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Filipino-American students talk human rights on martial law anniversary

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Yancy Gandionco, Anakbayan NY/NJ, anakbayan_ny @
Steve Raga, Sandiwa Fil-Am Youth, raga.steven @

New York– Filipino-American students of New York University and neighboring city colleges gathered one day after the 34th anniversary of Martial Law to discuss the current human rights situation in the Philippines last Friday, September 22nd.

The human rights forum was organized by the NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Anakbayan NY/NJ, and Sandiwa National Fil-Am Youth Organization, and attended by Filipino-American students with the help of the International Filipino Association of New York University.

“Even with our distance from the Philippines, we have a responsibility to understand what is happening in our homeland, especially if the human rights crisis has already reached Amnesty International and the World Council of Churches,” stated Steven Raga of Sandiwa, a Fil-Am youth organization founded primarily by alumnae of a study exchange program with the University of the Philippines.

Raga spent 6 weeks this past summer on exposure to the Philippines, where he was hosted by Anakbayan, a national youth organization struggling for democratic reforms such tuition fee rollbacks. Anakbayan also actively campaigns against provisions of Arroyo’s proposed Charter Change (Cha-Cha) as well as US military aid and troops flocking to the Philippines. Youth activists are among the ranks of those targeted and slain by politically-motivated killings and abductions.

“I learned first-hand that the killings are only of people who are committing themselves to positive social change for the Philippines, even college students like us. The government says it is an issue of anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency, but it is very clear that the killings are the orchestration of a dictatorship, like Marcos,” Raga expressed in his report back to the students.

Rutgers sociology professor Robyn Rodriguez delivered the human rights violations statistics to a standing room audience of Filipino college students, reporting over 750 victims in the country since 2001.

The forum was also filled with cultural performances by Kinding Sindaw, an indigenous dance and music troupe, members of the New Jersey chapter of Anakbayan who sang songs of peace and justice, as well as Filipino-American rapper Valerie Francisco who delivered a poignant and relevant lyrical performance.

“We’re for the people, yet we come up missin’,” Francisco expressed in one of her rap songs.

The organizers concluded with a call to action and challenge for Filipino-American youth to take up the issue of human rights in their respective student circles and oppose US tax dollars being funneled to the Philippine government as military aid.

“We will all work after we graduate. We will all pay taxes. We must consciously take a stand as soon-to-be working people in the US that our tax dollars be withdrawn as support to the Philippines,” Raga added.

Reference was made to Lauro Baja, the Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations headquarters in New York City who was appointed to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year.

“We seriously wonder what Mr. Baja is doing to address the situation in the Philippines, given his position at the UNHRC. It seems questionable that the Philippines can hold such a hot seat when the rest of the world’s human rights watchdogs have condemned the human rights record under Arroyo,” Raga ended.

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