Achieving Happiness

April 6, 2011

40 Days After Deaths of Eton Workers, Families Reel from Loss

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 1:00 pm

Three-year old John Kirby said he knows what happened to his father . “Nahulog po siya,” (“He fell.”), he answered slightly lisping. Then he pointed to a building under construction. “Dyan siya nalaglag (That’s where he fell).”

Two-year old John Kirby's father is never returning home

John Birby’s father is Benbon Cristobal, 24, one of the 10 construction workers who were killed when a gondola crashed at the Eton Residences condominium project in Makati City last January 27.

Benbon, Joel Avecilla, William Bañez, , Jeffrey Diocado, Jaykie Legada, Kevin Mabunga, Celso Mabuting, Tisoy Perez, Vicente Piñion and Michael Tatlonghari were killed after their gondola dropped from the 32nd floor of the Lucio Tan-owned building. Only one worker Ruel Perez survived.

John Kirby’s mother and Benbo’s widow Lorraine Banzon, 22, said she has already explained to John Kirby why his father is never coming home.

“He said he understands but sometimes he still looks for his father,“ she said simply, in Filipino.

John Kirby, Lorraine and the loved ones and friends of the 10 victims were joined by support groups led by the Institute for Occupational Health, Safety and Development (IOHSAD) and the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) in marking the 40th day of mourning after the accident in a candle-lighting ceremony at the site at Gallardo Street corner Paseo de Roxas in the heart of Ayala, Makati last March 4.

The network of supporters of the relatives also included the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Task Force Urban Conscientization-AMRSP, and Task Force for Organizing of Church Personnel (TFOP-AMRSP).

In her conversations with supporters, Lorraine said her husband used to work even on Sundays so he could bring home more money. She remembers a time when Benbon worked seven days a week for almost four months. He had been an employee of Eton Properties’ subcontractor Arlo Aluminum for nearly four years, but Benbon was nowhere near to being given regular worker status.

“Now that he is gone, I do not know how I will be able to raise our son. I’m not employed,“ she said.

Denied the Right to Pursue Justice

Now the families of the victims face another challenge in their quest for justice.

According to news reports, the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office has already recommended the dismissal of the cases lodged against five construction executives of project previously charged for the deaths of the 10 workers.

Assistant Prosecutor Wilhelmina Go-Macaraeg alleged that the families of the workers have filed affidavits of desistance indicating their loss of interest in pursuing the case. In reports to the media, Macaraeg said the families gave notarized affidavits of desistance stating that they are no longer interested in pursuing the case against the persons charged in the case.

The Philippine National Police had previously filed a case of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and one count of serious physical injury against Arlo Aluminum Glass Corp. executives Eduardo Pinon, project manager Engineer Guillermo Torres, project in-charge Jason Rosette, and Ian Lester Agpoon, and engineer Sonny Romero of Jose Aliling Construction Management Corp.

The charges were filed after the police found negligence on the part of the construction executives that resulted in the deaths of the workers.

Anna Leah Escresa, EILER’s executive director, however, was quick to point out that the members of the families were deceived, forced to sign an affidavit they did not understand, a legal document that was not explained to them clearly.

Escresa said tthe families have received a lump sum of P150,000 ( $3,458) from the company, but the aggrieved relatives are saying that money is not enough. For one, the amount is too small, and the company has already said that its “assistance” ends after the cash has been given.

“You cannot put a price tag on lives,” Escresa said. “What the families want is justice for their relatives and guarantees that what happened in the Eton construction site would not happen again. We cannot just let Eton Properties and its contractors and subcontractors escape blame and accountability as families continue to mourn.”

Escresa pointed out that the victim’s families must be fully indemnified and not given just minimal financial assistance and scholarships. She asserted that the families did not sign anything willingly, and that they did not waive their rights to pursue justice against the company and its officials.

“Those responsible for the accident took more than ten 10 lives and permanently injured another. The victims and the lone survivor who still suffers painful physical injuries have families. The accident wrought extensive damage on the livelihood and well-being of workers’ families, and the effect is not measurable in the sense that it won’t only last a year, but a lifetime. Families should receive socio-psycho counseling and not just compensation – token cash,” she said.

“This is an issue of social justice, and an issue that has criminal implications. The families should not be denied their right to pursue justice and to demand it,” she said.

Most of the victims were very young and had they not been killed, could have lived long and productive lives.

Kevin Mabunga, for instance, was only 17 years old. His grandmother Paterna, said Kevin’s employment at the Eton site was his first and his last.

“He wanted to work even through he knew it was dangerous working in construction because he wanted to earn enough money to finish his studies and be able to help the family,“ she said in Filipino.

In the meantime, Escresa said the families and the support groups of the Eton 11 are determined to push the Department of Labor and Employment to look into the lingering labor and safety code violations in the Eton construction site. According to reports, even after the accident, construction workers in the Eton Residences project have still not been provided with necessary safety equipment. The company has also not complied with laws on minimum wages and the provision of legally-mandated benefits.

A Tangle of Subcontracting Schemes

Iohsad executive director Noel Colina shared that interviews with the families of the victims revealed that all the workers in the Eton Ayala site were all sub-contracted. Eton Properties hired Jose Aliling Construction Management Inc. as the construction manager, with CE Construction serving as the general contractor. Arlo Aluminum is the window contractor, which, in turn, secured the services of E.M. Pinon. It was Pinon which directly hired some of the victims.

“The construction workers of Eton are trapped in a complicated tangle of employment subcontracting arrangements wherein the main company, Eton, is able to weasel out of full responsibility for the workers,” said Colina.

The 11 workers who fell – like the rest of the more than 700 other workers of the Eton Residences site — did not receive wages mandated by law. An eight- hour work-shift in the National Capital Region should be compensated with at least P 404 ($9.31) daily wage, but most construction workers receive only P 260 ($6), with some receiving even less.

Escresa said big construction investors, like Lucio Tan-owned Eton, normally tap a web of subcontractors that employ contractual workers for specific parts of a construction project to minimize on labor cost.

“Subcontractors generally pay lower wages, and compromise health and safety standards to minimize costs.

Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Center in 2008 released a report saying that 1.79 million of the total 1.8 million workers in the Philippine construction industry are “contractuals” or project-based earning low wages.

Justice and Criminal Liability

In the aftermath of the accident, the Philippine National Police (PNP) filed criminal charges against officials of Eton’s sub-contractor. Based on findings, eight gondolas, including the one that fell causing the death of the 10 victims, were put up without a permit from Makati City Hall.

The city’s Department of Engineering and Public Works said its last inspection of the Eton Residence worksite was on October 28, 2010. The gondolas were reportedly installed after. The gondolas, including the one that fell, had a rated load of 630 kilos with a maximum capacity of two persons.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay had previously ordered a stop to the construction of the condominium building until investigations were completed and the safety of the workers were assured. Binay also issued work stoppage orders on some 35 medium and high-rise buildings in the city that were found to be violating provisions of the National Building Code and the Philippine Mechanical Code.

Escresa, however, said the filing of criminal charges early this month against the officials of Eton Properties’ subcontractors should not be an excuse to soften the pursuit of justice for the killed workers.

“We wonder why Eton Properties itself wasn’t included in the criminal case and only those officials of smaller firms were charged. We fear that those really accountable would get away scot-free,” she said.

“Justice must be accorded to the victims of the tragedy. A thorough investigation must be conducted by the authorities, one that will objectively look into the accountability of all firms involved – not just small subcontractors but also Eton Properties, Inc. itself.”

Worst Violations in the Construction Sector

The worst labor rights violations are daily committed in the country’s construction sector. Workers have no job security, they receive low wages, denied social security, have no protection against dismissals, receive no training, and are given only very limited or no health and safety at work- briefings. They are also not allowed to form or join unions.

The labor department has a standing order (Order no. 13-1998) which states the requirements for a Construction Safety and Health Program which companies must enforce in their construction sites before local government units give them building permits.

A construction permit or building permit is a permit required in most jurisdictions for new construction of buildings and is being issued by District Engineering Offices.

Included in the order is a stipulation that the constructor must provide for a full-time officer assigned to the general construction safety and health of the project. The constructor must also provide a “competent” emergency health personnel within the worksite complemented by adequate medical supplies, equipment and facilities.

A Construction Safety and Health Committee is also a requirement. It must be consisted of the project manager, General Construction Safety and Health Officer, safety representatives from each subcontractor, doctors/nurses, and workers’ representatives serving as its members.

The order also require constructors to furnish workers with protective equipment for eyes, face, hands, feet, lifeline, safety belt/harness, protective shields and barriers at his own expense.

Despite the existence of the order, many construction firms do not implement health and safety standards down to the letter.

Colina cites the case of another construction worker Rolando Arias, a co-worker of the 11 victims of the accident.

“Arias was brave enough to file a complaint at the DOLE; but when Eton Properties caught wind of his complaint , Arias found himself sacked,” he said.

Colina said that in the aftermath of the Eton tragedy, the labor department should clamp down on all erring companies and ensure their follow safety standards. He said the DOLE should scrap its Order 57-04 which allows companies to conduct self-assessment.

The DOLE itself has assessed its own self-assessment program, admitting that the number of labor inspectors have shrunk, from around 240 to less than 200 in the last five years. The number of establishments inspected has also gone down, from 60,000 in 2003, to only 6,000 last year.

In its 2009 occupational health and safety report, Iohsad recorded 26 deaths from the construction sector, with the mining sector, also part of the hazardous sector, on top with 84 deaths. “The DoLE should prioritize hiring new workplace inspectors to supplement the existing number of inspectors the Occupational Health and Safety Center (OHSC) has at its disposal. They should prioritize the hazardous sectors and ensure that at least every 6 months this workplaces undergo mandatory inspections,” said Colina.

“We are also pushing for the immediate ban on the use of asbestos in the Philippines. Many in the construction sector are exposed to the deadly dust it produces, which causes cancer. Companies should also be required by law to re-absorb their injured workers as soon as they become fit. We also hope that our legislators would start to discuss the possibility of legislating a law on industrial manslaughter.”#

April 4, 2011

San Roque Quezon City residents arrested as they defend their homes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 7:06 am

(Report for Bulatlat.com)

Urban poor residents hold rally against demolitions in their communities in the metro

Residents of the Sitio San Roque II in North Triangle in Quezon City continue to face harassment from the National Housing Authority (NHA).

Last March 26, a security officer sent by the NHA threatened residents and fired a gun after residents asserted their rights against the deployment of armed guards in the community. Though no one was hurt, seven residents, including the community leader, were forced to consider themselves as having surrendered to police authorities when the security agent filed “alarm and scandal,” and “ illegal trespassing on government property” charges against them.

San Roque resident and September 23 president Mrs. Estrelita R. Bagasbas told Bulatlat.com that since the beginning of the month, security guards with long and short fire-arms have converted a partially-demolished chapel in the area into their headquarters. When questioned by the residents, the guards who initially numbering 30 then gradually reduced to 10 said that they were sent by the NHA.

September 23 Movement president Estrelita Bagasbas says the residents of Sitio San Roque will fight for their homes, however humble they are

“Of course we do not want armed security guards in our area; we have children, we want peace; the NHA should not have deployed guards in our community,” she said.

Residents grew increasingly wary and worried regarding the guards’ presence, so they mounted a campaign to evict the guards.

NHA Security Guard Fires Gun

On the morning of March 26, community residents along with their supporters from organizations Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) and Anakbayan went to the guards’ “headquarters” and negotiated with the guards, politely but firmly asking them to vacate the premises and the community. When the guards refused, the residents calmly and carefully began to take the scant furniture and the guards’ personal belongings outside the partially destroyed structure.

The guards were reportedly nonplussed and unable to do anything because of the big number of residents and supporters who stood witness to the eviction. One of them, however, called their officer-in-charge, the security agent from the NHA Shaikram Abdulgar.

As the residents and their supporters went on with their impromptu program, singing songs and playing the guitar, Abdulgar arrived. The man was visibly angry, and immediately began berating the guards and the residents.

Kadamay secretary-general Bea Arellano related that she walked up to Abdulgar and tried to explain why he and the rest of his unit must leave, but the man merely continued shouting.

“I tried to explain to him that all their furniture, all their belongings were right there, all accounted for, but he kicked at his own table until it nearly broke. Later he accused the residents of destroying it,” she said.

Abdulgar reportedly began pushing the residents and their supporters, exhorting the other guards to do the same until a small skirmish erupted. As the residents defended themselves by pushing back, Abdulgar pulled out a gun and fired at the air.

“It was deafening. I was standing only some five feet away and my ears rang until I thought I would go deaf,” said Bagasbas.

Some of the residents ran to the nearby precinct, Masambong Precint 2. A few policemen then arrived and escorted Abdulgar to the station. Community residents including Bagasbas also went to the station and declared their intent to file charges.

“The police did not really arrest Abdulgar — he fired a gun in the presence of many witnesses and he could have killed one of us, but the police did not even handcuff him,” Bagasbas said. She added that the gun the security agent fired was not the same gun he surrendered.

“I do not know what kind of gun he fired, but I saw that it was a different gun that he gave to the police,” she said.

When they arrived at the station, Bagasbas said the police did not even make Abdulgar undergo a paraffin test to determine if he did fire a gun.

“We were able to secure the bullet shell from his gun and we gave it to the police, but they did not store it properly considering that it was evidence. They did not even take pictures of the scene of the shooting,” said the urban poor leader.

To make matters worse, when the residents said they were filing charges of illegal discharge of firearm, Bagasbas said he was also filing counter-charges; but he only gave his statement hours after the incident that took place around noon.

“He told the police that he was waiting for the NHA to send someone to vouch for him. When the man from the NHA arrived, that was when he said he was filing counter-charges against us. The police told us that since we were also being charged, we had to stay or else be considered as evading charges,” she said indignant.
Because it was a Saturday and not a workday, there was no way to process the legal documents necessary to file the charges and they all had to stay in the precinct overnight and until Monday morning when an assistant prosecutor from City Hall was able to process the papers.

“We were the ones who were threatened, the ones who were inconvenienced, but we were also the ones who were charged with violations that should have been settled at the level of village authorities,” said Bagasbas. When asked why she and the seven others did not leave the precinct, she said they did not want any legal complications to add to their problems.

“We want to be able to focus on our rights to remain in San Roque and to fight the demolition; if we left the precinct, our opponents might have had another weapon against us,” she said.

Early Monday morning as they all left the precinct, Bagasbas said, one of her companions heard Abdulgar issue a threat.

“He told him that he would kill all of us first before he leaves San Roque,” she said.

A Business District to Displace Thousands

On September 23, 2010, the NHA sent a demolition team to San Roque and began dismantling the houses of residents. The residents fought back and violence ensued. No one was killed but scores of residents were hurt and bloodied. The day after, President Benigno Aquino III directed Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. to put on hold the relocation of thousands of residents in the area.

The NHA and the Ayala Corporation, is eyeing San Roque to become the location of a so-called ‘Q.C Central Business District’ or QCBD, the city’s version of the Makati Business District. The QCBD is a 256-hectare project that aims to attract global investment and business interests.

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the executive order no. 670 “Rationalizing and Speeding Up the Development of the East and North Triangles, and the Veterans Memorial Area of Quezon City” in May 2007, and the NHA has been at the forefront of operations to drive away the residents in the areas targeted for the business hub project.

According to business reports, the joint venture between the Ayala Land Incorporated (ALI) and the NHA has an estimated cost of P22 billion ($506 million). Ali said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange that the P22-billion budget includes future development costs and the current value of the property which ALI and the NHA will contribute as their respective equity share in the joint venture.

For their part, the group Kadamay say that over 6000 families will be rendered homeless if the project is carried out. Most of the residents are factory workers, small vendors and public utility drivers. They have been offered P1,000 to P6,000 ($23 to $138) by the NHA to demolish their own houses and move to Montalban, Rizal where the NHA has a resettlement project.

According to Kadamay’s Arellano, the residents who opted for relocation to Montalban reportedly regret their decision because the housing project there does not have electricity service and there is poor access to potable water. Plumbing is also said to be poor, and the area itself is prone to flooding.

In the meantime, the agency in charge remains determined to destroy the communities. Quite telling of its orientation is how it describes itself: though it’s a government agency. The NHA considers itself a business entity. In its website, its descriptions of how it was established is under the heading “corporate profile.”

Under EO 195 dated December 31, 1999, the NHA was ordered to focus on socialized housing supposedly through the development and implementation of a comprehensive housing development and resettlement program.

It was tasked to “fasttrack” the determination and development of government lands suitable for housing; and to “ ensure the sustainability of socialized housing funds by improving its collection efficiency, among others.”

“Whatever its declared mandate is, all we know is that the NHA is not providing good houses for the poor, but instead it’s demolishing communities for business interests,” said Bagasbas.

Defending their Humble Houses

Bagasbas, twice-widowed and a former overseas worker in Yemen, is 56 years old. She said she and her two teenaged daughters have nowhere else to go and they do not want to go to Montalban. After being elected president of the September 23 Movement which the San Roque residents formed after the brutal demolition operations last year, she has been unable to work and has instead relied on the support of neighbors and supporters.

According to her the members of the September 23 Movement are determined to put up a fight, and this is why they support her. She and other officials of the group mount continuing efforts to defend their right to live in San Roque and protect their homes.

“If the government wants us to leave, then it should first provide us with decent houses where there’s working electricity and water, and where we can find employment and income. We have been living all this time without the help of the government, but here it comes trying to drive us out of our houses, humble as they are. They say they want progress – well, we also want progress, but should progress come at the expense of the poor? What kind of progress is it that worsens the poverty of all the already neglected and oppressed?” she said.#

Hacienda Luisita farmworkers to Supreme Court: give us the land free and clear

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 6:54 am

Is the Supreme Court deliberately avoiding the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita?

This was the question posed by Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) chairman Joseph Canlas during a rally led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and AMGL in Mendiola recently.

The farmworkers had been holding weekly protest actions in front of the Supreme Court (SC) offices in Padre Faura st. in Manila since January to press the high court to issue the decision on their case against the management of the Hacienda Luisita regarding the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO).

Every week, too, the Supreme Court disappointed them.

The farmworkers have time and again said the Hacienda Luisita case and how it would be resolved would be a precedent to how other agrarian disputes in the region will be settled. The high court’s decision, they insist, is of grave significance to farmers.

“The SC cannot evade this issue forever; it must take a stand and issue a decision. We have been hearing rumors that the justices have already prepared a decision but have been holding back against announcing it because of pressure from Malacañang itself,” Canlas said.

The justices of the SC are scheduled to hold their en banc sessions every Tuesday, but this last Tuesday, they went to Baguio where the SC has offices. Canlas said it was too early for the SC justices to take a break as the Holy Week holiday is still weeks away.

“We have been regularly holding protest actions in front of the SC building these last three months and the justices are well aware of our demands. This week they must have intended to completely avoid us by going to Baguio,” Canlas said.

Peasant farmer Rodel Canlas, in the meantime, said that whatever the decision the SC makes on their case, the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita would not stop their campaign. Canlas, UMA’s secretary-general, said they are well aware that the Cojuangco family would not give up easily.

“Let’s say that the SC decides in our favor, does that mean that we have won? No; it doesn’t work that way because we still have to contend with the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program extension with reforms (CARPer) scheme. Under the Carper, farmworkers will still have to prove the legitimacy of their claim to the land as rightful beneficiaries, and they will still have to pay the government for their land share,” he said.

“This is precisely why we are against Carper and why we demand that the SC issues a decision that completely exempts the Hacienda Luisita land dispute from Carper’s coverage. If the SC justices have any delicadeza and a true sense of justice, they will decide in our favor and order that the hacienda be turned over to us without strings attached and without having to go through Carper.”

Canlas said the SC should order the government and the Cojuangcos to give Hacienda Luisita to the farmers and farmworkers “free and clear.”

“This is the least the SC can and should do to remedy the decades of injustice the Cojuangcos have done to the farmers in Hacienda Luisita. The land must be returned to the farmers with no strings attached, no legal complications or further legal impediments,” he said.

No Choice But to Fight For Their Right to Own The Land

The farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita themselves say they would not back down from their fight for land and justice. It has been more than six years since the infamous massacre that claimed the lives of 14 farmworkers, and the survivors and their families are not about to let that blood sacrifice be wasted.

Ramon, 22, wants to continue fighting for the land his own parents also fought for

“My parents lived and died waiting for Hacienda Luisita to be given to the farmworkers, and they always said that we have no other choice but to fight for our rights,” said Ramon Reyes, farmer and tricycle-driver living in Brgy. Balete inside the hacienda.

Ramon may be young, but poverty has made him look older than his 22-years. He was barely 15 when the HLI security forces along with elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and local police strafed the ULWU picketline area on November 16, 2004. His parents Baby and Miguel were farmworkers and active members of the union. All three of them were in the picketline area when the bullets began falling like rain.

Now, with his both parents gone – his mother succumbed to complications of diabetes in 2005 and his father to possible liver failure in 2007 (“He drank a lot after mother died, and he was suffered great despair when the Cojuangcos said they will never give up Hacienda Luisita to the farmworkers”) – Miguel has taken it upon himself to continue what they believed in. Whenever he can, he joins the activities sponsored by the ULWU and the KMP.

“I learn much from being an activist. I learn about why my family is poor and why so many others are trapped in poverty. I know how injustice works, its victims and who the perpetrators are. I believe in fighting for the land my parents also fought for,” he said.

Mrs. Juana Santiago, 44, also believes in defending her family’s own claim to the land. She and her husband and children have been living in Brgy. Bantog since the early 80s, and she says that she has never seen any of the Cojuangcos.

“They say that they own the land, but we have never seen them work there. We have given our lives to make the land productive, but we were given crumbs and abuse in return,” she said.

Juana used to work in the sugar cane fields pulling out weeds to make sure that they do not stifle the sugar cane plants. She worked eight hours a day, three times a week and she received P9.50 ($0.22) for every day of work.

“I have heard it said that the Cojuangco-Aquinos have insisted that they were kind and humane to us farmworkers, but I never experienced any kindness from them. My own children were never able to finish high school, and we have lived a hand-to-mouth existence all these years. The benefits the Cojuangcos said that they gave us farmworkers never existed – we had to pay for everything, the schools, the health center services, housing,” she insisted.

Now, with the case still pending at the SC, Juana and her husband remain chained to poverty. Disregarding the Cojuangco’s declaration that they own the entire land, they have “sequestered” a little more than a hectare of it and planted it with rice and a few vegetables. Every four months they harvest rice and sell some of it, but in between harvests they survive on loans from relatives.

“The Leprosy of Money”

Supporters of the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita and their struggle for land and justice have in the meantime been consistent in their commitment to help the farmworkers.

Last March 28, a mass was held at the Sta. Cruz Church in Binondo Manila specifically for the Hacienda Luisita farmers as well as all Filipino farmers who remain neglected by the government. The Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and the ecumenical community led by the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) joined the farmworkers in the mass where 10 priests officiated. The main celebrant was Fr. Wilfredo Dulay, MJ and convenor of the National Clergy Discernment Group. The other celebrants were Fathers Antonio Cibuan, Gerson Afuea, Joseph Matipu, Eugene Canete, Efren Reyes, Oliver Estor, Efren de Guzman, Greg Obejas and Tito Maratas.

In his homily, Fr. Dulay said it was most unfortunate that those who have wealth are most unwilling to share what they have, and that they are “afflicted” with a kind of leprosy, “a leprosy caused by money.”

“The greed and injustice of those afflicted with ‘leprosy of money’ will be met by the most severe punishment . Exploiting the poor and the powerless will be punished with justice, and God’s justice is different from that of men: it is certain, it will not be denied,” he said.

Fr. Dulay expressed hope that the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita would never lose hope and continue their struggle for land and justice. “May your hope be unlike the flickering lights of candles; may it be strong and may you all remain steadfast. We must not weaken in our struggle for justice and instead remain strong in our faith that the day will come that we will prevail and true change will happen,” he said.

PCPR secretary-general Nardy Sabino said it was very easy for the PCPR to convince the priests to offer mass for the farmworkers.

“They didn’t even require convincing, they merely asked when we wanted the mass to be held. They have been most supportive of the cause of the Hacienda Luisita farmworkers, the same way that they fully supported the campaign of the former Morong 43,” he said.

After the mass, the farmworkers and their supporters held a torch parade from Sta. Cruz Church to the cathedral of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) along Taft Avenue fronting the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). In the IFI’s back parking lot where there was also a basketball court, the organization of poets ‘Kilometer 64, the Luisita Peasant and People’s Alliance held a cultural program.

The farmworkers slept there overnight and came daylight, they again took to the streets and marched toward Padre Faura to the SC building where they were told that the justices would be holding their en banc session in Baguio.

Undaunted, they proceeded to Mendiola, and there called out to Malacanang and its main resident President Benigno Aquino III to stop feigning objectivity and relinquish his family’s immoral and illegal claim to Hacienda Luisita.

“This is an issue of life and death for us, we will not be discouraged or ever dissuaded into giving up. Every Tuesday the justices would see the farmers of Hacienda Luisita hold protests in front the High Court building, and they would hear our demands for justice. As for President Aquino, he is fooling no one when he says that he is keeping his hands off this issue. He is the president, and it doesn’t matter if it’s his family that’s involved – if he is truly a man of justice and honor, he would have given up the hacienda long ago,” said ULWU’s Rodel Mesa.#

March 1, 2011

Crossing fingers for Rolando Tolentino as UP Diliman Chancellor

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 11:24 am

The student body, faculty and non-academic staff members of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus is waiting for the election of their new Chancellor, and many of them are hoping that will be Prof. Rolando B. Tolentino.

Each constituent university of UP is headed by a chancellor, who is elected on a three-year term by the Board of Regents. Unlike the president, who is elected on a single six-year term without re-election, the chancellor maybe re-elected for another three-year term but it is upon the discretion of the members of the Board of Regents.

This year, besides Tolentino, there are four other nominees for the post, namely Dr. Patrick Alain T. Azanza from the College of Education, Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio (University Center for Women’s Studies/UCWS), Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara (College of Engineering/CoE), and Dr. Caesar A. Saloma (College of Science/CS).

According to a memorandum issued by outgoing UP president Emerlinda Roman, the UPD chancellor search committee shall submit to UP president-select Alfredo Pascual a report of the search process and an assessment of the nominees for the position.

Pascual will choose one nominee from the search committee’s list. The Board of Regents, the highest policy-making body of the university, willl vote upon the president’s choice tomorrow, March 2. The UP Board of Regents (BOR) will vote via secret balloting tomorrow at 9am.

The Bor is comprised of 11 members, with two members representing the faculty and the student body respectively.

A supporter of pro-poor, democratic education

Tolentino speaks to members of UP Praxis

Tolentino, currently the Dean of the UP College of Mass Communications (CMC), has won the full support of cause oriented groups within the university and even outside because of what they say has been his “consistent pro-people, nationalist education” stand since his days as a student and as a professor.

In dialogues with the members of the UP community, Tolentino has professed that primary in his agenda would be the democratization of UP education. He said that he wants UP to engage more in non-academic but socially relevant issues . He also wants to “democratize” admissions to the university.

“UP Diliman’s colleges and institutions must intervene and take a stand on crucial academic and non-academic issues. Walang publikong karakter ang UP Diliman kung hindi nito kayang buksan ang kanyang pinto sa mga kwalipikado pero mahihirap na mag-aaral,” he said. Tolentino has time and again said that the greatest challenge for UP as it enters into another century is to remain faithful to its character as a national and a public university whose scholars are honorable, excellent and of service to the people.

“While UP has to strive to live up to its values it is known for – honor and excellence – these must be anchored on the values of public service, transparency and good governance. For me, there is no real honor and excellence if these were not rooted on service to the people, transparent processes and democratic governance in the University,” he said.

Tolentino has long been supporting the call of academic and non-academic personnel in UP for salary hikes; the same way he has also been supporting the national campaign of private sector workers and government employees for wage increases. He has been a prominent participant in multisectoral campaigns both within and outside the university opposing corruption in government and demanding for economic reforms favoring the poor.

“I am all for establishing other forms of support for faculty, and non-academic staff including the provision of additional housing on campus, and if possible, outside of the campus, computer plans, shuttle service, medical and dental plans and other basic social services,” he said.

A critic of education privatization

In the meantime Tolentino has also been a critic of what he views as undeniable indications of UP’s divergence from this mission.

“There’s the the atomization of colleges in Diliman, along with their income-generating schemes toward self-sufficiency; the emergent class character of UP students who must not only be intelligent but also financially endowed; the uneven distribution of benefit packages among REPS, administrative staff and faculty; the lack of a formal grievance procedure for tenure and promotion; the lack of enabling conditions for junior faculty members and the many cases of exclusion of qualified senior faculty members from assuming more responsibilities on account of administrative parochialism; the interrelation and demarcation of power among governing units; the implementation of neoliberal policies or the practical and ideological privileging of private business and markets in running the affairs of the University when public service is its rightful character, etc,”he said.

These, Tolentino said, make up for an alarming state of things for the so called ‘university of the people.

His goal if elected as chancellor is directed toward the upholding of the innovative and productive spirit of the Iskolar ng Bayan (one who is accountable to the Filipino people who subsidizes every scholar’s UP education; one who will serve the interest of the people after graduation) and the development of a culture of innovation.

“There is a need for a transparent and democratic governance to arrest the atomization of colleges and constitutent universities, and the development of solidarity that recognizes and cares for the welfare of all.The goal of this vision is to make UP the leader in higher education both within the nation and the region,” he said.

Besides calling for a university more attuned to its inherent role as a university serving the Filipino people, Tolentino said that he will bat for improved academic excellence in the university.

He said that he will promote research that is anchored on the interest of national development. Concretely, Tolentino is all for increasing funding for Research Dissemination Grants.

“We need this so more faculty members will be able to propagate new knowledge through conferences. I also hope to create a support system for excellent journals of the different colleges that will be able to solicit contribution from scholars from other universities and other countries,” he said.

Tolentino has laid down a comprehensive plan of action that involves the utilization of university funds for the purchase of books and research materials; the conduct of multidisciplinary seminars; the initiation of projects that from the different units within the four clusters of UP Diliman; and the promotion of multidisciplinary teaching especially on General Education courses.

Writer, researcher, public servant
Tolentino has won the support of various members of the academic of the university, among them National Artist for Literature and College of Arts and Letters Professor Emeritus Bienvenido Lumbera, Prof. Jose Wendell P. Capili, and poet/painter and writer Prof. Jun Cruz Reyes, and Prof. Elmer Ordonez, founding director of the University of the Philippines Press. They have all given glowing recommendations of Tolentino and his qualifications.

Lumbera said t Tolentino is “nationally recognized” his erudite studies on the relationship between cultural work and contemporary political life in Philippine society.

“As a full professor who has spent more than 30 years in the Diliman community, I can think of no one more qualified that Tolentino to discharge the duties of Chancellor,” he said.

Reyes said that UP has many efficient administrators, artists, researchers academics who have become famous even outside the country. What the university needs, he said, is an individual who personifies all this and more.

“Mahalaga ang papel ng isang bisyunaryo sa pagpapatakbo ng alin man institusyon. Mayroon din tayo nito, bisyunaryo, si Rolando Tolentino,” he said.

Capili said that here are “very few” individuals who can approximate Tolentino’s capabilities and accomplishments as a writer, scholar, administrator and teacher.

Tolentino’s output, Capili said reveals much about his personal and political philosophies, all of which show that the man is more than an academic and an artist, he is also a public servant.

Among Tolentino’s works are the books Sakit ng Kalingkingan: 100 Dagli sa Edad ng Krisis (2005), Kuwentong Syudad (co-editor, 2002), Sapinsaping Pag-ibig at Pagtangis: Tatlong Novella ng Pagsinta’t Paghinagpis(1999); Fastfood, Megamall at iba pang kwento sa pagsasara ng ikalawang milenyum (1999); Relasyon: Mga Kwuwento ng Paglusong at Pag-ahon (co-editor, 1999); Ali*bang+Bang atpb. Kwento (1994); Habilin: Antolohiya ng Katha Para sa Pambansang Kasarinlan (co-editor, 1991); Engkwentro: Kalipunan ng mga Akda ng Kabataang Manunulat (co-editor, 1990).

Capili said that Tolentino’s body of work challenges the boundaries the separated “high” art from “low” art in the Philippines.

“For Prof. Tolentino, creative and critical productions should not cater to a privileged few. Art should be accessible to a larger demographic,” he said.

Tolentino himself admits that he also intends to give emphasis on the further cultivation of arts and culture in UP Diliman. He says that if elected, he will also push for the implementation of programsthat help develop democratic values, nationalism and national identity.

In the meantime, volunteerism is something Tolentino wants to strengthen in UP, as he says he wants to relaunch the “Pahinungod” program which promoted voluntarism particularly among students . The program, he said, may be considered in order to promulgate service to the people and for this value to be brought to the poorest of communities.

Wide support
Faculty and non-academic staff as well as residents of other UP campus communities have also thrown their support for Tolentino’s nomination for chancellor. Letters of strong recommendation from UP Visayas, UP Baguio, UP Miag-ao and UP Los Banos have been posted on the website established by Tolentino’s supporters. All the letters said that Tolentino has already proven his mettle as an administrator because he has been an excellent dean. “He is responsive to the needs of students, faculty and the rest of the community; he will uphold the interest of the university as a whole,” they said.

The mass communications dean is also the best bet for the chancellorship according to 21 academics from 17 universities in the United States. The 21 educators – all alumni of UP — wrote UP Pres. Pascual, also endorsing Tolentino. They are assistant professors, professors, doctorate degree holders from institutions such as the University of Hawaii, Stony Brook University, California State University San Bernardino, Pratt Institute, University of Washington, University of California Los Angeles, College of Mt. Saint Vincent, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, San Jose State University, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, St. John Fisher College, Old Dominion University, University of California Berkeley, Columbia University and San Francisco State University.

Finally, among those campaigning for Tolentino is the All UP Workers Union. They put a post on the social networking site Facebook declaring why they support Tolentino, and this, perhaps, is the best endorsement even when compared to the those given by Tolentino’s colleagues in the academic field:
1. Ang Chancellor namin ay kontra sa diskriminasyon sa mga kawani.
2. Ang Chancellor namin ay demokratiko at bukas ang pamamalakad at kinikilala ang Collective Negotiation Agreement o CNA.
3. Ang Chancellor namin ay sumusuporta sa laban ng 10 days additional sick leave (severance pay).
4. Ang Chancellor namin ay naininindigan na hindi dapat ituring na NEGOSYO ang mga basehang serbisyo tulad ng University Food Service, Health Service at iba pa.
5. Ang Chancelor namin ay laban sa kontraktualisasayon ng lahat ng kawani, at may mithiing isa regular ang mga kontraktual na kawani.
6. Ang Chancellor namin ay hindi bulag sa aping kalagayan ng agency- hired employee at non-UP contractual.
7. Ang Chancellor namin ay naninindigan laban sa budget cut.
8. Ang Chancellor namin ay naninindigan na ang UP ay pamantasan ng bayan at tumitindig sa mga pambansang isyu tulad ng Maguindanao massacre.#

February 22, 2011

A good man worth defending (A review of Jose Maria Sison a Celebration)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 4:16 am

Judging from the contents of Jose Ma. Sison A Celebration, Jose Ma. Sison is well-loved and much-admired man, and those who love and look up to him are passionate in their defense of this controversial, much-maligned but undeniably unforgettable individual.

The book, as the title states, is a celebration of Sison’s life and his contributions to not only to the Filipino people’s struggle for liberation and social justice, but to the rest of humanity’s battle for good against thegreat evils wrought by the economic system of capitalism.

Here we find academic writings attesting to Sison’s intellect.

Writers ranging from university professors to newspaper columnists to human rights lawyers all assert how Sison, from the time he was a student in the University of the Philippines (UP) synthesized the experiences in war and struggle for democracy in other nations and put together a uniqe blueprint for the Philippines and Filipinos to follow in their own campaign for freedom.

NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni in his article “JMS’ Contribution to the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations” gives insight to the dialectics of the peace negotiations. Far from depicting Sison as a man of war, Jalandoni testifies how Sison used his innate diplomatic skills and uncompromising grasp of revolutionary principlesand help prevent the 1992 peace talks from falling into collapse. Jalandoni also states how Sison’s critiques and analyses on the workings of peace talks between warring parties in other nations have been crucial in keeping the NDFP’s own handling of its end in negotiations with the GRP on the correct path. Historic agreements forged with the GRP, Jalandoni says, were drafted, completed and signed with Sison’s unerring guidance as chief political adviser.

UP Manila Prof. Edberto Villegas traces Sison’s roots as a Marxist. He explains how Sison’s veneration of the most humane theory of Marxism was never without understanding, but was and is in fact founded on deepest comprehension of what Marxism has always sought to achieve for humanity and the oppressed. Sison’s Marxism, Villegas attests, was born not only out of diligent study, but out of practice: Sison the ideologue is also Sison the organizer, the intellectual who put his knowledge to the test and into practice by immersing himself in the labor and struggles of the working people.

As Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino, the youngest among the contributors in the book, states, ‘Joma is not an armchair revolutionary: he offered concrete, practical and radical alternative means on how to launch a revolution. Joma’s fidelity to Marxism has has taught many activists the value of standing up for one’s principles.”

Sison, Palatino says, is a “fighting materialist”, a theorist of the future, not of the past and this is what assures the strength and permanence of his political and ideological legacy.

Here we find essays giving detailed and incisive analysis of Sison’s poetry and the romantic patriotism evident in his poems.
Sison’s poetry – some of them written in the freedom of the countryside, some of them penned in the confines of prison, and still some others the product of days spent battling longing for the beautiful country he was forced to leave — attest to the man’s innate gentleness and sensitivity. It was perhaps in his moments of loneliness and sad contemplation that he turned to poetry, and in his poems the sadness was given shape into words that urge and exhort the reader to love his country and win the war for its liberation.

National artist for Literature Dr. Bienvinido Lumbera and poets Eduardo Maranan, Alfredo Salanga and Nonilon V. Queano analyze Sison’s poetry and the frame of mind and social circumstances that fueled Sison’s creative process. E. San Juan, Elmer Ordonez and Gelacio Guillermo in the meantime explain the historical roots of liberation poetry in the Philippines, and as they do, they do not fail to cite Sison’s work as being true to the calling made by Mao Zedong that artists must serve the people in their craft.

Lumbera discusses Sison’s earlier poems as expressions of Sison’s self and his personal history. Lumbera, however, asserts that beyond being autobiographical markers of Sison’s life, the same poems are testaments to how an individual survives torture, isolation and the very threat of violent destruction through sheer will and the unshakable trust that beyond the prison walls what he has lived and fought for thrives: an armed revolution against the dictatorship.

Salanga’s theory, meanwhile, is that the personal is also the political: he said that reading Sison’s poetry, it’s clear that the poet viewed his experiences from eyes that saw the world as an arena of struggle and his own self an active participant in it.
The poet in his prison peoms, Salanga said, grasps firmly what is real — his own suffering, yes, but more so the suffering of his people.
In Celebration, too, is an essay giving tribute to Sison for his guidance to the revolutionary armed forces of the New People’s Army through his his historic article “Specific Characteristics of our People’s War”.

Writer Patrica Agbulos of course credits the work to Amado Guerrero, and says that SCPW has been and remains to be valuable in the conduct of the Filipino people’s armed war against their oppressors and it mercenary army.

It’s not clear whether Agbulos also credits Sison for writing the documents of the Second Great Rectification Movement (SGRM) of the Communist Party of the Philippines;but what is certain is the writer’s certainty that without the said articles, the damage done to the CPP and the NPA would have been worse and perhaps irreparable.

In the meantime, for all the personal and political attacks against Sison, his detractors and other enemies of the Philippine revolution are unable to convince those who support Sison in the international liberation movements that the man is passe.
Bert de Belder is fervent in his praise of Sison and his contributions to the annual International Communist Seminar in Brussels, Belgium. Sison’s contributions, de Belder said, expertly analyzes global developments — the worsening poverty, the escalating wars– as expected effects of imperialism and its desperate efforts to survive and recover. Through the years, Sison has made major contributions for the revolutionary struggle peoples of the world. Unmasking false socialism and denouncing revisionism, Sison is able to his writings and speeches help the international liberation movement move forward.

Through the years, however, attention has shifted from Sison the intellectual, poet and internationalist and become focused on Sison the victim of political persecution.

Failing to convince the Filipino people and the international supporters of the Philippine movement for liberation that Sison is a deranged terrorist, Sison’s enemies (and hence enemies of the Filipino people) have resorted to various forms of political harrassment.
The Philippine’s premier human rights defender Atty. Romy T. Capulong gives an account of the Public Interest Law Center’s (PILC) attorney-client relationship with Sison, saying that through all his legal struggles, Sison has remained optomistic and unfazed. An ideal client, Capulong calls Sison, because he listens to his lawyers’ advice.

But what makes Sison the ideal client, Capulong also says, is his clear innocence and the inherent worth and dignity in defending him at all cost.

Sison is a man whom all lawyers who passionately believe in upholding justice would love to defend. The man was a former high-profile political detainee whom the Netherlands continues to deny asylum. In recent years he has been tagged and libelled as a terrorist, his meagre bank account frozen and his benefits taken away. He has been charged with murder, with inciting to murder, and for being behind the extrajudicial execution of members of the media. In 2007, his home was raided and he himself arrested and detained and placed in solitary confinement for two years.

This aspect of his life alone is enough enough merits an entire season of a legal soap opera or drama series. In Celebration, Prof. Garry Leupp, and Attys. Jan Fermon and Edre Olalia give accounts of the legal cases Sison has been involved and is involved in. Reading the narratives, one will be struck by how serious the cases are, and how much they actually reveal about the desperation of Sison’s enemies in pinning him down.

What these legal accounts and the testimonies provided by the likes of Prof. Luis Teodoro, Bishop Deogracias Yniguez and Atty. Jose Grapilon among others serve to impart to the readers is this: in defending Jose Ma. Sison, we also defend our own rights against injustice and oppression. Sison, after all, has precisely been at the receiving end of so much negative criticism, so many legal attacks because he remains a strong critique of corruption, of injustice, of imperialism and its crimes against the working people and the rest of humanity. Sison uses what remains of his freedom defending the right of Filipinos — and other peoples — to also be free.

Finally, Sison the source of inspiration. Novelist-activist Ninotchka Rosca , Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) secretary-general Renato Reyes (BAYAN) and Raul Valle’s essays praise Sison as an individual who inspires the youth and even the unpoliticized.
Reyes says Sison is ‘timeless’ , referring to how the man through his writings is able to encourage new generations the Filipino youth to aspire to more beyond material wealth and instead aim for higher ideals. Far from being psychic for being able to ‘predict’ the downfall of tyrants and corrupt presidents and leaders, Sison, according to Reyes, is a dialectical materialist to the core. His ‘timelessness’ can be credited to how Sison remains abreast of global political and economic developments, and how immediately he can analyze and write about the same.

It, is perhaps, Valle’s essay on how he met Sison long, long ago in the underground movement that speaks the most and most poignantly about the man and his mission. Valle paints an image of a man who was light-hearted even in the midst of stressful situations; a man who took care to listen to younger activists and give them advice. Valle’s memories are of a young Sison who was truly hands-on when it came to work, and a Sison who took delight in it even as he was cautious and careful.

Sison’s whole life has been devoted to serving a revolution, and how he has gone about is worth all the books that have been written about it, the latest being this, Jose Maria Sison A Celebration. Ever hopeful, ever active, always able and willing to to give guidance to the Philippine mass movement which in his youth he took the lead in establishing and strengthening, Sison as seen in the eyes of his friends and supporters is more than a hero or even a genuine revolutionary: he is in the most noble sense of the word, a good man, and a good man is always worth defending.

February 18, 2011

Ericson Acosta’s Journey from ‘Troublesome’ Artist to Political Detainee

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 4:20 am

MANILA – Two days before the resumption of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the Armed Forces of the Philippine AFP captured an individual it later tagged as another ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Ericson after he was captured by the military. Photo from the AFP

In a report posted on the government-run Philippine Information Agency, a spokesman of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division said that it apprehended and captured a certain Ericson Acosta in the vicinity of Barangay Bay-ang, San Jorge town in the province of Samar at 10 am on Feb. 13. The announcement came after reports that Alan Jasminez, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), was captured in Bulacan.

According to the report, which was based on military dispatches, a platoon from the 34th Infantry Battalion under a 2nd Lt. Jacob Madarang was conducting routine security patrol when they intercepted Acosta. Acosta , the military report said, was “acting suspiciously” as he prepared to board a pump boat toward the town proper. Acosta allegedly gave “conflicting and confusing answers” when questioned. The military also said that he “appeared nervous” and that he attempted to draw a hand grenade from his pocket.

At that point, the report went on to say, a soldier immediately grabbed Acosta’s arm and the explosive in his hand.

Acosta in a photo released to the media by the military.

An informant has allegedly also squealed to the military that Acosta, 37, is originally from Cubao, Quezon City, and that he was working under the Instruction Bureau of the National Education Department of the CPP-NPA-NDF’s Central Committee.

According to the report quoting the informant, Acosta bears the alias August Lim and that he was in charge of producing various propaganda materials.

The military took from Acosta a laptop with complete accessories and spare battery, an external hard drive, a USB dongle, a phone, six SIM cards, money amounting to P4,800, and various personal belongings.

The 8th ID’s Major General Mario Chan said Acosta’s rights were respected during and after his apprehension.

“Acosta was treated very well by the apprehending troops. As we’ve done so in the past, we assure our people that we will always be observant of human rights. Acosta will be accorded his right to counsel and be given his day in court,” the commanding general said.

Criminal charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives have already been filed against Acosta at the Regional Trial Court Branch 41 in Gandara under Criminal Case No. 11-0501. He is now under the custody of Gandara Municipal Police Office.

Ericson, Eric, Spinky Lampaso

To the military, Acosta is a terrorist as defined in the Aquino government’s military campaign Oplan Bayanihan. But to many friends and colleagues from the University of the Philippines, he is nothing of the sort. Acosta — or as he’s affectionately known to friends alternatively as “Eric,” “Green Bird” and “Dingbat” — is a poet, songwriter, and activist.

He was the culture editor of the Philippine Collegian in 1993, UP Diliman’s official student publication, and a member of Amnesty International. He dabbled in the theater, acting in a play staged by one of the campus’s main theater groups. It was for his music and poetry, however, that he was most known for.

Bayan Muna secretary-general Renato Reyes, in a blog post, reminisces about Ericson with whom he spent many a night in jam sessions on the fourth floor landing of Vinzons Hall where the Collegian’s office was. Reyes also went to UP Diliman and was at the time chairman of the League of Filipino Students (LFS).

“Our repertoire consisted of Binky Lampano, Eraserheads and The Doors tunes. We would then move to the grandstand at around 2 am to sing some more to an unsuspecting audience at Sunken Garden,” he said.

Filmmaker Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez said that because of Ericson’s love for the Lampano Alley lead singer’s music, Ericson was sometimes jokingly called “Spinky Lampaso.”

When Seattle grunge genius Kurt Cobain committed suicide, Acosta went around singing songs by Nirvana at the top of his voice. On nights when he got too drunk, the younger “probees” or probationary writers at the Collegian would get worried that Ericson would throw up on the mats in the sleeping room. He was also notorious for “borrowing” plates from the University Food Service, which he brought back to the Collegian office. There was a time when there were at least a dozen of the white ceramic plates in the Collegian’s make-shift pantry.

It was also a time when Lucky Me! instant noodle was first introduced in the market and Ericson, always mysteriously short on cash, often resorted to eating it when he couldn’t wheedle friends into lending or giving him money for better food. One time, after running out of money, he took off his shoes, folded his pant legs and waded into the wishing fountain at the back of the Shangri-la Plaza EDSA mall to get enough coins for bus fare.

The Jollibee branch in Philcoa was still being built back then, and in solidarity with community protests against the demolitions that attended the establishment of the fastfood place, he renamed the iconic bee “Jolibag.”

Ericson was not overtly political then, and to his fellow writers in the collegian, he was something of an “artistic troublemaker”: he and another editor were usually the ringleaders of drinking sessions, extorting money from staffers to buy either Tanduay rum or Ginebra San Miguel which they would then serve mixed with Sunny Orange or cola in a plastic pitcher.

A Personal Political Upheaval

Ericson’s transformation came on the heels of the massive political upheaval in UP Diliman in 1994 that was an echo of the greater changes in the ideological spectrum that swept throughout the country from the countryside to the cities. In UP Diliman, campus activists were forced to re-examine their beliefs and commitment to the cause of national democracy.

When others chose to let go of their activism saying that they were demoralized, Ericson chose to step up. It was like a switch was thrown and, overnight, Ericson took charge of his happy-go-lucky self and became serious in his political advocacies.

February 14, 2011

When Louie met Coni: a love story born in the Movement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 2:05 am

This good-fellowship – camaraderie- usually ocurring through the similarity of pursuits is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death – that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.
–Thomas Hardy, from Far From the Madding Crowd

With one of my favorite couples (and people) in the world, Ka Louie and Ka Coni

They met at a time when the Philippines was awakening to a revolution that sought to empower the poor against their exploiters. He was a priest, she was a nun, and the time was 1971, one year before the dictator Ferdinand E.Marcos declared martial law.

Luis ‘Louie’ Jalandoni hailed from a family of landowners in Silay, Negros Occidental. He grew up rich, but it was a fact that never really sunk into him until he noticed the differences between himself and the children of his family’s land tenants and farmers.

The words ‘gentle’ and ‘amiable’ were always applied to him as he grew up and until he entered the priesthood; but when he be became aware of the life and death struggle of the poor, his will and commitment to their cause became tempered with steel. To look at him even then in his early years as an activist priest, one wouldn’t have been able to tell that here was a man able to stand up against fully-armed hacienda guards with nothing but the strength of his convictions.

Ma. Consuelo ‘Coni’ Kalaw Ledesma also came from Silay, and her background was as affluent as Louie’s. Her upbringing gave her physical grace; but in her dimunitive frame came a soul eager to offer itself for the betterment of others. In those days, it was believed that taking religious vows was the best way to serve — in promising to love and to serve God, one also sought to serve others. Coni believed this, and hence she became a nun.

Nothing remains static, however; and as she became more exposed to the lives and experiences of people who lived way beneath the radar of the moneyed and supposedly more educated, she felt in her very core that there was more that could be done — that serving the people took meant more that praying for them.

It was a quirk of circumstance that two such people should meet under conditions very far from those they were born to. Both came from wealthy families, but they chose to live with the poor. They both chose to take religious vows, but in the end committed themselves to something beyond faith and religion.

In 1971, church groups began to support workers unions, and their priests and nuns as well as students began to integrate with rural communities, helping peasants and farmworkers by giving seminars on health and education. In the cities, organizing work in the urban poor communities began in 1970such as those in Tondo.

As time went, church organizing work began to include discussions on politics and the state of human rights in the country, and these were connected to why there was such widespread poverty. By 1971, there was more emphasis on organizing farmers, workers and urban poor and less focus on cooperatives and economic projects.

By then, Louie had become more than a priest, he was an activist and the head of the Social Action Center of the Bacolod diocese. In the last few years he had gained a reputation for espousing increasingly radical beliefs, bravely calling on younger seminarians and fellow priests to take a more active role in the society and in the lives of the poor.

Sr. Coni, who once was a principal for an all-girls’ school in Cebu, had heard of Fr. Jalandoni and about his work in the SAC. She gained permission from her religious superiors and went to Bacolod. When she arrived at the SAC, everyone was busy helping sugar farmworkers in their strike: at the time, more than 170 hacienda laborers of Victorias Milling Corporation were forced to launch a strike against the company’s unfair labor practices.

“He was wearing a polo barong when I first met him, and I remember being struck by how gentle he looked and sounded as he gave me a briefing on the situation the workers were facing,” Coni said.

Coni was assigned as the press relations officer, and Louie mainly in charge of the rest of the staff who included various students and out of school youth who helped the SAC in its advocacies. Louie made the rounds of the picketline areas, and lead support actions for the workers. Coni, in the meantime, took on other tasks in the SAC that needed to be completed. The leaflets, press releases and statements Louie wrote, Coni disseminated to members of the media and the rest of the Bacolod and Negros community.They were frequently together and Coni’s esteem for Louie grew.

“I saw how committed he was to helping the workers, and I wanted to be the same. For all his gentleness, he was very firm when it came to defending the rights of the poor and it didn’t matter if he was talking to a landowner, a government official or armed soldiers. He seemed to be tireless, and he literally gave everything to help the workers,” she said. She had, by then, heard how Louie had given used his inheritence to build houses and a school for the hundreds of tenants in his family’s hacienda; and how the SAC was also largely dependent on him for its finances. “His wallet was always open when it came to the workers,” she said. “It really felt like he would do anything for them.”

Louie had a car then, a Volkswagen Beetle, and more often than not it was used to run errands for the strikers and their families. Louie frequently acted as chauffer for the students who visited the picketlines, and for the strikers whenever they needed to get anything from the town.

As for Louie, he also noticed how Coni took to her work in the SAC like a a fish to water.

“She was always in high spirits as she did the work. She talked to the workers and helped give them hope as she assured them of our full support. She didn’t mind staying up late to write or to get up very early. She didn’t mind cleaning the office or arranging the files or going out on errands. What needed to be done, she did and she did so cheerfully,” he said.

He also remembers her righteous anger and indignation after the student volunteers came back from delivering rice and groceries to the picketline and narrowly escaped death when they were shot at by security men of the haciendas. “She was very angry, and she kept saying that we should all get guns and weapons to protect ourselves and defend the workers. There was no fear in her, only outrage and determination.”
Needless to say, they became good friends, and their friendship was based on mutual respect strengthened by the shared commitment to help workers and their families.

Neither would admit as to when exactly they began to feel differently about the other. Perhaps it was because they were still ordained members of the religious at the time, but more likely because neither knew what they were feeling.

“All I can say is that I was comfortable with him, and it felt happy to work with him, beside him. Aba’y malay ko ba kung ano yang romantic love na yan!” Coni said laughing.
Louie, for his part, said that he had begun feeling happy whenever he saw Coni, and he knew instinctively that it was a different sort of feeling from the kind he experienced whenever he was with other friends.

“Coni had a strong personality, and she carried it with grace and warmth that people around her never failed to be gravitate towards her. I think that was what first attracted me to her — she was always full of energy and kindness towards everyone around her,” he said.

In any case, everything became more or less apparent during a short break the SAC staff had. Louie, Coni and the students went to Alcala beach in Brgy. Punta Taytay, Bacolod for a swim and a small picnic. Coni already had permission to wear civilian clothes and not just her usual habit, and she walked barefoot in the sand.

She didn’t think there was anything remiss when casually Louie asked her to take a walk with him. She agreed and together, they left behind the students.

“We didn’t talk about anything unusual or particularly new. He was also barefoot and I saw that he was flat-footed, so I teased him about that,” Coni remembered.

After a short while, however, both of them became quiet. Coni wondered about the sudden silence, and though she still felt comfortable even in the absence of words, she became curious why Louie stopped talking.

Then Louie said that they should go back. Coni turned to go, but Louie stood there unmoving. Then he closed the short gap between them and kissed her gently on the forehead and smiled. Neither said anything.

As they returned to the others, Coni was thrown into sudden turmoil. “I didn’t know what happened, I didn’t know what I was feeling. I also became very worried if what I was feeling and what happened was right,” she said.

There was really no time to discuss with Louie what transpired between them. There was always work to be done, and what little free time they had they spent with other priests and nuns in their respective quarters.

But even if there had been time, Coni would not have known what to say.

“I had heard of other nuns saying that they crushes on Louie. One of them even said that she was certain that Louie felt the same way about her and that when the time was right, they would hold hands. I didn’t say anything because at the time I really didn’t understand anything,” she said. All she was certain of, she added, was that she was happy. Neither talked about their feelings for the other, but continued to work side by side in the SAC. Sometimes, however, Louie would touch Coni’s head as if giving her a blessing, but his hand would linger longer than it would have done on the usual congregant.

Because of her involvement in Victoria plantation strikes and her participation in political rallies and discussion fora, Coni began to outgrow her religious vows. She had seen first hand the terrible poverty that the ordinary folk of Negros experienced day in day out, and she grew to abhor the what seemed like the complete lack of conscience that the landowning families had as they threw lavish parties. She herself came from the same class, but she willingly, even willfully began to remove herself from it. Her political awareness had also begun to grow, and her eyes had been opened to the true reasons behind the worsening social conflict in the country.As for her faith, it was still strong, but convent life was no longer for her.

“I didn’t know that Louie himself accepted that his priesthood also ended when he became a member of the revolutionary movement. He told me later on when we had both gone underground that had previously remained a priest because it gave him a measure of freedom to help organize more people and encourage them to join and support the revolution. When he told me that, I was a little annoyed because he didn’t tell me sooner,” she said.

Her annoyance, she went on to explain, was because she had to go through a period of self-questioning, trying to reconcile her religious vows with her rapidly increasing political and ideological growth. “I would’ve been able to come to terms with myself sooner, and I could’ve done more to help the movement.”

Louie was forced to go underground two days after martial law was declared. He eluded arrest during the initial crackdown simply because the arresting unit of soldiers were easily fooled by denials that Louie was at the seminary when they arrived to take him. Coni was able to see him only after she, too went underground, and again they worked together in the same group gathering support against the dictatorship. They were captured in September 1973 and released in 1974, Coni being freed in July and Louie the following month.

It was during their time underground that Louie and Coni finally confessed their mutual affection. By then they were both revolutionaries, comrades in the struggle, and the love they felt for each other was as strong as their desire for the Filipino people to gain true freedom and democracy.

Louie was formally released from the priesthood in 1974, while Coni got her dispensation in December 1972 two months after she applied for it. On December 19, 1974, she married Louie in simple rites at the Archbishop’s Residence in Mandaluyong. Then newly-designated Cardinal Jaime Sin officiated. #
—–
This is an excerpt from a book I’m trying to write about Ka Louie.

January 24, 2011

It’s not too much to demand justice, the same way that it’s not too much to demand that those who till the land should own it.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 9:16 am

From Bulatlat.com
————-
When farmer and activist Danilo Arjona was killed on January 22, 1987, he left behind a wife and five children. He was shot in the head and the bullet passed through his skull cleanly. It’s a detail that has remained in his widow’s memory for the last 24 years.

Danilo’s widow, Teresita, or “Nanay” Tess, can only be comforted by the knowledge that her husband’s death was not ordinary – “Namatay siyang nakikibaka para sa lupa,” she says simply, and even as her smile is sad, her eyes light up in pride.

Two decades have past but Nanay Tess vividly remembers what happened that day. She is unlikely to ever forget, she says, because the reasons why they marched to Malacañang then are the same reasons why farmers continue to hold protests and rallies and why so many others have been killed.

“There were no signs that violence could erupt,” Nanay Tess says. Contrary to the assertions made by police and military men who testified in the 1987 People’s Commission on the Mendiola Massacre established by the Cory Aquino government, she says that the farmers did not shout slogans demanding blood and violence.

“Everyone was shouting the usual slogans calling for genuine agrarian reform and land for the tiller, but no one was calling for violence. If I had any idea that there was going to be violence, Danilo would not have let me come, much less bring my mother with me,” she explains. Danilo, she remembers, was a marshal during the rally, and as such she did not join him in the frontlines.

She says his last words to her were instructions. “He told me to stay put and not wander around. He didn’t want my mother and I to get lost in the crowd. There were so many of us there, and I didn’t want to get lost either so I obeyed,” she says. She kept in the middle part of the throng and from there she could clearly hear and even see what was happening in the front. She saw that there were many men in military and police uniforms, but she didn’t find any reason to worry because, as she says, the farmers went to Mendiola to remind “Ma’am Cory” of her promises. “Hindi kami pumunta dun para maghanap ng gulo.”

The negotiations between the Kilusang Magbubukid (KMP) leaders and officials of the police and military were ongoing when the shooting started, she says. Could she have been mistaken? The Supreme Court in a 1993 decision on the massacre upheld findings that there were no negotiations between the farmers and the armed forces that day.

“No, there were negotiations. Everyone stood still, trying to listen to what was being discussed. I also saw my husband in front, and he was also paying attention to the negotiations.”

Then the bullets started to fall. At first it was like a gentle but deadly drizzle that soon turned into a monsoon rain. Nanay Tess tightly wound her hand around her mother’s own and ran.

“Everyone was running, running every which way. All I could think of was getting to Lawton where the caravan vehicles were; that and returning to my children. I didn’t know what happened to Danilo, I didn’t see if he was able to run or get away. I was crying as I ran and I didn’t immediately notice that my mother and I were both barefoot. The streets were littered with slippers and bags and streamers and placards. People were yelling, but I didn’t know if it was in pain or in outrage,” she says.

Nanay Tess herself felt rage when she saw, even as she ran for safety, that there were “owner-type” jeeps driving alongside the protestors who were scurrying for safety. “They were shooting at us, at everyone who was running!” she says, anger in her eyes, in her voice.

The casualties would without doubt have been more if all the bullets the military and police fired that day were real. It was found out later that they used rubber and plastic bullets, and though these were not fatal, they were enough to raise bruises that would hurt for days after.

By the time they reached Lawton, Nanay Tess thought she would collapse. All that kept her going was her determination to take her mother to safety and to return to her children. Her tears kept flowing as she worried for Danilo and the others, but there was nothing else to be done. The jeepney their farmers’ group rented immediately left bearing Nanay Tess, the owner and a few others. Its driver thought it wiser to leave without waiting for the others because he saw that the police were still running after the survivors and arresting them.

Safe at home in Pagsanjan, the news trickled in: Danilo had been killed. Members of the KMP hastened to comfort Nanay Tess and her children, and Danilo’s remains were taken to Mt. Carmel Church in Quezon City along with the bodies of the other victims of the massacre.

The Aquino government extended no assistance, expressed no sympathy. Not a single flower to the Arjona family and not once in the 24 years that have passed has Nanay Tess forgotten.

“We survived because of the KMP’s help, because the Kilusan gave us succor. I was forced to leave the land my husband and I tilled as tenants because I could no longer take care of it. We had five young children, the eldest was only 12, the youngest five. I had to find other means to secure our survival,” she says.

She has since worked as a washerwoman, a bean picker, and as a rice field worker during harvest season. Her earnings were never enough, and only one of her and Danilo’s children was able to finish high school. It has been a hard life, but not once did she blame the KMP or the mass movement for what happened.

“Pumunta kami sa Mendiola dahil may mga hinaing kaming mga magsasaka. Pinangakuan kami ng lupa, pero bala ang ibinigay sa amin. Pinatay ang asawa ko dahil naggigiit siya ng lupa at katarungan para sa mga magsasakang tulad naming. Lahat ng kahirapang dinanas ko at ng aking mga anak ay dala ng pagtutol ng gobyerno na ibigay ang lupa sa mga magsasaka.”

Through the years she continued to join peasant group activities led by KMP and its formations in Southern Tagalog. She lost touch in 2009 and 2010, however, but earlier this month, she saw a jeepney in Laguna with a KMP sign on it, as well as a sticker proclaiming the just and righteous struggle for genuine agrarian reform. Nanay Tess was overjoyed, and she waited for someone to come. KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella arrived — the KMP had been visiting the community — and he secured Nanay Tess’s promise to join the activities commemorating the 24th anniversary of the massacre.

Nanay Tess is now 52 years old, and on Saturday, January 22, she lit a candle for her husband and for the 12 others who were killed in Mendiola.

“I did not expect the government to help us, but I did expect that it would bring justice for those who were killed. Nothing like this happened. Now it’s Noynoy Aquino who is president. We can only hope that he will be able to do what his mother failed to do. Those who shot and killed my husband and the others, those who ordered the police and the military to begin shooting, they have all gotten away without punishment. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that he right the wrongs his mother’s government committed against the farmers. It’s not too much to demand justice, the same way that it’s not too much to demand that those who till the land should own it.”

Remembering Mendiola Massacre: Tata Pido Gonzalez

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 9:08 am

I wrote this for Bulatlat.com.
The photo of the presscon was taken by my friend Jo Abaya-Santos.
—————

It may have been 24 years ago, but for the survivors of the brutal Mendiola Massacre that left 13 farmers dead and many others hurt, the wounds still bleed.

Pedro “Tata Pido” Gonzalez was only 23-years old when the supposedly ‘revolutionary’ government of Corazon Aquino first unsheathed its sword against Filipino farmers in Mendiola. It was only his second time in Manila, but being a part-time municipal organizer of the militant youth organization Kabataang Makabayan (KM or Patriotic Youth) since 1970, he was not new to protests. He has already been helping organize fellow fisherfolk against unfair sharing practices of owners of large-scale commercial fishing enterprises. In his first rally in Manila, he stood alongside other farmers , fisherfolk and other members of progressive sectors in front of the US embassy n Roxas Boulevard to denounce Uncle Sam relentless interference in Philippine economic and political affairs.

“The police lobbed teargas canisters at us and we ran willy-nilly all over Luneta,” he said, smiling at the recollection.

When asked about his experience in Mendiola on January 22, 1987, however, he grew serious, and one could see in his eyes how the memory of what happened that day still affected him.

“I was somewhere in the back of the rally. There were so many of us, but the protest was well organized. We were tired from the three-day vigil in front of the then Ministry of Agrarian Reform, but all exhaustion vanished as we marched closer to Malacanang. We bore with us very legitimate demands, and we wanted to remind Mrs. Aquino of the promises she made to give land to the landless.”

Tata Pido said that farmers groups led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) had concrete and unassailable reasons for proceeding to Mendiola that day. In June 1986, a few months after Aquino was propelled to the presidency after the EDSA uprising that rid the country of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the KMP held a national council meeting to finalize an agenda on genuine agrarian reform. With this in hand, 10 of its leaders went to Malacanang where they were warmly welcomed by Pres. Aquino and executive secretary Joker Arroyo.

“The feedback from the meeting was that Mrs. Aquino was elated over the proposal. She said that the KMP’s blueprint for genuine agrarian reform was worth implementing, that it could would serve well as the cornerstone for her administration and its goals,” he said.

But by September, nothing was heard from Malacanang. No announcements were made about distributing land to the farmers, or even just the provision of immediate subsidies to help farmers in the interim. It was then that the KMP decided to hold a protest.

(KMP spokesperson Antonio ‘Ka Tonying’ Flores in a presscon said that farmers wanted to test the waters, to see how sincere the Aquino government was. The farmers went to the MAR, but then secretary Heherson Alvarez all but went into hiding. Alvarez did not show his face in the ministry for three days, and the farmers were left to speak to the employees and explain why it was that they were there – to press for action on their call for land reform. Some farmers pulled down the Philippine flag from its pedestal in front of the department building and hoisted aloft the KMP’s own red banner.)

“So we marched. Those in front were almost in Mendiola, while the rest of us including myself where still in Morayta. Word reached us that there were so many police, marines, soldiers, you name it in the area, but I didn’t feel afraid. What was there to worry about when we had already talked to Mrs. Aquino about our demands? As for our ranks, we were unarmed. We had nothing but flags, streamers, the carton plackards mounted on bamboo sticks.”

“Suddenly I heard shots. I didn’t know at first that they were gunshots, it sounded more like clapping. First it was intermittent, then soon the sound was loud and deafening. There was chaos, everyone began running away from the sound of gunfire. Men, women, children were running. Yes, there were children with us that day. I also ran, and I am a little ashamed even now to admit that I failed to help those whom I saw fall on the pavement. It was all I could do to keep from falling myself.”

Tata Pido lost his slippers as he ran, and as he reached the corner of Morayta and Espana Avenue, the traffic was at a standstill. A jeepney stopped in front of him and the driver yelled at him to jump into the vehicle.

“I was breathing hard, I was more than a little confused, but I was able to tell him that I needed to get to Divisoria where the bus terminals were. I was relieved, when I put a hand inside my pocket, to find that I still had enough money for fare.”

Back then, it cost only P2.50 to ride a bus from Quezon to Manila and vice-versa.

When he got home, he found out that what happened in Mendiola was everywhere in the news. His wife all but berated him for joining the protest where he could have lost his life. His wife was also a member of the peasant group, but in her fear , she told him to stop his political activism,

“I learned an important lesson that day: it’s important that we make sure that our wives , our partners are encouraged to develop politically.”

So now, 24 years later, Tata Pido continues to join protest rallies, demand justice for the victims of Mendiola Massacre, and to continue the peasant struggle for land. He remembers the events that led to the Massacre the same way he cannot forgot how , in 2004, he was shot nine times by members of the military and left for dead.. * The lines on his face, the way his skin has become rough with age and years of toil, are as familiar to him as the aspirations of all farmers and fisherfolk for uncompromising, genuine agrarian reform. He knows by heart the crimes the governments that followed the Marcos dictatorship committed against the Filipino people, and while they taste bitter in his mouth, he says it is what makes him remember what he is fighting for.

“Marami na akong kaibigang namatay para sa lupa. Marami na rin ang dinukot ng mga kaaway dahil ayaw nilang tumahimik sa kanilang pagigiit. Walang katiwasayan, walang pag-unlad, walang kahulugan ang buhay kung hindi ibibigay sa magsasaka ang lupa. Ano ang gagawin ng mga susunod na henerasyon kapag pumayag tayong agawin, kamkamin ng mga dayuhan ang lahat ng lupa n gating bansa? Saan sila pupunta upang mabuhay? Paano sila kakain? Masakit mang isipin, ngunit dahil sa katangiang hindi makatao ng gobyerno at ng sistemang kinapapalooban natin, maraming maraming magsasaka pa ang magbubuwis ng buhay para sa lupa.”

“Walang pinag-iba ang mga gobyernong nagdaan. Lahat sila ay nagtaksil sa mga magsasaka. Si Noynoy Aquino ay walang pinag-iba kay Gloria Arroyo. Ang tanging masasabi mo lang na pinagkaiba nila ay babae si Gloria at lalaki si Noynoy. ”#

* On May 12, 2004, Tata Pido was shot nine times by military men under the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom). He was then campaigning for a seat in the Provincial Council of Quezon

January 21, 2011

legally defining discrimination against LGBTs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 7:57 am

This is an article I wrote for Bulatlat.com. It gave me a headache to write this because it was terrible to realize that the LGBT sector has very little means to defend its members when it comes to the law. Discrimination exists, it’s just not easy to define because those guilty of homophobia can easily dismiss their acts as ‘jokes’ and say that the victims are just being ‘overly sensitive.’
————
Just because you cannot define something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

This is how Oscar Atadero, regional director of the International Association of Pride Organizers (Inter-Pride) explains how difficult it has been for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) to defend their legal rights against discrimination because up to the present, discrimination against members of the so-called ‘third sex’ has no legal definition.

“Laws of the land proclaim equality for men and women, but when it comes down to the specifics — when it comes down to equal treatment for LGBTs — the laws are severely lacking,” he said.

Atadero shakes his head over what he insists is a misconception that LGBTs in the country no longer face discrimination and are already accepted. “There is no genuine acceptance, only tolerance. There is still discrimination against LGBTs, but it’s insidious. It’s quite easy to deny when someone is discriminating against LGBTs with a thought, with a word, with an act: those who are homophobic can dismiss their homophobic comments or acts by saying it’s all a joke, or that the victim was merely being overly sensitive. LGBTs primarily face discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), and the tragedy is, victims do not have an enabling environment to press complaints,” he said.

The gay rights advocate says that while there’s a whole slew of enabling laws, mechanisms and institutions that help protect women rights, LGBT rights are covered only by general laws. “This is not enough, because like I said, the discrimination we face is specifically directed against our Sogi, but local laws do not give us means to legal means to fight it,” he said.

According to Atadero, there are so many forms of discrimination against LGBTs that are not defined much less penalized under the law.

“They’re in the gray areas. Say for instance, teenaged gays and lesbians, they want to cross-dress in school. They feel uncomfortable wearing uniforms, but they’re not allowed to cross-dress because it’s against school policy, no explanations asked. Those who attempt to cross-dress (the gays wear blouses or the lesbians wear pants), they end up in the guidance office and risk being humiliated and expelled. Young LGBTs have to suppress their Sogi to survive in school and in general society; and everyone knows how important these early years are to young adults — it’s when they’re discovering themselves, but already they face barriers, unsubtly told that what they’re doing, what they are is wrong,” he said.

As for adult LGBTs, the realities of discrimination are harsher.

“There are LGBTs who find it difficult to find employment because of unwritten but all the same enforced hiring policies of companies. This is particularly true in the manufacturing sector. LGBTs are not hired because human rights resource heads think LGBTs are physically weaker, or mentally flighty,” Atadero said.

He said that he once came across a case of a gay man who was interviewed for a job, but in the middle of the interview, the HR manager told him that they had already found someone for the job. “It was all he could do to stop himself from retorting ‘Bakit mo pa ako ininterbyu kung meron na pala kayong nakuha?!’

Atadero added that there have also been cases where lesbians were hired for masculine jobs, but they were paid ‘feminine’ wages. Women workers are paid lower wages compared to their male counterparts in the manufacturing sector.

“On the whole, LGBTs go through their lives defending themselves. It’s a necessary mechanism, being always on the defensive. We are subjected to insulting, judgmental remarks even when we’re getting access to health care: imagine being told by nurses or doctors that we become ill as a result of our promiscuity! It’s like all LGBTs are alike, and we can be fit in one box. When we file complaints, most of the time they’re dismissed or not taken seriously,” he said.

A legal definition of discrimination

This lack of empowering legal measures for LGBTs is what prompted Bayan Muna lawmaker Teddy A. Casino to file HB 1483 seeking to define Sogi and what constitutes discrimination against LGBTs. His proposed measure also lays down penalties.

Casino said that while the Bill of Rights guarantees equal protection for men and women, and even as the Philippines is a signatory to international agreements on the respect for human rights of all persons regardless of any condition, including sex or sexual orientation, there’s still a wide area left to cover when it came to upholding the legal rights of members of the LGBT sector.

“The present and future realities existing in the country should not be left behind by law. The noble intentions of numerous national laws and international agreements are still wanting with respect to our compatriot LGBTs.They continue to be discriminated by society at large, primarily because of misconceptions and systemic State ignorance,” he said.

The Philippines is a signatory to declarations and agreements of international institutions, such as the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The UNHRC has interpreted Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which obliges States to “guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection againstdiscrimination on any ground such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,” to include a protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has also interpreted Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to include sexual orientation in the Covenant’s non-discrimination provisions.

“Despite all this, there is no legal definition of discrimination against LGBTs,” Casino said.

Casino agreed that LGBTs often find it difficult to exercise their rights as persons, laborers, professionals, and ordinary citizens. He said that prejudicial practices and policies – mostly unstated and unwritten – based on Sogi severely limit the exercise and enjoyment of the basic rights and fundamental freedoms in schools, workplaces, commercial establishments, the civil service, even the security services,” he said.

Given this, Casino said it’s long overdue that practices that discriminate against LGBTs be given legal definition and penalized .

Atadero has already expressed full support for Casino’s bill, saying that the Philippine LGBT community should rally behind the measure and pressure lawmakers to do the same. He insisted that LGBTs do not want nor claim additional “special” or “additional rights.”

“The Bayan Muna LGBT bill only seeks to push for the the observance of the same rights as those of heterosexual persons that are denied – either by current laws or practices – basic civil, political, social and economic rights,” he said.

The Bayan Muna anti-discrimination against LGBT bill

HB 1483 has certainly made efforts to give legal defintion to the ‘invisible’, as well as laying down what makes sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the proposal , sexual orientation refers to the direction of emotional sexual attraction or conduct. This can be towards people of the same sex (homosexual orientation) or towards people of both sexes (bisexual orientation) or towards people of the opposite sex (heterosexual orientation). It is not equivalent to sexual behavior since this refers to feelings and self-concept.Persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors.

Gender identity, in the meantime, is referred to in the bill as the personal sense of identity as characterized, among others, by manners of clothing, inclinations, and behavior in relation to masculine or feminine conventions. A person may have a male or female identity with the physiological characteristics of the opposite sex.

Finally, the legal defintion of discrimination against individual’s Sogi: descrimination implies any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference which is based on any ground such as sex, sexual orientation, gender identity,

whether actual or perceived and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise by all persons of an equal footing of all rights and freedoms.

Atadero said that these definitions, if approved and passed into law, will give LGBTs better legal leverage to defend their rights.

Among the discriminatory practices defined and penalized in the Bayan Muna LGBT bill include the denial of access to public service, including military service, to any person on the basis of Sogi; the inclusion of Sogi, as well as the disclosure of sexual orientation, in the criteria for hiring, promotion and dismissal of workers, and in the determination of employee compensation, training, incentives, privileges, benefits or allowances, and other

terms and conditions of employment. The prohibition on the basis of Sogi also includes the contracting and engaging of services of juridical persons.

The measure also decries as discrimination the refusal of admission or the expelling of a person from educational institutions on the basis of Sogi without prejudice to the right of educational institutions to determine the academic qualifications of their students. It’s also discriminatory to include the imposition of disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of Sogi, and penalties harsher than customary primarily due to Sogi.

Bayan Muna also seeks to revoke the antedeluvian laws against vagrancy which Atadero says targets gay men. It speaks against harassment by members of institutions involved in the enforcement of law and the protection of rights, such as the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), of any person on the basis of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Among other cases, harassment occurs when a person is arrested or placed in the custody of the government institution and extortion, physical or verbal abuse takes place. It does not matter in the least whether the arrest has legal or factual basis.

Harassment of juridical persons on the basis of Sogi of their members, stockholders, benefactors, clients, or patronsare also covered in the proposal.

HB 1483 also considers it discrimination if a person is denied access to or the use of

establishments, facilities, utilities or services, including housing, that are open to the general public because of his or her Sogi. the measure also expands the meaning of ‘denial of access’ by saying that there’s denial when a person is given inferior accommodations or services.

Of course, Atadero said, it’s not enough to give legal definitions. “There should also be sanctions. The inclusion of criminal or administrative charges make HB 1438 even more serious,” he said.

The bill’s section six lays down that those found guilty of any of the discriminatory practiceswill face a fine of not less than P250,000, but not to exceed Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000) or imprisonment of not less than one) year but not more than six years, or both at the discretion of the court. Officials directly involved will be be liable for violations committed by corporations,organizations or similar entities. Finally, perpetrators will be recommended for community service time in terms of human rights educationand exposure to the plight of the victims.

Support human rights for LGBTs

While Atadero says that LGBT rights are at first glance ‘emotional’ in origin (“Defending the way we are, the way we live and how we contribute to society is really an emotional struggle for someone who has just come out of the closet; even for those who are afraid to come out”), it’s also a political struggle.

“It’s all part of the fight for human rights because our defense of our Sogi is always part of our struggle for economic survival and political emancipation. Equality is not something you demand off-hand, you do it for concrete reasons because you want to find employment, you want to be able to create and learn, because you want to serve others without there being barriers. Discrimination against LGBTs is like a transparent wall: you don’t immediately see it, but when you walk into it, you get hurt. We want to remove this wall, and fully empower LGBTs not only to defend their rights, but so they can contribute more to society,” he said.

Atadero said that politicians and government officials always say they love gays because 1) Gays make them happy; 2) Gays make them beautiful, and 3) Gays are productive members of society. “But how will they give concrete form to this “love” if they won’t support gay rights and the passage of laws that will protect and uphold them?”

“It wasn’t unexpected of Bayan Muna to file such a measure in support of LGBTs. The LGBT community support its bill fully and we will campaign for its passage. Even if it doesn’t pass into law, it’s already a very good step towards the right direction in making Philippine laws more responsive to the needs of LGBT constituents.”#

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