Meet Mong Palatino. To Global Voices readers, he is the Regional Editor for Southeast Asia and Oceania. In his native Philippines, however, he is known by his full name, Raymond Palatino, President of the Kabataan (Youth) Party and a new member of the House of Representatives in the Philippines.
This fact makes Raymond “Mong” Palatino the first blogging politician in the Philippines and one of Global Voices’ first contributors to be elected to public office.
Although only 29 years old, Raymond “Mong” Palatino’s CV already runs pages long. He writes a column for an international press syndicate; he’s served as president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines; he’s been a major player in groups like Filipino Youth for Peace, the Estrada Resign Youth Movement and Kabataan Kontra-Kartel, known as Youth Against the Oil Cartel.
Mong began with Global Voices halfway through 2006, covering his home country. By that time he had already been blogging at Mongster’s Nest for more than a year. He moved up to Regional Editor at Global Voices in April 2008.
An office of the UN has compared him to Edgar Jopson, the most famous student leader in Filipino history. He helped usher in TXTPower, a national consumer rights advocacy group. He has long been at the forefront of marrying new technologies to help foster political change.
In a profile in the Washington Post on the use of social media in Filipino politics, Mong admitted that during his work mobilizing students in opposition to President Joseph Estrada in 2001 taught him the importance of tools like texting. But one could argue it’s the plight of the Filipino youth who fuel the many aspects of his work. In 2005, Mong wrote these words:
“The debilitating effects of the labor and education policies of the government account for the cynicism and hopelessness which many young Filipinos feel today. They leave the country in droves because they sense no bright future for them in the Philippines. Those who remain are resigned to the destituteness of the country. “
Two years later, he ran his second national election campaign. His Kabataan Party garnered 225,000 votes on a platform of youth empowerment and the fight against corruption, inequality and promoting social justice. This showing pushed Kabataan past the threshold of two percent of total national votes, making it eligible to sit in the House of Representatives under Philippine’s sectoral allocation law, which provides seats to parties representing minority voices. A recent Supreme Court ruling increased the number of these “sectoral” seats in the House of Representatives from 22 to 55, paving the way for the Kabataan Party to join the House of Representatives.
And a blog post from those first hours in office portrays him tackling the nuts-and-bolts of Filipino politics.
I attended a higher education committee hearing in the afternoon. The committee tackled HB 2380 – Protecting the rights of students requiring professional licensing examinations to enroll in review centers of their choice and providing penalties thereof – which is principally authored by Rep. Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna. I’m supporting this measure. Most likely this bill will be passed by the committee. During the hearing, Rep. Teves of Negros revealed that there is a school in his province requiring students to live in the school dormitory for two months in order to attend review classes.
Schools should not require students to attend review classes. Enrolling in review schools should not be made as a graduation requirement. Review classes are acceptable if they are part of the curriculum. But the popular practice today involves schools which force students to join expensive review classes.
I had a conversation with Mong regarding the power of the youth and social media in the Philippines.
With all you have happening in your life, why work for Global Voices?
I was invited by Preetam Rai (former Global Voices Southeast Asia editor) to join GV in 2006. I immediately agreed to write for GV. During that time, I was already a fan of GV. I was impressed with its mission to highlight the views of bloggers in different parts of the world. By joining GV, I could more effectively articulate the issues espoused by Filipino bloggers. My initial articles were about reproductive health, nurse migration, election reform and illegal deployment of Filipinos in Iraq. For two years, I contributed 2-3 GV articles per month.
I attended the GV summit in New Delhi in 2006. The summit was influential in broadening my appreciation for the potential of blogging to raise political awareness and improve human interactions in the world. Before the GV summit, my knowledge about the persuasive power of online media was very limited.
It was April 2008 when Preetam asked me to replace him as GV editor in the region. I thoroughly enjoyed my new task for GV. It gave me the opportunity to interact with various bloggers in the region. It allowed me to remain regularly informed about the political developments in East Asia and the rest of the world. I realized too the importance of broadening my perspectives on social and political matters. I noticed that I was satisfied being a Filipino blogger; while I am almost ignorant on what is happening in our neighboring countries. My GV work improved my outlook and my reading habits. Through GV, I learned to appreciate better the need to look for alternative voices which are not usually reported by mainstream media. These blogs, these voices exist. They are out there, waiting to be quoted.
You’ve blogged eloquently about your parents and siblings moving away when you were just an adolescent to live and work abroad. How has this distance from your family shaped your life?
I’ve learned to become more independent. At the same time, it influenced me (during my university days) to ask questions about the social order. For example: Why is labor export a permanent economic policy of the government? Why is migration deemed by many Filipinos as the ultimate solution to poverty? In retrospect I became an activist by starting to ask about the Filipino diaspora.
Social media has been used heavily in Filipino politics. How have these media organized different segments of the youth in the country? (For his answer, Mong sent me to his website, where I found this)
Texting is already the standard mode of communication among Filipinos. It is widely used even in the remote countryside to connect and reconnect with family and friends. Overseas Filipino workers, now numbering more than 8 million, use texting to maintain close relationships with their loved ones back home…
Political forces seek to mobilize millions of subscribers through virtual campaigns which could range from the sending of text messages, downloading of political ringtones, and forwarding of subversive text quotes. It may be impossible to gather more than 50 million cell phone users in the streets but it is easy to persuade ordinary citizens to send political text messages to their friends.
The great number of anonymous prepaid cell phone users is emboldening citizens to express their true political sentiments. A majority of cell phone owners in the country are availing themselves of the prepaid service since this is cheaper. This also allows political groups and disgruntled citizens, fearful of government reprisals, to send daring political messages through texting, without the risk of revealing their identities.
Another important factor which contributes to the popularity of texting is the relative absence of censorship governing Internet usage and mobile communications in the Philippines. The cheap mobile technology and the freedom enjoyed by Filipino cell phone users enhance the opportunities to use the phones for political activities.
Taking a look at the words (quoted above) you wrote of the cynicism and hopelessness of the youth in 2005, What is the difference between the economic situation back then and today?
I see no difference in the situation in 2005 and today. In fact I believe the situation has gone worse. The Philippines is suffering from the global economic crisis because it is too much dependent on remittances sent by overseas workers who are being laid-off in developed countries. Our youth continue to dream of leaving the country to fulfill their simple dream of acquiring a decent job that will uplift the conditions of their families. I have little respect for a government which treats its citizens as commodities to be exported.
Your party, Kabataan, has had more than its share of run ins with authorities. Its members have been threatened by elected officials and even hit by a mayor; a coordinator was arrested and beaten by armed police; during the 2007 elections, two poll watchers were abducted and killed. And yet you continue…
You are correct: our members were harassed; a few were killed in the last elections
The least we can do to honor their bravery and sacrifice is to continue with our advocacy. Our platform for a progressive form of politics is resisted by supporters of the status quo. We will persevere….
You’ve been profiled inside and outside the Philippines as an astute organizer using different forms of social media. Now that you are an elected official, how will you continue?
I will consistently blog my activities in the Parliament. I will use different social media applications like Twitter, Plurk (plurk is more popular among Filipino bloggers) and Facebook to report about my activities. Among our initial activities is to teach some of my colleagues in the Parliament about the potential of using social media in improving transparency and governance in the country.
You spoke these words after learning of the Supreme Court decision to grant your party a seat in the House of Representatives.
“… The Filipino youth have always played a pivotal role in ushering in significant changes in history. We have always been at the forefront of uprisings and revolutions every time the social, political and economic conditions in society became too intolerable for Filipinos to endure.”
Where do you see Filipino youth in the next five years?
I believe the Filipino youth will fulfill an active role in the 2010 presidential elections. They will demand democratic reforms in governance, they will push for a genuine social reform agenda, they will effectively influence the results of the elections.
However, the youth may become more cynical if administration politicians succeed in their plan to postpone the holding of the elections. The challenge is to prevent the spread of cynicism among the youth and transform the mood of hopelessness into a constructive force for change.
Where do you see Raymond “Mong” Palatino in five years?
In five years I still see myself as an activist (this time in the labor sector and human rights advocacy), a public servant, and a blogger; still a member of the GV community and helping with the web translation project involving the several major languages in the Philippines.
You Tube video of a Kabataan Party ad