Monday, December 21, 2009

Blogging after 100

Why do I blog? A question I should have answered or at least explained at the outset. So, on this 100th blog, let me submit the following.

An old adage says that small minds spend their time talking about people, average minds talk about events, and great minds debate ideas. It was the latter that drove me to start a blog about ideas and to challenge my readers to engage in an intellectual discussion.

Yet, I was struck with the ambivalence that blogging has given me. At first, I was worried about this new-found power to hurt and upset other people, or perhaps the power to make a fool of myself. On the other hand, I found it encouraging having the power to expose and reveal what I saw around me.

Blogging is an invention of free speech in the era of technological change. It’s part of the core freedom of every modern society that people have the right to express themselves freely. It has the full backing of modern technology and free conversation which has been with us since the Enlightenment of the 18th century. So, when I decided to blog on June 11, 2008, I knew full well that world history and natural reason are on my side and that was good enough.

To blog is like to meet in salons and coffee shops to talk about politics, the arts, or the latest gossip. Who cares if so much time is spent on talking? The rules are simple: everyone should have a chance to talk and everyone would have to listen. One’s right to write is guaranteed. As Voltaire said, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Blogging has its benefits. Erik Ringmar in The Blogger’s Manifesto: Free Speech and Censorship in the Age of the Internet wrote: through free and frank conversations, “people become acquainted with unfamiliar views and experiences; they discover flaws in our own arguments and strengths on the arguments of others; they learn to take others into account, to moderate their views, and to become more realistic about their application. The eventual conclusion of a public debate is always going to be far more intelligent that anything individuals can come up with on their own. Reason is a collective and not an individual achievement.”

When you blog, others may hate your guts, because your opinions could be both so powerful and intimidating or just plain repulsive to them. Obviously, you will create friends and enemies alike. Others may even attempt to stop you from exercising your right of free speech but then it’s always profoundly humiliating to be deprived of one’s constitutional rights. Some of your readers may take considerable pleasure in seeing you humiliated. On the other hand, humiliation can be a source of great creative power. So, you continue blogging to get even, and blog some more.

As a blogger, you have joined the online revolution. This is a great way to test your commitment to modern society.

As Erik Ringmar wrote, “If human rights depended on you, would you fight for them or would you rather not bother? And don’t forget, in the end bloggers are many and the censors are few. We will not be defeated. We’ll never fall silent.”


In my June 16/08 blog, I wrote about two Filipino women on the verge of deportation from Canada. Both had qualified for permanent residence after completing their two-year contract as live-in caregivers. But one was found to have terminal cancer after undergoing a required medical examination and the other was a victim of bureaucratic overzealousness (or senseless decisions of some middling Canada Immigration officers).

Juana Tejada, who had terminal cancer of the colon, died last March 8, 2009, but not in vain. She first came to see me at Our Lady of Lourdes where I volunteered my services every Friday. Together with Sister Celeste Reinhardt, S.S.N.D., we reassured Juana that she wouldn’t get deported and we would do everything we could to prevent it. But Juana would not be deterred, so she approached Gene Lara, a Toronto community activist, who linked Juana with the local community press association. Juana’s case was publicized and she became the face of a nascent movement for live-in caregiver reforms. Pura Velasco and her group of caregiver-activists, Migrante Ontario, the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), and Raffy Fabregas of Mamann Law Office soon picked up Juana’s cause.

But when a Filipino-Canadian couple, Mila Magno and her husband Oswald, launched a petition asking the Canadian government to grant Juana’s dying wish to become a permanent resident, the campaign snowballed into a worldwide protest against Canada’s policy that requires nannies to undergo a second medical exam when they had already been medically cleared from the start of their work contract. Canada’s reputation as a compassionate society was put under scrutiny. Eventually, Juana was allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds and realize her dying wish.

Juana left us with a lasting legacy to all caregivers. Her cause became the “Juana Tejada Law,” aptly named after her. Nannies or caregivers from now on will not be required to undergo a second medical examination when they become eligible to apply for permanent residence.

The other woman, Mylah Caban, was a helpless victim of two decisions which were bungled by Canada Immigration officers. Like Juana, Mylah was eligible for permanent residence except that she made the innocent mistake of submitting her application outside of the normal bureaucratic process. Her application for permanent residence was denied, two years of work as a nanny gone to waste. Then her application for an open work permit was also refused because she was not yet entitled according to Canada Immigration. She lost her legal status and was about to go home. It was then that I advised her to stay put because she had a solid and winning case.

It took Mylah six years to finally get her permanent residence which was granted just recently, this past December 15, 2009. On the day of the interview, the Immigration Officer could not find Mylah’s passport which was confiscated from her when she was being processed for deportation. It was finally found buried in a pile of documents that accumulated over the six-year period which included several submissions, motions, and documents filed with Canada Immigration and the Federal Court of Canada. I represented Mylah in the Federal Court and during the hearing the court agreed with us that the Immigration Officers failed to consider all the circumstances surrounding Mylah’s case, and decided to stay her removal.

It was a great relief for Mylah to realize her dream of a better future (or maybe half of her dream): from an aspiring architectural student at St. Louis University in the Philippines who took on the job of a nanny in Canada. Who knows, in the near future, she probably will go back to architecture, a field she hopes to tackle anew.

LCP Reforms

The federal government recently announced changes in the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) that will take effect in January 2010 which included the Juana Tejada Law and will give caregivers an additional year of extension to apply for permanent resident status from the current three-year window after completing their two-year contract. On its part, the Ontario provincial government has passed a law that will protect caregivers from unscrupulous employment agencies who are now prohibited to charge caregivers or nannies placement fees. The new law also provides nannies a mechanism to file complaints regarding their work conditions if they do not meet provincial work standards.

These are small gains achieved through vigorous protesting and lobbying by the caregivers with the help of their advocacy organizations, and not so much by one or two lawyers because of their obvious vested interests and some community leaders aligned with the Conservative and Liberal parties. However, it is still a long way for caregivers to achieve the real reforms they want. Not in its current set up anyway. And not until they have persuaded the government to drop the live-in requirement and the condition to work for a specific employer, which are the principal causes of their exploitation under the present program.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

War or Peace President?

In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo last December 10, President Barack Obama argued that sending more US troops to Afghanistan was justified to protect the world from terrorism and extremism.

This is what Obama actually said during his acceptance speech. “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”

Obama is resonating exactly like his predecessor, prompting his critics to accuse him as simply rehashing the Bush doctrine.

To paraphrase one critic, Obama is not only continuing Bush’s war but he’s also sounding more like him, except that he’s using more eloquent words this time. But they are after the same tragic result: “endless wars of choice.”

Listening to Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan at West Point, I was struck with his arguments in rebutting the comparison to Vietnam. Obama mentioned that unlike in Vietnam, the United States is joined by its allies in the war against terror in Afghanistan. This is utterly a lie. The first rally I attended was in 1965 (Obama was only four years old that year) as a young student when I joined an anti-war demonstration in Manila to protest the decision of the Philippine government to send a military contingent to Vietnam. Australia, New Zealand and South Korea also provided non-trivial assistance in the form of ground troops. My future brother-in-law who had just received his green card at that time was also drafted by the US army and served a year in the medical corps in Vietnam.

Obama has now joined the ranks of American presidents who have become unwitting tools of the American military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned several decades ago. In order to justify sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, Obama has completely recycled the Bush administration’s myths about the war on terror. He had painted the United States as an altruistic power, forced into a global war for democracy by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

In 2001, Obama said that US invaded Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda – though most of the September 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a major US ally in the Middle East. After driving Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan but failing to dismantle its terrorist base which simply moved to the Pakistan border, Obama still has to manage a plausible answer to this question: why is it necessary to send more troops in Afghanistan when Al Qaeda operatives are in their strongholds in Pakistan?

According to US military advisers, Al Qaeda has been substantially reduced to roughly 100 operatives. Would this justify whether Taliban or Al Qaeda pose the same existential threat to America today that it did on 9/11? Or would the terrorist enemies the United States has been fighting in Afghanistan be so stupid to remain frozen in the Afghan mountains and villages knowing there will be more American troops this time? Obama himself has acknowledged that Al Qaeda has established safe havens in other places like Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Are these the next targets for US invasion?

The United States in Vietnam was falsely following the theory that the spread of world communism to a single country would inevitably lead to its spread to a continent. They were proven wrong. This time the United States has recycled the old theory, now in the form of world terrorism which is in the heart of Afghanistan according to the US government, that if not defeated, terror will stay and spread to other nations. But one thing is certain: the Afghanistan theatre of operations will not be over in 2011 as Obama would like it to happen. The United States will obviously be fighting immensely costly wars in other regions of the world, in Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Asia.

On the other hand, Afghanistan, which is known as one of the world’s most treacherous backwaters, could be a graveyard for another empire. In the past two centuries, both Soviet and British invaders have been forced to beat bloody retreats from Afghanistan. Or more than two millennia earlier, it was here that Alexander the Great’s empire crumbled when it had trouble crossing the Khyber Pass in 326 B.C.

From the Middle Ages on, waves of invading Mongols, Mughal rulers of India, and Persians have swept through the area, but the Afghan tribes have always proved fractious and hard to rule. In the words of Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty that ruled much of central Asia in the 1500s, “Afghanistan has not been and never will be conquered, and will never surrender to anyone.”

History will test Obama’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, and whether he is pursuing a just war in crushing a relentless Taliban insurgency or in pursuit of Al Qaeda will depend on how ably his military commanders can conquer this graveyard of empires.

They may learn in a roundabout way how the real graveyard of the Soviet empire was dug in the Kremlin, where absolute power insulated its leaders from reality beyond its walls. The Afghan war was only one of many causes of discontent and dissolution within the once-powerful Soviet political apparatus. The American people now confront a similar crisis. It is not surprising that a greedy political and economic system that won’t provide health care to its citizens is also resorting to war and militarism in a desperate effort to feed its insatiable appetite for growth and profit. To call the escalation of the Afghan war just under this kind of dispensation is very un-Obama. In the end, it’s the military policy of the United States that will fill up its own graveyard, not that of Afghanistan, as Americans begin to organize for the collapse of their empire.

St. Thomas Aquinas in Part Two of his Summa Theologica offered as a third condition for a just war that it be waged with the right intention, i.e., it aims at “the advancement of good, or avoidance of evil.” After 2011 or a year before Obama runs for re-election for the presidency of the United States, we will see if his prudential consideration for escalating the Afghan conflict was a moral and just one.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Saving us from political violence

In The Philosophy of History, Hegel describes “history as the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states, and the virtue of individuals have been victimized.”

The recent massacre of 57 innocent civilians in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, along with the two major world conflicts of the last century and numerous violent incidents from Somalia to Iraq show how fragile human society has become. So prevalent is violence in human history that a good part of mankind’s efforts can be understood in terms of our attempts to deal with violence. With the state’s involvement in this human carnage, perhaps the ultimate issue we have to confront is how we can prevent political differences from becoming violent.

Justice, by no means, will be served fully well with the simple filing of charges against Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the Maguindanao barbarity. It only represents the first step, even though symbolic as it is against a political clan that is inextricably tied to the present occupant in Malacanang. All those who participated, directly or indirectly, those who ordered the slaughter, and those who allowed it to happen should be arrested, prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law. But the quest for justice should not end there.

Whether the ends of justice will be served in this case remains to be seen, however.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose ties with the Ampatuan clan are clearly established, declared a “national day of mourning” for the victims of the massacre, yet she would rather go home to her province of Pampanga to inaugurate a highway instead of condoling with the victims’ families and relatives. Arroyo must be grinning from ear to ear during her private moments thanking her stars that this grievous crime by her staunch political ally did not happen in her first year of office or when she was campaigning for the presidency.

Even as she finally steps down from the presidency in June 2010, her hands would always be stained with the blood that this massacre has spilled. How could anyone forget the massive cheating in Maguindanao in the 2004 national elections that helped her secure the presidency? She was also responsible in legitimizing Ampatuan’s private army by allowing the senior Ampatuan and all local government officials to deputize and arm their “barangay tanods” as part of her campaign against the Muslim insurgency. Arroyo also tolerated the Ampatuan clan’s grand scheme of divvying up the province’s territorial jurisdiction into several towns so that they may be ruled by the children of the elder Ampatuan.

While the people’s outrage over the massacre is understandable and essential, we cannot ignore the fact that over a thousand victims have been extra-judicially executed and disappeared under the Arroyo administration. This long list of victims includes human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, women, farmers and trade union workers. Not one has been punished for these crimes. One would think what would an additional 50 more victims do but only to embolden those who are responsible for these killings to kill more.

The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines described the Maguindano massacre as “not a war between warlords but mass murder of innocents. It was not an outburst of uncontrollable anger – it was premeditated.”

This sentiment is only partly correct. Maguindanao is torn between two warring political clans, the powerful Ampatuans and the nascent Mangudadatus.

The Ampatuans represent feudal politics and they came to power when Datu Zaldy Ampatuan was elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Descendants of Moro datus, the Ampatuans were given the opportunity to lead and unify Bangsamoro as opposed to former professional and revolutionary leaders of the Moro secessionist movement who had no claims to the datu class. It was the chance for the Moro nobility to prove their worth.

Zaldy Ampatuan’s father, Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., is a senior member of the Moro nobility. The older Ampatuan was expected to ensure his son’s success and acceptance by traditional leaders, who themselves or whose children hold executive positions in local government posts.

The Ampatuans virtually control Maguindanao. Andal Jr. is mayor of Datu Unsay town; another brother, Anwar, is mayor of Maguindanao’s capital town of Shariff Aguak, a position previously held by Zaldy. Zaldy’s uncle (a cousin of Andal Sr.) is mayor of Mamasapano, while Zaldy’s cousin, Saudi Jr., is mayor of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town. Other cousins who are mayors in Maguindanao are Jacob Ampatuan of Rajah Buayan and Akmad Sangki of Datu Sangki town.

On the other side is the Mangudadatu family, represented by Esmael Mangudadatu, a local politician contesting the governorship of Maguindanao. It was rumoured that Andal Jr. was being groomed by the elder Ampatuan to succeed him as governor of Maguindanao.

What this massacre proves is that violence is a regular component of local politics. It is not surprising that political dynasties, maintained by guns, goons and gold would not hesitate to kill their opponents in order to remain in power. The assassination of former Antique governor Evelio Javier in 1986 clearly reminds us of gangland politics. Arturo Pacificador, a Marcos crony and assistant majority leader in the National Assembly, who had operated as a warlord in Antique was the prime suspect. Pacificador’s son, Arturo Jr. was fingered as Javier’s killer but was never prosecuted and was able to travel to Canada where he would fight off efforts by the Philippine government to extradite him.

Abra Representative Luis “Chito” Bersamin Jr. was killed in broad daylight in front of Mount Carmel Church in Quezon City in December 2006, five months before the May 2007 elections. Former Abra governor, Vicente Isidro Valera, a political rival of the Bersamins, is the main suspect in the killing.

Only the Oro Este massacre in Ilocos Sur in 1970 would perhaps come close in comparison with the Ampatuan massacre in terms of brutality and brazenness. In the Oro Este massacre, the private army of the Crisologo clan led by Bingbong Crisologo burned a whole village for being supporters of the Singson clan.

For as long as big landowners or nobility clans like the Ampatuans are allowed to keep their private armies and use the local police to protect their interests, violence will always be part and parcel of Philippine local politics. The Ampatuan massacre is naturally a premeditated act, for no such magnitude of brutality and the sheer number of victims can occur without prior planning.

An effective prosecution of those responsible for the Maguindanao massacre is not enough, according to two United Nations’ experts, Philip Alston and Frank La Rue, who have previously investigated extra-judicial killings and violations of human rights in the Philippines. They have suggested that in order to assure the future of democracy in the Philippines, elite-family dominated manipulation of the political processes must be eliminated.

The two UN experts added that the Philippine government needs to establish a high-level task force, with broad political support, to identify the measures necessary to prevent violence before and during elections. They expressed fears that the massacre in Maguindanao may sound the death knell for many political activists.

According to the UN experts, the challenge is to go beyond the criminal law response and to take measures designed to protect the media, freedom of expression, and to prevent election-related violence. “The Maguindanao killings are a tragedy of the first order,” the experts said.

Political violence, as proven in many parts of the world where there are conflicts in recent decades, only retards economic development because it destroys human lives and economic assets and penalizes the accumulation of capital and wealth creation. As a result, problems of underdevelopment, poverty, inequality and social exclusion along with political institutions that have failed at conflict management breed more political violence.

The Maguindanao massacre should not be narrowly construed as a mere breakdown in political or civil order. Underneath these killings are far more pervasive problems which will continue to beget more political violence if not properly addressed. Policies to reduce political violence call for institutional reforms, improved democracies, and the elimination or reduction of poverty and inequality.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Recognizing foreign credentials

One would think that everything is rosy and promising for immigrants to come and work in Canada. It is almost as good as true if one relies on government reports and documents alone. But the reality is starkly the opposite.

We still hear stories of well-educated immigrants driving taxis, working as hospital orderlies, or temping as building maintenance and factory workers. Some of them even have graduate and post-graduate degrees under their belts, but nobody told them they’re not exactly the ones Canada needs at present.

Because Canada immigration has placed too much weight on educational qualifications without effectively matching them with the real job demands in the market, a huge backlog of applicants for permanent residence has been created. This situation has considerably lengthened processing timelines to almost five years for each applicant.

As a stop-gap measure, Canadian employers resorted to hiring temporary foreign workers to fill in their immediate labour requirements, compounding the problem of Canada’s immigration bureaucrats who now have to confront an influx of temporary foreign workers who are vulnerable to employer abuse and deplorable working conditions.

In the most recent audit of the current practices of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), Canada’s Auditor General concluded that such practices “do not ensure that foreign worker programs are delivered efficiently and effectively.” This is a strong indictment of the current government’s way of handling the selection and hiring of foreign-trained workers.

Just recently, the federal government of Canada as well as the provinces have unveiled a major agreement that would help foreign-trained professionals get their credentials recognized in Canada.

But how does Canada recognize the foreign credentials of its immigrants?

The recognition of foreign credentials involves verifying that the education and job experience obtained by an immigration applicant in another country (in applicant’s country of origin in most cases) are equal to the standards established for Canadian professionals.

For regulated occupations, recognition of credentials is mainly a provincial responsibility that has been delegated in legislation to regulatory bodies. About one in five jobs is regulated, including teachers, nurses, physicians, engineers and electricians. There are over 400 regulatory bodies in Canada and no uniform or national standards for recognition of foreign credentials. While much of the responsibility for professional accreditation lies with the provinces, each province and their regulatory bodies have different standards. Thus, recognition of foreign credentials varies from province to province and from occupation to occupation.

Most occupations in Canada are non-regulated. For this type of jobs, assessment and recognition of credentials are left to the employer. Employers are therefore responsible for assessing the work experience and skills of prospective workers based on what their company requires. They decide if overseas credentials are equivalent to Canadian credentials required for each job. Employers often have different standards and in most cases lack the necessary tools to help them make an objective evaluation of credentials.

Even with the creation of a Foreign Credential Referral Office (FCRO) in 2007, all that the government has accomplished is to provide information, path-finding and referral services at 320 Service Canada Centres. Immigrants are left with the burden of identifying which regulatory body must review their credentials, or are left to the mercy of private employers to determine if their skills measure up to Canadian standards.

Recognizing the need for foreign credential recognition, the government established a Foreign Credential Recognition (FCR) Program which infused additional funding to several agencies and independent organizations with the hope that this would strengthen the process of recognition of foreign credentials in both regulated and non-regulated occupations.

So far, the FCR Program has made investments in 19 out of the top 45 occupations identified by skilled immigrants entering Canada. This does not mean, however, that foreign credentials have now been recognized at least in some jobs. It only meant that some standards for assessment and recognition have been established. In other words, equivalency of foreign credentials to Canadian standards has not yet been achieved even in the 19 jobs so far identified.

To date, most of the funding made available through the FCR Program went to HRSDC- approved projects that focused more on identifying programs and services available in colleges or institutes that prepare immigrant students to integrate into the labour force, the creation of Internet information portal that provides information about registration and licensing of professionals in the health-care system and occupational therapy, and the holding of regional dialogues involving sector councils, employers and immigrant-serving agencies that focus on partnerships and information. It has also focused on improving the accessibility of materials used by internationally-educated medical laboratory technologists.

In short, the FCR Program is still at a stage where it is developing a database for its program of assessing and recognizing foreign credentials. Yet, most of the services and programs funded by HRSDC are already available from various government and nongovernmental agencies. This unnecessary duplication of services and programs is not only unjustifiable, it is also a waste of government funds.

For example, the FCR Program has invested over $4.5 million with the Association of Canadian Community Colleges to deliver overseas information services with the objective of helping skilled immigrants prepare for their integration in the Canadian labour market while their applications are being processed in their country of origin. Three pilot offices have been established in China, India and the Philippines.

But the kind of information available under this program consists simply of what Canadian colleges and institutes can offer prospective immigrants on how to upgrade their qualifications and skills to satisfy Canadian standards. This information is also already available on the Internet: all that is needed is to identify the proper links and publish them through the websites of Canadian consular offices abroad. Thus, there is no need to spend millions of dollars just to deliver this information.

Even the new FCR programs—worth more than $47 million—are all aimed at establishing a database for foreign degree programs that will be used by provincial regulatory bodies in their assessment of foreign credentials. Why not develop a set of national standards to be used in the assessment and recognition of foreign credentials instead?

In the European Union, members have signed on to the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region which provides a procedural and methodological framework in assessing transnational educational qualifications. This seems to be lacking in Canada, or even in the United States, where experience and the candidate’s qualifications are what the employers need to base their hiring decision on.

Nothing will attract newcomers more than the knowledge that their legitimate credentials will allow them to explore economic opportunities across Canada.

Does Canada want to have access to a steady stream of well-educated, well-qualified and trained immigrants? Then it should offer services beyond providing basic information to immigrants who now are left to themselves in navigating the chaotic maze of foreign credentials recognition or at the mercy of employers who are not even equipped to make intelligent decisions regarding their qualifications.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


In Eating Crow, the novelist Jay Rayner cooked up an Office of Apology in the United Nations, which is responsible for the task of “penitential engagement.” It was the hottest trend in international relations in dealing with the baggage from wars, genocides and persecutions of the past. The novel’s main protagonist, Marc Basset, is hired as Chief Apologist because of his innate ability to deliver heartfelt apologies and for his “plausibility apologibility.”

Already a world leader in official apologies, this is what Canada needs. Or perhaps, every society or community needs one. In this highly emotional world we live, the words we utter most often, depending on how they are written or said, may be perceived as hurting or hurtful.

Words speak more powerfully than actions nowadays. Never mind political correctness. We have just become too sensitive, not for any lack of humour, but because our personal moral filters have become too tight to allow room for intelligent conversations. In other words, we have become too nice. Every word we utter must be sanitized and non-toxic.

During a debate of ideas, for instance, some would refuse the validity of the arguments of their opponents and respond with slurs of their own, the better to hide their insecurities about their own respectable stature or popular appeal in the community. They will nitpick arguments, choosing a word or two to capitalize and engender animosity against the other side.

Take the word “legal scholar,” for example. An argument that says one is a legal scholar because of one’s pretentious viewpoints is merely a form of harmless sarcasm to put the other party off-kilter. Although a very common rhetorical device, sarcasm may be interpreted as expressing contempt. The comment might have been used originally to elicit humour, however, others might take it as hostile or critical.

In the old days, an effective retort to a sarcastic remark is to expose the shallowness of the other side’s argument. But how often does the person who’s been pushed to his corner respond with intelligence nowadays?

People also have the tendency to appeal to calls for empty unity or sobriety, as if putting the lid on a steaming conversation will resolve a dispute or settle the disagreement. To my mind, this is a defeatist attitude. Instead of finding a resolution, whether by compromise or by quashing all arguments to the contrary, a call for truce is only an intervening event before the two sides strike at each other again. It is a half-hearted effort to conflict resolution and in virtually all cases will contribute more to an impasse.

Is there really a need to apologize when we feel sorry for our actions, or for the words we use?

The word apology originally meant a defence of one’s position. It comes from the Greek word apologia, meaning speaking in defence. Over time, the word assumed a double-edged feature. Rather than a justification for one’s actions, it has become an admission of a harm done, an acceptance of responsibility.

On his last day in Parliament, Pierre Trudeau was asked by then leader of the opposition, Brian Mulroney, to apologize to Japanese Canadians who were herded in internment camps during World War II. Trudeau snickered at Mulroney and said: “I do not think it is the purpose of government to right the past. I cannot rewrite history.”

Yet, we have apologized so often and so fast for our government’s shortcomings and failures. In our personal lives, we have also used the perfect apology for our actions and words such that apologies have become cheap, and to some extent, without true remorse.

Nowadays, there are many tested ways to effectively and creatively apologize. We try to learn successful approaches, styles and techniques for getting out of the doghouse with our spouses, friends, family members, customers, partners, and business associates. There are even sites on the Internet that can help download the perfect apology.

In our desire to be truthful in saying we’re sorry, we often end up giving a non-apology apology. It is a statement, phrased like an apology, but in fact is nothing but a common gambit, so common in politics and public relations. One says he’s sorry not for a behaviour, statement or misdeed, but rather is sorry only because a person who has been aggrieved is requesting an apology, expressing a grievance or is threatening some form of retribution or retaliation.

An example of a non-apology apology would be to say, “I’m sorry if you were offended by my remarks.” The apology does not admit anything was wrong with the remarks made, but it subtly insinuates that the person taking offense was excessively thin-skinned in taking offense at the remarks in the first place.

This type of apology is simply an artful double talk where someone gets what he wants by expressing regret while accepting no blame. Don’t we get this kind of apology so often? Yet, we give or ask forgiveness so often that the act has lost its edge and has become but a mere passing of words.

And oh, I’m so sorry, but I didn’t really mean to write these remarks—and I regret if some might have been offended by some of the words I’ve said.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The invention of lying

What if our world is a place where people only tell the truth? Where no one can tell a lie or even knows what a lie is. A place where no one can just imagine saying something that isn’t true.

Well, this has happened, except it’s only in a movie called “The Invention of Lying.” Ricky Gervais, the principal actor in the original “Office” has a created a world where people will just swallow anything: hook, line and sinker, never mind how preposterous or stupid. But one thing that would be lacking in this kind of place is humour because how more sick could it be than to fool stupid people.

An organization that I had referred to in my earlier blog is virtually the antithesis of Gervais’ world, where the norm seems to be that lies and deception are more important than the truth. Here you don’t even have to invent lies. Lying has become so pervasive that one person’s lies are considered the truth by many of his friends no matter whether their conscience tells them otherwise. Worse, acceptance of his lies has even led to changing the rules of the organization, and no one really cares if the group’s collective assent to give his lies the cloth of authority is right or not. In a sense, it’s almost similar to Gervais’ make-believe world where everyone is now assumed to be telling the truth every time.

In reality, a lie can easily purport to be the truth, not because it’s really true. The weight of a lie becoming the truth depends heavily on how it is accepted. In a democratic tumult of ideas, for instance, where a lie is pitted against the truth, the latter may lose out by a simple tyranny of numbers.

Take the example of the raucous tea parties staged by Republican diehard supporters in the United States in opposing President Barack Obama’s health reform initiative. Somehow all the noise and boisterous numbers that appeared everyday in front of the US Capitol had watered down the public health option. The final bill, if ever passed by the houses of Congress after too much haggling and trading, when it reaches Obama’s table for signature may not even have any resemblance to the proposal initiated by the incumbent administration.

In my organization in Toronto, a counterrevolution of supporters of the aforementioned liar has formed a fortress of defence against the opposition who stands for the truth. In this struggle between reason and unabashed passion, the outcome will simply be determined by the simplest rule of numbers. If truth be hanged, and passion gets emotionally carried away by the wily devices and tricks used by their legal commentators, those who fought for reason can only raise their heads up high, or low, if they prefer to continue mourning for such is the heavy price of the democratic politics of numbers.

For the moralist or ethicist, the question of lying creates great difficulties. There are those who hold that it is never allowable while others are more accommodating.

Plato, for example, in his Republic, allows doctors and statesmen to lie occasionally for the welfare of their patients and for the common weal. Yet it was the same Plato who wrote that lies are not only evil in themselves, but also they infect the soul of those who utter them. In the end, Plato stood for the uncompromising view that a moral life has room only for the truth.

Modern philosophers are also divided in the same way. Immanuel Kant allowed a lie under no circumstance. Kant believed that all persons are born with an intrinsic worth he called human dignity. This dignity allows humans to capably make their own decisions and guides them in making their choices.

Most modern non-Catholic writers admit the lawfulness of the lie of necessity. Under today’s pragmatism, which denies the existence of an absolute truth and measures the morality of actions on their effect on society and on the individual, it seems the portals are more open to all lies. The downside of this pragmatism is that lies, whether white or simply expedient, are apt to pave the way for others of a darker hue with more serious and injurious consequences than ever imagined.

When the habit of untruthfulness becomes an accepted practice or a way of life, as it is in the aforementioned organization, it may practically be impossible to limit its whim to matters which are harmless. For interest and habit alike inevitably lead to the violation of truth and to the detriment of others. What the leaders of this organization may fail to realize is that gaining momentary victory in putting lie over truth diminishes and erodes their leadership and the confidence and trust of the general membership. After more than 30 years of existence, this situation may precipitate a ruinous split which the leaders of the organization wanted to avoid in the first place.

Lying is an issue worth examining, as many people today believe it is becoming a bigger and pervasive social problem than before. A Time magazine cover story concluded that “Lies flourish in social uncertainty, when people no longer understand, or agree on, the rules governing their behaviour toward one another.”

Perhaps because we have turned ourselves into a mixture of philosophers, those who are sometimes rigid or virtuous or pragmatic, sharing no common ground. We need to involve more people to consider the ethical perspectives when confronting a situation that tempts a lie and never to buckle down from our commitment to follow through when our dissatisfaction with the ethical value of reasoning seems to weigh down on us.

We need not succumb to the idea that the truth does not always have to be the whole truth, for this makes us feel like Nietzsche is right: that lies are necessary as much as they complement life, that human relationships are never truly free of the uneasiness and tensions which our jealousies and uncertainties bring.

Abraham Lincoln once said: “If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can never fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all the people all of the time.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Morality bug

The flu bug got me before I could take the annual visit to my doctor for my inoculation, grounding me for almost a week of bed rest. Lying listlessly on bed while enduring the dull pain that was shooting every bone in my body, I was just thankful it wasn’t the H1N1 flu virus.

It was there on the bed in the middle of a crazy afternoon as I was trying to get some sleep, that another bug, not related to the pandemic one that has kept health authorities worldwide on alert, hit me right on the head. This was the moralizing or morality bug. The question that looms big in my shrinking mind, possibly an effect of the flu, was why people enjoy moralizing.

Perhaps, some psychological need must be satisfied when we speak to others about our knowledge or sense of right and wrong. We like our world view to be validated, and at same time to enjoy the experience of wielding power over others. We like to impose upon others our view of how they should live and behave. If we are able to convince others we are right when we moralize, perhaps we even feel some thrill at having been right or powerful.

This is what moralizers do, to go beyond telling others what is acceptable behaviour. They want others to conform to their views, and usually, they bring this about by coercion, which could range from social disapproval to legal control.

Professor A. C. Grayling, in The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life, wrote: “in forcing others to comply with their preferences they show at least several of the following: insensitivity, intolerance, unkindness, lack of imagination, failure of sympathy, absence of understanding, ignorance of alternative interests and needs in human experience, and arrogance in believing that theirs is the only acceptable way. They defend their actions by saying that they are trying to defend others from harm, thereby claiming not only a monopoly on moral judgment, but the right to decide on others’ behalf what is good for them.”

This moralizing bug has deeply troubled my thinking, already befuddled by the flu bug, as I followed an unexpected crisis in an organization that I belong to. An exclusive organization, one must be a graduate of the school its members went to or according to the Rule 60. The Rule 60 stipulates that one must at least earn 60 units of courses, roughly equivalent to two years, to qualify as a member. It is a rule that has been followed by the organization for over 30 years.

Then the almost impossible happened. Someone was able to join the organization by not making a full and honest disclosure of his credentials. Whether he complied with Rule 60 became the focal point of the controversy.

As first, he claimed he had a bachelor’s degree, a full scholarship in economics, and that NATO lost his original diploma which he sent to them for consideration. When he was about to be exposed, he confessed, admitting that he never had a degree from the school and only spent a year there studying as a scholar. But that was not enough to muster Rule 60.

Without reservations, his ardent army of supporters ditched the reason or purpose of the organization by arguing that there is much more to the organization than a diploma or 60 units. One member even said: “A diploma is an important piece of paper. But you don’t loose (sic) your credentials when you loose (sic) it. Honesty and integrity and the university spirit make us true and qualified members of the organization.”

Doesn’t he get it? This person lied about his credentials, pretended he was a graduate and then only confessed when the heavy weight of unmasking was about to fall down on him.

What university spirit? This is learned and imbibed on the grounds of the school when we were youngsters in pursuit of higher education. Without that existential experience, any moral claim of embracing the university spirit is empty and disingenuous. Oscar Wilde once said that "a man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite."

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that morality involves judgments that conform to a law of reason. But these moralizers in my organization have no shred of reason in their didactic arguments.

Consider, for example, what the elected members of council of my organization tried to accomplish in order to get around Rule 60. The council passed a grandfathering resolution to exempt the aforementioned non-graduate (or pretender, if you may). This is debunking the correct interpretation of what grandfathering is. There is grandfathering when one is exempted from the new rule because the old rule still applies to him. But the old rule does not apply to him, so why do you need to grandfather him? The net result of the grandfather resolution by the organization’s council is an entirely new rule adopted in order to accommodate the non-graduate, an effect normally achieved through a process of amending the organization’s rules. Based on their moral judgment, there is no violation of the rules, thus the resolutions adopted would only strengthen the constitution (rules) of the organization.

Making moral judgments is as human as sleeping and eating. We reason about values and make value judgments. But moral judgments, to differentiate it from moralizing, require the best of our intellects, and sometimes, the best of our hearts, too.

The moral values of people differ from others on a range of issues. But that should not make us less enthusiastic about moral engagement.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Canada’s new underclass

In just a few years, Canada brought in under its temporary foreign workers program an army of low-skilled migrant workers for jobs that Canadians are not willing to take under prevailing wage levels and working conditions. Jobs like vegetable and fruit-picking, work in the oil sands, bait worm collectors, cleaners, packers and people who dismember pigs for meat packaging plants.

When temporary jobs are completed or their work permits run out, or in some cases when jobs are wiped out by an economic recession, these workers are forced to take survival jobs, mostly underground, because of their lack of immigration status.

As a result, Canada’s temporary foreign workers program has created a burgeoning, permanent and illegal underclass. A new class of vulnerable workers without status and deprived of government protections.

Most of these migrant workers do not leave Canada when their work permits expire. Driven by poverty and worsening economic conditions in their home countries, more and more are opting to stay here and work underground.

What went wrong with Canada’s immigration policy?

Previously, Canada was the envy of the world when it used a points system in assessing new immigrants, the first country to adopt such a scheme. Under the points system which was started in the 1960s, higher points were given to education and work experience and those who earned high scores were accepted.

As it turned out, while the points system has helped Canada compete for highly educated workers, the most coveted immigrants in technology and other cutting-edge-industries, it also created a massive backlog of more than 800,000 applications in recent years, and waits of four years or more.

Meanwhile, employers in Canada have been demanding for skilled blue-collar workers, especially in western Canada, where Alberta’s busy oil fields have generated an economic boom. Employers have had a hard time finding workers because low-skilled workers and trades people have no hope under the inflexible point system.

Some Canadian employers eventually found a solution by sidestepping the points system and relying instead on a program initiated in 1998 that allows provincial governments to handpick some migrant workers and assign temporary foreign worker permits.

Thousands of blue-collar and unskilled workers, mostly visible minorities, are brought to Canada annually under the program.

In 2004, there were 126, 026 temporary foreign workers brought into the country; as of December 2008, this has almost doubled to 252,196.

Those who support the temporary foreign worker program rationalized the dramatic increase in migrant workers as necessary in managing labour demands in critical sectors of the economy and in overcoming the limitations of an immigration system that favours highly educated applicants but creates shortages of low-skilled workers.

Proponents of the program have also argued that temporary foreign workers benefit migrant-sending countries through remittances and skills transfer, and that the program offers a safe and a legal alternative to undocumented migration.

But the reality is not as rosy and as promising. Aside from creating a vulnerable class of workers, the program has not created opportunities for skills transfer. Most of the jobs assumed by these migrant workers are at the low end of the skills pyramid. Since they are brought in to Canada to satisfy the industry’s demands for short-term cheap labour, the temporary foreign worker program has left these workers defenceless and at risk of exploitation and ethnic strife.

A recent study of temporary migrant worker programs in both the United States and Canada described these workers as North America’s second-class citizens.

The study suggested that temporary foreign worker programs are contributing to the “precariousness” of work, a global phenomenon characterized by deregulation of employment standards, eroding social protection for workers and families, declining unionization, as well shifting the norm of standard employment relationship.

Temporary contracts and part-time work are fast becoming the new norms for highly paid consultants as well as lower paid temporary workers.

Competitive jobs are outsourced overseas, e.g., call centres, and non-competitive and mainly low-wage occupations are filled by temporary foreign workers, e.g., caregivers for children and the elderly. Furthermore, low-skill temporary foreign worker programs funnel workers into highly racialized occupations with growing concentrations of visible minority workers.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), foreign workers, including temporary foreign workers, have the same rights and protections as all Canadian workers as they are covered under the same federal and provincial labour standards. But reality tells us that migrant workers cannot exercise their rights in the same way as citizens because of language barriers, lack of information, geographic and social isolation, poor transportation, fear of employer reprisal, and dependence on their employers for permission to remain in Canada and future employment.

Temporary foreign workers are left susceptible to abuses in the labour market, by their employers who exploit their conditions and migrant status, and to corruption and fraud by unregulated third-party recruiters.

The absence of an effective government regulatory framework has also rendered the temporary foreign worker program almost unregulated.

While the program is part of Canada’s federal immigration policy, it is managed jointly by two federal departments (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, CIC), and is supposedly governed by provincial statutes with regard to employment standards, labour and health. When problems are brought to the attention of federal officials, responsibility is often deferred back to provincial and municipal levels as a form of buck-passing. Thus, abuses of migrant workers go unchecked because there is no federal accountability and regulation. At the federal level, there is no protective legislation in place for temporary migrant workers.

In creating a permanent underclass of workers vulnerable to exploitation as cheap labour, Canada has now joined the ranks of countries importing workers with no intention of giving them a new home. Much like the “guest worker” programs in Europe when Germany and the Netherlands opened up their doors to migrant workers whom they never intended to absorb into their populations. For years, these guest workers had to endure living marginalized lives because they did not have access to settlement services.

Canada’s new underclass of temporary foreign workers is not something that fell suddenly from the sky because the bureaucrats in Ottawa were not doing their jobs. In its most recent 2009 Fall Report, the Auditor General of Canada questioned why CIC and the HRSDC never formally evaluated the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) and the pilot project for occupations requiring low levels of formal training that brought hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the country.

In 2002, a total of 6,178 applications under the LCP were received; this number ballooned to 20,799 in 2008, an increase of more than 236 per cent. The pilot project for low-skilled workers, on the other hand, was launched without any formal objectives, with very limited analysis of risks and no basis on which to evaluate its success. It has been in pilot status for seven years up to now. Combined with live-in caregivers, temporary foreign workers under this pilot project now account for more than half of all temporary foreign workers in Canada.

Given the inherent risks in these two programs, the Auditor General found it difficult to believe why an evaluation has never been done by the federal government.

One can only surmise that the government simply took a blind eye and ignored the eventuality of a nascent underclass of exploited workers, a large surplus of unprotected workers ripe for the picking by Canadian employers looking for cheap labour.

The Auditor General’s scathing report concluded that overall, the practices of CIC and HRSDC do not ensure that foreign worker programs are delivered efficiently and effectively.

Canada’s temporary foreign worker program poses “significant risks to the integrity of the program and could leave many foreign workers in a vulnerable position, particularly those who are physically or linguistically isolated from the general community or are unaware of their rights,” the Auditor General warned.

If these temporary foreign workers are good enough to work, they are also good enough to stay.

The same class of workers built Canada during the last century, building the trans-Canada railroad and highways, constructing Canada’s skyscrapers and housing developments, cultivating and working on the fields in the Prairies. There is neither rhyme nor reason why Canada should not embrace this growing underclass, to be consistent to its humanitarian and compassionate ethos as a society.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The weight of conversations

In the recent past I have written about things that generated some reactions we could describe as rife with anger, disrespect and contempt. Although I am not unused to criticism, sometimes this kind of derisive commentary on what you have said or written could be disempowering, not as mere attempts to belittle or ridicule. It is tempting to think whether those who respond in scathing language really understand that it says more about them who use such words than their target of criticism.

One might also wonder if this type of angry comment has proceeded from some miscalculation of strength, the belief that somehow an argument becomes more powerful if delivered in an angry and contemptuous tone. There is always the allure of the false machismo image that one conveys by posturing for power; that in order to show strength, one’s opinions must be expressed in a way that appears to demolish all others. Even to the extent of bullying, especially when friends applaud it as powerful and persuasive.

In our present-day society, it is commonplace that for fear of being slighted, or our fragile egos bruised, that we defend ourselves by shouting louder and more rudely than the next man or woman, to ensure that we are heard. We trade insults at each other with abandon, and assume that the only response to an insult is another, one that is even more hurtful than what was handed out.

This is true of our current public and political discourse. Sidestepping the power of rationality or the competition of ideas, our political parties and their leaders use attack ads, accusations, lies and innuendoes to discredit each other. To get elected to high office, one must possess the skill in destroying another person’s reputation rather than establishing his or her own. Their arguments tend to degenerate to the level of the personal, to ad hominem, venomous and destructive.

On a smaller scale, in one organization that I know, someone who misrepresented his bona fides for membership and had a penchant for posting remarks on the organization’s chat group using circumlocution and vile language, was even bestowed lifetime membership. Using to great advantage the emotional and political clout he invested on his close friends and supporters, he succeeded in turning scathing and depraved words into some sort of unguent that induced the minds of those who decided to embrace him to listen to him despite the fact that he was incontrovertibly an interloper. This is sometimes the irony or maybe the harsh reality of life today that the world oftentimes seems upside down. It is not about the truth we peddle but how many are willing to bend the truth that matters.

The most important lesson we learn through discourse with others is that how we speak or write is who we are. We can be content from understanding that some of us who freely use abusive speech to put others in a negative light are too often revealing a greater and less palatable truth about ourselves.

There is less civility in society because we tend to be more partisan. So we need to look at possible improvements beyond clichés like “respecting our differences” or “following the Golden Rule.”

In the United States, a series of so-called “Intentional Conversations” has brought together civic, religious, business and cultural leaders for a day of genuine conversation since 1999. Begun by the Skirball Institute on American Values and sponsored by Marymount College in Palos Verdes, California, Intentional Conversations stress communication over confrontation and exchange of ideas over argument and sloganeering. The purpose of this exercise was to create a unique and memorable opportunity for real conversation that is sorely lacking in our fast-paced, competitive and confrontational world.

These Intentional Conversations ultimately have shown that people have a much greater understanding and tolerance for each other’s opinion when they share their personal experiences and values. People from different backgrounds, political and religious beliefs and even value systems are able to converse with each other and truly connect, and thus build bridges of communication and understanding. The conversation initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sergeant Joseph Crowley showed how a good example of Intentional Conversation can lead to a genuine exchange and reconciliation at a time when there was so much animosity.

Although many of us would accept the importance of dialogue and critical inquiry in social and personal relationships, there are others, however, who would prefer the easy virtue of obedience to legitimate authority in place of critical dialogues. The military and the Church are traditional examples of monolithic organizations that have historically thrived on dictum that emphasizes obedience first before criticism. Our moral and intellectual traditions generally determine our capacity to engage in critical dialogues. We cannot, for instance, tolerate our children debating around the dinner table every night challenging our every rule. This also holds true among adults who are given so much intellectual permissiveness to debate and challenge each other’s hard beliefs to the point of futility.

On the other hand, taking the point of view that nothing comes out of debate is to shut down critical discourse which is important in discerning the truth, on what measures to take to solve a problem at hand. In any exchange of ideas, the responsibility ultimately lies in someone selected to moderate the ebb and flow of arguments. Ideas by themselves are not self-correcting, although it would be the best of all situations where the better ideas rise to the top. However, this does not happen in a vacuum.

Aberrations can happen when those chosen to mediate or resolve a conflict decide to circumvent what is true and honest and substitute their own arguments to fill in the blanks. While this may be regarded as creative thinking, its result may not necessarily reflect what is deemed desirable. Here is where our moral and intellectual traditions come to play in order to delineate the acceptable parameters of decision-making.

When we have chosen to define the arguments in a conflict on both ends of a continuum, the most desirable way to a resolution is practically at the middle, where we try to accommodate both sides. This is usually how humans arrive at a solution, by achieving a compromise which may not necessarily be the best determination, but practical and less emotionally difficult to accept. It is much better than taking the extreme position of all or nothing.

If all our conversations will yield a happy medium or an acceptable balance of interests, then perhaps there will be lesser conflicts left unresolved. The worst scenario, however, is when dialogues are either left unmediated or manipulated by individuals with vested interests of their own; any resolution will always end up to be wanting and dismally unacceptable. In this case, the usefulness of dialectic and debate has been effectively compromised.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ondoy: The morning after

Super typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng have wrought havoc in the Philippines, as natural disasters around the globe have gone up due to climate change. Relief and rehabilitation efforts become doubly difficult (or will be even much more problematic when planning responses to future natural disasters) because of the enormity of the damage caused to both human life and the country’s economy. Right now, Filipinos here in Toronto have opened up their hearts to show they care for the plight of all those folks who suffered most from the flooding caused by the typhoons.

But as natural disasters come and visit our country with impunity, charity alone is an insufficient response. Although this wakes us up and even unites many of us, we cannot make nature’s havoc as the necessary impetus to gather ourselves together. Giving your support to organizations and other movements that call for, say, curbing gas emissions to the atmosphere, is as powerful as opening up your wallets.

Charity helps during times of calamity and those who show their generosity should be commended, and rightly so. However, we should not allow acts of charity to delude us into thinking they are the final solution. Everyone loves a cheerful giver but so much of giving can only accomplish very little.

As natural disasters continue to devastate the Philippines at almost predictable seasonal intervals, it’s also about time that the government and its planners focus beyond the tasks of rescue, recovery, relief and rehabilitation. All that these tasks will accomplish is simply to mitigate the effects of these disasters, and mitigation usually is just short term. We need to focus more on ecology, which becomes policy only when government responsibility becomes undeniable.

The environmental issues that we face today are mainly due to human activities. We must begin with the premise that we are responsible for all the anthropogenic effects of human activities on the natural environment. Much of the current global greenhouse emissions originated from the developed countries. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), industrialized countries are the biggest polluters. Since the richer countries have been industrializing and emitting climate changing pollution for many centuries, the greenhouse gases they produce tend to accumulate and remain in the atmosphere for many decades. Thus, the environmental consequences of the policies of industrialized nations have had a large detrimental and costly effect on developing countries – especially poor countries who are already burdened with debt and poverty.

Apart from dramatic changes in climatic conditions that partly explain why we’re having so many natural disasters today, years of foreign exploitation of our forests and mountains have also weakened our natural defences against disasters. Foreign mining of our natural resources for gold, copper, iron and other minerals has stripped bare our mountain ranges while unabated logging has wiped precious rainforests. In addition, the construction of dams which were originally designed to control floods and for energy projects using our tributary systems benefited primarily the foreign investors, dam builders, international funding agencies and private companies.

Take the case of the San Roque Multipurpose Dam in San Manuel, Pangasinan. The San Roque Dam is located along the Agno River, known as the ”river of dreams,” together with the Ambuklao Dam and Binga Dam. These dams have been blamed for the massive flooding in Central Luzon caused by Typhoon Pepeng. Officials of the San Roque Dam, according to some reports, have delayed the release of excess water to maximize their profit.

Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairman of Agham, a progressive Filipino scientist group, said that the recent floodings proved that the dams were not really designed to control floods. It was obvious, according to Dr. Tapang, that the San Roque Dam prioritized their revenues and compromised the lives and livelihood of the people living in the lowlands. “These dams just bring profit to their proponents and more harm than benefit to the people,” he added.

Dr. Tapang said that “as long as the dams remain, it is likely that similar tragedies will occur in the future as it has done in the past.”

The Philippines has a history of opposition against the construction of dams because of their destructive effects on the communities around them. Several of those who opposed the construction of dams have been killed as a result. The most prominent of these anti-dam protesters was Macli-ing Dulag, a leader of the Kalinga tribe of the Cordilleras, who is widely remembered for leading the anti-Chico Dam campaign in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Dulag forged bodongs (peace pacts) between warring tribes and unified them against the World Bank-funded Chico Dam project. The Marcos government even tried to bribe him several times in exchange for giving up his opposition against the proposed dam. Macli-ingDulag was killed on April 24, 1980, when army soldiers opened fire on his hut, killing him on the spot. In killing Dulag, the military hoped to silence the opposition to the Chico Dam project, which never happened.

Instead, Dulag’s death only heightened and broadened the opposition against the proposed dam, the protests got international coverage and the Marcos government was forced to abandon the project. Other leaders of the opposition against the construction of dams, like Nicanor delos Santos against the Kaliwa-Kanan Dam (or Laiban Dam) and Jose Doton of the San Roque Multipurpose Project were either shot to death or extra-judicially executed. The recent floods that inundated Northern and Central Luzon have proven that these leaders were right all along in opposing the construction of large dams in their respective communities.

Due to widespread anti-dam protests in the developing countries, the World Bank and the World Conservation Union had to create the World Commission on Dams (WCD) in May 1998. WCD was tasked to study the environmental impact of large dams as development projects and analyze alternative means of developing energy resources. It found that large dams had destructive effects on the environment that are difficult to reverse, and for the most part, these large dams did not succeed in developing their promised benefits such as providing cheap energy.

What then must we do after Ondoy and Pepeng?

Cleaning up the typhoons’ mess is not enough. Both government and the private and civic sectors need to act jointly to prevent flooding in the future. It’s not only effective early warning systems of storms and floods that we need. The denudation of the Marikina watershed, for instance, made the water flow faster downhill to the towns and cities of Metro Manila. One of the many measures the Philippine government must do now, together with the local government units of the cities and towns in Metro Manila, is to reforest the foot of the Sierra Madre mountain range and to declog the creeks that have been blocked by debris and solid waste. In the case of Metro Manila, overcrowding due to corporate fishpens, shanties, polluted waterways, improper planning of land use, and indiscriminate private property development around Laguna de Bay and the Napindan estuary must be addressed by the government before another tragedy such as Ondoy strikes again.

The abilities of the two water concessionaires in Metro Manila – Manila Water and Maynilad – need also to be strengthened insofar as collecting and treating waste water. With assistance from the Asian Development Bank, each concessionaire has planned to invest one billion dollars over the next 15 years. To realize this huge infrastructure, all 17 local governments in Metro Manila should put their act together.

Over all, the national government must go beyond mitigating the effects of climate change and adapting measures for affected communities, such as the construction of infrastructures like landslide-protection, flood-control, and riverbank-stabilization systems.

It is also about time to revisit the government’s policy of constructing large dams to provide for the country’s energy needs. The aftermath of the recent natural disasters only proves that we can no longer disregard the environmental and social costs of building and maintaining large dams at the expense of ignoring other sources of energy.

There are alternative sources of energy such as bio-mass-powered systems that use organic materials like animal manure and coconut husks. There are also other possible sources like micro-hydropower systems or small systems using energy from moving water and turbines or waterwheels to convert the energy of moving water into mechanical energy, which could be more appropriate for areas with numerous and large rivers. Solar-powered systems, which use photovoltaic cells and wind-powered systems are also possible sources of energy.

Ignoring these options and choosing instead to build and maintain large dams is not the only way to bring about development. We cannot justify development by any means possible, especially if it destroys our ecosystem.

The People’s Declarations Against Large Dams, issued in March 25, 2001 in Baguio City, best summed up our country’s experience with large dams:

“From the laying of the dam cornerstones to the turning of the dam turbines, profits flowed into the pockets of foreign energy corporations and their local partners, international funding agencies and the multi-lateral bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the flow of silt into the productive fields and the destruction of ecosystems, painful experiences of relocation and resettlement, testimonies of broken government promises on compensation, the non-delivery of social services to communities made survival more difficult for the already marginalized sectors of society. The needs of the people were drowned by the greed for profit.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

A night at the gala

Amidst all the troubles we have as a nation or simply as a group of people, whether at home or in a foreign land, one thing is certain. We can always celebrate. No super typhoons can even stop us. This was vividly on display a few nights ago when we were invited to a dinner gala of a local organization of Filipinos in Toronto who were celebrating their 4o years of existence in the city.

And it wasn’t a small feat. Gathering about five hundred souls under one roof is not an easy task. Not just about breaking loaves of bread to feed the multitude. Honouring its outstanding members for their contribution and celebrating the history and legacy of people from their region in the Philippines meant a lot of brainpower was used up. To top it all, making the event relevant to what their organization is doing in the Philippines to help those in need, they had to invite not just any other Filipino who could keep the masses spellbound or entertained with songs and whatnot just like most Filipino organizations in the city are wont to do. Bringing over someone to speak about the task of sheltering Filipinos so that they would not live as squatters any more or in unfit living conditions is in itself a monumental achievement. We’re not even talking about the soon-to-depart leader of our country, but a much-better person, Tony Meloto, top honcho of Gawad Kalinga (GK).

Since building its first GK house in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City, in 1999, GK launched the GK777 campaign in October 2003 to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities for the next 10 years. This means that next year, in 2010, GK should have met this target.

In February 2006, GK launched another initiative called Isang Milyung Bayani (“One Million Builders), aimed at mobilizing at least 1 million GK volunteers. In its global summit held in Boston early this year, GK launched its Vision 2024 platform, a 21-year timeline from 2003 to 2024 (including the GK777 started in 2003) to eradicate homelessness, hunger and poverty in the Philippines. To all GK dreamers, this would mean that the Philippines will be joining the First World in 2024.

Tony Meloto has set on fire the spirit of bayanihan through voluntarism—an effective model for community development. Everywhere he goes nowadays, he brings the message of hope that Filipinos by themselves can rebuild their nation, and this message rings more true in light of the destruction, death and despair brought about by the recent typhoons that have ravaged the country.

Meloto’s approach is not entirely new but under his stewardship, GK’s efforts in building houses for the poor on private initiative and cooperation have been recognized with a Ramon Magsaysay Award (the Philippines’ equivalent of the Nobel Prize) for Community Leadership in 2006. His efforts have followed others who have emulated India’s Emperor Ashoka who ruled from 269 to 232 BC. Stricken with great remorse after enlarging his empire through wars and unifying the Indian subcontinent, Ashoka realized how much economic power his empire had and used it for social purposes. Ashoka advanced a bold but fairly simple idea: social entrepreneurship, which in turn gave birth to the citizen sector by 2003. It is this growth of the citizen sector that attracts people of all ages to work for the benefit and betterment of their communities. Meloto, in part, has been responsible for making civic engagement socially acceptable in the Philippines.

But Meloto and Gawad Kalinga must go beyond their 2024 vision and re-engineer GK efforts away from charity, for aid is not the most effective way to solve real problems. GK’s success hinges mostly on donations from overseas Filipinos to finance its construction activities. What would happen when this deep well of money dries up? There is not enough private money to support a sustainable community development program that addresses—aside from shelter—other issues such as livelihood, education and health that are equally important for the welfare of the Filipino people.

The GK initiative can be integrated in a more comprehensive social and economic plan where both the government and the private sector can work as equal partners. To achieve this partnership, the leaders we elect in Congress, the president of the country and those that surround the executive circle, and local government officials must be on board this massive socio-economic plan. This can only be accomplished if GK believers and like-minded people exercise the power of the ballot and elect people who will embrace this gigantic program of helping and serving the people.

It’s probably the opportune time for Tony Meloto to jettison his disinclination to throw his hat into the political ring. If indeed what the country needs today is transformational leaders, Tony Meloto leads the best of them. In an arena with the likes of Noynoy Aquino and the rest of the so-called “presidentiables,” who could be more transformational than Meloto?

Tony Meloto has proved that GK, a non-governmental organization (NGO), can be the most effective voice for the concerns of ordinary people. The United Nations has recognized that NGOs are often the most outspoken advocates of human rights, the environment, social programs, women’s rights and economic amelioration.

GK has shown that the concept of civil society is alive in the Philippines. There is no other or better way to crown its success than by its leaders giving themselves up to the public sector to become the new corps of civil servants, by changing the whole makeup of the government with people who serve because they care about their country.

Another powerful typhoon is said to be headed towards the Philippines as I am about to finish writing this blog. Are we going to appeal again to our more well-to-do overseas Filipinos to keep opening their hearts and wallets? This kind of natural devastation that our country finds itself could be cyclical, and charity does not offer us the best alternative to help our people fight or survive from it. Perhaps, it is about time to consider more strategic responses, such as helping arouse our people’s awareness that years of wanton destruction of our homeland’s resources have made the environment so fragile and to pressure leaders in government to make environment conservation and preservation a top priority.

That’s why building houses is not enough to solve our crisis of poverty. We need people in government who would serve like Tony Meloto and his group who will put service to the people ahead of their own personal interests.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The fun in criticism

More than a year of writing a blog, mostly taking the unpopular and risky side of an argument, has pushed me further towards the fringe of public opinion. My first blog about contrary opinion set the tone and the lonely path of the critical dissenter and became almost the only road one could take to discover the truth. But what is a year of vigorous intellectual engagement compared to centuries of spite public contrarians had to put up with their detractors?

Last year I wrote that the smugness of the idea of an absolute truth paralyzes the mind to explore options and, to a degree, stifles creativity. The American fascination with capitalism and the workings of the free market, for example, has seemed to shut down any possible government reform or change that vaguely contains a germ of socialist innovation. U.S. President Obama’s health reform proposals could be a victim of this stubborn faith that only the market can decide what is good for the consumers. Democrat senators have joined with their Republican counterparts in stamping their feet on Obama’s public health option, an ominous portent of what could be the outcome of the American president’s bold initiative.

Oftentimes, the debate between those who would cling steadfastly to their time-tested system of beliefs, such as the captivation to capitalism and the idea that less government is better, and those, on the other hand, who would be bold to experiment with newer ideas or innovative approaches, becomes acrimonious to a point that the issues of contention are relegated to the background by the venom and spite in the exchanges. When President Obama failed to persuade the International Olympic Committee to choose Chicago for the 2016 summer event, the Republican camp went ballistic like a bunch of 13-year-old kids thinking the U.S. loss was a big blow to Obama’s chances of getting Congress to support his health reform package. How’s that relevant?

In my own fraternal organization in college, my brother-alumni are locked in a contest of tradition and liberal values as they argue to death the place of seniority in the organization. One side would argue in favour of treating each other as equals once admitted in the organization while the other side believes seniority makes the organization stronger and uniquely different from other like-minded societies. Either side of the coin could be correct depending on where one stands.

The beauty of the debating process is in its innate openness to the exchange of ideas. Whether it leads to more acrimony is really incidental only to the more important aspect of the process, which is the freedom to speak out and engage in a dialogue. In a society of mature individuals, we can take punches and deal our own. The bottom line at the end of all these squabbles is hopefully a brilliant resolution. At the end of the day, so the cliché goes, everyone kisses and makes up.

But that is easier said than done. There are organizations, or even governments, that are averse to hearing contrasting opinions. The exercise of free speech is non-existent in some countries or punishable by incarceration. In smaller organizations, the fate of opposing ideas is consigned to deaf ears.

No matter how loud or persistent the voice of opposition, those in control or those who have in the palm of their hand the organization and majority of its members could simply ignore the contrary view and wish it is forgotten or dies in oblivion. This is worse than being unable to speak out, though the perils exist that one may be marked as a dissident or be picked up in the middle of the night and detained.

When organizations allow people to express their ideas on the pretext that there is free speech, but in fact only leave the latter to speak to the wall, the issue becomes even more contemptible. For the wall can only bounce what one says, until the echoes of one’s own voice drown one out.

An organization that I know behaves this way. It doesn’t shut down opposing ideas, but doesn’t listen to others’ point of view either. Members are free to speak as much as they can until they realize that speaking out will not do any good, that to shut up is a much better option. This is as powerful as muting dissent, as effective as sweeping the opposition and throwing it to the dustbin.

Who do you blame when this happens to an organization? The leaders, maybe? But the members who keep silent while this mockery is going on are easily as culpable. Nothing could be worse than to be onlookers and bystanders to a crime that is going on, and when witnesses are asked to come forward, to disappear into the night never to be heard from again.

This is an organization one may call a “choked” anarchy. Anarchic because the leadership does not follow the organization’s rules. It’s almost like lawlessness where the leaders’ control becomes the law. While the organization is madly in disarray, its members are choked or gagged, told not to speak ill, or against, its leaders. Unchoke it, and the repressed membership becomes a loosened valve waiting to explode.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, recently wrote in the New York Times that “the guiding principle of one of our nation’s two great political parties is spite pure and simple. If the Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it – whether or not it’s good for America.” It’s not so difficult to agree that spite drives many to take the opposite side. When you hate the spokesperson of the other group, that animosity can fuel more fires of revulsion even if the other group is obviously on the right side of things. Thus, we tend to become blind or deaf to the wisdom of arguments, because we simply hate the person espousing them.

One blog writer suggests that we should enjoy the fun of failure by re-framing the issue entirely to embrace criticism. She believes that criticism is part of the fun; otherwise, the dread of criticism would paralyse her.

If only each one of us can muster the courage to accept and learn from our failures, then this world could be an ideal place to live in. Accepting failure starts from listening to those who criticize us, and if we are persuaded by the logic and substance of their arguments that we are indeed wrong, to admit and learn from our mistakes, then start afresh with this new-found wisdom. It will prove that we have understood the criticism and tried to act on it, which usually is the best way to stand up to critics.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Denying free speech

Very recently, the moderators of the chat group of my university alumni association in Toronto censured me by blocking an email I posted in the e-group. Our alumni president reasoned that my email violated the group’s terms of use as it refers to profanity, obscenity, personal attacks or insults, and malicious and disruptive behaviour.

This present blog that I usually share with my alumni e-group could suffer from a similar fate the moment I publish it. However, as far as I can remember, I have posted nothing in this blog that you could possibly notice or detect, either by the most powerful morality lens or censorship microscope, as profane, obscene, malicious or disruptive. If there is any, kindly point them out to me so I can ask for absolution. My earlier postings in our e-group also contained nothing of the sort that I am now being accused by the leader of our alumni association.

A contrarian or a gadfly maybe. A killjoy, no.

In this age of the Internet, there’s a heavy price to pay for our right to free speech. It is something we cannot take for granted or assume. That everybody knows that everyone is free to express one’s ideas without being censored unless for a good reason. Internet speech is controlled and regulated by self-appointed moderators who may have no tolerance for diversity of ideas. By just clicking the delete button, they can make your ideas disappear. Expel you out of cyberspace on a whim. This is an area that is arguably untouched by law. Worse, moderators could shut down your e-group and put it out of service temporarily without further explanation, as did my own e-group when it went down for twelve hours a few days ago.

We’ve learned from history that such seemingly natural right had fomented controversy, even to the point of bloodshed. Why have societies, past and present, found it necessary to restrict or even prohibit the exercise of the right to free speech?

Right-wing control of radio broadcasts in the United States has ignited talks about reviving the Fairness Doctrine which was abolished by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987. The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 with the original purpose of requiring holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance in an honest, equitable and balance manner.

Just tune in to American radio broadcasts and listen to how ultra-right wing hosts spread outrageous lies about President Obama and his health care proposals, and it’s probably fair to say that these critics have gone over the line of civility and fairness. Russ Limbaugh, in one of his weekly addresses on radio, wished Obama would fail in his economic recovery plans. For one, Limbaugh believed that the economic stimulus plan of the Obama administration was aimed at re-establishing eternal power for the Democratic Party.

Today, there is widespread fear-mongering in the United States over Obama’s health care reform proposals on the airwaves and in blogosphere, and it has gone to absolutely ludicrous levels. Critics of the Obama health care plan accuse the U.S. president of being a socialist, a communist, and yes, even a fascist; that the Obama government is plotting to set up “death squads,” government tribunals authorized to euthanize the old and the sick. Even the health care programs of Canada and Great Britain have not been spared by all the diatribes hurled back and forth between critics and supporters of Obama’s public health care option. With all the emotions spent on the health care debate in the United States, one may wonder whether this raging animosity could push the country to the brink of another civil war.

But no (at least, not yet), the U.S. government is not censoring criticism or public debate. This is the nature of the democratic process. Passions and emotions may run high beyond the limits of civility, but these are only collateral elements of the tumult in the democratic debate of ideas.

The liberty to express oneself is highly valued in a liberal society. If not, there would no problem: freedom of expression could simply be curtailed in favour of other values. It only becomes a volatile issue whenever limitations are placed upon its exercise, this is what makes it controversial.

As John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, a struggle always takes place between the competing demands of liberty and authority, and we cannot have the latter without the former.

But there are dangers of the “slippery slope,” as a possible consequence of limiting speech could be the inevitable slide into censorship and tyranny.

Who decides what limits to impose on free speech? What limits are reasonable and acceptable bearing in mind the general interest and welfare of the whole group? Are there appeals when a decision is made to block one’s posting? What punitive measures are imposed when limits are crossed?

Limits to free speech such as those imposed by group moderators on the Internet are oftentimes arbitrary and paternalistic in nature—meaning, those that impose, believe they are right and more so, that they have the right to impose limits. They assume the position of a protector, that it is their obligation to protect others from harm if speech or expression is not restricted. It’s like the idea of a Big Brother who must always watch over our shoulders to see to it that we don’t cross the limits. Questioning Big Brother is out of the question; it is not included in one’s right to free speech.

Restricting the right to free speech on the Internet may be justified when messages are offensive, obscene or promoting hate speech. Outside the Internet, there are already libel and defamation laws that can address abuses in exercising free speech.

But regulating free speech on the Internet, even though most providers like Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail or e-group owners usually list as many as possible grounds which they can use to block or delete messages, may not be as easy as it may seem. Blogs and chat groups on the Internet continue to be littered with messages and postings that use trashy and colourful words and phrases that can offend those supersensitive to the language of the gutter or to acerbic and biting criticisms in general. On the other hand, if you are friendly and cozy to e-group administrators and moderators, even if your messages may contain threats of violence or irritating inanities, they may still be allowed as long as they are aimed at individuals its group members commonly detest.

Thus, the Internet also mirrors our society, our lives outside the medium and how we communicate. After all, it is only a tool and it is the user that controls it who determines how it’s going to be utilized.

Ultimately, it is up to readers to decide if a message is offensive to social morals or to standards of decency and acceptability. Self-regulation has been the prevalent practice on the Internet, and let’s leave it that way. The Internet is as large as humanity itself. From a practical point of view, no one community standard can govern the type of speech permissible on the Internet.

To impose sanctions and restrictions conjured by a group, which is not necessarily representative of a fair and just selection of morally upright citizens or members of an association, would be the easiest way to limit free expression. To respect the autonomy of the individual, we need to have a strong presumption in favour of individual liberty.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Remembering martial law

Martial law was imposed in the Philippines twice, proclaimed on the same day of the month but 28 years apart by two presidents whose lives, by a stroke of fate, would seem intertwined by an eerie similarity of intervening events in their respective lives.

Jose P. Laurel, president of the Second Philippine Republic, puppet-government under Japan, proclaimed martial law on September 21, 1944, on account of the state of war between the Philippines and the United States with Japan. Twenty-eight years later, on September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos placed the Philippines under martial on the pretext of suppressing the threat of a growing insurgency and imminent Communist takeover.

During his teens, Laurel was indicted for attempted murder when he almost killed a rival suitor of his girlfriend. While studying and finishing law school, Laurel defended himself and was acquitted. In December 1938, Ferdinand Marcos was accused and prosecuted for the murder of Julio Nalundasan, his father’s political rival. After being convicted and sentenced to death for premeditated murder, Marcos appealed and argued his defence before the Supreme Court. Marcos graduated with a law degree during his incarceration and studied and passed the bar examination while he was in detention. In the Supreme Court, Marcos was acquitted and the justice who wrote the decision in his favour was Jose P. Laurel.

Almost parallel incidents in their early manhood while completing their law degrees from the University of the Philippines, both charged with serious criminal offences and later acquitted, the older one presiding as judge in the exoneration of the younger one, both becoming presidents of their countries – the former as puppet surrogate leader of an invading foreign army and the latter as dictator propped-up by a former colonial master, and each proclaiming martial law on the same day of the month 28 years apart. Coincidences that would fascinate history trivia buffs. Of course, the resemblances would end there for the younger one would rule for almost twenty years, during the tumultuous period of communist uprisings in the Southeast Asia region after the end of the Second World War.

Was Ferdinand Marcos aware of the choice of his own day to state publicly the genesis of his long years of repressive rule? Or was it history repeating itself?

This trivial fact never crossed my mind that morning Ferdinand Marcos went into the airwaves to deliver the infamous Proclamation 1081, declaring the imposition of martial rule throughout the land. I wasn’t born then when Jose P. Laurel would make his own proclamation of martial law over the country during the Japanese occupation.

But it was rather strangely quiet the day Marcos went on air. Not many vehicles were running on the road, a bit surprising because people were supposed to be at work. I had classes to teach in one of the schools in the city during the week but someone in the family, a relative on my mother’s side had fortuitously sent word that I should not report for school because soldiers had locked up the school gates and were rounding up faculty members suspected of subversive activities. One of the subjects I taught was history, about nationalism and the Philippine revolution. Naturally, my lectures were about the motivations behind the staging of the revolution by the Katipunan. So I was a logical target of suspicion, that I could be subverting the minds of young students even though the course was about events that occurred almost a century ago. In hindsight, I could have been out of harm’s way in a foreign school during the time had I accepted a scholarship and study grant, but the thought of separation from my young wife was too heavy to bear.

Besides, I was deeply involved in the struggle for a free and truly democratic Philippines at the time. But being small fry, I was not on the hit list of the army. The proclamation of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos did not dissuade me from doing my tasks that almost solitary morning. I had a more important date with destiny, a meeting with a group outside the city so I left the house very early and took a jeepney ride to our appointment along with another member of my group. We were carrying bags full of information materials against the repressive tactics and abuses of the current regime which we hid under our legs while the news of martial rule was being broadcast on radio. A passenger asked the driver to increase the radio’s volume so we could hear what Marcos was saying on air. I looked at my companion and we just stared at each other in silence, almost in complete agreement about our appreciation of what was happening. We knew martial law was coming, and it was only a matter of time before it would be proclaimed. We were more concerned with the materials in our possession, and worried that the other passengers might discover them. But we soon came to our destination. We got off the jeepney with utmost care so as not to raise suspicion among the other passengers that we were actually carrying materials that could land us spending years in a detention camp.

I didn’t report to teach that week and for the rest of the semester and for the entire year. In fact, I never returned to teaching anymore. My wife had just had our first child who was a little over a month old. We would rely on her maternity benefits from work for the next three or more months until she was back to work full-time again. Without a job and so much time in my hands, I worked on completing the drafts of two plays I had almost abandoned to gather dust underneath the files of books in our small bedroom. A year later, I would find a job and struggled in a few more. One of my plays was staged by a fledgling group of thespians, and the other won an award and later staged by PETA Theatre in Intramuros. Soon, I settled in on another job that paid well and provided more benefits for our growing family; we had another child at the time. I began to dwell on a career that would help me raise my family in comfort. I stopped writing and relegated the task of continuing the love affair with the pen to my wife, who was the natural writer in the house.

Martial law, a temporary superimposition of military government over civil government, could be justified: one, in the event of war, and second, during serious national emergencies. Jose P. Laurel had no choice; it was dropped in his hands by the Japanese army who had control over the whole country. Ferdinand Marcos chose his destiny – to declare martial law on false pretext in order to continue his reign as ruler of his country.

So, on September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, 10th President of the Philippines, 6th President of the 3rd Republic, and 1st President of 4th Republic, by his Proclamation No, 1081, would change the course of Philippine history forever. On that fateful day, Marcos signalled the start of a new fight for freedom, not against a foreign invader, but a mad dictator blinded by absolute power.

Proclamation 1081 was littered with false allegations of insurrection, of several bogus ambushes on members of the President’s cabinet which Marcos manipulated and manufactured to justify the imposition of martial law. Marcos cited rebel factions, seditious Communist elements and Muslim extremists as reasons from his decision. In truth, many of the said elements were disgruntled citizens who were fed up with the corruption under the Marcos government and decided to take matters in their own hands.

Those who lived during the martial law years can tell that those times were the darkest period in Philippine history. Common citizens were at the mercy of a man who had every intention of holding on to power as if it was life itself. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended; the military picked up and detained innocent civilians on trumped-up charges of sedition. More often than not, these people were convicted without trial, and denied due process of law. Curfew was imposed leaving many stranded in their offices, unable to return to the refuge of their homes.

Militant student organizations and labour unions went underground as the right to assembly was withheld. The government controlled the media, the right to freedom of speech was non-existent. The law as it was intended simply ceased to be. All that reigned was the iron law of a dictator who had the entire nation in his grasp.

All my children were born between 1972 and 1981, during the dark period of martial rule. In a sense, they were all “martial law babies,” but not children of the New Society under Ferdinand Marcos, for we would all leave the country afterwards to live in Toronto where we found freedom is alive. They have no faint idea of these dark moments in our history. Perhaps, it is better that way rather than re-visit the gloomy past every year and be reminded of the repressive years their parents had gone through.

But the future of the Philippines still remains very dark. History could repeat itself. Rumours continue that current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has not fully given up hopes of staying in power. She has already toyed with a “State of National Emergency” to crush a coup plot against her and deal with her vehement protesters from February 24 to March 3, 2006. In 2010, close to stepping down from power before June, Arroyo could just do the unthinkable: impose martial law again, 38 years after Marcos plunged the whole country in darkness, just 10 years more than what could have been a 28-year cycle of martial law in the Philippines.