First Publication

The working paper on Kaantabay has been published online. This is originally a thesis chapter and was presented last November 2011 as a compulsory requirement for PhD students affiliated with the Asia Research Centre. It was one of my first attempts to think politically, after enormous patience and support from the supervisors, especially Dr. Jane Hutchison. This chapter has since evolved into three chapters on the program’s political economy, written from May to September this year. This would not be the first as getting serious with one’s work entails being courageous in sharing and establishing one’s side of the ‘truth’.


Development Effectiveness and Politics

The key here is an alternative conception of development that takes into account the effect of politics on development outcomes.

Development is understood as a process involving ‘system-level conflict’ where various forces representing ideological and material interests are in constant struggle over power and resources. (Hughes and Hutchison 2010, 3ff; Rodan, Hewison, and Robison 2001, 7-8) Under this structural orientation, any reform policy or project, donor-funded or not, hardly constitutes acts of value-neutrality or benevolence, such as ‘doing development’ on behalf of public interests, as is the norm among donor agencies (Hout 2012, 408). Rather, development reforms are ‘interventions’ intruding upon the systemic struggle between these forces (Hughes and Hutchison 2010, 15) and so affects development outcomes by altering the conditions conducive to the power relations, and the advancement of interests for one or several sides of the struggle. Correspondingly, development reforms underlie an ideological basis that privileges specific interests over others, and sustains specific configurations of power relations where state power is crucial and non-neutral (Hewison, Robison, and Rodan 1993, 17). Change, and thus development outcomes, could not be attributed to institutions or individuals; instead, should be interpreted in terms of structural transformations or ‘focal points of conflict’ involving the coalitions of interests that operate within state and non-state entities (Rodan, Hewison, and Robison 2001, 8; also see Hughes and Hutchison 2010, 14-15).

Within the context of ‘development effectiveness’, the structuralist tradition to understanding the political nature of development provides an alternative approach to the study of development outcomes. Development outcomes could be evaluated not solely in terms of how aid is used and managed, or how programs or projects are finetuned for ‘success’ in terms of sectoral, institutional or beneficiary performance, as the first two dynamics suggest. Under a structuralist approach, the analysis of ‘development effectiveness’ strives to explain development outcomes in relation to the system-level configuration of interests, conflicts, and power relations occurring in the process of reform. The extent by which development objectives have been achieved remains a relevant concern. However, this would have to be linked with two significant system-level political dimensions; namely: (1) the interaction between policy reform and the political economy in which it is situated; and (2) the dynamic and contingency of state-society relationships (political relationships) as coalitions of interests occurring within as well as outside the specific reform project (Hughes and Hutchison 2010). The study of development effectiveness therefore entails an evaluation of development outcomes at three primary levels: development objectives, political economy, and state-society relationships.

This political approach to the study of development effectiveness sits well within recent conceptual frameworks to the study of reforms. The approach situates within interactionist traditions that recognize the transformational and strategic interaction of state and societal actors in the reform process, from policy-making to policy implementation (Fox 1993, 2007; Migdal 1988, 2001; Magadia 2003). It, however, retains the system-level focus of structural political analysis by situating the transformation of state-society relationships within it to wider contestations of interests. While an ‘interactive model’ with a ‘political economy approach’ have been developed to the study of development reform by Thomas and Grindle (1990), this has so far focused only on the decisions and influence of a specific type of actors – policy elites. The political approach forwarded here extends beyond the interests and influence of policy elites because it looks into other significant state and societal actors whose interests factor into the pursuit or resistance to reforms, particularly including the non-elites.

With respect to comprehensiveness and sustainability that has so far been captured in the dynamics of studying ‘development effectiveness’, the political approach has its own application. It looks into the relation of outcomes to development objectives but casts the reform project within the larger political struggles that contain it. The approach also enables an analysis of changes over time in the reform process and the experience of institutions, beneficiaries and other entities affected by it but also within the context of transformations in social and political relations occurring outside of it.


Fox, Jonathan. 1993. The politics of food in Mexico : state power and social mobilization, Food systems and agrarian change. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

———. 2007. Accountability politics : power and voice in rural Mexico, Oxford studies in democratization. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Hewison, Kevin J., Richard Robison, and Garry Rodan. 1993. Southeast Asia in the 1990s : authoritarianism, democracy and capitalism. North Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Hout, Wil. 2012. The Anti-Politics of Development: Donor Agencies and the Political Economy of Governance. Third World Quarterly 33 (3):405-422.

Hughes, Caroline, and Jane Hutchison. 2010. Development Effectiveness and the Politics of Commitment. Western Australia: Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University.

Magadia, Jose J. 2003. State-society dynamics : policy making in a restored democracy. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Migdal, Joel S. 1988. Strong societies and weak states : state-society relations and state capabilities in the Third World. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

———. 2001. State in society : studying how states and societies transform and constitute one another, Cambridge studies in comparative politics. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Robison, Richard, Kevin Hewison, and Garry Rodan. 1993. Political power in industrialising capitalist societies: Theoretical approaches. In Southeast Asia in the 1990s: Authoritarianism, Democracy and Capitalism, edited by K. J. Hewison, R. Robison and G. Rodan. North Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Rodan, Garry, Kevin J. Hewison, and Richard Robison. 2001. Theorising South-East Asia’s Boom, Bust and Recovery. In The political economy of South-East Asia : conflicts, crises, and change, edited by G. Rodan, R. Robison and K. J. Hewison. Melbourne ; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomas, John W., and Merilee S. Grindle. 1990. After the decision: Implementing policy reforms in developing countries. World Development 18 (8):1163-1181.

A Desperate Move

Mrs. Leni Robredo’s decision to run for Congress reveals the Achilles Heel of the Liberal Party in Naga City – their near total dependence on the charisma, political connections, political savvy and track record of their late leader, Jesse Robredo. The party in Naga City consists largely of middle-class political professionals, majority of which may have won successive terms as councilor and vice mayor but have not actually risen above the level of city leadership to really claim a stake on much higher arena of provincial, district and national level politics.  

Who among the party-mates of Jesse Robredo in Naga City has a well-defined economic base to actually muster enough resources to run election campaigns on their own, and so much more, on behalf of the party, which have been the norm since Jesse Robredo first ran for re-election in 1992 aiming for a full party slate through the now institutionalized ‘ubos-gabos’ campaign? No one. I am reminded of the pathetic attempt of one Robredo ally to run for congressman against Luis Villafuerte in 2010 only to lose out in the end, and later on appointed to a government position as a consolation prize. 

Thus, the move to field in the widow of the late Jesse Robredo appears to be a desperate attempt to hold on and tout the ‘Robredo’ name, hoping against all hope, that the ‘Robredo magic’ strongly attributed to the late mayor and secretary would likewise rub on to his wife.  Perhaps using the ‘Robredo’ name is the only ticket by which the party could continue receiving the clout, the respect, and most importantly, the funding support that only the real Jesse Robredo could muster. 

And this is where reality hits hard.  Because not only would the vulnerability of the party be exposed but also that of the wife.  In the interest of voter education, what qualifications and experience does Mrs. Leni Robredo have to be able to win the 3rd congressional district of Camarines Sur? Really. The ‘people’ tend to latch on to the image contest of good vs. evil in associating the Villafuertes with corruption and the Robredos with squeaky clean good governance.  But we should be reminded that Mrs. Robredo is not just running against any Villafuerte but Nelly Favis-Villafuerte who can stand on her own with impeccable qualifications: a corporate executive (San Miguel Corp, Petron), educator, writer, lawyer (similar to Mrs. Robredo) and even development professional (a micro-finance expert) , according to internet sources.  

Other than the real chances of her winning against Mrs. Villafuerte, we are again placed on a wait-and-see attitude for how Mrs. Robredo would fare in the big league of Congress.  We are again reduced to prayers and hope, and later the frustration of having our hopes dashed should she unravel in the public eye as unfit or a pale comparison to her husband. Because if what I gather during the fieldwork is true, Mrs. Robredo is not fit for politics. She is her husband’s wife, but she does not possess his qualities.  We have to be clear about this before we latch on to her widow-messiah persona.  

Where does that leave us, voters? We again are impelled to vote for an image, to vote on the basis of sentiments, and not on the basis of voter education that hopefully should be able to strike a balance of, among others, ethics, political experience, and the platform of any candidate. 

Remove Jesse Robredo and the ‘Robredo’ family name in the picture – indeed the glaring question is: How would the party and the widow fare? 

The Mallization of Naga City

In March 2011, by the end of my second fieldwork, disturbing events were unfolding in Naga City. Specifically, within the Naga City Public Market, Public Safety Office (PSO) employees of the City Government were conducting random raids of informal market vendors. The PSO were arresting informal vendors, grabbing and confiscating goods in public on a similar style with the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) when it was headed by Bayani Fernando from 2002 to 2008. The raids were conducted in the public eye – for all the people to see how ‘discipline’ was being imposed by the City Government against hapless vendors running around with crates, baskets, nigos; scampering like rats looking for safe places to hide. Like myself, no one spared a hand or even interfered against the meanness of the PSO. The feeling that what the PSO is doing is ‘just right’ and that these vendors ‘deserve’ this treatment for being ‘nuisances’ in the markets pervaded the sense of tolerance of what is in plain sight, harassment of people with limited opportunities and are thus making the most of what opportunities are available to ply their goods, earn a decent income rather than steal, snatch or wallow in laziness. The PSO/ We (by our denial) prey on the weak and the vulnerable.

Cleanliness, Peace, Discipline: Bannerhead of the City Government under Mayor John G. Bongat

The then removal of informal vendors would be later learned as part of an overall upgrading of the Naga City Public Market, the model being the mother of all mall chains in the Philippines, Shoemart or ‘SM’ as locally referred to. In May 2009, SM Naga City opened in Bgy Triangulo, a 7.5-ha mall that showcases shopping, food, entertainment, and recreation under one roof. SM Naga City would be the brand-new world-class counterpoint to the Naga City Public Market, which by 2010, would appear a 46-year old decrepit relic.

SM-Naga City opened on May 2009. (Courtesy of the Internet)

The Public Market under its ‘old’ name. (courtesy of the Internet)

The upgrading would become one of the pet projects of the Bongat administration (2010-2013) which just continues the reign of the late Mayor Robredo’s political party in Naga City since 1988. A photo-essay project was even launched to mark the ‘development’ of the market, which serves to lay testament to its significant transition to a ‘mall’ on its own right, similar to SM-Naga City. The Public Market was then appropriated a name which tends to purport modernity and governance (a neoliberal combination) – ‘The Naga City People’s Mall’.

A brand new (neo-liberal) name for the Naga City Public Market

The fetish of the Naga City Government with ‘people’s’ is associated with its so-called achievements in good governance which has laid down popular participation or ‘people’s’ participation’ as its cornerstone in governance. As such, it appears that the renaming of any public structure in Naga City should have the word ‘people’s’ in it (the Naga City People’s Coliseum comes to mind). The public market could not escape this branding, it just has to be called ‘the Naga City People’s Mall’.

What is ironic is that upgrading the public market supposedly for the ‘people’ (the general public) entailed the harassment of similar ‘people’ (the informal vendors). It just shows the impurity of development objectives as in every effort to develop, there is an equal effort to un-develop. Contrary to official pronouncements of success in renovating the ‘People’s Mall’ in the City Government’s website, stories abound of informal vendors as well as non-stall entrepreneurs within the market whose trading and businesses nosedived because of it.

One story is about the group of 66 watch/batter repair entrepreneurs that used to locate close to the fruit stands by the side of Igualdad. Before March 2011, as the Market Enterprise and Promotions Office (MEPO) of the City Government was rationalizing operations inside the market in line with the upgrading, these entrepreneurs were removed from these locations and designated an area inside the market, outside of the visibility of the public which helps in marketing their trade. They were designated in an open, dirty, and undeveloped area where they are supposed to pool and by implication, they are supposed to clear and maintain.

The designated zone of watch service operators inside the Naga City Public Market by March 2011.

By March 2011, the area did not flourish at all as it goes against the basic yet critical element of any business, which is ‘location, location, location’. What MEPO did to the watch service operators was not relocation but dislocation. The watch carts did locate, but there were no entrepreneurs in sight, except for one. (This operator would also leave upon a return visit on February 2012)

Abandoned carts mean no business and no income.

The story of the 66 watch/ batter repair entrepreneurs are but one of the many stories on the opposite and ugly side of the ‘mallization’ of the Naga City Public Market. The stories do not include those of market affiliates, or those with side-post businesses who were then threatened with transfer to abandoned stalls on other floors, which like the 66 watch operators could be victims of dislocation. These do not cover the plight of traditional itinerant and steady vendors assigned an abandoned area at the top of the 3rd floor, again away from public visibility. No wonder that despite orders to stay put in the 3rd floor, some vendors selling rice delicacies, native chicken, fruits could still be seen walking around the market, carefully concealing their wares, and adeptly hiding from the sight of market guards. It is because the relocation strategy espoused under rationalization just do not work for what they trade which require constant public visibility. There is a very poor understanding of how the poor come to trade and earn income within the market. There is no understanding that general market dynamics works for poor vendors as well.

The mallization of the Naga City Public Market might as well be construed as the mallization of Naga City. The every day things we need, we get from the market but in the narrowness of just looking after our needs, we tend to forget that there lies inside the market too, the microcosm of ordinary teeming lives, aiming to trade, work, operate and earn income for the day. So whatever government does to the market is a part of a restructuring of the way our needs would be met, our lives in gradual form, and eventually our relationships with the world.

We need to realign our insight as well. Be conscious of the restructuring of Naga City according to the world-class but obscene commercialized business model that is SM and its implications to the poorest and the weakest in society. There lies the paradox of development. Eradication for Cleanliness. Silencing for Peace. Dislocation for Discipline. This the underside of mallization in Naga City.

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all pictures in this blog are owned by the author.

To Break or Not To Break

the discourse on heartbreak often dwells on the fraying of a romantic relationship between a woman and a man, or of individuals of the same sex, the former being the dominant stereotype. the predominant symbol is a broken heart, again with the dominant stereotype of a red heart torn in two at the middle. rarely has the portrayal of a heart broken into pieces, i am just lucky to have found one below. what is even more rare is the portrayal of two broken hearts. what do these dominant stereotypes mean?

the stereotypes of a broken relationship of two people, and single lone heart broken at the center are representations of the public nature of heartbreak, on one hand, and the going through it as a personal, individualized process, on the other.

the former invites participation and scrutiny from other people, the public, because in a relationship, the actuality is, we are not just two persons in it. in relationships, we bring into the fold people close to us – family, confidants, best friends, and even those outside of us, the general public as we expose, reveal to the world our belongingness to that someone. the word is spread, we attain public status that no wonder two people romantically linked are called an ‘item’ as a way of objectifying the ‘us’ in the public domain. the moment of heartbreak and the unfolding of it is an open process as well. no heartbreak is kept from the knowledge of others (as even one close friend is already an ‘other’), from the barrage of questions, the overflowing of pity, and to some extent, intrigue and even ridicule.

the latter meanwhile emphasizes that no matter the concern of family, confidants, and best friends, going through heartbreak is a lonesome process. no amount of advice, encouragement, frankness, and even therapy could get us out of the rut unless we reach this sense of self-awareness that something must be done to be able to function still, to recover, and be whole amid the wounds. we will never be the same person after a heartbreak, but we owe it to ourselves to regain a little bit of personhood — this little bit of dignity left, that ounce of self-respect thrown on the wayside during the crisis, and this self-belief that tears have a way of muting.

in both stereotypes, to break or not to break is not just the superficial question of deciding to remain or opt out of a relationship. it involves dealing with the public and private nature of heartbreak. it is an arduous tricky process akin to walking on a tightrope. we endure the risk of pleasing the outside world, the audience below, with a show of stability and strength, while inside we balance fear and faith as one wrong step, one wrong move, one lapse of concentration on the move forward could cause us to spiral down. indeed, we deserve all the kindness we could get but somehow, this kindness must also spring from deep inside us.

Disclaimer: I do not own or have copyright to the above photo.

The Brouhaha over Mayor Jesse Robredo’s Death

this goes for everyone of us. why is it that gratitude comes only for those who are dead? how many us have actually thanked Jesse Robredo in person while he was still alive? his cellphone number is public knowledge but how many of us indeed thanked him, through text, call, or just a random photo or video message to thank his monumental efforts in naga city, alone? why do we have to wait, until he’s dead, to shower him with accolades, commemorations, poems, essays, platitudes, and hourly masses to the point that he must have overshoot the journey to heaven?  

and this goes to all filipinos – why do we make such a fuss about the death of a public figure? i recall two other occasions where the filipinos’ sentiment to a dead public figure just went over the brim, to the point of over-acting as that for Jesse Robredo – the deaths of Rico Yan and Mrs. Cory Aquino. what makes us Filipinos so sentimental, so open and overly generous with our emotions, we treat these people in higher esteem than the death of our own flesh and blood? why can’t we offer poems, essays, accolades, platitudes, commemorations, hourly masses for our dead parents, for example, or our dead pets? 

i could only come up with several factors why such deaths, in particular, the death of Mayor Jesse has been blown out of proportion. My bestfiend, Angeline Turiano, mentioned specifically this disproportionality of attitudes towards death.  Here are several factors: 

1. The drama of the plane crash. Unlocated for close to three days, the crash brought media attention to Mayor Robredo to the point that victims of the floods approximating Ondoy of 2 years ago were almost forgotten. The plane crash also provided the opportunity for the Phil President to go on a holiday to Masbate, and supervise the search, although it was more apparent the DOTC secretary was at the helm.   if i could weave the newspaper reports about the crash and the supposed rescue operations, it seems his plane has been located as early as that fatal saturday but it took so long, and so much incompetence to reach him and his two other mates that it took three days for three deep sea divers, two of them foreigners, to actually take them out of the wreck. the media had a holiday and it was maximized to the full. 

2. Social networking websites. News of the plane crash soared with the sentiments over Facebook, Twitter et al. of Mayor Robredo’s safety foremost, including those distressing rumors circulating that he has been rescued by fishermen. In facebook, prayers abounded especially seeking the intercession of our Lady of Penafrancia, our Ina, interspersed with pictures of the ordinary-looking Mayor in religious attendance to her annual traslacion. Facebook howled that the Mayor Robredo indeed be found, more alive than dead. Death was not even mentioned, but hope. 

3. The unanswered quest of the Bicolanos for a Bicolano national leader.  To put faith that Mayor Jesse was alive, even after a plane crash, was to hold on the promise he held as a potential national leader. One NGO leader mentioned that he was supposed to be the best president we never had.  That’s why the word ‘sayang’ reverberated after his death has been confirmed. His potential has not yet been maximized according to many, and to the Bicolanos, his death robbed the Bicol Region again the chance, after Senator Raul Roco, of figuring significantly at the national political scene.  

4. Mayor Robredo exemplified the ‘new normal’ – good public service.  This, however, obscured us from one laughable reality that we Filipinos have been so used to with corrupt incompetent local and national leaders that once this good guy comes along, he should be the exception, and not the standard.  Mayor Robredo should, in reality, be the standard – the ‘old normal’. Every official should be like him. Everyone should indeed be like him. Competent and professional. This should be nothing new. We have forgotten the goodness in us I suppose. Why do we need his death to invoke this goodness from within us? 

5. Mayor Robredo exemplified the ideal. He was not only the trailblazing local leader who earned the right to hold a cabinet position, he was also well-educated, with a Harvard degree to boot to complement engineering and business admin degrees from all stellar universities – UP, Ateneo and okay, La Salle. He was blessed with a close-knit family, a doting wife, and three brilliant children. he was religious, a devout Catholic, taking confession thrice a month according to his wife. For Naga City, he garnered a host of awards although this should be taken in context with his 6 year terms or almost 18 years in office as mayor.  He just could not go wrong. He just could not be dead.  There was this sense of injustice, similar to the sense of ‘sayang’, to why death has to come to someone who is just too good, too nice, and too complete. The question indeed was, bakit siya?

6. Mayor Robredo was your quintessential ‘every-man’s politician’. He could go around professional circles as comfortably as he could work his way through the masses, the common tao. He was so personalistic to the point he was everyone’s friend. Tsinelas leadership was his brand of leadership daa although I don’t really understand what this means. What stuck was his image in house clothes, wearing slippers, looking more like an usisero than a leader. And that what made everyone identify with him, an accessible, embraceable persona.

The death of a man, the death of a dream, the death of an exemplar, the death of a model, the death of a standard, the death of the complete, the death of the incomparable.  These deaths converged on the mindset of Filipinos to make Jesse Robredo’s death larger than his reality. We needed his death to mean something, and how we did it, to our own making. 

Photo credit: Taken from the internet.

Why Blog about Development?

Development is an assumed process from nothing to something, from an unwanted condition to an ideal state of being.  But the process, rather than a mere movement from A to Z, involves shifts in one’s entire world view to the point that there is a need to impose, subject and manipulate for the ‘other’ to believe, accept, without a clue to one’s capitulation.  Conflict is therefore inherent, latent in achieving ‘that’ – that aspired ideal state.  Development is then also the most political of human activity, and also the most cathartic because one is forced to look inward to one’s motivations, positions and biases. I blog about Development to make sense of my own humanity in it, whatever is left after the indoctrination under neo-liberal economics, and what could be recovered by an engagement in critical political analysis.