A good number of netizens are talking about #APEChottie and #APECbae, hashtags derived from the stir manufactured by media over Canada Prime Minister Justin Pierre James Trudeau and Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto. The poll is whether one is for Team Trudeau or Team Nieto in this “battle of APEC hotties.” The cynicism is appalling.
APEC’s theme for this summit is nothing new. The banner of free trade with the promotion of inclusive growth is actually reducible to a basic social and economic rationalism: the neoliberal solution to the permanent crisis of global capitalism. It is a solution that fails to draw a workable path to the satisfaction of people’s basic needs. For that is not the aim of neoliberal policies to begin with.
For the ruling global elite, the narrowing margins of profit is the issue to be resolved. Meanwhile, problems of the world such as displacement, starvation, unemployment, violation of human rights are mere consequences of imperialist landgrabbing, plunder, occupation, and war. The latter are the concrete results of free trade policies since the US imperialist-led WTO found its way into the economies and lives of ordinary people, killing the most productive of them laborers and farmers worldwide.
In hindsight, and even shortly before it was railroaded in the Philippine Senate back in 1994, the GATT-WTO scarcely assured any form of economic freedom and economic self-self reliance on Third World economies. Yet client states whose rulers function as mere puppets to US imperialist dictates had to ratify the deal. And Third World “civil society organizations” and their extensions in academe sold the whole neoliberal suicidal package with promises of safety nets and the “trickle-down effect.” These promises are now re-worded as APEC’s inclusive growth.
Let us pause for a bit and imagine the Philippine landscape and see how it is a painful exhibit of the ruins of that neoliberal project that was predicated on inclusive economic development.
Why does a regional process of integration so integral in promoting free trade? Because localization is globalization. Yet we are also being told that we need APEC because it is necessary to strengthen regional economies to fight the possible disastrous impact of global free trade on local economies. Let not confusion rule the day.
Actually, APEC, which realizes free trade through regional integration (and they make it appear as if this were a breakthrough in the realm of economic theory), is a much needed clincher for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) to be carried out in its full swing. The reason why buzzwords such as free trade and inclusive growth are being recycled is because the TPP is an attempt at reincarnating WTO like it’s Jesus Christ. But here we only got salvation for the global ruling elite who are recycling failed neoliberal policies to save a dying syste of profit accumulation.
That picture of structural disaster which finds concrete correspondence with the system that we are all in finds a reliable partner in institutional corruption, a condition that is itself a product of this system. And as in almost all neo-colonies and client states, institutional corruption has proven to breed public cynicism.
Our general sense of of social and political malaise can only engender a crisis of legitimacy and confidence in government and other social institutions. People are cynical for a reason. Puppet governments systematically breed cynicism among its populace, the same people whom it mobilizes for political participation when elections come around.
When faced with the enemy that has clearly killed and violate millions of peoples across the world, items such as #APEChottie and #APECbae turn up as if to provide an escape away from the real issues. But that is not the case. Considering neoliberal heads of states as hot men coheres with the very image of imperialism that the neolibs want to sell. It is therefore a way of dealing and not of escaping. Some people take it as a moment of applying the male gaze on men, thereby reducing the whole issue to a distorted form of feminism, with the call to stop the objectification of both men and women. This is seriously misleading.
That sexualized approach to APEC is not at all strange, for how else have we been oriented to imperialism anyway? Imperialism means to seduce and it is actually seductive in many ways. Imperialism, for a particular class of people, is in fact a very seductive picture of personal success and plenty, of “making it,” so to speak. But for the majority, imperialism remains faithful to the uncanny image of Uncle Sam who commands all laboring peoples to bleed and die for the accumulation of profit.
It is not strange for heads of states who are keen on promoting neoliberalism for their narrow class interests to assume “masculine superiority” accorded to imperialist nations. And it is not surprising for people in economies underdeveloped by imperialism to approximate the stereotype of the feminine sexualized subject who is forever drawn to masculine power.
I remember a time when supposedly educated and sophisticated female columnists and media celebrities were celebrating the “good looks” and “brains” of military figures like Gregorio Honasan and Antonio Trillanes. Never mind the repressive state apparatus that they represent and actually stand for and their narrow class interest, so goes the girlie cupcake liberal feminist mode of opining.
The #APEChottie, #APECbae frenzy is really a function of structural relations finding its way into people’s subjectivities. In a sense, APEC forces us to sleep with power. In the same way, there are people, oriented in the ways of patriarchy and global capitalism, who will find going to bed with powerful men a moment of empowered fantasy-making.
The US-Aquino government has sent homeless children to jail, subjecting them to hunger and other forms of human rights violations. It has sent farmers from the Ilocos region to jail without any warrant of arrest. They were heading to Manila to join the APEC protests and to express their solidarity with the Manilakbayan 2015 who are currently encamped in Baclaran. By doing so, the Aquino government asserts that it is no longer possible to stage political actions against APEC and the imperialist control of our economy and politics, and lives!
But the oppressed and fighting people will take the other position. There is no reason to give up our right to freedom of expression, to protest, and to show the world that we do have solutions for the problems that the global ruling elite has created.
Often, police forces break up organized action. And still for some, organized action is deemed as the result of relentless brainwashing among unthinking people. Cynics favor spontaneity and randomness. But these are never instances of resistance to the force of ideology. They are precisely the outcome of ideology’s insidious operations. Ideology allows one to think along the lines of individual freedom, freedom of thought, lightness and some such indicators of utter unfreedom like those hashtags that merely reflect and are reproductive of a system in which we are called upon to be awed by all of that crisis, plunder, occupation, and war that is imperialism.
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Impeiralist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.