<<< *note: the below was originally delivered as a talk at THIS Human Rights Day event in Toronto >>>

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photo by afelipe

2014 has been a hellava year.  We have seen our communities besieged by horrible new atrocities, the continuance of others, and the growth of public rage.  From the continuing occupation of Palestine, to the never-ending war on terror.  From the police impunity seen in the the murders of Michael Brown & Eric Garner, to the continuation of the two tiered justice system for our First Nations sisters and brothers.

Meanwhile in the Philippines climate change disasters, partner with militarization, the return of US bases, attacks on activists and the poor, and a worsening economy to increase the peoples suffering. And here in Canada (where the Philippines has been the number one source country for migrants since 2009) we’ve seen legal changes that seek to punish migrant workers for the sacrifices they are forced to make due to poverty

Against all this our peoples have been fighting back.  Through acts of anger and acts of organized resistance.

But I ask:
Are our struggles really just our own?
Are our struggles really in isolation so that we are all, each of us within our individual communities and circles, tasked to fight our own battles?

Or is there a common thread?

If the former then it is a lonely road for us all.  At best we link arms in temporary acts of solidarity where it suits our interests.

But if it is the latter.  If we have common foe.  And thus a common struggle.  Our seemingly meagre forces then become mighty.

Today I want to examine how these seemingly disparate pieces fit together.

Is it not that at the root of all of this is the desire for the powerful to maintain the economic system that supports their power?

Put more simply: Is this not simply capitalism at work?

Let’s look as some graphs…

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Here we see the decline in unionization in the US beginning at the tail end of the 60s, and accelerating in the 70s and declining until today.

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This shows Philippine migration since the beginning of the PH govs Labour Export Policy—which was implemented as a ‘temporary’ measure to boost GDP and as an escape valve to the building social unrest.  Note that it begins in the mid-70s…

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Here’s a graph of the US homicide and incarceration rates (in red and blue).  I want you to note again that the beginning of the prison industrial complex also lies in the mid-70s.

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And this is of US military spending, once again note the spike beginning in the mid to late 70s.

There is something eerily similar about the charts isn’t there?  The growth spikes all begin at the same time—sometime in the the mid-70’s.

We need to ask ourselves: what happened then?

The boom that began after the destruction of so much capital post WWII ended the last great depression in the capitalist cycle of boom and bust.  Only after so much destruction could there again be capital growth.

The 60s began to show the slow decline of this period.  The cycle needed to start anew.

It is no coincidence that the 70s gave birth to many of the issues that still burden us to this day (one other important scion of the period was the boom in off-shoring industrial production).  They were all attempts to avert collapse, but the reality of capitalisms cycle is that such a sidestep is impossible, collapse may only be pushed forward.

And we should be wary, with the market collapse in 2008 it continues to worsen.

I want to stress that the way the global economy is organized in itself is a major part of the problem.  (Not the only part mind you, but a major part.)

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photo by afelipe

Now let’s talk about the Philippines in particular.  What is the general state of the nation today?

It remains a semi colonial, semi-feudal nation with ample natural riches yet is terribly poor and with no national industrialization plan.

The upper class is a microscopic fraction whose power is granted only through their loyal subservience to the global elite. A recent academic study confirmed that only 178 families control the gov, and by default, the entire economic and cultural system. A P10bil corruption scandal continues to reverberate, where it was made public that the PH gov elite siphoned off public funds to their own fake NGOs to further enrich themselves.

All the while the country has the worst unemployment rate in Asia. Nearly 4 in 10 jobs are part-time and very likely low-pay and insecure. The poorest 70% try to live off incomes from $0.75 to $3 a day. And at least 5,031 (and rising) leave the country every day to support their families back home.

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For those that remain in the country there are also the issues we face due to climate change.  The PH is the third most susceptible nation globally, only after the tiny islands of Vanuatu and Tonga. Our oceans are rising at a rate of 10mm a year.

This is an image from the devastation of last years’ Typhoon Haiyan. About 11 million people were affected – resulting in many deaths, disappearances, and mass homelessness. Of those affected, 75-80% were peasants, and 50% were below poverty the poverty line of P15K year. The total damage is estimated at US$2.86 billion.  And of the $1.6bn that was pledged internationally only a pittance has actually been spent.

Today mainstream NGOs report that sex trafficking, child trafficking, and human trafficking in general has boomed.

Grassroots workers report something even darker: that some members of these same international NGOs have partaken in the sex trade themselves.

An anonymous relief worker in the area recalls: “Many women who were widowed are young — they’re in their mid-20s to early 30s… based on what I heard, some of the customers of the “temporary prostitutes” are staff of the foreign NGOs. Others are Filipinos, but who also work for the humanitarian groups. Some of the US and Korean troops who have been billeted in some of the villages are also said to be clients. They’re the only ones who had ready money to spare.”

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In April this year the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed during Pres Obama’s visit to the Philippines. It allows the building of semi-permanent U.S. military facilities in various parts of the country.

This is part of the US’ Asia Pivot plan to shift the majority of U.S. forces (60%) to the Asia and Pacific region. This new agreement again allows the country to be used as a base for operations in it’s plan to encircle it’s enemies and frenemies in China, the Middle East, and Russia.

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The consequences of US troops in the country on the civilian population was felt in the recent killing of Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude. She was found dead this Oct. 11. An eyewitness identified US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton as the last person to be seen with her.

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The Philippines government also has it’s own counterinsurgency plan under Pres BS Aquino, called oplan bayanihan, whose on the ground effects include the militarization of communities.

This has led to killings of indigenous peoples, activists, journalists, and everyday civilians.

Human rights violations have grown more severe since the US-Aquino regime deployed 55 battalions comprising 50,000 soldiers to the southern island of Mindanao.  They are further augmented by paramilitary groups—including those who are part of the so called Investment Defense Forces. Aquino legalized private armies for foreign corporations (like Canada’s mining companies) timed with the visit of PM Harper in Nov 2012.

In 2014 alone, at least 39 indigenous communities involving 4,735 individuals have been affected by forced evacuations spurred by military operations. Of the 221 documented killings and of the 23 cases of forced disappearances under the Aquino regime, many took place in Mindanao. Most of the victims are indigenous persons defending their ancestral lands. And as of November 2014, there are now 491 political prisoners, 220 of them were arrested under the Aquino regime.

photo by afelipe

photo by afelipe

Why Mindanao?  Well it’s the most resource rich island in the archipelago: it is home to  agribusiness plantations, private energy developments, and large-scale mining projects—including Canadian companies.

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The saddest point of all however, is that natural disasters, militarization, and foreign multinational exploitation are a boon to both the Philippine and global elite.

For the PH elite, this helps bring in foreign relief funds and investments which benefits them foremost. It helps increase dependency on the government by the increasingly desperate masses. And it helps drive out the small so-called middle class to work abroad to support their families and hope to one day bring them over as well.

For the global elite it means: Access to Philippines natural wealth as the weather and military clears out undesirable elements from resource rich areas and helps foster desperation. And of course by driving out more Filipino migrants, it means more cheap labour for the West.

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And so this brings us to Canada:

2014 has brought changes to the Temp For Workers Program (TFWP) and the Live-In Caregiver program (LCP). Both changes were, in general, successfully spun by the Conservative government as ‘good’ for Canada, the changes to the LCP spun as good for caregivers.

For Filipinos it ignores that our dream is NOT coming to Canada, but instead to NOT have to separate from our homes and loved ones just so that we can survive.

On the slide you see an image of a brown woman caring for white babies while leaving her own children behind.  We Filipinos bear this because we must.  It is because there are no opportunities at home that we are forced to survive abroad.

So to this headline we say:  Canada is not the fulfillment of our dreams.  Instead, it is becoming a manifestation of our nightmares.

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photo by afelipe

So, you may ask, what has been the response of the Filipino people?
The Filipino struggle is being waged through two separate avenues, through armed, and a legal movements.

The semi-feudalism, semi-colonialism that remained in the country despite it’s so called independence unsurprisingly gave birth to the world’s longest running armed revolutionary movement in 1969.

This movement began at the point where the Philippines economy, in time with the global economy, fell.

This was a period where the failed promises were keenly felt, and the young realized they were worse off than those who came before.

This is trend, we might note, that those of us in the West are now beginning to feel.

And then there’s the legal people’s movement to which Bayan multi-sectoral alliance is a part of.

BAYAN was born during the period of the early 70s after the Marcos regime declared Martial Law. We are unique in many ways compared to many other movements internationally and especially here in Canada.  It is a unified movement representing multiple sectors: from the urban poor to the peasantry to the indigenous. Represented here in Canada is the organization of Gabriela focusing on women, Anakbayan the youth, and Migrante the migrants.

Our overarching call is for the creation of a coalition government that involves leaders from all sectors of society, and not just the usual upper class elites.  We call for an end to the neocolonial policies that put foreigners first, the creation of a national industrialization policy, and the birth of a democracy in reality for the first time since our archipelago was named after King Philip of Spain.

In the meantime, we support the right of the people to defend their rights through strikes, legal and parliamentary actions, and all other forms of popular mass protest.

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photo by afelipe

2014 has been a hellava year.  What can possibly come next?

Here I present to you a warning that doubles as a call to action.

I have argued that many of our modern manifestations of our issues began because as an attempt to overcome global economic bust in the 1970s.  But the collapse was merely pushed forward.  The 2008 downturn continues to be felt today.  The Canadian economy continues to worsen.

The proportion of people without work for 27 weeks or longer has risen to 19% of the total unemployed, compared with 11.9% in January, 2008. The average spell of unemployment has risen from 14.3 weeks in 2007, to 19.5 in 2013, to 20.6 in Jan 2014. Youth unemployment is up, and quality post grad employment is becoming harder to harder to find all the while student debt continues to skyrocket. A staggering 14 per cent of the population is now considered low-income… this includes one out of every six children.

Dirty, dangerous, and demeaning work was once the domain of foreigners savaged by Western imperialism to a state of desperation then given a lottery’s chance for the ‘honour’ of servitude in a foreign land.

Yet this, especially in our modern more sensitive times, has also been a growing problem.  Such open exploitation of ‘outsiders’ is unsightly.  Thus the drastic actions of the capitalist class since the the 70s have also been slowly crafting a new local (ie “Canadian”) underclass.

The recent uproar of the citizen poor over temporary workers working fast food jobs demonstrates that the Canadian working class themselves have finally been pushed to the breaking point of demanding the honour themselves, the honour to earn poverty wages.

Along with this have come growing racial antagonisms brought forth by the poor fighting for scraps.

Some of these Canadians are the children of Filipino migrants themselves…

Research from York U has shown that 1.5 and 2nd generation youth are affected by the reverberations of our migration history:

Despite 38% of Filipino parents being degree holders, only 25% of their daughters and 13% of their sons graduate from university.  Ten percent of males don’t graduate high school. And Filipino youth in general tend to earn less in second generation than first.

In many of these socioeconomic and educational measurements Filipinos are achieving the lowest of all so-called minority and immigrant groups.   There is one exception: Filipinos have a low unemployment rate—with the vast majority ending up in low skilled minimum wage positions.

Canada is creating it’s own underclass made up of migrant children, along with other disenfranchised Canadians.

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So, for all of us Filipino and non-Filipino, what is to be done?

First we must realize the common roots of our oppressions: Capitalism itself.  We should be wary of becoming so focused on our individual issues that we miss the ways in which they are all interconnected. For without this base analysis we are easily pitted against each other. Without this base analysis, we easily are angered, for example, by the prejudice of other groups, prejudice born as outlets of frustration.  We must transcend this.

We need the solidarity of common purpose, common goals, and common action. Solidarity in the struggle for collective improvement. The solidarity of common shared risk.

Solidarity isn’t safe.  But in it we find the seeds of a different way of doing things, of a true sense of collectivity, of community, of belonging.

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