Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 23              July 14 - 20,  2002                   Quezon City, Philippines

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The World of Chairman Mong

Film enthusiast. Student leader.  Quiet. Impatient. This is Raymond “Mong’ Palatino, incumbent chair of the militant National Union of Student of the Philippines (NUSP).  Bulatlat.com profiles one of the most interesting student leaders today in this feel-good but "politically correct" interview.


Superstar Nora Aunor and Bembol Roco are Mong’s favorite local actors, while his Hollywood favorites include veterans Marlon Brando and Al Pacino and Northern America's rising action hero Jet Li.

Only 23 years old, the former chairman of the University of the Philippines (UP) student council and incumbent national president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) is a film enthusiast. He watched multi-awarded local films shown at the UP Film Center during his spare time, as well as the foreign movies shown during film festivals.

It was Mong's enthusiasm for film and film criticism that actually introduced him to the world of student activism. It was the late 90's and “Orapronobis (Fight for Us),” Lino Brocka's anti-militarization drama, was instrumental to his political awakening.

Mong considers “Himala” (Miracle), the 1982 Nora Aunor classic, the best Filipino movie to date.

Produced by then Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP), “Himala,” said Mong , is a powerful social critic of the society and class rule which uses religion to control people. But while he is all praises for the late Ishmael Bernal's stirring drama,, Brocka's Orapronobis made a larger impact on the young student.

"This film affected my views about the Philippine social system. It was an eye opener," Mong told Bulatlat.com.

Mong also regards art films like “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kaya Ngayon?” by Eddie Romero and Marilou Diaz-Abaya's “Moral” for their critique on history and culture.

Mong said the latest foreign film he watched was "The Road Home,” a Chinese film exploring life and culture in the countryside in the 1950s.  "It is a love story about a barrio lass who fell in love with a village school teacher. She broke the tradition by courting the teacher," Palatino explained.

The Chairman

Mong entered campus politics in 1998 when he represented the College of Education in the university student council (USC). A year later, he was elected student chairperson of the college. He was able to build a wide mass base, enjoying the support of both his peers and teachers for two consecutive terms.

In 1999, Mong became a member of NUSP and elected as its vice-president for Luzon. In the 2000 USC elections, he was handpicked by the Students Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy-UP (STAND UP) as its standard-bearer in the USC election.

During the campaign trail, Mong’s supporters coined the moniker Chairman Mong. Alluding to China's revolutionary leader Mao Tse Tung, the name was a big hit among students.

Chairman Mong won by more than 2,000 votes over his closest rival Marissa Umali, a former mass communication student and now a news reporter of the TV giant GMA-7. Mong said STAND UP’s unrelenting campaign against the proposed P166 million UP budget cut and other issues affecting the entire UP system and community won for him the chairmanship.

He also recognized the wide support his party got from the UP teachers’ UP-Contend , the All-UP Workers Union and UP community members like the jeepney drivers, vendors and urban poor residents.

Historic campaign

"One of the brilliant and successful campaigns the UP-USC undertook during our term was the campaign for the ouster of ex-President Joseph Estrada," said Mong when asked about the student council's accomplishments.

Mong recalled how the UP-USC mobilized thousands of students, professors and other members of the UP community for the second popular uprising that ousted the criminal and corrupt Estrada regime.

"The UP students were there, from the time the Oust Erap campaign kicked off in the first quarter of 2000 until Estrada was ousted.  It was one of the biggest achievements of the UP-USC," he said.

The USC, said Mong, also scored significant victories in the campaign against the UP budget slash and intermittent increases in tuition fee and prices of petroleum products. Likewise, under Mong’s term, local community issues and concerns were addressed.

Good impression

Chairman Mong impressed even the congressmen he debated against concerning education and other issues.  A source at the House of Representatives told Bulatlat.com that the NUSP chairman earned the admiration of solons and their staff during a House hearing on tuition hikes. Representative Edward Nachura could not hide his admiration and said he does not believe the country has a low quality of education because of Mong whom he found to be very articulate. The congressman said he was a living proof that the country can still produce outstanding students.

Administration senator Manny Villar whom he met during the Senate hearing on the millennium curriculum and tuition increase, also praised the former UP-USC chair.

To his credit, Mong remains cool and humble. He in fact thanks the party-list group Bayan Muna which he said was instrumental in giving him a wider view of life and struggle.  "My short stint in Bayan Muna exposed me to many people's issues. The campaign sorties last year taught me the importance of advocacy and the significance of involvement (in the people’s struggle)," he said.

Mong sought to correct the misimpression that he is “suplado (snobbish).”  He also said he is usually quiet, sometimes impatient.

Life or something like it

Palatino gamely responded even to personal questions.

"She's articulate and she's braver than me. We have clashes, but we manage to settle the problem before the day ends," he said about his girlfriend and their relationship. He said they are both interested in the arts.

Mong's parents and younger brother are now based in the United States. A sister works in Dubai. They communicate regularly through email, which Mong dubs as a “long-distance family affair.” Living alone, he cooks and cleans the house.

Mong described life as being governed by class interest and class struggle.  He sees himself in the company of workers and peasants in the future. Before that, he hopes to accomplish more things as a student leader. 

His most memorable appearance in TV was in Channel 2’s “Today With Kris Aquino,” right on the first day of the Estrada impeachment trial.  He said there was another interview by a Canadian channel asking him about the role of information technology like the use of cellphones and texting in ousting an undesirable leader like deposed president Estrada. 

"The Canadian TV could have wittingly or unwittingly endorsed the use of information technology using the interview as a medium, nevertheless, we grabbed the opportunity to say one important thing in the ouster of ex-President Estrada,” he said. “That People Power can make things change" Bulatlat.com

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