On the laziness of many poor Filipinos

April 19, 2012. There is this prevalent and misguided notion among several sectors of the ‘educated class’ that the cause of a person’s or a family’s poverty and want is a function of one’s lack of “diskarte” as they call it, or even more insulting, a function of one’s indolence (echoing Spanish colonial friars), or worse, a function of the number of children in the family.

If that were the case, then they should agree with the idea that the primary solution, then, to the persistent poverty that cripples majority of Filipinos is a nationwide psychological self-help and motivation seminar and the mass castration and ligation of couples nationwide. But clearly, that is absurd as it is naive.

Poor millions of Filipinos are but lazy they are certainly not. They are neither a class of irresponsible offspring-makers as some insultingly try to portray them to be. God knows how many Filipinos work tirelessly in the fields and in the factories and workplaces in the country and overseas from sun-up to sundown and yet their lives do not improve. (For if you are looking for the laziest people in the planet, you need not look further than the corner offices of men and women who take no part in production but acquire the wealth of collective labor). Certainly, the hand to mouth existence of millions is not a mere consequence of individualized and separate circumstances of their God-forsaken lives, as some religious conservatives insist (and thus the solution is simply–prayer). The poverty of any one Filipino family is a condition that they share with millions of others across the archipelago, not because of some common trait of indolence or libido, but because we are all subject to the same political and economic rules of the status quo. Indeed, larger political and economic forces are behind their shared misery.

So, to my idealistic friends, who remain hopeful but misguided by the onslaught of a cacophony of bourgeois solutions to poverty: perpetual charity work, seminars, scholarship drives, outreach missions, “fun runs” just won’t do. The challenge is to unite with the different sectors of society to collectively confront the political and economic roots of this centuries-long calamity.

* Charity is a virtue?

The dishrag calling the dust cloth dirty

January 15, 2012. A few days ago, a paper written by ex-President Gloria Arroyo entitled “It’s the economy, student!” was released to the public. In the piece, the ex-President went on great length to champion her economic programs on one hand and to and bash President Aquino for failing to ‘sustain’ the gains she boasts to have accomplished on the other.

What really is the fundamental difference between economic policies of the two? Nothing. President Aquino merely continues the same economic policies of President Arroyo.

Both Presidents’ economic programs adhere to the same dogma of neoliberal globalization. It’s the economy, all right–the economy of big businessmen, foreign investors and their local counterparts. Whether or not ordinary Filipinos benefit from such economic growth is merely incidental. They have a phrase for it–“trickle down” effect. Numbers that proclaim economic growth are rendered meaningless by the fact that poverty has continued to worsen over the decade, so much that the government had to re-define and lower the poverty threshold. The vision of economic prosperity and survival is entirely dependent on foreign investors and all the economic programs of President Aquino and his predecessors are aligned with the agenda of these monopoly capitalists and their local counterparts.

Both Presidents have pushed for the further privatization of public utilities by selling contracts to roads and other public services to private profiteers. Both administrations have strengthened the deregulation of industries imbued with public interest and rejected clamors to repeal the laws that allow such deregulation, from the oil industry (Oil Deregulation Law) to power generation and distribution (EPIRA) to education (Education Act of 1982), which have resulted to public services that are increasingly out of reach to ordinary Filipinos and are increasingly profitable to private corporations.

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On Squatters

Nakiusap ang mga nanay ng Corazon de Jesus na makabalik sila sa kanilang sinisira nang mga tahanan para maisalba ang natitira nilang mga gamit. Pero pinipigilan sila ng mga pulis. (photo and caption by KR Guda of PinoyWeekly.org)

January 12, 2012. There is something particularly bothersome with the condescending arrogance displayed by some people with regard the issue of the urban poor and their problem on housing. Relying on pure legalese, they forward an overly simplified position that since “squatters” do not own the land where their shanties are built on, they deserve to be evicted–by force–using the entire arsenal of the state to protect the property rights of the owners.

These people fail to recognize the social context of the problem. A fourth of Metro Manila, a staggering 584,425 families according to the National Housing Authority, are informal settlers. When the problem affects a significant portion of the population it ceases from becoming a purely legal problem of property rights and land ownership. It becomes a tragic social phenomenon, in much the same way as peasant landlessness is, and thus calls for fundamental political and economic solutions like agrarian land reform. It is a social phenomenon because it finds its roots in political and economic forces that compel hundreds of thousands of Filipino families to move to urban centers and “squat” on idle lands.

If you think squatters are not entitled to live in their homes, you might as well ask for the eviction of a fourth of Metro Manila for squatting on idle lands. Wow. If you don’t realize it, many of Manila’s laborers come form the urban poor. They do everything from cooking and serving your food, doing your laundry, and ironically–building your homes. You might as well ask for the paralysis of economic activity in the national capital.

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Taking the side of neither bully in the school yard

January 5, 2012. Our involvement with the issue of the Chief Justice’s impeachment must not degenerate into taking sides from among the warring political factions of the government, for we must remember that what truly matters is the people’s welfare. Beyond all the cacophony of this political circus, the truth remains that both contending ruling cliques have their own vested agenda. The Aquino and the Arroyo groups have taken advantage and exploited this feud in order to portray themselves as heroes and saints while neither of them genuinely address the basic pursuit of social justice in the country.

To take side with either bully of the schoolyard is not a choice, it is a false dichotomy.

On one hand, if we are truly for judicial integrity and independence, we should welcome the opportunity for the Chief Justice to defend himself against allegations of partiality in an impeachment trial. We should caution against those who portray the impeachment of the Chief Justice as an attack against the Judiciary as an institution and paint several personalities as martyrs. Impeachment per se is not a breach of judicial independence. Impeachment is a mechanism for Congress to fulfill its check and balance function as representatives of the people. It is not a mere surplusage in our Constitution. Our Supreme Court Justices, highly esteemed by some of us as they may be, are not infallible demigods who are immune from scrutiny and criticism, and they remain to be public officials who are accountable to the people.

We should also welcome the impeachment as a step in holding accountable the past administration of former President Arroyo, for it is undeniable that while the Chief Justice is in power, the integrity and impartiality of all Supreme Court decisions with regard the Chief Justice’s former principal, to whom he has served as chief of staff and legal counsel, will be put into question. Judging the pattern of decisions and opinions of the Chief Justice, indeed his impartiality is in doubt.

On the other hand, we should also caution our support for such pursuit of judicial integrity by refusing to throw all our weight behind the Aquino clique, for it is readily apparent that this is a machination to consolidate all branches of government at his disposal, after a consistent pattern of Supreme Court decisions that run against the present administration’s interests, the final straw being that of the decision regarding Hacienda Luisita. Removing an Arroyo-appointed Chief Justice opens the golden opportunity for President Aquino to install his own. In that regard, we should also remain vigilant in the common pursuit of a Supreme Court that is truly an independent entity capable of dispensing legal matters with fairness and justice.

At the end of the day, while we are being made to watch this political circus the prevailing fact remains, President Aquino has no clear program of action to resolve the root causes of massive poverty and injustice in the Philippines but a rehash the same old bankrupt economic framework and political policies of his predecessors, including former President Arroyo. All President Aquino has to show for, laudable as it may be, is a smokescreen of anti-corruption rhetoric. Such is merely a staged showdown between his administration and Arroyo’s which does not address the basic problems of the people. After all, in the final analysis, how different are the two cliques from each other?

* with reference to former President Arroyo’s infamous line in response to critics: “I’m tired of chasing the bullies around the schoolyard!”

[This is a statement I wrote for the Civil Law Student Council of UST with regard to the political issue of the Chief Justice’s impeachment trial]

Day 1 of Mendiola Camp-Out Protest

December 6, 2011.

We are calling on all Filipinos, fed up with the status quo and united in a common hope for a better present and future without the suffering that we witness everyday, to launch actions, strikes, walk-outs and to join a historic nationwide camp-out protest this December. We can no longer stand a twisted social set-up that robs the majority of our people of a decent life and basic social services. We can no longer stand a social system that produces immense wealth for foreign interests and a few as the people, who toil all their lives, are increasingly pushed deeper into hunger, poverty and injustice. We continuously attempted to make those in power heed our call for change. But they refuse to listen, and instead, constantly barrage us with lies, cover-up stunts, insults and threats of force. Like thieves, they railroad unjust measures, they rule with impunity and dare to call it democracy. Sawang-sawa na tayo.

Photos: September 8, 2011

Law class meeting Class president Aquino (yes, we have our own President Aquino in class) discusses our collective proposed schedule of exams. It usually doesn’t get approved or followed a hundred percent.

Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Kabataan Party-List Rep. Raymond Palatino at a Law class meeting

Earlier, Kabataan Party-List Rep. Mong Palatino gave a talk at a students rights forum in UST, hosted by the Central Student Council. That week, the student councils of UST launched its renewed campaign for the approval of the long-stalled “UST Students Code”.

Abusing the people’s tragedy

For a while now, I’ve been at loss as to what to blog. Scenes of devastation and the actual loss of life and property to millions of Filipinos were overwhelming. It didn’t feel right blogging about anything else where almost everything else will pale in gravity. Guilt perhaps, the very fact that I am able to blog in convenience indicates that, unlike majority of Filipinos who are poor, I am “unaffected.” For a while, blogging in the time of crisis reeked of insensitivity. Some people say blogging and online social media networks played a crucial role in the relief and rescue operations. I agree. But then again, the people who need the relief aren’t online, and prolonged online “involvement” seemed to me like a convenient excuse not to immerse with the people and get dirty with the actual operations. Posting and re-posting relief and rescue operations has to translate into actual relief and rescue operations. Many times, especially during the immediate days after the typhoons, they do, as proven by the thousands who flocked to organized relief operations. With an inept and inutile government, private citizens and civilian organizations needed to fill the vacuum in social services. But for how long? Especially when all those volunteers go back to their schools and to their workplaces?

During and after our relief operations, we still have to expose the ineptitude of the government and its causes. We, after all, pay taxes by force of law and thus maintain the system with almost every consumption we make. If the cost doesn’t translate to social services, especially in times of calamity, and worse, makes life more miserable for the masses, why maintain it? I’m posing that as a serious question. Even worse, calamities are often abused by the government and policy-makers to intensify the prevailing order by implementing unpopular and anti-people policies. Naomi Klen calls it the “Shock Doctrine” where government use “the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks ““ wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters – to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.”

A few days ago, I attended a Congress committee hearing on what we all thought to be was a junked proposal to tax SMS messages. Without as much attention as the previous hearings, and with the public focused largely on the relief operations, pro-tax congressmen actually revived the proposal, and even had the gall to use the calamity to justify the additional tax. Other congressmen who opposed the tax tried to junk it altogether to no avail. When more and more observers and media were coming in the meeting, the leadership suddenly decided to suspend the hearing and re-convene in executive session some other time, without all the observers and the media, and the other congressmen who weren’t members of the committee.

Another thing I’d like to point out is the excessive media exposure of American troops in their relief missions. This assistance, I’m telling you is far from selfless. It is a motivated and concerted action to ‘win hearts and minds’. I’m willing to bet that all these will be used to justify the continued implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. It’s all a big public-relations stunt. I’m not discounting the help they have probably extended. Yes, thank you, but it’s not worth our sovereignty. These are but a few government policies that are being rammed into implementation at the wake of the people’s tragedy. There will be more.

Tulong Kabataan is continuing its relief operations for the victims of tropical storms Ondoy and Pepeng. We’re going to have a Balik Eskwela drive where we would do campus clean-ups and other intensified youth volunteer work to mark resumption of classes in storm and flood hit areas. Click here for more details.

We make the university, they make the crisis

Today the House of Representatives will start hearing the 2010 budgets of country’s state universities and colleges (SUC’s).

We are of course, for the increase of the budgets of public institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately however, many of the appointed administrators of state universities are resigned, even subservient, to the government’s policy of reducing government support to SUC’s.

This year, the total allocation for the country’s 110 state universities and its almost 1 million students was slashed by P3 billion pesos. This situation, for the past years, has lead to the rampant increases in tuition and other miscellaneous fees in SUC’s, fervently implemented by its administrators. These have, in turn, made tertiary education in the Philippines increasingly inaccessible to the vast majority of Filipino youth.

This phenomenon of state abandonment of public higher educational institutions is not confined to the Philippines. It is a challenge being faced by many state universities and colleges around the world as an effect of a global free market philosophy that forces governments to cut on social services such as higher education in order to “balance the budget” and finance debt servicing.

A few days ago, thousands of students from state-funded University of California (UC) and other state universities and colleges in California walked out of their classes and protested against the budget cuts and the consequent tuition increases that were to be implemented by the state government. In defense of the cuts, the state government hammers the justification that everyone has to tighten their belts in light of fiscal crises and growing budget deficits. It is a rhetoric that is echoed even by the Philippine government. These belt-tightening justifications are nevertheless rejected as crises of their own making and as hypocrisies because governments continue to provide huge sums on questionable allocations and continue providing huge tax incentives to large corporations. In the Philippines for example, the government annually allocates tens of billions of pesos in Presidential discretionary funds that are immune from auditing scrutiny.

These state-abandonment policies conveniently forget that tertiary education is integral in the economic prosperity and political maturity of the people. Denying the youth of accessible and quality tertiary education will, without a doubt, create a more serious and long-term social crisis that will be detrimental to the progress of a nation.  Here are some links to news stories about the walkout: “University of California campuses erupt into protest”“Thousands protest fees, cuts at UC campuses”

California students walkout against commercialization of education

Even state university students and faculty in California are walking out in protest to the present state government’s policy of privatizing state public higher education institutions, from UC Berkeley to California State University.

Budget cuts, tuition hikes, limited admissions, corporate tie-ups, these are phrases that sound all too familiar to students from state universities in the Philippines. It is a reinforcement of the assertion that commercialization of public higher education is a product of a global free-market philosophy.

The budget cuts in California and in the Philippines take on very similar forms, as do their consequences. State policies (Higher Education Compact in California, Medium Term Higher Education Development Plan in the Philippines) declare that state universities should generate their own income from privatization and tuition hikes. Consequently, state funding is reduced as school administrators raise tuition and limit certain student services. It’s even worse in the University of California where salaries are also being slashed and enrollment/admissions are being limited.

In California as it is in the Philippines, despite gradual state abandonment of public higher education institutions, enrollment in state universities is increasing, students continue to flock to public institutions and their share in the total enrollment of all college students is growing larger by the year. The situation is more serious in California where public institutions enroll 79% of all college and university students. The share in the Philippines is 35% in 2008 (from only 10% in 1980). These figures should actually reinforce the policy of strengthening support to public higher education institutions instead of cutting subsidies.

In California, the ratio of state subsidy and internally-generated income is almost at 50% : 50%. In the Philippines, it is at more or less at 70% : 30% (on its way to 30% : 70%). State universities are being forced to rely less on state subsidy and more on internally-generated income.

Both California and Philippine governments conveniently dismiss the idea that higher education is integral in the road to prosperity of a state or a nation. Professionals, from doctors, engineers and even artists drive a vibrant economy. It has helped lead California to the economic prosperity it experiences while it is yet to drive the Philippines into progress. It is no doubt that denying the youth of affordable, if not free access to tertiary education is a tragic detriment to the growth of a nation. I may not have any readers from UC, but I would like to express my support to the multi-sectoral, system-wide strike in the University of California. You are not alone in your fight for accessible state-sponsored tertiary education.

Berkeley Alliance Against the Cuts
Keep California’s Promise
UC Faculty Walkout
UC Student Walkout

Budget cut in state universities means added burden to students

As the national government continues to cut down spending on the country’s 110 state universities and colleges (SUCs), students carry the burden of the steep cost of higher education, Kabataan Party-list Representative Raymond “Mong” Palatino said. In the proposed national budget for 2010, allocation for SUCs will be slashed by 13 percent or a whopping P3.2 billion, thus forcing SUCs to generate income mostly from students.

Based on the 2010 National Expenditure Program, bulk of SUCs’ projected income of P10.2 billion will be sourced from tuition fees (P4.59 Billion) and other income from students (2.23 billion). Palatino said “SUCs are being forced to rely less on government subsidy and more on internally-generated income in the form of tuition and other fees and privatization of assets. Unfortunately, the burden of financing tertiary education is placed on Filipino students, many of whom will be unable to afford it,” Palatino said.

The young solon said trimming the SUC budget would be “sadistic and ultimately anti-student,” especially since more and more students are flocking to SUCs. For school year 2009-2010, CHED enrolment data show a “migration” of students from private higher education institutions (HEIs) to SUCs mainly as a result of the continuously rising cost of education in private tertiary institutions amid the economic crisis.

Palatino said the government’s Medium Term High Education Development Plan, which directs SUC’s to “rationalize tuition by implementing the full cost of education in public HEIs” is to blame. “It is clear that the government is in the framework of eventually relinquishing its responsibility to subsidize SUCs and public HEIs. It is abandoning its obligations to provide education to the Filipino youth,” he said. “State schools are being treated no longer as national agencies entitled to sufficient government subsidy, but as income-earning and commercial entities. Students and the youth are no longer seen as future nation-builders, but as mere clientele for capitalist educators,” Palatino said.

Palatino vows to push for greater state subsidy for education in the ongoing budget deliberations. “Again, the best and most well-meaning resolution for this would be to re-channel funds for some items in the Office of the President’s budget to education,” Palatino said. As an example, he cited that the P1 billion alloted for the Telecommunications Office, an agency different from the National Telecommunications Office, would be put to much better and significant use if allocated instead to SUCs.