November 9, 2013

Yolanda whispers of tomorrow

by Melissa


vulnerable lives strewn like umbrellas in the

gutter after the typhoon clears our area

of responsibility, we can’t take anything without

destruction somewhere in the end.

the truth of our world

splayed across a shopping list

a shattered window

the poster of a politician’s face

they satisfied themselves with the chase

and the meal afterwards

a shrine or the event itself?

today’s news  in a puddle of water and gas.


tomorrow will she rage tears in the darkness?

wailing, forgotten in the corner with the cost of rice

always rising like the rich, failing

pitched inevitability like a tent city.

the world falling around her

(ravaged as they say only ever in the wake of a hurricane

passing off the western seaboard)

her story shunted aside

in the banquet of another day as usual

traded for a fucking dollar

consumed naked and fast

like a perfect slice of white bread.


please god, tomorrow will she breeze by the window?

a touch that travels wet along the coast, a peal of joy in her name

the harvest falling under our tongues

as lovers before the waves surge then

balancing history on the edge of her lips

a moan lifting like a puff of smoke

from the hearth where nothing is wasted

messenger to the world, to the very soul

of a world beyond cries in the darkness.

where truth swells like an awareness seeping steadily

into the wellspring of our being together.




August 25, 2013

The Balikbayan and her Daughter: A Common Dreams Manifesto

by Melissa

The balikbayan returns to her homeland through her daughter, a naive smile plastered to her face.  Cheerfulness: the responsibility of home-coming.  Two years and a few crises of identity later, she is still here, trying not to over-represent her experience of the third world.  It is not hers to represent, afterall.

She will go to the Million People  March and rage against corruption nonetheless; however ambivalent she feels about the government (not her own).  In the Philippines, we can understand corruption as a beyond-state practice.  One among many weapons in an arsenal of theft.   Beyond the boundaries of sovereignty;  beyond taxpayer jurisdiction (“I deserve because I pay”);  and beyond (real and imagined) efforts of an Aquino Government to ‘straighten the road’.  Corruption here happens as a historical practice, along the spectrum of small and large thefts that make up the history of these Philippine Islands.  A thesis.  Perhaps made worse by power centralizing in all the wrong places, she admits the family names of Marcos and Enriles…  Nevertheless, tracing the causality of corruption ends in the same annals of history that begin with colonization.  Deep roots.

And the balikbayan (not her daughter) shrugs her shoulders and drinks the last dregs of her cup of Proper Tea, the Canadian way.

The problem with tax embezzlement is both a question of burden and responsibility.  For the record, she pays her taxes quarterly…  So, she argues, the practice of taxes in the Philippines is illusionary at best, shrouded in the thinnest veil of sovereignty.  The social contract of taxes is supposed to be clear cut.  We pay them.  Life goes on.  A virtuous cycle of exchanging part of her income for the hospital she uses occasionally, or the school she might someday send her kids to.

But in the process of third worlding something changes.  Life goes on whether we pay tax or not…  The truth of it is we don’t need tax, we just need credit.  What we really need are foreign investments.   A good credit rating.  International standing.  So we waste the opportunity for public funds through tax-free holidays in Export Processing Zones and automatic debt appropriations.

But where’s the protest about that?

It’s difficult to locate her anger, somehow schizophrenized in the generational loyalities between here and there.  Imperialismo ibagsak! Scrawled in red below the skyway on the route to Muntinlupa.  The concrete post stood for a nearly a century waiting for a tax allocation.  Preach sister, she thinks absentmindedly at the red letters as her taxi crawls along the West Side Highway.

Her mind drifts to a future Philippines.  A fantasy wherein all the politicians that Want to Have Their Pork and Eat it Too are exiled to Saskatoon , Saskatchewan only to find an angry mob of Filipino-Canadians with pitchforks and protest songs.

Not to say that these people in government aren’t to blame. Of course they are.

It’s just that the protests can’t stop at Malacanang (or more likely at the arches before we even cross the bridge at Mendiola).

The question is of burden and responsibility, the blame so wide and long and deep.

The balikbayan takes some responsibility and lets God take the rest.  She pays taxes to another government, her duty as an immigrant.  She still loves her country.  You can love from afar, afterall.  She sends boxes filled with chocolate, shampoo and rubber shoes.  She shrugs her shoulders.  That’s life.

Maybe the embezzler justifies his actions as responsibility to his family?  The thought of it, and we all recoil in disgust.  But the fantasy of responsibility works this way.  We are responsible to those we love, those we know, and then those we don’t know.  In that order.

The nation, however loved, is estranged through the process of migration.  The balikbayan and her daughter, strangers in the motherland.  Yet, our responsibility to the nation is premised on love and not the other way around.

The daughter takes responsibility differently.  She’s a cynic in matters of the heart.  “Love?  What about Truth?”  she said one time, crying on Skype to a serious boyfriend who could not believe she was willing to uproot her comfortable Brooklyn life for the streets of Manila.  That’s life.

The Truth no-holds-bar: life in the third world becomes a little less liveable every day.

And so we move away from the third world, or the truth, or both.

This ‘moving away’ has become the tragic definition of upward mobility.  The privatization of our dreams.  We learn the only way to get ahead is through the individual pursuit of life.  Bayan be damned!  Another migration statistic, another dollar to justify the mall-ification of the urban landscape (as if we’re fooled that this is any less third worlding).

But “True Journey is Return” as they say.  A mantra for those who willingly choose displacement.  It reminds her that somehow her presence might matter in all of this.  Not simply because she has the privilege of quality public education, the means to buy and read books, the luxury of critique, but because her story as a Global Filipino sits uneasily beside Jeanne Napoles on Flight 103 from Los Angeles.

Both of them might be globe-trotting, transnational Filipinos, privileged by birth to pursue their dreams.  But one inherits public money from the third world to buy herself expensive shoes.  The other one inherits public goods from the first world to write essays in the third world 😉

The choice should never be between private dreams and public responsibilities.  Here’s a manifesto for common dreams.

Perhaps, the process of accountability works in parallel form to responsibility.  First we hold accountable those we love, then those we know, and finally those we don’t know.

So let’s start with the politicians.  Those we love to hate, those whose intimate familiarity reminds us of the past.  Que se Vayan Todos, if it were up to her…

But that cannot be the end.

The question of tax burden and responsibility goes beyond the fact of embezzlement.  Ultimately good governance ought to be measured in terms of whether life is worth living in the third world.

How do we hold history accountable to the present?  How does she hold herself accountable to the generations of common dreamers that, today, call her Ate?

January 2, 2013

lights, camera, family!

by Melissa

Family is central to the story of the Philippines…  I have been immersed in this truth on various occasions since I last wrote.  In November there was Undas-  All Saints and All Souls Day.  This is the day where everybody goes to the cemetery to visit  family members who have passed on.  There are flowers and candles and food for the dead.  There is music and food for the living too.  The cemetery is alive!  I went too, to visit my Lolo at Lola in the public cemetery in Alabang.  It is ”apartment style” five or six tombstones on top of each other…  On the way we passed tens of thousands of people and a carnival with a ferris wheel-turned-rollercoaster.  My Tita asked if I wanted to ride but I declined!  It was going so fast!

I wish I had pics of this… but I have a strange  complex with pictures that involves some combination of  a) remembering to bring my camera and b) having the guts to take pictures and c) a philosophy of not wanting to live for the future

Sometimes I feel like I purposely don’t bring a camera so I can stay in the moment… And I sometimes get chided for this by friends and family.  But really, it still happened, right, even if you don’t have proof!

On Undas, we did a full rosary in the crowded space in between  the vertical columns of graves.  I was touched somehow that a few onlookers joined us in the ceremony.  Can’t hurt to have a few extra voices join the chorus.

Since then, its been the holiday season.  Christmas here is a two month ordeal.  I have had the privilege of celebrating with the Lantern Parade at UP, my dad visiting, a few spiritual gatherings for 2012 and the solstice, multiple meals with family, and of course the ritual of gift-giving.

With my family in Alabang, just like last year, I played the role of sexy Santa- giving gifts of clothes, games, toys.  This season I also got to do a bit of gift-grabbing during my office Christmas party and also with the Duwendes.   This entailed buying gifts to exchange and then flipping cards to see who can grab the most gifts.  Haha.  I ended up with a pair of blue shorts, a notebook, a malong, and a reusable bag…

I tried to minimize the almost-garbage quality of Christmas too… wanting to participate and yet maintain an environmental conscience.  Its hard to do this with the amount of plastic that emerges here (everywhere) for the holiday season. I guess if you only have 20 pesos to spend, all you get is plastic.  But there is an alternative.  I ended up buying many last-minute gifts (on the 24th) under the bridge in Quiapo.  There are many stalls selling Philippine handicraft made of wood, bamboo, shells, and indigenous fiber.  There’s a tradition here of thrift, making the most of something…   but it seems as though there were few customers on this last busy shopping day.  I added that to my bucket list of things to do in the Philippines:  visit the ports, where cheap goods from China etc. are dumped for the Philippine market.  It really changes everything.

There’s one kind of almost-garbage though that I’m into here: cheap LEDs.  At all the events and public places in Manila, there are always these vendors selling lights.  The kind derived from glow sticks, quite exclusively for kids and stoners.  Lights are a simple pleasure here, and I suppose, I have fallen in their favour.   My favorite being  the slingshot LED parachute that goes 100 feet in the air.  This is my guilty-pleasure 20 peso piece of plastic…P1030422

October 31, 2012

loving what we do

by Melissa

I went to the beach this weekend.

We followed the blogs-  and took a jeep to the MRT to a bus to Calatagan.  3 hours on an overwhelmingly air conditioned bus.  We made it afterdark and ended up in a lover’s hotel for the night.  the kind of place for first timers, or the scandalous, or maybe for valentine’s day. There are mirrors everywhere, and mood lighting, and a holographic image of a sexy lady.  We could have paid and stayed for 3 hours but we took 12.

The next morning at 8am we were beach-bound.  The tricycle ride gave us a window into the everyday lives of the locals: fishing.

A year ago or so this beach was bought by somebody who will develop it (destroy it?)  This blog suggests the buyer is no other than SM (the megamall virus and other more libelous descriptors) although we were not able to confirm this info from local folks we talked to…

There was one other group camping on the beach.   We didn’t bring enough food or gear to stay overnight, and we were not really planning on it.  But we were open.  And then we saw the beauty of the place, its simplicity, and a blue sky; we wanted to stay.  And sure enough a tent is for rent.  The family that seems to manage the place has a small house that also doubles as a sari sari store and information center.  They were even kind enough to cook rice and fish for us for a small fee.

I used to be really into risk-taking and travel.  And while I no longer seem to travel like a punk, I loved the reminder that life provides.

The beach family it turns out has migrant aspirations.  Kuya Ramon told me about three of his children- a dentist, a nurse and a manager at a local fast food chain each bound for an overseas job in either toronto, british columbia or brisbane.  Yup.  Professionals taking what’s available elsewhere.  Even the manager will take a counter job in Canadian fast food.  Since when has Canada been importing its fast food workers?

But weirder still, for Kuya Ramon, was the enigma of a Canadian citizen working in the Philippines. “so many jobs there but you’re working here!” he says incredulously, shaking his head.  It doesn’t seem to add up in the logic of economics-  where jobs are ever only about meeting basic needs.

I dream of a future where work is about fulfilling purpose, cultivating passions, engaging beauty…

But today, I am one of the privileged.

I can attempt a holistic approach to work.  I can be in the Philippines as a traveller/worker/ lover/ cousin/friend/investor…  I can love what I do for work!

Last night in a very productive conversation with a friend and fellow social entrepreneur, we talked about our projects in the Philippines.  “You can do anything here”, she says with conviction.  It’s a paradox of the Filipino experience.  That while there are not opportunities to meet even basic needs for many people here (thus persistent poverty; the migration phenomenon), for those with capital-  money, resources, social networks- the Philippines is just ripe with opportunity.

October 24, 2012

Back in the Philippines

by Melissa

Cultivating freedom in the world means experiencing the pain of choice, the limits of actually knowing what makes us free.

This is my newest mantra.  A clear thought towards letting good things go-  despite love, despite a shared future dreamed over many years and many beautiful moments…

It’s posted now on the wall on a square of green paper beside the last one:

What you are loving together is truth: everything real has to be shared; everything else has to be dismantled (this is William Pennell Rock care of Eric Francis, astrologer extraordinaire)

Long distance love relationships, anyone??


The last couple of weeks have been about readjusting to the pace of life here in the Philippines.  The traffic and the sexual tension (gendered curiousity?) (ok, I know that’s pretty presumptuous but still…)

So much happening.  My thesis defense! Going to Saskatoon! My sister is pregnant! And coming back to the Philippines, on a more indefinite timeframe, ‘for work’.  And I live here too! Of course so much is happening politically too.  The cybercrime bill, the US election, the beginnings of electoral politics in the Philippines (oh I have a lot to learn), the plastic bag ban in QC, the amazing street demos in Europe….       How does it all fit together?  How does it make a common sense?

I don’t have all the answers or even all the questions.  Focus, Melissa!  A friend at UP has invited me to participate in a reading group on Graeber’s Debt.  Yes! I hope we can manifest theory and make at least some connections between current crises affecting the Global North and the state of the Philippine nation- call centers, unemployment, massive migration…    And what to do?!

I struggle with patience and endurance.  This blog, for example.  But I suppose fits and starts is better than silence.  A friend told me I should write about the everyday too, not just the politics.  I should, I’ll try.  I guess it’s about trying to be honest about my everyday too-  my embodied living (rather than being an abstract theorist commenting on ‘life’ as an object).

Today I feel… vulnerable.  I have to steady myself to go into the world.  I ride my bike along the same roads most days.  It’s hot and I’m sweating all the time.  Its somehow important to me though.  Carving out the space to bike here, even though its not necessary or normal.  I do it because I love to bike.  Because I believe in biking.

I think the endurance question also applies to the theme of this blog. risklove.  Risk is something of a commitment.  Its not just invoked in the moment.  Its something we cultivate for a possible future.  Being here in the Philippines is a kind of risk for me, based on a shared future.  I want her development like I want my own.  I know I should write about this.  About why I want to be in the Philippines.

Next time…   😉

Picture care of Rexy (my second cousin)

October 24, 2012

An Anarchist’s Viewpoint on the Akbayan/ Anakbayan Debate

by Melissa

I am struck by the ongoing (and recently very public) debate about power and the marginalized among the Left in the Philippines.

I appreciate this article that points out the need for critical thinking, for questions that disrupt complacency. I also appreciate her tone, the way she honors what she has learned and from whom. Anakbayan taught her to see power relations, to see that the marginalization of people- fisherfolk, farmers, urban poor, women, migrant workers and many others- is a persistent reality within a capitalist system. However, I think there’s a missing piece in her analysis.

We are talking about the party-list system: that is an avenue for representational politics. Thus we are not simply talking about power and power relations in our society, but questioning the complicated and important place of representation in our political movements.

Anakbayan asserts that because Akbayan members have positions in the current government (Rocamora in NAPC, Rosales in CHR) it is no longer marginalized and therefore ought to be disqualified from party-list candidacy. Akbayan does not deny its relative success in electoral politics. In that sense it is not marginal. However, it vehemently opposes that logic that suggests they are no longer representing the marginalized.

There is a slippage between two realms- marginalization in electoral politics and marginalization in everyday life. Are these the same? Of course being disenfranchised, having a marginal voice in the political process reflects and refracts the broader reality of being marginal. That is of being ‘subaltern’, defined as “unable to access lines of social mobility” (Spivak, 2005). However, the party-list system tries to rectify the fact of subalternity by providing an avenue for subaltern voices in politics. To engage in party-list politics is to agree, even momentarily, that the subaltern can be represented in the first place. And furthermore, that good representations “giving voice to the voiceless” can indeed shift power relations in everyday life.

On the surface, Anakbayan’s claim is that Akbayan as a party is no longer marginalized, and therefore cannot represent the marginalized. This is true only if the assumption is that the powerful cannot represent the marginalized.

Who is powerful? Who is marginalized?

These are important question. The debate has a lot to do with how we understand POWER. The farmer is marginalized in relation to the landowner in everyday life. As a result of this power, the privilege afforded the landowner, he is also empowered (through money, education, leisure time, social networks) in other spheres and can wield significant political power at the local, even national, level. But this power is not fixed. Secure in its truth. Rather this power is articulating across time and space. It needs to be constantly produced and legitimized. In other words, the landowner is not necessarily powerful and the farmer powerless across all spheres. If we concede that it is possible to build power, to become empowered (through money, education, leisure time, social networks), we acknowledge the possibility of disrupting the categories of powerful and marginalized. The dichotomy seems rather shallow in the complexity of our being.

Who can represent the marginalized?

Post-Colonial scholar Gayatri Spivak has a long career of thinking through this question. In her landmark “Can the Subaltern Speak” (1988) she challenges the idea that anyone (even post-colonials themselves) can represent identities and make recognizable subalternity without re-constraining the subaltern through narrow and static patterns of recognition. In this initial analysis her answer is NO ONE CAN REPRESENT ACCURATELY. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO REPRESENT THE MARGINALIZED IN ORDER TO INFLUENCE POWER RELATIONS. This, quite obviously, provides no way forward, no way of making claims at all. Interestingly, BAYAN’s initial position on the party-list system seemed to concur with this conclusion. However, their participation since 2001 in the party-list system signals a change in thinking, towards the idea that the marginalized can represent themselves.

In Spivak’s later work (2005) she attempts to hold onto a praxis of self-representation. The marginalized can represent themselves in particular places at particular times. She points to conditions which make possible political claims, specifically that representational politics must be accountable to a politics of participation. That is, structures of decision-making matter. Subaltern representations must engage the subaltern (the fisherfolk, farmers, women, migrant workers, etc). And moreover, representations ought to change and shift depending on self-understandings and political context. Thus, there can be no “accurate” representations. The language of “does not represent the masses” cannot be simply truth, tied to the firm knowledge of what and who are the masses (and who they are not). Rather a representational politics acknowledges that when we speak for others (whether we are one of them, or they are different from us) it remains a strategic invocation, limited by context and by the possibility of change itself.

For me, anarchist that I am, a representational politics is necessary in the struggle for change only IF the representation exists in relation to a vibrant and dynamic participatory process.

However, the question remains: which political groups (Akbayan and Anakbayan included) are truly engaging a participatory process within their respective representational politics?

(previously an FB note… but worth posting I suppose :))

December 7, 2011

day 2 attempt to occupy

by Melissa

The second day and the police have upped their violent response.  I worked today with TIGRA but decided to head back down here to Mendiola after work with a friend.  We got off at Legarda Station and passed the Mendiola archway on our roundabout way to the campout spot in front of a church…    Arriving in a market, the street was bustling as it likely always is- but with a twist.  A few tents and many more young people, workers, activists lying down resting on protest slogans.  New banners in the painting stage, people grouped in tight circles talking or playing music.   Most people seem to be with their organizations, the first sign of Occupy the Philippine way.  Thirty minutes later there is short program comprised of pep talk from UP student leaders including one who was beaten by the police and still wears the bloody jeans to prove it.  There are a few solidarity messages from sectors in solidarity including local unions and indigenous people from the Cordillera region.  The dominant message tonight seems to be budget cuts to education although there is also a candlelight vigil going on for overseas Filipino workers on death row.

I had a few interesting conversations with folks here about how the Occupy movement in the US differs from the current campout.  One young student suggested that in the US people are still searching for an alternative-  that it is enough over there to start with a call of unity- to come together as the 99%.  Whereas here, there is already a crafted alternative to current conditions-  Bayan is already the movement of the 99%.  I asked a few people whether there were people here who were unaffiliated (with Bayan).  The easy answer is no.  “Maybe they would be intimidated.  But for sure they wouldn’t leave without an affiliation.”  Another young artist answered the question with a little anecdote about yesterday-  how at Plaza Miranda there were food vendors who were engaging for the first time, giving gifts of food, listening.  They support but they are not affiliated. They are still massa.

The more complex answers is not noticeably.  There were a couple of masked musicians, playing quietly outside the safety of the cordoned area, letting a few local kids play with their percussion instruments.

I have a few camera phone pictures I’d like to post- but for now, in this internet cafe with disabled USBs and gaming galore,  I have to be content to paint a mental picture.  I feel blessed to be part of this-  to be welcomed into this occupied space by friendly, curious faces.  There is much courage here.  At some other point I’d like to unpack the ways Occupy Philippines will be necessarily different from what’s happening in the First World.  Tonight, I want to trust that its all the same struggle.

Check out this facebook page for updates:

December 6, 2011

occupy philippines

by Melissa

Today I joined the student march to Mendiola, the classic place to protest in the Philippines.  According to this call out  students and youth were to start off the occupy event by marching to Malacanang and camping out.  Over the next few days, we were to be joined by other sectors-  migrants and their families, trade unions and workers, urban poor.  However, plans have changed.  The police and two firetrucks (crowd dispersion techniques here include water cannon…) met us on at the intersection of Recto Ave and Nicanor Reyes St, about 3 blocks from Mendiola.   For the first time since Noynoy Aquino took office, a political rally in Manila has been met with force.  After nearly four hours of holding the intersection, the people decided to move to Plaza Miranda to camp for the night.  Tomorrow will be another day-  perhaps another march to Mendiola.

I was genuinely surprised to see the police in riot gear beating back students.  Many of us lost our tsinelas (flip flops) in the first water bomba but we managed to hold our ground.  A barefoot young woman in a school uniform laughed with her friends.  First time in a rally and look what happened!  A few times we locked arms again, we seemed about to charge the police and advance to Mendiola.  But it was impossible to force our position.  They were preempting a movement growing into a problem.  They hope to stop the energy, the analysis, the indignation that might inspire a Third World Winter, like an American Fall and an Arab Spring.  Winter doesn’t exist here-  but its almost Christmas and the idea of unpacking a global revolution stirs my spirit.

A month ago, farmers camped out at Mendiola for 3 days.  They were allowed to be there.  Based on what happened today, something about the campout message has pushed a button in the halls of power.  There have been some news articles here about how Occupy is unnecessary or misplaced in the Philippine context.  This is far from true.  Wealth concentration  in the Philippines is well-known and long-standing.  Land tenure is a big issue-  as there are feudal relations (tenant farmers and huge haciendas) that continue to hamper agricultural development.   Business is monopolized by several well-know family clans  and the conglomerate structure of the economy has largely promoted a service-based economy (including overseas labour).  And of course, there is outside influence- foreign banks, multi-lateral “aid” organizations, foreign governments like the US, which have undermined genuine democracy for decades.  You only have to walk a block in Manila to notice the disparity between rich and poor, to see that gated subdivisions and urban poor communities live in constant spatial negotiation.

I am excited about the campout for several reasons beyond the above.  Yes, in an abstract sense, I think the conditions are ripe.  But of course,  I also want to participate!  I have also been following the Occupy Everything movement closely through friends and independent press in New York City and Toronto-  two places close to my heart.  My blood has boiled watching videos of the UC Davis pepper spray incident.  Sometimes I feel I am missing the most important thing to happen in the US in my lifetime.  Other times, I convince myself that wherever I am (the Philippines!), the struggle remains.  So I have been attempting to talk Occupy with people I meet here.  And of course make  links between remittance economies (the topic of my research) and debt crises (now and in the 80’s in particular).  I am excited about the campout because I want to occupy something:)

I also am excited about the campout because I see it as an opportunity for openness in organizing.  One of the things most endearing about the Occupy moment is that it attempts to remain open, participatory, and inviting.  Part of the Occupy model includes the General Assembly, which makes decisions about tactic, strategy and analysis.  It is a forum where different views come together to make collective decisions.  Direct democracy.  It is also a movement open to different targets-  occupy the bronx, occupy foreclosures, occupy the park.  I think this kind of openness is important to stir the hearts and minds of those people who are not about to submit to recruitment, militant education and consolidation.  I feel, in a way, I am one of those.  It is difficult to really organize me because I’m bound to disagree.  The thing is-  its better to be able to critique from the inside.  To be able to say-  I love you and I disagree.  Otherwise I might fail to see our unity, the way we are the 99% together.  I hope a campout model invites participation and engagement-  where the curious can come and see.

I desire Occupy to become a worldwide movement against capitalism.  It already brags to be worldwide and yet the gaps are telling. Some suggest that the Philippines is unconnected to finance capitalism.  And while it may be true that collateral debt obligations and the toxic debt crisis in the US did not noticeably effect the Philippine financial sector or that the Eurozone crisis might have a limited effect on the Philippine status quo, the Philippines is nonetheless implicated.  Perhaps even a seasoned, practiced, hardened recipient of  neoliberal maneuvers now rocking the First World.  The Philippines is not “unconnected” to finance capitalism, but in fact differently connected.  We still need to work out what these links look like.  Here in the Philippines I think the classic calls for Land, Wage, Work, Education and Rights remains incredibly important.  I think its important to track state abandonment of social services not only to corrupt local leadership but also to a debt crisis of the 80’s (capitalist crisis) that continues to bankrupt Philippine development.  We need to build solidarity between “anti-outsourcing” in the US and call-center workers  in the Philippines who studied engineering in college only to spend their nights on the phone with US customers.  We need to understand our material conditions. worldwide.  And push to value labour both here and there.

I hope that tomorrow we will take Mendiola, set up camp and really get to know each other, our struggles, our dreams, our power.




November 13, 2011

risk love

by Melissa

So far in this new writing space i’ve been very focused on making connections about debt crisis across time and space….  the role of the banking sector and the investor class in creating public debt… the impact of debt on genuine democracy…

I want to take a step back and try to explain the name of this blog.  Why risk love?

Part of my preoccupation with Wall St’s role in debt crises (then and now; here and there) stem from a desire to unpack the extent to which the investment mechanism effectively decides what a society does and how.  How should we understand investment in an era where financial investment (foreign direct investment, sovereign bonds, business loans, venture capital etc. is implicitly the lifeblood of society?  The irony of the bank is that it pools all our money and invests in against us!  But maybe an investment doesn’t have to be this way…

i watched a video yesterday one academic makes the point that pension funds are working class investments (in fact withheld wages) being channeled for capitalist accumulation… i think in a sense this kind of thinking is fruitful… is the way to go- to walk this weird road of how to really invest in (ie support with money, time) the things we love and do it keeping the value of labour at the centre.

The debt hold is one way that the current investment mechanism works against us.  We are beholden to bankers because they have managed to convince us that the only way forward (development, progress, growth, security) is to take their money now and pay them back on their terms.  Their terms include forced economic restructuring, market-based (read: wildly fluctuating) interest and exchange rates and other conditionalities that make it almost impossible to pay off.  Moreover, paying off “our” debts requires further borrowing.

My project here on remittances (money im/migrants send home) and the banking sector  is also an attempt to understand how investment works in the Philippines, who benefits from this capital flow, how development is being defined…

How are  the ways we assess risk (a migrant family, for example, may not be eligible for a loan because she doesn’t own enough) undermining our ability to invest with love in the things we value?  How is the concentration of wealth undermining our ability to go out on a limb for something visionary, progressive, and pro-people?  (Why would a bank that also owns real estate, telecommunicatons, and giant retail course “its” money into agriculture?)

Occupy Wall St-  has begun to collectively ask an important question:  what is the role of banks in society?  I hope that as we continue to probe this question,  we take the opportunity to define our values and build an investment infrastructure that can effectively put our money (among other resources) where our heart is.

November 7, 2011

mystery debt and political foreclosure

by Melissa

Okay, of course, there’s more to the current crisis than US housing markets.  The European Debt Crisis (Greece of course being the current flavour) is a sovereign debt crisis like the debt crisis of the 80’s. Debt activists are pointing to some important continuities between then and now, including the mystery of debt burden and the related narrowing of what is politically viable.

This CADTM’s statement of solidarity aptly captures the (deliberate?) amnesia regarding the source of sovereign debt among European nations like Greece, Ireland, Italy and Iceland.  Like the US bank bailout, European countries too rescued big financial institutions in the wake of the toxic debt crisis that swept the financial sector following the housing crisis in the US.  For 30 years, debt activists have called for Debt Audits in order to democratically determine the source and legitimacy of the debt burden facing debtor nations.  This has yet to be done in the Philippines, for example, and the political space around national debt was foreclosed in the wake of Cory Aquino’s pledge to honour all debts incurred under Marcos (with the help of loan pushers, see my Nov 5 post).  And thus the Philippines kept the Martial Law period law ( Automatic Appropriation Act) that puts all debt service as priority in national expenditure.  Odious debt has many definitions, but importantly, all of them underscore the negotiability of debt.  Graeber has noted that debt can create conditions of servitude precisely because of a moral narrative of debt repayment.  Challenging this debt narrative is crucial.  Mainstream news coverage of the political crisis in the European Union (and Greece itself) has effectively forgotten about the debt owed by bankers to the public who bailed them out.  Challenging the debt narrative (through debt audit) can raise the important question:  Who owes who?  What does the investor class owe the public in light of the crisis they created?  Would a debt audit bring to light odious sovereign debts-  debts unrelated to government spending on social welfare and legitimate national investment-  debts that are in the form of toxic financial assets,  Credit Default Swaps or other strange and speculative intruments that create debt for investor profit….?

Similar to the creditor protection afforded by the IMF (through more loans with conditionalities) in the 80’s and 90’s, creditor protection in the European debt crisis has taken the form of loan extensions to Greece (notably by the EU) on conditions of austerity.  This effectively shifts the crisis burden from the investor class to the working class.  The narrative of austerity measures functions on the myth (real or imagined?) that national debt is the result of “overspending” given the national revenue stream.  Austerity measures (as the only solution to crisis) foreclose the possibility that debt was incurred through large-scale (unregulated and “legal”) fraud in the first place:  corporate tax breaks, new forms of sovereign lending (derivatives and creative accounting),  investments in crock-pot paper with high-grade ratings, and other anti-people practices.  Like in Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador, Greek people are right to challenge the mainstream debt narrative through street-level tactics.  Worldwide debt audits (and other ways of opening political spaces within economic narratives) should be on the table- for new and old debtor countries.

Moreover, the current Eurozone crisis ought to underscore the extent that sovereign nations are tied to odious terms of agreement.  The whole reason Greece needs bailouts from Europe and the IMF is due to perceived investor risk of sovereign default (and the consequent exhorbitant cost of further borrowing).  Is this risk in fact a product of  financial sector profit instruments in the Sovereign Derivatives Market rather than simply “Greece living beyond its means”?  Maybe the blueprint from the 80’s debt crisis still serves us well:

I  Frontier markets in  sovereign lending      (SO KEY!)

II Widespread inability to pay (or the perception of such due to risk ratings since payment is reliant on further borrowing)

III  Creditor protection like the backdoor bailout (so Greek won’t default on its loans to private investors) that is currently being negotiated.

What remains to be seen is whether the Greek people submit to debtor management at the cost of  national sovereignty and working class solidarity or effectively push back against the mainstream debt narrative.

The sovereign debt crisis is perhaps more a crisis of sovereignty than of debt proper.