Two speeches that made Barack Obama

No one who has watched Barack Obama’s meteoric rise in American politics in the last four years can fail to be intrigued by what he represents.  More than his charismatic presence and eloquence, I think it is Obama’s deep understanding of the major themes of American culture that has given him an intimate connection to … Read more

When civil society becomes political

We do not know when exactly the term “civil society” first entered the vocabulary of Philippine politics.  But sometime in the early ‘80s, just before Edsa 1, it gradually replaced the awkward phrase “causeoriented organizations.” And, while it includes in its ranks diverse types of non-government organizations or NGOs, the name “civil society” itself increasingly … Read more

Credit culture

The crisis that has pushed the American financial system to the brink of disaster is spawning its own moral economy.  The new object of fixation is blame-worthiness, rather than credit-worthiness. The high-flying executives on Wall Street who invented those ingenious financial instruments known as “derivatives” are being singled out for special flogging.  Not too long … Read more

The humbling of American capitalism

In a somewhat parallel way, though not with the same level of gravity, two of the world’s largest economies – the United States and China – are being battered by internal problems requiring swift government intervention. The US economy is struggling to get out of the quicksand of subprime loans and rotten properties, while China’s … Read more

Moral symbols in politics

The rise of moral symbols in politics always provides a dramatic starting point for a society’s transformation.  Figures like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, and Cory Aquino quickly come to mind.  In an instant, they symbolize everything that their people aspire to … Read more

The paradoxes of democracy

If there is a country in Southeast Asia whose politics has been as vibrant as ours, that country has to be Thailand.  The parallelisms in the political saga of these two countries over the last twenty years are truly amazing. Both countries have a “Southern” problem – an Islamic secessionist movement that has waged an … Read more

A reformer’s cross

The election of Catholic priest Fr. Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio in 2007 as governor of Pampanga was nothing short of phenomenal. Although “Among Ed” won only by more than a thousand votes, his triumph signified for many Filipinos a watershed in the country’s political life, a stunning breakthrough in the longstanding quest for good governance.  … Read more

Indigenous peoples

In 1917, the provincial board of Mindoro passed a resolution requiring all “non-Christians” belonging to the Mangyan tribes to live in a permanent settlement near Lake Naujan.  They were to immediately abandon the vast forests in which they lived, and settle down in a reservation designated for their exclusive use.  Failure to comply with the … Read more

Peace premises

Peace follows war.  That is the logic of any peace agreement.  It comes after a period of conflict, seeking to erase the basis for war. Yet what we have in Mindanao today seems to be the exact opposite. A peace agreement has provoked renewed conflict.  What happened? What lessons might we draw from this turn … Read more

Modernity and the Bangsamoro

The Bangsamoro problem is entangled in so many historical, legal, cultural, and political questions that it is irresponsible to talk about it in a simplistic way.  Every attempt to capture the issues in a single frame is bound to inflame passions and exacerbate prejudices. Reason demands that we step back and attempt to sort out … Read more