Social Movements

Pacquiao is gray, so is politics

Rep. Manny Pacquiao is gray, not black-and-white. He is against the reproductive health bill, yet he joins the movement’s call for P125 wage increase across-the-board.

I remember one Congresswoman civil enough to keep her anger at the people’s champ at bay by just sort of saying that he’ll lose his battle against the RH bill. Her colleagues in the labor front will surely be in the opposite disposition. They jubilantly claim that the workers’ protracted struggle will finally conclude to their advantage.

Politics has not become less gray. It entails conjunctural acumen, hard work, and civil, much less sincere, (tactical) collaboration with even your enemies. You must also control your emotions that get in the way, even though these days campaigners use people’s emotions to win their hearts and minds.

There’s always bible truth in “getting-to-yes”, principles-based negotiation. Respect is another. Jesus said, “Respect thy enemy.”

The movement I used to belong to once worked with the Church along agrarian reform issues. The synergy begot awesome results, with the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) Law. (How the law is to be implemented is a totally another Herculean battle.) But now, they diverge along reproductive health/pro-life issue.

Campaigners should not struggle to translate gray into black and white, but rather the reverse. With gray, everybody is a winner, partaking in the harvest: You take that, and I take this, for the greater majority or the disadvantaged. For the greater glory of God, if you may.

Those remaining ungrayed, maverick with their black-and-white color, will have their day. Although, no one can tell when that day will be.

2010 elections automation: three takes from civil society

With the Senate and Congress of the same mind for 2010 elections’ automation, with the considerable prodding from the Commission on Elections, it seems there’s no stopping government to finally give flesh to the dream of fully automated elections.

It’s interesting to note that the majority of the Senate has faced an unrelenting opponent in the person of Senator Chiz Escudero. He said no to the proposed supplemental budget as he saw a ghost of the 1.3-billion-peso Mega Pacific scandal in that move.

But what’s much more interesting to note is the fact that three civil society networks have surprisingly taken different positions on the issue of 2010 polls automation.

Kaya Natin! A National Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership is for the automation as the COMELEC has pushed it. Its leaders believe that the planned automation will minimize fraud, cheating, and human error. It will also allow Filipino people to know the election results faster.

The Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI), led by the Social Watch Philippines, is against the automation not for its demerits but for the technicality of and politics behind the move. ABI finds irony in the fact that government is working on the supplemental budget for the automation when the budget for 2009 has yet to be signed by President Arroyo. ABI goes on to say, through the words of Rene Raya of the Action for Economic Reforms (AER): “President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has certified the budget on poll automation as ‘very urgent’, yet the loss of lives, loss of opportunities, more hunger and more poverty caused by the delay in the delivery of social services due to the late implementation of the 2009 budget should be most urgent.” is as critical as ABI but more focused on the technology and software involved. It noted that the Senate approval will not lead to a bicameral process but instead to the Executive level to implement the approved budget. On the technology and software side, doubted the openness of the system to be developed (Precinct Count Optical Scan), which will be proprietary, thus, closed-source, much less vendor-driven.

As an alternative, the Open Election System (OES) is being promoted as it is built around open source model, meaning that its source code is open to public scrutiny and that public may have access to election results as it wishes. Moreover, OES is pushed not under a fully automated system, since the  organization sees it as combining manual voting and tallying and automated canvassing.

It is clear that the civil society has not come up with a common stand except perhaps that it is not actually against automation of elections. Unless all three organizations come together and get down to the brass tacks of the issue, at the end of the day, only Kaya Natin! will “win”.

Just my two cents’ worth, I find the stance of Kaya Natin! sounding naive. It’s as if automation under the current system not meeting the prerequisites will be a true success in the end. Moreover, I do empathize with ABI for its pro-poor stance. But I’m more inclined to support given my advocacy for free and open source software (FOSS). I’m for social justice and software justice and they are related.

Lacson espouses people participation in budget process

GMANews.TV – Lacson bill to let people monitor budget process

Despite my deep frustration at this government (and previous governments), there are occasional good news to be consoled about. Take for example Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s proposed bill recognizing participation of civil society in government’s budget processes. Props to this maverick lawmaker. (Forget about the ghosts of Kuratong Baleleng and Dacer cases that seem to haunt him up to this time.)

I’m sure that the Senator took the cue from the experiences of other countries such as Brazil. Indeed, participatory budgeting is an empowering exercise whereby citizens directly influence the State’s thinking and decision-making as far as fiscal resources are concerned.

Let me just stress that participatory budgeting (as well as other exercises and processes with the modifier ‘participatory’) calls for one thing – enlightening and organizing the real stakeholders, the poor and marginalized. Unless these people are made aware of this, participatory budgeting may just be an exercise between legislators and civil society groups which represent no one but their selves (although they adeptly make legislators believe that they speak on the poor’s and marginalized’s behalf.)

It’s time that social movements took this up.

Teethlessly restless

Just learned this lesson on the Day 1 of Mekong ICT Camp. In front of a public, it’s not enough that you’ve got a great presentation and prepared mind; you’ve got to have your dentures on.

The morning session of Track 3:  Computer Networking went fine, almost without any glitch. I think I gave justice to the introduction part. (I was overjoyed because I was able to pick up something from the intro Impress presentation to apply to the hands-on exercise later: I naturally was able to determine with the participants the types [note the ‘s’] of computer network that we were going to set up [scale: LAN; connection method: ethernet; architecture: peer-to-peer; topology: fully-connected; and protocol: TCP/IP].)

But, yesterday, I was taking my lunch together with several participants when something horrible happened. My upper denture cracked into two pieces cross-wise. It would have been OK had the crack been length-wise, meaning that there would have been some teeth remaining in front. But almost the entire frontal teeth got lost. It was the fault of the half-cooked vegetable that I found hard to bite into pieces. Ah, no. It was me. I forgot that my dentures are already weak (after about 10 years of use). I should have been extra careful.

When that happened, my blood pressure shot up. I felt crappy and frenetic. I didn’t know what to do. I went to a CR and wished that I’d stay inside like forever until fairy godmother appeared and granted my wish for a repaired denture. My first recourse was to hunt Klaikong and seek help. I wanted to rush to a clinic, which he was able to grant. Good thing he was able to convince his director to bring me to Phiathai Hospital in another place of Chonburi.

While I was in the hospital’s dental clinic (which lasted over two hours while trying to make out Thai teledrama shown on overhead TV), two things kept on taunting me: The cost of the denture’s repair and the afternoon session which I should have facilitated. I also should have learned from the specific part on thin client setup, which my teammate Somsak handled.

I ask you: Can you stand talking to people without that pearly enamel set in your mouth? Because I’m not sure whether your public would stand looking at you looking like doing a stand-up comedy act.

Thanks to the kindness of  Klaikong’s Director and friend volunteer, I am now back in my dentally-complete self. I’ve been talking to people and facilitating sessions with a teethy smile.

Meeting my Asian tech siblings (Day -1 of Mekong ICT Camp)

It was a great pleasure to meet with tech siblings from various parts of Asia last night. It was already 12:30 am by my machine clock (which remains set to +8 timezone) but I didn’t feel any sign of enervation from my long day (I had waited over an hour at the long queue for the Suvarnabhumi Airport passport control and spent another hour walking here and there at the exit area to look for peeps assigned to fetch me).

Look who these tech siblings I met were: Klaikong, Bobby, Andy, Allen, Sam, and Wai. After taking dinner at 9pm, the gang met at the Santi Room in about half an hour. The only thing (but not necessarily the easy one) discussed was the schedule. Bobby started the ball rolling by proposing that the Mekong ICT Camp be hewed to the Asiasource camp setup: All tracks in the morning, all breakout sessions in the afternoon. (Images of Allen Gunn and Tactical Tech peeps came to mind.)

Colleagues were fastidious; I wasn’t. I’m sure they observed so. Honestly, I came to the camp solely for the Track 3: Computer Networking. I was particularly concerned on how that track (where there will be only 7 participants [out of 60 plus]) would turn out. My silent attitude was: “Just get it over with and let me proceed with developing my module on wired networking.”

Nevertheless, I was still pleased to meet with these techie guys (I feel sad that there were no techie gals) and beating brains out while peeling, biting, chewing and swallowing sweet-smelling Thai oranges.

Support popular protest in Burma!

The writing on the wall says that Burma is on its way to achieving real freedom from military dictatorship. More and more Burmese people have joined over 30,000 monks who are in the forefront of the march since Monday. This has ushered in the groundswell of the movement that opposes the current form of government in Burma, which has not done any to address the country’s chronic problems of poverty, lack of access to basic social services, and the general feeling of insecurity in the society.

As of this writing, there are already over 100,000 protesters. And people remain unfazed despite the draconian curfew rule that the government has just promulgated. (See Yahoo! News slideshow on Myanmar protests.)

The Burmese people need our help. Let’s pray for the success of their cause, that there may be no bloodshed as a result of government’s counter-pressure to stop them. Let’s also sign up to two online petitions that are targetted to gather support from the world and to pressure other governments and the UN Security Council to intervene in the seemingly insurmountable political crisis in Burma:

An appeal to the UN Security Council to protect the people of Burma

Stand with the Burmese Protesters

Let’s prod all our fellow bloggers and online loved ones and friends to do the same: Pray for the safety and success of the Burmese protesters and sign the online petitions.

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Can activists organize without mobile phones?

The Burmese military government’s recent move against democracy is ‘hi-tech’. It has cut off the phone services of activists and journalists. This developed as the government had feared that another wave of popular protest would unfold through mobile phones. Because of speed and cost efficiency, campaigners have resorted to mobile phones as indispensable tools to spread information aimed at social mobilizations.

Actually, the government showed “a bit of democracy” by announcing the warning first. And then right after that, the cutting off of the mobile services. Of course, members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were not exempt from the measure. Even their office’s landline phone was disconnected.

I can’t imagine myself living in Burma when my mobile phone would suffer that fate. It’s like having an accident in the middle of the road without any way to call for emergency. Besides, a mobile phone has been a work gadget, without which I would deliver practically nothing.

Catching up with the digital age, activists consider mobile phones as extensions of their hearts and minds. They are their last resort in tough times, when it becomes impossible for them to reach out to their constituencies. But digital age threatened by the ghost of feudalism has to bear with the “glitches” like what Burmese government did. I call it glitch because government will surely think of ways to retain the business of mobile phones while effectively curbing popular protests. (I wonder if Philippine government would do the same disservice to Filipino activists of all hues without any pressure from telcos which would incur loss from it.)

The problem facing the pro-democracy movement in Burma is that government has the monopoly over the telecommunications through Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications. And it will use all its military machine to stop others who’ll attempt to break it. In fact, in 2006, government successfully launched a crackdown on “illegal” importation and use of cheap China-made mobile phones. Even business people use Chinese mobile phones because of the better services.

Let me digress a bit. Can Filipino activists of the second millennium go on with their political lives without their mobile phones? Look, mobile phones do not only provide quick and cost-efficient delivery of information; they also provide a relative security for the info senders in terms of anonymity. I’m not saying that mobile communications are the only way. Mobile phones are tools and they must be seen as only complementing “offline” tasks of activists.

But I’m interested to know whether new-generation activists can really dispense with their mobile phones. Can they instead use a landline, a fax machine? Can they use what they predecessors loved doing–spreading copies of a piece of onion-skin or palara paper folded many times to avoid attention  from the police or enemies because such paper bears incriminating information?

I cannot live without my mobile phone. And I think I will die (or I will kill) if I’m denied connection to the Internet for life.

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RP Bishops come to repressed farmers’ rescue

It must be a year ago when I overheard a comment that the CBCP is too conservative to support even a seemingly radical cause. This comment was made in reaction to an opinion that the Roman Catholic Church’s identification with the peasant sector would soon be revived. There was during the Marcos dictatorial regime. And now, there is a level of certainty that there will be at this age of globalization and digital technology, which unfortunately continues to marginalize the country’s poor and powerless.

The optimism developed in January this year when the CBCP leadership issued a pastoral statement entitled “The Dignity of the Rural Poor – A Gospel Concern”. The statement analyzes the agrarian reform situation from which it took the government into account for the sorry implementation of the agrarian reform program. In a belief that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) remains a legitimate tool that empowers the marginalized land tillers, the statement calls for the extension of CARP with the necessary improvements.

Beyond the Pastoral Statement

Jubilant are organized farmers over that move by the Bishops. But they (the farmers) wonder in what more ways can the Bishops support the cause, which is basically to protect and defend the interests of the farmers in agrarian reform. The thought had its louder voice after over 1,000 combined members of UNORKA and TFM, two major peasant federations in the Philippines, were subjected to repressive treatment by the leadership of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) during the first and second weeks of September. Leaders of both feds mustered all their guts to seek audience with the CBCP leaders about their sad experience with the DAR. The Church leaders didn’t fail them.

Last September 13, a forum with the Bishops took place inside the Office for Women, CBCP, Intramuros. It was a breakthrough activity just because the top leader was there–Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo, D.D., President of the CBCP. Other leaders present were Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, D.D., Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila; Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD, D.D. of Mindoro; Bishop Vicente M. Navarra, D.D. of Bacolod; and Bishop Paciano B. Aniceto, D.D. of Pampanga. Five of the present Bishops are members of the Permanent Council of the CBCP. Abp. Ledesma presided over the meeting.

Unfortunately, my group, with UNORKA, was an hour late for the 3 pm meeting with the Bishops. We underestimated the factors that contributed to the tardiness. It was a such a shame, to think that the leaders are known for time efficiency. We were not also able to listen to the presentation of TFM, whose leader representatives spoke first while we were on our way to the venue.

When we arrived, the discussion on the TFM cases was already winding up. So in a matter of minutes, it was UNORKA’s turn to present its own issues through Ka Vangie Mendoza. Before she could start her presentation, I had already unfolded my Palm 515 and keyboard, a gadget pair I used to document the forum.

Ka Vangie ably presented UNORKA’s take on the CARP situation, starting off with the 773 land cases which have barely moved since they were filed with the DAR since 2001. She then raised several issues pertaining to CARP implementation, including, among others, decisions made by the DAR reversing earlier ones that were in favor of the affected farmers. (For those of you want to have a copy of the presentation, which is in Tagalog, just let me know.)

Encouraging responses from the Bishops

How did the Bishops react to the farmer groups’ presentations?

  1. Abp. Ledesma asked whether the groups also have success stories to tell. The groups responded positively, saying that they are ready to document and share all of these. UNORKA shared the story of a commercial farm in Panabo, Davao del Norte, in which the agrarian reform beneficiaries have the direct say in their banana produce, from production to marketing, without any intervention from their previous management-landowners.
  2. Bp. Pabillo asked two things. First, what are the plans of the groups after the recent sad experience at the DAR? TFM responded that Negros leaders are still hopelessly waiting for the DAR’s decision, while it is seeking the help of the Bishops to intervene. UNORKA said that it has (temporarily) stopped mounting camp-outs at the DAR but it has already started to reach out to Congresspersons and Senators to support them in their current struggle against the DAR leadership. Second, why is there excruciating delay in the resolution of cases? TFM answered that the DAR doesn’t have the political will. UNORKA, in turn, claimed that it is because of the many layers at the DAR Central Office that perform similar functions, like analyzing the cases. The final say resides in the legal team of the Office of the Secretary, which has all the discretion to render decision to each case, whether that negates the recommendations of the previous layer.
  3. Abp. Ledesma informed the group that the CBCP is already organizing for the 2nd National Rural Congress that will take place in January 2008. The processes leading towards the Congress may be maximized to raise the issues just presented at today’s forum. He further said that the website that the CBCP Media Office has set out to create is home to all researches, publications, and the like related to agrarian reform and rural development. All statements and related documents that the POs would like to publish can be featured in that web site.
  4. Abp. Ledesma further opined that CBCP can hold seminars, syposiums, etc. pertaining to ARRD.
  5. Abp. Lagdameo said that the CBCP Pastoral Statement issued in January this year is enough response by the organization to the hapless situation of the farmers. He also asked TFM and UNORKA whether they were able to do to the DAR, that is, explaining what the DAR should be doing, what they are trying to do now to the CBCP. As sure as they were seated, they answered “Yes.” And then the Abp. quipped: “There’s something wrong.”
  6. Bp. Navarra of Bacolod informed the group that all four Bishops in the province of Negros Occidental have been concerned about the fate of the TFM. He spoke mostly in Ilonggo, so I couldn’t make out the entire response. But as far as I understood it, he said that the Negros Bishops have met more than once and tried to extend any help they could. He also advised that the farmers should not resort to any violence and never tire of looking for creative ways to resolve their problems.
  7. Bp. Paciano of Pampanga admitted that the Bishops are like students learning from the experiences of the teachers–the farmers. He further asked the groups to be active in the subregional consultations in the run-up to the National Rural Congress.
  8. Bp. Palang of Mindoro then said that unity among the farmers is very important. It is similar to a “walis tingting” (broom made from coconut midribs) which can be used for sweeping off dirt, at the same time, for hitting those who did wrong. (This evoked laughter from the audience.) The Bishops then encouraged the farmers to continue to do what they are doing, and the Bishops will be there to support them. (This evoked the only applause during the meeting.)
  9. Finally, Bp. Lagdameo pushed for the dialogue as the only means to identify loose points and lapses and bridge misunderstanding between the farmers and the DAR.

What the farmers want

Sec. Ricardo Saludo of the Office of the President came when UNORKA was about to finish its presentation. (I learned that he would not have come had Abp. Lagdameo not been present.) When it was his turn to give his response, he recommended a solution that stirred a negative reaction from the farmers: Creation of a Task Force to process all land cases that the two groups allege to have been sat on by the DAR. Another layer, another delay, it will not solve, instead, will contribute to the problem. These were the stock responses from the groups. What they wanted is dialogue at the Malacanang and President Arroyo’s intervention to resolve the “deadlock” between the DAR leadership and the farmers groups.

Sec. Saludo warned that the farmer groups’ demand to immediately sack DAR Sec. Pangandaman is impossible to be granted, as it will just result in unmanageable conflicts within the Department. Atty. Christian Monsod, who attended the forum for the side of the farmers, argued that there already was a similar case before with another government agency, whose corrupt leader was immediately sacked by the President. But still, Saludo did not buy the idea.

The Secretary was at first reluctant to approve of the dialogue at the Malacanang, insisting that the Task Force was a better solution. After learning about the previous dialogues held with the President, he finally said that he will try to convince the President for a dialogue with TFM and UNORKA, one concrete result would be the creation of the Task Force. He committed to report back to the Bishops after Tuesday (when the Cabinet will meet) next week.

Wasn’t that Forum a success? You had the CBCP President and Malacanang representative attending and listening to you, with concrete actions to be taken. I think that has helped ease the yoke that the farmers have been carrying since the second week of September.

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Software Freedom Day Philippines, best event once again?

For two times in a row, I attended the Software Freedom Day celebration in Quezon City. Last year, it was held in UP Diliman, College of Engineering. This year, same area, but specifically at the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI).

I felt guilty, though, that I came at around 4pm, two hours before the event would be concluded. When I came through the lobby, it almost felt that there was no event at all. A lady from StratPoint, one of the event’s sponsors, approached me and introduced herself. After my asking her where the event was being held, she pointed me to the “back”. She said that the registration area is located in there as well. So I went straight ahead. But I couldn’t see any “registration area”. The open space was a bit chaotic, with some people glued to the computers and others chatting with one another. I then decided to enter a conference room, without any idea what was being discussed inside. The topic was OS migration. Of course, it’s not a new concept to me. But I stayed inside until it was finished. The guy who spoke was from Q-Linux. I’m sure the audience–mostly college students or young hackers, I guess–learned a lot from him. I thought that I would learn something from the topic. Perhaps had I come when the topic started, I would have so.

After that talk, I proceeded to the bigger conference room where Drupal was to be discussed. Before that happened, Rick of CPU led a raffle game, giving out to winners Red Hat souvenir items (laptop bag, mug, and document bag) courtesy of Q-Linux. I was sure I didn’t have any chance to win just because I was not registered (sob).

The talk about Drupal (presented by Noel Colino) was interesting. Since I’m a fan of Joomla, I didn’t have any deep knowledge about Drupal. But at least, I now know a bit of history about it. I came to know that Dries Buytaert (Drupal exponent) was supposed to name it as Dorp, a Dutch term for village or community. However, when Dries tried to register the name for a web domain, he mistakenly typed ‘drop’ instead of dorp. Later, the name was changed to drupal, a Dutch term for “drop”.

I found the talk very familiar, realizing that Drupal and Joomla have similarities in terms of scripting language and terminologies. The advantage of the speaker was that he was not a hacker himself so he was able to explain stuff in a rather non-technical way.

On the personal side, I felt that I didn’t belong, because people I saw were generally younger than me and that I knew only a few of them. Had I not initiated to greet friends (including Jerome Gotangco and Francis Sarmiento), it would have felt like I was a ghost. I should understand that I came to the tail-end of the event, when the energies of people would invariably flag down and other friends and familiar faces would already be gone.

It’s indeed another frustration for me that PLUG was not made one of the organizers of the event. But that’s another story.

Indeed, for a community of software freedom lovers, or for any community, for that matter, personal relations matter a lot. It’s enough that two persons love the cause, they somehow need to have established closeness beyond that political love.

Let’s separate this personal rant from a point I’d really like to make. I think that the event is much more successful than the previous one. Messaging was better (with the streamers and posters mounted around). I’m sure that the organization of the event was much better in the morning if I would base that to the cute kit provided.

The event showed the same thing as last year: That things can be free (as in free speech and free beer). Yes, the kit and refreshments were free. (I guess the speakers likewise gave inputs gratis et amore.) Well, credit that to the event’s sponsors.

The SFD event this year must be commended as it was last year. As I said, I did not witness the entire event but based on my impressions in the afternoon, it should win once again as the best SFD event in the world.