Two elections

Elections this November took place in two countries that are geographically far apart, and have practically nothing in common. But the results were in both cases as expected, although due to widely different reasons.

In the case of the national elections — the first in 20 years — in Burma (officially Myanmar; the ruling military junta changed the country’s name in 1989), almost 95 percent of the 1,157 contested seats for the bicameral parliament were won by the main political party backed by the junta, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), with the rest of the seats being won by other junta- friendly parties. One opposition party that contested the elections won 16 seats, another, three.

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Our man in Manila

HARRY, THE new US Ambassador to the Philippines, and the first African American to hold that post in this country, is surnamed Thomas, as in USS Thomas, the US Army transport ship that arrived in Manila on August 21, 1901, about a month after it sailed from San Francisco. The ship was carrying some 500 teachers from the United States — the first batch of about a thousand tasked with teaching “natives” the English language and establishing the beginnings of the public school system.

As everyone should know who has gone through that system, or even the private one that co-exists with it, from the ship’s name came the American teachers’ label as “Thomasites” and not from that of St. Thomas Aquinas. After all, the US policy of encouraging in its newly acquired (through conquest and at the cost of about a million “native” lives) colony the use of the English language and the creation of a public school system was meant, among others, to undermine the obscurantist system of which the University of Santo Tomas was such a sterling representative. In that system, learning was by rote and infused with Church dogma, the Spanish clergy, despite its antipathy to the “natives,” being the teachers. Thus did Rizal’s Noli me Tangere devote one chapter (The Class in Physics) to exposing how racist, stupid, and anti-learning the system was.

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Dancing in the streets

It’s called wishful thinking: interpreting events according to how one wants things to turn out, imagining the imminent realization of one’s hopes in the statements of the presumably knowledgeable as well as those with the power to make things happen.

It’s the recourse of the desperate. And these are desperate times indeed, reminiscent of the prelude to the Marcos declaration of martial law in 1972. As the bombings in Mindanao continue — and as the fear- peddlers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police make sure that Filipinos get their message of dread by warning them that the bombings could “spill over” into Manila — more and more Filipinos are being convinced that a declaration of either a state of emergency or martial law is only a matter of time. It’s been in the Arroyo regime list of options to keep itself in power, only the most naïve believing that she and hers will meekly step down in 2010.

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It must be love

A marriage of convenience is what the United States and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are into, and they make for strange bedfellows indeed. One might even say that each one’s sleeping with the enemy. But as in most unions of expediency, both partners would rather forget how strategically irreconcilable, though tactically opportunist, are their interests.

Does the MILF need reminding that the marginalization and neglect of the Muslims of Mindanao were driven by US colonial policy, and that all Philippine governments since 1946 were mere policy copycats?

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Black man’s burden

It’s become conventional wisdom among observers in the United States and other countries that a Democratic Party victory this November will mean a shift in US government policies at home and abroad. It doesn’t matter who the Democratic candidate for president will be. Although they have different styles, the thinking went, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would undo the damage eight years of the George W. Bush presidency have inflicted on both the United States and the world.

Barack Obama’s emergence as the Democratic Party candidate for President this November is at least partly due to the results of the surveys, most of which show that despite his race, Obama could defeat Republican John McCain. Despite her support across a broad spectrum of white workers, the middle-class and women, Hillary Clinton’s being a woman, and an aggressive one at that, has been widely held against her. It suggests that sexism’s an even more difficult hurdle in US politics than racism.

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