Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thailand after the "Good" Coup: A Lecture-Forum


Kevin Hewison

Director, Carolina Asia Center
and Professor, Department of Asian Studies
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


The "good" coup has provided an opportunity for the conservatives and royalists to revise the rules of politics. The outcome for Thailand's political system and political participation will be highly paternalistic. Conservatives and royalists dominate the junta's political institutions. The appointed National Assembly is drawn mainly from the Bangkok elite, with few representatives of workers, farmers, or other political parties. The military and bureaucracy are having their prerogatives and power returned, and Bangkok-centered elites dominate limited debates about political and social rights. Conservatives in the military and the palace control the bureaucracy. Decentralization has been rolled back to insulate the bureaucracy from political leaders and parliamentary control. At the same time, the military has promoted its own interests and those of its leaders. The junta has purged the senior levels of the public service and has embedded military officers into significant positions in administration. For the moment this conservative turn appears to be supported by the middle class. A common middle-class refrain has been that the people who supported Thaksin—mainly the working class and especially poor rural population—were ignorant, bewildered, bought off, or coerced. The military supports this view and buttresses it by painting the "masses" as threatening.


28 June 2007 (Thursday)
2:30-4:30 p.m.
Bulwagang Sala'am
Romulo Hall
Asian Center
University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City

Registration (02:00-02:30)

Welcome Remarks (02:30-02:35)

Aileen SP. Baviera
Asian Center
University of the Philippines-Diliman

Introduction of the Speaker (02:35-2:40)

Thailand after the “Good” Coup (02:40-3: 40)

Kevin Hewison

Director, Carolina Asia Center
and Professor, Department of Asian Studies
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Open Forum (03:40-4: 25)

Last Comments from the Lecturer (04:25-4: 30)

Armando S. Malay Jr.
Asian Center
University of the Philippines-Diliman

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Asian Cooperation: Problems and Challenges in the New Century (A Kasarinlan Review)

Lydia Yu-Jose, ed. 2005. Asian Cooperation: Problems and Challenges in the New Century. Quezon City: Ateneo Center for Asian Studies. 173 pp.

First published in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 21, 2 (2006): 158-161.

This volume is a collection of six papers that were chosen from a pool of presentations in the 2004 Ateneo Center for Asian Studies conference dubbed “Asian Cooperation: Problems and Challenges in the New Century.” The papers seek to address the fundamental question: How can cooperation among states be pursued in order to tackle contemporary issues in the region? This overarching issue is appropriated in various local and international dimensions that involve social, political, and cultural implications. The chapters deal with diverse topics such as economic partnerships, particularly between the Philippines and Japan; regionalism, focusing on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asian region; poverty; electoral participation; and Muslim culture.

The range of topics in the collection reflects the diversity found in Asian societies. While this may be promising—at least in the discourse of neoliberal, capitalist globalization—the papers carefully point out that this diversity, in fact, brings about nuanced outcomes. For one, the existence of differences seemed to have exacerbated certain problems and made finding viable solutions relatively difficult. The structures and forms of cooperation, therefore, need to be crucially examined, stripped of their preconceived idealist visions, in order to identify concrete problems that may have germinated in the process of actualizing, as well as in the realization of established goals.
In Southeast Asia, economic disparities between members of the ASEAN help explain why ASEAN finds it difficult to fully promote economic “integration” among its members. Thus, what remains prevalent is the exercise of economic exchange between ASEAN and other East Asian states, rather than between ASEAN neighbors, despite the presence of the ASEAN Free Trade Area. With ASEAN members putting more emphasis on trading with non-ASEAN countries such as Japan, South Korea, and China, the Southeast Asian region remains a small market compared to other regions. This issue is explored in the chapters on “Asia in the Twenty-First Century” by Rodolfo Severino and “Toward an East Asian Economic Community” by Ellen Palanca.

In Northeast Asia, political differences and historical animosity among South Korea, Japan, and China make the idea of a united Northeast Asian region difficult, if not impossible, to realize. The rivalry between China and Japan continues to serve as a motivation for these states to expand economically and politically, and fuels their desire to individually serve as the core or hub of an East Asian community. This is apparently made evident by their continuous pursuit of trade agreements with members of the ASEAN. As Lydia Yu Jose explains in “Japan and the Philippines: The Politics of an Economic Partnership,” Japan’s forging of economic agreements is seen not only as an attempt to liberalize the economy, but also as a strategy to countervail the economic activities of China. With the prospects of a Northeast Asian community looming large, Japan looks to the ASEAN region as the necessary agent in promoting multilateral economic cooperation in East Asia, serving as the core of such economic agenda. In spite of ASEAN’s own internal economic constraints, it becomes the driving force of economic cooperation in the East Asian region. Thus, ASEAN + 3, representing the partnership of ten ASEAN member countries and the three economic giants of Northeast Asia, was born.

Besides the economic and political differences, there are a variety of religious beliefs found in many Asian societies. Considering the social conflicts in history fundamentally rooted in religious differences, it seems that religion tends to strain relationships among individuals and groups rather than foster peace. In the Philippines, despite the explicit, official pronouncements of the government that the fight against terrorism is not an attack against the Islamic faith, the numerous terrorist attacks and bombings in the country motivated by a complex blend of religion, militarization, and politics are in part testaments to the unwavering popular belief that associates terrorism with believers of the Islamic faith. As Gerard Rixhon explains in “Muslim Voices: An Introduction to Islam’s Oral Dimension,” the prejudices of the Filipino layman against Muslims, show the deep divide between Christian Filipinos and Muslim Filipinos fundamentally rooted in religion. Drawing from this condition of intolerance, the author seeks to uncover truths that the authentic “Muslim voice” bears, in order to challenge the bigoted myths of Filipinos and inspire a renewed perspective.

The collection also includes essays that address equally compelling challenges to regional cooperation, such as poverty and weak political participation. Interestingly, these alternatives and responses have to be undertaken not only by states but by citizens themselves. The essay “Poverty Situation and NGO [nongovernment organization] Responses in Southeast Asia” by Fernando Aldaba and Ma. Josefa Petilla details and assesses the initiatives and strategies pursued by civil-society groups in the region. The paper shows that the role of civil society is a potent force that may complement, if not supersede, efforts of government toward genuine poverty alleviation.

Telibert Laoc’s “Effective Citizen’s Participation in Elections: Namfrel’s Responsibility to Share with the Nations of the World” discusses in-depth the valuable role of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections in the Philippines in monitoring and ensuring clean, honest, and credible elections in the country. The author highlights Namfrel’s strategy of providing consultancy services to other poll agencies, as well as their member organizations, and the organization’s feat in having been part of several observer teams in many Asian states. Namfrel’s efforts, it was suggested, may serve as model for other Asian states that are saddled by fraudulent, inauthentic elections.

By highlighting the role of nongovernment actors in addressing certain problems, the book provides a compelling argument that domestic and regional problems are better addressed through a synergy of efforts between the government and the people. After all, regional cooperation may be better promoted not only through state-state partnerships, but also through ties among civil-society groups that seek to represent the interests of the poor and disenfranchized.

Readers who expect a critical reading of cooperation between and among state and civil society may be disappointed, however. While the papers were able to examine regional diversity, and the problems and prospects of promoting cooperation among Asian states, what clearly resonates in these chapters is the humanist inclination to impute potentiality in the agency, whether government or civil-society groups. Apart from the substantive lapse, the volume also lacks the cohesiveness expected in a volume of essays. The chapter on Islam’s oral tradition, for instance, seems to be out of place in a collection of studies that involved defined state and nonstate actors. Still and all, this is a worthwhile material for scholars, policymakers, and students of Asian regionalism.—Karen R. Domingo, Research Assistant, Third World Studies Center and MA Philosophy Student, University of the Philippines-Diliman

Down from the Hill: Ateneo de Manila in the First Ten Years of Martial Law, 1972-1982 (A Kasarinlan Review)

Cristina Jayme T. Montiel and Susan Evangelista, eds. 2005. Down from the Hill: Ateneo de Manila in the First Ten Years of Martial Law, 1972-1982. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 344 pp.

First published in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 21, 2 (2006): 161-165.

Down from the Hill: Ateneo de Manila in the First Ten Years of Martial Law, 1972-1982 captures Ateneo de Manila’s brave moments of activism before and during Martial Law in such a way that it brings to the fore Ateneo’s important part in the struggle for democracy. The book chronicles, quite meticulously, in individual essays and personal accounts, the varied stories of student and faculty rebellion in the Jesuit school. Moreover, it reveals how Ateneo activists forged a counter-culture against Marcosian fascism. In the process, it provides some balance to the more common perception that campus radicalism is something only the University of the Philippines and some of Manila’s “University Belt” schools can be proud of as a tradition. The book demonstrates, in matter-of-fact candor, how the school’s elite profile has been brought down from its perch on the social ladder—down from the hill on Katipunan Road—through strident yet creative activism, merged with Ateneo’s guiding philosophy of “becoming one for others.”

The most meaningful feature of the book may well be just that—narrating how Ateneo’s radicalism flourished as a humanist and democratic counter-culture contra fascism, in conjunction with the Jesuit apostolate of being “men and women for others.” Shaped by intellectual initiative from the ground and the stimulus of national-democratic and social-democratic organizing, radical activism interfaced with the theological inspiration of Jesuit mentors in the spirit of service to others. It seems then that the distinguishing mark of Ateneo’s campus activism, as may be elicited in the narratives, is how praxis was partly induced by the institution’s humanist philosophy, and how, in turn, it became part of the institution, fused by enlightened Jesuit scholars into the curricular agenda. “Social concern,” of course, “had long been a major focus of the Ateneo community,” as Susan Evangelista asserts (178). But the activist spirit of the 1970s, as grafted in Ateneo’s institutional program of service, refashioned its guiding philosophy and brought men and women to proactive, if not militant social engagement, some of whom continue to work in the service of the people.

A prominent case in point is the project dubbed Sarilikha. Organized in 1972 under the name Operasyon Tulong (Operation Help) to respond to the heavy floods that hit Central Luzon, Sarilikha “brought students truly down from the hill and into the lives of their countrymen and women in the provinces.” Volunteerism came to be its hallmark. Jose T. Deles recounts, “We talked of Sarilikha service not just as a student pastime . . . we envisioned ourselves as ‘alternative professionals,’ committed to social change as a lifelong vocation” (183). The stories indicate how faculty and students worked with projects and materials (such as readings for volunteer formation) geared toward community service. On an institutional level, the Ateneo Office for Social Concern and Involvement (OSCI) sponsored seminars, which discussed class and social analysis for the officers of Sarilikha and other organizations, bolstering the Ateneans’ fight for social justice in a climate of repression. Combining activist and institutional efforts, these initiatives helped shape a particular brand of Ateneo activism, deemed as a precursor of NGO advocacy today.

The book marks the beginning of Ateneo activism in 1968 with the publication of an article in the student organ, the Guidon. Entitled Down from the Hill and written by Jose Luis A. Alcuaz, Gerardo Esguerra, Emmanuel Lacaba, Leonardo Montemayor, and Alfredo Navarro Salanga, the article speaks of a revolutionary situation in the country and condemns the power elite and its institutions—which, the article asserts, includes the Society of Jesus—as responsible for the crisis that then beset the nation. It calls for serious reforms, a “renewal” of the university, which entailed Filipinization and the ordering of a just society as a Christian commitment. From this point on, various writers narrate the subsequent events that gave flesh and blood to the school’s engagement in social and nationalist activism, which assumed the form of an anti-fascist struggle after 1972. Starting with the authors of the Guidon manifesto, the narratives are also a veritable “who’s who” not only of the school’s history of activism but the country’s as well. The names Edmundo Garcia, Bienvenido Lumbera, Dante Simbulan, and Father Jose Blanco, for instance, provide markers for the main ideological and political persuasions of leadership, at least in the Ateneo campus.

Beyond the personalities, the book points to indicators of the complementary and diverging performances of the two principal competing forces of activism during Martial Law—the national-democratic and social-democratic formations, as played out in the school by their groups and leaders. It is interesting to note that while citing divergences, the narratives rather emphasized the convergences around which these two formations worked and cooperated: the campaign to Filipinize Ateneo, the defense of student and faculty rights and welfare, liberation theology and work in the spirit of “preferential option for the poor,” and critical participation in political exercises such as the Laban campaign in the 1978 Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly) elections. It is to the credit of the writers that the narratives focused on these convergences, which in practice turned out to shape the particularity of Ateneo’s activism.

Whatever the bias for or against a certain political persuasion, it does not come out obtrusively in the essays. Instead, what stands out are the militant esprit de corps on campus and the individuality of a school’s activist engagement. The book elucidates its beginnings in academic freedom and Filipinization, which included the historic establishment of a Filipino department and “immersion in things Filipino,” among others. These events unified and radicalized endeavors for all political tendencies on campus, until Filipinization and radicalism gave way to the emergence of newer modes of activism.

The book does not only chronicle the evolution of activism in the Ateneo but takes stock of its role in society in the light of its humanist philosophy, which sharpened against the backdrop of martial rule and the grave moral, sociopolitical, and economic consequences that followed. Thus, in “interrogating the self,” the book has to deal with the conservative dimension of Jesuit leadership—how this tried to hold back institutional change and direct social engagement—as it has to bring out its enlightened side that encouraged social integration and action, as in the works and pronouncements of Fathers Joel Tabora, Roque Ferriols, Raul Bonoan, Horacio de la Costa, Bienvenido Nebres, and others. Tabora’s idea of Filipinization, which the book quotes, encapsulates one such enlightened thought: “Filipinization of the university involves a Filipinization of our lives, an immersion of our lives in the Philippine situation . . . marshalling our personal and material resources toward the alleviation of suffering, onto the happiness of dignified living” (216). In earlier calls for social engagement, some Jesuit priests participated as elected representatives to the constitutional convention in 1971. But much of the engagement was in the mentoring of faculty and students, and support for those who walked the road less traveled.

From the perspective of historical writing, a book of memories always carries with it the problems of objectivity and range: objectivity, when the writers are the participants themselves; and range, how much coverage and scope is enough. On the first, the creators of the book seem to have resolved the matter easily. They combined writing by social scientists, historians, and literati who provided period contexts and connections in the larger society based on records and personal interviews—some of whom appear not to have had the same immersion as the participants themselves—and by some principal participants who wrote brief personal accounts or vignettes.

On the second, prior limitation appears to have been set in terms of the time frame and, apparently, by focusing on events, ordinary and landmark, that indicate the evolution of activism in the specified period. It is on the second aspect, being a limitation of chronicles, that we seek more, specifically, the theoretical and organizational dynamics of the roles played by the national-democratic and social-democratic formations, especially their “underground” dimension, in the leadership of the open movement, living out united front and solidarity work, and the actualization of their political lines.

This requires another work of a deeper and broader proportion, however, and considerations as well for the legal and institutional implications of truth-telling. Nonetheless, this substantially and generally well-written book of storytelling has more than filled a gap in the writing of that dark period of our history. It has, to paraphrase Milan Kundera’s words, pursued the struggle of memory against forgetting to assert the struggle of humanity against power. —Ferdinand C. Llanes, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of the Philippines-Diliman

Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (A Kasarinlan Review)

Martin F. Manalansan IV. 2006. Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (Philippine Edition). Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 221 pp.

First published in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 21, 2 (2006): 165-167.

In the Philippine edition of his ethnographic study, Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora, Martin F. Manalansan IV begins with a preface, one that is separate from the general preface found in previous editions. Manalansan focuses on his Filipino audience, stating that he believes it to be a “kind of homecoming” (vii) or pasalubong (a small gift or souvenir) as he views his work as “a humble offering” (viii). Although certainly not classifiable as a memoir, Global Divas is arguably a legitimate fingerprint of the author’s personal experience as a gay Filipino immigrant to the United States. Careful to distinguish the specificity of his study—an ethnography of the global and transnational dimensions of gay identity as translated in the everyday life of Filipino immigrants in New York City during the late 1980s to mid-1990s— Manalansan is keen on providing his audience with a thorough view of the lives of these Filipinos in hopes not only of breaking into an underrepresented topic in transnational society, but also of extending the realities of his and many men’s lives to his national kin, and to progress toward an understanding within the nation and world.

Global Divas is a testimony to the different ways Filipino gay men are paving their own course in gay identity rather than simply submitting to or assimilating with the present-day status quo. The study, relying mostly on intimate interviews, or what may be more accurately described as semistructured life narratives, was conducted between 1990 and 1995 in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn in New York and Jersey City, New Jersey. Ads were placed in gay-Asian organization newsletters to recruit potential informants, but most of the interviews that took place were the result of word of mouth and social networks particular to the author. These interviews included questions about life experiences growing up in the Philippines, the trials and tribulations of immigration, and views regarding the themes such as love and sexuality. Religion, class, family, and race are aspects of a Filipino gay man’s life that weave seamlessly with issues ranging from illegal immigration to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic. And with effortless documentation and analysis that only an author of experience and thorough understanding of the subject could accomplish, the arguments brought forth in Global Divas present the reality that the Filipino gay immigrant surpasses the traditional definition of modernity. Although the definition in and of itself appears ironic (is there such thing as traditional modernity?), the diasporic experience of the gay Filipino is not merely one of contradictions, but a unique journey capping on the complete and purest definition of modernity and progression.

Manalansan provides many promises throughout the book, beginning with the vow to analyze the differences between gay men as a representation of the disparities found in gay society. By doing so, Manalansan addresses the gap found in literature on globalization and transnationalism that disregards the place of gendered and sexual subjectivity “by presenting an ethnographic case study of how processes of globalization and transnationalism are negotiated through the processes of identity formation and everyday life of Filipino gay immigrants in New York City” (9). A significant argument he made is that because Filipino gay men have mastered the art of performing in discovering their cultural identity with many ties directly related to their upbringing in the Philippines, Filipino gay immigrants do not assimilate completely but, rather, contest and reform the present state of mainstream gay identity. Essentially, the unique idiosyncrasies they possess, distinguishing themselves from other gay and straight cultures and societies in America, perpetuate an experience very different from what initial presumptions may provide. It is with this reality that Global Divas attempts to release the static concepts of bakla, gay, Filipino, and American from their incarceration within specific places and ideas. Doing so provides a possibility of rethinking these identities and incorrect assumptions, while opening a channel for creating a sense of cultural citizenship.

More than just a successful introduction to the study at hand, Global Divas supplies an in-depth look into lives and issues that more or less have a general appeal to Filipinos and Filipino-Americans alike. The author ensures an engaging read, given a very well-organized and thoughtfully laid out content. Every chapter is outlined both in the introduction as well as in the beginning of each chapter. Although a fleeting glance at the table of contents would leave one with the impression of a haphazard setup, Manalansan takes special note of intertwining all the major themes throughout the entire book. By seemingly jumping from the differences between gay and bakla in chapter 1, the significance of swardspeak (gay speak) in the life of Filipino gay men in chapter 2, the organization of gay life in New York City in chapter 3, the dimensions of everyday life among these men in chapter 4, the importance of public performance such as cross-dressing in chapter 5, and the effects of AIDS on this experience in chapter 6, Manalansan finds a way to incorporate the effects of race, class, family, religion, and specific characteristics of being a gay Filipino with each unique section.

Those who are learned in the field, or at least have some background on the topic, will find a great opportunity to compare their beliefs and experience with Manalansan’s findings, or perhaps even develop their own views. Readers who are new to Filipino gay studies will uncover an arena of society and academia very open to one’s personal discovery. Those who have very basic views of gay Filipino issues, past and present, or those who mostly derive from a slight but steady cultural tie to Philippine society (e.g., the younger generation of American-raised Filipinos) will find this book steeped in valuable information about their culture. All told, Global Divas is an indispensable study on Filipino gay identity and culture, very appropriate for and capable of affecting a range of audience.—Rovaira Dasig, Volunteer-Intern, Third World Studies Center, University of the Philippines-Diliman and BA Economics and Philosophy Student, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA

The New Transnational Activism (A Kasarinlan Review)

Sidney Tarrow. 2005. The New Transnational Activism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 276 pp.

First published in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 21, 2 (2006): 167-170.

Sidney Tarrow’s book, The New Transnational Activism, attempts to sketch a workable explanation of the ordering of contemporary resistance movements and mobilizations happening across the globe. The author perceives the timeliness of providing an explanation for this phenomenon not only because of the increasing number of social movements all over the world, but also of its link to globalization and to the changing face of international politics.

His main thesis in explaining contemporary activism is anchored on increasing internationalism and “rooted cosmopolitanism” in today’s political and social arena. At the macrolevel, internationalism refers to a growing network of international institutions, state and nonstate actors. This complex interplay of horizontal and vertical networks is the site of what he calls “transnational activism,” which is the creative use of the possibilities offered by these networks to form coalitions that cut across national borders. Rooted cosmopolitanism, on the other hand, works at the microlevel. It involves individuals who, despite their physical and cognitive separation from their geographical origins, remain very much connected. This phenomenon is largely the result of increasing opportunities for individual and group migration. The intertwined forces of internationalism and rooted cosmopolitanism render existing social and political boundaries volatile, yet allow for the framing of local issues in the global arena and the adaptation of global issues to local settings.

The author discusses the first direction of contemporary transnational movements—i.e., the “global in the local”—where mass actions against unfettered pro-globalization policies include groups that militate against different parochial interests that affect their local communities. Why does this happen? Although it may seem odd that such international space can actually be the location for staging domestic concerns, it represents a shift in the frame of reference for the struggle. Here, internationalism plays a role: it creates the context where communication with other groups beyond the local space becomes possible.

The creative process in this global framing happens through what he terms “structural equivalence,” which enables domestic actors (interest groups and coalitions) to link international activism with local mass actions, thus changing the very context of the contested arena. At the same time, domestic actors can frame their advocacies globally in order to direct pressures from the international arena to their respective local realities. Ample attention is thus given to urgent problems and concerns, providing the necessary impetus for mobilization.
Conversely, transnational activism also works in terms of the “local in the global,” where the use of the international as the space of contention redresses the complaints of domestic actors at the local level. Through the process of what Tarrow refers to as “scale shift,” local initiatives are transformed to include “broader targets, new actors, and institutions at new levels of interaction” (122). Relying on access to nondomestic information and connections made available by advanced technologies, the local struggle is externalized and projected internationally. The concrete result of such externalization is the formation of transnational coalitions among different interest groups, so that a pool of common resources, threats, and efforts to effect desired changes is produced in a larger space of discourse that goes well beyond local politics.

The prospect for these coalitions to become more institutionalized, however, is a more complicated issue, since not all coalitions, in fact, endure through time. Such “instrumental coalitions” may advocate common interests, but they do not have the necessary collective identity to go beyond instrumental bonds. Coalitions formed in the context of several factors—determined individuals, a growing collaboration among groups and institutions, and the coming together of political opportunities and resources—have greater chances of survival. Therefore, coalitions need to build “cooperative differentiation,” a form of solidarity in the public sphere and internal variability among other constituents, in order to achieve a degree of institutionalization.

The two prongs of contention in today’s international-globalist society demonstrate fundamental changes in the framing of new transnational social movements, both at the local and international levels. Internationalism, being the “informal framework” for transnational activism, makes possible the crossing over of practices associated with contentious politics from the local scene to the global arena, and vice versa. These processes produce new links, lines of divisions, coalitions, and practices, which in turn further change the interactions between governments, interest groups, and international agencies.

The author’s keenness in describing different processes that transform discourses of contentious politics is generally helpful to advocates with different local and global interests, so that struggles are framed in light of the changes occurring in the global sociopolitical scene. By doing so, the author is able to sketch a preliminary cognitive landscape of how activism operates and accomplishes its goals in contemporary society. Activism, as a form of intentional action, also adapts to change when individual activists and organized interest groups utilize situational changes in order to carefully frame their advocacies and mobilize a concerted program for addressing perceived inconsistencies and injustices in today’s public sphere.

Sidney Tarrow carefully balances his theoretically fertile analysis of transnational activist formations by identifying some problematic areas. He particularly points out the increasing risk of “representing” some sectors of society in public advocacies. As the frame of reference gets bigger and transactions become more complicated, advocacy groups have to reassess the actual relationship that they still want to maintain with the sectors whose interests they are willing to uphold and fight for. Extended networks and transactions generate a new wave of social control and repressive apparatuses. The increasing inability of national “agents of public order” to confront such contentions may prompt the formation of international alliances. One would find increasing attempts to regulate the flow of information using state-of-the-art technologies like the Internet and other online transactions.

The processes involved in “transnational activism,” its implications, and the social forces that alter the ways and means by which interest groups exert their influence in the public sphere, is a promising domain for research. Social scientists may find the preliminary explorations of the author worthy of closer investigation. For example, it would be interesting to assess the impact and effects of cooperation and conflict between different nation-states in the formation of transnational activist networks. It would also be profitable to apply, if not validate, the ideas offered in the book in studying the different forms of resistance, struggle, and coalition building in the Philippines.—Manuel Victor J. Sapitula, Instructor, Department of Sociology, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines-Diliman

Planet of Slums (A Kasarinlan Review)

Mike Davis. 2006. Planet of Slums. London: Verso. 228 pp.

First published in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 21, 2 (2006): 170-173.

The sporadic, ubiquitous existence of slums in cities highlights one of the many facets of poverty in human history. With an estimate of more than 200,000 slums on earth ranging in population from a few hundred to more than a million, this phenomenon is seen as “the most significant and politically explosive problem of the next century” (20). Although mostly confined in Third World countries, countries generally regarded as First World—the United States of America and England—are nonetheless affected by this phenomenon. Informal settlements and urban poverty, as Mike Davis demonstrates, are global phenomena.

Planet of Slums is a bold attempt to chronicle the entrenchment of poor families in shantytowns and the development of the world’s megacities as converging point of poverty, disease, human and food insecurity. It tries to define the structural base of our urban existence and puts meaning into the different perspectives of slum prevalence.

The book is divided into eight chapters. Each chapter talks of the synergistic relationship and interlinkage of urbanization, the state, corruption in government, and other contributing factors to our world’s slum problem. More than just a technical analysis of the slum prevalence, the book also discusses the human side of this phenomenon. The book caricatures the living conditions of people in slum areas and talks of a “slum ecology” that any person given a chance would not want to be subjected into. Further, the book gives names and faces to the discourse of urban poverty, compelling us as readers to reexamine our personal or commonly held notions of hardship, struggle, and poverty.

The first chapter presents the swelling urban poverty, a global phenomenon that has developed together with the sprawl of cities and population growth. Urbanization has led to the migration of rural-based workers to urban centers, where these migrants get to be garbage collectors, beggars, and, ultimately, informal settlers. In all aspects of their lives, they are portrayed herein as victims of contingencies brought about by the hardships of an unequal society. The book continues to confirm the age-old myth of the city that promises greener pastures but in reality brings hostility to the lives of its inhabitants.

The theme of state abandonment is argued as one of the contributing factors in slum prevalence, even in Third World countries that are committed to socialism. Davis unleashes an almost blatant exposition of the state’s inability to counter the rising number of informal settlers that has already become a trend. As the author puts it, “In the rest of the Third World, the idea of an interventionist state strongly committed to social housing and job development seems either a hallucination or a bad joke because the governments long ago abdicated any serious effort to combat slums and redress urban migration” (62). The author extends this argument by showing that state abandonment is not just centered on socialized housing. In the case of Nairobi, the state does not even provide access to clean water, schools, roads, and hospitals.

One of the unique features of this book is the framing of the analysis of slums in a humanistic perspective. In an extensive examination of the lives of people in slums, the reader is engaged in the grounded realities of slum ecology. Natural and man-made hazards pervade: most of the time, the areas where slums are built used to be an industrial waste dumpsite, swampland, floodplain, volcano slope, or a combination of these. The lack of access to basic human needs in slum areas aggravates the situation. In its extreme form, as in the case of India, “480,000 families in 110 slum settlements had access to only 160 toilet seats and 110 mobile vans” (140). Women are most vulnerable to such threats. In order to relieve themselves, they have to wait for dawn or dusk to avoid harassment from other members of society. Reconciling all the data regarding these hazards, both natural and man-made, the author opens up the grim predicament of diseases and epidemics in the years to come. The unsanitary, subsistent conditions in today’s mega slums make these places incubators of accidents and diseases waiting to happen. And with more than one billion people in today’s mega slums, the prospects of a humane future seem unrealizable.
The author’s analysis of the central roles of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other financial institutions brings us to the effects of structural adjustment programs to address the slum problem. Instead of a “top-down structural reform,” the World Bank and the IMF advocate “slum improvement” through privatized means. The author contends that the World Bank’s call for privatization ironically exacerbates the proliferation of urban poor households.

The author further portrays a grim picture of the urban poor, with the availability of land and access to it becoming increasingly restricted. Private companies and developers are the main problem: they assemble and develop these lands mostly for the benefit of those who can afford their service. The displacement of people and lack of access to new urban settlements turn these dwellers into nomads whose luck is to be absorbed by another slum community.

The subsistence lifestyle of slum dwellers all over the world, termed “surplus humanity” by the author, creates new dimensions to their social existence. An informal economy emerges out of necessity in these areas, including prostitution, organ market, and child labor. In the case of India, at least one in every family, a woman member of the household, had sold their kidneys to raise money to support themselves and their children. The author takes this slice of everyday life as the Western attempt to annihilate people they deem as barriers to development. According to the author, the continuous marginalization of the poor has set the battleground for an unending cycle of ideological clash. So long as ideologies born out of these communities continue to be suppressed, society’s stability will continue to be threatened.

Despite such sympathetic excursion into the plight of the informal settlers, readers are assured that objectivity is maintained throughout the book. What makes this an engaging read is the eloquent rendering of claims and assertions that are firmly grounded on empirical data. The multidimensional systematic inquiry and well-explained technical terms make the book accessible for a general readership.

The book promises a heightened awareness that ours is indeed a “planet of slums.” Ultimately, what Davis asks of us is to harness this awareness and look to ways of transforming it into positive action.—Don Rodney O. Junio, Volunteer-Intern, Third World Studies Center, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy and BS Economics Student, University of the Philippines-Diliman

Revolution, Reform and Regionalism in Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (A Kasarinlan Review)

Ronald Bruce St John. 2006. Revolution, Reform and Regionalism in Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon. 281 pp.

First published in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies 21, 2 (2006): 173-176.

No other subregion in Southeast Asia came as “prepared” for the age of regional integration as the three former French colonies in the mainland. Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia were once constituted as “French Indochina” not by their own populations’ volition, but as the consequence of a European power’s anxiety to avoid being left out of the nineteenth century race for overseas conquest. Locked into a geopolitical construct that made sense only insofar as the Mekong waterway irrigated all three territories imperiously placed under the French flag, the trio found themselves committed to each other—for better or for worse—in what might charitably be called an arranged marriage, and what this book calls “fiction.” But the French-Indochinese arrangement did not survive the tumultuous twentieth century; all three constituent members went on to become communist states, a development that went against the grain of Southeast Asian history and eventually worked against their own respective arguments for integration as an ideological ensemble.

By the end of the century, each Indochinese state (non-communist Cambodia, still-communist Vietnam and Laos) finally gave in, more or less grudgingly, to the imperatives of the market economy, and thereafter to the necessity of reforms and regional integration. In this well-documented study, Ronald Bruce St John tracks the various ways by which the ideological turnabout materialized, but regrettably without giving the reader even a limited sample of the theoretical perspectives deployed by Marxist-Leninist social scientists and economists in attempting to justify the turnabout. In particular, Vietnamese literature on this subject happens to be abundant, but St John seems to be contented with short quotes from party congresses and foreign scholars. In any case, he succeeds in demonstrating that deeply embedded “traditions” cannot be obliterated by a simple conversion to either Marxism-Leninism or the liberal-democratic model. The author does not compare the Indochinese states with those of Eastern Europe, but his analysis cannot help but resonate with echoes, from other ex-communist countries, of the host of problems encountered when the transition was made from a centralized command economy to a more or less free-market economy.

The central argument of St John is that the Cambodians’, Laotians’, and Vietnamese’s post-1975 conversion to free-market practices has not been matched by the liberalization of their political processes, at least up to late 2004. Even in the case of Cambodia, a concession to pluralist politics has so far failed to generate democratic consensus (as this is understood in the West). In the meantime, the popularity of the so-called Chinese model does not cease to amaze: gross domestic product can soar to a double-digit level, even in the absence of free elections and respect for human rights. Thus, the ironically named Ho Chi Minh stock market is now the fastest-growing bourse in Asia (International Herald Tribune, September 1, 2006), even as dissenters there and all over the region continue to chafe under the heavy-handed regime of the ruling parties. The authoritarian tradition, after a long period of colonialism and communist rule, is hard to shake off indeed in this part of the world.

But the fact that this anachronism is taking place in the Indochinese countries precisely begs the question: Why did the communist leaders of the region think they could make a go of the allegedly superior Marxist theory of the state and revolution, when their respective societies were far from being technologically or culturally primed for the socialist stage of development? St John makes short shrift of the “revolution” in the book’s title, and that theme happens to be adequately covered by so many other scholars. But the problem is elsewhere: the Laotian statesman Kaysone Phomvihane has made the candid admission that Laos was “simply too underdeveloped to begin socialism” (117); and for that matter neither one of his neighbors, not even the much bigger Vietnam, was adequately “developed,” by Marxist standards, for the task. Unfortunately, this sense of lost opportunities—realized after the fact, to be sure—tends to be sidetracked by the author, who brought up the problematic of revolution in the first place. The reader is left to his own devices where discovering the origins of the epistemological fault is concerned. Thus, one would be led to think that the Vietnamese and their neighbors simply gambled, on a whim, on what turned out to be the wrong formula for the achievement of national liberation and a just postcolonial society, an imported formula out of several possible others.

What about the decision to integrate into the Southeast Asian construct, which Vietnam had previously spurned because of its formal identification with the anti-communist Association of Southeast Asian Nation? This was a matter of necessity, borne out of the ruling-party leaders’ post-1975 realization that they risked political isolation and economic stagnation if they did not join. Since Vietnam first signed up, followed by Laos and by Cambodia, the process of homogenizing the Indochinese states’ “profile” to better conform with that of ASEAN has been irreversible. Not one of the three certainly has any qualms about integrating into the larger economy, especially as regional integration is now played with the “safety-in-numbers” principle in mind. But no sense of adventurism is evident in the political field. It is not a coincidence, as St John repeatedly states, that the single biggest determinant or influence in the three countries’ trajectory toward overall development, whether in industrialization or foreign policy, is China. Hanoi, in particular, has a number of bones to pick with Beijing, yet feels that the era of ideological confrontation is over (and engaging in which may risk being co-opted by the US). The China factor weighs significantly in any Vietnamese decision to be implicated regionally, whether in the Mekong Subregion project or in the South China Sea controversy over territorial claims. How this tension pans out in the next few decades would be worthy of a follow-up study by the author.

One cannot but be impressed by the documentation effort that went into this study; the endnotes and bibliography already constitute one-third of the whole volume. But the data gathered and processed stop at late 2004, and one occasionally wonders why St John did not limit a great number of quotations: those which are either cited in extenso and between inverted commas but without attribution in the main text itself, and those which could very simply have been paraphrased by the author. For example, a longish quote on page 42 on the 1979-80 crisis in Vietnam not only could have been rewritten as a livelier account, but the authorship (De Vylder and Fforde) is not attributed at all, contrary to St John’s practice elsewhere on the same page. The net effect: a hasty cut-and-paste operation. But these are minor details that should not detract from the virtues of the ensemble. This is an indispensable guide to the evolution of the Indochinese countries, from the backwaters of the Mekong, so to speak, to the highways of the globalized economy.—Armando Malay Jr., Professor, Asian Center, University of the Philippines-Diliman