and played out concepts of classism. However, lost amidst restrictive militant ideology and classism, is that this incident is elevated in importance because it encompasses so many of the multifarious social and political extant today. And, in some sense most importantly, it is well-documented. We have visible proof of impunity in action.

    “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” - Thomas Jefferson

    From a socio-political perspective, one of the issues we have long combated in the country is the insidious idea that the authority of those in power has little limit; especially in areas that fall under their ‘jurisdiction.’ In point, this runs counter to the idea of individual and collective human rights. And in essence is counter to the very principles of democracy and representative governance. Any law that enshrines the authority of a mayor, or any government employee, to move wherever, whenever he or she chooses entrenches impunity. Which is why we do not have one. In a sense, legal regimes are concerned with defining the limits of power and authority, of structuring the relationship between a government and the governed. Hence, the overarching concept that power derives from the People, and can only be used for the betterment of the collective body politic. Power is granted and authority limited by the rights of individuals; else we run the danger of supporting tyranny in its various forms.

    “Peoples and government are correlated and complimentary….Like people, like government, we will say…” - Jose Rizal

    We can argue the minutiae of the various laws that enable Dasmariñas Village to control access to and from the village (reference the Magna Carta of Homeowner’s Associations of 2010 and prior failures by Makati to open Dasmariñas and Forbes to public access). We can get caught up in arguing why Mayor Binay and Senator Binay failed to heed a clearly displayed sign that directed residents and guests to use either the Palm or Pasay Road exit after 10PM. And we can wonder at why Mayor Binay and Senator Binay felt they did not have to follow the law and easily understandable rules, when so many others (diplomats, foreign dignitaries, congressmen, senators, ex-presidents, our current president, businessmen, and pretty much everyone - no VIP rules here) have been able to by and large abide by the gate schedule. And we can wonder at what possessed Mayor Binay and Senator Binay to push to exit Banyan gate, when Palm is less than two minutes away. Or, most worrisome, how Mayor Binay and Senator Binay continue to believe their actions were not only correct, but understandable. But, within that minutiae, and the feelings of anger likely to arise from a careful review of the incident and aftermath by the powers that be, we also run the risk of losing sight of some of the larger issues at hand: Impunity, tyranny, and the failure there-in to call its perpetrators to task, both by a supposedly empowered and active citizenry and a supposedly reform-minded government. This is not only about why Mayor Binay and Senator Binay chose to act the way they did, but, most importantly, about how we view and approach the manifold political and philosophical issues surrounding the incident.

    Patriotism can only be a crime in a tyrannical people, because then it is rapine under a beautiful name, but however perfect humanity may become, patriotism will always be a virtue among oppressed peoples, because it will at all times mean love of justice, of liberty, of personal dignity.” - Jose Rizal

    Feudalism was defined by the king owning and controlling all within his jurisdiction. He exerted absolute control over his domain. We do not live in a feudal age anymore, despite coming close a few decades ago. A mayor (or senator and vice-president) is not a king, and his or her power is not absolute. We are still combating extant feudalesque concepts governing our relationship with those elected to positions of authority. Coupled with our cultural predilection for patrimonial leadership, this creates situations where the assertion of power seemingly lacks limitations and strictures. Even worse, we convince ourselves that power and authority should not be blunted for the betterment of all. At times, it seems we remain akin to slaves, worshiping at the altar of tyranny, yearning for a share of the tyrannical’s wealth and power. Or worse, some partaking of that illicit wealth, with a tacit promise to share in the power, in exchange for overt, or subtle, support. When balanced against that sort of hobbling and destructive partisanship, egotism, and over-wheening self-interest, the purity of Rizalian patriotism, ennobled by a shared national consciousness and dedicated to love of justice, of liberty, and of personal dignity for all, becomes all the more alluring. It is a dream that lingers and haunts with its promise. The journey towards achieving that Rizalian ideal requires collaboratively and cooperatively combating tyranny and impunity, in whatever multifarious and nefarious forms it may appear.

    Special Note: On a personal note, I want to commend the security guards of Dasmariñas Village for performing their duty in implementing village policy in exemplary fashion. On a daily basis, they have to deal with numerous peculiar personalities, many of whom are used to getting their way. In my experience, the village security guards have been consistently courteous, respectful, and helpful. For this, and many reasons, I am disheartened by the callous treatment of their plight by certain self-professed advocates for social change. Their situation is no different from many others who are the victims of tyranny and impunity on a daily basis. What sets this incident apart, however, is the circumstances and the evidence we possess. While I have reservations concerning the reaction and current actions of the Dasmariñas Village Association and their officers, I whole-heartedly support their decision to support and defend the security guards involved in this altercation. I hope they continue to do so, and  more people consider the personal and collective ramifications of what occurred.

    The simplest thing would be to sweep it under the rug, to forget about the incident, brand it as rich-vs-rich or powerful-vs-powerful and dismiss out of hand. But the fact is this incident speaks to so many issues currently extant in our country, just because the powers involved deem it settled, or the hopeful powers waiting in the wings and hiding in the shadows deem it unimportant, does not make it so. This issue, like so many others, demand our attention precisely because it speaks to the heart of power relations in our country. There are lessons to be learned here, hard ones, both from the incident itself and our collective reactions, critiques, and even apologies.


  2. Inverting a Protest: Rizal, Bonifacio, Pork, and the Rise and Fall of a Nation

    In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States. For nine months he journeyed from one end to the other, the end result was Democracy in America; a work that remains today as one of the most searing and insightful studies of republican and representative politics ever written. Oddly, Tocqueville’s analysis of the developing political sphere of the United States is an appropriate place to begin delving into pork barrel and its subsequent repudiation in civil society.

    It should come as no surprise that the general outline of the Philippine government is modeled on the representative republic of the United States; with a few tweaks and changes to fit the political and social pressures that were extant at the time of founding. Chief among them is the tripartite separation of powers, as well as the split of Congress into two houses. As we know, unlike the United States, our Senate takes on a national focus, however the House of Representatives maintains its core conceit: Representatives elected by districts to serve the needs of the people. Thus, it should come as no surprise that ‘pork barrel’ was a natural offshoot of that very focus. As Tocqueville put it:

    "Now, certainly up to this time, in every nation of the world, those with no property or those whose property was too modest to allow them to live comfortably without working always comprised the greatest number. Therefore, universal suffrage really does entrust the government of society to the poor.

    The vexing influence occasionally exercised by the power of the people on state finances was very evident in certain democratic republics of the ancient world in which the public treasury was drained away to help the poorest citizens or to provide the people with games and spectacles. It is true that the representative system was almost unknown in the ancient world.

    Nowadays, popular passions find it more difficult to thrive in public affairs; however, you can guarantee that in the long run, the delegate will always in the end conform to the opinions of his constituents and support their inclinations as well as their interests.”

    The unique nature of the American democratic experiment derived from the fusion of national perspectives on governance and oversight, with a localized drive to be responsive and responsible to constituent groups. The fact is that elected representatives, first and foremost, must be looking out for the needs of their constituents. They are in the best position to help direct needed programs and funding to address their constituents unique needs. We adopted this focus in two ways: A formalized pork barrel system and the party-list system. Both were conceived with the idea of meeting and addressing the needs of the underserved.

    Tocqueville frequently made mention of the innovation of universal suffrage in the United States. For him, and many during the 19th century, this was practically antithetical to good governance. The reason being simple: By giving the poor the vote, government would eventually shift its focus to meeting the needs of the impoverished (in modern terminology: Human development). And whether we like it or not, the only way to achieve this is by allocating fiscal resources to this end.

    "…when public authority is in the hands of the people, they, as the sovereign power, seek out improvements in every quarter because of their own discontent.

    The spirit of improvement then infiltrates a thousand different areas; it delves into endless detail and above all advocates those sorts of improvements which cannot be achieved without payment; for its concern is to better the condition of the poor who cannot help themselves.

    Furthermore, an aimless restlessness permeates democratic societies where a kind of everlasting excitement stimulates all sorts of innovations which almost always involve expense.

    In monarchies and aristocracies, the men of ambition flatter the sovereigns normal taste for renown and power and thereby often drive him to spend a great deal of money.

    in democracies where sovereign power is always in need of funds, its favors can hardly be won except by increasing its prosperity and that can almost never be achieved without money.

    In addition, when the people start to reflect upon their own positions, a host of needs arise which are they had not felt at first and which cannot be satisfied except by having recourse to state assets. The result is that public expenditures seems to increase with the growth of civilization and the taxes rise as knowledge spreads.”

    Thus, the requirements of sectoral and district representatives is far from enrichment, instead it is sacrifice and service born of crafting laws and proposing projects that meet the developmental needs of their poorest and most underserved constituents. The all-important role of the Executive is then to implement those plans and shepherd the equitable growth of a nation.

    Moving past that long-winded groundlaying, this leads us to the current morass we find ourselves in now. Pork barrel, as it is currently constituted, has not met the development needs of constituents on the whole (there are many notable exceptions). By the same token, it can be argued that the party-list system, as it is currently constructed, has also failed to wholly achieve its purpose. Both are noble concepts that have not quite achieved their potential. Yet, both still have utility within our political milieu. The issue at hand is not whether pork barrel should exist or not, it is whether its current form should exist or not. The simple and unequivocal answer is NO. Yet, that distinct “No” ignores the opportunity to craft a system that is responsive to the needs of far-flung constituencies, while filtering out the readily apparent flaws in the current system.

    The failure to conceptualize both the fall out of completely eliminating pork and not replacing it with a worthy system designed to achieve the goals of localized development is vexing from a political maturity perspective. While on the one hand, the Aquino administration is taking steps to eliminate Congressional pork barrel as its currently constructed and replace it with a system that attempts to achieve pork’s original laudable goals with its inefficiencies and susceptibility to corruption, civil society seems hell-bent on taking to the proverbial streets. A deeper discussion and presentation of the administration’s efforts can be found here.

    A full discussion of the proposed new line item budget will occur another time, but suffice it to say I think the system is responsive, flexible, and has the potential to address the systemic issues that plagued PDAF, while actually meeting the needs of the constituencies and sectors throughout the Philippines. What remains to be seen is how the system will be implemented, and the final form it will take. My hope is that the Aquino administration will engage civil society in dialogue to craft a truly responsive and modern targeted development system. That being said, agree with his proposed reforms or not, they present a clear option for institutional change in the Philippines. Without putting to fine a point on it, an attempt to completely overhaul a country’s budgeting system is unparalleled. Yet, instead of engaging the proposed solution, or offering usable alternatives for discussion, all that is being heard is strident criticisms composed of veiled threats and motherhood statements.

    While I admire the passion and applaud the civic mindedness that is driving the anti-pork barrel protests, I cannot help but feel that we are missing a key opportunity to grow as a nation and body politic. Instead of creating an environment of collaborative solution building, we seem to be slipping into the traditional deployment of divisive motherhood statements and fear-mongering. This is and of itself a key issue: Where there seemed to be a noticeable shift towards cultures of hope and change driven by anger over civil society iniquities of the past, we appear to be slipping back into the trap of cultures of fear and anger. Fear for the money we are losing, fear of the corrupt, fear that society is spiraling out of control. These are old forms of protesting and change-making. Fear is short-sighted and short-term. And quite frankly it leads us to our current state: The inability to see a nuanced path towards solving the problems of the country. Positive enhancements of the country derived from pork barrel allocations are denied, anything and everything touched by it and discretionary funds is deemed corrupt.

    The Weight of Being Undefined

    On Twitter, I have been active in critiquing the current popular discourse on pork barrel, as well as the almost knee-jerk reaction of civil society to take to the ‘streets’; or at least in this case swarm Luneta on August 26th for a multi-sectoral ‘picnic-in.’ There are many men and women online who are speaking out in nuanced terms about what must be done. Sadly though, it is almost as if their voices is being drowned out, snowed under by epal-loving politicians and their coterie of forgiving supporters. Militancy, useless in our current political milieu, is making a comeback. There is a real and present fear that a movement that was supposed to be multi-sectoral in nature, but agnostic in ideology, is being co-opted in service of hidden and public ideological agendas. At the heart of this potential subversion of a supposed egalitarian activity is the relatively undefined objective of the march. It first developed as a way for indignant members of civil society to come together and express their anger towards pork barrel. With the influx of special interests into the equation with their own unique ideologically tinged agendas added to the mix, the end result is a sort of amorphous Frankenstein-esque counterproductive sit-in; where groups are competing with each other for face time and space, all the while the originators of the protest are being squeezed out of the picture; subsumed under and avalanche of hidden and public agendas, driven by curious ideology. Recently, I engaged in conversation with someone who was hoping for a ‘critical mass’ of people. My questions were simple: A critical mass to achieve what? How many people are needed to achieve the goals of the march; a march that is now being replicated throughout the country, but with the same fundamental flaw: Other than demonstrating how angry people are, what exactly is trying to be achieved? The abolition of pork? The institution of a new system in its place? No new system? A march on Malacanang? The overthrow of the government? What objective is achieved by bringing together a million people? What is so important about that number?

    I shall leave the dissection of the current status of August 26 to a supporter in Jego Ragragio, who has done that far better than I can. Additionally, Cocoy has effectively posited a counter-argument to questionable utility of the Luneta protest, while shining a damning light on the rampant hypocrisy that is becoming apparent. Instead, I will focus on lessons to be learned by the two national heroes the Luneta Million Person March is attempting to emulate: Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal.

    Under the Eyes of Heroes: Rizal, Bonifacio, and the Killing Grounds of the Bagumbayan

    The connection to Andres Bonifacio is relatively abstract in nature, but powerful in its own right. 2013 is the celebration of Bonifacio 150. August 26 was the culmination of the days long meeting of the Katipunan in 1896 that led to the formal declaration of war with Spain. Within our historical context there are only a handful of more powerful days. While the superficial connection between Bonifacio and the Million Person March exists, a deeper understanding of Bonifacio and the Katipunan calls into question the long-term effectivity of the Million Person March and, really, its connection to Bonifacio. In many ways, the protest in and of itself is far too premature. Marches like the US Civil Rights Million Man March (of which the Luneta March is also attempting to force a connection) were the culmination of months long activities. in the case of the Civil Rights movement that involved convoys that criss-crossed the nation, whipping up support for the nascent movement, while educating people on the gross human rights violations of the existing legal regime. It was an immense undertaking fraught with danger, one that is in no way shape or form being replicated here. Instead we are taking the easy route, zipping right to the march while forgetting everything that is needed prior.

    In the case of Bonifacio and the Katipunan, despite what may be popular interpretations of their origins, they did not spring into being in 1896 fully formed. Bonifacio spent years, along with other like minded Filipinos, working the countryside, reaching out to other Filipinos and educating them on the iniquities of the Spanish regime. This was a process that begun with the Propaganda Movement, that reached its culmination with Jose Rizal, and was translated and disseminated throughout Manila and its surrounding environs by the grassroots brilliance of Andres Bonifacio and other members of the Katipunan. There was an element of invigoration. People did not go to the Katipunan, the Katipunan went to them. In terms of the Million Person March this is a critical flaw in its make-up. The roots of pork barrel corruption are local; driven by local projects to craft a culture of patronage on a grassroots level. The solution then is not in Luneta, in the middle of urban Manila. It is in the countryside, among the people. It is protesting the most egregious of pork barrel expenditures, it is going after the congressmen, party-list members, and senators who have abused the pork barrel system for personal and political gain. The fact is, the tools are readily available now to counter-check our elected representatives activities. Yet, collectively we are not using them. Transparency only works if the tools used to create transparency are utilized. I have repeatedly said this, but civil society has to institutionalize the use of transparency tools at our disposal. Else what is the point of their existence? We have to be proactive in checking government expenditures and uses of funds. This almost infantile demand for someone else to solve our problems has no place in a politically mature country. This is one of the most important lessons from the Katipunan and Bonifacio: You have to make your advocacies understandable and important on a grassroots level. It is not about telling them what they should believe, it is about making them feel it, dream of it, and yearn for it. Whatever that ‘it’ may be.

    The fact is the protest, despite what supporters may say otherwise, is designed to force the Aquino administration to solve the problem of pork barrel, in this case through its abolition (something that is actually antithetical to our system of government). It is shifting the locus of responsibility outward. Again, instead of taking responsibility for our own backyard, for the actions of our elected representatives (reference above), we are demanding that reform comes from the top. For all of the extant critiques of pork barrel as patronage and emblematic of a failed padrino culture, so too is our demand for others to fix the problems of the country. One of the chief criticisms of the Filipino understanding of leadership is that it is rooted in the antiquated headship model of leadership. The ‘leader’ is the benevolent dictator, who administers to the needs of the people and frees them from broader responsibility. In other words, the leader is the godfather. This collective call to the President to fix the problem fits right in our cultural proclivity for strong leadership that removes the locus of responsibility for change and maturity from our collective shoulders.

    That cultural issue leads directly into one of the primarily advocacies of Jose Rizal. By and large, almost all of us are familiar with Rizal’s call at the end of El Filibusterismo:

    "So, while the Filipino people has not the sufficient energy to proclaim, with head erect and bosom bared, its rights to social life, and to guarantee it with its sacrifices, with its own blood…while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the most iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty - why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worst! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?"

    Here we come to the crux of the current situation, the morass in which we find ourselves. The anti-pork barrel movement as it is presently constituted is still-born, it failed before it could even begin because of one simple reason: No one is truly being called to task for their actions in the past. In an almost direct slap to the face of Jose Rizal, his name is being used on Twitter to support the political pandering of elected officials like Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. Senator Cayetano, as soon as it became politically expedient, filed a resolution calling for the abolition of pork barrel. Yet, over the last few years he has willfully spent his entire PDAF allocation (and then some). Even worse, he and his sister (Senator Pia Cayetano) in 2012 alone funneled 70M pesos into Taguig City; a city that  boasts Lani Cayetano as its mayor. Lani is Alan Peter’s wife. This is not an isolated incident, nearly every single senator who is now gleefully pandering to the sentiments of the discontent middle class, has utilized their PDAF allocations in one form or another. And while they are calling for transparency and accountability, they are failing even the simple litmus test of releasing all documents relating to their PDAF expenditures. Even worse, we collectively are failing to demand that essential action from them. There are tyrants in our midst and we are doing nothing to bring them to heel.

    This sort of questionable silence is not only limited to the Senate. Party list groups, such as Bayan Muna and even Akbayan (for whom I have immense respect) are also guilty of this. They utilized PDAF, spending it on any number of questionable soft expenditures that are ripe for abuse and patronage, in years past. At times they even took to the newspapers demanding that their fair share of PDAF been released immediately. Yet, at the first sign of the shifting tide in public sentiment, they jumped on the abolition bandwagon. Even more damning, senators, congressmen, and party list groups alike have utilized PDAF during the first half of 2013. The argument that they only realized the scope of the abuse of PDAF after the release of the Commission on Audit does not wash. That audit was ordered in 2010 to cover the years of 2007-2009. I find it impossible to believe that only President Aquino suspected that something was up during those years. Elected representatives knew that something was rotten, they knew the system was being abused. But they did nothing as long as they got their fair share of the pie. The fact that we are letting them get off scot free, the fact that we are allowing them to continue with their hypocrisy, to attend rallies and pretend they’ve always been on the side of transparency and accountability, is a slap in the face of every Filipino. And most importantly a slap in the face of Jose Rizal. We are making his words prophetic. These men and women have been begging for a portion of the booty, and we are allowing them to have it. What I hope happens is on the Killing Fields of Bagumbayan, we put an end to sacred idols and demand accountability from all who used pork barrel. If they refuse, I hope the organizers of the March throw them out. The call is clear: All who used to PDAF must turnover their documents to the public. Be leaders you purport to be. Lead the efforts to bring transparency to government.

    Let me be clear: Our failure to demand accountability and transparency from members of Congress who have used PDAF in the past and are now calling for its abolition, who are joining the protest, is our hypocrisy in one of its worst forms. Whether they used it correctly or not is beside the point; the fact of the matter is I find it highly believable that many have used pork barrel as it was intended, to help the people. It is our silence, our unquestioning acquiescence to their refusal to be consciously transparent, that galls. Bonifacio and Rizal alike had little problem criticizing and attacking allies and opponents equally. The failure to do so is the surest sign of a politically immature people. The sad truth is, we might not be living up to what Rizal and Bonifacio dreamed for the Filipino. Can we truly say our heads are held high, when we are standing shoulder to should with men and women who have happily utilized the system, and will continue to do so as long as we let them. 

    The Million Personal March on Luneta to demand the abolition of the pork barrel system will take place under the eyes of two of our greatest heroes. The blood of heroes and martyrs has seeped into the soil of Bagumbayan. And in many ways we face a crisis; one of conscience and maturity, of political growth and insightfulness. Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio demanded first and foremost that social change begins with the individual; with their growth and maturity as active and engaged citizens. Rizal believed fervently in education, Bonifacio in the development of a moral and ethical culture governing our civic activities. Our failure to do so leads directly to the failure of our nation to grow. In many ways, I do support people who choose to attend the Million Person March. But, I will not be there, I cannot support it for all the reasons I have outlined.  I want the abolition of the existing pork barrel system. But the ways in which we are approaching the problem do not speak to growth, but stagnation.

    Jose Rizal crafted three major works offering a road map to nationalism for the Philippines. His annotated Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas drew attention to our past, Noli me Tangere brought the iniquities of his present into stark relief, while El Filibusterismo offered something else: A vision of a failed future and an opportunity for redemption for the Filipino people. That powerful passage I quoted above speaks directly to that opportunity for redemption. It is a change that begins within, that connects us all deeply and intrinsically, that binds us together as a nation. Eventually, our penchant for divisive action and protest movements must give way to collaborative nation-building. Our reaction to the current crisis will tell more than anything the path this nation will take.


  3. Renewing Rizal


    Image Courtesy of the Malacang Tumblr

    There is little doubt that Rizal casts a shadow over our understanding of the 19th century and the Philippine Revolution. We often see him less the inheritor, the flowering so to speak, of previous Philippine intellectual thought and movements, and more the Great Creator of Filipinas, never equaled prior or after. From a certain perspective, that of the need for heroes and heroism, its wholly appropriate; even necessary. But from another, that of nation-building and connectivity, Rizal becomes even more…compelling and resonant.

    This leads me to wonder: Why should heroes remain historically static? That’s one of the issues that pervades our popular understanding of the past. We have a tendency to enforce artificially constructed dichotomies. This is a trap, one that I readily admit I fall into at times. In the case of Rizal, we argue in binary simplicities: Reformist vs Revolutionary or, perversely, Bonifacio vs Rizal. Even something as inane as Hero vs Villain. We seem to want to (erroneously) compartmentalize our Heroic Pantheon. History operates in the margins, the shades of grey (to use an expression that has unfortunately become salacious). History is not stark, like those old black and white photographs we love to admire. It’s full of shading and mysteries; little possibilities that tease the imagination and make us wonder: What more? What happened? What does it mean?

    For students of history, that is the allure of its study. The idea that in the past we can find explanations and answers to the present condition. That is also its inherent trap: This demand to apply the current condition to the past leads us to often times erroneous conclusions. Methodology and evidence are the fundamental foundation of any historical conclusions; unfortunately those are sometimes substitutes for ideology and preconceived notions of right and wrong. One idea worth considering is that every generation must re-engage with the past; it has to look at our shared history with new eyes and draw new conclusions that help retain and maintain relevance.

    For me, one of the more compelling, even beautiful, aspects of Rizal’s works is his idea, his fervent belief, that there are connections and relationships between all Filipinos. Even as he satirized our society, he was pointing us towards a future where we worked together, bled and lived together, all to construct something new and hopeful and wonderful. It is an idea that crosses socio-economic boundaries and even nation-states. In a way, I think Rizal was a wide-eyed optimist; underneath the sarcasm and much needed critical nature beat the heart of a man who dreamed of better and brighter tomorrows. He knew he would never live to see them, but I firmly believe he knew one day those who came after would. With all of the intricacies and complexities of the modern world, that relatively untapped resonance in Rizal’s works becomes vitally important. It seems that we are constantly fighting a battle between a perceived need for insularity (driven by pseudo-nationalism) and a desire to connect more deeply with the rest of the world. Within that tension though there exists an intersection between defining the self and nation and connecting to the global community. Rizal was driven by a need to construct a new vision of the Philippines grounded in a reconsideration of our historical past. An intriguing idea still today.

    Despite our fascination with Rizal, there is so much of him and his ideas left unengaged. There are a many different interpretations of Rizal, all worthy in their own way: Rizal the Humanist, the Historian, the Social Critic, or the Political Philosopher. That is part of his brilliance, these undiscovered countries hidden within his writings. That is why he and his works, even after over a century and a half after his death, remain so fresh and intriguing. And while he will continue to be important far into the future.


  4. Jose Rizal: Guilty of Cybercrimes?

    In his time, Rizal was noted for his proficient use of any medium at hand to disseminate his writings. Last year, Anvil Publishing and the Philippine Daily Inquirer asked the question:  ”If Rizal were a blogger, what would he have blogged about?” (Read the winning essay here).

    Knowing Rizal’s history, there is little doubt that no only would Rizal have been a blogger, he would have taken advantage of all the various platforms available in social media. He did during his day, penning essays, novels, articles, poetry, speeches, and scholarly essays to promote his critiques of and hopes for the Philippines. He took advantage of the various mediums at hand to spread his message far and wide, to touch on every possible audience in at home and abroad. And yes, his polemics were banned, labeled as seditious and fomenting rebellion against a ‘lawful’ imperial power. His memory, and writings, were so powerful the United States chose to corrupt his image and legacy, instead of actively trying to stamp it out.

    The insidious nature of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 has been dissected and demonstrated elsewhere; most cohesively and cogently by Father Bernas. One of his more critical points refers to the powers of the executive arm of government:

    The chilling part is the empowerment of the executive arm “to effectively prevent and combat [cyber] offenses by facilitating their detection, investigation and prosecution at both the domestic and international levels, and by providing arrangements for fast and reliable international cooperation.”

    As we have already noted, there are serious concerns with regards to the Cybercrime Law and the upholding and protection of essential universal human rights. In some ways, as Father Bernas also hints, basic protection of human rights and the creation of a human resource development oriented society and portions of the Cybercrime Law are incompatible. Additionally, as Father Bernas points out:

    "Libel has been decriminalized in other civilized jurisdictions. Our legislature, instead, will throw us back to the dark ages by imposing a higher penalty for libel. In effect, the advance in communication technology is being treated not as a boon but as a bane."

    Rizal’s writings are easily classified as seditious and revolutionary. In fact, portions of his work rigorously defended the protection of human rights under an increasingly inhumane imperial order. He repeatedly attacked, insulted, and memorialized the idiocy of those in power through his use of satire. His works reject tyranny, reject fiat from on high, reject debasement by an over-reaching government structure, and affirms human dignity and development through the protection of universal human rights. We know he attacked leadership, civil and religious, in the hopes of sparking outraged sentiment among Filipinos:

    "I have tried to do what no one has been willing to do; I have had to reply to the calumnies which for centuries have been heaped upon us and our country; I have described the state of our society, our life, our beliefs, our hopes, our desires, our laments, and our grievances…"

    Intellectually honest and well-founded dissent and criticism is required, a requisite, for a functioning democracy. History is very clear on this point. Although freedoms and rights are not absolute, the protection of them, in many ways, must be. Else, we find ourselves teetering yet again on the brink of totalitarianism.

    Rizal was pointed and scathing in many of his social and political critiques. His anger, in works like the Fili, is still palpable today:

    "Stupider still then, when, knowing it to be bad, he does not give it up, but goes on wasting time. Not only is he stupid, but is a cheat and a robber, because he knows that his work is useless, yet continues to draw his salary. Not only is he stupid and a thief, he is a villain in that he prevents any other workmen from trying his skill to see if he might not produce something worth while? The deadly jealousy of the incompetent!"

    Despite assertions to the contrary, vilification does not live on in perpetuity in cyberspace alone. Rizal’s derogations remain, and in many ways continue (erroneously or not) to color our view of power and the Church. His denunciations were inflammatory, his polemics incisive, and his exhortations inflamed the latent passions of a developing nation. In the 19th century, he so angered those in power, and made them fear the influence of what he was saying, that he was arrested, jailed, tried, and ultimately executed.

    The world of Jose Rizal and today are far different. Despite serious flaws in our socio-political framework, we do enjoy things like due process, warrants, and fundamental protection of human rights under the Constitution. Despite my reservations on the Cybercrime Law, I do not believe that the Aquino administration would exert power to prevent either its repeal, amendment, or the excising of especially controversial provisions. I still retain that hope and belief that this measure will be successfully contested and those in power, even if they tacitly agreed to it either through vote, ignorance, or signature, will come to their senses. However, what if the political milieu was far different? What if someone like Ferdinand Marcos or Arroyo had this law and its power at their disposal? Vigilance then is always required to protect our rights and freedoms. Just three decades ago we lived in a world not so far removed from Rizal’s. That should give anyone pause.

    To be frank, it is not historically or scholarly appropriate to try and figure a historical figure into a modern milieu and attempt to attribute actions and words to him. That is the hallmark of bad history. Despite that, some adaption must be undertaken to make sure that their legacy remains resonant. In all of the talk about the Cybercrime Act I have heard no one draw on our past in defense of civic values, freedoms, and human rights that we perceive as under attack. What did Rizal stand for? What did Bonifacio stand for? What did was Aguinaldo, Mabini, Jacinto, and del Pilar fighting for? And are those values protected and defended?

    If we can imagine Rizal the Blogger, we have to think of Rizal as the Social Critic in the modern age. Imagine Rizal publishing his works through social media today. Now whether his words are applicable or not today (again far different contexts), would his use of social media to disseminate his particular brand of anti-state and anti-imperial power have brought him to the attention of the government? Could his polemics have been considered criminally libelous today? Could he be arrested on the strength of what he wrote in the past?

    Which brings us to the questions at hand:

    If Rizal were writing today as a blogger, or on Twitter, or through Facebook, could his freedoms be threatened and his property confiscated? Could he be charged under the Cybercrime Prevention Act?

    More importantly, would Rizal be found guilty?

    Could Jose Rizal, National Hero of the Philippines by general acclaim, be branded a criminal?


  5. Reflections on Rizal - Three Thoughts

    Tiny Dancer Hero

    There is this idea that heroes inevitably reflect their country. When you think about it historical heroes exist as receptacles of a nation’s hopes and dreams. They are the guiding lights, the individuals who helped shape the nature of a people. Heroes are, in other words, can be considered the soul and conscience of a country. Their philosophies, ideals, and examples acting as the benchmarks for right collective action. That, as well, is why each generation must recast their nation’s heroes in new forms and view them in new perspectives. Heroes and their actions, much like all of history, are consistently up for reinterpretation. Without that process they will never be relevant. A disturbing question to ask is if our heroes are really relevant today.

    As a result, studying how our heroes are approached and constructed in the public sphere gives a country an understanding of who they are as a people. Heroes are a reflection of the values of a people. And if that is the case, as I strongly suspect it is, then the way we currently construct Jose Rizal (the way we approach him and his legacy) does not speak too well of us.

    There is something faintly disturbing about the fact that more is written, and known, in popular society (and pop history) about how many languages Rizal spoke (and how many women he supposedly bedded) than the importance of his annotated Morga. Or even that there is this pervasive sense of Rizal the Reformer, without understanding that his reforms were designed to lead to a successful revolution. Oh yes, with Jose Rizal we have turned one of our greatest heroes, one of the great men in history, into a small man; composed of tiny insignificant details that does little to deepen, challenge, or broaden our understanding of Rizal in his (and our) milieu.

    If our heroes our a reflection of our society, then how we approach Rizal is all the more damning for how small it makes us look. Maybe Nick Joaquin was right, maybe we have become a nation of minutia.

    Personalizing Rizal

    There is an interesting ancillary thought when it comes to heroes. More often than not, their importance rests on how an individual approaches and engages with their legacy. We often like to think of heroes in how they changed a society, or how they rebelled against the circumstances of their day. But, the importance of those events and actions lies in how they resonate with the individual. How someone like Rizal, through his words and deeds, will inspire a young Filipino to lead a life dedicated to service, or to benefit their fellow man, or to help the less fortunate. Or even to fight for a collective ideal.

    My experience with Rizal, in many ways, I think differs from the norm. I did not actually learn that much about Rizal in a formal educational setting (a by-product of where I went to school). Instead, my discovery of Rizal was shepherded by three of out greatest Rizalistas. So, instead of learning about Rizal through the interpretations (misguided in many cases) of writers like Agoncillo, or Constantino, or Zaide, I read Rizal. I read his essays, his novels, his poems, and his speeches. This began when I was a kid. You could say I was brainwashed to adore Rizal. And quite frankly, I would not disagree.

    It goes without saying that I was singularly lucky in how I learned about Rizal. And I do not say this to ‘brag’ or ‘boast’ about the experience. But, when I read some of the more flagrantly disturbing interpretations of Rizal it is shocking. For example, Constantino and his reformist trope. The fact that Constantino had to stoop to carefully editing Rizal’s words so they would fit his preconceptions is practically scandalous. Yet, in many ways, Constantino’s vision of Rizal is broadly accepted.

    One of the problems, and this I feel strongly, with our current approach to Rizal is that it removes him from our ability to relate. Yes, it’s fantastic and all that Rizal learned 23 languages (yeah…whatever). But to continue to hold that up as a reason why he should be admired is kind of ridiculous. It’s the aggrandizement of minutia. Of little pieces of flotsam and jetsam that basically add up to something ephemeral.

    Because of how we approach Rizal, with all these misguided attempts at humanizing him, we (individually and collectively) fail to approach him as he would have wanted: Through his ideas. His dreams. His hopes. His understanding of the Philippines. Its his words that should inspire. His real words, not those carefully edited and culled by colonially deficient pseudo-historians. Not the number of women he supposedly slept with. And most definitely not in the number of languages he spoke.

    Yes, Rizal’s words. How novel.

    The Three Parts of Rizal’s Writings

    One of the saddest parts of how we have let Rizal down is with regards to his three great works: Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and his annotated Morga. We all know the Noli and the Fili, few know the Morga. Which is sad, because while the Noli and Fili reflected his criticisms and worries about the present and future, the Morga is where his passion for the Filipino comes shining through.

    The story of the Morga is almost romantic: Rizal sitting in the vastness of a library in London, painstakingly hand copying Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. Rizal went on to review and read every historical account of the Philippines he could get his hands on. Using those materials, he combed through the entire Morga line by line, offering up pointed criticisms of Morga’s history of the Philippines. In those notations we discover Rizal’s unwavering belief in the goodness and nobility of the Filipino; even if the scholarship upon which those notations were made was questionable at best. Rizal firmly believed that the study of history must be in service of the needs of the present. This was history as pure propaganda. Rizal’s purpose was to ignite the spirit of the Filipino by ‘showing’ them what was lost. In terms of the scholarly study of history, this type of myth-building is unacceptable. But, for a man who was fighting to preserve the soul of his country, it is perfectly acceptable and understandable. Sometimes you need collective myths to inspire a slumbering people.

    Father John Schumacher makes the point that the Noli, Fili, and Morga offer up Rizal’s pathway to nationalism for the Philippines. The Morga was the historical foundation upon which the new Philippine nation was to be built; the Noli a searing criticism of the current ills of colonial society; while the Fili was a warning against certain actions that had no hope (at that time) of proving to be successful.

    Last year, as we all well remember, was Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary. There was the expected pomp and circumstance necessary for such an august occasion. And this year is the 151st celebration of his birthday. I wonder…do we know him any better? For all that has gone on in the last year, are we any closer to understanding what he hoped and dreamed of for the Philippines?

    The answer is easily found actually. Just take a look at how his popular image is used and abused. It is almost disturbing how many people seem to speak on behalf of Rizal nowadays.

    Broadly, we lack critical engagement with Jose Rizal’s actual words. Too much of his writings are filtered through almost perversely erroneous ideology. It is…unfortunate. And it seems that as the years pass by we are leaving Rizal further and further behind.


  6. panchodelaluna:

    (Noam Chomsky)

    A good friend of mine, iwriteasiwrite, rightfully observes that “there is a distinct lack of public intellectuals in the Philippines; men and women who not only challenge the system, but seeks redemptive national paths.,” and that this “lack” is “deeply…

    This is an amazing essay and well worth the time to read.

    My friend @panchodelaluna (with his inimitable style and grace) has pointed out a serious shortfall in Philippine public discourse, well actually the major shortfall in Philippine public discourse: The complete lack of worthy public intellectuals. His fundamental basis for that argument utilizes the definitions and discourse of Edward Said; a man who should be far more popular and well known among the limited ‘intelligensia’ in this country. Sadly, I truly cannot say he is even that known, outside of a few people who have studied abroad. Said’s notes on intellectuals and their role in society are incredibly important in the Philippines today. Without individuals taking on that public intellectual leadership role I fear our social and intellectual progress (set aside economic) will remain stillborn.

    The very obvious problem is, the intellectuals have abandoned this task of speaking the truth and exposing lies, that the emperor has no clothes indeed, by associating themselves with power systems and upholding their meritorious profession in disregard of its attendant responsibilities.

    To be regarded as a public intellectual implies undertaking tasks outside his or her own specialized field; which entails, as Edward Said noted and exemplified, “passionate engagement, risk, exposure, commitment to principles, vulnerability and being involved in worldly causes.”

    If the public looks up to politicians as public intellectuals from what Said underlines, from the most objective, rational point of view, politicians are (almost) a compete failure. 

    - @panchodelaluna

    Our politicians have taken it upon themselves to be the intellectual luminaries of the nation. They play both sides against the middle, never taking a stand and instead preferring to pander to the vast needs of the masses. They say they are out to reform the system, while upholding it through corruption and back room dealings. They emasculate the Filipino through sleight of hand and advertising chicanery. The role of the intellectual has been appropriated and what is left are court jesters; men and women who willingly support the machinations of the politicians in exchange for political and economic favoritism.

    There are many though who trying to reform the system. They are found on the ground, in NGOs, working with the people. There are writers and thinkers in the public sphere and the academe who decry the state of the nation, and actually try and do something about it.

    But, let’s be clear here, just because someone says that the system is rotten does not mean they are fulfilling the role of the public intellectual. More often than not those who are most vehement are the most ideologically bound, the most prone to forgoing values in favor of political expediency. By expediency I mean, supporting an empty ideology so wholly and completely that the focus of bettering the lives of Filipinos is lost.

    Being a member of the peanut gallery is not enough; they have to become leaders in trying to reshape the nation. Leadership is far more than the simplistic idea of the man making the decisions. It is about being active and positive forces for public change, in any milieu. Being a leader does not require a position of authority; managers require authority. Leaders just need opportunity.

    Let me be quite clear, those who spend most of their time railing against the status quo primarily because they don’t like the person in power, or they aren’t of the same political leanings, or they didn’t vote for them, or for any number of reasons and remain on that level are part of the problem. The issues facing the Philippines are so vast that it requires not only leadership in government, but leaders in civil society to attack, tear down, and rebuild the system.

    When it comes to the various -isms, I usually reserve my fiercest criticisms, precisely because they inevitably intellectually emasculate their blind devotees. What ever the political or philosophical leaning, these various schools of thought provide the prisms through which to identity and address social and economic issues at hand. The school of thought itself is not the solution. Relying on communism or capitalism to be the solution is the same as expecting a benevolent dictator to take control and lead us to the promised land: It is lazy, it betrays a lack of intellectual fortitude and the much-needed constancy to identify, face, and work to address social ills.

    Instead, we have changeable ninnies in the public sphere; men and women who confuse being subversive with being loud and contentious; with being incisive with being divisive. The end result is a dead public discourse; one burdened with rhetoric and recriminations and little in the way of actual discussions.

    I firmly believe that we need a new focus on the development of public intellectuals to truly reshape the Philippines. That is what we mean when we say we need more Rizals.

  7. The Quote:

    Don’t you see how everything is awakening? The sleep has lasted for centuries, but one day the thunderbolt struck, and in striking, infused life. Since then new tendencies are stirring our spirits, and there tendencies, today scattered, will some day be united, guided by the God who has not failed other peoples and will not fail us, for His cause is the cause of liberty!

    - Jose Rizal, The Social Cancer

    The Painting:

    The Barricade, rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848 (or Memory of Civil War) by Ernest Meissonier, 1848. A haunting piece depicting the aftermath of the workers riots in June 1848 in Paris, France.

  8. The Quote

    Language has no answer to the questions of love that either shimmer or hide within a glance. The smile must respond, the kiss, the sigh.

    - Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere

    The Piece

    Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova, 1757. A sculpture that depicts the final moment, when Psyche is awoken by a kiss from Cupid.

  9. The Quote

    On the field of battle, fighting with delirium,

    others give you their lives without doubts, without gloom

    The site nought matters: cypress, laurel or lily:

    gibbet or open field: combat or cruel martyrdom

    are equal if demanded by country and home.

    - Jose Rizal (translation by Nick Joaquin)

    The Painting

    Liberty Leading the People, Eugene Delacroix 1830. One of the most famous of French paintings, it depicts Liberty, represented by the woman, boldly leading Frenchmen in impassioned revolt to overthrow a repressive and antiquated Regime.

  10. The Quote

    The sea, the sea is everything! Its sovereign mass
    brings to me atoms of a myriad faraway lands;
    Its bright smile animates me in the limpid mornings
    And when at the end of day my faith has failed me
    My heart echoes the sound of its sorrow in the sands.

     - Jose Rizal, Mi Retiro (translated by Nick Joaquin)

    The Painting

    Starry NIght over the Rhone by Vincent Van Gogh, September 1888. Van Gogh was fascinated with nightscapes; the result was some of his most compelling and haunting work (including Starry Starry Night).