The Nobel Prizes: Peace & Protest

Sunday Spotlight

The Nobel Prize has always fascinated me, even as a little kid in the Philippines. I never fully understood what winning the Nobel Prize meant, but I knew that it was important. I was also slightly amused at the inadvertent wordplay: “Was it noble, or novel,” I heard my lolo muse one time.


I’ve been anticipating this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature since the announcements began last week. This morning, I manage to rouse myself at 5:00 AM to see who was awarded. First it was shock, then mild confusion — Bob Dylan? I scrolled through my Twitter feed to see what people were saying, and it was a mix of ~finally!~ and “When is Stephen King going to win the Rock’n Roll prize?” I came across Bob Dylan’s Secret Archive from The New York Times and it all started to make sense. The NYT piece alluded to an extensive archive of poetry, songs, manuscripts and other pieces of writing. My favorite line from the article: The range of hotel stationery suggests an obsessive self-editor in constant motion. I’ve never listened to any of his music before but this morning, I fell back asleep to “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

The Nobel Prizes for Medicine, Chemistry and Physics were announced last week, with the Peace Prize awarded to Juan Manuel Santos last Friday. Santos is the current president of Colombia. His merits? For continuing the peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).


The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220 000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people. The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.

While voters rejected the current peace deal by a slim margin, the Nobel nod to Santos’s efforts is not unnoticed. That the Nobel Peace Prize is also “a tribute to the Colombian people, who despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace” gives Filipinos like me hope.

In spite of the international media spotlight of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, what is buried in the news are the peace talks currently happening between the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the government of the Philippines (GPH). Since 1969, a civil war has been raging in the countryside due to a host of issues affecting majority of the population. The goal of the peace talks is to end the armed conflict by addressing the structural problems of the country: landlessness, feudal exploitation, state brutality against the poor and marginalized. (See 10 Things to Know About the Peace Talks)

Now on its second round in Oslo, Norway, a bi-lateral ceasefire between the two forces by the end of October, the release of political prisoners and negotiations on socioeconomic and constitutional reforms are all on the table. It’s also encouraging that the deputy ambassador to the Colombian peace process “gave a concise but extensive sharing including what were the conditions and factors that may have contributed to the rejection of the peace agreement in a recently held referendum, ” a perspective crucial to the peace process.


NDF Consultants

The Nobel Peace Prize for Santos is a testament to the urgent need for just peace in Colombia, similar to the just peace Filipinos hope to attain. In true Nobel fashion, here’s one of Bob Dylan’s songs.

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

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To learn more about the peace process in the Philippines and to support just peace, check out #justpeacePH.

The rhetoric of politics can be draining: it is a roller-coaster ride of hope, repudiation, alarm, back to hope, at times inspiration, and then it’s back to more repudiation, more alarm, until your realize your mind becomes a pestle, your heart an unduly mortar.

No wonder so many people are apathetic about politics, even if their own lives and their interests are at stake. What does it take to keep engaging?

This is even more compounded for folks like me, a wild-eyed child of the (queer) Filipino diaspora, perpetually straddling two worlds. The flourishing of one requires the sacrifice of the other. If it isn’t taken, it is forced out. One is oil, the other, water.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been a witness to three major speeches: two American presidential nominees in their respective party conventions and the first State of the Nation Address of the Philippines’s president.

From “I alone can fix it” to “We’ll fix it together,” coverage of both the Democratic and Republican conventions was nonstop. My inbox reeks of “Breaking News” alerts every time someone says something to counter the other. I’ve never been more dismayed, disillusioned with the state of party politics.

I was never for Hillary Clinton, in spite of the fact that I am a fervent women’s rights activist. What matters to me, more than her gender identity, are her political views, accomplishments and perspectives. And while her stance on social issues like abortion, immigration and access to healthcare are liberal, it’s her economic agenda that rattles, unsettles me. What do you call someone who would rather free the money, not the people?

A neoliberal.

Celebration of income inequality? Lower corporate taxes? Labor deregulation? Weakening of trade unions? Privatization of public goods and services?

And it’s no secret that whatever economic agenda the U.S. sets, it reaches the farthest corners of the world. If Hillary wins, the Trans Pacific Agreement might survive Obama’s lame duck moment of crisis.

Voting for Trump is a no-brainer, although I’m convinced he’s really just trolling all of us (h/t to Katchingles for this one) but what choice do I have?


Back in the Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte gave his first State of the Nation Address which elicited high hopes for a better government, the resumption of peace talks in the country (finally!), reforms in taxation and social services, with a few chuckles here and there. He also reiterated his crusade against the drug trade, the most recurring theme of his presidency so far.

He made me tear up when he talked of a permanent and lasting peace before his term ends as his goal, as his dream. I laughed when he called out members of the Congress, when he commented on the inefficiencies of public agencies. While #SONA2016 was charming, rousing at times, with a this-is-your-good-ol-uncle-giving-you-a-talk feel to it, it was also exasperating as this article points out.


He announced a unilateral ceasefire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, of which he rescinded a week later after Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit. Go figure.

I was skeptical of Duterte while he was campaigning, but upon his election and subsequent appointment of progressive forces in his Cabinet I started to pay more attention.

After #SONA2016, the Center for Women’s Resources came out with a 100-Day Challenge to his administration. Filipinos like me in the diaspora are watching his administration closely, in support of his pro-people policies. He must be accountable to his promises, he must serve his people genuinely.

* * * 

My nose is usually buried in books, and I know that my Sunday Spotlight usually features literary musings. I can’t help but focus on political discourse for today’s post, specially at this time, when folks teeter on extremism or worse, political apathy.

In the end, while we are at the mercy of the media, while we are lambasted with senseless political prose, while we are offered promises that at times ring hollow, we should not be deterred.

Indignation must always be the answer to indignity. Reality is not destiny.

– Eduardo Galeano

Sunday Spotlight: State of the Nation

Sunday Spotlight