As well as writing for The Diplomat you’re also a lawmaker in the Philippines. For which party? And how did you get involved in politics?
I’m the head of a youth political party, Kabataan (Youth) Partylist. We can’t be affiliated with any major political party since the Philippine partylist system is supposed to give representation to marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society. Major political parties are prohibited from participating in the partylist elections.
When it comes to political orientation, I’m a leftist. In fact, I consider myself a member of two parliaments: the Parliament and the parliament of the streets.
I became active in politics during my college years. I was a student leader—president of the student government—and after graduation I became involved with youth NGOs. I was a participant of the EDSA Dos movement, which toppled the Estrada regime in 2001. After the peaceful uprising, we formed the youth political party as a vehicle for young people to participate in the governance process.
(Aside from being the first youth representative in the Philippines, Mong is also the country’s first blogger-turned congressman).
It’s probably fair to say politicians generally don’t have a great image. How about in the Philippines?
Politicians in the Philippines also don’t have a good reputation—corrupt politicians are called pigs and crocodiles. That’s why I feel awkward being referred to as a politician and so I always introduce myself as an activist-politician. I’m an activist who is advocating change through meaningful and progressive legislation. I’m a lawmaker who believes that activism is needed to spur fundamental change in society.
Are there any politicians, in the Philippines or elsewhere, who you think make good role models or who you’ve been inspired by?
Former labour leader turned partylist lawmaker Crispin Beltran from the Philippines. He remained a true activist and a simple person even after serving for three full terms in the Parliament. Another would be former journalist and human rights crusader turned lawmaker Satur Ocampo, also from the Philippines. He’d been an activist for several decades already and he didn’t compromise his principles even after joining the parliament.
I’m also interested in getting in touch with other blogger-politicians in other countries—politicians who value and appreciate the role of social media in improving not just communication, but also transparency in government
How much political pressure do you think there is on journalists in the Philippines?
The Philippines was tagged as one of the most dangerous countries for working journalists. Media killings, especially in the provinces, continue to threaten the practice of journalism. Despite it boasting one of the freest presses in Asia, the Philippines still has to adopt enough measures to safeguard the wellbeing and security of journalists.
Politicians also often accuse journalists of partisanship and libel cases are often filed against critical journalists. Journalists who often report the unpleasant things in society are accused by politicians of promoting negativity or ‘bad news syndrome.’
You’ve just had a general election in May—how’s the new government doing?
We’re still in transition. The new government enjoys popularity because of the intense hatred of the citizens felt toward the previous administration. Sensing this hatred, the new president is trying to win more supporters by exposing the anomalies of his predecessor. However, the new government is using its popularity to justify toll rate and railway fee increases and it still hasn’t identified its key priorities for the next six years, aside from mouthing a general statement about the need to fight corruption.