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From Philippines Congressman Mong Palatino…
Excerpts of keynote speech delivered during the second general assembly of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns in New Jersey, United States.
When I (first) arrived here (in 2008), people were talking only about two things: Obama and the recession. Obama promised change and the voters believed him. His victory was seen as something that would usher in a new political era. But the political euphoria immediately died down when the inconvenient truths of the economy were finally revealed. It soon became apparent that the minimum wage earners will be the most vulnerable sector if the recession worsens. Indeed, workers lost their homes while banks received bail-out funds, thousands were laid-off from work while bank executives were given fat bonuses. The American Dream became a nightmare for those who are barely surviving from paycheck to paycheck.
This was America in 2008. Three years later, it seems the situation has changed for the worse. Obama is still Obama, promising here and there about hope and change. Wall Street is still Wall Street, accumulating more fictitious wealth for the corporate shareholders at the expense of the working classes which produce the real wealth of society. Bank executives are allowed to ruin the economy through their black magic (popularly known as speculative investments) and their irresponsible behavior is ignored by the government. They hoard the money during good times but they require everybody in society to make a lot of sacrifice to help solve the financial mess they created.
During the Cold War, it was believed that if the US sneezes, the world gets a cold. It’s still true today: the virus of the US financial crisis has spread to many parts of the world.
But if there is something to cheer today, it’s the rising and visible resistance of the masses in the virtual and offline worlds. The people’s struggles are intensifying. The birds are even angry, the plants are fighting the zombies, and the fighting collectives are multiplying.
What is the role of Filipino migrants in this global counterstrike against the exploitative financial and economic system whose controlling apparatus is located here in the US?
You perform a very special and significant task. Special because you echo the devastating impact of neoliberal globalization in the Third World. Your militant presence, your voices, your status updates, your organizing in the grassroots can unmask the evil economic order. Significant because as you struggle for better protection for migrants you are also strengthening the people’s capacity to defeat the empire. You are slaying the dragon inside its lair.
It’s inevitable that your actions are both local and global; and you must realize that their impact is also felt locally and globally. I admire the inventiveness of the migrant’s movement because you are able to articulate your demands in a foreign land without losing your symbolic and organic ties with the homeland. I salute NAFCON for affirming the link between the immigrant rights movement in the US and the struggle of the Filipino people in the Philippines for genuine democracy, freedom, peace and justice. This admirable political standpoint must inspire Filipinos in the US to act decisively against economic inequality, corporate greed, racism, and political repression; and this should bring them closer to the revolution which is raging in the Philippines as they become part of the global people’s movement for genuine change.
Or in other words, Filipinos must realize that shouting and marching for immigrant rights in the US will also contribute to the victory of the people’s movement in the Philippines. As you militantly assert your political demands here, the unjust domination of a corrupt and highly abusive political-economic system in the Philippines is weakened too. You can’t present a genuine alternative to the public without disturbing the hegemony of the empire here in the belly of the beast and in the peripheries of the kingdom. If you punch, a tyrant somewhere in the Philippines will receive the blow. So punch hard like Pacquiao.
But NAFCON and its member organizations are relevant not only because of your interventions in behalf of all Filipino migrants but also because you are determined to address the roots of the problems confronting the community. You are correct to highlight the feudal backwardness of the Philippines and the despotic rule of oligarchs in the archipelago as the culprit for the forced migration of Filipinos to distant shores. It’s essential to pinpoint the criminal responsibility of politicians, past and present, in maintaining a system that draws its sustenance from the sweat, blood, and labor of migrant Filipinos.
What kind of government allows its own people to be exported to other countries and expects the continued inflow of remittances to keep the economy afloat? What do we call a policy that shamelessly sells the labor power and dignity of Filipinos to the altar of the global market? How can we accept the argument that the damaging impact of migration like separated families, the exodus of skilled professionals, the exploitation of cheap Filipino labor, the silent agony of discriminated Filipinos who experience various humiliating forms of racism – can we endure and ignore this suffering just because the OFW remittances constitute the black gold of the Philippine economy?
Only a leadership with a shortage of imagination could proclaim that no alternative is available to this social set-up; that we have to continue exporting our own people; and that we still need to experience more pain and anguish for a longer time. If this is the way our government thinks, then we have no choice but to do the only honorable and right thing and that is to export all our politicians to other countries. Or to Mars if no one will accept them.
I have some bad news to share and also some good news as pasalubong from Pinas.
The bad news is that the present supremo of the Philippine Islands is no torch bearer of genuine change so the situation in the country is bound to worsen. Why do we say that? Because 1) President Noynoy Aquino, the son of two democracy icons, the country’s most illustrious bachelor, the brother of Kris, the former owner of a second-hand Porsche, the hacendero president is surrounded by advisers who faithfully cling to the neoliberal dogma; 2) After more than a year in office, his single concrete achievement as president is the elimination of wang wang in the streets but the more insidious forms of wang wang mentality like the refusal of landlords to distribute their lands to small farmers are tolerated; 3) There is no review of anti-people policies implemented by previous governments like the reduction of state subsidies to social services, unabated profiteering of oil companies, and active promotion of labor export.
The Daang Matuwid is now operational but it’s only for Porsche cars, the president’s friends and kamag-anak. And if you are lucky, you can pass but you must pay high toll fees, VAT included.
What should migrants do? As the boss of Pnoy, demand reforms, assert your migrants’ agenda. Remind him that decent jobs will not be created if he continues to subscribe to a discredited economic thinking. Make him understand too that progress shouldn’t be equated with abstract numbers like GDP, foreign investments, and rising profits of big corporations. We are more concerned about the quality of living in society like the social opportunities for the poor, relevant education, accessible health care, peace in the community, delivery of social justice, solidarity, bayanihan in society. These are the things that truly matter.
Most of all, migrants should show to Pnoy and to other ruling oligarchs that you are prepared to exert the full potential of your power, and I do not only mean your purchasing power, but the power to change the world, the power to refashion a new social order.
2011 is an important year for the people’s movement. This year is the 10th anniversary of the Edsa Dos Uprising, the 20th year of the historic Senate vote that rejected the US Bases Treaty, the 25th year of the EDSA People Power, the 40th year of the Diliman Commune. The year started with the Arab Spring uprisings; then the Occupy Wall Street protest inspired several ‘Occupy’ actions. In the Philippines, farmers and workers conducted an ‘Occupy Mendiola’ protest a few days ago. They said they are the 75 percent of the population who are urging the other 24 percent to join the struggle in resisting the oppressive rule of the 1 percent.
But after we ‘Occupy’, we must organize. Otherwise, the repressive state will attempt to seize control of the spaces we liberated. The protesters in Wall Street and other ‘Occupy’ sites need to regroup, expand, and organize the people, the masses who are preoccupied with something else.
I said earlier that I have some good news as pasalubong. I’m happy to announce that the people’s movement in the Philippines is getting stronger and bolder. The parliament of the streets has been successful in presenting the people’s agenda; and it has been consistent in unmasking the bankrupt and reactionary programs of the Aquino government. Meanwhile, the mass movement in the countryside for genuine agrarian reform and the protection of our finite natural resources continues to frighten the enemies of the people. Day by day, inch by inch, zone by zone, victory is getting nearer.
This is my pasalubong. What about your pabaon to me? Well, I can report back to our kasamas in the Philippines that the Filipino community in the US, led by NAFCON and other allied organizations, is ready to enter into a new era of resurgent struggles. The community is prepared to boost the full potential of the mass movement in advancing the rights of migrants, the workers, the poor, in solidarity with all those who are struggling for a better world, a new future.
Once again, I salute the NAFCON for leading the noble fight of Filipinos in the US. Laban mga kasama! Tuluy-tuloy sa pakikibaka! Mabuhay ang migranteng Pilipino!