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Seniang by Imari Garcia Babali

Typhoon Seniang impacts in Eastern Visayas. Photo by Imari Garcia Babali.

When Super Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit) approached the Philippines early this December, the Aquino administration made clear its determination to tell the public and the world at large that it has learned its lessons from the tragedy and travesty of 2013’s Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

Saying he “will not be patient” with excuses after Ruby, President Noynoy Aquino mobilized the various agencies under the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) in what was lauded by United Nations Development Program administrator Helen Clark as “highly effective precautionary measures.”

Of course, this is disputable as Yolanda survivors under the People Surge Alliance monitored and reported serious problems in the conduct of preemptive evacuation and relief delivery—or lack thereof. Nevertheless, Clark said the national government’s Ruby response was a “clear reflection of the careful planning and strengthened institutional capacity of the relevant authorities.”

So where was this success story when Typhoon Seniang (Jangmi) deluged parts of Mindanao and Visayas in massive floods days before New Year’s Eve?

Seniang started as a low pressure area monitored by weather agency PAGASA as early as Christmas day, and developed into a tropical depression early in December 28. Seniang exhibited relatively weaker wind speeds, but like Ruby moved slowly at 11 kph (even slower than Ruby which registered speeds at 18 kph) and poured heavy rainfall that doubled in amount the following day.

That recipe proved deadly, with the official death toll already surpassing Ruby’s at 53 as of the afternoon of December 31—what a way to greet the New Year. NDRRMC officials are quick to posit the idea that the holiday lull has a lot to do with the high casualties in Seniang, pinning blame on residents who supposedly refused to spend the New Year in evacuation centers.

Given the alternative, however, I cannot blame the determination of the people, especially of Yolanda and Ruby survivors, to refuse evacuation. According to People Surge, recent typhoon survivors suffered for their early evacuation, as no food, water, and sufficient space could be found in designated evacuation centers from Eastern Visayas to Bicol.

What must be pointed out is that ill-preparedness plagued not only residents but likewise, and more critically, the government itself. Of course, our state weather scientists continued to make early predictions and warnings, but gone was the bravado exhibited by national and local governments during Ruby.

I was in Tacloban City even prior to Christmas, and did not hear a peep from local government. No showy press conferences. No Mar Roxas, Dinky Soliman or Voltaire Gazmin flying in like the self-styled God-given gifts that they were during Ruby. We suffered the days-long torrent of rains and the subsequent floods and landslides on our own, relying on our own monitoring and preparations.

From Ruby to Seniang, electricity was consistently disrupted and roads and bridges were consistently rendered impassable.   The office space in which I was staying harboured still-unrepaired damages caused by Ruby, and we spent the night bailing water out of one of the rooms where the roof was still dislodged that allowed rain water to pour in with impunity.


December 31, 2014 frontpage of Inquirer.

Imagine my indignation when I first glanced on the front page of the Inquirer on the morning of New Year’s Eve, seeing President Aquino with the so-called ‘DongYan’ celebrity couple in their wedding. The photo captured the president’s priorities perfectly.

The sleeper that is Seniang quickly dissipated any pretention of the government that it is well on the road towards disaster resilience. The tale of these two typhoons is a painful reminder to us how, at the core of the disaster problem, the long-running vulnerabilities of communities across the Philippines remain unaddressed as solutions presented by the duly-mandated government remain cosmetic at best, and corruption-driven at worst.

This is a tale that we should heed well going into 2015. At the middle of January, the holy pontiff Pope Francis will visit Tacloban City, and he will see a battered, weary people who have lived and breathed this tale, hungry for help, justice and change. The Pope will then be releasing a rare encyclical afterwards on the issue of climate change and the environment, exhorting the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world to take action on the growing crisis of global warming.

The typhoon survivors continue to demand justice. The Holy Father will journey to their ravaged lands to inspire them. Let us take the cue from them: it’s time we write a new tale of hope and justice for the Filipino people.#

From the original Facebook post that went viral

From the original Facebook post that went viral

I would love to be positive about the stricter wildlife protection rules in UP and the increased awareness on wildlife protection in the public, especially in the social media sphere, as a result of the Black Bittern killing in the UP Lagoon.

But beyond the concerned citizens that reported the incident and pursued the issue to ensure enforcement, some quarters are quick to dismiss the angle of the urban poor foragers; some are even wont to vilify the perpetrators.

That is exactly the reason why this is also an invitation to reflect on urban poor issues in the Philippines, not just a lesson learned on animal welfare. What social conditions enculturated them to browse for food instead of just buy them? Bakit nila kailangan ng inuman–kung kaya naghahanap sila ng pulutan, kung yun ang kaso dito?

Bakit wala silang kaalam-alam sa batas hinggil sa proteksyon ng mga hayop? Bakit wala silang kaalam-alam sa importansya ng mga ibon sa ekosistema in the first place?

Did we bother to ask these questions? Or were we contented with the fact that, whichever way authorities will decide, these animal killers will be dealt with accordingly? Going on a theoretical limb: what if it was a disaster survivor that caught any fauna for their desperate subsistence? Do the rules apply still?

The ‘urban poor’ lens, to me, is an important facet of studying–and changing–humanity’s relationship with its environment. It is the very reason why small-scale miners are always being vilified as the prime polluters in the mountains, or why the small fisherfolk are always to blame for the depletion of marine resources.

It is also the reason why we are grossly misinformed of the pros and cons of subsistent swidden agriculture, or misattribute small loggers with the massive deforestation we have faced and continue to face. Why are the small people always the most convenient culprits to blame, to make an example of? What about the big business polluters and plunderers? Where are our outcries against OceanaGold mining corporation in Nueva Vizcaya, where hornbills and other rare fauna are being displaced by their continuous operations?

Ang nakakainis pa, may nabasa pa akong komento na pinipintas ang kilusang estudyante ngayon. Bakit daw walang ‘Occupy Central in Hong Kong’ style ng pagkilos ngayon para sa ganitong mga isyu, puro hooliganism nalang daw? I’m sorry, those are apples and oranges, among so many things wrong about such a presumptuous statement.

Whenever we get these ‘small victories’ for wildlife conservation and protection, I cannot help but be frustrated how it always plays out like this. In the end, it is always the people in the margins that continue to be condemned in the margins, even in such issues as the environment.

Note: these views are entirely personal and does not reflect the views of my organization.

Workers: first half of the Philippine Revolution's foundation.  Photo grab from Federico Dominguez (I invoke Fair Use in the use of this image)

Workers: first half of the basic alliance that is the Philippine Revolution’s foundation.
Photo grab from Federico Dominguez (I invoke Fair Use in the use of this image)

You may have heard of protest actions chanting “Uring Manggagawa – Hukbong Mapagpalaya!” (literally, the Working Class is the Army of Liberation!) –  In this slogan, national democratic activists capture the historic role of workers in leading the Philippine revolution towards genuine national liberation and the establishment of a democratic people’s republic.


The working class is the most productive force of society, honed in efficient, industrial production. Their social practice of collective labor molded the working class to be the least fettered by individualism and self-interest. How did the other classes of society fare when it was they who were in power? Remember when the Propaganda Movement was severely hampered by the ‘Illustrados’ who only want the Philippines to be a Spanish province? Remember when the leadership in the Katipunan was grabbed by the ‘Principalias’ and how it led to their surrender and self-exile?


That workers have to achieve comprehensive systemic change–land reform and agricultural development, national industrialization, and various other economic, social and political reforms–before it is able to completely overcome the exploitation of workers, means their leadership will ensure that the radical changes needed in society will not end with just the achievement of other classes’ self-interests.


Activists who came from other classes, such as my fellow environmental advocates who mostly come from the petit bourgeois (middle class, intellectual) class, should earnestly remould themselves to gain a worker’s standpoint and viewpoint–that is, a proletarian ideology–if they want to address the root causes of the deep-seated problems of society that we face. In that sense of liberating ourselves from our backward class origins through immersing ourselves in the lives and struggles of the labor movement, the workers truly are the ‘Hukbong Mapagpalaya.’




The harassment and the fanning of hate towards Thomas van Beersum, a Dutch activist who decried human rights violations in PH, is what we call “Jingoism.” According to good old Wikipedia:

“Jingoism is extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy.[1] In practice, it is a country’s advocation of the use of threats or actual force against other countries in order to safeguard what it perceives as its national interests. Colloquially, it refers to excessive bias in judging one’s own country as superior to others—an extreme type of nationalism.”

This is the same with the state-sponsored hate in the territorial standoff with China — which goes both ways for our government and China’s as well.

Its main purpose is to deceptively rally the people to national unity by exaggerating a foreign threat. We know it’s not genuine patriotism since we clearly see a double standard: We are made to hate China for its claim of our territories and resources, but we are silent on the permanent presence of US forces in our country and the rapes, wars and pollution they have brought upon us.

We are made to hate Thomas van Beersum for speaking out against injustice in our country when thousands upon thousands of Filipinos can’t even begin to gather enough courage and sense to decry the screwed up lives we are living in. Precisely because the government wants more Filipinos who can’t grow a spine, like docile lambs to the slaughter.

These spectacles are in fact no different from the government glorifying a Manny Pacquiao victory, or in case of defeat, channeling the national mourning over a Manny Pacquiao defeat. The same applies to victories by the Philippine Azkals, Gilas Pilipinas, and whatever incident that sparks extreme patriotism but does nothing to address the long-standing structural problems of hunger, poverty, lack of social services and plunder of our resources that we collectively face.

This “jingoism” is just one in the Aquino government’s arsenal of gimmickry to suppress discontent and cover up state incompetence and fascism. But this much is clear: governance under the Aquino regime has been nothing but a huge communication plan replete with  PR gimmickry, discombobulating half-truths and even emotional distractions trying to whitewash its flaws, mistakes and crimes.

Still Automagic

It’s another Automagic election season.

Troubleshooting the PCOS machines in the 2013 elections. | Photo from @Venzie

Troubleshooting the PCOS machines in the 2013 elections. | Photo from @Venzie

In 2010, we were perplexed not once but twice by the number of registered voters revealed by the vote canvassing servers of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). First, Congress discovered in their servers a total of 256 million voters. Later, the national canvassing came out with a list that indicated 153 million registered voters. During that time, we only had a total population of over 92 million and just 50.7 million registered voters.

Venezuela-based corporation Smartmatic, co-implementer of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines used in our automated election system (AES), claimed they were merely errors in the coding that did not affect the actual canvassed vote results. How did they face this problem? They simply tweaked the codes right after and claimed it fixed in a jiffy. Never mind the 654 verified irregularities reported by watchdog Kontra Daya then — the problem was fixed and the results are once again officially infallible.

Fast forward to present-day 2013: COMELEC’s official citizen’s arm PPCRV began airing live unofficial tallies of around 10 million votes already cast when only 1.82 percent or 1,418 of the 77,829 precincts have transmitted their votes, equivalent to only 1.42 million votes assuming a maximum of 1,000 voters per precinct. Again, a quick huddle of COMELEC, PPCRV, media and the big trapo parties led to the consensus that it was, yet again, another coding problem, this time in PPCRV’s system end. This supposedly led to the unofficial tally’s accidental double-counting, a scripting error that Smartmatic conveniently claims can also be patched up quicker than you can say Hocus PCOS.

At this point, the numbers are now moot. Kontra Daya correctly pointed out that the fact “that Smartmatic can change the script of the source code during the canvassing shows serious problems with the entire automated system.”  From 2010 to the present, Smartmatic was able to simply and quickly ‘fix’ the AES’ source code with no means of confirming the integrity of the changes made, seeing as there was no source code review opened to the public in the first place to either confirm or dispel observed problems with the electoral system.

Never mind that Kontra Daya reported 367 verified irregularities (as of 11:54PM this evening of election day, and counting) this time around, about 60 percent of which involved PCOS errors. Mass media quickly swallowed COMELEC, Smartmatic and PPCRV’s explanations hook, line and sinker, and wants you to believe in its credibility too. Time to bring out the party poppers and celebrate democracy at work, they say.

Yep. It’s still an Automagic Election season this year.#

The #Harapan2013 Senatorial debate of ABS-CBN was a format very different from #RapplerDebate — time limits of answers ranged from only 15 seconds for the fast questions, to a minute for the panelist questions. Again, our Makabayan senatorial bet Teddy Casiño was there, along with several other candidates. Twitter was clearly abuzz with the senatorial debate as the #Harapan2013 hashtag continues to be a top trender as of 10AM today.
While fanatics of Risa Hontiveros were raving about her on Twitter, and even capturing a moment when the former Akbayan Party-list representative penetrated Twitter’s trending list, this single tweet completely changed the #Harapan2013 landscape:
I used the Tweet Archivist to analyze the hashtag’s trends — the tool shows which Twitter handles got the most mentions in all #Harapan2013 tweets, which words were the most used, and which hashtags accompanied #Harapan2013 the most. The results were amazing:

Hashtag Count
#teddycasino 27
#hontiveros 24
#halalan2013 19
#camerajuan 18
#phvote 14
#hagedorn 11
#teampnoy 11
#principled 9
#progressive 9
#responsive 8
#rhbill 6
#lgbt 6
#botoparasabata 5
#risahontiveros 5
#halalan20 4
#halal 4
#danielpadillaasaprawr 4
#kathrynbernardoasaprawr 4
#antidynasty 4
#teddycasiño 4
#votebam 4
#magic8 4
#paspasan 3
#philhealth 3
#ofw 3



Word Count
SA 618
ANG 558
NA 374
NG 323
IL 276
VOTE 260
MGA 227
KO 114
AKO 97
PO 92
KAY 85
PA 78

That single tweet made Casiño trend to the top of the #Harapan2013 Twitter discussion, as followers of Vice Ganda and his fan club retweeted the statement in agreement.

Interestingly and ironically, Hontiveros, obviously Teddy’s closest competitor in the #Harapan2013 trends, earlier bought political ad space in Vice’s talk show, Gandang Gabi Vice. Teddy, meanwhile, had only the sharp and correct analyses and proposed solutions to convince the comic yet cerebral celebrity to express interest about his candidacy.

Our deepest gratitude to Vice Ganda for considering Teddy and sharing it to the Twitterverse. Congratulations to Teddy and to all our compatriots in the Makabayan Coalition for a job well done in advancing the politics of change! This is one small step — let’s continue struggling for that giant leap!

I recently participated in the #RapplerDebate Hangout last Saturday to discuss the social media campaign trail so far in the Philippines’ 2013 elections, representing Team Teddy Casino. The connection was quite bad where we held the live chat, so I wasn’t able to effectively participate in the discussion. They did gave us guide questions, though, and here’s my answers to their questions.


My finest moment in the Hangout — showing off my shirt to the viewing public.

  1. Campaigns in the world of Twitter and Facebook
    • Is it different?
      Social networks are extensions of our social spheres. Campaigning online is thus essentially no different with how activists engage, organize and mobilize in the real world: we promote our advocacies, we explain our positions on issues, and we invite them to both online and offline activities.
      What new media brought into the equation is the access – with the right strategy, there is now the potential to reach 25 to 30 million Filipinos across socio-economic classes without the barriers of distance and geography.On the other hand, there are unique limitations to digital campaigning: despite recently being touted by the United Nations as a human right, internet access is still severely limited by high prices of internet rates, slow speed, and its concentration in urban areas.
    • Is it a priority? How much time and effort is spent on social media?
      It is an integral component of our electoral campaign, but it is not the priority. An obvious reason is that traditional media still has the overwhelmingly greatest reach in the playing field. But to progressive political activists, the electoral fight isn’t a mere race to sweep votes, we’re also looking into getting solid votes that will translate into commitment for social action beyond the election period.

      So while it is not the priority strategy to win the electoral campaign, our new media campaign is of much importance as it is a venue to saturate a captured online audience with sustained political education at a very low cost.We have a small team of multi-taskers who are focused on ensuring the spread of high-quality content that will help Filipino citizens to understand better and even encourage them to participate in our advocacies.

      Our work flow allows us to fully campaign during the peak online hours of peak week days, while formulating and creating content during its off-peak hours. We call Saturdays and Sundays weekends but we’re usually using it to do weekly assessments and plannings.

    • Why spend that much time?
      It is an opportunity to solidly educate and organize our ever expanding supporter base to help them understand the structural roots of the problems of mass poverty, corruption, lack of social services, and the destruction of our environment that our country faces.
      Hindi tulad ng mga trapo na kailangan lang ang atensyon at suporta ng mamamayan tuwing eleksyon, sinisikap namin makabuklod sila sa buong panahon naming pagkilos.
  1. Online vs on ground
    • How different is engagement online and in real life?
      Netizens are more opinionated, and why not: they are exposed to a barrage of information and insights. The more active ones are also more influential to their own social spheres. Unfortunately, there is still a persisting culture of slacktivism – that is, online advocacy that doesn’t translate into real-world actions – which has to be addressed by our online campaigners. To be able to tap netizens for campaigning especially for activities in real life contributes greatly to Teddy’s run for a politics of change.

    • Limitations of social media: only a certain class can be reached. How do you balance that out?
      We try to mobilize online supporters to campaign in their own social spheres – or to link up directly with our party chapters in every province. That’s the basic problem we try to address: ensuring the vote conversions aren’t limited to the individuals we directly reached online, but to access their own networks as well.

  2. Tales from the campaign trail
    • What issues have you come across online?Well, of course we face the usual vilification of the Left. In fact, we regularly experience what seems to be “operations” by hardcore militarists who throw the usual tirades of anti-communism and evangelize AFP modernization. The standard practice: discern trolls from truth-seekers, ignore the former, enlighten the latter, and regulate the unruly.

    • Any social media booboos so far? Lessons from those?
      One of our campaigners got into a tweet war with a journalist. And the incident was still being milked long after the apologies have been expressed and accepted. Then of course, there have been little mistakes such as typos, mistweets, etc. But its natural when the team is composed of volunteer activists and advocates – the campaign, after all, is the fight of the karaniwang tao for the karaniwang tao. Tao lang, nagkakamali din.

      But so far, we have made the editorial of our content and engagements tighter. Teddy’s consistently among the top 12 most engaging candidates. Nothing resonates more with the people than words that are sincere, earnest, and correct in articulating the problems our nation faces and in answering them comprehensive solutions.

    • Has social media and the Internet made campaigning easier or harder?
      It has indeed given opportunities for the champions of new politics to get the message across, but it is also replete with its own limitations and problems. The willingness of advocates to maximize all these new tools and venues for social change available to us is what will decide if it will be easier or harder.

  3. Moving forward: the road to 2016
    • Internet, social media, mobile device use will only boom in the following years. How do you think this will affect campaigns 3 years from now?
      Social media, like all scientific and technological advances, can be equally wielded both by those who seek change and those who maintain the status quo. Let us make sure that the people have the initiative to use these to their advantage.

  4. Parting messages from each campaign
    To our fellow netizens, the 2013 elections presents to us a unique opportunity to have our very own, a karaniwang tao, and a netizen through and through, in the Senate. We deserve to have our voice represented and heard echoing ever stronger in Congress. Ipanalo natin ang Karaniwang Tao, Teddy Casiño po sa Senado.

If you want to see the entire Hangout to see what the other social media operators (with much better connections) had to say, you can watch it here: