Migrants exposed to truths unheard of in the Philippines

Community News & Features Dec 17, 2009 at 12:46 pm
Migrants Issues Workshop by FMWM

Migrants Issues Workshop by FMWM

Even history majors from Ateneo University were surprised at the realities they were first exposed to at the Migrant Issues Workshop Series hosted by the Filipino Migrants Workers’ Movement (FMWM) of the advocacy group Migrante-Ontario last Sunday Dec. 7, 2009.

This was the first time Cherry Alsisto attended an event like this and it was the first time she heard Filipino history “based on real life” as compared to what she read and was taught while completing her history major in the Philippines. In reaction, one of the event organizers, Bayani Edades, exclaimed this was like “the FMWM University.”

Chairperson of the FMWM, Jonathan Canchela, launched the first of the series of workshops leading to the 2010 Philippine elections at the hall located at 900 Steeles Ave. W. in Thornhill.

The first part of this workshop gave an overview of Philippine history as described in the 1996 documentary narrated by Dr. Carol Pagaduan Araullo, who is the chairperson of BAYAN International, which Migrante organizations are a part of. She is also the global vice chair for internal affairs of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) and the head of other broad alliances.

The documentary commemorated the 100th year anniversary of the 1896 revolution led by Andrés Bonifacio against Spanish colonizers. “Sa Liyab ng Libong Sulo” was based on Amado Guerrero’s book, Philippine Society and Revolution. It recounted the continued resistance movements against the Filipino peoples’ long list of oppressors, internal and external, such as the USA.

The documentary and the accompanying Powerpoint presentation by J.J. Carpio were what participants like Alsisto reacted to and discussed. Elsie Canchela, wife of Jonathan, shared a similar experience of “awakening” when she first heard about events in Philippine history that was “opposite from what we were taught.” It is for their daughter Malaya that she helps organize events like this, so that she and others may know the true heroes of Filipinos’ struggle for freedom. One such hero mentioned during the workshop was writer and revolutionary, Prof. Jose Maria Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Sison currently resides in The Netherlands and was removed from the European Union’s list of foreign terrorists on Sept. 30, 2009.

Carpio emphasized the importance of sharing what has happened in the Philippines as a way of understanding migrants’ issues and why they are compelled to leave their home country. Carpio also stated, “All that people know about Philippine history is Marcos and Pacquiao, not the peoples’ power movements.”

His wife, Catherine Carpio reiterated the importance of understanding “Bakit nandito na naman?” (Why are we here again?) The question is especially relevant in the context of the atrocious killings, rapes, and mutilations of women relatives of the political rivals of Governor Zaldy Ampatuan. They were attempting to register the candidacy of their leader Mangudadatu in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009, and were instead stopped and killed by about 100 armed men who are part of a private militia. Among the 57 people found in prepared mass graves, were journalists and lawyers accompanying the convoy, as well as passersby.

The massacre was the second topic discussed in the workshop. All were invited to attend a Solidarity Vigil Protest on Thursday Dec. 10 at St. Paul Trinity United Church at Bloor and Spadina in remembrance of the victims and in protest to the implementation of Martial Law in the region by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who, paradoxically, has been accused of hesitating to arrest those responsible because of her political ties. Evidence has been uncovered that points to the Philippine government as the source of the arms used in the massacre. The covering up of election fraud is allegedly one of the reasons why Arroyo declared Martial Law.

It is state-sanctioned human rights abuses like the Maguindanao massacre that mar the very essence of Philippine society and push approximately 3,000 Filipino nationals to leave everyday to join the some 8 million migrants scattered throughout the world.

Migrants like workshop participant, Rev Tangan, leave to seek a better life in countries like Canada.
Tangan was formerly an assembly worker at a company called Asia Brewery, where she said the technical, managerial, and computer-based positions were all filled by “white” foreigners, while Filipinos like her were regularly denied the upward mobility enabled by such positions.

When Jonathan Canchela heard Tangan’s story, he contended, “Lahat ganon.” (It’s all like that.) Canchela argued, it is shared stories like these that make it imperative to understand the larger context of the reasons why the Philippines is the way it is. Some issues discussed were American imperialism and its interference in the Philippines’ economy. The economy is now dependent on remittances by overseas foreign workers instead of industrial development within the Philippines. The 2007 Arroyo policy aimed at sending overseas one million Filipinos a year and former Pres. Ferdinand Marcos’s Labor Export Policy and his Executive Order 857, which Canchela cited was a well-known “forced remittance” program, were claimed as among the reasons why the Philippines has developed into a “nation of servants.”

Further discussion on the government’s motives for exporting human labour at such a massive scale included the assertion that it is a means to quell civil unrest in the Philippines.

The multiple taxes levied to migrants like the US$25 airport terminal fee, must be paid upon leaving and while working overseas, which benefits the Philippine government in various ways. Arroyo herself estimates “the overseas Filipinos remittances amount to $6 billion to $8 billion a year” according to the Office of the President’s website.

Canada’s Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Hon. Stockwell Day, met with Arroyo on Nov. 13, 2009 in Manila, where he was “proud to say that the Philippines represents Canada’s third largest source of immigrants and largest source of temporary workers.” In the press release about the visit, Minister Day emphasized, “One of the key elements of [the bilateral] relationship is our people-to-people ties.”