*the following were my opening remarks for tonights forum of the same title at York University…

Thank you to the Professor Philip Kelly and the York Centre for Asian Research for putting on this event.  And thank you all for your attendance….

I was asked to begin with a brief background on Martial Law and Marcos:

Ferdinand Marcos first became president with a ‘nationalist’ message in 1965, he retained the position in the following election in 1969 (at the time presidents had a 2 term limit so this should have been his last term)  Interestingly 1969 is also the year the New Peoples’ Army was born (continuing the tradition of previous revolutionary movements that began with the Hukbalahap during WWII). 

The progressive movement at that time was picking up steam.  Discontent with government corruption, and a pro-foreign, domestic and foreign policy was part of the social milieu.  In 1970 student protests reached their height during the so-called First Quarter Storm.  Demonstrations and strikes erupted around the country.

Martial Law was declared 21 September 1972 supposedly to combat the threat of communism and destabilization tactics by the other oligarchs.

Martial law put an end to habeas corpus, and final authority rested with the executive branch.  Freedom of speech, of assembly and human rights were curtailed.  And curfews were established in the cities.

In November of 1972 he installs a new constitution of the Philippines, abolishes term limits for President, and installs himself as his own Prime Minister.  Thus begins his term as a dictator in an already weak democracy.

*   *   *

All that was forty years ago.  For a lot of us here, this is all before our time.  For me personally I knew Martial Law as the vague background to why the Philippines was corrupt and why my family migrated to Canada.  My only real memories of it are of having my dad call my 8 year old self at home after school to tape the evening news on the betamax when Ninoy Aquino (the opposition leader and father of current the president) was assassinated, and later again for the People Power protest that led to Marcos’ ouster in 1986.

So I think it’s fair if some of you are wondering: Why should I care?

Well, the quick answer to that is because the struggles that began during those times have not been resolved.  The struggle, in fact, began long before Martial Law and continue to this day.

The Philippine economy (despite GDP stats that seem to be divorced from reality) continues to worsen as there remains no national industrialization policy, instead favouring more foreign investment and foreign ownership.  The country remains semi-feudal, and semi-colonial.

One big example that hits home to Canadians is the issue of mining and miltiarization in the Philippines.  One of our speakers, Ms. Bern Jaguna, will give you more details on this.

Moreover as the country falls deeper and deeper into poverty, the government becomes more and more reliant on what is now it’s biggest export, people.  Over 4000+ leave the country everyday in search of work that can’t be found at home.

Filipinos are now the largest source country for migrants here in Canada (I say migrants and not immigrants as many come as temporary workers, eg in fast food outlets and factories, whom are ineligible for citizenship).

Another recent popular example (at least in Filipino circles) of a human rights issue is the recent cybercrime law (also known colloquially as e-martial law) that threatened to imprison people for criticizing the government online.   Even casual activism on FB would have been liable.

“If you click ‘like,’ [on a FB post] you can be sued, and if you share, you can also be sued,” said Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, one of the lawmakers who voted against the passage of the law.

The provision, according to Guingona, is so broad and vague that it’s not even clear who should be liable for a given statement online. And if you’re found guilty, get ready to spend up to 12 years in prison.

Due to the activism of the people, a small victory was recently won and a 120 day temporary restraining order.  An example that the people, working together, will always achieve victory.

*   *   *

To my Canadian sisters and brothers I think that the Canada we want is the Canada of our mythology, that of the peace keeper, that of the defender of human rights.

The Canada we get however is a less benign, whose hands are not quite clean—even in regards to this little country far away, or here at home where Filipino migrants today are, in general, in the lowest bracket of society.  I think we all want to do better.

For Filipinos in the room I hope that during this discussion tonight about the Philippines you don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of thinking:  well we’re in Canada now, we’ve escaped from all that.

Because as a whole we really have not.  We are here because there is nothing good for us there.  Many of us here end up in bottom of the ladder jobs.  And even for the youth things don’t much improve.

Research shows that though we come with the highest educational attainment in the first generation, we are the only migrants where the 2nd generation have a lower educational achievement.

Worse, Filipino youth suffer from a lack of pride, and low levels of self-esteem.  And if we’re honest, we have to admit that it all stems from the fact that our home country continues to suffer needlessly despite it’s natural riches, and because our sisters and brothers around the world continuing to be marketed as cheap skilled export workers.  No matter our personal success, the world will continue to view us as Filipino.  And if Filipino means disposable people, then that’s how we’ll be treated.

On the surface it must be difficult for Filipinos to have pride, when economic and political reality tells us that our country and people are simply there for the convenience of those with means.

But let me end with optimism.

I think there is very good reason to be proud of being Filipino.

But for me, pride can’t just be stated as a fact, it’s not just a t-shirt we can wear, or a flag we can attach to our car.  Pride must be earned.  And it’s earned through action.

Our pride is earned by those thousands and thousands that struggle for something better.  That despite the odds and very real threats to their lives, people fought back and continue to fight back.

Tonight we will hear from a few of these people.  And we hope this inspires you Filipinos, Canadians, and Filipino-Canadians, to join that struggle.

–  –  –

alex felipe

BAYAN-Canada, Toronto spokesperson / Anakbayan- Toronto organizer


*for non-Filipino readers, we also have connections to Canadian and international orgs that we’d love to connect you with.  Just let us know!