1. 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.


  2. "So dramatic (and traumatic) was the Philippine Revolution against Spain at the close of the nineteenth century that it has been an obsession of Philippine historiography for over a century now…This has tended to define patriotism as opposition to power - any power. It has tended to define ‘heroism’ as bravado. It has not fostered a truly satisfactory national notion of statesmanship in the general population. It has produced a democracy of mere numbers not genuinely enriched with political discernment and statesmanly horizon."
    — Florentino H. Hornedo
  3. malacanan:

    Good afternoon, from PML Tumblr HQ! In addition to the new Facebook page of Malacañan Palace, the website of the Presidential Museum and Library has rolled out its new design, to better cater to all our Philippine Presidency needs and help assuage our thirst for curiosities in Philippine history. Do take a turn around the site, and we hope you enjoy clicking all the shiny new buttons as much as we do.

    IMAGE: Maharlika Hall, the sprawling main room at the second floor of the oldest part of Malacañan Palace, Kalayaan Hall.  Since 2002, it has served as the main gallery of the Presidential Museum and Library, with parts of the old State Dining table in the center, as well as the Gallery of Presidents, which is composed of objects and memorabilia—including clothing, personal effects, gifts, publications and documents—pertaining to the fifteen persons who have held the Presidency.

    Ok, total side comment, but must admit I am kind of enjoying the personality that is being injected into the Malacañan Palace Tumblr. Nicely done.

    A far sight better than the staid use of Tumblr and Twitter that some social media evangelical’s oddly favoured.

  4. Turn of the century bird’s eye view drawing of Manila.



  5. 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?


  6. ellobofilipino:

    An early morning discussion with @iwriteasiwrite and @renguila on Twitter brought to the fore some realizations which have been unnoticed over these past few days of objections against the Cybercrimes Prevention Law of 2012 (Republic Act 10175).

    In the middle of our discussion as to why…

    And that deserves an Amen. Because of the nature of most social media users (highly urbanized, educated) the effects of bills such as the Cybercrime Prevention Act are only considered in local, and fairly limited, senses. However, the long-term effects affect under-represented, marginalized groups such as IPs, farmers, and the rural poor, much more. 

    Social media and the internet provides them with an opportunity to engage in the broader national discourse unencumbered by geography or socio-economic status. This is a key issue that has not been touched on by so-called evangelists for social media. It is, as well, one of the signal reasons by Cybercrime is antithetical to national and human resource development.

    Silencing those who barely have a voice is not the way to build a people-focused, human rights support, and development geared inclusive nation.


  7. Cybercrime, Civil Society, and History.

    "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it." - Thomas Jefferson

    History retains a presence, palpable if you know what to look for. During election season, historical narratives take center stage in every politicians campaign. The past is interpreted, re-interpreted, re-written, and engineered with on specific goal in mind: Getting elected. While in position? The public and officials alike call on history to defend positions, criticize opposition, and distract in equal measures. The past, by its very nature, maintains an allure. The attraction of the unknowable and its ability to be what we need it to be. Narratives are malleable and the past always at our disposal.

    The current hullaballoo surrounding the CyberCrime Prevention Act of 2012 is no exception. On both sides of the ideological divide, the specter of history and its lessons looms large. References to Martial Law, not so far-flung draconian eras, Nazism (naturally), the Arroyo administration, and our colonial past have been deployed in pointed (and at times almost hysterical) criticism of the bill and the current administration and Congress. The fears are relevant, the perceived curtailment of civil liberties, whether in the ‘real’ world or ‘cyberspace, must be addressed through open and balanced public discourse. The concerns of a vocal portion of the population, a minority though it may be, must be headed and not dismissed by administration mouthpieces. That is the heart of democracy and the dismissal of those concerns only reinforces growing fear and paranoia among the intelligensia. Despite our popular construction of history, the middle class (the upwardly mobile educated and economically emancipated) almost always form the backbone of any social resistance and civil disobedience. Today, they occupy social media and the cyber world; moving in and staking claim to a space that lends itself as a platform for dialogue and discourse. Yet, the reaction so far from administration spokespeople has not generated further discussion, instead the intelligensia’s concerns have only been heightened. In a sense, the Aquino administration remains lucky that social media has only crossed over into traditional media and society large in limited respects. Else the pronouncements of Edwin Lacierda in his ‘discussions’ with netizens over the weekend would have raised more of a furor than the relative ‘squeak’ we are seeing now. That remains the single greatest obstacle for social media relevance: Translating social media angst and agitation into real world action.

    A firm understanding of history is also necessary in putting public pronouncements into context. Whether it is Secretary Leila de Lima’s comment that we have little to fear from this government (what of the next?) or spokespeople’s tweets in cyberspace, a sense of history is needed to peel apart the comment and get to the heart of the issue. For example, one of the more noticeable comments from Lacienda, in response to comments on the administration’s actions, was his reference to an oft-quoted line from Thomas Jefferson.

    A government official deploying a reference to Jeffersonian ideology in response to criticisms is a risky play, at best. Thomas Jefferson is noteworthy, and hallowed among certain segments of the American population, precisely because of his distrust of government, driven by anti-monarchy sentiments. Jefferson, towards the end of his life, crafted an almost pastoral vision of the United States, one where people lived in communes and government was practically non-existent. Jefferson’s loathing of overreaching of government was such that some quotes for which he has become famous have a decidedly revolutionary tinge to them:

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

    The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

    I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

    The deployment of Jeffersonian ideology in response to criticisms of a government over-stepping itself is ironic at face and ludicrous in analysis. I cannot say, in all honesty, that the CyberCrime Prevention Act is not necessary. It is and there are provisions contained within it that are needed. However, the original intent of the bill has been hijacked by personal agenda and misguided concerns. The law, as fashioned, betrays a distinct fear on the part of our elected congressmen; fear of the unknown, fear of something they do not, and maybe cannot, understand, fear of something they cannot control. This is a blatant attempt, incidental or not, to control a legitimate vehicle for social discourse and dialogue. Jefferson, through his writings and speeches, spoke rigorously against the restriction of civil liberties. A refined sense of history, on the part of the administration spokespeople, can only help them in their widely lauded goal of reforming Philippine public life. History can be a defense and an avenue for criticism; but only when properly understood and utilized. Else the misuse of history just opens you up for further misinterpretation and new avenues for critique.

    For the Filipino, the sense of history is recognized in a limited sense. As I have remarked elsewhere, we retain a historical sensibility only when reacting to events after the fact. In this, some of the pointed critiques of Cocoy Dayao and (only when loosely interpreted) Lacierda, are relevant. We remain reactive to events and political developments. Only a select few in New Media made themselves aware of the Cybercrime Prevention Act prior to it being signed into law and only a few even bothered to speak out against the measure. Granted, it appears that there may be some irregularities involved with the crafting of the bill, but that does not distract from the fact that either the bill itself went un-noted, or the collective subconscious decision was to address the situation when it came to a head. Either is deeply concerning for our political future. No matter, the bill was overlooked, and the current reactions from civil society are wholly expected; inflammatory, polemical, and in some cases distractingly overwrought. That being said, civil society is taking calculated and appropriate action to address the contents of the law; one hopes those actions are not lost amidst the sturm und drang and fear mongering of some social media denizens.

    Only now do we see the critical mass necessary to create a grassroots movement against. Even after its passing, our response reflects a relatively shallow and superficial understanding of the political and social process. President Aquino has been lambasted from all corners for signing the bill into law. The question of whether Aquino should have expended veto power on a bill that never should have made it to his desk in the first place has been set aside. One has to wonder if the bill would have been signed into law, if the efforts currently being expended now, existed prior. It is a hypothetical, but one that touches on our current relationship with the political process.

    While the Aquino administration does deserve criticism, the malaise that led to the crafting and ratification of such a wayward and potentially draconian law, runs far deeper. This is where our superficial sense of history fails us as a republic. Our history, one of colonialism not from out but within, warns of the dangers of taking civil liberties and elections lightly. Yet, those warnings are little heeded. Instead, elections continue to be reduced to the lowest common denominator, the best name, the most money, the most appealing narratives. Our sense of history does not guide how we plan out the future of this country, whether its through elections, grassroots organizations, or advocacies. We are restricted to applying our fears of Martial Law and creeping dictatorships to decisions already made, actions already done. The use of history as an anticipatory guide, one that helps refine our decision-making process and even vision for the Philippines, is absent. The mechanisms to allow us to assert our voice in the political process, to take co-ownership of government, have to be put in place and utilized.

    Over a century ago, Juan Luna crafted his masterpiece the “Spoliarium.” It retains much of its majestic resonance and social relevance. Then it was a plaintive critique of the prevailing society situation in the Philippines, one where civil liberties were trampled on by an over-bearing and antiquated colonial government unresponsive, and frankly failing to understand, the needs of its educationally and economically developing population.

    Superficial parallels are there to be drawn with the situation today. I say superficial because there are avenues to remedy iniquities like provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act; avenues that civil society must be allowed to explore else those parallels become less polemical and more reality-based in nature. However, if power is exerted to kill challenges, the equation changes and the parallels become applicable. History’s presence is a warning for those in power and a guide for those who wish to curtail power.

    The vigilance that Lacierda so aptly referred to is necessary. But it is a vigilance less built on reactive fear and paranoia, and more focused on nation-building and civil society playing a more active and integral role in the entire political process, not just after the fact. But, the government, in all its various forms and functions, must be open to civil society engagement, it has to reflect and represent the will and needs of the people. Or else it becomes akin to an ancien régime, one that requires relegation to the dustbins of history. Jefferson would agree.


  8. The Digital Age and Human Rights.

    In the lead up to the May 2010 elections, UNESCO Philippines presented a white paper to presidential candidates enumerating their recommendations for much needed policies in Philippines.

    Key among them were policy themes focusing on internet access as instrumental in human resource development; anchors, if you will, for the Philippines in the digital age.

    9. Approve a Universal Internet Access Policy aligned with the World Summit on Information Society.

    10. Approve a Broad Band Bill of Rights

    The World Summit on Information Society took place in 2003 in Geneva. From that initial meeting a Declaration of Principles was released. Important to our current situation is the following declaration:

    We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers.

    It is important to read the entirety of the document and all sixty-seven principles, they are all in some way applicable to the Philippines today, and most especially our current situation.

    A quick run through of the core principles demonstrates a desire on the part of this multi-stakeholder document to foster a global environment of inclusiveness. Of particular note is the fact that there is a concerted effort to project the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) into the digital age. The crafters of this declaration, and all sovereign states that were a part of the process, obviously believed that the fundamental rights of human beings does not end at the keyboard of a computer. What happens in the digital space demands as much attention to human rights and dignity as what happens in the ‘real world.’

    Information technology, the internet, social media space, cyberspace, or whatever we choose to call it, falls under the same guiding principles of human rights and development as any other space. The sheer ignorance displayed by Philippine elected officials in drafting and ratifying the the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is staggering, precisely because it inadvertently infringes on globally accepted standards of human rights. Not only does it infringe on portions of the Philippine Constitution, it seemingly works against key globally accepted multi-lateral agreements.

    There has to be a fundamental presumption of protection of basic human rights and freedoms for an enlightened society to prosper. The fear of the unknown and ignorance (this is not an accusation, senators have already admitted they were unaware of all of the Cybercrime provisions) displayed by Congress should give all of us pause in the upcoming elections. A government that seeks to control its population through draconian measures best left in history is essentially setting itself against universally agreed upon standards of human development and rights protections. Rights are not absolute, but neither is government.

    I have hope that the controversial provisions of the Cybercrime Law will be excised. Already Senators are jumping on the bandwagon led by TG Guingona. I am sure others will be following suit as the full implications of this public relations disaster become apparent. I am almost positive the Aquino administration will barely lift a finger in defense of the Law.

    That being said, the passing of this law shows critical shortfalls in the ways and means bills are crafted, vetted, and ratified; not only on the part of congressmen and senators, but civil society and media at large. When a political process knowingly or not produces a document so antithetical to fostering a human rights centered, development oriented society something is critically flawed. That demands a bit of soul-searching on all our part. To be blunt, any bill that does not, at its heart, uphold the essential and universal rights of human beings, is anti-development. It exists as a measure of control and debasement; an attempt to strip away the dignity of humans, in favor of stagnation and social ennui.

    The very first declaration of principles by the World Summit on the Information Society is a principle we should best remember. Obviously, UNESCO Philippines did, they made these principles central to their information technology policy recommendations.

    We…declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Human rights. What a novel concept to keep in mind.


  9. fabafter40:

    My friend Janine was having an interesting discussion on her Facebook wall yesterday about a question that Charice’s manager asked on Twitter. It was a valid question, but her follow-up statements pissed quite a few of my fellow Filipinos off.


    Now before I write anything else, I…

    Seal of approval.

    (via francisacero)


  10. For those who are on Twitter, please follow @govph and @mlq3 for a live Tweetcast of the day leading up to the declaration of Martial Law.

    Should be a remarkable way to experience the tumultuous events in real time. It begins tonight.