Tuesday, July 29, 2008

So, as promised I put up more photos from the SONA counter-rally. But I'm feeling thin on thoughts, or at least coherent ones.

A full-text of Arroyo's speech can be found here. There's some debate about whether or not she actually believes the rosy statistics she quotes. I'll leave that to the psychoanalysts.

I'd love to see an in-depth analysis of which subjects she chooses to speak about in Tagalog, and which in English. She seems to confine the folksiest parts, about her great concern for various types of poor people to Tagalog, while using English to talk about policy.

As far as the protests, it's hard to know what to say. Clearly, people are angry. But not angry enough to stand together. The rally was actually composed of two parts: an RA section and an RJ section, with a fence and a police line between them.

(For those unfamiliar with the byzantine twists and turns of the history of the Philippine left, I'd reccomend Alecks Pabico's article "The Great Left Divide" . But to make a long story short, RA 's are those who ReAffirm Marxist-Leninist(Stalinist)-Maoist principles as defined by the Communist Party of the Philippines -- including protracted people's war --and RJs are those who ReJected them in favor of a wide variety of political stances ranging from orthodox Leninism, Trotskyism, Social Democracy, etc. This debate split the left in 1992, and to put it mildly, the two factions don't get along with each other.)

So far as I could tell, there was no conflict between the two groups yesterday, and it was possible to move from one section to another, but there were two competing speakers on two competing stages, talking about the same issues but each with their own constellation of supporters and party flags and banners around them.
It can be very hard to see any way forward.

Monday, July 28, 2008


While President Arroyo gave her annual State of the Nation Address, and estimated 13,000 protesters held a march and counter-rally, denouncing low wages, the risingcost of living, and denouncing Arroyo's record on human rights and civil liberties.
Additional images here, and more photos and thoughts tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Economic crisis keeping kids out of school

The Philippine government just released its report on school attendance for 2006-2007, revealing that 17% of primary-school-aged children -- which is to say 2.2 million of them -- are not in school.

In 1999-2000, before current President Arroyo, the corresponding number was 3%.

Numbers have plummeted under Arroyo, as has real per-capita spending on education, making the Philippines one of the lowest spenders in the world.

Unfortunately, the numbers are likely to be even worse for the current year, as the economic situation worsens. Public education is not free here -- families are responsible for school fees, uniforms and school supplies -- and registration season corresponded with the height of the rice crisis, forcing many families to choose between feeding their children or putting them in school.

Here,* school teachers in Carupay, Zamboanga del Norte, explain the situation in their own school, and the difficulties facing even children whose families manage to pay the fees.

President Arroyo, putting her Phd in economics to good use, recently conceded that the rising costs of food and energy may be keeping kids out of school.

Her solution? Asking schools not to require uniforms.

Read this great (as usual) PCIJ piece for links to the report and more information...

*some technical issues in the middle due to software problems. I'll correct them if I can solve the original issue...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Little Friends & Foes

This is my bathroom lizard in Mandaluyong. They seem to come standard issue in houses here, but I feel this is a particularly outstanding example of the species. Now that we've gotten accustomed to each other, we respectfully greet one another every morning when I go for my tabo-tabo.
On the other hand, I seem to expend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to keep ants out of my sugar.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This cloud of smoke is not a trick of the camera or a momentary phenomenon. This is what Jakarta is like, all the time, indoors and out. I never thought I would enjoy breathing the sweet air of Manila, but here I am. I seem to have returned from Indonesia with a mild respiratory infection, though it's clearing up now that I'm back in the Philippines. I hate to think about what happens to people who live their permanently!

Now if I can figure out how to keep my feet dry here, I'll be set.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Lapindo Disaster

Ibu Kurniati
On May 28, 2006, Ibu Kurniati's world exploded.
"For us, it was like a small apocolypse. We saw huge fires, and the hot mud, and the strong smell of gas was everywhere,"

The previous day, natural gas prospectors Lapindo Brantas hit something soft while drilling nearly 3 km below the surface in East Java. When hot mud and toxic gasses began gushing out of the hole, Lapindo and local authorities were unable to stem the flow, or to organize an orderly evacuation. "It was total chaos," recalls Korniati.

Two years later, the situation has hardly improved. The mud continues to flow, and has repeatedly breached embankments put in place to contain it. Sludge has oozed over fields, factories and villages, and into canals and groundwater, displacing more than 11,000 people.

Hundreds are still in a nearby evacuation center, which Korniati likens to a prison, living without private quarters, lining up three times a day for food that is often rotten.

Before the disaster, Korniati ran her own small business as a food vendor, but now she's forced to depend on her children for support. Many, she says, have it even worse, turning to begging, prostitution or suicide. "The mud ruined everything."

Lapindo denies responsibility for the eruption, ignoring independent geological surveys and blaming an earthquake that struck Java on May 26. However, it has offered limited compensation to villagers who agree to release the company from further liability.

Unsatisfied with this deal -- which offers compensation only for loss of material property -- Kurniati and other villagers continue to agitate for a more just settlement. They've occupied the local parliament, blocked the highway and staged a hunger strike -- succeeding in getting promises, but so far nothing more. "They give lots of promises, but what they promise never comes. They just give us words. Until my hair turns white, they'll never be realized."

The whole situation is more disgusting, and more complicated, than I can fully explain. Go here and here for more information. Despite all the setbacks, though, the people seem determined to keep fighting.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


One of the quite nice things about this visit to Indonesia is that I'm on a pretty loose schedule, and have time to do normal touristy things like visit temples.

We even got up at 4:00 in the morning the catch the sunrise at Borobudur (and thus miss the heat and the crowds). It was quite lovely, and I didn't even spend too much time geeking out about localization, religious syncretism and the diffusion of Indic culture in Southeast Asia.
Irham, Jakarta
Bush has never been a popular figure in Indonesia -- a Muslim country with a strong history of anti-imperial struggle (notwithstanding of course, its own colonial adventures in East Timor and Papua) -- and his re-election ensured that dislike of Bush would extend to the American people.

Recently, though, it's once again become cool to be American. "From Amerika? Barack Obama, Ya!"

What can I do but smile and shrug my shoulders?