On the heels of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s US tour this month, the national alliance of Filipinos in the US known as BAYAN USA expressed disappointment over US Presidential Candidate Barack Obama’s statement of high appreciation over the controversial Arroyo visit.
“I welcome the visit this week of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her delegation to the United States. President Arroyo’s visit is an opportunity to strengthen our historic alliance, and to discuss a host of issues of mutual interest,” stated Obama in a press statement of Arroyo’s visit to Washington DC last week.
Issues of “Mutual Interest”
Among the ‘issues of mutual interest’ Arroyo and President Bush took up were the continuation of the Balikatan joint military exercises, the future of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), financial assistance from the US-based Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the global food crisis, and the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007. Obama also spoke of “shared values” between the US and Philippine governments.
“While we don’t pin our hopes on one leader to usher in radical change for society, Obama’s remarks of so-called ‘shared values’ paint a deceptive picture of perfect and equal cooperation between the US and the Philippines. He should be reminded that this relationship is a starkly unequal, one-sided, neo-colonial one, born out of war and genocide. Perhaps he should re-study history,” states BAYAN USA Chair Chito Quijano. ,
Last February, several of Obama’s staff members met with and were brought to tears by Edita Burgos, mother of abducted Filipino agriculturalist Jonas Burgos, a known critic of the Arroyo government. Ms. Burgos was in the US appealing to US Congressional representatives on behalf of the hundreds of Filipinos abducted by Arroyo’s military. The Burgos case has been acknowledged and widely-documented by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and by UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings Philip Alston.
People vs. Politicians
“Although the people need better politicians, and we certainly see the significance of the first black male US Presidential candidate in history, change won’t come from one leader or administration. Change will only come from people in struggle, just like Obama’s candidacy was made possible from the mass movement of Black people in the US decades ago,” Quijano added.
Quijano stressed that the real change for Philippine society must start with the initial step of uniting to remove Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from office, by resignation, impeachment, or popular ouster. He also stated that so-called “People Power Fatigue” is a myth being used by the Arroyo clique to prevent massive demonstrations in Manila.
No Such Fatigue
“Ousting Marcos and Estrada did not mark significant change in the Philippine government and for the Filipino people because the same system of elitist, traditional, bureaucratic politics was allowed to pervade,” Quijano added. “When we demand a change in the Philippine Presidential seat this time, we need to continue this massive pressure to hold our leaders accountable to our legitimate demands, and push for adequate government representation from the basic sectors of Philippine society– the urban poor that lack jobs and the agricultural sector that lack land reform– not the same old wealthy families with narrow interests the Arroyo clique represents.”
Arroyo’s national US tour and demand for more financial aid from the US government is widely-believed to be programmed into failing counter-insurgency tactics, wide-scale militarization, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and rampant government corruption.
“The key for real change is the mass movement on the ground, not who’s President of the United States,” Quijano declared.
The Fil-Am Vote
Quijano added that Filipino-American voters should also exercise their vested interest in US foreign policy and it’s agenda for the Philippines when selecting a US president. “While we stand with the democratic American public in calling for major social reforms within US borders, at the forefront of which is accessible healthcare, affordable housing, bringing the US troops back home, immigration policy reform, and more federal funds for social services, we have an extra responsibility to care about what’s happening in the Philippines, the second front in this so-called War on Terror. We cannot afford to be apathetic just because we are in the US. The more US government intervention there is on Philippine economic and political affairs, the more poverty will remain widespread in our homeland and more Filipinos will have no choice but to migrate to survive. We need to hold ALL US government officials accountable to this agenda as US taxpayers,” Quijano ended.
Extravagance in a Time of Poverty and Disaster
Bringing each of her 10 Cabinet members and some representatives of the Philippine Congress with her, Arroyo’s US tour is perhaps among the most expensive and lavish yet. This also comes at a time of high economic crisis in the Philippines with the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities such as oil and drastic shortage of food, such as rice.
During her tour, a major typhoon hit several regions in the Philippines, wiping out whole communities. Striking a parallel with the US government’s inaction when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita displaced thousands along the Gulf Coast in 2005, the touring Philippine diplomats decided to remain in the US rather than cut their trip short to attend to the victims.
Contact: Berna Ellorin
Secretary-General, BAYAN USA