Campaign to release Pato-chan grows
Campaign to release Pato-chan grows
Filipina trans woman detained in Japan
By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter
TORONTO–A coalition of progressive Japanese and Filipino organizations gathered in downtown Toronto in solidarity with Pato-chan, a trans woman from the Philippines.
The August 7th protest was led by Young Japanese Canadians of Toronto and Japanese Canadians for Social Justice in front of the Japanese Consulate Office in downtown Toronto.
A recent webinar, Imperialism and Migrant (In)Justice, also brought Pato-chan’s case into the spotlight.
Pat, or Pato-chan as referred to by Japanese supporters, first came to Japan in 2015 to visit her father. Stricken with cancer, he passed away two years later leaving her by herself. She stayed in Japan although her visa expired working at a food store. In July 2019, she was arrested for not having a legal status in the country. Now at age 28, she shared her experience in a nyukan, a detention centre run by the regional immigration bureau, where deportees are kept, as told to Japan-based journalist Sumireko Tomita.
Through facility visits, Pat, who identifies as trans woman, detailed her experience of solitary confinement for eight months—more than the 60 days permitted by Japanese immigration laws. She also revealed the discrimination she faced with Japanese authorities because of her gender identity. Pat said that her free time has been cut down to just two hours a day compared to the six hours given to other detainees. This has made it difficult for Pat to see other people as well as do personal activities.
“I am a transgender woman who is currently transitioning, so I need hormone drugs. If I don’t take them suddenly, my body will go crazy,” Pat told Tomita.
For Rey Valmores-Salinas, the abuse faced by Pato-chan is not an isolated case.
“Now we see that even us in the LGBT community, we are also victims of imperialism, just like Jennifer Laude. We are also victims of violence, just like Pato-chan,” said Salinas, spokesperson for Philippines-based Bahaghari. Salinas was with the group arrested by Manila police after a June Pride Month march that called for equal rights and better COVID-19 response from the government.
“When I listened to her recording, I couldn’t help but see myself in her. As a transgender woman, I know what it’s like to be on hormone replacement therapy then suddenly denied it from you. I know what’s it like to face the very real physical and psychological effects of that happening to you.”
But Salinas also provides a reminder that identity politics must be rooted in class struggle.
“We must always gear it [activism for LGBT] towards orientation that fights for working class people because there is no escaping class war,” she added.
As Japan opened its arms to foreign workers to ease its labor shortage resulting from its aging and shrinking population, the number of people facing deportation and battling detention also increased. The number of foreign workers almost doubled to 1.5 million in 2019.
According to the office of Upper House member Mizuho Fukushima, which questioned central government officials, while there were 1,139 detainees at all detention facilities on April 7, when a state of emergency was declared related to the coronavirus pandemic, the number decreased to 914 by April 30.
For Tokyo-based translator Nami Nanami, the nyukan detention center is part of what she calls “hostage justice system.”
“The situation is too horrible. But the most horrible thing here is that the majority in Japan doesn’t know about this problem,” she wrote on her blog. “Maybe they don’t even know Japan has immigration detention centres.”
The Immigration Services Agency announced new guidelines on May 1 that introduced measures to prevent the virus from further spreading and proposed allowing for provisional releases. But concrete criteria for how the process works were not clear, said Nanami, leading many to complain they are stuck in a bureaucratic limbo.
Meanwhile, Smash Nyukan Tokyo, a group of activists protesting against Japan’s cruel treatment of foreign nationals and human rights violations in immigration detention, is staging street actions. Every two weeks, organizers gather in Shinagawa, a ward south of central Tokyo, and they have seen an increase of support of the “anti-nyukan movement” coincidental with the protest movement in North America making waves against police brutality and for immigration reform.
In Toronto, rally organizers hope for the unconditional release of Pato-chan and other migrant detainees long detained in Japan to prevent a spread of COVID-19 infections.
Jhona Binos of Toronto LGBT group Makulay Atbp. said that the labour export program results in thousands of workers leaving the Philippines.
“Many of them are overseas Filipino workers sacrificing their lives to send money for their families. Many of them are exploited and treated as cheap labour by their host country who are in need of them but don’t want them to stay. In Canada, care workers and farmworkers are deemed essential but are not given full status that can provide them with healthcare and protection,” said Binos.
Binos explained that queer and trans people especially Black, indigenous and people of colour are at greater risk from serious physical and mental illness brought by discrimination and abuse.
Along with other groups Anakbayan Toronto, Gabriela Ontario, Migrante-Canada, International League of Peoples Struggles, and Lausan Collective, the Young Japanese Canadians of Toronto addressed the crowd.
“As an openly gay man, I’m ashamed of how the Japanese government’s treatment of Pat simply because of who she is,” said Jun Cura-Bongolan, a Filipino of Japanese ancestry.
“Stop nyukan, abolish nyukan!”