A Writer’s Call to Action on the Syrian Civil War

“Someday I will adopt refugee kids. Why should I have my own kids when there are millions of children out there who don’t have parents?”

That was a promise I made nine months ago as I saw the video of a bloodied kid being rescued after their home was bombed. Omran Daqneesh, 5, sat inside an ambulance with his face covered in blood and his hair covered in ashes. He did not cry in pain nor did he scream in fear. His was a stare of innocence. It was a symbol for millions of children caught in the middle of war.

It was turning point for me—a very powerful moment that has shaped my views since. I realized that we as human beings have an obligation to speak out against this war, to give voice to those who are not heard, and to call for justice for those who are oppressed.

We have failed the Syrians, the South Sudanese, the Rohingyas, the Yemenis, and the Iraqis. How do we sleep at night while there are millions of children out there who are bombed as they sleep? How can we let our government officials fly to the United Nations and not say a word about the children who are killed by chemical weapons? How can people simply scroll down and not read a news article about civilian deaths?

Have we grown numb to war? Have daily news of violence desensitized us to heinous crimes against humanity?

Writers have an important role to play in an age of apathy. No longer do we see the global anti-war fervor during the Vietnam War. We must rethink the way we communicate and understand that every word we build is not just a string of letters, but lives of children who are in most need of our help. One article could spell the difference between global apathy or a global movement to oppose all wars.



From Citizens to Consumers: The Youth and the Pathology of Accumulation

Although much has been said about the youth’s addiction to material goods and social media, the current approach to understanding this phenomenon comes up short. We talk a lot about treating it as a separate social ill and we like to focus on its effects on the individual. But this narrative comes at the expense of a much broader perspective where we treat it not as a disease, but as a symptom of an even bigger problem.  As we chart our course for the next few decades, we ought to think about the root cause of the youth’s many addictions and understand how it affects their role as citizens and as future leaders.

Technology’s rapid ascent has had far-reaching effects on our culture. It changed the way we communicate, the way we socialize, and the way we go about with our daily lives. Life has become more convenient now that everything is digital. “There’s an app for everything,” as they say.

 Perhaps no other demographic has felt these massive cultural changes than the youth. Since they were young, they’ve seen smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Through television, they become familiar with many brands of shoes, bags, and clothes. Indeed, this is the generation that is bombarded with advertisements of all sorts. And as they mature, it becomes harder for them to imagine a life without the technologies and brands they grew up with.

 To some people, this behavior may seem completely harmless. After all, aren’t the youth simply enjoying their freedom to buy? What harm would one’s own ‘addiction’ do to society at large? But when we start to look at the youth’s addictions as symptoms of the disease that is consumerism, we realize that our failure to understand and address this problem would have far-reaching effects on our environment, our politics, and our society as a whole.

 Already, recent elections have shown the youth’s unanimous rejection of the political process. There is a dismal turnout rate at the national and local levels and I would argue that it is in part fueled by the culture of consumerism. Sure, there may be economic or personal reasons behind. They may feel that politicians do nothing but make campaign promises they would later break. But it is consumerism that prevents the youth from taking action. It is what prevents them from running for office and campaigning door-to-door. They would rather watch a movie all day than help someone’s campaign.  Consumerism is a convenient distraction from the simple truth that the only way to reform the corrupt political system is by mobilizing the youth and actually running for office.

 Because consumerism gradually severs the ties between the youth and the political process, they also start to lose sight of the many issues that the country faces. The status-obsessed youth that scroll Facebook for hours every day, taking selfies, and liking posts, begin to unconsciously see themselves as more of consumers than citizens. They grow weary when they come across news about national politics. Instead, they want to know whether Taylor Swift has released her latest album yet or if Paramore would visit the Philippines next year. In the age of consumerism, the youth’s biggest concern is not the increasing income inequality, rather it is how much they could save to attend their favorite band’s concert.

But why would you care about my life, says the irritated youth. “I am free to choose what I want and that includes withdrawing myself from the political process.”

 Except that’s not really how freedom works.

 The way we perceive freedom has changed since the rise of consumer culture. Freedom then was about gaining national independence, and making sure that a country’s citizens lived prosperous lives. Freedom now is mostly about the ability to buy and sell. The youth cling to their possessions and treat it as the fullest expression of their freedom. But this distortion has dangerous consequences for the country. When the youth sees freedom as simply about the ability to make business transactions, they lose sight of the bigger problems that we face. Under consumerism, the youth tend to focus on one kind of freedom and completely ignore the others.

 The youth’s obsession with material goods is also a major cause for concern if we want to curb the country’s corruption levels. In their lust for money and fame, the youth treat the moneyed elite as their source of wisdom and inspiration. In one class when my professor asked us to name the person we liked to meet, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk came up more than twice. The problem with this mindset is that we unconsciously condition our minds to see wealth as a measure of honesty and credibility. Thus when the time comes that a wealthy person was found to have done a crime, the youth may find themselves in denial. Because consumerism has conditioned them to think that morality is proportional to the size of one’s savings account, it is hard to reconcile why a billionaire would choose to do illegal acts.

 Finally, the youth-led environmental movement fails to realize the main cause of environmental destruction also because of consumerism. Sure we need to transition to renewable energy to lessen our emissions. But it doesn’t end there. We think that consuming biodegradable products is enough. But no amount of biodegradable plastic can make up for the fact that they are still being produced in amounts that nature cannot handle. The problem lies in our endless production of unnecessary goods.

 How we move from an economy that is based on corruption, income inequality, and environmental destruction to one that is based on equal opportunity, transparency, and sustainability depends on our response to the scourge of consumerism. If we are to avoid repeating the social ills that plague us today, we should start by looking at the bigger picture and encouraging the youth, the leaders of tomorrow, to go from consumers to active citizens. 

Ang Karahasan ng Kapitalismo

Ang unang bahagi ng ikadalawampu’t isang siglo ay saksi na sa napakaraming unos. Mula sa resesyon noong 2008, digmaan sa Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, at Yemen, taggutom sa Silangang Africa, hanggang sa paglobo ng krisis pangmigrante, terorismo at mas tumitindi pang mga kalamidad. Marami ang napapatanong: Ano na ba ang nangyayari sa mundo?

Pinapalagay ng karamihan na ang mga unos ay produkto lamang ng makabagong panahon, na sa nakaraan ay walang mga pangyayari na ganito katindi. Ang mga trahedya ay tinitingnan hindi bilang magkakaugnay na mga pangyayari, kundi mga produkto ng pagkakataon.

Ngunit ang masusing pananaliksik sa kasaysayan ay maglalantad na ang trahedya ay nakapaloob na sa sistemang ating ginagalawan na nagmula pa noong panahon ng pananakop ng Espanyol. Ang digmaan, climate change, at iba pang mga krisis ay resulta ng isang sistema na umusbong at pinapalawak sa pamamagitan ng karahasan, kung kaya’t hindi na nakakabigla kung ang mga Lumad at iba pang minorya ay pinagpapatay upang maagaw ang kanilang lupang ninuno. Sila ay iilan lamang sa napakaraming biktima ng karahasan ng kapitalismo.

Sa gayon, upang maintindihan ang krisis ng lipunan, mahalagang tingnan ang mga katangian ng sistemang nagdudulot nito. Ano nga ba ang kapitalismo, paano kumalat ito, at paano tayo nakatali dito?

Ang kapitalismo ay isang sistemang pang-ekonomiya, sosyal, at pulitikal na nakabatay sa pribadong pagmamay-ari ng mga kagamitan sa paggawa at sa pagkamal ng napakalaking kita. Sa madaling sabi, ang mga makinarya ng industriya, ang lupa, at iba pang mahahalagang yaman na dapat kontrolado ng mayorya ay pagmamay-ari na ng iilan dahil ito daw ang pinakamabisang paraan upang mamaksima ang kita.

Kung noon, ang pangunahing hangarin ay ang pagkakasundo sa isang komunidad, pagkakaroon ng sapat na pagkain para sa lahat, pagbawas sa bilang ng maysakit, ngayon napalitan na ito ng mas mahalagang hangarin: ang mapalaki ang kita ng mga negosyante. Ang tanong na ngayon ay: Ang ginagawa ko ba upang mabawasan ang bilang ng mga mahihirap ay makapagbibigay ng kita sa mga negosyante? Ang kurso ko ba ay makapagbibigay sa akin ng mataas na sahod?

Sa ganitong kaayusan, kung saan pera o kapital ang nangingibabaw sa paggawa, unti-unting nabubuwag ang tinaguriang “social contract.” Ang moralidad ng kapitalismo ay hindi nakabatay sa panlipunang kapayapaan at kasaganaan. Ito ay nakaayon sa indibidwalismo at pera. Pagpapayaman sa sarili ang pangunahing hangarin ng “homo economicus” at ang pangunahing nagiging biktima nito ay ang mga maralita.

Sa trabaho, lantaran ang karahasan laban sa mga maralita at manggagawa. Ang trabaho na may pinakamalaking posibilidad ng pagkamatay o aksidente ay ipinapagawa sa mga mahihirap na tanggap ang minimum na sahod. Bukod dito, wala ring katiyakan ang kanilang trabaho dahil na nga sa kontraktwalisasyon. Kumpara sa CEO at iba pang kasapi ng Board, di lang 10x ang agwat ng kanilang sahod, madalas umaabot pa ito ng 200x. May mga benepisyo pa sila kagaya ng stocks buwan-buwan, pabahay, o libreng edukasyon para sa mga anak. Unti-unti, naiuugnay ng mga nasa labas ang CEO at ang mga taong matataas ang sahod sa katalinuhan at kapangyarihan, at tinitingala sila ng publiko. Samantalang ang mga maralita ay babansagang tamad, di bale na kung ilang oras ang inilaan nila sa trabaho. Nawawalan ng halaga ang paggawa dahil isinusukat na lamang ang kalidad nito sa perang natatanggap ng gumawa at hindi sa talento. Sa isang sistema kung saan pinapalago ang kultura na yaman, impluwensiya, at titulo ang basehan para maging kapani-paniwala, di namamalayan ng karamihan na ang demokrasya nilang tinatawag ay simpleng ilusyon na lamang na pinaiiral ng kapitalista upang maiwasan ang paghihimagsik ng mga maralita’t manggagawa.

Bahagi din ng kapitalismo ang pagkakaroon ng napakaraming produkto para sa mga consumer–isang ekonomiyang nakabatay sa mass consumption. Ayon sa mga kapitalista, ang consumer ay pangunahing pokus ng kanilang industriya. Pero di ibig sabihin nito na may pagpapahalaga sila sa mga pangangailangan ng mamamayan, dahil kadalasan sila ang gagawa ng paraan upang isipin mo na gusto mo ang produkto nila, kahit nakasasama ito sa kalusugan.

Ginawan pa nila ito ng hiwalay na larangan: behavioral economics. Dito inaaral kung paano kumilos ang mamimili upang makita kung ano ang gusto nila o upang aralin kung ano ang nakakakuha ng kanilang atensyon. Mula sa nakalagay sa teksto sa packaging hanggang sa hugis ng produkto, inaaral nila ito upang mapansin ng mamimili. Nagiging karahasan ito dahil nawawalan sila ng kontrol sa kanilang mga desisyon. Pagpasok nila sa mall, kaliwa’t kanan ang mga iba’t ibang brands na nagpapaligsahan sa kung sino ang pinakamagaling sa panlilinlang.

Isa pang uri ng karahasan ay ang pagpilit na gawing komoditi o produkto ang lahat ng madadaanan nito, kabilang na ang paggawa at ang kalikasan. Kahit na ang mga bagay na kailangan ng tao para mabuhay kagaya ng tubig at lupa ay may presyo na din. Ngayong lumalala na ang polusyon sa mga lungsod, hindi na ako magtataka kung pati “fresh air” ay ginawang komoditi din ng mga kapitalista. Dahil sa malawakang komodipikasyon, nawawalan na ng demokratikong kontrol sa mga likas na yaman ang mamamayan. Paano nila masasabi na sa kanila ang likas na yaman kung di nila kayang tapatan ang presyo nito sa merkado ? Iyong may pera na lamang ang makapagdidikta kung ano ang gagawin sa ating mga likas na yaman. Nagkakaroon sila ng direktang kontrol sa buhay ng mga tao.

Panghuli, katangian ng kapitalismo na maghanap ng mga bagong merkado. Ganito na ang nakita natin sa panahon palang ng kolonyalismo. Ginamit ang dahas at ang panlilinlang upang mabuksan ang mga bansa sa Africa, Asya, at Timog Amerika sa pandaigdigang kalakalan. Kung noon ang anyo nito ay sa pagpasok lamang ng militar, ngayon naman ay hinaluan pa ito ng foreign aid, mga dayuhang korporasyon, at pera para sa mga politiko na suportado ang mga imperyalistang bansa. Ginagamit nila ang kanilang impluwensiya upang pumasok sa mga free trade agreements o ang pagtanggal sa taripa sa mga imported na produkto.

Sino ba ang maghihirap dito kung hindi ang manggagawa at maralita? Sa pagpasok ng.dayuhang mga produkto na mas mura kumpara sa produkto ng mga magsasaka, halimbawa, di na bumibili ang mga Pilipino ng produktong gawa sa bansa at nagdudulot ito ng matinding kahirapan sa ating mga magsasaka, mangingisda, at iba pang lokal na propesyon. Ang ganitong klase ng karahasan ay magpapatuloy lalo na na nagbabadya ang RCEP na isang mas mapanganib na free trade agreement kaysa TPP.

Pero bakit nga ba pinagpipilitan pa rin ng mga burgis na akademiko ang sistemang ito sa kabila ng mga karahasan nito sa lipunan? Bakit panay pa rin nating naririnig ang mga salitang globalisasyon at pribatisasyon bilang tagapagsalba ng ating ekonomiya? Isang dahilan ay ang pagpapako nito sa kaisipan ng mga tao na maaari sila maging isa sa mga CEO at bilyonaryo kung magsisipag lamang sila at maghakot ng awards at diploma sa mga prestihiyosong institusyon. Hindi ba ito ang basehan ng kulturang startup ngayon? Dahil sa maka-indibidwal na kultura na pinapalaganap ng kapitalismo, iniisip ng lahat na posibleng maging milyonaryo ang lahat ng tao sa mundo kung magsisipag lamang sila. Pero kailanman ay hindi ito posible sapagkat walang nagiging mayaman na hindi ginagamit ang murang paggawa ng mga maralita.

Nariyan rin ang kultura ng kompetisyon na isa sa mga pangunahing sakit ng lipunan, lalo na sa mga unibersidad kagaya ng UP Diliman. Nagpapaligsahan na parang mga daga ang mga estudyante para makakuha ng mataas na marka at mataas na sahod pagkagradweyt. Takot magsalita sa klase dahil baka salungat sa opinyon ng guro at mabigyan ng bagsak na marka, kaya tango nang tango nalang sila sa mga propesor, tama man o mali ang sinasabi nito.

Nawawala ang kritikal na pakikipagtalakayan dahil ginawang komoditi ang edukasyon at ipinilit na itugma sa mga tunguhin ng kapitalismo. Halimbawa na nga ang mga mag-aaral ng mining at geology na panay dakdak ng mga salitang “responsible mining” ngunit wala namang imik sa pamamaslang ng mga mining companies sa katutubo at mga aktibista. Wala ring opinyon ang mga papet ng industriya sa impluwensiya ng mga korporasyon sa mga departamento nila o ang mga masasamang epekto ng hungkag na Mining Act of 1995.

Bakit? Dahil baka walang tumanggap sa kanila pagkagradweyt o baka mawalan sila ng trabaho. Ganito ang sistema ng edukasyon na pinapalaganap sa kapitalismo. Okey lang maging kritikal basta’t hindi mo binabangga ang bulok na sistema. Okey lang maging kritikal basta’t naaayon pa rin ang sinasabi mo sa gusto ng mga korporasyon. Kritikal lang dahil uso. Makikita ang ganitong daynamiks hindi lamang sa Engineering kundi sa buong komunidad ng UP Diliman.

Halimbawa na nga ang isyu ng pagbibigay ng honorary degree sa pasistang presidente. Nagsilabasan ang lahat, maging ang mga alumni, para kundenahin ang Board of Regents. Pero noong si Benjamin Diokno na ang ginawaran nito noong Hulyo, iilan lang ang nagsalita laban dito, at walang imik ang mga burgis na mag-aaral ng Economics. Walang nag-iba ng profile picture o nagshare ng “I am Juan, a student of chemical engineering, and I oppose the conferment of an honorary degree to Benjamin Diokno.” Dahil ba mas bokal at madalas magmura ang isa at ang isa naman ay tahimik lang? Hindi ba ang mga polisiya ng deregulasyon at pribatisasyon na isinusulong ni Diokno ang nagdulot ng napakaraming gutom at walang trabaho? Kung tutuusin, mas marami pa ang napatay ng neoliberalismo kaysa War on Drugs dahil mas matagal na itong ipinatupad sa bansa at di lang isang industriya ang sakop nito. Hindi ba sinasabi nito na mababaw ang pagtingin ng karamihan ng mga aktibo sa pulitika sa Diliman sa mga isyu ng bansa?

Kahiya-hiya na ang pinakaradikal na unibersidad sa Pilipinas na nanguna sa pagpapatumba sa rehimeng Marcos ay ngayo’y sunud-sunuran na lamang sa hungkag na aktibismo na isinusulong ng mga korporasyon at ang kanilang mga burgis at kareristang mga kaalyado sa Economics, Business Administration, Engineering, at iba pang kolehiyo. Isinusulong nila ang mga isyu ng LGBT, EJK, mental health hindi dahil gusto nilang wakasan ang sistemang nagdudulot nito kundi para malinlang ang kilusang mag-aaral sa mga krimen ng mga kapitalista. Ginawang naratibo na di magkakaugnay ang mga problema ng LGBT at manggagawa. Bilang mag-aaral kailangan mo lamang magpokus sa isa o dalawang isyu.

Sa ganitong uri ng “aktibismo,” hiwalay na ang makauring pagsusuri. Sapat na ang makapagpasa ng batas at makadalo sa mga “youth summit.” Hindi nila iniuugnay ang mababang buwis ng korporasyon, napakababang minimum wage at kontraktwalisasyon sa EJK o sa dami ng mga adik sa droga dahil sa kaibuturan ay gusto nilang maging bahagi ng naghaharing uri na nakatatamasa nitong mga pribilehiyo. Para sa karerista, ang aktibismo ay hindi para mabaliktad ang tatsulok o mabawi ang yaman sa naghaharing uri. Ito ay para lamang may maisulat sila sa kanilang resume at masabi sa kanilang mga employer na may “leadership qualities” sila. Hindi interes ng manggagawa ang kanilang iniisip kundi interes ng mga mayayamang kagaya nila.

Ang mga katangiang ito ay sintomas ng isang unibersidad na nabulag ng burges dekadenteng kultura. Sa isang sistema kung saan ang oryentasyon ng mga unibersidad ay para makapagpagradweyt ng mga bagong kasapi ng naghaharing-uri at ang aktibismo ay suportado at dinidikta ng mga korporasyon, kailanman ay hindi sila ang mapagkakatiwalaan sa pagsusulong ng malawakang pagbabago sa lipunan.

Naging matagumpay ang pagkalat ng kapitalismo hindi dahil mainit itong sinalubong ng mga manggagawa, kundi dahil kaya nitong umatake mula sa iba’t ibang direksyon. Isa itong sistema na nakabatay sa walang katapusang paglawak at paglaki na ang pangunahing armas ay dahas at panlilinlang. Nakikita natin ito sa pagtrato ng mga korporasyon sa manggagawa, sa malawakang komodipikasyon at pagbalewala sa kalikasan, sa panlilinlang sa mamimili, at sa katangian nito na piliting buksan ang mga mahihirap na bansa at gawing merkado. At upang magpatuloy ito, nariyan ang mga aral na burgesya na ginagamit ang mga unibersidad para sa pansiriling interes, upang pag-aralan kung paano makapagkamal ng mas malaking kita gamit ang murang paggawa ng mga maralita.

Ipinakita ng mga Lumad na hindi lang sila ang biktima ng isang mapang-abusong sistema, kundi tayong lahat. Higit pa rito, ipinakita nila na kayang mabuhay ng isang komunidad at maibigay ang mga serbisyong panlipunan kagaya ng edukasyon na hindi nakadepende sa isang marahas na sistema. Sa kanilang patuloy na pakikipaglaban para sa pagsasarili, pinapatunayan nila na ang pagbabago ay magmumula sa laylayan, sa mga manggagawa, katutubo, at maralita, hindi ang mga peti-burgis na intelligentsia na tinalikuran na ang sariling wika upang magtunog Kano at ginamit ang burukrasya para magpayaman. Inaasahan na ang kanilang pananatili sa mga unibersidad ay magdudulot ng kaliwanagan sa mga mag-aaral na ang laban ng mga Lumad ay laban nating lahat.



Against the Neocolonial Order: The Revolutionary Legacy of Thomas Sankara


As globalization becomes more entrenched, we see the massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the top 1%. The resurgence of nationalist sentiment becomes inevitable as governments abandon the people in favor of corporations. We’ve already witnessed the rise of far-right leaders and we’re yet to see the consequences of their extreme policies. The Left, then, cannot sit idly by and let the center or the Right take the global economy back to business as usual. On top of expropriating the wealth from the top 1% and stifling the advance of the far right, the Left must dismantle the foundations of the neocolonial and neoliberal global order that produced many of the problems we see today. As the Left strives to reclaim its political clout, it must learn from the revolution of Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, who died today in 1987.

Thomas Sankara was one of the fiercest opponents of the Western-dominated global order. He represented the aspirations of a once prosperous continent torn apart by the white man. He was an incorruptible revolutionary, enemy of imperialist France and a friend of the poor and the working classes, whose radicalism changed the course of Burkinabe history. Today, he remains an icon of anti-imperialism in the Global South.

Sankara presided over one of the poorest regions in the world, then Upper Volta: a country with no access to the sea and bordered on the north by the Sahel desert. He rose to power in a popular coup as a staunch anti-imperialist, feminist, and environmentalist, whose major commitment was to overthrow the corrupt neo-colonial regime, run by the French-backed Burkinabe ruling class who have enriched themselves at the expense of the peasantry.

“The primary goal of this revolution is to transfer power from the hands of the Voltaic bourgeoisie allied with imperialism to the hands of the alliance of popular classes that constitute the people.”

In his short tenure as president of revolutionary Burkina Faso, he started major reforms and made great strides in healthcare, education, women’s rights, environmental protection, and economic self-sufficiency, liberating his country from foreign domination. Sankara’s revolution was a powerful rebuke of Thatcher’s “there is no alternative.” He gave hope to the Burkinabe and the peoples of the Global South who were enslaved in their own countries and robbed of their own resources to feed the white population.

Leading the Global Struggle against Western Domination

His role in the global struggle against neocolonialism has been overshadowed since his death by more popular names like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Yet at a time when the Left was facing a crisis overseas and full-blown neoliberalism became the economic orthodoxy, Sankara’s radicalism was as significant as leading a peasant revolution 780 kilometers south of capitalist United States. He dared to challenge Western imperialism in all its forms.

“When the people stand up, imperialism trembles. Homeland or death, we will win!”

He railed against the veto powers of the most powerful countries in the United Nations when no one else did.

“We also propose that the structures of the UN be changed to put an end to the scandal surrounding the right to veto. It is true that the most diabolical effects of its abuse have been offset by the vigilance of certain of those who hold this right.

Nothing, however, can justify such a right – neither the size of the country that has it nor the wealth that country might possess.

Let there be an end to the arrogance of the big powers who miss no opportunity to put the rights of the people in question. Africa’s absence from the club of those who have the right to veto is unjust and should be ended.”

Sankara was also the first African president to call for the cancellation of external debt by Western-controlled lenders like the IMF and the World Bank. He appealed to the leaders of the African nations to resist economic exploitation, and save their economies from an endless cycle of debt.

“…debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa, aimed at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus each one of us becomes the financial slaves, which is to say a true slave, of those who had been treacherous enough to put money in our countries with obligations for us to repay.”

He was a powerful voice for the common folk, for the nations of the Global South, and he wanted Burkina Faso to inspire a wave of movements that would liberate the oppressed proletariat from the yoke of the elite ruling class. Speaking forcefully at the UN General Assembly, his internationalism showed: “Our revolution in Burkina Faso is open to the suffering of all peoples. It also draws its inspiration from the experiences of peoples since the dawn of humanity. We wish to be the heirs of all of the revolutions of the world, of all of the liberation struggles of the peoples of the Third World.”

Towards Self-Sufficiency and a Democratic Workers’ State

But revolution, to Thomas Sankara, was not simply about deposing a French puppet government. It was about building a new identity, restoring a great culture, and redefining the socio-economic relations among the Burkinabe. He wanted to purge the countryside of all the social, economic, and cultural obstacles that kept them backwards.

The new Voltaic man, he says, has “exemplary morality and social consciousness” who sets a good example for the masses. The architects of the revolution must forge a new consciousness and abandon the influence of neo-colonial thought.

Above all, he wanted a country of, by, and for the working class. He believed that the task of rebuilding his country must be left not to the “technocrats, financial wizards, or politicians,” the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, but to those who have truly built the foundations of the predominantly agricultural Burkinabe economy.

He saw imperialism as a constant threat to workers’ liberation, condemning it every chance he had in mass rallies. It was an all-encompassing system, he said, present in all aspects of the African life. Thus, the working class had to actively resist all manifestations of reactionary thought–cultural, economic, and political.

In his fight for self-sufficiency, he initiated major reforms on the country’s foreign aid policy. He revealed it for what it truly was–a clever re-branding of colonialism which ‘produced nothing more than disorganization and enslavement.’ He saw early on that it was designed to control the economies of developing countries by trapping them in billions of dollars of external debt and making them dependent on external assistance in the long-run.

He wanted a country that was self-sufficient, that didn’t have to beg its former colonizers for food aid. He recognized that Burkina Faso produced enough food to survive on its own, thus he mobilized the masses to protect the local tomato industry and produce food locally.

“Our country produces enough to feed us all. We can even produce more than we need. Unfortunately, for lack of organization, we still beg for food aid. This type of assistance is counterproductive and has kept us thinking that we can only be beggars who need aid.”

In an unprecedented move, he crushed the power of the local elite, distributed land to the peasantry, and nationalized the country’s mineral wealth, ending the feudal economy that persisted in pre-revolutionary Burkina Faso. In a few years, the country came close to achieving food self-sufficiency. Major reforms in the agrarian sector ensured that the country’s produce were used to feed the local population.

A Champion of Women’s Rights

“The weight of the centuries-old traditions of our society has relegated women to the status of beasts of burden. By changing the social order that oppresses women, the revolution creates the conditions for their genuine emancipation.The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.”

Thomas Sankara was a champion of women’s rights, treating them as equals and as important allies in the fight against imperialism. “The revolution cannot triumph without the emancipation of women,” he often said.

“Forging a new mentality among Voltaic women that allows them to take responsibility for the country’s destiny alongside men is one of the essential tasks of the revolution.”

At the time, to call for equality for women was revolutionary. In every other African country, women were treated as second-class citizens, commodities traded by their families in exchange for dowry. But under the presidency of Sankara, he recognized the role of women in the economic and social spheres.

He appointed them to government positions and the military. Forced marriages and genital mutilation were outlawed and girls were encouraged to stay in school despite being pregnant. Stressing the importance of women’s rights in a speech, he said: “we cannot transform society while maintaining domination and discrimination against women who constitute over half of the population.”

He decried bourgeois forms of emancipation such as acquiring the habits recognized as male. To him genuine emancipation was about entrusting them with the shared responsibility of building the nation, and placing them on the front line in the people’s fight against imperialism.

A Champion of the Environment

To be in a country bounded by an expanding desert on the North was a major challenge to the people of Burkina Faso. Water was scarce and famine afflicted the country. He launched the masses to dig new wells and taught them water conservation techniques. Close to 10 million trees were planted to prevent the southward expansion of the Sahel desert using a systematic village tree nursery program. Each village was designed to have one forest and the culture of tree-planting became widespread.

Additionally, a campaign on environmental awareness was launched to educate the people about the evils of illicit logging and the ways to avoid forest fires. Innovations in cooking stove technology meant lesser pollution and it improved the health of women.

With these programs, combined with a radical land distribution drive, the working class of Burkina Faso started to see change. They could now produce food in their communities without travelling for kilometers every day.

Thomas Sankara was one of the few leaders in the world who cared about environmental preservation. His ideas were beyond his contemporaries, including those in the West, and he saw climate change as a threat even before the science was fully understood. He rightfully believed that the environment cannot be saved by dole-outs from the rich, but through the collective efforts of the working class. Today, his “Struggle for a Green Burkina” has become the basis for the African Green Wall and various green projects around the world.

Healthcare and Education for the Masses

Sankara started a literacy campaign in a country with over 90% illiteracy rate. He conducted it in nine indigenous languages and taught reading and writing to 35,000 people. He built hundreds of new schools and educated children below 12 with the ideals of the revolution.

At the same time, 3 million children were vaccinated against yellow fever, measles and meningitis in only 15 days at a time when people resisted vaccination because of religious beliefs. River blindness was controlled and other health care services were made available to millions for the first time because new health clinics across the country were being built and one doctor for every 50,000 people was hired by the government. From one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world at 280 deaths per 1000 live births, it fell to 145 deaths per 1000 live births in less than 2 years.

Sankara’s Anti-Elitism

Sankara shunned the bourgeois lifestyle that many in the government enjoyed. He cut the salaries of government employees, including his own, and mandated that they use public transport. He sold all expensive Mercedes-Benz cars and replaced them with the Renault 5 and he also refused to use the air conditioning in his office because he thought it was a luxury not enjoyed by majority of Burkinabes .

Unlike many other socialist leaders, Sankara was a humble man who did not want a cult of personality around him. He had faith in the ability of the working class to discern the truth.

“One does not make a revolution simply to take the place of the despots who have been deposed. The image of the revolutionary…is that of an activist who is one with the masses, who has faith in them and who respects them. A revolutionary is someone who knows how to be modest. He fulfills [tasks] without boasting and expects no reward. ”

He despised the African intelligentsia and saw them as complicit in the suffering of the entire continent.

“My fear is justified even more by the fact that the educated petty bourgeoisie of Africa – if not the entire world — is not prepared to give up its privileges, either because of intellectual laziness or simply because it has tasted the Western way of life.

Because of these, the petty bourgeois forget that all genuine political struggle requires rigorous, theoretical debate, and they refuse to rise to the intellectual effort of conceiving new concepts equal to the murderous struggle that lies ahead of us.

Passive and pathetic consumers, they wallow in terminology fetishized by the West, just as they wallow in Western whiskey and champagne in shady-looking lounges.


But like many others who have fought for their country’s independence, Sankara was assassinated by the West to reclaim its colony. Blaise Compaoré, a soldier he once called “best friend”, with the support of the CIA and the French government, killed Sankara and 12 other allies. His body was dismembered and buried in an unmarked grave. Immediately, his programs were overturned and the World Bank and IMF rushed in to take advantage of the economic shock that transpired. Burkina Faso was once again ruled by a Western puppet government.

Thomas Sankara’s Legacy Lives On

As we examine the history of the countries in the Global South, we start to see a pattern–that the West is no friend of the working class and the fight of Thomas Sankara continues to this day.

We have been conditioned to think that the West is a bastion of freedom and democracy, whose people have invented an economic system capable of lifting millions out of poverty. They taught us that those in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South Asia belong to indolent cultures in dire need of a “civilizing” intervention from the West and that the situation in the Middle East is simply a result of a violent religion that wants to kill all Christians.

What we are not told is that the freedom and democracy enjoyed by the West is built on slave labor and massive human rights abuses in the developing world. We are not told that many of the problems we face today are a result of Western greed and opportunism. Terrorism, modern warfare, nuclear proliferation, and climate change are not events that came out of nowhere. They are products of the policies of a region that continues to control the global economy.

We often hope that the developing world could soon enjoy wages as high as those in the West and houses as big as theirs. But this can never happen in the current system, and the CIA and their European allies understood this. They knew that left-wing thinkers and politicians who tried to build a welfare state similar to the West would cut their countries of important resources necessary to sustain their life, so they saw it critical to intervene, launch a coup, and install a puppet government. Sometimes, they do it more covertly, asserting their influence through military aid, foreign aid, and infrastructure loan programs. Thomas Sankara was one of many Leftists who saw through all the lies of the West. He dared to go against a global system dominated by Western greed knowing full well that his life was in danger.

Thirty years since his tragic death, his political thought remains true. Only when the people are mobilized can we radically transform our societies and break the chains of colonialism. For the new generation of activists, those who are fighting against the Western elite and their lackeys who belittle the strength of the working class, Thomas Sankara’s words should serve as an inspiration:

“It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.”

The Pan-African Renaissance gives a heartfelt tribute to a great man, a visionary, and a friend of the oppressed working class who dared to challenge the West.

“For the 4 short years he ruled over his people, he defied imperialism and showed Africa what could be accomplished by effectively allocating the nation’s mineral wealth and resources to benefits its people, shattering the imperialist lie that Africa could not survive without foreign aid.

Thomas Sankara exemplified what it meant to be a selfless leader with no interest in material gain. He lived a simple and humble life even as he commanded an entire army and ruled over a nation.

In a world in which its ruling elite are worth millions (if not billions) of dollars whilst their people starve and struggle just to make a living, Sankara, when he was assassinated by the CIA and French Secret Service, only had a few hundred dollars, a guitar, a bicycle, and a broken down freezer to his name. Though he is no longer with us, his ideas live on in the hearts and minds of the African people!”


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The Brown Man’s Burden

By Henry Labouchère

Pile on the brown man’s burden
To gratify your greed;
Go, clear away the “niggers”
Who progress would impede;
Be very stern, for truly
‘Tis useless to be mild
With new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Pile on the brown man’s burden;
And, if ye rouse his hate,
Meet his old-fashioned reasons
With Maxims up to date.
With shells and dumdum bullets
A hundred times made plain
The brown man’s loss must ever
Imply the white man’s gain.

Pile on the brown man’s burden,
compel him to be free;
Let all your manifestoes
Reek with philanthropy.
And if with heathen folly
He dares your will dispute,
Then, in the name of freedom,
Don’t hesitate to shoot.

Pile on the brown man’s burden,
And if his cry be sore,
That surely need not irk you–
Ye’ve driven slaves before.
Seize on his ports and pastures,
The fields his people tread;
Go make from them your living,
And mark them with his dead.

Pile on the brown man’s burden,
And through the world proclaim
That ye are Freedom’s agent–
There’s no more paying game!
And, should your own past history
Straight in your teeth be thrown,
Retort that independence
Is good for whites alone.

When Girls Rise, We All Rise

In 2013, Sweetie, a 10-year old Filipina girl found herself in an online chat room, receiving messages from 20,000 men around the world. But they weren’t interested in her favorite toys or the colors she liked. They wanted what no adult should ever ask of a child.

Although it was revealed that Sweetie was a computer-generated child by a Dutch children’s charity to track sexual predators online, this awareness campaign revealed a disturbing reality—that child prostitution remains a rampant problem in the Philippines. In fact, ECPAT, an NGO that fights child trafficking, describes the Philippines as a “traditional child sex tourism destination.”

One can only wonder how many real-life Sweeties are out there who experience this kind of abuse on a daily basis. Of the 13.4 million children who are suffering from poverty how many girls are coerced into prostitution and marriage? There are 1.8 million abandoned children, or about 1% of the population that are roaming the streets and begging for food and money. How can we ensure that they are protected from criminal groups?

Sadly, the problem remains unaddressed to this day. But there are glimpses of hope in the grassroots sector—organizations that are offering a platform for the unheard, sharing their experiences, and offering a support system. This small-scale approach has long been the advocacy of Tahanan Sta. Luisa ever since its foundation.


Back in 1997, the Sisters of the Religious of the Good Shepherd founded a drop-in shelter for street children who were neglected, abandoned, and exploited. But they saw that despite the presence of many crisis centers for abused children, there weren’t any crisis centers dedicated specifically for abused street girls. The girls had specific needs which weren’t met in traditional crisis centers. So they focused their efforts on abused street girls until the organization was renamed Tahanan Sta. Luisa under the leadership of Ms. Teresita de Silva. Over the years, Tahanan Sta. Luisa has been home not only to stories of grief, but also stories of hope. By 2013, 560 street girls have called Tahanan Sta. Luisa their home, or “tahanan,” and each one has a unique story to tell.

What Tahanan Sta Luisa does

Tahanan Sta. Luisa is located in Antipolo City, Rizal, providing a comprehensive approach to rehabilitating street girls with a history of abuse. Girls aged 11-15 upon admission are surrounded by 12 dedicated staff who can guide them in their journey to recovery. Each step of the way, from making new friends to doing household chores, and eventually reintegrating themselves back into society, the social workers at Tahanan Sta. Luisa are there to help. Seeing the girls enjoy normal lives and become productive members of the community after their stay has been the main inspiration for the center’s employees.

Ms. Anna S. Aban, center director of Tahanan Sta. Luisa, explains that beyond their main goal of helping girls rehabilitate, they also want to break the stigma towards girls with a turbulent childhood. She believes that with the proper care, love, and opportunity, these girls labelled “hopeless” by many can still grow to lead normal lives. Most importantly Tahanan Sta. Luisa wants to tell survivors of abuse that they still have a chance.

But given the limited space, the center can only accept 23 girls at a time. They come from different backgrounds. Some have been prostituted and are victims of sexual abuse, some were neglected by their parents, and others are victims of drug abuse. The girls are referred by street educators from ChildHope Asia (Philippines) Foundation, and Families and Children for Empowerment and Development (FCED) and based on criteria set by the center, including the girls’ willingness to come, they are welcomed to the Tahanan Sta. Luisa family.

Upon admission, they are assessed by the center to determine their needs. This includes a look into their school records and their medical history. A case manager will work with the child to implement a case management plan where the child is actively involved in gauging her progress. Together with the house parent on duty and the social workers, areas for improvement are identified and properly addressed. They are provided with initial services such as food, clothing, a hygiene kit, and their own beds.


To help girls overcome their traumatic experiences and rebuild their lives, the center saw the need for an integrated approach that took into account their social, emotional, and spiritual growth. All of their projects and activities follow the Caring, Healing, and Teaching framework to make sure that girls have a holistic development during their stay.


The house parents provide the girls with their daily needs and teach them basic life skills. From monitoring the girls’ hygiene to giving them daily chores, they are training the girls to become responsible adults. It is their hope that once they reintegrate themselves in the outside world, the girls can learn to become independent. As acting parents, the social workers become role models and they make up for the parental care that the girls were deprived of. Thus, it is not only the provision of material needs that is important to their task, but also the guidance, the laughter, and care that biological parents would give.


Healing is a priority for the social workers at Tahanan Sta. Luisa. Because of the complex background of the girls, they understand that this step must involve professionals from different fields. An initial assessment is conducted on girls who step into the center to determine any infections they may have acquired while scouring the streets.

During their stay, psychiatric and psychological services are provided, especially for girls who have gone through drug abuse. Art therapy sessions, individual and group, done every month can have a huge impact on the way these girls perceive the people around them. Through it, they can determine their own personality and understand how best to adapt to different people they meet. They will know how to resolve personal problems which they previously found overwhelming. Most importantly, they will learn how to trust again.

Other aspects are also carefully monitored such as their sexual, dental, emotional, and spiritual health. Volunteer doctors offer their services for free along with partner institutions.

Of course, healing is not only about visiting doctors, it is also about rebuilding one’s self-worth. Through various cultural and recreational activities such as music and sports, they develop skills such as perseverance and teamwork. They start to feel that they are not so different from those who have gone through formal education. Sports and recreation are important in building the girls’ character, thus it is considered an integral part of the healing process at Tahanan Sta. Luisa.


The center enrolls the children in an alternative learning system where they learn about reading, basic math, values clarification, gender sensitivity, and sexuality. For girls who missed out on primary education, this is an important step. It builds the foundation for adulthood later in life. A full-time teaching staff supervises the girls’ educational activities.

They also learn skills that can help them earn money once they leave the center. Short-term courses are offered by volunteers and partner organizations. These can include voice lessons, arts and crafts, dancing, t-shirt painting, soap-making, and teambuilding exercises. For those who are having difficulty with the alternative learning system, Tahanan Sta. Luisa arranges tutorial sessions.

It is a policy of the center to use praise and positive reinforcement to manage their behavior. Nonviolent methods of reprimanding ensure that the girls are not reminded of their abusive past. This has worked effectively for the social workers at Tahanan Sta. Luisa over the years, noticing improved self-esteem and a cooperative behavior among the girls.


Once a child has been determined to be ready for formal school or reintegrate with her relatives, a pre-discharge conference is arranged where they discuss the girl’s progress and the terms of her release. Aftercare monthly follow-up or home visits are conducted for 6 months and another quarterly visit for the remaining 6 months by Tahanan Sta. Luisa social workers to ensure that the girl is in good company. A closing summary report is made once the girl has showed positive signs.

One of the problems the center faces is the case of girls who leave without permission. Often, they are found returning to their old ways because they are not cope psychologically with change. Houseparents and other children discuss why the incident happened and try to think of ways to prevent it from happening in the future.


Tahanan Sta Luisa Inc. operates using the donations from kind individuals, organizations, and corporations. Donations can come either in monetary form or in terms of clothes, foods, and toiletries. They rely on of volunteers from other organizations to provide extracurricular training to the girls. By widening their network, the Center hopes to sustain its program and services.

Moving Forward

Tahanan Sta. Luisa is optimistic about the many opportunities ahead. They are trying to adapt to changing times by revisiting their manual for operations. They are also studying the feasibility of a homeschool system and a small business that can make them independent from donations.

For Ms. Anna Aban, there are many challenges to face, from funding and community acceptance to adapting to the girls’ behavior as teens, as abused children, and as street dwellers. But it is her hope that their noble efforts at Tahanan Sta. Luisa will one day bear fruit despite the hardships.

Because girls and children are treated as the weakest members of society, she realizes that her work requires dedication and sincere love. With the support of a diverse group of board members and guided by a noble mission, she wants to see the girls live happy lives and contented with what they have. By giving them a chance, seeing them as equals, and trusting them, she believes that we can break the cycle of abuse and poverty that continues to affect many young girls.


  1. Jonathan Kaiman and Sunshine de Leon. (2016, May 28). The Philippines has 1.8 million abandoned children. Here’s what keeps many from adoption. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-philippines-orphans-adv-snap-story.html
  2. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Child Poverty in the Philippines[E-reader Version]. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/philippines/ChildPovertyinthePhilippines_web.pdf
  3. Withnall, A. (2013, November 05). Activists use CGI 10-year-old Filipino girl ‘Sweetie’ to snare thousands of paedophiles. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/activists-use-cgi-10-year-old-filipino-girl-sweetie-to-snare-thousands-of-paedophiles-8921964.html

An Ecosocialist Manifesto

This is the original Ecosocialist Manifesto written by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy.

The twenty-first century opens on a catastrophic note, with an unprecedented degree of ecological breakdown and a chaotic world order beset with terror and clusters of low-grade, disintegrative warfare that spread like gangrene across great swathes of the planet–viz., central Africa, the Middle East, Northwestern South America–and reverberate throughout the nations.

In our view, the crises of ecology and those of societal breakdown are profoundly interrelated and should be seen as different manifestations of the same structural forces. The former broadly stems from rampant industrialization that overwhelms the earth’s capacity to buffer and contain ecological destabilization. The latter stems from the form of imperialism known as globalization, with its disintegrative effects on societies that stand in its path. Moreover, these underlying forces are essentially different aspects of the same drive, which must be identified as the central dynamic that moves the whole: the expansion of the world capitalist system.

We reject all euphemisms or propagandistic softening of the brutality of this regime: all greenwashing of its ecological costs, all mystification of the human costs under the names of democracy and human rights. We insist instead upon looking at capital from the standpoint of what it has really done.

Acting on nature and its ecological balance, the regime, with its imperative to constantly expand profitability, exposes ecosystems to destabilizing pollutants, fragments habitats that have evolved over aeons to allow the flourishing of organisms, squanders resources, and reduces the sensuous vitality of nature to the cold exchangeability required for the accumulation of capital.

From the side of humanity, with its requirements for self-determination, community, and a meaningful existence, capital reduces the majority of the world’s people to a mere reservoir of labor power while discarding much of the remainder as useless nuisances. It has invaded and undermined the integrity of communities through its global mass culture of consumerism and depoliticization. It has expanded disparities in wealth and power to levels unprecedented in human history. It has worked hand in glove with a network of corrupt and subservient client states whose local elites carry out the work of repression while sparing the center of its opprobrium. And it has set going a network of transtatal organizations under the overall supervision of the Western powers and the superpower United States, to undermine the autonomy of the periphery and bind it into indebtedness while maintaining a huge military apparatus to enforce compliance to the capitalist center.

We believe that the present capitalist system cannot regulate, much less overcome, the crises it has set going. It cannot solve the ecological crisis because to do so requires setting limits upon accumulation—an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die! And it cannot solve the crisis posed by terror and other forms of violent rebellion because to do so would mean abandoning the logic of empire, which would impose unacceptable limits on growth and the whole “way of life” sustained by empire. Its only remaining option is to resort to brutal force, thereby increasing alienation and sowing the seed of further terrorism . . . and further counter-terrorism, evolving into a new and malignant variation of fascism.

In sum, the capitalist world system is historically bankrupt. It has become an empire unable to adapt, whose very gigantism exposes its underlying weakness. It is, in the language of ecology, profoundly unsustainable, and must be changed fundamentally, nay, replaced, if there is to be a future worth living.

Thus the stark choice once posed by Rosa Luxemburg returns: Socialism or Barbarism!, where the face of the latter now reflects the imprint of the intervening century and assumes the countenance of ecocatastrophe, terror counterterror, and their fascist degeneration.

But why socialism, why revive this word seemingly consigned to the rubbish-heap of history by the failings of its twentieth century interpretations? For this reason only: that however beaten down and unrealized, the notion of socialism still stands for the supersession of capital. If capital is to be overcome, a task now given the urgency of the survival of civilization itself, the outcome will perforce be “socialist,” for that is the term which signifies the breakthrough into a post-capitalist society. If we say that capital is radically unsustainable and breaks down into the barbarism outlined above, then we are also saying that we need to build a “socialism” capable of overcoming the crises capital has set going. And if “socialisms” past have failed to do so, then it is our obligation, if we choose against submitting to a barbarous end, to struggle for one that succeeds. And just as barbarism has changed in a manner reflective of the century since Luxemburg enunciated her fateful alternative, so too, must the name, and the reality, of a “socialism” become adequate for this time.

It is for these reasons that we choose to name our interpretation of “socialism” as an ecosocialism, and dedicate ourselves to its realization.