Archive for October, 2012

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 :))